Joseph F. Smith Exhibit

by Jeffrey Tucker, Church History Library
27 September 2021

A new exhibit dedicated to Joseph F. Smith and his vision of the redemption of the dead—now known as Doctrine and Covenants section 138—will soon open in the Church History Library.

On October 3, 1918, as President Joseph F. Smith sat pondering the scriptures in his Beehive House bedroom, he received a revelation that would become known as the vision of the redemption of the dead. In his account of the vision, later canonized as Doctrine and Covenants 138, President Smith said that “the eyes of my understanding were opened, and the Spirit of the Lord rested upon me, and I saw the hosts of the dead, both small and great.”1 It was a vision of the past; the hosts of the dead were assembled to “awai[t] the advent of the Son of God into the spirit world” after His crucifixion.2 And, as President Smith watched, “The Son of God appeared, declaring liberty to the captives,” who had waited so long.3

The vision did not end there. President Smith noted that he had previously wondered, after reading 1 Peter, how Jesus could preach to so many in the spirit world when His time there was limited to the three days between His Crucifixion and Resurrection.4 As an answer to President Smith’s pondering, he “perceived that the Lord went not in person among the wicked …, to teach them; But behold, from among the righteous, he organized his forces and appointed messengers … to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead.”5 It must have been a poignant moment for President Smith—among the righteous spirits President Smith saw was Hyrum Smith, his father, who was killed when President Smith was only five years old.6

President Smith saw other righteous spirits preparing to preach the gospel; he saw latter-day prophets, like Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, and his uncle Joseph Smith.7 He saw many ancient prophets as well, such as Adam, Isaiah, and the Nephite prophets.8 President Smith also saw “our glorious Mother Eve, with many of her faithful daughters who had lived through the ages and worshiped the true and living God” ready to preach to the spirits in prison.9

We have previously written about Church History Library holdings related to President Smith’s vision. Since then, new information about the vision has come to light. For example, the second-story Beehive House bedroom in which President Smith received the revelation has been undergoing restoration work, which has prompted further discussion and study of what happened there. Additionally, the library has recently received some items related to President Smith’s vision.

The result is a new exhibit, “Joseph F. Smith’s Vision of the Redemption of the Dead,” that opened in the Church History Library on September 24, 2021. All of the items featured in the exhibit are related to President Smith, his family, and the vision of the redemption of the dead. For example, we are especially excited to present a handwritten letter from President Smith to his daughter Edith Smith Patrick. Prior to the vision, Edith once wrote to her father, asking him if he had received revelations during his time leading the Church. In reply, President Smith said, “The Lord has mercifully revealed to me my duty at every turn,” going on to explain how he received heavenly guidance. Interestingly, President Smith also said that up to that point, he had not felt that the Lord wanted any of his revelations recorded.

That would later change when President Smith had the vision of the redemption of the dead. The account of it that is now Doctrine and Covenants 138 was dictated by President Smith to his son Joseph Fielding Smith, most likely at the behest of his mother, Julina Lambson Smith.10 We know this because, two weeks after the vision, Joseph Fielding Smith mentioned in his journal that he had recorded it. This journal is on display. President Smith’s scriptures are also displayed, as well as a special insert printed in 1976 so that Church members could add the vision to their personal copies of the Pearl of Great Price.11 Other items are on display too.

We hope the exhibit shows how our Heavenly Father continues to teach His children through revelation to prophets and apostles, who then share His truths with the world; it is a testament of His love.

“Joseph F. Smith’s Vision of the Redemption of the Dead” will be available for viewing in the Church History Library until November 18, 2022, during standard library hours.

Top image: Joseph F. Smith (right) and his son Joseph Fielding Smith (left), who recorded the vision of the redemption of the dead in his journal.