In my studies, one story that I read has constantly bothered me. The story is about how Joseph Smith received a revelation sending some of the brethren on a trip to sell the copyright of the Book of Mormon. They went as they were told but were not able to complete the task. The explanation they received from Joseph Smith as to why is what concerns me. It is better to hear the whole story from the source, so here is the account of the revelation as told by David Whitmer in a book he wrote in 1887 called, An Address To All Believers In Christ, by a witness to the Devine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon. I hope it is not too long for you to take the time to read it. The last part is important to the point I am trying to make.
“When the Book of Mormon was in the hands of the printer, more money was needed to finish the printing of it. We were waiting on Martin Harris who was doing his best to sell a part of his farm, in order to raise the necessary funds. After a time Hyrum Smith and others began to get impatient, thinking that Martin was too slow and under transgression for not selling his land at once, even if at a great sacrifice. Brother Hyrum thought they should not wait any longer on Martin Harris, and that the money should be raised in some other way. Brother Hyrum was vexed with Brother Martin, and thought they should get the money by some means outside of him, and not let him have anything to do with the publication of the Book, or receiving any of the profits thereof if any profits should accrue. He was wrong in thus judging Bro. Martin, because he was doing all he could toward selling his land. (Page 30)
"Brother Hyrum said it had been suggested to him that some of the brethren might go to Toronto, Canada, and sell the copy-right of the Book of Mormon for considerable money: and he persuaded Joseph to inquire of the Lord about it. Joseph concluded to do so. He had not yet given up the stone. Joseph looked into the hat in which he placed the stone, and received a revelation that some of the brethren should go to Toronto, Canada, and that they would sell the copy-right of the Book of Mormon. Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery went to Toronto on this mission, but they failed entirely to sell the copy-right, returning without any money. Joseph was at my father's house when they returned. I was there also, and am an eye witness to these facts. Jacob Whitmer and John Whitmer were also present when Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery returned from Canada. Well, we were all in great trouble; and we asked Joseph how it was that he had received a revelation from the Lord for some brethren to go to Toronto and sell the copy-right, and the brethren had utterly failed in their undertaking. Joseph did not know how it was, so he enquired of the Lord about it, and behold the following revelation came through the stone: "Some revelations are of God: some revelations are of men: and some revelations are of the devil." So we see that the revelation to go to Toronto and sell the copy-right was not of God, but was of the devil or of the heart of man. When a man enquires of the Lord concerning a matter, if he is deceived by his own carnal desires, and is in error, he will receive an answer according to his erring heart, but it will not be a revelation from the Lord." (Page 31)
Now, ok, first I have to comment briefly on the whole stone in the hat thing. For years, I heard non-Mormons talk about how Joseph received revelation by putting a stone in a hat and putting it over his face. This sounded so absurd that I could not bring myself to believe it, especially since I had never heard that in all my years in Sunday school and other church classes. Some might ask if that is a significant omission and I have to say that it is. My reason for thinking that it is something that the church leaders do not want to talk about is the topic of my next blogs where I will talk more about the early life of Joseph and the translation of the Book of Mormon.
To the point I would like to focus on. When Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery returned from Toronto empty handed and disillusioned, questioning the revelation. The answer they received from Joseph was one that should have been alarming to them and one that should send up a red flag to everyone that hears it. "Some revelations are of God: some revelations are of men: and some revelations are of the devil."
What I find so troubling about this statement is that at this point in his life; Joseph Smith already had many “experiences” with revelation and visions and was the prophet. He claimed to have seen God, Jesus, Moroni, John the Baptist, Peter, James, and John amongst others, not to mention the revelation needed to actually translate the golden plates. If all that is true, then how is it that he, as the prophet, could not tell the difference between a revelation from God or Satan? Shouldn’t he know the difference by now? If he could not tell one from the other, then how can we trust that anything he claims to be revelation actually came from God and not the devil?
My wife reminded me of this scripture that I thought was appropriate for this situation.
2 Corinthians 11:13-15
13For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.
14And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.
15Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.
I also found this one…
2 Nephi 9:9
9 And our spirits must have become like unto him, and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself; yea, to that being who beguiled our first parents, who transformeth himself nigh unto an angel of light, and stirreth up the children of men unto secret combinations of murder and all manner of secret works of darkness.
I can’t help but question Joseph’s ability to discern revelation from God from that of Satan. If he himself had been deceived by the devil on something relatively small like the Toronto revelation, how do we know he was not deceived on other occasions as well?
Some of his visions and revelations relate to these scriptures. He refers to the first vision as seeing an angel in a pillar of light and Moroni was surrounded by light. Could these possibly be the “angel of light” spoken of in these passages? Could the “secret combinations” be what is practiced in the temple? What about the “murder” and “secret works of darkness” mentioned in 2 Nephi? I can find many accounts in early Mormon history that speak of these types of things. The Meadow Mountain Massacre, Blood Atonement and others are documented proof that Mormon leaders sanctioned and condoned these types of practices. Is it possible that Satan, disguised as the “angel of light”, used Joseph Smith to lead away millions of people and destroy the salvation of their loved ones for generations to come?
These questions have plagued my mind for a while now and I don’t expect I will get an answer for them any time in this life. I remember being taught, “By their fruits you shall know them.” Personally, I have seen all the fruits I need to see from Joseph Smith to know that he was nothing close to what he claimed to be.