DC 81 Historical Background
The organization of the young church was still in its infancy. There was no First Presidency. There was no Quorum of the Twelve. There was no Quorum of the Seventy. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery had been given the keys to these offices when they were given the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood by Peter, James, and John. The organizational structure, however, would take years to take shape. At this time, the organizational structure consisted essentially of a Bishop in Zion (Edward Partridge), a Bishop in Kirtland (Newel K. Whitney), and the Prophet. In January 1832, at the Amherst Conference (See section 75), the Prophet was sustained and ordained as the President of the High Priesthood. While Oliver Cowdery and Sidney Rigdon had been acting as assistants to the Prophet, they had not been called as counselors in the First Presidency. Jesse Gause and Sidney Rigdon would be the first counselors called.
"Various revelations recorded by Joseph Smith in the early 1830s clearly identified the First Presidency (a term used in 1835 to identify the presidency over the entire Church and not just the priesthood) as the supreme authority in the Church. In a revelation recorded in March 1832, the Saints learned that the keys of the kingdom belong always to 'the Presidency of the High Priesthood.' One year after the presidency of the High Priesthood had been organized, the Prophet received a revelation, dated March 8, 1833, asserting that this body was 'to preside in council, and set in order all the affairs' of the Church. The revelation on priesthood recorded in 1835 further identified the authority and responsibilities of the First Presidency. 'Three Presiding High Priests, chosen by the body, appointed and ordained to that office and upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church, form a quorum of the Presidency of the Church.' The First Presidency 'have a right to officiate in all the offices in the church, . . . for this is the highest council of the church of God,' with authority to render 'a final decision upon controversies in spiritual matters.' The Church also learned by revelation that bishops must be approved by the First Presidency and shall be tried for alleged offenses before this quorum." (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], 241 - 242.)
Orson F. Whitney
The original offices of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were elder, priest, teacher, and deacon; all, except elder, callings in the Aaronic Priesthood. Other offices, pertaining to the Priesthood of Melchizedek, were evolved as fast as they became necessary. For instance, the first bishops were ordained in 1831, nearly a year after the Church was organized. There was no First Presidency until 1832, and no stake organization until 1834. The twelve apostles were not chosen until 1835, nor the first quorums of seventy. But all these offices and callings were inherent in the Priesthood, conferred upon Joseph Smith before the Church had any organization at all. They who find fault with the Church,-as some who have left it do,-on the ground that the Lord organized it with elders, priests, teachers and deacons, and that men have added such titles and dignities as high priest, president, patriarch, etc., would be no more inconsistent were they to criticize a human being for not remaining a child, for growing up to manhood or womanhood and fulfiling their measure of creation. (Gospel Themes [Salt Lake City: n.p., 1914], 81 - 82.)
DC 81 Introduction
This revelation originally called Jesse Gause to be a counselor to Joseph Smith. He acted in this calling for 9 months and then denied the faith. The historical details of his leaving the church are sketchy. The available evidence suggests that one day he left Kirtland and was never heard of again. Subsequently, Jesse's name was crossed out and replaced with Frederick G. Williams who took his place.
Perhaps some might wonder the propriety of changing the name in this manner. If the revelation was given to Jesse Gause, why was the name changed to Frederick G. Williams? How could someone called to be in the First Presidency drop out of the church so quickly?
There is an underlying principle which is worthy of emphasis. It is that the Lord doesn't just call those individuals who He knows will be faithful to the end. He calls those whose hearts are right at the time. He calls whom He will but does not compel them to be faithful. Rather, as the Lord had earlier warned, "my servant Edward Partridge shall stand in the office whereunto I have appointed him. And it shall come to pass, that if he transgress another shall be appointed in his stead." (D&C 42:10) This is precisely what happened in the case of Jesse Gause and Frederick G. Williams.
DC 81 Biographical Sketch: Jesse Gause
"As we restudy Church history there appears for a few brief moments in 1832 an unobtrusive character who might have become one of the leading authorities of the Church, but instead took his exit as silently as he had entered, never to be heard of again. This man, whose name should also be as well-known to the Latter-day Saints as are the names of Sidney Rigdon, Frederick G. Williams, Hyrum Smith, Joseph Smith, Sen., and John Smith, was Jesse Gause (rhymes with house). Now a virtual unknown, Gause was the first of these men called to be a counselor to the Prophet Joseph Smith. How Jesse Gause came to such prominence and then faded into obscurity is not known among the pages of Church history. Unfortunately, there is so little recorded concerning him that forming a profile of the man is difficult.
"Our earliest reference to Jesse Gause is as a member of the Shaker communities in Hancock near Pittsfield, and possibly in North Union, Ohio as well. His conversion and baptism are not found in any of the records of the Church, but one writer has suggested that he was converted by Reynolds Cahoon in late 1830. It was not until 8 March 1832, when Jesse Gause was called to be a counselor to Joseph Smith in the presidency of the high priesthood, that his name is even mentioned in surviving Church records. The notation in the Kirtland Revelation Book is as follows:
March 8, 1832. Chose this day and ordained brother Jesse Gause and Broth Sidney to be my councellors of the ministry of the presidency of the high Priesthood. . . .
"One week later, a revelation concerning Jesse Gause was received by Joseph Smith, confirmed Jesse in his work and giving further direction in his office and calling. There are two manuscript copies of this revelation extant: one in the Kirtland Revelation Book, located in the Church Historical Department, and the other in the library of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In both of these Jesse Gause's name has been crossed out and Frederick G. Williams' name written above it. Since that time, all published copies of this revelation (Section 81 of the Doctrine and Covenants) list Frederick G. Williams as the one to whom it is directed. Since this revelation contains instructions, duties, and promised blessings to the one called as counselor to the Prophet, the revelation was just as appropriate for Frederick G. Williams as it was to Jesse Gause.
"After Jesse Gause was ordained, he appeared in a leading role in the Church for only a short time. In April 1832, he accompanied Joseph Smith, Newel K. Whitney, and Peter Whitmer, Jr. on a trip to Missouri. They arrived 24 April and began holding conferences with the Saints in Zion on the 26th. In the minutes of a meeting of the Literary Firm held on Monday, 30 April, Jesse Gause was listed as a counselor to Joseph Smith. Joseph left Independence that day to return again to Kirtland, and Jesse Gause remained behind to conduct further business. On his return trip home he stopped at North Union, Ohio, to retrieve his wife from the society of the Shakers there. An elder of this Shaker community, Matthew Houston, wrote a letter to his friend, Seth. Y. Wells, who was a member of the Shaker bishopric at New Lebanon, about Jesse Gause's vain attempt to reunite with his wife. Part of his letter reads as follows:
And sure enough I presume you was acquainted with Jesse Gause from Hancock he was here a few days since after his wife Minerva-she utterly refused being his slave any longer-he had to go away without her. altho he tryed what the law could do for him he was very much inraged threatened to take away Minerva's child-she presented it to him but he went away without it and her-he is yet a Mormon-& and is second to the Prophet or Seer-Joseph Smith-this state of exaltation may tend to steady him or keep him away from us a little longer-for which I am heartily glad for he is certainly the meanest of men.
But Minerva certainly conducts herself cleverly so far. We find no fault with her-at any rate she cut off Old Jesse verry handsomely-& he felt it to his gizzard.
"One important item in the letter is the reference to Jesse Gause's being 'second to the Prophet or Seer-Joseph Smith.'
"Upon his return to Kirtland, Jesse was called to serve a mission with Zebedee Coltrin. They began their journey on 1 August 1832, and traveled until the 19th, at which time Coltrin decided to return to Kirtland because of severe pains in his head. After praying with and for each other, they parted. Jesse Gause continued east and walked right out of the history of the Church, never again to return. There appears to be no other record of the man either in or out of the Church.
"Some months after the departure of Jesse Gause, the presidency of the high priesthood was reorganized with Frederick G. Williams replacing him as counselor. This reorganization was commanded in D&C 90 of the Doctrine and Convenants, and actually took place in 18 March 1833." (Robert J. Woodford, Notes and Comments, BYU Studies, vol. 15 (1974-1975), Number 3 - Spring 1975, pp. 362-364.)
DC 81 Biographical Sketch: Frederick G.Williams
"Birth: 28 October 1787, Suffield, Hartford County, Connecticut. Son of William (or Warren) Williams and Ruth Granger.
Death: 25 (or 10) October 1842, Quincy, Adams County, Illinois.
During his early youth Frederick G. Williams had a near-fatal accident one winter as he and his friends attempted to walk across frozen Lake Erie. The ice broke, leaving them helpless on a floating block until the next day, when they were sighted by a boat captain and rescued. Frederick was never robust after the incident.
Perhaps the persistence of health problems into maturity led him to study medical books and proclaim himself a doctor. He advocated the herb-based Thompsonian system of medicine before becoming eclectic in his practice. His medical career temporarily halted at the outbreak of the War of 1812, as he entered the fight against the British near Lake Erie. After the war he became a boat pilot, navigating the waters from Buffalo to Detroit. One passenger aboard his vessel, Rebecca Swain, caught his fancy and they later married.
By 1816 the young couple were residing in Warrensville, Ohio, where Frederick again practiced medicine. As his financial situation improved he moved to a farm in Chardon, Ohio, where he attended a local congregation of Campbellites. Learning from coreligionists of encouraging economic opportunities in Kirtland, he and Rebecca located there on a 144-acre farm.
Frederick was serving as a justice of the peace in Kirtland when he met the missionaries sent to the Lamanites. Rebecca readily received their message of the gospel and the Book of Mormon. Before Frederick was converted he carefully weighed the truthfulness of their preaching by comparing the Book of Mormon with the teachings of the Bible. In October 1830 he was baptized, confirmed, and ordained an elder. As the missionaries contemplated continuing their journey to the western frontier, they invited their new convert to join them. Frederick was acquainted with the frontier and his insights proved helpful on the journey. After a ten-month absence he returned to his family in Kirtland.
In March 1832 the Lord called him to be a counselor to the Prophet Joseph Smith (see D&C 81:1-3, 6). The love of the Prophet for his counselor is best illustrated by Joseph's naming his newborn son 'Frederick Granger Williams Smith.' The Prophet trusted him with myriad responsibilities. He was a personal scribe, an organizer of the printing firm F. G. Williams and Company, and an editor of the Northern Times. Joseph Smith penned:
Brother Frederick G. Williams is one of those men in whom I place the greatest confidence and trust, for I have found him ever full of love and brotherly kindness. He is not a man of many words, but is ever winning, because of his constant mind. He shall ever have place in my heart.... God grant that he may overcome all evil. Blessed be Brother Frederick, for he shall never want a friend; and his generation after him shall flourish.
In May 1834 Frederick deeded his farm to the Prophet and joined Zion's Camp with the hope of redeeming Zion. He served as paymaster of the camp until the men were discharged. Upon returning to Kirtland he continued to faithfully demonstrate his love of the gospel and the latter-day work. Perhaps because of his unwavering faith he was privileged to witness an angel enter the Kirtland Temple on the day of dedication. He testified that the angel sat 'between Father Smith and himself, and remained there during the prayer.' He further testified that 'the Savior, dressed in his vesture without seam, came into the stand and accepted of the dedication of the house, that he saw him, and gave a description of his clothing and all things pertaining to it.'" (Susan Easton Black, Who's Who in the Doctrine and Covenants [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997], 346-347.)
DC 81:2 the keys of the kingdom...belong always unto the Presidency of the High Priesthood
B. H. Roberts
It has been said that there was no First presidency in the Church of Jesus Christ in former days and that this body is peculiar to the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times. Here the Lord declares that the keys of the kingdom "belong always unto the presidency of the High Priesthood." In other words they belong to the Presidency of the Church. In a discourse delivered July 2, 1839, the prophet Joseph Smith said that Adam held the keys of the First Presidency, then Noah also held this office. He said: "The Priesthood is everlasting. The Savior, Moses and Elias gave the keys to Peter, James and John, on the mount, when they were transfigured before him." This being true, then Peter, James and John were chosen by the Lord as a First Presidency and served in that capacity in the Church of Jesus Christ in their dispensation. It was by virtue of this calling that they were sent to confer upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery the keys of the kingdom. (D&C 27:13.) (History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1: 258, footnote)
Joseph Fielding Smith
May I now say-very plainly and very emphatically-that we have the holy priesthood and that the keys of the kingdom of God are here. They are found only in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
By revelation to Joseph Smith, the Lord said that these keys "belong always unto the Presidency of the High Priesthood" (D&C 81:2), and also, "Whosoever receiveth my word receiveth me, and whosoever receiveth me, receiveth those, the First Presidency, whom I have sent" (D&C 112:20).
In this same connection the Prophet Joseph Smith said: "You must make yourselves acquainted with those men who like Daniel pray three times a day toward the House of the Lord. Look to the Presidency and receive instruction."
Now, brethren, I think there is one thing which we should have exceedingly clear in our minds. Neither the President of the Church, nor the First Presidency, nor the united voice of the First Presidency and the Twelve will ever lead the Saints astray or send forth counsel to the world that is contrary to the mind and will of the Lord.
An individual may fall by the wayside, or have views, or give counsel which falls short of what the Lord intends. But the voice of the First Presidency and the united voice of those others who hold with them the keys of the kingdom shall always guide the Saints and the world in those paths where the Lord wants them to be. ("Eternal Keys and the Right to Preside," Ensign, July 1972, 87-88)
DC 81:4 in doing these things thou wilt do the greatest good unto thy fellow beings
Gordon B. Hinckley
This church does not belong to its President. Its head is the Lord Jesus Christ, whose name each of us has taken upon ourselves. We are all in this great endeavor together. We are here to assist our Father in His work and His glory, 'to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man' (Moses 1:39). Your obligation is as serious in your sphere of responsibility as is my obligation in my sphere. No calling in this church is small or of little consequence. All of us in the pursuit of our duty touch the lives of others. To each of us in our respective responsibilities the Lord has said: 'Wherefore, be faithful; stand in the office which I have appointed unto you; succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees' (D&C 81:5).
And in doing these things thou wilt do the greatest good unto thy fellow beings, and wilt promote the glory of him who is your Lord' (D&C 81:4). . .
You have as great an opportunity for satisfaction in the performance of your duty as I do in mine. The progress of this work will be determined by our joint efforts. Whatever your calling, it is as fraught with the same kind of opportunity to accomplish good as is mine. What is really important is that this is the work of the Master. Our work is to go about doing good as did He. ("This Is the Work of the Master," Ensign, May 1995, p. 71.)
DC 81:5 succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees
Spencer W. Kimball
God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other in the kingdom. The people of the Church need each other's strength, support, and leadership in a community of believers as an enclave of disciples. In the Doctrine and Covenants we read about how important it is to "... succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees." (D&C 81:5.) So often, our acts of service consist of simple encouragement or of giving mundane help with mundane tasks, but what glorious consequences can flow from mundane acts and from small but deliberate deeds! ("Small Acts of Service," Ensign, Dec. 1974, 5)
Neal A. Maxwell
You and I all know individuals who do much quiet good by following the scriptural injunction about lifting up the hands that hang down (see Heb. 12:12; D&C 81:5). Some of those hands which hang down once grasped the iron rod and then let go, having simply given up. Hence, those hands need to be reached for because they will not be proffered by such discouraged individuals. ("The Pathway of Discipleship," Ensign, Sept. 1998, 9)
Gordon B. Hinckley
We must never forget that we are all individuals with our own needs and problems, our own hopes and dreams, our own faith and convictions. Some are strong, some weak, but we all try. We have problems to deal with; they are serious and difficult. We need one another, to build and strengthen each other. We must never lose sight of the fact that we are to "succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees" (D&C 81:5). ("The Work Moves Forward," Ensign, May 1999, 5)
Thomas S. Monson
Unaltered is the divine command to succor the weak and lift up the hands which hang down and strengthen the feeble knees. Each of us has the charge to be not a doubter, but a doer; not a leaner, but a lifter. But our complacency tree has many branches, and each spring more buds come into bloom. Often we live side by side but do not communicate heart to heart. There are those within the sphere of our own influence who, with outstretched hands, cry out: "Is there no balm in Gilead ... ?" (Jer. 8:22.) Each of us must answer. ("With Hand and Heart," Ensign, Dec. 1971, 132)
DC 81:5 lift up the hands that hang down
Harold B. Lee
As I thought of the role of President Tanner and myself as [President Joseph Fielding Smith's] counselors, I thought of a circumstance in the life of Moses... As Moses sat upon a hill and raised the rod of his authority, or the keys of his priesthood, Israel prevailed over their enemies; but as the day wore on, his hands became heavy and began to droop at his side. And so [his counselors] held up his hands so they would not be weakened and the rod would not be lowered. He would be sustained so that the enemies of the church would not prevail over the saints of the Most High God. (See Exod. 17:8-12.)
I think that is the role that President Tanner and I have to fulfill. The hands of President Smith may grow weary. They may tend to droop at times because of his heavy responsibilities; but as we uphold his hands, and as we lead under his direction, by his side, the gates of hell will not prevail against you and against Israel. (Stephen E. Robinson, H. Dean Garrett, A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2001] 3:5)
DC 81:5 strengthen the feeble knees
Marvin J. Ashton
There is a phrase used four times in the standard works which has always intrigued me. It is the expression "feeble knees."
By definition, feeble means weak, not strong, without force, easily broken, frail.
When Frederick G. Williams was called to be a counselor to Joseph Smith, he was given this charge: "Wherefore, be faithful; stand in the office which I have appointed unto you; succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees." (D&C 81:5.)
Coupled with the word strengthen, which is to make or become stronger, the phrase led me to contemplate the meaning of these words.
Early on, I assumed "feeble knees" meant weak or exhausted. However, the context of its use in Isaiah (see Isa. 35:3-4) suggests that it may have a somewhat richer meaning, something more like fearful. I actually favor this latter interpretation. Today we often hear such expressions as "weak in the knees" or "knocking knees" to denote fear.
In D&C 81:5, the verse might be interpreted as the Lord's urging Frederick G. Williams to provide strength to the weak ("succor the weak"), to provide encouragement to those who are exhausted or discouraged ("lift up the hands which hang down"), and to give courage and strength to those with feeble knees and fearful hearts.
In March of 1832 when this section was revealed, Church members had reason to be fearful. In Hiram, Ohio, where the Prophet Joseph Smith was living, there was a rising tide of hostility against the Saints. Joseph and Sidney Rigdon were brutally attacked by a mob of fifty men.
Those who would destroy at the present time no longer use tar and feathers; they taunt and fault.
Today, almost 160 years later, there is no doubt in my mind that the admonition to strengthen feeble knees is more apropos than ever.
Who among us has not experienced feeble knees or fear and uncertainty over the responsibilities we encounter in this mortal existence?
...It would seem that no one escapes some uncertainty, insecurity, doubt, and even fear. This mortal existence is invariably challenging and unpredictable. An honest person who is acquainted with the characteristics of life cannot ever be completely confident that his circumstances will not change unexpectedly.
How do we deal with the inevitable moments of fear or "feeble knees"? It is vital that we not face them alone. Always it is helpful and comforting to be able to confide in a loving and trusted friend or relative who empathetically listens to our uncertainties. We often find that our confidant has experienced similar fears, and we may even share in his wise counsel.
Life is never easy, and we cannot escape our own case of feeble knees from time to time. It is thus essential that we love and support one another. ("Strengthen the Feeble Knees," Ensign, Nov. 1991, 70-71)