Friday, March 12, 2010

The Many Lessons Learned From Liberty Jail

This week in Institute we covered the revelations Joseph Smith received while he was incarcerated in Liberty Jail. A portion of these revelations are found in the Doctrine and Covenants in Sections 121,122, and 123. The full transcript of the letter written by Joseph Smith to Edward Partridge and company, which contained these revelations, is found in The History of The Church, Vol. 3. It is very helpful to read the letter in it’s entirety to gain a better perspective on the recorded information in the Doctrine and Covenants. If you are looking for additional insights another great resource is a CES Fireside talk given by Elder Holland called, “Lessons from Liberty Jail”. My next few posts will cover some of this information.

After months of being unfairly imprisoned with unheeded appeals made to the judiciary officials of the state, Joseph Smith and his cell mates, through written communication, wrote an emotional letter to the Saints who had been driven from Far West and had begun to settle in Quincy, Illinois. The conditions of Liberty Jail were harsh and barely inhabitable. They had endured unbelievable hardships ranging from scarcity of food to unsanitary living conditions, but nevertheless, I believe that concern for the conditions of the Saints who were exiled from Far West was still foremost in their thoughts.

Joseph writes:

Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, we are the more ready and willing to lay claim to your fellowship and love. For our circumstances are calculated to awaken our spirits to a sacred remembrance of everything, and we think that yours are also, and that nothing therefore can separate us from the love of God and fellowship one with another; and that every species of wickedness and cruelty practiced upon us will only tend to bind our hearts together and seal them together in love. We have no need to say to you that we are held in bonds without cause, neither is it needful that you say unto us, We are driven from our homes and smitten without cause. We mutually understand that if the inhabitants of the state of Missouri had let the Saints alone, and had been as desirable of peace as they were, there would have been nothing but peace and quietude in the state unto this day; we should not have been in this hell, surrounded with demons (if not those who are damned, they are those who shall be damned) and where we are compelled to hear nothing but blasphemous oaths, and witness a scene of blasphemy, and drunkenness and hypocrisy, and debaucheries of every description.

And again, the cries of orphans and widows would not have ascended up to God against them. Nor would innocent blood have stained the soil of Missouri. But oh! the unrelenting hand! The inhumanity and murderous disposition of this people! It shocks all nature; it beggars and defies all description; it is a tale of woe; a lamentable tale; yea a sorrowful tale; too much to tell; too much for contemplation; too much for human beings; it cannot be found among the heathens; it cannot be found among the nations where kings and tyrants are enthroned; it cannot be found among the savages of the wilderness; yea, and I think it cannot be found among the wild and ferocious beasts of the forest--that a man should be mangled for sport! women be robbed of all that they have--their last morsel for subsistence, and then be violated to gratify the hellish desires of the mob, and finally left to perish with their helpless offspring clinging around their necks.

They practice these things upon the Saints, who have done then no wrong, who are innocent and virtuous; who loved the Lord their God, and were willing to forsake all things for Christ’s sake. These things are awful to relate, but they are verily true. It must needs be that offenses come, but woe unto them by whom they come. [HC 3:290­91]

As Joseph petitioned the Lord in the first six verses of Section 121, deplorable as his conditions were, he showed that thoughts of the Saints were in his mind and heart. Notice how he prays for “thy people” and then “thy servants” in verse 2.

Doctrine and Covenants 122:1 O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?

2 How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants, and thine ear be penetrated with their cries?

3 Yea, O Lord, how long shall they suffer these wrongs and unlawful oppressions, before thine heart shall be softened toward them, and thy bowels be moved with compassion toward them?

Perhaps the worst torment for the captives was the unknown condition of their friends as told by their proclamation, “O that we could be with you, brethren, and unbosom our feelings to you?”

This actual correspondence (which became Sections 121-123) to the Saints was spurred on because of the consoling letters they received while they were in prison. The letters specifically mentioned were from Don Carlos Smith, Bishop Partridge, and Emma Smith.

(Sidebar: Something that I believe deserves comment is the fact that these letters came at a time when these men were at their lowest. Perhaps there are times when we offer consoling words to those who suffer and never fully understand that they were of such great worth. It is important to remember to simply offer those words of encouragement to others when prompted.)

Joseph comments on receiving this news as follows:

We were much gratified with their contents. We had been a long time without information; and when we read those letters they were to our souls as the gentle air is refreshing, but our joy was mingled with grief, because of the sufferings of the poor and much injured Saints.[HC 3:293]

Elder Holland, in his remarks as noted above, compares the Liberty Jail experience to a Temple experience for Joseph. Although he did not specifically mention this as part of that experience, I believe that the concern Joseph had for others was a prerequisite for him to experience this grand sanctifying process.

Just a few days previous to the reception of this revelation Joseph wrote a letter from jail to a Mrs. Norman Bull of Clay County, Missouri. I believe that we can gain wonderful insights into Joseph’s character from some of the excerpts. He wrote:

My heart bleeds continually when I contemplate the distress of the Church. O, that I could be with them! I would not shrink at toil and hardship to render then comfort and consolation.

But trials will only give us the knowledge necessary to understand the minds of the ancients. For my part, I think I never could have felt as I now do, if I had not suffered the wrongs that I have suffered.

I know that something will soon take place to stir up this generation to see what they have been doing, and that their fathers have inherited lies and they have been led captive by the devil, to no profit; but they know not what they do. Do not have any feelings of enmity towards any son or daughter of Adam. I believe I shall be let out of their hands some way or another, and shall see good days. We cannot do anything only stand still and see the salvation of God. He must do His own work, or it must fall to the ground. We must not take it in our hands to avenge our wrongs. [HC3:286]

I believe that Joseph felt love for the Saints in exile and compassion for those who persecuted them as well. It is apparent to me that the fact that he longed for justice to be served by the Lord illustrated the condition of his heart and his humble nature. He not only was willing to love “his neighbor”, which was part of the Mosaic Law but was willing to live the higher law as taught by Jesus Christ.

Matthew 5:43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.

44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?

Still in his petition for justice from the Lord, Joseph understood that vengeance only belonged to the Lord.

Deuteronomy 32:35 To me belongeth vengeance, and recompence; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste.43 Rejoice, O ye nations, with his people: for he will avenge the blood of his servants, and will render vengeance to his adversaries, and will be merciful unto his land, and to his people.

Jeremiah 20:11 But the Lord is with me as a mighty terrible one: therefore my persecutors shall stumble, and they shall not prevail: they shall be greatly ashamed; for they shall not prosper: their everlasting confusion shall never be forgotten. 12 But, O Lord of hosts, that triest the righteous, and seest the reins and the heart, let me see thy vengeance on them: for unto thee have I opened my cause.

Doctrine and Covenants 121:5 Let thine anger be kindled against our enemies; and, in the fury of thine heart, with thy sword avenge us of our wrongs. 6 Remember thy suffering saints, O our God; and thy servants will rejoice in thy name forever.

From these very few examples we can see the three lessons learned that Elder Holland speaks of very clearly.

1) Everyone faces trying times.

2) Even the worthy will suffer.

3) Remain calm, patient, charitable and forgiving.

Joseph Smith and those incarcerated with him showed “majesty” even while they were being held captive. I believe, as Joseph did, that he “never could have felt” the things he felt “had he not suffered the wrongs” he did. It is often during the hardest trials faced that we come to learn the lesson that “all things shall work together for good to them that love God.” Perhaps this knowledge will help us when trials come...because they will come.

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