Section 23: Counsel to Five Individuals
Shortly after the Church was organized on April 6, Joseph returned to his family’s home in Manchester. There, five persons, of whom four had just been baptized, sought to know the will of the Lord and their respective duties in the Church. Joseph inquired of the Lord and received section 23. The five were: Oliver Cowdery, Hyrum Smith, Samuel Smith, Joseph Smith, Sr., and Joseph Knight Sr. All of these brethren, except Joseph Knight, had been baptized into the Church. In the 1833 Book of Commandments these instructions were separated into five different chapters, but in the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants published in 1835, they were combined into this one section.
1 Behold, I speak unto you, Oliver, a few words. Behold, thou art blessed, and art under no condemnation. But beware of pride, lest thou shouldst enter into temptation.
verse 1 “thou art under no condemnation” This statement is made to four of the five men. It likely implies that they are currently on a favorable path that will lead to their exaltation. Joseph Knight is given no such assurance, perhaps because he had not yet submitted to covenant of baptism.
“beware of pride” At the time of this revelation, Oliver Cowdery was doing well spiritually, but this warning sounds an ominous note of what is to come. In a day of great tribulation for the Church in Kirtland, Oliver will fail to humble himself and lose his membership in the Church.
2 Make known thy calling unto the church, and also before the world, and thy heart shall be opened to preach the truth from henceforth and forever. Amen.
verse 2 “Make known thy calling unto the church” This phrase suggests the idea of: “Magnify thy calling.”
3 Behold, I speak unto you, Hyrum, a few words; for thou also art under no condemnation, and thy heart is opened, and thy tongue loosed; and thy calling is to exhortation, and to strengthen the church continually. Wherefore thy duty is unto the church forever, and this because of thy family. Amen.
verse 3 In a previous section (D&C 11:21), Hyrum was promised that if he would seek to obtain the word of God, then his tongue would be “loosed.” Note that in verse 3 we now learn that his tongue is loosed, and he is called to help strengthen the Church, a calling which he will faithfully do for the rest of his life.
“Wherefore thy duty is unto the church forever, and this because of thy family” It is notable that Hyrum’s line remained faithful in the Church—the patriarchal line. Joseph’s line did not. The office of Patriarch was Hyrum’s duty and that of his family to whom it would be passed along.
4 Behold, I speak a few words unto you, Samuel; for thou also art under no condemnation, and thy calling is to exhortation, and to strengthen the church; and thou art not as yet called to preach before the world. Amen.
verse 4 Samuel Smith was the third person baptized in this dispensation. He was also one of the first to be ordained to the office of elder.
“and thou art not as yet called to preach before the world” Samuel, at age 22, was not yet called to preach, but it was not long after this revelation that he was sent forth as the first missionary of this last dispensation. As a missionary he was remarkably successful. One of the under-appreciated founding members of the Church, Samuel was one of the eight witnesses to the Book of Mormon. He is generally credited with being the first full-time traveling missionary in this dispensation, serving at least five missions in the succeeding fourteen years. He helped build the Nauvoo Temple, served as an alderman in Nauvoo, served as bishop of the Nauvoo Ward, was a member of the Nauvoo Legion, and served in the Presiding Bishopric of the Church. Faithful to the end, Samuel died on July 30, 1844, one month after his brothers were martyred on June 27.
5 Behold, I speak a few words unto you, Joseph; for thou also art under no condemnation, and thy calling also is to exhortation, and to strengthen the church; and this is thy duty from henceforth and forever. Amen.
verse 5 The Lord speaks to Joseph Smith, Sr.
“thy duty from henceforth and forever” Joseph Smith, Sr. was the first patriarch of the Church in this dispensation. When he was ordained to that calling, he was blessed that this calling was to come upon his head “and his seed after him, to the uttermost” (Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 3:164).
6 Behold, I manifest unto you, Joseph Knight, by these words, that you must take up your cross, in the which you must pray vocally before the world as well as in secret, and in your family, and among your friends, and in all places.
verse 6 “you must take up your cross” What does it mean to “take up your cross”? This phrase is found in the New Testament (Matthew 16:25-26) and in modern scripture (D&C 23:6; 56:2; 112:14). When an individual “takes up his cross” he denies his natural-man self, particularly in times of suffering and adversity—however painful and difficult that may be. He attempts to eschew all worldly inclinations and gives heed to the Lord’s counsel.
“you must pray vocally before the world as well as in secret” Evidently, one of the challenges that Joseph Knight, Sr. faced was praying in front of other people.
Perhaps he was one of those painfully shy individuals for whom humbling themselves and taking up their cross means, despite their fear, to reveal and share their inner feelings and their faith in God by praying, testifying, or declaring his word publicly before the world. Newel Knight, the son of Joseph Knight, also found it difficult to pray in public. There are many in the Church for whom praying or speaking in front of the congregation is a heavy cross to bear.
7 And, behold, it is your duty to unite with the true church, and give your language to exhortation continually, that you may receive the reward of the laborer. Amen.
verses 6-7 “it is your duty to unite with the true church” Joseph Knight was a “Universalist”—one who believed that all religions were correct and that there was not just one true church. Here the Lord commands him to commit himself to the Church of Christ and be baptized. Though a believer and a staunch supporter of the restoration, he was fairly liberal in his theology and apparently did not yet grasp the importance of baptism. In obedience to this direct command, he was baptized in June 1830.
Brief Historical Setting
In the summer of 1830, Joseph and Emma still lived in the cabin in Harmony, Pennsylvania. Joseph, however, shuttled among the various clusters of believers who formed the nucleus of the Church: the Smiths in Manchester, the Whitmers in Fayette, and Joseph Knight and his son Newel and their families in Colesville, New York. Most of the early converts were other family members and friends of these families.
The first quarterly conference of the Church was held on June 9, 1830. Following the conference Joseph returned to his own home in Harmony. A short time later, together with his wife Emma, Oliver Cowdery, John Whitmer, and David Whitmer, he again visited Colesville, New York, about twenty miles north of Harmony, to see the Joseph and Newel Knight families and to arrange for the baptism of a number of believers in the Colesville area.
The formal organization of the Church seemed to inflame persecution of the fledgling Church and its Prophet. In June 1830 Joseph was arrested and harassed when he traveled to Colesville to baptize new converts. In July the Lord comforted Joseph with a revelation [D&C 24 -Be Patient in Persecution]. Emma also had suffered the hardships of persecution and was similarly favored of the Lord [D&C 25 An Elect Lady—Emma Smith].
Also in July 1830, the Lord revealed an important principle of church government [D&C 26 -Common Consent].
- Michael J. Preece