The Importance of the Revelation Given to Jason Briggs
By Vance Snively
|Jason W. Briggs|
On November 18, 1851, the Lord gave a message to Jason Briggs on the plains outside of Beloit, Wisconsin. This revelation was very important to the early Reorganization because it gave guidance and direction to the Saints at that time, but it is also important to us today. However, before we can fully appreciate its application for our times, we must first understand the historical setting in which it was given.
After the death of Joseph Smith, Jr., on June 27, 1844, the Church was thrown into chaos, and many factions formed due to two points of doctrine. Even though Joseph had designated his son, Joseph III, four times—in the Liberty Jail, the Red Brick Store, the Grove in Nauvoo, and the Mansion House—to succeed him according to Doctrine and Covenants, Section 43:1–2 and the law of father-to-son lineal priesthood descent (DC 83:2; 84:3; 104:18), many Church leaders believed it was their right to lead the Church after his death. The men who led the largest groups were Brigham Young, Sidney Rigdon, William Smith, James J. Strang, and Lyman Wight. William Smith (the Martyr's brother) and Lyman Wight, who were both apostles, were the only ones who supported Young Joseph as the next prophet. However, in the years just prior to the Reorganization, William Smith recanted that position and claimed that he was the successor of Joseph Smith, Jr. (see RLDS History of the Church 3:738). The second false doctrine common to many of the factions was the teaching and practice of spiritual wifery (also known as plural marriage, celestial marriage, or polygamy). Within those factions this false teaching proved to be a source of discontent to those who sought to remain true to the beliefs of the Church.
After Joseph's death, Brigham Young, with the support of eight other apostles, took control of the Church at Nauvoo. Those in disagreement with them were either expelled or left the Church on their own. At the time of Joseph's death, the total Church membership was estimated to be from 150,000 to 200,000 members worldwide with about 30,000 living in and around Nauvoo (see ibid., 1). Brigham took a total of about 10,000 with him to Utah (see ibid., 27), rebaptizing all the members and reordaining the priesthood (see ibid., 18–19). He also took with him the Church structure including the bishopric and quorums, as well as Church records and assets. Church members who did not follow Brigham to Utah and believed in the original doctrines of the Church, associated with one of the other leaders until doctrines were taught that were not in the original Church. Then they would associate with someone else, hoping to find the Church in its purity (see ibid., 196–198). It was under these circumstances that the Saints tried to hold on to the Church and Gospel as best as they could during the "dark and cloudy day" after Joseph's death.
In the first part of 1851, Jason Briggs and the Beloit, Wisconsin, Branch left Strang and associated with William Smith's group. William was teaching that Young Joseph was the rightful heir to the Presidency of the High Priesthood. However, in the fall of that year Briggs learned that William Smith was beginning to advocate two new doctrines in his organization: the practice of polygamy and that he was the true successor to Joseph the Martyr (see ibid., 738). In addition, none of the other factions seemed to be teaching the original doctrines of the Church established by Joseph. Briggs had been ordained an elder in the Church prior to Joseph's death and wanted to continue to minister for the Lord, but he could not find a group that he believed represented the Church in Joseph's day. Under these circumstances Jason Briggs went to the Lord in prayer asking for divine guidance as to what he was to do. According to Jason Briggs:
While pondering in my heart the situation of the church, on the 18th day of November, 1851, on the prairie, about three miles northwest of Beloit, Wisconsin, the Spirit of the Lord came upon me, and the visions of truth opened to my mind, and the Spirit of the Lord said unto me,
"Verily, verily, saith the Lord, even Jesus Christ, unto his servant, Jason W. Briggs, concerning the church: Behold, I have not cast off my people; neither have I changed in regard to Zion. Yea, verily, my people shall be redeemed, and my law shall be kept which I revealed unto my servant, Joseph Smith, Jr., for I am God and not man, and who is he that shall turn me from my purpose, or destroy whom I would preserve? Wolves have entered into the flock, and who shall deliver them? Where is he that giveth his life for the flock? Behold, I will judge those who call themselves shepherds, and have preyed upon the flock of my pastures.
"And because you have asked me in faith concerning William Smith, this is the answer of the Lord thy God concerning him: I, the Lord, have permitted him to represent the rightful heir to the presidency of the high priesthood of my church by reason of the faith and prayers of his father, and his brothers, Joseph and Hyrum Smith, which came up before me in his behalf; and to respect the law of lineage, by which the holy priesthood is transmitted, in all generations, when organized into quorums. And the keys which were taught him by my servant Joseph were of me, that I might prove him therewith. And for this reason have I poured out my Spirit through his ministrations, according to the integrity of those who received them.
"But as Esau despised his birthright, so has William Smith despised my law, and forfeited that which pertained to him as an apostle and high priest in my church. And his spokesman, Joseph Wood, shall fall with him, for they are rejected of me. They shall be degraded in their lives, and shall die without regard; for they have wholly forsaken my law, and given themselves to all manner of uncleanness, and prostituted my law and the keys of power intrusted to them, to the lusts of the flesh, and have run greedily in the way of adultery.
"Therefore, let the elders whom I have ordained by the hand of my servant Joseph, or by the hand of those ordained by him, resist not this authority, nor faint in the discharge of duty, which is to preach my gospel as revealed in the record of the Jews, and the Book of Mormon, and the Book of Doctrine and Covenants; and cry repentance and remission of sins through obedience to the gospel, and I will sustain them, and give them my Spirit; and in mine own due time will I call upon the seed of Joseph Smith, and will bring one forth, and he shall be mighty and strong, and he shall preside over the high priesthood of my church; and then shall the quorums assemble, and the pure in heart shall gather, and Zion shall be reinhabited, as I said unto my servant Joseph Smith; after many days shall all these things be accomplished, saith the Spirit. Behold, that which ye received as my celestial law is not of me, but is the doctrine of Baalam. And I command you to denounce it and proclaim against it; and I will give you power, that none shall be able to withstand your words, if you rely upon me; for my Spirit shall attend you." And the Spirit said unto me, "Write, write, write; write the revelation and send it unto the saints at Palestine, and at Voree, and at Waukesha, and to all places where this doctrine is taught as my law; and whomsoever will humble themselves before me, and ask of me, shall receive of my Spirit a testimony that these words are of me. Even so. Amen." (RLDS History of the Church 3:200–201; The Messenger, edited by Jason W. Briggs, vol. 2, p. 1 )
This message is of great importance to all those who believe in the truth of the Reorganization and claim it as their religious heritage. It was the first communication from God to man in the process of setting in order the Church which He had previously established through Joseph Smith, Jr. And it was the beginning authority from God for the Reorganization. Anyone who believes in the divinity of the Reorganization must believe in the divinity of this instruction and the principles it sets forth because the Reorganization grew out of this revelation. Not only did this revelation guide the Saints of the early Reorganization, but it also offers guidance and direction to those of His Church today in the troubled times we face.
When studying this revelation, it is important to note Jason Briggs' attitude in approaching the matter of the unorganized state of the Church. Even though none of the leaders were teaching the original doctrine of the Church, he did not go to God and tell Him he wanted to organize the Church and ask Him how to do it. Instead, he went to God and asked Him, given the conditions of the Church, what was he to do to continue working for Him. We, in the Restoration Branches Movement of the Church today, find ourselves in a similar situation as Jason Briggs. The Church is in an unorganized state because no legitimate higher quorums are in existence. Should we proceed to strike out on our own and set the Church in order and ask God's blessings, or should we do as Jason Briggs did and ask the Lord what to do? The answer is obvious since what Briggs did ultimately resulted in the Reorganization. This is God's Church. He is aware that it is unorganized. He is also aware that to fulfill its ultimate purpose—build Zion—it will need to be set in order. Our responsibility as members and priesthood is to obey the Gospel and work diligently, as best we can under the current conditions, for the Kingdom. When the timing is right, God will move in power to again set His Church in order, as He did with the Reorganization. And He will use those who have been faithful in their calling to assist Him.
The first sentence of the first paragraph of the revelation is both interesting and important to our times. It states, "Verily, verily, saith the Lord, even Jesus Christ, unto his servant, Jason W. Briggs, concerning the church." I have heard it said by some that Jason Briggs received a revelation for the Church. Thus, because the Church is presently in an unorganized state like it was in 1851, anyone can receive revelations directing the Church today. This is incorrect. According to Doctrine and Covenants, Sections 27:2 and 43:1–2, only the Prophet can receive a revelation for the Church as a whole. As the Lord stated above, He spoke to Jason Briggs "concerning the church." He did not say He spoke to the Church through him. Those in Restoration groups today err when they justify receiving "revelations" for the Church because of the revelation received by Jason Briggs. The revelation which Briggs received was not law to the Church and not binding upon Church members. It was a personal revelation to him "concerning the church." And like all valid, personal spiritual experiences, the eternal principles expressed by the Almighty have universal application to all of His creation. Thus, those who acted according to the Briggs revelation received the promises expressed in that revelation as does anyone who obeys God's word. But, nevertheless, it was not a revelation to the Church as a whole and should never be used to justify anyone giving revelations to the Church other than the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator.
The first paragraph also reaffirmed that the Gospel established through Joseph Smith, Jr., was true and that all He promised would be fulfilled. The Lord stated, "I have not cast off my people; neither have I changed in regard to Zion. Yea, verily, my people shall be redeemed, and my law shall be kept which I revealed unto my servant, Joseph Smith Jr." What a comfort it is for us to know that through the Reorganization, God will continue the work He started with Joseph. When He gave this revelation to Briggs, God knew of our time and that the Reorganization would falter. Yet the promise He gave Briggs is still our promise today—His law will be obeyed, His people will be redeemed, and Zion will be. This revelation is the Lord's promise to us that He will heal the Reorganization, and that it will fulfill its calling—the establishment of Zion.
This revelation is also important because of its confirmation of the divinity of the law of lineal descent of the priesthood. The second paragraph states that "by reason of the faith and prayers" of Joseph Smith Sr., Joseph Smith Jr., and Hyrum Smith and to "respect the law of lineage, by which the holy priesthood is transmitted, in all generations," William Smith was allowed to represent Young Joseph as the heir to the Presidency of the High Priesthood. The Lord also said, "And . . . I poured out my Spirit through his ministrations, according to the integrity of those who received them." As we know from Church history, William Smith did honor the law of priesthood lineage at first by representing Young Joseph as heir to the Presidency of the High Priesthood (see ibid., 29). Also from the revelation and Church history we know that the Lord honored William Smith's work with the presence of His Spirit (see ibid., 34). However, in paragraph three the Lord said, "But as Esau despised his birthright, so has William Smith despised my law, and forfeited that which pertained to him as an apostle and high priest in my church." Because William did not continue to respect the law of lineage and proclaimed he was the successor (see ibid., 738), the Lord no longer allowed him to represent Young Joseph, and He took his authority away. When we also consider the Lord's promise in paragraph four that "in mine own due time will I call upon the seed of Joseph Smith, and will bring one forth . . . and he shall preside over the high priesthood of my church," as well as His promise to Zenos Gurley that Joseph Smith III would be the successor because "it is his right by lineage" (see ibid., 208), we can only conclude that the law of lineal descent of priesthood is a very important doctrine of Christ's Church. Doctrine and Covenants, Sections 83:2 and 84:3, support this position, and Section 104:18 further clarifies that the right of lineal descent of priesthood is from father-to-son. Thus, many of us in the Reorganization should never have been misled to believe in the ordination of women. And we should never believe in the validity of a Restoration group having other than a father-to-son descendant of Joseph Smith Jr., as their President of the High Priesthood.
One of the most important parts of this revelation is the Lord's condemnation of polygamy and His indication of Joseph's innocence. In the last paragraph the Lord states, "Behold, that which ye received as my celestial law is not of me, but is the doctrine of Baalam. And I command you to denounce it and proclaim against it." (Of course, the reference to "celestial law" means celestial marriage which is spiritual wifery or polygamy.) With the present-day news coverage of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) and Mitt Romney's run for the Republican nomination for President, polygamy has become newsworthy, and Joseph Smith Jr., is unquestioningly credited by the media for its inception within the Latter Day Saint movement. For those of us having the common heritage of the Reorganization, the revelation received by Jason Briggs should remove all doubt of Joseph's innocence in the teaching or practice of polygamy. In the third paragraph of the revelation, the Lord said that William Smith and his spokesman, Joseph Wood, had "given themselves to all manner of uncleanness, and prostituted my law and the keys of power intrusted to them, to the lusts of the flesh, and have run greedily in the way of adultery." In essence, because of William Smith's polygamy teachings, the Lord called him an adulterer. However, four times in the same revelation, the Lord indicated that Joseph was His servant. Since God is unchangeable and no respecter of persons, if Joseph had taught or practiced polygamy, the Lord would have also indicated he was an adulterer. Since the Lord unmistakably called Joseph His servant, this revelation is confirmation that Joseph did not teach nor practice polygamy. Thus, no one who claims the divinity of the Reorganization should ever doubt the innocence of Joseph regarding polygamy—for the Lord, Himself, proclaimed him innocent.
The final point I wish to make regarding the importance of this revelation is found in the last paragraph. The Lord said, "let the elders . . . [not] faint in the discharge of duty, which is to preach my gospel as revealed in the record of the Jews, and the Book of Mormon, and the Book of Doctrine and Covenants; and cry repentance and remission of sins through obedience to the gospel, and I will sustain them, and give them my Spirit." At the time this revelation was given, November 1851, Joseph had been dead and the Church in a state of chaos for over seven years. It was the "dark and cloudy day." The men of His priesthood, those of honest heart who desired to serve Him in righteousness and truth, needed strength and guidance for the work ahead. Essentially, the Lord told them to continue doing what they had been called to do—preach the Gospel and cry repentance to their generation.
Is the Church in any less peril today? For the last fifty years the Church has dwindled in unbelief, with the majority of members and higher quorums going into apostasy and becoming the Community of Christ. Those who have tried to remain faithful to the original beliefs of the Church in the Restoration Branches Movement have been beset with various winds of false doctrine and have endured the debilitating effects of splits and factions. The priesthood of today's Church also need to take counsel from the message given to Jason Briggs. As bad as things seem presently, the priesthood is still privileged to be called to assist in this great work. Because the Church is in disarray, does that give us in the priesthood an excuse to diminish our vigilance? Not at all! In fact, because of the forces of evil that are being exerted upon us, we must be more diligent in the discharge of our duties. May His priesthood today take heart from the words given to Jason Briggs. As the Lord stated, we need to preach the Gospel as found "in the record of the Jews, and the Book of Mormon, and the Book of Doctrine and Covenants" (not the Book of Commandments), cry repentance and obedience to the Gospel and warn the world of the calamities that will soon be upon us (see DC 1). And if we do, He will give us His Spirit to guide us to accomplish His work, as He promised Jason Briggs.
When the early Saints of the Reorganization accepted this revelation as the Word of God and obeyed it, God's Spirit was given to them, and He eventually led them to reorganize the Church. Even though the Church is in disorder today, we still have before us the calling of Zion. May we be faithful to that calling as a people and priesthood. May we look to the Lord—and not man—for guidance and direction. And if we do, He will see us through these difficult times, and when it is right with Him, He will set His Church in order and bring forth His Kingdom, Zion.