Saturday, January 21, 2023

President Joseph F. Smith Clarifies Doctrine

 (Submitted by Dennis B. Horne)


            Editorial note: The below quotations are excerpts from letters written by President Joseph F. Smith answering doctrinal inquiries received by him. His answers largely speak for themselves:


…I have this to say: it is certainly unwise for the Elders or any other member of the Church to advocate doctrines that are not clearly set forth in the revealed word of God, and concerning which, in consequence, difference of opinion exist. No good can come from it, but on the contrary, much evil may result. Had the Lord desired or designed that such doctrines should be promulgated, he would have clearly and fully defined them, as he has those beautiful and simple laws and ordinances known as “the first principles of the Gospel.” While it is far from my purpose to stifle thought and free speech among the brethren, or to brand as “false doctrine” any and every mystery of the kingdom, it is nevertheless my wish and my advice, in which Presidents Winder and Lund, my counselors, heartily join, that the Elders should not make a practice of preaching upon these abstruse themes, these partly revealed principles, respecting which there are such wide differences of belief.

            What is called the Adam-God doctrine may properly be classed among the mysteries. The full truth concerning it has not been revealed to us; and until it is revealed all wild speculations, sweeping assertions and dogmatic declarations relative thereto, are out of place and improper. We disapprove of them and especially the public expression of such views. In the absence of Elder K-----, and without any oral or written statement by him as to his belief regarding this doctrine, we do not feel called upon, nor would it be right to pass judgment in his case; but we will simply say that the accepted doctrine concerning our father Adam, the great sire of the human race, is as follows:

            He is Michael, the Ancient of Days, the future God of this earth, when it shall become celestialized and shine like unto a sea of glass mingled with fire, the glorified home of celestial beings forever. Hence Adam stands at the head of the human family, presides over them spiritually and temporally, and will come in due time as the Ancient of Days to call his children together, according to the scriptures, both ancient and modern. He will preside over them forever, and be their God eternally; this, of course, after the Millennial reign of Christ. Christ is not Adam, nor is Adam Christ, but both are eternal Gods, and it may even be said Fathers, since they are the parents of eternal or spiritual children. (Correspondence, Joseph F. Smith to Bishop Edward Bunker, February 27, 1902, 2)[1]



In all such matters as this there is one thing that should be kept constantly in mind, and that is, that the theories, speculations and opinions of man, however intelligent, ingenious and plausible, are not necessarily doctrines of the Church or principles that God has commanded his servants to preach. No doctrine is a doctrine of this Church until it has been accepted as such by the Church, and not even a revelation from God should be taught to his people until it has first been approved by the presiding authority—the one through whom the Lord makes known His will for the guidance of the saints as a religious body. The spirit of revelation may rest upon any one, and teach him or her many things for personal comfort and instruction. But these are not doctrines of the Church, and, however true, they must not be inculcated until proper permission is given.

            The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recognizes, outside the direct and heaven-inspired utterances of the prophet, seer and revelator, four standards of doctrine, namely, the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price, containing the revelations of God given in times past and present for the guidance, salvation and exaltation of his people. These books have been accepted by the Church, in general conference assembled, as its doctrinal standards, and nothing outside of them, whether true or false, has any practical bearing or significance, so far as the conduct of the Church is concerned. If our elders would always remember these things, and preach and practice accordingly, the differences you speak of would speedily disappear. We should avoid disputations, whatever our differences of opinion may be, and following the advice of Paul, all learn to speak the same things. Now to answer your questions:

            First – “Which is the God we worship throughout eternity, Father, Son or Adam?”

            We are to worship the Father in the name of the Son.[2]

            Second – “Did Adam live [as] a mortal being twice?”[3]

            There is nothing in the records named that so states, and it is not a true doctrine. . . .

            Fourth – “We lived our first estate before the world was; then, in Genesis 1:27, we find that ‘male and female created he them;’ next we have the fact, in Genesis 2:7, that man became a living soul, to live, suffer and die, and yet through these become as God is. Please explain fully the two seeming spiritual creations.”

            They are not both spiritual creations; the first was spiritual, the second was temporal. This is evident from Genesis 2:4, 5, where, in reference to the first or spirit creation, it speaks of the making of “the earth and the heavens,” “every plant of the earth before it was in the earth,” and “every herb of the field before it grew,” and of man before there was “a man to till the ground.” It is probably the use of the word “soul,” in Genesis 2:7 that confuses you. With us the souls is not the spirit, as with the world; the soul is the spirit and the body combined (D&C 88:15). It was not until the spirit or “breath of life” passed into the body that the Lord God formed “of the dust of the ground,” that “man became a living soul.”  (Correspondence, Joseph F. Smith to Sister Lillie Golsan [Autaugaville, Alabama], July 16, 1902)[4]



You seem to be somewhat charged with the spirit of inquiry which, however, appears to be in the air. Some of the most foolish queries imaginable are coming in from all quarters. You say the rumor is that when you were asked by a man of this town, if Joseph and Hyrum Smith had been resurrected that your reply was that, ‘their bones were gone’. Then you ask: “was Joseph and Hyrum ever brought to Salt Lake and buried?” To the latter question I answer No. Their remains were left in their silent resting place in Nauvoo where, in all probability, their ashes still remain. The man in your town, whoever he may be, reporting as above, does so out of whole cloth and with no foundation in fact that I have any knowledge of.

            Again you state that it is reported that I “stated in Rexburg, Idaho, in public, that I saw the Savior face to face and shook hands with him and saw the nail prints in his hands.” In answer to this I have only to say that to the best of my recollection I never made any such statement as the above either in Rexburg or any other place. It is very strange indeed how such stories get in circulation. Some people seem to be drawing largely upon their imagination but they should respect the truth sufficiently not to attribute these fancies to anyone else, not responsible for them.[5] (Correspondence, Joseph F. Smith to Joseph J. Porter, [Escalante, Utah], February 11, 1902)



            You ask: “Is the Spirit of the Lord and the Holy Ghost one and the same?” When they are used synonymously – yes – and they are frequently used in the same sense. But literally – they are not one and the same. Sec. 84, pg. 45-46 D&C has no reference to the Holy Ghost, who is a personage of spirit (D&C 130:22) but to the spirit of God which giveth light to every man that cometh into the world. The Holy Ghost is only given to those baptized, etc.

            Question 2: ‘Was the Apostle Paul one of the Twelve Apostles?” To my mind, without doubt he was. How could he have met with the Twelve, and why should Peter have chided him for saying some things hard to be understood, etc. and how could he have been recognized and regarded as having authority—in the Church—if he had not been one of the Twelve? Could the House of God be a House of Order with Paul preaching the gospel as an apostle independently of the Twelve? It does not matter to me if the Bible is silent on the matter. Common sense and a knowledge of the order of the Priesthood proves to me beyond doubt that neither Paul nor Barnabas would have been recognized as Apostles if they had not been of the Twelve. (Correspondence, Joseph F. Smith to Brother Clark, February 10, 1902[6])



            Your letter . . . came duly to hand asking the following question: Is the stand taken correct that the church is built upon the Rock of Revelation, and is the subject referred to by Christ in speaking to Peter? I answer Yes. This has been the opinion and conclusion, as also the strong argument, of all the prominent writers in the Church from P.P. and Orson Pratt down to this day. The Catholics claim that Christ meant that Peter was the Rock. The Protestants that Christ was the Rock. Both must be wrong snice not one, then nor since, could possibly tell whether Peter was an Apostle or Jesus was the Christ without Revelation from God!

            It seems supremely ridiculous, to suppose that Jesus meant to build His Church upon Peter! And yet it is quite as consistent to believe that as to believe the Lord meant himself in this declaration: for not even the disciples could know or tell that Jesus was the Christ but by revelation from God. “Flesh and blood” could not reveal this truth unto them.

            The question was: “Whom do men say that I, the son of man, am?” . . . “Some say John the Baptist; some say Elias and others Jeremias; or one of the prophets”—“But whom say ye that I am?” And Peter said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona.” (Why blessed?) “For flesh and blood hath not revealed this unto thee but my Father who is in heaven. . . . and upon this rock (revelation from the Father in heaven) I will build my Church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” The words “And I say also unto thee that thou are Peter” were spoken but I emphasize the great principle of Revelation from God by which Peter knew that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God.

            The Church of Christ was and is built upon the Rock of Revelation and the Apostles and prophets are the foundation stone, Christ himself being the chief cornerstone. (Correspondence, Joseph F. Smith to George E. Browning, Ogden UT, July 17, 1902)



            If I understand you aright, you wish to know if you are doing wrong, as a Latter-day Saint, in studying the principles of socialism, and in joining a socialistic club for that purpose.

            In answer to your question I will say that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints disapproves of its members joining societies and organizations of all kinds whose influence and teachings would have a tendency to divert their interests in other directions than the one great purpose for which this church was instituted, namely, the building up of the kingdom of God. It makes no war on any sect or system, but it defends itself against all inroads attempted to be made upon faith and allegiance of its members. It encourages them to seek learning out of the “best books,” but it depreciates among all other evils the waste of time and demoralization involved in the study of vain philosophy and the foolish vagaries of men.

            I would not be understood as singling out Socialism and stigmatizing it. I am now speaking generally. I believe that the system in question contains many beautiful theories, and that many of its aims are, but I am not prepared to recognize its avowed ultimate [goal?] as one of these. . . . I cannot see in it any resemblance to the “order of Enoch,” which you mention; for when that order is established and in full operation it will be found that the government of God still exists, and, in fact, that that is God’s government, for the salvation and exaltation of his children.

            Moreover, it is a plain inference from the teachings of the inspired prophets of ancient and of modern times, that during the great millennium, when Christ will reign and the United Order of Zion will flourish as never before upon this planet, other governments will coexist with it, other churches and nations will enjoy their rights and liberties under its benevolent and protecting care. This being the case, and this the character of the world in which we are taking part, is it not sufficient to belong to such a church, without connecting one’s self with any other sect or system which must of necessity be less consequential? In other words, if the Church of Christ, out of which the Kingdom of God shall grow, contains all that is necessary for the accomplishment of so grand and noble an object as the brotherhood of man, based upon true and righteous principles, what is the use of Socialism or any other ism to a Latter-day Saint, except in so far as it is interesting to note the gradual working of the leaven of the Gospel and the general progress of mankind toward the fulness of the truth?

            While I see no harm in the wise and intelligent study of socialistic principles, such of them at least as are true and as the teachings of the Gospel and the spirit of the Lord will approve, nor in belonging to a club or society having that as its only purpose, I would advise you, dear sister, to be prudent and careful, and not allow yourself to be drawn into any obligations, political or otherwise, that might possibly result from connecting one’s self with such an organization. I need not inform you that it is a part of the creed of a Latter-day Saint to “prove all things and hold fast to that which is good,” and that if “there is something virtuous, lovely, or of good report, or praiseworthy, we seek after those things,” recognizing them as part of our religion, which embraces all that is good and pure in the teachings of all men; but neither do I need to argue the necessity that exists for one who would be a savior to others, to keep his or her own feet firmly planted upon the Rock of Salvation.  (Correspondence, Joseph F. Smith to Miss Leila Marier, Lewisville Idaho, March 3, 1902)


[1] See also James R. Clark, Messages of the First Presidency 5:23-34.

[2] See also Clark, Messages 4:269-71, and “The Father and the Son,” here.

[3] This question is probably the result of foolishly trying to harmonize evolution with the teachings of the scriptures. The reasoning is supposedly that Adam, the first man, was the mortal offspring of an ape or some kind of neanderthal, that God then somehow made him immortal so he could fall; he fell and became mortal again and was cast out of the Garden of Eden with Eve. Pres. Smith is here rejecting this false theory. See also "The Origin of Man" Messages 4:199-06; "Pre-Existent States" Messages 4:261-65; "Letter to President Samuel O. Bennion" Messages 4:266-67, and Messages 5:289-90.

[4] See also “The Origin of Man,” Messages 4:199-206.

[5] The inquirer may have mistaken Pres. Joseph F. Smith for Elder Melvin J. Ballard. This type of mistaken identity with the general authorities was and is very common.

[6] Compare Clark, Messages 4:32-34 and 5:3-4

No comments:

Post a Comment