DC 96 Historical Background
"The major business properties of the united order consisted of a store and an ashery owned by Newel K. Whitney. Within three months after the order was established, the Whitney store was designated as the bishop's storehouse. The ashery produced potash for the use of the Saints as well as for commercial sale.
"As part of the united order, in March and April 1833 the Church purchased from Peter French a farm and two businesses being operated on it. The land would be used for the temple and home sites. One of the businesses, the Peter French Tavern, served as a public house and hotel. This was the place where the Church's first printing operation in Kirtland began in December 1833. At this site, the first patriarchal blessing was given, the first Patriarch to the Church was called, and the mummies of Michael Chandler were displayed, and from it the Twelve Apostles left on their first mission. When the united order was disbanded, the building was given to John Johnson and became known as the Johnson Inn.
"Also located on the French farm was a brick kiln, which was intended to be used to manufacture brick for the temple.
"Another business that was operated as part of the united order was a tannery, which Ezra Thayer was authorized, at a meeting of high priests on April 2, 1833, to purchase from Arnold Mason in Kirtland.
"The initial partners of the united order, or 'United Firm,' were Joseph Smith, Newel K. Whitney, and Sidney Rigdon. Other partners were added later, but the membership never exceeded twelve...
"...Initially the brethren desired to construct the temple out of brick. One of the main reasons they purchased the Peter French farm was 'on account of the facilities found there for making brick.' Benjamin F. Johnson wrote that 'the purpose of building the Temple of brick was abandoned as a stone quarry at easy distance was opened to obtain the rock for its construction.' Evidently to create the desired effect, the finished walls were marked to have the appearance of brick." (Karl Ricks Anderson, Joseph Smith's Kirtland [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1989], 133, 159)
June 3.-A conference of High Priests convened in the translating room in Kirtland. The first case presented was that of "Doctor" Philastus Hurlburt, who was accused of un-Christian conduct with women, while on a mission to the east. On investigation it was decided that his commission be taken from him, and that he be no longer a member of the Church of Christ.
The next matter before the conference was to ascertain what should be the dimensions or size of the house, that is to be built for a house of worship and for the School of the Prophets. I had received a revelation (D&C 95:15) on the size of the house in which the word of the Lord was that it should be fifty-five feet wide, and sixty-five feet long, in the inner court. The conference appointed Joseph Smith, Jun., Sidney Rigdon and Frederick G. Williams to obtain a draft or construction of the inner court of the house.
June 4.-A similar conference assembled at the same place and took into consideration how the French farm should be disposed of. The conference could not agree who should take charge of it, but all agreed to inquire of the Lord; accordingly we received the following: [D&C 96]
John Johnson was ordained by the conference to the High Priesthood, and admitted according to the revelation.
June 5.-George A. Smith hauled the first load of stone for the Temple, and Hyrum Smith and Reynolds Cahoon commenced digging the trench for the walls of the Lord's house, and finished the same with their own hands. (History of the Church, 1:352-353)
DC 96:1 it is expedient in me that this stake... should be made strong
The first stake of the Church was in Kirtland, Ohio. Little could the early saints imagine how many stakes would eventually be established! By 2008, the number of stakes was a staggering 2,790. D&C 96:1 could be the motto for each of these stake presidents, whose goal could be as the Lord's "that this stake that I have set for the strength of Zion should be made strong."
Gordon B. Hinckley
Wilford Woodruff on one occasion described his experience in April 1834, four years after the Church was organized. It occurred in Kirtland, Ohio. The Prophet Joseph called a priesthood meeting. All of the brethren who then held the priesthood gathered in a small cabin. There were only a few high priests, no Apostles or seventies, and only a few elders. The small number who assembled in one small room of a log cabin has now grown to a point where we have nearly one million holders of the Aaronic Priesthood and 900,000 holders of the Melchizedek Priesthood.
Kirtland, then the major location of the Saints, was a small place. Now, 158 years later, we have become a mighty congregation spread over the earth... I am told that we now have members in 138 different political entities. Think of that. In every place where this work has been planted, it has been necessary to establish a priesthood base on which to build. In some places it has begun with the father of a family who gathered his wife and children about him to worship on the Sabbath day. From such small beginnings have grown strong congregations, eventually becoming wards and stakes of Zion. ("Only upon Principles of Righteousness," Ensign, Sep 1992, 68)
DC 96:2 let my servant Newel K. Whitney take charge of the place (i.e. the French Farm)
"This revelation... provided the Church with an example for future similar questions by explaining the principles involved... that the bishop was the Lord's steward in the administration of temporal things, particularly in the disposition and use of Church property (see D&C 72:9-23)...
"In answer to their prayer of inquiry, the Lord informed the brethren that the person with responsibility for the Lord's properties in Kirtland was the bishop in Kirtland, Newel K. Whitney. The building committee was to oversee construction, but control of Church-owned properties and the structures built upon them would remain with the bishop." (Stephen E. Robinson, H. Dean Garrett, A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2001] 3:213)
DC 96:3 let it be divided into lots
Under the United Firm, the city of Kirtland was being planned with the temple as the focus and home lots organized in relation to the temple. The over 100-acre French Farm was large enough to allow for the allocation of several plots. Part of living the law of consecration meant that individuals built homes on property they received as an inheritance rather than property they owned, reinforcing the idea of stewardship rather than ownership.
"The Peter French farm was situated immediately north of the Frederick G. Williams property... located at the crossroads and the industrial land situated near the river. The farm property was being used for farming and provided excellent lots for homes on the crest of the plateau, below the hill, and near the main businesses and mills of Kirtland." (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], 144 - 145)
DC 96:3 lots... for the benefit of those who seek inheritances
"The French farm... was named after Peter French. Over a score of years before Latter-day Saints began arriving in Kirtland, Ohio, French was one of the leaders of this small town. His job was to prevent families from remaining in Kirtland who were unable to pay their own way.
"In 1833, agents for the Church purchased 103 acres from French for a sum of five thousand dollars; this land included the property upon which the Kirtland Temple was built. This property, along with other pieces of land, operated on the principle of stewardship and made a home available to those who otherwise might not be able to afford it. It is ironic that French, who earlier had driven the poor from Kirtland, was now responsible for providing the land whereupon the poor among the Saints might remain." (Hoyt W. Brewster, Jr., Doctrine and Covenants Encyclopedia [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988], 195, italics added)
DC 96:6 Biographical Sketch: John Johnson
"Birth: 11 April 1778, Chesterfield, Cheshire County, New Hampshire. Son of Israel Johnson and Abigail Higgins.
Death: 30 July 1843, Kirtland, Lake County, Ohio.
"John Johnson, or 'Father Johnson,' as he was affectionately called by the Saints, was a farmer by trade and 'noted for paying his debts and living independently.' He resided in various locations in the East including Pomfret, Vermont, a small town a few miles from the Prophet's birthplace, from 1803 to 1818.
"In 1818 the Johnson family moved to Hiram, Ohio, where Father Johnson purchased one hundred acres. Through the ensuing years he bought additional land and by 1830 owned a 304-acre estate and a newly constructed farmhouse. His prosperity and religious affiliation with the 'Methodist Church for about four or five years' before learning of Mormonism is well-documented.
"Soon after the Prophet's arrival in Ohio, fifty-three-year-old Father Johnson, his wife, Elsa, and Methodist minister Ezra Booth journeyed to Kirtland to investigate Mormonism. While discussing the tenets of the new faith Elsa was healed of chronic rheumatism. A historical record recounts details of the miraculous healing: 'During the interview the conversation turned on the subject of supernatural gifts, such as were conferred in the days of the apostles. Some one said, `Here is Mrs. Johnson with a lame arm; has God given any power to man now on the earth to cure her?` A few moments later, when the conversation had turned in another direction, Smith rose, and walking across the room, taking Mrs. Johnson by the hand, said in the most solemn and impressive manner: `Woman, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ I command thee to be whole,` and immediately left the room.' Elsa was instantly healed, and the next day she did her washing 'without difficulty or pain.' The healing led directly to the conversion of Father and Mother Johnson and their baptism by the Prophet.
"On 12 September 1831 the Prophet and his family moved into the Johnsons' home in Hiram, viewing their hospitality as the answer to the Lord's directive to 'seek them a home, as they are taught through prayer by the Spirit' (D&C 63:65). For six months Joseph enjoyed uninterrupted spiritual outpouring in the Johnson home. However, violence displaced peace on 24 March 1832, when Joseph Smith was tarred and feathered. Father Johnson, 'hearing the outcry of the family,' attempted to help. He 'went to the door, but finding it held by some one on the outside, he called for his gun, when those who held the door left; he pursued, and was knocked down; his collarbone was broken.' He was taken back to his home and blessed by David Whitmer and immediately healed.
"Soon after the terrible incident Father Johnson moved to Kirtland and opened an inn near the Newel K. Whitney Store. In Kirtland on 17 February 1833 he was ordained an elder, and on 4 June 1833 he was ordained a high priest by Joseph Smith and given a 'promise of eternal life inasmuch as he keepeth my commandments from henceforth-for he is a descendant of Joseph and a partaker of the blessings of the promise made unto the fathers' (D&C 96:6-7). On 17 February 1834 he became a member of the Kirtland high council (D&C 102:3). Father Johnson is remembered for displaying in his inn the mummies and papyri obtained from Michael Chandler and also for his work on the Kirtland Temple and for receiving an inheritance and blessing for his labors on 8 March 1835." (Susan Easton Black, Who's Who in the Doctrine and Covenants [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997], 152-153.)
DC 96:7 he is a descendant of Joseph and a partaker of the blessings
"The covenant made to Abraham was passed on to Abraham's seed by birthright and went to Isaac, then to Jacob, and then to Joseph who was sold into Egypt. Many great covenants and blessings were likewise promised to Joseph and his seed. These promises were, of course, an extension of Abraham's covenant. Likewise, the fulfillment of Abraham's and Joseph's blessings was not limited to the family of Joseph Smith, Sr. Others of the lineage of Joseph of Egypt were recipients of the same fulfillment. At a conference of high priests on 4 June 1833, John Johnson was given 'a promise of eternal life inasmuch as he keepeth my commandments from henceforth-for he is a descendant of Joseph and a partaker of the blessings of the promise made unto his fathers.' Again, the blessings of the fathers are the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. Other members of the Church collectively had the same blessings extended to them but in the context of their being descendants of Ephraim, the son of Joseph of Egypt, to whom the birthright was granted." (Susan Easton Black et al., Doctrines for Exaltation: The 1989 Sperry Symposium on the Doctrine and Covenants [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1989], 189 - 190)
DC 96:8-9 he should become a member of the order
"The order of which he was to become a member was a business firm composed of some of the leading elders of the Church and was referred to as the United Order or United Firm. Members of this order covenanted to consecrate their surplus property and business profits for the poor and needy of the Church. At this time, as indicated in section 96, the order had negotiated the purchase of a farm from Peter French that included a house, or inn. As a member of the order, John was instructed by the Lord that he was to 'seek diligently to take away incumbrances that are upon the house named among you' (D&C 96:9).
"This simple passage in the Doctrine and Covenants had a profound influence in the life of John Johnson and the history of the Church. John sold his home and farm in Hiram, Ohio, as part of honoring the covenant he had made as a member of the order. The large frame home is still standing today, along with several other buildings on the property. In fact, the home is used as a visitors center for the Church. It is evident that John was a prosperous farmer in the community. The proceeds from the sale of his farm in Hiram were combined with the money of the order to pay the mortgage on the Peter French farm. It was on a part of this land that the Kirtland Temple was built. This temple and the blessings received in it (among them the preparatory ordinances of the endowment), many great spiritual manifestations, and the long-awaited restoration of priesthood keys held by Moses, Elias, and Elijah were made possible in part by this one man's offering. Therefore, an obscure commandment in the Doctrine and Covenants to an individual not commonly known shows the importance of the covenants made by real people of the 1830s. Further, the implication is that members today who keep their covenant of consecrating their worldly wealth and time may someday be given the same promise the Lord gave to John Johnson, 'Unto whom I give a promise of eternal life inasmuch as he keepeth my commandments from henceforth' (D&C 96:6)." (Leon R. Hartshorn, Dennis A. Wright, and Craig J. Ostler, eds., The Doctrine and Covenants, a Book of Answers: The 25th Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1996], 125 - 126)