Sections 71 and 73: Debate the Enemy
The antagonism that had blossomed against the Church by December 1831 was partly the result of the inflammatory anti-Mormon letters written by the apostate Ezra Booth which were printed in a local newspaper, the Ohio Star in Ravenna, Ohio (see the character vignette on Ezra Booth at the end of section 52). Ezra Booth was the former Methodist minister and friend of John Johnson, on whose farm Joseph and Sidney were staying in Hiram. Booth joined the Church after seeing Joseph heal the lame arm of John Johnson’s wife Elsa. A short time later, Joseph successfully rebuked an evil spirit that had overcome Ezra. Booth was ordained a high priest in June and was one of the missionaries sent to Missouri that month with Isaac Morley (see D&C 52:23). He became disillusioned after finding that his priesthood did not give him the power to “smite” men and make them believe. On his mission in Missouri he also expected to see more miracles, and he was disappointed that Zion was not founded immediately. The Prophet later wrote of these anti-Mormon letters authored by Booth. He said that they “by their coloring, falsity, and vain calculations to overthrow the work of the Lord, exposed his [Booth’s] weakness, wickedness, and folly, and left him a monument of his own shame for the world to wonder at” (HC, 1:217).
Also, Simonds Ryder was an associate of Ezra Booth, and the two of them had begun to stir up anti-Mormon feelings in northeastern Ohio by speaking in public meetings. These two were not the first to leave the Church, but they were the most vicious to date, and they were the first to publicly campaign against their former friends.
Since moving to Hiram, Ohio, in September 1831, Joseph and Sidney had spent considerable time working on Joseph’s inspired revision of the King James Bible. On December 1, 1831, however, the Lord gave a revelation to Joseph and Sidney (section 71) commanding them to pause in their “translation,” and he sent them on a brief mission “for a season” into the surrounding communities to preach and expound the gospel according to the spirit of the Holy Ghost he promised them. The apparent purpose of this limited mission was to confront and confound their “enemies” and thereby calm and sooth the feelings building up against the Church. It would seem that it is sometimes wise to avoid criticisms leveled at the Church, and at other times it is wise to meet them head one. This was one of those latter times.
1 Behold, thus saith the Lord unto you my servants Joseph Smith, Jun., and Sidney Rigdon, that the time has verily come that it is necessary and expedient in me that you should open your mouths in proclaiming my gospel, the things of the kingdom, expounding the mysteries thereof out of the scriptures, according to that portion of Spirit and power which shall be given unto you, even as I will.
verse 1 “the time has verily come” These were unusual circumstances, as Joseph and Sidney are called by the Lord to do something uncharacteristic of missionaries of the restored gospel in this final dispensation. They are called to confront and neutralize the influence of apostate anti-Mormons who were making it difficult to preach the gospel.
“expounding the mysteries thereof out of the scriptures” A “mystery” is an eternal truth that cannot be known except through personal revelation received through the Spirit of God. All of the eternal truths of the gospel are mysteries until an individual has developed a desire to learn them and has prayed to receive them.
2 Verily I say unto you, proclaim unto the world in the regions round about, and in the church also, for the space of a season, even until it shall be made known unto you.
verse 2 “in the regions round about” This applies to northeast Ohio.
“and in the church also” Unfortunately, some of the saints appear also to have been affected by the accusations of the apostates and needed to hear the truth from Joseph and Sidney.
3 Verily this is a mission for a season, which I give unto you.
verse 3 “a mission for a season” This was not a normal proselyting mission. It was a special call to improve public relations and build up the image of the Church in Ohio, which will last until the immediate problem is solved.
4 Wherefore, labor ye in my vineyard. Call upon the inhabitants of the earth, and bear record, and prepare the way for the commandments and revelations which are to come.
verse 4 “the commandments and revelations which are to come” One might assume, with the publication of the Book of Commandments, that all the revelations the Lord intends for our dispensation have been received. But this is not so. Articles of Faith 1:9 teaches, “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.
5 Now, behold this is wisdom; whoso readeth, let him understand and receive also;
6 For unto him that receiveth it shall be given more abundantly, even power.
verses 7-10 In these verses the Lord specifically commands that Joseph and Sidney call upon their detractors and invite them to debate, either in public or in private. The Lord then promises them that if they are faithful, the “enemy” will be confounded.
This revelation was received December 1, 1831. Joseph recorded: “From this time until the 8th or 10th of January, 1832, myself and Elder Rigdon continued to preach in Shalersville, Ravenna, and other places, setting forth the truth, vindicating the cause of our Redeemer; showing that the day of vengeance was coming upon this generation like a thief in the night; that prejudice, blindness and darkness filled the minds of many, and caused them to persecute the true Church, and reject the true light; by which means we did much towards allaying the excited feelings which were growing out of the scandalous letters then being published in the Ohio Star, at Ravenna, by the before-mentioned apostate, Ezra Booth” (HC, 1:241).
The December 20, 1831, Painesville Telegraph stated that “Sidney Rigdon, the vice-regent [deputy] and champion of Jo. Smith, has thrown out a challenge, in the Ohio Star, to Mr. Booth and Deacon Ryder, who have renounced the Mormon faith, to meet him in mortal combat (of words) on the subject of the Gold Bible.” Ryder refused the invitation. Sidney Rigdon wrote a letter, published in the Ohio Star on January 12, 1832, in which he charged: “Symonds, like the worker of iniquity, has sought a hiding place. Let the public remember, when he goes forth again to proclaim his assertions against the Book of Mormon, that he has been invited upon honorable principles to investigate its merits, and dares not do it.”
7 Wherefore, confound your enemies; call upon them to meet you both in publi
c and in private; and inasmuch as ye are faithful their shame shall be made manifest.
verse 7 “confound your enemies” To confound means to contradict or refute; to put to shame; or to defeat. It should be pointed out that this is not the usual policy of the Church, and this course of action was undertaken at this time only under the explicit command of the Lord and for a specific reason. Normally, there is no good reason to include or to invite the enemies of God to participate with us in the work of God. We are commanded to preach the gospel to the pure in heart—not to contend, argue, or debate with the impure in heart (see 3 Nephi 11:29-30).
8 Wherefore, let them bring forth their strong reasons against the Lord.
9 Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you—there is no weapon that is formed against you shall prosper;
verses 8-9 Elder Heber J. Grant, in general conference, said:
Our enemies have never done anything that has injured this work of God, and they never will. I look around, I read, I reflect, and I ask the question, Where are the men of influence, of power and prestige, who have worked against the Latter-day Saints? Where is the reputation, for honor and courage, of the governors of Missouri and Illinois . . . ? Where are there people to do them honor? They cannot be found. . . . Where are the men who have assailed this work? Where is their influence? They have faded away like dew before the sun. . . . We need have no fears, we Latter-day Saints. God will continue to sustain this work; He will sustain the right. If we are loyal, if we are true, if we are worthy of this Gospel, of which God has given us a testimony, there is no danger that the world can ever injure us. We can never be injured, my brethren and sisters, by any mortals, except ourselves (CR, April 1909, 110).
President Harold B. Lee also taught: “No weapon formed against the work of the Lord will ever prosper, but all glory and majesty of this work, that the Lord gave, will long be remembered after those who have tried to befoul the name of the Church and those of its leaders will be forgotten, and their works will follow after them. We feel sorry for them when we see these things happen” (CR, October 1973, 167).
10 And if any man lift his voice against you he shall be confounded in mine own due time.
11 Wherefore, keep my commandments; they are true and faithful. Even so. Amen.
In obedience to this call, Joseph and Sidney left Hiram on December 3rd and went forth to Kirtland, Shalersville, Ravenna, and other places preaching boldly the truth and calling on their detractors to come out to meet them face to face. By this means it was intended that the scandalous accusations of the “enemy” might be exposed as false. With the help of the Spirit, they were able to confound their detractors, as the latter were unable to substantiate their falsehoods and were surprised by this sudden challenge so boldly given. Some of the anti-Mormon prejudice was allayed, at least for a time, and some friends and converts were made through this approach.
Section 71 probably helped set a pattern of missionary work that evolved in the early days of the Church—that of going into a town and challenging a prominent local minister to a public debate in a local hall. In those days a missionary wasn’t worth his salt if he couldn’t hold his own in public debate. Some of our early great church leaders were skillful debaters, and the skill of the likes of John Taylor and B. H. Roberts is legendary. Many converts were made as nonmembers watched these debates. Our current missionary approach is not to confront or debate or argue, as it is now considered generally a waste of time to do so.
By the time section 73 was received on January 10th, 1832, Joseph and Sidney had been on their mission for almost six weeks. They had publicly met their critics and had done much to improve the popular image and perceptions of the Church. In section 73, the Lord commanded Joseph and Sidney to terminate their mini-mission and return to Hiram and to their revision of the Bible. Concerning this moment in the history of the Church, the Prophet wrote: “On the 10th of January, I received the following revelation [section 73] making known the will of the Lord concerning the Elders of the Church until the convening of the next conference” (HC, 1:241). The earliest known manuscript of section 73 contains the following notation in the handwriting of Sidney Rigdon: “A Revelation to Joseph and Sidney. The word of the Lord unto them concerning the Elders of the church of the Living God established in the last days, making known the will of the Lord unto the Elders—what they shall do until conference” (cited in Woodford, Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants, 1:903). The conference referred to here will be held on January 25, 1832, in Amherst, Ohio, about fifty miles west of Kirtland.
1 For verily, thus saith the Lord, it is expedient in me that they should continue preaching the gospel, and in exhortation to the churches in the regions round about, until conference;
verse 1 “it is expedient in me that they should continue preaching the gospel” The second verse of this section refers to the conference of elders that was planned for January 25, 1832. Several of the elders anticipated new mission calls at that conference. These elders wondered what to do while waiting for the conference. In verse 1, the Lord tells them to make good use of their time and continue preaching in the “regions round about” until they are reassigned.
2 And then, behold, it shall be made known unto them, by the voice of the conference, their several missions.
verse 2 “by the voice of the conference” In the years before the organization of the priesthood quorums, church business was often conducted and church assignments made by a process of proposal and sustaining vote in special priesthood conferences like the one to take place at Amherst.
3 Now, verily I say unto you my servants, Joseph Smith, Jun., and Sidney Rigdon, saith the Lord, it is expedient to translate again;
verse 3 “it is expedient to translate again” The Lord here, of course, refers to Joseph and Sidney’s work on the Joseph Smith translation (see the supplemental article, Joseph Smith’s Inspired Revision of the Bible—The JST). Although the word “translate” implies the use of ancient texts and ancient languages, Joseph’s work was to provide additional revelatory information—additional scripture—by the power of the Spirit and not by scholarly re-interpretation. Later the Prophet would study Hebrew and German, but any knowledge of languages that he would obtain was not involved in his inspired revision of the Bible.
4 And, inasmuch as it is practicable, to preach in the regions round about until conference; and after that it is expedient to continue the work of translation until it be finished.
verse 4 “to preach in the regions round about until conference” Joseph and Sidney are commanded both to translate and to continue their missionary preaching until conference. After the Amherst conference, however, they were to devote their full time specifically to their work on the JST.
“until it be finished” The Prophet continued to work vigorously on the JST from this time until July 2, 1833, when the first draft of his work was finished, and he ceased formal labor on the JST. He continued making revisions in the text, however, from time to time until his death in 1844. It would be difficult to overestimate the benefits and influence of the JST on the doctrinal education of the Prophet and of the Church. In particular, the eighteen months between January 1832—the Amherst conference—and June of 1833 were richly productive. Twenty-three sections of the Doctrine and Covenants were received during that time (sections 73 through 96).
5 And let this be a pattern unto the elders until further knowledge, even as it is written.
verse 5 “let this be a pattern” From this point on when the elders collectively wonder about the Lord’s will for them, let them continue doing their duty and wait to learn his will through the Prophet and other leaders at their scheduled conferences. This remains a pattern for the priesthood holders of the Church today.
6 Now I give no more unto you at this time. Gird up your loins and be sober. Even so. Amen.
- Michael J. Preece