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REORGANIZING THE CHURCH1
The first conference of the men thus drawn together in a common cause was unique.
Never before in the history of the church had a conference convened without a leader to "call" it. Others, secure in the leadership of one or another of the various factions, laughed at the little group. Yet to the handful meeting on that 12th day of June at Beloit (Newark Branch), the "tokens of divine care" were visible and "confirmed their faith that what had been promised would surely be fulfilled in the due time of the Lord. And they determined to wait and prepare for that time."2
A statement was made to the conference when it assembled that they would take measures to adopt resolutions declaring their rejection of the different leaders and stating that they "stood in expectation of one of the sons of Joseph Smith assuming the leadership of the church at some time in the future, and that was the position"3 in which the church would stand, accepting the leadership of no other.
They were in conference two days but proceeded carefully, fearful of going beyond their instructions. Their resolutions were these:
Resolved, that the conference regard the pretensions of Brigham Young, James J. Strang, James Colin Brewster, and William Smith and Joseph Wood's joint claim to the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints as an assumption of power, in violation of the law of God, and consequently we disclaim all connection and fellowship with them.
Resolved, that the successor of Joseph Smith, junior, as the Presiding High Priest in the Melchisedec Priesthood, must of necessity be the seed of Joseph Smith, junior, in fulfillment of the law and promises of God.
Resolved, that as the office of the First President of the church grows out of the authority of the Presiding High Priest, in the High Priesthood, no person can legally lay claim to the office of First President of the church without a previous ordination, to the Presidency of the High Priesthood.
Resolved, that we recognize the validity of all legal ordinations in this church, and will fellowship all such as have been ordained while acting within the purview of such authority.
Resolved, that we believe that the Church of Christ, organized on the 6th day of April, A. D., 1830, exists as on that day wherever six or more Saints are organized according to the pattern in the Doctrine and Covenants.
Resolved, that the whole law of the Church of Jesus Christ is contained in the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Book of Doctrine and Covenants.
Resolved, that, in the opinion of this conference, there is no stake to which the Saints on this continent are commanded to gather at the present time, but that the Saints on all other lands are commanded to gather to this land, preparatory to the re-establishment of the church in Zion, when the scattered Saints on this land will also be commanded to gather and return to Zion, and to their inheritances, in fulfillment of the promises of God; and it is the duty of the Saints to turn their hearts and their faces towards Zion and supplicate the Lord for such deliverance.
Resolved, that we will to the extent of our ability and means communicate to all the scattered Saints the sentiments contained in the foregoing resolutions.
Resolved, that this conference believes it is the duty of the elders of the church, who have been legally ordained, to cry repentance and remission of sins to this generation, through obedience to the gospel as revealed in the record of the Jews, the Book of Mormon, and Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and not to faint in the discharge of duty.4
A committee was then chosen to write a pamphlet to use in their missionary work, based upon these resolutions, to be called A Word of Consolation. The committee was composed of Jason W. Briggs, Zenas H. Gurley, Sr., and John Harrington.
The missionaries went out from that little conference with renewed courage, but there was one thing which puzzled them all. They had been impressed more than once that they should "organize, in preparation for the re-establishment of the quorums and First Presidency of the church," but no one knew how it was to be done.
David Powell and John Harrington took a mission south that summer and visited some of the old Saints, bearing their testimony to the new movement and baptizing one, young Edmund C. Briggs, then eighteen years of age, who had never held membership in any faction of the church. Edmund had grown to be a delicate, sickly youth, and in November, 1851, had been very ill, presumably dying. He was living with his brother, Silas, in Jefferson County, Wisconsin. Becoming alarmed, this brother sent for his mother to come to him. The letter arrived just as Jason was laying his perplexities in regard to the church before the Lord, and he pleaded there the case of his young brother. He says he was promised, "Thy brother Edmund shall not die, but shall live and come into the church and shall stand with you in this work."5 This prophecy was fulfilled. The members of the church were poor, but they visited as many of the old Saints as they could. Z. H. Gurley visited Wingville and the Blue Mounds settlement and succeeded in getting several to unite with the church, among them George White of Wingville, and John Cunningham, a brother-in-law of H. H. Deam at the same place, and Daniel B. Rasey, an old member of the church at Blue Mounds.
There was but little business done at the conference on October 6. J. W. Briggs presided, as he had in the previous conference, and Samuel Blair, who was made church recorder at that conference, acted as secretary. It was
"Resolved, that the highest authority among the priesthood represents the legitimate President as a presiding authority."6
The committee appointed to draft the Word of Consolation reported their work, presenting the pamphlet in manuscript form. Two thousand copies were ordered printed.
Strange as it undoubtedly was, these men one and all testified that during the length of their membership in other factions, the "gifts of the gospel" were never made manifest, but as soon as they made the move to "stand aloof" and "wait for the legitimate President," they were blessed with great spiritual blessings. Although they had presented the pamphlet, A Word of Consolation, to the Saints and received their endorsement, they were not yet satisfied. Not one of them but abhorred the doctrine of polygamy, but they were aware that in carrying their message to the old-time Saints they would meet this doctrine very soon, and they desired something definite to meet the questions that would arise. On the evening of the 9th of January, 1853, "ever memorable with the Saints of God," the committee presented their problem. They wanted the word of the Lord on two questions: First, Is polygamy of God? Second, Is any addition necessary to the pamphlet before its publication? In about half an hour, during which it seemed to Zenas H. Gurley that "angels were hovering over them," and that he received such manifestation of the Spirit as he had not received in the twenty-three years of his membership in the church, the following message was received:
Polygamy is an abomination in the sight of the Lord God; it is not of me; I abhor it. I abhor it, as also the doctrines of the Nicolaitans, and the men or set of men who practice it. I judge them not; I judge not those who practice it. Their works shall judge them at the last day. Be ye strong; ye shall contend against this doctrine; many will be led into it honestly, for the Devil will seek to establish it and roll it forth to deceive.
They seek to build up their own kingdoms, to suit their own pleasures, but I countenance it not, saith God. I have given my law: I shrink not from my word. My law is given in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, but they have disregarded my law and trampled upon it, and counted it a light thing and obeyed it not; but my word is the same yesterday as today and forever.
As you have desired to know of me concerning the pamphlet, it is written in part, but not in plainness. It requires three more pages to be written, for it shall go forth in great plainness, combating this doctrine, and all who receive it not, it shall judge at the last day. Let this be the voice of the Lord in the pamphlet, for it shall go forth in great plainness, and many will obey it and turn unto me, saith the Lord.
This accounts [says Gurley] for the last three pages in our first pamphlet, and we most earnestly commend that article to the careful reading of all that have ever known the latter-day work, and pray God our Heavenly Father, in the name of Jesus Christ his Son, to break every band that binds them, that they may be enabled to turn to the law from which they have strayed.
Shortly after this communication was given, it was intimated by the Spirit that we must organize. This was strange teaching to me. I replied, "It is impossible for us to organize farther than we have." I knew that we could not create a priesthood. I conversed with several of the brethren on the subject, and we set it down as a mistake.7
March came. The time of the April conference at Argyle, Wisconsin, was near, and they had failed to agree upon whether or not certain brothers held a valid priesthood. They had all been so well satisfied with the results of the meeting in January, when they had presented the question of polygamy, that it was suggested they present a similar question at a special prayer meeting and trust in the Lord for an answer. Accordingly they presented the question for prayer, "Were those ordained apostles by William Smith recognized by God?" The manifestations of the Spirit were fully equal to those of the January meeting. Some testified they saw angels.
Some little time elapsed, nearly an hour, I judge, before we received an answer to our inquiry. We were then told that those ordinations were not acceptable--were not of God, and near the close of the communication we were told expressly to organize ourselves, for "ere long, saith the Lord, I will require the prophet at your hand." Such was the manifestation of the power of God, that not a doubt was left on our minds concerning the source from which the commandment came. We all knew it was from God, but how to organize was the question. We knew we could not create priesthood; we had two high priests and one senior president of the seventies, but how could these men organize the church? It was impossible, utterly impossible. We counseled upon it and concluded that possibly under the present circumstances it might be right for high priests to ordain high priests, and for the senior president of seventies to ordain seventies, but when done, what would it accomplish?--nothing--just nothing. We were in trouble--deep trouble. To refuse to organize was disobedience--to go forward in the attempt was darkness. There was but one alternative, and that was to seek wisdom from above.
We sought, and in answer were told to appoint a day and come together fasting and praying, and the Lord would show us how to organize. We therefore appointed the day, dismissed the meeting, and went home rejoicing.8
Not until evening of the day appointed (March 20) were they able to meet for prayer on this important matter, but when all were assembled, the question for which all desired an answer was made known in almost childlike simplicity. It was:
Will the Lord please to tell us how to organize, that what we do may be acceptable unto him, and who among us will he acknowledge as the representative of the "legal heir" to the Presidency of the church.
After the meeting continued about an hour, a brother came to Gurley and asked if he had received any answer to the question. Gurley answered, "No." "Well, I have," said the brother. He sat down and wrote, and then read it to the assembly as follows:
Verily thus saith the Lord, as I said unto my servant Moses, "See thou do all things according to the pattern," so I say unto you. Behold the pattern is before you. It is my will that you respect authority in my church, therefore let the greatest among you preside at your Conference. Let three men be appointed by the Conference to select seven men from among you, who shall compose a majority of the Twelve [Apostles]; for it is my will that that quorum should not be filled up at present. Let the President of the Conference, assisted by ten others, ordain them. The senior of them shall stand as the representative. Let them select twelve men from among you and ordain them to compose my High Council. Behold ye understand the order of the Bishopric, the Seventies, the Elders, the Priests, Teachers, and Deacons. Therefore organize according to the pattern. Behold, I will be with you unto the end, even so. Amen.9
The man through whom this message came was H. H. Deam.
The long-looked-for time of conference came, the day upon which they were to organize, the day long expected and prayed for by the little group. Gurley relates the experience of the day:
The 6th of April finally came, and nearly all the church came together. On the 5th, as we had been commanded to organize, we thought it advisable to seek for instructions. We accordingly called a prayer meeting, and as we did not get the desired instruction, we continued it on the 6th. We were then told to organize by what was written. We supposed this referred to the books, of course. Our next step was to organize the Conference. This was now a difficult matter. As I have said, it had become a law to us that the one holding the highest priesthood should preside. There were present two high priests and one Senior President of the Seventies. The question now arose, Whose priesthood is the highest? The subject was discussed at length and what was strange to us all a good deal of ill feeling was manifested.
I have often thought of it. It seemed as though each one thought that the salvation of the church depended on the decision being made according to their respective views, so we argued--so we debated, till the close of the second day [a vote was taken to determine between high priests and seventy which was greatest, and the vote stood nine to nine.--Author] when we began to think the work was lost, and would to God that all Latter Day Saints could know the situation of the church at this time; our feelings--our deep distress--our great anxiety. I considered all was lost-lost-lost. We could not organize. Oh, the bitterness of that moment! We could not see "eye to eye." God had commanded us to do what we absolutely could not do. To my mind, and to the mind of others, our effort was a failure. Kind reader, when your eye falls upon these lines, know that at that time the one who is now penning this, asked God to remove him from the earth. Men who hitherto had been united--had seen "eye to eye"--had labored together as one man for the cause of truth, were now opposed to each other, and after a discussion of two days, learned to their mortification and sorrow, that they, to all human appearances, were forever separate. The Spirit the night before had told a few in a prayer meeting that tomorrow they should see "eye to eye." But the day closed, and we were farther apart than on the former evening. Our attempts were a failure. I repeat, Oh, the bitterness of that moment! Never, never can I forget it. Although since that time, darkness, like Egyptian night has at times seemed to shut out all light and exclude all hope, yet the recollection of that event has enabled me to rest satisfied that he who delivered us then still holds the reins in his own hands, and will bring his work to a glorious consummation, in his own way, and in his own time.
The conference adjourned for prayer meeting in the evening. We accordingly came together at early candlelight, and commenced the meeting as is usual on such occasions. For a short time it seemed as though the "prince of darkness" triumphed. After a little, one of the brethren arose and rebuked the Devil. Shortly afterward some sprang to their feet saying, "angels, angels, brethren, are near us!" and in a moment our darkness was turned into light. The transition was instantaneous. The glory of God, such as I never witnessed before, was manifest. The Spirit seemed to rest upon all in the house. Three were in vision, the Spirit testifying through others at the same time that the recording angel was present. And as we afterward learned, two of the three who were in vision saw the roll, while the third saw the angel and the roll. Just before the manifestation, the brother through whom the revelation had come on the 20th of March [Henry H. Deam] . . . arose to his feet and said, "Brethren, some kind of a spirit tells me that I have the commandment written that we need." He then said "I will read it, and I wish the church to pray, that we may know whether it is from God or not." He then took out and read the revelation which was given us on the 20th of March, remarking that he was not positive that the "Senior" should preside. It was then submitted to the church. . . . In reply to the inquiry as to whether the revelation was of God, the Spirit through a number answered that it was. We were then told that the Lord had withheld his Spirit from his elders to show them that they had not sufficient wisdom in and of themselves to organize. . . . We were then commanded to organize according to the revelation given the 20th of March, with the assurance that the Lord would be with us to the end.
The congregation that evening was large. The schoolhouse [at Argyle, Wisconsin] was filled literally full of Saints, and I believe that everyone was satisfied that that revelation was from God, and that the angel that keeps the record of the Lord's work in every dispensation was in our midst.10
J. W. Briggs speaks also of that prayer meeting "by early candlelight" on that memorable April night:
It was at this meeting that [there was] an exhibition of power, light, and unity of spirit above any ever before witnessed among us. Tongues were spoken and interpreted; hymns were sung in tongues and the interpretation sung; prophecy and visions were exercised here for the first time to the writer. Many sang in tongues in perfect harmony at once, as though they constituted a well-practiced choir. Angels appeared and were seen by some, and a testimony of their presence given by others affirming one of them to be the recording angel, who exhibited a partially unrolled parchment as an unfinished record upon which we were assured should be recorded the act we were called upon to perform in the reorganization of the church, confirmation of the foregoing revelation of the 20th of March, given enjoining obedience to the same. The evident proofs of divine direction were so strong that doubt disappeared, while the light was so clear to all that diversity of opinion ceased, and the whole people were truly of one heart and one soul. And on the next morning at the opening of the session, the revelation of March 20 was presented to the conference, and accepted as such by unanimous voice after which the following persons were chosen as the three to select the seven to be ordained into the Quorum of Twelve Apostles: Cyrus Newkirk, Ethan Griffith, and William Cline, who selected the following seven persons, who were accepted by the conference, and ordained according to the instruction previously given: Zenas H. Gurley, senior, Jason W. Briggs, Henry H. Deam, Reuben Newkirk, John Cunningham, George White, and Daniel B. Rasey. The ordinations took place in the afternoon session [on April 8, 1853] in the following order: Henry H. Deam was first ordained by Jason W. Briggs, assisted by Zenas H. Gurley and Reuben Newkirk, then Henry H. Deam, assisted by Zenas Gurley and Reuben Newkirk, ordained Jason W. Briggs; then Jason W. Briggs, assisted by Henry H. Deam and Reuben Newkirk, ordained Zenas H. Gurley; and then Jason W. Briggs, assisted by Henry H. Deam and Zenas H. Gurley, ordained the other four of the seven chosen.11
Thus in a simple, humble manner the reorganization of the church took place. The conference closed with another wonderful testimony meeting and the special charge to the new members of the Quorum of the Twelve, who were now to "take the oversight of the flock."
On that last day also the Twelve met to choose their president, and the Quorum, following the Latter Day Saint custom from the beginning, offered the presidency to the oldest man among them, Zenas H. Gurley, who declined, as did Henry H. Deam, next in age, therefore the choice fell upon Jason W. Briggs, who was made president of the Quorum.12
Twenty seventies were also chosen and ordained. At the special closing prayer meeting, the Twelve were told in prophecy:
"I give unto you the care of my flock on earth; take the oversight of them, as you shall give an account unto me in the day of judgment."
Zenas H. Gurley admits that he had thought it impossible to obey the command of the Lord to organize, "not having authority to ordain apostles, but we learn what every Latter Day Saint must learn, that a command from God is authority to do all that he requires, be it more or less."13
1 The use of the word "reorganize" as referring to the church
has been much misunderstood, but it is literally correct according to the dictionary use
of the word which is "organize again" or "anew"--and organize, among
other meanings is to "rehabilitate," "get in working order." The men
who reorganized the church did not plan a new organization, but accepted individuals and
whole congregations upon their original baptism.
2 The Messenger, Volume 2, page 9.
3 Plaintiff's Abstract in the Temple Lot Suit, page 396.
4 Church record in office of Historian, Auditorium, Independence, Missouri; Church History, Volume 3, pages 209, 210.
5 The Messenger, Volume 2, page 17; Church History, Volume 3, page 212.
6 O1d Church Record, page 7; Church History, Volume 8, page 213.
7 True Latter Day Saints' Herald, Volume 1, pages 53, 54; Church History, Volume 3, page 215.
8 True Latter Day Saints' Herald, pages 54, 55; Church History, Volume 3 pages 216, 217.
9 True Latter Day Saints' Herald, page 53; Church History, Volume 3, pages 217, 218. (See footnote on page 218 of Volume 3.)
10 True Latter Day Saints' Herald, Volume 1, pages 56, 57.
11 The Messenger, Volume 2, pages 21, 22; Church History, Volume 3, pages 223.
12 It should be noted that Jason W. Briggs presided over the church from 1853 to 1860 as president pro tem., not because of his ordination to the office of high priest under Strang, but by virtue of his apostleship, the honor of presiding having been declined by Zenas H. Gurley and Henry H. Deam.
13 The True Latter Day Saints' Herald, Volume 1, page 58.
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