DC 54 Historical Background
"Leman Copley owned 759 acres of land in Thompson, Ohio. When Leman joined the Church, he agreed at first to share his land in Thompson with the Saints who were arriving from the East. The agreement apparently was that Leman would consecrate half of his farm and sell the other half to the Church at fair terms. When Leman returned, however, from the Shaker mission that he himself had enthusiastically proposed but which was unsuccessful, he appeared to have been somewhat 'shaken' himself, and he began to wonder if his former church was not right after all and the restored Church wrong.
"To make matters worse, when Leman returned to Thomposon many of the members there, people who were living on his land through his generosity, blamed him for deceiving them with the hope of converting the Shakers and would not 'own him for one of them.'
"When Bishop Edward Partridge began to divide up Leman's farm on the principles of consecration (see D&C 42, 51) according to the earlier agreement, Leman, who had not yet legally conveyed his property to the Church, withdrew his offer. In the bitter exchanges that followed, Leman ordered the Colesville Saints off his land. He also charged them rent for the time they had lived there, despite the fact that they had planted his fields, built fences and made other major improvements to the property." (Stephen E. Robinson, H. Dean Garrett, A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2001] 2:127-128)
"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.
"Leman Copley left the Church and did considerable damage by testifying falsely against Joseph Smith in a lawsuit in Chardon, Ohio, in 1834. In the spring of 1836, after the Kirtland Temple was completed, Copley returned to the Prophet, confessed his wrongdoing, and asked for forgiveness, which the Prophet said 'was readily granted,' adding that Copley 'wished to be received into the Church again, by baptism, and was received according to his desire, (but he would fall away yet again).'" (Karl Ricks Anderson, Joseph Smith's Kirtland [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1989], 131 - 132.)
DC 54:3 if your brethren desire to escape their enemies, let them repent
"Newel Knight was informed in this revelation that 'If your brethren desire to escape their enemies, let them repent of all their sins, and become truly humble before me and contrite. (D&C 54:3) In speaking of the enemies that the Latter-day Saints should fear, President Joseph F. Smith has said:
For my part I do not fear the influence of our enemies from without, as I fear that of those from within. An open and avowed enemy, whom we may see and meet in an open field, is far less to be feared than a lurking deceitful, treacherous enemy hidden within us, such as are many of the weaknesses of our fallen human nature, which are too often allowed to go unchecked, beclouding our minds, leading away our affections from God and his truth, until they sap the very foundations of our faith and debase us beyond the possibility or hope of redemption, either in this world or that to come. These are the enemies that we all have to battle with, they are the greatest that we have to contend with in the world, and the most difficult to conquer. They are the fruits of ignorance, generally arising out of unrebuked sin and evil in our own hearts. The labor that is upon us is to subdue our passions, conquer our inward foes, and see that our hearts are right in the sight of the Lord, that there is nothing calculated to grieve his Spirit and lead us away from the path of duty. (Gospel Doctrine, p. 341.)
"The enemies of the Saints were not only the sins of which they were guilty, but also there were enemies who would, if possible, inflict many kinds of persecutions upon them. In order for them to 'escape' from their enemies, their lives would have to conform to the commandments. This principle reminds us that escape from those who would inflict physical and mental persecution upon the Saints is, in a large measure, dependent upon how well the Saints have kept the commandments. Examples from The Book of Mormon are many; in fact, the theme of Nephite history is that blessings of prosperity and peace come to the faithful. (Mosiah, Chapters 21 and 22.)
"It is a true principle that the way of happiness and escape from inward as well as outward enemies is by keeping the commandments. Full obedience to the Lord is in overcoming evil and living not as the world lives." (Roy W. Doxey, The Doctrine and Covenants Speaks [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1964], 1: 378.)
Boyd K. Packer
Keep your covenants and you will be safe. Break them and you will not. ("Covenants," Ensign, Nov. 1990, 84)
DC 54:4 the covenant which they made unto me has been broken
Boyd K. Packer
Beware of covenant-breakers inside the Church and out. Beware of those who mock the prophets. When you have been to the temple you are under covenant to support the leaders of the Church, your local officers and the General Authorities. Keep your covenants. Keep your faith. Be loyal. (The Holy Temple [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980], 168.)
God expects you to be true to your vows, to be true to yourselves, and to be true to your wives and children. If you become covenant breakers, you will be dealt with according to the laws of God. And the men presiding over you have no other alternative than to bring the covenant breaker to judgment. If they fail to do their duty, we shall be under the necessity of looking after them, for righteousness and purity must be maintained in our midst. (G. Homer Durham, The Gospel Kingdom: Selections from the Writings and Discourses of John Taylor, 285.)
DC 54:5 wo to him by whom this offense cometh
Spencer W. Kimball
The wreck of a plane, killing a hundred people; the sinking of a vessel, drowning a thousand; the killing of a million in a great world war would be nothing compared to your losing your membership, your priesthood, your blessings. They might never be restored to you. Men who die may live again, but when the spiritual death is total, it were better that a man were never born.
I feel sometimes like severely lecturing men and women who enter into covenants without realizing the nature of the covenants they make, and who use little or no effort to fulfill them. (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, edited by Edward L. Kimball [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982], 503.)
DC 54:6 blessed are they who have kept the covenant and observed the commandment
I say, O! ye Latter-day Saints, cease your wickedness; serve the Lord with all your hearts, and keep your covenants with God and your brethren. Then we shall gain the victory, and our warfare very soon will come to a close. We will gain the upper hand of the enemy and subdue our foe, and find ourselves in heaven with our families and friends. (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886], 1: 245.)
The First Presidency
Give heed unto the whisperings of the Spirit of the Lord your God. Be ye filled with the Holy Ghost; let your peace flow like unto a river, without let or hindrance; be merciful and kind to the stranger, and forbearing to each other; be faithful to keep your covenants and abide the trial of your faith. Be humble before the Lord your God, and keep His commandments, and the veil of the covering will be raised, and the vision of your minds will be opened, and your hearts will be filled with joy and rejoicing from day to day. (BRIGHAM YOUNG, HEBER C. KIMBALL JEDEDIAH M. GRANT, Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, comp. by James R. Clark, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-75), 2: 143.)
DC 54:8 journey into the regions westward, unto the land of Missouri
"Revelation given through the Prophet Joseph to Newel Knight sent them 'westward, unto the land of Missouri, unto the borders of the Lamanites.' (D&C 54:8) They arrived in Independence on 25 July 1831 and helped the Prophet 'lay the first log as a foundation for Zion in Kaw township, twelve miles west of Independence,' on 2 August 1831. Newel notes that the first log 'was carried by twelve men in honor of the twelve tribes of Israel.' At least five of those twelve were Colesville Saints and members of the Knight family: Joseph Knight, Sr., Aaron Culver, Hezekiah Peck, Ezekial Peck, and Freeborn DeMill. Newel Knight stood with a small group clustered around the Prophet the next day when he dedicated the temple site in Independence.
"Mother Knight had been seriously ill on her journey to Jackson County, but refused to give in to her sickness, even though Newel, deeply concerned, bought lumber to have on hand for her coffin while they travelled. But 'her greatest desire,' he says, 'was to set her feet upon the land of Zion and to have her body intered in that land. ... The Lord gave her the desire of her heart.'
"She was the first Latter-day Saint to die in Missouri, and the Prophet preached her funeral sermon on August 7. Father Knight's record contains a poignant notation: 'She was Burried in the woods a Spot Chosen out By our selves. I was along By where she was Buried a few Days after and I found the hogs had Began to root where She was Buried. I Being verry unwell But I took my ax the next Day and went and Bilt a pen round it. It was the Last I done for her.'
"She was the first to die but not the last. Her daughter Esther soon followed her, then their uncle Aaron Culver, leaving his wife, Esther, in Newel's care. Newel's record shows no complaint. He simply says that the frontier life was 'new and strange ... yet we took hold with cheerful hearts, and a determination to do our best.' Conferences with the Prophet Joseph left them feeling 'renewed in spirit.'" (Larry Porter, "The Joseph Knight Family," Ensign, Oct. 1978, 43)
DC 54:9 seek ye a living like unto men
The saints had tried it the Lord's way and failed. Now, they would be commanded to go back to the world's way, "seeking a living like unto men."