“Doctrine and Covenants 49,” Joseph Smith’s Revelations: A Doctrine and Covenants Study Companion from the Joseph Smith Papers (2020)
“Doctrine and Covenants 49,” Joseph Smith’s Revelations: A Doctrine and Covenants Study Companion from the Joseph Smith Papers
Revelation, Kirtland Township, OH, to Sidney Rigdon, Parley P. Pratt, and Leman Copley, 7 May 1831. Featured version, titled “51st. Commandment May 7th. 1831,” copied [between ca. May and June 1831] in Revelation Book 1, pp. 80–82; handwriting of John Whitmer; CHL. Includes redactions. For more information, see the source note for Revelation Book 1 on the Joseph Smith Papers website.
This revelation directed Sidney Rigdon, Parley P. Pratt, and Leman Copley to visit a community of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing (popularly called Shakers) in North Union, Ohio. Copley, a recent convert to the Church of Christ and a former Shaker himself,1 “was anxious that some of the elders should go to his former brethren and preach the gospel.”2 JS’s history characterized Copley as one who was “apparently honest hearted, but still retained ideas that the Shakers were right in some particulars of their faith.” Copley’s retention of some Shaker beliefs was apparently the catalyst for discussions that prompted this revelation. JS’s history explained, “In order to have more perfect understanding on the subject, I [JS] inquired of the Lord and received the following revelation.”3
The visit mandated by this revelation was not the first contact between the two religious societies. The previous fall, Oliver Cowdery and his missionary companions made initial contact with the community of Shakers living in North Union.4 That interaction had unsettled the Shaker presiding elder, Ashbel Kitchell, who was uncertain what to make of the new faith. Despite his uneasiness, Kitchell reported that the Shakers “continued on friendly terms” with the Saints “in the way of trade and other acts of good neighborship untill the spring of 1831.”5
Sidney Rigdon and Leman Copley apparently responded the revelation by immediately departing for the Shaker settlement at North Union, approximately eighteen miles from Kirtland, Ohio. It appears Parley P. Pratt departed Kirtland the next day. The revelation is dated 7 May, a Saturday, and Kitchell recorded that the company arrived “on saturday evening.”6 Latter-day Saint sources report only briefly the Shakers’ reaction to this revelation and other teachings by the missionaries. John Whitmer, for instance, later wrote that the assigned elders “went and proclaimed according to the rev[e]lation given to them, but the shakers hearkened not to their words, and receivd not the gospel at that time.”7 Kitchell, by contrast, recorded a detailed account of the visit. He reported that the group “tarried all night, and in the course of the evening, the doctrines of the cross and the Mormon faith were both investigated.” The next day, 8 May, Pratt arrived from Kirtland, and the delegation spoke to congregated Shakers after their morning Sabbath meeting. Rigdon reportedly declared to the congregation that “he had a message from the Lord Jesus Christ to this people” and explained to his hearers that it was a written message. When he obtained leave of the Shakers, he commenced to read aloud, apparently verbatim, this revelation. According to Kitchell, the preachers—Rigdon, Pratt, and Copley—asked permission to hear how the congregated Shakers felt about their message. Kitchell wrote that his people indicated “they were fully satisfied with what they had, and wished to have nothing to do with either them or their Christ.— On hearing this Rigdon professed to be satisfied, and put his paper by; but Parley Pratt arose and commenced shakeing his coattail; he said he shook the dust from his garments as a testimony against us, that we had rejected the word of the Lord Jesus.”8 After this contentious exchange, Pratt departed immediately for Kirtland, while Rigdon stayed for supper before departing and Copley spent the night in North Union.9 This encounter apparently fulfilled Pratt’s commission to preach to the Shakers because a revelation dated the following Monday assigned Pratt a different missionary companion and directed him to “go forth among the Churches & strengthen them by the word of exhortation.”10
Copley returned shortly thereafter to North Union and asked to be readmitted into the Shaker society. Kitchell and Copley then went to Copley’s farm in Thompson and confronted the Saints who had recently settled there from Colesville, New York, at Copley’s invitation. Copley reportedly ordered the Saints off of his land.11 Following the failed attempt to convert the Shakers at North Union, Latter-day Saint missionary interactions with Shakers were apparently rare.
The 1833 Book of Commandments and the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants both erroneously date this revelation to March 1831. When John Whitmer copied it into Revelation Book 1, likely in May or June 1831, he dated it to 7 May 1831. Ashbel Kitchell copied the revelation into his pocket journal and also listed its date as 7 May 1831, so his copy likely originated from the same text that was copied into Revelation Book 1. Kitchell probably either asked to copy the revelation after Rigdon recited it to the congregation or obtained a copy prepared for and left with the Shakers by the missionaries. The first published version of the revelation, in The Evening and the Morning Star, listed only May 1831 as the date.12
51st. Commandment May 7th. 1831
A Revelation given to Sidney [Rigdon] & Parley [P. Pratt] & Leman [Copley] Received at Kirtland Geauga Ohio th[e]ir mission to the Shakers & thus saith the Lord unto them as follows13
Hearken unto my word my Servent Sidney & Parley & Leman for Behold verily I say unto you that I give unto you a commandment that you shall go & preach my Gospel which ye have received even as ye have received it unto the Shakers. Behold I say unto you that they desire to know the truth in Part but not all for they are not right before me14 & must needs repent wherefore I send you my Servents sidney & Parley15 to preach the Gospel unto them & my servent Leman shall be ordained unto this work that he may reason with them not according to that which he hath received of them but according to that which shall be taught
them him by you my Servents & by so doing I will bless him otherwise he shall not prosper thus saith the Lord for I am God & have sent mine only begotten Son into the world for the redemption of the world16 & have decreed that he that receiveth him shall be saved & he that receiveth him not shall be damned & they have done unto the Son of man even as they listed17 & he hath taken his power on the right hand of his glory & now reigneth in the Heavens <& will> till he decends on the Earth to put all enemies under his feet18 which time is nigh at hand I the Lord hath spoken it but the hour & the day no man knoweth neither the angels in Heaven nor shall they know untill he come19 wherefore I will that all men <shall> repent for all are under sin except them which I have reserved unto myself Holy men that ye know not of wherefore I say unto you that I have sent unto you mine everlasting Covenant even that which was [p. 80] from the begining & that which I have promised I have so fulfilled & the Nations of the earth shall bow to it & if not of them selves they shall come down for that which is now exalted of itself shall be laid low of power. wherefore I give unto you a commandment that ye go among this People & say unto them like unto mine Apostle of old whose name was Peter believe on the name of the Lord Jesus who was on the Earth & is to come the begining & the end. Repent & be baptized in the name of Jesus christ according to the holy commandment for the remission of sins & whoso doeth this shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost20 by the laying on of the hands of the Elders of this Church. & again I say unto you that whoso forbideth to marry is not ordained of God for it is ordained of God unto man21 wherefore it is lawful that he should have one wife & they twain shall be one flesh22 & all this that the Earth might answer the end of its Creation & that it might be filled with the measure of man according to his creation before the world was made23 & whoso forbideth to abstain from meats that man should not eat the same is not ordained of God for behold the beasts of the field & the fowls of the air & that which cometh of the Earth is ordained for the use of man for food & for raiment & that he might have in abundance24 but it is not given that one man should possess that which is above an other wherefore the world lieth in sin & wo be unto man that shedeth blood or that wasteth flesh & hath no need25 & again verily I say unto you that the son of man cometh not in the form of a woman26 neither of <a> man traveling on the Earth wherefore be not deceived but continue in steadfastness looking forth for the Heavens to <be> shaken & the Earth to tremble & to reel to & fro as a drunken man & for the vallies to be exhalted27 & for the Mountains to be made low & for the rough places to become smooth28 & all this when the Angel shall sound his trumpet but before this great day of the Lord shall come Jacob shall flourish in the wilderness & the Lamanit[e]s shall blossom as the rose & Zion shall flourish upon the Hills & rejoice upon the Mountains & shall be assembled together [p. 81] Unto the place which I have appointed behold I say unto you go forth as I have commanded you repent of all your sins ask & ye shall receive knock & it shall be opened unto you behold I will go before you & be your rearward & I will be in your midst & you shall not be confounded behold I am Jesus Christ & I come quickly even so Amen——