Oliver Cowdery and the Restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood
March 31, 1829, Oliver Cowdery set out in company with Samuel Harrison Smith to journey 129 miles to Harmony, Pennsylvania. Oliver had seen a vision of the Gold Plates in possession of Joseph Smith Jr. and knew of the truthfulness of the work Joseph was doing, and was determined to help. The journey was difficult as Spring was late in coming, and the season was wet and cold. Oliver had his toes nipped by frost.
Upon arrival, Oliver and Joseph spent much of the first night talking. Oliver was even more convinced that Joseph was telling the truth, and he agreed to be Joseph’s scribe. The next day, April 6, 1829, they settled some business matters with Joseph’s property, and then April 7, 1829, they began in the Book of Mosiah and moved forward. By the middle of May they had reached 3 Nephi. It was a difficult time for them as there was little food to sustain them. They had to stop and go out looking for work and food.
May 15, 1829 dawned wet and cold. By that date they had written the account of the Savior’s visit to the Nephites. The vital importance of proper authority in administering the ordinances of salvation impressed them. Not just anyone could act for the Lord. They decided to pray about it. They went out into a wooded area on the north part of Joseph’s farm—a place called “the Sugar Bush,” and knelt to pray. In the middle of their prayer, in the brightness of the day an angel descended in a cloud of light. His voice, though mild, pierced to the center and his words dispelled every fear. He said he was John the Baptist and that he had been sent by Peter James and John. He then laid his hands upon them and conferred the Aaronic Priesthood upon them saying,
Upon you, my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah, I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins. And this shall never be taken again from the earth until the Sons of Levi do offer and offering unto the Lord in righteousness.
Joseph and Oliver were then told that they would later receive the higher or Melchizedek Priesthood. John then commanded that Joseph and Oliver go and baptize each other. They went from the woods down to the Susquehanna River which flowed through the property. It was a busy commercial river with thousands traversing it by barge traffic every spring. Records of the time indicate that the River was flooding that year. It was deep and cold and flowing with ice on the day that Joseph and Oliver were baptized. Joseph first baptized Oliver; whereupon he came up out of the water and, filled with the Holy Ghost began to prophesy. Oliver then baptized Joseph and similarly, Joseph was filled with the Spirit of the Lord and began to prophesy. Then according to John’s instructions, Joseph ordained Oliver to the Aaronic Priesthood, and then Oliver ordained Joseph.
Oliver would later write of this occasion,
I shall not attempt to paint to you the feelings of this heart, nor the majestic beauty and glory which surrounded us on this occasion; but you will believe me when I say, that earth, nor men, with the eloquence of time, cannot begin to clothe language in as interesting and sublime a manner as this holy personage. Nor has this earth the power to give the joy, to bestow the peace, or comprehend the wisdom which was contained in each sentence as they were delivered by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Oliver would speak in awe of that moment for the rest of his days.
“I have been sensitive on this subject, I admit; but I ought to be so—you would be, under the circumstances, had you stood in the presence of John, with our departed brother Joseph, to receive the Lesser Priesthood—and in the presence of Peter, to receive the Greater, and look down through time, and witnessed the effects these two must produce.” (Letter of Oliver Cowdery to Phineas H. Young, Tiffin, Ohio, 23 Mar. 1846, Church Archives.)
History of the Saints, interview with Marl Lyman Staker, November 26, 2013