Letter to William W. Phelps, 22 July 1840

  • Source Note
  • Historical Introduction

Document Transcript

Hancock Co Ills
July 22nd. 1840
I must say that it is with no ordinary feelings I endeavour to write a few lines to you in answer to yours of the 29th. Ultimo, at the same time I am rejoiced at the priveledge granted me. You may in some measure realise what my feelings, as well as ’s & ’s were when we read your letter, truly our hearts were melted into tenderness and compassion when we assertained your resolves &c
I can assure you I feel a disposition to act on your case in a manner that will meet the approbation of Jehovah (whose servant I am) and agreeably to the principles of truth and righteousness which have been revealed and inasmuch as long-suffering patience and mercy have ever characterized the dealings of our heavenly Father towards the humble and penitent, I feel disposed, to copy the example and cherish the same principles, by so doing be a savior of my fellow men
It is true, that we have suffered much in consequence of your behavior—the cup of gall already full enough for mortals to drink, was indeed filled to overflowing when you turned against us: One with whom we had oft taken sweet council together, and enjoyed many refreshing seasons from the Lord “Had it been an enemy we could have borne it” [“]In the day that thou stoodest on the other side, in the day when Strangers carried away captive his forces, and foreigners entered into his gates and cast lots upon even thou wast as one of them. But thou shouldst not have looked on [p. 157] the day of thy brother, in the day that he became a stranger neither shouldst thou have spoken proudly in the day of distress”
However the cup has been drunk, the will of our heavenly Father has been done, and we are yet alive for which we thank the Lord. And having been delivered from the hands of wicked men by the mercy of our God, we say it is your privilidge to be delivered from the power of the Adversary— be brought into the liberty of God’s dear children, and again take your stand among the saints of the Most High, and by diligence humility and love unfeigned, commend yourself to our God and your God and to the
Believing your confession to be real and your repentance genuine, I shall be happy once again to give you the right hand of fellowship, and rejoice over the returning prodigal.
Your letter was read to the saints last sunday and an expression of their feeling was taken, when it was unanimously resolved that should be received into fellowship.
“Come on dear Brother since the war is past,
For friends at first are friends again at last.”
Yours as Ever
Joseph Smith Jr [p. 158]


  1. 1

    Letter from William W. Phelps, with Appended Letter from Orson Hyde and John E. Page, 29 June 1840.  

  2. 2

    Although Phelps’s letter was addressed only to JS, the appended letter from Orson Hyde and John E. Page was addressed to the whole First Presidency. In his letter to JS, Phelps related a dream that had given him the courage to ask for forgiveness. In that dream, he saw JS and Hyrum Smith preparing a meal to which Phelps was invited. JS told him there was plenty for him to eat and smiled at him. Phelps then took Sidney Rigdon by the hand “and cried for Joy.” (Letter from William W. Phelps, with Appended Letter from Orson Hyde and John E. Page, 29 June 1840.)  

  3. 3

    Phelps had written, “I want to be saved if my friends will help me,” and Hyde and Page had added that the First Presidency were “workmen in the art of saving souls.” (Letter from William W. Phelps, with Appended Letter from Orson Hyde and John E. Page, 29 June 1840.)  

  4. 4

    Among other things, Phelps testified before Missouri’s fifth judicial circuit court that JS and Rigdon had declared any sheriff approaching them with writs should be killed and that Rigdon had stated the church should set up its own independent government. Based on Phelps’s testimony and the testimony of others, JS, Rigdon, and other church leaders were incarcerated in the Clay County jailhouse at Liberty, Missouri, in December 1838 to await trial. (William W. Phelps, Testimony, Richmond, MO, Nov. 1838, pp. [84], [88], State of Missouri v. JS et al. for Treason and Other Crimes [Mo. 5th Jud. Cir. 1838], in State of Missouri, “Evidence”; “A History, of the Persecution,” Times and Seasons, Sept. 1840, 1:164.)  

    Missouri, State of. “Evidence.” Hearing Record, Richmond, MO, 12–29 Nov. 1838, State of Missouri v. Joseph Smith et al. for Treason and Other Crimes (Mo. 5th Cir. Ct. 1838). Eugene Morrow Violette Collection, 1806–1921, Western Historical Manuscript Collection. University of Missouri and State Historical Society of Missouri, Ellis Library, University of Missouri, Columbia.

  5. 5

    See Psalm 55:14.  

  6. 6

    In July 1834, Phelps was appointed as a member of the church presidency in Missouri. In 1835 and 1836, he spent nearly a year in Kirtland, Ohio, where he frequently participated in councils with JS. He also helped prepare for the solemn assembly that occurred in the Kirtland House of the Lord, during which participants washed each other’s feet and partook of the sacrament. (Minutes and Discourse, ca. 7 July 1834; Minutes, 10 Aug. 1835; Minutes, 26 Sept. 1835; JS, Journal, 29 Mar. 1836.)  

  7. 7

    See Psalm 55:12–13.  

  8. 8

    See Obadiah 1:11–12.  

  9. 9

    See Luke 22:42.  

  10. 10

    In April 1839, a grand jury in Daviess County, Missouri, indicted JS and other church leaders for treason, riot, arson, burglary, and receiving stolen goods. On their way to Boone County, Missouri, where the trial was set to occur, the prisoners escaped. On 22 April 1839, they crossed the Mississippi River into Illinois, where they rejoined the main body of the Saints. (JS, “Extract, from the Private Journal of Joseph Smith Jr.,” Times and Seasons, July 1839, 1:7; JS, Journal, 22–23 Apr. 1839.)  

  11. 11

    See Daniel 7:18, 22, 25, 27; Revelation, ca. 7 Mar. 1831 [D&C 45:66]; Revelation, 26 Apr. 1832 [D&C 82:13]; and Letter to William W. Phelps, 27 Nov. 1832 [D&C 85:11].  

  12. 12

    See 2 Corinthians 6:6; 1 Peter 1:22; and Letter to Edward Partridge and the Church, ca. 22 Mar. 1839 [D&C 121:41].  

  13. 13

    See Luke 15:11–32. Phelps had opened his letter to JS by stating, “I am as the prodigal Son,” and Hyde and Page had referred to Phelps as “a returning prodigal” in their postscript. (Letter from William W. Phelps, with Appended Letter from Orson Hyde and John E. Page, 29 June 1840.)  

  14. 14

    JS paraphrased a poem written by Methodist poet and hymnist Charles Wesley titled “An Epistle to the Reverend Mr. George Whitefield”: “Come on, my Whitefield! (since the strife is past, / And friends at first are friends again at last.)” (Charles Wesley, “An Epistle to the Reverend Mr. George Whitefield,” in Osborn, Poetical Works of John and Charles Wesley, 67, emphasis in original.)  

    Osborn, G. The Poetical Works of John and Charles Wesley: Reprinted from the Originals, with the Last Corrections of the Authors; together with the Poems of Charles Wesley Not before Published. Vol. 6. London: Wesleyan-Methodist Conference Office, 1870.