D&C 135 The Martyrdom
During the early months of 1844 Joseph had administered the ordinances of the temple to more Church members, and he passed on all priesthood keys that he had received—along with instructions related to the temple and its ordinances—to the Quorum of the Twelve; commissioning them to carry on after his death. On June 24th Joseph and Hyrum left Nauvoo for Carthage to face a false charge of treason against the state of Illinois. They were put into jail to await their examination, and Thomas Ford, governor of Illinois, promised to provide protection against gathering mob threats, but he did not keep his promise.
Apostles John Taylor and Willard Richards were in the Carthage, Illinois jail on June 27, 1844 when a mob of between 150 to 200 men—consisting mostly of the Carthage town militia—broke into the jail and murdered Joseph and Hyrum Smith. Several of the known mob leaders were later arrested and brought to trial, but none were ever convicted. During the attack, Elder Taylor was shot, but he survived and wrote Section 135 as a report of the martyrdom and a testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Lord’s work through him. It has been in the Doctrine and Covenants since the 1844 edition, and bears repeated reading and pondering. Consider:
- In verse 3 Elder Taylor asserts that Joseph Smith “has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man.” He continues by listing many of the reasons this statement is true. What additional things can you think of that would even further support this statement about Joseph Smith? (Consider, for example, the sheer numbers associated with latter-day missionary and temple work.)
- According to verses 4-5, what were the feelings of Joseph and Hyrum shortly before they were killed?
- What things did John Taylor prophesy in verses 6-7 regarding the legacy of Joseph and Hyrum?
Why does the Lord sometimes allow the righteous to be killed? Consider Alma 14:8-13; Alma 60:13; D&C 136:37-39. President Joseph Fielding Smith declared, “No righteous man is ever taken before his time” (Ensign, December 1971, p. 10).
D&C 136 Background Information
Due to overwhelming persecution, Brigham Young and the Saints determined to leave Nauvoo and pursue the fulfillment of Joseph Smith’s prophecy that the Church and its members would settle in the Rocky Mountains. The Saints’ enemies had agreed to desist and allow the Saints to prepare to abandon their city and move westward, but they reneged and continued their harassments. Additionally, the Nauvoo Temple had not yet been completed. Nevertheless the decision was made to begin crossing the Mississippi River on February 4, 1846, in freezing weather and with many still largely unprepared. In anticipation of their departure, thousands of members crowded the temple in order to receive their ordinances before departing. It was a time of great pressure and difficulty for the Saints.
The brutal winter weather created difficult conditions for travel. Brigham had hoped they could cross Iowa in about four to six weeks, but the “300-mile-long mud hole” required over four months for the original scout company, with thousands of Saints left scattered along the trail behind them. Eventually, the decision was made to build camps along the way, including the settlement of Winter Quarters on the shores of the Missouri River. This allowed them to rest, plan, and prepare for the remainder of the trek. It was in Winter Quarters, over eleven months after leaving Nauvoo, that Brigham Young (president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles), received the revelation that is now Section 136.
D&C 136 “Be Ready to Go to a Land of Peace”
As the Lord reveals His will concerning the organization of the traveling Saints, He also makes clear the great importance of their behavior:
- “Be organized into companies, with a covenant and promise to keep all the commandments” (verse 2).
- “Walk in all the ordinances of the Lord” (verse 4).
- “Do this with a pure heart, in all faithfulness” (verse 11).
- “Do as I have told you, and fear not thine enemies” (verse 17; see also verse 30).
- “Keep all your pledges one with another; and covet not that which is thy brother’s” (verse 20).
- “Keep yourselves from evil” (verse 21).
- “Cease to contend one with another; cease to speak evil one of another…. Let your words tend to edifying one another” (verses 23-24).
- “Be diligent in preserving what thou hast, that thou mayest be a wise steward” (verse 27).
- “Praise the Lord with singing, with music, with dancing, and with a prayer of praise and thanksgiving” (verse 28).
- “Call on the Lord thy God with supplication” (verse 29).
- “Hearken, O ye people of my church…. Be diligent in keeping all my commandments” (verses 41-42).
Which of these commandments can most help you in your daily endeavors and interactions at home or work, or in your community and ward or branch?
D&C 136 Help Others Along
Additionally, the Lord’s instructions committed His people to a behavior largely unknown among west-bound travelers in the 1800s, for He commanded them to prepare the way for those who would follow them, and to help along those who were poor or otherwise less prepared or less able. This they did by cutting trails and building roads, bridges, and encampments, planting crops, leaving behind written helps for finding water and feed, and so forth. The Lord directed:
- “Let them go to with their might, to prepare for those who are to tarry” (verse 6).
- “Take teams, seeds, and farming utensils, to go as pioneers to prepare for putting in spring crops” (verse 7).
- “Let each company bear an equal proportion … in taking the poor, the widows, the fatherless, and the families of those who have gone into the army” (verse 8; the “army” is the Mormon Battalion of over 500 men, who had separated from the pioneers in July 1846, to assist the U.S. Army in the war against Mexico).
- “Let each company prepare houses, and fields for raising grain, for those who are to remain behind” (verse 9).
- “Let every man use all his influence and property to remove this people” (verse 10).
How can these instructions help you today as you labor among fellow Saints to continue to build the “kingdom” (verse 41) in the Lord’s way?
D&C 136 “And if ye do this …”
The Lord gave the Saints His “word and will” (verse 1), which they were to follow “under the direction of the Twelve Apostles” (verse 2). The pioneer experience can be compared to the departure of Moses as he led the children of Israel out of Egypt, with many promised blessings for the Israelites, if they were obedient (see Exodus 6:1-8; Deuteronomy 1:5-15; 28:1-4). In the case of the LDS pioneers, find the many blessings the Lord promised them for their obedience, in D&C 136:11, 16-18, 22, 30-33, 37.
On April 5, 1847, after almost a year in Winter Quarters, Brigham Young (along with seven other apostles) led a vanguard pioneer company of 143 men, three women, and two children on a 111-day, one-thousand-mile trek to the Salt Lake Valley. They were followed by some 70,000 more during the next two decades.
It is insightful to note that the Lord gave Brigham this revelation—with instructions regarding the organization and movement of the Saints—after they were already a very difficult 300 miles into their journey. President Dallin H. Oaks observed: “It is significant to note that [D&C 136] was not given in Nauvoo.… It was given at Winter Quarters, Nebraska, after the Saints had spent a punishing year moving from Nauvoo westward across Iowa to temporary camps on the Missouri River…. We will get promptings of the Spirit when we have done everything we can, when we are out in the sun working rather than sitting back in the shade praying for direction on the first step to take. Revelation comes when the children of God are on the move…. He has his own timetable” (Ensign, August 2013).
We appreciate and admire the pioneers, but President M. Russell Ballard warned, “The fear I have is that the principle of sacrifice may be slipping away from us…. If it becomes too easy to be a member of this Church, testimonies will become shallow, the roots of testimony will not go down into the soil like they did with our pioneer forefathers” (CES Symposium, 13 August 1996, p. 10).