For those of us associated with the Reorganization, the revelation received by Jason Briggs in November, 1851, is significant. It was not only the beginning point of the Reorganization, but according to an article at restorationbookstore.org entitled “The Importance of the Revelation Given to Jason Briggs,” it was the Lord’s declaration that Joseph was innocent of polygamy.
As background to the revelation the article states,
After the death of Joseph Smith, Jr., on June 27, 1844, the Church was thrown into chaos, and many factions formed due to two points of doctrine. Even though Joseph had designated his son, Joseph III, four times—in the Liberty Jail, the Red Brick Store, the Grove in Nauvoo, and the Mansion House—to succeed him according to [RLDS] Doctrine and Covenants, Section 43:1–2 and the law of father-to-son lineal priesthood descent ([RLDS] DC 83:2; 84:3; 104:18), many Church leaders believed it was their right to lead the Church after his death. The men who led the largest groups were Brigham Young, Sidney Rigdon, William Smith, James J. Strang, and Lyman Wight. William Smith (the Martyr's brother) and Lyman Wight, who were both apostles, were the only ones who supported Young Joseph as the next prophet. However, in the years just prior to the Reorganization, William Smith recanted that position and claimed that he was the successor of Joseph Smith, Jr. (see RLDS History of the Church 3:738). The second false doctrine common to many of the factions was the teaching and practice of spiritual wifery (also known as plural marriage, celestial marriage, or polygamy). Within those factions this false teaching proved to be a source of discontent to those who sought to remain true to the beliefs of the Church.
After Joseph's death, Brigham Young, with the support of eight other apostles, took control of the Church at Nauvoo. Those in disagreement with them were either expelled or left the Church on their own. At the time of Joseph's death, the total Church membership was estimated to be from 150,000 to 200,000 members worldwide with about 30,000 living in and around Nauvoo (see ibid., 1). Brigham took a total of about 10,000 with him to Utah (see ibid., 27), rebaptizing all the members and reordaining the priesthood (see ibid., 18–19). He also took with him the Church structure including the bishopric and quorums, as well as Church records and assets. Church members who did not follow Brigham to Utah and believed in the original doctrines of the Church, associated with one of the other leaders until doctrines were taught that were not in the original Church. Then they would associate with someone else, hoping to find the Church in its purity (see ibid., 196–198). It was under these circumstances that the Saints tried to hold on to the Church and Gospel as best as they could during the "dark and cloudy day" after Joseph's death.
In the first part of 1851, Jason Briggs and the Beloit, Wisconsin, Branch left Strang and associated with William Smith's group. William was teaching that Young Joseph was the rightful heir to the Presidency of the High Priesthood. However, in the fall of that year Briggs learned that William Smith was beginning to advocate two new doctrines in his organization: the practice of polygamy and that he was the true successor to Joseph the Martyr (see ibid., 738). In addition, none of the other factions seemed to be teaching the original doctrines of the Church established by Joseph. Briggs had been ordained an elder in the Church prior to Joseph's death and wanted to continue to minister for the Lord, but he could not find a group that he believed represented the Church in Joseph's day. Under these circumstances Jason Briggs went to the Lord in prayer asking for divine guidance as to what he was to do.
About the revelation, Jason Briggs stated:
While pondering in my heart the situation of the church, on the 18th day of November, 1851, on the prairie, about three miles northwest of Beloit, Wisconsin, the Spirit of the Lord came upon me, and the visions of truth opened to my mind, and the Spirit of the Lord said unto me,
"Verily, verily, saith the Lord, even Jesus Christ, unto his servant, Jason W. Briggs, concerning the church: Behold, I have not cast off my people; neither have I changed in regard to Zion. Yea, verily, my people shall be redeemed, and my law shall be kept which I revealed unto my servant, Joseph Smith, Jr., for I am God and not man, and who is he that shall turn me from my purpose, or destroy whom I would preserve? Wolves have entered into the flock, and who shall deliver them? Where is he that giveth his life for the flock? Behold, I will judge those who call themselves shepherds, and have preyed upon the flock of my pastures.
"And because you have asked me in faith concerning William Smith, this is the answer of the Lord thy God concerning him: I, the Lord, have permitted him to represent the rightful heir to the presidency of the high priesthood of my church by reason of the faith and prayers of his father, and his brothers, Joseph and Hyrum Smith, which came up before me in his behalf; and to respect the law of lineage, by which the holy priesthood is transmitted, in all generations, when organized into quorums. And the keys which were taught him by my servant Joseph were of me, that I might prove him therewith. And for this reason have I poured out my Spirit through his ministrations, according to the integrity of those who received them.
"But as Esau despised his birthright, so has William Smith despised my law, and forfeited that which pertained to him as an apostle and high priest in my church. And his spokesman, Joseph Wood, shall fall with him, for they are rejected of me. They shall be degraded in their lives, and shall die without regard; for they have wholly forsaken my law, and given themselves to all manner of uncleanness, and prostituted my law and the keys of power entrusted to them, to the lusts of the flesh, and have run greedily in the way of adultery.
"Therefore, let the elders whom I have ordained by the hand of my servant Joseph, or by the hand of those ordained by him, resist not this authority, nor faint in the discharge of duty, which is to preach my gospel as revealed in the record of the Jews, and the Book of Mormon, and the Book of Doctrine and Covenants; and cry repentance and remission of sins through obedience to the gospel, and I will sustain them, and give them my Spirit; and in mine own due time will I call upon the seed of Joseph Smith, and will bring one forth, and he shall be mighty and strong, and he shall preside over the high priesthood of my church; and then shall the quorums assemble, and the pure in heart shall gather, and Zion shall be reinhabited, as I said unto my servant Joseph Smith; after many days shall all these things be accomplished, saith the Spirit. Behold, that which ye received as my celestial law is not of me, but is the doctrine of Baalam. And I command you to denounce it and proclaim against it; and I will give you power, that none shall be able to withstand your words, if you rely upon me; for my Spirit shall attend you." And the Spirit said unto me, "Write, write, write; write the revelation and send it unto the saints at Palestine, and at Voree, and at Waukesha, and to all places where this doctrine is taught as my law; and whomsoever will humble themselves before me, and ask of me, shall receive of my Spirit a testimony that these words are of me. Even so. Amen." (RLDS History of the Church 3:200–201; The Messenger, edited by Jason W. Briggs, vol. 2, p. 1 )
The article then goes on to explain how the revelation proves Joseph was innocent of polygamy.
One of the most important parts of this revelation is the Lord's condemnation of polygamy and His indication of Joseph's innocence. In the last paragraph the Lord states, "Behold, that which ye received as my celestial law is not of me, but is the doctrine of Baalam. And I command you to denounce it and proclaim against it...." (Of course, the reference to "celestial law" means celestial marriage which is spiritual wifery or polygamy.) [In recent years] polygamy has become newsworthy, and Joseph Smith, Jr., is unquestioningly credited by the media for its inception within the Latter Day Saint movement. For those of us having the common heritage of the Reorganization, the revelation received by Jason Briggs should remove all doubt of Joseph's innocence in the teaching or practice of polygamy. In the third paragraph of the revelation, the Lord said that William Smith and his spokesman, Joseph Wood, had "given themselves to all manner of uncleanness, and prostituted my law and the keys of power intrusted to them, to the lusts of the flesh, and have run greedily in the way of adultery." In essence, because of William Smith's polygamy teachings, the Lord called him an adulterer. However, four times in the same revelation, the Lord called Joseph His servant. Since God is unchangeable and no respecter of persons, if Joseph had taught or practiced polygamy, the Lord would have also indicated he was an adulterer. Since the Lord unmistakably called Joseph His servant, this revelation is confirmation that Joseph did not teach nor practice polygamy. Thus, no one who claims the divinity of the Reorganization should ever doubt the innocence of Joseph regarding polygamy—for the Lord, Himself, proclaimed him innocent.