Section 118: The Twelve Called to Preach in England
Section 118 is another of the four canonized revelations received on July 8, 1838, at the conference of elders in Far West (see the introductory commentary for section 117).
Four members of the original Quorum of the Twelve had fallen into apostasy and had been excommunicated. They were William E. McLellin, Lyman E. Johnson, Luke Johnson, and John F. Boynton. Of these, only one returned to the Church. Luke Johnson was rebaptized in 1846 and went west with Brigham Young. In addition to these losses, William Smith, the Prophet’s brother, was known to be unreliable in the performance of his apostolic duties. If the Twelve were to continue as an active and effective quorum of the Church, something had to be done. As a result of the difficulties and vacancies in the quorum, Joseph, in the company of Sidney Rigdon, Hyrum Smith, Edward Partridge, Isaac Morley, Jared Carter, Sampson Avard, Thomas B. Marsh, and Joseph’s clerk, George W. Robinson (in whose hand this revelation was recorded in Joseph’s Scriptory Book) asked: “Show us thy will, O Lord, concerning the Twelve” (HC, 3:46). Section 118 was given in response.
This revelation specifies the four new Apostles who would fill the void left by those who apostatized. They were John Taylor, John E. Page, Wilford Woodruff, and Willard Richards. Of these, two later became Presidents of the Church and Brother Richards would later serve as counselor in the First Presidency, and only John E. Page would eventually leave the Church. Wilford Woodruff wrote in his journal that when he was notified by mail that he was to be one of the apostles, it was only a confirmation of what the Lord had already revealed to him.
The earliest manuscript of section 118 is the Scriptory Book copy, which is contemporary with the revelation and may in fact be the original written copy. Another early copy is in supplemental material added to the end of the Kirtland Revelation Book sometime after the Kirtland period. There is also an April 1840 manuscript of section 118 in the handwriting of Willard Richards recorded in his own journal, which is all the more interesting because Elder Richards was one of those called to the apostleship in this revelation. Obviously, section 118 would have been important to him. Other early manuscripts and printed editions witness the present text. Section 118 was added to the Doctrine and Covenants in 1876 at the direction of President Brigham Young.
Section 118 also instructed the Twelve to “take leave of my saints in the city of Far West, on the twenty-sixth day of April next, on the building-spot of my house, saith the Lord.” This is the only revelation in the Lord’s book that has a day, month, and year specified when certain things were to be accomplished. This command was interpreted literally by the Twelve, as we will learn from the material that follows.
Some notes regarding the mission of the Twelve to England are of interest. Credit is given to Brother David F. Boone, as much of the following material will be extracted from his essay “A Time For Commitment” contained in the book Studies in Scripture, Volume One, The Doctrine and Covenants, 1984.
The apostles took seriously and literally the directions the Lord gave them in section 118 as to the way in which their mission should be commenced. However, complying with the specifics of section 118 presented some problems. Between the time the revelation was given (July 8, 1838) and the date the apostles were to leave on their mission (April 26, 1839), the saints had been forced to leave Far West, and indeed Missouri altogether. Elder David W. Patten had been killed by the mob; President Thomas B. Marsh had been excommunicated; and the prophet Joseph had been arrested and incarcerated in the jail at Liberty, Clay County, Missouri. Those Missourians who remained in the area were antagonistic and were certainly capable of thwarting any attempts by the Mormons to return to Far West. A mob of Missourians under the leadership of a protestant minister, Samuel Bogart, were privy to the exact dates the saints were planning to return, and they warned the saints against returning to that area. Elder Wilford Woodruff wrote: “It was as much as a man’s life was worth, especially one of the Twelve, to be found in that State [Missouri]; and when the day came on which we were commanded by the Lord in that revelation to go up and lay the corner-stone of that Temple and there take the parting hand with the saints, to cross the waters to preach the gospel in England [verse 5], the inhabitants of Missouri had sworn that if all the revelations of ‘Old Jo Smith’ were fulfilled, that one should not be, because it had a day and a date to it” (JD, 18:123). Members of the mob had stated, “If they (the Twelve) come, they will get murdered; they dare not come to take their leave here; that is like all the rest of Joe Smith’s damned prophecies” (HC, 3:307). Apostates and other enemies in Missouri gloried in the opportunity to prove Joseph Smith a false prophet by preventing the fulfillment of D&C 115:11 and 118:5.
On March 18, 1839, Brigham Young, who had succeeded Thomas B. Marsh as senior apostle in the Quorum, called a meeting of the Twelve and other leaders in Quincy, Illinois. At that meeting, George A. Smith, the Prophet’s cousin, was sustained as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve in place of Thomas Marsh, but he was not ordained at this time. Brigham Young then asked his quorum their feelings about the commanded departure from Far West the following month. He later wrote: “Many of the Authorities considered, in our present persecuted and scattered condition, the Lord would not require the Twelve to fulfil his words to the letter, and, under our present circumstances, he would take the will for the deed; but I felt differently, and so did those of the Quorum who were with me. I asked them, individually, what their feelings were upon the subject. They all expressed their desires to fulfil the revelation . I told them the Lord God had spoken, and it was our duty to obey and leave the event in his hands and he would protect us” (Watson, Manuscript History of Brigham Young, 25, as cited in Porter, “Brigham Young and the Twelve in Quincy,” 140).
No one could have blamed the Twelve had they decided not to return to Far West in view of their scattered and persecuted condition. However, under the leadership of Brigham Young (Thomas B. Marsh, the President of the original Quorum of the Twelve, had been excommunicated in March 1839), they decided, the dangers notwithstanding, to follow the Lord’s instructions explicitly. Therefore, knowing the futility of trying to keep their visit a secret, and trusting in the protective hand of the Lord, five of the apostles (Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Orson Pratt, John Taylor, and John E. Page) and several other saints arrived at the temple lot at Far West on the morning of April 26, 1839, just after midnight.
President Wilford Woodruff later gave this account of how the Twelve fulfilled their instruction:
On the 18th of April, 1839, I took into my wagon Brigham Young and Orson Pratt; Father Cutler took into his wagon John Taylor and George A. Smith, and we started for Far West. On the way we met John E. Page, who was going with his family to Quincy, Illinois. His wagon had turned over, and when we met him he was trying to gather up with his hands a barrel of soft soap. We helped him with his wagon. He then drove into the valley below, left his wagon, and accompanied us on our way. On the night of the 25th of April we arrived at Far West, and spent the night at the home of Morris Phelps. He had been taken a prisoner by the mob, and was still in prison.
On the morning of the 26th of April, 1839, notwithstanding the threats of our enemies that the revelation which was to be fulfilled this day should not be fulfilled; notwithstanding ten thousand of the saints had been driven out of the state by the edict of the governor; and notwithstanding the prophet Joseph and his brother Hyrum Smith, with other leading men, were in the hands of our enemies in chains and in prison, we moved on to the temple grounds in the city of Far West, held a council [with the few remaining saints], and fulfilled the revelation and commandment given to us. We also excommunicated from the Church thirty-one persons who had apostatized and become its enemies. The “Mission of the Twelve” was sung, and we repaired to the southeast corner of the temple ground, where, with the assistance of Elder Alpheus Cutler, the master workman of the building committee, we laid the southeast chief cornerstone of the Temple, according to revelation [D&C 115:8-11]. There were present of the Twelve Apostles: Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Orson Pratt, John E. Page, and John Taylor. They proceeded to ordain Wilford Woodruff and George A. Smith to the apostleship [as they sat upon the cornerstone of the Far West Temple]. . . .
Bidding goodbye to this small remnant of the saints who remained on the temple ground to see us fulfill the revelation and commandment of God, we turned our backs on Far West, Missouri, and returned to Illinois. We had accomplished the mission without a dog moving his tongue at us, or any man saying, “Why do ye so?” We crossed the Mississippi River on the steam ferry, entered Quincy on the 2nd of May, and all of us had the joy of reaching our families once more in peace and safety. Thus the word of God was complied with (Cowley, Wilford Woodruff, 101-02; see also Brigham Young, “History,” in Millennial Star 25 [12 September 1863]: 584).
The entire group of saints left the site before dawn on April 26, 1839, before their enemies were aware of their presence. It is not surprising that the enemies of the Church, who would have accepted the failure of this mission as proof Joseph Smith was a false prophet, did not find its miraculous fulfillment to be any indication he was a true prophet. Before the seven apostles reached Quincy, they learned to their joy that the Prophet and his companions had escaped from their imprisonment in Missouri. Joseph reached Quincy on April 22, 1839. The apostles arrived on May 2. The Missouri period of early church history had come to an end. The Illinois period had begun.
The mission to Great Britain was undertaken against much opposition. In general the missionaries had little or no money. Many were ill. And some left their wives and families destitute. Perhaps, most of all, the Church could ill-afford to have them gone. They left at a time of persecution and scattering, and they were the backbone of the Church. Their absence would be a real hardship for the Church to bear.
Joseph knew, however, that it was vital at that time that church membership, which had been depleted by apostasy, be increased, so that the coming persecutions should not deal a fatal blow to the Church. Heber C. Kimball, along with Orson Hyde, had previously served a mission to Great Britain. Prior to sending these two brethren to Great Britain in 1837, the Prophet had said, “Something new must be done for the salvation of the Church.” This and subsequent missions to Great Britain did prove to be the literal salvation of the Church, as the thousands of British converts who responded to the call to gather provided the critical mass of saints with the strength to survive and prosper.
In the mission field, Brigham Young served chiefly as an administrator over the mission. He gathered hymns for the first hymnal for the British saints. Elder Young also manifest an unusual gift for healing the sick. For counselors in the mission presidency he chose Heber C. Kimball, who had previously served a mission there in 1837-38, and Willard Richards. The latter had served previously with Elder Kimball in England and had remained in England to do missionary work when Heber C. Kimball returned home. Brother Richards had met and married his wife in England and had assumed the administrative duties in the absence of any members of the Twelve. Shortly after the arrival of the apostles, Willard Richards was ordained a member of the Quorum of the Twelve.
Elder Parley P. Pratt’s duties were also somewhat administrative. He was a writer and the editor of the Millennial Star, the Church’s publication in England. He was chosen to remain in England after the other members of the Twelve returned home in 1841.
Orson Pratt, Parley’s brother, was involved in opening of new areas for proselyting. He spent almost his entire mission in Scotland.
John Taylor worked in the Liverpool area. While there he converted a family named Cannon. Sister Cannon was actually John Taylor’s sister. While crossing the ocean to emigrate to America, she died. Shortly after arriving in Nauvoo, Brother Cannon also died. This left a young son, George Q. Cannon, homeless, and he was taken in by the John Taylor family. George Q. Cannon later became prominent in church affairs and served for many years in the First Presidency of the Church.
Wilford Woodruff was guided by the Spirit to a congregation of some 600 former Methodists who had banded together to pray that the Lord would send them the truth. All but one joined the Church, and many of them gathered with the saints in Nauvoo. This group of 600 converts, however, made up only a third of the 1,800 converts that Elder Woodruff reported during his stay in the British Isles.
Between 1840 and 1850, over five thousand converts from the British Isles came to America and bolstered the number of saints in the Nauvoo area. As Joseph had prophesied, this and other missions to Great Britain were not simply another proselyting venture—they were the salvation of the Church.
While it is true that the Spirit of the Lord influenced many British people to join the Church, and indeed, the “field” was “white, already to harvest,” we should also acknowledge that economic factors may have contributed to the success of the British mission. England was in the throes of a recession, and the economic future of many in Britain looked bleak. The prospect of gathering to America offered real hope to many. It is possible that economic motivation played some role in the explosive success of the British missionaries. Some may have even joined the Church largely to get to America. Indeed, in the early 1850s, many were excommunicated when it was learned that they joined the Church largely to obtain financial assistance in relocating to America.
D&C 118 The twelve called to preach in England
1 Verily, thus saith the Lord: Let a conference be held immediately; let the Twelve be organized; and let men be appointed to supply the place of those who are fallen.
verse 1 “Let a conference be held immediately” “Conference” here meant a meeting of the remaining members of the Quorum of the Twelve for the purpose of implementing the instructions contained in section 118. This meeting was held in the following day, July 9, 1838.
“let the Twelve be organized” The Quorum of the Twelve had originally been organized on February 14, 1835. Section 118 confirms to the Prophet that the Quorum was to continue, as it did in Acts 1:15-26, by new apostles’ being called to fill the places of those who had fallen. The meeting of the Twelve on July 9 was conducted by President Thomas B. Marsh, with Elders David W. Patten, Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt, and William Smith attending. Sidney Rigdon also attended, representing the First Presidency, and George Robinson, Joseph Smith’s clerk, recorded the minutes. It is possible that others were present as well. It was decided at this meeting that Thomas B. Marsh would notify Wilford Woodruff of his new calling by letter, because Elder Woodruff was then serving a mission in the Fox Islands off the coast of Maine. Sidney Rigdon was to notify Willard Richards, who was serving a mission in England at the time, of his new calling.
2 Let my servant Thomas remain for a season in the land of Zion, to publish my word.
verse 2 Quorum president Thomas B. Marsh was to remain at Far West and continue publishing the Elders’ Journal, which was, for the brief time Joseph Smith lived in Missouri, the official publication of the Church.
3 Let the residue continue to preach from that hour, and if they will do this in all lowliness of heart, in meekness and humility, and long-suffering, I, the Lord, give unto them a promise that I will provide for their families; and an effectual door shall be opened for them, from henceforth.
verse 3 “Let the residue continue to preach from that hour” “That hour” refers to the reorganization of the Quorum of the Twelve by the appointment of its new members. The rest of the Quorum, besides President Marsh who was to remain in Missouri, were from the hour of their appointment to continue preaching the gospel.
“I will provide for their families” A discussion of how the families of the apostles would be provided for while the Twelve served full-time missions was part of President Sidney Rigdon’s presentation at the July 9 meeting (HC, 3:47).
4 And next spring let them depart to go over the great waters, and there promulgate my gospel, the fulness thereof, and bear record of my name.
verse 4 “let them depart to go over the great waters” At the time of this revelation, Heber C. Kimball had just returned from his first apostolic mission to Great Britain, having, with his companions, converted nearly fifteen hundred people. Now he and his entire quorum were asked to return overseas, this time as the Twelve Apostles of the Lord. This would be the first time in this dispensation that the Twelve would labor overseas as a group.
5 Let them take leave of my saints in the city of Far West, on the twenty-sixth day of April next, on the building-spot of my house, saith the Lord.
verse 5 See the introductory commentary for this section which contains the moving story of the apostles’ literal compliance with this command.
6 Let my servant John Taylor, and also my servant John E. Page, and also my servant Wilford Woodruff, and also my servant Willard Richards, be appointed to fill the places of those who have fallen, and be officially notified of their appointment.
- Michael J. Preece