“There is a possibility that in its very arduousness lies the secret of its success”
— Joseph Smith III on the Seventy
As I’ve been researching about the activities of the Seventies in the early church period (1835-1860), I have a number of books all around my desk. I picked up Volume 3 of the old blue 8-volume RLDS history, and opening it at random I came upon this text (pp. 436-439), which I’ve retyped in order to share here. While Joseph Smith III’s thoughts on the Seventy are 150 years old, many of his words continue to resonate.*
ON THE TWELVE AND THE SEVENTY
On May 1, 1866, President Joseph Smith [III] published over his own signature a document defining the duties of the Twelve and Seventy. This document is well worth preservation, both because of its merit, and because it treats of the duties of two of the chief quorums of the church. It is as follows:—
“The duties of the Twelve, as a quorum, are to sit in council upon matters appertaining to the spread of the work abroad, and the firm continuation of it in the land of Zion; and upon this is based the recognition of their right to ordain and set in order all other officers in the church.
“Now, it seems to follow, that as they are to be representatives of the church while the gospel is being carried to the ends of the earth, and the church is to become as a light set upon a hill, this quorum of people should travel under the special direction of the spirit of their calling, and should live as it becomes righteous people to live. This being the case, the former requirements are seen to be essential, either inherent or in the process of acquirement.
“Their decisions (if unanimous) are of high importance, equal in authority to those of the First Presidency and are to be made in righteousness; how carefully then ought this band of especial witnesses to walk as a quorum and as individuals.
“At our April conference, just passed, the Spirit seem to indicate that the establishment of lines and boundaries over which the Twelve as integral parts were set to preside, was a contradiction of duty inconsistent with the character of the work, and an effort was made to place them more immediately under the impulses of the Spirit of God and the direction of the Presidency of the Church. We can all see that this accords with our understanding of the law; and no fears ought to be entertained that the Spirit will direct to be done that which is not in keeping with the law and the revelations heretofore received.
“The day has now come when the dread demons of distrust and suspicion must be exorcised by the efficient prayers of the faithful saints, for there are many lo heres, and lo theres, and few shall be able to stand.
“Let every one then go to with their own might to purge the evil from their own heart, and united, stand for the bulwarks of our liberty in the gospel.
“The Seventy are a body of elders set apart for the work of the ministry as a travelling quorum, working under the more immediate call of the Twelve, to preach the word, build up churches, officiate in the various directions necessary in spreading the gospel, and all acts that an elder may do by virtue of their office as such elder, a seventy may do. But there are certain conditions which require a seventy to travel, as especial witnesses, that are not binding upon the body of elders.
“There can be by the law seven quorums of Seventy, seemingly too small a number for evangelization purposes; and yet when we consider the number of elders there may be in the church, we are forced to acknowledge that God is wiser than man, and does not wish to cumber the legislative bodies of the church with too great numbers.
“The Seventy are to be people of action; ready to go and to come, full of energy and zeal; prepared at a moment’s warning to follow the lead of the Spirit, to the north, east, south, or west: proclaiming the gospel as they go, baptizing all who come unto them, laying their hands upon the sick in common with their brethren of the Twelve; under no responsibility of presiding, but when the Spirit so directs, or exigency requires, they may preside by virtue of their right to officiate as elders in the church.
“The law also contemplates the Seventy as a legislative body, and a decision made by these quorums (if unanimous) is of like importance as a decision of the Twelve.
“It may be also be concluded that any act which an high priest might do, while abroad as a minister of the gospel building up the church, might be legitimately done by one of the Seventy; for in speaking of the difference between the two quorums, the law says: that those who belong not unto this quorum, neither unto the Twelve, are not under responsibility to travel, nevertheless they may hold as high and responsible offices in the church; evidently carrying the inference that this was an office in authority greater than an elder, and if an elder may, why may not a seventy, or an apostle preside.
“It is eminently becoming to the office of a seventy to be contented and cheerful, full of hope of a renewed covenant; free from the resident care of a local congregation, nevertheless wise as a counselor both to the world and the church, having soberness as a safeguard against the levity of the world; always bearing about the consciousness of a slain and risen Redeemer, with assurance of a realized hope; and ever able to give by precept and example a reason for that hope.
“Is it an arduous undertaking? Most unquestionably it is; but while it is so arduous, there is a possibility that in its very arduousness lies the secret of its success, for in its successful ministry the devils are to be subject to the power of God.
“May the Lord God help the Seventy is the prayer of every well wisher of the latter-day work.
“There is a duty devolving alike upon these two quorums, i.e., the Twelve and the Seventy, that it is well to notice here. We mean the duty of being prayerful people, for by this shall come their power. Now if we could suppose that people could successfully propagate the work of the last dispensation, without the faith requisite to yield to obedience to its laws, we could imagine a ministry without purse or scrip, going to the ends of the earth declaring the way of life, without prayer, but we cannot, it follows that these people must be cared for by the divine Ruler of all, and must exercise the faithful prayer, the earnest desire of the soul, by which they are blessed of God.
“Purse and scrip are laid aside. It is the Lord’s work. He has promised to provide for them. Self-denial is to become a pleasure, danger is forgotten, fear overcome and cast out; revilings accepted with humility, and scoffings without reproach; the goods of this world measured only by their usefulness to the advance of truth; wisdom taken as a companion — a lovely handmaiden of the Lord; and with the blue dome as their rooftree, the Lord their refuge in sunshine and in storm; his hand their guard, his Spirit their comfort and their guide; Christ their pattern, his followers their brethren, and all the world their neighbors, the pass out, away from the scenes dear to them into the great harvest field, there to weild the sword of truth as ambassadors for Christ, and him crucified. Here is the sublimity of their calling, the excellency of their hope, and who shall then be found to deny them their reward? We trust no one.
“Away with the bickering jealousy of place and of power, let the ultimate accomplishment of our salvation enable us to overcome the divisions of the hour, and the distraction of the time, uniting for the present redemption of Zion.”
— JOSEPH SMITH [III]
*In six places, I’ve used the word “people” to update the word “men” and in two I’ve substituted “their” for “his.”