Come Follow Me with Casey Paul Griffiths (Doctrine and Covenants 121-123, October 18-24) – powered by Happy Scribe
There are times in our life that are difficult. There’s no avoiding it. There are times when we might be keeping every commandment and doing everything that we’re supposed to do, but everything just goes haywire. And we’re left wondering why one of those moments in the life for the Prophet Joseph Smith happened in Liberty Jail, Missouri, where the sections that were received in Liberty Jail, sections 121, 122, and 123 were all recorded by Joseph Smith. Liberty Jail is one of the most difficult and horrible situations that Joseph Smith ever finds himself in.
There’s a long list of tribulations given in Section 122 of the Doctrine and Covenants that includes being cast into a pit or being surrounded by enemies that literally are what happens to Joseph Smith. In the days leading up to Liberty Jail, the Missouri militia surrounds Far West and arrests Joseph Smith. He is separated from his son at Sword Point. What’s described in Section 122 literally happens, and Joseph Smith’s little boy wonders if his father is going to be killed or murdered to make things worse. It’s not just things happening to Joseph Smith.
It’s happening to the people that he cares about and loves. Joseph Smith is taken from his arrest at Far West to Independence Jail and then to Richmond Jail. And while he’s in Richmond Jail, he’s trying to get sleep alongside of some of his close companions, where the guards keep them awake, bragging about the things that they’ve done to property and to people at Far West. Piler P Pratt, who was there, witnessed Joseph Smith have enough of what the guards had to say and then rise to his feet and speak in a voice of Thunder as a roaring lion uttering as near as barley could recollect the following words.
Silence. He seems of the infernal pit in the name of Jesus Christ, I rebuke you and command you to be still.
I will not live another minute and hear such language.
Cease such talk, or you or I die this instant, partly later remembered that one time he saw true Majesty, even if it wasn’t chains in an obscure jail in an obscure village in an obscure part of the United States. From Richmond Jail, Joseph Smith is taken to Liberty Jail in Clay County, Missouri. Liberty Gel is a well known Church history site that many people have visited today. The Church has a nice little visitor center that surrounds the remnants of Liberty Jail and the site of Liberty Jail is cut away in order to show you the conditions that Joseph Smith and other Church leaders lived in while they were in Liberty Jail for five months during the winter of 1838 to 1839.
Conditions are terrible.
The food is terrible, and what may have made it worse was the anxiety over their family and friends who were being forced to leave the state of Missouri by the local militia. Emma Smith, for instance, wrote a letter to Joseph while he was in Liberty Jail, describing the travails of their family, she said, no one but God knows the reflections of my mind and the feelings of my heart when I left our house and home and almost all of everything that we possessed excepting our little children and took my journey out of the state of Missouri, leaving you shut up in that lonesome prison.
But the recollection is more than human nature ought to bear. Even worse, Joseph Smith isn’t just worrying about his family. He’s worrying about his larger family of the Church, who are all being forced to leave.
Emma’s letter goes on to describe their suffering, saying the daily sufferings of our brethren and traveling and camping out nights, and those on the other side of the river would beggar the most lively description. Now, how does Joseph feel about the jail himself? Well, when he gets out of the jail, he writes a letter to Emma Smith, where he says, we cannot get into a worse hole than this. We shall not stay here. But one night Besides this, if that thank God, we shall never cast a lingering wish after Liberty.
In Clay County, Missouri, we’ve had enough of it to last forever. Now, during the five months that Joseph Smith is in Liberty Jail, he writes correspondence to the Church, including a letter addressed to the Church and Edward Partridge, the presiding Bishop. This letter is the source for sections 121, 122, and 123 of the Doctrine of Covenants. The letter itself is about 18 pages long. It’s beautiful.
It’s worth your time to read. But parts of the letter where the Lord spoke directly to Joseph Smith were excerpted and placed into the Doctrine Covenants. As these three sections, the letter addresses some of the most basic things that every single person struggles with. For instance, why do bad things happen to good people? In fact, the letter opens at maybe the lowest point in Joseph’s life when he just pleads, oh, God, where art thou?
And where is the Pavilion, the cover thy hiding place. Now, the Savior doesn’t give Joseph the why this is happening. Just the comfort to know that he’s not alone. A few verses later, the Savior says to Joseph, My son, peace be unto thy soul. Thine adversity and thine affliction shall be.
But a small moment. And then if thou endear it well, God shall exalt theeon high. Thou shalt triumph over all thy foes. Joseph was assured that he was going to be okay and that he was going to get out of the jail. And the Lord had a few more lessons that he wanted him to learn to.
For instance, the Lord says he’s not going to stop blessing the Saints and anybody that tries to stop him from blessing the Saints would be like a single person holding forth their puny arm to try and stop the flow of the mighty Missouri River. But the Lord does say that though we can’t stop him from giving us power. There are some things we can do to stop ourselves from receiving priesthood power. The rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.
In other words, anyone that receives priesthood power has their power limited by their righteousness.
The more righteous they are, the more powerful they become, the less righteous they are, the more their priesthood is taken away. And some of the things that we do to cause ourselves to lose priesthood are also listed by the Savior. The Savior says, when we undertake to cover our sins or to gratify our pride or our vain ambition or exercise control or Dominion or compulsion upon the souls of men in any degree of unrighteousness, the heavens withdraw themselves. The Spirit of the Lord is grieved and what it is withdrawn Amen to the priesthood or authority of that man.
So if that’s how we lose priesthood authority, how do we gain priests of authority?
The Savior teaches this as well. In verse 41. He taught no power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priests only by persuasion, by long suffering, by gentleness and beingness, and by love, unfeigned by kindness and pure knowledge. We shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy and without guile. In other words, sometimes we want to use our priests, and I’m guessing Joseph Smith may have felt this way to just wipe out our enemies and solve like that all the problems that we have.
But 99.9% of the time the priesthood is used. It’s not to destroy your enemies. It’s used to bless the people around us. We all want to be Moses, and we all want to be able to split the Red Sea and cause it to collapse in on our enemies. But most of the time when priesthood is used, it’s not to destroy armies, it’s to bless the sick and help those that are downtrodden and discouraged.
The Lord encourages Joseph Smith and his companions, telling them, Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men and toward the household of faith. And let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly. Then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God and the doctrine the priesthood shall distill upon thy soul as the deuce from heaven. Now again, the Savior doesn’t explain the reason why these things are happening, except in one poignant place in section 122, go to verse seven, and you’ll take a look there and see that the Savior list all these things that can happen to Joseph Smith.
And then says, One simple thing, My son, all these things shall give the experience and shall be for thy good.
And then one last powerful reminder, the Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he? Joseph is left to ponder that question as he wonders and thinks about the lessons that he’s supposed to learn in Liberty Jail. And Elder Jeffrey Rholland has pointed out that part of the reason why these sections and this letter resonates so strongly with all of us is because we’re all going to spend a little bit of time in Liberty Jail. Elder Hollandton, in one way or another, great or small, dramatic or incidental, every one of us is going to spend a little time in Liberty Jail.
Spiritually speaking, we will face things that we do not want to face for reasons that may not be our fault. Indeed, we may face difficult circumstances for reasons that were absolutely right and proper reasons that came because we were keeping the Commandments of the Lord. But Elder Holland also teaches the lessons of Liberty Jail teach us that every experience can become a redemptive experience if we remain bonded to our Father in Heaven through it. These difficult lessons teach us that man’s extremity is God’s opportunity and that we’ll be humble and faithful if we will be believing and not curse God for our problems.
We can turn the unfair and inhumane and debilitating prisons of our lives into temples.
Now that is how Liberty Jail works. It was a terrible place to be a place that Joseph and his companions didn’t want to be in, and yet their humility allowed them to be sanctified and changed Liberty from more than just a prison into a temple prison, a place where the Lord could speak and be with and help his servants with these heart events that happen in our lives. The question isn’t, if they’re going to happen, it’s when they’re going to happen, there are going to be hard times and hard days ahead for all of us.
We’ve all made it through and survived hard times. The question is, when the hard times come, are we going to choose to turn them into an experience that can teach us?
Are we going to let them be something that makes us bitter makes us angry and cankers our souls. Joseph Smith wrote several other letters while he was in Liberty Jail, and some of them show the effect that this captivity had on his soul. For instance, one letter he wrote to a close friend said, no tongue can tell what inexpressible joy gives a man to see the face of one who has been a friend after having been enclosed in the walls of a prison for five months. It seems to me that my heart will always be more tender after this than ever.
It was before.
And then he concludes the letter by saying, 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, all things shall work together for good to them that love God. You see, we still have a choice. We might not be able to choose if hard times are going to happen, but we can choose how we react to those hard times. We can choose to become a more tender and more gentle and more empathetic person.
We can choose to turn those experiences into sanctifying experiences that draws closer to the Savior rather than pushing him away.
Because the sacred principle of agency is just as operative here as it is at any other point in time in our lives. We just have the right and power to choose how we react to our circumstances, even if we can’t choose what our circumstances are. If we respond in the right way, we’ll be closer to God. When these trials are finally over and they will be over, every single one of us will eventually escape from Liberty Jail to a brighter and better place to be and recognize and know and see the presence of the Savior in the most difficult parts of our lives.