History of the Church Vol.1
Chapter 4. [April 1829]
Oliver Cowdery Becomes the Prophet's Scribe-- The Translation of the Plates Continues.[For an explanation of abbreviations see volume 1, chapter 1]
[Copyright © 1997 BOAP all rights reserved]
ON the 5th day of April, 1829, Oliver Cowdery(1) came to my house, until which time I had never seen him. 1a He stated to me that having been teaching school in the neighborhood where my father resided, and my father being one of those who sent to the school, he went to board for a season at his house, and while there the family related to him the circumstance of my having received the plates, and accordingly he had come to make inquiries of me.(2) Two days after the arrival of Mr. Cowdery (being the 7th of April)(3) I commenced to translate the Book of Mormon, and he began to write for me, which having continued for some time, I inquired of the Lord through the Urim and Thummim, and obtained the following:
Revelation given April, 1829, to Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith, Jun.[D&C 6](3a)
1. A great and marvelous work is about to come forth unto the children of men.
2. Behold, I am God; give heed unto my word, which is quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword, to the dividing asunder of both joints and marrow, therefore give heed unto my words.
3. Behold, the field is white already to harvest, therefore, who so desireth to reap, let him thrust in his sickle with his might, and reap while the day lasts, that he may treasure up for his soul everlasting salvation in the kingdom of God.
4. Yea, whosoever will thrust in his sickle and reap, the same is called of God.
5. Therefore, if you will ask of me you shall receive; if you will knock it shall be opened unto you.
6. Now, as you have asked, behold, I say unto you keep my commandments, and seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion;
7. Seek not for riches but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold he that hath eternal life is rich.
8. Verily, verily, I say unto you, even as you desire of me so it shall be unto you; and if you desire, you shall be the means of doing much good in this generation.
9. Say nothing but repentance unto this generation; keep my commandments, and assist to bring forth my work, according to my commandments, and you shall be blessed.
10. Behold thou hast a gift,(4) and blessed art thou because of thy gift. Remember it is sacred and cometh from above--
11. And if thou wilt inquire, thou shalt know mysteries which are great and marvelous; therefore thou shalt exercise thy gift, that thou mayest find out mysteries, that thou mayest bring many to the knowledge of the truth, yea, convince them of the error of their ways.
12. Make not thy gift known unto any save it be those who are of thy faith.(5) Trifle not with sacred things.
13. If thou wilt do good, yea, and hold out faithful to the end thou shalt be saved in the kingdom of God, which is the greatest of all the gifts of God, for there is no gift greater than the gift of salvation.
14. Verily, verily, I say unto thee, blessed art thou for what thou hast done; for thou hast inquired of me, and behold, as often as thou hast inquired, thou hast received instruction of my Spirit. If it had not been so, thou wouldst not have come to the place where thou art at this time.
15. Behold, thou knowest that thou hast inquired of me and I did enlighten thy mind(6); and now I tell thee these things that thou mayest know that thou hast been enlightened by the spirit of truth;
16. Yea, I tell thee, that thou mayest know that there is none else save God that knowest thy thoughts and the intents of thy heart.
17. I tell thee these things as a witness unto thee--that the words or the work which thou hast been writing are true.
18. Therefore be diligent; stand by my servant Joseph, faithfully, in whatsoever difficult circumstances he may be for the word's sake.
19. Admonish him in his faults and also receive admonition of him. Be patient; be sober; be temperate; have patience, faith, hope and charity.
20. Behold, thou art Oliver, and I have spoken unto thee because of thy desire; therefore treasure up these words in thy heart. Be faithful and diligent in keeping the commandments of God, and I will encircle thee in the arms of my love.
21. Behold, I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I am the same that came unto mine own, and mine own received me not. I am the light which shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not.
22. Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things.
23. Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?
24. And now, behold, you have received a witness; for if I have told you things which no man knoweth, have you not received a witness?
25. And behold, I grant unto you a gift, if you desire of me, to translate even as my servant Joseph.
26. Verily, verily, I say unto you, that there are records which contain much of my gospel, which have been kept back because of the wickedness of the people;
27. And now I command you, that if you have good desires--a desire to lay up treasures for yourself in heaven--then shall you assist in bringing to light, with your gift, those parts of my scriptures which have been hidden because of iniquity.
28. And now, behold, I give unto you, and also unto my servant Joseph, the keys of this gift, which shall bring to light this ministry; and in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.
29. Verily, verily, I say unto you, if they reject my words, and this part of my gospel and ministry, blessed are ye, for they can do no more unto you than unto me;
30. And even if they do unto you even as they have done unto me, blessed are ye, for you shall dwell with me in glory.
31. But if they reject not my words, which shall be established by the testimony which shall be given, blessed are they, and then shall ye have joy in the fruit of your labors.
32. Verily, verily, I say unto you, as I said unto my disciples, where two or three are gathered together in my name, as touching one thing, behold, there will I be in the midst of them--even so am I in the midst of you.
33. Fear not to do good, my sons, for whatsoever ye sow that shall ye also reap; therefore, if ye sow good ye shall also reap good for your reward.
34. Therefore, fear not, little flock; do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail.
35. Behold, I do not condemn you, go your ways and sin no more; perform with soberness the work which I have commanded you.
36. Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.
37. Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet(7); be faithful, keep my commandments, and ye shall inherit the kingdom of heaven. Amen.
After we had received this revelation, Oliver Cowdery stated to me that after he had gone to my father's to board, and after the family had communicated to him concerning my having obtained the plates, that one night after he had retired to bed he called upon the Lord to know if these things were so, and the Lord manifested to him that they were true, but he had kept the circumstance entirely secret, and had mentioned it to no one; so that after this revelation was given, he knew that the work was true, because no being living knew of the thing alluded to in the revelation, but God and himself.(8)
During the month of April I continued to translate, and he to write, with little cessation, during which time we received several revelations. A difference of opinion arising between us about the account of John the Apostle, mentioned in the New Testament,(9) as to whether he died or continued to live,(10) we mutually agreed to settle it by the Urim and Thummim and the following is the word which we received:
Revelation, given to Joseph Smith, Jun., and Oliver Cowdery, in Harmony, Pennsylvania, April, 1829, when they desired to know whether John, the beloved disciple, tarried on earth or died. Translated from parchment, written and hid up by himself. (D&C 7)(11)
1. And the Lord said unto me, John, my beloved, what desirest thou? For if you shall ask what you will, it shall be granted unto you.
2. And I said unto him: Lord, give unto me power over death, that I may live and bring souls unto thee.
3. And the Lord said unto me: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, because thou desirest this thou shalt tarry until I come in my glory, and shall prophesy before nations, kindreds, tongues and people.
4. And for this cause the Lord said unto Peter; if I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? For he desired of me that he might bring souls unto me, but thou desiredst that thou mightest speedily come unto me in my kingdom.
5. I say unto thee, Peter, this was a good desire; but my beloved has desired that he might do more, or a greater work yet among men than what he has before done.
6. Yea, he has undertaken a greater work; therefore, I will make him as flaming fire and a ministering angel; he shall minister for those who shall be heirs of salvation who dwell on the earth.
7. And I will make thee to minister for him and for thy brother James; and unto you three I will give this power and the keys of this ministry until I come.
8. Verily I say unto you, ye shall both have according to your desires, for ye both joy in that which ye have desired.
Whilst continuing the work of translation, during the month of April, Oliver Cowdery became exceedingly anxious to have the power bestowed upon him,(12) and in relation to this desire the following revelations were obtained:
Revelation, given April, 1829. [D&C 8] (12a)
1. Oliver Cowdery, verily, verily, I say unto you, that assuredly as the Lord liveth, who is your God and your Redeemer, even so surely shall you receive a knowledge of whatsoever things you shall ask in faith, with an honest heart, believing that you shall receive a knowledge concerning the engravings of old records, which are ancient, which contain those parts of my scripture of which has been spoken by the manifestation of my Spirit.
2. Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.
3. Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground.
4. Therefore this is thy gift, apply unto it, and blessed art thou, for it shall deliver you out of the hands of your enemies, when, if it were not so, they would slay you and bring your soul to destruction.
5. Oh, remember these words, and keep my commandments. Remember, this is your gift.
6. Now this is not all thy gift; for you have another gift, which is the gift of Aaron(13); behold, it has told you many things;
7. Behold, there is no other power, save the power of God, that can cause this gift of Aaron to be with you.
8. Therefore, doubt not, for it is the gift of God; and you shall hold it in your hands, and do marvelous works; and no power shall be able to take it away out of your hands, for it is the work of God.
9. And, therefore, whatsoever you shall ask me to tell you by that means, that will I grant unto you, and you shall have knowledge concerning it.
10. Remember that without faith you can do nothing; therefore ask in faith. Trifle not with these things; do not ask for that which you ought not.
11. Ask that you may know the mysteries of God, and that you may translate and receive knowledge from all those ancient records which have been hid up, that are sacred; and according to your faith shall it be done unto you.
12. Behold, it is I that have spoken it; and I am the same that spake unto you from the beginning. Amen.
Revelation, given to Oliver Cowdery, April, 1829. [D&C 9] (14)
1. Behold, I say unto you, my son, that because you did not translate according to that which you desired of me, and did commence again to write for my servant, Joseph Smith, Jun., even so I would that ye should continue until you have finished this record, which I have entrusted unto him.
2. And then, behold, other records have I, that I will give unto you power that you may assist to translate.
3. Be patient, my son, for it is wisdom in me, and it is not expedient that you should translate at this present time.
4. Behold, the work which you are called to do is to write for my servant Joseph.
5. And, behold, it is because that you did not continue as you commenced, when you began to translate, that I have taken away this privilege from you.
6. Do not murmur, my son, for it is wisdom in me that I have dealt with you after this manner.
7. Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.
8. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
9. But if it be not right, you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.
10. Now, if you had known this you could have translated; nevertheless, it is not expedient that you should translate now.
11. Behold, it was expedient when you commenced; but you feared, and the time is past, and it is not expedient now;
12. For, do you not behold that I have given unto my servant Joseph sufficient strength, whereby it is made up? and neither of you have I condemned.
13. Do this thing which I have commanded you, and you shall prosper. Be faithful, and yield to no temptation.
14. Stand fast in the work wherewith I have called you, and a hair of your head shall not be lost, and you shall be lifted up at the last day. Amen.
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Notes Chapter 4
1. Joseph Knight, Sr. wrote of the coming of Oliver Cowdery,In the spring of 1829 Oliver Cowdery a young man from Palmry went to see old Mr. Smith [Joseph Smith, Sr.] about the Book that Joseph had found. And he told him about it and advised him to go Down to Pensylvany and see for him self and to write for Joseph. He went Down and Received a Revelation Concerning the work and he was Convinced of the truth of the work and he agreed to write for him till it was Done. Now Joseph and Oliver Came up to see me if I Could help him to some provisions, [they] having no way to Buy any. I Bought a Barral of Mackrel and some lined paper for writing. some nine or ten Bushels of grain and five or six Bushels taters and a pound of tea, and I went Down to see him and they ware in want. Joseph and Oliver ware gone to see if they Could find a place to work for provisions, and found none. They returned home and found me there with provisions, and they ware glad for they ware out.One of Cowdery's sisters states that "Oliver was brought up in Poultney, Rutland County, Vermont, and when he arrived at the age of twenty, he went to the state of New York, where his older brothers were married and settled. Oliver's occupation was clerking in a store until 1829, when he taught the district school in the town of Manchester" [Lucy Cowdery Young to Andrew Jenson, March 7, 1887, LDS Church Archives; see also Larry E. Morris, " Oliver Cowdery's Vermont Years and the Origins of Mormonism," BYUS 39/1 (2000),106-129.]
Oliver was the son of William Cowdery and Rebecca Fuller, born October 3, 1806 at Wells, Rutland County, Vermont. Besides writing most of the Book of Mormon at Smith's dictation, he participated in many of Joseph Smith's heavenly visitations. He was one of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon and one the six original members of the Church on April 6, 1830. He led a mission to the Indians of western Missouri in the winter of 1830. Ordained a High Priest August 28, 1831 by Sidney Rigdon. He married Elizabeth Ann Whitmer December 18, 1832. They had six children: Maria Louise, Elizabeth Ann, Josephine Rebecca, Oliver Peter, Adeline Fuller, and Julia Olive but no grandchildren. Performed various offices in the Church and was ordained Assistant President of Church on December 5, 1834. He assisted in choosing the first quorum of twelve apostles in 1835. Participated with Joseph Smith and received priesthood keys from Elijah, Elias, and Moses on April 3, 1836. He left Kirtland, Ohio and returned to Missouri in 1837. Arrived in Far West 20 October 1837. Oliver was excommunicated from the Church for apostasy on April 12, 1838 at Far West, Missouri. He then practiced law in Tiffin, Ohio, and Elkhorn, Wisconsin.
In his ten years outside the Church, Cowdery never succumbed to the considerable pressure to deny his Book of Mormon testimony. Indeed, letters to his LDS relatives show that he was hurt at the Church's rejection but remained a deep believer. Feeling that his character had been slandered, he asked for public exoneration, explaining that anyone would be sensitive about reputation "had you stood in the presence of John with our departed Brother Joseph, to receive the Lesser Priesthood, and in the presence of Peter, to receive the Greater".
These statements contradict a pamphlet that Oliver was alleged to have published in 1839 as a "Defense" for leaving the Church. Surfacing in 1906, it portrays Oliver as confused about seeing John the Baptist. But no original exists, nor does any reference to it in Cowdery's century. Its style borrows published Cowdery phrases but rearranges his conclusions. A clumsier forgery is the "Confession of Oliver Overstreet," which claims that the author was bribed to impersonate Cowdery and return to the Church. Abundant documents show that Oliver returned to Council Bluffs, Iowa, in 1848 with his wife and young daughter.
Diaries and official minutes record Oliver Cowdery's words in rejoining the Church. He sought only rebaptism and fellowship, not office. He publicly declared that he had seen and handled the Book of Mormon plates, and that he was present with Joseph Smith on the occasions when "holy angels" restored the two priesthoods (Richard L. Anderson, BYUS, 1968, p. 278). The High Council questioned him closely about his published letter (to David Whitmer) in which Oliver claimed that he retained the keys of priesthood leadership after Joseph Smith's death. That was his opinion, Oliver said, before seeing the Nauvoo revelation giving all powers to Hyrum Smith "that once were put upon him that was my servant Oliver Cowdery" (D&C 124:95). "It was that revelation which changed my views on this subject"
Because they had started for Council Bluffs late in the season, the Cowdery family were forced to winter in Richmond, Missouri, where most of the Whitmer family lived. Letters throughout 1849 repeat Oliver's hope to move west and also disclose his lack of means. They speak of his coughing up blood, a long-term respiratory condition that finally took his life March 3, 1850. The circuit court recorded a resolution of fellow lawyers that in the death of "Oliver Cowdery, his profession has lost an accomplished member, and the community a valuable and worthy citizen."
David Whitmer and other relatives living near Oliver Cowdery in his final year later claimed that he disagreed with many Kirtland and Nauvoo doctrines, but Oliver's documented criticisms at this time concern only intolerance and a continuing concern about polygamy. Although David Whitmer considered Joseph a fallen prophet, in 1848 Cowdery said publicly and privately "that Joseph Smith had fulfilled his mission faithfully before God until death" (Geo. A. Smith to Orson Pratt, MS 11 [Oct. 20, 1848]:14), and "that the priesthood was with this people, and the "Twelve' were the only men that could lead the Church after the death of Joseph." In his last known letter, Oliver accepted an assignment from the Twelve to lobby in Washington, and acknowledged the leadership of the "good brethren of the [Salt Lake] valley." [EM, vol. 1, "Oliver Cowdery."]
A blessing pronounced on Oliver Cowdery, December 18, 1833, states that Joseph of Egypt had seen Oliver in vision and knew of his scribal role in the translation of the Book of Mormon. Oliver was also told that Joseph of Egypt knew that Oliver would be present when the Aaronic Priesthood, or lesser priesthood, was restored and again when the Melchizedek Priesthood, or higher priesthood, was restored by messengers who received it from Jesus during his earthly ministry (Joseph F. Smith, Improvement Era, 7:943).
B. H. Roberts had the following footnote here:
Oliver Cowdery was born in the town of Wells, Rutland county, Vermont, Oct. 3, 1806. He married Elizabeth Ann Whitmer, in Kaw township, Jackson county, Missouri, Dec. 18, 1832. She was born in Fayette, Seneca county, New York, January 22, 1815.
1a. A few writers have claimed that not only did Joseph and Oliver know each other prior to this encounter in Pennsylvania, but that they had concocted the Book of Mormon idea from their previous experiences. Oliver father, William Cowdery, and Joseph Smith's father, Joseph Smith, Sr., are claimed to have been well acquainted in Vermont prior to the New York move. However, the historical records do not support this. Further, it is claimed that the "rod" use hinted at in the revelation below (see note 13) was result of this supposed acquaintance. Once again, a close look at the evidence shows this to be unsupported speculation. [See Larry E. Morris, "Oliver Cowdery's vermont years and the origins of Mormonism," BYUS 39/1, 106-129.]
2. Previous to joining the Prophet Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, had met David Whitmer at Palmyra, and conversed with him concerning the rumors rife in that vicinity about the finding of the Book of Mormon plates. This chance meeting resulted in a friendship between the young men, and finally when Cowdery determined to visit the Prophet in Harmony, he went via the Whitmer residence, at Fayette, which was near the town of Waterloo, at the head of Seneca lake, Seneca county, New York; and promised his friend David Whitmer that after visiting the Prophet he would write him his impressions as to the truth or untruth of Joseph Smith's having an ancient record. (See statement of David Whitmer in Kansas City Journal, June 5th, 1886; also statement of the same to Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith, in 1878, Millennial Star, vol. xl, pp. 769-774.) (BHR)
3. This date, 7th of April, and the one above, 5th of April, 1829, in the History of Joseph Smith, published in the Millennial Star, are given as the 15th and 17th of April, respectively. The dates in the Star, however, are typographical errors, as in the original MS of the History the dates are as given in the text. See also Cowdery's letters to W. W. Phelps, published in Messenger and Advocate, 1834, where the dates are also given as in the text above--5th and 7th of April. (BHR)
3a. Among the extant copies of this revelation, no significant changes appear. The earliest (dated) ms copy is the one in the ms history although two mss of unknown date exist. The BC text is the earliest extant.
4. See notes at D&C 8.
5. This may explain changes in D&C 8. See notes there on "the gift of Aaron."
6. Cowdery's brother, Lyman, was first contracted to teach school in Palmyra after visiting with Hyrum Smith, one of the school trustees. The school was located about 1.5 miles south of the Joseph Smith, Sr. farm. [Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and T. Jeffery Cottle, Old Mormon Palmyra and New England, Fieldbrook Productions Inc., 1991, 113-114.] Lucy Mack Smith states that Lyman Cowdery had other prospects however and asked to have his brother Oliver take his place, a move approved by the school trustees. While a school teacher in Palmyra, Oliver Cowdery boarded with Joseph Smith, Jr.'s parents during the winter school term and learned about the ancient record that their son was again translating. He prayed and received the answers mentioned in this revelation. Joseph Smith's first attempt at keeping a history states: " the Lord appeared unto Oliver Cowdery and shewed unto him the plates in a vision and what the Lord was about to do through me, his unworthy servant. Therefore he was desirous to come and write for me to translate" (PJS, 1:10).
7. The phrase suggests that in addition to the words given through the Urim and Thummim, there may have been a vision of Jesus Christ.
8. See the note at verse 15, D&C 5.
9. St. John, chap. xxi, verse 22.(BHR)
10. The controversy was a popular one among religionists of the day. The universal opinion among scholars in the modern era is of course that he died. The Book of Mormon (3 Ne. 28:6) mentions the circumstance of John, however they may not have arrived to that point in the translation. The text of Alma 45:19 might have raised the issue.
11. The text here is much longer than an earlier version in the BC:
1835 D&C Text 1833 BC Text 1. And the Lord said unto me, John, my beloved, what desirest thou? For if you shall ask what you will, it shall be granted unto you. And the Lord said unto me, John my beloved, what desirest thou? 2. And I said unto him: Lord, give unto me power over death, that I may live and bring souls unto thee. and I said Lord, give unto me power that I may bring souls unto thee. 3. And the Lord said unto me: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, because thou desirest this thou shalt tarry until I come in my glory, and shall prophesy before nations, kindreds, tongues and people. --And the Lord said unto me: Verily, verily I say unto thee, because thou desiredst this, thou shalt tarry till I come in my glory: 4. And for this cause the Lord said unto Peter; if I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? For he desired of me that he might bring souls unto me, but thou desiredst that thou mightest speedily come unto me in my kingdom. And for this cause, the Lord said unto Peter:--If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? for he desiredst of me that he might bring souls unto me: but thou desiredst that thou might speedily come unto me in my kingdom: 5. I say unto thee, Peter, this was a good desire; but my beloved has desired that he might do more, or a greater work yet among men than what he has before done. I say unto thee, Peter, this was a good desire, but my beloved has undertaken a greater work. 6. Yea, he has undertaken a greater work; therefore, I will make him as flaming fire and a ministering angel; he shall minister for those who shall be heirs of salvation who dwell on the earth. 7. And I will make thee to minister for him and for thy brother James; and unto you three I will give this power and the keys of this ministry until I come. 8. Verily I say unto you, ye shall both have according to your desires, for ye both joy in that which ye have desired. Verily I say unto you, ye shall both have according to your desires, for ye both joy in that which ye have desired.
It appears that verses 1b, 3b, 6b and 7 were either withheld from this early version (including the two mss available of unknown date) or were later additions by Joseph.
A ms dated prior to March 1836 in the handwriting of F. G. Willliams, 2nd Counselor to Joseph Smith, also contains some symbols which appear to be from an unknown alphabet. A note is appended by one of his children which gives this curious explanation
G.S.L. City, April 11, 1863. This paper is in the hand writing of my father, Fred. G. WIlliams. The characters thereon I believe to be a representation of those shown to him at the dedication of the Kirtland TempleThe first version which indicated that the revelation was a translation of a document was the headnote of chapter 6 of the BC. The headnote indicates that the revelation was translated from "parchment" written and hid by John the apostle.
[signed Ezra G. Williams]
Parchment is specially prepared animal skin (usually from sheep, calves or goats). The method came into wide use in the 2d century BCE when the method of preparation was perfected in Pergamum which allowed the skin to be written on both sides. Skins were depilated, scraped and polished, stretched, and rubbed with chalk and pumice. Early parchments were yellow and were sometimes tinted with purple dye to enhance the silver and gold inks used in lettering. Later, techniques were developed for whitening the skins. Parchment eventually took the place of papyrus until it became the most important writing material in the Western world. The fact that DNA may be recovered from parchment mss opens the possibilty of grouping mss by origin of skins and where mss are found in masses of fragments, the individual fragments might be separated by DNA signature. This technique is now being employed with the DSS.
12. The possibility was already opened to him in D&C 6:25.
12a. No ms copies other than the one in the ms history are known to exist. The earliest known copy is the one published in the BC. One change of importance exists between the current D&C and the BC. This is noted at the appropriate verse.
13. The Book of Commandments text reads as follows:Now this is not all, for you have another gift, which is the gift of working with the rod: behold it has told you things; behold there is no other power save God, that can cause this rod of nature, to work in your hands.
Although there is no other direct reference to this ability of Cowdery, the use of physical instruments as "prayer aids" was not unknown (Smith himself used the seer stones and "Interpreters".) Anthon H. Lund cites a story about this rod in his journal (July 5, 1901):It is said Bro. Phineas Young got it [this rod] from him [Cowdery] and gave it to President [Brigham] Young who had it with him when he arrived in this [Salt Lake] valley and that it was with that stick that he pointed out where the [Salt Lake] Temple should be built.Phineas Young was a brother to Brigham and brother-in-law to Cowdery. This reference to a rod parallels another story in which Young obtains the seer stone used to translate the Book of Mormon. David Whitmer claimed that this stone was passed to Oliver at the completion of the translation. Subsequently Phineas Young obtained this stone from Oliver and presented it to Brigham Young. Perhaps the rod story was a variant of the stone story. The stone, however, is known to exist and is still in the possession of the LDS Church.
For some other references to the use of rods see Jesse Smith to Hyrum Smith, 17 June 1829, Joseph Smith Letterbook, 2:59-61, Joseph Smith Papers, LDS Church Archives; Lucy Mack Smith, "Preliminary Notes to Autobiography," folder marked chapter 24, p. 39, LDS Church Archives; W.D. Purple, "Joseph Smith, the Originator of Mormonism," The Chenango (New York) Union, 2 May 1877; For an excellent and detailed study of Cowdery's and others experiences in the context of Mormonism, see Richard L. Anderson, BYUS 24, no. 4, 521-532. It should be noted that Cowdery was probably not a hazel rodder. He seems to have had a staff. Perhaps a fitting foundation for our beliefs in this matter comes from one of Smith's observers who never gained in any way from his association with Smith other than his friendship and who knew all about Joseph's early life: "He never staggered at the foundation [of] the work, for he knew too much concerning it." -Josiah Stowell. Stowell's son adds, "He has been acquainted with him six years and he never knew anything of him but what was right--also know him to be a seer and a prophet.[Martha L. Campbell to Joseph Smith "by the request of Brother Stowell," December 19, 1843, and Josiah Stowell, Jr., to J. S. Fullmer, February 17, 1843, LDS Church Archives.]
Some sources indicate that Smith completely gave up using seer stones after the translation of the Book of Mormon [cf. David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ (Richmond, Mo.: David Whitmer, 1887), 32] but compare Orson Pratt in the Deseret News Nov. 23, 1878: "sometimes Joseph used a seer stone when inquiring of the Lord and receiving revelation, but that he was so thoroughly endowed with the inspiration of the Almighty and the spirit of revelation that he oftener received them without any instrument or other means than the operation of the Spirit upon his mind."
One of the gifts given to Aaron was that of performing miracles through the use of a staff or rod. [e.g., Ex. 4:2-4; 7:9-13, 19-21, etc.] The Book of Mormon seems to suggest that Smith would have a rod (in the context read Joseph Smith for Moses) "And the Lord hath said: I will raise up a Moses; and I will give power unto him in a rod; and I will give judgment unto him in writing. Yet I will not loose his tongue, that he shall speak much, for I will not make him mighty in speaking. But I will write unto him my law, by the finger of mine own hand; and I will make a spokesman for him." Orson Hyde, one of the original twelve apostles in modern times, apparently had the use of a similar rod. Hyde had made the journey to Jerusalem to dedicate Palestine for the return of the Jews. He writes: "On the top of Mount Olives I erected a pile of stones as a witness according to the ancient custom. On what was anciently called Mount Zion, where the Temple stood, I erected another, and used the rod according to the prediction upon my head." What this prediction was is not explained.
Richard Anderson has suggested:What personal prophecy was fulfilled? Perhaps that of Oliver Cowdery in ordaining Orson Hyde an Apostle and promising: "He shall have power to smite the earth with pestilence, to divide waters and lead through the Saints; he shall go from land to land and from sea to sea."Did this transatlantic prophet feel empowered to use a "rod of Aaron" once again to invoke plagues on modern Egypts that prevented Israel from returning? Here the rod of authority would be the rod of prayer. Cowdery's blessing is the only known source behind Hyde's "prediction upon my head." Thus Hyde's use of the rod in Jerusalem suggests how Oliver might have understood his 1829 revelation.
A staff is also visible in Heber C. Kimball's biography, where functions of prayer and special authority are blended. Heber recalled dreaming of Joseph Smith during Heber's 1837 voyage to England. The Apostle stood near the front of the ship and was visited by the Prophet, who said, "'Brother Heber, here is a rod (putting it into my hands) with which you are to guide the ship. While you hold this rod you shall prosper . . . and the hand of God shall be with you.'" In the dream the promise was fulfilled by the ship's knifing through all obstacles. Heber's was a straight staff: "This rod which Joseph gave me was about three and a half feet in length."The dream must have approximated what Heber C. Kimball knew in reality, for his journal records several prayers answered by this means. His son gives the recollection of capable pioneer Sarah Granger Kimball:
Brother Kimball showed me a rod that the Lord through the Prophet Joseph had given to him. He said that when he wanted to find out anything that was his right to know, all he had to do was to kneel down with the rod in his hand, and that sometimes the Lord would answer his questions he had time to ask them.
Heber's son added: "My mother and my sister, Helen Mar, told me the same thing and added to it, that President Young received a similar rod from the Lord at the same time." This description does not fit the Y-shaped rod that the diviners held by both hands. But it fits the three-foot staff of Kimball's dream as well as the blessing of Sidney Rigdon, who was told he would "hold the rod as of Aaron in his right hand," perhaps a metaphor but one with literal imagery. If answer came to Heber C. Kimball before the questions were asked, then the rod functioned as an aid to faith, a symbol of authority in prayer rather than some physical pointer. As noted, Oliver Cowdery's rod instruction is the middle directive of three messages forming a cohesive context. And they contain classic summaries of the inner process of revelation: "peace to your mind" (D&C 6); "the Holy Ghost . . . shall dwell in your heart"(D&C 8:2); "your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right"(D&C 9:8). Mormon documents on the rod give no hint of an external, mechanical operation.
Heber C. Kimball's journal notes his staff in context of solemn prayer. In Nauvoo, after the Martyrdom, "he went home and used the rod. I got a witness Elder [Willard] Richards would live--that we would overcome our enemies." One cannot be sure, but Kimball's entries suggest more than yes-no questions. In Washington, three weeks before the Martyrdom, Heber detailed the most solemn priesthood prayer, the comfort he received, and then he added: "I inquired by the rod. It was said my family was well, that my wife would come to me in the east, and that Congress would not do anything for us." A similar procedure recurs in the Kimball journal, 25 January 1845, in solving a mosaic of personal concerns:The same evening I sat down in my house in the presence of my wife and inquired of the Lord by the rod as follows: If we should finish the temple--it was verily, yes. That my sins were forgiven and that I should overcome and get my appointment of my inheritance while in this probation. And that the temple committee were not enemies to the Twelve Apostles.
Another complex answer came in the Utah period as the method is tersely noted: "In the evening it was told me by the Lord--rod--that Congress of the United States would reject the Saints and would not admit us as a state government, and force their officer on us by their power." [Anderson, BYUS 24, no. 4, 531-532]
14. The only ms known is the one in the ms history. The single change among known copies of the revelation appears in verse 1. The BC reads " . . . which I have intrusted unto you . . . " at the end of verse 1. This could have given (the undoubtedly false) impression that Cowdery was the keeper of the plates. The BC contains the earliest known copy of the revelation.