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Sermon delivered at Washington, D.C. on February 5, 1840
Sources: Matthew L. Davis 1 ms history of the church, book C-1, 152-53 (by Thomas Bullock); see also HC 4:78. Also, an anonymous reporter.
Davis ReportReport in March 6, 1840 edition of the Christian Advocate and Journal

Description of Joseph Smith

"Washington 6th February 1840 My Dear Mary- I went last evening to hear Joe Smith, the celebrated Mormon, expound his doctrine. I with several others, had a desire to understand his tenets as explained by himself. He is not an educated man: but he is a plain, sensible strong minded man. Everything he says, is said in a manner to leave an impression that he is sincere. There is no levity, no fanaticism, no want of dignity in his deportment. He is apparently from forty to forty five years of age, rather above the middle stature, and what you ladies would call a very good looking man. ln his garb there are no peculiarities, his dress being that of a plain unpretending citizen. He is by profession a Farmer; but is evidently well read.
A delegation of the "Mormons" having been in this city [Washington] some time, to seek remuneration of congress for their Missouri losses, Joseph Smith ("Jo Smith" as known to fame) has held one or two meetings here. I dropped in a little while on the evening of the 4th instant to see and hear. . . [he] is a stout, square-built man of about thirty or thirty-five years of age, of prepossessing manner, and look, and shrewd mind.
He has evidently a good English education, and is an energetic, impassioned speaker.

Statement of Fundamental Beliefs

He commenced by saying, that he knew the prejudices which were abroad in the world against him, but requested us to pay no respect to the rumors which were in circulation respecting him or his doctrines. He was accompanied by three or four of his followers - He said, "I will state to you, our belief, so far as time will permit"

God Exists

I believe, said he, that there is a God, possessing all the attributes ascribed to Him by all Christians of all denominations, that^he reigns over all things in Heaven and on Earth, and that all are subject to his power. He then spoke, rationally, of the attributes of Divinity, such as foreknowledge, mercy &c., &c.

Believes the Bible

He then took up the Bible. I believe, said he, in this sacred volume. In it the "Mormon" faith is to be found. We teach nothing, but what the Bible teaches. We believe nothing but what is to be found in this Book.

Foreknowledge not the Same as Foreordination

^ I Believe in the fall of man, as recorded in the Bible 2I believe that God foreknew every thing; but did not fore ordain every thing; I deny that foreordain and foreknow is the same thing. He fore ordained the fall of man; but all merciful as he is, he foreordained at the same time, a plan for Redemption for all mankind.

Christ Died for Sins of All - Original Sin

I believe in the Divinity of Jesus Christ, and that he died for the sins of all men, who in Adam had fallen - He then entered into some details, the result of which tended to show his total unbelief of what is termed original sin. He believes that it is washed away by the Blood of Christ, and that it no longer exists - As a necessary consequence, he believes, that we are all born pure and undefiled.

Little Children

That all children dying at an early age (say eight years) not knowing good from evil, were incapable of sinning; and that all such assuredly go to Heaven.

Man is Free

I believe, said he, that a man is a moral, responsible, free agent, that although it was foreordained he should fall, and be redeemed, yet after the redemption it was not fore ordained that he should again sin. In the Bible a rule of conduct is laid down for him, In the old and new Testaments the law by which he is to be governed may be found. If he violates that law, he is to be punished for the deeds done in the body.

God had no Beginning

I believe that God is eternal. That He had no beginning, and can have no end. Eternity means that which is without beginning or End.

Soul had no Beginning

I believe that the Soul is Eternal. It had no beginning; it can have no end.
3

Ring Illustration(?)

Here he entered into some explanations, which were so brief that I could not perfectly comprehend him. But the idea seemed to be that the soul of man, the Spirit, had existed from Eternity in the bosom of Divinity; and so far as he was intelligible to me, must ultimately return from whence it came -

No Beginning - No End Axiom

He said very little of rewards and punishments. but one conclusion, from what he did say was irresistible. He contended throughout, that every thing which had a beginning must have an ending 4 ; and consequently if the punishment of man commenced in the next world, it must, according to his logic and belief have an end.
The doctrines he professes in Washington are similar to those of the Campbellites of the west, laying great stress on baptism "FOR" the remission of sins. He quotes from the New Testament readily in his addresses. He took good care, as there was an intelligent congregation, including several members of congress, present, to say but little about the "Book of Mormon."

Mormonism Moral

During the whole of his address, and it occupied more than two hours, there was no opinion or belief that he expressed, that was calculated, in the slightest degree, to impair the morals of society, or in any manner to degrade and brutalize the human species. There was much in his precepts, if they were followed that would soften the asperities of man towards man, and that would tend to make him a more rational being than he is generally found to be. There was no violence, no fury, no denunciation. His religion appears to be the religion of meekness, lowliness, and mild persuasion.

Joseph's Humility

Towards the close of his address, he remarked that he had been represented as pretending to be a Savior, a worker of miracles, &c., all this was false, He made no such pretensions. He was but a man, he said, a plain, untutored man; seeking what he should do to be saved. He performed no Miracles. He did not pretend to possess any such power -

Joseph - Book of Mormon Consistent with the Bible

He closed by referring to the Mormon Bible, which, he said, contained nothing inconsistent or conflicting with the Christian Bible, and he again repeated that all who would follow the precepts of the Bible, whether Mormon or not, would assuredly be saved, Throughout his whole address he displayed strongly, a Spirit of Charity and Forbearance -
The Prophet, or inspired penman, (whichever title he prefers, for he averred to the meeting that he was inspired to write the golden Bible, or the "Book of Mormon," a copy of which he held in his hand,) . . .

Book of Mormon Communicated From Heaven5

The Mormon Bible, he said, was communicated to him, direct from Heaven. If there was such a thing on earth, as the author of it, then he (Smith) was the Author; but the idea that he wished to impress was, that he had penned it as dictated by God. I have taken some pains to explain this man's belief., as he himself explained it, I have done so, because, it might satisfy your curiosity, and might be interesting to you, and some of your friends.
He averred . . . that nobody wrote it but him, and that it contained nothing contrary to the Bible, or its virtue.
I have changed my opinion of the Mormons. They are an injured and much-abused people. Of matters of Faith, you know I express no opinion. In describing the sufferings of his followers in Missouri he was somewhat eloquent, as he has a good voice for the pathetic.
I have only room to add - let William, if you cannot do it, acknowledge the receipt of this, with the enclosure. Remember me to Sarah and the Boys - Kiss the dear Baby for me - Affectionately your Husband. M. L. Davis - I omitted to say, he does not believe in Infant Baptism, Sprinkling, but in immersion, after eight years of age" To Mrs Matthew L. Davis, 107 Henrystreet New York."

Notes

1. Matthew Livingston Davis, well-known journalist and friend and biographer of Aaron Burr. Davis was a correspondent for a number of newspapers of the day both domestic and foreign. This letter may have been published but a published version of the time has not been recovered. The provenance of the letter is unknown, except that it appears in the ms history of the Church and so was in the possession of the church historians before 1854. Possibly it was clipped from a paper by an associate of Joseph Smith. Comments in eastern newsprint often made their way with surprising rapdity to Nauvoo. The US postal service was the distribution service for newsprint. About 70% percent of the mail volume of the day was news paper. From the beginning, such distribution was heavily discounted compared to letter delivery. Joseph was in the East at this point seeking redress for damages suffered by the Mormons in Missouri (see HC 4:75f). The earliest surviving imprint of the letter is in the Deseret News of July 27, 1854 in the History of the Church serial. In the early 20th century, Andrew Jensen and co. inserted a cutting of this letter from the News into the Journal History under the date of the sermon.

2. This insertion in the ms history is written in a different ink, possibly by a different hand.

3. See 5Jan41 and 7Apr44 and note 1 at the latter. This "Washinton Discourse" seems to have clear references to the Book of Abraham text.

4. We see in this sermon several references to the Book of Abraham, as yet unpublished. This appears to be one of the earliest explicit references to the "no beginning, no end" axiom which flows through teachings of Joseph Smith until his death. It is possible however that it was used in 1839 too.

5. One of the themes Joseph Smith pursued in several sermons given during his trip to Washington was the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. See Philadelphia discourse given 1Jan40.


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