Section 63: Sign Seeking and Immorality
Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and Sidney Rigdon returned to Kirtland from their mission to Missouri on August 27, 1831. The rest of their party of eleven made their way back during the next few days or weeks.
Once Joseph was back in Kirtland, the word spread among the members of the Church there that the center place of Zion had been revealed by the Lord (D&C 57), that a temple site had been designated there, and that the land of Zion had been dedicated for their future inheritance. This news generated considerable excitement and rejoicing. Many expressed a desire to know what they were to do in order to obtain stewardships there. In general the saints were hungry for any word from the Lord regarding the gathering of the saints in Zion.
The Lord had repeatedly instructed that all who go to Zion must obey his law— the celestial law on which Zion was to be built—the law of consecration and stewardship.
Section 63 is the first revelation given to Joseph after his arrival back in Kirtland. It was received on August 30, 1831, three days after his return to Kirtland. It is essentially a rebuke to the saints in Kirtland for the folly and unrighteousness that had crept in among them while Joseph and the others were in Missouri. Joseph’s leadership had been sorely missed in Ohio during the two and a half months he and the other leading brethren had been gone from Kirtland. Some of the saints had wandered. Following Joseph’s return, an increased number of disciplinary councils were held in Kirtland, and Simeon Carter is recorded to have mourned over what he called the “falling away” that had taken place in Kirtland while they were absent (compare verses 22, 53). For example, Ezra booth and a few others who shared his disillusionment with the work had begun to criticize church leaders and to question the whole idea of establishing Zion. It is not surprising, therefore, to learn that section 63 warns the saints in Kirtland of their need to repent and to eliminate evil from among themselves. It explains that they could not be God’s people and could not establish Zion unless they did so (see verses 13, 19, 63).
While there is a clear negative warning side to section 63, it also provides new information concerning Zion.
D&C 63 Sign Seeking and Immorality
D&C 63:7-12 I . . . am not pleased with those . . . who have sought after signs.
D&C 63:59 I am from above, and my power lieth beneath.
verses 1-19 The rebuke contained in these verses is for the saints collectively. There is a strong reproof here for those saints who were drawing away from the Church because they had expected to witness miracles or experience supernatural blessings, but they did not do so.
verses 1-6 In the first six verses of section 63, the awesome power of the Lord is made explicit. The facts of his role as righteous judge are made clear. He judges without selfishness or whim.
1 Hearken, O ye people, and open your hearts and give ear from afar; and listen, you that call yourselves the people of the Lord, and hear the word of the Lord and his will concerning you.
verse 1 “you that call yourselves the people of the Lord” Just about anyone can join the Church and become nominally a Latter-day Saint, but among the members there are those who merely take on the name or the calling and not the covenant obligations assumed by the elect. Section 63 is for all who are called saints, both the obedient and the rebellious, though verses 1-19 apply more particularly to the latter group.
2 Yea, verily, I say, hear the word of him whose anger is kindled against the wicked and rebellious;
3 Who willeth to take even them whom he will take, and preserveth in life them whom he will preserve;
verse 3 This verse suggests that all those mortals who die are those “whom he will take,” and all those who live are those “whom he will preserve.” Does God really orchestrate every instance of the death of mortal men? Does he decide in each instance if and when someone lives or dies? Does he directly reach out and cause death of all mortals who die?
There are two overriding principles that have a bearing on these questions. First, it is God’s specific and overarching wish for each of us that we eventually return to our celestial home, there to live with him forever (Moses 1:39) Second, we are currently living in a telestial realm, outside of the direct presence of God. In this realm he does not micromanage every detail of our course throughout mortality. If we are faithful, we can certainly expect to benefit from the ministrations of a loving Heavenly Father while we are here on earth. But, in some measure he leaves us to the natural forces and influences here on earth. This is the nature of mortality. This mortal experience is designed to allow us to make independent decisions and then learn and live with the consequences of those decisions. When he does intervene directly in our lives, we can be confident that his influences inevitably maximize eternal prospects.
Then what can we say about the meaning of this verse? It may have its most important application to eternal life and spiritual death (see verses 4-6). Certainly it is given to God (the Son) to judge us all (John 5:22)—to condemn (“take”) those whom he will and exalt (“preserve”) those whom he judges worthy.
4 Who buildeth up at his own will and pleasure; and destroyeth when he pleases, and is able to cast the soul down to hell.
5 Behold, I, the Lord, utter my voice, and it shall be obeyed.
6 Wherefore, verily I say, let the wicked take heed, and let the rebellious fear and tremble; and let the unbelieving hold their lips, for the day of wrath shall come upon them as a whirlwind, and all flesh shall know that I am God.
verses 1-6 The reader is almost taken aback by the spirit of these six verses. The Lord is a God of incomprehensible love and mercy, yet in these verses he almost seems angry. There was disobedience in the Church at the time, and it is vital for us all to remember that he is a God of justice as well as a God of mercy. His justice side is more visible in these verses. He likely is indeed angry, and the cause of his anger is apparent in the following verses.
7 And he that seeketh signs shall see signs, but not unto salvation.
verse 7 Signs are miracles—events that indicate supernatural intervention into the natural world. A sign, as the term is used here, means temporal evidence or proof—something sensory, tangible, or empirical (derived from experience or observation)—for spiritual realities. Those persons whose interest in such proofs, the lust for signs, exceeds their faith in and faithfulness to Christ, will get what they seek. In other words, they will see signs. But what they see will not bring about their salvation, for salvation comes only through faith in Christ. Those signs will become an end in themselves—they will not build a faith in the kingdom of God. It is a great sin to seek more diligently or to value more highly the by-products of faith, such as signs or miracles, than we value the saving faith itself. Joseph F. Smith wrote: “Show me Latter-day Saints who have to feed upon miracles, signs, and visions in order to keep them steadfast in the Church, and I will show you members of the Church who are not in good standing before God, and who are walking in slippery paths” (Gospel Doctrine, 7).
Usually those seeking signs are those who have lost their faith, or never had any faith in the first place.
8 Verily, I say unto you, there are those among you who seek signs, and there have been such even from the beginning;
verse 8 “there are those among you who seek signs” Ezra Booth and a few others like him turned away from the Church at this time because they could not maintain their faith without frequent miracles to sustain it. Ezra Booth, a former Methodist minister, had joined the Church because he had witnessed the miraculous healing of Elsa Johnson’s arm by the Prophet Joseph. About a month later, at a conference in June 1831, Ezra himself was overcome by an evil influence, which the Prophet quickly rebuked. Ezra expected to experience even greater miracles than these in Missouri, but when Joseph didn’t meet his expectations, the sign seeker lost his faith. Actually, he had no real faith to lose, for what little inclination he did have to submit to the Lord’s will was dependent upon physical rather than spiritual evidence. The basis for his temporary and shallow commitment was the miracles or signs he had experienced rather than the confirming witness of the Holy Spirit.
9 But, behold, faith cometh not by signs, but signs follow those that believe.
verse 9 “faith cometh not by signs” Signs cannot create the most basic type of faith—deliberate faith. This type of faith is by definition the willingness to act on things that cannot be proven physically or empirically (by direct observation or experimentation). When someone says, “Well, if you can just prove this or give me a little more evidence for it, then I’ll believe it,” this is the opposite of faith, for it is a demand that spiritual realities be proven empirically before accepting that they are so. Deliberate faith, on the other hand, is the willingness to venture forth and obey the Lord’s commands even though one cannot prove they are valid and from God, or even that God actually exists.
For a discussion of faith, including the important types of faith, see Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapters 9, Revealed Faith, 10, Deliberate Faith and Revealed Faith, and 11, Other Notes on Faith.
“signs follow those that believe” While signs cannot create the most basic faith, they can strengthen the revealed faith of a faithful individual who is striving to live the Lord’s commands. Ironically, it is only when we have committed ourselves to live by faith without needing or seeking signs, that signs will occur. Only after we have exercised faith are we entitled to the confirmation of signs and miracles.
The gift of faith, revealed faith, does not come to an individual until after a trial of that faith. The prophet Moroni wrote: “Dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith” (Ether 12:6). A person receives no “witness” or confirmation of his faith until after a trial of that faith. The trial comes in the “experimenting upon [the] words” of God—the deliberate acting upon his words hoping to obtain the gifts of faith. The trial of the faith is in the “experimenting.” When the Spirit judges that sufficient effort has been made—including diligently pondering and praying then working and persisting—then the gifts of faith will be granted.
A person might say, “Before I pay my tithing, I must know for sure that it is a true principle.” The Lord’s way is just the opposite. His way is to first act in faith and pay your tithing. Then over time your faith in the law of tithing will be granted (revealed to you) as a spiritual gift. An individual who demands outward evidence of the power of God as a condition for his believing is seeking to circumvent the process by which faith is developed. He wants proof without paying the price. As with an adulterer, he wants the benefits, superficial and transient though they may be, without accepting any responsibility—pleasure without obligation. This is exactly the opposite of the Lord’s way. Thus, it is “a wicked and adulterous generation [that] seeketh after a sign” (Matthew 16:4).
10 Yea, signs come by faith, not by the will of men, nor as they please, but by the will of God.
11 Yea, signs come by faith, unto mighty works, for without faith no man pleaseth God; and with whom God is angry he is not well pleased; wherefore, unto such he showeth no signs, only in wrath unto their condemnation.
verse 11 “only in wrath unto their condemnation” God sometimes does show signs to the wicked, as he did to the prophets of Baal when Elijah called down fire from heaven (see 1 Kings 18). But these signs only serve as testimonies against them. Even when evil sign seekers are shown the will of God by empirical evidence, they still resist it. Those who sin against what has been revealed to them—against spiritual gifts and knowledge—are more guilty that those who, without the gifts (revealed faith), simply cannot muster the strength (deliberate faith) to obey.
12 Wherefore, I, the Lord, am not pleased with those among you who have sought after signs and wonders for faith, and not for the good of men unto my glory.
verse 12 “I . . . am not pleased with those . . . who have sought after signs and wonders for faith” The Lord condemns those who seek after signs and wonders as a substitute for faith or to build or strengthen faith. It is logically contradictory to seek miracles or signs for the purpose of creating or strengthening faith, since faith is believing and then obeying even when there is no physical evidence. Moreover, asking God to prove himself with signs before we will believe him constitutes the sin of “tempting God” (see Deuteronomy 6:16; Jacob 7:14). Tempting God is demanding that he meet our tests, that he submit himself to be judged and evaluated by our human reasoning.
13 Nevertheless, I give commandments, and many have turned away from my commandments and have not kept them.
verses 14-16 Adultery is warned against. Though certainly adultery is intended in a sexual sense here, in scripture, adultery is referred to at times in quite another context. In scripture the Lord often characterized himself as the bridegroom or husband while his people or the Church are symbolized as the bride or wife. When the symbol of the adulterous wife is used, it may refer to the unfaithful breaker of covenants, one who chases after other gods leaving behind the true Lord and Master. Hence, a “wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign” (Matthew 16:4).
14 There were among you adulterers and adulteresses; some of whom have turned away from you, and others remain with you that hereafter shall be revealed.
verse 14 The Prophet Joseph established a certain link between sign seeking and adultery with the following story:
When I was preaching in Philadelphia, a Quaker called out for a sign. I told him to be still. After the sermon, he again asked for a sign. I told the congregation the man was an adulterer; that a wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and that the Lord had said to me in a revelation, than any man who wanted a sign was an adulterous person. “It is true,” cried one, “for I caught him in the very act,” which the man afterwards confessed, when he was baptized (HC, 5:268; compare HC, 3:385).
It should also be noted that those who seek a spiritual witness of truth, rather than physical proof, are not sign seekers. God does not expect us to believe for no reason at all, but he does expect us to believe for spiritual reasons rather than because of temporal proofs.
15 Let such beware and repent speedily, lest judgment shall come upon them as a snare, and their folly shall be made manifest, and their works shall follow them in the eyes of the people.
verse 15 Those who are guilty of adultery in the Church and who yet remain unrepentant and undiscovered are faced with three possible alternatives: (1) they will confess and repent, (2) they will eventually be discovered and their sin will be revealed, or (3) they will lose the Spirit of God and will apostatize, denying what they once knew to be true.
16 And verily I say unto you, as I have said before, he that looketh on a woman to lust after her, or if any shall commit adultery in their hearts, they shall not have the Spirit, but shall deny the faith and shall fear.
verse 16 This verse provides the sequence that is often followed when a person lusts in his or her heart. First, they lose the Spirit. Then they deny the faith. Finally, they fear.
“shall deny the faith” Those who have committed adultery and have not repented cannot have the companionship of the Holy Ghost. It is impossible to grow in a testimony of the gospel without the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14). Further, it is also impossible to keep from losing one’s testimony without the Holy Ghost’s ministrations. The unrepentant then usually adopt the values and perspectives of the world to fill the void left in their minds and hearts by the loss of the Spirit. Such individuals will generally then kick against the Church, with its restrictions and its reminders, until they are entirely free of it.
“and shall fear” Probably the essence of fear in mortal man is his losing of the influence of the Spirit of the Lord (for a more complete discussion of fear, see also the commentary for D&C 67:3). Fear before the Lord is the result of sin. As we each approach our inevitable death, the faithful saints, through the atonement of Christ and the assurance of the Comforter, will not fear what comes. Faith in Christ and a testimony of his gospel turn natural fear into peace, love, joy, and confidence (Romans 8:15; Moroni 8:16). In contrast, the unrepentant sinner will be overcome with paralyzing fear. It would seem that few in this world are able to sin without some degree of ambivalence. One is reminded of “that awful fear of death which fills the breast of the wicked” described by the prophet Mormon in Mormon 6:7. The Spirit of Christ within almost every man will produce a nagging sense of fear and dread if he has not “come clean” before the Lord. This is especially so for those who have heard the gospel of Jesus Christ and have, at one time, accepted Christ and his gospel.
Even before the events of the end-time begin to play out, however, those who commit sexual sin and refuse to repent live in fear of discovery. They fear the loss of all things that awaits them if they do not repent, and yet they also fear repentance. They fear light, for light reveals their sins. They fear truth, for the truth about themselves is ugly.
Having explained the fruitlessness of sign-seeking and the dangers of adultery, the Lord then turns to other specific sins.
17 Wherefore, I, the Lord, have said that the fearful, and the unbelieving, and all liars, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie, and the whoremonger, and the sorcerer, shall have their part in that lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.
verse 17 “I, the Lord, have said . . .” The Lord condemns several categories of sinners. It is interesting—and perhaps important—that the Lord begins this list of those to be condemned with “the fearful, and unbelieving.” Certainly, it would seem that to have fear and lack belief are not as serious as the sins that follow in the list. Yet it is often the fearful—the cowardly—and unbelieving who yield to the enticings of Satan. They fail to stand firm and true in the face of persecutions and temptations. Perhaps fear and unbelief lead to the other sins the Lord lists (D&C 76:36, 103-06).
“whosoever loveth and maketh a lie” This phrase likely refers to those who do not merely lie to achieve their ends but who actually love the process of invention and deception, and who lie for the love of lying.
“the whoremonger, and the sorcerer” The English word whoremonger means “one who deals or trades in sex.” In the King James Version of the New Testament, however, whoremonger always translates to the Greek pornos, which has the broader meaning of “a sexually immoral person.” Thus, any sexual relationship outside of heterosexual marriage renders one a “whoremonger.”
The English word sorcerer refers to anyone who pretends to have or to control supernatural powers—for example, palm readers, psychics, mediums, astrologers, and channelers. A magician who claims to actually possess magical powers would therefore be a “sorcerer” in the scriptural sense, while a magician who claims only to be an entertainer would not be so labeled. In addition, the Greek word used for sorcerer in Revelation 21:8 and 22:15 (pharmakos) also includes those who practice quack medicine, that is, any so-called healer who claims special powers and victimizes the sick by selling phony “cures.”
“shall have their part in that lake which burneth with fire and brimstone” Here is a bit of hyperbole, since we certainly do not believe that any literal “lake which burneth with fire and brimstone” exists in the plan of salvation. While the imagery is figurative, it is also effective. Brimstone is sulphur, a hard, brittle, and flammable substance. It is called brimstone because in antiquity it was found mainly around the rims of volcanoes. It is possible that the lake of fire and brimstone is meant to evoke an image of molten lava bubbling in the crater of an active volcano.
“second death” What exactly is this “second death”? To understand clearly the answer to this question, let us review part of the concept of the fall: Because Adam transgressed in the garden, all mankind will temporarily suffer two penalties:
- Each person will be cut off from the presence of God temporarily while here in mortality. This separation from God or spiritual death may be referred to as the “first death.”
- Every man will also suffer physical death, the separation of his spirit from his body. These penalties are temporary because, as we will learn, their effects will automatically be some day reversed. No man will be eternally punished for Adam’s transgression (Article of Faith 2). Remember, that the law of justice includes the concept that it is unjust to punish one man for another’s sins. Thus, all men will be resurrected, and also no man will be excluded from the presence of God because of Adam’s sin. Actually, every man will be returned to the presence of God at least long enough to be judged. It does not matter how wicked and unrepentant, every person will, after the resurrection, be brought back into the presence of God for judgment. This returning to God’s presence of every man is proof that no one suffers a permanent spiritual death because of Adam’s transgression.
Once in God’s presence each person is judged. They will either be exalted in the kingdom of God and thus remain in his presence or they will be sent out of his presence a second time and suffer the so-called “second death.” They will be cut off from the presence of God, and from his happiness and joy, forever. While the first death is due to Adam’s transgression, the second death is due the individual’s own sins. These sufferers of the second death will be consigned to one of the lower two kingdoms. A few will remain “filthy still” (D&C 88:35, 102; Revelation 22:11; Mormon 9:13-14), and live with Satan forever as sons of perdition.
The use of the term “second death” in scripture can be confusing, as it is sometimes used in scripture to refer to outer darkness (see Jacob 3:11).
18 Verily I say, that they shall not have part in the first resurrection.
verse 18 “the first resurrection” For a discussion of the first and second resurrections and the sequence of resurrection, see the commentary for 2 Nephi 9:15.
19 And now behold, I, the Lord, say unto you that ye are not justified, because these things are among you.
verse 19 “ye are not justified” Remember that the pronoun ye is always plural and refers here to the Church collectively. The Lord says that as long as the sins described in verses 12-17 are among the saints, they are not justified—they are not righteous, not free of sin. This weakness on the part of some people presents a problem for even the most righteous individual saints, because only a collectively “justified” (forgiven) people can establish Zion.
20 Nevertheless, he that endureth in faith and doeth my will, the same shall overcome, and shall receive an inheritance upon the earth when the day of transfiguration shall come;
verse 20 “the same shall overcome” See the previous verse. Even when the Church collectively fails to achieve its goals, the promises of God to the individual remain. Individual members who keep their covenants shall overcome and receive all their promised blessings—no matter what else may or may not occur. The saints are obligated by covenant to work together to establish Zion, but no other person’s disobedience can rob a faithful saint of his or her full, individual blessings.
“the day of transfiguration” This earth is a living being—the “inanimate” parts of the earth actually consisting of myriad intelligences clothed with bodies of mortal matter (see “Creation” in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 3, The Creation). The cosmic history of the earth parallels that of the humans who live upon it. Before the fall of Adam, this earth, or at least the part of the earth designated to be the Garden of Eden, existed as a terrestrial paradise. After the fall, the earth, like Adam and Eve, also lost its paradisiacal glory and began its present telestial existence. The leading intelligence of the earth mourned the wickedness and filthiness that came out of itself and pleaded with God for cleansing (see Moses 7:48). Consequently, the earth was baptized by immersion and cleansed of all wickedness at the time of Noah, and it will be baptized again with fire at the second coming of the Lord. Just as baptism by water, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost leads to the justification and sanctification of human beings, so the fallen or telestial earth will be sanctified and transfigured when it is baptized with fire at the second coming, and it will receive again the terrestrial or paradisiacal glory that it enjoyed before the fall (see Articles of Faith 1:10). The actual day of the earth’s transfiguration to a paradisiacal state will be the last day of its telestial existence, the day of the Savior’s second coming to the earth.
21 When the earth shall be transfigured, even according to the pattern which was shown unto mine apostles upon the mount; of which account the fulness ye have not yet received.
verse 21 We have determined, then, that the “earth shall be transfigured” when it is changed from a telestial state to a terrestrial state.
“even according to the pattern which was shown unto mine apostles upon the mount” The reference is probably to the Mount of Transfiguration and the events that occurred there, as described in Matthew 17:1-9 and its parallels in Mark 9:2-13 and Luke 9:28-36 (see also John 1:14; 2 Peter 1:16-19). Apparently more took place upon the mountain, however, than is recorded in the four Gospels. Like Moses on the mount in Moses 1, the apostles received a view of the heavenly patterns governing earthly events. Perhaps the use of the verb transfigure for both Jesus on the mount (see Matthew 17:2) and for the earth in the Millennium hints at the nature of the change Jesus experienced upon the mount. God has not yet revealed to the Church all of what happened upon the Mount of Transfiguration nor even the full significance of those events that are recorded.
22 And now, verily I say unto you, that as I said that I would make known my will unto you, behold I will make it known unto you, not by the way of commandment, for there are many who observe not to keep my commandments.
verse 22 “not by the way of commandment” The Lord often expresses his will to the Church in a form other than as a commandment in order to extend mercy and long-suffering to the spiritually weak, while at the same time offering an opportunity for individual discernment and progress to the state of spiritual strength. Those who know the will of God but disregard it unless specifically commanded to obey fail to grasp the disturbing implications of their attitude.
23 But unto him that keepeth my commandments I will give the mysteries of my kingdom, and the same shall be in him a well of living water, springing up unto everlasting life.
verse 23 “the mysteries of my kingdom” Those who keep the commandments of God will learn things that can only be known through personal revelation (see John 4:10).
24 And now, behold, this is the will of the Lord your God concerning his saints, that they should assemble themselves together unto the land of Zion, not in haste, lest there should be confusion, which bringeth pestilence.
verse 24 “they should assemble themselves together unto the land of Zion, not in haste” It is the will of God that the saints should gather to Zion but that they should gather slowly and in a controlled fashion. The transfer from Kirtland to Independence had to be gradual. Perhaps one reason was that the Lord knew that a rapid influx of saints into Jackson County could not be sustained by the resources then available. If too many people were to go to Zion at once, some would be left unprovided for. A rapid influx of saints to Zion would also cause concern among the earlier non-Mormon settlers and would eventually create opposition and conflict. When the saints collectively ignored the will of God that Zion be settled slowly, they were soon impoverished and persecuted just as the Lord had warned.
25 Behold, the land of Zion—I, the Lord, hold it in mine own hands;
26 Nevertheless, I, the Lord, render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s.
verses 25-26 The earth, including all the property needed for Zion, already belongs to God. Nevertheless, God recognizes the stewardship of civil government, here referred to symbolically as Caesar, and generally works within the systems established by “Caesar.” As long as secular government contents itself with its proper stewardship—the things that are Caesar’s—then God is willing to operate by Caesar’s rules and pay with Caesar’s coin.
27 Wherefore, I the Lord will that you should purchase the lands, that you may have advantage of the world, that you may have claim on the world, that they may not be stirred up unto anger.
verse 27 “I the Lord will that you should purchase the lands, that you may have advantage of the world” In Independence, Missouri, this meant that the land, which was to be a Zion for the saints, had to be legally and lawfully purchased. Purchasing the land would theoretically put government and the law on the side of the saints. The Lord by this time had repeatedly instructed the Church that any lands to be acquired in Zion must be purchased. No other means of acquisition would be acceptable (see D&C 42:35; 45:65; 48:4, 6; 57:4; 58:37, 49, 52).
Still, some of the saints would not listen to the repeated word of the Lord but entertained the view that they might take the land of Zion by force of arms just like the children of Israel had taken their promised land from the Canaanites. According to the Doctrine and Covenants, this was never the plan, but the perception among non-Latterday Saint settlers that this was the aim of the saints, a perception given credibility by foolish talk among some Mormons, played into Satan’s hands in arousing the fear and anger of the mobs.
28 For Satan putteth it into their hearts to anger against you, and to the shedding of blood.
29 Wherefore, the land of Zion shall not be obtained but by purchase or by blood, otherwise there is none inheritance for you.
verse 29 The wording of this verse caused much controversy. Some of the settlers of Jackson County, Missouri, pretended to see in it a threat to take possession of western Missouri by conquest—by the “shedding of blood.” Actually the Lord will forbid the saints in verses 30 and 31 to obtain land by the shedding of blood, and the verses may even imply a warning that if land is not purchased promptly, then blood may be shed. But it will be the blood of the saints and not that of their enemies.
30 And if by purchase, behold you are blessed;
31 And if by blood, as you are forbidden to shed blood, lo, your enemies are upon you, and ye shall be scourged from city to city, and from synagogue to synagogue, and but few shall stand to receive an inheritance.
verse 31 “And if by blood” The only two ways to get the land were to buy it or to take it. Because the saints were forbidden to take the land by the shedding of blood, if they didn’t purchase the property, they could not obtain it, and Zion would be lost. Neither this verse nor the similar passage in D&C 58:53 should be understood as allowing the saints to consider force as a means of obtaining property in Zion. Though acquisition by force was a theoretical possibility, that course of action had been clearly and repeatedly forbidden.
“your enemies are upon you” If events came to the shedding of blood, then the saints would lose Zion, for they were forbidden to acquire the land by bloodshed.
“synagogue” The use of the term synagogue instead of church or congregation creates a parallel between the experiences of the early saints in this dispensation and those of the disciples in New Testament times. Both groups were called upon to go to the meetinghouses of those who had much of the truth, but not all of it and who were hostile to the disciples’ claims to possess the fulness.
32 I, the Lord, am angry with the wicked; I am holding my Spirit from the inhabitants of the earth.
verse 32 “I am holding my Spirit” At some times in history, the wickedness of humanity has made it necessary for the Spirit of God to cease its striving with the stubbornly wicked and to withdraw from them (see Genesis 6:3; D&C 1:33). Whenever this happens, destruction follows, either individually or collectively (see 2 Nephi 26:11). Though one might be tempted to wonder whether the Lord is angry with the wicked among the saints, the following verses suggest that instead the Lord is withholding his Spirit from the wicked of the earth without, or outside, the Church.
33 I have sworn in my wrath, and decreed wars upon the face of the earth, and the wicked shall slay the wicked, and fear shall come upon every man;
verse 33 “I have . . . decreed wars upon the face of the earth” This revelation will be followed soon by the American Civil War (see D&C 87).
34 And the saints also shall hardly escape; nevertheless, I, the Lord, am with them, and will come down in heaven from the presence of my Father and consume the wicked with unquenchable fire.
verse 34 “the saints also shall hardly escape” It is a firm principle that when the Lord sends travails upon the people of earth because of their wickedness, the righteous will not entirely escape. Though the Lord will generally acknowledge the righteous and protect them, it is the nature of this mortal earth that some of the innocent will suffer. There is always some “collateral damage.” The Prophet Joseph wrote:
It is a false idea that the saints will escape all the judgments, whilst the wicked suffer; for all flesh is subject to suffer, and “the righteous shall hardly escape.” Still, many of the saints will escape, for the just shall live by faith; yet many of the righteous shall fall prey to disease, to pestilence, etc., by reason of the weakness of the flesh, and yet be saved in the kingdom of God. So that it is an unhallowed principle to say that such and such have transgressed because they have been preyed upon by disease or death, for all flesh is subject to death; and the Savior has said “Judge not, lest ye be judged” (HC, 4:11).
35 And behold, this is not yet, but by and by.
verse 35 This great destruction which the Lord has decreed upon the wicked and a few of the righteous (collateral damage) has not come yet, but it will come soon— “by and by.”
36 Wherefore, seeing that I, the Lord, have decreed all these things upon the face of the earth, I will that my saints should be assembled upon the land of Zion;
verse 36 “all these things” This phrase refers to the trials and destructions prior to the Lord’s second coming.
“I will that my saints should be assembled upon the land of Zion” The fundamental reason for the Lord’s gathering his people together into one place is so that he can watch over and nurture and protect them—keep them safe while chaos rages around them.
37 And that every man should take righteousness in his hands and faithfulness upon his loins, and lift a warning voice unto the inhabitants of the earth; and declare both by word and by flight that desolation shall come upon the wicked.
verse 37 “every man should take righteousness in his hands and faithfulness upon his loins” To “take righteousness in his hand” means to do righteous deeds, while taking “faithfulness upon his loins” may indicate sexual morality.
“lift a warning voice unto the inhabitants of the earth” Preach the restored gospel and repentance in preparation for the Lord’s second coming—warning that desolation shall surely come upon the wicked.
“by word and by flight” The saints are to preach and set the example of gospel living by preaching aloud and by fleeing to Zion to avoid the coming destructions.
38 Wherefore, let my disciples in Kirtland arrange their temporal concerns, who dwell upon this farm.
verse 38 “this farm” This probably refers to the Isaac Morley farm in Kirtland (compare D&C 64:20). Before 1832, most of the saints gathering to Kirtland settled on the Morley farm, including, at the time of this revelation, Joseph and Emma Smith. Brother Morley had consecrated his farm to the Lord and was then called to Missouri (see D&C 52:23). While he was gone, the farm was managed by Titus Billings, and at the time of this revelation Brother Morley was still in Missouri serving as a counselor to Bishop Partridge.
39 Let my servant Titus Billings, who has the care thereof, dispose of the land, that he may be prepared in the coming spring to take his journey up unto the land of Zion, with those that dwell upon the face thereof, excepting those whom I shall reserve unto myself, that shall not go until I shall command them.
verse 39 “my servant Titus Billings” Titus Billings was, like Isaac Morley, a native of Kirtland, and the Morley farm had been left in his hands when Morley went to Missouri. Titus was instructed to sell the land so that the proceeds could be used to purchase land in Independence (see verse 40) and so that the members who were then living on the Morley farm would have to prepare for their move to Zion. By September 12, less than two weeks after section 63 was received, the Prophet and his family moved out of their little house on the Morley farm and moved in with the John Johnson family in Hiram, Ohio, about thirty miles southeast of Kirtland.
40 And let all the moneys which can be spared, it mattereth not unto me whether it be little or much, be sent up unto the land of Zion, unto them whom I have appointed to receive.
verse 40 “them whom I have appointed to receive” This phrase refers to Bishop Edward Partridge, his counselors, and his agents.
41 Behold, I, the Lord, will give unto my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., power that he shall be enabled to discern by the Spirit those who shall go up unto the land of Zion, and those of my disciples who shall tarry.
verse 41 “those who shall go up unto the land of Zion” Emigration to Zion was not supposed to be self-appointed. The saints were to stay in Kirtland and use it as a base of operations for gathering converts from the East and for generating revenue for Zion. Many of the Ohio saints, however, disobeyed the Lord’s will and went to Zion uninvited, unprepared, and unconsecrated, thus straining the spiritual and financial resources of the Church there.
42 Let my servant Newel K. Whitney retain his store, or in other words, the store, yet for a little season.
verse 42 Newell K. Whitney owned a mercantile store in Kirtland, and it was one of the largest stores in northeastern Ohio. Because the store produced revenue for the Church, Brother Whitney was instructed to continue operating it upon the principles of consecration for the good of the saints.
43 Nevertheless, let him impart all the money which he can impart, to be sent up unto the land of Zion.
44 Behold, these things are in his own hands, let him do according to wisdom.
verse 44 “these things are in his own hands” The Lord trusted Brother Whitney to manage the store and consecrate the proceeds without more detailed instructions or commandments.
45 Verily I say, let him be ordained as an agent unto the disciples that shall tarry, and let him be ordained unto this power;
verse 45 Newell K. Whitney is called to be Bishop Edward Partridge’s agent to handle the affairs of those living the law of consecration and stewardship in the Kirtland area (see D&C 58:49). He is not to be ordained bishop as yet (see D&C 72:8), but rather to act as an agent under the direction of Bishop Partridge.
46 And now speedily visit the churches, expounding these things unto them, with my servant Oliver Cowdery. Behold, this is my will, obtaining moneys even as I have directed.
verse 46 “And now speedily visit the churches” Joseph had been commanded while still in Missouri to raise money among the Ohio saints for the purchase of more land in Zion. This fund-raising effort was to employ Sidney Rigdon’s written description of the property in Jackson County together with a letter and subscription to be sent out to the branches of the church in the Ohio (see D&C 58:5051). In this verse Joseph and Oliver are commanded to visit the branches of the Church personally in order to further aid in the fund-raising effort.
47 He that is faithful and endureth shall overcome the world.
verse 47 “He that is faithful” In the context of the Kirtland Church in 1831, being faithful meant at the very least been willing to consecrate one’s possessions to establish and build up Zion. Faithful acts of consecration not only bring the blessings of God upon us in this life but will “follow” us into the next life (see verse 48). In other words, a record of faithfulness in this life will be accepted in the next life as sufficient indication of our character and worthiness (see Revelation 21:7).
48 He that sendeth up treasures unto the land of Zion shall receive an inheritance in this world, and his works shall follow him, and also a reward in the world to come.
verses 49 Beginning in this verse, the Lord does something that may seem out of place—he begins a discussion of the Millennium and resurrection. Actually, it is not at all out of place here since Zion and the Millennium go together. Zion realizes its fulfillment and glory at the advent of the Lord’s coming to usher in the Millennium.
49 Yea, and blessed are the dead that die in the Lord, from henceforth, when the Lord shall come, and old things shall pass away, and all things become new, they shall rise from the dead and shall not die after, and shall receive an inheritance before the Lord, in his holy city.
verse 49 “blessed are the dead that die in the Lord” When one is enduring faithfully in the new and everlasting covenant at the time of one’s death, then one is said to die “unto the Lord,” “unto Christ,” or “in Christ.”
“all things become new” See 2 Corinthians 5:17; Revelation 21:5. When the Savior comes a second time to establish his millennial kingdom, the earth will be raised from a fallen, telestial state to a paradisiacal, terrestrial state. This change will transform the earth and everything on it. All evil and wickedness will be removed. Nothing telestial will remain.
50 And he that liveth when the Lord shall come, and hath kept the faith, blessed is he; nevertheless, it is appointed to him to die at the age of man.
verse 50 “he that liveth when the Lord shall come” When Christ comes the second time, there will be righteous mortals, both children and adults, then living upon the earth who will be lifted up while the earth is changed and who will then continue to live out their mortal lives in the paradisiacal environment of the millennial kingdom. Adult mortals will continue to marry and bear mortal children during the Millennium, so that mortals will continue to be upon the earth during the entire thousand-year period.
When these persons have lived their allotted mortal time, provided they are worthy of celestial glory, they will pass through the changes of death and resurrection in the “twinkling” of an eye. Old and frail mortals will be changed into glorified, resurrected beings quickly (see verse 51).
“the age of man” The prophet Isaiah declared that during the Millennium a child will live to be a hundred years of age (see Isaiah 65:20-24). Psalm 90:10, in speaking of conditions before the Millennium, gives “the days of our years” as “threescore years and ten,” or seventy years. So a natural, mortal life span might be shorter before the Millennium than it will be during the Millennium. The important point here is that there will be no premature deaths during the Millennium, neither through disease, nor accident, nor war, nor any other telestial element. None of the mortal population of the millennial earth will die or be changed in a twinkling before their full human life span has been lived. No graves will be dug for the righteous, as all, when they reach the age of one hundred years, will be changed to immortality in the twinkling of an eye. For those destined to inherit a lower degree of glory, death for them may be much as it is now.
51 Wherefore, children shall grow up until they become old; old men shall die; but they shall not sleep in the dust, but they shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye.
52 Wherefore, for this cause preached the apostles unto the world the resurrection of the dead.
53 These things are the things that ye must look for; and, speaking after the manner of the Lord, they are now nigh at hand, and in a time to come, even in the day of the coming of the Son of Man.
verse 53 “speaking after the manner of the Lord” It has now been more than a century and a half since the Lord described these events as being “nigh at hand.” Because “nigh at hand” means “nearly here,” why haven’t these things happened as yet? Because, as the Lord points out, he is speaking from his own perspective of time, from a perspective that takes in all eternity. And compared with the entire telestial history of this earth, the time remaining is, indeed, relatively short.
54 And until that hour there will be foolish virgins among the wise; and at that hour cometh an entire separation of the righteous and the wicked; and in that day will I send mine angels to pluck out the wicked and cast them into unquenchable fire.
verse 54 “foolish virgins among the wise” The Lord’s allusion here is to his parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). Here he refers to those virgins who did not have sufficient oil in their lamps.
“an entire separation of the righteous and the wicked” Nothing telestial will continue into the Millennium. Section 86 teaches that the wicked will be separated from the righteous because God allows his children to demonstrate by their mortal, moral choices what they truly are in their heart of hearts. Then he will segregate them according to their own free choices, so they will spend eternity with people pretty much like themselves. This segregation into wheat and tares, chaff and grain, righteous and wicked cannot take place yet, but at the last day and for all eternity thereafter, the wicked will have no influence or impact upon the righteous and will go away into their own place.
“in that day will I send mine angels to pluck out the wicked and cast them into unquenchable fire” Here the Lord refers to the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43; D&C 86).
55 And now behold, verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, am not pleased with my servant Sidney Rigdon; he exalted himself in his heart, and received not counsel, but grieved the Spirit;
56 Wherefore his writing is not acceptable unto the Lord, and he shall make another; and if the Lord receive it not, behold he standeth no longer in the office to which I have appointed him.
verses 55-56 In section 58 (verses 50-51) the Lord commanded Sidney Rigdon to create a description of Zion in a brochure for distribution to the saints to encourage financial contributions to the cause of building up Zion. These verses likely have reference at least in part to that assignment and reflect the Lord’s dissatisfaction as to the manner in which Sidney fulfilled this assignment.
Sidney had been too proud to receive counsel. He would not be advised by Joseph Smith, but insisted on writing the brochure his own way. We may surmise from the text that Sidney was trying to write theology or scripture rather than an inducement for the saints to purchase land. In his first attempt, he clearly did not address the intended purpose of the letter in describing the land of Zion in the most attractive terms possible. Here the Lord gives him a second chance, and his second effort proved a success and was accepted. The glowing description of Jackson County found in the History of the Church (HC, 1:197-98) is a revised version of Sidney’s second, more acceptable attempt to write a description of Zion (Smith and Sjodahl, Commentary, 384).
“he standeth no longer in the office to which I have appointed him” Sidney is threatened here with a rather severe penalty—not because of his literary failure, but because of his pride and his stubborn refusal to accept counsel or to follow the promptings of the Spirit in completing the Lord’s assignment.
57 And again, verily I say unto you, those who desire in their hearts, in meekness, to warn sinners to repentance, let them be ordained unto this power.
verse 57 Any male saint wishing to preach the gospel to those without the Church are to be ordained to the proper priesthood and set apart to be missionaries.
58 For this is a day of warning, and not a day of many words. For I, the Lord, am not to be mocked in the last days.
59 Behold, I am from above, and my power lieth beneath. I am over all, and in all, and through all, and search all things, and the day cometh that all things shall be subject unto me.
verse 59 “I am from above, and my power lieth beneath” For a discussion of this vitally important concept see The Power of God in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 14.
“the day cometh that all things shall be subject unto me” When the Savior comes to establish his kingdom upon the earth, nothing that will not obey him will be allowed to remain upon the earth. Beyond this, at the last judgment all those who receive any degree of glory and have any place in the mansions of the Father will be subject to Jesus Christ as their Creator and Redeemer and, like the elements themselves, they will obey him in their respective spheres.
60 Behold, I am Alpha and Omega, even Jesus Christ. verse 60 “I am Alpha and Omega” See the commentary for D&C 19:1.
61 Wherefore, let all men beware how they take my name in their lips–
62 For behold, verily I say, that many there be who are under this condemnation, who use the name of the Lord, and use it in vain, having not authority.
verses 61-62 If only we could comprehend the full majesty of Jesus Christ, we would realize what a wonderful and sacred thing it is even to speak his name. It is an even more glorious privilege aspire to be like him.
“many there be . . . who use the name of the Lord, and use it in vain” The word vain means “empty,” “useless,” “pointless” or “without purpose.” One meaning of taking Christ’s name in vain is, therefore, to use it in a manner that is empty and without purpose, as do those who claim to speak or act in his name when they do not. This is not merely a question of priesthood authority, nor is this sin limited to the unordained, for even priesthood holders may invoke the name of Jesus Christ in attempting to present their own words or desires as his. Whenever we speak or act in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, we had better be sure that he really approves of what we are doing, lest we invoke his name in vain, or for nothing. It might even be possible to take his name in vain when we pray publicly, if the phrase “in the name of Jesus Christ, amen” is merely a formula signaling that we are finished praying and the congregation may open their eyes.
Another way of taking Christ’s name in vain is to speak it thoughtlessly, carelessly, casually, or merely for rhetorical effect, as does the casual blasphemer—he who is guilty of profanity or “swearing.” In speaking profanity, we introduce the name of the Father or the Son into unholy and base situations; and thus we show a careless disregard and disrespect for the Father or the Son.
Perhaps the worst form of using Christ’s name in vain is to invoke it when making promises, oaths, or covenants, and then to break them. Members of the Church may take his name in vain when they take his name upon themselves in baptism and then fail to remember him and keep his commandments as they have promised to do (see D&C 20:77, 79).
James E. Talmage taught:
To take the name of God in vain, is to use the name lightly, to use it emptily, to use it without effect, so far as the intent is concerned. By way of summary: (1) We may take the name of God in vain by profane speech. (2) We take it in vain when we swear falsely, not being true to our oaths and promises. (3) We take it in vain in a blasphemous sense when we presume to speak in that name without authority. (4) And, we take his name in vain whenever we willfully do aught that is in defiance of his commandments, since we have taken his name upon ourselves (CR, October 1931, 5053).
63 Wherefore, let the church repent of their sins, and I, the Lord, will own them; otherwise they shall be cut off.
verse 63 “I, the Lord, will own them” To own means both to “possess” and to “acknowledge.” If we repent, Jesus will acknowledge us before the Father as his very own possessions (see D&C 29:27; Matthew 10:32; 1 Corinthians 6:20).
64 Remember that that which cometh from above is sacred, and must be spoken with care, and by constraint of the Spirit; and in this there is no condemnation, and ye receive the Spirit through prayer; wherefore, without this there remaineth condemnation.
verse 64 “that which cometh from above is sacred” What things “cometh from above”? All eternal things pertaining to the Father, the Son, and the Father’s universe including all things witnessed of and testified of by the Spirit of God. Christ cometh from above (see verse 59) as does all eternal truths about him, including his atonement, his love and mercy. All eternal truths are sacred and can only be understood and appreciated through the influence of the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:14). When these truths are spoken or taught, it should also only be by the Spirit. By the constraint of the Spirit, we are taught what to teach, how to teach, and when to teach it.
“ye receive the Spirit through prayer” Frequent, and even constant, prayer is vital to keep the influence of the Spirit of God with you. Even though a church member possesses the gift of the Holy Ghost, if he desires inspiration through that gift he must draw close to the Lord, and stay in tune with him, through prayer. For further discussion of prayer, see Prayer in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 3, chapter 8.
65 Let my servants, Joseph Smith, Jun., and Sidney Rigdon, seek them a home, as they are taught through prayer by the Spirit.
verse 65 “Let . . . Joseph Smith, Jun., and Sidney Rigdon seek them a home” Sidney Rigdon had lost his home in Mentor, Ohio, when he joined the Church the year before. At the time of this revelation both the Sidney Rigdon family and the Smith family were living on the Morley farm, which the Lord had just commanded be sold (see verse 39). Thus, both Sidney and Joseph needed to find new lodgings for themselves and their families. Through this revelation the Lord could have told Joseph and Sidney where to look for a home, but, in the spirit of not having to be commanded in all things, he allowed them to work the matter out for themselves. Within two weeks of receiving this commandment, Joseph and his family moved in with the John Johnson family, and Sidney Rigdon and his family moved into a cabin on the Johnson property.
66 These things remain to overcome through patience, that such may receive a more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, otherwise, a greater condemnation. Amen.
verse 66 “These things remain to overcome” This phrase refers to the common, human problems of how to live, where to live, how to support one’s family, and so on. These everyday challenges were a continual burden on the shoulders of the prophet Joseph Smith and his family. The Lord did not magically resolve for them these common problems of life and mortality. They struggled to find their way and make ends meet as much as any of us, and more than most. That the Smiths accomplished what they did for the Lord, while at the same time dealing with trying domestic difficulties, bestows upon them the greater glory, as it does also for other faithful saints in similar circumstances.
“Father Johnson” was the patriarch of the Johnson family of Hiram, Ohio. He was 26 years older than the Prophet, and thus he was 52 years old in the fall of 1831. The men in his family were large, strong, sensible, brave, and honest. He was a prosperous farmer of large tracts of lands, and he was noted for paying his debts and living independently. He was associated with the Methodist Church for about five years prior to accepting the gospel. After the miraculous healing of his wife by Joseph Smith (see Character Vignette on Ezra Booth near the end of section 52), he became satisfied as to the truth of Mormonism, and he was baptized by Joseph.
Two of John Johnson’s sons were Luke and Lyman Johnson. Luke was the older of the two brothers by seven years, and was two years younger than the Prophet. Both were appointed as Apostles in February 1835. Both fell away from the Church in 1838. Luke repented and came back into the Church in 1846. He came west in 1846 and served as a bishop in a ward in Tooele County. He died in Salt Lake City at the age of 54. Lyman remained friendly with the Church leaders but apparently did not come back into the Church. He lost his life by drowning in the Mississippi River in 1856.
- Michael J. Preece