DC 23 Historical Background
The five individuals named in the heading for DC 23 were special to the Prophet Joseph. Each had been a comfort to him in a time of need. Indeed, they were an inner circle of family and friends to the Prophet. One of the privileges of being in this "inner circle" was the opportunity to have Joseph ask the Lord for specific directions.
The Prophet records that the individuals named were interested to know their respective duties. However, all of them but Samuel Smith had already been specifically instructed of the Lord. Oliver Cowdery had been given specific instructions in DC 6, 8, and 9. Hyrum Smith was the subject of DC 11. Divine counsel was given to Joseph Smith Sr. in DC 4, and Joseph Knight Sr. was addressed in DC 12. Nevertheless, all these were given before the Church was formally organized. It would seem that these men wanted more direction now that the Church had been established.
DC 23:1 Oliver...behold thou art blessed...But beware of pride
James E. Faust
In an early revelation the Lord warned Oliver: "Behold, thou art blessed, and art under no condemnation. But beware of pride, lest thou shouldst enter into temptation." Oliver had great intellect and enjoyed marvelous spiritual blessings. However, over time he forgot the Lord's warning, and pride entered into his heart. Brigham Young later said of this pride: "I have seen men who belonged to this kingdom, and who really thought that if they were not associated with it, it could not progress. One man especially, whom I now think of, ... was peculiarly gifted in self-reliance and general ability. He said as much to the Prophet Joseph a number of times as to say that if he left this kingdom, it could not progress any further. I speak of Oliver Cowdery. He forsook it, and it still rolled on, and still triumphed over every opposing foe, and bore off safely all those who clung to it."
In October 1848, 10 years after leaving the Church, Oliver Cowdery visited the Church headquarters in Iowa and humbly petitioned to be received again into the Church through baptism. Describing this memorable event, George A. Smith wrote of Oliver: "He bore testimony in the most positive terms ... and told the people if they wanted to follow the right path, to keep [in] the main channel of the stream-where the body of the Church goes, there is the authority."
In his final testimony, he affirmed the coming of John the Baptist, holding the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood; the coming of Peter, James, and John, holding the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood. He further stated: "These Priesthoods, with their authority, are now, and must continue to be, in the body of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Blessed is the Elder who has received the same, and thrice blessed and holy is he who shall [continue] to the end." ("The Prophetic Voice," Ensign, May 1996, 5-6)
Ezra Taft Benson
Three times in the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord uses the phrase "beware of pride," including a warning to the second elder of the Church, Oliver Cowdery, and to Emma Smith, the wife of the Prophet. (D&C 23:1; see also D&C 25:14; D&C 38:39.)
Pride is a very misunderstood sin, and many are sinning in ignorance. (See Mosiah 3:11; 3 Ne. 6:18.) In the scriptures there is no such thing as righteous pride-it is always considered a sin. Therefore, no matter how the world uses the term, we must understand how God uses the term so we can understand the language of holy writ and profit thereby. (See 2 Ne. 4:15; Mosiah 1:3-7; Alma 5:61.)
Most of us think of pride as self-centeredness, conceit, boastfulness, arrogance, or haughtiness. All of these are elements of the sin, but the heart, or core, is still missing.
The central feature of pride is enmity-enmity toward God and enmity toward our fellowmen. Enmity means "hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition." It is the power by which Satan wishes to reign over us.
Pride is essentially competitive in nature. We pit our will against God's. When we direct our pride toward God, it is in the spirit of "my will and not thine be done." As Paul said, they "seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's." (Philip. 2:21.)
Our will in competition to God's will allows desires, appetites, and passions to go unbridled.
The proud cannot accept the authority of God giving direction to their lives. (See Hel. 12:6.) They pit their perceptions of truth against God's great knowledge, their abilities versus God's priesthood power, their accomplishments against His mighty works. ("Beware of Pride," Ensign, May 1989, 4)
DC 23:3 Hyrum...thy tongue is loosed
We remember that in DC 11, the Lord specifically told Hyrum that he was not yet called to preach, "Wait a little longer, until you shall have my word, my rock, my church, and my gospel, that you may know of a surety my doctrine...Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed" (DC 11:16, 21, italics added).
In May of 1829 when DC 11 was given, Hyrum was just beginning the process of discipleship. He had neither studied the word of God, nor been taught it. He had not yet been the recipient of the rock of personal revelation regarding Christ (Matt 16:16-18). The church had not yet been formally organized, and he had not yet received the gospel by baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost (3 Ne 27:20-21). He lacked the word, the rock, the church, and the gospel. Therefore his tongue could not be loosed and he was not yet called to preach.
Nearly a year later (April 1830), Hyrum was a new disciple. He had studied the gospel; the Church had been established; he had been baptized and confirmed. Each of these factors helped loosen the tongue of Hyrum Smith. Baptism by water and fire had a particularly powerful effect. Nephi taught of the direct cause and effect relationship as follows, "[After baptism by water] then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel." (2 Ne. 31:13) By April 1830, Hyrum could "speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel."
DC 23:3 and this because of thy family
Joseph Fielding Smith
In the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times in which we live, the Lord revealed that this birthright of the first-born in Israel belonged to Joseph Smith, the father of the Prophet, and he was the first patriarch ordained in this dispensation. After his death the office and priesthood was conferred upon Hyrum Smith, the Prophet's oldest living brother. There is an interesting statement in a revelation given to Hyrum Smith in April, 1830, a few days after the organization of the Church. In this revelation the Lord said to him:
Behold, I speak unto you, Hyrum, a few words; for thou also art under no condemnation, and thy heart is open, and thy tongue loosed; and thy calling is . . . unto the church forever, and this because of thy family. (D&C 23:3.)
This appears to be a clear indication that he and his descendants after him should hold this patriarchal authority.
After the death of the Patriarch Joseph Smith, Sr., Hyrum Smith, who was serving as second counselor in the First Presidency of the Church, was called to take the office of patriarch. (Roy W. Doxey, comp., Latter-day Prophets and the Doctrine and Covenants [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978], 4: 40.)
DC 23:4 Samuel...thou art not as yet called to preach
"If Samuel H. Smith was told in April 1830 that he was 'not as yet called to preach before the world' (D&C 23:4), that situation soon changed. Ordained an elder on June 9, he took summer trips into neighboring counties, alone or with his parents, to sell the Book of Mormon. His efforts seemed fruitless until he later learned that one copy he left with a Methodist minister had helped to convert Reverend John P. Greene and his wife, her brothers Phineas and Brigham Young, Fanny Young Murray, and the latter's daughter-who was married to Heber C. Kimball.
Phineas Young read the book twice, felt a conviction that it was true, preached it to his congregation...He circulated his copy of the book among family members, including his brother Brigham. Subsequent missionary contacts brought the Youngs, Kimballs, and Greenes into the Church." (William G. Hartley, "Every Member WAS a Missionary," Ensign, Sept. 1978, 23)
"Samuel...is traditionally recognized as the first missionary of the Church. Although he was discouraged with his initial missionary labors, his mission helped lead to the baptisms of Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball.
"During the next two years Samuel preached from Maine to Missouri, journeying over four thousand miles, mostly on foot. His call to serve with William McLellin had an unusual beginning (see D&C 66:8). According to his mother, Lucy Mack Smith, Samuel 'heard a voice in the night, which said, `Samuel, arise immediately, and go forth on the mission which thou wast commanded to take....` He arose from his bed and took what clothing he had in readiness, and set off without further delay.'
"He served his most challenging mission with Orson Hyde (see D&C 75:13). This eastern mission lasted eleven months and included meetings and baptisms from Ohio to Maine. 'This was one of the most arduous and toilsome missions ever performed in the Church,' Orson wrote. 'To travel two thousand miles on foot, ... often sleeping in school houses after preaching-in barns, in sheds, by the way side ... was something of a task.' Samuel wrote, 'Went from House to House and many during that day rejected us we shook off the dust from our feet as a testimony against them.'
"...Samuel received his patriarchal blessing from his father in December 1834 and was promised, 'The just shall rise up and call thee, a perfect man.... The testimony which thou hast borne and shall bear, shall be received by thousands, and thou shalt magnify thy calling and do honor to the Holy Priesthood.'...The last blessing he received from his father was in Nauvoo. He was told, 'The Lord has seen your diligence, and you are blessed, in that he has never chastised you, ... and there is a crown laid up for you, which shall grow brighter and brighter unto the perfect day.'" (Susan Easton Black, Who's Who in the Doctrine and Covenants [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997], 295-296.)
DC 23:6 Biographical Sketch: Joseph Knight, Sr.
"Father Knight first became acquainted with Joseph Smith in 1826. While lodging at the Knight home Joseph spoke of his glorious visitations. 'My father and I believed him,' wrote Joseph Knight Jr., 'and I think we were the first to do so, after his own family.' When Joseph Smith obtained the Book of Mormon plates, he used Father Knight's horse and carriage as his means of conveyance.
Joseph Knight wrote of assisting the young prophet on another occasion: 'I let him have some little provisions and some few things out of the store, a pair of shoes, and three dollars in money to help him a little.' He also wrote, 'I gave ... Joseph a little money to buy paper to translate.' Joseph Smith praised Father Knight for his donations that 'enabled us to continue the work when otherwise we must have relinquished it for a season.'
As others sought baptism into the Church, Father Knight hesitated: 'I had some thots to go forrod, But I had not red the Book of Mormon and I wanted to [examine] a little more I Being a Restorationar and had not [examined] so much as I wanted to.' Aware of his hesitation, the Prophet Joseph prayed for him and received a revelation in April 1830: 'Joseph Knight, ... you must take up your cross, in the which you must pray vocally before the world as well as in secret.... It is your duty to unite with the true church, and give your language to exhortation continually.' (D&C 23:6-7.)
In obedience Father Knight was baptized on 28 June 1830 by Oliver Cowdery." (Susan Easton Black, Who's Who in the Doctrine and Covenants [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997], 166-167.)
Joseph Fielding Smith
It is quite possible that Joseph Knight before he joined the Church was not given to prayer to any great extent. He was a Universalist with very liberal views. This revelation was given before he had united himself with the Church. (Church History and Modern Revelation, 4 vols. [Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1946-1949], 1: 113.)
DC 23:6 Joseph Knight...you must take up your cross, in the which you must pray vocally
Marvin J. Ashton
In D&C 23:6, Joseph Knight was counseled to pray: "Behold, I manifest unto you, Joseph Knight, by these words, that you must take up your cross, in the which you must pray vocally before the world as well as in secret, and in your family, and among your friends, and in all places." Sometimes we are given crosses so we can be taught to pray. Crosses become lighter and more manageable when we learn to pray and when we learn to patiently wait for the answers to our prayers.
An unwillingness to listen and learn can be a silent cross of considerable weight. Carry the cross of constant prayer even when answers are slow in coming or difficult to accept. (Be of Good Cheer [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987], 36.)
DC 23:6 Historical Vignette
Public prayers can be very frightening. Most Executive Secretaries can tell you of people in their ward who utterly refuse to give prayers in sacrament meeting. What advice does the Lord have for these saints? Isn't it the same as that given to Joseph Knight, Sr.? His command is that we "must pray vocally before the world [or the ward] as well as in secret." What would the Prophet do with a saint who was afraid to pray in public? The answer is found in the interesting story of Newel Knight, the son of Joseph Knight, Sr.
Joseph Knight was specifically instructed to take up his cross in the practice of prayer. Interestingly, this direction, though given to father Joseph, was also applicable to his son as well.
Amongst those who attended our meetings regularly, was Newel Knight, son of Joseph Knight. He and I had many serious conversations on the important subject of man's eternal salvation. We had got into the habit of praying much at our meetings, and Newel had said that he would try and take up his cross, and pray vocally during meeting; but when we again met together, he rather excused himself. I tried to prevail upon him, making use of the figure, supposing that he should get into a mud-hole, would he not try to help himself out? And I further said that we were willing now to help him out of the mud-hole. He replied, that provided he had got into a mud-hole through carelessness, he would rather wait and get out himself, than to have others help him; and so he would wait until he could get into the woods by himself, and there he would pray. Accordingly, he deferred praying until next morning, when he retired into the woods; where, according to his own account afterwards, he made several attempts to pray, but could scarcely do so, feeling that he had not done his duty, in refusing to pray in the presence of others. He began to feel uneasy, and continued to feel worse both in mind and body, until, upon reaching his own house, his appearance was such as to alarm his wife very much. He requested her to go and bring me to him. I went and found him suffering very much in his mind, and his body acted upon in a very strange manner; his visage and limbs distorted and twisted in every shape and appearance possible to imagine; and finally he was caught up off the floor of the apartment, and tossed about most fearfully.
His situation was soon made known to his neighbors and relatives and in a short time as many as eight or nine grown persons had got together to witness the scene. After he had thus suffered for a time, I succeeded in getting hold of him by the hand, when almost immediately he spoke to me, and with great earnestness requested me to cast the devil out of him, saying that he knew he was in him, and that he also knew that I could cast him out.
I replied, "If you know that I can, it shall be done," and then almost unconsciously I rebuked the devil, and commanded him in the name of Jesus Christ to depart from him; when immediately Newel spoke out and said that he saw the devil leave him and vanish from his sight. This was the first miracle which was done in the Church, or by any member of it; and it was done, not by man, nor by the power of man, but it was done by God, and by the power of godliness; therefore, let the honor and the praise, the dominion and the glory, be ascribed to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.
This scene was now entirely changed, for as soon as the devil had departed from our friend, his countenance became natural, his distortions of body ceased, and almost immediately the Spirit of the Lord descended upon him, and the visions of eternity were opened to his view. So soon as consciousness returned, his bodily weakness was such that we were obliged to lay him upon his bed, and wait upon him for some time. He afterwards related his experience as follows:
I now began to feel a most pleasing sensation resting on me, and immediately the visions of heaven were opened to my view. I felt myself attracted upward, and remained for some time enwrapt in contemplation, insomuch that I knew not what was going on in the room. By and by, I felt some weight pressing upon my shoulder and the side of my head, which served to recall me to a sense of my situation, and I found that the Spirit of the Lord had actually caught me up off the floor, and that my shoulder and head were pressing against the beams.
All this was witnessed by many, to their great astonishment and satisfaction, when they saw the devil thus cast out, and the power of God, and His Holy Spirit thus made manifest. As may be expected, such a scene as this contributed much to make believers of those who witnessed it, and finally the greater part of them became members of the Church. (History of the Church, 1:81-84)
DC 23:7 it is your duty to unite with the true church
"The Lord would not violate Joseph Knight's agency in bearing witness to his soul of the divinity of His work until requested to do so through prayer. A testimony does not come from man but only from the Lord. Though Joseph Knight had been associated with Joseph Smith and worked closely with him, still it remained for him to seek a personal witness from the Lord.
"Furthermore, there was no hesitation in the Lord's instruction as He defined Joseph Knight's duty '. . . to unite with the true church, and give your language to exhortation continually, that you may receive the reward of the laborer.' (D&C 23:7) The Lord made plain to a non-member that there is a 'true church.' Well might we follow this pattern of the Lord and likewise bear testimony and invite others to unite with the Lord's true church. Only through our affiliation with and labor within the Lord's church can there be a reward for us, as laborers.
"It is interesting to note that this instruction was given in April 1830 and in June of that same year, Joseph Knight Sr. was baptized and united with the true church of Jesus Christ. From that time forward his life was that of a faithful laborer in the kingdom. Commenting on his faithfulness, Joseph Smith later recorded:
. . . I am now recording in the Book of the Law of the Lord,-of such as have stood by me in every hour of peril, for these fifteen long years past, say, for instance, my aged and beloved brother, Joseph Knight, Sen., who was among the number of the first to administer to my necessities, while I was laboring in the commencement of the bringing forth of the work of the Lord, and of laying the foundation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For fifteen years he has been faithful and true, and evenhanded and exemplary, and virtuous and kind, never deviating to the right hand or to the left. Behold he is a righteous man, may God Almighty lengthen out the old man's days; and may his trembling, tortured, and broken body be renewed, and in the vigor of health turn upon him, if it be Thy will, consistently, O God; and it shall be said of him, by the sons of Zion, while there is one of them remaining, that this man was a faithful man in Israel; therefore his name shall never be forgotten. (HC, Vol. 5, pp. 124-125)
(L. G. Otten and C. M. Caldwell, Sacred Truths of the Doctrine and Covenants [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1982-1983], 1: 103 - 104.)