The Word and Will of the Lord

On January 21, 1847, Wilford Woodruff recorded the only revelation received by Brigham Young that was later canonized.[1] It is now included in the Doctrine and Covenants as section 136. Because it includes instruction “concerning the camp of Israel in their journeyings west,” this section is sometimes overlooked or considered inapplicable to current Church members. However, the “Word and Will of the Lord” revealed in 1847 is a reminder to us of the significance of the covenants we have made and the fact that our salvation and our work within the Lord’s Church depends entirely on seeking and following His counsel.

One year before this revelation was received, Church leaders made the decision to begin the early exodus from Nauvoo due to reports that their anticipated departure in the spring of 1846 would be sabotaged.[2] But, even with the best intentions of heading to the Rocky Mountains a few months later, they struggled just to cross Iowa and then “wandered in the wilderness” for almost a year because they relied on their own judgment and experience rather than asking the Lord for direction. Brigham made clear in his discussions with the Saints in January 1847 that the time had come for them to “be organized according to the order and law of God for [their] peace, safety, and salvation.”[3] Section 136 also underscored the important fact that the Church would continue to be “led by Revelation just as much since the death of Joseph Smith as before.”[4]

Plat of Winter Quarters organized by wards and blocks[5]

According to the revealed instructions, the organization of the Camp of Israel would include companies, with captains of hundreds and fifties and tens, but most importantly “with a covenant and promise to keep all the commandments and statutes of the Lord . . . and walk in all the ordinances of the Lord.”[6]

Priesthood Adoptions

In 1846, “all the ordinances of the Lord” included not only baptism, confirmation, washings and anointings, the endowment, and sealings, but also priesthood adoptions. Brigham explained that if the priesthood had been handed down from father to son through all generations, the law of adoption would not have been necessary, because “all would have been included in the covenant without it and would have been legal heirs instead of being heirs according to promise.”[7]

Wilford’s journal entry sheds additional light on the adoption ordinance: “President Young said the priesthood had been on the earth at different times. When the Priesthood had not been on earth, men will have to be sealed to each other until we go on to Father Adam. Men will have to be sealed to men so as to link the chain from beginning to end and all children [born before their parents were sealed] will have to be sealed to their parents. . . . But this must be in a temple and nowhere else.”[8]

Later Wilford explained to the Saints that when Joseph Smith was adopted into the priesthood line of authority, by virtue of his ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood by Peter, James, and John, he bridged the gap created between the dispensations when apostasy occurred and the priesthood was taken from the earth. This is referenced in Section 136 when the Lord outlines the priesthood “from the days of Adam to Abraham, from Abraham to Moses, from Moses to Jesus and his apostles, and from Jesus and his apostles to Joseph Smith, whom I did call upon by mine angels, my ministering servants, and by mine own voice out of the heavens, to bring forth my work; Which foundation he did lay, and was faithful.”[9]

“Logically it followed then that, just as one must be adopted into the House of Israel through baptism in order to become an heir to Abraham’s blessings, one must be adopted to Joseph as head of this dispensation to inherit the blessings of the fulness of the priesthood. The thinking at the time was that after being sealed to their fathers within the Church the Saints would then seal their forefather to Joseph Smith by adoption. Doing so would reconnect their families on earth to the eternal priesthood chain, through Joseph’s ‘priesthood fathers,’ back to Adam.”[10]

The Camp of Israel

The organization of the Camp of Israel was accomplished, in part, based on the adoptions that had been solemnized in the Nauvoo Temple. Having left the intimate society of Nauvoo, the need arose for all Saints, but especially those who were gathering from other states and countries, to have the financial, physical, and emotional support and strength usually provided by family. Because many of these converts had left behind their extended families when they emigrated, Church leaders had struggled to meet the needs of those without the necessary personal resources. The needed support and stability were provided through their adopted “priesthood families.”[11]

In December, just one month before Brigham received the revelation regarding how to organize the Saints, Wilford recorded that of the 3,483 Saints at Winter Quarters, only 501 were well, able-bodied men, 334 were sick, 53 were wives of the men who had joined the Mormon Battalion, and 75 were widows.[12] Section 136 outlines in detail how the Lord directed the Saints to care for “the poor, the widows, the fatherless, and the families of those who have gone into the army.”[13] Then included His promise that “if ye do this with a pure heart, in all faithfulness, ye shall be blessed.”[14]

Of the six men commanded to organize companies, five were members of the Quorum of the Twelve – Wilford Woodruff, Ezra T. Benson, Amasa Lyman, Orson Pratt, George A. Smith.[15] Erastus Snow, the sixth man, would be called to serve as an apostle when the Quorum and First Presidency were reorganized in 1849. All six would be chosen as members of the Pioneer company who arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in July 1847.[16]

Brigham Young and the other Church leaders immediately followed the Lord’s instructions to “teach this, my will, to the saints.”[17] On January 18, 1847, Brigham Young met to organize his company or “family organization” comprised, in part, of those who had been adopted to him in the Nauvoo Temple or planned to be adopted to him when a new temple was completed. Brigham told them that “no man should come into his company to work iniquity. They should break off from all their sins.” The sins specifically mentioned in the revelation included contention, gossiping, coveting, and failing to diligently manage the stewardships with which the Lord had blessed them.[18] Following the revealed instructions, “they did enter into a covenant with uplifted hands to Heaven with President Young and each other to walk in all the ordinances and Commandments of the Lord our God.”[19]

The following day Wilford recorded the organization by Heber C. Kimball of his company of about two hundred persons through this same process. Later that night Wilford organized the members of his company, forty men and their families, who covenanted “to keep all the commandments & statutes of the Lord our God” and sustain him as their leader.[20] Wilford’s “adopted” family included his father Aphek Woodruff, Abraham O. Smoot (one of his mission companions), John Benbow (one of the English converts Wilford baptized), and Zerah Pulsipher (the man who baptized Wilford). Following their family meeting, Wilford recorded that they parted in good spirits. The experience must have had quite an effect on him, because after falling asleep he had a “singular dream” wherein he was “with child and ready to be delivered.”[21]

Tried in All Things

Wilford understood the daunting task that was ahead and the responsibility he was shouldering. The Lord’s words in verse 31 were personal: “My people must be tried in all things, that they may be prepared to receive the glory that I have for them, even the glory of Zion.” Wilford and his wife Phebe had suffered deep sorrow and called on the Lord as taught in verse 29.

On October 15, 1846, Wilford experienced “one of the most painful and serious misfortunes” of his life when he was cutting down trees to roof a shelter for his family in Winter Quarters. A falling oak tree swung and hit Wilford in the chest, throwing him in the air and pinning him against another tree. His breastbone and three ribs were broken and he suffered extensive internal injuries.[22] Brigham Young and two others administered to him, and by the power of the priesthood “rebuked [his] suffering and distress in the name of the Lord” promising Wilford he would not die.[23] He was unable to move until his breastbone began to “knit together” nine days later, but in less than three weeks he was able to walk.[24] Within the month he resumed work on the cabin.[25] 

Wilford’s November 12, 1846 journal entry regarding Joseph Woodruff’s death.

See original image at wilfordwoodruffpapers.org/documents.

This accident, however, was only the first in a series of tragedies. Wilford and Phebe’s sixteen-month-old son Joseph became ill the day that Wilford was finally able to leave his wagon bed and walk outside. Joseph died a week later and, after recording the details of his suffering and final breath, Wilford wrote, “we truly felt that we were called to make a great sacrifice in the loss of our son Joseph.”[26] Phebe was six months pregnant at the time of Joseph’s death and she prematurely delivered their fifth child, Ezra, on December 8. Ezra only lived for two days and they buried him with his brother.[27] Joseph and Ezra Woodruff were two of the hundreds of children under the age of two that grieving parents had to bury in Winter Quarters that year.

Wilford’s December 11, 1846 journal entry regarding Ezra Woodruff’s death.

See original image at wilfordwoodruffpapers.org/documents.

Willing to Sacrifice

Wilford also experienced the painful and personal rejection referred to in verse 34 of section 136, and published his feelings about “the nation that has driven [the Saints] out” in the Millennial Star. He wrote, “I am perfectly willing that these things should be, and that America should have the credit of banishing so many of her citizens from her midst for conscience’ sake. There is no safety under the government of the United States. It is time to go where we can enjoy our rights, and no longer be hemmed in. . . . Let America go ahead with her present measures, but let the Saints arise and go out of her midst. If we are called to make sacrifices, the Saints are the people that can make them.”[28]

Wilford understood that our eternal salvation and our happiness, regardless of our circumstances, is dependent on our willingness to humbly call “upon the Lord [our] God” so he can open our eyes to see, and our ears to hear.”[29] Each of us “are now in a place where we are proving ourselves”[30] and Wilford Woodruff’s example is a reminder that we can depend on the Lord’s promises. If we will call upon Him, He will send His Spirit to enlighten us and will make our souls joyful.[31]

Copyright 2007 Stuart Isett

Jennifer Ann Mackley, JD, is the Executive Director of the Wilford Woodruff Papers Foundation, which she co-founded with Donald W. Parry in 2020. Jennifer has authored or edited 21 books including Wilford Woodruff’s Witness: The Development of Temple Doctrine. She has served as a historian for the Wilford Woodruff Family Association since 2014 and has made numerous presentations and podcasts based on her research of Wilford Woodruff and the development of temple doctrine in the nineteenth century. Her hope in making Wilford Woodruff’s writings available online is to increase faith in the Savior and understanding of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

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NOTES


[1] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, January 21, 1847, wilfordwoodruffpapers.org/documents.

[2] Governor Thomas Ford, Letter to Hancock County Sheriff Jacob Backenstos, December 29, 1845, MS 6057, “Thomas Ford Letters to J. B. Backenstos, 1845.” Church History Library, Salt Lake City. See also History of the Church, 7:562–64, January 4, 1846.

[3] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, January 15, 1847, wilfordwoodruffpapers.org/documents.

[4] Historian’s Office, History of the Church, January 17, 1847.

[5] Thomas Bullock’s map of Winter Quarters. Courtesy of L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah

[6] Doctrine and Covenants 136:2-4.

[7] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, February 16, 1847, wilfordwoodruffpapers.org/documents.

[8] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, June 18, 1870.

[9] Doctrine and Covenants 136:37-38.

[10] Jennifer Ann Mackley, Wilford Woodruff’s Witness: The Development of Temple Doctrine, High Desert Publishing, 2014, 115.

[11] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, February 16, 1847, wilfordwoodruffpapers.org/documents

[12] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, December 20, 1846, wilfordwoodruffpapers.org/documents.

[13] Doctrine and Covenants 136:5-10.

[14] Doctrine and Covenants 136:11.

[15] Doctrine and Covenants 136:12-14

[16] Doctrine and Covenants 136:7.

[17] Doctrine and Covenants 136:16.

[18] Doctrine and Covenants 136:20-27.

[19] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, January 18, 1847, wilfordwoodruffpapers.org/documents.

[20] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, January 19, 1847, wilfordwoodruffpapers.org/documents.

[21] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, January 19, 1847, wilfordwoodruffpapers.org/documents.

[22] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, October 15, 1846, wilfordwoodruffpapers.org/documents.

[23] “History of Wilford Woodruff. (From His Own Pen.),” Millennial Star 27:25 (June 24, 1865), 392. See original at wilfordwoodruffpapers.org/documents.

[24] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, November 4, 1846, wilfordwoodruffpapers.org/documents.

[25] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, November 24, 1846, wilfordwoodruffpapers.org/documents.

[26] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, November 12, 1846, wilfordwoodruffpapers.org/documents.

[27] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, December 11, 1846, wilfordwoodruffpapers.org/documents.

[28] “Special General Conference,” Millennial Star 7:1, (January 1, 1846), 1–2.

[29] Doctrine and Covenants 136:32.

[30] Wilford Woodruff Journal, May 16, 1847, wilfordwoodruffpapers.org/documents.

[31] Doctrine and Covenants 136:29 and 33.