I was recently reading over D&C 28 about the principles given to Oliver Cowdery of how he was to act and also with reference to Hiram Page and the deceptive revelations through his seer stone.
The Church’s new publication Revelations In Context has a neat essay about the overall principle of how all things must be done in order.
As I was reading different things about the story of Hiram Page, it became apparent that there were a number of things going on. 1) Hiram Page had his own seer stone. 2) He was receiving competing revelations, commandments, and prophecy from it. 3) He had written those things done, so he had competing writings as well. 4) He was teaching those things to others, setting himself up as a competing authority, even if he didn’t realize that was what he was doing. That’s a lot of competing aspects. I have to wonder if he would have been let alone if he had just used the seer stone for personal revelation, rather than general revelation.
In D&C 28, Oliver Cowdery was told of Hiram Page, “those things which he hath written from that stone are not of me and that Satan deceiveth him.” (v11). In what way had Satan deceived Hiram Page?
The next verse gives some insight:
For, behold, these things have not been appointed unto him, neither shall anything be appointed unto any of this church contrary to the church covenants. (v12)
Evidently Hiram Page felt his gift with his seer stone meant he was appointed to receive those things for other people in the church. So the Lord had to tell him he wasn’t appointed. It is tempting to think a special spiritual gift means we have been appointed to make some major contribution. It gratifies the ego.
Happily, the next verse tells us some principles about how the Lord appoints people in His kingdom. “For all things must be done in order, and by common consent in the church, by the prayer of faith.” (v13) Callings come by leaders in authority, by common consent by the members, and by ordination or setting apart. It’s a great safety feature in the kingdom of God, since it prevents a charismatic individual from usurping leadership and leading people away. These principles are supposed to be a barrier to that occurrence, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen from time to time that people allow themselves to get led away anyway.
Throughout D&C 28, the Lord gives His response in the form of other principles to Oliver Cowdery to counteract various competing aspects of Hiram Page’s supposed revelations.
1) Oliver was to be obedient to the things Joseph Smith received (not Hiram Page)(v3).
2) Oliver could speak by commandment to the church, but not write by commandment. Instead, he was to write by wisdom (v5). I suspect this was to prevent Oliver from falling into the same error Hiram Page had, of thinking his writings had more weight than they did. Writing by wisdom is non-coercive, speaks to the mind, and requires the writer to develop good persuasive skills. It allows the reader to receive edification, not just instructions, and freely exercise agency.
3) Oliver was told he should not command “him who is at thy head, and at the head of the church” (v6). Commandments flow downward, not upward.
4) Oliver was told Joseph had the keys of the mysteries and the revelations that were sealed (v7). The image of having a key helps cement in the mind the idea that the Lord can give a prophet a spiritual power that He does not give to others. Yet, at the same time, Oliver is promised his own revelations.
5) Oliver was also told the location of the city of Zion was not yet revealed. This was to counter Hiram Page’s false revelation/prophecy that supposedly revealed it. It is interesting that the Lord would give a revelation to tell what He has not yet revealed. That would stop any speculative discussion or false claims on the subject.
6) Oliver was told that the things Hiram Page had written were not of the Lord. That put an end to any notion the competing writings had any virtue to them.
It is interesting that although Oliver Cowdery was influenced by the things Hiram Page had, D&C 28 instructed Oliver to do the work to reclaim Hiram Page from his errors. To me, this sets out the principle that when one realizes they have been deceived by a false prophet, they need to try to reclaim them and explain the error and where the deception lay. Those who have escaped the deception may be able to help those still in it. I also notice this discussion is to be private—“between him and thee alone” (v11)—in order to prevent public humiliation and preserve dignity.
I appreciate how these principles keep the kingdom of God safe from wolves in sheep’s clothing who would devour the flock. It makes it so we aren’t tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine blowing every direction. It helps us know instructions have much more weight coming from above us in the church leadership than from other directions. It helps us know that writings from the prophet have more weight than other writings. It helps us know that when there is a conflict between outside guidance and prophetic guidance, we should choose to follow the prophet. It helps us know better how to instruct each other without presuming to command.