“Chapter 48: Doctrine and Covenants 124,” Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual (2017)
“Chapter 48,” Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual
When Church members were driven from Missouri in the winter of 1838–1839, they found refuge in Illinois and Iowa Territory. After being allowed to escape captivity in April 1839, the Prophet Joseph Smith joined the Saints in Quincy, Illinois, and helped establish a new gathering place in Commerce, Illinois, which was later renamed Nauvoo. Nearly two years later, on January 19, 1841, the Prophet Joseph Smith received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 124, in which the Lord commanded him to write “a solemn proclamation of [His] gospel” to the leaders of “all the nations of the earth” (D&C 124:2–3) and instructed the Saints to build a boarding house for visitors and a temple in Nauvoo. He also counseled various Church members and appointed brethren to serve in priesthood leadership positions.
- Winter 1838–1839
Church members were driven out of Missouri and took refuge in Illinois and Iowa Territory.
- April 16, 1839
While being transported to Columbia, Missouri, for trial, the Prophet Joseph Smith and his companions were allowed to escape captivity.
- April–May 1839
Church members purchased land in Commerce, Illinois—later renamed Nauvoo—and established it as a gathering place.
- August 15, 1840
The Prophet Joseph Smith delivered his first public discourse on baptisms for the dead at the funeral service for Seymour Brunson in Nauvoo, Illinois.
- December 16, 1840
The state of Illinois granted an official charter to the city of Nauvoo.
- January 19, 1841
Doctrine and Covenants 124 was received.
- April 6, 1841
The cornerstones of the Nauvoo Temple were laid.
After their violent expulsion from Missouri in the winter of 1838–1839, Church members “fled east to the Mississippi [River], taking refuge … in various settlements along the river in Iowa Territory and Illinois, with the largest number of Saints congregating in and around Quincy, Illinois” (Alex D. Smith, “Organizing the Church in Nauvoo,” in Revelations in Context, ed. Matthew McBride and James Goldberg , 264, or history.lds.org). In April 1839, after being imprisoned in Liberty Jail for more than four months, the Prophet Joseph Smith and his fellow prisoners were allowed to escape, and the Prophet traveled to Quincy, where he was reunited with his family. In the weeks that followed, he identified and arranged to buy large parcels of land in Commerce, Illinois, and across the Mississippi River in Iowa as settlement sites for the Saints (see The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 6: February 1838–August 1839, ed. Mark Ashurst-McGee and others , 431–32). By the summer of 1839, Church members began building a city in Commerce, which the Prophet “soon renamed … Nauvoo, a Hebrew word denoting beauty,” and which became the Saints’ new gathering place (see The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 6: February 1838–August 1839, xxviii-xxix). For the next several years, those living in Nauvoo worked hard to build the city because “this land was virtually swamp wilderness with only a few simple buildings. The Saints drained the land and established homes” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Nauvoo, Illinois (USA),” scriptures.lds.org).
As Church members transformed the small settlement of Nauvoo into a city, the Prophet Joseph Smith applied to the Illinois state legislature for a city charter, which would allow Church members to better protect their religious rights by enacting local laws, appointing their own city officials, and creating a locally controlled militia. The Illinois legislature approved the charter in December 1840, and it became effective in February 1841. It was while the Prophet Joseph Smith was establishing the city of Nauvoo as a new headquarters for the Church that he received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 124. This revelation, received on January 19, 1841, provided direction for the Church members living in Nauvoo and served as a development guide for the city and the Church over the next five years. (See Smith, “Organizing the Church in Nauvoo,” 264–66, or history.lds.org.)
The Lord commanded the Prophet Joseph Smith to “make a solemn proclamation of [His] gospel” to the leaders of “all the nations of the earth” (D&C 124:2–3). He said that He would “visit and soften their hearts, … that they may come to the light of truth, and the Gentiles to the exaltation or lifting up of Zion” (D&C 124:9). In writing the proclamation, the Prophet was to follow the inspiration he would receive “by power of the Holy Ghost” (D&C 124:4) and boldly proclaim the truth, “fearing them not” (D&C 124:7). Drawing upon imagery used by the prophet Isaiah, the Lord likened the rulers of the earth to grass and their glory to “the flower thereof which soon falleth” (D&C 124:7; see also Isaiah 40:6–8). Just as “the grass withereth, [and] the flower fadeth” (Isaiah 40:8), so too will the power and glory of earthly rulers and kingdoms “in the day of visitation,” when the Lord comes again (D&C 124:8; see also Psalm 103:15–16; Isaiah 40:5–8; Revelation 11:15). By accepting the restored gospel and allowing it to be preached in their lands, world leaders could help their nations prepare for the Savior’s Second Coming.
Although the Prophet Joseph Smith worked on writing this proclamation, other concerns and challenges took precedence, including the construction of the Nauvoo Temple. Also, Robert B. Thompson, whom the Lord had commanded to assist the Prophet in writing the proclamation, died unexpectedly in August 1841. As a result, the proclamation was not written until after the Prophet Joseph Smith’s death. Under the direction of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the proclamation was written by Elder Parley P. Pratt and published in 1845. (See Smith, “Organizing the Church in Nauvoo,” 269, or history.lds.org.)
In the October 1975 general conference, President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) quoted from this proclamation and then reaffirmed its central message:
“To the rulers and peoples of all nations, we solemnly declare again that the God of heaven has established his latter-day kingdom upon the earth in fulfillment of prophecies. Holy angels have again communed with men on the earth. God has again revealed himself from heaven and restored to the earth his holy priesthood with power to administer in all the sacred ordinances necessary for the exaltation of his children. His church has been reestablished among men with all the spiritual gifts enjoyed anciently. All this is done in preparation for Christ’s second coming. The great and dreadful day of the Lord is near at hand. In preparation for this great event and as a means of escaping the impending judgments, inspired messengers have gone, and are now going, forth to the nations of the earth carrying this testimony and warning. …
“… As humble servants of the Lord, we call upon the leaders of nations to humble themselves before God, to seek his inspiration and guidance. We call upon rulers and people alike to repent of their evil ways. Turn unto the Lord, seek his forgiveness, and unite yourselves in humility with his kingdom. There is no other way. If you will do this, your sins will be blotted out, peace will come and remain, and you will become a part of the kingdom of God in preparation for Christ’s second coming” (“A Message to the World,” Ensign, Nov. 1975, 33–34).
The Lord designated the city of Nauvoo, Illinois, as a stake and “a cornerstone of Zion” (D&C 124:2). A cornerstone is a large stone laid at the corner of a foundation to give strength and stability to the entire structure. In Nauvoo, Church members received a flood of knowledge regarding temple ordinances and covenants, eternal marriage, salvation for the dead, the purposes and organization of the Relief Society, the nature of God, and truths relating to the plan of salvation (see D&C 127–32). The revelation of and teaching of essential doctrine and gospel ordinances in Nauvoo added to the spiritual foundation upon which all subsequent generations of Church members have built.
The Lord expressed His approval and love of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s devoted older brother Hyrum for “the integrity of his heart, and because he loveth that which is right before me” (D&C 124:15). Integrity means a state of completeness. Thus, to have integrity of heart is to be whole or complete in personal purity, honesty, and uprightness. After quoting the Lord’s words describing Hyrum Smith, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin (1917–2008) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught: “To me, integrity means always doing what is right and good, regardless of the immediate consequences. It means being righteous from the very depth of our soul, not only in our actions but, more importantly, in our thoughts and in our hearts. Personal integrity implies such trustworthiness and incorruptibility that we are incapable of being false to a trust or covenant” (“Personal Integrity,” Ensign, May 1990, 30).
Hyrum Smith exemplified “integrity of … heart” (D&C 124:15) and love of righteousness in his unwavering support of the Prophet and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Describing his brother Hyrum, the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote, “I could pray in my heart that all my brethren were like unto my beloved brother Hyrum, who possesses the mildness of a lamb, and the integrity of a Job, and in short, the meekness and humility of Christ; and I love him with that love that is stronger than death” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 486).
President Heber J. Grant (1856–1945) described Hyrum Smith as follows: “No mortal man who ever lived in this Church desired more to do good than did Hyrum Smith, the patriarch. I have it from the lips of my own sainted mother, that of all the men she was acquainted with in her girlhood days in Nauvoo, she admired Hyrum Smith most for his absolute integrity and devotion to God, and his loyalty to the prophet of God” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1920, 84).
The Lord called John C. Bennett, a new convert to the Church, to help the Prophet Joseph Smith “in sending [His] word to the kings and people of the earth” (D&C 124:16). The Lord also noted that He had “seen the work” that Brother Bennett had done (D&C 124:17), possibly referring to the help he had given in drafting and obtaining approval for the Nauvoo city charter (see Kimberly Reid, “Joseph Smith: Prophet and City Leader,” history.lds.org). After the Prophet Joseph Smith received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 124, Brother Bennett became an influential leader in Nauvoo. He was elected as the city’s first mayor and appointed as the chancellor of the University of Nauvoo and major general of the Nauvoo Legion (see “Bennett, John Cook,” josephsmithpapers.org). Furthermore, in April 1841, during the general conference of the Church, he was called to serve as an Assistant to the First Presidency until Sidney Rigdon, who was then ill, regained his health (see “Bennett, John C.,” in Dennis L. Largey and Larry E. Dahl, eds., Doctrine and Covenants Reference Companion , 53–54; see also D&C 124:103–4).
Unfortunately, John C. Bennett’s rise to prominence in Nauvoo was short-lived. He “used both his government and ecclesiastical positions to spread damaging rumors about Joseph Smith, plot an assassination attempt, and claim spiritual license to seduce women” (Reid, “Joseph Smith: Prophet and City Leader,” history.lds.org). He promoted the false doctrine of “spiritual wifery,” which “taught that sexual relations were permissible outside of legalized marital relationships, on condition that the relations remained secret” (“Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo,” note 21, topics.lds.org). He was excommunicated from the Church in May 1842, after which he “embarked on a speaking tour addressing the perceived evils of Joseph Smith and Mormonism” and published an anti-Mormon “history” of the Church (“Bennett, John C.,” in Largey and Dahl, Doctrine and Covenants Reference Companion, 54).
In the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 124, the Lord counseled John C. Bennett that “his reward shall not fail if he receive counsel” and if he continued to do the Lord’s will (see D&C 124:16–17; italics added). However, he did not heed these instructions and consequently forfeited the blessings promised to him in this revelation.
Some may question why John C. Bennett was allowed to hold positions of leadership and trust in Nauvoo. At the time the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 124 was received and when he was appointed as an Assistant President in the First Presidency, Brother Bennett was striving to do what was right.
The Lord commanded Church members to build two houses in His name—the Nauvoo House and the Nauvoo Temple (see D&C 124:22–23, 27). The Nauvoo House was to be a hotel, or “a house for boarding,” where visitors and travelers could stay and “contemplate the word of the Lord” and “receive … counsel” (D&C 124:23, 61). During a conference held in Nauvoo on August 29, 1842, Hyrum Smith explained, “It is important that the Nauvoo House should be finished that we may have a suitable place wherein to entertain the great ones of the Earth and teach them the truth” (in Manuscript History of the Church, vol. D-1, pages 1387–88, josephsmithpapers.org). “Because [Joseph] and Emma Smith were to donate the land on which the hotel [the Nauvoo House] would be built, the Smith family was to live there and serve as the hosts” (in The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 7: September 1839–January 1841, ed. Matthew C. Godfrey and others , 513; see also D&C 124:56).
Shortly before his death in 1844, the Prophet instructed the Saints to stop work on the Nauvoo House “so that more resources and manpower could be directed toward constructing the Nauvoo Temple. At the time of the martyrdom [of the Prophet Joseph Smith], the Nauvoo House remained uncompleted” (“Historical context and overview of Doctrine and Covenants 124,” in Largey and Dahl, Doctrine and Covenants Reference Companion, 838). Unfortunately, the Nauvoo House was never finished according to Church leaders’ plans.
The Lord instructed Church members to donate their “precious things of the earth” and skills for the construction of a temple in Nauvoo (see D&C 124:26–27). Just as they had done in Kirtland, Ohio, the Saints faithfully volunteered much of their time, labor, and means to construct the Nauvoo Temple. President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) explained:
“In 1841, two years after [the Prophet Joseph Smith] came to Nauvoo, he broke ground for a house of the Lord that should stand as a crowning jewel to the work of God. …
“No effort was spared. No sacrifice was too great. Through the next five years men chiseled stone and laid footings and foundation, walls and ornamentation. Hundreds went to the north, there to live for a time to cut lumber, vast quantities of it, and then bind it together to form rafts which were floated down the river to Nauvoo. Beautiful moldings were cut from that lumber. Pennies were gathered to buy nails. Unimaginable sacrifice was made to procure glass. They were building a temple to God, and it had to be the very best of which they were capable” (“O That I Were an Angel, and Could Have the Wish of Mine Heart,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2002, 4–5).
Under the Prophet Joseph Smith’s direction, the cornerstones of the Nauvoo Temple were laid on April 6, 1841. The completed temple was dedicated on April 30 and May 1, 1846, almost two years after the death of Joseph and Hyrum Smith and after most of the Saints had left Nauvoo for the Salt Lake Valley (see Matthew S. McBride, “The First Nauvoo Temple: So Great a Cause,” Ensign, July 2002, 12). In October 1848 a fire destroyed much of the temple, and in 1850 a tornado destroyed one of the remaining outer walls and weakened two others. By 1853 the temple was in ruins. Under the direction of President Gordon B. Hinckley, the Church constructed a new temple in Nauvoo, Illinois, on the original temple site and dedicated it in June 2002. (See “The Nauvoo Temple: Destruction and Rebirth,” history.lds.org.)
The Lord began to unfold the doctrine of salvation for the dead as early as January 1836, in a vision given to the Prophet Joseph Smith of the celestial kingdom (see D&C 137:7–10). Four years later, “at the funeral of Seymour Brunson on August 15, 1840, Joseph Smith taught the principle that men and women on earth could act on behalf of their deceased kin and fulfill the requirement of baptism on their behalf. The Saints joyfully embraced this opportunity and began almost immediately to be baptized for departed loved ones in rivers and streams near Nauvoo” (Matthew McBride, “Letters on Baptism for the Dead,” in McBride and Goldberg, Revelations in Context, 273, or history.lds.org).
Commenting on the Lord’s instructions to the Saints recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 124:29–36, President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) explained: “So important did the Lord consider baptisms for the dead that he authorized the Saints to be baptized for their dead in the Mississippi River, until a place could be provided in his house for this purpose. He further said he would give them sufficient time to build such a house, and while they were doing so, their baptisms for their dead would be acceptable to him if performed in the river, but after a place was prepared, then all baptisms for the dead in the river must cease for this ordinance as well as other ordinances for the dead, properly belongs to the house of the Lord. This revelation was given January 19, 1841, and from that time until the October conference of the Church in 1841, the baptisms in the river were accepted. At the conference in October, the Prophet announced that the time for the discontinuance of the river baptism for the dead had come, and from that time forth they must be performed in the temple. The temple was not finished at that time, but it had in the six months progressed far enough so that the basement could be enclosed, and in the basement a font had been built and dedicated, so that early in November, 1841, under the direction of the Prophet Joseph, baptisms for the dead commenced in the house of the Lord” (Church History and Modern Revelation , 4:81).
The Lord’s people have always been a temple-building people. Just as in ancient times, temples are built in our day so that sacred ordinances can be revealed and performed and the “oracles,” or revelations of God, can be received (see D&C 124:38–40). The Lord explained that the central purpose for building the Nauvoo Temple was to provide a place “for the Most High to dwell therein. … That he may come to and restore again … the fulness of the priesthood” (D&C 124:27–28). The Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–1844) taught, “If a man gets a fulness of the priesthood of God, he has to get it in the same way that Jesus Christ obtained it, and that was by keeping all the commandments and obeying all the ordinances of the house of the Lord” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 419). By receiving all the ordinances of the temple and keeping the associated covenants, Church members can receive all of the blessings that Heavenly Father offers to His children through the priesthood.
As construction of the temple in Nauvoo, Illinois, began, the Prophet Joseph Smith and the counselors in the First Presidency wrote to Church members and explained the reasons for building the house of the Lord: “The Temple of the Lord is in process of erection here [in Nauvoo], where the Saints will come to worship the God of their fathers, according to the order of His house and the powers of the Holy Priesthood, and will be so constructed as to enable all the functions of the Priesthood to be duly exercised, and where instructions from the Most High will be received, and from this place go forth to distant lands” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 415).
The Prophet Joseph Smith knew that the Nauvoo Temple would take years to build. He also knew that he might not live to see its completion. Elder Franklin D. Richards (1821–1899) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote: “When the Spirit prompted [Joseph Smith] that his life’s work was drawing to a close, and when he saw that his earthly days might be ended before the completion of the temple, he called a chosen few, and conferred upon them the ordinances of the holy endowments, so that the divine treasures of his mind might not perish from the world with his death” (in Teachings: Joseph Smith, 413–14).
On May 4, 1842, the Prophet arranged the upper room of his brick store in Nauvoo to represent the intended interior of the temple. The Prophet Joseph Smith later recorded:
“I spent the day in the upper part of the store, … instructing [a group of priesthood leaders] in the principles and order of the Priesthood, attending to washings, anointings, endowments and the communication of keys pertaining to the Aaronic Priesthood, and so on to the highest order of the Melchizedek Priesthood, setting forth the order pertaining to the Ancient of Days [Adam], and all those plans and principles by which anyone is enabled to secure the fullness of those blessings which have been prepared for the Church of the First Born, and come up and abide in the presence of the Eloheim [God the Father] in the eternal worlds. In this council was instituted the ancient order of things for the first time in these last days.
“And the communications I made to this council were of things spiritual, and to be received only by the spiritually minded: and there was nothing made known to these men but what will be made known to all the Saints of the last days, so soon as they are prepared to receive, and a proper place is prepared to communicate them … ; therefore let the Saints be diligent in building the Temple, and all houses which they have been, or shall hereafter be, commanded of God to build” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 414).
After the martyrdom of the Prophet, Church members continued work on the Nauvoo Temple, even after the decision had been made to leave Nauvoo. From December 1845 to February 1846, as construction continued, endowments for the living were performed in the temple. Thousands of Church members were endowed before they began their exodus to the Salt Lake Valley. (See McBride, “The First Nauvoo Temple,” 12.)
The Lord reassured Church members that “if [they would] hearken unto [His] voice, and unto the voice of [His] servants, … they [would] not be moved out of their place” (D&C 124:45). While the word place can denote a physical location, in this context it likely refers to the Saints’ spiritual standing before the Lord. As Church members “hearken” to the word of the Lord as contained in the scriptures and as taught by His chosen servants, they will be able to resist temptation, detect falsehood, and stand firm and steadfast in truth and righteousness. In short, “they shall not be moved out of their place” (D&C 124:45).
In July 1831 the Lord revealed that Independence, in Jackson County, Missouri, was to be the location of the city of Zion and its temple (see D&C 57:3). The following year the Lord reaffirmed His commandment to Church members to build the city of Zion, beginning with the temple (see D&C 84:4–5). However, by the winter of 1833, the Saints had been violently driven from Jackson County, Missouri, by their enemies. Consequently, they were unable to fulfill the Lord’s commandment to build the city and the temple. In the revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith on January 19, 1841, the Lord explained that He accepted the Saints’ sacrifice and excused them from the commandment to build a city and temple in Zion at that time (see D&C 124:49).
President Charles W. Penrose (1832–1925) of the First Presidency explained that the principle taught in Doctrine and Covenants 124:49 “applied in the past, and will apply in the future, and we should remember it. If God gives a commandment, and we do not obey it, why he revokes it, and he revokes the blessings. If he gives us a commandment to do certain things, and we find ourselves unable to do them, either by restricted laws or any other obstacles in the way of physical force, the Lord requires them no more but accepts our offering, and he will visit his wrath and indignation upon those who prevent his people from accomplishing that which he required at their hands” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1924, 14). However, we should remember that if God were to excuse the Church from obeying a commandment based on the principle outlined in Doctrine and Covenants 124:49, He would make it known by revelation through His chosen prophet.
Although the early Saints were prevented from fulfilling the Lord’s commandment to build a city and temple in Jackson County, Missouri, revelations recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants teach that the latter-day Zion will still be built there at a future date (see D&C 101:17–18; 105:13). President Joseph Fielding Smith taught: “The release from the building of the temple did not, however, cancel the responsibility of building the City and the House of the Lord, at some future time. When the Lord gets ready for it to be accomplished, he will command his people, and the work will be done” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie , 3:79).
Almon Babbitt served as a member of Zion’s Camp and was called as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy. In October 1840 the Prophet Joseph Smith called him to preside over the Kirtland, Ohio, stake. (See “Babbitt, Almon Whiting,” josephsmithpapers.org.) In a letter announcing this call, the Prophet wrote: “It has been deemed prudent to advise the Eastern Brethren who desire to locate in Kirtland, to do so, consequently you may expect an increase of members in your stake, who probably will be but young in the faith, and who will require kind treatment” (in Manuscript History of the Church, vol. C-1, page 1114, josephsmithpapers.org). After receiving these instructions Almon became overzealous in his efforts to rebuild Kirtland and “not only encouraged members in the [eastern United States] to gather to Kirtland” but also immigrating converts from England. He also tried to persuade Church members already living in Nauvoo, Illinois, to move back to Kirtland. “These strenuous efforts … would have built up Kirtland at the expense of other Mormon communities,” including Nauvoo (Mark Lyman Staker, Hearken, O Ye People , 552).
The Lord pointed out that Almon Babbitt had tried “to establish his counsel instead of the counsel which I have ordained, even that of the Presidency of my Church” (D&C 124:84). He compared Almon Babbitt’s zeal in building up Kirtland to “sett[ing] up a golden calf for the worship of my people” (D&C 124:84). This has reference to the children of Israel, who turned away from the commandments of the Lord to worship the golden calf Aaron built (see Exodus 32:1–8). When Church members put other pursuits before God’s will, they may stray from or ignore His counsel and commandments. Just as there is no salvation in worshipping a graven image or golden calf, there is no saving power in following counsel contrary to the counsel the Lord gives through His chosen servants. Because of his actions, Almon Babbit was disfellowshipped from the Church for a time. He later returned to full fellowship and served faithfully for the rest of his life.
As recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 124:87–91, 97–102, the Lord addressed William Law, who was called to take Hyrum Smith’s place as Second Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church. The Lord promised William that if he would “be humble before [the Lord], and be without guile, … he [would] receive of [His] Spirit, even the Comforter, which [would] manifest unto him the truth of all things” (D&C 124:97). In speaking of the importance of humility in learning truth by the Spirit, Elder Richard G. Scott (1928–2015) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught: “Humility is essential to the acquiring of spiritual knowledge. To be humble is to be teachable. Humility permits you to be tutored by the Spirit and to be taught from sources inspired by the Lord, such as the scriptures. The seeds of personal growth and understanding germinate and flourish in the fertile soil of humility. Their fruit is spiritual knowledge to guide you here and hereafter” (“Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge,” Ensign, Nov. 1993, 87).
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin explained what it means to “be without guile” (D&C 124:97):
“To be without guile is to be free of deceit, cunning, hypocrisy, and dishonesty in thought or action. … A person without guile is a person of innocence, honest intent, and pure motives, whose life reflects the simple practice of conforming his [or her] daily actions to principles of integrity. …
“If we are without guile, we are honest, true, and righteous. All of these are attributes of Deity and are required of the Saints. Those who are honest are fair and truthful in their speech, straightforward in their dealings, free of deceit, and above stealing, misrepresentation, or any other fraudulent action. Honesty is of God and dishonesty of the devil. …
“I suggest that we look into our hearts and see whether our motives and actions are pure and above reproach and to see whether we are free of deceit and fraud” (“Without Guile,” Ensign, May 1988, 80–82).
For a time, William Law served in the First Presidency with humility and integrity. However, by the winter of 1843 his faith in the restored gospel and the prophetic mission of Joseph Smith had wavered, partly due to the difficulty he had with accepting the principle of plural marriage. He was removed from his office and eventually excommunicated on April 18, 1844. He became embittered toward the Prophet and helped publish a slanderous anti-Mormon newspaper called the Nauvoo Expositor. The decision of the Nauvoo city council to destroy this paper led to the arrests of Joseph and Hyrum Smith and their subsequent murders in Carthage Jail. (See “Law, William,” in Largey and Dahl, Doctrine and Covenants Reference Companion, 358, 360.)
In December 1833, Joseph Smith Sr. was called to be the first Patriarch to the Church, and he served in this office until his death in September 1840 (see Encyclopedia of Mormonism, “Patriarch to the Church” , 3:1065; see also D&C 107:39–56). Shortly before his death, Joseph Smith Sr. “laid his hands upon [Hyrum Smith’s] head” and “seal[ed] upon [his] head the patriarchal power [whereby he might] bless the people” (Lucy Mack Smith, “Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–1845,” book 18, page 5, josephsmithpapers.org). On January 19, 1841, the Lord called Hyrum Smith to “take the office of … Patriarch, which was appointed unto him by his father, by blessing and also by right” and to “hold the keys of the patriarchal blessings upon the heads of all my people” (D&C 124:91–92), thus designating Hyrum as the Patriarch to the Church.
For much of the Church’s history, there was a Patriarch to the Church in addition to stake patriarchs. The Patriarch to the Church was sustained as a general authority and was responsible for giving patriarchal blessings to Church members who did not have access to a stake patriarch. This office was held primarily by members of the Smith family (see Encyclopedia of Mormonism, “Patriarch to the Church” , 3:1065–66). In 1979 the office of Patriarch to the Church was discontinued “because of the large increase in the number of stake patriarchs and the availability of patriarchal service throughout the world” (see “The Sustaining of Church Officers,” Ensign, Nov. 1979, 18).
The Lord also called Hyrum Smith to “be a prophet, and a seer, and a revelator unto [the] Church,” along with his brother Joseph (see D&C 124:94–95). Concerning Hyrum’s unique calling, President Joseph Fielding Smith explained that the blessing for Hyrum recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 124:91–93 “pertains to the office and calling of the man who holds the keys of the Patriarchal Priesthood.
“The Lord conferred upon Hyrum Smith, however, another important and special honor, in making him as well as Joseph Smith a holder of the keys of authority in this dispensation of the fulness of times. …
“This was a special blessing given to Hyrum Smith, and in accepting it he took the place of Oliver Cowdery, upon whom these keys had previously been bestowed. It should be remembered that whenever the Lord revealed priesthood and the keys of priesthood from the heavens, Oliver Cowdery stood with Joseph Smith in the presence of the heavenly messengers, and was a recipient, as well as Joseph Smith, of all this authority. They held it conjointly, Joseph Smith as the first and Oliver Cowdery as the second Elder of the Church.
“Thus the law pertaining to witnesses was fully established, for there were two witnesses standing with authority, keys and presidency, at the head of this the greatest of all dispensations. When through transgression Oliver Cowdery lost this wonderful and exalted blessing, Hyrum Smith was chosen by revelation of the Lord to take his place” (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:165–66).
The Lord established priesthood “offices” and committed to His servants “the keys thereof” for the purpose of governing His Church and “for the work of the ministry and the perfecting of [His] saints” (D&C 124:143; see also Ephesians 4:11–12). President John Taylor (1808–1887) explained how those serving in priesthood offices direct the Lord’s work and help Church members become perfected:
“The Lord has placed in his church apostles and prophets, high priests, seventies, elders, etc. What for? … These various officers are for perfecting of the Saints. What else? For the work of the ministry, that men might be qualified and informed and be full of intelligence, wisdom, and light, and learn to proclaim the principles of eternal truth and to bring out from the treasury of God things new and old, things calculated to promote the welfare of the people. …
“… God has ordained among you presidents, apostles, prophets, high priests, seventies, bishops and other authorities; they are of his appointment, empowered and directed by him, under his influence, teaching his law, unfolding the principles of life, and are organized and ordained expressly to lead the people in the path of exaltation and eternal glory” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: John Taylor , 131).