Statue of Joseph Smith

Faith in Revelation: Learning from Joseph Smith’s Civil War Prophecy

Sometimes the revelation we receive can be confusing. But we can learn how to overcome our doubts from the experience of Joseph Smith.

Picture quote: mountain with text "Be not moved"

Photo by Marco Bonomo

Just before Christmas in 1832, the South Carolina legislature established tariffs that challenged the federal government’s right to enforce its own laws. US president Andrew Jackson warned the nation that such tariffs could spark a war, and South Carolina made preparations to fight back.

This history is recorded in Jed Woodworth’s article titled “Peace and War,” which also captures one of the most famous prophecies of latter-day revelation. A few days after the news about the tariff crisis emerged in the papers in Kirtland, Ohio, Joseph Smith revealed a prophecy about the American Civil War. “The wars that will shortly come to pass beginning at the rebellion of South Carolina,” Joseph Smith wrote, “will eventually terminate in the death and misery of many souls.”

Joseph Smith’s prophecy, known today as Doctrine and Covenants 87, aligned well with President Jackson’s warning; however, the tariff crisis was averted just a few months after it began, and Joseph Smith’s prophecy seemed to be false. It’s easy to believe that many of the Saints who heard the revelation, possibly including Joseph Smith, were confused. Woodworth writes, “Anyone looking for the fulfillment of the revelation in 1833 would have been disappointed.”

When it comes to revelation—whether it be personal or from the prophets—we occasionally find ourselves in a similar situation to the Saints in 1833. One minute it makes perfect sense; the next minute it seems impossible. So what do we do when revelation puzzles us?

Rather than letting doubt shake us, we should do as the scriptures advise and “stand . . . in holy places, and be not moved” (Doctrine and Covenants 87:8). Even though at one time Joseph Smith’s prophecy may have seemed unfeasible, it was eventually fulfilled. Thirty years later, South Carolina rebelled again, this time triggering the American Civil War.

We can learn from Joseph Smith’s experience and have faith in the Lord’s promises even in the darkest moments. If we do not see the possibility for the fulfillment of those promises now, we can have faith that it will become apparent in time.

Read all of Jed Woodworth’s article: “Peace and War.” 

Source: Church History

—Olivia Snow, Mormon Insights

feature image courtesy of lds media library

Find more insights

Read the full text of Joseph Smith’s revelation on the American Civil War in Doctrine and Covenants 87.

Discover more details about the American Civil War prophecy in the entry “Civil War Prophecy,” by Paul H. Peterson, in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism

Learn more about how the Church defines revelation and what the Lord’s revelations can do for us.

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