The Essential Joseph Smith
Foreword by Marvin S. Hill
“I Have Three Requests to Make of the Congregation,” A Sermon Delivered on 8 April 1843
(from a manuscript by William Clayton, original in archives,
Historical Department, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah)
[p.175]Pres’t Joseph [Smith] called upon the choir to sing a him [hymn] and remarked that “tenor charms the ear—bass the heart.” After sing[ing] the President spoke in substance as follows.
I have three requests to make of the congregation the first is that all who have faith will exercise it, that the Lord may be willing to calm the wind. The next is, that I may have your prayers that the Lord may strengthen my lungs so that, I may be able to make you all hear. And the next is, that I may have the Holy Ghost to rest upon me so as to enable me to declare those things that are true.
The subject I intend to speak upon this morning is one that I have seldom touched upon since I commenced as an Elder of the Church. It is a subject of great speculation as well amongst the Elders of the church as amongst the divines of the day; it is in relation to the beast spoken of in Revelations. The reason why it has been a subject of speculation amongst the Elders, is in consequence of a division of sentiment and opinion in relation to it. My object is to do away with this difference of opinion. To have knowledge in relation to the meaning of beasts and heads and horns and other figure[s] made use of in the revelations is not very essential to the Elders. If we get puffed up by thinking that we have much knowledge, we are apt to get a contentious spirit, and knowledge is necessary to do away [with] contention. The evil of being puffed up is not so great as the evil of contention. Knowledge does away darkness, su[s]pense and doubt, for where Knowledge is there is no doubt nor suspense nor darkness. There is no pain so awful as the pain of suspense. This is the condemnation of the wicked; their doubt and anxiety and suspense causes [p.176]weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth. In knowledge there is power. God has more power than all other beings, because he has greater Knowledge, and hence he knows how to subject all other beings to him. I will endeavour to instruct you in relation to the meaning of the beasts and figures spoken of. E[lde]r (Pelatiah) Browns has been the cause of this subject being now presented before you. He, one of the wisest old heads we have among us, has been called up before the High Council on account of the beast. The old man has preached concerning the beast which was full of eyes before and behind and for this he was hauled up for trial. I never thought it was right to call up a man and try him because he erred in doctrine, it looks too much like methodism and not like Latter day Saintism. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be kicked out of their church. I want the liberty of believing as I please, it feels so good not to be tramelled. It dont prove that a man is not a good man, because he errs in doctrine. The High Council undertook to censure and correct E[lde]r Brown because of his teachings in relation to the beasts, and he came to me to know what he should do about it. The subject particularly referred to, was the four beasts and four and twenty Elders mentioned in Rev. ch[apter] 5 v. 8. The old man has confounded all Christendom by speaking out that the four beasts represented the Kingdom of God; the wise men of the day could not do any thing with him, and why should we find fault, anything to whip sectarianism and put down priestcraft; a club is better than no weapon for a poor man to fight with, but I could not keep laughing at the idea of God making use of the figure of a beast to represent the Kingdom of God on the earth, when he could as well have used a far more noble and consistent figure. What? The Lord make use of the figure of a creature of the brute creation to represent that which is much more noble and important. The glories of his Kingdom? You missed it that time, old man, but the sectarians did not know enough to detect you.
When God made use of the figure of a beast in visions to the prophets, he did it to represent those Kingdoms who had degenerated and become corrupt—the Kingdoms of the world, but he never made use of the figure of a beast nor any of the brute kind to represent his kingdom. Daniel says when he saw the vision of the four beasts “I came near unto one of them that stood by, and asked him the truth of all this.” The angel interpreted the vision to Daniel, but we find by the interpretation that the figures of beasts had no allusion to the Kingdom of God. [p.177]You there see that the beasts are spoken of to represent the Kingdoms of the world the inhabitants whereof were beastly and abominable characters, they were murderous, corrupt, carnivourous and brutal in their dispositions. I make mention of the prophets to qualify my declaration which I am about to make so that the young Elders who know so much may not rise up and choke me like hornets. There is a grand difference and distinction between the visions and figures spoken of by the prophets and those spoken of in the Revelations of John. None of the things John saw had any allusion to the scenes of the days of Adam or of Enoch or of Abraham or Jesus, only as far as is plainly represented by John and clearly set forth. John only saw that which was “shortly to come to pass” and that which was yet in futurity (He read Rev. ch. 1 v. 1) Now I make this declaration, that those things which John saw in heaven, had no allusion to any thing that had been on the earth, because John says “he saw what was shortly to come to pass” and not what had already transpired. John saw beasts that had to do with things on the earth, but not in past ages; the beasts which he saw had to devour the inhabitants of the earth in days to come. The revelations do not give us to understand any thing of the past in relation to the Kingdom of God. What John saw and speaks of were things which were in heaven, what the prophets saw and speak of where things pertaining to the earth. I am now going to take exception to the present translation of the bible in relation to these matters. There is a grand distinction between the actual meaning of the Prophets and the Present translation. The Prophets do not declare that the[y] saw a beast or beasts, but that the[y] saw the image or figure of a beast. They did not see an actual bear or Lion but the images or figures of those beasts. The translation should have been rendered “image” instead of “beast” in every instance where beasts are mentioned by the Prophets. But John saw the actual beast in heaven, to show to John [they] did actually exist there. When the Prophets speak of seeing beasts in their visions, they saw the images; types to represent certain things and at the same time they received the interpretation as to what those images or types were designed to represent. I make this broad declaration, that where God ever gives a vision of an image, or beast or figure of any kind he always holds himself responsible to give a revelation or interpretation of the meaning thereof, otherwise we are not responsible or accountable for our belief in it. Don’t be afraid of being damned for not knowing the meaning of a vision or figure where God has not given a revelation or interpretation on the subject (He here read Rev. ch 5 v 11 to 13)[.] John saw curious [p.178]looking beasts in heaven, he saw every creature that was in heaven, all the beasts, fowls, & fish in heaven, actually there, giving glory to God. I suppose John saw beings there, that had been saved from ten thousand times ten thousand earths like this, strange beasts of which we have no conception all might be seen in heaven. John learned that God glorified himself by saving all that his hands had made whether beasts, fowl fishes or man. Any man who would tell you that this could not be, would tell you that the revelations are not true. John heard the words of the beasts giving glory to God and understood them. God who made the beasts could understand every language spoken by them; the beasts were intelligent beings and were seen and heard by John praising and glorifying God.
The popular religionsts of the day say that the beasts spoken of in the revelations represent Kingdoms. Very well, on the same principle we can say that the twenty four Elders spoken of represent beasts, for they are all spoken of at the same time, and represented as all uniting in the same acts of praise and devotion. Deacon Homespun said the earth was flat as a pan cake, but science has proved to the contrary. The world is full of technicalities and misrepresentation, but I calculate to overthrow the technicalities of the world and speak of things as they actually exist. Again there is no revelation to prove that things do not exist in heaven as I have set forth, and we never can comprehend the things of God and of heaven but by revelation. We may spiritualize and express opinions to all eternity but that is no authority.
Ye Elders of Israel hearken to my voice and when ye are sent into the world to preach, preach and cry aloud “repent ye for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand repent and believe the gospel.” Never meddle with the visions of beasts and subjects you do not understand. E[lde]r Brown when you go to Palmyra dont say any thing about the beast, but preach those things the Lord has told you to preach about, repentance and baptism for the remission of sins.
(He here read Rev. ch 13 v 1 to 8.) The spiritualizers say the beast that received the wound was Nebuchadnezzar, but we will look at what John saw in relation to this beast. The translators have used the term “dragon” for “devil”. Now it was a beast that John saw in heaven, and he was then speaking of “things that were shortly to come to pass.” And consequently the beast John saw could not be Nebuchadnezzar. The beast John saw was an actual beast to whom power was to be given. An actual intelligent being in heaven and this beast [p.179]was to have power given him. John saw “one of the heads of the beast as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed; and all the world wondered after the beast.” Nebuchadnezzar and Constantine the great not excepted; it must have been a wonderful beast that all human beings wondered after it, and I will venture to say that when God gives power to the beast to destroy the inhabitants of the earth, all will wonder. Verse 4 reads “And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast; and they worshipped the beast saying, who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?[“] Some say it means the kingdom of the world. One thing is sure, it dont mean the kingdoms of the saints. Suppose we admit that it means the kingdoms of the world, what propriety would there be in saying who is able to make war with myself. If these spiritualizing interpretations are true, the book contradicts itself in almost every verse, but they are not true. There is a mistranslation of the word dragon in the second verse. The original hebrew word signifies the devil and not dragon as translated. Read ch 12 v 9[,] it there reads “that, old serpent called the devil,[“] and it, ought to be translated devil in this case and not dragon. Everything that we have not a key word to[,] we will take it as it reads. The beasts which John saw and speaks of as being in heaven were actually living in heaven, and were actually to have power given to them over the inhabitants of the earth precisely according to the plain reading of the revelations. I give this as a key to the Elders of Israel.