King Follett discourse

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The King Follett discourse, or King Follett sermon, was an address delivered in Nauvoo, Illinois by Joseph Smith, president and founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, on April 7, 1844, less than three months before his assassination. The discourse was presented to a congregation of probably more than twenty thousand Latter-day Saints at a general conference held shortly after the funeral service of Elder King Follett, who had died on March 9, 1844 of accidental injuries.[1] The sermon is notable for its claim that God was once a mortal man, and that mortal men and women can become gods (a doctrine called theosis) through salvation and exaltation. These topics were, and are, controversial, and have received varying opinions and interpretations of what Smith meant. Literary critic Harold Bloom called the sermon "one of the truly remarkable sermons ever preached in America."[2]

Text[edit]

A full, verbatim account of the speech does not exist, but notes exist, taken contemporaneously, by Thomas Bullock (using a type of personal shorthand), William Clayton (writing in longhand), and Willard Richards (taking "minute"-style notes of major elements of the speech).[3] Wilford Woodruff also took extensive contemporaneous notes and transferred the notes to his journal with editorializations, but his original notes were not preserved.[3] One author (Searle) estimates that the surviving notes of the sermon contain roughly 30% of the words of the actual address, but that together, they are likely nearly topically complete.[4]

A version reconstructed (by Bullock) from the Bullock and Clayton records was published in the church paper Times and Seasons of August 15, 1844. A later version resulted from amalgamation of the Richards, Woodruff, Bullock and Clayton texts. This amalgamation was done by church employee Jonathan Grimshaw roughly ten years after Smith's death and is generally regarded as the "official" LDS Church version because it was carefully reviewed, edited, and approved by LDS authorities including Brigham Young.[5] It contains some text not found in any of the primary sources and contains redundancies resulting from the naïve reconstruction. These redundancies, and the parts added by Grimshaw without support in the contemporaneous notes, were removed in a modern amalgamation by Stan Larson in 1978.[3]

Attitude of Latter-day Saint leaders[edit]

The sermon was not always viewed in a favorable light by leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church)[6] or other denominations in the Latter Day Saint movement. It was not published in the LDS Church's 1902 History of the Church because of then-Church President Joseph F. Smith's discomfort with some ideas in the sermon popularized by the editor of the project, B. H. Roberts of the First Council of the Seventy.[7] By 1950, it was included in the revised edition of History of the Church.[6] In 1971, the sermon was published in the Ensign, an official publication of the LDS Church.[1][8]

LDS Church President Lorenzo Snow succinctly summarized a portion of the doctrine explained in this discourse using a couplet, which is often repeated within the church:

As man now is, God once was:
As God now is, man may be.[9][10]

Topics[edit]

Doctrinal topics in the sermon include:

  • the fundamental nature of reality --
man is not a contingent being, moreover God made the world from preexisting "chaotic matter."
"I take my ring from my finger and liken it unto the mind of man ... because it has no beginning"
"The pure principles of element, are principles that can never be destroyed."[11]
  • the character and nature of God --
"It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another."[12]
"God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and ... God ... (were) to make himself visible ... if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form -- like yourselves in all the person, image, and the very form as a man."[12]
  • Humanity’s potential to become Gods themselves. --
Smith discussed the potential of mankind by referencing Romans 8:17, then stating that men may go: "...from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation ... until (they) arrive at the station of a God."[13]
  • the tie between the living and their progenitors --
"Is there nothing to be done? -- no preparation -- no salvation for our fathers and friends who have died without having had the opportunity to obey the decrees of the Son of Man?"[14]
"God hath made a provision that every spirit in the eternal world can be ... saved unless he has committed (the) unpardonable sin."[15]

Regarding his personal religious experiences, Smith stated: "I don't blame anyone for not believing my history. If I had not experienced what I have, I could not have believed it myself."[16] Concerned with difficulties facing the church and threats on his own life, he closed the two hour and fifteen minute address with a plea for peace and invoked God's blessing on the assembled Latter Day Saints.

Although the discourse is considered by Mormons to be one of the most important given by Smith on the nature of God and exaltation, it is not part of the LDS Church's canonized scriptures.

The topics in the discourse were not new to Smith's preaching.[17] Nearly all the subjects treated were continuing threads from earlier sermons. However, this discourse brought these ideas together in one connected narrative, and has had much wider distribution than most of the rest of his public utterances.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]

  • Biography of King Follett, The Joseph Smith Papers (accessed December 28, 2011)