Section 90: Reorganization of First Presidency
Section 90 was received March 8, 1833. Let us briefly review the evolution of the leadership in the Church to date. In the spring of 1829, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery received the Melchizedek Priesthood under the hands of Peter, James and John. At that time, they also received the apostleship and those keys of the priesthood necessary to restore and preside over the Church of Jesus Christ. In section 20, received in April 1830, it was affirmed that Joseph and Oliver were called of God and were apostles and elders of the Church. They were also designated first and second elders of the Church, respectively (see D&C 20:2-3). This temporary administrative arrangement, with a first and second elder presiding over the Church, remained in place until January 25, 1832, by which time a number of high priests had been ordained. At that time, Joseph Smith was sustained and ordained President of the High Priesthood of the Church (section 75). Six weeks later, on March 8, 1832 (section 81), Sidney Rigdon and Jesse Gause were also called and ordained as counselors to Joseph Smith in the Presidency of the High Priesthood. Jesse Gause was excommunicated from the Church on December 3, 1832. Consequently, on January 5, 1833, Frederick G. Williams, who had served as a clerk to the Presidency since July 20, 1832, was called to replace Brother Gause as a counselor. However, it does not appear that the Presidency was officially reorganized in the modern sense at that time. Exactly one year after Joseph had chosen his original counselors in the Presidency of the High Priesthood, he received, on March 8, 1833, at Kirtland, section 90, which confirms the callings of Sidney Rigdon and Frederick G. Williams as counselors in the Presidency. Section 90 also further defines their duties as counselors to Joseph. The counselors were actually ordained ten days later on March 18, 1833.
This new Presidency of the High Priesthood, or First Presidency, as it later came to be known, was different from the previous Presidency in that it was organized as a quorum with Joseph’s counselors “accounted as equal with [him] in holding the keys” (verses 6) while the President lived and while they were in harmony with him. Since 1833 the term “presidency of the High Priesthood” has been used synonymously with the term “First Presidency of the Church.” Such is the case today. Only one man actually holds the keys of the priesthood but the other fourteen apostles (the president’s two counselors in the First Presidency, and the twelve members of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles) are able to exercise those keys by virtue of their association with the Prophet / President of the Church.
Similarly, though the apostleship had been restored and held by men upon the earth since the spring of 1829, the second leading quorum of the Church, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, would not be officially organized as a quorum until February 14 and 15, 1835, also in a manner directed by the Lord. On the occasion of the death of the President of the Church, the Quorum of the First Presidency would come to be immediately dissolved, and the surviving members of that quorum would assume their places in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The keys of the priesthood would then reside with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who would then select and ordain the new President (the senior apostle). The President would then become the key holder, select his two counselors, and the Quorum of the First Presidency would again be formed. It is interesting to note that Brigham Young waited three years after the death of Joseph Smith to reorganize the First Presidency. However, since the administration of Lorenzo Snow, it has been the custom to reorganize the Quorum of the First Presidency soon after the funeral of the previous president.
D&C 90:11 Every man shall hear the fulness of the gospel in his own tongue.
D&C 90:24 Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good, if ye walk uprightly and remember the covenant wherewith ye have covenanted one with another.
1 Thus saith the Lord, verily, verily I say unto you my son, thy sins are forgiven thee, according to thy petition, for thy prayers and the prayers of thy brethren have come up into my ears.
verse 1 “thy sins are forgiven thee” Again, we are reminded that it was necessary for the Lord to forgive Joseph his sins, not once but repeatedly, as he strived to live, ever more perfectly, the Lord’s commands. Similarly, it is necessary for the Lord to forgive each of us repeatedly.
“according to thy petition” It is not surprising that section 90 was, as were most all of the sections in the Doctrine and Covenants, received in response to Joseph’s prayer for guidance.
2 Therefore, thou art blessed from henceforth that bear the keys of the kingdom given unto you; which kingdom is coming forth for the last time.
verse 2 “the keys of the kingdom” See the introductory commentary for D&C 65 and the commentary for D&C 65:2.
“which kingdom is coming forth for the last time” The concept of “the last days” contains the implication that this restoration of the gospel will be the last in the world’s history.
3 Verily I say unto you, the keys of this kingdom shall never be taken from you, while thou art in the world, neither in the world to come;
verse 3 In D&C 43:3, the Prophet was told that as long as he remained faithful he would hold the keys of the kingdom but if he fell from faithfulness, those keys would be given to another. A similar promise to Joseph was repeated in D&C 64:5. However, in this verse the Prophet is told, unconditionally, that he would never lose the keys of the kingdom and that they would remain with him not only in this world but in the world to come. This progression may indicate that sometime between September 1831 and March 1833, the nature of the Lord’s promises to the Prophet Joseph had changed— amounting to a much stronger assurance that his exaltation was secure (see, for example, D&C 132:49).
“neither in the world to come” Joseph Smith still holds the keys of this dispensation of the gospel, and he still presides over the work of the Church in the spirit world. All who hold the priesthood keys are subject to someone else of higher authority. This was true of Joseph Smith. Michael (Adam) holds the keys for the salvation of mankind under the direction of the Savior, and Joseph Smith functions under the presiding authority of Michael (D&C 78:15-16). Each successor to the prophet Joseph holds the keys of the kingdom subordinate to Joseph.
4 Nevertheless, through you shall the oracles be given to another, yea, even unto the church.
verse 4 “through you shall the oracles be given to another” The oracles, as the term is used here, mean the divine revelations (as in verse 5). The process of how Joseph’s revelations will be disseminated through his counselors and others is further clarified in verses 6-11 (especially verse 9). The Prophet will receive the word of God and will then share it with his counselors in the Presidency and with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The word will then be delivered to the Church and through the Church to the world (see verse 9). “Whenever new doctrines are to be introduced, they are first presented by the President to his counselors and then to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in a meeting of the council of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. If unanimously approved [D&C 107:27], they are then presented to the membership of the Church at a general conference for a sustaining vote” (Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 3:1127). New doctrine (that is, new divine information as opposed merely to policy changes or to clarification of existing doctrine) comes to the Church collectively, and in no other way.
5 And all they who receive the oracles of God, let them beware how they hold them lest they are accounted as a light thing, and are brought under condemnation thereby, and stumble and fall when the storms descend, and the winds blow, and the rains descend, and beat upon their house.
verse 5 “let them beware . . . condemnation” The imagery of this verse calls to mind Matthew 7:24-27: “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.” See also D&C 84:54-57.
6 And again, verily I say unto thy brethren, Sidney Rigdon and Frederick G. Williams, their sins are forgiven them also, and they are accounted as equal with thee in holding the keys of this last kingdom;
verse 6 “they are accounted as equal with thee” As long as the President of the Church is alive, and as long as his counselors are in harmony with his leadership, they share the keys of the kingdom with him. The important point is made here that the counselors in the First Presidency hold the keys of the priesthood because of their association with the one key holder, the Prophet/President of the Church.
This principle is illustrated clearly in matters involving the keys of the sealing power—the power to bind on earth and have that binding remain in force throughout the eternities (see D&C 132:7). Today, only the Prophet himself holds these keys. When that part of the sealing power required in the temple is bestowed on another, it must be done either by the Prophet himself or one whom he as specifically designated. This point is made perfectly clear in our present Handbook of Instructions: “The senior living Apostle, the President of the Church, is the only person on earth authorized to exercise all priesthood keys (see D&C 43:1-4; 81:2; 107:64-67, 91-92; 132:7) (Handbook 2, Administering the Church, 2010, 9). For a more thorough discussion of the sealing power, see Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 2, chapter 11, The Sealing Power.
In a practical sense, the priesthood keys are held jointly by members of the Presidency, who are accounted equal with the Prophet/President. Thus, the First Presidency does not consist merely of a single authorized individual plus his assistants, but is rather a quorum of three or more individuals who share jointly the powers of the kingdom. Naturally, the President presides over this quorum, and his counselors defer to his leadership. Though the President presides, every decision of this quorum must be made by the unanimous voice of the quorum (see D&C 107:27). Administratively, it would be correct to say that the Church is governed by quorums rather than by individuals. The Prophet Joseph declared concerning the authority of the Twelve, “The Twelve are not subject to any other than the First Presidency . . . and where I am not, there is no First Presidency over the Twelve” (HC, 2:374). Here, Joseph means that when the prophet dies, the Quorum of the First Presidency is temporarily dissolved, and his counselors resume their former positions in the Church and its existing quorums. Until the Quorum of the First Presidency is reorganized, the presiding authority over the Church rests upon the second standing quorum of the Church, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, led by its presiding officer (the senior apostle), until such time as the First Presidency is reorganized (see D&C 107:23-24).
7 As also through your administration the keys of the school of the prophets, which I have commanded to be organized;
verse 7 Presidents Rigdon and Williams also hold the keys of administering the school of the prophets because of their association with Joseph in the First Presidency (“through your administration”).
“school of the prophets” See the commentary for D&C 88:117-141.
8 That thereby they may be perfected in their ministry for the salvation of Zion, and of the nations of Israel, and of the Gentiles, as many as will believe;
verse 8 The antecedent of the pronouns they and their appears likely to be Presidents Rigdon and Williams in the First presidency. Another, less likely, possibility is that these pronouns refer to participants in the School of the Prophets who will then in turn train the leadership of the Church to minister salvation to the Church and to the world.
9 That through your administration they may receive the word, and through their administration the word may go forth unto the ends of the earth, unto the Gentiles first, and then, behold, and lo, they shall turn unto the Jews.
verse 9 The Lord continues to address Joseph and the pronouns “they” and “their” refer to Joseph’s new counselors in the First Presidency. All three members of the First Presidency hold the keys of spreading the gospel and gathering Zion.
“unto the Gentiles first” By covenant and promise, when the fulness of the gospel was restored at the time of Christ, it was taken first to the physical and literal descendants of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—to the Israelites. In that same dispensation, in the meridian of time, the majority of the children of Israel rejected the gospel. As a result, in this last dispensation the gospel is by and large to be taken first to the Gentiles, that is, to every other nation, kindred, tongue, and people besides the Jews (see D&C 45:9, 25, 28-31 and the commentary for these verses). Obviously, many of the “Gentiles” unto whom the gospel is taken first include those who are descended from the house of Israel. Collectively, the Jews will be the last to receive the gospel in this dispensation.
10 And then cometh the day when the arm of the Lord shall be revealed in power in convincing the nations, the heathen nations, the house of Joseph, of the gospel of their salvation.
verse 10 “the heathen nations, the house of Joseph” In the Old Testament, the term “house of Joseph” is sometimes used to describe specifically the descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh specifically (for example, see Joshua 17:17), and sometimes to describe all ten tribes of the northern kingdom collectively (for example, see Zechariah 10:6). Since Ephraim, Manasseh, and the other ten tribes were eventually scattered among and grafted into every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, the house of Joseph now includes branches (see Genesis 50:22) among all the nations of the earth, including the “heathen,” or non-Christian, nations of the world. The Nephites and Lamanites were “a remnant of the house of Joseph” (3 Nephi 15:12), but other remnants of Joseph can be found and are now being sought out by missionaries among all the nations of the earth. It is probably not a coincidence that the prophet of this final dispensation—the dispensation of the times of the Gentiles when the house of Joseph will be reclaimed from all the world—was named Joseph (see D&C 113:4; Ezekiel 36:24; 37:21; 39:28; 2 Nephi 3).
11 For it shall come to pass in that day, that every man shall hear the fulness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language, through those who are ordained unto this power, by the administration of the Comforter, shed forth upon them for the revelation of Jesus Christ.
verse 11 “in that day” This is the day referred to in verse 10 when the arm of the Lord shall be revealed in power. This day is probably to be understood as the “day” of his coming to earth to establish his millennial kingdom. While the great missionary work of the present-day Church begins to fulfill this prophecy, only after the return of the Savior in power will the promise of everyone’s hearing the fulness of the gospel in his or her own tongue be entirely fulfilled. Until that time, many people will continue to die in ignorance of the gospel. According to Joseph Smith, however, after the second coming of the Lord, all the heathen nations will be taught the gospel, and those who will not accept it “must eventually be destroyed from the earth” (HC, 5:212).
President Spencer W. Kimball has said that as he pondered the question of whether or not the time was right for the blacks to receive the priesthood, several verses of scripture affected him, but none more so than verse 11 of section 90. He reasoned, “How are we going to have enough missionaries to speak to all peoples of the world in their own tongue unless we ordain all men to return to their own people?” This of course led to the Official Declaration–2 of September 30, 1978.
12 And now, verily I say unto you, I give unto you a commandment that you continue in the ministry and presidency.
verse 12 The Lord continues to address the Prophet Joseph and his counselors.
13 And when you have finished the translation of the prophets, you shall from thenceforth preside over the affairs of the church and the school;
verse 13 “translation of the prophets” This phrase refers to Joseph’s inspired revision of the books of the Old Testament. Joseph Smith finished his translation of the New Testament (see D&C 45:60) on February 2, 1833, more than a month before section 90 was received. Since Joseph had already spent considerable time on the Old Testament before beginning the New Testament, the expectation seems to be that his translation of the Old Testament Prophets would also soon be completed.
“the church and the school” That is, the Church of Jesus Christ and the School of the Prophets.
14 And from time to time, as shall be manifested by the Comforter, receive revelations to unfold the mysteries of the kingdom;
15 And set in order the churches, and study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people.
verse 15 “and set in order the churches” This likely refers to the branches of the Church.
“and study and learn” One purpose of the School of the Prophets was to teach the first elders of this dispensation what they would need to know in order to take the gospel to the peoples of the world, including their languages, literature, and cultures.
16 And this shall be your business and mission in all your lives, to preside in council, and set in order all the affairs of this church and kingdom.
verse 16 “in all your lives” Absent cases of serious sin or unworthiness, members of the First Presidency are called to serve for life—even when they may be suffering from the effects of extreme age or poor health.
17 Be not ashamed, neither confounded; but be admonished in all your highmindedness and pride, for it bringeth a snare upon your souls.
verse 17 It is poignant to note here that the Lord knew that both Sydney Rigdon and Frederick G. Williams would eventually leave the Church because of “highmindedness and pride.”
18 Set in order your houses; keep slothfulness and uncleanness far from you.
19 Now, verily I say unto you, let there be a place provided, as soon as it is possible, for the family of thy counselor and scribe, even Frederick G. Williams.
verse 19 “let a place be provided” The reader is reminded that Frederick G. Williams was a resident of Kirtland before joining the Church and that he owned a large farm there. However, when Brother Williams accompanied Oliver Cowdery and the Lamanite missionaries to Missouri, his farm, of necessity, was parceled out to other Latter-day Saint families moving into the Kirtland area form New York, including those of Joseph Smith Senior and Ezra Thayre. In accordance with these instructions in the section 90, other accommodations were now provided for the Williams family, and the following year Frederick G. Williams consecrated his entire farm to the Church without remuneration. The Williams farm eventually made up part of the parcel of land that provided grounds around the Kirtland Temple.
20 And let mine aged servant, Joseph Smith, Sen., continue with his family upon the place where he now lives; and let it not be sold until the mouth of the Lord shall name.
21 And let my counselor, even Sidney Rigdon, remain where he now resides until the mouth of the Lord shall name.
22 And let the bishop search diligently to obtain an agent, and let him be a man who has got riches in store—a man of God, and of strong faith—
23 That thereby he may be enabled to discharge every debt; that the storehouse of the Lord may not be brought into disrepute before the eyes of the people.
verses 22-23 “let the bishop . . . obtain an agent” Bishop Newel K. Whitney had previously been instructed to employ an agent to help him with the duties of administering the bishop’s storehouse in Kirtland (see D&C 84:113) but had apparently not yet done so. These instructions made it clear that the prospective agent would not simply be an employee, but would consecrate his own time and significant wealth to the building up of Zion as was expected of other church leaders. There is no historical evidence that Bishop Whitney ever did employ an agent to help him.
24 Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good, if ye walk uprightly and remember the covenant wherewith ye have covenanted one with another.
verse 24 “remember the covenant wherewith ye have covenanted one with another” This passage referred originally to the covenant of brotherhood and fellowship entered into by the leaders of the Church and others who attended the School of the Prophets (see D&C 88:133 and its commentary). By extension this would also apply to those who will later make covenants concerning their interrelationships with others in the Kirtland Temple or in any of the subsequent temples.
25 Let your families be small, especially mine aged servant Joseph Smith’s, Sen., as pertaining to those who do not belong to your families;
verse 25 “Let your families be small” Is the Lord suggesting birth control? Not at all! At that time, Joseph Smith, Sr.’s, house was always over full with borders and passers-by. He was so kindly that he could never turn anyone away. This resulted in his being overburdened with guests. The Lord here is suggesting that all saints, especially Joseph Smith, Sr., be cautious about taking in more non-family guests than they can comfortably handle.
26 That those things that are provided for you, to bring to pass my work, be not taken from you and given to those that are not worthy—
27 And thereby you be hindered in accomplishing those things which I have commanded you.
verses 26-27 As church leaders, particularly Father and Mother Smith, continued to open their homes to the saints who were moving into the Kirtland area from the East, certain problems arose. Some members took advantage of the kindnesses of their hosts. The stewardship given to the elder Smith’s was used up by others. Other members who were unworthy avoided the responsibilities of consecration but still received its blessings by attaching themselves to more faithful families. In addition, the sheer burden of housing so many individuals in their comparatively small homes became very taxing on them, but it was hard to say “no” to anyone who claimed to be in need. Thus, the Lord here counsels his leaders, and particularly the senior Smiths, who were generous to a fault, to use wisdom and where possible to reduce the number of their dependents who were not actually blood relatives or who were not personally worthy of receiving the blessings of consecration on their own.
verses 28-31 Vienna Jaques is one of the few women mentioned in the Doctrine and Covenants. She was a wealthy spinster woman who at age 45, sometime in 1832, joined the Church. She lived in Boston and apparently supported herself there as a nurse. She was converted by the Book of Mormon and visited Joseph Smith in Kirtland where she was baptized. After returning briefly to Boston, Sister Jaques moved to Kirtland sometime before March 1833 and was instructed to consecrate her wealth, including fourteen hundred dollars cash, to the Lord. This, she did without hesitation.
In these verses, the Lord directs that she be sent to Zion and that her expenses of moving there be paid by the Church and that she receive an inheritance in Zion from Bishop Partridge. Sister Jaques arrived in Independence in the summer of 1833 but lost her temporal inheritance when the saints were driven from Jackson County. However, she remained faithful and steadfast for more than fifty years thereafter, moving with the saints in all their wanderings, and finally dying in Salt Lake City in 1884, at the age of ninety-six.
In 1858 at age 70 she was sealed to the Prophet Joseph. Apparently in the early days of the Church, almost any woman who wanted to be sealed to a man who was deceased was granted her wish.
28 And again, verily I say unto you, it is my will that my handmaid Vienna Jaques should receive money to bear her expenses, and go up unto the land of Zion;
29 And the residue of the money may be consecrated unto me, and she be rewarded in mine own due time.
30 Verily I say unto you, that it is meet in mine eyes that she should go up unto the land of Zion, and receive an inheritance from the hand of the bishop;
31 That she may settle down in peace inasmuch as she is faithful, and not be idle in her days from thenceforth.
verses 32-35 In the early days of the Church there were sometimes administrative questions of exactly who presided over whom and in what circumstances. Despite such revelations as D&C 43:3-5 or 64:5, some in Missouri believed that they presided there independent of the prophet Joseph Smith. These verses settle this argument and clarify the administrative situation (see also verses 2-5). Though Bishop Partridge was the bishop in Missouri and really the presiding bishop in the Church, he was subordinate to Joseph and the other members of the First Presidency (see verses 6, 13, 16). Among other faults, Partridge’s resistance to Joseph’s leadership, as well as the resistance of others in Missouri, did not please the Lord.
32 And behold, verily I say unto you, that ye shall write this commandment, and say unto your brethren in Zion, in love greeting, that I have called you also to preside over Zion in mine own due time.
33 Therefore, let them cease wearying me concerning this matter.
34 Behold, I say unto you that your brethren in Zion begin to repent, and the angels rejoice over them.
35 Nevertheless, I am not well pleased with many things; and I am not well pleased with my servant William E. McLellin, neither with my servant Sidney Gilbert; and the bishop also, and others have many things to repent of.
verse 35 “William E. McLellin” See the introductory commentary for section 66 and D&C 75:6-7 and the commentary for these verses. Bother McLellin was out of favor at this time for at least two reasons. First, he had returned prematurely from two missions in a row, one to the East and one south of Kirtland. Second, he had organized a party of emigrants and led them to Missouri in direct violation of the rules and procedures established by the Lord through the Prophet Joseph, thereby adding to the difficulties of the saints there (see Shipps and Welch, Journal of William E. McLellin, 303-05).
36 But verily I say unto you, that I, the Lord, will contend with Zion, and plead with her strong ones, and chasten her until she overcomes and is clean before me.
verse 36 “I, the Lord, will contend with Zion” The Lord announces his intention of chastening the saints in Missouri for their sins and their rebellion. He will not shirk the unpleasant duty of disciplining his own people when necessary (see D&C 97:25-26; 100:13; 101:2-10).
37 For she shall not be removed out of her place. I, the Lord, have spoken it. Amen.
verse 37 “For she [Zion] shall not be removed” At first, this declaration might seem to contradict the historical facts, since the saints were forcibly removed not only from Jackson County but eventually from all of Missouri. However, the meaning here is that Jackson County, Missouri, is and always will be the location of the center place of Zion (see D&C 57:1-3). All the prophecies about the physical Zion will be literally fulfilled, though not in the time frame the early saints envisioned. According to D&C 101:17-20: “Zion shall not be moved out of her place, notwithstanding her children are scattered. . . . And, behold, there is none other place appointed than that which I have appointed; neither shall there be any other place appointed than that which I have appointed, for the work of the gathering of my saints.” In the Lord’s own due time, Zion will be redeemed and established where and how he has declared it.
Brief Historical Setting
Meanwhile, Joseph continued with the revision of the Bible. In March of 1833, he finished with the Old Testament and wondered if he should revise the Old Testament apocryphal books—those fourteen books of doubtful authenticity which were found in all Bible versions prior to the early 1800s, including the King James Bible. The Lord told him not to include them in his revision [D&C 91 -The Apocrypha].
- Michael J. Preece