An Unseen Helping Hand

Shortly after Joseph Smith settled in Far West, Missouri, in March 1838, he had begun preparing for an expanded missionary effort by the Twelve to Great Britain.

Brigham Young was prepared to leave on 14 September, just shortly after his wife, Mary Ann had given birth to a daughter.

On 18 September, Brigham and Heber decided it was time to start on their appointed mission. Both men were so ill that they had to be helped into a wagon.

Elders Young and Kimball were joined en route by George A. Smith. As they traveled Brigham reached into his trunk and always found just enough money for the next stage coach fare. He thought Heber was replenishing the fund, but later discovered that he had not. The brethren had started their trip with $13.50 in donations, yet they spent more than $87 on coach fares. They had no idea how the additional money had gotten into the trunk “except by some unseen agent from the Heavenly world to forward the promulgation of the Gospel.” 7

7. In Arrington, Brigham Young: American Moses, p. 77

The Greatest Manifestation of the Gift of Healing

Sickness and a Day of God’s Power

In the summer of 1839 the swamp area on the Nauvoo peninsula had not yet been drained. While the Saints gathered, cleared, drained, built, and planted, they were oblivious to the danger of the Anopheles mosquito. This tiny insect, which bred profusely in the swampland and along the Mississippi riverbank, transmitted parasites to the red blood cells of humans by its bite. The disease this caused, characterized by periodic attacks of chills and fever, is now known as malaria, but people in the nineteenth century called it and diseases with similar symptoms the ague (pronounced `a gyu).

Eventually Joseph Smith also became ill, but after several days confinement he was prompted to arise and extend help to others. The day of 22 July was, in the words of Wilford Woodruff, “a day of God’s power” in Nauvoo and Montrose. 12 That morning the Prophet arose and, being filled with the Spirit of the Lord, administered to the sick in his house and in the yard outside. More sick people were down by the river, and there too he administered with great power to the faithful. One such, Henry G. Sherwood, was near death. Joseph stepped to the door of Brother Sherwood’s tent and commanded him to rise and come out; he obeyed and was healed. Elder Heber C. Kimball and others accompanied the Prophet across the river to Montrose. One by one they visited the homes of the Twelve and administered to those who needed a blessing. Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, Orson Pratt, and John Taylor then joined Joseph in his mission of mercy.

Elijah Fordham
Elijah Fordham (1798–1879) accepted the gospel in 1833 in Michigan. In 1835 he was ordained a seventy by Joseph Smith in Kirtland. Following his miraculous healing at the hands of Joseph Smith in Montrose, Iowa, Elijah moved to Nauvoo and worked on the temple until the Saints were forced from Illinois in 1846. He went to Utah in 1850 and continued faithful in the gospel the remainder of his life.
Courtesy of Daughters of Utah Pioneers, Salt Lake City

One of the most memorable of the healings in Montrose was that of Elijah Fordham. When the brethren arrived he was lying in bed unable to speak.

“Brother Joseph walked up to Brother Fordham, and took him by the right hand. . . .

“He saw that Brother Fordham’s eyes were glazed, and that he was speechless and unconscious.

“After taking hold of his hand, he looked down into the dying man’s face and said: ‘Brother Fordham, do you not know me?’ At first he made no reply; but we could all see the effect of the Spirit of God resting upon him.

“He again said: ‘Elijah, do you not know me?’

“With a low whisper, Brother Fordham answered, ‘Yes!’

“The Prophet then said, ‘Have you not faith to be healed?’

“The answer, which was a little plainer than before, was: ‘I am afraid it is too late. If you had come sooner, I think it might have been.’

“He had the appearance of a man waking from sleep. It was the sleep of death.

“Joseph then said: ‘Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ?’

“‘I do, Brother Joseph,’ was the response.

“Then the Prophet of God spoke with a loud voice, as in the majesty of the Godhead: ‘Elijah, I command you, in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, to arise and be made whole!’

“The words of the Prophet were not like the words of man, but like the voice of God. It seemed to me that the house shook from its foundation.

“Elijah Fordham leaped from his bed like a man raised from the dead. A healthy color came to his face, and life was manifested in every act.” 13

They next visited Joseph B. Noble, who was also healed. Wilford Woodruff remembered this as the “greatest day for the manifestation of the power of God through the gift of healing since the organization of the Church.” 14

14. Woodruff, Leaves from My Journal, p. 65.

A Pentecostal Season at the Kirtland Temple

The story of the building, preparation, and dedication of the Kirtland Temple is so spiritually rich and filled with visions that I quote below the entire section of the chapter in the Institute manual – ‘Church History in the Fulness of Times’.

A Pentecostal Season

In addition to their great personal efforts, the Saints spent from forty to sixty thousand dollars on the temple. Because they were so willing to sacrifice in building the temple, the Lord poured out great blessings upon them. From 21 January to 1 May 1836 probably more Latter-day Saints beheld visions and witnessed other unusual spiritual manifestations than during any other era in the history of the Church. Members of the Church saw heavenly messengers in at least ten different meetings, and at five of these gatherings different individuals testified that they had beheld the Savior himself. Many experienced visions, some prophesied, and others spoke in tongues.

One of the most important meetings held in the Kirtland Temple was on Thursday, 21 January 1836. The Prophet recorded the incident:

In the evening “at early candle-light I met with the presidency at the west school room, in the Temple, to attend to the ordinance of anointing our heads with holy oil. . . .

“We then laid our hands upon our aged Father Smith, and invoked the blessings of heaven. . . . The heavens were opened upon us, and I beheld the celestial kingdom of God, and the glory thereof. . . . I saw . . . the blazing throne of God. . . . I saw the beautiful streets of that kingdom, which had the appearance of being paved with gold.” Joseph Smith also saw many prophets in the celestial kingdom before the scene of his vision shifted (see D&C 137:1, 3–5 ). He then saw the recently appointed Twelve “standing together in a circle, much fatigued, with their clothes tattered and feet swollen, . . . and Jesus standing in their midst, and they did not behold Him. . . .

“Many of my brethren who received the ordinance [of washing and anointing] with me saw glorious visions also. Angels ministered unto them as well as to myself, and the power of the Highest rested upon us. The house was filled with the glory of God, and we shouted Hosanna to God and the Lamb. . . .

“. . . Some of them saw the face of the Savior, . . . for we all communed with the heavenly host.” 38

Joseph Smith saw his brother Alvin in the celestial kingdom and marvelled because Alvin had died before the gospel was restored. Also with the vision the Lord revealed the principle of mercy: “All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God” ( D&C 137:7 ). The Prophet also learned that all children who die before the age of accountability “are saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven” ( D&C 137:10 ).

Some of the most memorable spiritual experiences occurred on the day the temple was dedicated—Sunday, 27 March 1836. Hundreds of Latter-day Saints came to Kirtland anticipating the great blessings the Lord had promised to bestow upon them. Early on the morning of the temple dedication, hundreds of people gathered outside the temple hoping to attend the dedicatory service. The doors were opened at 8:00 a.m., and the First Presidency assisted in seating the congregation of nearly a thousand people, but many were left outside. When the leaders of the Church were seated at the elevated pulpits and benches at each end of the hall and when all the available seats in the temple were filled, the doors were closed. This left hundreds of people still outside, including many who had sacrificed tremendously for the temple’s construction and had come long distances to attend the dedication. Sensing their disappointment, the Prophet directed them to hold an overflow meeting in the schoolhouse just to the west. The dedicatory service was repeated a second time the following Thursday for their benefit.

After the choir’s opening number, President Sidney Rigdon spoke for two and a half hours declaring that the temple was unique among all the buildings of the world because it was built by divine revelation. After a brief intermission, the officers of the Church were sustained. The climax of the day was the dedicatory prayer, which had previously been given to the Prophet by revelation. He expressed gratitude for God’s blessings and asked the Lord to accept the temple which was built “through great tribulation . . . that the Son of Man might have a place to manifest himself to his people” ( D&C 109:5 ). He petitioned that the blessings promised in the Lord’s initial command to build the temple (see D&C 88:117–21 ) might now be realized, and he prayed that Church leaders, members, and the leaders of nations would be blessed, and that the promised gathering of the scattered remnants of Israel would be accomplished (see D&C 109:60–67 ). This prayer became a pattern for other temple dedicatory prayers.

Kirtland Temple
Kirtland Temple

Following the prayer, the choir sang the hymn “The Spirit of God.” It had been written especially for the dedication by W. W. Phelps. The sacrament was then administered and passed to the congregation. Joseph Smith and others testified that they saw heavenly messengers at the service. The congregation concluded the seven-hour service by standing and rendering the sacred “Hosanna Shout”: “Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna to God and the Lamb, amen, amen, and amen,” repeated three times. Eliza R. Snow said the shout was given “with such power as seemed almost sufficient to raise the roof from the building.” 39

That evening over four hundred priesthood bearers met in the temple. While George A. Smith was speaking, “a noise was heard like the sound of a rushing mighty wind which filled the Temple, and all the congregation simultaneously arose, being moved upon by an invisible power; many began to speak in tongues and prophesy; others saw glorious visions; and I beheld the Temple was filled with angels.” 40 “David Whitmer bore testimony that he saw three angels passing up the south aisle.” 41 “The people of the neighborhood came running together (hearing an unusual sound within, and seeing a bright light like a pillar of fire resting upon the Temple).” Others saw angels hovering over the temple and heard heavenly singing. 42

The most transcendent spiritual manifestation of all occurred a week after the dedication. After the afternoon worship service, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery retired to the Melchizedek Priesthood pulpits in the west end of the lower room of the temple. The canvas partition, called a veil, was lowered so that they could pray in private. As they prayed, “the veil was taken from our minds, and the eyes of our understanding were opened” ( D&C 110:1 ). They saw a series of remarkable visions. The Lord Jesus Christ appeared, accepted the temple, and promised to manifest himself therein “if my people will keep my commandments, and do not pollute this holy house” ( D&C 110:8 ; see also vv. 2–9 ).

Moses next appeared and restored “the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north” ( v. 11 ). Elias then conferred “the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham” ( v. 12 ). Finally, in fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy (see Malachi 4:5–6 ) and Moroni’s promise (see D&C 2 ) to “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers” ( D&C 110:15 ), Elijah appeared to the Prophet and Oliver testifying that “the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands” in preparation for “the great and dreadful day of the Lord” ( v. 16 ). Through the sealing keys that were restored by Elijah, Latter-day Saints could now perform saving priesthood ordinances in behalf of their kindred dead as well as for the living. These sacred ordinances for the dead were not introduced to the members of the Church until the Nauvoo era.

This great day of visions and revelation occurred on Easter Sunday, 3 April 1836. What better day in the dispensation of the fulness of times to reconfirm the reality of the Resurrection? That weekend was also the Jewish Passover. For centuries Jewish families have left an empty chair at their Passover feasts, anticipating Elijah’s return. Elijah has returned—not to a Passover feast, but to the Lord’s temple in Kirtland.

The Faith of Lucy Mack Smith

Between the end of January and the middle of May 1831, most of the New York Saints sold their possessions, packed their most precious material goods, and migrated to Kirtland and the adjacent areas. Joseph Smith and a few others went early and were followed by three separate companies—the Colesville Saints, members from Fayette and surrounding locations in Seneca County, and those from Palmyra-Manchester. A few others came later in the year.

The Colesville branch was the first group to leave. They arrived in Buffalo on 1 May to find that bitter lake winds had blown ice into the Buffalo harbor, which delayed them for eleven dreary days. They finally arrived in Fairport, Ohio, on 14 May. Over two hundred people went to Ohio, some by sleigh and stage coach, but most by canal barges to Buffalo and then by steamboats and schooners on Lake Erie.

Lucy Mack Smith
Lucy Mack Smith (1776–1856)

Meanwhile Church members in the Fayette vicinity also prepared for migration. With her older sons and husband already gone, Lucy Smith, a natural leader in her own right, organized a party of about fifty people (twenty adults and thirty children) to occupy a barge on the Cayuga and Seneca Canal. Another group of about thirty, organized by Thomas B. Marsh, took passage on an accompanying barge, and together the two boats traveled to Buffalo.

En route, Lucy “called the brethren and sisters together, and reminded them that we were traveling by the commandment of the Lord, as much as Father Lehi was, when he left Jerusalem; and, if faithful, we had the same reasons to expect the blessings of God.” 7 Although they suffered from hunger because some had brought clothing rather than food, they sang and prayed as they journeyed and left a favorable impression on the captain. Lucy took charge of the situation and prevented greater suffering.

When they arrived in Buffalo, they met the icebound Colesville Saints. After several anxious days in Buffalo, a number of the children had become sick, and many of the group were hungry and discouraged. They took deck passage on a boat, put their things on board, and obtained temporary shelter for the women and children until early the next morning. When they were back on board, Lucy persuaded the still murmuring group to ask the Lord to break the twenty-foot clogs of ice that jammed the harbor. She explained, “A noise was heard, like bursting thunder. The captain cried, ‘Every man to his post.’ The ice parted, leaving barely a passage for the boat, and so narrow that as the boat passed through the buckets of the waterwheel were torn off with a crash. . . . We had barely passed through the avenue when the ice closed together again.” The Colesville group followed a few days later. 8

8. Smith, History of Joseph Smith, pp. 200–205.

Mary Whitmer, the Twelfth Witness of the Book of Mormon

While the translation progressed, the gospel was being taught in Seneca County, and Hyrum Smith, David Whitmer, and Peter Whitmer, Jr., were baptized in June for the remission of sins. Peter Whitmer’s three sons, David, John, and Peter, Jr., became devoted assistants in the work. Eager to learn of the Whitmers’ duties, Joseph sought the Lord, and a revelation was granted to each of them. Each was told to help in building the kingdom of God by declaring repentance (see D&C 14–16 ). All these activities were not easy on Peter and Mary Whitmer, who were hosting the Smiths and Oliver Cowdery in their home. Their son, David, said that this added burden greatly increased the anxiety of his mother. She did not complain, but she felt overwhelmed. David later related what happened one day as his mother went to the barn to milk the cows: “She was met out near the yard by the same old man [seen earlier by David] (judging by her description of him) who said to her: ‘You have been very faithful and diligent in your labors, but you are tired because of the increase of your toil; it is proper therefore that you should receive a witness that your faith may be strengthened.’ Thereupon he showed her the plates.” 15. “Report of Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith,” pp. 772–73;

The Three Nephites help David Whitmer

Shortly after beginning to assist Joseph Smith with the work of translation, Oliver wrote to David Whitmer in Fayette township. He enthusiastically testified that Joseph Smith had the ancient records and that the work was divine. Soon he sent a few lines of the translation and bore witness that he knew the plates contained a record of the people who once inhabited this continent. David Whitmer, then twenty-four years of age, eagerly showed these letters to his parents and brothers and sisters. Persecution began to intensify in the Harmony area, so late in May, Oliver communicated with David about the possibility of Joseph and Oliver going to stay with the Whitmers in Fayette. In response Peter Whitmer, Sr., David’s father, invited Joseph to stay at his farm home as long as was needed to finish the work of translation. David’s brother John offered to help as Joseph’s scribe. Many people in the Fayette area were anxious to hear more about the work. 10

David Whitmer
David Whitmer (1805–88) was one of the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon. He died in Richmond, Missouri, at the age of eighty-four.

A late May planting was essential for successful fall crops; therefore, David Whitmer had to plow and prepare the soil before he could take his two-horse wagon to pick up Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. At the end of a day of plowing he found he had accomplished in one day what normally would have taken two days to do. David’s father was likewise impressed by this apparent miracle. Peter Whitmer, Sr., said, “There must be an overruling hand in this, and I think you would better go down to Pennsylvania as soon as your plaster of paris is sown.” 11 (Plaster of paris was used to reduce the acidity of the soil.) The next day David went to the fields to sow the plaster, but to his surprise he found the work had been done. His sister, who lived near the field, said that her children had called her to watch three strangers the day before spread the plaster with remarkable skill. She assumed they were men David had hired. 12[History of Joseph Smith 148-149]