DC 51 Historical Background
"In April 1831, approximately sixty members of the Colesville branch, representing about fifteen families, traveled by wagon to Ithaca, New York, on the southern shore of the Cayuga Lake. One observer said that as some of the group passed by her father's farm with their ox-driven covered wagons, she was reminded of a western immigrant train... After congregating near the lake, the Colesville Saints traveled via the Cayuga and Seneca canals to the Erie Canal, then along this major canal to Buffalo. Because bitter winds off Lake Erie had prevented the winter ice in Buffalo's harbor from thawing, most of the Colesville Saints were delayed for several weeks. Though a few proceeded overland to Dunkirk and then took a steamer to Fairport, Ohio, most waited until a schooner was able to leave the harbor. These Saints then proceeded southwest to Fairport, arriving May 14. When they reached Kirtland, they were instructed to settle in Thompson, about sixteen miles northeast of Kirtland, on land owned by Leman Copley, a recent convert." (Milton V. Backman, Jr., The Heavens Resound: A History of the Latter-day Saints in Ohio, 1830-1838 [Salt Lake City: Desert Book Co., 1983], 45 - 46.)
Edward Partridge, as bishop of the young church, wondered how and where these saints were to settle. Already, many members from other New York congregations had come to Kirtland-it seemed as if the small town was already bursting at the seams. Edward Partridge's daughter described the scene.
"The Saints began to gather to Kirtland from all parts of the country where the gospel had been preached; and as we lived about three miles from the landing, our house made a good stopping place for the Saints, and we had more or less of them stopping there from that time on while we remained in Ohio. The barn loft was filled with boxes of goods belonging to the Saints. And how I did wish I could see what was in those boxes, but they were nailed up tight and not a crack left to peep in." (Emily Dow Partridge Smith Young, Autobiography, BYU Special Collections, Writings of Early Latter-day Saints, 6.)
Section 51 would reveal the terms by which the Colesville saints would settle in Thompson. In response to the Lord's command that those with land should "impart to the eastern brethren" (D&C 48:2), Leman Copley covenanted to have these saints settle on his 759 acre farm. But what would be the terms of such an arrangement? Would the Colesville saints buy the land from Brother Copley? Would Leman be expected to donate his land to the Church?
As usual, the Lord's answer was to act according to celestial principles. The concepts of consecration and stewardship are here introduced in very literal and practical ways.
"The law of consecration and stewardship was not an easy principle for many of the Saints to accept and live. Although the law was mainly practiced in Missouri, the first attempt to live it was near Kirtland in Thompson, Ohio. The difficulty in living the law is exemplified by events that took place when members of the Colesville Branch in New York arrived in the Kirtland area and went to live on Leman Copley's farm in Thompson.
"... When Bishop Partridge attempted to implement the law of consecration... conflicts arose. Though Leman Copley was willing at first to share his farm, within two months he rescinded his offer, leaving many of the Saints without a home.
"Newel Knight and other elders went to Joseph Smith for guidance, and the Prophet subsequently received a revelation in which he was told that inasmuch as the law of stewardship and consecration 'has been broken, even so it has become void and of none effect.' (D&C 54:4.) The members of the Colesville Branch were told to join the Saints who were gathering in Missouri. Joseph Knight Jr. recalled, 'We had to leave his [Copley's] farm and pay sixty dollars damage for fitting up his houses and planting his ground.' The group left for Missouri on July 3, 1831." (Karl Ricks Anderson, Joseph Smith's Kirtland [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1989], 131 - 132.)
DC 51:1-2 it must needs be that he receive directions how to organize this people
The Lord gave his servant, Edward Partridge, the first Bishop of this Church, revelations and important instructions in reference to organizing a Branch of the Church into the United Order in that township [of Thompson, Ohio]. And Edward Partridge needed these instructions, because it might well be understood that he, of himself, would not be able to understand the mind and will of God touching what was required according to the principles of the celestial law. Therefore, the Lord told him it was necessary that he should receive instructions in those principles. And he gave him instructions, and told him that it was necessary that the people should be organized there according to his law, otherwise they should be cut off. And he told him, furthermore, that it was their privilege to be organized according to the celestial law, that they might be united upon these principles. (Roy W. Doxey, comp., Latter-day Prophets and the Doctrine and Covenants [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978], 2: 177.)
DC 51:3 appoint unto this people their portions, every man equal according to his family, according to his circumstances
"Every man is to be made a steward over his own property or that which he has received by consecration, as much as is sufficient for himself and family. Said a revelation:
Wherefore, let my servant Edward Partridge, and those whom he has chosen, in whom I am well pleased, appoint unto this people their portions, every man equal according to his family, according to his circumstances and his wants and his needs. (D&C 51:3.)
"Here we see that there were certain rules of judgment to be set up in delegating stewardships. For example, a person with a large family would certainly need a larger stewardship than a man with a small family. This is not a program whereby the community is going to come in and take over the family responsibilities. The husband himself must assume these responsibilities, but the community does stand responsible to see that he has a sufficiently large stewardship so that he can care for his family and loved ones. So a person having a larger family would then, in the normal course of delegating stewardship, receive a larger stewardship.
"If a person were a farmer, he might be delegated forty, sixty, eighty, or whatever acreage he needed. However, suppose a person were going into one of the professions which took a lot of economic backing to get started and properly established. You would have a difference of circumstance, and the Law of Consecration provides that such circumstances are a decisive factor in the delegation of a stewardship." (Hyrum L. Andrus, Doctrinal Themes of the Doctrine and Covenants [Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1964], 53-54)
J. Reuben Clark, Jr.
Obviously, this is not a case of "dead level" equality. It is "equality" that will vary as much as the man's circumstances, his family, his wants and needs, may vary. (Conference Report, October 4, 1942, p. 55.)
The First Presidency
When the perfect law of God shall be instituted, a state of things very much more perfect than that which we now have will be introduced; and, while every man will be expected to hold himself, and every thing that he has, subject to the law of God... when he has done this, he will have awarded to him by those authorities that portion which the wisest counsels shall dictate and then will have appointed to him a stewardship, for the management of all his own affairs, placed under his jurisdiction, wherein he will have the free exercise of his own will and judgment, subject, of course, to all legitimate and necessary counsel...
This is a simple outline of how things will exist with regard to some of these matters, when the law of God shall be fully carried out. Our relations with the world, and our own imperfections prevent the establishment of this system at the present time, and therefore, as was stated by Joseph in an early day, it can not yet be carried out. (John Taylor, George Q. Cannon, Joseph F. Smith, Latter-day Prophets and the Doctrine and Covenants, comp. by Roy W. Doxey, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978], 2: 180.)
DC 51:3 according to his circumstances and his wants and needs
The idea with the law of consecration is to donate all one's possessions to the Bishop and then receive back from him a stewardship. This idea can be somewhat frightening. One might imagine that the Bishop might not be as generous as perhaps the member thinks he ought to be. But the Bishop is to respond not just to the needs of the individual but also "according to the wants of" (v. 8) the individual-"inasmuch as his wants are just" (D&C 82:17). How else could the law be fair and just?
The matter of consecration must be done by the mutual consent of both parties; for to give the Bishop power to say how much every man shall have, and he be obliged to comply with the Bishop's judgment, is giving to the Bishop more power than a king has; and upon the other hand, to let every man say how much he needs, and the Bishop be obliged to comply with his judgment, is to throw Zion into confusion, and make a slave of the Bishop. The fact is, there must be a balance or equilibrium of power, between the Bishop and the people, and thus harmony and good will may be preserved among you. (History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1: 364 - 365.)
DC 51:4 give unto him a writing that shall secure unto him his portion
"A written title or deed was issued that satisfied the requirements of civil law and secured to an individual the rights of private ownership of property. The importance of such written agreements is evident when it is remembered that people had their agency to leave the united order. A written contract between the bishop and the individual secured the terms of the agreement when the person entered the order (see D&C 51:6). So, even though a person acknowledged that all property ultimately belongs to God, for legal and practical purposes his deeded portion became his private property. It did not belong to the Church. This arrangement was true of the initial inheritance of land and buildings given to each person in the order; any surplus earned from one's stewardship was given to the Church.
'The plan was that everybody should transfer his property to the Bishop. Then the Bishop should deed back whatever each one needed. This was his stewardship. The surplus was to be retained by the Bishop for the benefit of those who, through sickness or age, were unable to contribute their share to the common fund of labor. If anyone transgressed and was counted unworthy of membership in the Church, he also lost his standing in the society, but in that case he was to retain the property deeded to him, but have maintenance of the poor and needy' (Smith and Sjodahl, Commentary, p. 298)
"People who chose to withdraw from the order often ended up with bitter feelings against the Church. Handling the transactions through legally constituted means provided protection for both the individual and the Church.
'In the community there would always be some who would wish to draw out and, perhaps, embarrass the rest by lawsuits, or otherwise. In order to prevent such designs, just and equitable provisions were to be made and secured by legal agreements.' (Smith and Sjodahl, Commentary, 298.)" (Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, [Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981], 111)
DC 51:5-6 thus all things shall be made sure, according to the laws of the land
"As originally received, Doctrine and Covenants 51 directed the Saints to legally deed over all their property and possessions to the bishop as agent for the Church. Stewardships would then be appointed back to them, but legal title to their stewardship remained with the bishop. Should a steward over consecrated property leave the Church, he could therefore take nothing of his original property with him. This was all in accordance with the law of the Lord given earlier (see D&C 42:30-32).
"In March 1833, however, a Missouri court held that irrevocably deeding all of one's property to the Church was not a practice that should be allowed, since it conflicted with the court's views of fairness and its understanding of the intent of British common law. The Missouri court ordered that property formerly consecrated to the Church be returned to its original owner, in this specific case an apostate member named Bates. Since the intent of section 51 was that all aspects of consecration should be strictly legal, Joseph revised the wording of the revelation to accommodate the court's decision by deleting the verse between the present verses 2-3 that instructed Edward Partridge to retain legal title to consecrated properties. Joseph also added verse 5, which clarifies that stewardships are the private property of their stewards." (Stephen E. Robinson, H. Dean Garrett, A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2001] 2:111)
Subsequent to the legal ruling, a dissenting individual leaving the Church was allowed to take with him the property deeded back to him by the Bishop. He could not have claim on the surplus that he had donated to the Bishop's storehouse. This was to be treated as charitable donation to the Church (see v. 5).
"The earliest printing also implied that anyone who left the law of consecration could take none of his property with him. The 1835 version modified the wording slightly and a later revelation clearly stated that the one who left could claim the property which had been deeded him by the bishop after his original consecration, so that 'all things shall be made sure, according to the laws of the land.' These clarifications were needed because of the legal circumstances in which the Church found itself. They were functional in nature and in no way affected the basic principles of consecration and stewardship that lay behind this important commandment of the Lord." (James B. Allen, "Line upon Line," Ensign, July 1979, 34)
DC 51:9 let every man deal honestly and be alike among this people, and receive alike
Imagine dishonest individuals trying to live the law as revealed in this section. They are not satisfied with their inheritance. They lie about their surplus. They keep a portion of their earnings from the Bishop contrary to the law.
In a previous dispensation, the Lord showed how he feels about those who attempt to live this law in a deceitful manner.
...a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession,
And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles' feet.
But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?
Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.
And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things. (Acts 5:1-5)
Marion G. Romney
We know that the ills of this troubled world have come about because men have failed to do what the Lord has commanded them. This applies to economic problems as well as to all other ills. We know also that the only cure for them is to do all things whatsoever the Lord our God commands us.
We know that the day will come when "every man" shall share equally in the good things of earth, "according to his family, according to his circumstances and his wants and needs." (D&C 51:3.) We also know that attaining such equality must await the time when all men willingly work to sustain themselves and, motivated by love for their fellowmen, liberally "impart" of their substance unto the poor and the needy, "according to the law of [the] gospel." (D&C 104:18.) ("In Mine Own Way," Ensign, Nov. 1976, 124)
DC 51:9 that ye may be one even as I have commanded you
"'If ye are not one,' said a revelation, 'ye are not mine.' (D&C 38:27.) Again, from another revelation: 'Let every man deal honestly, and be alike among this people, and receive alike, that ye may be one, even as I have commanded you.' (D&C 51:9.) Joseph Smith considered that such union was obviously necessary to promote the best interests of men. Said he, 'The greatest temporal and spiritual blessings which always flow from faithfulness and concerted effort never attend individual exertion or enterprise.' It was to be expected that the message of Mormonism would appeal to those with true fraternal instincts. Brigham Young explained, 'The Gospel is designed to gather a people that will be of one heart and of one mind.' And having gathered them, the system commenced to mold them to its standard of social union. Said Orson Pratt: 'There is no law, statute, ordinance, covenant, nor blessing, but what was instituted to make the Saints one.'" (Hyrum L. Andrus, Mormonism and the Rise of Western Civilization [Provo: BYU Extension Publications, 1966], 34 - 35.)
DC 51:11 if another church would receive money of this church...
Of all the settlers in the Kirtland area, the Colesville branch was the most cohesive. Since these members were settling as a unit on consecrated lands in Thompson, other branches of the church, whether in Kirtland or elsewhere, could borrow money as an interest free loan, but they were not entitled to the properties which belonged to this group. This pattern of financial sovereignty may well be re-established when the saints rebuild the New Jerusalem.
DC 51:13 let the bishop appoint a storehouse unto this church
Ezra Taft Benson
The Lord, by revelation, has commanded that storehouses be established. The surpluses, or "residue," from the consecrated properties under the united order were to be kept in the storehouses "to administer to the poor and the needy." (D&C 42:34.) Later, the Lord instructed that the Presiding Bishop "appoint a storehouse unto this church; and let all things both in money and in [food], which are more than is needful for the wants of this people, be kept in the hands of the bishop." (D&C 51:13.)
Today there are seventy-eight bishops storehouses in the Church storehouse system. These storehouses are used for almost the identical purpose they were used for under the united order. Members consecrate their time and talents and means to produce, process, package, manufacture, and purchase commodities to care for those in need. To stock these storehouses, members of more than 3,000 Latter-day Saint wards throughout the Church participate in production and processing projects producing vegetables, grains, fruits, and other food and nonfood items. Some of these commodities are sold on the open market to pay operating costs. The balance of these commodities are kept in and distributed through the storehouse system to those in need. Total assistance through storehouses during 1976 amounted to several millions of dollars.
Our bishops storehouses are not intended to stock enough commodities to care for all the members of the Church. Storehouses are only established to care for the poor and the needy. For this reason, members of the Church have been instructed to personally store a year's supply of food, clothing, and, where possible, fuel. By following this counsel, most members will be prepared and able to care for themselves and their family members, and be able to share with others as may be needed. ("Ministering to Needs through the Lord's Storehouse System," Ensign, May 1977, 82)
DC 51:14 he shall be employed in doing this business
Edward Partridge was one of the very first Church employees. He received compensation for services as the Church's first Bishop-just as General Authorities are freed from career demands in order to focus on the Lord's work. The thousands of individuals currently employed by the ever-growing church can feel a kinship to this faithful brother.
DC 51:16-17 I consecrate unto them this land for a little season... [but]...let them act upon this land as for years
The idea that the saints were to build up a New Jerusalem had already been revealed, and the location of Zion would soon been revealed (D&C 57:1-3). The Lord made it clear to the Kirtland saints that they would have to move again. Later in 1831, the Lord revealed that he intended to have a stronghold "in the land of Kirtland, for the space of five years." (D&C 64:21) Nonetheless, the Lord wanted them to work as if they were going to be there for years. He wanted them to improve their lands, to build their homes, to work as craftsmen and farmers.
Therefore, the Lord was not too happy with Leman Copley when he reneged on his commitment to the Colesville saints, "as the covenant which they (speaking primarily of Leman Copley and Ezra Thayre) made unto me has been broken, even so it has become void and of none effect. And wo to him by whom this offense cometh, for it had been better for him that he had been drowned in the depth of the sea." (D&C 54:4-5)
The actual time that the Colesville saints stayed in the Thompson area was less than two months. "The members of the Colesville Branch were told to join the Saints who were gathering in Missouri. Joseph Knight Jr. recalled, 'We had to leave his [Copley's] farm and pay sixty dollars damage for fitting up his houses and planting his ground.' The group left for Missouri on July 3, 1831." (Karl Ricks Anderson, Joseph Smith's Kirtland [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1989], 131 - 132.)
DC 51:19 a wise steward shall enter into the joy of his Lord, and shall inherit eternal life
Gordon B. Hinckley
We know that someday we must stand before our Master and give an accounting of our stewardship. I hope and pray that we may do so without embarrassment or excuse. And I hope that we shall not be found to have been wanting in our sincerity, in our devotion, in our effort to handle well and faithfully the responsibility given us by the Lord. (Phoenix Arizona North/West Regional Conference, January 13, 1991.)
"And whoso is found a faithful, a just, and a wise steward shall enter into the joy of his Lord, and shall inherit eternal life" (D&C 51:19). Those words intrigue me. "A faithful, a just, and a wise steward." Every man here has a stewardship for others- faithful, just, and wise. Faithful in all he is asked to do. Just, even-handed, considerate of all for whom he has responsibility. Wise, with that wisdom which comes from the Lord. I would like to suggest that one verse to you as something you could write out and put on the mirror so that every morning you will see it and think of it and ponder it in terms of your responsibility. (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997], 613.)