Section 4: Joseph Smith Senior’s Call to Labor
D&C 4 Joseph Smith Senior’s call to labor
By late fall of 1828, Joseph, now in Harmony, was making preparations for winter and struggling to get the translation started again. He and Emma did a little translating over the next few months, but most of Joseph’s time was spent trying to prepare for winter and gather a living for Emma and himself. On August 25th Joseph had purchased thirteen acres of land from his father-in-law, Isaac Hale, and he began to farm it. He needed to support his family. By then his wife’s family had rejected him and Emma, and there was not much support available to them. Joseph Knight, Sr., described Joseph’s family situation during the winter of 1828-29: “Now, he could not translate but little, being poor and [having] nobody to write for him but his wife, and she could not do much and take care of her house, and he being poor and [having] no means to live but work. . . . I let him have some little provisions and . . . a pair of shoes and three dollars in money to help him a little” (Dean Jessee, “Joseph Knight’s Recollection,” 35).
Back on the Smith farm, Joseph, Sr., and Lucy were anxious about Joseph since they had heard nothing from him since his departure from there under such gloomy circumstances in July 1828. In October they set off to travel the 130 miles to Harmony to see Joseph and Emma. They were relieved to learn that Joseph had the plates and the Urim and Thummim back and that he had not lost his gift to translate. They enjoyed meeting with Joseph and Emma and with Isaac and Elizabeth Hale and the rest of their children. After spending almost three months in Harmony, they returned to Manchester, arriving on January 22, 1829.
Joseph, Sr., did not stay home long, however. In late January he and Samuel left again for Harmony. On the way they stopped at Colesville, New York, at the home of Joseph Knight, and the three of them traveled the rest of the way to Harmony by sleigh. During this visit, Joseph, Sr., asked his son to inquire of the Lord on his behalf. The senior Smith wanted to know what the Lord would have him do. Section 4 is the Lord’s instructions to Joseph Smith, Sr.
Though this revelation was given for Joseph’s father, it is addressed to all people who would serve God. It served the early Church and continues to be today our creed or standard of behavior and commitment. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith pointed out that this section—consisting of only seven verses:
[It] . . . contains sufficient counsel and instruction for a lifetime of study. No one has yet mastered it. It was not intended as a personal revelation to Joseph Smith Sr., but to be of benefit to all who desire to embark in the service of God. It is a revelation to each member of the Church, especially to all who hold the priesthood. Perhaps there is no other revelation in all our scriptures that embodies greater instruction pertaining to the manner of qualification of members of the Church for the service of God, and in such condensed form than this revelation. It is as broad, as high, and as deep as eternity. No elder of the Church is qualified to teach in the Church, or carry the message of salvation to the world, until he has absorbed, in part at least this heaven-sent instruction (Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:35).
Section 4 may be classified as one of the six sections of the Doctrine and Covenants that fit into the “call to labor” category. The others are sections 11, 12, 14, 15, and 16. In these sections the Lord gives to each of these men the same basic message.
1 Now behold, a marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men.
verse 1 “a marvelous work” Remember that this revelation was a prophecy at the time it was given. It refers to the revelation of the fulness of the gospel, the restoration of the priesthood, the organization of the true Church, the gathering of Israel, and the establishment of Zion and the millennial kingdom. Today we are seeing much of this prophecy fulfilled in a marvelous way.
Later in 1829, Oliver Cowdery, Hyrum Smith, Joseph Knight, and David Whitmer will also be informed of this same event by Joseph Smith the prophet, but with added emphasis—calling it “a great and marvelous work” (D&C 6:1; 11:1; 12:1; 14:1). This marvelous work had been foretold much earlier by Isaiah, as a work necessitated by the spiritual state of the Christian world. The Christian people would do lip service to the Lord but would not be worshiping him correctly. They would be taught by the precepts of men (Isaiah 29:13-14).
2 Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day.
verse 2 We must serve the Lord with our “heart” — emotions and feelings, “might” — our spiritual strength, “mind”—our mental capacities, and our “strength”—our physical abilities.
The Lord obviously wants a total commitment. We must serve him with all of our capacities. Only then can we be said to be magnifying our callings. Only then can we report our stewardship to the Lord in a way that will allow us to stand blameless before him.
3 Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work;
verse 3 “if ye have desires . . . ye are called” The term called here is used in its less specific sense. The Church had not even been organized yet. We do not need to wait for a vision or other authorization to engage in God’s work.
Does this injunction apply only to full-time missionaries, or does it apply to every member of the Church? Elder George Albert Smith pointed out: “It is not necessary for you to be called to go into the mission field in order to proclaim the truth. Begin on the man who lives next door by inspiring confidence in him, by inspiring love in him for you because of your righteousness, and your missionary work has already begun” (CR, October 1916, 50-51).
President David O. McKay taught of section 4:
[A] . . . significant feature of this revelation, and others given about the same period, is the naming of essential qualifications of those who were to participate in the bringing about of this marvelous work. These qualifications were not the possession of wealth, not social distinction, not political preferment, not military achievement, not nobility of birth; but a desire to serve God with all your “heart, mind, and strength”— spiritual qualities that contribute to nobility of soul. I repeat: No popularity, no wealth, no theological training in church government—yet a marvelous work was about to come forth among the children of men. Manifestly, some higher power was operating to bring about this marvelous work other than mere human and material means (CR, April 1954, 22-23).
4 For behold the field is white already to harvest; and lo, he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not, but bringeth salvation to his soul;
verse 4 “For behold the field is white already to harvest” Wheat is green as it grows but loses its color as it matures. The paler the stalks, the closer they are to an optimal ripeness.
The term “already” here means all ready or now ready.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his famous Divinity School Address at Harvard— shortly after the restoration—stated:
The need was never greater of new revelation than now. . . . The Church seems to totter to its fall, almost all life extinct. . . . I look for the hour when the supreme Beauty, which ravished the souls of those eastern men, and chiefly of the Hebrews, and through their lips spoke oracles to all time, shall speak in the West also (In Sidney E. Ahlstrom, ed., Theology in America [Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1967], 306, 315-16).
A number of Latter-day Saint leaders spoke of their own quest for truth and the frustrations they felt before they encountered Joseph Smith. Brigham Young stated: “My mind was open to conviction, and I knew that the Christian world had not the religion that Jesus and his apostles taught. I knew that there was not a Bible Christian on the earth within my knowledge” (JD, 5:75). Wilford Woodruff said: “I did not join any church, believing that the church of Christ in its true organization did not exist upon the earth” (JD, 4:99). Willard Richards became “convinced that the sects were all wrong, and that God had no church on earth, but that he would soon have a church whose creed would be the truth” (HC, 2:470).
This marvelous work and wonder, to which the Lord referred, was, of course, heralded by the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.
5 And faith, hope, charity and love, with an eye single to the glory of God, qualify him for the work.
verse 5 “faith, hope, charity” See a discussion of these three principles in “The Fruits of Faith” in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 11, Other Notes on Faith.
“charity and love” We might assume that the use of and between charity and love implies that they are not exactly synonyms. “Charity” is the divine selfless love that God has for all men; whereas “love” may refer to a more earthly brotherly predisposition.
“with an eye single to the glory of God” A man cannot serve two masters (Mathew 6:24; Moroni 7:11-14).
6 Remember faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, diligence.
7 Ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Amen.
verse 7 This promise applies, most likely, only if we have paid the price of obedience to all else the Lord asks us to do in this section.
Brief Historical Setting
The translation work proceeded slowly with Emma and her brother Reuben Hale acting as scribes.
- Michael J. Preece