D&C 121:1-6 Joseph’s Supplications
The winter of 1838-1839 was extremely difficult for Church leaders and members. Among other things, a number of members had been robbed, beaten, raped, and murdered. They were displaced from the state; thousands of them being forced to walk across the snow-covered hills of Missouri toward Illinois; Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs having issued the “extermination order,” calling for the expulsion or massacre of all Church members.
The Prophet Joseph Smith and several others had been imprisoned in Richmond the beginning of November (later being moved to Liberty Jail), and their incarceration would last over five months. On March 20, 1839, Joseph wrote an epistle from Liberty Jail to Church members, which included all of what are now Sections 121-123 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Section 121 begins with Joseph’s prayer in behalf of the suffering Saints, followed by the Lord’s reply. This interchange between the Prophet and the Lord (verse 1 through about verse 25; it’s difficult to pin down) is elegant scriptural prose, and teaches gospel principles related to adversity, patience, mercy, deliverance, and numerous other truths.
Joseph’s pleading prayer (verses 1-6) begins with the anguished question, “O God, where art thou?” and then follows up with, “How long shall thy hand be stayed? … how long shall [Thy Saints] suffer these wrongs?” Even the Prophet experienced moments of feeling detached from the Lord’s Spirit and influence. Indeed, the Savior Himself once exclaimed, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Such times come into all our lives—in some cases persisting for extended periods—yet we must follow the examples of Jesus and Joseph, trusting in Our Father in Heaven to the end.
D&C 121:7-33 The Lord’s Answer
Find the consolations and promises the Lord made to Joseph (verses 7-10), and the things the Lord said about the Saints’ persecutors (verses 11-25). President Heber J. Grant—who lived through times of great persecution against the Church—testified: “Our enemies have never done anything that has injured this work of God, and they never will” (Conference Report, April 1909, p. 110).
Joseph Smith then proclaimed that the Lord would give the Saints a transcendent blessing, promising “the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost,” which would give knowledge from God to “all who have endured valiantly” even knowledge “that has not been revealed since the world was until now” (verse 26). What are some of the things that will be revealed, according to verses 27-32?
But is “knowledge” what Joseph and the Saints most needed and desired? The righteous children of God crave knowledge and understand that truth from Him is key to growth. As a second witness, verse 33 tells us that nothing will “hinder the Almighty from pouring down knowledge from heaven upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints.” Even when freedom, food, clothing, warmth, health, peace, and other life necessities were undoubtedly needed by Joseph and the other Church members, the promise of continuing revealed, eternal truth was also a matter of great importance and consolation.
D&C 121:34-46 How the Called May Become Chosen
Joseph continues his inspired writings to the Saints, teaching the differences between those who are called and those who are chosen; including essential teachings for all holders of the priesthood, which can also be applied to leaders, teachers, parents, and others:
The World’s Way
- Heart is set upon things of the world (materialism and greed; verse 35).
- Aspiring to the honors of men (pride and popularity; verse 35).
- Trying to cover sins and gratify pride and vain ambition (verse 37).
- Exercising control, dominion, and compulsion upon others (verses 37, 39).
- Using authority or position to exert power or influence (verse 41).
- Hypocrisy and guile (verse 42).
Results of the World’s Way
- The heavens are closed off, the Spirit is grieved, and priesthood authority is lost (verse 37).
- Turning against the Saints and fighting against God (verse 38).
- Being esteemed as an enemy (verse 43).
The Lord’s Way
- Priesthood authority and power are connected to heaven, according to personal righteousness (verse 36).
- Persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, and love unfeigned (genuine love; verse 41).
- Kindness, pure knowledge (verse 42).
- Reproving (admonishing) “betimes” (early on) with sharpness (clarity), when moved upon by the Holy Ghost (verse 43).
- After reproving, showing forth an increase of love (verse 43).
- Full of charity towards all (verse 45).
- Thoughts are filled with virtue unceasingly (verse 45).
Blessings of the Lord’s Way
- Our souls shall be greatly enlarged (verse 42).
- Others will know that our faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death (verse 44).
- We can feel confident in the presence of God (unafraid and unashamed; verse 45).
- The doctrine of the priesthood shall flow unto us like pure water (verse 45).
- The Holy Ghost shall be our constant companion (verse 46).
- We can have an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth (like a righteous king; verse 46).
- Our dominion (influence and kingdom) shall be everlasting and will flow unto us forever (verse 46).
D&C 122 “Hell Shall Rage Against Thee”
The conditions and treatment in jail were horrendously difficult, and in Section 122 Joseph shares more of the Lord’s teachings to him regarding suffering:
- What did the Lord tell Joseph in verses 1, 5-7 that would or could happen?
- What did He tell Joseph in verses 2-4, 9 that would comfort him?
- What do you derive from this section that helps you in your struggles? (See also 2 Nephi 2:2; Alma 7:11-12; Alma 36:3; Alma 38:5.)
- What have your afflictions help you to learn?
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve taught that lessons learned from the Liberty Jail experience include: 1. Everyone faces trying times; 2. Even the worthy will suffer; 3. Remain calm, patient, charitable, and forgiving (See CES Fireside, 7 September 2008).
President Spencer W. Kimball taught: “Being human, we would expel from our lives physical pain and mental anguish and assure ourselves of continual ease and comfort, but if we were to close the doors upon sorrow and distress, we might be excluding our greatest friends and benefactors. Suffering can make saints of people as they learn patience, long-suffering, and self-mastery” (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 168).
President James E. Faust of the First Presidency taught: “In the pain, the agony, and the heroic endeavors of life, we pass through a refiner’s fire, and the insignificant and the unimportant in our lives can melt away like dross and make our faith bright, intact, and strong.… In this way the soul can become like soft clay in the hands of the Master in building lives of faith, usefulness, beauty, and strength” (Ensign, February 2006).
D&C 123 “Let Us Cheerfully Do All Things”
Through His prophet, the Lord commands Church members to gather up “a knowledge of all the facts, and sufferings, and abuses put upon them” (verse 1).
- Verses 1-5 instructs them to document the sufferings, abuses, property damage, financial losses, character abuse, personal injuries, loss of real property, libelous publications, and false histories; along with the names of those responsible for such persecutions and illegal activities.
- Verses 5-10, 12-13 label such activities as diabolical, nefarious, murderous, dark, hellish, damning, tyrannical, oppressive, corrupt, and iniquitous; also calling them lies, an iron yoke, handcuffs, chains, shackles, fetters of hell, dark and blackening deeds, subtle craftiness, and hidden things of darkness.
- The question remains: Why did the Lord want the Saints to create and maintain a record of such things? Find the various reasons and purposes in verses 6-7, 9, 11-12.
Note Joseph’s counsel to the Saints encouraging them to “waste and wear out [their] lives” (verse 13); with “great earnestness” (verse 14); not considering our work as “small things” (verse 15); and to “cheerfully do all things that lie in our power” (verse 17). All this can lead us to “stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed” (verse 17).
In regards to cheerfulness, Brother Hugh Nibley wrote, “In his darkest hour, the Lord told the Apostles: ‘These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33). We are commanded to be joyful because he has borne our sorrows. He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief so that we need not be” (The World of the Prophets, p. 259).