God Reorganizes His Church

RLDS History of the Church 3:213–226

Conference convened at Yellowstone, Wisconsin, October 6, 1852, and chose Elder J. W. Briggs to preside, 1852. and Samuel Blair to act as clerk.

The following resolution was adopted to provide for a temporary presiding officer, while awaiting the coming of the promised President of the High Priesthood:—

Resolved, that the highest authority among the priesthood represents the legitimate President as a presiding authority.—Church Record, page 7.

At this conference the committee on writing the pamphlet entitled, "A Word of Consolation," reported the work done. It was read, and the printing of two thousand copies ordered.

Elder Samuel Blair was appointed General Church Recorder.

Thus ended the year 1852. This band of saints had renounced all would-be leaders, and in confident expectancy were waiting for promised light and wisdom. Yet they were resolved not to act rashly or hastily, but to await patiently the unfolding of the plan, as in the wisdom of God, it should be revealed. So none presumed to know just what was to be done. It was enough for them to know that God had promised, and that he was able to fulfill. However, these days of patient and confident waiting must have been fraught with anxious care.

Elder Z. H. Gurley, Sen., in his plain unvarnished way, relates some of the difficulties under which they labored, and in connection with these, records some wonderful manifestations and experiences, particularly the results of a meeting held early in January, 1853, in which he speaks of certain questions being presented to the Lord in prayer, and of answers received. He writes as follows:—

Accordingly the subject was presented as follows:—

First. Is polygamy of God?

Second. Is any addition necessary to the pamphlet before its publication?

Before opening the meeting we made the church acquainted with our design, and while singing the opening hymn, the Holy Spirit was sensibly felt. Several sung in tongues, and while engaged in prayer, the veil was at least partly rent, and the manifestation of the Spirit was such as was seldom witnessed by mortals on earth. I have been a member of the church some twenty-three years, and in the course of my ministry have witnessed the manifestation of the Spirit in many of the branches, but never had witnessed what I did that evening. God was truly with us, and many felt to say with the poet, "Angels are now hovering o'er us." This was on the eve of the 9th of January, 1853, ever memorable with the saints of God. About half an hour afterwards we received through the Spirit the following, as nearly as we could write it:

Polygamy is an abomination in the sight of the Lord God: it is not of me; I abhor it. I abhor it, as also the doctrines of the Nicolaitans, and the men or set of men who practice it. I judge them not, I judge not those who practice it. Their works shall judge them at the last day. Be ye strong; ye shall contend against this doctrine; many will be led into it honestly, for the Devil will seek to establish it, and roll it forth to deceive.

They seek to build up their own kingdoms, to suit their own pleasures, but I countenance it not, saith God. I have given my law: I shrink not from my word. My law is given in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, but they have disregarded my law and trampled upon it, and counted it a light thing, and obeyed it not; but my word is the same yesterday as to-day, and forever.

As you have desired to know of me concerning the pamphlet, it is written in part, but not in plainness. It requires three more pages to be written, for it shall go forth in great plainness, combating this doctrine, and all who receive it not, it shall judge at the last day. Let this be the voice of the Lord in the pamphlet, for it shall go forth in great plainness, and many will obey it and turn unto me, saith the Lord.

This accounts for the last three pages in our first pamphlet, and we most earnestly commend that article to the careful reading of all that have ever known the latter-day work, and pray God our heavenly Father, in the name of Jesus Christ his Son, to break every band that binds them, that they may be enabled to turn to the law from which they have strayed.

Shortly after this communication was given, it was intimated by the Spirit that we must organize. This was strange teaching to me. I replied, It is impossible for us to organize farther than we have. I knew that we could not create a priesthood. I conversed with several of the brethren on the subject and we set it down as a mistake. It was now March. Our April conference was near at hand, and we were unable to decide on the validity of the ordinations of our brethren, who were present at the fall conference, and as we all felt satisfied with the answer to our inquiry concerning polygamy, we thought the most proper course for us was to make this also a subject of prayer. Accordingly we presented a question something like this: "Were those ordained apostles by William Smith recognized by God?"

The manifestation of the Spirit was fully equal to any on former occasions, and perhaps it is well to say that this was the first time that the angels of God were seen present in our meetings. I did not see them, but before they were seen the Spirit declared through me that they were near, and immediately after several were transfixed as it were, by the power of God, as were many in the days of King Benjamin.

Some little time elapsed, nearly an hour I judge, before we received an answer to our inquiry. We were then told that those ordinations were not acceptable,—were not of God,—and near the close of the communication we were told expressly to organize ourselves, "for ere long, saith the Lord, I will require the prophet at your hand." Such was the manifestation of the power of God, that not a doubt was left on our minds concerning the source from which the commandment came. We all knew it was from God, but how to organize was the question. We knew we could not create priesthood, we had two high priests, and one Senior President of the Seventies; but how could these men organize the church? It was impossible, utterly impossible. We counseled upon it, and concluded that possibly under the present circumstances, it might be right for high priests to ordain high priests, and for the Senior President of Seventies to ordain seventies, but when done what would it accomplish? Nothing - just nothing. We were in trouble —deep trouble, To refuse to organize was disobedience; to go forward in the attempt was darkness. There was but one alternative, and that was to seek wisdom from above,.

We sought, and in answer were told to appoint a day and come together fasting and praying, and the Lard would show us how to organize. We therefore appointed the day, dismissed the meeting, and went home rejoicing. Immediately after our meeting we discovered that the Prince of Darkness' was fully bent on preventing us from receiving the communication. We came together on the day appointed, and found that some had not fasted as commanded, and as several were present who did not belong to the church, it was thought best to omit our prayer meeting till evening, and spend the day in preaching. Before evening the way was made clear, and at night all came together in good faith, rejoicing that we had the opportunity of seeking for the information we needed; viz., how to organize the church.

We then presented the following question:—

First. Will the Lord please to tell us how to organize, that what we do may be acceptable unto him, and who among us will he acknowledge as the representative of the "legal heir" to the Presidency of the Church?

There was not so much of the manifestation of the Spirit at this time as upon former occasions, nevertheless a good feeling and influence prevailed. After the meeting had continued about one hour, a man belonging to the Brighamites, about half drunk, came in, and took a seat among us. Shortly after this a brother came to me and asked if I had received any answer to our question. I said "no." He said "I have." At my request he sat down and wrote it. It read as follows:—

Verily, thus saith the Lord, as I said unto my servant Moses, "See thou do all things according to the pattern," so say I unto you. Behold, the pattern is before you. It is my will that you respect authority in my church; therefore let the greatest among you preside at your conference. Let three men be appointed by the conference to select seven men from among you, who shall compose a majority of the Twelve Apostles; for it is my will that that quorum should not be filled up at present. Let the President of the Conference, assisted by two others, ordain them. (The senior of them shall preside.) Let them select twelve men from among you, and ordain them to compose my High Council. Behold, ye understand the order of the Bishopric, the Seventy, the Elders, the Priests, Teachers, and Deacons. These organize according to the pattern. Behold, I will be with you unto the end; even so. Amen. [This revelation is quoted from the Herald, but corrected to read with the revelation as written by J. W. Briggs, Church Historian. (See Messenger, vol. 2, p. 21.)]—True Latter Day Saints' Herald, vol. 1, pp. 53-55.1

On April 6, 1853, conference assembled at Zarahemla, Wisconsin, and continued in session three days, J. W. Briggs presiding, H. H. Deam clerk; during which the following important business was done, as well as some local and some routine business. Ethan Griffiths, William Cline, and Cyrus Newkirk were chosen a committee, according to former commandment, to select seven men for ordination to the office of apostle. They selected Zenos H. Gurley, Sen., Henry H. Deam, Jason W. Briggs; Daniel B. Rasey, John Cunningham, George White, and Reuben Newkirk, who were ordained according to the commandment.

Samuel Blair was sustained as Recorder; Jason W. Briggs was appointed Church Historian.

A Stake of Zion was appointed at Argyle, Wisconsin, to be known as the Zarahemla stake, over which William Cline was appointed to preside, with Cyrus Newkirk and Isaac Butterfield as his counselors.

The following were ordained seventies: David Newkirk, William Newkirk, Ira Guilford, William Cline, Jr., George Godfrey, William Smith, William Hartshorn, Horace H. Ovitt, William White, Edwin Wildermuth, Benjamin R. Tatum, John S. Newberry, Ethan Griffith, Major Godfrey, Samuel Blair, William Griffith, George W. Harlow, John Butterfield, Isaiah Harlow, and William Harlow.

Of the events in connection with this conference and the trials incident to its organization, Elder Gurley wrote as follows:—

The 6th of April finally came, and nearly all the church came together. On the 5th, as we had been commanded to organize, we thought it advisable to seek for instructions. We accordingly called a prayer meeting, and as we did not get the desired instruction, we continued it on the 6th. We were then told to organize by what was written. We supposed this referred to the books, of course. Our next step was to organize the conference This was now a difficult matter. As I have said, it had become a law to us that the one holding the highest priest. hood should preside. There were present two high priests, and one Senior President of the Seventies. The question now arose, Whose priesthood is the highest? The subject was discussed at length, and what was strange to us all, a good deal of ill feeling was manifest.

I have often thought of it. It seemed as though each one thought that the salvation of the church depended on the decision being made according to their respective views, so we argued, so we debated, till the close of the second day, when we began to think the work was lost; and would to God that all Latter Day Saints could know the situation of the church at this time; our feelings; our deep distress; our great anxiety. I considered all was lost—lost—lost! We could not organize. Oh, the bitterness of that moment! We could not see "eye to eye." God had commanded us to do what we absolutely could not do. To my mind, and to the mind of others, our effort was a failure. Kind reader, when your eye falls upon these lines, know that at that time the one who is now penning this asked God to remove him from the earth. Men who hitherto had been united, had seen "eye to eye," had labored together as one man for the cause of truth, were now opposed to each other, and after a discussion of two days, learned to their mortification and sorrow, that they, to all human appearances, were forever separate. The Spirit the night before had told a few in a prayer meeting that to-morrow they should see "eye to eye." But the day closed, and we were farther apart than on the former evening. Our attempts were a failure. I repeat, Oh, the bitterness of that moment! Never, never can I forget it. Although since that time, darkness, like Egyptian night, has at times seemed to shut out all light and exclude all hope, yet the recollection of that event has enabled me to rest satisfied that he who delivered us then still holds the reins in his own hands, and will bring his work to a glorious consummation, in his own way and in his own time.

The conference adjourned for prayer meeting in the evening. We accordingly came together at early candlelight, and commenced the meeting as is usual on such occasions. For a short time it seemed as though the "Prince of Darkness" triumphed. After a little, one of the brethren arose and rebuked the Devil. Shortly after some sprang to their feet saying, "Angels, angels, brethren, are near us!" and in a moment our darkness was turned into light. The transition was instantaneous. The glory of God, such as I never witnessed before, was manifest. The Spirit seemed to rest upon all in the house. Three were in vision, the Spirit testifying through others at the same time that the recording angel was present. And as we afterwards learned, two of the three who were in vision saw the roll, while the third saw the angel and the roll. Just before this manifestation, the brother through whom the revelation had come on the 20th of March, directing us how to organize, arose to his feet and said, "Brethren, some kind of a Spirit tells me that I have the commandment written that we need." He then said, "I will read it, and I wish the church to pray, that we may know whether it is from God or not." He then took out and read the revelation that was given us on the 20th of March, remarking that he was not positive that the "senior" should preside. It was then submitted to the church. I was not aware until then that anyone but myself had this revelation. In reply to the inquiry as to whether the revelation was of God, the Spirit through a number answered that it was. We were then told that the Lord had withheld his Spirit from his elders to show them that they had not sufficient wisdom in and of themselves to organize. He said, "If I had shown you at first, all would apostatize; as it is, many of you will apostatize; but some will remain, and they shall be a means in my hands of bringing back others." We were then commanded to organize according to the revelation given the 20th of March, with the assurance that the Lord would be with us to the end.

The congregation that evening was large. The schoolhouse was filled literally full of saints, and I believe that every one was satisfied that that revelation was from God, and that the angel that keeps the record of the Lord's work in every dispensation was in our midst.—The True Latter Day Saints' Herald, vol. 1, pp. 56, 57.

Of their experience after the close of the conference Elder Gurley states:—

The next evening after the close of this conference we had a joyful time. The Lord told us the acts of this conference were recorded in heaven; and to the seven apostles he said:—

I give unto you the care of my flock on earth; take the oversight of them, as you shall give an account unto me in the day of judgment.

I will here add a word for the benefit of others. When the commandment to organize first came we thought it impossible for us to obey, not having authority to ordain apostles, etc.; but we learned what every Latter Day Saint must learn, that a command from God is authority to do all that he requires, be it more or less.—The True Latter Day Saints' Herald, vol. 1, p. 58.

Elder Briggs commenting upon the revelation given through Elder Deam, and upon the conference following, states:

This . . . seemed to give sufficient light to move understandingly. Upon the assembling of the conference of April 6, 1853, it was found that we were not yet prepared, for it was not determined who was the greatest, that the conference might be organized; and, moreover, few could appreciate the instruction given, and still more knew nothing of it till then, and their minds were turned towards the books to ascertain the manner to proceed. The choice of a presiding officer lay between high priests and seventies, (President of Seventy,) and upon this, and questions relating to organization, two whole days were spent in continuous discussion, in council, with a temporary president; at the close of which a final vote was called to determine between a high priest and a seventy to preside over the conference, with the following result: Nine to nine, there being present nineteen elders, including two high priests. J. W. Briggs, one of them, was finally chosen President of the Conference, and an appeal to heaven was agreed upon in solemn prayer on the evening of April 7. This meeting is memorable in the history of the Reorganization. It was at this meeting that [there was] an exhibition of power, light, and unity of spirit, above any ever before witnessed among us. Tongues were spoken and interpreted; hymns sung in tongues and the interpretation sung; prophecy and visions were exercised here for the first time to the writer. Many sang in tongues in perfect harmony at once, as though they constituted a well practiced choir. Angels appeared and were seen by some, and a testimony of their presence given by others affirming one of them to be the recording angel, who exhibited a partially unrolled parchment as an unfinished record upon which we were assured should be recorded the act we were called to perform in the reorganization of the church, confirmation of the foregoing revelation of the 20th of March, given, enjoining obedience to the same. The evident proofs of divine direction were so strong, that doubt disappeared, while the light was so clear to all that diversity of opinion ceased, and the whole people were truly of one heart and one soul. And on the next morning, at the opening of the session, the revelation of March 20 was presented to the conference, and accepted as such by unanimous voice; after which the following persons were chosen as the three to select the seven to be ordained into the Quorum of Twelve Apostles: Cyrus Newkirk, Ethan Griffith, and William Cline, who selected the following seven persons, who were accepted by the conference, and ordained according to the instructions previously given; viz., Zenos H. Gurley [Sen.], Jason W. Briggs, Henry H. Deam, Reuben Newkirk, John Cunningham, George White, and Daniel B. Rasey. The ordinations took place in the afternoon session, on the 8th, in the following order: Henry H. Deam was first ordained by Jason W. Briggs, (the President of the Conference,) assisted by Zenos H. Gurley and Reuben Newkirk; then Henry H. Deam, assisted by Zenos H. Gurley and Reuben Newkirk, ordained Jason W. Briggs; then Jason W. Briggs, assisted by Henry H. Deam and Reuben Newkirk, ordained Zenos H. Gurley; and then Jason W. Briggs, assisted by Henry H. Deam and Zenos H. Gurley, ordained the other four of the seven chosen.— The Messenger, vol. 2, pp. 21, 22.

The following additional items of history and logical argument in favor of the Reorganization are from the pen of Elder J. W. Briggs:—

The closing of this conference was by a general testimony meeting, in which the various gifts were abundantly poured out; and a special charge given the seven who had been ordained into the Quorum of the Twelve, to take the oversight of the flock in the fear of the Lord, and an impressive warning against becoming heady, with an emphatic reinforcement of the precept, "He that exalteth himself shall be abased." That false spirits, false prophets, and false christs were in the world, and should come among us to deceive, and some should follow them; but that the organization should remain. That the acts of the conference were recorded in heaven, and the faithful should realize all the promises that had been made from the beginning.

On the last day of this conference the seven who had been ordained apostles met to choose a president of the quorum. It was proposed by J. W. Briggs, that the rule of courtesy should govern our choice; that is, that the oldest man among them should preside. Zenos H. Gurley [Sen.] being the oldest man, refused. It was then proposed (by the same) that the next oldest should preside, to which H. H. Deam being that one, refused, and both alleging that the rule of courtesy should only apply to pro tern. presidents, in the absence of the permanent one, and not to an original choice, it was then moved by them both that J. W. Briggs be the President of the Quorum, which was so voted. The attendance at this conference was large, and deep interest prevailed throughout.

It had been declared through the gifts that the various organizations of Latter Day Saints, under the lead of J. J. Strang, J. C. Brewster, Baneemy, Alpheus Cutler, Lyman Wight, Sidney Rigdon, Brigham Young, and others, together with some yet to arise, should one after another come to naught, and cease to be. And during the summer the elders came in contact with many of them, which served to put to the test their foundations and our own also.

Having stated the facts relative to the first acts, thus far in reorganizing the church, it is proper to give the ideal or theory upon which these acts were justified in the minds of those who performed them; for they were none of them accidents, but deliberative, and it must be conceded, were consistent with themselves.

First. It was affirmed that the church had been disorganized, or rejected as a church, but not as individuals.

Second. That those individuals not rejected were entitled to ask and receive what related to them as their duty.

Third. That these individuals, among whom were many elders, in seeking to know their duty were taught of the Lord and commanded to reorganize, or begin to set in order the church.

Fourth. That in the discharging this duty the Presidency was left to be filled as provided by the law in the case out of our reach, to be filled by calling one forth to whom the promise pertained.

Fifth. That as a preparation to that, the calling into power those whose duty it should be to ordain him.

Sixth. The highest authority for the time presiding and representing the Presidency of the Church.

And in justification of the course taken, and the principles involved, on "the question of authority," we have ever courted, and still do, investigation in the rigid character of the facts in the first organization. Here they are: Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were ordained to the lesser priesthood by an angel; then by this authority and a commandment, they on the sixth day of April ordained each other elders, and this eldership ordained high priests and apostles, and this high priesthood ordained, by commandment, the President of the High Priesthood, the highest office in the church; so that the alleged lesser ordained the greater, is common to both the first organization and the Reorganization he same class of facts justify both or condemn both.

But this stream, rising higher than its fountain, is only seeming, not real. By what authority, according to the law of the church, is anyone ordained? Answer. "By the power of The Holy Ghost which is in the one who ordains him." Instead of this then being the stream, it is the fountain itself, from which flows the stream or authority of both priesthoods, from its highest to its lowest offices. Moreover, all ordinations are performed in the name and authority of the church, and is therefore the act of "the Spirit and the Bride." So that in addition to the authority which its adherence to truth guarantees, the Reorganization is technically right, and on legal grounds invulnerable; before which all the factions have melted away save the one - and they dare not assail it, but always "decline."—The Messenger, vol. 2, pp. 26, 27.

It has been thought that there was an irregularity in the selection of Jason W. Briggs to preside, as he held no higher office in the days of Joseph Smith than that of elder, while others held the office of President of Seventy, and that of high priest; but it will be observed that, according to the instruction given, the presiding officer was not to preside by virtue of priesthood formerly held, but by virtue of his apostleship, and of his being the senior in the quorum. Senior does not necessarily mean the one most advanced in age, but will apply to the one highest in authority, so that when Elder Briggs was elected president of the quorum he was in fact "the senior of them," and as such entitled to preside. However, preference was shown to the oldest in years, and the honor was declined, first by Elder Gurley, and then by Elder Deam.

On October 6-8, 1853, a General Conference was in session at Zarahemla, Wisconsin. Elder Jason W. Briggs presided, and Elder Samuel Blair acted as clerk. The seven apostles were sustained, and the majority of seventy before-named were sustained.

The following missions were appointed: Ethan Griffith and Samuel Blair, Pennsylvania; Alfred White, Henry B. Lowe, George Godfrey, Wisconsin; Benjamin R. Tatum, Ohio; Ephraim Demming, New York.

Thomas Carrico, was received on his original baptism, and his former ordination as an high priest was indorsed. He was appointed to labor in Jo Daviess County, Illinois. Henry B. Lowe was ordained a seventy.

Jason W. Briggs was authorized to publish a pamphlet to be entitled, "The voice of the captives assembled at Zarahemla to their brethren scattered abroad."

Elder Samuel Blair was appointed to select hymns and to publish a hymn book.