Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith

Book Notice

Although private interpretations of what an “edition” is plagues Mormon publishers, this third edition of Burton’s compilation is significantly revised. It thereby assumes more importance as the best topical collection of Joseph Smith’s discourses now available. The book is expanded by something like ten percent in the average chapter, with certain new chapters and topical breakdowns included, the most interesting of which is a collection of eye-witness descriptions and evaluations by contemporaries who met the Prophet. Certainly the core of Joseph Smith’s teachings is here, classified and easily accessible. The importance of this approach cannot be over-stressed. It is doubtful, for instance, whether the student of L.D.S. Church History will grasp the motivation of the Prophet until he turns to the collected statements on love, which Joseph Smith defined in terms of “long-suffering, forbearance and patience” toward everyone, with the result of “greater liberality” of thought and conduct of its possessor, who uses every opportunity “to bless the whole human race.”

There are two weaknesses in the Burton compilation. The first is inherent in any compilation that aspires to less than comprehensiveness. That is, isolated comments often reported at random are not the measure of Joseph Smith’s thought. As a single illustration, under the heading of truths made known by the Prophet, there is one statement of opinion on the hundred and forty-four thousand of the book of Revelation. Although this gives the reader the impression of knowing what Joseph Smith thought on the subject, there are actually a half-dozen important statements that need to be correlated in reconstructing the Prophet’s opinion. The second weakness is that the topical approach has not been applied adequately. For example, while those descriptions of the pre-mortal council that the book includes are classified generally under the chapter on “The Plan of Salvation,” a key quote labeled “The Contention in Heaven” is put in an entirely different chapter on “Salvation and Exaltation.” There are many more examples, perhaps illustrative of the need of a cross-referencing system in future editions. Likewise, it seems that Catch-all chapters as “Interesting Truths Made Known” and the “Maxims” and “Sayings of the Prophet” should be subjected to the same classification that is the strength of the book.

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