Selections from a long letter written by Joseph Smith, Jun., while he was a prisoner in Liberty Jail, Missouri, on March 20, 1839, addressed “To the Church of Latter-day Saints at Quincy, Illinois and scattered abroad and to Bishop Partridge in particular” (Hc 3:289). One-third of the letter is canonized and recorded as sections 121, 122 and 123 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Joseph and several companions had been months in prison. Their petitions and appeals directed to the executive officers and the judiciary had failed to bring them relief. These portions of the letter contain prayer, prophecy and the duty of the saints in relation to their persecutors.
O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place? How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants, and thine ear be penetrated with their cries? Yea, O Lord, how long shall they suffer these wrongs and unlawful oppressions, before thine heart shall be softened toward them, and thy bowels be moved with compassion toward them?
O Lord God Almighty, maker of heaven, earth, and seas, and of all things that in them are, and who controllest and subjectest the devil, and the dark and benighted dominion of Sheol—stretch forth thy hand; let thine eye pierce; let thy pavilion be taken up; let thy hiding place no longer be covered; let thine ear be inclined; let thine heart be softened, and thy bowels moved with compassion toward us. Let thine anger be kindled against our enemies; and, in the fury of thine heart, with thy sword avenge us of our wrongs. Remember thy suffering saints, O our God; and thy servants will rejoice in thy name forever.
my son | peace be unto thy soul |
thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment | and then | if thou endure it well | god shall exalt thee on high | thou shalt triumph over all thy foes |
thy friends do stand by thee | and they shall hail thee again with warm hearts and friendly hands | thou art not yet as job | thy friends do not contend against thee | neither charge thee with transgression | as they did job | and they who do charge thee with transgression | their hope shall be blasted | and their prospects shall melt away | as the hoar frost melteth before the burning rays of the rising sun |
and also | that god hath set his hand and seal to change the times and seasons | and to blind their minds | that they may not understand his marvelous workings |
that he may prove them | also | and take them in their own craftiness |
also | because their hearts are corrupted | and the things | which they are willing to bring upon others | and love to have others suffer | may come upon themselves to the very uttermost |
that they may be disappointed | also | and their hopes may be cut off |
and not many years hence | that they and their posterity shall be swept from under heaven |
saith god |
that not one of them is left to stand by the wall |
cursed are all those | that shall lift up the heel against mine anointed |
saith the lord |
and cry |
they have sinned |
when they have not sinned before me |
saith the lord |
but have done that | which was meet in mine eyes | and which i commanded them |
but those who cry |
do it | because they are the servants of sin | and are the children of disobedience themselves |
and those who swear falsely against my servants | that they might bring them into bondage and death |
wo unto them |
because they have offended my little ones |
they shall be severed from the ordinances of mine house | their basket shall not be full | their houses and their barns shall perish | and they themselves shall be despised | by those that flattered them |
they shall not have right to the priesthood | nor their posterity after them from generation to generation |
it had been better for them | that a millstone had been hanged about their necks | and they drowned in the depth of the sea |
wo unto all those | that discomfort my people | and drive | and murder | and testify against them |
saith the lord of hosts
a generation of vipers shall not escape the damnation of hell |
behold | mine eyes see and know all their works | and i have in reserve a swift judgment | in the season thereof | for them all | for there is a time appointed for every man | according as his works shall be |
God shall give unto you knowledge by his Holy Spirit, yea, by the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost, that has not been revealed since the world was until now; which our forefathers have awaited with anxious expectation to be revealed in the last times, which their minds were pointed to by the angels, as held in reserve for the fulness of their glory; a time to come in the which nothing shall be withheld, whether there be one God or many gods, they shall be manifest. All thrones and dominions, principalities and powers, shall be revealed and set forth upon all who have endured valiantly for the gospel of Jesus Christ. And also, if there be bounds set to the heavens or to the seas, or to the dry land, or to the sun, moon, or stars—all the times of their revolutions, all the appointed days, months, and years, and all the days of their days, months, and years, and all their glories, laws, and set times, shall be revealed in the days of the dispensation of the fulness of times—according to that which was ordained in the midst of the Council of the Eternal God of all other gods before this world was, that should be reserved unto the finishing and the end thereof, when every man shall enter into his eternal presence and into his immortal rest. How long can rolling waters remain impure? What power shall stay the heavens? As well might man stretch forth his puny arm to stop the Missouri river in its decreed course, or to turn it up stream, as to hinder the Almighty from pouring down knowledge from heaven upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints.
Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson—that the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness. That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man. Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God. We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. Hence many are called, but few are chosen.
No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; that he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.
let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men | and to the household of faith | and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly | then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of god | and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven |
the holy ghost shall be thy constant companion | and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth | and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion | and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever |
the ends of the earth shall inquire after thy name | and fools shall have thee in derision | and hell shall rage against thee | while the pure in heart | and the wise | and the noble | and the virtuous | shall seek counsel | and authority | and blessings | constantly from under thy hand |
and thy people shall never be turned against thee by the testimony of traitors | and although their influence shall cast thee into trouble | and into bars and walls | thou shalt be had in honor | and | but for a small moment | and thy voice shall be more terrible in the midst of thine enemies than the fierce lion | because of thy righteousness |
and thy god shall stand by thee forever and ever |
if thou art called to pass through tribulation | if thou art in perils among false brethren | if thou art in perils among robbers | if thou art in perils by land or by sea | if thou art accused with all manner of false accusations | if thine enemies fall upon thee | if they tear thee from the society of thy father and mother and brethren and sisters | and if | with a drawn sword | thine enemies tear thee from the bosom of thy wife | and of thine offspring | and thine elder son | although but six years of age | shall cling to thy garments | and shall say |
my father | my father | why can’t you stay with us |
o | my father | what are the men going to do with you |
and if then he shall be thrust from thee by the sword | and thou be dragged to prison | and thine enemies prowl around thee like wolves for the blood of the lamb | and if thou shouldst be cast into the pit | or into the hands of murderers | and the sentence of death passed upon thee | if thou be cast into the deep | if the billowing surge conspire against thee | if fierce winds become thine enemy | if the heavens gather blackness | and all the elements combine to hedge up the way | and above all | if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee | know thou | my son | that all these things shall give thee experience | and shall be for thy good |
the son of man hath descended below them all |
art thou greater than he |
therefore | hold on thy way | and the priesthood shall remain with thee | for their bounds are set | they cannot pass | thy days are known | and thy years shall not be numbered less | therefore | fear not what man can do | for god shall be with you forever and ever |
And again, we would suggest for your consideration the propriety of all the saints gathering up a knowledge of all the facts, and sufferings and abuses put upon them by the people of this State; and also of all the property and amount of damages which they have sustained, both of character and personal injuries, as well as real property; and also the names of all persons that have had a hand in their oppressions, as far as they can get hold of them and find them out. And perhaps a committee can be appointed to find out these things, and to take statements and affidavits; and also to gather up the libelous publications that are afloat; and all that are in the magazines, and in the encyclopedias, and all the libelous histories that are published, and are writing, and by whom, and present the whole concatenation of diabolical rascality and nefarious and murderous impositions that have been practised upon this people—that we may not only publish to all the world, but present them to the heads of government in all their dark and hellish hue, as the last effort which is enjoined on us by our Heavenly Father, before we can fully and completely claim that promise which shall call him forth from his hiding place; and also that the whole nation may be left without excuse before he can send forth the power of his mighty arm.
It is an imperative duty that we owe to God, to angels, with whom we shall be brought to stand, and also to ourselves, to our wives and children, who have been made to bow down with grief, sorrow, and care, under the most damning hand of murder, tyranny, and oppression, supported and urged on and upheld by the influence of that spirit which hath so strongly riveted the creeds of the fathers, who have inherited lies, upon the hearts of the children, and filled the world with confusion, and has been growing stronger and stronger, and is now the very mainspring of all corruption, and the whole earth groans under the weight of its iniquity. It is an iron yoke, it is a strong band; they are the very handcuffs, and chains, and shackles, and fetters of hell. Therefore it is an imperative duty that we owe, not only to our own wives and children, but to the widows and fatherless, whose husbands and fathers have been murdered under its iron hand; which dark and blackening deeds are enough to make hell itself shudder, and to stand aghast and pale, and the hands of the very devil to tremble and palsy. And also it is an imperative duty that we owe to all the rising generation, and to all the pure in heart—for there are many yet on the earth among all sects, parties, and denominations, who are blinded by the subtle craftiness of men, whereby they lie in wait to deceive, and who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it—therefore, that we should waste and wear out our lives in bringing to light all the hidden things of darkness, wherein we know them; and they are truly manifest from heaven—these should then be attended to with great earnestness. Let no man count them as small things; for there is much which lieth in futurity, pertaining to the saints, which depends upon these things.
You know, brethren, that a very large ship is benefited very much by a very small helm in the time of a storm, by being kept workways with the wind and the waves. Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed.