Martyr for God


"Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you." ( Matt. 5:10-12 )

The prophet Joseph Smith (38 years old) suffered, together with his brother the patriarch Hyrum Smith (44 years old), a violent death. It happened on June 27, 1844 when a mob of about 200 men attacked Carthage jail in Hancock County, West-Illinois, and shot and murdered them. Their martyrdom were a culmination of more than 20 years of persecution in several states in the US, and has given them a lasting place in the hearts of Latter-Days Saint around the world, as martyrs for Jesus Christ.

The state of Illinois in 1844

In 1844 Nauvoo was a gathering place for the saints at the Mississipi-river. In the town there were both good and contentious elements, and both outside and inside the Church enemies worked for Joseph's destruction. Joseph Smith anticipated his own death. He felt that his enemies one day would take his life. He predicte his own death atleast 19 times, the first time as early as in 1829.

Nauvoo grew very fast. From being a village inhabited by religious refugees and new converts, it grew to compete with Chicago as one of the largest city in Illinois. As both democrats and Whigs competed for mormon votes, Nauvoo had one of the most liberal city-charters in the state. They had an independent military force as well, and a strong system of justice. As Nauvoo's economical and political power increased, jealousy and hatred, unfortunately, increased in neighbouring towns such as Carthage and Warsaw.

Fear among non-mormons for concentration of power
Besides being a prophet and president for The Church of Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith also served as mayor and commander-in-chief for The Nauvoo Legion state milita. The fear of a concentration of power among non-mormons was fed further by the faith and unorthodox doctrines of the Church. Such teachings as, for instance, tempel ordinances for the living and the dead, the belief in continuing revelation from God, the belief of new holy scriptures etc, lead to increased political and economic disagreements and rivalry.

Like a lamb to the slaughter
Anti-mormons from many states (including Illinois) lead the efforts to destroy Joseph Smith and the Church, together with stranged members of the church. A leader of a political party in Hancock County, Thomas Sharp, who was an earlier editor of a local newspaper, demanded openly that the prophet be killed. At one point the governor in Illinois, Thomas Ford, who sided with the enemies of the Church, insisted that Joseph and the entire City Council come to Carthage for trial--alone and unarmed, charged with disruption of public order. Furthermore the jury should they were to face would be without mormons. Only such a trial would, according to Ford, satisfy the people.

> Joseph now had few options left to him. He could do as the governor ordered. Or he could go east to Washington, D.C., and appeal to the president. The scripture says to "importune at the feet of the governor and if he heed them not, importune at the feet of the president." Joseph actually wrote a letter to President John Tyler, and planned to go east. That night, he said another plan became clear to him. He should escape to the west. He told the saints that their enemies only wanted him and Hyrum. The saints would be safe if he and Hyrum were gone. So on Saturday, June 22, they crossed the Mississippi River to start the trip west. But they returned on Sunday, June 23, after their friends accused him of cowardice. Said Joseph, "if my life is of no value to my friends, it is of none to me." Joseph was depressed as he agreed to submit to Governor Ford's orders, which included a pledge of full protection and the honor of the state of Illinois.

All fifteen defendants came to Carthage, unarmed. En route, they had their last stop in freedom at a farm, just four miles outside of Carthage. There he told the family and his associates:

"I am going like a lamb to the slaughter; but I am calm as a summer's morn. I have a conscience void of offense towards God and towards all men. I shall die innocent, and it shall yet be said of me--he was murdered in cold blood." ( D&C 135:4 )

Joseph urged Hyrum to save himself, but Hyrum rejected that and accompanied his brother to Carthage. The govenor left them to the hands of the mob, and on June 27, 1844 a mob consisting of about 200 men with blackened faces attacked Carthage-Jail. They shot and killed Joseph and his brother Hyrum and wounded John Taylor. They shot through the closed door of the jail and Hyrum died immediately. John Taylor, who was an apostle, tried to escape through a window, and was shot five times, but he survived. Only Willard Richards, another apostle, survived without being harmed. Joseph Smith tried to climb out of the window to distract attention from the two surviving people inside. He was hit with two shots from the open door, one in the chest and one in the collarbone, and by to more shots, that came from outside the window. His last words were: "O Lord, my God." Afterwards a rumour spread that the mormons were coming, after which the mob scattered.

Joseph Smith said several times at the ending of his live, that he had enjoyed the protection of God until his mission was finished, but that he no longer demanded any special protection, as he had done all that God demanded of him. Many years earlier, in April 1829, the Lord had said to him:

"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. 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." ( D&C 6:29-30 )

The spilling of the innocent blood of these martyrs was necessary to seal their testimony of the restoration of The Gospel of Jesus Christ and the restoration of The Church of Jesus Christ, in the last days. In a revelation given to President Brigham Young, who followed Joseph Smith as president of the Church, the Lord said in January 14, 1847:

"..It was needful that he should seal his testimony with his blood, that he might be honored and the wicked might be condemned." ( L&P 136:39 )

John Taylor who later became the third president of the Church wrote the following tribute to the murdered leaders of the Church:

"Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it. In the short space of twenty years, he has brought forth the Book of Mormon, which he translated by the gift and power of God, and has been the means of publishing it on two continents; has sent the fullness of the everlasting gospel, which it contained, to the four quarters of the earth; has brought forth the revelations and commandments which compose this book of Doctrine and Covenants, and many other wise documents and instructions for the benefit of the children of men; gathered many thousands of the Latter-day Saints, founded a great city, and left a fame and name that cannot be slain. He lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and like most of the Lord's anointed in ancient times, has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood; and so has his brother Hyrum. In life they were not divided, and in death they were not separated! ... henceforward their names will be classed among the martyrs of religion; and the reader in every nation will be reminded that the Book of Mormon, and this book of Doctrine and Covenants of the church, cost the best blood of the nineteenth century to bring them forth for the salvation of a ruined world; and that if the fire can scathe a green tree for the glory of God, how easy it will burn up the dry trees to purify the vineyard of corruption. They lived for glory; they died for glory; and glory is their eternal reward. From age to age shall their names go down to posterity as gems for the sanctified. They were innocent of any crime, as they had often been proved before, and were only confined in jail by the conspiracy of traitors and wicked men; ... their innocent blood on the banner of liberty, and on the magna charta of the United States, is an ambassador for the religion of Jesus Christ, that will touch the hearts of honest men among all nations; and their innocent blood, with the innocent blood of all the martyrs under the altar that John saw, will cry unto the Lord of Hosts till he avenges that blood on the earth. Amen." ( D&C 135:3, 6 )

Content
Book of Mormon