To read more insights from Daniel, visit his blog: Sic Et Non.
Among the many things that Moroni said to Joseph Smith during the night of 21 September 1823, as the Prophet later recalled, was “that my name should be had for cgood and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people” (JS-H 1:33)
To an outside observer, it would have seemed an absurdly improbable prediction. Joseph Smith was an insignificant and barely literate farm boy on the American frontier, born to a poor family and with an almost comically common name. (“Smith” is, by a considerable distance, the most common surname in the United States.) Nevertheless, while the majority of people around the world know little or nothing about Joseph, the prophecy has undeniably been fulfilled.
It has been fulfilled in the state of Joseph Smith’s birth, which he left while still a child: Not only do multiple Latter-day Saint congregations meet weekly in Vermont — presumably taking time occasionally to sing such hymns as “Praise to the Man (who communed with Jehovah)”—but government-sponsored signs along the roads in and around the town of Sharon direct visitors to the place where a 38.5-foot granite shaft—one foot for each year of his life—marks the location of Joseph’s birth. The Vermont tourism map indicates the birthplace of Calvin Coolidge, the thirtieth president of the United States, with exactly the same prominence that it identifies the birthplace of Joseph Smith.
But it’s also been fulfilled around the globe: Missionaries preach the message of the Restoration—which inescapably entails mention of the name of the prophet through whom it came—and congregations of those who have accepted that message gather for worship in virtually every nation on Earth.
In “The Other Side of Heaven,” a memoir of his first mission to Tonga in the 1950s, Elder John H. Groberg tells of arriving on a tiny and remote island where the residents were unaware of Dwight D. Eisenhower and Charles de Gaulle, titanic figures of contemporary international politics and of the still relatively recent Second World War. By contrast, however, thanks to the valiant efforts of a hostile local Protestant minister, they “knew” all about Joseph Smith before Elder Groberg even stepped ashore.
I myself had an analogous experience while visiting Kenya from Egypt in roughly 1979. I had developed an interest in the Swahili language, and I resolved to buy a Swahili Bible while I was in the country. Visiting a Christian bookstore in Nairobi for the purpose, I not only found my Bible but at least three shelves of anti-Mormon materials—perhaps, I remember thinking at the time, more individual anti-Mormon books and pamphlets than there were Latter-day Saints in all of east Africa in that period. (I found the experience strangely encouraging.)
And we shouldn’t forget the extraordinary reach of the book that is most closely associated with Joseph Smith: Excluding the Book of Mormon, how many books published in 1830 are still read today? How many books published in 1830 in America are still read today? How many books published on the American frontier? And how many of those have been translated into scores of languages?
Many years ago, with a colleague, I visited an Eastern Orthodox monastery in the mountains of northern Lebanon. While waiting in the abbot’s office, I scanned his extensive library. On the shelf just behind his desk was “Le Livre de Mormon.”
As the facts demonstrate, it would have been a mistake to discount Moroni’s prophecy merely because, at the time it was given, its fulfillment would have seemed extremely unlikely. However, it seems that the equal and opposite error today would be for us to take its clear fulfillment for granted.
Another unlikely prophecy is recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 110, which, among other things, tells of a personal appearance of the Savior in the Kirtland Temple on 3 April 1838. “I have accepted this house,” he tells Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in verse seven. And then, in verse ten, he tells them that “the fame of this house shall spread to foreign lands.”
Again, what was the likelihood of this actually happening? Although the Kirtland Temple was a huge undertaking for the relatively few Latter-day Saints on the American frontier, in size and splendor it counts for virtually nothing when compared with such structures as Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia, Rome’s Basilica of St. Peter, St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, the Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City, and hundreds of other cathedrals and churches across Europe and the Americas.
And yet, around the world, in the curriculum of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and in their personal study of the Doctrine and Covenants and the history of the Restoration, millions of believers study the revelations leading up to the construction of the Kirtland Temple and contemplate the glorious manifestations that occurred in it. They read of personal appearances of the Savior himself and of ancient biblical prophets who conferred keys of authority upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. They thrill to the Pentecostal accounts of angelic appearances experienced by many at its dedication. There can be no reasonable doubt that the fame of the Lord’s holy house in Kirtland, Ohio, has indeed “spread to foreign lands.”
The last prediction that I would like to consider here occurs in Doctrine and Covenants 117, which was revealed on 8 July 1838 in Far West, Missouri, after most of the Latter-day Saints had settled at the western edge of that then-westernmost American state. It concerns Oliver Granger, whom the First Presidency asked to return to Kirtland, where, as the Church’s financial agent, he was to settle its outstanding debts and to try to sell Latter-day Saint properties in northern Ohio. (He evidently did an outstanding job with the debts, but he was far less successful in obtaining money from the sale of Latter-day Saint-owned property holdings. Many of the Saints had actually fled Kirtland, their neighbors were mostly unsympathetic, and the Kirtland bank had collapsed, making it very much a buyer’s market—if not a thief’s .)
Here are the four relevant verses, 117:12-15:
- “And again, I say unto you, I remember my servant aOliver Granger; behold, verily I say unto him that his name shall be had in sacred remembrance from generation to generation, forever and ever, saith the Lord.
- “Therefore, let him contend earnestly for the redemption of the First Presidency of my Church, saith the Lord; and when he falls he shall rise again, for his asacrifice shall be more sacred unto me than his increase, saith the Lord.
- “Therefore, let him come up hither speedily, unto the land of Zion; and in the due time he shall be made a merchant unto my name, saith the Lord, for the benefit of my people.
- “Therefore let no man despise my servant Oliver Granger, but let the blessings of my people be on him forever and ever.”
But critics of the Church have long pointed to Doctrine and Covenants 117:12 as a false prophecy on the part of Joseph Smith. After all, who remembers Oliver Granger? Probably very few Latter-day Saints, if they were asked out of the blue to identify him, would be able to do so. He remains obscure, just as he was in life.
Still, Oliver Granger’s name is memorialized in the canonized scripture of a religious faith that extends around the world, and that’s far from nothing. (I’m guessing, off hand, that few if any of those reading this column will ever turn up by name in a canonical scriptural text.) Wherever Latter-day Saints or others read the Doctrine and Covenants, whether in English, French, German, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, Portuguese, or any other language, they will read the verses cited above about Oliver Granger.
Moreover—and this surely ought to count for something!—Oliver Granger even has his own personal Wikipedia entry. That can be said of only a tiny proportion of early-nineteenth-century Americans. And it seems especially remarkable, by the way, given the fact that Brother Granger died in Kirtland in 1841 at the comparatively young age of 47, just slightly more than three years after the revelation of Doctrine and Covenants 117.
But perhaps we’re misreading 117:12. Perhaps it was never about Oliver Granger being an easy clue in some sort of “Trivial Pursuit” competition.
When the Lord says of Oliver Granger that “his name shall be had in sacred remembrance from generation to generation, forever and ever,” it’s important to recall that he himself has just said, in the same verse, that “I remember my servant aOliver Granger.” Surely that is the kind of remembrance, not mere worldly fame, that really counts. In fact, the Lord’s assurance that he remembers Oliver and that “his name shall be had in sacred remembrance from generation to generation, forever and ever” almost seems to imply foreknowledge that Oliver’s earthly life would soon have run its course.
Hebrews 6:10 assures the faithful ancient Saints that “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them” (NIV). For those who have served well, however obscurely, the day will eventually come when the Lord will say to them, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matthew 25:21).
In any event, it seems clear that Oliver Granger’s name continues to be “had in sacred remembrance.” “Let the blessings of [the Lord’s] people be on him forever and ever.” And may this column, at least in small part, contribute to that end.