Section 56

DC 56 Historical Background

"When Frederick G. Williams joined the Church and went to Missouri with the missionaries to the Lamanites in November 1830, seven months before Doctrine and Covenants 56 was received, he left both his family and his 144-acre farm behind in Kirtland. The following spring, sometime before May 1831, the Williams family, the Prophet's father, Joseph Smith Sr., and Ezra Thayre, one of the incoming New York Saints (see D&C 33:1), had reached some kind of agreement concerning the use of the Williams farm. By the time Ezra Thayre received his mission call to Missouri in June (see D&C 52:22), at least these three families, and maybe more, had been sharing the Williams farm and its facilities for some weeks.

"In May 1831 Joseph Smith Jr. received a revelation concerning the Williams farm and the families living there. This revelation was not included in the Doctrine and Covenants but it does give some background to sections 54 and 56." (Stephen E. Robinson, H. Dean Garrett, A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2001] 2:134)

The revelation referred to may be of interest to the reader-not so much because of the content-but as a reminder that the Doctrine and Covenants does not include all of the revelations received by the Prophet Joseph Smith.

"Revelation given through Joseph Smith at Kirtland, Ohio, in May 1831, concerning the farm owned by Frederick and also concerning Joseph and Ezra.

   Hearken unto my words and behold I will make known unto you what ye shall do as it shall be pleasing unto me, for verily I say unto you it must needs be that ye let the bargain stand that ye have made concerning those farms until it be so fulfilled.

   Behold ye are holden for the one even so likewise thine advisary (i.e. advisory) is holden for the other wherefore it must needs be that ye pay no more money for the present time until the contract be fulfilled, and let mine aged servant Joseph (Smith Sr.) and his family go into the house after their advisary is gone.

   And let my servant Ezra (Thayre) board with him and let all the brethren immediately assemble together to put up an house for my servant Ezra and let my servant Frederick's family remain and let the house be prepared and their wants be supplied and when my servant Frederick returns from the west behold and lo he desireth to take his family in mine own due time unto the west.

   Let that which belongeth unto my servant Frederick be secured unto him by deed or bond and thus he willeth that the brethren reap the good thereof.

   Let mine aged servant Joseph govern the things of the farm and provide for the families and let him have help inasmuch as he standeth in need.

   Let my servant Ezra humble himself and at the conference meeting (D&C 52) he shall be ordained unto power from on high and he shall go from thence if he be obedient unto my commandments and proclaim my gospel unto the western regions with my servants that must go forth unto the borders by the Lamanites for behold I have a great work for them to do and it shall be given unto you to know what ye shall do at the conference meeting. Even so Amen.

   What shall the brethren do with the moneys? Ye shall go forth and seek diligently among the brethren and obtain lands and save the money that it may be consecrated to purchase lands in the west for an everlasting inheritance. Even so, Amen. (Kirtland Revelation Book, pp. 91-92, Joseph Smith Collection, Church Historians Office)" (Fred C. Collier, Unpublished Revelations of the Prophets and Presidents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1:56-57)

"According to this revelation, Joseph Smith Sr. was to manage the Williams farm and all three families were to live there together until the Church could build another house for the Thayres on the same property. Also, a share of the property was to be deeded in stewardship to Frederick G. Williams-who still legally owned it all but had left it at the disposal of the Church when he went to Missouri.

"Ezra Thayre was one of the New York Saints who went to Kirtland with a fair amount of cash, presumably from selling his New York property. It appears that he had agreed to consecrate his holdings to the Lord and had received in return a promised interest in the Williams farm. But when Ezra was called to Missouri, he wanted to secure his financial interest in Kirtland by receiving some kind of consideration: either by getting his money back or by receiving legal title to a portion of the Williams farm (see vv. 9-10). Essentially, Thayre wanted to own his stewardship at a time when this was not the practice of the Church. Though called as a missionary to Missouri, Ezra would not go until his personal interests were secured. His stubbornness in the matter made it necessary for another companion to be provided for Thomas B. Marsh, who was ready to go as commanded. Four months later, on 10 October 1831, a conference of elders in Kirtland rebuked Ezra for his pride and stubbornness, but no other action was taken against him at that time." Dean Garrett, A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2001] 2:134-135)

Previously, Ezra had served a faithful mission with Northrop Sweet as commanded in Section 33, preaching the gospel and baptizing some on his way from New York to Kirtland.  Later, he would serve more faithful missions for the Church. But for time being, Ezra had other things on his mind.

The Lord's response to this problem is interesting on many levels. First, it shows that the Lord is more than willing to call another when one shirks his duty. Second, it shows how serious the Lord is about his commandments, demonstrating his fierce anger with the disobedient.  Third, it shows the Lord's disgust with our selfishness and petty concern for material goods.  Fourth, it reminds us that there are severe punishments for not being diligent and exact in keeping the commandments.  Section 56 is perhaps the sternest rebuke and chastisement thus far in the Doctrine and Covenants.

DC 56:1-4 mine anger is kindled against the rebellious

The Lord lists four warnings for the wicked: 

  1. They shall know mine arm and mine indignation, in the day of visitation (v. 1)
  2. The same shall not be saved (v. 2)
  3. They shall be cut off in mine own due time (v. 3)
  4. All this will be answered upon the heads of the rebellious (v. 4).

DC 56:1 O ye people who profess my name...mine anger is kindled against the rebellious

Gordon B. Hinckley

So many in the game of life get to first base, or second, or even third, but then fail to score. They are inclined to live unto themselves, denying their generous instincts, grasping for possessions and, in their self-centered, uninspired living, sharing neither talent nor faith with others. Of them the Lord has said: "And this shall be your lamentation in the day of visitation, and of judgment, and of indignation: The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and my soul is not saved!" (D&C 56:16.)

I wish also to say a word concerning those who profess love for the Lord and His work and then, either with voice or by silence, deny Him.

I well recall a young man of great faith and devotion. He was my friend and my mentor during a sensitive period of my life. The manner of his living and the enthusiasm of his service were evidence of his love for the Lord and for the work of the Church. But he was slowly led away by the flattery of associates who saw in him the means of their own advancement in the affairs in which they were engaged together. Rather than lead them in the direction of his faith and behavior, he slowly succumbed to their enticings in the opposite direction.

He never spoke in defiance of the faith he had once lived by. That was not necessary. His altered manner was testimony enough of his having forsaken it. The years passed, and then I met him again. He spoke as one disillusioned. With lowered voice and lowered eyes, he told of his drifting when he cut himself loose from the anchor of his once-treasured faith. Then, concluding his narrative, like Peter, he wept.

Several years ago I was speaking with a friend concerning a mutual acquaintance, a man looked upon as highly successful in his vocation. "But what of his activity in the Church?" I asked. To which my friend responded, "He knows in his heart that it is true, but he is afraid of it. He is fearful that if he were to acknowledge his Church membership and live its standards, he would be cut off from the social circle in which he moves."

I reflected, "The day will come, though possibly not until old age, when in hours of quiet reflection this man will know that he traded his birthright for a mess of pottage (see Gen. 25:34); and there will be remorse and sorrow and tears, for he will come to see that he not only denied the Lord in his own life, but also in effect denied Him before his children, who have grown up without a faith to cling to."

The Lord Himself said, "Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels" (Mark 8:38). ("And Peter Went Out and Wept Bitterly," Ensign, Mar. 1995, 5)

DC 56:4  I, the Lord, command and revoke, as it seemeth me good

   I command and men obey not; I revoke and they receive not the blessing.

   Then they say in their hearts: This is not the work of the Lord, for his promises are not fulfilled. But wo unto such, for their reward lurketh beneath, and not from above. (DC 58:32-33)

Joseph Smith

On the subject of revelation... a man would command his son to dig potatoes and saddle his horse, but before he had done either he would tell him to do something else. This is all considered right; but as soon as the Lord gives a commandment and revokes that decree and commands something else, then the Prophet is considered fallen. Because we will not receive chastisement at the hand of the Prophet and Apostles, the Lord chastiseth us with sickness and death. (History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 4: 478 - 479.)

DC 56:5 Thomas B. Marsh...shall take up his journey...and my servant Selah J. Griffin shall also go with him

"With the problem as to who should be his missionary companion resolved, Thomas B. Marsh and Selah J. Griffin left Kirtland about the middle of June 1831. They commenced to preach in the various townships through which they passed on their Missouri bound journey; apparently they met with some success in this endeavor, for it was recorded that 'many believed their testimony, but they did not wait to baptise any.'" (Larry C. Porter, Milton V. Backman, Jr., and Susan Easton Black, eds., Regional Studies in Latter-day Saint History: New York. [Provo: BYU Department of Church History and Doctrine, 1992], p. 138)

DC 56:6 I revoke the commandment which was given unto my servants Selah J. Griffin and Newel Knight

When Brother Marsh approached the Prophet about his problem with his companion, the Lord's solution was to make two companionships into one. Newel Knight had previously been called to serve with Selah J. Griffin (D&C 52:32).  At the time, Brother Knight was the acting president of the Colesville branch of saints who had come from New York to settle on Leman Copley's farmland in Thompson, Ohio. Conflict and bitterness ensued (see sections 51 and 54).  The Lord's directive to rearrange the companionships would allow Brother Knight to help the displaced Colesville saints relocate. However, the situation was another example of the Lord revoking a commandment because church members were in conflict over material possessions.

DC 56:8 Ezra Thayre must repent of his pride, and of his selfishness

"On 7 June 1831, the Prophet received a revelation calling Ezra to serve a mission with Thomas B. Marsh (see D&C 52:22). He failed to serve this mission... Apparently Ezra repented, for on 25 January 1832 he was again appointed to serve a mission with Thomas B. Marsh (see D&C 75:31). He was faithful to this charge. One year later he was appointed to negotiate the purchase of land in Kirtland for the Church, including 103 acres of the Peter French Farm. On this land the Kirtland Temple was built.

"...Ezra's Church membership was suspended in May 1835 for impropriety, based on a complaint signed by Oliver Granger.  In September that year the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote of his love for Ezra: 'This day my soul has desired the salvation of Brother Ezra Thayer.'

"Apparently the complaint was settled. Ezra moved to Missouri and resided in Adam-ondi-Ahman, where he served on the high council. After the Saints were expelled from Missouri, Ezra moved to Rochester, New York. On 9 July 1840 Heber C. Kimball wrote to the Prophet about staying one night with Ezra in Rochester, 'He was glad to see me, and inquired much about you and the rest of the brethren: he seemed to be firm in the faith of the gospel and has much love for his brethren.'  Jonathan Crosby had a differing opinion of Ezra's faithfulness. He had found him in Rochester also, and said, 'He treated us well, but was dead spiritually.'

After the Martyrdom Ezra refused to follow the leadership of the Quorum of the Twelve. He was living in Michigan in 1860 and was a high priest in the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints." (Susan Easton Black, Who's Who in the Doctrine and Covenants [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997], 319-321)

DC 56:8 repent of...selfishness

Neal A. Maxwell

In one degree or another we all struggle with selfishness. Since it is so common, why worry about selfishness anyway? Because selfishness is really self-destruction in slow motion. No wonder the Prophet Joseph Smith urged, "Let every selfish feeling be not only buried, but annihilated" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 178). Hence annihilation-not moderation-is the destination!

Surging selfishness, for example, has shrunken some people into ciphers; they seek to erase their emptiness by sensations. But in the arithmetic of appetite, anything multiplied by zero still totals zero! Each spasm of selfishness narrows one's universe that much more by reducing his awareness of or concern with others. In spite of its outward, worldly swagger, such indulgent individualism is actually provincial, like goldfish in a bowl congratulating themselves on their self-sufficiency, never mind the food pellets or changes of water.

Long ago it took a Copernicus to tell a provincial world that this planet was not the center of the universe. Some selfish moderns need a Copernican reminder that they are not the center of the universe either! ("Repent of [Our] Selfishness" (D&C 56:8)," Ensign, May 1999, 23)

William R. Bradford

In its simplest form, selfishness is the holding to one's self that which he has power to righteously share. The greed or lust or wrongful intent soon creates men whose "hearts are not satisfied," and who "obey not the truth, but have pleasure in unrighteousness." These are they who "will not give [their] substance to the poor. ... whose spirits are not contrite, and whose bellies are not satisfied, and whose hands are not stayed from laying hold upon other men's goods, whose eyes are full of greediness, and who will not labor with [their] own hands!" (D&C 56:15-17.)

That which a man serves himself upon the platter of selfishness and greed may appease his mortal appetite, but it will leave him spiritually starved and malnourished.

There is no happiness in selfishness; it is a sin. Its product is misery and loneliness, and it alienates companions and develops enmity in human relationships. ("Selfishness vs. Selflessness," Ensign, Apr. 1983, 50)

DC 56:9-10 there shall be no divisions made upon the land

Ezra Thayre had thought that the Williams farm might be divided up between the three families residing there. Having previously consecrated a large sum of money to the Church, he may have thought such an arrangement to be fair. Ezra was concerned about ownership; the Lord was operating upon the principles of stewardship. Therefore, the land was not to be divided. If Brother Thayre couldn't live by that principle, then he was to be given his money back and cut off from the Church.

DC 56:12-13 If my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., must needs pay the money

If Ezra Thayre wanted out of the Church, the prophet would give his previously consecrated money back. However, the Prophet did not have the money at his disposal. The Lord's solution was to pay Ezra Thayre back from the funds which would be received by the Church as the saints settled in Missouri. The saints were to receive lands for their inheritance in part according to their donations to Church funds.

DC 56:14 your sins have come up unto me, and are not pardoned

The Lord's rebuke is stern. Can you remember a time when the Lord says "you are not forgiven"?  While we might be familiar with such scriptures addressed to the wicked, rarely do we find such language being used towards members of the Church. As a general rule, the Lord is well pleased with the Church "speaking unto the church collectively and not individually" (D&C 1:30). However, if the Lord speaks to the church individually and not collectively, the story is often quite different.

DC 56:16 Wo unto you rich men

"Nowhere in the ancient scriptures are recorded more forceful words regarding the obligations that rest upon rich men to impart of their worldly goods for the substance of the poor than are the foregoing revelations. These commandments were revealed to the members of the Church through the Prophet Joseph Smith; therefore, they constitute the direct word of God to this gospel dispensation. Each individual church member had better heed their warning admonitions or he may lose his eternal salvation, as the Lord declared, and find his soul not saved." (Will a Man Rob God? [Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1952], 234.)

Joe J. Christensen

When it comes to overcoming being greedy, selfish, and overly indulgent, we all need a lot more help. In his candid manner, President Brigham Young said: "The worst fear ... I have about this people is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and His people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church. ... My greater fear ... is that they cannot stand wealth."

Our prosperity brings some real challenges because many are getting rich, more of us are waxing fat, and as a result of greed, selfishness, and overindulgence, we could lose the Spirit and literally kick ourselves out of the Church. ("Greed, Selfishness, and Overindulgence," Ensign, May 1999, 9)

DC 56:17 Wo unto you poor men, whose hearts are not broken, whose spirits are not contrite

Hugh Nibley

What do the two (rich and poor) have in common? Both want riches; "ye are cursed because of your riches, and also are your riches cursed because ye have set your hearts upon them" (Helaman 13:21). The same requirements are made of rich and poor, namely a broken heart and contrite spirit, contentment with sufficiency (1 Timothy 6:5-8), no envy of another's possessions, no preoccupation of getting more, not acquiring by the labor of others. God rejects all our rationalizations, our fervid moral tone and glorification of those traits of character that lead to [worldly] success. (Approaching Zion, edited by Don E. Norton [Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1989], 393 - 394.)

DC 56:17 Wo unto you poor men...who will not labor with your own hands

John Whitmer

There were some of the disciples who were flattered into the Church because they thought that all things were to be common, therefore they thought to glut themselves upon the labors of others. (The Book of John Whitmer, typescript, [Provo: BYU Archives and Manuscripts], chap. 3)

George Albert Smith

I feel that there has been no justification given to any man in this world to feel that he can depend on somebody else to provide him a livelihood. I did not feel when I was a child that somebody would be compelled to provide me means of living. The Lord gave me intelligence. He directed that I should work, and I began to work when I was twelve years of age, and I found joy in it, and have earned my living and helped others during more than fifty years.

I thank God for work, for the joy that comes from doing things in the world. I am not indicating any particular kind of employment except that it be honorable. But the Lord has indicated that we should be industrious. In ancient times he said that we should earn our living by the sweat of our face. There are means available today whereby, if we were keeping all of the commandments of our Heavenly Father, there would be employment for every one of us that would occupy most of our time. (Conference Report, October 1934, Second Day-Morning Meeting 49 - 50.)

Spencer W. Kimball

Work brings happiness, self-esteem, and prosperity. It is the means of all accomplishment; it is the opposite of idleness. We are commanded to work. (See Gen. 3:19.) Attempts to obtain our temporal, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being by means of a dole violate the divine mandate that we should work for what we receive. Work should be the ruling principle in the lives of our Church membership. ("Welfare Services: The Gospel in Action," Ensign, Nov. 1977, 77)

DC 56:18 blessed are the poor who are pure in heart, whose hearts are broken

George Albert Smith

Now, my brethren and sisters, we have both rich and poor in our organizations. If we are poor, we can be worthy just as the Lord indicates here. We can be pure in heart and do our best, and he will not permit those who do their best to suffer for the necessities of life among the people who are in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Our welfare program has been a wonderful thing, a program by which unemployed may be employed, and a way has been opened for men and women who cannot do much work but who can do something to be gainfully employed. How much better off we are when we are occupied with some reasonable work.

Consider the condition in the world, the number who are determined to take from the rich man not what belongs to themselves, but that which belongs to the others. God has permitted men to get wealth, and if they obtained it properly, it is theirs, and he will bless them in its use if they will use it properly. (Conference Report, October 1949, Afternoon Meeting 171.)

Delbert L. Stapley

Each able person is expected to work for what he receives, which in part is the genius and a basic principle of the plan; however, the incapacitated and aged, unable to work, whose relatives cannot or do not provide for them, are taken care of according to their wants and needs as long as these needs are just.

...We are setting a pattern in welfare work that the world is watching. Being inspired of God, it must work successfully, but the success of it lies in leadership and people. It is leadership's point of view and attitudes which must be right. The stake presidents and bishops of the Church who stand out as acknowledged and respected leaders are those who, according to their divine appointment, have taken seriously the welfare program and in love and understanding have made it work advantageously in the lives of their people. (Conference Report, October 1955, First Day-Morning Meeting 14.)

DC 56:18 for the fatness of the earth shall be theirs

Harold B. Lee

The promise of the Lord to the poor and the rich who heed his counsel is that "the fatness of the earth shall be theirs." (Doc. and Cov. 56:18.) The Prophet Joseph Smith declared: "It has always been a cardinal teaching with the Latter-day Saints that a religion that has not the power to save people temporally and make them prosperous and happy here cannot be depended upon to save them spiritually and exalt them in the life to come." Wise leaders of the Church from the beginning have shown the way to prosperity and happiness. Said Brigham Young: "It is never any benefit to give out and out to man or woman, money, food, clothing or anything else, if they are able-bodied, and can work to earn what they need, when there is anything on earth for them to do. . . . To pursue a contrary course would ruin any community in the world and make them idlers. People trained in this way have no interest in working. . . . Teach this girl to do housework and that woman to sew and do other kinds of work . . . for the bone and sinew of men and women are the capital of the world." (Brigham Young, J. D., 11:297.)  (Decisions for Successful Living [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1973], 203 - 204.)