The 11 June 1843 Discourse – Temples

[No, not a funeral sermon, but it could have been.]
When the 1850s Mormon historians were dealing with the perplexing problem of constructing coherent texts of Joseph Smith’s sermons, a high priority was dealing with Joseph’s discourse of June 11, 1843. The reason: it offers key justifications for that inevitable activity of Mormonism—

Building Temples.

Surviving reports of the discourse come from the Joseph Smith diary, Wilford Woodruff’s journal, and short summaries from Franklin Richards, Levi Richards and Eliza R. Snow. A couple of other people also note the discourse. The Joseph Smith diary account was the work of his secretary, Willard Richards. Willard’s report (somewhat uncharacteristically) is perhaps the most robust of the reports, but Woodruff, in his typical notes-recall method gives us a smoothed out narrative in some spots. What elements did George A. Smith, Brigham Young and others see in this particular address that merited the attention it received?

The main points of the speech appear to be these:

1. A rereading of the gathering: the purpose of asking people to gather to a central location– get enough skilled labor and financial support to construct a House of the Lord (temple). The immediacy of the millennial fever had cooled and gathering to prepare for an imminent event was partly foreclosed by Joseph himself.

2. Why is this necessary? The reasons are pushed back to preexistence (a then more or less uniquely Mormon idea): there is a plan for salvation which is not sola scriptura. It involves works, sacraments, to dispense grace.

3. Some of those sacraments were secret/private to be administered in an approved structure – again a decree of God in the preexistence.

4. Hence the required gathering (which we learn the following year [8 April and 12 May 1844 discourses] was a temporary condition).

5. Additionally, since the sacramental requirements were decreed for all, some way had to be made to provide them for the folks who would not get them as mortals, for whatever reason (there is an interesting connection to the problem of evil here).

6. The temple was decreed to be the place where all missing sacraments could be provided to the unfortunate dead – by living proxies.

7. There are references to “second anointings” perhaps. At least they could be seen in that light.

It is clear then why Young and Smith et al. wanted this discourse to appear in some form in the Joseph Smith history.[1] It provided a solid backdrop for the then explosive gathering to Utah. Brigham and others would bring the temple ordinances in front of the Saints as future promise for steady faithful effort. The gathering and subsistence economics of Utah put pressure on a full-on effort at temple construction. At the same time, the promises could not be put off to an indefinite future, partly because the temple covenants themselves wrought loyalty to the church, its leaders and fellow Saints in addition to salvation assurance. Hence, intermediate structures “endowment houses” could be constructed to proffer the blessings of endowment and sealing.[2]

[1] Various records of the period like the historian’s office journal suggest that the 11 June discourse was important to BY and others.

[2] The fall 2008 issue of the Journal of Mormon History contains a fine article by Lisle G. Brown on the Salt Lake Endowment house.

4 Responses to The 11 June 1843 Discourse – Temples

  1. David G. says:


  2. ricke says:

    As always, thanks for your thoughtful posts. What proportoin of Joseph’e key sermons were funeral sermons vs. congregational speeches? By focusing on the former, will your book be lacking anything significant?

    • WVS says:

      I think JS recapitulates most of his doctrines in his funeral addresses. In fact, I think the funeral sermons can often be labeled “temple sermons” from a presentist viewpoint and often I think the title fits in context.

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