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Saturday, October 23, 2021

What Happened in the Temple Prison of Liberty Jail?

            My Come, Follow Me lesson for this week took me to Doctrine and Covenants 121-123. The Saints were being persecuted in Missouri and elsewhere. They were driven out of their homes in the Independence, Jackson County, Missouri, area and gathered in an area called Far West, Caldwell County, Missouri. However, the persecution did not stop. Vigilantes attacked a group of Saints living at Hawn’s Mill, located about twelve miles from Far West but still in Caldwell County, Missouri. The mob killed seventeen Saints.

            On October 31, 1838, in Far West, Missouri, state militia troops arrested the Prophet Joseph Smith and other Church leaders. The men were eventually imprisoned in the lower level of Liberty Jail in Clay County, Missouri.

            The bottom level of the Liberty Jail was known as a dungeon. The walls were four feel thick, the stone floor was cold and filthy, and the only light came through two narrow iron-barred windows located near the ceiling. I have been to the Liberty Jail – or a replica of it. The ceiling of the dungeon was so low that grown men could not stand upright. The Prophet and his companions spent four frigid months during the winter of 1838-39 in the Liberty Jail awaiting trial for treason against the state of Missouri.

            The prisoners had visitors and received correspondence from family and friends. In fact, Joseph Smith was constantly receiving news about the suffering of the Saints. The Saints felt peace and optimism in Far West for several months, and then life crashed around them. Again, they were driven from their homes, across the Missouri River, and into Quincy, Illinois, in the dead of winter. All this happened while the Prophet and other leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were in prison. In these dismal circumstances, the Prophet sought answers from God.

1 O God, where are thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?

2 How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants, and thine ear be penetrated with their cries?

3 Yea, O Lord, how long shall they suffer these wrongs and unlawful oppressions, before thine heart shall be softened toward them, and thy bowels be moved with compassion toward them?

4 O Lord God Almighty, maker of heaven, earth, and seas, and of all things that in them are, and who controllest and subjectest the devil, and the dark and benighted dominion of Sheol – stretch forth thy hand; let thine eye pierce; let thy pavilion be taken up; let thy hiding place no longer be covered; let thine ear be inclined; let thine heart be softened, and thy bowels moved with compassion toward us.

5 Let thine anger be kindled against our enemies; and, in the fury of thine heart, with thy sword avenge us of our wrongs.

6 Remember thy suffering saints, O our God; and thy servants will rejoice in thy name forever (Doctrine and Covenants 121:1-6).

            The Prophet poured out his heart to God in the six verses shown above. Then, the Lord answered His prophet in the following forty-three verses recorded in two sections – Doctrine and Covenants 121-122. The Lord began with words of comfort and love:

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.

            The Lord continued with instructions and knowledge. In Section 122, He even told him that things could be worse, but all his experiences would be good for him.

7 And … 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?

            The Prophet’s circumstances did not change right away, but his attitude improved. Section 123 is part of a letter that the Prophet wrote while he was still in Liberty Jail. He told the Saints to gather all the facts that they could about the suffering and abuses that they had suffered.

The facts were to include the property that they lost, the damages to character, personal injuries, and real property lost. They were also to include the names of all persons who had persecuted and oppressed them. They were to take statements and affidavits and to gather all the “libelous publications” that had been printed – including magazines, encyclopedias, and histories. When all the “knowledge” had been collected, it was to be presented to “the heads of government. The Prophet ended his letter with these words:

Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed (Doctrine and Covenants 123:17).

            At the beginning of Doctrine and Covenants 121, the Prophet Joseph Smith was in the depths of discouragement. However, his attitude changed once he was assured that God was aware of what was happening with the Saints and himself. He concluded his letter that is recorded as Doctrine and Covenants 123 with renewed spiritual confidence.

The Prophet could once again comfort the persecuted Saints and remind them that they were doing God’s work “in bringing to light all the hidden things of darkness” (Doctrine and Covenants 123:13). He ended by reassuring them, “Let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed” (Doctrine and Covenants 123:17).

The Prophet and his companions were allowed to escape several weeks later, while they were being transported to another jail. They joined the Saints in Quincy, Illinois, and began looking for another place to gather.

President Henry B. Eyring testified that God does strengthen those who seek to serve God and assist Him in His work:

You can have the utmost assurance that your power will be multiplied many times by the Lord. All He asks is that you give your best effort and your whole heart. Do it cheerfully and with the prayer of faith. The Father and His Beloved Son will send the Holy Ghost as your companion to guide you. Your efforts will be magnified in the lives of the people you serve. And when you look back on what may now seem trying times of service and sacrifice, the sacrifice will have become a blessing, and you will know that you have seen the arm of God lifting those you served for Him, and lifting you (“Rise to Your Call,” Ensign, Nov. 2002, 78).

            I know that God does strengthen us as we seek to do His will and to serve our brothers and sisters here on earth. He is aware of our trials as well as our attitudes. Let us “cheerfully do all things that lie in our power” and show the Lord that we allow Him to prevail in our lives.


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