David Whitmer Faction
(RLDS History of the Church 3:78–91)
In 1847 there arose another organization, effected through the efforts of Elder William E. McLellin, with which David Whitmer and others were identified. This organization had for its president, David Whitmer, but was an entirely different organization, and built on a different foundation from the movement which Elder Whitmer was supposed to have originated in the last years of his life, and of which we may speak in its time. This first organization was formed at Kirtland, Ohio, by William E. McLellin and others.
We will give the account as published in their organ, the Ensign of Liberty, edited by William E. McLellin.
THINGS IN KIRTLAND.
The church here at present numbers forty two, and they are all at peace and fellowship among themselves.
At a conference of the church held here on the 23d of January, 1847, after many remarks by those present, it was motioned by W. E. McLellin and seconded by Martin Harris, that this church take upon them the name of the Church of Christ, and wear it henceforth—shorn of all appendages or alterations. The motion was put by Elder L. Rich, the chairman, and carried with much feeling and spirit in the affirmative, without a dissenting voice.
On the 10th of February following, several individuals assembled in our office in the evening and we freely talked over our (then) present standing before the Lord. We were settled in our minds that the time had come for the church to come forth the second time out of ‘obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of all the earth with which God is well pleased; speaking unto the church collectively and not individually, for the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance:’ but we felt troubled in our minds about our baptisms and confirmations.
The church had in the years 1833 and 1834 changed its character from that of a peaceable company to that of a warrior band. The leading men had risen up and taken the spirit of vengeance into their own hands, as was evidenced by their going to war and shedding human blood, even upon the land of Zion, where God had said, "You are forbidden to shed blood." They had violated that great maxim of the Savior, "Put up again thy sword into his place; for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword." A few of the leading men by council action had taken for the church the false name of Latter Day Saints. Joseph had been commanded of the Lord, and had ordained David to be his successor. That boastful church of Latter Day Saints had been "driven from city to city, and from land to land." Their Prophet and Patriarch had fallen into the cold embrace of death, at the hands of a ruthless mob. And finally that people had become divided and subdivided into parties and clans, each claiming the true priesthood, the true power and authority to legally administer the ordinances of the house of God.
But in Kirtland where the character of the church was first changed, where the false name was first given, where the spirit of war was first imbibed by the church, we had risen up, holding no fellowship with any split or division of the parties growing out of or from among those who once held the true priesthood, derived from heaven, by which the Church of Christ was first established; and we by our voluntary act had taken upon us the true name, and were endeavoring to obtain the true Spirit of Christ. We had all been members of the church of Latter Day Saints, or of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. We had all been baptized into some party or other of that work. And during the above mentioned evening the subject of our baptisms was freely talked over. We then argued that our mere vote to call ourselves the Church of Christ did not constitute us such unless we held the true priesthood or ministry of Christ, by which to administer the true ordinances of the house of God, so as to obtain and be actuated by the true spirit of love and peace. Inasmuch as we had been baptized into any other church, we were out of the Church of Christ, we were out of the Church of God; and as there is but one door by which we could enter the true church, and that is baptism and confirmation, consequently we asked ourselves this question, "Are we in the house or out of doors?" And as honest individuals we were bound to answer, We are not now legal members of the body of Christ, however honest we may have acted in our past experience, because we could not be members of two churches at the same [time]. . . .
The church here had officially acknowledged the Presidency of David Whitmer and had sent to him a letter, mailed the 15th of December, not as some vain persons have supposed to acquaint him with his station and duties, but the object was to advise him of the fact that we had acknowledged him in his standing, and that we by our faith and (page 80) prayers were determined to uphold him in his high and holy calling, provided he had still maintained his integrity before God.
We had publicly and privately condemned and rejected many of the doctrines and practices of the Church of Latter Day Saints. And we had determined to practice virtue and holiness before the Lord continually, provided we could only know what he required of us. We had the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Book of Commandments, so far as they had been published in Zion in 1833; but with all the light we could draw from them, we did not know in our present situation what to do. We lacked wisdom. We did not wish to act upon a mere opinion of our own, of any other man or set of men. We wanted to know the mind of the Lord Jesus Christ. Consequently we humbled ourselves before him in mighty prayer, each one present calling upon God vocally, the one after the other; all being agreed to inquire of the Lord, as touching our priesthood, our baptisms, and the establishing and building up of the Church of Christ.
We thank and magnify the name of the Lord God who revealed himself to all holy men since the world began who called upon him in faith, as we did; for he heard our united solemn prayer of faith, and the pattern was given to us, by which we could go forward and act and thus build up the church unto the Lord, but not unto man. Yes, we fearlessly declare that the Lord then and there gave us intelligence "to discern the true principles of his kingdom, that we might again build up his church as from the beginning. To build it up according to his law." And through his seer, the Lord has since said when addressing me, “Therefore he shall continue to do all things according to the pattern that I have shown to him." As to our priesthood, the Lord said: "I the Lord yet acknowledge the authority and ministry of all those of my church who are now willing to forsake all unrighteousness and cleave unto me; notwithstanding all their imperfections, inasmuch as they repent I will be gracious unto them."
As to our baptisms the Lord said, "It is my will inasmuch as you have taken upon you my name that you should now be freed from all your dead works, from all evil spirits, and from all unrighteousness, by being born into my church by obedience to the ordinances of baptism and confirmation, that I may build up unto myself a holy people, zealous of good works."
On Saturday, 13th of February, Martin Harris, William E. McLellin, Leonard Rich, and Aaron Smith, were immersed, confirmed, and reordained to the same authority which we had held in the church before Latter Day Saintism was known. Since that day we have in the face and eyes of all opposition gone forward to obey and keep the sacred word of God to us. We have increased in numbers but slowly, yet not even one has turned away as yet who has been confirmed into the church among us.
When we first started here last winter we set out with a determination to persevere unto the end, and the further we have gone the more firmly we have felt rooted and grounded in the truth, the more we have felt established that the course we are now pursuing will carry out the original design of God in first raising up this church. Every week has brought us some light upon the great work to be accomplished in this age by the called, chosen, and faithful ministers of heaven. We have had the very delightful privilege during the fall of visiting the Lord’s seer; and he too with his friends have been born anew into the true Church of Christ, as we were in the beginning, and then they have been reordained each to his station; and now in order for the work to prosper we want to see more faithful laborers in the field, which is white already to harvest. O that God would raise up more faithful laborers, for the harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few!
We can say to our friends and brethren abroad, that the church in Kirtland is governed upon a different principle, influenced, enlightened, and led by a different spirit from that possessed by any party, branch, or faction of Latter Day Saintism which is now or ever was built up among men. And if they cannot believe our testimony, we invite them to come and see. There is permanency, light, truth, and great rejoicing here in the enjoyment of our privileges. We feel that we know that the work which the Lord himself has so marvelously commenced among us will go firmly forward until it will finally triumph and we and it be owned of Jesus when he comes.
—The Ensign of Liberty, vol. 1, pp. 54–57.
Elder McLellin had visited Missouri and succeeded in interesting Elder David Whitmer and others in the movement, and ordained them high priests and David Whitmer President of the Church. We give here the account as written by William E. McLellin and published in The Ensign of Liberty for August, 1849:—
OUR TOUR WEST IN 1847
When I published the third number of this paper, I did not then deem it wisdom to publish the particulars of the conference held in Far West, on the seventh and eighth days of September, with some of the original ‘witnesses’ of the Book of Mormon. But as circumstances have transpired since, and as matters now stand, we believe it to be our duty to present to our readers a history of that important conference. But let us premise a little here. It will be remembered that in December, 1846, I wrote a long letter to President David Whitmer. And in March and April following, I published the first and second numbers of this paper, and immediately sent them to him and his friends. When I parted with O. Cowdery the last of July, in Wisconsin, he immediately wrote to David and acquainted him with the fact that I was on my way to make him a visit. This letter he had received some days before I arrived; hence the whole matter of the stand we had taken in Kirtland was well known and well understood by those men, many weeks and months before I visited them. I have made the above remarks because I have been charged with waking up the prophet in his duty, and because some have thought that those men acted without mature deliberation.
On the 4th of September, about sunset, I arrived in Richmond, Ray County, Missouri, at the residence of David Whitmer. We spent until midnight hour in familiar converse relative to his gifts and callings from God, and concerning the great work of the last days. Not a jar appeared in our sentiments or feelings, and we retired. On the 5th he had an engagement, but in the evening he, his brother Jacob, and myself, retired to a lonely place, and there under the cover of the night and of the forest David gave me a succinct history of the dealings of the Lord with him back until the year 1839, when I had last seen him. At the close of this interesting interview we bowed together in the stillness of a late hour at night, in the shady grove, and each vocally called upon God, the one after the other, while his Holy Spirit distilled upon our hearts as the morning dew.
On the 6th David and Jacob Whitmer and Hiram Page accompanied me to Far West, to visit their brother, John Whitmer. On the 7th, in the morning, we bowed in family prayer, David being mouth. But in the midst of his prayer his own weakness and the greatness of the work of the Lord pressed in full view before him; he shrank and cried aloud for mercy. His head as it were was a fountain of tears and his eyes streams of water; his whole frame trembled and shook under the power of God, and his natural strength began to give way, and he cried out, "Brethren, lay hands upon me that I may have strength to do my duty." We arose and ministered to him, and if ever deep and powerful feeling filled my whole heart, that was the time. He received strength and concluded his prayer.
After breakfasting, we retired to a pleasant inner room and dedicated ourselves to God, in a council capacity, and then held a free and lengthy consultation about the first rise and progress of the work from the year 1827 up to 1834 and onward to the present time. We conversed freely, and particularly about the reorganization of the same church by us in Kirtland, in February, 1847. I was particular to relate to them all the great and important principles made known to us, and upon which we had acted. The following revelation which we had received on the 10th of February preceding, which was the cause of the reorganization, was read and approved:—
Verily I the Lord say unto those who are now present, who have bowed before me and unitedly asked in the name of Jesus to know my will, I am not angry with you, but the angels rejoice over you when they behold your faith in me and your willingness to receive light and truth at my hand. . . .
Let my servant William, who has separated himself unto me to obey the voice of my Spirit though all manner of evil be spoken against him therefor, repent and turn away henceforth from all blindness of mind and harshness of spirit and fear of evildoers, and let him trust in me continually for deliverance, and I the Lord will hold him in mine own hands and fulfill all my promises to him.
And now inasmuch as you desire to know my will and how you shall go forward to please me, as you have taken upon you the name of Christ, mine anointed, then it will be pleasing unto me that you should also take upon you mine ordinances of baptism and confirmation, and then reordination—or rather, a confirmation of the holy authority of the priesthood which you had received in my church. Yea, let my servant William baptize and confirm and then reordain my servant Martin. And thus shall he confirm his authority upon him by the laying on of hands and saying, Brother Martin, I lay my hands upon you in the name of Jesus Christ, and I reordain you, and confirm upon you the office of high priest in the Church of Christ, after the holy order of the Son of God. And I pray God in the name of Jesus, his Son, to give unto you in your calling, all the gifts and blessings and powers thereof, and keep you faithful unto the end; amen. And then let my servant Martin administer unto my servant William in the same manner, according to the same pattern. And then let my servant Leonard likewise receive the same ministration.
Yea, let my servants William and Martin and Leonard do as the Spirit of truth now directs them, and in which they feel a clearness, and I the Lord will open the way before you as seemeth to me good, and no power shall stay my hand, but I will accomplish my work and that speedily; for gainsayers shall be confounded, but my people who know my voice and follow me shall rejoice and continue to rejoice; and the glory shall be ascribed unto me instead of unto man.
And now concerning the authority of my servant David, I would say unto you that no man being directed by my Spirit will ever condemn what my Spirit now teaches you. Go forward, then, that my designs in the work of the last days may prosper in your hands. And now I say unto you to always trust in me, and you shall never be confounded, worlds without end; amen.
Every part and principle of the above was scanned, and, as I supposed, well understood by all those present. We then agreed to call upon the Lord to know his mind and will concerning those who were there present; and we agreed or covenanted to implicitly obey what the Lord might reveal to us. I took my seat at a table prepared to write; David took his seat near to me, and he requested the others to gather near around him. Then after a few moments of solemn secret prayer, the following was delivered solely through and by David Whitmer, as the revelator, and written by me as scribe; viz.:—
Verily, verily thus saith the Lord unto you my servants David, and John, and William, and Jacob, and Hiram; it is for my name’s sake saith the Lord God of hosts that your sins are now forgiven and that you shall have my word concerning you. Therefore marvel ye not that I the Lord your God have dealt with you on this wise concerning you on this land. Behold, I have looked upon you from the beginning and have seen that in your hearts dwelt truth and righteousness. And now I reveal unto you, my friends, through my beloved Son, your Savior. And for the cause of my church it must needs have been that ye were cast out from among those who had polluted themselves and the holy authority of their priesthood, that I the Lord could preserve my holy priesthood on earth, even on this land on which I the Lord have said Zion should dwell. . . .
Therefore I say unto you, my son David, fear not, for I am your Lord and your God; and I have held you in my own hands. You shall continue your inheritance on this my holy land; and it is for a wise purpose in me, which purpose shall be revealed hereafter.
It is even for the testimony that all those who are present have borne and remain honest therein, that the covenants that I the Lord have given you should be kept sacred on this land, and were it not so, you could not now receive wisdom at my hand; for I the Lord had decreed that my people, who had taken upon them my holy name, should not pollute the land by the holy authority of their priesthood. Now I say unto you that my church may again arise, she must acknowledge before me that they all have turned away from me and built up themselves. Even in the pride of their own hearts have they done wickedness in my name, even all manner of abominations, even such that the people of the world never was guilty of.
Therefore I the Lord have dealt so marvelously with my servant William. Therefore I have poured out my Spirit upon him from time to time, that the “man of sin” might be revealed through him. . . . And after this mission thou shalt return towards thy home and preach wherever my Spirit commands thee. For I have a work for thee to do in the land where thy family resides. For there shalt thy work commence.
Thou shalt build up my church even in the land of Kirtland, and set forth all things pertaining to my kingdom. . . .
One thing in the foregoing revelation came in direct contact with one of my previous opinions. I had supposed that Kirtland would become the residence of David, the Lord’s prophet. But while I was marveling in my mind how the work could go on and he remain in Missouri, and also freely speaking to John Whitmer some of my thoughts and feelings on the subject, Brother David came and seated himself near me again, and said, "Brother William, the Lord has something more for us, and you may write again." And the word of the Lord came as follows:—
Behold, I the Lord say unto you my friends, inasmuch as you have covenanted to be my friends and to keep all my commandments, I will reveal unto you this mystery which you have sought for; that inasmuch as it was expedient in me to preserve my church or a remnant thereof, agreeable to the covenants which I have made with all the holy saints from the beginning of the world; therefore as I had built up my kingdom according to my holy order, and placed you upon this land, and consecrated you to the holy order of my priesthood, therefore my servant David if thou shouldst leave this land, and those of thy brethren who have remained with thee, then you shall forfeit your right and make the word of God of none effect. For I have said unto you in days past and gone, that but few should remain to receive their inheritances. Therefore a commandment I give unto you my servant David, and also my servants John, and Hiram, and Jacob, that you must remain until I command you, and then you shall only be permitted to visit the faithful in my kingdom. For now ye do hold the right of this, the consecrated land of Zion, that in the fullness of time your brethren may claim by right of the covenant which ye have kept, inheritances in the land of Zion. Now I say unto you all, that from time to time ye shall see and know by my Spirit all things pertaining to these words which I have now given you. Now I say no more unto you concerning this matter; even so; amen.
With the above I was perfectly satisfied. Cause and effect were both set forth, and we felt to acquiesce. But then I saw what a great responsibility would rest on me, especially when I should return to Kirtland. I then saw and in some measure realized that we should see each other but seldom. Near a thousand miles would separate us and our fields of labor, for a season at least. And I said in my heart, O Lord, if thou hast a word of intelligence more for me, reveal it, O reveal it now to me! I expressed my anxiety to my brethren present, and the enquiry [inquiry] being made, the Lord through his servant David made known, while I wrote the following:—[Here follows a revelation to McLellin.]
But here David said a vision opened before him, and the spirit which was upon him bade him stop and talk to me concerning it. He said that in the bright light before him he saw a small chest or box of very curious and fine workmanship which seemed to be locked, but he was told that it contained precious things, and that if I remained faithful to God, I should obtain the chest and its contents. I marveled at this relation, from the fact that on the twenty-ninth day of April, 1844, while in vision, I saw the same or a similar chest, and received a similar promise from the spirit which talked with me. I was told that it contained "the treasures of wisdom, and knowledge from God."
At this point we counseled particularly relative to the authority by which the church was reorganized in Kirtland, and the reasons why the Lord required us to be rebaptized, confirmed, ordained. They said the principles and reasons which had actuated us were correct, and that they were ready. They felt it, they said, to be their duty to do as we had done. But it was late in the afternoon, and was raining, therefore we deemed it wisdom to wait until morning. Here objectors could not reasonably find fault and say that these men were over-persuaded, or that they acted in haste in this important matter. But morning came, and a beautiful bright day it was too. We repaired to the water about a mile distant, and there on the bank of a beautiful stream we dedicated ourselves to God in the united solemn prayer of faith. I then led those four men into the water and ministered to them in the name of the Lord Jesus. But as we returned again to our council room, Brother David and I turned aside, and called upon the Lord, and received direct instruction how we should further proceed. And we all partook of bread and wine in remembrance of the Lord Jesus. I then confirmed those who were now born into the Church of Christ, anew. And then (as directed) I ordained H. Page to the office of high priest, in the holy priesthood which is after the order of the Son of God. And we two ordained Jacob Whitmer to the same office. Then we all laid hands on John Whitmer and reordained him to the priesthood, and to be counselor to David in the First Presidency of the Church. And then with the most solemn feelings which I ever experienced we stepped forward and all laid hands upon David and reordained him to all the gifts and callings to which he had been appointed through Joseph Smith, in the General Assembly of the inhabitants of Zion, in July, 1834.
W. E. McLELLIN, Secretary.
We have not been able to learn that this organization ever accomplished anything more. It soon lost its identity, and none of its former adherents remained true to it. David Whitmer himself afterward renounced principles taught in the above communications which were received through him.
Sometime in 1849, Messrs. Alfred Bonny, I. N. Aldrich, and M. C. Ishem, of Kirtland, Ohio, addressed a letter of inquiry to Elder David Whitmer, which was answered by Elder Hiram Page, from Richmond, Ray County, Missouri, June 24, 1849, and published in the Olive Branch for August, 1849. From this letter it appears that they were not long in discovering their error. The following is an extract:—
We have been frequently solicited by the brethren to know what they must do. To all inquiring brethren we say, we are not your masters to usurp authority over you, but we are your servants in Christ; and as we cannot justify wrong in ourselves or in others, we feel to acknowledge our errors, and say to all others, "Go and do likewise."
It is well known by many that since we were driven from Far West by the Mormons (at which time we were obliged to go into an adjoining country where we could get the protection of the civil law) we have been lying dormant, while fifty odd persons have been appointed to rule and govern the church by Joseph Smith, and there were divisions and sub-divisions, until the true order of the Church of Christ was entirely neglected. In 1847 Brother William [William E. McLellin] commenced vindicating our characters as honest men. In that he did well. In September. 1848, he made us a visit and professed to have been moved upon by the same Spirit of God that led him to do us justice by vindicating our characters, moved upon him to come here and have us organize ourselves in a church capacity; but it must come through him, which would give a sanction to all that he had done, which would give a more speedy rise to the cause than anything else could; and by our holding him up, he could build up the church according to its true order, which would be a source of consolation to us. But we had not as yet come to an understanding, but consented to the organization after three days successive entreaties. Now we acknowledge that the organization was not in accordance with the order of the gospel church.—Olive Branch, vol. 2, pp. 27, 28.