“No man can be a minister of Jesus Christ except he has the testimony of Jesus; and this is the spirit of prophecy.”
- History of the Church, 3:389
Devin Miller (Mountain Green, Utah)
Father and Husband
Joseph has just escaped
The saints had moved from Quincy, Illinois, during the early months of 1839, to settle in Commerce, Illinois. Joseph Smith had just escaped the Missouri imprisonment and was helping the saints to build in the swamp. As most of the town became sick and many people were on their death beds, Joseph Smith and the other leaders of the church were filled with the spirit and went about blessing everyone throughout the town.
Walking the streets
I picture the Prophet Joseph Smith walking the streets, blessing everyone. Literally calling down the power of God to bless a whole town who was sick from working in swamp infested lands because they had been pushed around from place to place. I picture that as one priesthood holder is blessed and healed he joins the ranks of the other priesthood holders to walk about healing others.
Joseph Smith set such a great example of using the power of the priesthood to serve and bless others. We should each seek to be worthy to bless a single person or a town if we are called upon to do so.
The Full Story
Following a brief period of refuge in Quincy, Illinois, during the early months of 1839, the Saints began moving about 50 miles north to the settlement of Commerce, Illinois. After his escape from his Missouri imprisonment, the Prophet had begun purchasing tracts of land in and around Commerce as gathering places for the thousands who had fled Missouri and now needed a place to rebuild their lives.
Sick and Abandoned
By July 1839, hundreds of Saints were camping in tents and wagons on the east side of the Mississippi River in Commerce, while others had found shelter in abandoned military barracks on the opposite side of the river in Montrose, Iowa. In this new home, the Saints worked to clear and drain the swampy land near the river.
Many Church members were bitten by mosquitoes and fell seriously ill with malaria and other diseases. Some of the Saints died, and others were near death. Joseph and Emma Smith took so many into their log home to nurse that the Prophet gave up his bed to sleep outside in a tent.
Joseph Smith recorded: “Much sickness began to manifest itself among the brethren, as well as among the inhabitants of the place, so that this week and the following were generally spent in visiting the sick and administering to them; some had faith enough and were healed; others had not…”
“Sunday 28.—Meeting was held as usual. … I spoke, and admonished the members of the Church individually to set their houses in order, to make clean the inside of the platter, and to meet on the next Sabbath to partake of the Sacrament, in order that by our obedience to the ordinances, we might be enabled to prevail with God against the destroyer, and that the sick might be healed. All this week chiefly spent among the sick, who in general are gaining strength, and recovering health.”
“Many of the righteous shall fall a prey to disease, to pestilence, etc., by reason of the weakness of the flesh, and yet be saved in the Kingdom of God. So that it is an unhallowed principle to say that such and such have transgressed because they have been preyed upon by disease or death, for all flesh is subject to death; and the Savior has said, ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged.’ [See Matthew 7:1.]”
On July 22, 1839, Elijah Fordham rose from the “sleep of death” after Joseph Smith entered his home and declared, “Elijah, I command you, in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, to arise and be made whole!”
Midst of Sickness
On July 22, in the midst of the sickness that afflicted so many, the Saints witnessed what Elder Wilford Woodruff would call “a day of God’s power.”
That morning the Prophet arose, called upon the Lord in prayer, and, being filled with the Spirit of the Lord, administered to the sick in his house, in the yard outside, and down by the river. He crossed the river and visited the home of Brigham Young in Montrose to give him a healing blessing. Then, in company with Sidney Rigdon, Brigham Young, and other members of the Twelve, he continued on his mission of mercy among other Iowa Saints. Elder Woodruff recalled one of the most memorable healings of that day:
“We crossed the public square, and entered Brother [Elijah] Fordham’s house. Brother Fordham had been dying for an hour, and we expected each minute would be his last. I felt the power of God that was overwhelming his Prophet. When we entered the house, Brother Joseph walked up to Brother Fordham, and took him by the right hand. … He saw that Brother Fordham’s eyes were glazed, and that he was speechless and unconscious.
“After taking hold of his hand, [the Prophet] looked down into the dying man’s face and said: ‘Brother Fordham, do you not know me?’ At first he made no reply; but we could all see the effect of the Spirit of God resting upon him.
“[Joseph] again said: ‘Elijah, do you not know me?’ With a low whisper, Brother Fordham answered, ‘Yes!’ The Prophet then said, ‘Have you not faith to be healed?’
“The answer, which was a little plainer than before, was: ‘I am afraid it is too late. If you had come sooner, I think I might have been.’ He had the appearance of a man awaking from sleep. It was the sleep of death. Joseph then said: ‘Do you not believe that Jesus is the Christ?’ ‘I do, Brother Joseph,’ was the response.
“Then the Prophet of God spoke with a loud voice, as in the majesty of the Godhead: ‘Elijah, I command you, in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, to arise and be made whole!’
“The words of the Prophet were not like the words of man, but like the voice of God. It seemed to me that the house shook from its foundation. Elijah Fordham leaped from his bed like a man raised from the dead. A healthy color came to his face, and life was manifested in every act. His feet were done up in [cornmeal] poultices. He kicked them off his feet, scattering the contents, and then called for his clothes and put them on. He asked for a bowl of bread and milk, and ate it; then put on his hat and followed us into the street, to visit others who were sick.”
In a time of dire need, the Saints experienced an outpouring of the gift of healing at the hands of the Prophet.