DC 55 Biographical Sketch: William W. Phelps
"While preparations went forward for the journey [to Missouri]... William Wines Phelps arrived from Canandaigua, New York, with his wife, Sally, and their children. Brother Phelps was thirty-nine years old and was a man of ability. As an editor of a partisan political newspaper, he was an experienced writer and printer. At one time he had been a candidate for the office of lieutenant governor of New York. He was converted to the gospel after purchasing a copy of the Book of Mormon. 'By that book I found a key to the holy prophets; and by that book began to unfold the mysteries of God, and I was made glad. Who can tell his goodness, or estimate the worth of such a book?' he later wrote of the Book of Mormon in his conversion. Brother Phelps said he came to Kirtland to do the will of the Lord. A revelation directed to him said he was 'called and chosen,' but first he was to be baptized and ordained, and then he was to accompany Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon to Missouri. Once in Missouri he was to assist Oliver Cowdery with the printing and with selecting and writing books for children to be used in the schools of the Church (see D&C 55:1-5)." (Church History in the Fulness of Times, 1989 Institute Manual, p. 103)
"[William W. Phelps] became a devoted follower of the Prophet Joseph Smith. He was called to be a member of the stake presidency in Jackson County, Missouri. Later, as a result of some financial improprieties and an unrepentant heart, Brother Phelps left the Church. He became bitter and declared himself an enemy to the Prophet. His defection occurred during a time of intense persecution when the Prophet, along with many of the leading brethren, had been arrested and placed under military guard following the 'extermination order' of Governor Lilburn W. Boggs of Missouri.
"The Prophet's life hung literally in the balance. In the midst of such turmoil, William W. Phelps came forth to serve as a state witness against the Prophet. Compounding his betrayal, Phelps also signed a certificate defending the actions of one of the Saints' worst enemies.
"As a result of such testimony from Phelps and others like him, the Prophet and several of the brethren were incarcerated in a series of Missouri prisons, including Liberty Jail, until April 1839, when they escaped and fled to Illinois. We can perhaps imagine the bitter disappointment the Prophet endured during the months of his imprisonment as he contemplated the betrayal of brethren he had loved and trusted.
"Two years later, after great anguish and bitter remorse for his actions, Brother Phelps sent the Prophet a heartfelt letter that began:
"'Brother Joseph, ... I am as the prodigal son. ... I have seen the folly of my way, and I tremble at the gulf I have passed.' He begged the forgiveness of the brethren and asked that even with severe chastisement he might return to them.
"The Prophet's almost immediate reply stands today as a worthy example of the power of forgiveness and of the great heart of the man Joseph Smith:
Dear Brother Phelps: ...
You may in some measure realize what my feelings, as well as Elder Rigdon's and Brother Hyrum's were, when we read your letter-truly our hearts were melted into tenderness and compassion when we ascertained your resolves. ...
It is true, that we have suffered much in consequence of your behavior-the cup of gall, already full enough for mortals to drink, was indeed filled to overflowing when you turned against us. ...
However, the cup has been drunk, the will of our Father has been done, and we are yet alive, for which we thank the Lord. And having been delivered from the hands of wicked men by the mercy of our God, we say it is your privilege to be delivered from the powers of the adversary, be brought into the liberty of God's dear children, and again take your stand among the Saints of the Most High, and by diligence, humility, and love unfeigned, commend yourself to our God, and your God, and to the Church of Jesus Christ.
Believing your confession to be real, and your repentance genuine, I shall be happy once again to give you the right hand of fellowship, and rejoice over the returning prodigal. ...
"Come on, dear brother, since the war is past,
For friends at first, are friends again at last."
Yours as ever,
Joseph Smith, Jun.
Brother Phelps returned to the Church, directing his energy and testimony with new resolve and commitment. His love for the Prophet and his gratitude for another chance were deep and sincere. It was William W. Phelps who spoke at the Prophet's funeral service and who later penned the words that have become one of the great hymns of the Restoration:
Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah!
Jesus anointed that Prophet and Seer.
Blessed to open the last dispensation,
Kings shall extol him, and nations revere. ...
Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven;
Earth must atone for the blood of that man.
Wake up the world for the conflict of justice.
Millions shall know 'Brother Joseph' again.
Hail to the Prophet, ascended to heaven!
Traitors and tyrants now fight him in vain.
Mingling with Gods, he can plan for his brethren;
Death cannot conquer the hero again.
"Joseph Smith had also written to William W. Phelps in the letter previously quoted: 'Inasmuch as long-suffering, patience, and mercy have ever characterized the dealings of our heavenly Father towards the humble and penitent, I feel disposed to copy the example, cherish the same principles, and by so doing be a savior of my fellow man.'
"The Prophet's words admonish each of us to learn the ways of our Heavenly Father and copy his example. In so doing, we will bring peace and contentment into our lives and perhaps influence others to come back to the Lord." (Roderick J. Linton, "The Forgiving Heart," Ensign, Apr. 1993, 16-17)
DC 55:1 thou art called and chosen
W. W. Phelps was a new convert. Yet, the Lord knew his great potential and told him he was both called and chosen. To be chosen means to be elect and the Lord is speaking of his calling and election. If one can have his calling and election made sure, then certainly another can be unsure about his calling and election. If one can speak by the more sure word of prophecy, then certainly another can speak by the less sure word of prophecy. At this point in his discipleship, Brother Phelps would have received his calling and election in the Church but it had not yet been made sure by the Holy Spirit of Promise. He had not even been baptized yet. One's calling and election can come only after the serious disciple has proven himself to the Lord.
When the Lord has thoroughly proved him, and finds that the man is determined to serve Him at all hazards, then the man will find his calling and his election made sure...(Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 150)
DC 55:1 if you do with an eye single to my glory, you shall have a remission of your sins and a reception of the Holy Spirit
We commonly say that we received the gift of the Holy Ghost when we were confirmed members of the Church. However, the spiritual transformation which should occur at this time is dependent upon the purity of our intentions. Remembering that the person is told, "Receive the Holy Ghost," we see that the actual receipt of the Holy Ghost is dependent as much on the individual as upon the ordinance in question. We must actually be receptive to the Holy Ghost and do so "with and eye single to [His] glory." Otherwise we cannot expect a remission of sins and the constant companionship of the Comforter.
Dallin H. Oaks
What do these scriptures have to say about the person whose conversion, repentance, or baptism into the Church is motivated by something other than 'full purpose of heart' or 'a broken heart and a contrite spirit'? What of the person who is swept into the gospel net by the currents of social pressure? What of the person whose motive for seeking Church membership is economic advantage? What of the person who seeks or maintains fellowship in the Church out of business necessity or political expediency? The Lord answered such questions in a revelation given to the convert, W. W. Phelps: 'Behold, . . . thou art called and chosen; and after thou hast been baptized by water, which if you do with an eye single to my glory, you shall have a remission of your sins and a reception of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands' (D&C 55:1).
...the risen Lord told the Nephites: 'And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost' (3 Nephi 9:20). The blessings of remission of sins and reception of the Holy Ghost are stated to be contingent upon the attitude of our hearts. (Pure in Heart [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988], 22.)
DC 55:3 you shall have power to give the Holy Spirit
The power to give the Holy Spirit is a great and glorious thing. Remember Simon from the New Testament? After seeing the apostles bestowing this precious gift, he wanted it for himself. He tried to offer them money saying, "Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money." (Acts 8:19-20)
DC 55:4 assist my servant Oliver Cowdery to do the work of printing
"In a revelation given in July, 1831, Brother Phelps was commanded to locate as a printer for the Church in Jackson county (Doc. & Cov. 57:11), and was present when Joseph the Prophet dedicated the Temple lot at Independence, October 3, 1831...At a conference held in Kirtland Sept. 12, 1831, he was instructed to stop at Cincinnati, Ohio, on his way to Missouri, and purchase a press and type for the purpose of establishing and publishing a monthly paper for the Church at Independence, Jackson county, Missouri, to be called the 'Evening and Morning Star,'... At a session of a conference held Jan. 24, 1832, he, together with Oliver Cowdery and John Correll, were appointed to superintend schools in the branches of the Church in Jackson county. Soon Brother Phelps issued a prospectus for a monthly paper, 'The Evening and Morning Star,' the first number of which appeared in June, 1832... At a council held May 1, 1832, it was decided that two thousand copies of the Book of Commandments should be printed, and Wm. W. Phelps, Oliver Cowdery and John Whitmer were appointed to revise and prepare such revelations for the press as should be deemed proper for publication, and print them as soon as possible at Independence." (Andrew Jenson, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 4 vols. [Salt Lake Cit 692.)
DC 55:4 that little children also may receive instruction before me as is pleasing unto me
"The Lord and his servants have consistently counseled the Saints to seek wisdom and enlarge their knowledge. The Church has behind it a great tradition of educational efforts. As early as 1831 William W. Phelps and Oliver Cowdery, himself at one time a schoolteacher, were appointed by revelation to select, write, and print material for the schools of the Church in order that the youth might receive a proper education. (See D&C 55:4.) The same educational interest that characterized the first years of the Church continued to be demonstrated as the Church moved westward and settled the Rocky Mountain area...
"Sidney Rigdon, in a speech given at the laying of the cornerstone of a temple in Far West, Missouri, talked about the need to combine a love of God with a love of learning. He said: 'Next to the worship of our God, we esteem the education of our children and of the rising generation.'
"This idea was also emphasized by John A. Widtsoe when he said that the obtaining of knowledge is equivalent to a religious requirement. 'Man must forever seek out knowledge, put it to proper use, and train his will to intelligent living.' Then he added for those who think gaining an education ends with the school year or graduation: 'Among Latter-day Saints, education becomes a life-long process. Young and old alike must be engaged in the development of their natural endowments. In fact, it is expected of the members of the Church that they continue their education throughout life.'" (Dean Jarman, "Seek Ye Out of the Best Books," New Era, Aug. 1974, 18-20)
William W. Phelps
By revelation, in 1831, I was appointed to "do the work of printing, and of selecting and writing books for schools in this church, that little children might receive instruction;" and since then I have received a further sanction. We are preparing to go out from among the people, where we can serve God in righteousness; and the first thing is, to teach our children; for they are as the Israel of old. It is our children who will take the kingdom and bear it off to all the world. The first commandment with promise to Israel was, "Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the land, which the Lord thy God giveth thee." We will instruct our children in the paths of righteousness; and we want that instruction compiled in a book. (History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7: 474.)
DC 55:5-6 take your journey with my servants Joseph Smith, Jun., and Sidney Rigdon
George Q. Cannon
It was on the 19th day of June, 1831, that Joseph Smith departed from Kirtland, Ohio, to go up into Missouri, the place promised as an inheritance for the Saints and at which the New Jerusalem should sometime be established. The Prophet was accompanied by Sidney Rigdon, Martin Harris, Edward Partridge, W. W. Phelps, Joseph Coe and A. S. Gilbert and wife. As rapidly as possible they journeyed by wagon and stage and occasionally by canal boat to Cincinnati, Ohio. From the latter point they went to Louisville, Kentucky, by steamer, and were compelled to remain there three days waiting for an opportunity to get to St. Louis; they reached St. Louis by steamer, and there made a brief pause. From this city on the Mississippi, the Prophet of God walked across the entire state of Missouri to Independence, Jackson County, a distance of nearly three hundred miles as traveled. This journey through the blazing heat of June and July was sweet to Joseph. There was a charm about it which lightened toil. The pains and burdens were unworthy of notice in the delightful anticipation of seeing the land for which the Lord, as had been shown to him by vision and prophecy, had reserved so glorious a future.
He was accompanied by Martin Harris, William W. Phelps, Edward Partridge and Joseph Coe; while Sidney Rigdon and A. S. Gilbert and wife went up the Missouri River a few days later by steamboat. It was about the middle of July when the Prophet and his party reached Independence. During the month of their journey Joseph had taught the gospel, in the cities, the villages and the country places, in vigor and simplicity. (The Life of Joseph Smith, the Prophet [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1986], 117.)
DC 55:6 let my servant Joseph Coe also take his journey
"Joseph Coe had recently been baptized and ordained. He made the trip to Missouri as commanded and returned to Kirtland. He served in various callings there, worked to build the Kirtland Temple, and participated in the laying of its cornerstone. Joseph helped in the securing of the Egyptian mummies and their papyri in 1835. He became dissatisfied with the Church in 1837, however, and was excommunicated in December 1838. When the Church moved on to Missouri and Illinois, Joseph Coe remained behind in Kirtland." (Stephen E. Robinson, H. Dean Garrett, A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2001] 2:133)