DC 85 Historical Background
Within 18 months of the Church being organized, the Prophet had sent saints to Missouri to build up Zion. From a historical standpoint, this is a remarkably bold move. Great men of many ages have theorized about a utopian society-free of poverty, injustice, and domination. Some have been so bold as to try to implement their ideas, but never with lasting success. By his mid-20's, Joseph Smith was leading his people in dramatic fashion-treading new ground in grand form.
From a practical standpoint, many problems needed solving. The understanding of the saints in Missouri did not match the visionary principles of the Prophet. Already, the Prophet had to inquire of the Lord regarding special situations. What should the Bishop do if the members received their land by inheritance and then became apostate? This was answered in D&C 83:3. From W. W. Phelps and Edward Partridge came a letter with the next problem. What if the saints settled on land that was not received as an inheritance from the Church? They would be operating outside the principles of the law of consecration. This would divide the members into those living on consecrated land received by inheritance and those living on privately owned land.
Kirtland, Nov. 27th, 1832.
Brother William W. Phelps:-I say brother, because I feel so from the heart, and although it is not long since I wrote a letter unto you, yet I feel as though you would excuse me for writing this, as I have many things which I wish to communicate. Some things which I will mention in this letter, which are lying with great weight on my mind. I am well, and my family also; God grant that you may enjoy the same, and yours, and all the brethren and sisters who remember to inquire after the commandments of the Lord, and the welfare of Zion and such a being as myself; and while I dictate this letter, I fancy to myself that you are saying or thinking something similar to these words:-"My God, great and mighty art Thou, therefore show unto Thy servant what shall become of those who are essaying to come up unto Zion, in order to keep the commandments of God, and yet receive not their inheritance by consecrations, by order of deed from the Bishop, the man that God has appointed in a legal way, agreeably to the law given to organize and regulate the Church, and all the affairs of the same."
Brother William, in the love of God, having the most implicit confidence in you as a man of God, having obtained this confidence by a vision of heaven, therefore I will proceed to unfold to you some of the feelings of my heart, and to answer the question. [What follows is the text of D&C 85] (History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1: 297-298.)
DC 85:1 keep a history, and a general church record of all things that transpire in Zion
"On 6 April 1830, the day The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized, Joseph Smith received a revelation for those gathered for the occasion. It commanded that a record be kept of the activities of the group (see D&C 21:1). In time a specific individual was assigned to oversee this task. By 1831 the assignment had transferred to John Whitmer who was specifically told to 'write and keep a regular history' (D&C 47:1). Later that same year, John Whitmer was told that he should continue 'writing and making a history of all the important things which he shall observe and know concerning my church' and further that he should travel among the various branches of the Church 'that he may the more easily obtain knowledge-Preaching and expounding, writing, copying, selecting, and obtaining all things which shall be for the good of the church, and for the rising generations that shall grow up on the land of Zion' (D&C 69:3, 7-8). About one year later, Joseph Smith wrote to William W. Phelps in Missouri, specifically counseling that the duty of the clerk in the Church was 'to keep a history, and a general church record of all things that transpire in Zion, and of all those who consecrate properties, . . . their manner of life, their faith, and works' (D&C 85:1-2).
"Thus, from the beginning in 1830, a variety of records, both institutional and personal, have been kept-works that both encouraged and edified members." (Donald Q. Cannon and David J. Whittaker, eds., Supporting Saints: Life Stories of Nineteenth-Century Mormons [Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1985], 3.)
DC 85:3-5 It is contrary to the will and commandment of God that those who receive not their inheritance by consecration...should have their names enrolled with the people of God
"The law of God given to the Saints through Joseph Smith stated that every man who went to Zion, in Missouri, was required to 'lay all things before the bishop in Zion.' The Prophet therefore wrote by revelation:
It is contrary to the will and commandment of God that those who receive not their inheritance by consecration, agreeable to his law, which he has given, that he may tithe his people, to prepare them against the day of vengeance and burning, should have their names enrolled with the people of God.
Neither is their genealogy to be kept, or to be had where it may be found on any of the records or history of the church.
Their names shall not be found, neither the names of the fathers, nor the names of the children written in the book of the law of God, saith the Lord of Hosts.
"Consecrations were made to God, not to the bishop or to the society. This was important. A revelation said of Bishops: 'The property, or that which they receive of the church, is not their own, but belongeth to the church; wherefore it is the property of the Lord.' If all property and wealth were consecrated to the bishop, he would then own and control the wealth of the society. This would foster priestcraft and a socialistic order. But by the Saints consecrating their wealth to God, the bishop was made the servant both of God and the people in receiving and administering consecrated property. Such a procedure assured that both the bishop and the individual would be responsible agents under God, rather than mere pawns of society.
"It was significant that the Saints were to consecrate their property to the Lord with 'a covenant and a deed' that could not be broken. Their covenant of consecration made their act officially binding before God and the Church, and the deed bound it legally according to the law of the land. Zion's economic law, therefore, was founded both in the religious powers of faith and conscience and in the legal power of civil law, that by each it might be given sanction and protection." (Hyrum L. Andrus, Doctrines of the Kingdom [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1973], 228-229.)
DC 85:5 their names shall not be found... in the book of the law of God
If those who couldn't keep the law of consecration were not worthy to have their names on the records of the Church, what does that say about those today who can't keep the lesser law of Tithing? Certainly, the Lord's patience with these members will not last forever. They will not be worthy when Zion is established and the Lord returns, for "today...is a day of sacrifice and a day for the tithing of my people." (D&C 64:23)
Regarding the Law of Tithing, Orson Pratt lamented, "it has been almost an impossibility to get the people universally to comply with it." (Journal of Discourses, 17:110) Well the Lord, with a strong hand, will be able to get the people to universally comply with it. Those who are disobedient will not join Zion. They may even be destroyed at the coming of the Lord. The Lord has warned, "Behold, vengeance cometh speedily upon the inhabitants of the earth... And upon my house shall it begin." (D&C 112:25) The righteous, however, will be preserved, "for he that is tithed shall not be burned at his coming." (D&C 64:23)
I tell you in the name of Israel's God [that the principles and obligations of the United Order] will be carried out, and no man can plow around these things, for God has decreed that they shall be accomplished; and any man who sets himself in opposition to these principles which God has established, he will root him out; but the principle itself will not be rooted out, for God will see that it is accomplished. And in the name of Israel's God we will help him to do it. (Journal of Discourses, 21: 35.)
Marion G. Romney
Personally, I have always considered tithing to be the law of inheritance in the land of Zion, for the Lord said when he gave the law that all those who gathered to Zion should observe it or they should not be worthy to abide among the inhabitants of that land (see D&C 119:5). ("Trust in the Lord," Ensign, May 1979, 41)
DC 85:6 The still small voice... whispereth through and pierceth all things
Boyd K. Packer
The Holy Ghost speaks with a voice that you feel more than you hear. It is described as a "still small voice." And while we speak of "listening" to the whisperings of the Spirit, most often one describes a spiritual prompting by saying, "I had a feeling ..." ("Personal Revelation-The Gift, the Test, and the Promise," New Era, Jan. 1995, 6)
Henry B. Eyring
It is the Spirit which will bear record to your heart as you read the scriptures, as you hear the Lord's authorized servants, and as God speaks directly to your heart. You can listen and hear if you believe that the scriptures are accurate when they describe the Holy Ghost this way:
Yea, thus saith the still small voice, which whispereth through and pierceth all things, and often times it maketh my bones to quake while it maketh manifest. (D&C 85:6.)
Now, I testify it is a small voice. It whispers, not shouts. And so you must be very quiet inside. That is why you may wisely fast when you want to listen. And that is why you will listen best when you feel, "Father, thy will, not mine, be done." You will have a feeling of "I want what you want." Then, the still small voice will seem as if it pierces you. It may make your bones to quake. More often it will make your heart burn within you, again softly, but with a burning which will lift and reassure. ("To Draw Closer to God," Ensign, May 1991, 67)
DC 85:7 the Lord God, will send one mighty and strong
The First Presidency
The subject of this official doctrinal interpretation by the First Presidency are two verses (7 & 8) of a revelation (Section 85, Doctrine and Covenants) which in turn was originally part of a letter which Joseph Smith wrote to William Wines Phelps on November 27, 1832.
Joseph Fielding Smith, present Church Historian (1969), has written: "Verses 6, 7 and 8, in this letter as published in the Doctrine and Covenants, have caused no end of needless speculation due to a misunderstanding of what is written....
"There have arisen from time to time men of doubtful intelligence who have laid claim to being the 'one mighty and strong.' Some of these, notwithstanding their limitations of intellect and power of understanding, have succeeded in gathering around them a few followers of like spirit and lack of understanding." (CHMR 1:350 .)
...A Master's thesis at Brigham Young University by Lyle O. Wright entitled "Origins and Development of the Church of the Firstborn of the Fulness of Times" (1963), pp. 27-50, lists and discusses some eighteen principal claimants to the title of being the "One Mighty and Strong." He says (p. 34) that Samuel Eastman was making this claim in 1905.
The statement of the First Presidency of 1905, however, still stands (in 1969) as the official interpretation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of these verses of a revelation given through Joseph Smith in November, 1832.
...Perhaps no other passage in the revelations of the land, in this dispensation, has given rise to so much speculation as this one. Also, it has been used by vain and foolish men to bolster up their vagaries of speculation, and in some cases their pretensions to great power and high positions they were to attain in the Church. In a word, some have made claims that they were the particular individual mentioned in the revelation, the "one mighty and strong, holding the sceptre of power in his hand, clothed with light for a covering, whose mouth shall utter words, eternal words; while his bowels shall be a fountain of truth, to set in order the house of God, and to arrange by lot the inheritances of the saints."
One would think in such a matter as this that sufficient native modesty would assert itself to restrain a man from announcing himself as the one upon whom such high honors are to he conferred, and who is to exercise such great powers in establishing the Saints in their inheritances; and that even if one suspected, for any reason, that such a position, and such exceptional powers were to be conferred upon him, he would wait until the Lord would clearly indicate to the Church, as well as to himself, that he had been indeed sent of God to do the work of so noble a ministry, as is described in the passage under question. Those, however, who have so far proclaimed themselves as being the "one mighty and strong," have manifested the utmost ignorance of the things of God and the order of the Church. Indeed their insufferable ignorance and egotism have been at the bottom of all their pretensions, and the cause of all the trouble into which they have fallen. They seem not to have been aware of the fact that the Church of Christ and of the Saints is completely organized, and that when the man who shall be called upon to divide unto the Saints their inheritances comes, he will be designated by the inspiration of the Lord to the proper authorities of the Church, appointed and sustained according to the order provided for the government of the Church. So long as that Church remains in the earth-and we have the assurance from the Lord that it will now remain in the earth forever-the Saints need look for nothing of God's appointing that will be erratic, or irregular, or that smacks of starting over afresh or that would ignore or overthrow the established order of things. The Saints should remember that they are living in the dispensation of the fulness of times, when the Church of Christ is established in the earth for the last days and for the last time, and that God's Church is a Church of order, of law, and that there is no place for anarchy in it. (Doc. and Cov., Sec. 112:30; also Secs. 33:3; 43:28-31.)
Now, as to the "one mighty and strong," who shall be sent of God, to "set in order the house of God, and to arrange by lot the inheritance of the Saints." Who is he? What position will he hold in the Church? In what manner will he come to his calling? ...While from time to time, as the work of the Lord may have need of their services, men of exceptional talents and abilities, will develop among the people of God; and without disorder, or eruption, or excitement, they will be called of the Lord, through the appointed agencies of the Priesthood and Church authority, to positions that will afford them opportunity for service. They will be accepted by the Saints in the regular order, appointed by the law of the Church, just as Edward Partridge was called and accepted; and just as the "one mighty and strong" will be called and accepted when the time comes for his services. (JOSEPH F. SMITH, JOHN R. WINDER, ANTHON H. LUND, Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols., compiled by James R. Clark, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-75), 4: 108-120.)
DC 85:8 that man...that putteth forth his hand to steady the ark of God
The First Presidency
Respecting the views that have been expressed as to the meaning of this passage, who the man was that was "called of God and appointed, that put forth his hand to steady the ark of God," that should, "fall by the shaft of death, like a tree that is smitten by the vivid shaft of lighting," as well as who the one "mighty and strong" was, or is to be various theories have been advanced. Some of the dissenters from the Church have advanced he idea that the Prophet Joseph Smith, largely on account of his sad and tragic death, fell "by the shaft of death like as a tree that is smitten by the vivid shaft of lightning," and that because of supposed transgression; while there are not wanting those who hold that the prophecy is not fulfilled, but say that the fate of falling "like as a tree that is smitten by the vivid shaft of lightning" is a fate reserved for the present or some future President of the Church...All these theories have been entertained and some of them by very good brethren; but good men and well informed men, are sometimes mistaken...
...Edward Partridge, the Bishop of the Church, was the one "called and appointed, to divide by lot unto the Saints their inheritances." But was Edward Partridge the one in 1832 who was "putting forth his hand to steady the ark," and threatened with falling "by the shaft of death like as a tree that is smitten by the vivid shaft of lightning"? Undoubtedly. The brethren in those days were limited in their experience. The Church had been organized but as yesterday. The order of the Priesthood was not understood then, as it is today. The brethren composing it had been but recently brought together. Some of them were often in rebellion against the Prophet and the order of the Church because of these conditions; and it required instruction and time and experience to enable men to understand their duties and preserve their right relationship to each other as officers of the Church.
Bishop Partridge was one of the brethren, who though a most worthy man, one whom the Lord loved, and whom the Prophet described as "a pattern of piety," and "one of the Lord's great men" at time arrayed himself in opposition to the Prophet in those early days, and sought to correct him in his administrations of the affairs of the Church; in other words, "put forth his hand to steady the ark."
On the occasion of the Prophet's first visit to Independence Missouri-Edward Partridge accompanied him-in the meetings and conferences held upon the land of Zion, Bishop Partridge several times strenuously opposed the measures of the Prophet, and was sharply reproved by the latter for his unbelief and hardness of heart. Indeed, the apostate, Ezra Booth, who was present, made the scene between the bishop and the Prophet one of the items that justified to him his apostasy. He refers to the circumstance in a letter, addressed to Bishop Partridge, which has been several times published in anti-"Mormon" literature. The Bishop, moreover, was reproved for his "blindness of heart and unbelief," and warned of the danger of falling from his high station, in a revelation given in August, 1831, while both he and the Prophet were still in Missouri:
Yea, for this cause I have sent you hither, and have selected my servant Edward Partridge, and have appointed unto him his mission in this land; but if he repent not of his sins, which are unbelief and blindness of heart, let him take heed lest he fall. (Doc. and Cov., Sec. 58:14-15.)
All the foregoing occurred during the first visit of the Prophet to Missouri.
In the latter part of April, 1832, the Prophet again visited the center place of Zion-Independence, Missouri. There were still ill-feelings existing among the brethren, especially between Elder Rigdon and Bishop Partridge; but those difficulties were adjusted, and Bishop Partridge, in the conference that was held on the 26th of April, gave to the Prophet the right hand of fellowship in behalf of the Church in Missouri, and acknowledged him to be the President of the High Priesthood of the Church.
But notwithstanding the adjustment of all difficulties on this occasion, we learn from the correspondence that passed between the brethren of Kirtland and Independence, respectively, that the old difficulties in all their bitterness broke out afresh...
...It was while these conditions of rebellion, jealousy, pride, unbelief and hardness of heart prevailed among the brethren in Zion-Jackson county, Missouri-in all of which Bishop Partridge participated, that the words of the revelation taken from the letter to William W. Phelps, of the 27th of November, 1832, were written. The "man who was called and appointed of God" to "divide unto the Saints their inheritance"-Edward Partridge-was at that time out of order, neglecting his own duty, and putting "forth his hand to steady the ark"; hence, he was warned of the judgment of God impending, and the prediction was made that another, "one mighty and strong," would be sent of God to take his place, to have his bishopric-one having the spirit and power of that high office resting upon him, by which he would have power to "set in order the house of God, and arrange by lot the inheritance of the Saints"; in other words, one who would do the work that Bishop Edward Partridge had been appointed to do, but had failed to accomplish.
"But," it will be asked, "does Bishop Partridge fulfill the terms of the prophecy that relate to the man 'falling by the shaft of death, like a tree that is smitten by the vivid shaft of lightning'?" That should not be said without some qualification; although Edward Partridge died eight years later, in the forty-seventh year of his age, a victim of the persecution he suffered in Missouri...
...In the midst of the troublous times in Missouri, Edward Partridge acted a most noble, and self-sacrificing part, and bore many indignities with the greatest patience. He was taken to the public square of Independence, partly stripped of his clothing, and bedaubed with tar and feathers, amid the jeers of the mob. He neither complained nor murmured at this treatment, but bore it well, with meekness and dignity. He was one with five others to offer himself as a ransom for the Church "Willing to be scourged or even put to death," if that would but satisfy the tormentors of the Saints, and stop the inhuman cruelties practiced towards them by the Missourians. He was also active in settling the Saints in upper Missouri, in 1836-8. He shared in all the labors and hardships incident to the settlement of a new country, and subsequently passed through the trials attendant upon the exodus of the Saints from Missouri. Who shall say that his repentance, his sacrifices, his sufferings and faithfulness did not procure for him a mitigation of the severe judgment decreed against him in the revelation contained in the eighty-fifth section of the Doctrine and Covenants? At any rate, the Lord said, some three years later, that he was well pleased with Edward Partridge. The word of the Lord came to the Prophet to this effect, on the 7th of November, 1835:
Behold, I am well pleased with my servant Isaac Morley, and my servant Edward Partridge, because of the integrity of their hearts in laboring in my vineyard, for the salvation of the souls of men. Verify I say unto you, their sins are forgiven them, therefore, say unto them in my name, that it is my will that they should tarry for a little season, (in Kirtland) and attend the school and also the solemn assembly, for a wise purpose in me. Even so. Amen. (History of the Church, Vol. II, pp. 302-3.)
Certainly in the face of this plain statement of the Lord's that the sins of Edward Partridge were forgiven him, we do not feel that his sad and early death was the fulfillment of the threatened judgment of the revelation. But that he was the man so threatened in that revelation, there can be no question; not only on account of what is here set forth, but also because Orson Pratt, one familiar with Edward Partridge, and an active participant in all these historical matters, publicly declared from the pulpit in Salt Lake City, about the time of the death of President Young, that the man referred to in that passage of the revelation in question, was Bishop Edward Partridge. (JOSEPH F. SMITH, JOHN R. WINDER, ANTHON H. LUND, Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols., compiled by James R. Clark, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-75), 4: 109-117.)
DC 85:11 they... shall not find an inheritance among the saints of the Most High
Mark E. Peterson
It is all important... that members should not separate themselves from the true church, nor apostatize from it, nor be guilty of behavior which would justify their excommunication.
If persons separate themselves from the Lord's church, they thereby separate themselves from his means of salvation, for salvation is through the Church.
Some modern people have created cults of their own, and among them are those who attempt to take refuge in section 85 of the Doctrine and Covenants.
They endeavor to say that the Church has gone astray, that the leaders are no longer inspired, and that "one mighty and strong" is needed to take over the affairs of the Lord. And without any evidence of modesty whatsoever on their parts, they themselves volunteer for the position.
There is one verse particularly in that section which they fail to consider. It is especially pertinent. It says that apostates and others who have been cut off from the Church will not be found among the Saints of the Most High at the last day. Why? Because salvation is in the Church, not elsewhere.
Listen to the Lord's words: "And they who are of the High Priesthood, whose names are not found written in the book of the law, or that are found to have apostatized, or to have been cut off from the church, as well as the lesser priesthood, or the members, in that day shall not find an inheritance among the Saints of the Most High." (D&C 85:11.)
But cultists are not the only ones who are excommunicated from the Church. There are those who are cut off for moral transgressions and other infractions of the Lord's rules of behavior. They too should ponder this scripture most carefully.
If people believe in God at all, if they have any regard whatever for their own salvation, should they not realize, as is expressed in scripture, that salvation is through the Church, and that if people are cut off from the Church for any reason, they thus lose their inheritance in the kingdom of God? ("Salvation Comes through the Church," Ensign, July 1973, 110)
DC 85:12 therefore, it shall be done unto them as unto the children of the priest
The Book of Ezra describes the time when the children of Israel were about to return to Judea after 70 years of Babylonian captivity. The Levites, at the time, held the priesthood by lineage. During the captivity, however, some of these men had not kept adequate family records. They could no longer prove by genealogy that they were Levites. They were not allowed to exercise the priesthood.
The children of the priests...sought their register among those that were reckoned by genealogy, but they were not found: therefore were they, as polluted, put from the priesthood. (Ezra 2:61-62)
The implication for latter-day saints is that if their names and genealogies are stricken from the records of the Church, their priesthood and priesthood blessings will also be taken from them. The apostates and rebellious will not be worthy of an inheritance in Zion; they will be "as polluted, put from the priesthood."
[Concluding the letter to Elder Phelps] Now, Brother William, if what I have said is true, how careful men ought to be what they do in the last days, lest they are cut short of their expectations, and they that think they stand should fall, because they keep not the Lord's commandments. (History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1: 299.)