Section 111 is a good example of how understanding a revelation’s historical background can help us understand its spiritual significance.
The Kirtland Temple had been finished and dedicated in March 1836, leaving the Saints in Kirtland and the Church itself impoverished and deeply in debt. In addition, the troubles in Zion (Missouri) had also heavily taxed the spiritual and temporal resources of the Church, which was barely six years old at this time. Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Oliver Cowdery, and Hyrum Smith left Kirtland in late July and traveled to Salem, Massachusetts. They rented a house, preached publicly, and went from house to house to teach the gospel. During their stay at Salem Doctrine and Covenants 111 was given (see History of the Church, 2:464–65).
Elder Brigham H. Roberts wrote: “Ebenezer Robinson, for many years a faithful and prominent elder in the church, and at Nauvoo associated with Don Carlos—brother of the Prophet—in editing and publishing the Times and Seasons, states that the journey to Salem arose from these circumstances. There came to Kirtland a brother by the name of Burgess who stated that he had knowledge of a large amount of money secreted in the cellar of a certain house in Salem, Massachusetts, which had belonged to a widow (then deceased), and thought he was the only person who had knowledge of it, or of the location of the house. The brethren accepting the representations of Burgess as true made the journey to Salem to secure, if possible, the treasure. Burgess, according to Robinson, met the brethren in Salem, but claimed that time had wrought such changes in the town that he could not for a certainty point out the house ‘and soon left.’” (Comprehensive History of the Church, 1:411.)
The Prophet Joseph Smith’s motives for following William Burgess’s suggestion to search for the hidden treasure in Salem were good, prompted by his love for the Saints and for the Church. It appeared that in one incredible stroke of good fortune the Church could gain money enough to clear itself of its debts and care for the suffering Saints in Kirtland and Zion. The leading elders had no thought of personal gain in the trip. So the Lord was not displeased with their journey, “notwithstanding [their] follies” (D&C 111:1).
Their folly lay in the fact that less than three years earlier, the Prophet Joseph Smith had received counsel from the Lord about the Church’s indebtedness (see D&C 104:78–80; see also Notes and Commentary on D&C 104:78–80). At that time Church members were told that if they would humble themselves and seek through diligence and the prayer of faith to be relieved of their indebtedness, the Lord would send means for their deliverance. Now, still deeply in debt, Church leaders were trying to solve the financial difficulties of the Church through their own efforts. The Lord reminded them that He could give them power to pay their debts and that He would deal mercifully with Zion (see D&C 111:5–6).
Occasionally Church members with financial difficulties are tempted to seek relief in highly speculative investments. They focus on the hope that the Lord will take away their problems and reward their sincerity in a sensational way, when more often the Lord blesses us through quiet miracles or by giving us the means to work our way out of our problems. The lessons of section 111 are of great value to Saints in all circumstances.
The Lord allowed the Prophet Joseph to go to Salem, for in Salem was a treasure of much greater value to the kingdom than that for which they had come. There were many souls in Salem whom the Lord knew would accept the gospel. Their conversion would greatly benefit the Lord’s work because these new members of the Church would unite their efforts with those of the Saints and contribute generously to the cause of Zion.
Elder Erastus Snow wrote of his own later experiences in Salem: “Until this time [6 July 1841] I had been calculating to spend the summer in the country and return home to Nauvoo late in the fall in compliance with advice given me by President Joseph Smith when I left in Nov. last—But President Hyrum Smith and [William] Law who had been east as far as Salem, Massachusetts and just returned through Philadelphia on their way home again [counseled] that I should not return to Nauvoo in the fall but that I should go immediately with Brother Winchester to Salem Mass. and try to establish the kingdom in that city. They left with us a copy of a revelation given about that people in 1836 which said the Lord had much people there whom he would gather into his kingdom in his own due time and they thought the due time of the Lord had come. Though I felt anxious to go home in the fall and thought it would involve what little property I had in the West in a difficulty to stay I felt willing to do the will of the Lord. I prayed earnestly to know his will and his spirit continually whispered to go to Salem. . . . The conference also voted that I should go and promised their prayers in my behalf that God might open an effectual door for the word.” (Journal of Erastus Snow [1841–47], Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, pp. 3–5.)
Later entries in his journal show that Elder Snow baptized over one hundred people from the time he arrived in Salem until he returned to Nauvoo on 11 April 1843. For example Elder Snow indicated that there were ninety members in the Salem Branch on 28 May 1842 (see p. 27).
“In due time the Almighty will give Salem into ‘your’ hands (vs. 4), that the Elders shall have power over it, insomuch that ‘they,’ probably meaning the people of the city, shall not discover ‘your secret parts’. (Cf. Isa. 3:17, ‘shame.’) Not only that, but also the wealth of the city, its gold and silver, shall be in possession of the brethren. This verse is obviously a prophecy of some future happening, even yet future, and evidently looks forward to a day when the Lord’s Kingdom will be established upon the earth, when towns, cities, and nations will be governed under his direction by brethren holding the Priesthood. When that day comes, the Elders of the Church will govern even Salem without being shamed by the people of the city. Its wealth will also be theirs. The meaning here is that it will be used, not so much for their own personal desires, as for righteous purposes.” (Sperry, Compendium, pp. 609–10.)
Righteous servants of the Lord who seek His help in their decisions can know that He approves their actions through the peace and confidence that comes to their souls. By being sensitive to the Spirit, the Lord’s people can be continually led by Him in their lives (see Alma 58:11; D&C 6:22–23; 8:2–3). This verse is also a reminder that when we follow the Spirit, we know where the Lord wants us to be.
Elder B. H. Roberts said that the Lord’s instructions to learn about the ancient inhabitants of Salem were given, “doubtless having in view the securing of their genealogies and redemption of the past generations of men who had lived there; so that if for a moment the weakness of men was manifested in this journey, we see that fault reproved and the strength and wisdom of God made manifest by directing the attention of his servants to the real and true treasures that he would have them seek, even the salvation of men, both the living and the dead” (Comprehensive History of the Church, 1:412).
Verse 9 of this section was also of great importance to the Prophet because of his special association with the people of Salem. Smith and Sjodahl pointed out that “history is, perhaps, the most useful knowledge a missionary can have, next to a thorough understanding of the principles of the gospel, but ‘ancient inhabitants’ refers more particularly to the ancestors of the Prophet. The Revelation was given at Salem, the county seat of Essex County, Massachusetts. It was in that county that Robert Smith, the first of the Smith family in America, settled. It was the residence of many more of the pioneer immigrants to America, whose descendants joined the Church. At Salem, the county seat, the records for all the towns in the county were kept, and the Smiths’ record, among others, were there. The matter of genealogy evidently entered into the inquiry concerning the ‘ancient inhabitants,’ for a purpose which was manifest later, of the salvation of the dead.” (Commentary, p. 729.)
B. H. Roberts spoke of genealogies in Salem.
Before he received this revelation, the Prophet Joseph Smith recorded in his journal that Kirtland was experiencing widespread disunity, contention, and apostasy. Financial speculation had caused the Kirtland Safety Society, the financial institution of the Church, to fail. Many, even some of the leaders of the Church, blamed the Prophet for such problems. The Prophet Joseph wrote: “In this state of things, and but a few weeks before the Twelve were expecting to meet in full quorum, (some of them having been absent for some time), God revealed to me that something new must be done for the salvation of His Church. And on or about the first of June, 1837, Heber C. Kimball, one of the Twelve, was set apart by the spirit of prophecy and revelation, prayer and laying on of hands, of the First Presidency, to preside over a mission to England, to be the first foreign mission of the Church of Christ in the last days.” (History of the Church, 2:489.)
President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote: “The day that the British Missionaries preached the first sermons in England, July 23, 1837, the Lord gave a revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith directed to Thomas B. Marsh as president of the council of the apostles. In this revelation Elder Marsh was instructed to teach the brethren in his council and point out to them their duty and responsibilities in proclaiming the Gospel. Some of the apostles had forsaken their responsibility and had turned their attention to schemes of speculation. . . . The years preceding the year 1837, were years of wild speculation throughout the United States and Elder Heber C. Kimball pointed out how this boom had struck Kirtland and some of the brethren had borrowed great sums and had gone into business, at the expense of their ministry. Then when the bauble of false prosperity broke they were left financially stranded; then they began to blame the Prophet Joseph Smith. This revelation to Thomas B. Marsh was a warning and a call to him to bring his brethren back into the line of their duty as apostles of Jesus Christ.” (Church History and Modern Revelation, 2:71; see also History of the Church, 2:498–99.)
The first twelve verses of section 112 are directed to Thomas B. Marsh, giving him comfort, counsel, and admonition. The rest of the section contains the instructions he was to convey to the Twelve.
On 14 February 1835, the first Quorum of the Twelve in this dispensation was organized, its members chosen to be special witnesses of the Savior throughout the world. The Twelve were arranged in seniority according to age. Elder Thomas B. Marsh, being the oldest, became President of the Quorum and thus responsible for the other eleven. Since that time, seniority in the Quorum has been determined by date of ordination.
“In 1832, Thomas B. Marsh received an inheritance—about thirty acres—on the Big Blue river, Missouri, and there he built a comfortable log house. When the Saints were driven from Jackson County, he went to Lafayette County, while most of the exiles sought refuge in Clay County. In 1834, he, too, went to Clay County. After an extended visit to Kirtland, he returned to his home on Fishing River, Clay County. In 1836, he built a house in Far West. In June 1837, he again visited Kirtland. It was necessary, for the success of his mission, that his residence in Zion should be known, and that his house should not be moved.” (Smith and Sjodahl, Commentary, p. 733.)
To publish does not just mean to have written materials printed. In the dictionary the primary meaning is “to discover or make known . . . to people in general what before was private or unknown, to divulge, as a private transaction; to promulgate or proclaim, as a law or edict. We publish a secret, by telling it to people without reserve. Laws are published by printing or by proclamation. Christ and his apostles published the glad tidings of salvation.” (American Dictionary, s.v. “publish.”)
President Thomas B. Marsh was to fulfill his apostolic calling by teaching as well as writing those principles that had been hidden from the world because of wickedness and indifference (see also Notes and Commentary for D&C 118:2.)
Four days after this revelation was given, the Prophet Joseph Smith, along with Sidney Rigdon and Thomas B. Marsh, started for Canada to visit the members of the Church (see History of the Church, 2:502).
That the Savior had other opportunities for Thomas B. Marsh to bear witness to the nations is apparent from this verse. They were not realized, however, since Thomas B. Marsh later apostatized and left the Church. (See Notes and Commentary on D&C 112:10.)
In 1836, more than a year before Doctrine and Covenants 112 was revealed, Thomas B. Marsh “was a member of a committee selected to pass resolutions on behalf of the exiled Saints, at a meeting at the city of Liberty. On that occasion, he spoke of the persecution the Saints had suffered, so eloquently that General Atchinson and others wept.” (Smith and Sjodahl, Commentary, p. 733.)
Humility is necessary for success in any Church position. Elder Harold B. Lee related: “I remember at a stake conference some years ago a young man was called to a high position. When we had asked him to express himself, expecting a humble testimony in his acceptance, he stood up and in a rather flamboyant, boastful way gave a dramatic performance. At the close of the service as we walked home, one of the high council whispered to me and said, calling him by name: ‘When he stood up there in the pulpit this morning, he was all alone.’” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1960, p. 17.)
President Thomas B. Marsh’s pride led to his eventual apostasy. His excommunication is a poignant reminder that the Lord has counseled his Saints to be humble. “Pride was the weakness of Thomas B. Marsh. If he had been humble, he would not have fallen. He began by defying the righteous decisions of the High Council and the First Presidency, in a trivial case in which his wife was interested, and he ended by [opposing] the Church.” (Smith and Sjodahl, Commentary, p. 733.)
Thomas B. Marsh eventually repented and was rebaptized.
Smith and Sjodahl said:
“Our Lord instructs the President of the Council to continue to pray for the members, and also to admonish them ‘sharply.’ Admonition without prayer is barren of results. He promised to feel after them, when they had passed through the tribulations awaiting them because they had yielded to temptations. And then, if they would not harden their hearts, they would be converted and healed.
“Orson Hyde, who had imbibed of the spirit of speculation, freely acknowledged his faults and asked forgiveness. Parley P. Pratt, too, at one time was overcome by the evil spirit, of strife, but, he says, ‘I went to Brother Joseph Smith in tears, and with a broken heart and contrite spirit, confessed wherein I had erred. He frankly forgave me, prayed for me, blessed me.’ Others did not repent. Luke S. Johnson, Lyman E. Johnson, and John F. Boynton were rejected and disfellowshiped by the Church on the 3rd of September, 1837, less than a month and a half after this Revelation was given.” (Commentary, p. 734.)
Members of the original Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Top row, left to right: Thomas B. Marsh (no picture available), David W. Patten (no picture available), Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball. Middle row: Orson Hyde, William E. M’Lellin, Parley P. Pratt, Luke S. Johnson. Bottom row: William B. Smith, Orson Pratt, John F. Boynton, Lyman E. Johnson.
See Notes and Commentary for Doctrine and Covenants 23:6.
President Joseph Fielding Smith explained: “At the time this revelation was given some of the members of the council of the apostles were in open rebellion and had displayed a very bitter spirit towards the Prophet. The Lord endeavored to impress upon them the fact that the Prophet was the one who held the keys of this dispensation and that he would hold them constantly until the Lord should come. In a former revelation (Sec. 43:4–7.) the Lord had said that the keys were in the hands of Joseph Smith and that if he should transgress and lose them they would be given to another. At that day the Prophet had not been tested and proved by tribulation and suffering, but now in July 1837, the Prophet having shown his integrity in all kinds of difficulties and tribulation the Lord declared that the keys shall never be taken from him. The Lord wished to impress upon the apostles and others in the councils of the Church that he had not forsaken his prophet and would be with him to the end.” (Church History and Modern Revelation, 2:72–73.)
Several passages in the Doctrine and Covenants show that when the Lord spoke of Joseph Smith, his statements pertained also to Joseph’s position as President and prophet of the Church. These statements apply to all those who would later hold that office (see D&C 21:1–7). The keys of the kingdom have been given to the President of the Church, and they will never be taken from him until the Savior comes.
However, “Joseph Smith was called to stand at the head of the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times, preparatory to the second advent of the Son of God” (Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 4:175). So, in addition to holding the keys of the kingdom, the Prophet Joseph Smith also held the keys of this dispensation, and these keys will never be taken from him. President Brigham Young said. “The keys of the Priesthood were committed to Joseph, to build up the Kingdom of God on the earth, and were not to be taken from him in time or in eternity” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 138).
Verse 17 refers to the First Presidency as it was constituted when the revelation was given. When the First Presidency of the Church was originally organized, Jesse Gause and Sidney Rigdon were called to be counselors to the Prophet. After Jesse Gause’s apostasy (see Historical Background for D&C 81), the Presidency was reorganized in 1833 with Frederick G. Williams as Second Counselor. At a conference held at Far West, Missouri, on 7 November 1837, Frederick G. Williams was replaced by Hyrum Smith (see History of the Church, 2:522–23).
The Twelve are to carry the work into all the world as directed by the First Presidency, since it is not possible for the presiding quorum to do all things themselves.
President Joseph Fielding Smith explained: “The First Presidency, the Lord said, were to be counselors to the Twelve. By this is meant that the twelve should not go forth without the counsel and direction of the First Presidency.” (Church History and Modern Revelation, 2:73.)
“This proclamation should cause us even in this day serious reflection,” wrote President Joseph Fielding Smith. “If darkness covered the earth in 1837, surely it has deepened in its blackness since that day. If that was a day of wickedness, and the Lord in several revelations testified to this fact, then it is even more so today. We are called upon to remember that the day would come when peace would be taken from the earth and the devil have power over his own dominions. (D. & C. 1:35.) Surely that day has come. We have seen days of weeping and mourning, a day of wrath and of vengeance upon the inhabitants of the earth, and yet they will not repent. We have seen this day come speedily as the whirlwind, and yet we know that we have not seen the end. There will yet be plagues, bloodshed and weeping until eventually the earth shall be cleansed of all iniquity.” (Church History and Modern Revelation, 2:74.)
In the same revelation in which Zion was defined, the Lord warned the Saints that only if Zion met the Lord’s qualifications would it escape the judgments that were to be poured out upon the world. If they did not qualify as a Zion people, they had no promise (see D&C 97:21–27). Severe judgments befell the Saints because they failed to build Zion and abide by its laws. This prophetic statement also had reference to future members of the Church.
President Brigham Young warned: “If the Latter-day Saints do not desist from running after the things of this world, and begin to reform and do the work the Father has given them to do, they will be found wanting, and they, too, will be swept away and counted as unprofitable servants” (in Journal of Discourses, 18:262).
President Joseph Fielding Smith pointed out: “All of these things will be withheld while the nations are being punished, if the members of the Church will keep faithfully their commandments. If they will not, then we have received the warning that we, like the rest of the world, shall suffer His wrath in justice.” (Progress of Man, p. 468.)
President Wilford Woodruff emphasized: “Zion is not going to be moved out of her place. The Lord will plead with her strong ones, and if she sins He will chastise her until she is purified before the Lord.
“I do not pretend to tell how much sorrow you or I are going to meet with before the coming of the Son of Man. That will depend upon our conduct.” (In Millennial Star, 2 Sept. 1889, p. 547.)
See Notes and Commentary on Doctrine and Covenants 128:18.
President John Taylor said:
“I . . . wish to state to the Twelve and to the Seventies, and to the Elders, that they are not responsible for the reception or the rejection by the world of that word which God has given to them to communicate. It is proper for them to use all necessary diligence and fidelity, and to plainly and intelligently, and with prayer and faith, go forth as messengers to the nations. . . . He has endowed them . . . with authority to call upon men to repent of their sins, and to be baptized in the name of Jesus for the remission of sins, and then He has told them to lay hands on the people thus believing, and thus being baptized, and to confer upon them the gift of the Holy Ghost, and when they have performed their labors, and fulfilled their duties, their garments are free from the blood of this generation, and the people are then left in the hands of God their Heavenly Father. For the people, as before stated, will be held responsible to God for their rejection of the Gospel, and not to us.” (In Journal of Discourses, 24:289.)
In January 1838 the Prophet Joseph Smith fled from Kirtland to escape the enemies who were seeking his life. He traveled to Far West, Missouri, where he arrived on 14 March 1838. He wrote:
“On the 14th of March, as we were about entering Far West, many of the brethren came out to meet us, who also with open arms welcomed us to their bosoms. We were immediately received under the hospitable roof of Brother George W. Harris, who treated us with all possible kindness, and we refreshed ourselves with much satisfaction, after our long and tedious journey, the brethren bringing in such things as we had need of for our comfort and convenience.
“After [our] being here two or three days, my brother Samuel arrived with his family.” (History of the Church, 3:8–9.)
The Prophet included in his history some answers from the Lord to questions on the book of Isaiah. It is not known who asked the first questions—it may be that the Prophet asked them on his own behalf. The final questions came from Elias Higbee.
Section 113 was first published in the 1876 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.
Some of Isaiah’s writings are clarified by Doctrine and Covenants 113.
The Hebrew word which was translated into English in the King James Version of the Bible as stem means “the stock which remains in the earth after the tree is cut down” (Smith and Sjodahl, Commentary, p. 738). Another writer points out that Isaiah 11:1 is Hebrew poetry:
“Literally translated into common English, the poetic couplet here would be:
“‘There shall come forth a branch from the trunk of Jesse:
“‘Indeed, a shoot from his roots shall bear fruit.’
“Since the line of Jesse is the royal line of kings from David’s time on, is there any question as to who this ‘branch’ is?” (Rasmussen, Introduction to the Old Testament, 2:45.)
The branch and the stem are both Christ (see Jeremiah 23:5–6; 33:15–17). These terms refer to Christ’s being of the lineage of King David, the son of Jesse (see Luke 1:32; Acts 2:30; 13:22–23; Romans 1:3).
One might assume “that the ‘rod’ was Joseph Smith, believing that the Prophet, out of modesty, hesitated to name himself directly. None of us would question that Joseph was destined to become a great ‘servant in the hands of Christ’. Moreover, if we assume that he was the ‘rod’ or ‘servant’, observe how very well such an identification fits in with Moroni’s mission of explaining to the latter-day Prophet his part in Isaiah’s great vision of the future. As the ‘rod’ or ‘servant in the hands of Christ’, Joseph Smith fits naturally into Isaiah’s prophecy, and it is easy to understand why Moroni quoted and explained Isaiah 11 to him. [See JS—H 1:40.]
“Despite this reasoning, we still have the uneasy feeling that better proof of Joseph Smith’s being the ‘rod’ should be available. I believe there is better proof and that it is found in Doctrine and Covenants 113:5–6. . . .
“In order to assess this explanation intelligently, let us turn to Isaiah 11:10: [quoted].
“A closer translation of the original may be given here:
“‘And it shall come to pass in that day, that the root of Jesse, that standeth for an ensign [sign, signal] of the peoples, unto him shall the nations seek; and his resting place [refuge, residence] shall be glorious.’
“Quite obviously the ‘root of Jesse’ is a man, a descendant of Jesse and Joseph (as the Lord explains), who seems to have a great mission to perform in connection with gathering the remnant of Israel, as explained in Isaiah 11:11–16. [Most likely] the ‘rod’ of verse 1 and the ‘root of Jesse’ of verse 10 refer to the same man, Joseph Smith. If the ‘rod’ in D&C 113:4 is the ‘servant in the hands of Christ, who is partly a descendant of Jesse as well as of Ephraim, or of the house of Joseph,’ note that in verse 6 he seems to be more closely defined as a ‘descendant of Jesse, as well as of Joseph, unto whom rightly belongs the priesthood, and the keys of the kingdom, for an ensign, and for the gathering of my people in the last days.’ (Italics added.) Who better fits the description of the words in italics than Joseph Smith (see D&C 27:12–13; 86:8–11; 110:1–16; 115:18–19). He rightly holds the priesthood and its keys by lineage, and surely no one disputes the fact that the keys of the ‘gathering of my people’ were conferred on him by Moses in the Kirtland Temple, April 3, 1836.” (Sperry, “The Problem of the ‘Rod’ and the ‘Root of Jesse’ in Isaiah 11,” Improvement Era, Oct. 1966, pp. 869, 914–15.)
In certain scriptures Christ is referred to as the “Root of David” (Revelation 5:5; 22:16). According to Elder Bruce R. McConkie, “This designation signifies that he who was the Son of David was also before David, was pre-eminent above him, and was the root or source from which the great king in Israel gained his kingdom and power” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 657; see also Matthew 22:44–45).
The explanation of Isaiah 11:10 given in Doctrine and Covenants 113 implies that while Christ is the root of David, he is not the root of Jesse mentioned by Isaiah. There are two reasons for this conclusion. First, the Lord through the Prophet Joseph Smith in verse 2 identifies Christ as the stem of Jesse; he does not identify Christ as the root of Jesse. Second, verse 6 indicates that the root of Jesse is a servant of Christ to whom keys are given “in the last days” to gather Christ’s people.
See Notes and Commentary on Doctrine and Covenants 45:64–75; 109:61–67; 110:11.
The Prophet Joseph Smith received this revelation on 17 April 1838 in behalf of David W. Patten at Far West, Missouri (see History of the Church, 3:23). Elder Patten was one of the original Apostles and “had for some time been located in Missouri and with Elder Thomas B. Marsh was maintaining a steady influence amidst the opposition of disaffected brethren, including the three who had been appointed to preside, David Whitmer, William W. Phelps and John Whitmer. The Lord called upon Elder Patten to settle up his business as soon as possible, make a disposition of his merchandise, and prepare to take a mission the following spring, in company with others to preach the Gospel to all the world. ‘For verily thus saith the Lord, that inasmuch as there are those among you who deny my name, others shall be planted in their stead, and receive their bishopric. Amen.’ Elder Patten obedient to this revelation took steps to meet this call which had come to him. Events were to develop, however, which would change the nature of his mission before the following spring could arrive.” (Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, 2:85.)
In October 1838 the persecutions of mobs in Missouri threatened not only the property of the Saints but also their lives. A group took three prisoners and promised to murder them, saying they would come the next morning to burn the Saints out. The Prophet Joseph Smith appointed Elder Patten to lead seventy-five volunteers against the mob of thirty or forty, hoping to rout them without bloodshed and free the three prisoners. In the confrontation Elder Patten was shot in the stomach and died that night. The Prophet said, “He was one of the Twelve Apostles, and died as he had lived, a man of God, and strong in the faith of a glorious resurrection, in a world where mobs will have no power or place” (History of the Church, 3:171).
Section 114 was added to the Doctrine and Covenants in 1876 under the direction of President Brigham Young.
Crooked River, Missouri, where David W. Patten sustained a fatal wound
The Twelve were to leave Far West on 26 April 1839 for England. However, Elder David W. Patten was killed in the battle of Crooked River on 25 October 1838 (see D&C 118; History of the Church, 3:170–71, 336–39).
During the month that this revelation was received, April 1838, several of the leading brethren in the Church were excommunicated. President George Q. Cannon wrote:
“While the Prophet had been journeying toward Missouri after escaping the Kirtland mob in January, 1838, a general assembly of the Saints in Far West was held on the 5th day of February, at which David Whitmer, John Whitmer and William W. Phelps were rejected as the local presidency; and a few days later Thomas B. Marsh and David W. Patten, of the Twelve, were selected to act as a presidency until the Prophet should arrive. Oliver Cowdery too had been suspended from his position. Persisting in unchristianlike conduct, W. W. Phelps and John Whitmer had been excommunicated by the high council in Far West, four days previous to the arrival of Joseph.
“This was the sad situation as the Prophet approached the dwelling place of the Saints in Missouri. . . .
“On the 12th of April, 1838, Oliver Cowdery was found guilty of serious wrong-doing for which he had not made repentance, and he was excommunicated by the high council at Far West. Before the same tribunal on the day following David Whitmer was charged with persistent disobedience of the word of wisdom and with unchristianlike conduct, and he was also cut off. Luke Johnson, Lyman E. Johnson and John F. Boynton were excommunicated about the same time, and less than a month later a similar fate befell William E. McLellin [all members of the Quorum of the Twelve].
“It was a sorrowful day for Joseph when he lost the companionship of these men who had been with him during many trials and who had participated with him in the glorious undertaking of heavenly things.” (Life of Joseph Smith, pp. 237–38.)
The Lord said that those who were not faithful would be replaced in their bishopric. Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained the term bishopric as meaning “any office or position of major responsibility in the Church, any office of overseership under the supervision of which important church business is administered. . . . Thus the church affairs administered by a bishop are his bishopric. Thus, also, members of the Council of the Twelve—who hold the keys of the kingdom and are empowered to regulate all the affairs of the Church—serve in their bishopric.” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 89; see Acts 1:20.)
Section 115 was received nine days after section 114 and is addressed to the officers and members of the Church, particularly the First Presidency and the Presiding Bishopric.
The Prophet Joseph Smith recorded that on 26 April 1838 at Far West, Missouri, he received the revelation setting forth “the will of God concerning the building up of that place, and of the Lord’s House” (see History of the Church, 3:23).
A scene in Far West, Missouri
Notes and Commentary on Doctrine and Covenants 112:17–19 explains how this First Presidency came to be organized.
At a conference held on 3 September 1837 at Kirtland, Ohio, Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith Sr., Hyrum Smith, and John Smith were sustained as assistant counselors. However, on 26 April 1838, when section 115 was give, only Joseph Smith Sr. and John Smith were serving as assistant counselors. Hyrum Smith had taken the place of Frederick G. Williams in the First Presidency, and Oliver Cowdery had lost his membership in the Church. (See History of the Church, 2:509; Smith, Essentials in Church History, p. 569.)
Later, in Nauvoo, others served as counselors to the Prophet: John C. Bennett (who served a short time because Sidney Rigdon was ill), William Law, and Amasa Lyman (see History of the Church, 4:255, 264, 282–86, 341).
Elder B. H. Roberts commented: “It will be observed that in verses three and four of this revelation the Lord gives to the Church its official name, ‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.’ Previous to this the Church had been called ‘The Church of Christ,’ ‘The Church of Jesus Christ,’ ‘The Church of God,’ and by a conference of Elders held at Kirtland in May, 1834, (see Church History, vol. 2, pp. 62–3), it was given the name ‘The Church of the Latter-day Saints.’ All these names, however, were by this revelation brushed aside, and since then the official name given in this revelation has been recognized as the true title of the Church, though often spoken of as ‘The Mormon Church,’ the ‘Church of Christ,’ etc. The appropriateness of this title is self evident, and in it there is a beautiful recognition of the relationship both of the Lord Jesus Christ and of the Saints to the organization. It is ‘The Church of Jesus Christ.’ It is the Lord’s; He owns it, He organized it. It is the Sacred Depository of His truth. It is His instrumentality for promulgating all those spiritual truths with which He would have mankind acquainted. It is also His instrumentality for the perfecting of the Saints, as well as for the work of the ministry. It is His in all these respects; but it is an institution which also belongs to the Saints. It is their refuge from the confusion and religious doubt of the world. It is their instructor in principle, doctrine, and righteousness. It is their guide in matters of faith and morals. They have a conjoint ownership in it with Jesus Christ, which ownership is beautifully recognized in the latter part of the title. ‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,’ is equivalent to ‘The Church of Jesus Christ,’ and ‘The Church of the Latter-day Saints.’” (History of the Church, 3:23–24n; see also 3 Nephi 27:7–8.)
In the early years of World War II, Elder John A. Widtsoe wrote:
“What is our mission to the world? I have turned to the scriptures to get the answer, and have found the answer, both in ancient and modern scriptures. It is that the Church of Christ at all times must be as a standard to the nations, a standard to which all nations, all people, all men may turn as they seek safety, peace, and happiness.
“It is our great mission . . . to be a standard to all the world, and we say without hesitation that those who obey and comply with that standard will find that which men most desire in life. It is a bold declaration, tremendously bold, that a small people in the valleys of these mountains, misunderstood, often harassed by persecution, may become the standard by which all mankind may be led to peace and happiness; but so it is. I am not saying it. It is the word of the Lord, both in ancient and modern days [see Isaiah 62:10–12]. If this standard would be accepted by the world the things we pray and hope for would soon come.
“Let me say that the Church of itself cannot be this standard. Since the Church is made up of individuals, it becomes an individual responsibility to make the Church a standard for the nations. I must be a standard in my life. I must so conduct myself that I may be a standard worthy of being followed by those who seek the greater joy in life.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1940, p. 35.)
Some Latter-day Saints have wondered if they should leave their homes and move to Salt Lake City, Utah, or Jackson County, Missouri. They have heard that Zion will be the place of safety in times of tribulation, and they wonder if members not living near the headquarters of the Church will be safe. Here the Lord states that Zion and her stakes provide defense and refuge from the storm. Church leaders have counseled that the Saints in this time are to gather to their local congregations in their own land until they can become stakes and strong places of spiritual defense. Elder Harold B. Lee pointed out:
“After designating certain places in that day where the Saints were to gather, the Lord said this:
“‘Until the day cometh when there is found no more room for them; and then I have other places which I will appoint unto them.’ [D&C 101:21.]
“Thus, clearly, the Lord has placed the responsibility for directing the work of gathering in the hands of the leaders of the Church to whom he will reveal his will where and when such gatherings would take place in the future. It would be well—before the frightening events concerning the fulfilment of all God’s promises and predictions are upon us, that the Saints in every land prepare themselves and look forward to the instruction that shall come to them from the First Presidency of this Church as to where they shall be gathered and not be disturbed in their feelings until such instruction is given to them as it is revealed by the Lord to the proper authority.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1948, p. 55.)
The gathering to Zion is also discussed in Notes and Commentary on Doctrine and Covenants 45:64–75; 101:20–22.
Smith and Sjodahl explained why this commandment was not fulfilled:
“At this time there were about 150 houses at Far West, and among them were stores, hotels, and a fine school house. The City had sprung up, as by magic, in the midst of a rolling prairie. It might have been a large center of population today, into which would have been poured the wealth of continents, instead of a spot in a desert, but for the bigotry and strange madness of the neighbors.
“The corner stones of the Temple were laid on the 4th of July, 1838. The excavation, one historian says, 120 by 80 feet in area, and 5 feet in depth was completed in half a day, more than 500 men being employed in the work. Little else was done, however, for the storm of persecution broke loose in all its fury, and the Saints at that place went into exile again.” (Commentary, p. 742.)
In earlier revelations the Lord had directed the Saints not to gather in haste (see D&C 58:56; 63:24; 101:68). Now He encouraged them to gather speedily to Far West. Smith and Sjodahl suggested a possible reason for the change: “It is quite probable that if the Saints had gathered in greater numbers and built up their Stakes and cities more rapidly, the enemies would have had less power to execute their designs. That they did not do their duty in this respect, may be inferred from Section 117:1–6.” (Commentary, p. 743.)
Section 116, taken from an inspired entry in the Prophet’s history, was first placed in the Doctrine and Covenants in 1876 under the direction of President Brigham Young:
“Friday, May 18.—I left Far West, in company with Sidney Rigdon, Thomas B. Marsh, David W. Patten, Bishop Partridge, Elias Higbee, Simeon Carter, Alanson Ripley, and many others, for the purpose of visiting the north country, and laying off a stake of Zion; making locations, and laying claim to lands to facilitate the gathering of Saints, for the benefit of the poor, in upholding the Church of God. . . .
“Saturday, 19.—This morning we struck our tents and formed a line of march, crossing Grand River at the mouth of Honey Creek and Nelson’s Ferry. Grand River is a large, beautiful, deep and rapid stream, during the high waters of Spring, and will undoubtedly admit of navigation by steamboat and other water craft. At the mouth of Honey Creek is a good landing. We pursued our course up the river, mostly through timber, for about eighteen miles, when we arrived at Colonel Lyman Wight’s home. He lives at the foot of Tower Hill (a name I gave the place in consequence of the remains of an old Nephite altar or tower that stood there), where we camped for the Sabbath.
“In the afternoon I went up the river about half a mile to Wight’s Ferry, accompanied by President Rigdon, and my clerk, George W. Robinson, for the purpose of selecting and laying claim to a city plat near said ferry in Daviess County, township 60, ranges 27 and 28, and sections 25, 36, 31, and 30, which the brethren called ‘Spring Hill,’ but by the mouth of the Lord it was named Adam-ondi-Ahman, because, said He, it is the place where Adam shall come to visit his people, or the Ancient of Days shall sit, as spoken of by Daniel the Prophet.” (History of the Church, 3:34–35.)
On another occasion the Prophet wrote: “Adam-ondi-Ahman is located immediately on the north side of Grand River, in Daviess county, Missouri, about twenty-five miles north of Far West. It is situated on an elevated spot of ground, which renders the place as healthful as any part of the United States, and overlooking the river and the country round about, it is certainly a beautiful location.” (History of the Church, 3:39.)
Spring Hill at Adam-ondi-Ahman
Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said that the council at Adam-ondi-Ahman, as prophesied in Daniel 7:9–14, will be “of the greatest importance to this world. At that time there will be a transfer of authority from the usurper and impostor, Lucifer, to the rightful King, Jesus Christ. Judgment will be set and all who have held keys will make their reports and deliver their stewardships, as they shall be required. Adam will direct this judgment, and then he will make his report, as the one holding the keys for this earth, to his Superior Officer, Jesus Christ. Our Lord will then assume the reins of government; directions will be given to the Priesthood; and He, whose right it is to rule, will be installed officially by the voice of the Priesthood there assembled. This grand council of Priesthood will be composed, not only of those who are faithful who now dwell on this earth, but also of the prophets and apostles of old, who have had directing authority. Others may also be there, but if so they will be there by appointment, for this is to be an official council called to attend to the most momentous matters concerning the destiny of this earth.
“When this gathering is held, the world will not know of it; the members of the Church at large will not know of it, yet it shall be preparatory to the coming in the clouds of glory of our Savior Jesus Christ as the Prophet Joseph Smith has said. The world cannot know of it. The Saints cannot know of it—except those who officially shall be called into this council—for it shall precede the coming of Jesus Christ as a thief in the night, unbeknown to all the world.” (Way to Perfection, pp. 290–91.)
This revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants is the first of four revelations that were all given to the Prophet Joseph Smith on 8 July 1838 at Far West, Missouri. Their order in the Doctrine and Covenants is somewhat different, however, from the order given in Joseph Smith’s history.
“The Lord had commanded the Saints to gather and build up Far West speedily (See Sec. 115:17). A company of 515 souls, known as the Kirtland Camp, left Kirtland on the 6th of July, 1838, for Zion. On the 14th of September, it appears only 260 members were left, the others having been scattered ‘to the four winds.’ The camp arrived in Adam-ondi-Ahman on the 4th of October. Neither Marks, Whitney, nor Granger were members of this company. [Granger was already in Far West. He carried this revelation to Marks and Whitney in Kirtland and was instructed to return speedily to the land of Zion.] Joseph Smith at Far West had no means of knowing, at that time, who had, or who had not, left for Zion; but the Lord knew. Hence this Revelation in which He . . . calls William Marks and Newel K. Whitney to come to Zion and instructs the Saints concerning the property in Kirtland.” (Smith and Sjodahl, Commentary, p. 744.)
Church centers were located at Adam-ondi-Ahman and Far West, Missouri.
“The Saints had private property in Kirtland, and there was property belonging to the Church. Many of them lingered there, reluctant to sacrifice their temporal interests. Our Lord regards this disposition as a sin (v. 4), and calls upon the people to repent and to let the property go for the liquidation of debt (v. 5). He would recompense them for any sacrifice they might make in His service.” (Smith and Sjodahl, Commentary, p. 744.)
William Marks and Newel K. Whitney were mentioned by the Lord as not relinquishing their property in Kirtland and obeying the commandment to go to Missouri. Verses 4 and 5 of section 117 imply that some of this property may have been owned by the Church. Since Newel K. Whitney was a bishop in Kirtland, he may have had direct stewardship for such property. Either way, the Lord rebuked these men for forgetting the relative worth of things. President Joseph Fielding Smith commented: “It is quite evident that these two brethren had fallen under the spell of speculation and temptation so rife in Kirtland in 1837, and which was the downfall of so many of the leading brethren of the Church. However, they had not lost their faith and when the Lord gave them this call, they proceeded to obey the command.” (Church History and Modern Revelation, 2:96.)
Those who ally themselves with the Lord will ultimately prosper. God has power over all and will cause all things to work together for the good of those who walk uprightly and follow His counsels (see D&C 90:24).
Elder John Taylor said: “In relation to events that will yet take place, and the kind of trials, troubles, and sufferings which we shall have to cope with, it is to me a matter of very little moment; these things are in the hands of God, he dictates the affairs of the human family, and directs and controls our affairs; and the great thing that we, as a people, have to do is seek after and cleave unto our God, to be in close affinity with him, and to seek for his guidance, and his blessing and Holy Spirit to lead and guide us in the right path. Then it matters not what it is nor who it is that we have to contend with, God will give us strength according to our day.” (In Journal of Discourses, 18:281.)
“This promise has been miraculously fulfilled in the history of the Latter-day Saints. Wherever they have settled, the land has been blessed, the moisture of the air has increased, and the rigor of the climate has been tempered. The so-called ‘Great American Desert’ exists no longer. In its place, there is an inland empire with a teeming population, centers of industry, and busy marts, and this modern wonder was performed by the location of the Church in the mountains.” (Smith and Sjodahl, Commentary, p. 745.)
See Notes and Commentary on Doctrine and Covenants 116.
Those who sought to hold on to their property in Kirtland when the Lord had commanded them to move to Zion risked losing something of far greater value than the property they held (see Mark 10:28–30). President Spencer W. Kimball taught:
“One man I know of was called to a position of service in the Church, but he felt that he couldn’t accept because his investments required more attention and more of his time than he could spare for the Lord’s work. He left the service of the Lord in search of Mammon, and he is a millionaire today.
“But I recently learned an interesting fact: If a man owns a million dollars worth of gold at today’s prices, he possesses approximately one 27-billionth of all the gold that is present in the earth’s thin crust alone. This is an amount so small in proportion as to be inconceivable to the mind of man. But there is more to this: The Lord who created and has power over all the earth created many other earths as well, even ‘worlds without number’ (Moses 1:33); and when this man received the oath and covenant of the priesthood (D&C 84:33–44), he received a promise from the Lord of ‘all that my Father hath’ (v. 38). To set aside all these great promises in favor of a chest of gold and a sense of carnal security is a mistake in perspective of colossal proportions. To think that he has settled for so little is a saddening and pitiful prospect indeed; the souls of men are far more precious than this.” (“The False Gods We Worship,” Ensign, June 1976, p. 5.)
“The plains of Olaha Shinehah, or the place where Adam dwelt,” wrote President Joseph Fielding Smith, “must be a part of, or in the vicinity of Adam-ondi-Ahman. This name Olaha Shinehah, may be, and in all probability is, from the language of Adam. We may without great controversy believe that this is the name which Adam gave to this place, at least we may venture this as a probable guess. Shinehah, according to the Book of Abraham, is the name given to the sun. (Abraham 3:13.) It is the name applied to Kirtland when the Lord desired in a revelation to hide its identity. (Sec. 82.) Elder Janne M. Sjodahl commenting on the name, Olaha Shinehah, has said: ‘Shinehah means sun, and Olaha is possibly a variant of the word Olea, which is “the moon.” (Abraham 3:13.) If so the plains of Olaha Shinehah would be the Plains of the Moon and the Sun, so called, perhaps because of astronomical observations there made.’ We learn from the writings of Moses that the Lord revealed to the ancients great knowledge concerning the stars, and Abraham by revelations and through the Urim and Thummim received wonderful information concerning the heavens and the governing planets, or stars. It was also revealed by the Prophet Joseph Smith that Methuselah was acquainted with the stars as were others of the antediluvian prophets including Adam. So it may be reasonable that here in this valley important information was made known anciently in relation to the stars of our universe.” (Church History and Modern Revelation, 2:97–98.)
Many scholars believe that the Nicolaitans in New Testament times were followers of Nicolas (see Acts 6:5). He was one of the seven appointed by the Church at Jerusalem to supervise the distribution of food and goods. Nicolas was believed by some of the early Church fathers to have apostatized from the true gospel and then to have established a sect of his own—the Nicolaitans (see Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 3:548).
One Bible scholar wrote the following about the beliefs of the Nicolaitans: “They seem to have held that it was lawful to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication, in opposition to the decree of the Church rendered in Acts 15:20, 29. . . . In a time of persecution, when the eating or not eating of things sacrificed to idols was more than ever a crucial test of faithfulness, they persuaded men more than ever that it was a thing indifferent. Rev. 2:13, 14. This was bad enough, but there was a yet worse evil. Mingling themselves in the orgies of idolatrous feasts, they brought the impurities of those feasts into the meetings of the Christian Church. And all this was done, it must be remembered, not simply as an indulgence of appetite, but as a part of a system, supported by a ‘doctrine,’ accompanied by the boast of a prophetic illumination.” (Smith, Dictionary of the Bible, p. 447.)
Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote that Nicolaitans today are “members of the Church who [are] trying to maintain their church standing while continuing to live after the manner of the world. . . . The designation has come to be used to identify those who want their names on the records of the Church, but do not want to devote themselves to the gospel cause with full purpose of heart.” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:446.)
As bishop, Newel K. Whitney presided over the distribution of food and common goods in Kirtland. If Nicolas in ancient times turned from a similar sacred calling to a life of worldliness, the reference implies that Newel K. Whitney was in danger of doing the same.
In 1951 J. Reuben Clark Jr. was called to be Second Counselor in the First Presidency under President David O. McKay. He had previously served as First Counselor to President George Albert Smith. A lesser man could have considered this a demotion and a reason to be offended. President Clark, however, did not take offense but instead taught a lesson to the Saints. He made the statement that “in the service of the Lord, it is not where you serve but how” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1951, p. 154).
Church position does not guarantee exaltation. People will be judged by how they serve and not by what position they hold. It is their thoughts, works, words, and the desires of their hearts that matter (see 2 Nephi 9:14; Mosiah 4:30; Alma 12:14; D&C 137:9).
“Oliver Granger was a man of faith and business ability—two qualities which form a rare combination. He characterized the Kirtland Camp as the greatest undertaking since the organization of the Church, and he firmly believed that God would bless that endeavor (Hist. of the Church, Vol. III., p. 96). When the Prophet fled from Kirtland, he appointed Granger his business agent, and so well did he perform this duty that he was commended by businessmen. At a conference held at Quincy, May 4th to 6th, 1839, he was appointed to return to Kirtland and take charge of the Temple and Church there. This makes the concluding verses of the Revelation perfectly clear. His name is to be held in remembrance for his faithful services as a man of business, having sanctified his talent to the service of the Lord.” (Smith and Sjodahl, Commentary, p. 746.)
This revelation is another of the four given to the Prophet at Far West, Missouri, on 8 July 1838. It came in response to the question, “Show unto us thy will O Lord concerning the Twelve” (History of the Church, 3:46).
The following is recorded in the Prophet Joseph Smith’s history under the title “Minutes of a Meeting of the Twelve”:
“Far West, July 9, 1838, a conference of the Twelve Apostles assembled at Far West, agreeable to the revelation, given July 8, 1838 [section 118]. Present, Thomas B. Marsh, David W. Patten, Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt and William Smith: T. B. Marsh, presiding.
“Resolved 1st. That the persons who are to fill the places of those who are fallen, be immediately notified to come to Far West; as also, those of the Twelve who are not present.
“Resolved 2nd. That Thomas B. Marsh notify Wilford Woodruff, that Parley P. Pratt notify Orson Pratt, and that President Rigdon notify Willard Richards, who is now in England.
“Voted that President Marsh publish the same in next number of The Elders’ Journal.
“President Rigdon gave some counsel concerning the provisions necessary to be made for the families of the Twelve, while laboring in the cause of their Redeemer, advising them to instruct their converts to move without delay to the places of gathering, and there to strictly attend to the law of God.” (History of the Church, 3:47.)
The minutes were signed by T. B. Marsh, president, and G. W. Robinson, clerk.
The Apostles and prophets are the foundation of the Church (see Ephesians 2:19–20), and the Lord wished to keep the Quorum of the Twelve functioning without any long delay, another evidence of the importance the Lord places on the presiding quorums.
While the rest of the Twelve were to go forth and preach the gospel (see D&C 118:3), President Thomas B. Marsh was to continue publishing the Elders’ Journal, a responsibility he had while in Kirtland, Ohio. The Elders’ Journal was short-lived, running from October 1837 to August 1838. (See Notes and Commentary for D&C 112:6.)
The Twelve departed to their missions from the temple site at Far West, Missouri.
The people of Missouri knew of the Lord’s requirement to meet on 26 April 1839, nearly a year later, and they were determined to impede the work of the Twelve and stop Mormonism. During the time between the revelation and the appointed day, “the whole Church was driven out of the State of Missouri, and it was as much as a man’s life was worth to be found in the State if it was known that he was a Latter-day Saint; and especially was this the case with the Twelve. When the time came for the corner stone of the Temple to be laid, as directed in the revelation, the Church was in Illinois, having been expelled from Missouri by an edict from the Governor. Joseph and Hyrum Smith and Parley P. Pratt were in chains in Missouri for the testimony of Jesus. As the time drew nigh for the accomplishment of this work, the question arose. ‘What is to be done?’ Here is a revelation commanding the Twelve to be in Far West on the 26th day of April, to lay the cornerstone of the Temple there; it has to be fulfilled. The Missourians had sworn by all the gods of eternity that if every other revelation given through Joseph Smith were fulfilled, that should not be, for the day and date being given they declared that it would fail. The general feeling in the Church, so far as I know, was that, under the circumstances, it was impossible to accomplish the work; and the Lord would accept the will for the deed.” (Wilford Woodruff, in Journal of Discourses, 13:159.)
But the Apostles were not to be put off their commanded duty: “On the night of April 25, 1839, the little band of apostles with a small company of faithful brethren, high priests, elders and priests, arrived at Far West. Shortly after midnight, on the morning of April 26th, they assembled on the temple lot in Far West, and there they held a conference.” (Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, pp. 196–97.)
Brigham Young presided; John Taylor, the clerk, wrote:
“The council then proceeded to the building spot of the Lord’s House; when the following business was transacted: Part of a hymn was sung, on the mission of the twelve.
“Elder Alpheus Cutler, the master workman of the house, then recommenced laying the foundation of the Lord’s House, agreeably to revelation, by rolling up a large stone near the southeast corner.
“The following of the twelve were present: Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Orson Pratt, John E. Page, and John Taylor, who proceeded to ordain Wilford Woodruff and George A. Smith . . . to fill the places of those who had fallen.” (History of the Church, 3:336–38.)
After several of the Apostles had offered prayers, the assembly sang “Adam-ondi-Ahman,” and the Apostles left.
Elders William E. M’Lellin, Luke S. Johnson, John F. Boynton, and Lyman E. Johnson had at this point fallen into disharmony with the Church and had been excommunicated. They had been in the first Quorum of the Twelve in this dispensation, which was called on 14 February 1835 (see History of the Church, 2:509; 3:31–32). One of the replacements, John E. Page, also eventually apostatized, but the other three remained faithful (see D&C 118:6). Two of the replacements, John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff, later became Presidents of the Church. John Taylor was ordained an Apostle at Far West on 19 December 1838. Wilford Woodruff was ordained an Apostle during the early morning meeting at Far West on 26 April 1839.
The Prophet Joseph Smith received the revelation on tithing on 8 July 1838 at Far West, Missouri. The revelation came in response to the following question: “O Lord! Show unto thy servant how much thou requirest of the properties of thy people for a tithing.” (History of the Church, 3:44.)
President Joseph Fielding Smith explained: “The Lord had given to the Church the law of consecration and had called upon the members, principally the official members, to enter into a covenant that could not be broken and to be everlasting in which they were to consecrate their properties and receive stewardships, for this is the law of the celestial kingdom. Many of those who entered into this solemn covenant broke it and by so doing brought upon their heads, and the heads of their brethren and sisters, dire punishment and persecution. This celestial law of necessity was thereupon withdrawn for the time, or until the time of the redemption of Zion. While suffering intensely because of their debts and lack of means to meet their obligations Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, November 29, 1834, in solemn prayer promised the Lord that they would give one tenth of all that the Lord should give unto them, as an offering to be bestowed upon the poor; they also prayed that their children, and the children’s children after them should obey this law. (D.H.C., 2:174–5.) Now, however, it became necessary for the law to be given to the whole Church so the Prophet prayed for instruction. The answer they received [came] in the revelation [D&C 119].” (Church History and Modern Revelation, 2:90–91.)
Although tithing had been mentioned in earlier revelations, this revelation established a new and exacting law to replace the law of consecration, which had been revoked by the Lord. “The law of tithing, as understood today, had not been given to the Church previous to this revelation. The term ‘tithing’ in the prayer . . . and in previous revelations (64:23; 85:3; 97:11), had meant to them not just one-tenth, but all ‘free-will offerings,’ or ‘contributions’ to the Church funds.” (Headnote to D&C 119; see also Smith and Sjodahl, Commentary, p. 749.)
In 1882 Elder Franklin D. Richards stated:
“Let us consider for a moment this word ‘surplus.’ What does it mean when applied to a man and his property? Surplus cannot mean that which is indispensably necessary for any given purpose, but what remains after supplying what is needed for that purpose. Is not the first and most necessary use of a man’s property that he feed, clothe and provide a home for himself and family? This appears to be the great leading object for which we labor to acquire means, and as, until the time that this revelation was given, all public works and raising of all public funds had been by consecration, was not ‘surplus property,’ that which was over and above a comfortable and necessary subsistence? In the light of what had transpired and of subsequent events, what else could it mean? Can we take any other view of it when we consider the circumstances under which it was given in Far West in July, 1838?
“I have been unable in studying this subject to find any other definition of the term surplus, as used in this revelation, than the one I have just given. I find that it was so understood and recorded by the Bishops and people in those days, as well as by the Prophet Joseph himself, who was unquestionably the ablest and best exponent of this revelation.” (In Journal of Discourses, 23:313.)
President Joseph Fielding Smith explained: “In more recent times the Church has not called upon the members to give all their surplus property to the Church, but it has been the requirement according to the covenant, that they pay the tenth. It is remarkable how many excuses can be made and interpretations given as to what constitutes the tenth, by many members of the Church. It is written, however, that as we measure it shall be measured to us again. If we are stingy with the Lord, he may be stingy with us, or in other words, withhold his blessings. Then again, we have those among us who are hoping for the coming of the law of consecration thinking that in that day they are going to profit by the equalizing of the wealth of other members of the Church. It is definitely true, however, that all those who will not obey the law of tithing, will not be entitled to enter into the covenants of consecration, but when the day comes for the establishing of Zion and the redemption of the earth, such people will find themselves removed.” (Church History and Modern Revelation, 2:92.)
Elder Orson F. Whitney explained: “The Law of Tithing was given to supersede, for the time being, a greater law known as the Law of Consecration [D&C 42:30–42], the object of which was and is to sanctify the Lord’s people and ‘prepare them for a place in the celestial world’ [D&C 78:7]. To that end it was designed to do away with selfishness, greed, pride, envy, poverty, and all the ills that spring from such conditions. For none of these things can be admitted into the kingdom of heaven. It was to institute an order of equality and consequent unity, in which every man, employed at that for which he was best fitted, would be ‘seeking the interest of his neighbor and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God’ [D&C 82:19]. . . . A brave attempt to practise it was made by the Latter-day Saints, soon after this Church was organized. But they lacked experience, and did not completely rise to the occasion. Selfishness within, and persecution without, prevented a perfect achievement. So the Lord withdrew the Law of Consecration [see D&C 105], and gave to his people a lesser law, one easier to live, but pointing forward, like the other, to something grand and glorious in the future. That lesser law, the Law of Tithing, is as a schoolmaster, a disciplinary agent, to bring the Saints eventually up to the practise of the higher law, and meanwhile to keep their hearts open for its reception when it returns. Those who obey the Law of Tithing will be prepared to live the Law of Consecration. Those who do not obey it will not be prepared. That is the whole thing in a nut shell.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1931, pp. 65–66.)
Elder John A. Widtsoe explained: “Tithing means one-tenth. Those who give less do not really pay tithing; they are lesser contributors to the Latter-day cause of the Lord. Tithing means one-tenth of a person’s income, interest, or increase. The merchant should pay tithing upon the net income of his business, the farmer upon the net income of his farming operations; the wage earner or salaried man upon the wage or salary earned by him. Out of the remaining nine-tenths he pays his current expenses . . . etc. To deduct living costs . . . and similar expenses from the income and pay tithing upon the remainder does not conform to the Lord’s commandment. Under such a system most people would show nothing on which to pay tithing. There is really no place for quibbling on this point. Tithing should be given upon the basis of our full earned income. If the nature of a business requires special interpretation, the tithepayer should consult the father of his ward, the bishop.” (Evidences and Reconciliations, 2:86.)
John A. Widtsoe taught the meaning of the word tithe.
Not only does disobedience influence one’s blessings now, but it also affects one’s future eternal inheritance. Elder Melvin J. Ballard gave this counsel: “Do we not hope and expect to have an inheritance in the celestial kingdom, even upon this earth in its redeemed and sanctified state? [D&C 88:25–26; 130:9.] What are the terms under which we may obtain that inheritance? The law of tithing is the law of inheritance. It leads to it. No man may hope or expect to have an inheritance on this celestial globe who has failed to pay his tithing. By the payment of his honest tithing he is establishing a right and a title to this inheritance, and he cannot secure it upon any other terms but by complying with this and other just requirements; and this is one of the very essential things.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1929, p. 51.)
Section 119 established the principle of tithing as an “ensample” for all the stakes of Zion (D&C 119:7; see Notes and Commentary on D&C 98:38 for a definition of the word ensample).
President Joseph F. Smith testified: “By this principle (tithing) the loyalty of the people of this Church shall be put to the test. By this principle it shall be known who is for the kingdom of God and who is against it. By this principle it shall be seen whose hearts are set on doing the will of God and keeping His commandments, thereby sanctifying the land of Zion unto God, and who are opposed to this principle and have cut themselves off from the blessings of Zion. There is a great deal of importance connected with this principle, for by it it shall be known whether we are faithful or unfaithful.” (Gospel Doctrine, p. 225.)
When the Lord established the law of tithing in this dispensation (see D&C 119), He explained whose responsibility it was to handle the tithes of the Church. On 8 July 1838 the Prophet Joseph Smith received the revelation “making known the disposition of the properties tithed as named in the preceding revelation” (History of the Church, 3:44).
In April 1911 the First Presidency of the Church (Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund, and John H. Smith) gave the following explanation: “The subject of Church revenues may be touched upon perhaps with profit. The Latter-day Saints believe in tithing. It is a principle of their faith. It is an ancient observance reaching back to patriarchal times, as related in the Bible. It was established in the Church in the year 1838. The manner of its payments and disbursement is revealed by Divine authority and has appeared in the Church books ever since that date. It is complied with religiously by the Church authorities themselves. It is not the property of the President. He does not claim it or collect it. Tithing is received by the local bishops in the respective wards, who are under the supervision of the local presidents of stakes. The whole income is accounted for to the presiding bishopric of the Church and is under their direction. Their office contains complete records of all the tithing paid during each year. Every tithepayer will find in that office his record. The entire receipts and disbursements are there accounted for in the most complete detail. An auditing committee, composed of men well known in the community for their independence of character and business integrity, not of the leading authorities of the Church, chosen by the general conference, thoroughly inspect and report annually upon them. The funds thus received are not the property of the President of the Church or his associates, nor of the presiding bishopric, nor of the local bishops. They belong to the Church and are used for Church purposes.” (In Clark, Messages of the First Presidency, 4:228–29.)
President J. Reuben Clark Jr. added:
“Under the direction of the First Presidency a budget is drawn up, as nearly as may be at the first of the year, which includes all of the proposed expenditures of the tithing. This budget is the result of the careful consideration of the departments which are responsible for the expenditure of the funds.
“This budget is then taken before the Council on the Expenditure of the Tithing, composed, as the revelation provides, of the First Presidency, the Council of the Twelve, and the Presiding Bishopric. This council considers and discusses the budget so submitted, approving or disapproving, as the case may be, individual items, but finally passing the budget.
“The approved budget as it comes from that meeting is then turned over for its expenditures to a Committee on Expenditures. This committee then passes upon and authorizes the expenditures of the tithing. So that there is a complete check upon all of the tithing which is paid into the Church. None of it is expended except upon the approval and authorization of this committee.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1943, p. 12.)
Those who pay tithing do so in the faith that the funds will be properly disbursed as needed in the Lord’s kingdom. Contributions to other funds in the Church are applied to specific aspects of the Lord’s work known beforehand to the donor, for example, welfare, missionary, and building fund.
Tithing money helps build chapels.