Sermons and Instructions of Joseph Smith During the Year 1841

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The year 1841 saw the creation of the Nauvoo Lyceum (Latin from the Greek Lykeion, the gymnasium near Athens where Aristotle held forth), a sort of adult education system common in many towns of the era. 1 The Nauvoo Lyceum met at various homes and discussed various (generally religious) questions. Joseph Smith took part and used the opportunity to give some of his views on matters of religion and philosophy. Joseph Smith had some experience in these debate-discussion forums, having first participated in such a "school" in Palmyra as a youth. Pomeroy Tucker in his history of the region noted Joseph's participation. In Kirtland, Ohio another such society was organized and was the occasion for some conflict in the Smith family between Joseph and the ever irascible William Smith. Of course the Kirtland "School of the Prophets" was a more formal version of this educational effort.

In Joseph's Lyceum discussions and the other instances of preaching and instruction during this year, several themes are continued. The "no beginning, no end axiom" resurfaces several times as well as other matters explicitly connected to the yet unpublished book of Abraham (chapter 3), a consistent thread since 1839. Additionally, the doctrine of God once having been a mortal on some planet is inferred in his 5Jan41 speech at the first Lyceum (i.e., God is a resurrected being). Another book of Abraham doctrine that will receive continued emphasis in following years is the notion of the "Grand Council" in Heaven, and the "presidency of heaven" (facsmile 3 of the Book of Abraham) appears in 9Mar41 instruction.

The doctrine of physical embodiment both divine and human is clearly a book of Abraham theme (second estate), and links many of the Prophet's sermons and thoughts together, including the temple ordinances. Temple themes include several returns to the idea of detecting an evil spirit which appears "as an angel of light" later to be systematized in the "Endowment" introduced in May 1842 (the notion of "key words" is another instance of the book of Abraham translation finding its way into Joseph Smith's teachings). These doctrinal threads will continue to run through Joseph Smith's sermons during the following years as well as the "John 14" doctrines first talked about (prior to) August 1839. Baptism for the dead continues to be discussed and begins to be expanded (see 3Oct41 for example) to the notion of binding and loosing in heaven and on earth by the priesthood. In the following year this will be taught privately in terms of marriage for eternity. The notion of becoming "saviors on Mt. Zion" by means of doing baptisms for dead ancestors receives emphasis.

The attention on building the temple becomes heavy with the announcement in October that no more baptisms for the dead may be performed until the temple font can be used. Furthermore, Joseph tells the members that no more conferences will be held until they can be held in the temple. This latter proscription was terminated however long before the completion of the temple, indeed conference was held as usual the next April. Actually accomodating the conference in the temple would have been impossible as a completed building but it could be held on or near the newly laid foundation. This was apparently sufficient. The temple walls rose slowly over the next three years. The building would not be dedicated for use until 1846, nearly two years after Joseph Smith's death.

Significant time is also spent on the doctrines of "resurrection and eternal judgement" as "first principles" of the gospel (based on Hebrews 6:1-2). This could almost be characterized as a campaign to get the Saints to take it seriously. The meaning of eternal judgement in these sermons is the lack of forgiveness for murder and the sin against the Holy Ghost. Later, Joseph will note that these two sins break the "seals" of the priesthood. In the case of murder however, eventual release from the "prison house" is taught (King David is used as an example of one who is still in the spiritual prison as well as the Jews who moved to have Christ crucified - here reference is made to Peter's Pentecost sermon). Both Joseph and Hyrum Smith gave lectures on the subject. This emphasis on the consequences of murder is continued in Joseph's remaining years. As the doctrine of preexistence becomes more explicitly taught,2 Joseph Smith will emphasize the role played by those who become "sons of perdition" on earth as the group around whom the war in Heaven was fought. The existence of this class of persons forms a key part of Mormon theology from 1831 (with section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants) which apparently was not understood. Joseph will explain the reason for this emphasis in the following two years.

Sources containing Joseph Smith's public comments include the McIntire minute book, the Wilford Woodruff journal, and the Times and Seasons. All are found in WJS.


1. See Carl Bode, The American Lyceum: Town Meeting of the Mind, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1956).

2. The notion of preexistence may have been inferred earlier from the 1833 revelation now published as LDS D&C 93. See W. W. Phelps in Latter-day Saint Messenger and Advocate 1 (June 1835), 130. However, it is quite possible that Phelps derived his notions from the Book of Abraham text which was then being translated. The M&A was usually 6 weeks late in its appearance, so the June issue probably did not appear until near the end of July. Phelps wrote:

We shall by and by learn that we were with God in another world, before the foundation of the world, and had our agency: that we came into this world and have our agency, in order that we may prepare ourselves for a kingdom of glory; become archangels, even the sons of God where the man is neither without the woman, nor the woman without the man in the Lord.
However, the latter portion regarding men and women in the hereafter is certainly an idea of earlier origin. Phelps wrote to his wife on May 26th:
A new idea Sally, if you and I continue faithful to the end, we are certain to be one in the Lord throughout eternity this is one of the most glorious consolations we can have in the flesh
[Original in possession of Phelps family.]
*Sermon checked for fidelity to source document(s).
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