The Seven Prophets of the Latter Days

By Pamela Price

Elder Joseph Burton
Elder Joseph Burton

The saints of one hundred years ago were familiar with Elder Joseph Burton's dream and vision which indicated that there would be seven prophets of the Church in the latter days. Brother Burton's experiences are important to the saints of today for they indicate that there will be only one more prophet of the Church in the line of succession.

Brother Burton, who was one of the most successful missionaries the Church has ever known, had a dream concerning the prophets who would preside over the Church in succession. Later, while awake, he had a vision which confirmed the dream. His devoted wife, Emma, and all the saints of the Jefferson Branch where they attended near San Benito, California, were also given confirmation that Brother Burton's dream of the seven prophets was of God.

The Scriptures say, "By their fruits ye shall know them" (Matthew 7:29). Joseph and Emma Burton's sacrifices and testimonies which brought thousands of people into the Church, and many others closer to the Lord, attest to their righteous fruits, which further confirms the truth of the dream. Their testimonies of the seven prophets are given now so today's saints may share and be strengthened by that information which was familiar to the saints of former days.

Joseph Burton and Emma Beatrice Witherspoon Davidson were married in 1860—the year that Joseph Smith III and his mother, Emma Smith Bidamon, went to Amboy to unite with the saints of the Reorganization. At that time, however, the Burtons were citizens of Canada and had never heard of the Latter Day Saints.

Before going to California, where they first heard the gospel, Joseph Burton had been a sea captain, moving merchandise by ship to harbors all over the world. At times his wife and children accompanied him. On one of those journeys the family was stricken with the often fatal disease of malaria—or ague as it was called then. Emma was dangerously ill as they crossed the North Sea, but seemed to recover. Then she was stricken again while in the port of Bremerhaven, Prussia (Germany). Emma took strong medicine and recovered, but was left deaf.

She later wrote:

By the use of powerful medicine the chills were soon broken up; but I was left almost entirely deaf. What a change! How silent the world suddenly became! That one of God's gifts to man had been alert with me up to this last voyage. Whether it was the disorder or the medicine that caused the deafness, I know not; nor had I any thought then that it would remain through all these years. (Emma B. Burton, Beatrice Witherspoon Autobiography of Emma Beatrice Burton [Lamoni, Iowa: Herald Publishing House, 1915], pp. 97–98)

Not long after this, Captain Burton left his work at sea, and the family moved to California where they purchased land and started farming. They were members of the Baptist Church. Emma's father was a deacon, and Joseph's father was the Reverend William Burton of the Baptist Church.

After settling on farmland near San Benito, the Burtons and other new settlers organized a nondenominational Sunday school. One couple who attended was the John Carmichael family, who had been members of the Church during the lifetime of Joseph the Martyr. However, they told no one of this at the time—even though John Carmichael participated in the Sunday school by teaching the principles of the gospel. His teachings paved the way for the Burtons and others to accept the gospel when two ministers of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints arrived in the area in 1873. The ministers held preaching services and visited in homes. The Burtons were thrilled by what they heard.

Emma wrote of those days:

I now "believed the gospel'—this living, active, farreaching gospel of the Son of God.... How limited the spiritual knowledge received in all my former life when compared with what was then given. (Ibid., pp. 152–153)

Although the Burtons gladly accepted the gospel, there were two beliefs mentioned by the ministers that the Burtons chose to ignore. They were the beliefs that the Church today could have prophets and that the Book of Mormon was true. In explaining their disbeliefs Emma later wrote:

Sometimes the elders essayed to speak of Joseph Smith being a prophet, and about the Book of Mormon containing the fullness of the gospel. But we preferred to let that part of it bide its time, telling them it was neither here nor there to us whether Joseph Smith was a prophet and the Book of Mormon was a sacred record, or whether it was not. We wished to predicate our faith on the word of God contained in the Bible we had always known. (Ibid., p. 151)

Emma and Joseph Burton were baptized December 7, 1873.

Emma later recorded:

It will be remembered that we did not accept or investigate the subject—before coming into the church—of whether the founder of the church was, as was claimed, a prophet of God; neither had we considered the necessity of a prophet or prophets, in carrying on the work of the Lord. (Ibid., p. 157)

No sooner were they baptized than Joseph Burton realized that they must answer the questions. Elder John Carmichael, the pastor of the newly formed branch, and others testified that Joseph the Martyr and his son, Joseph III, were prophets of God. The saints were very anxious that the Burtons also believe these important parts of the gospel. Brother Burton decided to ask God to reveal the truth or error of it to him. He prayed for three weeks before receiving light. He was then given a dream, which when examined confirmed to him that prophets were indeed a part of Christ's Church in these last days. Emma wrote of this experience:

Mr. Burton had been convinced of the truth from the words of God found in his own Bible. He would not at first accept the teachings from Latter Day revelations. He rather stumbled in his mind concerning living prophets. He said he would not deny any of those things he did not know about. If they were true they would be unfolded to them [the Burtons] in their time. (Emma B. Burton, "Biography of Elder Joseph F. Burton," Journal of History 4 (October 1911): 462)

Burton's Dream of the Seven Prophets

After going to God in prayer, Joseph Burton was rewarded with a spiritual experience. He recorded in his diary:

After this I sought earnestly for a testimony, but received none until near three weeks had passed. I had attended a temperance meeting in the evening, and coming home late, found all the family in bed, asleep. I thought as all was quiet, I would once more supplicate our Father for a testimony in reference to the latter day work, that in its strangeness we had obeyed, because we loved it, but now wanted the promised evidence of its divinity. I bowed in prayer, but all I could utter was "Lord have mercy upon me, and show me the truth," or words to that effect.


I went to bed and was soon asleep. I dreamed my brother John and I were on the road to Hollister [California] and as night drew on we had stopped for the night at an adobe house, were in bed in a room that had two doors, one by the head and one by the foot of the bed; while lying there the room got very dark, and the darkness increased until it caused an intense feeling of horror, so that I thought I must surely die. Just then a man who was standing at the head of the bed, but unobserved by us, said: "This always precedes a vision." Then the darkness slowly passed away, and the room became lighter and lighter until it was filled with a beautiful, mellow light—very clear. Then a woman came into the room through the door at the head of the bed, carrying in her hand a lighted candle in a candlestick. She passed through the room, then came back and went out through the door by which she entered.


I spoke to my brother, being very indignant that a woman should come into our room, but looking up towards the ceiling, I saw a hand holding a spearhead, with a few inches of the shaft attached. They appeared very beautiful, with a halo of brightness surrounding them, greater than the light of the room, which I thought was as light as could be. While looking with much pleasure at this, the same woman entered the room again, with the same lighted candle and candlestick. Again I felt indignant, but as she passed by the bed, I sat up, and after she had gone through the room I found myself holding my hands together, and upon opening them—as one would open a book—found I was holding the spearhead. It dropped into seven pieces lengthwise, the first piece off one side, the second piece was the full length from the tip of the spear to the end of the staff; the other side fell into five pieces.


As I sat examining these, the man who spoke before said: "These are the seven prophets of the last days, two have been, i.e., one was and one is." I then thought this: "Joseph [the Martyr] was, and Joseph [III] is. It is forty years since Joseph came; if the other five each have forty years it will be two hundred years yet till Christ comes, and that is too far off." The man answered my thoughts by saying: "Why do you murmur and wonder in your thoughts? Behold, the other five come quickly."


I awoke; the day was just dawning. I was happy and satisfied that God had sent to the world a great light. That Joseph was His servant and that Joseph is our prophet. May God ever keep us in the light till the bright millennial dawn; that we may ever be with our Lord. (Ibid., pp. 462–463)

The Interpretation

Emma Burton bore witness to the following:

[She] remembers well that when telling the dream or vision, he [Joseph Burton] would give the interpretation that came to him at the time, like this. The room represented the world; he and his brother [who was not a Church member] the religious and irreligious inhabitants. The world was in darkness when Christ came and lighted it by his presence. The woman with the lighted candle in her hand was the church in those days, and it was the religious instead of the irreligious man that had indignation because of her. Her going out was the first apostasy after Christ's time. Her coming back with the same light was the restoration of organization of the church in 1830. The second going out and speedy return was the latter day apostasy after the death of Joseph the Martyr, and the reorganization under the second Joseph, in which was shown him the seven prophets of the last days. (Ibid., p. 463)

A Confirming Vision

Even though Joseph Burton had at first felt happy about the revealment, he wanted an even greater confirmation. He asked his wife to pray also that she might be shown whether or not the dream was of God.

Joseph Burton told the story:

During the day, doubts came into my mind respecting the above being a testimony from God, and after worrying myself about it until towards evening, I went apart, to the foot of an old oak tree, where I used to go for secret prayer. I there made known to the Lord my feelings, and in my agony or great desire to know the truth of the matter, I said something as follows: "Lord, if thou wilt make known unto me whether the vision or dream I had was of thee, then whatsoever thou will command, I will do, thou helping me. But if I receive not, and this people, or doctrine, is wrong and I continue in it, at the judgment thou mayest not condemn me, for I have asked and you have not told me; I have sought, and you have not made known."


I arose and went to the house. The shades of evening were gathering around us. I took the lamp off the kitchen table, and went into an adjoining room and sat it on the table, and for some cause looked directly over my head towards the ceiling, when there was the hand and the spearhead clear and distinct. No doubts now. I thought I should sink through the floor. Oh, how unworthy I felt then! Could I doubt more? No. Emma also had this confirmed to her. (Ibid., p. 464)

Emma's Confirmation

The confirmation that came as a result of Emma's request is one of the most outstanding miracles recorded in Church literature, for the Lord healed Emma's deafness for one short day as a sign that He had given Joseph Burton the spearhead dream. Emma was twenty-nine when the spearhead dream was given and she had been deaf since age twenty-four.

Here is her story of the event:

When Mr. Burton told his wife his dream in the morning [on the last day of December] he requested her to ask the Lord to confirm it to her if it was from him.


Her request [to the Lord] was, if what had been shown to her husband was a vision or inspired dream given for their instruction, that he [God] would grant to her her hearing for one day, and that upon the coming New Year's Day, when the members of the branch would be together, so that it would be a confirmation to the people, as well as to themselves. (Ibid., p. 464)

In another account, Emma wrote:

We both felt very anxious to know whether such had been given of God, as true instruction, or if it was simply a dream; and agreed that each ask the Lord to confirm the testimony to us respectively, if it was of him; and that we would first consider well in our hearts what to ask, so that if it was worthy of being confirmed there could be no doubt about what was given as confirmation. Now I had been administered to several times in behalf of regaining my hearing, and the blessing had been promised "in the due time of the Lord." Therefore I felt confident that it was in the power of the Lord to give, and this was the testimony.


I asked the Lord to give me my hearing for one day, which should be on the coming New Year's Day, because all the branch were invited to take dinner and spend a social day at the house of the branch president, Brother J. Carmichael, and thus others would know also.


And be it known to the world that I enjoyed one day's respite from deafness on the first day of the year 1874, from the first waking in the morning until the sleeping at night. The Saints rejoiced with me, believing I had received my hearing permanently, till I informed them of what is already written. (Burton, Beatrice Witherspoon, pp. 157–158)

This prayerful request by Emma was asking much, but the Lord granted the request by restoring her hearing for just one day. Along with a confirmation to Joseph and Emma, every saint in their little branch also witnessed that Emma's hearing returned for that day.

Of that experience Emma wrote:

All the members of the Jefferson Branch had previously been invited to spend the New Year's Day at Brother Carmichael's (he being president of the branch), and eat a turkey dinner. Mr. Burton with his wife and children in the wagon, called and took Mrs. Page [Mary, the widow of Apostle John Page of the early Church] along with them.... She had not been with them but a few minutes till she said: "Why, Sister Burton, you have got your hearing?"


She [Emma] smiled and asked the sister if she thought she heard better— she knew herself that she had heard since her first waking in the morning.


The reply was: "I don't think anything about it; I know it," or words to that effect.


All that day the sister [Emma] was being congratulated from time to time by first one and then another on having her hearing restored. She answered in a quiet and pleased way, but made no demonstration of feeling about it, for in her heart she did not expect to retain it any longer than the one day, neither did she then say anything to them about having asked it as a testimony, until going home, when Sister Page spoke again of her feeling so glad that ultimately the hearing had been given. To which Mrs. Burton replied: "Are you sure I have heard well to-day?"


"Why, yes; we all knew it, and you knew it, too."


Yes; I knew I had heard, but I could not tell just how loud the people had spoken."


"We did not speak any louder to you than to any other."


"Well," said Mrs. Burton, "now I will tell you that I asked of the Lord my hearing for this day, as a confirmation of a testimony that Joseph received, so when you hear his dream or vision, you will know that it is true." (Burton, Journal of History 4 (October 1911): 464–465)

The dream of the spearhead, the confirming vision, and Emma's healing for a day, changed forever the lives of Emma and Joseph Burton and the thousands of souls they touched and are still touching—for it caused the Burtons to give their all to the Church.

Emma wrote:

At one time, when he [Joseph Burton] retired to the old oak, his bower of prayer, and knelt beneath its spreading branches to commune with God, and entreat him for a more definite knowledge, that the work he had entered into was all it purported to be, he had made this statement: "If the Lord will show me beyond a doubt that this is the true church, I will preach this gospel as long as I live."


And now since that testimony has been given, and confirmed to both, as well as to those who were present upon New Year's Day, he felt that he was under obligations to perform his part of the covenant. Just simply preaching occasionally in the branch did not satisfy him as doing his part; he wished, and in fact felt under obligation to devote his whole time to the work. (Ibid., pp. 468–469)


Over the years many saints have read and pondered Joseph Burton's dream concerning the spearhead which represents the seven prophets. Thousands have read it as it is published in the book, Infallible Proofs by Seventy Alvin Knisley. It certainly contains a message of hope and assurance for the saints.

In the past some have attempted to predict the exact year relating to the coming of the seventh prophet by considering the way in which the spearhead was divided. In the dream it was given that the first two prophets would occupy half of the time, and that the last five prophets would occupy the other half. A problem arises when an effort is made to determine how much time the first half of the spearhead occupied. In other words, what was the date of the beginning?

Some have counted from the organization of the Church in 1830 to the death of Joseph III in 1914. Others have subtracted the sixteen years between 1844 and 1860, when the Church was without a prophet. Some have added the total years of the lives of the two prophets (1805 when Joseph Jr. was born, to 1914, the time of Joseph Ill's death). Still others have suggested the starting date of 1820, when Joseph Jr. had the experience in the grove. Each system gives a different length of time that each half of the spearhead was to take.

In other words, if only the fourteen years of the presidency of Joseph the Martyr and the fifty-four years that Joseph III was in office, are used, then the second half of the spearhead would have ended in 1982. But if the total length of their lives is the criteria, then 2023 would be the ending date for the second half of the spearhead. Other projections of time have been made. However, the author of this article is only reporting the different dates, and projects no year for the fulfillment of this prophecy.

It is well to remember that when Joseph Burton tried to predict a two hundred year period for all of this to come to pass, he was asked, by the message bearer in his dream, "Why do you murmur and wonder in your thoughts? Behold, the other five come quickly." This indicated that the knowledge that there would be seven prophets is more important than the time element.

Whatever the time, the saints eagerly await the fulfillment of Brother Burton's dream.

Over one hundred and sixteen years have passed since the spearhead dream was given. In all, six prophets (true or false ones) have been ordained. If the dream was of divine origin, and if all who have been ordained in succession are to be counted, there is one prophet yet to come. Some are asking, "Who shall be the seventh prophet?"

For a possible answer, let us turn to a scripture which was given to Joseph the Martyr. It relates prophetically that the saints would go into bondage,  after which God would raise up a man like unto Moses and lead them out of bondage and to Zion.

The scripture says:

Behold, I say unto you, The redemption of Zion must needs come by power; therefore I will raise up unto my people a man, who shall lead them like as Moses led the children of Israel, for ye are the children of Israel, and of the seed of Abraham; and ye must needs be led out of bondage  by  power,  and  with  a stretched out arm; and as your fathers were led at the first, even so shall the redemption of Zion be. (Doctrine and Covenants 100:3d–e)

Will this prophet be the seventh prophet referred to in the spearhead dream? Time will tell. However, it is certain from this scripture that ... a man like unto Moses ... will lead the saints from bondage to Zion.

What of the man spoken of in Section 100? He could well be the seventh prophet of Joseph Burton's dream and vision. Such a man, when he appears, will not have to declare his own greatness. The power of God will be present in him and the Holy Ghost will attest to his calling. Such power cannot be hidden. It will be evident both to the saints and to the world.

The spearhead dream changed the lives of the young Burton couple. Because of it they moved out in faith to take the gospel to the people of the United States, Canada, Tahiti, and Australia. The same God who sustained them, will sustain the saints today. He who gave the spearhead prophesy is still in command.