You do not know what you have lost in never seeing and becoming acquainted with these men. I value the privilege I had with them, more than I do all else that my eyes have ever beheld. I ask what would you not give for the privilege, if it could be had, of seeing and conversing with the Apostles Peter, James and John, or Paul, and receiving instructions from them? Now I say unto you that greater than these have been slain in the jail of Carthage.
—John S. Fullmer, personal letter to his uncle,
September 27, 1844
What is a Saint?
Due to the name of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, members are in the cultural habit of referring to one another as “Saints,” which practice raises eyebrows among other denominations where “Saint” means something so holy that it would be unthinkable to call each other by that title in casual conversation.
Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines “Saint” as follows:
A person sanctified; a holy or godly person; one eminent for piety and virtue; any true Christian, as being redeemed and consecrated to God.Hence, whatever our cultural habits, we need to keep this definition in mind when reading scripture. A saint is one who is sanctified, or made holy, by God.
Taking the life of one whom the Lord has made holy is such a crime that the shed, innocent blood of the saint cries out to the Lord for vengeance. Consider the case of Abel, who “walked in holiness before the Lord.” (Moses 5:26):
And Cain went into the field, and Cain talked with Abel, his brother. And it came to pass that while they were in the field, Cain rose up against Abel, his brother, and slew him. And the Lord said unto Cain: Where is Abel, thy brother? And he said: I know not. Am I my brother’s keeper?
And the Lord said: What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood cries unto me from the ground. (Moses 5:32-35; see also Genesis 4:8-10)When Nephi saw our day, he observed the following concerning us and our professed religion:
And they deny the power of God, the Holy One of Israel; and they say unto the people: Hearken unto us, and hear ye our precept; for behold there is no God today, for the Lord and the Redeemer hath done his work, and he hath given his power unto men;
Behold, hearken ye unto my precept; if they shall say there is a miracle wrought by the hand of the Lord, believe it not; for this day he is not a God of miracles; he hath done his work.
Yea, and there shall be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us.
And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God.(Side note: The following question was recently asked on a final exam in a BYU Religion Class: “How does what you know about Christ give you hope that you will very likely inherit the Celestial kingdom?” Very likely indeed.)
Yea, and there shall be many which shall teach after this manner, false and vain and foolish doctrines, and shall be puffed up in their hearts, and shall seek deep to hide their counsels from the Lord; and their works shall be in the dark. And the blood of the saints shall cry from the ground against them. (2 Nephi 28:5-10)Since this passage refers to our day, we have to ask ourselves: What saints cry for vengeance in our day? What spilt blood has reason to cry against us? Surely not the blood of the ancient martyrs, shed at another place, at another time, by corrupt religionists with no connection to us. No, I assert that the blood in question was shed 172 years ago today at Carthage jail, where the two men from this dispensation who can unequivocally be called “saints” were murdered to silence their testimonies of truth.
I’m sure we’ve all read the official accounts of what happened that day. I’ve stood many times in that very room in Carthage jail and considered those events. I don’t believe the official story; it is demonstrably inaccurate in a number of important ways. However, I don’t intend to make that the focus of this post. Besides, only God knows, at this point, the truth of the events leading up to and culminating in the prophet murders.
I’ll assert only that this was not the haphazard action of a violent mob, but rather the calculated endeavor of a secret combination. This combination yet exists among us where we might not expect it.
Just as Nephi saw our day, Moroni did as well, and had this to say about events that are now upon us:
And it shall come in a day when the blood of saints shall cry unto the Lord, because of secret combinations and the works of darkness.
Yea, it shall come in a day when the power of God shall be denied, and churches become defiled and be lifted up in the pride of their hearts; yea, even in a day when leaders of churches and teachers shall rise in the pride of their hearts, even to the envying of them who belong to their churches. (Mormon 8:27-28)A secret combination, working in darkness, conspired to murder Joseph and Hyrum. In our day, their blood cries out. Shed martyr blood always out to the Lord for vengeance:
For behold, they murdered all the prophets of the Lord who came among them to declare unto them concerning their iniquities; and the blood of those whom they murdered did cry unto the Lord their God for vengeance upon those who were their murderers; and thus the judgments of God did come upon these workers of darkness and secret combinations. (Alma 37:30)Nephi prophesied the following regarding the time leading up to Christ’s crucifixion:
Great and terrible shall that day be unto the wicked, for they shall perish; and they perish because they cast out the prophets, and the saints, and stone them, and slay them; wherefore the cry of the blood of the saints shall ascend up to God from the ground against them. Wherefore, all those who are proud, and that do wickedly, the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of Hosts, for they shall be as stubble.
And they that kill the prophets, and the saints, the depths of the earth shall swallow them up, saith the Lord of Hosts; and mountains shall cover them, and whirlwinds shall carry them away, and buildings shall fall upon them and crush them to pieces and grind them to powder. (2 Nephi 26:3-5)Nephi’s prophecy was fulfilled. Here’s a relevant portion of the record:
And behold, the city of Laman, and the city of Josh, and the city of Gad, and the city of Kishkumen, have I caused to be burned with fire, and the inhabitants thereof, because of their wickedness in casting out the prophets, and stoning those whom I did send to declare unto them concerning their wickedness and their abominations.
And because they did cast them all out, that there were none righteous among them, I did send down fire and destroy them, that their wickedness and abominations might be hid from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints whom I sent among them might not cry unto me from the ground against them.Similar destruction is prophesied in our day, and for exactly the same reasons:
(3 Nephi 9:10-11)
And thus, with the sword and by bloodshed the inhabitants of the earth shall mourn; and with famine, and plague, and earthquake, and the thunder of heaven, and the fierce and vivid lightning also, shall the inhabitants of the earth be made to feel the wrath, and indignation, and chastening hand of an Almighty God, until the consumption decreed hath made a full end of all nations; That the cry of the saints, and of the blood of the saints, shall cease to come up into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, from the earth, to be avenged of their enemies. (D&C 87:6-7)These are not idle words. The destruction is soon upon us.
And whatsoever nation shall uphold such secret combinations, to get power and gain, until they shall spread over the nation, behold, they shall be destroyed; for the Lord will not suffer that the blood of his saints, which shall be shed by them, shall always cry unto him from the ground for vengeance upon them and yet he avenge them not.
Wherefore, O ye Gentiles, it is wisdom in God that these things should be shown unto you, that thereby ye may repent of your sins, and suffer not that these murderous combinations shall get above you, which are built up to get power and gain—and the work, yea, even the work of destruction come upon you, yea, even the sword of the justice of the Eternal God shall fall upon you, to your overthrow and destruction if ye shall suffer these things to be.
Wherefore, the Lord commandeth you, when ye shall see these things come among you that ye shall awake to a sense of your awful situation, because of this secret combination which shall be among you; or wo be unto it, because of the blood of them who have been slain; for they cry from the dust for vengeance upon it, and also upon those who built it up. (Ether 8:22-24)Killing the Prophets Today
But you don’t have to actually pull the trigger to participate in the killings at Carthage. When it comes to those whom the Lord has sent, what matters most is not the men, but the message. When God personally commissions and sends prophets with His message, we ignore that message at our peril. If the prophets are killed for their testimony, their shed blood invokes an undeniable witness, to which the Lord will give heed, and for which the Lord will bring vengeance.
Unfortunately, the “saints” stone, cast out, and kill Joseph yet today. Here are some of the ways those who claim to accept Joseph Smith’s mission, instead participate in his assassination:
- Conspiring to alter, deny, ignore or minimize Joseph’s teachings
- Attributing falsehoods to Joseph he never taught
- Claiming Joseph lied and deceived the whole church
- Accusing Joseph of evil deeds he did not commit
- Blaming Joseph for actions and innovations of later leaders
- Withholding information and historical sources
- Refusing to alter these actions, even in the face of incontrovertible evidence in Joseph’s favor
- Fleeing from Joseph’s name and reputation, after sullying them both
Cursed are all those that shall lift up the heel against mine anointed, saith the Lord, and cry they have sinned when they have not sinned before me, saith the Lord, but have done that which was meet in mine eyes, and which I commanded them.
But those who cry transgression do it because they are the servants of sin, and are the children of disobedience themselves. (D&C 121:16-17)Blood and Vengeance
When I visited Carthage Jail as a boy, part of the tour included inspecting the blood stains on the floor where Hyrum fell. Whether those were the actual stains or not, the blood of these slain saints yet cries out for vengeance. But that may not mean what we think.
The Lord will have His vengeance on the murderers; this is certain. Yet, fallen human nature impatiently demands justice now, to be exacted by blood for blood.
So egregious were the murders of the Smith brothers that it took great effort by other church leaders to prevent retaliatory violence by the Latter-day Saints. Though vengeance belongs to the Lord, many wanted to shed the blood of those responsible for the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum.
I there and then resolved in my mind that I would never let an opportunity slip unimproved of avenging their blood upon the enemies of the church of Jesus Christ. I felt as though I could not live; I knew not how to contain myself, and when I see one of the men who persuaded them to give up to be tried, I feel like cutting their throats. And I hope to live to avenge their blood.This feeling was eventually codified into an actual temple covenant, requiring the following oath of all who received their temple endowment:
—Allen Joseph Stout journal entry
You and each of you do covenant and promise that you will pray and never cease to pray to Almighty God to avenge the blood of the prophets upon this nation, and that you will teach the same to your children and to your children's children unto the third and fourth generation.This oath remained in the endowment into the 1920s when popular outcry and political pressure forced its removal. The sentiment expressed in this oath, and by church leaders, contributed to violence in the early church, including the massacre of innocents at Mountain Meadows.
Of course, no amount of shed blood will right the wrong, nor prevent the consequences of casting out the prophets. And the fact that the blood stains have now been removed from the floor in Carthage does nothing to silence the cry of the martyrs’ shed blood.
I propose there is another way to avenge the blood of the Saints; it is to return to belief in their words. The only real vengeance possible, and the only measures that can in any way right the committed wrong is to return to the truth of the message they died to seal, thus ensuring they did not die in vain.
Unfortunately, many do not feel this way. Some, including the church he founded and those it employs, still hold Joseph Smith in derision. Such are fools. Some still rage against him. Such are children of Hell. (D&C 122:1) Those who continue to assassinate the prophet’s character perpetuate the 172-year legacy of Carthage.
The blood has cried out against us long enough! We must do better; we must begin to right the wrongs by repenting.
When we search out what Joseph actually taught; when we accept his words as the actual words of Christ; when we cease to accuse him of deceit, adultery, ignorance, or sin; when we seek counsel, and authority, and blessings constantly from under Joseph’s hand (D&C 122:2); when we restore the words he gave us as scripture (including the Lectures on Faith); when we put down the secret combinations that seek power and gain through false religion; and most of all, when we seek to receive all that Joseph said was possible—we will begin to avenge the shed blood of the prophets.
This is the only way we can escape the coming judgments. God was serious when he vouched for Joseph (D&C 21:1-8). God was offended when we killed the one he sent. The sword of vengeance hangs over us, and it will fall (Mormon 8:41). On this, the anniversary of that fateful Thursday 172 years ago, repentance is our only hope.
Wherever he reasoned on the old prophets his words lit up a sacred flame in the heart of the saint that showed an ocean of existence unexplored by the vain philosophy of the world; when he poured out his eloquence, the gentile on the reserved rights of all fools declared, “I would rather go to hell than believe that imposter!”—and who cannot but say amen! Go!
—W. W. Phelps
Funeral Sermon of Joseph and Hyrum Smith