"Save It Be One Wife" (Jacob 2:27): A Legacy of Obedience

Barton age 15 - small.jpg

The summer of 1976 when my family moved to Nauvoo was a wonderful springtime of learning and opportunity for me.  I was fifteen and experiencing the difficulties and emotions that come with the teen years.  The change of scenery brought a newness to my life that helped encourage me in the struggles of adolescence.  My testimony was strengthened, and in a way, my soul was healed as I walked the path of life--a path of increased self worth and righteous desires.

I spent the summer with either my nose in a book or my feet peddling a bike around town.  I soaked in the spirit that is Nauvoo.  I grew to love the Prophet Joseph Smith.  I spent hours visiting the historic sites, talking to missionary guides, and even spending time at the RLDS (now Community of Christ) Joseph Smith Historic Center at the south end of the restoration area.  

At fifteen, having two different churches who claimed to teach a restoration gospel was confusing to me.  I had no doubt that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and had restored the gospel to the earth. The question was, which one was teaching the restored truth?  Which one has the priesthood authority restored through the Prophet Joseph?

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I remember one visit to the RLDS visitors center, then housed in a small stone structure near the Nauvoo House.  I sat outside and talked to a couple of the young people from Graceland College (now Graceland University), a Community of Christ sponsored institution, that served as guides during the summer at the Community of Christ (RLDS) properties in Nauvoo.  We were discussing the topic of plural marriage and the differences between the two churches and whether Joseph Smith taught it as a true principle.  

My new friend turned my scriptures to Jacob 2 and pointed out Jacob's words of condemnation.  "They understand not the scriptures, for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David, and Solomon his son.  Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord. . . . For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none" (Jacob 2:23-24, 27).

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I was in shock!  I have ancestors who practiced plural marriage. Were they wrong? This RLDS guide wanted me to explain how the "Mormon" historical practice of plural marriage and The Book of Mormon could both be right---for one had to be wrong.  I was hurt, angry, and scared all at the same time.   I jumped on my bike and biked as fast as my legs could move those two wheels down Main Street the mile or so to the LDS Visitors Center.  I parked my bike and quickly walked through the front doors and right up to a young missionary standing behind the front desk.  I opened my Book of Mormon to Jacob 2, pointed to the verse, turned it around to him, and, in a plea for help from a scared, testimony-weakened fifteen-year-old, demanded an explanation!

This young Elder, at first surprised with the demeanor of my arrival, read where my finger pointed and then smiled.  He turned the book around to me and simply said, "read verse 30." "For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things" (Jacob 2:30).  The missionary then calmly taught a young teenager the truths of scripture and modern revelation on the subject of plural marriage.  I thanked him and with renewed confidence and strengthened testimony, calmly returned to the south end of Main Street and my RLDS friend.

I walked up to him and answered his question, to which he smilingly responded, "I knew the answer, I just wanted you to learn it for yourself."  I must admit, this strengthened my testimony that there is an answer to every question---and he nearly admitted the lack of  a testimony in his own faith.

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The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, "That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another.  God said, 'Thou shalt not kill;' at another time He said, 'Thou shalt utterly destroy.'  This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted-by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed.  Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 256).

Nephi learned this concept as he approached Laban.  Abraham was taught along with his son Issac.  Jesus understood fully at Gethsemane.  The early Saints experienced it with the commandment of plural marriage, and again when it was withdrawn through revelation by President Wilford Woodruff.  There were those who could not accept the direction from the Lord through his living prophet on both occasions, resulting in lost faith and devotion.  Plural marriage was a test when given, and again when it was withdrawn.

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is built on the belief that God speaks to humans, and following His commands is essential for happiness in this life and eternal life with God in the next existence" (Mormon Polygamy, p.27).  In a desire to learn more of the will of the Lord in the latter-days, the Prophet Joseph studied and translated the Holy Scriptures, including the Old Testament, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  It is believed Joseph received the revelation on plural marriage in the early 1830's during this period of translation and spiritual growth.  This revelation must have been difficult to understand as Joseph was raised in a strong Christian home. 

It has been recorded that it took an angel with a sword to convince Joseph to live this commandment.  By his death in 1844, Joseph, and about 29 other brethren, were living this commandment.  Those who were taught the principle, and rejected it, were among those who were responsible for his death at Carthage Jail.  However, through the experiences of his life, Joseph had learned, "When the Lord commands, do it" (History of the Church, 2:170).

As he privately taught the principle to his close associates, he encouraged them to gain their own testimony of the will of God.  In public he taught, "As a Church and a people it behooves us to be wise, and to seek to know the will of God, and then be willing to do it" (History of the Church, 5:65).  

Obedience to the will of God is the ultimate test for his children here on earth and each of us have a responsibility to have the direction of our lives and the teachings of the Church confirmed through the Holy Ghost.

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President Wilford Woodruff, under the influence of the Spirit, realized the time had come to end the practice of plural marriage.  As he spoke after the presentation of the Manifesto in the October 1890 General Conference, President Woodruff said, "I want to say to all Israel that the step which I have taken in issuing this manifesto has not been done without earnest prayer before the Lord.  I am about to go into the spirit world . . . I expect to meet the face of my heavenly Father . . . I expect to meet the face of Joseph Smith, of Brigham Young, of John Taylor . . . and for me to have taken a stand in anything which is not pleasing in the sight of God, or before the heavens, I would rather have gone out and been shot."  

He continued, "The Lord has given us commandments concerning many things, and we have carried them out as far as we could; but when we cannot do it, we are justified.  The Lord does not require at our hands things that we cannot do."  He concluded his speech with these words, "I say to Israel, the Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as president of this Church to lead you astray.  It is not in the programme.  It is not in the mind of God.  If I were to attempt that the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty"  (The Prophets Have Spoken, Vol. 1, p. 950-953).

 Thomas E.Ricks - Early Nauvoo resident and 2nd great grandfather

Thomas E.Ricks - Early Nauvoo resident and 2nd great grandfather

By their obedience, those early Saints who followed the teachings of the living prophet of their day have left us with a legacy of obedience.  Over time, Church policies and practice have changed, but the test is always the same---Obedience.  By not personally obtaining a confirmation from the Spirit and then following the directions that come from the President of the Church, some have lost their way.  

Weakened faith and devotion to truth, weakened desires to build Zion and share the gospel, and weakened resolve to do the will of God, often result from disobedience.  

Some fail to do the Lord's will out of pride and self-righteousness---in other words, they know more than the Prophet and follow their own paths.  However, it is ultimately our responsibility to receive personal confirmation through the Spirit and to be obedient to the directions of God through His chosen prophet.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught, “People who do not accept continuing revelation sometimes get into trouble by doing things too soon or too late or too long.  The practice of plural marriage is an example” (With Full Purpose of Heart, p. 208).

I don't know why the Lord asks us to do some of the things that He asks us to do.  I don't know why we experience everything we experience in our earth lives.  I do have a testimony that we experience what we need to experience in order to be molded and shaped in becoming more like our Father in Heaven---to prepare us for life eternal.  The Father and Son’s work is to bring to pass our immortality and eternal life (Moses 1:39).  It is not always an easy path, but They will do and will ask what ever it takes to achieve it.

While the lesson to a fifteen-year-old, in the newness of that summer day, dealt with plural marriage, the life experience lesson molded over a lifetime of experience has become a simple one---"Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is."  Whether it is to have or not have more than one wife, or whether it is to become more Christlike and love one another as He has loved us, "Whatever God requires is right."  To do otherwise is disobedience and sin.  

Let us live with faith, hope, and charity, and "by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4) through His holy prophets.  "Whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same" (Doctrine and Covenants 1:38). May we always "hearken unto these things" (Jacob 2:30).

Barton Golding