Doctrine and Covenants Study
Joseph Smith’s Revelations, Doctrine and Covenants 61

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“Doctrine and Covenants 61,” Joseph Smith’s Revelations: A Doctrine and Covenants Study Companion from the Joseph Smith Papers (2020)

“Doctrine and Covenants 61,” Joseph Smith’s Revelations: A Doctrine and Covenants Study Companion from the Joseph Smith Papers

Doctrine and Covenants 61

Revelation, 12 August 1831

Source Note

Revelation, Bank of the Missouri River [at McIlwaine’s Bend], MO, 12 Aug. 1831. Featured version copied [ca. Sept. 1831] in Revelation Book 1, pp. 101–103; handwriting of John Whitmer; CHL. Includes redactions. For more information, see the source note for Revelation Book 1 on the Joseph Smith Papers website.

Historical Introduction

Having overseen the dedication of the land for the establishment of Zion, JS departed Independence, Jackson County, Missouri, for Ohio on 9 August 1831 in the company of ten elders. On 12 August, at a location on the Missouri River that a later JS history calls “McIlwaine’s Bend,” JS dictated a revelation explaining the many dangers that existed on the river and instructing most of those returning to Ohio to leave the water and travel by land.1 The content of the revelation reflected experiences JS and his group had gone through as they made their way to St. Louis, Missouri. Although nothing eventful occurred in the first day or two of their journey,2 discord apparently arose within the group when Oliver Cowdery chastised some of the elders for inappropriate conduct and warned them that misfortune would befall them if they did not repent. Soon after, a sawyer—a submerged tree anchored to the bottom of the river—nearly capsized the canoe carrying JS and Sidney Rigdon. Unnerved by this encounter, JS instructed the group to exit the water and camp for the night.3 According to a later JS history, William W. Phelps then experienced “an open vision, by daylight,” of “the Destroyer, in his most horrible power, rid[ing] upon the face of the waters.”4 The contention within the group was resolved later that night, and JS dictated the revelation the next morning.5

The revelation stated that God had permitted the elders to travel via the Missouri River to St. Louis, as instructed in an 8 August revelation,6 so that they could testify of the dangers on the water and warn church members not to travel to Zion on the river. At the time, the Missouri River was considered navigable only approximately three months out of the year. An 1837 Missouri gazetteer referred to the “mad water” of the river and noted that “freights and ensurance and pilot-wages” were higher for Missouri River navigation than for other waterways because of “the dangers of the ever-varying channel of the river.”7 Other publications noted the frequent occurrence of sawyers, which were “the most formidable dangers to navigation of the river” and caused 70 percent of all steamboat wrecks. “These snags were the terror of the pilot,” according to an early history of Missouri River navigation,8 and were perhaps one reason for John Whitmer’s designation of the river in the revelation’s heading as “the River Distruction.”9 After speaking to some of the elders who journeyed to Missouri, Elizabeth Godkin Marsh relayed that the river “is always rily and bubly and looks mad as if it had been cursed.”10 The revelation emphasized again the need for the elders to proclaim the gospel as they journeyed home and gave specific instructions to JS, Rigdon, and Cowdery to forego traveling on the river. Thereafter, JS, Rigdon, and Cowdery traveled by land to St. Louis and then took a stagecoach to Kirtland, Ohio, by way of Cincinnati.11

The original manuscript of this revelation is not extant. Presumably, either Cowdery or Rigdon, two of JS’s scribes, wrote the revelation as JS dictated it. Whitmer copied the revelation into Revelation Book 1, probably shortly after JS, Rigdon, and Cowdery returned to Kirtland, Ohio. Sidney Gilbert also made a copy in a book of revelations he was keeping, probably in this same time period.12

Ohio circa 1831

Cincinnati, Ohio. Circa 1831. John Caspar Wild’s painting Public Landing depicts Cincinnati’s waterfront on the Ohio River. A 12 August 1831 revelation commanded Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, and Oliver Cowdery to preach in Cincinnati on their journey back to Ohio from Missouri. The population of the city, they were told, was “well ripened for distruction.” (Cincinnati Museum Center/Getty Images.)

6413 Commandment

given Aug 12th. 1831 on the Bank of the River Distruction (or Missorie) unfolding some mysteries &c &c——14

[1]Behold & hearken unto him the voice of him who hath all power15 who is from everlasting to everlasting16 even alpha & omega the begining & the end17 [2]Behold verily thuss saith the lord unto you O ye Elders of my Church who are assembled upon this spot18 whose sins are now forgiven you for I the Lord forgiveth sins19 & am mercyfull unto those who confess their sins with humble hearts [3]but verily I say unto you that it is not needfull for this whole company of mine Elders to be moveing swiftly upon the waters whilst the Inhabitants on either sides are perishing in unbelief [4]nevertheless I suffered it that ye might bear record Behold there are many dangers upon the waters & more especially hereafter [5]for I the Lord have decreed in mine anger many distructions upon the waters yea & especially upon these waters [6]nevertheless all flesh is in mine hand20 he that is faithfull among you shall not perish by the waters [7]wherefore it is expedient that my servent Sidney Gilbert & <my servent> William [W.] Phelps be in haste upon their errand & mission21 [8]nevertheless I would not suffer that ye should part untill ye you are chastened for all your sins that you might be one22 that you might not perish in wickedness [9]but now verily I say it [p. 101] Behooveth me that ye should part wherefore let them my servent Sidney [Gilbert] & William take their former company23 & let them take their Journey in haste that they may fill their mission24 & through faith they shall overcome [10]& in as much as they are faithfull they shall be preserved25 & I the Lord will be with them [11]& let the residue take that which is needfull for clothing [12]let my servent sidney [Gilbert] take that which is not needfull with them him as you shall agree [13]& now behold for your good I give unto you a commandment concerning these things & I the Lord will reason with you as with men in days of old26 [14]Behold I the Lord in the begining belessed the waters but in the last days by the mouth of my servent John I cursed the waters27 [15]wherefore the days will come that no flesh shall be safe upon the waters [16]& it shall be said in days to come that none is able to go up to the land of Zion upon the waters but he that is upright in heart [17]& as I the Lord in the begining cursed the land even so in the last days have I blessed it in its time for the use of my saints that they may partake the fatness thereof28 [18]& now I give unto you a commandment & what I say unto one I say unto all29 that you shall forewarn your brethren concerning these waters that they come not in Journeying on upon them lest their faith fail & they are caught in her snares [19]I the Lord hath decreed & the destroyer rideth upon the face thereof30 & I revoke not the decree [20]I the Lord was angery with you yesterday but to day mine anger is turned away31 [21]wherefore let those whom I have spoken that should take their Journey in haste again I say unto you let them take their Journey in haste [22]& it mattereth not unto me after a little if it so be that they fill their mission whether they go by water or by land let this be as it is made known unto them according to their Judgement32 [23]& now concerning my servents Sidney [Rigdon] Joseph & Oliver [Cowdery] let them come not again upon the waters save it be upon the canal while Journeying unto their homes33 or in other words they shall not come upon upon the waters <to Journey> save upon the canal [24]Behold I the Lord have appointed a way for the Journeying of my saints [p. 102] & behold this is the way that after they leave the canal they shall Journey by land in as much as they are commanded to Journey by & go up unto the land of Zion [25]& they shall do like unto the children of Israel pitching their tents by the way34 [26]& behold this commandment you shall give unto all your brethren [27]nevertheless unto whom it is given power to command the waters35 unto him it is given by the spirit to know all his ways [28]wherefore let him do as the spirit of the living God commandeth him whether upon the land or upon the waters as it remaineth with me to do hereafter [29]& unto you it is given the course of the saints or the way for the saints of the camp of the Lord to Journey [30]& again verily I say unto you my Servents Sidney [Rigdon] Joseph & Oliver shall not open their mouths in the congregations of the wicked untill they arrive at cincinnati [31]& in that place they shall lift up their voices unto god against that People yea unto him whose anger is kindelled against their wickedness a people which is well ripened for distruction [32]& from thence let them Journy for the congregations of their brethren for their labours even now are wanted more abundantly among them then among the congregations of the wicked [33]& now concerning the residue36 let them Journey & declare the word among the congregations of the wicked inasmuch as it is given [34]& in as much as they do this they shall rid their garments & they shall be spotless before me37 [35]& let them Journey together or two by two as seemeth them good only let my servent reynolds [Cahoon] & my Servent Samuel [Smith] with whom I am well pleased be not seperated untill they return to their homes & this for a wise purpose in me [36]& now verily I say unto you & what I say unto one I say unto all be of good cheer38 little children for I am in your midst39 & I have not forsaken you [37]& in as much as ye have humbelled yourselves before me the blessings of the kingdom is yours [38]gird up your loins & be watchfull & be sober40 looking forth for the coming of the Son of man in an hour you think not41 [39]pray always that you enter not into temptation42 that you may abide the day of his coming43 whether in life or in death even So Amen [p. 103]