Chapter 5: The Church in Ohio
by Gordon B. Hinckley
THOSE years during which the activities of Mormonism were
largely centered in Ohio and Missouri were among the most important and the
most tragic in the history of the movement. During this time the basic
organization of Church government was established; many fundamental and
distinguishing doctrines were pronounced by Joseph Smith; the work spread
abroad for the first time; and, concurrent with this development, the Church
was subjected to intense persecution which cost the lives of many and from
which all of the Saints suffered seriously.
While events of historical importance were going on in
both locations contemporaneously, communication between the two groups was
limited because of difficulties of transportation, although officers of the
Church traveled from one location to the other as necessity required. For
the sake of clarity we shall discuss in this chapter events in Ohio from
1831 to 1838, and present the Missouri story for the same period in the
The Holy Bible
One of the projects undertaken by Joseph Smith before his
removal to Ohio was a revision of the English Bible. He did not discredit
the King James' translation, but he knew, as has since been more generally
recognized, that certain errors and omissions in that record had led to
numerous difficulties among the sects of Christendom. He had received his
first understanding of this from Moroni, who, on his initial visit in 1823,
had quoted to Joseph Smith from the scripture, with the text altered
somewhat from the language of our Bible.
Upon his arrival in Ohio, Joseph continued with this
labor, working as time permitted. Though he was never able to complete it
before his life was taken, the changes he made indicate some interesting
interpretations of parts of the scripture. However, since the work was never
finished, the Church has accepted the King James translation as its standard
English text of the Bible.
We have seen how Joseph Smith and the Church developed as
various questions and problems arose. He sought the Lord for guidance and
testified to the world that he received it. Most of the revelations which
have since regulated the Church were received during this Ohio-Missouri
These dealt with a great variety of subjects—the age for
baptism, the organization and machinery of ecclesiastical government, the
call of missionaries to special labors, counsel on diet and rules for
healthful living, a prophecy on the wars that should afflict the nations,
the glories of the kingdoms in the life to come, and a variety of other
matters. They reflect the breadth of the gospel, and the breadth of the
Prophet's thinking. Only a few can be mentioned in this brief writing.
The question as to when an individual should be baptized
has been a source of endless discussion among Christian peoples. In the
second or third century the practice of baptizing infants was inaugurated,
and has since continued, although without scriptural warrant. In fact, one
of the fundamental purposes of baptism—the remission of sins—indicates that
the recipient must be capable of repentance and the leading of a better
life. The Book of Mormon clearly taught against the baptism of infants as a
denial of the mercy of Christ, and in November 1831 Joseph received a
revelation establishing eight years as the age at which children should be
On February 16, 1832 Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon beheld
a vision of the eternal glories. In the record of this experience they bear
testimony of the reality and personality of the Savior: "And now, after the
many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last
of all, which we give of him: That he lives! For we saw him, even on the
right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only
Begotten of the Father—that by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds
are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and
daughters of God."
They then describe something of the kingdoms of eternity
which they saw. Men in the hereafter shall not be arbitrarily assigned to
heaven or hell. The Savior had said, "In my Father's house are many
mansions," and Paul had written of a "glory of the sun, and another glory of
the moon, and another glory of the stars." In the hereafter, according to
the Prophet's teaching, there are various kingdoms and degrees of glory;
there are various gradations of exaltation. All men shall be resurrected
through the atonement of Christ, but they shall be graded in the life to
come according to their obedience to the commandments of God.
Such teachings, flying in the face of traditional
Christianity, were bound to stir the indignation of the intolerant. On the
night of March 24, 1832 a mob broke into Joseph Smith's home, seized him
while he slept, dragged him from the house, beat him severely, choked him
into unconsciousness, and then tarred and feathered him, leaving him to die.
But he regained consciousness and painfully made his way back to the house.
The next day being Sunday, he preached a sermon, and among his congregation
were some of the mobbers of the night before. At the conclusion of the
meeting he baptized eleven people.
On the same night Sidney Rigdon was also mobbed. He was
dragged by the heels for some distance with his head bumping over the frozen
ground. For days he lay in a delirium, and for a time it appeared that he
would lose his life, but he eventually recovered.
The Prophecy on War
On Christmas day of this same year, 1832, Joseph Smith
made a remarkable prophecy opening with the words, "Thus saith the Lord." He
prophesied that war would come upon the earth "beginning at the rebellion of
South Carolina . . . And the time will come that war will be poured out upon
all nations." He indicated that the Southern States would be divided against
the Northern States, and that the Southern States would call upon Great
Britain. The time would come when Great Britain would "call upon other
nations, in order to defend themselves against [yet] other nations; and then
war shall be poured out upon all nations . . . And thus, with the sword and
by bloodshed the inhabitants of the earth shall mourn."
Twenty-eight years later, in December 1860, South Carolina
seceded from the Union. On April 12, 1861, Fort Sumpter in Charleston Bay
was fired on, and the tragic Civil War began. The forces of the Southern
States were marshalled against those of the Northern States, and the
Southern States in turn called upon Great Britain. Of the wars since that
time, in which Britain has called upon other nations, and of the mourning
and bloodshed of the inhabitants of the earth, nothing need be said in this
writing. It is a matter of history known to all.
A Word of Wisdom
In February 1833 another interesting revelation was
received and proclaimed to the people. It is known in Mormon literature as
the Word of Wisdom and is essentially a code of health. In it the Saints are
warned against the use of tobacco, alcoholic beverages, "hot drinks," and
the intemperate eating of meat. The abundant use of grains, fruits and
vegetables is advocated. A promise of "wisdom and great treasures of
knowledge," together with blessings of health, is given those who obey these
principles. It is an unusual document whose principles have been confirmed
in modern dietary science. The application of its teachings has had a
salutary effect upon the physical welfare of those who have followed them.
In this same period Joseph Smith organized the "School of
the Prophets." Through revelation he had been instructed that those who were
to go forth to teach the glad tidings of the restoration of the gospel
should first prepare themselves "by study and by faith." This did not mean
that those engaged in the ministry of the Church should be trained in
seminaries for this purpose, choosing the vocation as one might choose the
profession of doctor or lawyer. Each man holding the Priesthood—and this was
to include every man in the Church who obeyed the principles of the
gospel—had the responsibility of learning enough of the work to enable him
to expound and defend the doctrine.
Then, too, it had been made clear by the Prophet that
education was a concern of religion. Among his unusual teachings in this
connection was the principle that "the glory of God is intelligence."
Further, "Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it
will rise with us in the resurrection." A broad development of the mind,
therefore, was a rightful concern of the Church, and for this purpose the
School of the Prophets was established. Not only were there classes of a
theological nature; a renowned linguist was retained to teach Hebrew. It was
a remarkable innovation in adult education on the Ohio frontier, and was the
forerunner of the extensive Mormon educational system.
Church Organization Completed
At the time the Church was established, its affairs were
under the direction of a presiding elder. But through revelation other
offices were added as the membership increased. Three distinct offices were
established in the Aaronic Priesthood—teacher, deacon, and priest. In
September 1832 the office of high priest in the Melchizedek Priesthood was
established, and in March of the following year Joseph Smith was sustained
as President of the High Priesthood. Two counselors served with him, and
these three constituted what has since been known as the First Presidency of
In February 1835 a council of Twelve Apostles was chosen,
and "seventy" were called whose major responsibility was to preach the
gospel. The office of bishop was later designated. In 1833 the father of the
Prophet had been set apart as patriarch to the Church, which office, the
Prophet explained, corresponded to the ancient office of evangelist.
With all of these offices in the Priesthood set up and
filled, there was again to be found in the nineteenth century the same basic
organization which had existed in the Primitive Church with apostles, the
seventy, elders, high priests, teachers, deacons, evangelists, and bishops.
In November 1833 Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball, two
men who were later to play an important part in the affairs of Mormonism,
left their homes in Mendon, New York and traveled to Kirtland to meet Joseph
Smith for the first time. They found the Prophet in the woods chopping and
hauling wood. There began a long and devoted friendship between Joseph Smith
and the man who was to succeed him as President of the Church. When that
succession took place Heber C. Kimball was to stand beside Brigham Young as
his counselor in the First Presidency.
The First Temple
One of the outstanding achievements during the Kirtland
period of Church history was the construction of a temple of God.
On May 4, 1833 a committee was appointed to take up a
subscription for the building of the temple. It should be noted that these
people had little in the way of financial resources. The leaders among them
had been devoting their time and energies to missionary labors. Moreover,
they had recently moved from New York to Ohio, and their means had largely
been exhausted in the purchase of lands. Nevertheless, they had received
what they regarded as a commandment to build a sacred house, and they set
upon their task.
The question arose as to the plan and the type of
materials to be used. Some thought that the building should be of frame
construction or even of logs as was generally the custom on the frontier.
Joseph then told them that they were not building a house for a man, but for
the Lord. "Shall we," he asked, "build a house for our God, of logs? No, I
have a better plan than that. I have a plan of the house of the Lord, given
by himself; and you will soon see by this the difference between our
calculations and his idea of things." He then gave them the plan. This was a
Saturday night, and on the following Monday work was begun.
For three years the Saints labored with all their strength
and means to complete the building. The men worked on the walls while the
women spun wool and wove it into cloth for clothing. Of these trying days
Joseph's mother writes: "How often I have parted every bed in the house for
the accomodation of the brethren, and then laid a single blanket on the
floor for my husband and myself, while Joseph and Emma slept upon the same
floor, with nothing but their cloaks for both bed and bedding."
In dimensions the temple was 59 by 80 feet, 50 feet to the
square and 110 feet to the top of the tower. The walls were built of
quarried stone, and the interior was finished with native woods, beautifully
worked. No effort was spared to create a house worthy of Deity.
After surveying the building as it now stands, a writer
for Architectural Forum (March, 1936) said: "The workmanship, moldings,
carvings, etc., show unusual skill in execution. Many motives are used in
the various parts, varying in outline, contour and design, but blended
harmoniously . . . It is not probable that all of the workmen engaged on the
building were skilled artisans, and yet the result is so harmonious as to
raise the question if they may not have been inspired as were the builders
of the cathedrals of old."
A Modern Pentecost
The building was completed and ready for dedication March
27, 1836. This was an important day—the climax of three years of toil and
sacrifice—and the Saints gathered from far and near. About a thousand of
them were able to crowd into the building, and an overflow meeting was held
in the school house.
The services lasted most of the day, from nine in the
morning until four in the afternoon, with only a brief recess. This has gone
down in history as a day of spiritual rejoicing. The Prophet offered the
prayer of dedication, which of itself is an impressive piece of literature.
The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was then administered.
Since all who desired to participate could not be
accommodated at the dedicatory exercises, the services were repeated, and
for several days various types of meetings were held in the building, and
many spiritual manifestations were experienced. The Prophet compared it with
the Day of Pentecost.
The most significant of these experiences occurred on
Sunday, April 3. Joseph and Oliver Cowdery were engaged in prayer in the
pulpit of the temple which had been separated from the remainder of the hall
by means of curtains. When they had risen from prayer they beheld a vision,
recorded in the History of the Church as follows:
The veil was taken from our minds, and the eyes of our
understanding were opened. We saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of
the pulpit, before us; and under his feet was a paved work of pure gold, in
color like amber. His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was
white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the
sun; and his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters, even the
voice of Jehovah, saying: I am the first and the last; I am he who liveth, I
am he who was slain; I am your advocate with the Father. [Doc. and Cov.
Exodus from Ohio
As the Church grew in numbers and spiritual strength, the
forces working against it became more vigorous. Early in the year 1837 a
bank was formed in Kirtland, among whose officers were the authorities of
the Church. It was only a short time after this that a wave of depression
spread over the nation. During the months of March and April business
failures in New York alone passed one hundred million dollars. The Kirtland
institution failed along with others, and some of the members of the Church
who lost their money in the disaster, also lost their faith. It was a dark
period in the history of Mormonism.
In the midst of this trouble, elders were called to go to
Great Britain to open missionary work there. Heber C. Kimball was appointed
to head this mission, and Orson Hyde, Dr. Willard Richards, and Joseph
Fielding were called to accompany him. They were to meet John Goodson, Isaac
Russell and John Snyder in New York City, and then proceed to their field of
On June 13, 1837 the Kirtland men left their homes. They
had little money and experienced considerable difficulty in reaching
Liverpool, where they landed on July 30, 1837. From Liverpool they traveled
to Preston, a manufacturing town some thirty miles north, where Joseph
Fielding's brother was pastor of Vauxhall Chapel. The missionaries were
extended an opportunity to speak in the chapel on the following Sunday. Thus
began the work of the Church in the British Isles, which in the years since
has resulted in the baptism of more than 130,000 souls, many of whom have
emigrated to the United States and become leaders in the cause.
Meanwhile in Kirtland mobbings and the destruction of
property by bands of bigoted religionists increased. The Prophet could find
no peace, and on January 12, 1838, accompanied by Sidney Rigdon, he left for
Missouri, never again to return to Kirtland where so large and important a
part of his work had been done.