Sunday School Lesson 32

Lesson 32: Doctrine and Covenants 135

This section is not a revelation in the usual sense of the word. In what sense might we consider it a revelation?

What is the history leading up to the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith?

Reading the Doctrine and Covenants we have watched the Prophet learn and grow line upon line and precept upon precept. (The gradual unfolding of the temple ordinance, beginning with baptism for the dead and culminating in the endowment and in celestial marriage is a good example of this.) How does Joseph Smith’s death fit into this growth? Was it a catastrophe for the Church? Why or why not? How so or how not?

Verse 3: John Taylor says that Joseph Smith has done more than anyone but Jesus for the salvation of men. Is this literally true or is it hyperbole (quite justifiable under the circumstances)? If it is literally true, how would you show that it is true? What evidence does Elder Taylor cite for his claim? How do those things compare to the things done by other prophets, such as Lehi or Moses?

Verses 4: Given the many people who were angry with Joseph Smith at the time of his death, many of them members and former members of the Church, some of them members of his own family, how can we understand what he is saying when he says that his conscience is void of offense toward all men? Does it have anything to do with the fact that he has a conscience void of offense toward God? How can we have consciences void of offense towards God and men?

Verse 5: What is a testator? Of what were Joseph and Hyrum testators? What does it mean that their testament is now in force?

Verse 7: What is an escutcheon? What does it mean that the escutcheon of the State of Illinois is stained with the blood of the martyrs? What point is John Taylor making?

8 comments for “Sunday School Lesson 32

  1. I’ve got a question related to this lesson topic that I’ve been mulling over for a week or two. My impression is that Joseph Smith somehow communicated that he did not have to go to his martyrdom — that if he had more support or if enough people had protested him going, that he would have stayed around and not gone to the prison where he was killed.

    This, I have been pondering along with an idea that shows up in Section 101, 103 or 105 where I believe we are told that Zion could have been established already if the Saints had been more righteous or not so wicked.

    In other words, the history of the Church could have been very different. Zion could have been established in a manner that the Saints might never have had to go out to Utah and Joseph Smith could have evaded his assassination and continued as the Prophet.

    I wonder someday if people will look back on this period of the Church as a time period when we were “in the wilderness” so to speak because we weren’t ready to live the celestial law. I wouldn’t be surprised if these are questions that have been raised and discussed already. Is there a post someone can point me to?

  2. Danithew: I haven’t ever read this idea before, at least not with regard to Joseph Smith, but I find it very intriguing. So, no, I can’t point you to any previous posts or discussion, but I’d enjoy seeing that discussion here.

  3. I know that I’ve read a quote from Joseph Smith or a contemporary witness that said something about Joseph Smith pondering escaping and being persuaded (by some of the Saints) to give in to the authorities. I can’t seem to find that quote online — but I did find the following information at Jeff Lindsay’s site:

    “When Illinois governor Thomas Ford apparently sided with the opposition and ordered the Church leaders to stand trial again on the same charges, this time in Carthage, Joseph and Hyrum first considered appealing to U.S. President John Tyler, but then decided instead to cross the Mississippi and escape to the West. Pressured by family and friends who felt abandoned and who believed Joseph to be nearly invincible, he agreed to return and surrender; but he prophesied that he would be going “like a lamb to the slaughter” and would be “murdered in cold blood” (HC 6:555, 559). Joseph urged Hyrum to save himself and succeed him as prophet, but Hyrum refused and accompanied his brother to Carthage.”

    I’d like to know a little more about the details of those saints who encouraged Joseph Smith to turn himself into the authorities, rather than to flee. Maybe someone has some ideas about where to find this. Or maybe we just need to look more closely at that History of the Church reference (I don’t own these books).

  4. I should have highlighted also the part of the quote that says Joseph and Hyrum “… then decided instead to cross the Mississippi and escape to the West.”

    When I think about that possibility, that they could have fled and escaped, and maybe lived out their lives … the possibility just makes me gasp a little. I know there are things Joseph Smith could have still done, though he had already done so much. It is of course only possible to speculate about how the History of the Church could have been different if he had lived longer.

    I was almost sure that I read a Joseph Smith quote where he seemed to express some disappointment at the efforts of saints to persuade him to turn himself in … almost as if he was saying that his people should have valued his life more. But I don’t know the quote well enough to choose keywords. And it is possible I’m just remembering wrong.

  5. I’d like to have more specific references. But I found (here) some intriguing (and sad) one-line Joseph quotes that match what I was remembering.

    * “If my life is of no value to my friends it is of none to myself.” — Smith’s reply when friends accused him of cowardice for intending to leave Illinois for the Rocky Mountains to avoid what Mormons perceived as injust legal prosecution.

    * “If you go back I will go with you, but we shall be butchered.” — Joseph’s reply to his brother Hyrum who encouraged Joseph that they should both return to Illinois to face legal prosecution.

  6. I know one of the men who went to Joseph was Reynolds Cahoon. He is one of my ancestors but I do not have any details about their interaction. I know that him and another man brought a letter from Emma where she begged him to return and they called him a coward for leaving the saints. Truman Madsen gave a series of lectures on the lives and teachings of the prophets that give some details but not much. The main information was about Hyrum choosing to be with Joseph instead of saving himself. Truman Madsen says the Hyrum actually gave up a blessing he received that he would live to an old age so he could die with his brother.

  7. Would anyone who has recently sat through or taught this lesson like to share what parts resonated with them? I’m really stumped as to what approach to take in teaching it this week.

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