Ezra Booth was a talented Methodist preacher who visited Joseph Smith at his home in Kirtland in 1831 with his wife, John and Elsa Johnson, and some others. An early history of Disciples of Christ in northern Ohio reported that
Mrs. Johnson had been afflicted for some time with a lame arm, and was not at the time of the visit able to lift her hand to her head. The party visited Smith partly out of curiosity, and partly to see for themselves what there might be in the new doctrine. During the interview, the conversation turned on the subject of supernatural gifts, such as were conferred in the days of the apostles. Some one said, “Here is Mrs. Johnson with a lame arm; has God given any power to men now on the earth to cure her?” A few moments later, when the conversation had turned in another direction, Smith rose, and walking across the room, taking Mrs. Johnson by the hand, said in the most solemn and impressive manner: “Woman, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I command thee to be whole,” and immediately left the room.1
Ezra Booth and the Johnsons joined the Church. They knew God had restored the New Testament gift of healing to Joseph Smith. Knowing that God worked through Joseph, however, is not the same as being converted by the Savior’s gospel. Ezra went with Joseph and many others to Missouri in the summer of 1831. He judged everything Joseph said and did with a jaundiced eye. He found fault with Joseph’s personality and prophecies. Then, casting himself as a public servant, Ezra wrote nine letters against Joseph that were published in the Ohio Star newspaper.2
Ezra’s letters claimed that Joseph’s revelations were false and that Zion in Missouri was a scam. Ezra justified his failures to do what the revelations commanded and persuaded himself, and perhaps others, that Joseph was “quite dictatorial” and no prophet after all. What about that nagging miracle Ezra had witnessed? The fact that Elsa Johnson was healed could not be denied, even by Joseph’s most outspoken antagonists. So a subsequent history explained that the “infinite presumption” of Joseph Smith gave Elsa Johnson a “sudden mental and moral shock—I know not how better to explain the well attested fact—electrified the rheumatic arm—Mrs. Johnson at once lifted it up with ease, and on her return home the next day she was able to do her washing without difficulty or pain.”3
Ezra’s letters raised public consciousness of Joseph Smith and the restoration.4 In section 71, the Lord called Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon to take a break from revising the Bible to take advantage of the opportunity Ezra gave them to declare the gospel in the area and set the record straight.
Joseph and Sidney enjoyed obeying this revelation. “Knowing now the mind of the Lord,” Joseph wrote, “that the time had come that the gospel should be proclaimed in power and demonstration to the world, from the scriptures, reasoning with men as in days of old, I took a journey to Kirtland, in company with Elder Rigdon, on the 3d day of December to fulfill the . . . Revelation.”5Sidney Rigdon replied to Ezra Booth in the pages of the Ohio Star and invited him to meet publicly.6 For nearly six weeks Joseph and Sidney
continued to preach in Shalersville, Ravenna, and other places, setting forth the truth; vindicating the cause of our Redeemer: showing that the day of vengeance was coming upon this generation like a thief in the night: that prejudice, blindness, and darkness, filled the minds of many, and caused them to persecute the true church, and reject the true light: by which means we did much towards allaying the excited feelings which were growing out of the scandalous letters then being published.7
Since Ezra Booth, many others have wielded weapons against the restored gospel. The Lord’s policy, as stated in Section 71, is to “let them bring forth their strong reasons against the Lord.” Such opposition facilitates agency and fulfills prophecy. It compels people to consciously choose whether to believe in Joseph Smith’s testimony, and it honors Moroni’s unlikely promise to the obscure, teenage Joseph that his “name should be had for good and evil among all nations . . . or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people” (Joseph Smith—History, 1:33).
In section 73, the Lord told the elders to continue preaching the good news while Joseph and Sidney returned to revising the Bible and preaching locally as best they could.8
1. A.S. Hayden, Early History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve, Ohio (Cincinnati: Chase and Hall, 1875), 250.
2. “History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834],” p. 153, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed June 5, 2020.
3. A.S. Hayden, Early History, 250.
4. Wesley Perkins to Jacob Perkins, February 11, 1832, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.
5. “History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834],” p. 176, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed June 5, 2020.
6. Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 599 fn. 2; Richard S. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess (Salt Lake City: Signature, 1994), 111.
7. “History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834],” p. 179, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed June 5, 2020.
From Doctrine and Covenants Minute
While work on publishing the revelations moved forward, hostility to the Church was rising as well. Two former elders of the Church, Ezra Booth and Symonds Rider, had begun to stir up opposition to the work. In the Ohio Star (a newspaper in nearby Ravenna, Ohio), Ezra Booth published a series of letters criticizing the Church. Booth developed this negative opinion of the Church after he was called to travel to Missouri to help locate the place for the city of Zion (D&C 52:23). He was unimpressed with the appearance of Independence, Missouri, and caused contention among the missionaries during the journey home. Shortly after he returned to Ohio, he began to push against the Church. In one of his letters to the Ohio Star, Booth claimed that “a journey of one thousand miles to the west, has taught me more abundantly, than I should have learned from any other source . . . the imbecility of human nature, and especially my own weakness.” He called on members of the Church to “look at [Mormonism] with their own eyes, and no longer suffer these strangers to blind your eyes, and daub you over with their untampered mortar.”1
A few months before Booth began publishing his letters, Symonds Rider became disaffected from the Church as well. He gave a copy of a revelation titled “The Laws of the Church of Christ” (D&C 42) to the Western Courier, another newspaper in Ravenna, Ohio. Rider claimed that Church leaders had been “commanded not to communicate it to the world, nor even to their followers, until they become strong in the faith.”2 Rider believed that the revelation, which contained the instructions on how to live the law of consecration, was part of a plot “to take their property from them and place it under the control of Joseph Smith the prophet.”3
On December 1, 1831, Joseph Smith received a revelation in response to this new opposition. In this revelation, Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon were commanded to preach the gospel in the regions around where they lived to fight the falsehoods being spread by the enemies of the Church.4
1. Ezra Booth, letters I and VII, cited in E. D. Howe, Mormonism Unveiled.
2. “Secret Bye Laws of the Mormonites,” Western Courier, (Ravenna, OH), 1 September 1831; Painesville Telegraph, Painesville, OH, 1822–1986.
3. Symonds Rider, Hiram, OH, to A. S. Hayden, 1 February 1868, in Hayden, Early History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve, 221.
4. Joseph Smith— History, vol. A-1, p. 175, JSP.
In a revelation received in December 1831 (D&C 71), the Lord commanded Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon to counter the work of disaffected members like Ezra Booth and Symonds Rider. Assisted by several elders of the Church, Joseph and Sidney were largely successful in dispelling the spread of such falsehoods. Booth and Rider had declined Sidney Rigdon’s invitation to, in a public meeting, defend their claims. After working to quell such opposition, Joseph and Sidney then received a revelation commanding them to return to their work of translating the Bible. Joseph Smith gave the following account of events in his 1838 history, writing,
Myself and Elder [Sidney] Rigdon continued to preach in Shalersville, Ravenna, and other places, setting forth the truth; vindicating the cause of our Redeemer; shewing that the day of vengeance was coming upon this generation like a thief in the night: that prejudice, blindness, and darkness, filled the minds of many, and caused them to persecute the true church, and reject the true light: by which means we did much towards allaying the excited feelings which were growing out of the scandalous letters then being published in the “Ohio Star,” at Ravenna, by the before mentioned apostate Ezra Booth. On the 10th of January I received the following [D&C 73].5
5. Joseph Smith— History, vol. A-1, p. 179, JSP