“Chapter 45: Doctrine and Covenants 115–120,” Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual (2017)
“Chapter 45,” Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual
On April 26, 1838, shortly after moving to Far West, Missouri, the Prophet Joseph Smith received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 115. In it the Lord revealed the name of the Church, counseled Church members to “arise and shine forth” (D&C 115:5), and instructed the Saints to build a temple in Far West.
On May 19, 1838, while exploring land north of Far West, the Prophet Joseph Smith received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 116. In it the Lord identified Spring Hill, Missouri, as Adam-ondi-Ahman.
On July 8, 1838, in Far West, the Prophet received the revelations recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 117–20. In the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 117, the Lord commanded Newel K. Whitney and William Marks to “settle up their business speedily” in Kirtland, Ohio, and move to Far West (D&C 117:1). Oliver Granger was also called to settle the First Presidency’s financial affairs in Kirtland. In the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 118, the Lord instructed the Prophet Joseph Smith to fill vacancies in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and commanded members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to serve missions overseas. In the revelations recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 119–20, the Lord addressed the Church’s significant financial difficulties by giving instructions regarding the law of tithing and the distribution of tithing funds.
- Summer 1836
Church members purchased land and began to settle in an area of northern Missouri that they called Far West.
- December 1836
The Missouri state legislature created Caldwell County exclusively for Church members’ settlements.
- March 14, 1838
Joseph Smith and his family arrived in Far West, Missouri.
- April 26, 1838
Doctrine and Covenants 115 was received.
- Mid-May 1838
Joseph Smith led an expedition to areas north of Far West, Missouri, to find additional settlement sites for the Saints.
- May 19, 1838
Doctrine and Covenants 116 was received.
- July 8, 1838
Doctrine and Covenants 117–20 were received.
- April 26, 1839
Seven members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles fulfilled prophecy by laying the chief cornerstone of the Far West Temple.
- Fall 1839
Members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles left on missions to Great Britain.
When Church members were forced to leave Jackson County, Missouri, in late 1833, most of them traveled north and sought refuge in Clay County, Missouri. The citizens of Clay County were friendly toward these Saints at first, but they considered the Saints’ settlements in their county to be temporary. While in Clay County, Church members asked the state and federal governments to help them reclaim their lands in Jackson County but were unsuccessful. In the summer of 1836, Clay County residents passed a resolution demanding that Church members leave the county. Because Church leaders had already purchased land in the northern part of Ray County, Missouri, and planned on moving there, they agreed to the resolution. In the summer and fall of 1836, Church members began moving to areas in northern Ray County, including to an area they named Far West. In December 1836 the Missouri legislature approved the creation of two new small counties, Caldwell County and Daviess County, out of the uninhabited areas of Ray County. Caldwell County was to be exclusively for Church members. (See Alexander L. Baugh, “From High Hopes to Despair: The Missouri Period, 1831–39,” Ensign, July 2001, 48.)
In early 1837, not long after Caldwell County was created, Church leaders John Whitmer and William W. Phelps drew up plans to develop the city of Far West and selected a future temple site. In April 1837 the Missouri high council debated whether Brother Whitmer and Brother Phelps had authority to draw up these plans, but apparently they decided to proceed because Church members began digging a foundation for the Far West Temple in July 1837. In November 1837 the Prophet Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon visited Far West and held a council meeting with Missouri Church leaders. During that meeting the council approved plans to develop the city of Far West and build a temple, with the stipulation that they would delay building the temple until they received further direction from the Lord. (See The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 6: February 1838–August 1839, ed. Mark Ashurst-McGee and others , 112–13.)
On April 26, 1838, a few weeks after the Prophet Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon settled in Far West, Missouri, the Lord revealed His will concerning the building up of the city of Far West and its temple. This revelation is recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 115.
When the Church was organized on April 6, 1830, the Lord referred to it as “the Church of Christ in these last days” (D&C 20:1). Accordingly, Church members often referred to the early restored Church as the Church of Christ or the Church of Jesus Christ. In a Church conference held in Kirtland, Ohio, on May 3, 1834, “the elders unanimously passed a motion that the name of the church be changed to the Church of the Latter Day Saints” (in The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 4: April 1834–December 1835, ed. Matthew C. Godfrey and others , 42). Four years later, the Lord declared, “For thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (D&C 115:4).
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained the significance of this revealed name:
“I have thought a lot about why the Savior gave the nine-word name to His restored Church. It may seem long, but if we think of it as a descriptive overview of what the Church is, it suddenly becomes wonderfully brief, candid, and straightforward. How could any description be more direct and clear and yet expressed in such few words?
“Every word is clarifying and indispensable. The word The indicates the unique position of the restored Church among the religions of the world.
“The words Church of Jesus Christ declare that it is His Church. In the Book of Mormon, Jesus taught: ‘And how be it my church save it be called in my name? … If it be called in the name of a man [like Mormon] then it be the church of a man; but if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel’ (3 Nephi 27:8). …
“Of Latter-day explains that it is the same Church as the Church that Jesus Christ established during His mortal ministry but restored in these latter days. …
“Saints means that its members follow Him and strive to do His will, keep His commandments, and prepare once again to live with Him and our Heavenly Father in the future. Saint simply refers to those who seek to make their lives holy by covenanting to follow Christ.
“The name the Savior has given to His Church tells us exactly who we are and what we believe” (“The Importance of a Name,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2011, 80).
The First Presidency stated: “As the Church grows across boundaries, cultures and languages, the use of the revealed name, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (D&C 115:4), is increasingly important in our responsibility to proclaim the name of the Savior throughout all the world. Accordingly, we ask that when we refer to the Church we use its full name wherever possible” (First Presidency letter, Feb. 23, 2001).
In the scriptures, the words standard and ensign are often synonymous. An ensign is “a flag or standard around which people gather in a unity of purpose or identity. In ancient times an ensign served as a rallying point for soldiers in battle” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Ensign,” scriptures.lds.org). In the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 115, the Lord called upon Church members to “arise and shine forth, that [their] light may be a standard for the nations” (D&C 115:5), thus helping gather the people of the world to His Church and restored gospel.
Sister Elaine S. Dalton, who served as Young Women General President, explained what the Lord’s command to “be a standard” means for us: “By the way you live the gospel, you reflect [the Savior’s] light. Your example will have a powerful effect for good on the earth. ‘Arise and shine forth, that thy light may be a standard for the nations’ [D&C 115:5] is a call to each of you. It is a call to move to higher ground. It is a call to leadership—to lead out in decency, purity, modesty, and holiness. It is a call to share this light with others. It is time to ‘arise and shine forth’” (“It Shows in Your Face,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2006, 109).
In late 1833, Church members were driven from Jackson County, Missouri, or “the center place” of Zion (see D&C 57:3). After being driven from Jackson County, the Saints viewed their other settlements in Missouri as temporary until they could move back to Zion. In the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 115, the Lord commanded the Saints to build “a holy and consecrated” city in Far West, Missouri (see D&C 115:7). The Lord also clarified that Church members should gather “upon the land of Zion, and upon her stakes” (D&C 115:6; italics added), teaching them that stakes of Zion are also gathering places. “Though the Latter-day Saints were not in Zion’s ‘centre place’ at Independence and were not building ‘the City of Zion,’ they were commanded to build up a city of Zion with a temple” in Far West (in The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 6: February 1838–August 1839, 113).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–1985) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained how stakes, like the one established in Adam-ondi-Ahman, were as much a part of “the land of Zion” (D&C 115:6) as Jackson County and Far West:
“Stakes of Zion are … being organized at the ends of the earth. In this connection, let us ponder these truths: A stake of Zion is a part of Zion. You cannot create a stake of Zion without creating a part of Zion. Zion is the pure in heart; we gain purity of heart by baptism and by obedience. A stake has geographical boundaries. To create a stake is like founding a City of Holiness. Every stake on earth is the gathering place for the lost sheep of Israel who live in its area. …
“… Israel shall be gathered one by one, family by family, unto the stakes of Zion established in all parts of the earth so that the whole earth shall be blessed with the fruits of the gospel” (“Come: Let Israel Build Zion,” Ensign, May 1977, 118).
The Lord said that “gathering together upon the land of Zion, and upon her stakes” would be “for a defense, and for a refuge from the storm” (D&C 115:6). “A defense” implies help in resisting or protection from attack, “a refuge” refers to a place of safety or shelter, and “the storm” can refer to tumultuous or frightening surroundings, attacks from enemies of the Church, or Satan’s temptations. The Lord also promised that those who gather to the stakes of Zion would be protected “from wrath when it shall be poured out without mixture upon the whole earth” before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (D&C 115:6).
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles affirmed that the stakes of the Church provide safety and protection for faithful Latter-day Saints: “In the early years of this last dispensation, a gathering to Zion involved various locations in the United States: to Kirtland, to Missouri, to Nauvoo, and to the tops of the mountains [in Salt Lake City, Utah, and surrounding regions]. Always these were gatherings to prospective temples. With the creation of stakes and the construction of temples in most nations with sizeable populations of the faithful, the current commandment is not to gather to one place but to gather in stakes in our own homelands. There the faithful can enjoy the full blessings of eternity in a house of the Lord. There, in their own homelands, they can obey the Lord’s command to enlarge the borders of His people and strengthen her stakes (see D&C 101:21; 133:9, 14). In this way, the stakes of Zion are ‘for a defense, and for a refuge from the storm, and from wrath when it shall be poured out without mixture upon the whole earth’ (D&C 115:6)” (“Preparation for the Second Coming,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2004, 8).
During a November 6, 1837, council meeting in Far West, Missouri, the Prophet Joseph Smith and the council members decided to delay constructing the temple there “until revelation directed otherwise” (in The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 5: October 1835–January 1838, ed. Brent M. Rogers and others , 466). In a revelation received April 26, 1838, the Lord commanded the Saints to “let the city, Far West, be a holy and consecrated land unto [Him]” and to “build a house unto [Him], for the gathering together of [His] saints” there (D&C 115:7–8).
The Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–1844) explained why the Lord has gathered His people in every dispensation: “What was the object of gathering the … people of God in any age of the world? … The main object was to build unto the Lord a house whereby He could reveal unto His people the ordinances of His house and the glories of His kingdom, and teach the people the way of salvation; for there are certain ordinances and principles that, when they are taught and practiced, must be done in a place or house built for that purpose” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 416).
The Lord gave specific instructions regarding the building of the temple in Far West. The “beginning of this work, and a foundation, and a preparatory work” was to begin “on the fourth day of July next,” or on July 4, 1838 (D&C 115:9–10). And then on April 26, 1839, or “in one year from [the] day” the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 115 was received, Church members were to “re-commence laying the foundation of [His] house” (D&C 115:11). In obedience to the Lord’s command, Church leaders laid the cornerstones of the Far West Temple during a ceremony held on July 4, 1838 (see The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 6: February 1838–August 1839, 115, note 559). However, because the Saints were driven from Missouri in the winter of 1838–39, they were unable to finish building the temple.
With the expectation that many Church members would soon arrive in Missouri from Ohio, and in obedience to the Lord’s command that “other places should be appointed for stakes in the regions round about” Far West, Missouri (D&C 115:18), in May 1838 the Prophet Joseph Smith and several others left Far West to explore areas north, in Daviess County, looking for possible settlement sites. As part of their journey, the Prophet and his companions traveled approximately 25 miles north of Far West to a place called Spring Hill, where Lyman Wight and several other Church members had settled. (See The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 6: February 1838–August 1839, 163.) On May 19, 1838, Joseph Smith and his companions spent time “selecting and laying claims to [a] city plot near [Wight’s] Ferry” (in The Joseph Smith Papers, Journals, Volume 1: 1832–1839, ed. Dean C. Jessee and others , 271; spelling standardized; see also Jacob W. Olmstead, “Far West and Adam-ondi-Ahman,” in Revelations in Context, ed. Matthew McBride and James Goldberg , 237, or history.lds.org). The Prophet Joseph Smith’s journal entry for May 19, 1838, indicates that on this date the Lord revealed to him that the place they had selected had both historic and future significance (see The Joseph Smith Papers, Journals, Volume 1: 1832–1839, 271). This revelation is recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 116.
As He had done with other truths of the Restoration, the Lord revealed knowledge about Adam-ondi-Ahman “line upon line, precept upon precept” (D&C 98:12). On March 1, 1832, the Prophet Joseph Smith received a revelation in which the Lord declared Himself to be “the Lord God, the Holy One of Zion, who hath established the foundations of Adam-ondi-Ahman” (D&C 78:15). Records indicate that in March 1832 the Prophet taught that the word Awmen, or Ahman, was “the name of God in pure Language” (in The Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations, Volume 1: Manuscript Revelation Books, ed. Robin Scott Jensen and others , 204, 206). On May 19, 1838, the Prophet learned that “Spring Hill[, Missouri,] is named by the Lord Adam-ondi-Ahman” (D&C 116:1). And on July 8, 1838, the Lord affirmed that “Adam-ondi-Ahman … [is] the land where Adam dwelt” (D&C 117:8).
President Brigham Young (1801–1877) recalled the following about the significance of Adam-ondi-Ahman: “Joseph, the Prophet, told me that the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri. When Adam was driven out he went to the place we now call Adam-ondi-Ahman, Daviess County, Missouri. There he built an altar and offered sacrifices” (in Matthias F. Cowley, Wilford Woodruff: History of His Life and Labors , 481).
The Prophet Joseph Smith further explained:
“I saw Adam in the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman. He called together his children and blessed them with a patriarchal blessing. The Lord appeared in their midst, and he (Adam) blessed them all, and foretold what should befall them to the latest generation.
In the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 116, the Lord not only revealed the location of Adam-ondi-Ahman but also said that at a future date “Adam shall come [there] to visit his people, or the Ancient of Days shall sit, as spoken of by Daniel the prophet” (D&C 116:1; see also Daniel 7:9–14, 22).
Of that future event the Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “Daniel in his seventh chapter speaks of the Ancient of Days; he means the oldest man, our Father Adam, Michael; he will call his children together and hold a council with them to prepare them for the coming of the Son of Man [see Daniel 7:9–14]. He (Adam) is the father of the human family, and presides over the spirits of all men, and all that have had the keys must stand before him in this grand council. … The Son of Man stands before him, and there is given him glory and dominion. Adam delivers up his stewardship to Christ, that which was delivered to him as holding the keys of the universe, but retains his standing as head of the human family” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 104).
Within a few weeks of receiving the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 116, the settlement of Adam-ondi-Ahman in Daviess County, Missouri, blossomed as new Saints began to arrive from Ohio. “On 28 June 1838, [Joseph Smith] served as the chairman of a conference to organize a stake of Zion at Adam-ondi-Ahman,” and John Smith, an uncle of the Prophet Joseph Smith, was called to be the stake president (in The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 6: February 1838–August 1839, 162; see also Olmstead, “Far West and Adam-ondi-Ahman,” 239, or history.lds.org). The population of Adam-ondi-Ahman may have grown to as large as 1,500 by the time Church members were forced to evacuate the area in November 1838 (see Baugh, “From High Hopes to Despair,” 50).
For more information about Adam-ondi-Ahman, see the commentary for Doctrine and Covenants 27:5–14 and 107:40–56 in this manual.
On July 8, 1838, the Prophet Joseph Smith dictated five revelations in Far West, Missouri—the revelations recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 117–20 and one unpublished revelation directed to Frederick G. Williams and William W. Phelps. The revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 117 was the final revelation recorded in the Prophet Joseph Smith’s journal on that date and was directed to William Marks, Newel K. Whitney, and Oliver Granger.
After the Prophet Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon fled Kirtland, Ohio, in January 1838, William Marks was appointed to oversee the Church in Kirtland and to settle the Prophet’s and Sidney Rigdon’s business affairs there. Newell K. Whitney remained as “the bishop in Kirtland, overseeing the temporal operations of the church there,” but Brother Marks and Bishop Whitney apparently understood that they should “quickly settle the church’s affairs and then move to Missouri in accordance with the 12 January 1838 revelation directing faithful Saints to relocate there” (in The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 6: February 1838–August 1839, 191; see also The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 5: October 1835–January 1838, 500–502). However, by July 6, 1838, when a large group of Saints left Kirtland, Ohio, for Missouri, Brother Marks and Bishop Whitney were still living in Kirtland (see The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 6: February 1838–August 1839, 191).
Oliver Granger was a member of the Kirtland high council and a financial agent for the Church. He had traveled to Far West, Missouri, from Kirtland, arriving by July 8, 1838. The part of the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 117 concerning Brother Granger may have been given as a response to information he gave to the Prophet Joseph Smith and other Church leaders in Missouri (in The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 6: February 1838–August 1839, 191).
The rebuke recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 117 indicates that the Lord was displeased that William Marks and Newell K. Whitney had not yet settled their affairs in Kirtland, Ohio, and moved to Missouri (see D&C 117:1), as they had been commanded to do earlier. While it is not clear how quickly they were supposed to have “settle[d] up their business” and left Kirtland, this revelation indicates that they had not been obedient to the Lord’s command.
The Lord commanded William Marks and Newel K. Whitney to “repent of all their covetous desires” that may have prevented them from obeying Him (see D&C 117:4). “As used in the scriptures, to covet is to envy someone or to have an excessive desire for something” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Covet,” scriptures.lds.org). After telling these men to “repent of all their sins, and of all their covetous desires,” the Lord asked, “For what is property unto me?” (D&C 117:4), emphasizing that their property and other material possessions were “that which is but the drop” compared to what He had prepared for them (D&C 117:8; see also D&C 117:6–7; Moses 1:27–33). He told Brother Marks and Bishop Whitney to “let the properties of Kirtland … go” (D&C 117:5). He pointed out what awaited them in Missouri, asking, “Will I not make solitary places to bud and to blossom and to bring forth in abundance? … Is there not room enough on the mountains of Adam-ondi-Ahman, and on the plains of Olaha Shinehah, or the land where Adam dwelt … ?” (D&C 117:7–8). Concerning this, President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) wrote: “The plains of Olaha Shinehah, or the place where Adam dwelt, must be a part of, or in the vicinity of Adam–Ondi–Ahman” (Church History and Modern Revelation , 3:125).
The Lord then counseled William Marks and Newel K. Whitney not to “neglect the more weighty matters”—ministering to the Saints in Missouri and building up the Lord’s kingdom—by focusing on insignificant matters (D&C 117:8). Shortly after this revelation was received, Brother Marks and Bishop Whitney responded with faith to the Lord’s chastening counsel and left Kirtland, Ohio, for Missouri (see Olmstead, “Far West and Adam-ondi-Ahman,” 240, or history.lds.org).
As recorded in Revelation 2:6, 15, the Lord said that He hated the deeds and the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. The Nicolaitans were “an Antinomian sect in Asia Minor that claimed license for sensual sin” (Bible Dictionary, “Nicolaitans”). Antinomians were permissive Christians who claimed that the grace of God freed them from having to obey the commandments. Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained that the Nicolaitans referred to in the Book of Revelation were “members of the Church who were trying to maintain their church standing while continuing to live after the manner of the world. … The designation has come to be used to identify those who want their names on the records of the Church, but do not want to devote themselves to the gospel cause with full purpose of heart” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:446). The Lord’s admonition to Newel K. Whitney to “be ashamed of the Nicolaitane band and of all their secret abominations” (D&C 117:11) was a warning to beware of associating with certain dissenters in Kirtland, Ohio, who were not willing to devote themselves to the gospel.
Oliver Granger joined the Church in New York sometime in 1832–33. In 1833 he and his wife, Lydia, moved to Kirtland, Ohio, and Brother Granger was subsequently called on several missions and then to the Kirtland high council in 1837. It appears that Brother Granger stayed in Kirtland after the Prophet Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon fled in January 1838. However, a few months later he traveled to Far West, Missouri, arriving sometime before July 8, 1839, the date the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 117 was received. (See The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 6: February 1838–August 1839, 624.) In fact, this revelation “may have come in response to information [Brother] Granger” brought to the Prophet concerning the condition of the Church in Kirtland (in The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 6: February 1838–August 1839, 191). In this revelation Oliver Granger was called to return to Kirtland and to continue serving as a financial agent for the First Presidency (see D&C 117:1).
When the Lord sent Oliver Granger back to Missouri, He promised that Oliver’s “name shall be held in sacred remembrance from generation to generation, forever and ever” and that “when he falls he shall rise again, for his sacrifice shall be more sacred unto [the Lord] than his increase” (D&C 117:12–13). President Boyd K. Packer spoke about Oliver Granger and the promises Oliver received from the Lord:
“Oliver Granger was a very ordinary man. He was mostly blind having ‘lost his sight by cold and exposure’ (History of the Church, 4:408). The First Presidency described him as ‘a man of the most strict integrity and moral virtue; and in fine, to be a man of God’ (History of the Church, 3:350).
“When the Saints were driven from Kirtland, Ohio, in a scene that would be repeated in Independence, Far West, and in Nauvoo, Oliver was left behind to sell their properties for what little he could. There was not much chance that he could succeed. And, really, he did not succeed! …
“The Lord did not expect Oliver to be perfect, perhaps not even to succeed. ‘When he falls he shall rise again, for his sacrifice shall be more sacred unto me than his increase, saith the Lord’ (D&C 117:13).
“We cannot always expect to succeed, but we should try the best we can. …
“Today we fulfill the prophecy ‘that [Oliver Granger’s] name shall be had in sacred remembrance from generation to generation, forever and ever’ (D&C 117:12). He was not a great man in terms of the world. Nevertheless, the Lord said, ‘Let no man despise my servant Oliver Granger, but let the blessings … be on him forever and ever’ (D&C 117:15).
“Let no one underestimate the power of faith in the ordinary Latter-day Saints” (“The Least of These,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2004, 86, 88).
Four of the original members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had been excommunicated or otherwise removed from office by July 1838 for transgression or apostasy: John F. Boynton, Luke Johnson, Lyman Johnson, and William E. McLellin. This caused great sorrow among Church members. On Sunday, July 8, 1838, during a leadership meeting, the Prophet Joseph Smith received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 118 in response to the plea to “show unto us thy will O, Lord concerning the Twelve.” (See The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 6: February 1838–August 1839, 176–78.) John Taylor, John E. Page, Wilford Woodruff, and Willard Richards were appointed to fill the vacancies in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
In an earlier revelation, Church members in Far West, Missouri, were commanded to “re-commence laying the foundation of [the Far West Temple]” on April 26, 1839 (see D&C 115:11). President Wilford Woodruff (1807–1898) “later explained that this was a commandment to ‘lay the corner stone of the Temple’” (see Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff , 139). In addition, in the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 118, the Lord instructed the Prophet Joseph Smith that on April 26, 1839, members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles were to depart from the Far West Temple site for their missions abroad (see D&C 118:4–5). By April 1839 most Church members had been driven out of Missouri, but during that month seven members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles traveled back to Far West. On April 26, 1839, they laid the chief cornerstone of the Far West Temple and took formal leave of the few Saints who remained in Missouri before they departed on their missions to Great Britain the following fall, thus fulfilling the Lord’s commands (see The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 6: February 1838–August 1839, 180, note 73; see also Cowley, Wilford Woodruff: History of His Life and Labors, 101–2).
President Woodruff described his experience on that day:
“When the revelation was given [in 1838], all was peace and quietude in Far West, Missouri, the city where most of the Latter-day Saints dwelt; but before the time came for its fulfillment, the Saints of God had been driven out of the State of Missouri into the State of Illinois, under the edict of Governor Boggs; and the Missourians had sworn that if all the other revelations of Joseph Smith were fulfilled, that [one] should not be. It stated the day and the place where the Twelve Apostles should take leave of the Saints, to go on their mission across the great waters, and the mobocrats of Missouri had declared that they would see that it should not be fulfilled. …
“Having determined to carry out the requirement of the revelation, … we started for Far West. …
“On the morning of the 26th of April, 1839, notwithstanding the threats of our enemies that the revelation which was to be fulfilled this day should not be, and notwithstanding that ten thousand of the Saints had been driven out of the State by the edict of the governor, … we moved on to the temple ground in the city of Far West, and held a council, and fulfilled the revelation and commandment given unto us, and we performed many other things at this council. …
“Bidding good-by to the small remnant of Saints who remained on the temple ground to see us fulfill the revelation and commandments of God, we turned our back on Far West and Missouri, and returned to Illinois. We had accomplished the mission without a dog moving his tongue at us [see Exodus 11:7], or any man saying, ‘Why do you so?’” (Teachings: Wilford Woodruff, 139–41).
Two of the five revelations the Prophet Joseph Smith received on July 8, 1838, addressed the Church’s financial needs. Previously the Prophet had received other revelations related to economic matters. In 1831 the Lord revealed principles concerning the law of consecration (see D&C 42:30–36). Later, He revealed that the United Firm should be established to manage the Church’s printing and mercantile businesses (see D&C 78:1–16; 104). The Prophet Joseph Smith and others had also attempted to improve the Church’s finances by establishing a banking institution and other businesses, but most of these endeavors had failed. These failures, combined with the United States economic recession of 1837, caused the Church to continue suffering under oppressing debt (see The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 6: February 1838–August 1839, 184).
In late 1837, Bishop Newel K. Whitney in Ohio and Bishop Edward Partridge in Missouri began asking Church members to pay tithing. At that time Church members believed that tithing meant any offering willingly donated to the Church (see Steven C. Harper, “The Tithing of My People,” in McBride and Goldberg, Revelations in Context, 251, or history.lds.org). In Kirtland, Ohio, the bishopric began “calling on church members everywhere to ‘bring their tithes into the store house’ to relieve church debts and to help establish the community of Saints in Missouri. While this general request did not include recommended donation amounts, in December 1837 a committee [of Church leaders in Missouri] proposed that every head of household be asked to annually donate a certain percentage of net worth, with the percentage based on church needs for the year. To cover anticipated church expenses for 1838, the committee proposed a ‘tithing’ of 2 percent. The committee believed that such a program would ‘be in some degree fulfilling the law of consecration’” (in The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 6: February 1838–August 1839, 184–85; spelling standardized).
As Church members began to gather in and around Far West, Missouri, the Church and its leaders still faced enormous debt. The revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 119 was received during a leadership meeting on July 8, 1838, in response to a request: “Lord, show unto thy servants how much thou requirest of the properties of thy people for a Tithing?” (in The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 6: February 1838–August 1839, 186; spelling standardized). The revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 120 “was given in reference to ‘the disposition of the properties tithed, as named in the preceding revelation [D&C 119]’” (in The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 6: February 1838–August 1839, 190; spelling standardized).
The Lord gave a two-fold response to the Prophet Joseph Smith’s inquiry concerning how much tithing Church members should pay. First, the Lord said, “I require all their surplus property to be put into the hands of the bishop of my church in Zion” (D&C 119:1), and then He explained the purpose for doing so (see D&C 119:2). Thus, Church members would give property or possessions to the bishop after all their needs were met. During a council meeting held shortly after the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 119 was received, “surplus property” was defined as “property, such as land or cattle, that [the owners] could not ‘make use of to advantage’” (in The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 6: February 1838–August 1839, 187, note 121).
The second part of the Lord’s answer to the Prophet’s inquiry required the Saints to “pay one-tenth of all their interest annually” (D&C 119:4). The Lord has revealed further clarification of this commandment since the time when this revelation was given (see The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 6: February 1838–August 1839, 188, note 126). In 1970 the First Presidency gave the following response in explaining “what is considered a proper tithe”: “The simplest statement we know of is the statement of the Lord himself, namely, that the members of the Church should pay ‘one-tenth of all their interest annually,’ which is understood to mean income. No one is justified in making any other statement than this” (First Presidency letter, Mar. 19, 1970).
The commandment to “pay one-tenth of all [a person’s] interest annually” is not a lesser law to be replaced at some future time but is “a standing law unto [the Lord’s people] forever” (D&C 119:4).
Some of the Church members who had gathered to Jackson County, Missouri, had not consecrated their property as the Lord required. After the Saints were driven from their homes in Jackson County in 1833, the Lord told them that because of “jarrings, and contentions, and envyings, and strifes, and lustful and covetous desires among them … they [had] polluted their inheritances” in the land of Zion (D&C 101:6). In the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 119, the Lord taught that those who did not “observe this law” of tithing would “not be found worthy to abide among [the Saints]” and that “by this law” the Saints would “sanctify the land of Zion unto [Him]” (D&C 119:5-6).
President Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918) taught that the payment of tithing is a test: “By this principle (tithing) the loyalty of the people of this Church shall be put to the test. By this principle it shall be known who is for the kingdom of God and who is against it. By this principle it shall be seen whose hearts are set on doing the will of God and keeping his commandments, thereby sanctifying the land of Zion unto God, and who are opposed to this principle and have cut themselves off from the blessings of Zion. There is a great deal of importance connected with this principle, for by it it shall be known whether we are faithful or unfaithful. In this respect it is as essential as faith in God, as repentance of sin, as baptism for the remission of sin, or as the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith , 276).
Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that paying tithing refines us: “The honest payment of tithing is much more than a duty; it is an important step in the process of personal sanctification” (“The Windows of Heaven,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2013, 20). Those who are sanctified will “be found worthy” to inhabit the land of Zion (D&C 119:5).
Since the Church’s organization on April 6, 1839, bishops and members of the United Firm, the First Presidency, stake presidencies, and the high council had all been involved at different times in managing funds donated to the Church (see The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 6: February 1838–August 1839, 189). In the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 120, the Lord clarified that “a council, composed of the First Presidency of my Church, and of the bishop and his council, and by my high council”—all of them acting together under His inspiration—should manage and distribute the donated funds (D&C 120:1). The “bishop and his council” is the Presiding Bishopric of the Church, and “my high council” is the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (D&C 120:1; see also The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 6: February 1838–August 1839, 189).
Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained how tithing funds are administered in the Church:
“According to revelation, bishops are ordained to ‘keep the Lord’s storehouse; to receive the funds of the church’ [D&C 72:10]. Both bishops and clerks are expected to be full-tithe payers who have learned to live prudently within their means. Within hours of receiving tithing funds from members of their wards and branches, these local leaders transmit the funds directly to the headquarters of the Church.
“Then, as revealed by the Lord, the use of tithing is determined by a council comprised of the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and the Presiding Bishopric. The Lord specifically states that the council’s work be directed ‘by mine own voice unto them’ [D&C 120:1)]. This council is called the Council on the Disposition of the Tithes.
“It is remarkable to witness this council heed the Lord’s voice. Each member is aware of and participates in all the council’s decisions. No decision is made until the council is unanimous. All tithing funds are spent for the purposes of the Church, including welfare—care for the poor and needy— temples, buildings and upkeep of meetinghouses, education, curriculum— in short, the work of the Lord. …
“To Church members and others throughout the world, I bear my testimony of the Council on the Disposition of the Tithes. I have sat on this council for 17 years, as the Presiding Bishop of the Church and now as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Without exception, the tithing funds of this Church have been used for His purposes” (“Tithing: A Test of Faith with Eternal Blessings,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2002, 28).