Thoughts on Lesson Thirty-Two


This is a historical account of the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum. It was penned by John Taylor who, with Willard Richards, survived that event. Joseph Smith, who stood at the head of the Church and kingdom of God, and his brother Hyrum, who held the office of assistant or associate president of the Church, both holding all the keys of the kingdom, sealed their testimonies with their blood. Two men sealed their testimonies with their lives, and two men—all ordained apostles of the Lord—survived to tell the story. In the providence of the Lord, the ancient law of witnesses had been complied with perfectly.

The martyrdom took place in the jail at Carthage, Illinois, on 27 June 1844. This document is a testimony of the Prophet and his brother and a brief commentary on the greatness of their lives. Written by the spirit of revelation, it will ever stir the souls of all who are of the household of faith.

Briefly, the events leading to the martyrdom were as follows: Monday, 24 June 1844: "Joseph and Hyrum Smith, accompanied by seventeen friends, started for Carthage, to submit to another trial, under pledge of protection from Gov. Thos. Ford. On the way they received a demand from the governor to surrender the State arms in possession of the Nauvoo Legion; Joseph returned and complied with the request, and then proceeded to Carthage."

Tuesday, 25 June: "Joseph Smith and his brethren surrendered themselves to a constable at Carthage and submitted to a trial, after which they were, contrary to law, remanded to prison."

Wednesday, 26 June: "Gov. Thos. Ford had a long interview with the prisoners in Carthage jail. He renewed his promises of protection and said, if he went to Nauvoo, he would take them with him."

Thursday, 27 June: "Gov. Thos. Ford went to Nauvoo, leaving the prisoners in jail to be guarded by their most bitter enemies, the 'Carthage Greys.' About 5:20 p. m. an armed mob with blackened faces surrounded and entered the jail, and murdered Joseph and Hyrum Smith in cold blood; Apostle John Taylor was severely wounded, while Apostle Willard Richards only received a slight wound on his ear" (Jenson, Church Chronology, 25-26).

Joseph and Hyrum Martyred in Carthage Jail

135:1 To seal the testimony of this book and the Book of Mormon. It is our intent to go among those of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people to testify that Joseph Smith was and is the great prophet of the Restoration. We accept it as a principle binding upon all who would bear such a testimony that he who asserts must prove. That is, the burden of evidence rests with the one making the assertion. It is for us to prove our testimony. The proof we bring is both tangible and spiritual. We bring it in the form of two volumes of scripture, one ancient, the other modern, one named the Book of Mormon and the other titled the Doctrine and Covenants. Each contains countless truths that could not have been known to Joseph Smith except by the spirit of revelation. Each in its own way attests perfectly that Joseph Smith was indeed the prophet of the Lord, the man chosen to stand at the head of this the last great dispensation of the gospel to men before the return of him whose gospel it is.

These two books go hand in hand, for each testifies of the truthfulness of the other. It was not intended that they stand alone any more than it was intended that Adam be without Eve, that there be a fall without a redemption, or that the Bible stand independent of the Book of Mormon. It was ordained in the councils of heaven that the Book of Mormon be the book that would gather scattered Israel in the last days. In like manner it was also ordained in those same councils that the Doctrine and Covenants contain the announcement of the restoration of the priesthood and the organization of the Church and kingdom of God once again upon the earth. It is from this book that men learn that the authority to baptize and perform all the ordinances of salvation have been restored. It is from this book that men are to learn of the order of the priesthood and of the manner in which the earthly kingdom of the Lord is to be governed. Neither message is to stand independent of the other. They, with the record of the Jews, were intended to be one in the hand of the messenger of truth, as testimony that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one.

Among the irrevocable decrees of heaven are those laws that guard every man's right to receive the message of salvation through channels ordained by God himself and to have that message attested to by two or more witnesses. Even the testimony of the Son of God himself could not stand alone. This law was well known to the ancients, and it was for this reason that the Pharisees challenged Christ, saying, "Thou bearest record of thyself; thy record is not true." Jesus, John tells us, answered, saying, "Though I bear record of myself, yet my record is true . . . for I am not alone. . . . It is written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true. I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me beareth witness of me" (John 8:13-18).

This principle assures us that the heavenly presidency or godhead must consist of three separate persons, two to testify of the third. Teaching this principle to the Nephites, Christ said, "I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me" (3 Nephi 11:32). True it is that all will not be privi leged to hear the audible voice of the Father bear witness of the Son, though certainly some have; yet, as Christ explained, his was the doctrine of the Father of which he bore record, "And whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost. And thus will the Father bear record of me, and the Holy Ghost will bear record unto him of the Father and me; for the Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost are one [meaning all testify as one]" (3 Nephi 11:35-36).

No man complied more perfectly with the law of witnesses than did the Prophet Joseph Smith. He gave us the Book of Mormon to stand as a second witness of the Bible. He gave us a modern volume of scripture to stand as a second witness of the truths taught by ancient prophets. As they entertained angels, he entertained angels. As they performed miracles, he performed miracles. As they saw visions and penned revelations, he saw visions and penned revelations. As they spoke in the name of the Lord and performed the ordinances of salvation, so he spoke in the name of the Lord and performed the ordinances of salvation. As they sealed their testimonies with their blood, so he sealed his testimony with his blood (v. 6).

Martyrdom. The word martyr comes from a Greek word meaning "to bear witness," "to be a witness," or "to testify." In a theological sense, it is generally held to mean one who voluntarily submits to death for the Christian faith, but in a broader sense it is used to describe one who has experienced great suffering or death on account of loyalty to the gospel. Critics of the Church like to argue that Joseph Smith was not a martyr because he made an effort to defend himself when he was killed. The purpose of the argument is to avoid giving credence, honor, or respect to the Prophet, who willingly submitted himself to arrest on false charges and went to Carthage knowing he would die there (v. 4). The idea that a true martyr cannot resist an attempt to take his or her life grows out of the false zeal associated with the early Christian era. Many of the so- called martyrs of that day sought death. Their efforts grew out of the apostate notion that the body was to be eschewed, that it was a prison in which the spirit had been confined by the fall of Adam, and that to rid themselves of it was a matchless good. Latter-day Saints reject such theological travesty while granting the title of martyr to those who have experienced great suffering and dangers associated with being true to the faith and who have eventually lost their lives in that cause.

The martyrdom of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and Hyrum Smith the Patriarch. In compliance with the divine law of witnesses, it was necessary for the two men who jointly held all of the keys of the kingdom and who stood at the head of the Church to seal their testimonies with their blood. Joseph was the prophet, seer, and revelator and stood at the head. Hyrum stood next to him as the assistant or associate president of the Church. Had the wisdom of God called for Hyrum to survive Carthage, the presidency of the Church would have rested with him. Explaining these principles, President Joseph Fielding Smith taught: "The Prophet Joseph Smith conferred upon Hyrum Smith all the keys, authority and gifts of the priesthood which he, the Prophet, held, and which were formerly held by Oliver Cowdery. The Lord also revealed to Hyrum Smith all that was necessary to make him completely and to the full degree, a witness with his brother Joseph, as a prophet, seer, revelator and president of the Church, and to stand through all time and all eternity at the head of this dispensation with his brother Joseph, a witness for Jesus Christ.

"Thus, we see, Hyrum Smith became a president of the Church with Joseph Smith, which place Oliver Cowdery might have held had he not wavered and fallen from his exalted station. I am firmly of the opinion that had Oliver Cowdery remained true to his covenants and obligations as a witness with Joseph Smith, and retained his authority and place, he, and not Hyrum Smith, would have gone with Joseph Smith as a prisoner and to martyrdom at Carthage.

"The sealing of the testimony through the shedding of blood would not have been complete in the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith alone; it required the death of Hyrum Smith who jointly held the keys of this dispensation. It was needful that these martyrs seal their testimony with their blood, that they 'might be honored and the wicked might be condemned'" (Doctrines of Salvation, 1:218-19).

135:2 John Taylor and Willard Richards, two of the Twelve . . . escaped. In the providence of the Lord, as it was necessary for two men to seal their testimonies with their blood at Carthage, so it was necessary for two men to escape. Had Joseph and Hyrum been alone then, the only accounts that we would have of the events of that day would have been those written by men with the blood of the Lord's anointed on their hands. Had but one man survived, his testimony would have been refuted. So it was, in the wisdom of him who foreknows all things, that two men, whose reputation for truth was such that it could not be refuted, survived to tell the story. "Dr. Richards' escape was miraculous; he being a very large man, and in the midst of a shower of balls, yet he stood unscathed, with the exception of a ball which grazed the tip end of the lower part of his left ear. His escape fulfilled literally a prophecy which Joseph made over a year previously, that the time would come that the balls would fly around him like hail, and he should see his friends fall on the right and on the left, but that there should not be a hole in his garment" (Smith, History of the Church, 6:619).

Preeminent Position of the Prophet Acclaimed

135:3 Joseph Smith . . . has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men . . . than any other man that ever lived. How Joseph Smith ranks among the prophets, both past and future, we know not, nor do we think there is any particular merit in weighing the faithful labors of one servant of the Lord against those of another. However, we know that among all those chosen of God to labor in his name, none have been privileged to do a labor that would have a greater effect on more of our Father's children than that of the prophet Joseph Smith. Illustrating this point, President Wilford Woodruff commented, "Why, did he [the Lord] call him [Joseph Smith] into the spirit world? Because he held the keys of this dispensation, not only before he came to this world and while he was in the flesh, but he would hold them throughout the endless ages of eternity (D&C 90:3). He held the keys of past generations— of the millions of people who dwelt on the earth in the fifty generations that had passed and gone who had not the law of the gospel, who never saw a prophet, never saw an Apostle, never heard the voice of any man who was inspired of God and had power to teach them the gospel of Christ, and to organize the church of Christ on earth. He went to unlock the prison doors to these people, as far as they would receive his testimony, and the Saints of God who dwell in the flesh will build temples unto the name of the Lord, and enter these temples and perform certain ordinances for the redemption of the dead. This was the work of Joseph the prophet in the spirit world" (Conference Report, April 1880, 8-9).

Joseph Smith stands at the head of the gospel dispensation that may include the majority of the premortal host. More people will learn of Christ and his gospel by missionaries who trace both their commission to teach and their understanding of Christ through the Prophet Joseph Smith than will be the case in any other dispensation or with any other prophet who ever lived.

The Innocent Blood of Joseph and Hyrum Testifies of the Divinity of the Restored Gospel

135:7 The innocent blood of all the martyrs under the altar that John saw. Reference is to the vision seen by John the Revelator in the book of Revelation. He saw under the altar of the temple "the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: and they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled" (Revelation 6:9-11).

John sees the blood of those who died for Christ as being—like the blood of the sacrificial lambs—Christ's blood, for these were his servants and acted in his name. As he was to be honored with crowns of glory, so will they be honored.

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