Doctrine and Covenants Study
Joseph Smith’s Revelations, Doctrine and Covenants 85
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“Doctrine and Covenants 85,” Joseph Smith’s Revelations: A Doctrine and Covenants Study Companion from the Joseph Smith Papers (2020)

“Doctrine and Covenants 85,” Joseph Smith’s Revelations: A Doctrine and Covenants Study Companion from the Joseph Smith Papers

Doctrine and Covenants 85

Letter to William W. Phelps, 27 November 1832

Source Note

JS, Letter, Kirtland Township, OH, to William W. Phelps, [Independence, Jackson Co., MO], 27 Nov. 1832. Retained copy, [ca. 27 Nov. 1832] in JS Letterbook 1, pp. 1–4; handwriting of JS and Frederick G. Williams; includes JS copy of signature of JS; CHL. Includes redactions. For more information, see the source note for JS Letterbook 1 on the Joseph Smith Papers website.

Historical Introduction

After returning to Kirtland, Ohio, on 6 November 1832 from his trip with Newel K. Whitney to New York and New England, JS answered letters he had received from “the brethren” in Missouri.1 The present letter, which was written by JS to William W. Phelps on 27 November 1832, may have been written in response to an earlier letter from Phelps, but no such communication has been located. The letter presented here reflects the continuing difficulties between JS and leaders in Missouri. Although JS expressed consternation about some of the leaders, he also conveyed satisfaction about Phelps’s devotion. Such praise was in stark contrast to a 31 July letter that chastised Phelps for his “cold and indifferent manner.”2

JS began the letter anticipating a question on the part of Phelps. JS imagined Phelps wondering what was to be the fate of those church members who came to Zion but did not “receive an inheritance by consecration” from the bishop.3 Why such individuals may not have received an inheritance is unclear from JS’s letter, but Phelps discussed this subject in the November 1832 issue of The Evening and the Morning Star. After noting that a total of 810 individuals had migrated to Zion “since the gathering commenced” in 1831,4 Phelps posed several questions, including, “Have you all fulfilled the law of the church, which saith: Behold thou shalt consecrate all thy properties, that which thou hast, unto me, with a covenant and deed that cannot be broken?”5 Apparently, at least some individuals had not followed the commandment to consecrate their properties and had consequently not received an inheritance.

In writing to Phelps, JS highlighted the need for the church to maintain the system of consecration in Zion that previous revelations had established.6 He explained to Phelps that the Lord’s clerk, John Whitmer, was to keep a “Book of the Law of God” to record the names of those who consecrated their property and received their inheritance. Individuals who did not comply with the consecration commandment were not to be listed. In this way, the church could keep an orderly record of consecration and of inheritance distributions.

Record keeping was of great concern to JS at this time. After sending Oliver Cowdery and Whitmer to Missouri in November 1831 with a record book containing copies of his revelations, JS purchased another record book in February or March 1832, into which he and Frederick G. Williams began copying revelations that had been dictated since November 1831.7 Probably only a few months before writing this November letter to Phelps, JS composed his first history, “A History of the life of Joseph Smith Jr. an account of his marvilous experience … and also an account of the rise of the church of Christ in the eve of time.”8 In his July 1832 letter to the Missouri Saints, JS instructed Phelps to remind Whitmer of the need “to keep a history of the church & the gathering.”9 Moreover, the same day that JS composed the November letter to Phelps, JS purchased a record book and began his first journal “for the purpose to keep a minute acount of all things that come under my obsevation &c.”10 Instructing Phelps and Whitmer about keeping a “Book of the Law of God” fits with this general pattern of maintaining records. However, if Phelps or Whitmer kept such a record at this time, it is not extant.

The original letter JS sent to Missouri has not been located. JS and Williams copied it as the first letter in JS’s first letterbook, likely before sending it to Phelps. The letter appears in the letterbook immediately after JS’s 1832 history, which is the first item in the book. After Phelps received the letter, he published a portion of it in the January 1833 issue of The Evening and the Morning Star, prefacing it by saying, “In relation to consecrating, and continuing worthy, and faithful to the end, we make the following extract of a letter.” The extract commenced with the words, “It is the duty of the Lord’s clerk” and ended after quoting from Ezra 2:61–62.11

Letterbook

Letter to William W. Phelps. On 27 November 1832, Joseph Smith wrote from Ohio to William W. Phelps in Missouri. Smith’s letter provided counsel on the church program of consecration and on the importance of record keeping. The earliest extant versions of this and some other letters featured in this volume are from Joseph Smith Letterbook 1. Handwriting of Frederick G. Williams. JS Letterbook 1, p. 1, JS Collection, Church History Library, Salt Lake City. (Photograph by Welden C. Andersen.)


<Letter 1> /12Kirtland Nov 27th 1832—

Brother Wm <W> Phelps I say brother because I feel so from the heart and altho it is not long since I wrote a letter unto you13 yet I feel as tho<ugh> you would excuse me for writing this as I have many things which I wish to communicate some things which I will mention in this letter which are laying <great> with weight upon my mind I inform you I am well and family God grant that you may enjoy the same and yours and all the brethren and sisters who remember to enquire afte[r] the commandments of the Lord and the welfare of Zion and such a being as me and while I dictate this letter I fancy to myself that you are saying or thinking something simmiler to these words my God great and mighty art thou therefore shew unto thy servant what shall becom of all these who are assaying to come up unto Zion in order to keep this the commandments of God and yet receive not there inhertance by consecration by order or deed from the bishop the man that God has appointed in a legal way agreeable to the law given to organiz[e] and regulate the church and all the affairs of th[e] same;14 Bro Wm in the love of God having the most implicit confidence in you as a man of God having obtained this confidence by a vision of heavn15 therefore I will procede to unfold to you some of the feelings of my heart and procede to answer the question[.] firstly, [1]it is the duty of the lord[’s] clerk whom he has appointed to keep a hystory and a general church reccord of all things that transpire in Zion16 and of all those who consecrate properties and receive inhertances legally from the bishop [2]and also there manner of life and the faith and works and also of all the apostates who apostatize after receiving ther inhertances 17in that day shall not find an inheritanc[e] among the saints of the [p. 1] most high therefore it shall be done unto them as unto the children of the priest as you will find recorded in the second chapter and sixty first and second verses of Ezra now Brother william if what I have said is true how careful then had men aught to be what they do in the last days lest they think they stand should fall because they keep not the <Lod [Lord’s]> commandments while<st> you who obey who do the will of the lord and keep his commandments have need to rejoice with unspeakabl Joy for such shall be exalted very high and shall be lifted up in /18triumph above all the kingdoms of the world but I must drop this subject at the begining, O Lord when19 will the time come when Bro Wm thy servant and myself behold the day that we may stand together and gaze upon eternal wisdom engraven upon the heavens while the magesty of our God holdeth up the dark curtain until we may read the reccord of eternity to the fulness of our immortal souls, O Lord God deliver us in thy due time from the little narrow prison almost as it were total darkness of paper pen and Ink and a crooked broken scattered and imperfect Language, I would inform [3]seccondly it is conterary to the will and commandment of God that those who receive not the inherttenc [inheritance] by consecration agree[a]ble to his law which he has given that he may tithe his people to prepare them against the day of vengence and burning20 should have there names enrolled with the people of God, [4]neithe[r] is the geneology to be kept or to be had where it may be found on any of the reccords or hystory of the church [5]there names shall not be found neithe[r] the names of ther fathers or the names of the children writen in the book of the Law of God21 saith [p. 2] the Lord of hosts [6]yea thus saith the still small voice22 which whispereth through and pierceth all things and often times it maketh my heart bones to quake while it maketh manifest saying [7]and it shall come to pass that I the Lord God will send on[e]23 mighty and strong24 holding the scepter of power in his hand clothed with light for a covering whose mouth shall utter words Eternal words while his bowels shall be a fountain of truth to set in order the house of God and to arange by lot the inheritance of the saints25 whose names are found and the names of their fathers and of their children enroled in the Book of the Law of God26 [8]while that man who was called of God and appointed that puteth forth his hand to steady the ark of God shall fall by the shaft of death like as a tree that is smitten by the vived shaft of lightning27 [9]and all they who are not found write [written] in the book of remmemberance28 shall find none inheritence in that day but they shall be cut assunder and their portion shall be appointed them among unbelievers where is wailing and gnashing of teeth [10]these things I say not of myself therefore as the Lord speaketh he will also fulfill [11]and they who are of the high Priesthood whose names are not found writen in the book of the Law or that ar[e]29 found to have appostitized or to have been cut off out of the church as well as the lesser Priesthood or the members in that day shall not find an inheritence among th[e]30 saints of the most high [12]therefore it shall be done unto them as unto the children of the Priest as you will find recorded in the second Book chapter and sixty first and second verses of Ezra now Broth— William if what I say have said is true how careful then had men aught to be what they do in the last days lest they are cut assunder short of their expecttations and they that think [they] stand should fall31 because they keep not the Lords commandments whilst you who do the will of the Lord and keep his commandments have need to rejoice with unspeakable Joy32 for such shall be exalted very high and shall be lifted up in [p. 3] triumph above all the kingdoms of this world but I must drop this subject at the begining Oh Lord when will the time come when Brothe[r] William thy servent and myself behold the day that we may stand together and gase upon Eternal wisdom engraven upon the hevens while the magesty of our God holdeth up the dark curtain <until> we may read the sound of Eternity to the fullness and satisfaction of our immortal souls Oh Lord God deliver us in thy due time from the little narrow prison almost as it were totel darkness of paper pen and ink and a crooked broken scattered and imperfect language I would inform you that I have obtained ten subscriboers for the star and received pay33 their names and place of residence as follows, John Mc.Mahhan, James Mc.Mahhan, James White, William Brown, Henry Kingery, Micayer Dillions, Abraham Kingery, John A Fisher, David Houghs, Thomas Singers, the papers and and all to be sent to Guy[a]ndotte the papers are all to be sent to Post office Verginea34 except David Houghs his is to be sent to Wayne <County> Township Worster County <Township> Ohio, Vienna Jaqis [Jaques] has not r[e]ceived her Papers pleas inform her Sister <Hariet> that shee is well and give my respects to her tell her that Mr, Angels Brother came after her and the child soon after shee went from here all he wanted wanted was the child35 No More <my> love for all the Brotheren yours in bonds Amen

Joseph Smith Jr—

William W Phelps

/36PS send the evening and morning star to Brothe[r] Joseph Wakefield Watertown Jeffers[on] County New York all to be from first No—

Jos Sm