Friday, December 8, 2017

Oliver Cowdery and the Apostles

Some people wonder why it was Oliver Cowdery who wrote Letter VII.

It's an easy answer. Recall that Oliver Cowdery was ordained as the Assistant President of the Church in December, 1834. The notes from the meeting describe the significance of that calling this way:

"The office of Assistant President is to assist in presiding over the whole Church, and to officiate in the absence of the President, according to his rank and appointment, viz: President Cowdery, first; President Rigdon Second, and President Williams Third, as they were severally called. The office of this priesthood is also to act as spokesman, taking Aaron for an example. The virtue of the above priesthood is to hold the keys of the kingdom of heaven or of the Church militant."

http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/account-of-meetings-revelation-and-blessing-5-6-december-1834/1

Oliver, the spokesman designated by the Lord, would naturally be the one to write important doctrinal and historical matters, such as the eight historical letters, including Letter VII. Joseph assisted him, but it was up to Oliver to do the writing. For Letter VII, it didn't matter which of them wrote the words anyway; both Joseph and Oliver had visited Mormon's depository of Nephite records right inside the Hill Cumorah in New York.
_______

Because of his responsibility as spokesman, it was Oliver, not Joseph, who gave the first Quorum of the Twelve Apostles an explanation of their calling and a Charge on how to fulfill it. Oliver ordained all of the Apostles. He was assisted in some cases by Joseph and Sidney Rigdon.

He gave the charge shortly after the Apostles were ordained.

Think about this the next time some intellectual tells you that Oliver was merely an ignorant speculator who misled the Church about Cumorah when he wrote Letter VII.

You can read the charge in the Joseph Smith Papers here: http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/minutes-and-blessings-21-february-1835/5.

The following Charge was given to the Twelve by President O. Cowdery.

Dear Brethren, previously to delivering the charge I shall read a part of a revelation. It is known to you that previous to the organizing of this church in 1830 The Lord gave revelations or the Church could not have been organized. The people of this Church were weak in faith compared with the ancients. 

Those who embarked in this cause, were desirous to know how the work was to be conducted. They read many things in the Book of Mormon, concerning their duty and the way the great work ought to be done; but the minds of men are so constructed, that they will not believe without a testimony of seeing or hearing. The Lord gave us a revelation, that in process of time there should be Twelve chosen to preach his gospel to Jew & Gentile. Our minds have been on a constant stretch to find who these Twelve were. [p. 158]

When the time should come, we could not tell, but we sought the Lord by fasting and prayer, to have our lives prolonged to see this day, to see you, and to take a retrospect of the difficulties through which we have passed. but, having seen the day, it becomes my duty to deliver to you a charge. and first, a few remarks respecting your ministry. 

You have many Revelations put into your hands. Revelations to make you acquainted with the nature of your Mission. You will have difficulties by reason of your visiting all the nations of the world. You will need wisdom in a tenfold proportion to what you have ever had. You will have to combat all the prejudices of all nations. 

He then read Revelation, and proceeded to say, Have you desired this ministry with all your hearts, If you have desired it, you are called of God not of man, to go into all the world. He read again, from the Revelation, what the Lord said to the 12 Brethren, you have your duty presented in this revelation. You have been ordained to the Holy Priesthood, You have received it from those who had their power and authority from an angel.— 

[Note: they were all ordained by Oliver, with Joseph and David Whitmer participating in some cases.]

You are to preach the gospel to every nation. should you in the least degree, come short of your duty, great will be your condemnation. for the greater the calling, the greater the transgression. I, therefore, warn you to cultivate great humility, for I know the pride of the human heart. Beware, lest the flatterers of the world lift you up. Beware lest your affections are captivated by worldly objects. Let your ministry be first. 

Remember the souls of men are committed to your charge, and if you mind your calling you shall always prosper. You have been indebted to other men in the first instance for evidence, on that you have acted. But <it> is necessary that you receive a testimony from Heaven for [p. 159] yourselves, so that you can bear testimony to the truth of the Book of Mormon. 

And that you have seen the face of God: that is more than the testimony of an Angel. When the proper time arrives, you shall be able to bear this testimony to the world. When you bear testimony that you have seen God. This testimony God will never suffer to fall, but will bear you out. although many will not give heed, yet others will. You will, therefore, see the necessity of getting this testimony from Heaven. Never cease striving until you have seen God, face to face. 

Strengthen your faith, cast off your doubts, your sins and all your unbelief and nothing can prevent you from coming to God. your ordination is not full and complete till God has laid his hand upon you. We require as much to qualify us as did those who have gone before us. God is the same. If the Saviour in former days laid his hands on his deciples. Why not in the latter Days. 

With regard to superiority I must make a few remarks. The ancient Apostles sought to be great. but, brethren, lest the seeds of discord be sown in this matter, understand particularly the voice of the spirit on this occasion. God does not love you better or more than others. You are to contend for the faith once deliverd to the saints. Jacob, you know wrestled till he obtained. It was by fervent prayer and diligent search that you have obtained the testimony you are now able to bear. You are as one, you are equal in bearing the keys of the kingdom to all nations. You are called to preach the gospel of the son of God to the nations of the earth. [p. 160]

It is the will of your Heavenly Father that you proclaim his gospel to the ends of the earth. and the Islands of the sea. Be zealous to save souls. The soul of one man is as precious as the soul of another. You are to bear this message to those who consider themselves wise. and such may persecute you, they may seek your life. The adversary has always sought the life of the servants of God. You are, therefore, to be prepared at all times to make a sacrafice of your lives, should God require them in the advancment and building up of his cause. 

Murmur not at God. Be always prayerful, be always watchful. You will bear with me while I relieve the feelings of my heart. We shall not see another day like this. The time has fully come; The voice of the spirit has come to set these men apart. You will see the time when you will desire to see such a day as this, and you will not see it. Every heart wishes you peace & prosperity. but the scene, with you, will inevitably change. Let no man take your bishopric, and beware that you lose not your crowns. It will require your whole souls. It will require courage like Enoch’s. 

The time is near when you will be in the midst of congregations, who will gnash their teeth upon you. This gospel must roll and will roll till it fill the whole Earth. Did I say congregations would gnash upon you, yea I say nations will gnash upon you. You will be considered the worst of Men. Be not discouraged at this, When God pours out his Spirit, the enemy will rage, but, God, remember is on your right hand and on your left. A man, though he may be considered the worst, has joy who is conscious that he pleases God. 

The lives of those who proclaim the true gospel will be in danger; this has been the case ever since the days of righteous Abel. The same opposition has been manifest whenever [p. 161] men came forward to publish the gospel. The time is coming when you will be considered the worst by many & by some the best of men. The time is coming when you will be perfectly familiar with the things of God. This testimony will make those who do not believe your testimony, seek your lives. But their there are whole nations, who will receive your testimony. They will call you good men. Be not lifted up when you are called good men. Remember you are young men, and you shall be spared, I include the other three. Bear them in mind in your prayers carry their cases to a throne of grace. Although they are not present, yet you and they are equal. This appointment is calculated to create an affection in you, for each other, stronger than death.

You will travel to other Nations, Bear each other in mind. If one or more is cast into prisons, let the others pray for him, and deliver him by their prayers. Your lives shall be in great jeopardy, but the promise of God, is that you shall be delivered. Remember you are not to go to other nations, till you receive your endowment. Tarry at Kirtland until you are endowed with power from on high. You need a fountain of wisdom, knowledge, and intelligence such as you never had. 

Relative to the endowment, I make a remark or two, that there be no mistake. The world cannot receive the things of God. He can endow you without wor[l]dly pomp or great parade. He can give you that wisdom, that intelligence and that power which characterized the ancient Saints and now characterizes the inhabitants of the upper world. The greatness of your commission, consists in this; you are to hold the keys of this ministry. You [p. 162] are to go to the nations afar off; nations that sit in darkness. The [day] is coming when the work of God must be done. Israel shall be gathered, The seed of Jacob shall be gathered from their long dispersion. There will be a feast to Israel, the elect of God. 

It is a sorrowful tale but, the gospel must be preached and his <God’s> ministers be rejected. but where can Israel be found, and receive your testimony, and not rejoice? No where. The Prophecies are full of great things that are to take place in the last days. After the Elect is gathered out, destruction shall come on the inhabitants of the Earth; All nations shall feel the wrath of God, after they have been warned by the saints of the Most High. If you will not warn them others will and you will lose your crowns. You must prepare your minds to bid a long farewell to Kirtland. even till the great day come. You will see what you never expected to see. You will need the mind of Enoch or Elijah & the faith of the brother of Jared.

You must be prepared to walk by faith, however, appalling the prospect to human view. You, and each of you should feel the force of the imperious mandate, “Son go labor in my vineyard” and cheerfully receive what comes, but in the end you will stand while others will fall. You have read in the Revelation concerning ordination. Beware how you ordain, for all nations are not like this nation. They will willingly receive the ordinances at your hand to put you out of the way. 

There will be times, when nothing but the angels of God can deliver you out of their hand. We appeal to your intelligence, we appeal to your understanding, that we have so far discharged our duty to you. We consider it one of the greatest condescentions of our Heavenly Father in pointing you out to us. You will be stewards over this ministry. [p. 163]

We have work to do, that no other men can do. You must proclaim the Gospel in its simplicity and purity. and we commend you to God and the word of his grace. You have our best wishes, you have our most fervent prayers, that you may be able to bear this testimony, that you have seen the face of God. Therefore, call upon him in faith and mighty prayer, till you prevail, for it <is> your duty and your privelege to bear such testimony for yourselves. 

We now exhort you to be faithful to fulfil your calling, there must be no lack here. You must fulfil in all things, and permit is us to repeat, all nations have a claim on you. You are bound together as the three witnesses were. You, notwithstanding can part & meet & meet and part again till your heads are silvered o[v]er with age.

He then took them separately by the hand and said, Do you with full purpose of heart take part in this ministry, to proclaim the gospel with all diligence with these your brethren, according to the tenor and intent of the charge you have received, each of which answered in the affirmative. 
_____

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Mormon doctrine, Letter VII, and the Apostles

In the previous post we looked at the criteria for knowing whether something is official Mormon doctrine.

https://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/approaching-mormon-doctrine

- Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. 

- A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. 

- With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications

- This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted."

I discussed how Letter VII (1) originated with the First Presidency and (2) was "consistently proclaimed in official Church publications." In fact, it was proclaimed in every official Church publication during Joseph's lifetime, (except for the Elders' Journal which consisted of only four issues). It was proclaimed after Joseph's death as well.

As far as I know, Letter VII has not yet been published in the Ensign, but the teachings of prophets and apostles about the New York Cumorah have been published in the Ensign's conference reports. This is not surprising, really; the Ensign rarely reprints historical documents, and Letter VII has already been reprinted so many times that it is well-established in Church literature.

Because the Mormon Newsroom article also refers to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, today I am considering what members of the Quorum of the Twelve have said about Letter VII and the New York Cumorah.
_____

In February 1835, Oliver Cowdery, along with David Whitmer and Martin Harris, selected the first twelve Apostles of this dispensation. There's a nice article about it here:
https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/joseph-smith-and-doctrinal-restoration/23-calling-twelve-apostles-and-seventy-1835#_edn16

Original Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Members of the original Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Top row, left to right: Thomas B. Marsh (no picture available), David W. Patten (no picture available), Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball. Middle row: Orson Hyde, William E. Mc’Lellin, Parley P. Pratt, Luke S. Johnson. Bottom row: William B. Smith, Orson Pratt, John F. Boynton, Lyman E. Johnson
http://emp.byui.edu/satterfieldb/rel341/Pictures/Original%20Quorum%20of%2012.htm
_____

These men constituted the Quorum of the Twelve through 1837. (For a brief summary of each individual's role, see this page.) We don't have complete records for each of these men, but for the records we do have show that each of them who ever spoke or wrote about Cumorah reaffirmed what Joseph and Oliver wrote in Letter VII.

-Brigham Young related Oliver's accounts of entering into Mormon's depository of Nephite records in the New York hill Cumorah.

-Heber C. Kimball affirmed the account.

-Parley P. Pratt not only republished Oliver's letters in England, but he related events from his mission to the Lamanites, during which he accompanied Oliver. He said Oliver told people about the Hill Cumorah in New York.

-William Smith told people about Cumorah in New York and published Letter VII in the Prophet just two days after Joseph was martyred in Carthage.

-Orson Pratt not only reprinted Oliver's letters but identified Cumorah in his footnotes to the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon. Orson speculated about other Book of Mormon sites as he indicated in those notes, but he unequivocally stated that Cumorah was in Manchester, New York.

Consequently, we have Letter VII originating from the First Presidency, sustained and taught by the Quorum of the Twelve, and consistently proclaimed in official Church publications for many years.
_____

Subsequent members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have reaffirmed the New York setting for Cumorah as well. This includes members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference, as I've discussed before.

No prophet or apostle has ever rejected the teaching of Letter VII.
_____

The only ones who have rejected Letter VII and are teaching members of the Church to disbelieve it are the intellectuals who promote a two-Cumorahs theory. Most of these also promote the Mesoamerican setting, but others promote a setting in Baja, in Panama, in Chile, etc.

I think that, once educated about Letter VII, most Church members will choose to believe the prophets and apostles instead of the intellectuals.

The intellectuals have successfully promulgated their theory by keeping members of the Church ignorant of the context, content, and legitimacy of Letter VII.

Hence the need for more members of the Church to read and share Letter VII.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

What is official Mormon doctrine

Because we have LDS intellectuals today telling people, including students at BYU, to disbelieve Letter VII, I think it would be helpful to review the context of Letter VII.

There's an important official explanation of Mormon doctrine here:

https://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/approaching-mormon-doctrine

"Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted."

Let's consider how this applies to the question of Cumorah.

"Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine."

This is axiomatic, given the variety of statements Church leaders make, ranging from formal addresses in General Conference and formal written statements to off-hand comments to associates or statements in talks to specific groups.

"A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church."

Notice the distinction between isolated statements by one Church leader compared with multiple statements by multiple leaders. 

"With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications."

Let's consider this in light of Letter VII's teachings about Cumorah.
_____

In 1835, when Letter VII was published, Joseph Smith was President of the Church and Oliver Cowdery was Assistant President. 

Many people today don't know what the Assistant President was because it was discontinued after the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum, so let's look at what it entailed.

Joseph ordained Oliver as Assistant President in December, 1834. Notes from the meeting explain:

"The office of Assistant President is to assist in presiding over the whole Church, and to officiate in the absence of the President, according to his rank and appointment, viz: President Cowdery, first; President Rigdon Second, and President Williams Third, as they were severally called. The office of this priesthood is also to act as spokesman, taking Aaron for an example. The virtue of the above priesthood is to hold the keys of the kingdom of heaven or of the Church militant."

http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/account-of-meetings-revelation-and-blessing-5-6-december-1834/1

In February 1835, pursuant to D&C 18, the Three Witnesses called the first Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/joseph-smith-and-doctrinal-restoration/23-calling-twelve-apostles-and-seventy-1835

Oliver continued to publish the historical letters he wrote with Joseph Smith, including Letter VII, which was published in July 1835. That fall, Joseph's scribes copied the letters into his own history, which you can read here: http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/83

Later, on April 3, 1836, Joseph and Oliver, together, as President and Assistant President of the Church, received the keys of the gathering of Israel and the keys of this dispensation from Moses, Elijah, Elias, and the Lord Himself. (D&C 110)

In January, 1841, Joseph ordained Hyrum Smith to the same position, pursuant to D&C 124:94-5, which gives an additional explanation of the role Oliver fulfilled as Assistant President:

"And from this time forth I appoint unto him [Hyrum] that he may be a prophet, and a seer, and a revelator unto my church, as well as my servant Joseph; That he may act in concert also with my servant Joseph; and that he shall receive counsel from my servant Joseph, who shall show unto him the keys whereby he may ask and receive, and be crowned with the same blessing, and glory, and honor, and priesthood, and gifts of the priesthood, that once were put upon him that was my servant Oliver Cowdery."

Here is another explanation of the office: "As holder of the keys of the priesthood, the Assistant President of the Church was intended to be the person who would succeed to the presidency of the church upon the death of Smith.[Bruce R. McConkie (1966), Mormon Doctrine (2d ed., 1966, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft) p. 56.] The Assistant President ranked higher than the counselors in the First Presidency and the President and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.[Bruce R. McConkie (1966), Mormon Doctrine (2d ed., 1966, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft) p. 56.] Like the members of the First Presidency and the Twelve, the Assistant President was accepted by the church as a prophet, seer, and revelator."

When LDS intellectuals tell you to disbelieve what Joseph and Oliver wrote in Letter VII about Cumorah, they are telling you to disbelieve the ordained President and Assistant President of the Church.

But that's not all.

Look again at what the Church's explanation says:

"With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications."

Not only did Joseph and Oliver counsel together when they wrote these historical letters, but Joseph saw that the letters were "consistently proclaimed in official Church publications." The letters were first published in the Messenger and Advocate. Then Joseph gave them to Don Carlos to publish in the Times and Seasons. He gave express permission (along with Sidney Rigdon) to Benjamin Winchester to publish them in the Gospel Reflector. The Pratt brothers published excerpts of them in the Millennial Star and other pamphlets. Joseph's brother William published them in the Prophet (an 1844 Church newspaper in New York City). The letters were published again in the Improvement Era after the Saints moved to Utah.

Letter VII originated with the First Presidency and was consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. Remember this when LDS intellectuals try to persuade you to disbelieve Letter VII.

Now, the conclusion of the explanation of Church doctrine.

"This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted."

The Pearl of Great Price contains an excerpt from Letter I.

Letter VII itself is not included in the standard works, but it was written by the First Presidency in 1835 to explain an important point about the Book of Mormon; i.e., the specific location of the Hill Cumorah. Joseph and Oliver were responding to anti-Mormon claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction. They wrote from their personal experience and knowledge. The statements in Letter VII were republished so often and they are so specific and detailed that their original meaning cannot be distorted, although LDS intellectuals try to do so by claiming Joseph and Oliver were merely ignorant speculators who misled the Church about the location of Cumorah.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Letter VII - Joseph and Oliver Knew

When Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery wrote Letter VII, they were responding to critics who claimed the Book of Mormon was fiction, derived from an unpublished manuscript written by Solomon Spaulding.

They knew the best way to respond to critics was by citing facts. They made sure there was no question about which hill in New York was Cumorah. They also made sure there was no question about the location of the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites, or the location of Mormon's depository.

They explained at length that there is one Hill Cumorah and it is in New York.

Here are excerpts from Letter VII.
_____

You are acquainted with the mail road from Palmyra, Wayne Co. to Canandaigua, Ontario Co. N. Y. and also, as you pass from the former to the latter place, before arriving at the little village of Manchester, say from three to four, or about four miles from Palmyra, you pass a large hill on the east side of the road. Why I say large, is, because it is as large perhaps, as any in that country. To a person acquainted with this road, a description would be unnecessary, as it is the largest and rises the highest of any on that route. The north end rises quite sudden until it assumes a level with the more southerly extremity, and I think I may say an elevation higher than at the south a short distance, say half or three fourths of a mile. As you pass toward Canandaigua it lessens gradually until the surface assumes its common level, or is broken by other smaller hills or ridges, water courses and ravines. I think I am justified in saying that this is the highest hill for some distance round, and I am certain that its appearance, as it rises so suddenly from a plain on the north, must attract the notice of the traveller as he passes by.

At about one mile west rises another ridge of less height, running parallel with the former, leaving a beautiful vale between. The soil is of the first quality for the country, and under a state of cultivation, which gives a prospect at once imposing, when one reflects on the fact, that here, between these hills, the entire power and national strength of both the Jaredites and Nephites were destroyed.


By turning to the 529th and 530th pages of the Book of Mormon, you will read Mormon's account of the last great struggle of his people, as they were encamped round this hill Cumorah. (It is printed Camorah, which is an error.) In this valley fell the remaining strength and pride of a once powerful people, the Nephites—once so highly favored of the Lord, but at that time in darkness, doomed to suffer extermination by the hand of their barbarous and uncivilized brethren. From the top of this hill, Mormon, with a few others, after the battle, gazed with horror upon the mangled remains of those who, the day before, were filled with anxiety, hope, or doubt. A few had fled to the South, who were hunted down by the victorious party, and all who would not deny the Savior and his religion, were put to death. Mormon himself, according to the record of his son Moroni, was also slain.

But a long time previous to this national disaster it appears from his own account, he foresaw approaching destruction. In fact, if he perused the records of his fathers, which were in his possession, he could have learned that such would be the case. Alma, who lived before the coming of the Messiah, prophesies this. He however, by Divine appointment, abridged from those records, in his own style and language, a short account of the more important and prominent items, from the days of Lehi to his own time, after which he deposited, as he says, on the 529th page, all the records in this same hill, Cumorah, and after gave his small record to his son Moroni, who, as appears from the same, finished it, after witnessing the extinction of his people as a nation....

This hill, by the Jaredites, was called Ramah: by it, or around it, pitched the famous army of Coriantumr their tent. Coriantumr was the last king of the Jaredites. The opposing army were to the west, and in this same valley, and near by. From day to day, did that mighty race spill their blood, in wrath, contending as it were, brother against brother, and father against son. In this same spot, in full view from the top of this same hill, one may gaze with astonishment upon the ground which was twice covered with the dead and dying of our fellowmen....

In this vale lie commingled, in one mass of ruin, the ashes of thousands, and in this vale were destined to be consumed the fair forms and vigorous systems of tens of thousands of the human race—blood mixed with blood, flesh with flesh, bones with bones, and dust with dust!

Friday, November 3, 2017

Letter IV-What Moroni said

Here is an excerpt from Letter IV:

"He then proceeded and gave a general account of the promises made to the fathers, and also gave a history of the aborigines of this country, and said they were literal descendants of Abraham. He represented them as once being an enlightened and intelligent people, possessing a cerrect [correct] knowledge of the gospel, and the plan of restoration and redemption. He said this history was written and deposited not far from that place, and that it was our brother's privilege, if obedient to the commandments of the Lord, to obtain, and translate the same by the means of the Urim and Thummim, which were deposited for that purpose with the record."
_____

Let's break it down a bit.

He then proceeded and gave a general account of the promises made to the fathers,

[Oliver provided a detailed list and analysis of the verses Moroni quoted.]

and also gave a history of the aborigines of this country,

["this country" could refer to the immediate vicinity or the nation in which he spoke to Joseph; i.e., the United States. This is the same language Joseph used in the Wentworth letter.]

and said they were literal descendants of Abraham.

["literal" suggests there should be DNA evidence]

He represented them as once being an enlightened and intelligent people, possessing a cerrect [correct] knowledge of the gospel, and the plan of restoration and redemption. He said this history was written and deposited not far from that place,

[It was "written and deposited" near Joseph's house, meaning Mormon and Moroni lived in the vicinity when they abridged the record.]

and that it was our brother's privilege, if obedient to the commandments of the Lord, to obtain, and translate the same by the means of the Urim and Thummim, which were deposited for that purpose with the record.


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

the life and character of our esteemed friend and brother, J. Smith JR

Oliver Cowdery's eight historical letters were written in 1834 and 1835, partly in response to anti-Mormon attacks that focused on two issues:

1. The character of Joseph Smith

2. The historicity and authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

In 2017, critics of the Church continue to focus on these two issues, so we can learn a lot from the way that Joseph and Oliver addressed the issues in their day.

I'll post some excerpts from the letters to illustrate how effective they were. You will see why Joseph made sure these letters were republished so often during his lifetime.
_____

October 1834

The following communication was designed to have been published in the last No. of the Star; but owing to a press of other matter it was laid over for this No. of the Messenger and Advocate. Since it was written, upon further reflection, we have thought that a full history of the rise of the church of the Latter Day Saints, and the most interesting parts of its progress, to the present time, would be worthy the perusal of the Saints.-If circumstances admit, an article on this subject will appear in each subsequent No. of the Messenger and Advocate, until the time when the church was driven from Jackson Co. Mo. by a lawless banditti; & such other remarks as may be thought appropriate and interesting.


That our narrative may be correct, and particularly the introduction, it is proper to inform our patrons, that our brother J. SMITH jr. has offered to assist us. Indeed, there are many items connected with the fore part of this subject that render his labor indispensable. With his labor and with authentic documents now in our possession, we hope to render this a pleasing and agreeable narrative, well worth the examination and perusal of the Saints.-To do justice to this subject will require time and space: we therefore ask the forbearance of our readers, assuring them that it shall be founded upon facts.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Though we are imperfect...

From time to time I hear people object to Letter VII because Oliver Cowdery left the Church for a while, so we shouldn't trust anything he wrote.

That's the weakest excuse so far for rejecting Letter VII. When he wrote Letter VII in July 1835, Oliver was the Assistant President of the Church. In nine months, April 1836, he would receive the keys of the Priesthood from Moses, Elijah and Elias with Joseph Smith in the Kirtland temple, along with a personal visitation from the Savior Himself.

Last Saturday in General Conference, President Uchtdorf offered important perspective on Oliver Cowdery:

This past summer our family had a wonderful opportunity to visit some early Church history sites in the eastern United States. In a special way, we relived the history of that time. People I had read so much about—people like Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, and Thomas B. Marsh—became more real to me as we walked where they walked and pondered the sacrifices they made to build the kingdom of God.
They had many great traits that allowed them to make significant contributions to the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ. But they were also human, weak, and fallible—just as you and I are. Some found themselves at variance with the Prophet Joseph Smith and fell away from the Church. Later, many of the same people had a change of heart, humbled themselves, and once again sought and found fellowship with the Saints.
We might have a tendency to judge these brethren and other members like them. We might say, “I would never have abandoned the Prophet Joseph.”
While that may be true, we don’t really know what it was like to live in that time, in those circumstances. No, they were not perfect, but how encouraging it is to know that God was able to use them anyway. He knew their strengths and weaknesses, and He gave them the extraordinary opportunity to contribute a verse or a melody to the glorious anthem of the Restoration.
How encouraging it is to know, though we are imperfect, if our hearts are turned to God, He will be generous and kind and use us for His purposes.