July 27, 2010

Disseminating “The Vision” in England

During this summer's Mormon Scholars Foundation Seminar at BYU the participants researched early primary sources on Mormon theology and crafted short reports for group discussion. The following is one of my reports in rough form. It isn't earth-shattering, I simply outline when "The Vision" was spread in England.

On February 16, 1832 Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon received a revelation regarding three degrees of afterlife glory while translating John 5:29. It was published as “A Vision” in the Evening and Morning Star in July 1832.1 Nearly a decade later the revelation was published by Parley P. Pratt in England’s Millennial Star, but not before the doctrinal pump was primed a little—the European saints would receive the word line upon line. 

It remains to be seen exactly when the Vision was informally introduced as a revelation for the Church in England, a written record of the event may not be extant. But as early as May 1840 missionaries were selectively sharing it (evidently orally before textually). British convert William Clayton (later writer of "Come, Come Ye Saints") circumspectly recorded sharing it with some Branch members on May 30, 1840: “Read the vision to some of the sisters. Felt it good.”2

Parley P. Pratt, editor of the MS during this period, began ambiguously referring to the three degrees of glory about eight months before the vision was published in the MS. Pratt's articles seem to assume familiarity with the concept of degrees of glory:

The Saints are for truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; and wherever a principle of truth can be found, there is a principle which helps to constitute the great sum and substance of the faith of the Saints of the Last Days; no matter what that truth particularly refers to, whether it be God, angels, men, or devils, things seen or unseen, above or below, heaven or hell, celestial, terrestrial, or telestial, believed or disbelieved by men generally; show us a truth and we will believe it…

…therefore, we are ever ready to examine all things which are brought against us, as well as those which present themselves apparently in our favor; so that by the Holy Ghost, whose office it is to guide those who possess it into all truth, we may be enabled to discern the right ways of the Lord, even the way of truth, the old paths, that we may stand and walk therein, until we shall be enabled, by the grace of God, to arrive at the celestial city, the new Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven, and there refresh ourselves in the presence of the Most High, and his son Jesus; having been cleansed by the blood of Christ, through sanctification of the spirit, and belief of the truth; and having been baptized with water, with the Holy Ghost, and with fire, that we might be made co-heirs with him to all the glories of his father’s kingdom3
This language may have caught the attention of Methodist minister William Hewitt, who had been challenging Mormon elders to debate. When no challenger stepped forward Hewitt printed An Exposition of the Errors and Fallacies of the Self-Named “Latter-Day Saints.”4 Parley P. Pratt replied in An Answer to Mr. William Hewitt’s Tract Against the Latter-Day Saints.5 According to Hewitt, Mormons were teaching that “Paradise is not heaven.”6  Pratt responded:

Paradise is heaven; but it is not the heaven of those who are raised from the dead, but the place of rest for disembodied spirits to await the resurrection: “In my father’s house are many mansions,” says Jesus.—Paul tells of three heavens.7 
A question/answer article by Pratt and Elder Joseph Fielding in the Millennial Star, gave further hints about four months later:

Ques. 3rd.—Paul says, that the law made nothing perfect. How then are they to be perfected who died under the law? and can they be meet for the kingdom of God unless they are perfected?

Ans.—Those who lived and died under the law must finally be perfected by the Gospel, or remain imperfect, and inherit another kingdom, instead of the celestial.

Ques. 4th.—If the Saints in the last days die before they become perfect, how can they be ready for the first resurrection; or will they be under a course of instruction after their spirits leave their bodies; or can they come forth in the first resurrection if they are imperfect?

Ans.—There is a progression in light and truth in the world to come, as well as in this world...8
The next questions ask about 1 Peter 3:19; 4:6 regarding salvation for the dead, to which Pratt responds: "Hence you see that the priesthood is without end; and that it ministers salvation in eternity as well as in time."9 Thus the concepts of multiple kingdoms, preaching the gospel in the spirit world, and progression beyond the grave were introduced before the full text of the Vision itself was published in June 1841 as “A VISION. REVEALING THE FINAL DESTINY OF MAN.” Given the sometimes-adverse reaction by saints to the Vision in America (discussed elsewhere), it is not surprising that dissemination was slightly more cautious in England. 10

[1] W.W. Phelps, ed., The Evening and Morning Star (vol. 1 no. 2, July 1832): 2-3.

[2] George D. Smith, ed., An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1991), 54.

[3] Parley P. Pratt, “Look at Both Sides of the Question,” MS (vol. 1 no. 6 October 1840): 157.

[4] (Lane-End: Office of C. Watts, 1840); See Peter Crawley, A Descriptive Bibliography of the Mormon Church, vol. 1, 1830-1847 (Provo: Religious Studies Center, 1997), 139.

[5] Manchester, printed by W.R. Thomas, 1840.

[6] Pratt, An Answer, 3.

[7] Pratt, An Answer, 4.

[8] "Questions—By Elder Joseph Fielding, and Answers by the Editor [Parley P. Pratt]," MS (vol. 1 no. 10 February, 1841): 257-258.

[9] Ibid.

[10]A Vision,” MS (vol. 2 no. 2, June 1841): 17-21. The introductory line about “Revealing” was added by the Pratt; it does not appear as an introductory statement in the written versions of the revelation (BCR or KRB), the published version in the Evening and Morning Star (July 1832), or in the Doctrine and Covenants (1835). Brigham Young described some of the difficulties saints faced with the Vision: "When God revealed to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon that there was a place prepared for all, according to the light they had received and their rejection of evil and practice of good, it was a great trial to many, and some apostatized because God was not going to send to everlasting punishment heathens and infants, but had a place of salvation, in due time, for all, and would bless the honest and virtuous and truthful, whether they ever belonged to any church or not” (Journal of Discourses, 16:42).