“Elders” (including JS), Letter, , Geauga Co., OH, to “brethren in Christ, and companions in tribulation,” ca. Mar. 1834. Featured version published in “The Elders of the Church in Kirtland, to Their Brethren Abroad,” The Evening and the Morning Star, Mar. 1834, 142–144. For more complete source information on The Evening and the Morning Star, see the source note for Letter, 30 Oct. 1833.
This March 1834 letter is the second installment of a serialized epistle that instructed bearers and other church members who were then away from , Ohio. JS and other leaders in Kirtland prepared this installment for publication in the church’s newspaper, The Evening and the Morning Star. Following an exhortation to serve diligently, endure hardship, and emulate Jesus Christ, the installment featured here continued the discussion on the differences between heavenly law and human-made law that had commenced in the February 1834 issue of the Star. According to this March epistle, transgression of God’s law made it impossible for the transgressor to return to God’s presence, except through Jesus Christ, who offered redemption through faith in the efficacy of his sacrifice, and through participation in . The letter also stated that God revealed “the whole plan of the gospel,” with its ordinances, in all ages. JS and the Kirtland leaders also exhorted the readers of this letter to improve themselves, especially in the face of growing persecution, and to remain obedient to God’s law. JS and the other elders responsible for writing this letter also expounded upon several other themes, including and eternal life, the law of sacrifice, and continuing revelation.
The next installment of this series appeared in the April issue of the church’s newspaper and omitted the “instruction upon the regulation of the church” that had been promised at the end of the installment featured here. Church leaders perhaps intended to discuss the topic in another issue. However, even though the third installment ended with “To be continued,” no further installments were published. The effort to redeem through recruiting volunteers and conducting the expedition to in spring and summer 1834 was undoubtedly a factor in the discontinuation of this series.
The Evening and the Morning Star. Independence, MO, June 1832–July 1833; Kirtland, OH, Dec. 1833–Sept. 1834.
further too, not only the propriety, but the importance of attending to his laws in every particular. If, then, there is an importance in this respect, is there not a responsibility of great weight resting upon those who are called to declare these truths to men? Could we, or were we capable of laying any thing before you as a just comparison, we would cheerfully do it; but in this our capacity fails, and we are inclined to think, that man is unable, without an assistance beyond what has been given to those before us, of expressing in words the greatness of this important office. We can only say, that if an anticipation of the joys of the celestial glory, as witnessed to the hearts of the humble is not sufficient, we will leave with yourselves the result of your own diligence; for God ere long, will call all his servants before him, and there from His own hand they will receive a just recompense and a righteous reward for all their labors.
So much by way of introduction, and we shall now proceed to examine still further the subject of law. However little may have been heretofore thought, or said upon the subject of law, does not diminish in the least the propriety nor the design of it, since it emanated from God; and though it may have been, and may be at this day a subject untouched by the professors of christianity, that does not lessen its value, neither does it diminish its power in judging men from their actions according to it, at the last day, those who have, or may have come to a knowledge of it. It may be supposed, and we think with a degree of propriety, that man had given to him in the beginning, from the hand of his Maker, every necessary law and instruction, for his peace, happiness, and future comfort; and if not, living as he did in the immediate presence, and walking under the inspection of heaven, if he needed more, he could yet ask it, and that wise Hand which had formed him of the dust was sufficient; not only sufficient, but knowing all things, knew whether man needed more or not, and if he did, it would be bestowed. To suppose that the Maker of the universe never gave to man any law after he had formed him, would, in our opinion, be offering an insult to his glorious character, and be comparing him beneath, even an earthly parent! For where, we ask, is the kind humane father to be found, who would, for any consideration whatever, suffer his children to grow up to manhood without giving them instruction, and instruction too, which would be wisely calculated to benefit them, even in ripened years? Should he teach them virtue in their youth, (a principle too much neglected with most parents,) if observed in age it certainly would be virtue still; and the more it was observed the more honorable would be the gray hairs, until his spirit took its welcome exit to mingle with its kindred spirits, and rejoice in the salvation of that God from whom came the first principles of virtue. Should the great Author of our being, after he had made all things, and even man, and pronounced them all good, leave man without a law, we might well suppose that here was a contradiction in terms, indeed; for he had pronounced all things which he had made good, and yet there was no good in man, consequently he was not worthy to receive a law whereby his conduct might be governed; but must be left without any principles or directions from the hand of his Maker to guide him in the least particular.
From these facts, in short, and the further knowledge contained in the scriptures, it is reasonable to suppose, that man departed from the first teachings, or instructions which he received from heaven in the first age, and refused by his disobedience to be governed by them. Consequently, he formed such laws as best suited his own mind, or as he supposed, best adapted to his situation. But that God has influenced man more or less since that time in the formation of law for his benefit we have no hesitancy in believing; for, as before remarked, he being the source of all good, every just and equitable law was in a greater or less degree influenced by him. And though man in his own supposed wisdom would not admit the influence of a power superior to his own, yet for wise and great purposes, for the good and happiness of his creatures, God has instructed man to form wise and wholesome laws, since he had departed from him and refused to be governed by those laws which he had given by his own voice from on high in the beginning. But notwithstanding this trangression, by which man had cut himself off from an immediate intercourse with his Maker without a Mediator, it appears that the great and glorious plan of his redemption was previously meditated; the sacrifice prepared; the atonement wrought out in the mind and purpose of God, even in the person of the Son, through whom man was now to look for acceptance, and through whose merits he was now taught that he alone could find redemption, since the word had been pronounced, Unto dust thou shalt return!
But that man was not sufficient of himself to erect a system, or plan with power sufficient to free him from a destruction which awaited him, is evident from the fact, that God, as before remarked, prepared a sacrifice in the gift of his own Son which should be sent in due time, in his own wisdom, to prepare a way, or open a door through which man might enter into his presence, from whence he had been cast for disobedience.— From time to time these glad tidings were sounded in the ears of men in different ages of the world down to the time of his coming. By faith in this atonement or plan of redemption, Abel offered to God a sacrifice that was accepted, which was the firstlings of the flock. Cain offered of the fruit of the ground, and was not accepted, because he could not do it in faith: he could have no faith, or could not exercise faith contrary to the plan of heaven. It must be the shedding of the blood of the Only Begotten to atone for man; for this was the plan of redemption; and without the shedding of blood was no remission; and as the sacrifice was instituted for a type, by which man was to discern the great Sacrifice which God had prepared; to offer a sacrifice contrary to that, no faith could be exercised, because redemption was not purchased in that way, nor the power of atonement instituted after that order; consequently, Cain could have no faith: and whatsoever is not of faith is sin. But Abel offered an acceptable sacrifice, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God himself testifying of his gifts. Certainly, the shedding of the blood of a beast could be beneficial to no man, except it was done in imitation, or as a type, or explanation of what was to be offered through the gift of God himself; and this performance done with an eye looking forward in faith on the power of that great Sacrifice for a remission of sins. But however various may have been, and may be at the present time the opinions of men respecting the conduct of Abel, and the knowledge which he had on the subject of atonement, it is evident in our minds, that he was instructed more fully into the plan than what the bible speaks; for how could he offer a sacrifice in faith, looking to God for a remission of his sins in the power of the great Atonement, without having been previously instructed into that plan? And further, if he was accepted of God, what were the ordinances performed further than the offering of the firstlings of the flock? It is said by Paul in his letter to his Hebrew brethren, that Abel obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts. To whom did God testify of the gifts of Abel, was it to Paul? We have very little on this important subject in the fore part of the bible. But it is said, that Abel himself obtained witness that he was righteous. Then certainly God spoke to him: indeed, it is said that God talked with him; and if he did, would he not, seeing he was righteous, deliver to him the whole plan of the gospel? And is not the gospel the news of redemtion? How could Abel offer a sacrifice and look forward with faith on the Son of God for a remission of his sins, and not understand the gospel? The mere shedding the blood of beasts or offering any thing else in sacrifice, could not procure a remission of sins, except it were performed in faith of something to come, if it could, Cain’s offering must have been as good as Abel’s. And if Abel was taught of the coming of the Son of God, was he not taught of his ordinances? We all admit that the gospel has ordinances, and if so, had it not always ordinances, and were not its ordinances always the same? Perhaps, our friends will say, that the gospel and its ordinances were not known till the days of John the son of Zecharias, in the days of Herod the king of Judea. But we will here look at this point: For our own part, we cannot believe, that the ancients in all ages were so ignorant of the system of heaven as many suppose, since all that were ever saved, were saved through the power of this great plan of redemption, as much so before the coming of Christ as since; if not, God has had different plans in operation, (if we may so express it,) to bring men back to dwell with himself; and this we cannot believe, since there has been no change in the constitution of man since he fell; and the or institution of offering blood in sacrifice, was only designed to be performed till Christ was offered up and shed his blood, as said before, that man might look forward with faith to that time. It will be noticed that according to Paul, -[see Gal. iii 8.]- the gospel was preached to Abraham. We would like to be informed in what name the gospel was then preached, whether it was in the name of Christ or some other name? If in any other name, was it the gospel? And if it was the gospel, and that preached in the name of Christ, had it any ordinances? If not, was it the gospel? And if it had, what were they? Our friends may say, perhaps, that there were never any ordinances except those of offering sacrifices, before the coming of Christ, and that it could not be possible for the gospel to have been administered while the sacrifices of blood were. But we will recollect, that Abraham offered sacrifice, and notwithstanding this, had the gospel preached to him. That the offering of sacrifice was only to point the mind forward to Christ, we infer from these remarkable words of his to the Jews, Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it and was glad. -[See John viii 56.]- So, then, because the ancients offered sacrifice it did not hinder their hearing the gospel; but served, as we said before, to open their eyes, and enabled them to look forward to the time of the coming of the Savior, and to rejoice in his redemption. We find also, that when the Israelites came out of Egypt they had the gospel preached to them, according to Paul in his letter to the Hebrews, which says, For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. -[See Heb. iv 2.]- It is said again, in Gal. iii 19, that the law -[of Moses, or the Levitical law]- was added because of transgression. What, we ask, was this law added to, if it was not added to the gospel? It must be plain that it was added to the gospel, since we learn that they had the gospel preached to them. From these few facts, we conclude, that whenever the Lord revealed himself to men in ancient days, and commanded them to offer sacrifice to him, that it was done that they might look forward in faith to the time of his coming, and rely upon the power of that atonement for a remission of their sins. And this they have done, thousands who have gone before us, whose garments are spotless, and who are, like Job, waiting with an assurance like his, that they will see him in the latter day upon the earth, even in their flesh.
We may conclude, that though there were different dispensations, yet all things which God communicated to his people, were calculated to draw their minds to the great object, and to teach them to rely upon him alone as the Author of their salvation, as contained in his law. From what we can draw from the scriptures relative to the teachings of heaven we are induced to think, that much instruction has been given to man since the beginning which we have not. This may not agree with the opinions of some of our friends, who are bold to say, that we have every thing written in the bible which God ever spake to men since the world began, and that if he had ever said any thing more we should certainly have received it. But we ask, does it remain for a people who never had faith enough to call down one scrap of revelation from heaven, and for all they have now, are indebted to the faith of another people who lived hundreds and thousands of years before them, to say how much God has spoken and how much he has not spoken? We have what we have, and the bible contains what it does [p. 143]