Sections 78 and 82: The United Firm
Section 78 was received on March 1, 1832, in Kirtland, Ohio, while Joseph was visiting there from Hiram, Ohio.
Like many other principles of the gospel, the law of consecration or the law of consecration and stewardship was made known to the Prophet gradually, and he in turn gradually disclosed these principles to the saints “line upon line, precept upon precept.”
While many have used the terms “law of consecration” and “united order” interchangeably, they are more appropriately used as follows: the law of consecration and stewardship is the set of principles by which a group of people enter into an agreement for their common temporal welfare. When a group is engaged in living the law of consecration, we may call the group a united order.
Review the material concerning the law of consecration in the commentary for section 42, especially the five essential characteristics of the law of consecration. I will emphasize a couple of additional points. A man first consecrated all of his possessions to the Church, and then he received his stewardship in return. The things his family subsequently grew or produced that were in excess of the family’s needs were placed in the storehouse to be distributed by the bishop to those in need. Also, the system of ownership provided for by the law of consecration was not communal—that is, private and not shared ownership of the land and materials that constituted the stewardship characterized the order. The Lord perhaps revealed to Joseph the necessity of private ownership by showing him the example of the common stock family. In February of 1831, after arriving in Kirtland from New York, Joseph observed a communal order among the Campbellite followers of Sidney Rigdon called “the family” or “the common stock family.” They had established themselves on the Isaac Morley farm near Kirtland and were led by a man named Lyman Wight. They had become involved in petty controversies and major conflicts. Some members of the family had decided that what belonged to one belonged to all, hence they would take each other’s clothes and property and use them without permission. Joseph advised them to abandon their common stock program.
By March of 1832 there was a united order in Missouri under Bishop Edward Partridge and a separate order in Kirtland under Bishop Newell K. Whitney. A third order also had its beginnings. This is the so-called United Firm, or the Order of Enoch as it was also called. This was a separate united order consisting of the leading brethren of the Church, which was created to manage the temporal affairs of the Church. It was a type of business partnership in which the partners controlled the business interests and properties of the Church and used the financial means at their disposal to finance the various programs of the Church. Initially they shared the responsibilities of holding church properties in trust, and they lived off the earnings of these properties. Later they were each assigned specific properties of their own. After taking from the earnings of these properties sufficient monies for their needs, they gave the surplus to the bishops’ storehouses for use by the poor. In fact, this body was assigned primary responsibility for the care of the poor.
The United Firm or simply the Firm also purchased lands for those who gathered in Kirtland and Missouri, and later they would be made responsible for financing the construction of the Kirtland Temple.
Because they acted as purchasing agents for the Church, and because those from whom they attempted to buy lands often had a religious bias against the Mormons, it was important that the identities of the brethren comprising the United Firm remain anonymous, lest they encounter exorbitant prices or even outright refusal to sell. For this reason, whenever these brethren were referred to in revelations in those years (sections 78, 82, 92, 96, 103, 104, 105), they were referred to by code names or pseudonyms. These pseudonyms are now of historical interest only since they are no longer found in the current edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. Joseph was Enoch or Gazelam or Baurak Ale or Seth. Newell K. Whitney was Ahashdah. Sidney was Pelagoram. Oliver Cowdery was Olihah. Martin Harris was Mahemson. Edward Partridge was Alam. A. Sidney Gilbert was Mahalaleel. John Whitmer was Horah. William W. Phelps was Shalemanasseh. John Johnson was Zombre. Frederick G. Williams was Shederlaomach. Pseudonyms were also given to cities and other items in the environment of the early church. For example, the city of Kirtland was referred to as Shinehah (sections 82, 96, 104). “Mine elders” in section 105 was rendered Baneemy. The remaining were all found in section 104. Dollars were talents. New York was Cainhannoch. The tannery was tahhanes. The printing office was Laneshine House. The bishop’s storehouse at Kirtland was Ozondah. The ashery at Kirtland was shule. “Print” and “printing” were shinelah and shinelane. It is possible that these names were simply invented, but it appears more likely that most of them came from the Hebrew studies of the early Mormon leaders. These code names were not in the original revelations but were added later as they were needed. Until the 1876 edition the pseudonyms alone were printed, but with the 1876 edition, the real names were published in parentheses following the code names. In the first printing of the current 1981 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, the four code names remaining were in D&C 82:11. In a later printing of the same edition, all of the code names were replaced by the appropriate individual’s name.
The United Firm had its beginning in section 70. Please see the background materials for that section. In section 70, six of the brethren were organized into the so-called Literary Firm, and they were given the joint stewardship to publish and sell books, periodicals, and the newspapers of the Church. In the spring of 1832, the Literary Firm became the United Firm and was expanded to include nine church leaders—Oliver Cowdery, Edward Partridge, Sidney Gilbert, John Whitmer, W. W. Phelps, Joseph Smith, Newell K. Whitney, Sidney Rigdon, and Jesse Gause. After Jesse Gause apostatized, he was replaced by Frederick G. Williams. Also John Johnson and Martin Harris were added. These last three brethren had significant financial means and were thus a useful addition to the order. The United Firm not only managed church farmland properties in the Kirtland area but also the Gilbert and Whitney stores in Kirtland and Independence, a tannery, a printing shop, an ashery, and a steam saw mill.
In a period before the leading quorums of the Church were fully organized, the united firm was intended for a limited time to provide financial leadership and accountability for the Church, and its members dealt with matters of church financial policy that would later be the responsibility of General Authorities. Modern analogues to the united and literary firms can be seen in the corporation of the First Presidency, the corporation of the Presiding Bishopric, and the various financial, publishing, welfare, and other committees of the Church.
A major problem encountered in trying to make the United Orders work in Kirtland and Missouri was a tendency for poor people to be attracted to such movements and for the wealthy to shun such enterprises. Few members of the Church owned any land that could be used for redistribution. Since most converts were unable to contribute significant amounts of property to the order, land was not available to be distributed in the form of inheritances or stewardships. Initially the only large acreage owned by members was the Isaac Morley farm on which the family had lived. Although Brother Morley sold fifty acres of land to a nonmember in 1831, he retained about eighty acres. After he moved to Missouri, many members of the Church settled on this farm. In fact, this land was the principal gathering place for the saints prior to 1832. In April 1832, shortly before the United Firm was organized, Frederick G. Williams purchased 144 acres in Kirtland. It was subsequently referred to, quite logically, as the Frederick
G. Williams farm. Later in 1833, the Church purchased 103 acres from Peter French for five thousand dollars.
In spite of these land acquisitions, the United Orders were never successful for a variety of reasons. They experienced frustrations and failures for almost a decade, and finally in 1838 the Church was given a less comprehensive law, the law of tithing (D&C 119). Actually, the law of tithing is not a substitute for the law of consecration but rather a part of that law—the part that finances the Church’s operations. The United Orders were abandoned, but the law of consecration continues to be a viable principle of the gospel that the saints are expected to live.
Section 78 directs that the “order” (United Firm) be formed, and it commands Joseph, Sidney Rigdon, and Newell K. Whitney to “sit in council with the saints . . . in Zion,” to regulate the affairs of the poor. Obeying the command, Joseph, Sidney, Jesse Gause, and Newell K. Whitney left Ohio on April 1, 1832, and traveled to Independence, arriving April 24. During this visit, at a meeting of the brethren who comprised the United Firm, it was decided to incorporate the Missouri branch of the Gilbert and Whitney store into the holdings of the Firm.
D&C 78:17-18 Ye are little children . . . and ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer.
1 The Lord spake unto Joseph Smith, Jun., saying: Hearken unto me, saith the Lord your God, who are ordained unto the high priesthood of my church, who have assembled yourselves together;
verse 1 “The Lord spake unto Joseph Smith, Jun.” When the 78th section was initially published in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, Joseph’s name was written in code (see the introductory commentary for section 78 above).
“the high priesthood of my church, who have assembled yourselves together” Although no historical information is available for the setting of section 78, the wording here indicates that it was received around the time of a meeting with the church leadership in Kirtland.
2 And listen to the counsel of him who has ordained you from on high, who shall speak in your ears the words of wisdom, that salvation may be unto you in that thing which you have presented before me, saith the Lord God.
verse 2 “in that thing which you have presented before me” It is clear that section 78 was received in answer to a request of the Lord from the assembled leaders in Kirtland. Although we do not know the exact wording of their petition, it would seem likely that it dealt with the financial problems of the Church and the difficulty in establishing the bishops’ storehouses. By March 1832 the saints had not yet organized a storehouse either in Kirtland or in Missouri, even though an important part of the Lord’s plan for the consecration of his saints was the establishment of a bishop’s storehouse, and some instruction concerning the storehouse had already been received by the Church (see D&C 51:13). This pattern of actively seeking guidance from the Lord concerning the difficulties of our lives and then listening to and following his advice continues to be a prudent pattern for modern saints.
3 For verily I say unto you, the time has come, and is now at hand; and behold, and lo, it must needs be that there be an organization of my people, in regulating and establishing the affairs of the storehouse for the poor of my people, both in this place and in the land of Zion—
verse 3 “the time has come” More than a year had passed since the Lord had first commanded that the poor and needy be provided for under the law of consecration (see D&C 42:30-44). Further instruction had been given to Bishop Edward Partridge and the Church ten months earlier in section 51. But by March 1832 very little had actually been done to organize and administer the commanded program.
“it must needs be that there be an organization of my people, in regulating and establishing the affairs of the storehouse” It seems most likely the Lord is referring specifically to the United Firm, though he could as well be referring to the law of consecration and stewardship in general, as little had been accomplished up to this time in actually putting that law into effect. Evidence for this latter possibility is the Lord’s reference to a “permanent and everlasting establishment and order unto my church” in the next verse. The Lord planned that the system of consecration and stewardship be permanent, but the United Firm was considered more of a temporary solution to the Church’s financial woes.
4 For a permanent and everlasting establishment and order unto my church, to advance the cause, which ye have espoused, to the salvation of man, and to the glory of your Father who is in heaven;
verse 4 “a permanent and everlasting establishment and order unto my church” Today the bishops’ storehouses operate under the direction of the Presiding Bishopric and not a United Firm. It is the establishment and regulation of a storehouse for the poor that was intended to be “permanent and everlasting.”
“to the salvation of man, and to the glory of your Father” Whatever contributes to the salvation of human beings also contributes to the glory of God, for the work and the glory of God is the immortality and eternal life of man (see Moses 1:39).
5 That you may be equal in the bonds of heavenly things, yea, and earthly things also, for the obtaining of heavenly things.
verse 5 “That you may be equal in the bonds of heavenly things” The purpose of the law of consecration is to make the saints equal in earthly blessings now so that they might become equal in the enjoyment of heavenly or celestial blessings later. Where the saints are not equal temporally, it is because someone will not live the law of consecration. Since consecration is a celestial law, those who will not live it cannot be equal in their heavenly blessings with those who do live it. Therefore those who would enjoy the celestial kingdom in the resurrection must be willing to abide by its laws here upon the earth—including the law of consecration.
6 For if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things;
verse 6 Living the law of consecration and participating in a United Order was considered an educational experience for all participants—preparing them to live eternally in the kingdom of heaven. We thus see an example of the idea that the Lord’s purposes are often intimately related to his means. George Q. Cannon taught: “The organization of society that exists in the heavens must exist on the earth; the same condition of society, so far as it is applicable to mortal beings, must exist here” (JD, 13:99). The United Order is referred to in the scriptures as an “everlasting order” (D&C 82:20; 104:1).
The system of power and authority within the United Order was nonhierarchical and nonauthoritarian, so that no man ruled over another even in a benevolent way (A. Don Sorenson, “Being Equal in Earthly and Heavenly Power: The Idea of Stewardship in the United Order,” BYU Studies , 18:1). We have learned that those who dwell in the presence of the Father will be “equal in power, and in might, and in dominion” (D&C 76:95). “Then shall they be gods, because they have all power” (D&C 132:20).
7 For if you will that I give unto you a place in the celestial world, you must prepare yourselves by doing the things which I have commanded you and required of you.
8 And now, verily thus saith the Lord, it is expedient that all things be done unto my glory, by you who are joined together in this order;
9 Or, in other words, let my servant Newel K. Whitney and my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and my servant Sidney Rigdon sit in council with the saints which are in Zion;
verse 9 The Lord here calls three members of the United Firm to travel to Independence, Missouri. Obedient to this commandment, these three brethren, accompanied by Jesse Gause, traveled to Independence, met with the members and the leaders, and inducted Oliver Cowdery, Edward Partridge, Sidney Gilbert, John Whitmer, and W. W. Phelps into the United Firm. Martin Harris, Jesse Gause, and eventually Frederick G. Williams and John Johnson were also members of the Firm. The retail store that had been established in Independence by Sidney Gilbert, Newel K. Whitney’s former associate in Kirtland, became the bishop’s storehouse in Zion (see D&C 57:8).
10 Otherwise Satan seeketh to turn their hearts away from the truth, that they become blinded and understand not the things which are prepared for them.
verse 10 “Otherwise Satan seeketh to turn their hearts” Apparently the saints in Zion were having as much difficulty implementing the principles of consecration and establishing a viable storehouse as the saints in Kirtland. If Satan could divert the saints from living this law, then he could destroy their opportunity of gaining the blessings of eternity. It was obvious that drastic measures were going to be required in both Kirtland and Zion to get the saints over the hurdle of actually implementing consecration and stewardship.
11 Wherefore, a commandment I give unto you, to prepare and organize yourselves by a bond or everlasting covenant that cannot be broken.
verse 11 Here the Lord seems to be speaking to those whom he had called to the United Firm.
“organize yourselves by a bond or everlasting covenant” Entrance into the United Firm was by sacred covenant, just as those who accept the burden of consecration today do so by sacred covenant in the temples of God. President Ezra Taft Benson drew a direct connection between those who made a covenant to enter the United Firm and those today who covenant to live the law of consecration:
We covenant to live the law of consecration. This law is that we consecrate our time, talents, strength, property, and money for the building up of the kingdom of God on this earth and the establishment of Zion.
Until one abides by the laws of obedience, sacrifice, the gospel, and chastity, he cannot abide the law of consecration, which is the law pertaining to the celestial kingdom. “For if you will that I give you a place in the celestial world, you must prepare yourselves by doing the things which I have commanded you and required of you” (D&C 78:7) (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 121).
“that cannot be broken” This covenant and every other covenant we make, of course, can be broken because each person has his or her agency. The meaning of this phrase seems to be that since the covenant of consecration is an eternal and a celestial covenant, it cannot be broken without the loss of celestial glory.
12 And he who breaketh it shall lose his office and standing in the church, and shall be delivered over to the buffetings of Satan until the day of redemption.
verses 12 “he who breaketh it shall lose his office and standing in the church” Because Zion can only be established upon the principle of consecration (D&C 105:5), those who reject that principle cannot lead others to Zion. Therefore, they must not hold church leadership positions. Worse than this, however, since they have rejected the avowed destination of the Church, they cannot even be counted as members “in good standing.” An extreme example is provided in the New Testament in the case of Ananias and Sapphira (see Acts 5:1-11).
“and shall be delivered over to the buffetings of Satan” The covenant these men of the United Firm made with the Lord was a most solemn one, and it carried with it a very severe penalty. Anyone who broke the covenant would be “delivered over to the buffetings of Satan until the day of redemption” (see also D&C 82:21). According to the 1828 edition of Webster’s Dictionary, “to buffet” means “to strike with the hand or fist; to box; to beat.” An example of the enactment of this penalty occurred when Sidney Rigdon left the Church. Admittedly, this occurred long after the Firm had been disbanded, but Sidney was turned over to the buffetings of Satan by conference action.
“until the day of redemption” Even hell has an end. Eventually, all of those who will repent and accept the atonement and lordship of Christ will be redeemed from the power of Satan (see D&C 76:42-43).
13 Behold, this is the preparation wherewith I prepare you, and the foundation, and the ensample which I give unto you, whereby you may accomplish the commandments which are given you;
verse 13 “this is the preparation . . . and the ensample” The creation of the United Firm was not the ultimate fulfillment of the law of consecration, but it was a beginning and an example of how the principle could be implemented and the commandment obeyed. It was an excellent model for all of the Church to watch. The commandment will only be fulfilled or accomplished when the saints have collectively established Zion in preparation for the second coming of the Lord by living the law of consecration and becoming equal in temporal things.
14 That through my providence, notwithstanding the tribulation which shall descend upon you, that the church may stand independent above all other creatures beneath the celestial world;
verse 14 “notwithstanding the tribulation which shall descend upon you” Again, we see a foreshadowing of the persecutions and trial that are awaiting them in the future (see also the commentary on D&C 58:3-4).
Modern church members also should not regard trials and tribulations as a thing of the past. Elder M. Russell Ballard taught: “We can certainly anticipate some exciting and wonderful opportunities in the years ahead. But it will be more and more difficult to remain a committed follower of Jesus Christ. I believe future followers of Christ will face adversity and persecution that is much more intense than anything we see today” (Ensign, July 1995, 15).
“that the church may stand independent” Implementation of the law of consecration will, with the blessings of God, give the Church the ability to survive on its own resources without being forced to compromise its principles or to ally itself with or rely upon the institutions of the world. From time to time the Church may choose to cooperate with other entities in matters of mutual concern, but never in a manner that would infringe upon its sovereignty and self-determination.
“above all other creatures beneath the celestial world” The word creatures means institutions or entities.
15 That you may come up unto the crown prepared for you, and be made rulers over many kingdoms, saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Zion, who hath established the foundations of Adam-ondi-Ahman;
verse 15 “come up unto the crown prepared for you” The eternal destiny of faithful saints, those who make and keep the covenant of consecration, is not to serve, but to rule—and not over one kingdom alone, but over many.
“who hath established the foundations of Adam-ondi-Ahman” Adam-ondi-Ahman is the name of the place where Adam and Eve settled after they were expelled from the Garden of Eden (see D&C 117:8) (See Orson Pratt, JD, 18:343). It was there that the Lord appeared to Adam and his righteous posterity three years before Adam’s death, and it is there that another great meeting with the Savior will take place before his second coming.
This phrase in verse 15 and all of verse 16 were not in the original revelation of section 78, but were added to the text by the Prophet Joseph in the first printed edition in 1835. By that time the name and the significance of Adam-ondi-Ahman had apparently been revealed to the Prophet, and three years later in May 1838, Joseph indicated that Adam-ondi-Ahman had been located at a place the saints called Spring Hill in Daviess County, about sixty miles north of Independence (HC, 3:35).
16 Who hath appointed Michael your prince, and established his feet, and set him upon high, and given unto him the keys of salvation under the counsel and direction of the Holy One, who is without beginning of days or end of life.
verse 16 “Michael your prince” Michael, or Adam, is not the king, for Christ is King (see Revelation 19:16). But Michael is the next in authority and is the prince of the kingdom of God. In this role he represents all of us as heirs to the kingdom. Adam still stands at the head of his posterity, the human family, but in subjection to Christ his King. Next to Christ, Adam holds the keys of salvation and works for the benefit of his posterity. According to Joseph Smith, “The Priesthood was first given to Adam; he obtained the First Presidency and held the keys of it from generation to generation. . . . The keys have to be brought from heaven whenever the Gospel is sent. When they are revealed from heaven, it is by Adam’s authority” (HC, 3:385-86).
17 Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye are little children, and ye have not as yet understood how great blessings the Father hath in his own hands and prepared for you;
verse 17 “little children” Our present understanding, compared with what we will understand when we reach our eternal “adulthood,” is like that of little children. Though we may be mortal adults, we have been “born again” and are in the infancy of our eternal lives. By eternal standards we are still naive and without understanding. At present we lack the maturity even to comprehend the full blessings of God, let alone to receive them. Despite the tribulations we must experience in this life, our destiny is happiness and joy beyond our present comprehension.
18 And ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along. The kingdom is yours and the blessings thereof are yours, and the riches of eternity are yours.
verse 18 “ye cannot bear all things now” The present limitations of mortality make it impossible for us to understand or even tolerate an understanding of all that we will receive from God in the future. The blessings of eternity are so great that only resurrected beings can bear them. For now we must follow the leadership of the Lord and trust in his assurances that we are going to be all right—that the kingdom and its blessings and the riches of eternity are truly going to be ours—assuming, of course, that we remain faithful.
19 And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more. verse 19 “he who receiveth all things with thankfulness” Compare D&C 59:21 and its commentary.
20 Wherefore, do the things which I have commanded you, saith your Redeemer, even the Son Ahman, who prepareth all things before he taketh you;
verse 20 “Son Ahman” Orson Pratt taught:
There is one revelation that this people are not generally acquainted with. I think it has never been published, but probably it will be in the Church History. It is given in questions and answers. The first question is, “What is the name of God in the pure language?” The answer is “Ahman.” “What is the name of the Son of God?” Answer, “Son Ahman” (JD, 2:342).
In Moses 6:57 we find that the interpretation of “Ahman” is “Man of Holiness,” and thus “Son Ahman” is the “Son of Man of Holiness” or, in a shortened form, “Son of Man.”
Additional consideration has been given to the name Ahman. Smith and Sjodahl observed that “the word is possibly akin to ‘Amen.’ In Isaiah (65:16) the Almighty is called ‘God of Amen,’ but the translators have made it, ‘God of truth.’ In Revelation 3:14, our Lord calls himself by that name: ‘These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness.’ There is also the word Amon, the name which Egyptians gave a Deity, in whose honor the magnificent temple at Karnak was reared” (Doctrine and Covenants Commentary, 484).
21 For ye are the church of the Firstborn, and he will take you up in a cloud, and appoint every man his portion.
verse 21 “the church of the Firstborn” See D&C 76:54 and its commentary.
“he will take you up in a cloud” On the last day, the righteous will be lifted off the earth and caught up to meet the Lord in the clouds while the earth is cleansed by fire (see D&C 45:44-45; 88:96-97; 1 Thessalonians 4:17).
22 And he that is a faithful and wise steward shall inherit all things. Amen.
D&C 82:3 Of him unto whom much is given much is required.
D&C 82:7 Unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return.
D&C 82:8-9 I give unto you a new commandment that you may understand my will concerning you.
D&C 82:10 I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say, but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.
The only other revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants that largely contains the Lord’s directions for the United Firm is section 82. We will thus consider it here following section 78, though it is out of sequence.
On March 1, 1832, in section 78 Joseph and Sidney had been commanded to travel to Independence to counsel with the saints in Zion (see D&C 78:9). During the first three weeks in March Joseph received other revelations, began establishing the United Firm in Kirtland, and organized the Presidency of the High Priesthood. As Joseph then prepared for the commanded journey to Missouri, several unpleasant events took place.
The Prophet mentioned a confrontation sometime in March with a son of John Johnson, in whose home he and Emma were then living with their adopted twins. Olmsted Johnson, the young man, rejected the gospel and left home in a bad spirit, and Joseph prophesied that “he would never return or see his father again” (HC, 1:260). Another of the Johnson sons, John Jr., had already apostatized, so it seems that the Johnsons were experiencing domestic troubles at this time.
By the fourth week of March, the Smiths’ adopted ten-month-old twins and the Rigdon children, who lived nearby, were suffering from measles. On March 24, Joseph stayed up with the little boy, who was the sicker of the two twins, to let Emma get some much-needed sleep. During the night, a mob led by the apostate Symonds Ryder dragged Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon from their homes and beat, tarred, feathered, and otherwise abused them (HC, 1:261-65). For a more detailed description of this mobbing, see the introduction to section 81. After the attack, Joseph was awake all night while friends and relatives scraped the tar from his body. Nonetheless, in the morning he preached his usual Sunday sermon to a congregation that included some of his attackers.
The following Thursday, March 29, Emma and Joseph’s baby son died. Three days later, on Sunday, April 1, Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, and Newel K. Whitney began their journey to Missouri in obedience to the commandment of the Lord. They took with them Jesse Gause, the newly appointed counselor in the Presidency of the High Priesthood.
Joseph and his party arrived in Independence on April 24, 1832, and according to his own account, “on the 26th, I called a general council of the Church, and was acknowledged as the President of the High Priesthood, according to a previous ordination at a conference of High Priests, Elders, and members, held at Amherst, Ohio, on the 25th of January, 1832. The right hand of fellowship was given to me by the Bishop, Edward Partridge, in behalf of the Church. The scene was solemn, impressive and delightful. During the intermission, a difficulty or hardness which had existed between Bishop Partridge and Elder Rigdon, was amicably settled, and when we came together in the afternoon, all hearts seemed to rejoice and I received the following [section 82]” (HC, 1:267).
The minutes of this Missouri conference, during which section 82 was received, indicate that “Br. Sidney Rigdon then stated the items embraced in a Revelation received in Ohio [section 78] & the reason why we were commanded to come to this land & sit in council with the High priests here.” In the afternoon session, it was recorded, “all differences [had been] settled & the hearts of all run together in love. A Revelation [was] received through him whom the Church has appointed respecting organization” (Cannon and Cook, Far West Record, 40-42, 45). This revelation was section 82, which was first published in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants.
1 Verily, verily, I say unto you, my servants, that inasmuch as you have forgiven one another your trespasses, even so I, the Lord, forgive you.
verse 1 “you have forgiven one another your trespasses” This statement refers to the hard feelings between Bishop Edward Partridge and Sidney Rigdon, mentioned in Joseph Smith’s account and the minutes of the meeting. Others had been drawn to take sides in the affair. Apparently, Sidney had previously made a lengthy complaint against Bishop Partridge for a number of infractions, among them improper distribution of funds, failure to follow church policy, and speaking against Joseph Smith. On March 10, a conference of elders in Missouri considered the complaint (neither Joseph nor Sidney were present) and replied to Elder Rigdon that most of the infractions had already been corrected and that Bishop Partridge was repentant for any wrongdoing. This conference of Missouri brethren also chided Sidney about “whether he was not actuated by his own hasty feelings rather than the Spirit of Christ” in pursuing the matter (Cannon and Cook, Far West Record, 40-42, 45). In addition, there seem to have been hard feelings by some brethren in Missouri against the Prophet himself, a matter that the Lord would mention again in the future (see D&C 74:76) (see Jessee, Personal Writings, 270-74).
These personal tensions between the brethren of Zion and the brethren of Kirtland were resolved amicably between the morning and afternoon sessions of the Missouri conference on April 26, at least for the time being. Once hard feelings had been dispelled and the spirit of love and harmony restored, the Lord blessed the conference in the afternoon session with the revelation known as Doctrine and Covenants 82. It is worthy of note that first the saints forgave one another. Then, the Lord forgave and blessed them (Matthew 6:14-15). Moreover, the spirit of revelation operates best when the saints are united (D&C 38:27).
2 Nevertheless, there are those among you who have sinned exceedingly; yea, even all of you have sinned; but verily I say unto you, beware from henceforth, and refrain from sin, lest sore judgments fall upon your heads.
verse 2 Here the Lord rebukes all of those involved in the unpleasantries that centered on Sidney Rigdon and Bishop Edward Partridge.
3 For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation.
verse 3 When human beings commit sin, the degree of their guilt, or culpability, depends upon the extent of their knowledge and blessings. Two different persons may commit exactly the same sin and yet be held accountable in vastly different degrees, depending on their individual knowledge and background. Elder George Albert Smith cautioned the saints: “We will not be judged as our brothers and sisters of the world are judged, but according to the greater opportunities placed in our keeping. We will be among those who have received the word of the Lord, who have heard his sayings, and if we do them it will be to us eternal life, but if we fail condemnation will result” (CR, October 1906, 47).
Moreover, for those who have accepted the fulness of the gospel by covenant, it is not that the Lord expects more of us but that he requires it. Having been given the means of obtaining exaltation, we are required to use those means toward that end. Once blessed by God’s gracious gifts and obligated by our own covenant promises, should we then choose wickedness or sloth, we do so to our own greater condemnation.
Those in Missouri were covenant members of the Church and “Zion builders,” and consequently of them much was required.
4 Ye call upon my name for revelations, and I give them unto you; and inasmuch as ye keep not my sayings, which I give unto you, ye become transgressors; and justice and judgment are the penalty which is affixed unto my law.
5 Therefore, what I say unto one I say unto all: Watch, for the adversary spreadeth his dominions, and darkness reigneth;
verse 5 “darkness reigneth” Does Satan really reign or rule here on earth? It is clear that Satan rules the world—not the earth. He rules over Babylon, the world. The ruler of the next world, the millennial world, and of its heirs who must for now live in Babylon, is Christ. As we approach the end of this world, Satan’s power is growing and spreading. Even as the saints watch and wait for the end of this world and the coming of the next, they will see darkness grow, and they themselves will become more isolated, marginalized, and persecuted until the coming of their Savior.
6 And the anger of God kindleth against the inhabitants of the earth; and none doeth good, for all have gone out of the way.
verse 6 “none doeth good” The Lord speaks of the world at the time of Joseph Smith. The whole world lies in the ignorance resulting from apostasy, and all have gone astray from the full truth of the gospel, hence the need for Joseph Smith and the restoration of the gospel.
7 And now, verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, will not lay any sin to your charge; go your ways and sin no more; but unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God.
verse 7 “I, the Lord, will not lay any sin to your charge” Romans 4:8 reads: “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” Both the Lord, in this verse, and Paul in Romans 4:8 refer to those who are earnestly striving to the best of their knowledge and ability to obey the Lord’s commands and also are ever striving to learn more of the Lord’s commands. We know, of course, that being found innocent at the final judgment cannot lie in our perfect performance (that is, salvation by law or works) but rather in our sins not being charged against us on that day through the mercy and grace of the Savior and the virtue of his atoning sacrifice. This great blessing of forgiveness and salvation comes only to those striving to keep the Lord’s commandments—those struggling to obey (2 Nephi 25:23, Alma 24:11, Matthew 7:2123; 16:27; Luke 6:46; Romans 2:13; James 2:17-20; Revelation 20:12-13).
“go your ways and sin no more” In specific and realistic terms, the Lord is counseling us, “Strive consistently with all your might to follow my example and be obedient to my commands.” Absolute moral perfection at our stage of existence is impossible, and the Lord knows that.
“unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return” A man may receive gifts of the Spirit—increments of the attributes of Christ—through his obedience to gospel commands (Spiritual Growth—Gifts of the Spirit in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 7). These divine attributes are received by personal revelation and produce a significant change in our hearts. The processes of Justification and Sanctification are active here (see Justification and Sanctification in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 17). We are then less likely in certain areas to give in to our natural selves and commit sin (break a commandment). We become new creatures in Christ, more likely to continue to obey. As we receive these divine attributes—gifts of the Spirit—the Lord justifies us, that is, forgives us of those sins we committed prior to acquiring these certain gifts of the Spirit.
These attributes, however, are not permanently ours, unless we continue to strive to be obedient. Remember: “There are no plateaus in spiritual growth.” He who stops growing, begins to deteriorate spiritually—he begins to lose those gifts of the spirit he once possessed. He is then likely to sin again in the very same areas in which he had previously overcome his natural tendency to sin (see also D&C 1:31-33).
There is an additional way in which “the former sins return.” When we repent, or begin to obey, the Lord may remove the penalty for our sins assessed by the law of justice. We say that he “forgives us of our sins.” Once forgiven, the penalty may be reassessed if we begin again to sin.
8 And again, I say unto you, I give unto you a new commandment, that you may understand my will concerning you;
verse 8 “I give unto you a new commandment, that you may understand my will concerning you” Here it is likely the Lord is referring specifically to his commandment to organize the United Firm. We may, however, generalize from this statement and conclude that when the Lord gives us a commandment, he is simply explaining to us how we must act, think, and talk in order to be saved in his eternal presence.
9 Or, in other words, I give unto you directions how you may act before me, that it may turn to you for your salvation.
verses 8-9 We often tend to view God’s commandments as restrictive and demanding. Yet, in these verses he reminds us that his commandments are actually informative and enabling. His commandments are ultimately aimed at bringing us greater freedom, joy, and glory. They are something like the directions on a treasure map.
10 I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.
verse 10 When we obey the Lord’s commands, he is bound by his honor, by his part of the covenant, to grant us the promised blessings contained in the covenant.
Here is an interesting question: Can we bind God in absolute terms? Can we remove his agency and force him to keep his end of the covenant if he did not choose to do so? The answer is clearly, no. No intelligent being in our universe can have his agency removed. But he is God because of his absolute integrity. When he promises, it will happen absolutely (Abraham 3:17). If he should relinquish his integrity to an erroneous whim, he would cease to be God.
11 Therefore, verily I say unto you, that it is expedient for my servants Edward Partridge and Newel K. Whitney, A. Sidney Gilbert and Sidney Rigdon, and my servant Joseph Smith, and John Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery, and W. W. Phelps and Martin Harris to be bound together by a bond and covenant that cannot be broken by transgression, except judgment shall immediately follow, in your several stewardships—
verse 11 “bound together by a bond and covenant” The members of the United Firm in both Missouri and Kirtland are bound to each other in this partnership by sacred covenant. As with every covenant we may enter into with the Lord, there is a penalty assessed should we not live up to that covenant. See the section entitled “Captain Moroni and Covenant Making” in the introductory commentary for Alma 43.
12 To manage the affairs of the poor, and all things pertaining to the bishopric both in the land of Zion and in the land of Kirtland;
verse 12 “To manage the affairs of the poor, and all things pertaining to the bishopric” We have already learned that one of the fundamental and underlying purposes for the United Firm is to look after the poor and see to their needs. Here we also learn that this body will oversee the affairs of the two bishops, Bishop Partridge in Missouri and Bishop Whitney in Kirtland.
13 For I have consecrated the land of Kirtland in mine own due time for the benefit of the saints of the Most High, and for a stake to Zion.
verse 13 “For I have consecrated the land of Kirtland” Here the verb consecrated means dedicated for a specific purpose. The earth is the Lord’s (Psalm 24:1; compare D&C 104:12-14). He owns all the earth and all things thereon. We don’t usually think in terms of the Lord’s consecrating his possessions. While it is true that he cannot surrender his ownership of the earth, figuratively he speaks of himself in this verse as participating, with the saints, in the law of consecration and stewardship.
“for a stake to Zion” This is the first use of the world “stake” in the text of the Doctrine and Covenants. The reader is likely familiar with the metaphor attributed to Isaiah (Isaiah 54:2) in which Isaiah compares the Lord’s earthly kingdom to a tent which has a center pole in Zion and this tent is supported by many ropes or cords attached to many stakes driven into the ground. These tent-stakes, which support the tent, are located throughout the world. Here the Lord puts the kingdom of God in Joseph Smith’s day, into proper perspective. The center pole is in Missouri, in Zion, and Kirtland is a support stake.
14 For Zion must increase in beauty, and in holiness; her borders must be enlarged; her stakes must be strengthened; yea, verily I say unto you, Zion must arise and put on her beautiful garments.
verse 14 “For Zion must increase” This phrase has a dual meaning. Obviously the area of Independence, Missouri needs to be built up and strengthened. It is the center place of Zion. But also spiritual Zion, which consists of the pure in heart wherever they may dwell, must also increase. When there is an increase in the numbers of church members who are pure in heart, the borders of spiritual Zion are enlarged, regardless of where the new members may live. The few metaphors in this verse depict Zion as a bride being adorned for her marriage to the coming Bridegroom (see Isaiah 62:4-5; Matthew 25:6; John 3:29; Revelation 19:7-9; Moroni 10:31).
15 Therefore, I give unto you this commandment, that ye bind yourselves by this covenant, and it shall be done according to the laws of the Lord.
verse 15 “I give unto you this commandment, that ye bind yourselves by this covenant” Again, a commandment to those called to be part of the United Firm. As with all those early saints who become part of the law of consecration and stewardship, these brethren entered the Firm through making a covenant with the Lord. Those in the United Firm were called to consecrate their property to establish a bishop’s storehouse and to meet other financial needs.
16 Behold, here is wisdom also in me for your good.
17 And you are to be equal, or in other words, you are to have equal claims on the properties, for the benefit of managing the concerns of your stewardships, every man according to his wants and his needs, inasmuch as his wants are just—
verse 17 “you are to be equal” Equal here does not mean equal in absolute terms. Rather, these brethren were to receive a stewardship that allowed each to have according to his needs.
18 And all this for the benefit of the church of the living God, that every man may improve upon his talent, that every man may gain other talents, yea, even an hundred fold, to be cast into the Lord’s storehouse, to become the common property of the whole church—
verse 18 “all this for the benefit of the church” One may argue that the law of consecration and stewardship drains the participants of their motivation, and hence of their productivity. The popular wisdom of the world is that competitive self-interest is the only consistently successful motivation for personal or professional achievement. This is clearly false in a Zion society. Truly celestial individuals are consistently self-motivated to achieve and to excel by the needs of others and by love for God and his Church. They are willing to sacrifice all worldly things for the “benefit of the church” and for the benefit of others.
“that every man may improve upon his talent” This phrase is an allusion to the parable of the talents, in which the righteous servants productively utilized their talents.
19 Every man seeking the interest of his neighbor, and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God.
verse 19 “Every man seeking the interest of his neighbor” In a Zion society the principle of charity is fundamental. Each person must be as concerned about the temporal and spiritual welfare of his neighbor as he is about his own.
“with an eye single to the glory of God” This phrase has reference to the concept that a man cannot worship both God and mammon (Matthew 6:24; Moroni 7:11-14).
20 This order I have appointed to be an everlasting order unto you, and unto your successors, inasmuch as you sin not.
verse 20 “This order I have appointed to be an everlasting order” Ironically, the United Firm was short lived. On April 10, 1834, members of the Firm met and decided that the order should be dissolved due to transgression of some of its members (see D&C 104:52-53).
21 And the soul that sins against this covenant, and hardeneth his heart against it, shall be dealt with according to the laws of my church, and shall be delivered over to the buffetings of Satan until the day of redemption.
verse 21 “the soul that sins against this covenant” He who violates his covenant promise as a member of the United Firm.
“according to the law of my church” The laws of the Church are stated in section 42 and deal with denying fellowship, excommunication, and in some cases turning offenders over to civil authorities.
“shall be delivered over to the buffetings of Satan” See the commentary for D&C 78:12.
22 And now, verily I say unto you, and this is wisdom, make unto yourselves friends with the mammon of unrighteousness, and they will not destroy you.
verse 22 “make unto yourselves friends with the mammon of unrighteousness” The word mammon refers to riches or material wealth, particularly
when those riches result in evil or immorality. Here the Lord refers to the influential nonbelievers in the environment of the saints as the “mammon of unrighteousness.”
According to Elder Joseph Fielding Smith: “It is not intended that in making friends with the ‘mammon of unrighteousness’ [Luke 16:9] that the brethren were to partake with them in their sins; to receive them to their bosoms, intermarry with them and otherwise come down to their level. They were to so live that peace with their enemies might be assured. They were to treat them kindly, be friendly with them as far as correct and virtuous principles would permit, but never to swear with them or drink and carouse with them. If they could allay prejudice and show a willingness to trade with and show a kindly spirit, it might help to turn them away from their bitterness. Judgment was to be left with the Lord” (Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:323).
Moreover, a righteous individual can learn how wealth and the world operate and then work with the system for righteous purposes. When that is sincerely the motive, such action is not collaboration with Babylon but a way of building Zion.
An additional thought: If you anticipate receiving the true riches of eternity, it is wise to learn obedience and faithfulness with regard to things of this world. If you will become prudent in dealing with a small quantity, you may find yourself in eventual possession of great treasure. If you learn to handle a minor stewardship entrusted to you from someone else, you then can be trusted with something of great value that will be your own (Luke 16:10-12).
23 Leave judgment alone with me, for it is mine and I will repay. Peace be with you; my blessings continue with you.
verse 23 The saints are told to be tolerant and not judge the nonmembers (the “mammon of unrighteousness”) in Missouri.
24 For even yet the kingdom is yours, and shall be forever, if you fall not from your steadfastness. Even so. Amen.
verse 24 The faithful have a right to the kingdom of Heaven. It is theirs to keep, or theirs to throw away.
- Michael J. Preece