Despite threats of violence to stop them, Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, John Taylor and other apostles and church leaders gathered in Far West, Missouri to lay the cornerstone of a temple and depart for their mission to England.
“And next spring let them depart to go over the great waters, and there promulgate my gospel, the fulness thereof, and bear record of my name.
Let them take leave of my saints in the city of Far West, on the twenty-sixth day of April next, on the building-spot of my house, saith the Lord.” Doctrine and Covenants 118:4-5
Elder Wilford Woodruff describes the background and circumstances of the revelation.
“The Twelve Apostles were called by revelation to go to Far West, Caldwell county, to lay the foundation of the corner stone of the Temple. When that revelation was given this Church was in peace in Missouri. It is the only revelation that has ever been given since the organization of the Church, that I know anything about, that had day and date given with it. The Lord called the Twelve Apostles, while in this state of prosperity, on the 26th day of April, 1838, to go to Far West to lay the corner stone of the Temple; and from there to take their departure to England to preach the Gospel. Previous to the arrival of that period the whole Church was driven out of the State of Missouri, and it was as much as a man’s life was worth to be found in the State if it was known that he was a Latter-day Saint; and especially was this the case with the Twelve. When the time came for the corner stone of the Temple to be laid, as directed in the revelation, the Church was in Illinois, having been expelled from Missouri by an edict from the Governor. Joseph and Hyrum Smith and Parley P. Pratt were in chains in Missouri for the testimony of Jesus.”
Elder Woodruff then writes of how the apostles who hadn’t been imprisoned were fretting over what to do concerning this revelation and the actions taken by the apostles.
“As the time drew nigh for the accomplishment of this work, the question arose, “What is to be done?” Here is a revelation commanding the Twelve to be in Far West on the 26th day of April, to lay the corner stone of the Temple there; it had to be fulfilled. The Missourians had sworn by all the gods of eternity that if every other revelation given through Joseph Smith were fulfilled, that should not be, for the day and date being given they declared that it should fail. The general feeling in the Church, so far as I know, was that, under the circumstances, it was impossible to accomplish the work; and the Lord would accept the will for the deed. This was the feeling of Father Smith, the father of the Prophet. Joseph was not with us, he was in chains in Missouri, for his religion. When President Young asked the question of the Twelve, “Brethren, what will you do about this?” the reply was, “The Lord has spoken and it is for us to obey.” We felt that the Lord God had given the commandment and we had faith to go forward and accomplish it, feeling that it was His business whether we lived or died in its accomplishment.
“On the 18th of April, 1839, I took into my wagon Brigham Young and Orson Pratt; Father Cutler took into his wagon John Taylor and George A. Smith, and we started for Far West. On the way we met John E. Page, who was going with his family to Quincy, Illinois. His wagon had turned over, and when we met him he was trying to gather up with his hands a barrel of soft soap. We helped him with his wagon. He then drove into the valley below, left his wagon, and accompanied us on our way. On the night of the 25th of April we arrived at Far West, and spent the night at the home of Morris Phelps. He had been taken a prisoner by the mob, and was still in prison.
“On the morning of the 26th of April, 1839, notwithstanding the threats of our enemies that the revelation which was to be fulfilled this day should not be fulfilled; notwithstanding ten thousand of the Saints had been driven out of the state by the edict of the governor; and notwithstanding the Prophet Joseph and his brother Hyrum Smith, with other leading men, were in the hands of our enemies in chains and in prison, we moved on to the Temple grounds in the city of Far West, held a council, and fulfilled the revelation and commandment given to us.”
Elder George Q. Cannon spoke of the events that took place in Far West.
“They laid it [the temple cornerstone] in the midst of their enemies; they sang their songs, ordained two of the Twelve [Wilford Woodruff and George A. Smith], and if I recollect right, two of the Seventies, and then shook hands with the Saints there, bade them adieu, and took their departure for Europe, thus fulfilling the word of God given nearly a year previously through the Prophet Joseph, and which the enemies of the Kingdom of God said should never be fulfilled.” Months earlier, Theodore Turley had defended Joseph Smith to a group of hostile men that vowed to keep this meeting from happening. He was fortunate enough to be present at the fulfillment of the revelation he stood up for. Brigham Young recorded the following interchange regarding Theodore.
“As the Saints were passing away from the meeting, Brother Turley said to Page and Woodruff, “Stop a bit, while I bid Isaac Russell good-bye”; and knocking at the door called Brother Russell.
His wife answered, “Come in, it is Brother Turley.”
Russell replied, “It is not; he left here two weeks ago,” and appeared quite alarmed; but on finding it was Turley, asked him to sit down; but he replied, “I cannot; I shall lose my company.”
“Who is your company?” inquired Russell.
“Yes. Don’t you know that this is the twenty-sixth, and the day the Twelve were to take leave of their friends on the foundation of the Lord’s House, to go to the islands of the sea? The revelation is now fulfilled, and I am going with them.”
Russell was speechless, and Turley bid him farewell.
Thus was this revelation fulfilled, concerning which our enemies said, if all the other revelations of Joseph Smith were fulfilled, that one should not, as it had day and date to it.”
Journal of Discourses, Vol.13, p.159 – p.160, Wilford Woodruff, December 12, 1869
Wilford Woodruff — History of his life and labors, pp. 101-102
George Q. Cannon, “Life of Joseph Smith the Prophet”
History of the Church, Vol.3, Ch.22, p.339