Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Why I Believe: Evidence Thirty-six: The Universal Benefit of Joseph Smith’s Suffering in Liberty Jail

101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith Is A Prophet

Evidence Thirty-six:
The Universal Benefit of Joseph Smith’s Suffering in Liberty Jail© 

I am reading a new book by Elder M. Russell Ballard.(1) I have had the privilege of being with him once when we presided over the California Roseville Mission, but reading this book has given me an even greater appreciation for his life and ministry as an Apostle of the Lord than even our experience with him in California gave us. The book shows him to be deeply devoted to his ministry as a special witness, as a Church leader, and as a teacher of the Gospel. I find him to be real, personal, and open. His wisdom, judgment, and doctrinal insights make reading his book an enjoyable experience. 

One of his insights concerns the background of Doctrine and Covenants 121 and 122. For me personally, these revelations contain some of the most inspirational ideas expressed in the most lofty and inspiring language.  Let me give you some examples that I love.

Section 121: Most people I would guess, if asked to cite their favorite portions of Section 121 would include the teachings in verses 1-11 about Joseph’s adversity and afflictions being “but a small moment;” and the “rights of the priesthood” being “inseparably connected with the powers of heaven” in verses 34-46.  I agree whole heartedly; there is nothing like them in all the world so far as I know. First, consider the popular verses 7-8:
7) My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; 8)And then if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.
These follow a plea from Joseph, amidst the difficulties and hardships of the Liberty Jail experience which led the him to cry out: “O God, where art thou? ... How long shall thy hand be stayed...?” (Vss. 1-2) In the midst of his extremity, like Job, he received great spiritual insight and the greatest promise he could receive, that of exaltation.

But there is also a sleeper in Section 121, rarely cited or discussed, which I wish to call attention to here. The negative of the first few verses has quickly turned not only positive, but positively exhilarating. It is a statement about the things which will come about in this dispensation which Joseph Smith inaugurated and presides over. The entire statement is in verses 26-33. I reproduce two brief excerpts which are profound, challenging, and beautiful.
26) God shall give unto you [Joseph Smith] knowledge by his Holy Spirit, yea, by the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost, that has not been revealed since the world was until now; 27) Which our forefathers have awaited with anxious expectation to be revealed in the last times, which their minds were pointed to by the angels, as held in reserve for the fulness of their glory; 28) A time to come in which nothing shall be withheld, whether there be one God or many gods, they shall be manifest.  29) All thrones and dominions, principalities and powers, shall be revealed and set forth upon all who have endured valiantly for the gospel of Jesus Christ.  30) And if there be bounds set to the heavens or to the seas, or to the dry land, or to the sun, moon, or stars– 31) All the times of their revolutions, all the appointed days, months, and years, and all the days of their days, months, and years, and all their glories, laws, and set times, shall be revealed in the days of the dispensation of the fulness of times. (Emphasis added.)
What a prophetic view of the times in which we live. An analysis of all the various things found in this statement could go on for pages. On one matter only, I think of the amazing things we have seen and learned from the Hubble Telescope in the quarter century of its service. And, we are on the threshold of sending up a bigger, better one even farther out in space to reveal yet more of the glories and mysteries of the universe. Did not Joseph Smith predict such a thing?  

The second excerpt is the oft cited verse 33:
33) How long can rolling waters remain impure? What power shall stay the heavens? As well might man stretch forth his puny arm to stop the Missouri river in its decreed course, or to turn it upstream, as to hinder the Almighty from pouring down knowledge from heaven upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints.
Indeed Joseph’s trials are “but a small moment” when compared to what is to come, much due in fact, to his enduring them well and becoming a more worthy and receptive vessel. Now lets consider something in Section 122.

Section 122: This section returns again to the matter of Joseph’s trials. Who cannot find inspiration and encouragement in these words of the Lord which offer something of a brief biographical sketch of Joseph’s life up to this point?
7) And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. 8)The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?  9)Therefore, hold on thy way....
Well, here is the point of this recital.  Here is Elder Ballard’s insight:
I don’t know that the 121st section or the 122nd section of the Doctrine and Covenants could have come to the Prophet in any other way than his preparation through suffering. ... When we are pressed up against the most difficult moments in our lives, that is when we have a spiritual insight, when we see things in the big picture, the eternal scheme of things, that we have never before been able to see.(2)
I thank God for Joseph Smith, for his willingness and dedication to his Father’s will, even if it meant languishing in a forsaken jail on the frontier’s edge among a semi-civilized people for five months. I am thankful for that, because of the breakthrough it brought him to, and the phenomenal insight, comfort, and hope it not only brought to him, but which it has brought to countless members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints throughout the world, me included! We have a clearer view of the purpose of life because Joseph lived ... and suffered ... and endured ... and recorded.

Thank God for Joseph Smith!

Lets think together again, soon.


1.  The book is Today, Yesterday, and Forever: Timeless Gospel Messages with Insights from His Grandfathers Melvin J. Ballard and Hyrum Mack Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2015.

2.  Ibid., p. 153, emphasis added.


  1. President, I was just reading your great blog post "Why I Believe: Evidence Thirty-six: The Universal Benefit of Joseph Smith’s Suffering in Liberty Jail" and noticed that you have a wrong word quoted in D&C 121:7. I believe it should say adversity instead of exhilarate. Just thought I'd let you know in case you wanted to change it.

    I always enjoy reading your blogs. I am currently called as the Primary Pianist in my ward and when I am not playing during singing time, I read your blogs and use them as a starting point for my solo Sunday School lessons behind the piano.

    Keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks Matt. Don't ask me how that got in there or avoided my razor-sharp proofreading eye!!! *>) BTW, don't let the bishop catch you, he may take your toy away!!

  2. Dan, thank you for such an enlightening and revealing post. I don't know if I could do 5 months in jail and still keep my sanity. I understand why and how he did it, but the thought of being there for so long would be a real challenge for me because i would be focusing on other things than would be counterproductive to the cause.

    Eliseo Weinstein @ JR's Bail Bonds

    1. Eliseo, thanks for your comment. It would be difficult indeed to languish in a filthy, cold, dark prison while the people you lead were being driven out of Missouri during the cold of the late Fall and early Winter months and find anything positive--but God is always positive about the outcome, and so are his prophets. My wife heard Elder Cecil Samuelson relate a story about when he was hosting Mike Wallace at the time he was in Utah to interview president Hinckley. He told Samuelson "Gordon Hinckley is the most positive man I have every met! Why?" Samuelson replied, "Because he knows how all this is going to turn out."