One Hundred Ninety Years Ago - Doctrine and Covenants 4
One hundred ninety years ago, Joseph Smith received a revelation that later became Doctrine and Covenants 4. The revelation, addressed to Joseph Smith Senior, may have been the impetus for Joseph Senior to finally tell Oliver Cowdery about the golden plates, which led to Oliver becoming Joseph Junior’s scribe.
The revelation, in the handwriting of Edward Partridge, circa February 1829:
“A revalation from the Lord unto Jos [page damaged] AD 1829
Saying now behold a marvelous work is about to come among the [page damaged] children of men Therefore O ye that embark in the service of God see that ye serve him with all your heart might mind & strenght that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day therefore if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work for behold the field is white already to harvest & lo he that thursteth in his sickle with his might the same layeth up his store that he perish not but bringeth Salvation to his soul & faith hope charity & love with an eye single to the glory of God constitutes him for the work remember temperance patience humility diligence &C.
Ask & ye shall receive knock & it shall be opened unto you amen.”
Joseph Smith dictated this revelation for his father, Joseph Smith Sr., one of his earliest and staunchest supporters. When John Whitmer copied this text into Revelation Book 1, he included this heading: “A Revelation to Joseph the Father of the Seer he desired to know what the Lord had for him to do & this is what he Received as follows.” Revelation Book 1 initially gave the date of 1828. An unidentified scribe wrote a “9” over the “8,” thus changing the date from 1828 to 1829, apparently correcting a scribal error. The index to Revelation Book 1 also lists 1829 as the date of the revelation. Sidney Rigdon, likely in late 1831, added “Febr.” to the heading in Revelation Book 1 to further specify the date. The copy featured below is a more complete and probably an earlier version than that inscribed in Revelation Book 1, which is missing the page that includes the final portion of this revelation. The version below is in the handwriting of Edward Partridge and was kept by him. Partridge dated the document to 1829, a date also used in JS’s history.
Joseph Knight Sr., another early supporter of JS, wrote that Joseph Sr. and Samuel Smith stopped at his home in Colesville, New York, in January 1829 before going on to visit JS and Emma Smith. “I told him [Joseph Smith Sr.] they had traviled far enough,” Knight wrote, “[and] I would go with my sley and take them Down [to Harmony] to morrow[.] I went Down and found them well and the[y] were glad to see us[.] we conversed about many things. in the morning I gave the old man a half a Dollar and Joseph a little money to Buoy [buy] paper to translate.” JS had apparently not translated since June 1828, and Knight’s provision of paper may have allowed him to resume translation. Within weeks of Knight’s visit, JS began translating again, with Emma, Samuel, and Martin Harris each acting briefly as scribe.
Dictated shortly before the translation work resumed, this revelation spoke of a “marvelous work” about to come forth and added that the “field is white already to harvest.” These phrases, also used in several JS revelations in the spring of 1829, invoked a sense of urgency and an impending spiritual harvest. Though addressed to Joseph Smith Sr., this revelation was written as if it could apply to all who read it.
The degree to which Joseph Smith Sr. acted upon this revelation is unknown, but his call “to the work” may have had a significant immediate impact when he returned to Palmyra, New York, where Oliver Cowdery was boarding at his house. Joseph Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith had met Cowdery when he began teaching school in the Manchester, New York, district late in the fall of 1828. Lucy wrote that although Cowdery had questioned Joseph Sr. about the gold plates, he “did not succeed in eliciting any information” for “a long time.” This revelation may have prompted Joseph Sr. to share a “sketch of the facts which related to the plates” with Cowdery, who became convinced that he had been called by God to assist JS as his scribe.