DC 119 Historical Background
If there was one problem which seemed to always plague the Prophet Joseph, it was the continual financial struggles of the Church. For over eight years, problem after problem had been solved on an ad hoc basis, often with a wealthy member making a sizeable donation not long after Joseph Smith petitioned the Lord for relief. At other times, brethren were asked to call upon the saints to make donations for the poor in Zion. Furthermore, financial struggles in Kirtland had been at the heart of discontent and disaffection resulting in the apostasy of many members.
At the time of this revelation, the saints were building up cities in northern Missouri. Many saints were leaving Kirtland for the Missouri counties of Daviess and Caldwell. Most of these saints had recently immigrated from Clay county, Canada, or Kirtland. Most were poor; many had suffered bitter persecutions. Zion became known as "poor bleeding Zion." (Elders' Journal of the Church of Latter Day Saints, vol. 1 (October 1837-August 1838), Volume 1, Number 3, Far West, Missouri, July 1838)
Joseph Smith arrived in Missouri in the spring of 1838. He began writing a comprehensive history of the church and surveying lands for the settlement of the saints. At this time, he received a heart-rending letter from his brother Don Carlos. Don Carlos led a small group of saints from Ohio to Missouri. This letter, received in July of 1838, prompted the Prophet to inquire of the Lord for a more permanent solution.
Don Carlos Smith
(Nine Miles From Terre Haute, Indiana.)
Brother Joseph:-I sit down to inform you of our situation at the present time. I started from Norton, Ohio, the 7th of May, in company with father, William, Wilkins Jenkins Salisbury, William McClary and Lewis Robbins, and families, also Sister Singly. We started with fifteen horses, seven wagons, and two cows. We have left two horses by the way sick, and a third horse (our main dependence) was taken lame last evening, and is not able to travel, and we have stopped to doctor him. We were disappointed on every hand before we started in getting money. We got no assistance whatever, only as we have taken in Sister Singly, and she has assisted us as far as her means extended. We had, when we started, $75 in money. We sold the two cows for $13.50 per cow. We have sold of your goods to the amount of $45.74, and now we have only $25 to carry twenty-eight souls and thirteen horses five hundred miles.
We have lived very close and camped out at night, notwithstanding the rain and cold, and my baby only two weeks old when we started. Agnes is very feeble; father and mother are not well and very much fatigued; mother has a severe cold, and in fact it is nothing but the prayer of faith and the power of God, that will sustain them and bring them through. Our courage is good, and I think we shall be brought through. I leave it with you and Hyrum to devise some way to assist us to some more expense money. We have unaccountably bad roads, had our horses down in the mud, and broke one wagon tongue and thills, and broke down the carriage twice, and yet we are all alive and encamped on a dry place for almost the first time. Poverty is a heavy load, but we are all obliged to welter under it.
It is now dark and I close. May the Lord bless you all, and bring us together, is my prayer. Amen. All the arrangements that brother Hyrum left for getting money failed; they did not gain us one cent.-Don C. Smith. (History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 3: 43.)
Introduction: The term "tithings"...in previous revelations (64:23; 85:3; 97:11) had meant not just one-tenth, but all free-will offerings, or contributions, to the Church funds
This explanatory note is very useful. Consider the implications of this statement on just one of the passages listed, "Behold, now it is called today until the coming of the Son of Man, and verily it is a day of sacrifice, and a day for the tithing of my people; for he that is tithed shall not be burned at his coming." (D&C 64:23) Many have colloquially referred to the Law of Tithing as the Lord's fire insurance. They declare that if you pay your tithing, you're safe. While this may still be true, the Lord was not using the term tithing as we understand it today, but rather to refer to all church offerings. The context suggests that those who obey the Law of Sacrifice and the Law of Consecration will "not be burned at his coming." Obedience to the Law of Tithing, in isolation, may not be enough.
DC 119:1 I require all their surplus property to be put into the hands of the Bishop
"Finances became an increasing problem for the Church as the Saints settled in their new homes in northern Missouri. In fact, Bishop Partridge had personally assumed responsibility for a thousand dollars in Church expenses. Consequently, during the spring of 1838, Church leaders were giving attention to ways of raising funds. Tithing was one idea they considered.
"The Prophet went to the Lord: 'O Lord! Show unto thy servant how much thou requires of the properties of thy people for a tithing.' The third revelation received on 8 July 1838, now Doctrine and Covenants 119, came in response. This revelation he 'read to the public' (History of the Church, 3:44). Because the people had been living the law of consecration, in which they were to give a surplus each year, the revelation directed them first to fulfill this responsibility as the 'beginning of the tithing of my people' and then to contribute one tenth of their income thereafter (D&C 119:3-4). On that same day, Joseph received a fourth revelation (D&C 120) relating to the disposition of properties received as tithes.
"Brigham Young spoke of the Saints' varying acceptance of the law of tithing:
"The brethren wished me to go among the Churches, and find out what surplus property the people had, with which to forward the building of the Temple we were commencing at Far West. . . .
" . . . I found the people said they were willing to do about as they were counselled, but, upon asking them about their surplus property, most of the men who owned land and cattle would say, 'I have got so many hundred acres of land, and I have got so many boys, and I want each one of them to have eighty acres, therefore this is not surplus property.' . . . It is a laughable idea, but is nevertheless true, men would tell me they were young and beginning the world, and would say, 'We have no children, but our prospects are good, and we think we shall have a family of children, and if we do, we want to give them eighty acres of land each; we have no surplus property.' . . .
" . . . You would once in a while find a man who had a horse that he considered surplus, but at the same time he had the ringbone, was broken-winded, spavined in both legs, had the pole evil at one end of the neck and a fistula at the other, and both knees sprung.
"This is the description of surplus property that some would offer to the Lord" (Journal of Discourses, 2:306-7). (Milton V. Backman, Jr. and Richard O. Cowan, Joseph Smith and the Doctrine and Covenants [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1992], 121.)
DC 119:1-2 surplus property... for the laying of the foundation of Zion
J. Reuben Clark, Jr.
In lieu of residues and surpluses which were accumulated and built up under the United Order, we, today, have our fast offerings, our Welfare donations, and our tithing, all of which may be devoted to the care of the poor, as well as the carrying on of the activities and business of the Church. ...
Furthermore, we had under the United Order a bishop's storehouse in which were collected the materials from which to supply the needs and the wants of the poor. We have a bishop's storehouse under the Welfare Plan, used for the same purpose...Thus ... in many of its great essentials, we have, [in] the Welfare Plan ... the broad essentials of the United Order. (Marion G. Romney, "The Purpose of Church Welfare Services," Ensign, May 1977, 95)
J. Reuben Clark, Jr.
If you think about it clearly, when you think about our storehouses where we are putting in all the surpluses we can, when we are paying a full tithing, when we are giving assistance in the health services, when we are giving assistance in the programs by which we reach out to those who are far afield, teaching them how to take care of themselves, we will not be far from living the united order. (Harold B. Lee, The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, edited by Clyde J. Williams [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996], 207.)
Victor L. Brown
In May 1938, the Deseret Industries was established. Its charter was outlined by the First Presidency to permit those who have to share with those who have not by giving of their surplus property, such as clothing, furniture, appliances, etc., to Deseret Industries-where the work of renovation would employ the unemployed-and to make available those same articles of good quality at affordable cost. ("A Haven of Love," Ensign, May 1978, 90)
DC 119:3 this shall be the beginning of the tithing of my people
There was a transition from the Law of Consecration to the Law of Tithing as the governing financial law of the church. The saints immigrating to Zion were to consecrate their surplus to the Bishop's storehouse as their initial offering and then pay a tithing of one tenth of their increase after that.
"This statement (D&C 119:1-4), in the historical setting in which it was given, makes it clear that the law of tithing was to function within the framework of the law of consecration and stewardship. The Saints were first expected to consecrate their surplus property as required by the law of consecration, and then pay a tithe of their increase or income thereafter. The Prophet's actions thereafter also indicate that the law of tithing in no way rescinded the obligation of the Saints to apply the principles of consecration in their economic practices." (Hyrum L. Andrus, Doctrines of the Kingdom [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1973], 257.)
Imagine if this law were still in force. The missionaries would have teach an investigator the Law of Tithing, commit an investigator to baptism, and then instruct them that after baptism they are to donate all surplus property-everything they own which they don't really need-to the Bishop's Storehouse. Such a practice might not go over so well.
Joseph Fielding Smith
In more recent times the Church has not called upon the members to give all their surplus property to the Church, but it has been the requirement according to the covenant, that they pay the tenth. (Church History and Modern Revelation, 2:92)
DC 119:4 those who have thus been tithed shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually
Victor L. Brown
On March 19, 1970, the First Presidency sent the following letter to presidents of stakes and missions, bishops of wards, and presidents of branches in answer to the question, "What is a proper tithe?"
"For your guidance in this matter, please be advised that we have uniformly replied that the simplest statement we know of is that statement of the Lord himself that the members of the Church should pay one-tenth of all their interest annually, which is understood to mean income. No one is justified in making any other statement than this. We feel that every member of the Church should be entitled to make his own decision as to what he thinks he owes the Lord, and to make payment accordingly." ("I Have a Question," Ensign, Apr. 1974, 17)
Gordon B. Hinckley
Tithing is so simple and straightforward a thing. The principle, as it applies to us, is actually set forth in one verse of section 119 of the Doctrine and Covenants. That fourth verse consists of thirty-five words. Contrast that with the cumbersome and complex tax codes enacted and enforced by governments. In the one case it is a brief statement from the Lord, the payment left to the individual and motivated by faith. With the other it is a tangled web created by men and enforced by law. ("The Miracle Made Possible by Faith," Ensign, May 1984, 47)
James E. Faust
The law of tithing is simple: we pay one-tenth of our individual increase annually. Increase has been interpreted by the First Presidency to mean income. What amounts to 10 percent of our individual income is between each of us and our Maker. There are no legalistic rules. As a convert in Korea once said: "With tithing, it doesn't matter whether you are rich or poor. You pay 10 percent, and you don't have to be ashamed if you haven't earned very much. If you make lots of money, you pay 10 percent. If you make very little, you still pay 10 percent. Heavenly Father will love you for it. You can hold your head up proud."
Why should members worldwide, many of whom may not have enough for their daily needs, be encouraged to keep the Lord's law of tithing? As President Hinckley said in Cebu in the Philippine Islands, if members "even living in poverty and misery ... will accept the gospel and live it, pay their tithes and offerings, even though those be meager, ... they will have rice in their bowls and clothing on their backs and shelter over their heads. I do not see any other solution." ("Opening the Windows of Heaven," Ensign, Nov. 1998, 59)
Gordon B. Hinckley
We can pay our tithing. This is not so much a matter of money as it is a matter of faith. I have yet to find a faithful tithe payer who cannot testify that in a very literal and wonderful way the windows of heaven have been opened and blessings have been poured out upon him or her.
I urge you . . . every one of you, to take the Lord at His word in this important matter. It is He who has given the commandment and made the promise. I go back to Nephi, who in that time of worry and concern said to his brothers: "Let us be faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord; for behold he is mightier than all the earth." (1 Nephi 4:1.) ("'Let Us Move This Work Forward,'" Ensign, November 1985, p. 85.)
Joseph F. Smith
By this principle (tithing) the loyalty of the people of the Church shall be put to the test. By this principle it shall be known who is for the kingdom of God and who is against it. By this principle it shall be seen whose hearts are set on doing the will of God and keeping His commandments; thereby sanctifying the land of Zion unto God, and who are opposed to this principle and have cut themselves off from the blessings of Zion. There is a great deal of importance connected with this principle, for by it ye shall know whether we are faithful or unfaithful. (Gospel Doctrine, Deseret Book, 1970 edition, p. 225.)
DC 119:5-6 if my people observe not this law
This was given in 1838. And does it not seem strange that we do not comprehend it? I think it does sometimes. Here we have had the Doctrine and Covenants in our hands, which contains this revelation, since the year 1838; that is nearly forty-three years ago. We have had forty-two years to study this doctrine, and it is as plain as you can make it, and yet it would seem that we cannot understand it. Do we want to understand the laws of God? If we do and will read these things under the influence of that spirit which I have referred to, I think that we will understand our duties without much trouble.. . . .
-Now, if we abide this, all well and good. If not, it is written, "They shall not be found worthy to abide among you." What will you do with them? I often think that there are a great many people who are not worthy to abide among us; don't you? And then if God were to put judgment to the line, and righteousness to the plummet, most of us would be in a very poor fix. I will tell you what I think should be done.. . . . I think the people ought to be instructed in these things, and then if they do not live up to them, you [priesthood leaders] will not then be held responsible to the authorities that preside over you. The Lord tells us that they shall not be worthy of a place among us. (The Gospel Kingdom: Selections from the Writings and Discourses of John Taylor, selected, arranged, and edited, with an introduction by G. Homer Durham [Salt Lake City: Improvement Era, 1941], 263 - 264.)
President Taylor treated this forenoon upon the law of tithing. Perhaps the Latter-day Saints do not want to hear much more upon this subject, but I have felt a long time that we as a people were somewhat ignorant of that law. We have looked upon it as a matter of little consequence; we have looked upon it with a great deal of indifference whether we pay tithing or not. But the subject was clearly set forth this forenoon by president Taylor. He has no power to change this law, nor has any other man; and if we do not obey it, we can lay no claim to the promises made to those who obey it. These things are very plain and pointed. (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, edited by G. Homer Durham [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969], 177.)