JS, Letter, , Geauga Co., OH, to , , St. Lawrence Co., NY, 26 Sept. 1833. Featured version copied [ca. Oct. 1855] in Jesse Smith, Autobiography and Journal, 2–5; handwriting of Jesse Smith; CHL.
Jesse Smith’s autobiography and journal was inscribed in a large, commercially produced blank book. The book’s ledger paper is horizontally ruled with two red lines above forty faint blue lines on each page. The book underwent conservation efforts in the mid-1990s. The leaves measure 14 × 8⅝ inches (36 × 22 cm). The volume measures 14½ × 10 × 2¼ inches (37 × 25 × 6 cm). The volume contains 655 inscribed pages followed by 31 blank pages. The first 23 pages contain Smith’s autobiography and his family history. Included in those 23 pages are a transcript of the letter featured here; the conversion story of his father, ; a copy of Jesse’s patriarchal blessing; and Jesse’s family history to October 1855. In October 1855, Jesse Smith began using the ledger as a journal. This volume was used as Smith’s personal journal in Utah and Arizona from 1855 until his death in 1906. The last entry is dated 5 June 1906.
It is likely that passed the original letter to his son Jesse Smith, who kept it but wanted to make a second copy. It is unknown when Jesse Smith’s volume was donated to the Church History Library or by whom. This journal was labeled “Journal #174” by staff of Church History Library and was received by the Church Historian’s Office prior to the 1940s when clerk Alice M. Rich transcribed its contents.
Jesse Smith, Autobiography and Journal, typescript, CHL.
Smith, Jesse Nathaniel. Autobiography and Journal, 1855-1906. Typescript, not before 1940. CHL. MS 1489, fd. 2.
JS wrote this 26 September 1833 letter, defending the idea of modern-day revelation, to his uncle , who resided in , New York. Besides Silas and his family, several other relatives of JS lived in the Stockholm area at this time, including his grandmother Mary Duty Smith and his uncles Jesse and and their families.
, then a Presbyterian, was aware of his nephew’s revelations and of the Book of Mormon. According to a later history written by Silas’s son Jesse Smith, and his son visited Silas and other family members in 1830. Although Silas received the testimony of his family members “concerning the Latter day Work,” he was “slow about yielding obedience to the Gospel owing to the determined opposition” of his wife, Mary Aikens, and his brother Jesse, an ardent opponent of JS and the . Silas likely discussed the Church of Christ and its beliefs in new scripture and modern-day revelation with his brother in the year prior to receiving this letter. John was in January 1832, and from July 1832 to late April 1833, he proselytized and held church meetings around the area. Sometime in late 1832, John “went to Stockholm [and was] put up for the night at my Brothers,” and in early March 1833 he spent an evening with “Br. Silas” and had a conversation with him on “spiritual things.” John returned to , Ohio, in late May 1833 and undoubtedly told JS of his proselytizing efforts.
JS’s objective in this 26 September letter was to persuade his uncle that it was both scripturally sound and reasonable that God would speak to prophets in modern times as he did in biblical times. Most Christians of the era believed that the canon of scripture was closed and found the idea of additional canonical revelation to be repugnant, even blasphemous. This letter is a prime example of the Mormon argument for modern and continuing revelation. In the letter, JS heavily referenced books from both the Old and New Testaments to demonstrate that each age needs to hear the voice of God anew. The ideas expressed in this letter appeared again in the second installment of a serialized letter written by “the of the Church in ” and published in The Evening and the Morning Star in early 1834.
JS closed this letter by expressing his hope that would eventually join the Church of Christ. Jesse Smith, Silas’s son, recorded that his father received this letter from JS and that Silas “was baptized in the summer of 1835 by , and in the spring of 1836 emigrated to , Ohio,” with family members, including his aged mother, Mary Duty Smith.
Jesse Smith transcribed the letter featured here in its entirety into the family history portion of his journal in 1855. He apparently copied the original letter sent by JS, which was evidently still in the possession of the family at the time because the transcript included postal information not contained in any other extant version; Jesse’s copy appears to be the most complete and accurate extant copy. Martha Jane Knowlton Coray transcribed a copy of JS’s letter to for ’s history in the mid-1840s. However, that version varies significantly from the text featured here in words, phrases, and punctuation. Some of the variants in the Coray copy make the wording of the letter less clear when compared to Jesse Smith’s transcript. In addition, the Coray copy includes some later, Utah-era redactions and insertions that appear to have been made to match the version in Jesse’s journal. Significant differences between these two versions are noted in footnotes throughout the following transcript.
John Smith, Journal, [Dec. 1832], 11; 8 Mar. 1833. John did not specify that he stayed with Silas, and he could have been referring to his other brother, Asahel Smith, who also lived in Stockholm. It is likely, but not certain, that the “Br. Silas” in John’s journal refers to Silas Smith. (Jesse Smith, Autobiography and Journal, 2.)
Jesse Smith, Autobiography and Journal, 6. According to a letter from Hyrum Smith, “[It is the will] of god that uncle Silas Should fetch granmother in spite of [all the devils there] are out of Haadees & god will Bless Him in So doing & give her Strinth [to endure the jou]rney.” John Smith wrote in his journal that he returned to Kirtland on 18 May 1836 and “found our mother and brethren from the east.” (Hyrum Smith, Kirtland, OH, to Elias Smith, East Stockholm, NY, 27 Feb. 1836, CHL, missing text supplied from Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith, 116; John Smith, Journal, 18 May 1836; Elias Smith, Journal, 17–18 May 1836.)
Smith, Jesse Nathaniel. Autobiography and Journal, 1855-1906. CHL. MS 1489, fd. 1.
Smith, Hyrum. Letter, Kirtland, OH, to Elias Smith, East Stockholm, NY, 27 Feb. 1836. CHL. MS 4950.
Smith, Joseph Fielding. Life of Joseph F. Smith, Sixth President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1938.
given them to understand by anything heretofore revealed that He had ceased to speak, forever, to his creatures, when sought unto in a proper manner, why should it be thought a thing incredible that He should be pleased to speak again, in these last days for their salvation?
Perhaps you may be surprised at this assertion. That I should say for the salvation of his creatures in these last days, since we have already in our possession a vast volume of his word, which he has previously given
But you will admit that the word spoken to Noah was not sufficient for Abraham, or it was not required of <him> to leave the land of his nativity, and seek an inheritance in a strange country upon the word spoken to Noah, but, for himself he obtained promises from the hand of the Lord, and walked in that perfection that he was called the friend of God.
Isaac, the promised seed, was not required to rest his hope alone upon the promises made to his father Abraham, but was privileged with the assurance of his approbation in the sight of Heaven, by the direct voice of the Lord to him.
If one man can live upon the revelations to another, might I not with propriety ask, why the necessity then, of the Lord’s speaking to Isaac as he did, as is recorded in the twenty sixth chapter of Genesis? For the Lord there repeats, or rather, promises again to perform the oath which he had previously sworn to Abraham, and why this repetition to Isaac? Why was not the first promise as sure for Isaac as it was for Abraham? Was not Isaac Abraham’s son, and could he not place implicit confidence in the veracity of his father as <being> a man of God?
Perhaps you may say that he was a very peculiar man, and different from men in these last days, consequently the Lord favored him with blessings, peculiar and different, as he was different from men in this age.
I admit that he was a peculiar man, and was not only peculiarly blessed, but greatly blessed.
But all the peculiarity that I can discover in the man, or all the difference between him and men in this age, is, that he was more holy and more perfect before God, and came to Him with a purer heart, and more faith than men in this day.
The same might be said on the subject of Jacob’s history. Why was it that the Lord spake to him concerning the same promise, after He had made it once to Abraham, and renewed it to Isaac? Why could not Jacob rest contented upon the word spoken to his fathers? When the time of the promise drew nigh for the deliverance of the children of Israel from the land of [p. 3]
Here, JS encapsulated the Church of Christ’s rationale for belief in continuing revelation. More than a year earlier, Presbyterian minister Benton Pixley reported that Sidney Rigdon “tells us that we are to look for and expect about these day[s] a new revelation—that the precepts inculcated and given by the Apostles to other people and in other ages are by no means to be applied to us Those promises are not to be received by us as a matter of comfort nor those threatnings as a matter of alarm—for neither one nor the other belong to us—Promises given to a people very different from us—and under very different circumstances eighteen hundred years ago away off on the Contenent of Asia can with no consistency be applied to the people of these United States—We are without a Revalation and must wait upon God and pray for one suited to our times and circumstances.” Church leader John Taylor later expressed, “From the time that Adam first received a communication from God, to the time that John, on the Isle of Patmos, received his communication, or Joseph Smith had the heavens opened to him, it always required new revelations, adapted to the peculiar circumstances in which the churches or individuals were placed. Adam’s revelation did not instruct Noah to build his ark; nor did Noah's revelation tell Lot to forsake Sodom; nor did either of these speak of the departure of the children of Israel from Egypt. These all had revelations for themselves, and so had Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Jesus, Peter, Paul, John, Joseph, and so must we, or we shall make a shipwreck.” (Benton Pixley, Independence, MO, to Absalom Peters, New York City, NY, 1 June 1832, in American Home Missionary Society Papers; John Taylor, “On Priesthood,” LDS Millennial Star, 1 Nov. 1847, 9:323; see also “The Elders in the Land of Zion to the Church of Christ Scattered Abroad,” The Evening and the Morning Star, July 1832, .)
American Home Missionary Society Papers, 1816–1894. Series 1, Incoming Correspondence, 1816–1893. Microfilm ed. Glen Rock, NJ: Microfilming Corporation of America, 1975. The original manuscripts are held by the Amistad Research Center, Tulane University, New Orleans.