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Chapter 20: Doctrine and Covenants 51–56
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“Chapter 20: Doctrine and Covenants 51–56,” Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual (2017)

“Chapter 20,” Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual

Chapter 20

Doctrine and Covenants 51–56

Introduction and Timeline

Saints from Colesville, New York, arrived in Ohio in May 1831, and Bishop Edward Partridge was responsible for arranging their settlement. To help guide Bishop Partridge, the Lord gave the Prophet Joseph Smith the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 51. In this revelation the Lord instructed Bishop Partridge on how to organize stewardships of property and money among the Saints.

On June 3–6, 1831, the elders of the Church gathered for a conference. On the last day of the conference, the Lord gave Joseph Smith the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 52. In this revelation the Lord indicated that the next conference should be held in Missouri and promised that He would make known the location of the Saints’ land of inheritance there. The Lord appointed certain elders to travel in pairs to Missouri and instructed them on how they might travel and preach the gospel. The Lord also revealed a pattern for recognizing true followers of Jesus Christ.

In the days following the June 1831 conference, the Prophet Joseph Smith received the revelations recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 53–56. These revelations include instructions for some Church members who lived in Ohio but would soon move to Missouri. In these revelations the Lord spoke to Sidney Gilbert, Newel Knight, and William W. Phelps and gave them instructions specific to their Church assignments and talents.

In early June 1831, Ezra Thayre and Thomas B. Marsh were called on a mission to Missouri (see D&C 52:22). However, because of pride and selfishness, Ezra was not prepared to leave with Thomas. In the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 56, the Lord revoked Ezra Thayre’s call and called Selah J. Griffin to accompany Brother Marsh.

May 14, 1831

The Saints from Colesville, New York, arrived in Ohio and were invited to settle as a group on Leman Copley’s farm in Thompson, Ohio.

May 20, 1831

Doctrine and Covenants 51 was received.

May–June 1831

Leman Copley began to evict the Saints who were living on his property.

June 3–6, 1831

A Church conference was held in Kirtland, Ohio. During the conference Joseph Smith saw God the Father and Jesus Christ and the first high priests in this dispensation were ordained.

June 6–15, 1831

Doctrine and Covenants 52–56 were received.

June 19, 1831

Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, and others left Ohio for their first journey to Missouri.

Doctrine and Covenants 51: Additional Historical Background

Special Project Church History Kirtland Lake Erie Lighthouse

Many of the early Saints emigrating from New York to Ohio arrived by boat at Fairport Harbor on the shore of Lake Erie, just a few miles from Kirtland.

In late December 1830 and early January 1831, the Prophet Joseph Smith received revelations from the Lord instructing the Saints to gather in Ohio (see D&C 37:1, 3; 38:32). The Colesville Branch, consisting of more than 60 Church members, was one of three groups of Saints to leave New York to gather in Ohio. They departed from Colesville, New York, in mid-April 1831 with Newel Knight as their leader. After a month-long journey that included delays due to inclement weather, they arrived in Ohio about mid-May. According to Newel Knight, when they arrived “it was advised that the Colesville Branch remain together and go to [a] neighboring town called Thompson, as a man by the name [Leman] Copley owned a considerable tract of land there which he offered to let the Brethren occupy” (in The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 1: July 1828–June 1831, ed. Michael Hubbard MacKay and others [2013], 315; spelling and punctuation standardized). Bishop Edward Partridge sought instruction on how to provide for the newly arrived Saints, so Joseph Smith inquired of the Lord. In response, on May 20, 1831, the Prophet received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 51.

Church History Maps: Some Important Locations in Early Church History
Church History Maps: The New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio Area of the United States

Doctrine and Covenants 51

The Lord instructs Bishop Edward Partridge on overseeing the temporal needs of the Saints

Doctrine and Covenants 51:1–2. “Organized according to my laws”

Bishop Edward Partridge asked how to best fulfill the temporal needs of the members of the Colesville Branch, and the Lord commanded him to organize them “according to my laws” (D&C 51:2). The Lord gives some of His servants the authority and responsibility to preside and direct the spiritual and temporal work of salvation in the Church. This duty to organize the work is essential; God has declared that His house is “a house of order, … and not a house of confusion” (D&C 132:8; see also D&C 88:119). In this case, Bishop Partridge was instructed to organize the Saints according to the law of consecration to meet the needs of the Colesville immigrants.

Doctrine and Covenants 51:3–6. “Let my servant Edward Partridge … appoint unto this people their portions, every man equal”

The Lord commanded Bishop Edward Partridge to implement the law of consecration among the families who had emigrated from New York and were living on Leman Copley’s property. These families were to consecrate their belongings and resources “with a covenant and a deed” (D&C 42:30). Bishop Partridge was then to “appoint unto this people their portions” (D&C 51:3), meaning that he was to give each family a portion of the resources according to their needs, wants, and circumstances—in some cases this would be more than the family had consecrated. The bishop was to present to each family a written deed indicating that the portion or inheritance that they received was to be their private stewardship. Any surplus was to be preserved by Bishop Partridge and used to assist the poor and the needy of the Church.

The process of consecrating property was to be done according to the principle of agency, as was explained in a June 1833 letter to Bishop Partridge and signed by Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Frederick G. Williams, and Martin Harris: “Every man must be his own judge [of] how much he should receive, and how much he should suffer to remain in the hands of the Bishop. … The matter of consecration must be done by the mutual consent of both parties—For, to give the Bishop power to say how much every man shall have and [each man] be obliged to comply with the Bishop’s judgment, is giving to the Bishop more power than a King has, and upon the other hand, to let every man say how much he needs and the Bishop [be] obliged to comply with his judgment, is to throw Zion into confusion and make a Slave of the Bishop. The fact is, there must be a balance or equilibrium of power between the bishop and the people, and thus harmony and good will may be preserved among you. Therefore, those persons consecrating property to the Bishop in Zion, and then receiving an inheritance back, must show reasonably to the Bishop that he [needs] as much as he claims” (in The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 3: February 1833–March 1834, ed. Gerrit J. Dirkmaat and others [2014], 153; spelling and punctuation standardized).

Doctrine and Covenants 51:15–17. “Let them act upon this land as for years”

Because Leman Copley’s faith waivered and he broke his covenant to consecrate his land, the Colesville Saints occupied his farm in Thompson, Ohio, for only a few weeks. Doctrine and Covenants 51:16 indicates that the Lord was aware that their stay would be just “for a little season.” Nevertheless, He counseled the Saints to work and live as though they would be there for years. The majority of the Colesville Saints followed these instructions. During their short stay they cleared land, planted crops, and began to build homes, all of which they left behind when Leman Copley demanded that they leave. The Lord later instructed the Colesville Branch to move to Missouri to help lay the foundation of Zion (see D&C 54; 58:6–7).

Leman Copley Farm, Geauga Co. Thompson, Ohio

Area of the Leman Copley farm in Thompson (now Madison), Ohio, where he invited the Saints from Colesville, New York, to settle.

Doctrine and Covenants 51:19. “A faithful, a just, and a wise steward”

The Saints from the Colesville Branch made many sacrifices to leave their homes in New York and move to Ohio as commanded by the Lord. Not long after they arrived, they were evicted from Leman Copley’s land and commanded to move again—this time about 900 miles (1,448 kilometers) west to Jackson County, Missouri. The promise that “whoso is found a faithful, a just, and a wise steward shall enter into the joy of his Lord, and shall inherit eternal life” (D&C 51:19) would have certainly helped strengthen the Saints’ trust in the Lord during this difficult time.

In the Doctrine and Covenants, the terms steward and stewardship are associated with the law of consecration and refer to the resources or lands given by the Lord to those who have consecrated everything with a covenant. Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that stewardships are also personal responsibilities and duties we have:

“We live in perilous times when many believe we are not accountable to God and that we do not have personal responsibility or stewardship for ourselves or others. Many in the world are focused on self-gratification, put themselves first, and love pleasure more than they love righteousness. They do not believe they are their brother’s keeper. In the Church, however, we believe that these stewardships are a sacred trust. …

“… The principles of accountability and stewardship have great significance in our doctrine.

“In the Church, stewardship is not limited to a temporal trust or responsibility. President Spencer W. Kimball taught: ‘We are stewards over our bodies, minds, families, and properties. … A faithful steward is one who exercises righteous dominion, cares for his own, and looks to the poor and needy’ [‘Welfare Services: The Gospel in Action,’ Ensign, Nov. 1977, 78]. …

“With respect to our stewardship for our families, some have taught that when we report to the Savior and He asks us to give an account of our earthly responsibilities, two important inquiries will relate to our families. The first will be our relationship with our spouse, and the second will be about each of our children. …

“In all of our stewardship efforts, we follow Jesus Christ. We try to emulate what He has asked us to do, both by His teachings and His example. …

“My hope is that each of us will review individually and as families the stewardships for which we have responsibility and accountability. I pray that we will do so knowing we are ultimately accountable to God” (“Stewardship—a Sacred Trust,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2009, 91, 93–94).

Doctrine and Covenants 52: Additional Historical Background

By the end of May 1831, nearly all of the New York Church members from the Palmyra, Fayette, and Colesville areas had moved to Ohio in obedience to the Lord’s commandment. On June 3–6, 1831, a general conference of the Church was held in a series of meetings in Kirtland, Ohio. This conference was likely a fulfillment of a February 1831 revelation in which the Lord declared that “the elders of my church should be called together, from the east and from the west, and from the north and from the south” (D&C 44:1). If the elders proved faithful and exercised faith, the Lord promised to “pour out [His] Spirit upon them” (D&C 44:2).

During the conference “the Lord displayed his power to the most perfect satisfaction of the saints” (Manuscript History of the Church, vol. A-1, page 118, josephsmithpapers.org). Several testified that they saw God in vision during the meeting (see The Life of Levi Hancock, quoted in Karl Ricks Anderson, Joseph Smith’s Kirtland: Eyewitness Accounts [1989], 107–8). Lyman Wight said that he witnessed “the visible manifestations of the power of God as plain as could have been on the day of pentecost,” which included “the healing of the sick, casting out devils, speaking in unknown tongues, discerning of spirits, and prophesying with mighty power” (in The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 1: July 1828–June 1831, 322; spelling standardized). Church historian John Whitmer wrote: “The Spirit of the Lord fell upon Joseph in an unusual manner. And [Joseph] prophesied that John the Revelator was then among the ten tribes of Israel … to prepare them for their return from their long dispersion” (in The Joseph Smith Papers, Histories, Volume 2: Assigned Histories, 1831–1847, ed. Karen Lynn Davidson and others [2012], 39; spelling and capitalization standardized).

Also during the conference, the Prophet Joseph Smith ordained some of the elders to the office of high priest. These were the first ordinations to the office of high priest in the restored Church. The Prophet declared, “It was clearly evident that the Lord gave us power in proportion to the work to be done, and strength according to the race set before us, and grace and help as our needs required” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 352).

Although Church members at the conference had joyful spiritual experiences, John Whitmer recorded that the adversary was also present: “While the Lord poured out his spirit upon his servants, the Devil took occasion to make known his power, [and] he bound Harvey Whitlock … so that he could not speak.” The Lord revealed the design of the adversary to the Prophet, and Joseph “commanded the devil in the name of Christ and he departed to our Joy and comfort” (in The Joseph Smith Papers, Histories, Volume 2: Assigned Histories, 1831–1847, 40–41; spelling and punctuation standardized).

On the last day of the conference, June 6, the Prophet Joseph Smith received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 52. A few years later he wrote in a Church newspaper that this revelation had been received “by an heavenly vision” (in The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 1: July 1828–June 1831, 327).

Doctrine and Covenants 52

The Lord commands some Church leaders to travel to Missouri and gives a pattern to avoid deception

Doctrine and Covenants 52:1–5. “The land of your inheritance”

When the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 52 was given, the Saints eagerly anticipated the building of the city of Zion, which had been prophesied in the scriptures (see Ether 13:3–6; D&C 28:9; Moses 7:62). In a revelation given in March 1831, the Lord promised that He would reveal the location of the land that the Saints were to purchase for an inheritance (see D&C 48:4–6). They were to gather on this land and build the city of Zion, or New Jerusalem. This city was to be a place of refuge and safety for the Saints (see D&C 45:64–71). In June 1831 the Lord instructed the Prophet Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon to go to Missouri and to hold the next conference of the Church there. Once there, if they were faithful, the Lord promised to reveal the land of their inheritance. Although the Lord told the Saints the land was currently occupied by “enemies,” He promised to “hasten the city [Zion] in its time” (D&C 52:42–43). The Lord’s reference to enemies of the Saints foreshadowed the antagonism and hostility that Church members would experience from local Missouri residents as they began to gather in Jackson County, Missouri.

Doctrine and Covenants 52:9–10, 33–34. Teach what has been revealed to apostles and prophets

As recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 52, the Lord called 26 men, in addition to the Prophet Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon, to travel as missionaries to Missouri. They were instructed to travel the nearly 900-mile (1,448 kilometers) journey by different routes, preaching and baptizing along the way. The Lord directed them to teach “none other things than that which the prophets and apostles have written, and that which is taught them by the Comforter through the prayer of faith” (D&C 52:9; see also Mosiah 18:18; 25:21–22). Latter-day prophets have likewise encouraged members of the Church to rely on the words of the prophets and the guidance of the Holy Ghost when teaching the doctrine of the gospel.

Speaking to religious educators in the Church, President J. Reuben Clark Jr. (1871–1961) of the First Presidency taught:

“Your chief interest, your essential and all but sole duty, is to teach the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ as that has been revealed in these latter days. You are to teach this gospel, using as your sources and authorities the standard works of the Church and the words of those whom God has called to lead His people in these last days. You are not … to intrude into your work your own peculiar philosophy, no matter what its source or how pleasing or rational it seems to you to be. …

“You are not … to change the doctrines of the Church or to modify them as they are declared by and in the standard works of the Church and by those whose authority it is to declare the mind and will of the Lord to the Church” (The Charted Course of the Church in Education, rev. ed. [booklet 2004; address to Church Educational System religious educators, Aug. 8, 1938], 10).

Doctrine and Covenants 52:14–21. “I will give unto you a pattern in all things”

During the conference held June 3–6, 1831, the elders of the Church witnessed the contrast between manifestations of evil and the power of God. On the last day of the conference, the Lord revealed to the elders a pattern for distinguishing between those who are deceivers or imposters and those who are righteous servants of God (see D&C 52:14–21). He gave examples of the fruits of those who labor or perform with the Spirit of God. Along with previous instructions (see D&C 43:1–7; 46:7–8; 50:1–25), this revelation helped to alleviate confusion among Church leaders and members regarding false spirits and extreme spiritual behavior or worship practices. Elder Paul E. Koelliker of the Seventy taught:

“In June of 1831, as calls were being extended to early Church leaders, Joseph Smith was told that ‘Satan is abroad in the land, and he goeth forth deceiving the nations.’ To combat this distracting influence, the Lord said that He would give us ‘a pattern in all things, that [we] may not be deceived’ (D&C 52:14).

“Patterns are templates, guides, repeating steps, or paths one follows to stay aligned with God’s purpose. If followed, they will keep us humble, awake, and able to discern the voice of the Holy Spirit from those voices that distract us and lead us away” (“He Truly Loves Us,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2012, 16).

Doctrine and Covenants 52:33–34. “He that is faithful, the same shall be kept and blessed”

Those who were called to preach the gospel as they traveled to Missouri were promised that if they were faithful the Lord would watch over them and bless them “with much fruit” (D&C 52:34). Bishop Edward Partridge was one of those called to leave his family and travel to Missouri. Bishop Partridge’s wife, Lydia, “left an account of the circumstances under which her husband, Edward, received this revelatory injunction. Their children had all contracted the measles from some of the recently arrived New York members who were staying with their family. She wrote that their ‘eldest daughter was taken down with lung fever, and while she was at the worst, my husband was called by revelation to go with a number of others to Missouri to locate a place for the gathering of the Saints, the unbelievers thought he must be crazy or he would not go. And I thought myself that I had reason to think my trials had commenced, and so [they] had, but this trial like all others was followed with blessings for our daughter recovered.’ (Partridge, Genealogical Record, 6.)” (in The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 1: July 1828–June 1831, 330).

Doctrine and Covenants 52:39–40. “Remember in all things the poor and the needy”

The elders of the Church who were not commanded to depart on missions were to care for the members of the Church and, more specifically, were to “remember in all things the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted” (D&C 52:40). The Lord explained that caring for the poor and the sick is a characteristic of His disciples. Throughout His mortal ministry, the Savior attended to the sick and afflicted, healing and comforting them. He ministered to the poor and needy, nourishing them both physically and spiritually. President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) taught what we can do to remember those in need:

“In remembering together before the Lord the poor, the needy, and the oppressed, there is developed, unconsciously but realistically, a love for others above self, a respect for others, a desire to serve the needs of others. One cannot ask God to help a neighbor in distress without feeling motivated to do something oneself toward helping that neighbor. …

“I heard a man of prominence say the other day, ‘I have amended the language of my prayers. Instead of saying, ‘Bless the poor and the sick and the needy,’ I now say, ‘Father, show me how to help the poor and the sick and the needy, and give me resolution to do so’” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley [1997], 457–58).

Doctrine and Covenants 53: Additional Historical Background

Sidney Gilbert was Newel K. Whitney’s business partner for the N. K. Whitney and Company store in Kirtland, Ohio. Sidney and his family were among the converts who joined the Church in Kirtland. On June 8, 1831, two days after the conference of the Church, Sidney Gilbert approached the Prophet, desiring to know what the Lord wanted him to do. Joseph inquired of the Lord and received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 53.

Sidney Gilbert Store Site

Sidney Gilbert was a business partner of Newell K. Whitney. After some of the Saints moved to Missouri, he operated a Church store at this site in Independence, Missouri.

Doctrine and Covenants 53

The Lord calls Sidney Gilbert to preach the gospel and travel to Missouri

Doctrine and Covenants 53:1–4. “Forsake the world”

Sidney Gilbert left Kirtland, Ohio, in late June 1831 to follow the Lord’s command to preach the gospel and become “an agent” to the Church (D&C 53:4). After arriving in Missouri in the summer of 1831, he established a mercantile store and, as an agent for the Church, assisted Bishop Edward Partridge in purchasing land for stewardships and Church buildings (see D&C 57:6, 8). The Lord commanded Sidney to “forsake the world” (D&C 53:2); he was to keep the commandments, leave his business in Kirtland to travel to Missouri, and use his gift for business to help build God’s kingdom in the land of Zion. The Lord’s commandment to forsake the world did not mean that Sidney was to isolate himself from the world. Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained:

“In the Church, we often state the couplet: ‘Be in the world but not of the world.’ …

“Perhaps we should state the couplet … as two separate admonitions. First, ‘Be in the world.’ Be involved; be informed. Try to be understanding and tolerant and to appreciate diversity. Make meaningful contributions to society through service and involvement. Second, ‘Be not of the world.’ Do not follow wrong paths or bend to accommodate or accept what is not right.

“… In spite of all of the wickedness in the world, and in spite of all the opposition to good that we find on every hand, we should not try to take ourselves or our children out of the world. Jesus said, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven,’ or yeast. (Matt. 13:33.) We are to lift the world and help all to rise above the wickedness that surrounds us” (“The Effects of Television,” Ensign, May 1989, 80).

Doctrine and Covenants 54: Additional Historical Background

When the Saints from Colesville, New York, arrived in Kirtland, Ohio, in May 1831, they were advised to go to the neighboring area of Thompson, “as a man by the name [Leman] Copley owned a considerable tract of land there which he offered to let the Brethren occupy” (Newel Knight, in The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 1: July 1828–June 1831, 315; spelling standardized). Leman had earlier agreed to allow Saints from New York to live on his property in exchange for making improvements on his land. Shortly after their arrival, the Colesville Branch members began planting and building on the 759-acre farm. Not long afterward, the Prophet Joseph Smith received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 51, instructing those who settled in Thompson to practice the law of consecration.

As the Saints began to settle on his property, Leman Copley traveled with other missionaries to North Union, Ohio, to preach the gospel to the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing (Shakers), a religious group with which Leman had been associated before he joined the Church (see D&C 49). The mission was unsuccessful, and Leman began to doubt his testimony of the message of the restored Church. Later, he consulted with Ashbel Kitchell, the Shaker leader, and together they went to Leman’s farm and told the Saints that they had to leave. Leman broke the covenant he had made with the Lord to consecrate his farm. Joseph Knight Jr. recorded that in spite of making improvements on Leman’s land during the brief time that the Saints lived there, “we had to leave his [Copley’s] farm and pay sixty dollars damage” (in The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 1: July 1828–June 1831, 335). Not knowing what to do, Newel Knight and other elders from the Colesville group went to the Prophet for guidance. Joseph inquired of the Lord on June 10, 1831, and received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 54.

Doctrine and Covenants 54

The Lord instructs the Colesville Saints to leave Ohio and relocate to Missouri

Doctrine and Covenants 54:3–6. A broken covenant is “void and of none effect”

Leman Copley’s decision to evict the members of the Colesville Branch from his land was also a decision to break the sacred covenant that he had made to consecrate his property to the Lord. The Saints from New York had also made a covenant to consecrate all that they had (see D&C 51). Unfortunately, Leman’s refusal to keep his covenant made it impossible for the Colesville Saints to fulfill their covenant; therefore, the Lord declared that the covenant had “become void and of none effect” (D&C 54:4). The Lord also alluded to severe consequences for those who broke their covenants and promised mercy to those who kept their covenants (see D&C 54:5–6).

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught about the importance of making and keeping covenants:

“Only covenant makers and covenant keepers can claim the ultimate blessings of the celestial kingdom. Yes, when we talk about covenant keeping, we are talking about the heart and soul of our purpose in mortality.

“A covenant is a binding spiritual contract, a solemn promise to God our Father that we will live and think and act in a certain way—the way of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. In return, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost promise us the full splendor of eternal life. …

“… If we really want to succeed in our callings, if we want to have access to every help and every advantage and every blessing from the Father, if we want to have the door of heaven thrown open to us that we might receive the powers of godliness, we must keep our covenants!” (“Keeping Covenants: A Message for Those Who Will Serve a Mission,” New Era, Jan. 2012, 2–4).

Doctrine and Covenants 54:7–10. “Go … now and flee the land”

Having left their homes in New York just a month earlier, the members of the Colesville Branch were again without a place to live. In answer to this concern, the Lord provided another commandment for them to move—this time to Missouri, almost 900 miles (1,448 kilometers) away. Although this commandment was difficult for this group of more than 60 faithful Church members, the Lord asked the Saints to “be patient in tribulation until I come” and declared, “Behold, I come quickly, and my reward is with me” (D&C 54:10). In obedience to the Lord’s commandment, the Colesville Saints, led by Newel Knight, left Ohio and arrived in Independence, Missouri, at the end of July 1831. They were among the first Latter-day Saints who gathered to the land of Zion.

Doctrine and Covenants 55: Additional Historical Background

Phelps, William W.

William W. Phelps was a writer, newspaper editor, and publisher when he was baptized a member of the Church in June 1831.

As the Prophet Joseph Smith prepared to go to Missouri in June 1831, William W. Phelps arrived in Kirtland, Ohio, from Canandaigua, New York. William had worked as a newspaper editor, writer, and printer. In April 1830, William purchased a copy of the Book of Mormon from Parley P. Pratt. After reading and comparing the Book of Mormon with the Bible, he decided to join the restored Church. He later wrote, “Notwithstanding my body was not baptized into this church till … June, 1831, yet my heart was there from the time I became acquainted with the book of Mormon” (in The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 1: July 1828–June 1831, 337). After William arrived in Kirtland with his wife and children, the Prophet sought the Lord’s will concerning William Phelps and received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 55. Soon after the Prophet received this revelation on June 14, 1831, William W. Phelps was baptized and ordained an elder. Shortly thereafter he journeyed to Missouri with the Prophet to settle there and begin the work he was called to do.

Doctrine and Covenants 55

The Lord instructs William W. Phelps regarding his calling in the Church

Doctrine and Covenants 55:4. “The work of printing, and of selecting and writing books”

William W. Phelps is an example of how the Lord prepares individuals to build up His kingdom if they are willing to follow Him. The Lord called upon William to use his talents and experience as a writer, editor, and publisher to assist Oliver Cowdery in doing “the work of printing, and of selecting and writing books for schools in this church” (D&C 55:4). William was involved in many efforts to write for the Church and publish and print its written works. In Missouri, he printed the Book of Commandments and the first Church newspaper, The Evening and the Morning Star. He later helped prepare and print the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants and the first hymnbook of the Church. He also wrote the lyrics to many Latter-day Saint hymns, including “The Spirit of God,” “Praise to the Man,” and “Redeemer of Israel.”

Doctrine and Covenants 56: Additional Historical Background

Ezra Thayre was an early convert to the restored gospel. After moving from New York to Kirtland, Ohio, Thayre was instructed to live and work with Joseph Smith Sr. on the farm of Frederick G. Williams, who was serving a mission in Missouri. On June 6, 1831, the Lord called Thomas B. Marsh and Ezra Thayre to travel to Missouri and preach the gospel along the way (see D&C 52:22). Nine days later, Thomas was ready to depart with other elders traveling to Missouri. Ezra, however, was not ready, leaving Thomas without a companion. Thomas approached the Prophet Joseph Smith, desiring to know what to do. The Prophet inquired of the Lord on June 15, 1831, and received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 56. It is not clear what prevented Ezra Thayre from fulfilling his mission. However, in the revelation to Joseph Smith, the Lord commanded Ezra to “repent of his pride, and of his selfishness and obey the former commandment” given in a revelation concerning his duties on Frederick G. Williams’s farm (D&C 56:8). The revelation also declared that “there shall be no divisions made upon [Williams’s] land” (D&C 56:9). Ezra Thayre may have paid to satisfy part of the debt owed on the land and requested a legal title to a portion of the farm. Ezra’s possible preoccupation with securing his financial interests may explain his lack of readiness to depart with Thomas B. Marsh on their mission to Missouri. (See The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 1: July 1828–June 1831, 309–14, 339–40.)

Doctrine and Covenants 56

The Lord revokes Ezra Thayre’s mission call and warns the Saints about greed and pride

Doctrine and Covenants 56:4–7. “I, the Lord, command and revoke, as it seemeth me good”

God can declare and revoke commandments, but He honors our agency and allows us to choose to obey or disobey His commandments. When we disobey the Lord’s commandments, He holds us accountable. Consider how the following examples illustrate the declaration that “I, the Lord, command and revoke, as it seemeth me good” (D&C 56:4): Because Ezra Thayre allowed worldly concerns to prevent him from fulfilling his mission, the Lord revoked his calling and called a different companion for Thomas B. Marsh (see D&C 56:5, 8). The Lord commanded the Colesville Saints to reside in Thompson, Ohio, but because Leman Copley broke his agreement to allow the Saints to stay on his farm, the Lord commanded them to journey to Missouri (see D&C 54:7–8). Newel Knight was called on a mission (see D&C 52:32), but the Lord revoked that call and told him to continue leading the Colesville Saints and help them relocate to Missouri (see D&C 54, section heading; D&C 54:2, 7–8). After the Lord revoked the commandment for Newel to preach the gospel with Selah Griffin, He commanded Selah to accompany Thomas B. Marsh to Missouri instead (see D&C 56:5–6).

Doctrine and Covenants 56:14–18. “You have many things to do and to repent of”

The Lord pointed out sins the Saints needed to repent of that had prevented them from living the law of consecration. Rather than seeking to do the Lord’s will and build His Church and kingdom in His way, they were seeking their own will.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–1985) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught: “Purity of heart is a figure for purity of soul. They are the ones who received a remission of sins in the waters of baptism; who, after baptism, have so lived as to retain a remission of sins; who have had their sins burned out of their souls as though by fire by the power of the Holy Ghost. They are God-fearing and righteous souls; and being pure, they qualify to see and associate with other pure beings, the chief of whom is the Lord of Purity” (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith [1985], 492).