A Tribute to the Great Counselors of the LDS Restoration

From time to time I highlight the life and pay a tribute to of one of the great men of the restoration movement.  Today I want to address the calling of “counselor” and also talk about the three great counselors of the restoration. Hopefully you are sitting down, because you will probably be appalled that I think so highly of one of the men I am about to spotlight.

The men shown above are three of the greatest and wisest men of the LDS restoration movement. They also had a few things in common

  1. Each of them sacrificed greatly for the kingdom, including their own reputations
  2. Each of them was called by direct revelation to be a counselor to Joseph Smith
  3. Joseph attempted to terminate each of their callings as his counselors (and was successful in two of the three situations)

Joseph Smiths desire to free himself from the counsel of all three of these men who were called by God to assist him provides an interesting pattern. (These are not the only men who served as counselors to Joseph Smith, simply the three I want to spotlight in this post)

The Prophet Joseph Smith was ordained as president of the high priesthood on 25 January 1832 (see History of the Church, 1:267), his counselors were not called until 8 March 1832 (see “Kirtland Revelation Book,” p. 10). This revelation was directed to one of those counselors, Jesse Gause, but it was applied to Frederick G. Williams when he was called to the Presidency to replace Gause on 8 March 1833 (see D&C 90 ; History of the Church, 1:329–30). March 18, 1833, is the date when the organizing and ordaining of the first First Presidency in this dispensation was completed (see History of the Church, 1:334).

Frederick will play a Major Role in the Marvelous Work

Section 90 informs us just how significant of a role Frederick will play in the Marvelous Work and a Wonder when he returns with Joseph and Sidney in the third watch.

And again, verily I say unto thy brethren, Sidney Rigdon and Frederick G. Williams, their sins are forgiven them also, and they are accounted as equal with thee in holding the keys of this last kingdom;

As also through your administration the keys of the school of the prophets, which I have commanded to be organized;

That thereby they may be perfected in their ministry for the salvation of Zion, and of the nations of Israel, and of the Gentiles, as many as will believe;

That through your [Joseph] administration they may receive the word, and through their [Sidney and Frederick] administration the word may go forth unto the ends of the earth, unto the Gentiles first, and then, behold, and lo, they shall turn unto the Jews.

And then cometh the day when the arm of the Lord shall be revealed in power in convincing the nations, the heathens nations, the house of Joseph, of the gospel of their salvation.

For it shall come to pass in that day, that every man shall hear the fulness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language, through those who are ordained unto this power, by the administration of the Comforter, shed forth upon them for the revelation of Jesus Christ.

And now, verily I say unto you, I give unto you a commandment that you continue in the ministry and presidency.”

As you can see, when the Marvelous Work begins, it will continue seamlessly from the foundation that was already laid back in the 1820’s and 1830’s. Joseph’s ministry will be to receive the word of God while Sidney and Frederick will be responsible for the administration of taking the word that is received through Joseph to the ends of the earth.

Frederick donates his land for the Work in Kirtland

Fredrick was one of a few relatively well to do believers who provided his own land for the gathering of the saints in the Kirtland area who wanted to live the restored biblical principle of having all things in common (consecration).

On September 11, 1831 the Lord said:

I will not that my servant Frederick G. Williams should sell his farm, for I, the Lord, will to retain a strong hold in the land of Kirtland, for the space of five years, in the which I will not overthrow the wicked, that thereby I may save some.”

That farm was eventually used for the printing house, House of the Lord, and for homes for Joseph, Hyrum, Sidney, and others.

The Lord calls Frederick to be a counselor to Joseph
and provide land for receiving revelations

On January 6, 1833, in an unpublished revelation that Lord said:

Behold I Say unto you my Servant Frederick listen to the word of Jesus Christ your Lord and your Redeemer thou hast desired of me to know which would be the most worth unto you, behold blessed art tho[u] for this thing. Now I say unto you my Servant Joseph is called to do a great work and hath need that he may do the work of translation for the Salvation of Souls. Verily verily I say unto you thou art called to be a Councillor & Scribe unto my Servant Joseph. Let thy farm be consecrated for bringing forth of the revelations and thou shalt be blessed and lifted up at the Last day even so Amen.”

On March 18, 1833 Joseph ordained Sidney and Frederick “to be equal with him in holding the keys of the Kingdom and also the Presidency of the High Priesthood.

Joseph prophesies that Frederick will have an inheritance in Zion

The November 19, 1833 Joseph diary entry by Joseph Smithstated:

Brother Frederick is a man who <is one of those men> in whom I place the greatest confidence and trust for I have found him ever full of love and Brotherly kindness he is not a man of many words but is ever wining because of his constant mind he shall ever have place in my heart and is ever intitled to my confiden<ce> [*] He is perfectly honest and upright, and seeks with all his heart to magnify his presidency in the church of ch[r]ist, but fails in many instances, in consequence of a lack <want> of confidence in himself: God grant that he may overcome all evil: Blessed be brother Frederick, for he shall never want a friend; and his generation after him shall flourish. The Lord hath appointed him an inheritance upon the land of Zion. Yea, and his head shall blossom. <And he shall be> as an olive branch that is bowed down with fruit: even so; Amen.”

Frederick sees the temple in vision with Joseph and Sidney

“The plans for the Kirtland Temple were shown to the First Presidency of the Church—Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, and Frederick G. Williams—in a vision. Frederick G. Williams reported that the Lord told Joseph to gather with his counselors, and the Lord would show them how to build the temple (see D&C 95:14).

The three men knelt to pray, and they saw a vision of the temple. First they saw the outside, and then the building seemed to pass over them and they saw the inside. Frederick G. Williams said that when the Kirtland Temple was completed it looked exactly as it had in the vision. During the building of the temple someone tried to get Joseph Smith to change some of the design, but Joseph insisted that the temple be built just as it appeared in the vision.”

On March 27, 1836 at the dedication of the House of the Lord, sitting on the property that Frederick had given to the church, Frederick saw an angel enter through a window and sit down between himself and Joseph Sr. The angel remains through the prayer. According to George A. Smith, Frederick “bore testimony that the Savior, dressed in his vesture without seam, came into the stand and accepted of the dedication of the house, that he saw him, and gave a description of his clothing and all things pertaining to it.”

June 29, 1836 Joseph and Emma name their second Frederick Granger Williams Smith.

Frederick served in the First Presidency from 1833 to 1837.  He was a member of the committee appointed to publish the Doctrine and Covenants. He also bore witness along with Joseph Sidney and Oliver to the truthfulness of the doctrines contained in the Lectures on Faith which was canonized in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants (It was the “doctrine” portion of the Doctrine and Covenants)

He was eventually excommunicated illegally, in absentia. Church law requires a court to allow the accused person to be present, face their accusers and defend themselves.

Here are some statements recorded in the history of the church pertaining to the matter of terminating Frederick as a counselor:

November 7, 1837 at a “general assembly” of the church in Far West, Lyman Wight, Thomas B. Marsh, and James Emmett object to Frederick as a counselor in the First Presidency. Edward Partridge and David Whitmer speak on his behalf. Marsh reiterates his objection and high counselor Thomas Grover also objects. Frederick is “rejected” and at Sidney Rigdon’s nomination, Hyrum Smith is elected unanimously.”

Here are some statements recorded in the history of the church pertaining to the matter of being excommunicated in absentia as well as eventually being reinstated:

March 17, 1839 excommunicated in absentia with George M. Hinkle, Sampson Avard, W. W. Phelps, Thomas B. Marsh (h), John Corrill, and others. It appears they were charged with leaving the church “in the time of our perils, persecutions and dangers, and were acting against the interests of the Church.” Minutes of March 17, 1839 Quincy After March 17, arrives in Quincy, Illinois, which becomes his home.   Received back April 8, 1840 (Nauvoo) requests forgiveness from the church. Hyrum presents his case to the conference. Vote to receive him back into fellowship.”

It is my opinion that Frederick  is one of the truly great men and counselors of the restoration movement and he is going to return with others to complete their assignments.

What is the Calling of a Counselor?

Having given a little tribute to Frederick, I want to provide some context for the men who served as counselors followed by a tribute to William Law who, in my opinion, was another one of the truly great and inspired counselors of the restoration movement. (My tribute to brother Sidney as already been given)

I want to talk about a calling in the church that has been grossly misunderstood and corrupted.

It is the calling of “counselor”.

The 1828 Websters informs us that the definition of counselor is as follows:


1. Any person who gives advice; but properly one who is authorized by natural relationship, or by birth, office or profession, to advise another in regard to his future conduct and measures.

There are several people who were called by divine revelation to be a counselor to Joseph Smith regarding his responsibly to be a presiding elder and perhaps other callings.

In the modern church today, a counselor is someone who acts in a subordinate role.

Interestingly, that is not how it was during the early days of the restoration. It is not how it is supposed to be. Nor is it how it was intended to be.

Originally, the counselors to Joseph Smith were called to counsel him “in regard to his future conduct and measures” not to take assignments from him. Obviously, God would give assignments to these counselors via revelations, but in the personal relationship with Joseph Smith himself, these men were called to be his counselors largely because they were pious men who were usually older and wiser.

The following graphic showing three of the great men who were called to advise Joseph illustrates how God initially meant for the relationship to be with the counselors instructing and providing counsel to the one who presides on how to act in his calling.

This next graphic illustrates how the current modern church has changed the nature of this calling.

Again, most Latter day Saints have been indoctrinated to believe that the counselors to someone who presides are to act in a subordinate role to the President. It is currently believed in the modern corporate church that counselors are basically helpers to do what the President tells them to do.

That is not what the original and true role of a “Counselor” was when God first revealed the nature of the calling.

A counselor who was called by divine revelation in the restored church was a man who was typically more experienced, more knowledgeable and wiser that the “President” they provided counsel to.

In most cases the counselor was older, as in the cases of Jesse Gause who was 20 years older than Joseph, Frederick Williams who was 18 years older and Sidney Rigdon who was 12 years older.

One exception to the rule was William Law who as 4 years younger than Joseph, however, William was a very unusual person with vast experience and skills that he brought to the table.

This term “counselor” can be traced all the way back to King David who also had a Counselor by the name of Ahithophel.

The responsibility of the counselor in the restored church was to give Godly and doctrinally congruent counsel to the person who was called to preside.

A modern day analogy to this pattern would be that of the relationship between a CEO and President of a Corporation and that of the Board of Directors. Although the CEO/President is considered to be the head of the organization and makes the day to day decisions for the company, he still needs to answer to the members of the board and receive counsel and direction from them.

In a sense, God is the head of the board.

(Similarly, as a checks and balances feature of the Church of Christ, all members of the church might be compared to stockholders of the corporation which is why they must condone the major decisions of the president and must put their stamp of approval on the way he is carrying out the directives of God, via the law of common consent.)

Perhaps one of the most obvious scriptural proofs of the top-down relationship of the counselor to the person or people who preside, is found in section 112 when the Lord explained that the first Presidency of the Church was called to act as counselors to the quorum of the twelve.

Whosoever receiveth my word receiveth me, and whosoever receiveth me, receiveth those, the First Presidency, whom I have sent, whom I have made counselors for my name’s sake unto you [12 apostles].”  (112:20)

The fact that the First Presidency were commissioned by the Lord to be counselors to the 12 was not implying that Joseph and the other members of the First Presidency were called to be subservient to and to run around doing assignments given to them by the 12 apostles, hardly.

That passage was documenting that the First Presidency was to instruct and give counsel to the apostles and “advise [them].. in regard to [their].. future conduct and measures.

Modern revelation had established the fact that the 12 apostles were to act under the directions of the First Presidency-

“The Twelve are a Traveling Presiding High Council, to officiate in the name of the Lord, under the direction of the Presidency of the Church“, (107:23)

This is because the First Presidency was significantly wiser, more knowledgeable, more doctrinally astute, receiving greater revelation and enjoying the spiritual blessings of a higher office than the Twelve.

The First Presidency was to watch over and give guidance to the Twelve as their counselors.

A Counselor Gives Guidance to the President

The same was true when Sidney Rigdon was called to be a counselor to Joseph Smith. Sidney Rigdon was arguably the most able Bible scholar in the United States when he joined the Church. He was older and had much more experience in life and in running a ministry and a church organization than Joseph.

His calling, according to section 35, was to:

  • to write for [Joseph]” while doing the work of translation (since Joseph was not good at writing)
  • “..watch over him that his faith fail not..” since Joseph desperately needed someone to keep him on track and help him keep the faith. (modern revelation would ultimately offer no less than 5 revelations warning and prophesying about Joseph failing to abide in the Lord)
  • forsake him not”. Even though the time would come when others might need or choose to forsake Joseph, Sidney was given an unconditional commandment to never forsake him.  (this provides a possible explanation as to why Sidney stood by quietly when Joseph began preaching false doctrines but then became very vocally critical of Joseph after the martyrdom)

As you can see, Sidney’s role as a counselor was not that of a subordinate yes man. It was that of a wise, experienced sage, one who God had prepared and ordained to give Godly instruction and counsel to Joseph.

Sidney was to compensate for many of Joseph’s weaknesses and keep him on track.

In later revelations it was revealed that Sidney jointly held the keys of expounding the mysteries out of the scriptures and of holding the keys of the kingdom.

It was also revealed that another one of Sidney’s responsibilities was to use the Bible to prove the accuracy and consistency of the new revelations that Joseph was receiving.

All of this is helpful in understanding the true role of a counselor.

Corrupting the Calling of Counselor

It is not completely clear how and why the calling of counselor become corrupted. One reason appears to be that during the Nauvoo years, Joseph felt shackled by the counsel he was getting from time to time from his counselors.

Another issue is that when Joseph began teaching doctrines that conflicted with the original teaching of the Kirtland era, his counselor, William Law began to counsel Joseph to repent and eventually felt compelled to expose what Joseph was teaching and doing.

This resulted in Joseph excommunicating William Law in absentia without giving him the opportunity to face his accusers and defend himself.

After the martyrdom, the church rejected Joseph’s second counselor, Sidney Rigdon.

For this reason, the official history of the church was altered to minimize and marginalize the important role that both of these wise counselors were to play in the hierarchy of the church.

Lastly, Brigham Young, like Joseph, preferred to pretty much be in charge and to simply delegate responsibilities to counselors. People with dominant personalities hate accountability and they hate having to listen to advice that is contrary to what the dominate personality wants to do.

In part two of this series I will document some of the major things in the life of William Law and I will explain why I consider him to be one of the great, inspired counselors and among the greatest men in the LDS restoration movements.

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