The following article originally appeared as "Do You Keep a Journal?", The Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star 1/6 (1 October 1840): 159-161.
There is no believer in divine revelation but who feels a lively interest in the history of the ancient Apostles and Elders in the Christian Church; and as it is through their writings, and the histories of their lives and travels that we become acquainted with the church in the days of Christ; and through the writings of the Prophets that we learn of the things of God, and the movements of his children in times before the Apostles, it has been enjoined on the Elders and officers in the church of Christ in these Last Days, to keep a record of their proceedings, or write a history of their travels and labours, so that all the passing events of moment may be gathered in from time to time, so that the generations to come may learn of our doings, and of the work of God in our day, as we have learned concerning those who have gone before us.
We have lived to see the commencement of the dispensation of the fulness of times; the dispensation in which all things shall be gathered in one; the dispensation in which all things, which have been spoken by the mouths of all the holy Prophets since the world began, will be fulfilled, and the secrets of all hearts shall be made manifest; the Lord Jesus be revealed from heaven, with all the host thereof; and the judgments of the Most High desolate the nations, while Zion and Jerusalem shall again flourish upon the mountains; consequently, we have abundant reason to believe that a history of our day, of the dispensation in which we live, will be one of the most interesting that ever was, or ever will be penned. In this, the latest generations may learn of the fulfillment of the prophecies of the ancient Prophets, even as we learn of their prophecies by their histories; and if the prophecy itself be glorious, how much more the fulfillment thereof.
No one need suppose that after the work is completed, the dispensation ended, (if it were possible to have an end), that God will give a special revelation and history of what has passed, to some particular one of his many servants; so that all may remain idle in this matter, and thus leave all the work to God, for this is not his method of doing business; but God gives special revelations to man, by which he makes known to us those things which we otherwise have not the means of knowing; and he will no more give a special revelation of those things which are daily passing before us, and which we can write at our leisure, than he will cause the corn of that sluggard to grow who is too lazy to plant it. How, then, shall our posterity procure our history?
Let all the Elders remember the preface to Luke's gospel, and inasmuch as they also have "a perfect understanding" of those things which are daily occurring in their midst, let them write them as he did, and then, bye and bye, when the Lord will, there will be very little difficulty in collecting the histories of the different Elders, and of compiling them in one, thus forming a more full and explicit history of the Church in the last days than we have of the days of Christ and the Apostles. The gospels by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are the histories of their lives, and of the things which they saw and heard, and events which they were familiar with in their day; also, the Acts of the Apostles is a history of the Apostles; and this is the kind of history that we desire should be preparing concerning the servants and the work of God, at the present time.
We are aware there are many now in England, who find little time to write, and for this reason, we have enjoined it upon them from time to time, as we have had opportunity, to keep a journal, and daily write a word or two, by which they may refresh their memories, until the Holy Ghost shall bring all things to their remembrance, or they may find leisure to pen their histories in full; and of such we would enquire, Do you keep a Journal? If so, well - and you will have your reward; and if not, we would again enjoin it upon you, and upon all who have not before heard the admonition, to commence forthwith to keep a Journal, or write a history; and see to it, that what you write is strictly true and unexaggerated; so that in the end, all may know of all things concerning this last work, and all knowledge may flow together from the four quarters of the earth, when the Lord shall make his appearing, and we all may be ready to give a full account of our mission, our ministry and stewardship, and receive the welcome tidings, "Thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of the Lord."
Some questions for reflection and discussion:
- The author of this article presents a particular perspective on the function of continuing revelation. For him, special revelation is only made of those things which could not be known otherwise and which had not already been revealed ("those things which we otherwise have not the means of knowing"). This is precisely why 'special revelation' cannot be invoked as a pretext to avoid the present work of writing and studying history: since the community has it within their power to ensure that this knowledge is passed on to future generations, the community cannot "remain idle in this matter" under the presumption that special revelation will supply any lack. Given this understanding of continuing revelation, what are some pieces of new knowledge that have come in the past two decades to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by means of "special revelation" given through those it sustains as prophets, seers, and revelators?
- The author of this article builds from a central premise made clear in his first sentence: that anyone who believes that God has been or is at work in history, should have a fascination with that history. How fascinated are you to study the history of the ancient prophets and apostles? LDS readers: Do you, or your LDS friends, take an active interest in studying the history of the LDS movement? Non-LDS Christian readers: What implications does this have for the study of church history - not just the apostolic era, but the later centuries as well? Do you take an active interest in studying this?
- The author of this article supposes that the present era - the "dispensation of the fulness of times", which in LDS understanding commenced with the Restoration - is one of particular significance in the history of God's redemptive work. He also supposes that, the more inherently significant an era is, the more inherently fascinating it is to write about and study the story of God's people during that era, particularly as they partner with God in his work. What sort of things about this era, or 'dispensation', does the author think are especially important to record?
- The author presents keeping a "journal" or "history" in terms of a divine commandment. He says that it is something that "has been enjoined", that "we have enjoined it", and that "we would again enjoin it upon you". What proportion of Latter-day Saints follow this commandment in any given ward? How diligently do they do so?
- The author provides a lighter form of the commandment for those who are especially busy: to write just a word or two in order to jog one's memory later when one obtains the leisure time to write more fully. Does this advice seem feasible? Given the apparently spiritual nature of keeping such a journal, would the author likely consider the sabbath - a time reserved for spiritual pursuits and "leisure" - to be an appropriate time for someone to catch up on his or her journaling for the prior week?
- The author envisions that, in the future, elements from the journals and histories of all relevant persons will be gathered, collected, and compiled into one history telling about the progression of God's work during these eras. What does this suggest about the author's view of the possibility of a singular comprehensive narrative? How would the author likely respond to postmodern concerns about whether such a thing is possible or desirable?
- In the early twentieth century, B. H. Roberts edited the seven-volume History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which had been an ongoing project to compile materials written by Joseph Smith, his secretaries and scribes, and later church historians into one seamless narrative, often rephrasing things to make Joseph Smith's first-person perspective uniform throughout the work. Is this sort of work the sort of project that the author of the present article has in mind? What advantages and disadvantages would that have?
- Earlier, I posted an 1853 sermon by Wilford Woodruff on keeping a journal. What similarities and differences are there between this author's treatment of the topic and Elder Woodruff's treatment of the topic? What presuppositions or arguments do they have in common? What distinctive approaches do they take?