Learning to Love
Doctrine and Covenants

Section 12: Joseph Knight’s Call to Labor By Michael J. Preece

Section 12: Joseph Knight’s Call to Labor

As early as 1826, Joseph Smith had worked near Colesville, New York, a town about twenty miles from Harmony, Pennsylvania, for a farmer and mill owner named Joseph Knight, Sr. This old gentleman had subsequently become a close friend of Joseph’s and had assisted him on several occasions. Brother Knight lent the prophet his horse and buggy the day Joseph married Emma Hale.

While Joseph and Oliver were translating the Book of Mormon, Joseph Knight, Sr., visited them repeatedly to bring them food and other provisions which allowed them to continue translating. The friendship between the elder Knight and Joseph was such that Joseph had kept him apprised of the developments in the coming forth of the Book of Mormon plates, and Knight was obviously interested and involved. On the day Joseph obtained the plates in September 1827, Knight was visiting in the Smith home in Manchester. According to Lucy Smith, her son used Knight’s horse and carriage as his means of conveyance on that occasion (Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, [Liverpool: 1853], 99-101).

Joseph Knight wrote a charming account of helping Joseph and Emma in the winter of 1828 when the latter two lived in Harmony and were trying to scratch out a living and yet find time to work on the translation of the Book of Mormon:

Now he could not translate but little, being poor and nobody to write for him but his wife, and she could not do much and take care of her house, and he being poor and no means to live but work. His wife’s father and family were all against him and would not help him. He and his wife came up to see me the first of the winter 1828 and told me his case. But I was not in easy circumstances, and I did not know what it might amount to, and my wife and family [were] all against me about helping him. But I let him have some little provisions and some few things out of the store—a pair of shoes and three dollars in money to help him a little. In January his father and Samuel [Smith] came from Manchester to my house when I was busy a drawing lumber. I told him they had traveled far enough. I would go with my sleigh and take them down tomorrow. I went down and found them well, and they were glad to see us. We conversed about many things. In the morning I gave the old man a half a dollar and Joseph a little money to buy paper to translate, I having but little with me. The old gentleman told me to come and see him once in a while as I could. I went home followed teaming [sic] till the last of March, the sleighing being good. I told my wife I must go down and see Joseph again. “Why do you go so soon, for,” said she. Says I, “Come go and see.” And she went with me. Next morning we went down and found them well and were glad to see us. Joseph talked with us about his translating and some revelations he had received and from that time my wife began to believe and continued a full believer until she died, and that was the 7th day of August 1831 (from an original holograph by Joseph Knight, Sr., reported by Dean C. Jessee in “Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History” in BYU Studies, 17:1, spelling and punctuation changes added for clarity.)

A few months later, after Oliver Cowdery had joined Joseph in the translating, the elder Knight’s help was again needed:

Now Joseph and Oliver came up to see me if I could help him to some provisions, [they] having no way to buy any. But I was [away] to Catskill. But when I came home my folks told me what Joseph wanted. But I had engaged to go to Catskill again the next day, and I went again and I bought a barrel of mackerel and some lined paper for writing. And when I came home I bought some nine or ten bushels of grain and five or six bushels taters and a pound of tea, and I went down to see him and they were in want. Joseph and Oliver were gone to see if they could find a place to work for provisions, but found none. They returned home and found me there with provisions, and they were glad for they were out. Their family consisted of four, Joseph and wife, Oliver, and his [Joseph’s] brother Samuel. Then they went to work and had provisions enough to last till the translation was done (Ibid.).

Joseph Knight was born November 3, 1772, and was thus more than thirty-three years older that the Prophet Joseph. In spite of their age difference, he remained a remarkably faithful friend of the prophet. Joseph would later say of him:

[He] was among the number of the first to administer to my necessities, while I was laboring in the commencement of the bringing forth of the work of the Lord, and of laying the foundation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For fifteen years he has been faithful and true, and even-handed and exemplary, and virtuous and kind, never deviating to the right hand or to the left. Behold he is a righteous man, may God Almighty lengthen out the old man’s days; and may his trembling, tortured, and broken body be renewed, and in the vigor of health turn upon him if it be Thy will, consistently, O God; and it shall be said of him, by the sons of Zion, while there is one of them remaining, that this was a faithful man in Israel; therefore his name shall never be forgotten (HC, 4:124-25).

Joseph Knight had been a Universalist and tended to believe that no one church was the true church, but that there was good to be found in all churches. In section 23, Brother Knight will be instructed to join the Church. He was baptized in June of 1830, and his family formed the nucleus of a small branch of the Church in Colesville, New York. In 1831 he moved with the Colesville saints to Kirtland, Ohio, and a few months later continued with them to Independence, Missouri where he helped pioneer the Latter-day Saint settlement of that state. He died on February 3, 1847 at Mount Pisgah, Iowa, during the Mormon exodus from Illinois. His son, Newel Knight, became even better known in church history. Newel Knight will be mentioned in sections 52, 54, 56, and 124).

During one visit to Harmony, Joseph Knight asked the Prophet to inquire of the Lord on his behalf. Section 12 resulted.

verses 1-6 Herein is reiterated what the Lord had taught Joseph Smith, Sr., in section 4. For commentary on verses 1-6, see the commentary on D&C 6:1-9 and D&C 4:1-4.

1 A great and marvelous work is about to come forth unto the children of men.

2 Behold, I am God; give heed to my word, which is quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword, to the dividing asunder of both joints and marrow; therefore, give heed unto my word.

3 Behold, the field is white already to harvest; therefore, whoso desireth to reap let him thrust in his sickle with his might, and reap while the day lasts, that he may treasure up for his soul everlasting salvation in the kingdom of God.

4 Yea, whosoever will thrust in his sickle and reap, the same is called of God.

5 Therefore, if you will ask of me you shall receive; if you will knock it shall be opened unto you.

6 Now, as you have asked, behold, I say unto you, keep my commandments, and seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion.

7 Behold, I speak unto you, and also to all those who have desires to bring forth and establish this work;

verse 7 See the commentary for section 11, verse 27.

8 And no one can assist in this work except he shall be humble and full of love, having faith, hope, and charity, being temperate in all things, whatsoever shall be entrusted to his care.

verse 8 “humble” Without a knowledge of our utter dependence upon God, we cannot serve him effectively. It is his plan, his gospel, his Spirit, his work, and his glory.

“full of love” Joseph Smith wrote, “Love is one of the chief characteristics of Deity, and ought to be manifested by those who aspire to be the sons of God. A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race” (HC, 4:227).

“being temperate” This is to exercise moderation or self-control and to resist the carnal urge to indulge in extremes, particularly in personal and physical habits and in physical indulgences. Examples of intemperance would be not getting enough sleep, or getting too much sleep; not eating enough, or eating too much; not exercising enough, or exercising too much. Geographically speaking, the temperate zones are those latitudes which maintain a moderate climate. A temperate individual is one in whom extremes are similarly not often manifested, but who maintains a moderate “climate” in his personal life.

9 Behold, I am the light and the life of the world, that speak these words, therefore give heed with your might, and then you are called. Amen.

- Michael J. Preece