Section 80

Historical Background

Stephen Burnett and Eden Smith had been called on missions before.  On January 25, 1832, Stephen Burnett was called to serve with Ruggles Eames and Eden Smith was called to serve with Micah B. Welton (D&C 75:35-36). Unfortunately, available evidence doesn't tell us much of these early missionary excursions.  Often, it would seem that the brethren would make brief trips of several days to a few weeks as circumstances would permit. More extended trips were to be taken by those brethren who could make arrangements to support their families in their absence (D&C 75:24-36).

"Eden Smith's missionary labors in 1831-32 were of short duration and were performed within five to fifteen miles of his home. For example, his mission with Micah Welton began in Northampton, Ohio, on 10 December 1831 and ended in Northampton nine days later (see D&C 75:36). He kept a journal of his missionary activities from 25 September 1831 to 21 August 1832. A typical entry reads: 'I went to Stow and preachd in the fore noon and did tonight and then attended in the afternoon and preachd and then returned home and Laboured for the support of my familey.'" (Susan Easton Black,Who's Who in the Doctrine and Covenants [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997], 272 - 273.)

Because many of these early missionary excursions were short-lived, we should not be surprised to find Stephen Burnett and Eden Smith reassigned to serve together only two months later.  Apparently, this section was prompted by Stephen Burnett desire for a missionary companion (v. 2). What happened between him and Ruggles Eames is not clear, but the Lord was ready to give him a new companion-a convert unrelated to the Prophet's family named Eden Smith.

Biographical Sketch: Stephen Burnett

"Birth: 1814, Ohio. Son of Sirenes and Jane Burnett.

"Stephen Burnett was residing in Orange, Ohio, when he first heard the gospel preached by journalist John Murdock, who recorded in his journal:

I preached in great plainness to the people, and baptized three ... [including] Steven Burnet.... I confirmed them by the laying on of hands, and the two last [one being Stephen] received the outpouring of the spirit so that their strength was taken from them.... [The next morning] Brother Steven was carried away of the spirit, and said he must go to see his uncle Warren Thorp, and family, before he went home for so the spirit directed him. I went with him, and he bore testimony to them of the work, but they would not believe.

"John, Stephen, and others then went to the home of Stephen's parents and were invited for supper: 'Mr. Burnet asked me to give thanks, and while I was doing so, Brother Steven was overcome with the spirit, so as to lose his strength.... His father and mother sat in tears.'

"John Murdock's missionary labors helped bring more than sixty individuals into the Church. The newly baptized members often met at the home of Stephen's parents. It was at one such meeting, on 25 January 1832, that eighteen-year-old Stephen was called by revelation to serve a mission with Ruggles Eames (see D&C 75:35). It is assumed that this mission was aborted, for in March 1832 Stephen was called to be a missionary companion to Eden Smith: 'Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Stephen Burnett: Go ye, go ye into the world and preach the gospel to every creature that cometh under the sound of your voice. And inasmuch as you desire a companion, I will give unto you my servant Eden Smith.' (D&C 80:1-2.)

"Only a few of Eden Smith's missionary entries are preserved, one of which states: 'We traveled on north two miles and Cald with A presbyterian Priest and told him Concerning the Bok of mormon and Concerning the Gosple of Jesus Christ and he Cald for proof of the Book of Mormon and we cited him to the bible and he said he did not Receive that and we told the Cituation he was in and what he must do left him and went on our way.'

"An extract from a letter by Levi B. Wilder of Dalton, New Hampshire, states, 'A small church was formed in this place in the July of 1833, consisting of 15 members: brother Stephen Burnet was the first one that sounded the glad tidings of the everlasting gospel in this place.'

"Unfortunately, when Stephen returned to Ohio he became disaffected with the Church. By 1837 he had united with apostate Warren Parrish and others in opposition to the Prophet. Dubbing themselves 'reformers,' they insisted that the 'regular authorities in Kirtland had departed from the true order of things by calling the church `The Church of the Latter-day Saints.`' They publicly 'rejected the Prophet, and denounced those who adhered to him as heretics.'

"Joseph Smith in the Elders' Journal denounced Stephen's irrational conduct:

A little ignorant blockhead, by the name of Stephen Burnet, whose heart was so set on money, that he would at any time, sell his soul for fifty dollars; and then think he had made an excellent bargain; and who had got wearied of the restraints of religion, and could not bear to have his purse taxed ... ran to Kirtland, got into the temple, and tried with all his powers to bring forth something, nobody knows what, nor did he know himself; ... after some terrible gruntings, and finding nothing coming but an abortion, rose up in his anger, proclaimed all revelation lies, and ran home to his daddy with all his might, not leaving even an egg behind, and there sat down, and rejoiced in the great victory he had obtained, over the great God and all the holy angels, how he had discovered them liars and [impostors].

"The 1850 Ohio federal census reveals that Stephen was residing in Orange on his father's family estate at that time, just as Joseph had stated.  (Susan Easton Black, Who's Who in the Doctrine and Covenants [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997], 39 - 41.)

Biographical Sketch: Eden Smith

"Birth: 1806, Indiana. Son of John and Sarah Smith...

"In March 1832 at Hiram, Ohio, the Prophet received a revelation directing Eden to serve a mission with Stephen Burnett (see D&C 80:1-2). According to Eden's journal, they served in eastern Ohio on a number of missionary trips during the following months into the surrounding country; he held many meetings and baptized a few. He later joined Charles C. Rich in preaching near Eugene, Ohio, and served as the president of the branch there...

Eden was disfellowshipped on 2 July 1833. He repented and was restored to fellowship.

He joined the Saints in Missouri and later in Nauvoo, Illinois, where he was a lieutenant in the Nauvoo Legion. He served a mission with Benjamin Leland to Erie County, Pennsylvania, in April 1843.  By 1846 he was residing in Kanesville, Iowa. According to one source Eden journeyed from Kanesville to the Salt Lake Valley but returned to Kanesville by 1848.  By 1850 he was residing in Pottawattamie County, Iowa.  He died on 7 December 1851 at the age of forty-five." (Susan Easton Black, Who's Who in the Doctrine and Covenants [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997], 272 - 273.)

DC 80:3 whether to the north or to the south, to the east or to the west, it mattereth not

"Apparently it made no difference to the Lord where Elder Burnett labored as long as he labored. As is so often the case, it was not a matter of where he served, but rather how he served. Frequently that is the case with all of us. The Lord has a greater concern with how we labor than where we labor, with what we do than with where we do it." (Joseph Fielding McConkie, Seeking the Spirit [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978], 80, italics added)

David A. Bednar

Section 80 of the Doctrine and Covenants is a record of a mission call to Stephen Burnett extended by the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1832. Studying this call to Brother Burnett can help us to (1) understand more clearly the distinction between being “called to the work” as a missionary and “assigned to labor” in a particular place and (2) appreciate more completely our individual and divinely appointed responsibility to proclaim the gospel.

Verse 1 of this section is a call to serve: “Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Stephen Burnett: Go ye, go ye into the world and preach the gospel to every creature that cometh under the sound of your voice.”

Interestingly, verse 2 informs Brother Burnett about his assigned missionary companion: “And inasmuch as you desire a companion, I will give unto you my servant Eden Smith.”

Verse 3 indicates where these two missionaries are to labor: “Wherefore, go ye and preach my gospel, whether to the north or to the south, to the east or to the west, it mattereth not, for ye cannot go amiss.”

I do not believe that the phrase “it mattereth not” as used by the Lord in this scripture suggests that He does not care where His servants labor. In fact, He cares deeply. But because the work of preaching the gospel is the Lord’s work, He inspires, guides, and directs His authorized servants. As missionaries strive to be ever more worthy and capable instruments in His hands and do their best to fulfill faithfully their duties, then with His help they “cannot go amiss”—wherever they serve. Perhaps one of the lessons the Savior is teaching us in this revelation is that an assignment to labor in a specific place is essential and important but secondary to a call to the work.

The next verse highlights important qualifications for all missionaries: “Therefore, declare the things which ye have heard, and verily believe, and know to be true.”

The final verse reminds Brother Burnett and all of us from whom a call to serve truly comes: “Behold, this is the will of him who hath called you, your Redeemer, even Jesus Christ. Amen.”

…The single greatest reason for addressing this matter is what I have learned over time about the concern, the worry, and even the guilt felt by many missionaries who for various reasons were reassigned to a different field of labor during their time of service. Such reassignments sometimes are necessary because of events and circumstances such as physical accidents and injuries, delays and challenges in obtaining visas, political instability, creating and staffing new missions, or the evolving and ever-changing needs around the world in the work of proclaiming the gospel.

When a missionary is reassigned to a different field of labor, the process is precisely the same as for the initial assignment. Members of the Quorum of the Twelve seek inspiration and guidance in making all such reassignments.

I recently spoke with a faithful man who shared with me the deepest feelings of his heart. In a meeting, I had just explained the difference between being called to the work and assigned to labor. This good brother shook my hand and with tears in his eyes said to me, “The things you helped me learn today have lifted a burden from my shoulders that I have carried for more than 30 years. As a young missionary, I was initially assigned to a field of labor in South America. But I was unable to obtain a visa, so my assignment was changed to the United States. All these years I have wondered why I was unable to serve in the place to which I had been called. Now I know I was called to the work and not to a place. I cannot tell you how much this understanding has helped me.”

My heart ached for this good man. As I have taught these basic principles throughout the world, countless individuals have expressed privately to me the same sentiment as the man I just described. I am addressing this subject today because not a single member of this Church should carry an unnecessary burden of misunderstanding, uncertainty, anguish, or guilt about an assignment to labor.

“Wherefore, go ye and preach my gospel, whether to the north or to the south, to the east or to the west, it mattereth not, for ye cannot go amiss.” As you ponder the words of this scripture and open your heart, I hope and pray you will invite the Holy Ghost to carry deep into your soul the understanding, the healing, and the restoring you may need.  (

DC 80:4 declare the things which ye have heard... and know to be true

"When the Lord called Stephen Burnett and Eden Smith into the missionary service, He emphasized fundamental responsibilities of missionaries. Three times the Lord stressed the need for them to preach or declare His gospel. (See D&C 80:1, 3-4). Whatever else may be entailed with the preparation and sending of missionaries to the field, we should remember it is all for one purpose-to teach the gospel to the people of the world. It is true of all members of the church who are also considered to be responsible for sharing the gospel with others. Parents, priesthood leaders, home teachers, etc. are all expected to perform many duties. But one duty that is fundamental and universal to all callings is the teaching of the gospel. No one can be converted to the Lord and His gospel until he is first taught the gospel and given an opportunity to receive it.

"All who teach the Savior's gospel must also testify and bear witness of its truthfulness. This is what is meant by the Lord's injunction to teach by the spirit. (See D&C 42:14) The Lord directed:

. . . declare the things which ye have heard, and verily believe, and know to be true. (D&C 80:4)

"Of what were the missionaries to bear testimony? They were to testify of that which they had heard and been taught by the Lord's servants. Members of the church can also testify because they have heard the gospel taught in the organizations and meetings of the church. They may not yet know all the scriptural documentation for the various doctrines of the church. But they have heard those doctrines taught in the church and thus they, too, believe and know of its truth."  (L. G. Otten and C. M. Caldwell, Sacred Truths of the Doctrine and Covenants [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1982-1983], 2: 52.)