Historical Context and Background of D&C 34

Early D&C 34 Copy
Early Copy of D&C 34
Source: JosephSmithPapers.org

Video Overview

Brief Synopsis by Steven C. Harper

“The greatest desire of my heart,” wrote Orson Pratt of his youth, “was for the Lord to manifest his will concerning me.” In the fall of 1829, eighteen-year-old Orson “began to pray very fervently, repenting of every sin.” Soon two elders, including his older brother Parley, came to his upstate New York neighborhood with the restored gospel and baptized Orson on his nineteenth birthday. “I traveled westward over two hundred miles to see Joseph Smith, the Prophet,” Orson recounted. He found Joseph in Fayette at the Whitmer home, where he asked Joseph for a revelation.1

“I well recollect the feelings of my heart at the time,” Orson said many years later. Joseph “retired into the chamber of old Father Whitmer, in the house where this Church was organized in 1830.” Joseph asked Orson and John Whitmer to join him upstairs, where he got his seer stone, put it into a hat, and asked Orson to write what he would say. Orson felt inexperienced and unworthy and asked if John could write, and the prophet said he could.2

Orson remembered how

the Lord in that revelation, which is published here in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, made a promise which to me, when I was in my youth, seemed to be almost too great for a person of as humble origin as myself ever to attain to. After telling in the revelation that the great day of the Lord was at hand, and calling upon me to lift up my voice among the people, to call upon them to repent and prepare the way of the Lord, and that the time was near when the heavens should be shaken, when the earth should tremble, when the stars should refuse their shining, and when great destructions awaited the wicked, the Lord said to your humble servant—“Lift up your voice and prophesy, and it shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost.” This was a particular point in the revelation that seemed to me too great for me ever to attain to, and yet there was a positive command that I should do it.3

The Lord chose Orson as an apostle in 1835 at age twenty-three. As commanded in his youth in Section 34, he lifted up his voice long and loud and cried repentance to a crooked generation until he died an old man in 1881. Brigham Young said of Orson, “If you were to chop up Elder Pratt into inch-square pieces, each piece would cry out, ‘Mormonism is true.’”4

1. Elden J. Watson, compiler, The Orson Pratt Journals (Salt Lake City, by the compiler, 1975), 9.

2. James R.B. Van Cleave, Richmond, Missouri, to Joseph Smith III, Plano, IL, September 29, 1878. Community of Christ Library and Archives. “History of Orson Pratt,” 10, Historian’s Office, Histories of the Twelve, ca. 1858–1880, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.

3. Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (London and Liverpool: LDS Booksellers Depot, 1855–86), 17:290.

4. Quoted in Breck England, The Life and Thought of Orson Pratt (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1985), xi.

Additional Context by Casey Paul Griffiths

From Doctrine and Covenants Minute

After his conversion to the Church, Parley P. Pratt was anxious to share the gospel with members of his own family, so in September 1830 he traveled to his hometown of Canaan, New York, where he preached to large crowds nearly every day. Parley later recalled that “the people, who had known me from a child, seemed astonished—knowing that I had had but little opportunity of acquiring knowledge by study; and while many were interested in truth, some began to be filled with envy, and with a lying, persecuting spirit.” He later recorded, “My father, mother, and aunt Van Cott, and many others began to believe the truth in part, but my brother Orson, a youth of nineteen years, received it will all his heart, and was baptized at that time, and has ever since spent his days in the ministry” (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, 2000, 41).

Regarding his own conversion, Orson Pratt later wrote, “For about one year before I heard of this Church, I had begun seriously in my own mind to inquire after the Lord. . . . I took the privilege, while others had retired to rest, to go out into the fields and wilderness, and there plead with the Lord, hour after hour, that he would show me what to do—that he would teach me the way of life, and inform and instruct my understanding.” Orson remembered that when he learned about the restored gospel, “I rejoiced with great joy, believing that the ancient principles of the Gospel were restored to the earth—that the authority to preach it was also restored. I rejoiced that my ears were saluted with these good tidings while I was yet a youth, and in the day, too, of the early rising of the kingdom of God. I went forward and was baptized. I was the only individual baptized in that country for many years afterward” (Journal of Discourses, 7:177).

In November 1830, Orson traveled to Fayette, New York, where he met Joseph Smith. It was during this visit that Joseph received a revelation for Orson, which is recorded in section 34.  An acquaintance of Orson’s later recorded a secondhand account of the reception of this revelation. He wrote that Orson

was anxious to know what his mission was and would be, and at Peter Whitmer Sr’s residence he asked Joseph whether he could not ascertain what his mission was, and Joseph answered him that he would see, & asked Pratt and John Whitmer to go upstairs with him, and on arriving there Joseph produced a small stone called a seer stone, and putting it into a Hat soon commenced speaking and asked Elder P[ratt] to write as he would speak, but being too young and timid and feeling his unworthiness he asked whether Bro. John W[hitmer] could not write it, and the Prophet said that he could: Then came the revelation. (James R. B. Van Cleave, Richmond, MO, to Joseph Smith III, Plano, IL, 29 Sept. 1878)