August 17, 2007

Joseph and the Devil

Jedediah M. Grant March 11, 1855 President Grant was relating the difference between Joseph Smith's experiences as a prophet and sectarian religion, namely, the Methodist's. He emphasized the difference as divine revelation, including visions. An interesting tidbit was couched in the explanation:

When Joseph Smith bore testimony, he told the people that an angel from high heaven had spoken to him, that he had been ordained by authority from Jesus Christ, and sent forth to preach the Gospel. Did you ever hear the Methodists bear such a testimony? If not, how can you expect them to have such faith as the man who believes the testimony of Joseph Smith? The Methodists have no such testimony, only as they have it from the Latter-day Saints. Joseph also said that he had seen the dark regions of Hades; did you ever hear a Methodist bear that testimony? No (Journal of Discourses 2:279).
This brought one verse to mind from an epistle Joseph wrote to the Church at Nauvoo in 1842, wherein is couched a similar interesting detail:
And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—the book to be revealed. A voice of the Lord in the wilderness of Fayette, Seneca county, declaring the three witnesses to bear record of the book! The voice of Michael on the banks of the Susquehanna, detecting the devil when he appeared as an angel of light! (D&C 128:20).
It seems the Prophet Joseph had an encounter of some kind with the adversary. This hearkens to similar situations such as one encountered by Moses, where an exchange between the prophet and Satan occurs. Jesus was tempted by the adversary in person after his 40 day fast. There are other revealed, as well as apocryphal accounts of Satan wrestling with prophets of God. Jedediah M. Grant, previous to the comments above, discoursed on the real power of God and the real power of Satan:
I am aware that even some of the Latter-day Saints are slow to believe in relation to the power of Lucifer, the son of the morning, who was thrust from the heavens to the earth; and they have been slow to believe in relation to the spirits that are associated with him; but from the first revelations of the Almighty to brother Joseph Smith, not only revelations in relation to the deep things of the kingdom of God, and the high things of heaven, and the depths of hell, but revelations showing him the power of Lucifer, the opposite to good, that he might be aware of the strength of his opponent, and the opponent of the Almighty-I say, from perusing these revelations, I have always been specially impressed with the doctrine relating to the power of Satan, as well as with the doctrines relating to the power of God (Journal of Discourses 2:10).
He also mentioned the experiences of Heber C. Kimball and some of the other twelve who, upon introducing the gospel to England, were confronted by legions of the adversary:
…you who have come from the old country, and some of the first Elders that went over there-Presidents Young, Kimball, Hyde, and others, recollect manifestations of the spirits of the devil in that land. They attacked those brethren by hundreds and by thousands, and the spirits were actually visible. If you could call up brother Willard Snow, and converse with him, I have no doubt that he would tell you he was attacked by them, and they overcame his body (Journal of Discourses 2:10).
Heber C. Kimball testified of his experiences with adversarial spirits while opening the first mission to England. Upon returning from that mission he described in vivid detail his own experience:
Perhaps there are some who do not believe much in spirits, but I know that they exist and visit the earth, and I will tell you how and why I know it. When I was in England, brother Geo. D. Watt[2] was the first man baptized, and his mother was baptized directly after he was. The night previous to my going forward to baptize brother Watt and eight others, I had a vision, as old father Baker used to say, "of the infernal world." I saw legions of wicked spirits that night, as plain as I now see you, and they came as near to me as you now are, and company after company of them rushed towards me; and brother Hyde and brother Richards also saw them. It was near the break of day, and I looked upon them as I now look upon you. They came when I was laying hands upon brother Russell, the wicked spirits got him to the door of the room, I did not see them till after that took place, and soon afterwards I lay prostrate upon the floor. That was in England, pious England, in the little town of Preston, at the corner of Wilford Street, and they struggled and exerted all their power and influence. That was the first introduction of the Gospel into England, and I was shown those spirits as plainly as ever I saw anything. I was thinking of that circumstance while brother Brigham was speaking this morning, and I was thinking that those spirits were just as much on hand to perplex this people as they were on hand there. I saw their hands, their eyes, and every feature of their faces, the hair on their heads, and their ears, in short they had full-formed bodies. If evil spirits could come to me, cannot ministering spirits and angels also come from God? Of course they can, and there are thousands of them, and I wish you to understand this, and that they can rush as an army going to battle, for the evil spirits came upon me and brother Hyde in that way. There is one circumstance in the visit of those evil spirits, that I would not tell if brother Hyde had not often told it himself; they spoke and said to brother Hyde, "We have nothing against you," no, but I was the lad that they were after. I mention this to show that the devil is an enemy to me, he is also an enemy to brother Brigham, to brother Jedediah, to the Twelve, and to every righteous man. When brother Benson goes to the old country he will find hosts of evil spirits, and he will know more about the devil than he ever did before. The spirits of the wicked, who have died for thousand of years past, are at war with the Saints of God upon the earth. Do I ever pray that I may see them again? No, I do not. We had prayed all day, and almost all night, that we might have power to establish the Gospel in England. Previous to this, Mr. Fielding, a clergyman, came and forbid my baptizing those persons who had come forward. Said I, sir, they are of age, and I shall baptize them, if they wish for it, and I baptized nine. The next morning I was so weak that I could scarcely stand, so great was the effect that those spirits had upon me. I wrote a few words to my wife about the matter, and brother Joseph called upon her for the letter and said, "It was a choice jewel, and a testimony that the Gospel was planted in a strange land."
Joseph and Heber later discussed dealing with the Devil:
When I returned home I called upon brother Joseph, and we walked down the bank of the river. He there told me what contests he had had with the devil; he told me that he had contests with the devil, face to face. He also told me how he was handled and afflicted by the devil, and said, he had known circumstances where Elder Rigdon was pulled out of bed three times in one night. After all this some persons will say to me, that there are no evil spirits. I tell you they are thicker than the "Mormons" are in this country, but the Lord has said that there are more for us than there can be against us. "Who are they," says one? Righteous men who have been upon the earth (JD 3:229-230).
Additional references: From Leon R. Hartshorn, Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration: "He had seen the Father and the Son. He had seen the angel, not once, but many times. He had seen the glory of God and a vision of Satan on the hill." (p. 11) From B. H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God, 1: 283 - 284. "On the occasion of this interview with Moroni, before referred to, that the young prophet might not be deceived by the powers of darkness, he was given a vision of Satan and his hosts and their methods of deception." Oliver Cowdery's account of Joseph encountering the adversary when he went to retrieve the plates is probably the most explicit. I will include selections in an upcoming post, and revise this one. Footnotes [1] The image is Gustave Doré's depiction of Satan from John Milton's Paradise Lost [2] George D. Watt was the stenographer who recorded many of the discourses in the Journal of Discourses.

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