“Nephite or Angel? Which?” by Joseph Smith III

Published on February 10th, 1897 in The Saints Herald (Vol. 44-6:81)

This article is the story of how a man appeared in Joseph Smith III’s house as he was going to bed. The man essentially used the Socratic method to get Joseph Smith III to come to the conclusion that it is wise to seek both religious AND medical help while ill.

The years 1878 and 1879 were years of trouble in the branch of the church at Plano, Illinois. Business was dull, the times hard; and during the fall of 1878 and all of the year 1879 there was considerable sickness among all classes. This sickness was of a typhoid type, with lung and throat complications quite baffling to physicians. The branch was quite large, but owing to circumstances there were not more than three or four elders available for visiting the sick as the law provides.

Brethren F. G. Pitt, H. S. Dille, and the writer were the most available, and part of the time the only ones who could be relied on to answer calls for ministerial assistance. These calls were numerous and came at all hours of the night and day, and it was quite a usual thing for these three to be out from supper time till near midnight answering to requests for ministration. Nor were the requests all made by those who belonged to the church, quite a number of the neighbors and friends of the saints having learned of the effective benefits derived from administration, availed themselves of the faith and asked to be visited, which of course was granted.

One thing was annoying, and to us elders seemed anomalous to say the least of it, and that was that among many, both the members of the church and those not of the church, physicians were employed; and, sometimes, both doctors and elders would be found at the bedside of the sick at the same time, or following each other at intervals.

This seemed to work well for a time, but finally became irksome in thought to the elders, and perhaps also to the doctors; though none of the latter complained that we heard

of. The sick seemed satisfied and not many died.

One night at the close of a long and tedious day a good part of which was spent in going from place to place. visiting and administering to the sick, the writer, after a talk with his companion elders had about concluded that he would refuse to go to places where a physician was employed, justifying himself with the saying: “They appeal to medicine, let them take the benefit of their appeal, or suffer the consequences.” Before retiring to bed he told his wife that he had about concluded not to answer any more calls to administer where a doctor was called. That he would first ask, “Have they called a doctor?” And if they had to let the matter drop, and refuse to go.

With this conclusion he went to his room and to bed.

The house was one in which the front door opened upon a stairway leading directly to the upper part, a door to the right leading to the parlor, one to the left leading to the dining room. The room occupied by the writer was at the head of the stairway to the left. The night was clear, the moon shining fairly bright, so that objects in the room could be seen quite easily. Immediately upon lying down and before sleep had brought unconsciousness, the writer heard the hall door below open and shut, and then the walk of some one coming up the stairs. On reaching the top the person turned into the open bedroom door, took the chair, a common wooden bottom windsor chair, away from the door against which, it had been set to keep it open, and coming forward to the front of the bed placed the chair opposite and sat down, took off his hat and said, “Good evening.”

The action was one so natural and so characteristic of good nature that no wonder or surprise was excited in the mind of the writer, and he had a good chance to see what sort of a visitor had come at that hour, before he made his errand known.

In appearance the man was one of a common type, about five feet seven inches in height, round, compactly built, weighing about one hundred and forty to fifty pounds; hair a little grey, cut close to the head, but not shingled, a rather oval face having a full beard of apparently a fortnight’s growth, a little tinged with grey; a pair of kind, shrewd, twinkling gray eyes. He was clad in a suit of gray tweed somewhat worn, a white shirt with standing collar and round the neck an old-fashioned stock, black, not very wide, with a small bow at the front.

After sitting down he put his foot upon the front rung of the chair and dropped his hat, his hat, a hat fashioned something like the derby, with a higher crown, and napless, on his

knee; and looking at the writer said: –

“Your name is Smith, I believe.”

To this the writer replied, “Yes, sir.”

Then followed the following conversation: –

“There is a church here in Plano called the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, I believe?”

“Yes, sir, there is such a church here.”

“You are a member of that church?”

“Yes, sir, I am.”

“You are also an elder in that church?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I understand that they believe in the apostolic doctrines, and in the laying on of hands for the healing of the sick.”

“Yes, sir; you are correct. They so believe.”

“There is a great deal of sickness in Plano now; and has been for some time?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You and your fellow elders are called upon to administer a great deal?”

“Yes, sir. We are going pretty constantly.”

“You administer to those in and out of the church?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Some of those to whom you are called have physicians attending them also?”

“Yes, sir. Some do not care to trust to administration of the elders alone.”

With a twinkle in his eye he then said: – 

“You elders seem not to like this.”

“No, sir; we do not.”

“You think that those who are sick should be satisfied with either the doctors or the elders; and ought not to call both?”

“Yes, sir. We think it a little inconsistent to rely, or seem to rely, on both.”

“You would have more faith if the elders alone were called, where you go to administer?”

“Well, yes; I think so.”

“You have about concluded not to go and administer in case where a physician is called?”

“Yes, sir; I had about made up my mind to that course.”

Then, changing the hat on his knee to his hands and whirling it around a time or two he rested it again on his knee and said:

“May I ask you a few questions, and will you answer them?”

“If your questions are proper ones and I can answer them, I will cheerfully do so.”

“By what power is the healing of the sick by the laying on of hands by the elders wrought? Is it by the power of God, or is it because of some goodness or power in you elders?”

“It must be by the power of God, for there is certainly no power or special goodness in us as elders by which it is done.”

“When you are called out to administer to anyone sick, do you know whether they will or will not be healed?”

“No, sir. I wish I did.”

“When you go to administer to one who has only the eiders, can you tell me whether the power by which he is healed, if healed at all, is the power of God, or the power of man?”

“I have already told you, sir, that I understand it to be by the power of God. I make no claim to any power in man to heal the sick.”

“Well, do not be impatient, just answer my questions, and we’ll get along all right. Now, when you are called to administer where a doctor has been called, is it the power of God by which they are healed, or the power of man?”

“The power of God.”

“Where no physician is called, and the power is manifested by the sick being healed; by whose wisdom is it directed?”

“I do not understand your question.”

“You say that it is the power of God by which the sick are healed; I ask whose wisdom is it that determines whether the healing power shall be sent, or exercised so that the sick shall recover.”

“Why, I suppose that it is the wisdom of God. Surely it is not mine when I administer, for I should have all to recover.”

“You believe then that in each and every case where no doctor is called to the sick and the elders are, that it is the wisdom of God that determines whether the sick one shall recover or not; as he in his goodness, knowledge, and power may decide. If he decides for recovery, the power is sent, if not it is withheld?”

“Yes, sir, I suppose that is about the idea of it?”

“Now, when you go where both the doctors and the elders are called, by whose power are they healed?”

“Why, you have asked have asked me that before.”

“Have I? Well, how do you answer it now?”

“I answer as before: It is the power of God by which all healing is done.”

“In such cases where the faith of the sick one, or those surrounding them, is not strong enough to trust in the administration alone, and a doctor is called as well as the elders, by whose wisdom is it determined whether the power to heal shall be present and exercised; the wisdom of God or the wisdom of the elders?”

“The wisdom of God, of course.”

“You think then that in both instances, where the faith is strong and the elders only are called, and where the faith is weak and the doctor as well as the elders is called that it is the power of God by which the sick are healed if healed, and that it is the wisdom of God which determines in each case whether the power shall be exercised and the sick person healed, or whether the power shall be withheld and the sick one left to the result that may follow without the intervention of divine power?”

“Yes, sir; decidedly so.”

“You have no means of knowing when you are called to administer whether the issue will be recovery, or otherwise?”

“No, sir; we can only go and do what we believe we are commanded to do and leave the result in other hands than ours.”

“Well, then, believing as you say you do, that the power by which the healing is done is the power of God; and that in each instance where an administration is had, whether the the elders alone are called, or a doctor is also called, the healing power is sent or withheld according as it is decided by the wisdom of God, do you not think that it is your duty, the duty of the elders who believe and teach the doctrine of the laying on of hands, to go when called and administer according to such belief and teaching, and leave the matter in God’s hands to send the power and heal, or otherwise as he may in his wisdom decide, whether a doctor has been called in or not?”

Somewhat reluctantly, “Well, Yes; I suppose so.”

“I think so too. Good night!”

The person then rose, took the chair, set it back against the door whence he had taken it, put on his hat, went out of the door and down the stairs out of the front door closing it after him, the same as any ordinary, careful visitor would. The writer then turned his face on his pillow and went to sleep. And from that day to this when called to visit and administer to the sick has gone when he could consistently without asking or caring whether a doctor had been called or the elders alone. He believes the visitation was intended to teach him his duty, and incidentally the duty of the elders generally, in the matter of administering to the sick and suffering, whether the faith of them who were administered to was weak or strong. He has no theory to advance whether this visitor was man, Nephite, or angel; he only knows that he was waking and in the possession of his faculties at the time. And that he had no fear of his visitor, and neither thought to ask who he was, nor whence he came, not being impressed at the time that it was anything out of the ordinary and having neither curiosity nor anxiety about it. His appearance was that of the average citizen of a half century or more ago; his manner quiet, pleasant, and yet convincing. Was he Nephite, or angel?