Section 61

DC 61 Historical Background

"After leaving Independence, Missouri, on 9 August 1831, the Prophet and his party traveled down the Missouri River to Fort Osage, where they spent the first night. Two days later (11 August) an accident occurred: The canoe in which the Prophet and Sidney Rigdon were riding ran into a tree lodged and bobbing in the river. The canoe was upset, and the occupants almost drowned. With this near tragedy, the party of eleven decided to land and encamp at a place called McIlwaine's Bend, some 100 miles from Independence. The location of McIlwaine's Bend is near present-day Miami, Saline County, Missouri [see map 5, latest edition of maps]." (Lyndon W. Cook, The Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith: A Historical and Biographical Commentary of the Doctrine and Covenants [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985], 96 - 97.)

Joseph Smith

On the 9th, in company with ten Elders, I left Independence landing for Kirtland. We started down the river in canoes, and went the first way as far as Fort Osage, where we had an excellent wild turkey for supper. Nothing very important occurred till the third day, when many of the dangers so common upon the western waters, manifested themselves; and after we had encamped upon the bank of the river, at McIlwaine's Bend, Brother Phelps, in open vision by daylight, saw the destroyer in his most horrible power, ride upon the face of the waters; others heard the noise, but saw not the vision.

The next morning after prayer, I received [D&C 61]. (History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1: 203.)

DC 61:2  I, the Lord, forgive sins, and am merciful unto those who confess their sins with humble hearts

"We must continually come before the Lord in prayer and fasting and confession of our sins. The Lord, in speaking to ten elders traveling back to Kirtland, addressed them as 'elders of my church, who are assembled upon this spot, whose sins are now forgiven you, for I, the Lord, forgive sins, and am merciful unto those who confess their sins with humble hearts' (D&C 61:2). Those elders were probably tired and weary from their travels, so how these words must have lightened their spirits, showing us once again that the Lord is mindful and merciful to those who love him and keep his commandments! We must never be discouraged or feel unworthy to the extent that we do not believe the Lord will hear our prayers.

"Each day as I serve in the temple, I feel the spirit of those around me and believe they are among those to whom the Lord has offered his forgiveness because of their love and devotion. If we are truly humble and repentant, the Savior will accept us despite our frailties and weakness, and the day will come when he will say to us as he said to Joseph: 'I am the Lord thy God, and will be with thee even unto the end of the world, and through all eternity; for verily I seal upon you your exaltation, and prepare a throne for you in the kingdom of my Father' (D&C 132:49).

"The Savior gave his life and atoned for our sins so that through the sacrifice of his blood we may be forgiven and be spotless before him. If we remain faithful in keeping the Lord's commandments, we can receive assurances that our sins are forgiven." (Gerald E. Melchin, "Thy Sins Are Forgiven," Ensign, Jan. 1995, 21)

Ronald E. Poelman

Through the centuries, many have received great joy and peace of mind through understanding and accepting the Lord's forgiveness. Yet, many others apparently continue to bear the burden of guilt, remorse, and self-doubt because of an incomplete understanding... of our Father's plan of redemption and mercy. Those so burdened may unnecessarily struggle through life without the joy and peace of mind which are the intended result of true repentance and divine forgiveness.

One who assumes that he can or must pay the price for his sins and thereby earn divine forgiveness will not feel free to continue progress toward realizing his divine potential, that is, eternal life. ("Divine Forgiveness," Ensign, Nov. 1993, 84)

DC 61:3 it is not needful for this whole be moving upon the waters

"That scripture has a modern-day application. We should not become so busy, as we move swiftly down the 'waters of life' that we neglect those on the shore, either members of our families or our neighbors who may be perishing and are in need of our help." (Take Time To Make Time, LDS Church News, 1996, 11/09/96)

Franklin D. Richards

Just as it was unnecessary for all of the elders to be moving swiftly upon the waters, so it is with us-it is not necessary to do many unessential things that keep us busy but result in little or no real benefit to anyone. (Conference Report, October 1964, Afternoon Meeting 77.)

DC 61:5 I, the Lord have decreed...many destructions...especially upon these waters

There have been many disasters along the course of the rivers of North America. Apparently, many more await us. Elder Roberts relates one of the most impressive events which occurred primarily in Missouri and Kansas in 1903.

B.H. Roberts

This prediction concerning the destruction upon the waters, and more especially upon the waters upon which these men were then traveling, was uttered seventy-two years ago, and from time to time there has been great destruction wrought by the Missouri and its tributaries; but more especially in the events of the present year of 1903 has the truth of this remarkable prediction of the "Mormon" prophet and the vision of Elder W. W. Phelps been vindicated. For weeks, during the last days of May and the early days of June, the press of the country teemed with reports of the destruction wrought in the localities especially referred to in the prediction just quoted. High water trouble began on the Lower Mississippi as early as the month of March...A few weeks later, points in Kansas and Missouri became the flooded region, and the disasters are thus described by an eastern journal:

The floods that wrought so much havoc along the Kansas and Missouri rivers have now subsided, so that their direful results can be calmly calculated by the authorities of the many cities and towns relieved from the awful strain of the three days of death and devastation.

Minds unclouded by the fear of pending disaster look upon wretched homes and hopes, fearful loss of life, blotting out of families, irreparable wrenching apart of parents and children, brother and sister, sweetheart and betrothed, and finally, upon the terrible commercial loss that is represented in figures that climb close to the quarter of a billion mark.

Kansas City and Topeka suffered the most serious losses in lives and property, although all along the course of the Kansas, or, as it is locally called, the Kaw river, the damage was great, and in many of the riverside towns there was a loss of life from the sudden encroachment of the angry waters.

The physical conditions against which the submerged cities had to battle during the height of the flood are thus briefly summarized:

Train service annulled.

Waterworks shut down.

Street cars stopped.

Fire companies paralyzed.

Electric light plants out of business.

Not a manufacturing plant in operation.

Wholesale mercantile district submerged under fifteen feet of water.

Water rushing through streets like mill races.

Fires breaking out in spots in the flooded district.

Kansas City, Kan., and the nearby towns, suffered most. The towns of Armourdale, Argentine and Harlem have been completely wiped off the map, and are now lying submerged by the widening river. No living human being remains in the unfortunate towns.

Kansas City, Kan., was cut off for three days from communication with the outside world except by trolley to Leavenworth, from which point relief was rushed to the stricken city. The population of 20,000 was starving, and fought like wild beasts for the 100,000 rations that were hurried to them from the fort.

...Families caught by the floods in their homes fled to the roofs of houses and cried for help. Their destitute situation was apparent from the highlands, but there was no way to reach them... Some daring rescues were made, but hundreds were perforce left to the. mercy of the flood. Men and women could be seen clinging to the roofs of houses until hunger and exhaustion drove them into frenzy, when one by one they slipped off into the raging flood, which whirled away their bodies to cast them up on the shores below." (The Fulfilment of a Prophecy., Improvement Era, 1903, Vol. Vi. August, 1903. No. 10)

DC 61:6 he that is faithful among you shall not perish by the waters

Vaughn J. Featherstone

Through the ages men have blessed and cursed the waters. Rivers and streams can be a thing of beauty far beyond our power to paint or describe. They can bring peace and serenity as they cascade over rocks and logs, ever moving on. Conversely, who has not sat by a radio or TV set horrified at the devastation wrought by flood waters on the rampage. We have seen homes washed from their foundations and have seen cars and trucks tumbled like toys before great waves of water.

Can Latter-day Saints enjoy the water and still have a profound respect for its powers of destruction? I think they can. It has been my privilege to float down many of the rivers in the western United States and in Mexico. Many times I have been questioned concerning the 61st section of the Doctrine and Covenants: (quotes D&C 61:3-6, 14, 16-19)

This scripture may be the cause of great concern among those who would consider river running or a kayak trip down one of the major rivers. One of the problems many of us have is that we lose our perspective. To my way of thinking our Savior created few things more beautiful than lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams, which beautify and give variety to the face of the earth.

...There is an element of physical danger when you go down any river. There is an element of danger rappelling down cliffs or water skiing. Yet I would ten times rather have my boys face physical danger on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River than I would have them drag the streets of the city where vile and filthy temptations lurk at every corner and where their spiritual lives are in danger. ("Adventure of White Water River Running," New Era, June 1974, 18-22)

DC 61:7-12 it is expedient that my servant Sidney Gilbert and my servant William W. Phelps be in haste upon their errand and mission

"These two brethren, who had to move their families from Kirtland to Independence (see D&C 55:5), were still to hurry home and complete those arrangements as quickly as possible. As business agent and printer respectively, they also had to arrange for the purchase of a printing press in Cincinnati and its transport to Independence. The rest of the elders were to take only what they needed for clothing, while Sidney Gilbert, as the Lord's agent (see D&C 57:6), was to take the rest of their combined temporal resources directly to Kirtland." (Stephen E. Robinson, H. Dean Garrett, A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2001] 2:177-178)

DC 61:14 in the last days, by the mouth of my servant John, I cursed the waters

One of the apocalyptic destructions pronounced upon the wicked at the end of the world is a cursing of the waters. In scriptural history, we are not left without precedent. The destructions which occurred in Egypt at the hand of Moses are a type of the destructions to occur at the end of the world. Moses was instructed to warn Pharaoh as follows:

   "I will smite with the rod that is in mine hand upon the waters which are in the river, and they shall be turned to blood.

   And the fish that is in the river shall die, and the river shall stink; and the Egyptians shall lothe to drink of the water of the river.

   And the LORD spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and stretch out thine hand upon the waters of Egypt, upon their streams, upon their rivers, and upon their ponds, and upon all their pools of water, that they may become blood; and that there may be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood, and in vessels of stone.

    And Moses and Aaron did so, as the LORD commanded; and he lifted up the rod, and smote the waters that were in the river, in the sight of Pharaoh, and in the sight of his servants; and all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood.

   And the fish that was in the river died; and the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink of the water of the river; and there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt." (Ex. 7:17-21)

Now consider the curses prophesied by John:

"a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood;
And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed.
And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters;
And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter." (Rev. 8:8-11)

"And the second angel poured out his vial upon the sea; and it became as the blood of a dead man: and every living soul died in the sea.
And the third angel poured out his vial upon the rivers and fountains of waters; and they became blood." (Rev. 16:3-4)

DC 61:15-16 the days will come that no flesh shall be safe upon the waters

Some prophecies are harder than others to imagine. Sometimes, we lack the spirit of revelation to really comprehend the words of prophecy.  We are told that the waterways around Zion will be so dangerous that only the righteous will be able to use them without peril. It is hard to imagine what could happen to the Missouri and Mississippi rivers to make them so dangerous, but we can be assured that the prophecy will be fulfilled to the very letter.

The world wars were times of great peril for ocean travelers. Elders Orson F. Whitney and Joseph L. Wirthlin have seen partial fulfillment of this prophecy in the events of the first and second world wars, respectively.

Orson F. Whitney

"No flesh shall be safe upon the waters." Isn't that time almost here? Even upon the calm Pacific no ship dares to pursue consecutively the same track twice. The companies operating the great ocean liners no longer announce the dates of departure from one port, or of expected arrival at another. They dare not. The destroyer is abroad, death is in the depths, and the spirit of dread broods upon the bosom of the waters. And this upon the comparatively peaceful Western Ocean. Upon the Atlantic, in the Mediterranean, and in the North Sea, the terrible submarine tells the tale of danger and disaster. (Conference Report, October 1917, Second Day-Morning Session 53.)

Joseph L. Wirthlin

An examination of daily events upon the oceans of the earth might well indicate that the days are here when no flesh shall be safe upon the waters. Hundreds of thousands of tons of shipping have been sent to the bottom of the sea, involving the loss of thousands of lives. Again the question comes to our minds, how was it possible for Joseph Smith in 1831 to forecast a situation in the future wherein the waters would be unsafe for man? His answer is the only one-revelation from God, given to His servant. (Conference Report, April 1943, Third Day-Morning Meeting 121.)

DC 61:16 none is able to go up to the land of Zion...but he that is upright

LeGrand Richards

You will recall that in the early days of the gathering of the Saints it was considered as good as an insurance policy when a company of Latter-day Saints embarked on a vessel crossing the Atlantic. I recall reading in my grandfather's diary (i.e. Franklin D. Richards) of a time when the boat upon which he was sailing was in great jeopardy, so much so that the captain of the boat came to him and pleaded with him to intercede with the Lord in behalf of the boat and her passengers; and grandfather, remembering that he had been promised that he should have power over the elements, walked out on the deck of the boat and raised his hands to high heaven and rebuked the sea and the waves, and they were immediately calmed, and the appreciation of the captain of the boat was so great that he offered him the use of his private quarters during the balance of the journey. (Roy W. Doxey, comp., Latter-day Prophets and the Doctrine and Covenants [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978], 2: 283.)

DC 61:17 I, the Lord, in the beginning cursed the land

Joseph Fielding Smith

In the beginning the Lord blessed the waters and cursed the land, but in these last days this was reversed, the land was to be blessed and the waters to be cursed. A little reflection will bear witness to the truth of this declaration. In the early millenniums of this earth's history, men did not understand the composition of the soils, and how they needed building up when crops were taken from them. The facilities at the command of the people were primitive and limited, acreage under cultivation was limited, famines were prevalent and the luxuries which we have today were not obtainable. Some one may rise up and say that the soil in those days was just as productive as now, and this may be the case. It is not a matter of dispute, but the manner of cultivation did not lend itself to the abundant production which we are receiving today. It matters not what the causes were, in those early days of world history, there could not be the production, nor the varieties of fruits coming from the earth and the Lord can very properly speak of this as a curse, or the lack of blessing, upon the land. (Church History and Modern Revelation, 4 vols. [Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1946-1949], 1: 206 - 207.)

DC 61:19 the destroyer rideth upon the face thereof

Joseph Fielding Smith

These brethren while encamped at McIlwaine's Bend on the Missouri, beheld the power of the destroyer as he rode upon the storm. One of that number saw him in all his fearful majesty, and the Lord revealed to the entire group something of the power of this evil personage. It may seem strange to us, but it is the fact that Satan exercises dominion and has some control over the elements . . . Paul speaks of Satan as the "prince of the power of the air." (Eph.2:2) The Lord revealed to these brethren some of the power of the adversary of mankind and how he rides upon the storm, as a means of affording them protection. They were commanded to use judgment as they traveled upon these waters, and the saints coming to Zion were instructed to travel by land on their way up to Zion. Moreover, notwithstanding the great power of Satan upon the waters, the Lord still held command and he could protect his people whether on land or by water as they journeyed. (Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:207)

DC 61:20 I, the Lord, was angry with you yesterday, but today mine anger is turned away

B. H. Roberts

During the three days upon the river some disagreements and ill feeling had developed among the brethren and explanations and reconciliations had become necessary; it had also been discovered that progress on their journey by the river in canoes was slow, and hence it became necessary for those who had been appointed to purchase the printing press, Sidney Gilbert and William W. Phelps; and the Prophet, Sidney Rigdon, and Oliver Cowdery, who had been commanded to hasten their return to Kirtland, found it imperative to find a more expeditious means of travel than by the canoes. The greater part of the night at McIlwaine's Bend was devoted to these matters. The brethren became reconciled to each other, and those whose affairs more especially cried haste started overland the next morning for St. Louis, and the rest of the company continued the journey via the river. (A Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1930], 1: 262 - 263.)

DC 61:22 it mattereth not unto me, after a little...whether they go by water or by land

"As the language here clearly illustrates, Doctrine and Covenants 61 must not be understood as a strict prohibition against travel by water. The elders had become vulnerable to Satan's power over the waters only because of their murmuring, hard feelings, and lack of faith. Now that they had repented they were no longer vulnerable and could travel by water if necessary, as long as their missionary responsibilities were not neglected." (Stephen E. Robinson, H. Dean Garrett, A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2001] 2:180)

DC 61:23 the canal

"The Ohio canal, running north and south about thirty miles west of Kirtland, connected Lake Erie with Columbus, Ohio, and the Ohio River." (Stephen E. Robinson, H. Dean Garrett, A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2001] 2:180)

DC 61:27-28 power to command the waters

Power over the elements and the spirit of discernment, or the power "by the Spirit to know all" Satan's ways are both available through the Melchizedek Priesthood, "For God having sworn unto Enoch and unto his seed with an oath by himself; that every one being ordained after this order and calling should have power, by faith, to break mountains, to divide the seas, to dry up waters, to turn them out of their course." (JST Gen 15:30)  Had it been necessary, Joseph Smith could have dispensed with the destroyer binding him so that water travel was completely safe, but instead the Lord's intent was to instruct the brethren to be careful of Satan's traps and that they "might bear record" (v. 4) of destructions to come.

Bruce R. McConkie

Moses stretched forth his rod and the waters of the Red Sea parted. Whatever turbulence throbbed through their restless waves ceased at his word; the laws of gravity ceased to triumph and the very waters congealed, forming a wall on the right hand and on the left, between which the chosen seed then trod on dry ground. Enoch moved mountains and changed rivers from their courses. Elijah and Elisha smote the waters of Jordan with a holy mantle, and they divided hither and thither, leaving dry ground for their path. Unto the servants of the Lord "is given power to command the waters." (D&C 61:27.) (The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 4 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1979-1981], 2: 277.)

DC 61:30-31 a people who are well-nigh ripened for destruction

Joseph Fielding Smith

At the time of this revelation Cincinnati was only a village, yet it was like other western towns such as Independence, the gathering place of many who had been forced to flee from the larger cities because of the violation of the law. In all the border towns in that day wickedness to a very great extent prevailed. After fulfilling their mission in Cincinnati these two brethren were to continue their journey back to Kirtland. (Church History and Modern Revelation, 4 vols. [Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1946-1949], 1: 207 - 208.)

DC 61:35 let my servant Reynolds Cahoon, and my servant Samuel H. not separated

Samuel H. Smith and Reynolds Cahoon had been missionary companions on the trip from Kirtland to Independence (see D&C 52:30). Amidst significant hardships, they had been instrumental in preaching the gospel to William E. McClellin who was later baptized. "Reynolds Cahoon was forty-one years of age at the time and Samuel was twenty-three, yet, despite the difference in their ages they were agreeable companions." (Preston Nibley, Stalwarts of Mormonism [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1954], 184.)

The Lord's reasons for keeping these two together are not completely clear, but they did have at least one convert on their trip back to Kirtland:  "Ephraim Owen was baptized into the Church by Reynolds Cahoon and Samuel H. Smith in Green County, Indiana, September 4, 1831, during the missionary journey appointed to these two elders by the August 12, 1831, revelation to Joseph Smith (D&C 61:31-35)." (A Bibliography of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in New York, Ohio, and Missouri by Peter Crawley Fn, BYU Studies, vol. 12 (1971-1972), Number 4 - Summer 1972 526.)

"Reynolds Cahoon held many important positions in the Church. In 1833 he was associated with Hyrum Smith and Jared Carter in a committee appointed to raise money for a house of the Lord in Kirtland, in which to accommodate the Elders who might come there to receive instructions before engaging in missionary work. In 1839 he was appointed second counselor to John Smith, who, at that time, presided over the Saints in Iowa. In 1840 he was a member of a committee appointed to superintend the building of the Nauvoo Temple." (Hyrum M. Smith and Janne M. Sjodahl, Doctrine and Covenants Commentary [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978], 368.)

Lucy Mack Smith

"Samuel was never censured by revelation, to my knowledge, for he always performed his missions faithfully, and his work was well approved." (History of Joseph Smith by His Mother [Salt Lake City: Stevens & Wallis, Inc., 1945], 210.)

DC 61:36 be of good cheer, little children; for I am in your midst

Jacob de Jager

How often I have heard during my travels, after speaking to nonmembers, "You LDS people seem to be such a happy people." Where do you think that this image has come from? I know the answer. It has come from those who have learned to walk in the light of the gospel and who apply gospel thinking in their lives each day. Hence, the saying, "When you walk in the light of God's Spirit, happiness follows you as a shadow!" ("Overcoming Discouragement," New Era, Mar. 1984, 6)

Joe J. Christensen

If we by nature are not happy, something is wrong with us. We ought to find out what it is and correct it as soon as possible, because until we do, we will not enjoy the Spirit with us as much as if we were of good cheer. Developing an attitude of gratitude for our many blessings can be a giant step forward in fostering happiness. ("Toward Greater Spirituality: Ten Important Steps," Ensign, June 1983, 9)

Neal A. Maxwell

Being of good cheer is what is needed, and being of good cheer is equally contagious. We have clear obligations to so strengthen each other by doing things "with cheerful hearts and countenances." (D&C 59:15; see also D&C 81:5.)

Basic things over which the scriptures say we are to be of good cheer include the transcending blessing that our sins can be forgiven and that Jesus has overcome the world! These are marvelous blessings. Additionally, we are assured that the Lord is in our midst. He will lead us along. He will stand by us. (See John 16:33; Matt. 9:2; D&C 61:36; D&C 68:6; D&C 78:18.) By knowing that these everlasting things are firmly in place, can we not, then, better endure irritations, such as a dislocated travel schedule? Besides, brothers and sisters, how can it rain on the just and the unjust alike without occasionally raining on our personal parade? ("Murmur Not," Ensign, Nov. 1989, 84)