Life After Death – A Poem by Joseph Smith

Joseph's poem describes in more detail the Plan of Salvation

While attending “Education Week”, a week of gospel centered classes held annually at BYU, I attended a class entitled “Life After Death” by Lawrence R. Flake a Professor of Church History at BYU. It was a wonderful class and I have pages of notes.

As we spent a considerable amount of time in Doctrine & Covenants 76 (The vision of the three degrees of glory) I was surprised to find out that Joseph Smith had not only recorded the revelation for the Book of Commandments but he had also recorded it as a poem.

On New Year’s Day of 1843 criminal charges against Brother Joseph and others had just been dropped and in his joy, W.W. Phelps, personal secretary to the Prophet, wrote a poem to his leader and friend, Joseph.

During the next month, Joseph composed a 312-line, 78-stanza poem as an answer to Phelps’ poem entitled, “The Answer: A Vision”.  It is very similar to Doctrine & Covenants 76 but has very interesting and thought provoking differences, adjustments and additions.

As I mentioned, I was surprised that I had never heard of the poem and very intrigued to study it. Though it is not canon, I found that it gives the account recorded in Doctrine and Covenants more context and depth.  So much so, that I have added it as in insert to my own scriptures.

If, like me, you have never read this, you are in for a treat.  The following is both poems.

(Brother Flake has published a small book with these poems and a brief history. You can find it here)

Click here to open Doctrine & Covenants 76

FROM W. W. PHELPS TO JOSEPH SMITH: THE PROPHET.

VADE MECUM, (TRANSLATED.) GO WITH ME.

Go with me, will you go to the saints that have died,—
To the next, better world, where the righteous reside;
Where the angels and spirits in harmony be
In the joys of a vast paradise? Go with me.

Go with me where the truth and the virtues prevail;
Where the union is one, and the years never fail;
Not a heart can conceive, nor a nat’ral eye see
What the Lord has prepar’d for the just. Go with me.

Go with me where there is no destruction or war;
Neither tyrants, or sland’rers, or nations ajar;
Where the system is perfect, and happiness free,
And the life is eternal with God. Go with me.

Go with me, will you go to the mansions above,
Where the bliss, and the knowledge, the light, and the love,
And the glory of God do eternally be?—
Death, the wages of sin, is not there. Go with me.
Nauvoo, January, 1843.

THE ANSWER. TO W. W. PHELPS, ESQ.

A Vision.

1. I will go, I will go, to the home of the Saints,
Where the virtue’s the value, and life the reward;
But before I return to my former estate
I must fulfil the mission I had from the Lord.

2. Wherefore, hear, O ye heavens, and give ear O ye earth;
And rejoice ye inhabitants truly again;
For the Lord he is God, and his life never ends,
And besides him there ne’er was a Saviour of men. (verse 1)

3. His ways are a wonder; his wisdom is great;
The extent of his doings, there’s none can unveil;
His purposes fail not; from age unto age
He still is the same, and his years never fail. (verses 2-3)

4. His throne is the heavens, his life time is all
Of eternity now, and eternity then;
His union is power, and none stays his hand,—
The Alpha, Omega, for ever: Amen. (verse 4)

5. For thus saith the Lord, in the spirit of truth,
I am merciful, gracious, and good unto those
That fear me, and live for the life that’s to come;
My delight is to honor the saints with repose; (verse 5)

6. That serve me in righteousness true to the end;
Eternal’s their glory, and great their reward;
I’ll surely reveal all my myst’ries to them,—
The great hidden myst’ries in my kingdom stor’d— (verse 6)

7. From the council in Kolob, to time on the earth.
And for ages to come unto them I will show
My pleasure & will, what my kingdom will do:
Eternity’s wonders they truly shall know. (verse 7)

8. Great things of the future I’ll show unto them,
Yea, things of the vast generations to rise;
For their wisdom and glory shall be very great,
And their pure understanding extend to the skies: (verse 8 )

9. And before them the wisdom of wise men shall cease,
And the nice understanding of prudent ones fail!
For the light of my spirit shall light mine elect,
And the truth is so mighty ‘t will ever prevail. (verses 9-10)

10. And the secrets and plans of my will I’ll reveal;
The sanctified pleasures when earth is renew’d,
What the eye hath not seen, nor the ear hath yet heard;
Nor the heart of the natural man ever hath view’d. (verse 10)

11. I, Joseph, the prophet, in spirit beheld,
And the eyes of the inner man truly did see
Eternity sketch’d in a vision from God,
Of what was, and now is, and yet is to be. (verses 11-12)

12. Those things which the Father ordained of old,
Before the world was, or a system had run,—
Through Jesus the Maker and Savior of all;
The only begotten, (Messiah) his son. (verse 13)

13. Of whom I bear record, as all prophets have,
And the record I bear is the fulness,—yea even
The truth of the gospel of Jesus—the Christ,
With whom I convers’d, in the vision of heav’n. (verse 14)

14. For while in the act of translating his word,
Which the Lord in his grace had appointed to me,
I came to the gospel recorded by John,
Chapter fifth and the twenty ninth verse, which you’ll see. (verse 15)
Which was given as follows:
“Speaking of the resurrection of the dead,—
“Concerning those who shall hear the voice of
“the son of man—
“And shall come forth:—
“They who have done good in the resurrection
“of the just.
“And they who have done evil in the
“resurrection of the unjust.” (verses 16-17)

15. I marvel’d at these resurrections, indeed!
For it came unto me by the spirit direct:—
And while I did meditate what it all meant,
The Lord touch’d the eyes of my own intellect: — (verses 18-19)

16. Hosanna forever! they open’d anon,
And the glory of God shone around where I was;
And there was the Son, at the Father’s right hand,
In a fulness of glory, and holy applause. (verse 20)

17. I beheld round the throne, holy angels and hosts,
And sanctified beings from worlds that have been,
In holiness worshipping God and the Lamb,
Forever and ever, amen and amen! (verse 21)

18. And now after all of the proofs made of him,
By witnesses truly, by whom he was known,
This is mine, last of all, that he lives; yea he lives!
And sits at the right hand of God, on his throne. (verse 22)

19. And I heard a great voice, bearing record from heav’n,
He’s the Saviour, and only begotten of God—
By him, of him, and through him, the worlds were all made,
Even all that career in the heavens so broad, (verses 23-24)

20. Whose inhabitants, too, from the first to the last,
Are sav’d by the very same Saviour of ours;
And, of course, are begotten God’s daughters and sons,
By the very same truths, and the very same pow’rs. (verse 24)

21. And I saw and bear record of warfare in heav’n;
For an angel of light, in authority great,
Rebell’d against Jesus, and sought for his pow’r,
But was thrust down to woe from his Godified state. (verse 25)

22. And the heavens all wept, and the tears drop’d like dew,
That Lucifer, son of the morning had fell!
Yea, is fallen! is fall’n, and become, Oh, alas!
The son of Perdition; the devil of hell! (verses 26-27)

23. And while I was yet in the spirit of truth,
The commandment was: write ye the vision all out;
For Satan, old serpent, the devil’s for war,—
And yet will encompass the saints round about. (verses 28-29)

24. And I saw, too, the suff’ring and mis’ry of those,
(Overcome by the devil, in warfare and fight,)
In hell-fire, and vengeance, the doom of the damn’d;
For the Lord said, the vision is further: so write. (verse 30)

25. For thus saith the Lord, now concerning all those
Who know of my power and partake of the same;
And suffer themselves, that they be overcome
By the power of Satan; despising my name: — (verse 31)

26. Defying my power, and denying the truth;—
They are they—of the world, or of men, most forlorn,
The Sons of Perdition, of whom, ah! I say,
‘T were better for them had they never been born! (verses 31-32)

27. They’re vessels of wrath, and dishonor to God,
Doom’d to suffer his wrath, in the regions of woe,
Through the terrific night of eternity’s round,
With the devil and all of his angels below: (verse 33)

28. Of whom it is said, no forgiveness is giv’n,
In this world, alas! nor the world that’s to come;
For they have denied the spirit of God,
After having receiv’d it: and mis’ry’s their doom. (verses 34-35)

29. And denying the only begotten of God,—
And crucify him to themselves, as they do,
And openly put him to shame in their flesh,
By gospel they cannot repentance renew. (verse 35)

30. They are they, who must go to the great lake of fire,
Which burneth with brimstone, yet never consumes,
And dwell with the devil, and angels of his,
While eternity goes and eternity comes. (verse 36)

31. They are they, who must groan through the great second death,
And are not redeemed in the time of the Lord;
While all the rest are, through the triumph of Christ,
Made partakers of grace, by the power of his word. (verses 37-39)

32. The myst’ry of Godliness truly is great;—
The past, and the present, and what is to be;
And this is the gospel-glad tidings to all,
Which the voice from the heavens bore record to me: (verse 40)

33. That he came to the world in the middle of time,
To lay down his life for his friends and his foes,
And bear away sin as a mission of love;
And sanctify earth for a blessed repose. (verse 41)

34. ‘Tis decreed, that he’ll save all the work of his hands,
And sanctify them by his own precious blood;
And purify earth for the Sabbath of rest,
By the agent of fire, as it was by the flood. (verse 42)

35. The Savior will save all his Father did give,
Even all that he gave in the regions abroad,
Save the Sons of Perdition: They’re lost; ever lost,
And can never return to the presence of God. (verse 43)

36. They are they, who must reign with the devil in hell,
In eternity now, and eternity then,
Where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quench’d;—
And the punishment still, is eternal. Amen. (verse 44)

37. And which is the torment apostates receive,
But the end, or the place where the torment began,
Save to them who are made to partake of the same,
Was never, nor will be, revealed unto man. (verses 45-46)

38. Yet God shows by vision a glimpse of their fate,
And straightway he closes the scene that was shown:
So the width, or the depth, or the misery thereof,
Save to those that parktake, is forever unknown. (verses 47-48)

39. And while I was pondering, the vision was closed;
And the voice said to me, write the vision: for lo!
‘Tis the end of the scene of the sufferings of those,
Who remain filthy still in their anguish and woe. (verse 49)

40. And again I bear record of heavenly things,
Where virtue’s the value, above all that’s pric’d—
Of the truth of the gospel concerning the just,
That rise in the first resurrection of Christ. (verse 50)

41. Who receiv’d and believ’d, and repented likewise,
And then were baptis’d, as a man always was,
Who ask’d and receiv’d a remission of sin,
And honored the kingdom by keeping its laws. (verse 51)

42. Being buried in water, as Jesus had been,
And keeping the whole of his holy commands,
They received the gift of the spirit of truth,
By the ordinance truly of laying on hands. (verse 52)

43. For these overcome, by their faith and their works,
Being tried in their life-time, as purified gold,
And seal’d by the spirit of promise, to life,
By men called of God, as was Aaron of old. (verse 53)

44. They are they, of the church of the first born of God,—
And unto whose hands he committeth all things;
For they hold the keys of the kingdom of heav’n,
And reign with the Savior, as priests, and as kings. (verses 54-56)

45. They’re priests of the order of Melchizedek,
Like Jesus, (from whom is this highest reward,)
Receiving a fulness of glory and light;
As written: They’re Gods; even sons of the Lord. (verses 57-58)

46. So all things are theirs; yea, of life, or of death;
Yea, whether things now, or to come, all are theirs,
And they are the Savior’s, and he is the Lord’s,
Having overcome all, as eternity’s heirs. (verses 59-60)

47. ‘Tis wisdom that man never glory in man,
But give God the glory for all that he hash;
For the righteous will walk in the presence of God,
While the wicked are trod under foot in his wrath. (verse 61)

48. Yea, the righteous shall dwell in the presence of God,
And of Jesus, forever, from earth’s second birth—
For when he comes down in the splendor of heav’n,
All these he’ll bring with him, to reign on the earth. (verses 62-63)

49. These are they that arise in their bodies of flesh,
When the trump of the first resurrection shall sound;
These are they that come up to Mount Zion, in life,
Where the blessings and gifts of the spirit abound. (verses 64-66)

50. These are they that have come to the heavenly place;
To the numberless courses of angels above:
To the city of God; e’en the holiest of all,
And the home of the blessed, the fountain of love: (verse 67)

51. To the church of old Enoch, and of the first born:
And gen’ral assembly of ancient renown’d.
Whose names are all kept in the archives of heav’n,
As chosen and faithful, and fit to be crown ‘d. (verse 68)

52. These are they that are perfect through Jesus’ own blood,
Whose bodies celestial are mention’d by Paul,
Where the sun is the typical glory thereof,
And God, and his Christ, are the true judge of all. (verses 69-70)

53. Again, I beheld the terrestrial world,
In the order and glory of Jesus, go on;
‘Twas not as the church of the first born of God,
But shone in its place, as the moon to the sun. (verse 71)

54. Behold, these are they that have died without law;
The heathen of ages that never had hope.
And those of the region and shadow of death,
The spirits in prison, that light has brought up. (verses 72-73)

55. To spirits in prison the Savior once preach’d,
And taught them the gospel, with powers afresh;
And then were the living baptiz’d for their dead,
That they might be judg’d as if men in the flesh. (verse 74)

56. These are they that are hon’rable men of the earth;
Who were blinded and dup’d by the cunning of men:
They receiv’d not the truth of the Savior at first;
But did, when they heard it in prison, again. (verses 74-75)

57. Not valiant for truth, they obtain’d not the crown,
But are of that glory that’s typ’d by the moon:
They are they, that come into the presence of Christ,
But not to the fulness of God, on his throne. (verses 76-79)

58. Again I beheld the telestial, as third,
The lesser, or starry world, next in its place.
For the leaven must leaven three measures of meal,
And every knee bow that is subject to grace. (verse 81)

59. These are they that receiv’d not the gospel of Christ,
Or evidence, either, that he ever was;
As the stars are all diff’rent in glory and light,
So differs the glory of these by the laws. (verse 82)

60. These are they that deny not the spirit of God,
But are thrust down to hell, with the devil, for sins,
As hypocrites, liars, whoremongers, and thieves,
And stay ’till the last resurrection begins. (verses 83-85)

61. ‘Till the Lamb shall have finish’d the work he begun;
Shall have trodden the wine press, in fury alone,
And overcome all by the pow’r of his might:
He conquers to conquer, and save all his own. (verses 85 and 107)

62. These are they that receive not a fulness of light,
From Christ, in eternity’s world, where they are,
The terrestrial sends them the Comforter, though;
And minist’ring angels, to happify there. (verse 86)

63. And so the telestial is minister’d to,
By ministers from the terrestrial one,
As terrestrial is, from the celestial throne;
And the great, greater, greatest, seem’s stars, moon, and sun. (verses 86-88)

64. And thus I beheld, in the vision of heav’n,
The telestial glory, dominion and bliss,
Surpassing the great understanding of men,—
Unknown, save reveal’d, in a world vain as this. (verses 89-90)

65. And lo, I beheld the terrestrial, too,
Which excels the telestial in glory and light,
In splendor, and knowledge, and wisdom, and joy,
In blessings, and graces, dominion and might. (verse 91)

66. I beheld the celestial, in glory sublime;
Which is the most excellent kingdom that is,—
Where God, e’en the Father, in harmony reigns;
Almighty, supreme, and eternal, in bliss. (verses 92-93)

67. Where the church of the first born in union reside,
And they are as they’re seen, and they know as they’re known;
Being equal in power, dominion and might,
With a fulness of glory and grace, round his throne. (verses 94-95)

68. The glory celestial is one like the sun;
The glory terrestr’al is one like the moon;
The glory telestial is one like the stars,
And all harmonize like the parts of a tune. (verses 96-98)

69. As the stars are all different in lustre and size,
So the telestial region, is mingled in bliss;
From least unto greatest, and greatest to least,
The reward is exactly as promis’d in this. (verse 98)

70. These are they that came out for Apollos and Paul;
For Cephas and Jesus, in all kinds of hope;
For Enoch and Moses, and Peter, end John;
For Luther and Calvin, and even the Pope. (verses 99-100)

71. For they never received the gospel of Christ,
Nor the prophetic spirit that came from the Lord;
Nor the covenant neither, which Jacob once had;
They went their own way, and they have their reward. (verses 100-1)

72. By the order of God, last of all, these are they,
That will not be gather’d with saints here below,
To be caught up to Jesus, and meet in the clouds:—
In darkness they worshipp’d; to darkness they go. (verse 102)

73. These are they that are sinful, the wicked at large,
That glutted their passion by meanness or worth;
All liars, adulterers, sorc’rers, and proud;
And suffer, as promis’d, God’s wrath on the earth. (verses 103-4)

74. These are they that must suffer the vengeance of hell,
‘Till Christ shall have trodden all enemies down,
And perfected his work, in the fulness of times:
And is crown’d on his throne with his glorious crown. (verses 105-8)

75. The vast multitude of the telestial world—
As the stars of the skies, or the sands of the sea;—
The voice of Jehovah echo’d far and wide,
Ev’ry tongue shall confess, and they all bow the knee. (verses 109-10)

76. Ev’ry man shall be judg’d by the works of his life,
And receive a reward in the mansions prepar’d;
For his judgments are just, and his works never end,
As his prophets and servants have always declar’d. (verse 111)

77. But the great things of God, which he show’d unto me,
Unlawful to utter, I dare not declare;
They surpass all the wisdom and greatness of men,
And only are seen, as has Paul, where they are. (verses 114-18)

78. I will go, I will go, while the secret of life,
Is blooming in heaven, and blasting in hell;
Is leaving on earth, and a budding in space:—
I will go, I will go, with you, brother, farewell.

JOSEPH SMITH.
Nauvoo, Feb. 1843.

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4 Responses to Life After Death – A Poem by Joseph Smith

  1. J. Stapley says:

    Note that this poem was actually written by W. W. Phelps. See: Michael Hicks, “Joseph Smith, W. W. Phelps, and the Poetic Paraphrase of ‘The Vision,'” Journal of Mormon History 20 (Fall, 1994): 63-84.

    • Troy says:

      Hi J. Stapley,

      I’m glad you brought that up. Though Hicks makes the case that it was in fact W.W. Phelps who authored the poem, there is significant evidence that point more to the Prophet than to Phelps.

      In the book I referenced, Flake concedes that Joseph “may have enlisted the assistance of a more experienced poet, possilby even W.W. Phelps, in composing “The Answer,” it seems clear that the work is primarily his own.” (Flake, Lawrence R. (2006). Three Degrees of Glory. American Fork, Utah: Covenant Communications.)

      Flake then lists four points, including citations from History of the Church and Times and Seasons that, at least for him, demonstrate that the primary author of the poem was Joseph Smith.

      Further, Richard N Holzapfel concluded that Joseph was the author (“Eternity Sketch’d in a Vision'”The Poetic Version of Doctrine and Covenants 76,” The Heavens Are Open: The 1992 Sperry Symposium on the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1993, 141-62).

      William H. Brugger felt that Joseph and Phelps worked together to compose “The Answer.” (“Section 76 as Literature in the Doctrine and Covenants,” Master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1993, 100)

      Regardless, it is a wonderful resource that gives D&C 76 a “3-D” feel. Clearly, though we may not be sure who penned or arranged it, we know that the principles and Truths originated from other “spheres.”

  2. J. Stapley says:

    Don’t get me wrong, it is a great piece and fun. And it is true that most scholars before Hicks published assumed that JS was the author. However, I am currently unaware of any credible historians that accept JS authoriship (note that I haven’t spoken to everyone about this, but those with whom I have spoken on the topic have so noted). Pointing to JS’s attribution in the T&S and HC only shows that it was attributed to JS, which is the whole point of ghost writing.

    I generally think it is interesting as expansion. Section 76 is a report of a vision, and consequently fundamentally different than most sections of the D&C which were delivered as revelations. It is clear that some of the observations noted in the text were in retrospect mistaken. That is to say that even though Rigdon and JS had the vision, they didn’t necessarily understand everything they saw (hence the expansions of section 137, and later proxy rituals). The poetic paraphrase is consequently interesting to me as both reception history, how were people interpreting the vision at the time (even JS).

  3. Troy says:

    Very, very interesting and “fun”. Thanks for your comments Brother Stapley

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