Historical Context and Background of D&C 24

Early D&C 24 Copy
Early Copy of D&C 24 Source: JosephSmithPapers.org

Video Overview

Brief Synopsis by Steven C. Harper

Joseph had a rough month between the Church’s Spirit-filled June conference in Fayette, New York, and this July 1830 revelation. He returned to his home in Pennsylvania and then visited the Saints in nearby Colesville, New York. Reverend John Sherer, who was losing some of his Presbyterian followers to the restored gospel, stirred prejudice against Joseph. Sherer’s followers interrupted baptismal services, and he finally kidnapped Emily Coburn in an attempt to prevent her baptism.

When several people who had been baptized, including Emma Smith, were to be confirmed, a constable arrested Joseph “on charge of being a disorderly person; of setting the country in an uproar by preaching the Book of Mormon.” The charges didn’t stick, but as soon as the court acquitted Joseph, a constable from the neighboring county arrested him again and hauled him over the county line. All the antagonistic witnesses could offer was hearsay. Newel Knight embarrassed the prosecution with his testimony. Public opinion began to turn in Joseph’s favor. The court again acquitted him as his persecutors threatened to tar and feather him. The formerly hostile constable helped Joseph escape to Emma’s sister’s house, where Emma anxiously waited.

She and Joseph finally returned to their Harmony, Pennsylvania, home the next day. He returned to Colesville a few days later with Oliver Cowdery to confirm the new converts, only to be chased all night by the same enemies. “Shortly after we returned home,” Joseph wrote, referring to sections 24 and 25, “we received the following commandments.”1

Section 24 is one of several revelations in which the Lord meets Joseph where he is. Though he has become larger than life to many, Joseph, like Nephi, thought of himself as a sinner who needed redemption through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. In Section 24 the Lord acknowledges both Joseph’s accomplishments and his sins, commanding him to sin no more.

Section 24 addresses Joseph’s concern about finances and how to provide for his family. It does not promise wealth, only that Joseph will have sufficient if he attends to his calling: “thou shalt devote all thy service in Zion.” Because Joseph devotes all his service to the Saints, the Saints are responsible to see that his family’s needs are met.

Oliver, too, is encouraged to give his all to the kingdom. Perhaps hoping to escape further persecution, both of the Church’s presiding elders are promised plenty of afflictions to endure. The Lord does, however, promise to smite anyone who uses violence against them. Those who use the law to persecute the prophet will find themselves cursed by the law. In sum, the two young apostles are now in the full-time service of the Lord. He promises to look after them as they trust him and take up his cross and follow him, devoting their lives wholly to his service.

1. “History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834],” p. 48, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed July 23, 2020.

Additional Context by Casey Paul Griffiths

From Doctrine and Covenants Minute

Doctrine and Covenants 24 was received during a time of intense persecution. At the time, the Church was organized around three locations, the Smith family in Palmyra, the Whitmer family in Fayette, and the Knight family in Colesville. During this time, persecution was intensifying around Colesville and near the childhood home of the prophet’s wife, Emma Smith. In the latter part of June 1830, meetings were held in Colesville, where a number of people, including Emma Smith, were received through baptism into the Church. Opponents of the Church in the area attempted to thwart the prophet’s aims by tearing down a small dam constructed in a local stream to facilitate the baptisms. Before Joseph was able to confirm the new members of the Church, he was approached by a constable who “arrested by him on a warrant, on charge of being a disorderly person; of setting the country in an uproar by preaching the Book of Mormon.” (JS, History, vol. A-1, 44, JSP).

Joseph later recorded, “The constable informed me, soon after I had been arrested, that the plan of those who had got out the warrant was to get me into the hands of the mob, who were now lying in ambush for me; but that he was determined to save me from them, as he had found me to be a different sort of person from what I had been represented to him.” On their way to the Knight home, the wagon was surrounded by a mob. The crowd hesitated upon seeing the constable with Joseph, and the constable was able to drive the wagon away from the mob. Traveling at high speed, one of the wheels fell off the wagon, though Joseph and the constable managed to put the wheel back on the wagon and again narrowly escape from the mob. The constable drove on to South Bainbridge, where he and Joseph stayed for the night. According to Joseph, the constable “slept during the night with his feet against the door, and a loaded musket by his side, whilst I occupied a bed which was in the room, he having declared that if we were interrupted unlawfully, that he would fight for me, and defend me as far as in his power.”

In the meantime, Joseph Knight began gathering witnesses to speak on Joseph’s behalf at the trial. Josiah Stowell, Joseph’s former employer; Stowell’s daughters; and several citizens from Colesville spoke on Joseph’s behalf. Joseph later wrote that Josiah Stowell’s daughters, “both bore such testimony in my favor, as left my enemies without a pretext on their account.” Acquitted and on the cusp of being freed, Joseph was suddenly served with a different warrant sworn out by enemies in nearby Broom County. Joseph was taken into custody by a second constable, this one much more hostile toward the Saints and their cause.

Joseph later wrote that the constable, “took me to a tavern, and gathered in a number of men, who used every means to abuse, ridicule, and insult me. They spit upon me, pointed their fingers at me, saying prophesy, prophesy, and thus did they imitate those who crucified the Savior of mankind, not knowing what they did.” The constable refused to let Joseph spend the night at home and refused to give him any more than just a few crusts of bread and water to eat. When it came time to sleep, the constable “made [Joseph] lie next [to] the wall; He then laid himself down by me, and put his arm around me; and upon my moving in the least, would clench me fast, fearing that I intended to escape from him: And in this disagreeable manner did we pass the night.”

The next day Joseph was brought to trial before the magistrate in Broom County. Several of Joseph’s friends stood before the court to testify on his behalf, including Newell Knight, from whom Joseph had recently cast out the devil through use of the priesthood. Joseph later wrote that those who testified on his behalf “spoke like men inspired of God, whilst those who were arrayed against me, trembled under the sound of their voices, and quailed before them like criminals before a bar of justice.” Joseph was acquitted, and afterward the constable who had abused him the night before apologized for his behavior and asked for forgiveness.

In the company of Oliver Cowdery, Joseph returned to Colesville to perform the confirmations of those who had been baptized. Soon rumors began to circulate that another mob was gathering to capture Joseph and Oliver. Joseph and Oliver departed just in time to escape the mob. “Our enemies pursued us, and it was oftentimes as much as we could do to elude them; however we managed to get home, after having travelled all night, except a short time,” Joseph later recorded, “during which we were forced to rest ourselves under a large tree by the way side, sleeping and watching alternately. And thus were we persecuted on account of our religious faith—in a country, the constitution of which, guarantees to every man the indefeasible right, to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience; and by men too, who were professors.”

A few days after their escape, Joseph and Oliver reflected on this sudden storm of persecution. Joseph recorded that though they “were forced to seek safety from our enemies by flight, yet did we feel confidence that eventually we should come off victorious, if we only continued faithful to Him who had called us forth from darkness, into the marvelous light of the Everlasting Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (JS, History, vol. A-1, 44–47, JSP).

See Historical Introduction, “Revelation, July 1830–A [D&C 24],” p. 32, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed November 5, 2020, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-july-1830-a-dc-24/1