If we look at the timeline of the modern church, and likened it to the growth of a human being, it was born in northern New York. At the tender age of eight months, when most children are starting to exhibit their own unique personality traits, and learn how to scoot from place-to-place, she crawled in the dead of winter over to Ohio.
It was here where she would be raised and more fully developed. Where she would experience growth spurts and receive education. Where she would experience significant teenage angst and rebellion, including some crippling apostasy that wounded the body of the church.
Today, we’re going to review some of the significant events that happened during her seven years in Ohio, because next week we’re moving west. Within our Sunday School timeline, we’ll spend the next two weeks in Missouri, then a month in Illinois, and then on to Iowa and Nebraska and Wyoming. Don’t worry, we’ll be back in Utah just in time for General Conference. Hopefully you’ve got your trek shoes on, because we’re moving fast.
The Lord poured out great blessings during the Kirtland era. Let’s talk about some of the experiences first.
With the building of the first latter-day temple, he truly opened the windows of heaven with light and truth and tremendously sacred experiences reminiscent of the Pentecost with visions, healings, singing, speaking and interpreting in tongues, even babes prophesizing. At the temple, and in other sacred places, the three members of the Godhead appeared and reappeared many times. We also had appearances from past prophets including Moses, Elijah and Elias, and hundreds of other angels—witnessed not just by two or three, but by hundreds.
Now let’s talk about some of the doctrines, covenants, ordinances, that were revealed. Near the front of our modern apps you can find the Chronological Order of Contents. If you look there you’ll see that 66 of the 138 sections—nearly half—were received during this period. Not bad for seven years.
Let’s test your memory on some of these things. Over the past 13 weeks we’ve been in Ohio. Can you remember some of the things we’ve talked about?
- The Law of the Church
- Law of Consecration
- Law of Tithing
- Law of the Fast
- The Plan of Salvation
- The Kingdoms of Glory
- The Second Coming
- The Word of Wisdom
- Additional Priesthood Organizations like the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve, the First Quorum of Seventy, Stake Presidencies, High Councils, Bishops, High Priests, Quorum Presidents
- The Gifts of the Spirit
- The Law of the Sabbath
- The School of the Prophets
- The Importance of Education
- The Need for Temples
- Design of City of Zion was Revealed
- Restoration of the Abrahamic Covenant
- Restoration of the Patriarchal Order of the Priesthood and the Ordination of Patriarchs
- Restoration of Keys of the Gathering of Israel
- Restoration of the Keys of the Sealing Power
- Restoration of Some Initiatory Ordinances
- Restoration of the Ordinance of Washing of Feet
- The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible was “Finished” (500 pages of manuscript, 3400 verses were changed, not fully translated yet)
- The First Doctrine & Covenants was Published
- The First Church Hymnal was Published
- Four Egyptian Mummies and Scrolls Were Purchased Leading to the Translation of the Book of Abraham
- Zion’s Camp
The Kirtland Safety Society
So that’s the good. But there was also the bad and the ugly. Which is what happens when truth is revealed or restored. Satan always pops up on the scene to toss in his monkey wrench. And he certainly unleashed his fury on the early saints. Unfortunately, some church leaders and members weren’t able to withstand his evil influence and lost their way—some for a season, some for a whole lot longer.
Let me give you an example of how things went bad so that we can learn what not to do. And like many problems in life, this one has its roots with money, greed, and pride.
Following the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, the Church was in debt for about $13,000. There was also a $6,000 deficit that had accumulated in Missouri. In today’s economy, that $19,000 would total up to be just over 10 million dollars. But most of the 14,000 members of the Church at that time were poor and could do little to help. Which is why by the summer of 1836, the indebtedness of the Church weighed heavily upon the Church leaders.
About this time, a member of the Church by the name of William Burgess arrived in Kirtland with a story of a large amount of money hidden in an abandoned house in Salem, Massachusetts. Burgess said the he alone knew of its hiding place. It was secreted in the cellar of a house that belonged to a widow who had since passed away.
The brethren believed Burgess and Joseph, Hyrum, Oliver, and Sidney traveled the 650 miles to Salem in hopes of finding this treasure to help alleviate the financial burden of the Church.
They met Burgess in Salem. Now he said that the town had changed so much that he could not find the house with the treasure. They had no success with the treasure, but they did preach the gospel with some success.
Section 111 was given to the Prophet in Salem on August 6, 1836 in response to their trip. Said the Lord:
D&C 111:1-2, 5
I, the Lord your God, am not displeased with your coming this journey, notwithstanding your follies. I have much treasure in this city for you, for the benefit of Zion, and many people in this city, whom I will gather out in due time for the benefit of Zion, through your instrumentality…. Concern not yourselves about your debts, for I will give you power to pay them.
After returning from Salem, Joseph met with some of the other elders and drew up articles of agreement in preparation for organizing a banking institution of their own. They felt this was necessary due to the difficulty of dealing with other banks. Currency was in short supply since anti-Mormons kept it out of the hands of the Mormons. They needed something so that they could participate in the economy. So creating your own private bank and printing your own currency was a reasonable idea—the Whigs had been doing it for years and there were hundreds of private banks around the nation doing the exact same thing.
This institution was organized in January 1837 under the name, Kirtland Safety Society Anti-banking Company. It could not be organized as a bank since their petition for incorporation to the state of Ohio was rejected. Today we would call it a “quasi-bank.”
The idea was to take idle land and capitalize on it by subdividing the land into smaller housing plots. It was backed by land owned by the Church and the sale of stock to about 200 members. The bank had about $21,000 of hard currency was in reserve and printed about $100,000 in notes. Notes could then be issued to land purchasers secured with mortgages on the land. However, the notes sold for significantly less than face value in hopes that investors would eventually purchase the entire face value.
Unfortunately, 1837 was not a good time to start a banking institution. In fact, you might say it was very unfortunate (pun inside). You see, the Panic of 1837 financial crisis struck the nation in May and by June over half of the nation’s 800 banks had collapsed. Banks collapsed, businesses failed, prices declined, and thousands of workers lost their jobs. Unemployment may have been as high as 25% in some locales. And the Kirtland bank was caught at the beginning of the seven-year recession.
After the bank opened, many of the members got caught up in the spirit of speculation, gambling that they could turn a quick profit. Of course, modern saints would never do something like that. We never fall for “get rich quick” schemes, do we?
The Prophet said of this time:
As the fruits of this spirit, evil surmisings, fault-finding, disunion, dissension, and apostasy followed in quick succession, and it seemed as though all the powers of earth and hell were combining their influence in an especial manner to overthrow the Church at once, and make a final end. (HC, 2:487)
When the Saints generally ignored his counsel, and failed to meet their obligations, the Prophet resigned as treasurer in the Society. Therefore, due to the spirit of speculation and the depression of 1837, the Kirtland bank collapsed five months after opening. Many placed the blame on the Prophet.
One of the biggest critics of Joseph was his scribe, Warren Parrish, who was a teller at the bank. The funny thing is, money kept disappearing when Parrish had access to it. According to Heber Kimball, Parrish eventually admitted to embezzling $20,000. When you only had $21,000 in reserve, it didn’t take long to wipe away the reserves. It is no wonder Warren tried to shift the blame to the Prophet, who happened to be the bank’s biggest investor and, consequently, its biggest loser.
In May, while Joseph was on a mission in Michigan, certain members of the Twelve, the witnesses to the Book of Mormon, and other Church authorities met in the temple. Some proposed that Joseph be dropped as the Prophet and David Whitmer be named to take his place.
Brigham Young stood in defense of the Prophet. Here’s what he said:
I rose up, and in a plain and forcible manner told them that Joseph was a Prophet, and I knew it, and that they might rail and slander him as much as they pleased; they could not destroy the appointment of the Prophet of God, they could only destroy their own authority, cut the thread that bound them to the Prophet and to God, and sink themselves to hell. Many were highly enraged at my decided opposition to their measures. (Manuscript History of Brigham Young).
In fact, 45-year old Jacob Bump, a former boxer, was so enraged he could hardly sit still. He was held in his seat when he attempted to get up and go after Brigham.
After returning from a mission to Canada, even Apostle Parley Pratt got caught up in evil spirit that seemed to permeate Kirtland. Fortunately, Parley soon saw the error of his ways and went to the Prophet asking forgiveness.
The Work of Salvation
Kirtland was in turmoil and the Church was in trouble. Joseph said, “God revealed to me that something new must be done for the salvation of his Church.” (HC, 2:489)
Do you know what that was? Here’s a hint. Today we still call it the “work of salvation”. It was missionary work!
Missionary work has always been a great panacea for rebellion and discontent. It even worked for Jonah, who had a whale of a good time traveling to his mission field. You ever wonder why we send our older teenagers on missions? To squash the rebellion! Now you know.
There is something about focusing on simple things, forgetting about yourself, and serving others, that almost always puts us back on track. Plus, it is a life-altering blessing to those who receive your service and hear your message. As we all know, new converts bring new energy and capacity to the church.
On June 4, 1837, in the Kirtland temple, Joseph pulled aside one of the Twelve, Heber Kimball, and said that the Lord had called Heber to open the missionary work in Europe.
Heber was overwhelmed by this call. That night he prayed:
O, Lord, I am a man of stammering tongue, and altogether unfit for such a work; how can I go to preach in that land, which is so famed throughout Christendom for learning, knowledge and piety; the nursery of religion; and to a people whose intelligence is proverbial! (Life of Heber C. Kimball, p104)
Bu Heber was also a man of incredible faith. Though he was intimidated by such a great call, he responded in the positive.
However, all these considerations did not deter me from the path of duty; the moment I understood the will of my Heavenly Father, I felt a determination to go at all hazards, believing that He would support me by His almighty power, and endow me with every qualification that I needed; and although my family was dear to me, and I should have to leave them almost destitute, I felt that the cause of truth, the Gospel of Christ, outweighed every other consideration. (Ibid., p104)
Within days, President Kimball was set apart by the First Presidency and was on his way to the British Isles to open up Europe for the work of salvation.
But let me give you just one more glimpse at the what happened on the day of his departure. This is from the journals of Robert Thompson a neighbor who stopped by Heber’s house to say goodbye. He said he found the door open and saw Heber, with his family, pouring out his heart to the Lord to care for his family and to prosper his mission. Heber then laid his hands upon each of his family members and invoked the blessings of the Lord upon them while he was absent. Brother Thompson wrote:
While thus engaged his voice was almost lost in the sobs of those around, who tried in vain to suppress them. The idea of being separated from their protector and father for so long a time was indeed painful. He proceeded, but his heart was too much affected to do so regularly. His emotions were great, and he was obliged to stop at intervals, while the big tears rolled down his cheeks, an index to the feelings which reigned in his bosom. My heart was not stout enough to refrain; in spite of myself I wept, and mingled my tears with theirs. At the same time I felt thankful that I had the privilege of contemplating such a scene. I realized that nothing could induce that man to tear himself from so affectionate a family group, from his partner and children who were so dear to him—nothing but a sense of duty and love to God and attachment to His cause.” (Ibid., pp108-109)
President Kimball was accompanied by six other missionaries: Apostle Orson Hyde, a young seven-month convert Willard Richards (who would later serve in the First Presidency with Kimball), as well as John Goodson, Isaac Russell, John Snider, and Joseph Fielding, a newly-ordained priest and native of England.
Was it worth it? I encourage you to delve a little into extraordinary events that occurred during that mission. You can’t read them and not have your faith increased.
Even a blind person can see the hand of the Lord guiding the work of these seven missionaries as they planted seeds that would reap harvests for years to come. In fact, of the nearly 70,000 saints who emigrated to the Salt Lake Valley in the late 1800s, more than 98 percent of the survivors were from Europe, and 75 percent were from Britain.
These seven missionaries just didn’t plant seeds, however, they reaped a harvest. Their nine-month missionary efforts brought 1,500 people into the Church—including my great-great-great-grandparents, Robert and Margaret Howard McBride, who also had the honor of being in the Martin Handcart Company.
By the way, Robert died along the trail after helping a couple dozen handcarts through the semi-frozen Platte, his wife then got sick, leaving the children to pull the handcart. Those of you who just participated in the Trek, may recall the stories of their children, Janetta Ann, Heber, Peter, and Maggie.
Meanwhile, Back in Kirtland
Meanwhile, back in Kirtland, things weren’t going so well. In fact, on July 27, Joseph was arrested—and released—six times that day on false charges.
A conference was held in the temple on September 3, 1837. Knowing that the apostates would attempt to vote Joseph out of office, Brigham Young went to every brother whose vote he could rely on and asked them to occupy the stand and prominent seats
The Prophet was sustained, as was Sidney Rigdon. However, but his other counselor, Frederick G. Williams was not sustained, and was released a few months later. Also, three of the Twelve, Luke and Lyman Johnson (Orson Hyde’s brothers-in-law), and John F. Boynton were not sustained.
After that conference, the Prophet and Sidney left for Missouri to establish places of gathering. But in their absence, the dissenters ran amok. Some talked of taking over the Church and even throwing out the Book of Mormon.
Martin Harris was among the dissenters, but he bore testimony to the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and told them they would be damned if they rejected it.
At one point, ol’ Warren Parrish and his gang of malcontents entered the temple and used bowie knives and pistols to threaten the Saints during a Sunday meeting. The apostate apostle John Boynton was part of that. When the police arrived to eject the troublemakers, he said he would “blow out the brains of the first man who dared to lay hands on him.”
There was even an attempt to start a fire in the House of the Lord—not even two years after the temple dedication when they sang for the first time, “The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning.” It doesn’t take long to fall from grace, folks, it doesn’t take long at all.
Before Joseph and Sidney returned, the high council in Kirtland took action against nearly fifty apostates including Warren Parrish, Martin Harris, Luke Johnson, and John Boynton.
In late December, Brigham Young was forced to flee Kirtland to escape an attempt on his life because of his bold defense of the Prophet.
Early in 1838, the dissenters, who called themselves the Old Standard, seized control of the temple.
There was a plot to assassinate Joseph and Sidney. Joseph was warned in time to be placed in a box nailed on an ox-cart and driven out of town to safety. A friend met him with his favorite horse, Old Charley, where Joseph continued through the night until he was a safe distance from Kirtland.
The Prophet made his way to Northern Missouri arriving there in March 1838 and set up the new headquarters of the church. Members of the church in Kirtland began leaving as fast as preparations could be made. The following July, a group of 600 persons, known as the Kirtland Camp made their three-month journey to Far West.
The End of the Kirtland Period
Thus ended the Kirtland period, a time of restoration, revelation, and growth for the young church. Though the Kirtland era ended in tragedy, with many faithful having apostatized, it remains a wonderful and glorious period in Church history.
The great work of restoration continued during this period. Many future leaders of the Church were baptized during this time, including Brigham Young, Heber Kimball, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and Lorenzo Snow. These men and so many other faithful Saints endured the trials in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois, to lead the Church west and lay the foundation for the work that has now spread to many nations of the world and has blessed the lives of millions.