Nathan Baldwin and Unknown Joseph Smith Sermons

Nathan Bennett Baldwin was born in Grenville, “Upper Canada” in 1812. He joined the Church of Christ (later The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) April 28, 1833. He journeyed with “Zions Camp.” Baldwin was selected as a member of the first quorum of Seventy (Feb. 25, 1835). He received the Nauvoo endowment Jan. 3, 1846. Nathan Baldwin came west as a pioneer and eventually settled in southern Utah.

Unknown sermons of Joseph Smith probably abound (and therefore the blog charter is not violated since there are probably funeral sermons among these unreported sermons ;)). Some, we have slight clues about — W. W. Phelps suggests to Joseph that he speak about “this is my beloved Son, hear him” — he spoke for several hours on the topic, but there is no record of the address — this was a Kirtland era event.

People regarded Smith’s sermons with varying degrees of interest. Some simply felt edified and came away with their belief in Mormonism strengthened. Others were apparently shocked at some level (depending on the topic usually). Still others (these were very few in early Mormonism) thought his words were so important that some report was made of them for purposes of personal or group memory. This is an issue I want to address in another post sometime, because it is very important in both the matters of sermon reporting and the nature of LDS thought long after Joseph Smith’s time. The main issue here is that Joseph’s sermons very often went unreported in any way.

That is the link between Nathan Baldwin and Joseph Smith’s unknown sermons.

An ongoing issue among many “Saints of the dispersion” involved the origin of priesthood authority. The Reorganization harbored a number of different points of view, one of which was expressed in their mission magazine out of Lamoni, Iowa, the Saints’ Advocate [Edited by W. W. Blair]. Baldwin related his encounter with an article in the magazine in 1885:

Yesterday I was handed a copy of the Saints’ Advocate, bearing date Lamoni, Iowa, September, 1884, the first article in which was headed, “The Ordinations of Joseph the Martyr.” Four and a half pages are occupied under this heading. It starts out by saying:
“Among the many errors which have crept in among those who have fallen away from the faith, since the rejection and disorganization of Church, which was organized in 1830, one is, that the Aaronic Priesthood is done away.”

This is news to me. Although nearly 52 years have elapsed since I embraced the latter-day work, I have never heard a Latter-day Saint utter such a word.

The article goes on to show how Joseph and Oliver were ordained under the hands of John the Baptist to the Aaronic priesthood, but denies that they ever received the Melchisedec Priesthood by any other agency than their own hands, “by the commandment of God; although many, of the various factions pretend that it was conferred, by Peter, James and John. But the history of Joseph proves that to be false.”

Now I do not pretend to be posted in Joseph’s written history; but what I saw and heard him say in the early history of the Latter-day Saints, is an indelible history to me, whether he ever wrote it or not. In early times in the Church, and in a public congregation, I heard him say that Peter James and John, came and laid their hands on his head-at the same time, to give his sayings additional force, he clasped his own hands on his head,- and ordained him to the High Priesthood, and gave him the keys of the kingdom.

Most likely some others remain yet who heard him make the statement but possibly not.

If the foregoing is of any use, it is freely given by N. B. Baldwin.
[Deseret News Feb. 25, 1885, p. 15. Blair was probably the author of the Advocate piece.]

The question of *when* the ancient apostles visited Joseph and Oliver has been a source of ongoing debate and several dates have been suggested. My own guess is late May 1829, for reasons I won’t touch on here, but Baldwin brings a physicality to his report that is interesting, with the claim that Joseph placed his own hands on his head to illustrate what took place. Thus a literal ordination took place. David Whitmer claimed that stories of Peter, James and John ordaining Joseph and Oliver were late in coming, but Baldwin seems to place this in early days, perhaps 1833 or 1834. D&C 27 (CoC 26), which notes an ordination by Peter, James and John was not published until 1835 and earlier copies (among them possibly a December 1830 ms copy in Edward Partridge’s hand) do not contain the Peter, James and John verses. Whether the Joseph Smith papers volume to appear this fall modifies this will be interesting.

Baldwin suggests (assuming the accuracy of his memory) that Joseph was not shy about his relation of the event, but it may be true that he did not speak of it in the 1829-32 timeframe. It would not be out of character for this to be the case, as first vision literature grants. Moreover, Joseph and Oliver seem never to have publically discussed the April 3, 1836 vision (Elijah, etc.). That vision was recorded at the time (by Warren Cowdery in the JS diary) and Willard Richards was familiar with it since he wrote it down again in the 1840s.[1] But it was never taught or mentioned as far as surviving reports indicate.

My fellow LDS who have been to the Community of Christ visitors center at the Kirtland Temple and taken the temple tour may have wondered why that vision is not (unless that has changed recently) mentioned in the tour, since among Latter-day Saints, it has become the major issue of temple lore from the period. The answer is that it was not part of Mormon tradition until Utah. The somewhat cool relations between the RLDS (Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, now the Community of Christ + Restoration Branches) and LDS in the 19th century dictated a suspicious attitude about that experience. The revelation (Elijah, etc.) was not part of the LDS canon until 1876 when Orson Pratt extracted it from “The History of Joseph Smith” as published in the (November 1853) Millennial Star (reprinted from the Deseret News).

One other interesting point about Baldwin’s statement is that it quotes Joseph as making the claim that Peter, James and John conferred the “high priesthood.” This actually gives an earlier flavor to the account which would be historically correct, since at least in the 1830’s (and much later for that matter) “high priesthood” did not mean Melchizedek Priesthood, but the office of “high priest.” No currently published D&C revelation uses “high priesthood” for Melchizedek Priesthood and conflating the two makes for historical earthquakes. The common thing in Utah years would be to reference “apostleship” for the PJJ incident.


[1] See Manuscript History of the Church 2:727. Written before Jan. 1844. Joseph preached with some frequency about Elijah and that Elijah would come, but never did he preach (apparently!) that Elijah had come. Cowdery does not mention it in his recital of early visions after his rebaptism, Joseph does not mention it in his letter (now D&C 128) which rehearses in part the angelic history of Mormonism. The first time it appears over the pulpit is apparently from Orson Pratt in 1852. It seems that all parties who knew of the revelation (Joseph, Oliver, Warren, Willard) were keeping it hush hush on purpose. W. W. Phelps mentions the April 3 manifestation to his wife in these words: “The curtains were dropped in the afternoon. And there was a manifestation of the Lord to Br Joseph and Oliver, by which they learned that the great & terrible day of the Lord as mentioned by Malichi was near, even at the doors.”
The understatement suggests several possible things. One is that the experience was not fully disclosed.

5 Responses to Nathan Baldwin and Unknown Joseph Smith Sermons

  1. boaporg says:

    One other (contrasting) thing about the Elijah visit (D&C 110). There is no indication in the JS diary that hands were laid on in the event(s). The vision-visitors were seemingly standing on the “breastwork” of the pulpit. The event is styled like the experience of D&C 76.


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