Question: Did Joseph "defy" a warning from God to flee to the west?

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Question: Did Joseph "defy" a warning from God to flee to the west?

Vilate Kimball described Joseph's pause as his stopping to compose his mind and getting the will of the Lord concerning him, that will of course being that he should return and face his fate

D. Michael Quinn makes the following claim:

Mar 21,1858 - Brigham Young tells this special conference that Joseph Smith disobeyed revelation by returning to Nauvoo to stand trial, that the church’s founding prophet lost Spirit of God the last days of his life, and died as unnecessary martyr. He published this talk as pamphlet. [1]

Joseph's mind was made up. Vilate Kimball described Joseph's pause as his stopping to compose his mind and getting the will of the Lord concerning him, that will of course being that he should return and face his fate. "Their giveing [sic] themselves up," says Vilate, " is all that will save our city from destruction."[2] Thus, although Joseph disregarded the Lord's warning to leave, he sought the Lord's will concerning his decision to return in order to save Nauvoo. There is no indication that he sinned or lost the Lord's guidance by doing so.

Did Joseph return to Nauvoo contrary to Lord's instruction?

Danel Bachman discussed this issue at the Joseph Smith Symposium in 1992:

Vilate Kimball adds a unique perspective to the Prophet’s return across the Mississippi on 24 June. Some accounts say that Joseph had a revelation directing him to head west (HC 6:545-46). But Vilate wrote to her husband that, “Joseph went over the river out of the United States, and there stoped [sic] and composed his mind, and got the will of the Lord concerning him, and that was, that he should return and give himself up for trial” (Esplin 235). Was there a revelation? Were there two revelations? No one knows, but I do not doubt the possibility.[3]

Joseph no doubt would have sought the Lord's guidance before returning to Nauvoo. The Church held a conference in Boston shortly after Joseph's death, with much of the Quorum of the Twelve being present.[4] Elder Woodruff arrived in Boston on July 10th, and Orson Hyde arrived on the 18th. According to Elder Woodruff, Elder Hyde "had advertised to Preach upon the murder of Joseph and Hyram Smith."[5] Woodruff provided in his journal a synopsis of Elder Hyde's comments,

A word about Br Joseph being killed. Some have thought he could not be killed. But the Lord never said so neither did Joseph say so. So did Peter say to Jesus when he told him that he would be slain or offered, far be it from thee. This shall not come upon thee. Jesus said get the behind me Satan. Thou savoreth not the things that be of God but of men.

In the first instance The Prophet crossed the river to Iowa & while there he inquired of the Lord what he should do and the Lord told him to return and give himself up. He appeared to be aware that he would be slain.[6]

Examination of sources used to support the critical claim

From History of the Church, Vol 6, Ch. XXIX:

Saturday, June 11 [22], 1844.--About 9 p. m. Hyrum came out of the Mansion and gave his hand to Reynolds Cahoon, at the same time saying, "A company of men are seeking to kill my brother Joseph, and the Lord has warned him to flee to the Rocky Mountains to save his life. Goodbye, Brother Cahoon, we shall see you again." In a few minutes afterwards Joseph came from his family. His tears were flowing fast. Be held a handkerchief to his face, and followed after Brother Hyrum without uttering a word. (emphasis added)

According to this, Hyrum said that the Lord warned Joseph to flee to the Rocky Mountains. When Joseph ultimately turned back toward Nauvoo, he was turning away from safety toward likely death.

Brigham Young expressed his view on this action. From the journal of Charles Walker:

21 March 1858

Bro. Brigham spoke a little on the rise and persecution of the Church said that if Bro. Joseph Smith had been led by the Spirit he had, he would never given himself up and gone to Carthage but he would have gone right to these mountains and would have been alive today to lead this people. Said the sheep must follow the shepherd not the shepherd follow the sheep. Said it was not policy to shed the blood of our enemies and was better to leave our homes than to be driven from them spoke of us burning our houses. . . said he was going to send 500 families across the Desert to the White Mountains as soon as possible. Said some might think he was mistaken says he is the voice of God to this people and their salvation and you can do as you darn please but I am going there when the time comes. (emphasis added)
—Charles Walker Journal p3[7]

Examination of Quinn's claim relative to the source used

Based upon the Brigham Young source shown above, D. Michael Quinn claims:

  1. That Joseph Smith disobeyed revelation by returning to Nauvoo to stand trial.
  2. That the church’s founding prophet lost Spirit of God the last days of his life.
  3. That Joseph died as unnecessary martyr.

Examining the Brigham Young quote that Quinn used as his source, it is clear that Brigham believed that if Joseph had "been led by the Spirit he had," that he would have not returned to Nauvoo and that his life would have been spared. Thus Brigham felt that Joseph's death was not necessary. This could be used to support Quinn's claims #1 and #3.

Quinn's claim #2, that Joseph "lost the Spirit of God the last days of his life," is clearly not supported by Brigham's statement. In fact, it states quite the opposite—that if Joseph "had been led by the Spirit he had," that he would not have returned to Nauvoo and ultimately been killed.

Why did Joseph return to Nauvoo?

Why did Joseph turn around and return to Nauvoo? In response to the accusations of abandonment from Emma and some in his party, Joseph said,

"'If my life is of no value to my friends it is of none to myself.' Joseph said to Rockwell, 'What shall I do?' Rockwell replied, 'You are the oldest and ought to know best; and as you make your bed, I will lie with you.' Joseph then turned to Hyrum, who was talking with [Reynolds] Cahoon, and said, 'Brother Hyrum, you are the oldest, what shall we do?' Hyrum said, 'Let us go back and give ourselves up, and see the thing out.' After studying a few moments, Joseph said, 'If you go back I will go with you, but we shall be butchered.' Hyrum said, 'No, no; let us go back and put our trust in God, and we shall not be harmed. The Lord is in it. If we live or have to die, we will be reconciled to our fate.' After a short pause, Joseph told Cahoon to request Captain Daniel C. Davis to have his boat ready at half-past five to cross them over the river."[8]


Notes

  1. D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power (Signature Books, 1997), 757 ( Index of claims )
  2. Danel Bachman, “Joseph Smith: A True Martyr,” given at the Joseph Smith Symposium, 22 February 1992, in Susan Easton Black & Charles D. Tate, Jr., eds., Joseph Smith: The Prophet (BYU Religious Studies Center 1993), 315-32
  3. "Joseph Smith, a True Martyr," 328, cited from Ronald K. Esplin, "Life in Nauvoo, June 1844: Vilate Kimball’s Martyrdom Letters," Brigham Young University Studies 19 no. 2 (Winter 1979), 235.
  4. Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 2:414. ISBN 0941214133. Woodruff notes: "There being present a majority of the quorum of the Twelve viz seven as follows: B. Young H. C. Kimball, O Hyde O. Pratt Wm. Smith, L. Wight & W. Woodruff, And a large number of Elders. Elder B. Young took the Chair. Conference opened by Prayer."
  5. Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 2:420,423. ISBN 0941214133. Woodruff notes in his July 10th entry: "I here took the Cars for Boston. Arived at 9 oclock with Elder Stodard. Distance 100 miles. Sister Foss gave me $1 Calvin 50 cts Rhoda Scammans $2.50 cts to help bear my expenses home. I had to pay $2.75 cts to Boston."
  6. Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 2:427 (journal entry dated 18 July 1844). ISBN 0941214133.
  7. Eldon Watson (editor), Brigham Young Addresses (1982), 3:87. and Richard S. Van Wagoner, Complete Discourses of Brigham Young 5 vols. (Signature Books and Smith-Pettit Foundation, 2010), 3:1418. See here for addenda and review.
  8. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), {{{vol}}}:547-550.