The Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 68 to D&C 78)
While staying in Hiram, Ohio, the Prophet convened a conference November 1 3, 1831. As the Church began to mature, many doctrinal themes continued to develop, particularly in relation to Zion. Verses 2 and 3 declare that “all” who are ordained to the priesthood and go forth on their missions “shall speak as they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost. And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.” (See also D&C 100:5-8. Note the application of these verses is not restricted to only General Authorities). Further, in verse 12 the elders are promised that “as many as the Father shall bear record, to you shall be given power to seal them up unto eternal life.” (Remember, this is 1831, and Elijah did not come for another five years in 1836. The sealing power spoken of here was to seal individuals only. The power to seal families was not revealed and bestowed until Elijah returned in 1836. See D&C 110. These earlier verses demonstrate perfectly that the Restoration was a gradual unfolding). His fruitful stay at the Johnson farm would soon produce sixteen revelations, as he pondered and poured over the revelations of the Biblical prophets while making his inspired revision. In 2002, the Johnson Farm in Hiram, Ohio, stands in its dedicated and restored functionality, as a fitting tribute to that prolific revelatory period.
The historical evidence suggests that the first half of the revelation came during the conference at the request of some of the brethren, as they sought to know what the Lord would have them do, the last several verses being given some seven or eight days later. These verses are familiar for their counsel to parents in Zion:
For this shall be a law unto the inhabitants of Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized.
And their children shall be baptized for the remission of their sins when eight years old, and receive the laying on of the hands.
And they shall also teach their children to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord.
And the inhabitants of Zion shall also observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy.
And the inhabitants of Zion also shall remember their labors, inasmuch as they are appointed to labor, in all faithfulness; for the idler shall be had in remembrance before the Lord.
Now, I, the Lord, am not well pleased with the inhabitants of Zion, for there are idlers among them; and their children are also growing up in wickedness; they also seek not earnestly the riches of eternity, but their eyes are full of greediness.
These things ought not to be, and must be done away from among them; wherefore, let my servant Oliver Cowdery carry these sayings unto the land of Zion.
The business of the conference at Hiram was to approve the revelations Joseph had received to that point for publication. During the conference two “bookend” revelations were given as the introduction and the appendix to the Book of Commandments. (See D&C 1 and D&C 133 respectively). A casual observer might have concluded that might be the end of the compilation, but Joseph would later add many more revelations. As saints living in the latter days we have witnessed the addition of even more revelations with the full expectation the Lord will yet “reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” (9th Article of Faith).
Pursuant to the commandment that Oliver was to "carry these sayings unto the land of Zion" in the previous revelation, this one tells him to set out for Independence with copies of the revelations and money to get them published. Because of the commandment the Lord had previously given (see D&C 58:13), the revelations were delivered to Independence, rather than publishing them in Ohio, where the main body of the saints was still headquartered.
Hearken unto me, saith the Lord your God, for my servant Oliver Cowdery's sake. It is not wisdom in me that he should be entrusted with the commandments and the moneys which he shall carry unto the land of Zion, except one go with him who will be true and faithful.
Wherefore, I, the Lord, will that my servant, John Whitmer, should go with my servant Oliver Cowdery;
And also that he shall continue in writing and making a history of all the important things which he shall observe and know concerning my church;
And also that he receive counsel and assistance from my servant Oliver Cowdery and others.
And also, my servants who are abroad in the earth should send forth the accounts of their stewardships to the land of Zion.
For the land of Zion shall be a seat and a place to receive and all do these things.
Nevertheless, let my servant John Whitmer travel many times from place to place, and from church to church, that he may the more easily obtain knowledge
Preaching and expounding, writing, copying, selecting, and obtaining all things which shall be for the good of the church, and for the rising generations that shall grow up on the land of Zion, to possess it from generation to generation, forever and ever. Amen.
Lyndon Cook gives a complete and interesting treatment of the history behind this revelation in his book. (See RPJS, 112-117). The brethren named in the first verse constitute what came to be known as the "Literary Firm," and were given the stewardship of the revelations. The "benefits" mentioned in the revelation (see verse 8), are the revenues derived from publication of the revelations. The Lord's directive with respect to the disposition of the profits from the distribution of the revelations is specified herein.
Behold, and hearken, O ye inhabitants of Zion, and all ye people of my church who are afar off, and hear the word of the Lord which I give unto my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and also unto my servant Martin Harris, and also unto my servant Oliver Cowdery, and also unto my servant John Whitmer, and also unto my servant William W. Phelps, by the way of commandment unto them.
For I give unto them a commandment; wherefore hearken and hear, for thus saith the Lord unto them
I, the Lord, have appointed them, and ordained them to be stewards over the revelations and commandments which I have given unto them, and which I shall hereafter give unto them;
And an account of this stewardship will I require of them in the day of judgment.
Wherefore, I have appointed unto them, and this is their business in the church of God, to manage them and the concerns thereof, yea, the benefits thereof.
Wherefore, a commandment I give unto them, that they shall not give these things unto the church, neither unto the world;
Nevertheless, inasmuch as they receive more than is needful for their necessities and their wants, it shall be given into my storehouse;
And the benefits shall be consecrated unto the inhabitants of Zion, and unto their generations, inasmuch as they become heirs according to the laws of the kingdom.
Behold, this is what the Lord requires of every man in his stewardship, even as I, the Lord, have appointed or shall hereafter appoint unto any man.
And behold, none are exempt from this law who belong to the church of the living God. (The Lord's instruction in this revelation is clear, and "none are exempt from this law who belong to the church of the living God" -- we must consecrate the proceeds we derive from our stewardships over and above our need. The law has never been revoked, only widely ignored).
As one might suspect when studying the subject of Zion, the law of consecration is a fundamental doctrine. We will examine the doctrine and its application later, but the essential ingredient in the plan for implementation of the law of consecration is the bishop. Into his hands are placed the consecrated offerings of the saints, and the judgment required in the disposition of those offerings is part of his stewardship.
As defined in today's Church, the duties of the bishop are fivefold: 1) To be the presiding high priest and father of the ward family; 2) to be the president of the priests' quorum and the Aaronic Priesthood in his ward, and to look after the young women of corresponding ages; 3) to care for the poor and needy in his ward; 4) to receive the funds and offerings of his members; and 5) to be the common judge among his members. These principal duties begin to emerge in this early revelation, given to the Prophet at Kirtland, Ohio, December 4, 1831:
Hearken, and listen to the voice of the Lord, O ye who have assembled yourselves together, who are the high priests of my church, to whom the kingdom and power have been given.
For verily thus saith the Lord, it is expedient in me for a bishop to be appointed unto you, or of you, unto the church in this part of the Lord's vineyard.
And verily in these things ye have done wisely, for it is required of the Lord, at the hand of every steward, to render an account of his stewardship, both in time and in eternity.
For he who is faithful and wise in time is accounted worthy to inherit the mansions prepared for him of my Father.
Verily I say unto you, the elders of the church in this part of my vineyard shall render an account of their stewardship unto the bishop, who shall be appointed of me in this part of my vineyard.
These things shall be had on record, to be handed over unto the bishop in Zion.
And the duty of the bishop shall be made known by the commandments which have been given, and the voice of the conference.
And now, verily I say unto you, my servant Newel K. Whitney is the man who shall be appointed and ordained unto this power. This is the will of the Lord your God, your Redeemer. Even so. Amen. (This revelation is really two revelations, and this concludes the first pertaining to Newel K. Whitney's call to be a bishop. It was combined with the one that follows, setting forth the specific duties of the bishop).
The word of the Lord, in addition to the law which has been given, making known the duty of the bishop who has been ordained unto the church in this part of the vineyard, which is verily this
To keep the Lord's storehouse; to receive the funds of the church in this part of the vineyard;
To take an account of the elders as before has been commanded; and to administer to their wants, who shall pay for that which they receive, inasmuch as they have wherewith to pay;
That this also may be consecrated to the good of the church, to the poor and needy.
And he who hath not wherewith to pay, an account shall be taken and handed over to the bishop of Zion, who shall pay the debt out of that which the Lord shall put into his hands.
And the labors of the faithful who labor in spiritual things, in administering the gospel and the things of the kingdom unto the church, and unto the world, shall answer the debt unto the bishop in Zion;
Thus it cometh out of the church, for according to the law every man that cometh up to Zion must lay all things before the bishop in Zion.
And now, verily I say unto you, that as every elder in this part of the vineyard must give an account of his stewardship unto the bishop in this part of the vineyard
A certificate from the judge or bishop in this part of the vineyard, unto the bishop in Zion, rendereth every man acceptable, and answereth all things, for an inheritance, and to be received as a wise steward and as a faithful laborer;
Otherwise he shall not be accepted of the bishop of Zion.
And now, verily I say unto you, let every elder who shall give an account unto the bishop of the church in this part of the vineyard be recommended by the church or churches, in which he labors, that he may render himself and his account approved in all things.
And again, let my servants who are appointed as stewards over the literary concerns of my church have claim for assistance upon the bishop of bishops in all things
That the revelations may be published, and go forth unto the ends of the earth; that they also may obtain funds which shall benefit the church in all things;
That they also may render themselves approved in all things, and be accounted as wise stewards.
And now, behold, this shall be an ensample for all the extensive branches of my church, in whatsoever land they shall be established. And now I make an end of my sayings. Amen.
A few words in addition to the laws of the kingdom, respecting the members of the church they that are appointed by the Holy Spirit to go up unto Zion, and they who are privileged to go up unto Zion --
Let them carry up unto the bishop a certificate from three elders of the church, or a certificate from the bishop;
Otherwise he who shall go up unto the land of Zion shall not be accounted as a wise steward. This is also an ensample. Amen.
The growing understanding of the duties of bishops was expanded by yet another revelation, given a few months later in March 1832, to Sidney Rigdon and Joseph Smith. It is one of over 400 revelations we have in various collections, but not canonized. Because of its importance to our subject matter, it is included here (The original manuscript is found in the Newel K. Whitney Collection, Brigham Young University Library, Manuscripts, and is reproduced in RPJS, 149-150):
Verily thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Sidney and Joseph I reveal unto you for your own prophet [profit] and instruction concerning the Bishops of my church what is their duty in the church behold it is their duty to stand in the office of the Bishoprick and to fill the judgement seat which I have appointed unto them to administer the benefits of the church or the overpluss of all who are in their stewardships according to the Commandments as they are sever[al]ly appointed and the property or that which they receive of the church is not their own but belongeth to the church wherefore it is the property of the Lord and it is for the poor of the church to be administered according to the law for it is the will of the Lord that the church should be made equal in all things wherefore the bishops are accountable before the Lord for their stewardships to administer of their stewardship in the which they are appointed by commandment jointly with you my servents unto the Lord as well as you my servents or the rest of the church that the benef[i]ts of all may be dedicated unto the Lord that the Lords storehouse may be filled always that ye may all grow in temporal as well as spiritual things and now verily I say unto you the bishops must needs be seperated unto their bishoppricks and judgement seats from care of business but not from claim neither from council. [The paradox here is obvious -- most often today the bishops comprising a “lay ministry” are overburdened and cumbered about with "business," either theirs or the ward's. The Lord’s business of being a ministering shepherd to their respective flocks is a daunting challenge.] Wherefore I have given unto you commandment that you should be joined together by covenant and bond wherefore see that ye do even as I have commanded and unto the office of the presidency of the high Priesthood I have given authority to preside with the assistence of his councellers over all the concerns of the church wherefore stand ye fast claim your Priesthood in authority yet in meekness and I am able to make you abound and be fruitfull and you shall never fall for unto you I have given the keys of the kingdom and if transgress not they shall never be taken from you. Wherefore feed my sheep even so Amen.
Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice,
And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.
The verses cited below describe the inhabitants of the Celestial Kingdom in the resurrection -- in other words, those who will live in the celestial city of Zion. In order to give the best possible understanding of the verses, I have given the text of the revelation as it appears in Section 76 first, then Joseph's poetic interpretation, titled “A Vision,” below. (For the full text of the poetic version, see Times and Seasons, Vol. 4 [February 1, 1843]:82-85):
Section 76 - The Vision
They are they who received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name and were baptized after the manner of his burial, being buried in the water in his name, and this according to the commandment which he has given --
That by keeping the commandments they might be washed and cleansed from all their sins, and receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands of him who is ordained and sealed unto this power;
And who overcome by faith, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true.
They are they who are the church of the Firstborn.
They are they into whose hands the Father has given all things
They are they who are priests and kings, who have received of his fulness, and of his glory;
And are priests of the Most High, after the order of Melchizedek, which was after the order of Enoch, which was after the order of the Only Begotten Son.
Wherefore, as it is written, they are gods, even the sons of God
Wherefore, all things are theirs, whether life or death, or things present, or things to come, all are theirs and they are Christ's, and Christ is God's.
And they shall overcome all things.
Wherefore, let no man glory in man, but rather let him glory in God, who shall subdue all enemies under his feet.
These shall dwell in the presence of God and his Christ forever and ever.
These are they whom he shall bring with him, when he shall come in the clouds of heaven to reign on the earth over his people.
These are they who have come to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of Enoch, and of the Firstborn.
These are they whose names are written in heaven, where God and Christ are the judge of all.
These are they who are just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, who wrought out this perfect atonement through the shedding of his own blood.
These are they whose bodies are celestial, whose glory is that of the sun, even the glory of God, the highest of all, whose glory the sun of the firmament is written of as being typical.
And again I bear record of heavenly things,
Where virtue's the value, above all that's pric'd
Of the truth of the gospel concerning the just,
That rise in the first resurrection of Christ.
Who receiv'd and believ'd, and repented likewise,
And then were baptis'd, as a man always was,
Who ask'd and receiv'd a remission of sin,
And honored the kingdom by keeping its laws.
Being buried in water, as Jesus had been,
And by keeping the whole of his holy commands,
They received the gift of the spirit of truth,
By the ordinance truly of laying on hands.
For these overcome, by their faith and their works,
Being tried in their life time, as purified gold,
And seal'd by the spirit of promise, to life,
By men called of God, as was Aaron of old.
They are they, of the church of the first born of God,
And unto whose hands he committeth all things;
For they hold the keys of the kingdom of heav'n,
And reign with the Savior, as priests, and as kings.
They're priests of the order of Melchisedek,
Like Jesus, (from whom is this highest reward,)
Receiving a fulness of glory and light;
As written: They're Gods; even sons of the Lord.
So all things are theirs; yea, of life, or of death;
Yea, whether things now, or to come, all are theirs,
And they are the Savior's, and he is the Lord's,
Having overcome all, as eternity's heirs.
'Tis wisdom that man never glory in man,
But give God the glory for all that he hath;
For the righteous will walk in the presence of God,
While the wicked are trod under foot in his wrath.
Yea, the righteous shall dwell in the presence of God,
And of Jesus, forever, from earth's second birth
For when he comes down in the splendor of heav'n,
All these he'll bring with him, to reign on the earth.
These are they that come up to Mount Zion, in life,
Where the blessings and gifts of the spirit abound.
These are they that have come to the heavenly place;
To the numberless courses of angels above:
To the city of God; e'en the holiest of all,
And to the home of the blessed, the fountain of love:
To the church of old Enoch, and of the first born:
And gen'ral assembly of ancient renown'd.
Whose names are all kept in the archives of heav'n,
As chosen and faithful, and fit to be crown'd.
These are they that are perfect through Jesus' own blood,
Whose bodies celestial are mention'd by Paul,
Where the sun is the typical glory thereof,
And God, and his Christ, are the true judge of all.
We come now to the establishment of an "order," variously referred to throughout the revelations and the writings of the early saints in this dispensation as the "United Order," the "Order of Enoch," and the "United Firm." (See RPJS, 167-168). The "order" was to implement the principles of the celestial law of consecration, and many of those underlying principles had already been set forth in previous revelations. (See for example, D&C 42, given February, 1831, in which the "law of the Church" was revealed; D&C 51, given May, 1831, in which the first bishop was called; D&C 72, given December, 1831, in which the duties of the bishop are outlined; D&C 78, given March, 1832, in which the command to organize is given with additional principles; and finally, review D&C 82, 83, 85, 92, 101, 104, 105 which detail other events connected with the law of consecration.
The question is often asked in the Church today, "Do we still live the law of consecration?" The answer lies within the grasp of each individual, and is plainly set forth in the covenants and ordinances administered in the temple endowment. Let us remember eternal laws never change only the system changes in the implementation of the laws:
THE LAW OF CONSECRATION:
The Celestial Law
1. Everything is the Lord’s
2. Everyone is equal
3. Church to be independent
THE UNITED ORDER:
An Application of The Celestial Law
1. Consecrate (by deed) all to the Church
2. Receive stewardship (by deed) according to wants and needs as determined by bishop
3. Surplus donated to bishop’s storehouse, etc.
We will contrast this system later with the law of tithing, but this is the point the eternal principles listed first never change. The Lord must have known, however, that the principles would be ignored and abused, for he made specific reference to those who would not give heed to the voice of the Lord and his servants in the introduction to The Doctrine and Covenants. (See D&C 1:14-16, and note that the Lord is speaking about those who will be cut off "from among the people." Isn’t it almost axiomatic among us that once the principles are revealed we are to accept and live the principles, regardless of whether or not the system fails? Witness all the so-called “fundamentalists” who believe the institution of the Church has failed, who nevertheless cling steadfastly to the eternal laws). What have you concluded in your own life? Under our present system of tithes and offerings are we still required by God to live the eternal law of consecration?
The Lord spake unto Joseph Smith, Jun., saying: Hearken unto me, saith the Lord your God, who are ordained unto the high priesthood of my church, who have assembled yourselves together;
And listen to the counsel of him who has ordained you from on high, who shall speak in your ears the words of wisdom, that salvation may be unto you in that thing which you have present before me, saith the Lord God.
For verily I say unto you, the time has come, and is now at hand; and behold, and lo, it must needs be that there be an organization of my people, in regulating and establishing the affairs of the storehouse for the poor of my people, both in this place and in the land of Zion -- [Let it be remembered that caring for the poor among them has always characterized a Zion people in every dispensation. See for example: 4 Nephi 1:3; Moses 7:18; Deuteronomy 24:19; Matthew 5:42; 6:1; 25:35; Luke 16:20; Jacob 2:19; Alma 1:30].
For a permanent and everlasting establishment and order unto my church, to advance the cause, which ye have espoused, to the salvation of man, and to the glory of your Father who is in heaven;
That you may be equal in the bonds of heavenly things, yea, and earthly things also, for the obtaining of heavenly things.
For if you will that I give unto you a place in the celestial world, you must prepare yourselves by doing the things which I have commanded you and required of you.
And now, verily thus saith the Lord, it is expedient that all things be done unto my glory, by you who are joined together in this order;
Or, in other words, let my servant Newel K. Whitney and my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and my servant Sidney Rigdon sit in council with the saints which are in Zion;
Otherwise Satan seeketh to turn their hearts away from the truth, that they become blinded and understand not the things which are prepared for them.
Wherefore, a commandment I give unto you, to prepare and organize yourselves by a bond or everlasting covenant that cannot be broken.
And he who breaketh it shall lose his office and standing in the church, and shall be delivered over to the buffetings of Satan until the day of redemption.
Behold, this is the preparation wherewith I prepare you, and the foundation, and the ensample which I give unto you, whereby you may accomplish the commandments which are given you;
That through my providence, notwithstanding the tribulation which shall descend upon you, that the church may stand independent above all other creatures beneath the celestial world;
That you may come up unto the crown prepared for you, and be made rulers over many kingdoms, saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Zion, who hath established the foundations of Adam-ondi-Ahman;
Who hath appointed Michael your prince, and established his feet, and set him upon high, and given unto him the keys of salvation under the counsel and direction of the Holy One, who is without beginning of days or end of life.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye are little children, and ye have not as yet understood how great blessings the Father hath in his own hands and prepared for you;
And ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along. The kingdom is yours and the blessings thereof are yours, and the riches of eternity are yours.
And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more.
Wherefore, do the things which I have commanded you, saith your Redeemer, even the Son Ahman, who prepareth all things before he taketh you;
For ye are the church of the Firstborn, and he will take you up in a cloud, and appoint every many his portion.
And he that is a faithful and wise steward shall inherit all things. Amen.
The following is a summary of the principles upon which the law of consecration is founded, then a review of how the system of the United Order was supposed to accomplish the application of those principles:
THE LAW OF CONSECRATION:
1. Everything is the Lord's. We are accountable to him as stewards over earthly blessings. (See D&C 104:11-18).
2. The Church is to stand independent above all other creatures beneath the celestial world. (See D&C 78:14).
3. Every man is to "esteem his brother as himself." (See D&C 38:24-27). "If ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things. . ." (D&C 78:6. See also D&C 51:9; D&C 49:19-20.)
4. The law of consecration is a celestial law, and must be lived before Zion can be "built up" to the point where the Lord can "receive" her. (See D&C 105:1-6).
THE UNITED ORDER:
1. Consecration by legal deed of all properties to the Church. (See D&C 42:30-31).
2. Receive by legal deed a stewardship sufficient for self and family, according to circumstances, wants, and needs determined by the individual steward and the bishop. (See D&C 42:32; 51:3-4).
3. Everyone has equal claim upon the resources of the order in managing his stewardship "according to his wants and his needs, inasmuch as his wants are just." (See D&C 82:17).
4. Every man is to improve upon his stewardship for the benefit of his neighbor and the whole Church. (See D&C 82:18-19).
5. Any surplus from managing a stewardship after the needs of self and family are met is to be given to the bishop's storehouse. (See D&C 42:33-35; 51:13).
6. Children whose parents cannot provide an inheritance and widows and orphans have claim upon the storehouse for their stewardships and support. (See D&C 83:4-6).
7. If a person transgresses and leaves the order, he takes with him that portion of the stewardship that he has received by legal deed. He is not entitled to that which he initially consecrated by legal deed to the Church. (See D&C 42:32, 37; 51:5-6).
8. The bishop and those appointed by him are the agents of the Church in establishing stewardships and taking account thereof. (See D&C 42:31; 51:3-4; 72:2-16, 18). (See Doctrine and Covenants Gospel Doctrine Teacher's Supplement, [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Salt Lake City, Utah], 1978, 166-167).
There is a well-established tradition in the Church that we may "someday" be required to return to one of the systems or programs of consecration as outlined by the Prophet Joseph before we will truly be living the law of consecration. There are many who say, "When the President of the Church asks me to consecrate all that I have to the Church, then I will live the law of consecration." There is a further fallacy in connection with these ideas that tithing is a "lesser" law than consecration, and that we are not "worthy" to live the law of consecration yet. The common presumption is that when we return to Jackson County we will then live the law of consecration probably under some variation of the United Order. We have all heard it, perhaps summarized best in this statement (emphasis is mine):
"And this shall be the beginning of the tithing of my people.
". . .Those who have thus been tithed shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually; and this shall be a standing law unto them forever." [D&C 119:3–4].
The law of tithing prepares us to live the higher law of consecration – to dedicate and give all our time, talents, and resources to the work of the Lord. Until the day when we are required to live this higher law, we are commanded to live the law of the tithe, which is to freely [see Church History and Modern Revelation (third series, 1946), 120] give one-tenth of our income annually. (Elder Robert D. Hales, “Tithing: A Test of Faith with Eternal Blessings,” Ensign, October 2002, 26).
In a “repeat performance,” the second time he had given this particular talk at the request of President David O. McKay, Elder Marion G. Romney addressed the General Priesthood Meeting in April, 1966. Over forty years old now, it was a visionary address. His title: “Is Socialism the United Order?” He concluded with these words:
". . . in lieu of residues and surpluses which were accumulated and built up under the United Order, we, today, have our fast offerings, our Welfare donations, and our all of which may be devoted to the care of the poor, as well as for the carrying on of the activities and business of the Church."
What prohibits us from giving as much in fast offerings as we would have given in surpluses under the United Order? Nothing but our own limitations.
Furthermore, we had under the United Order a bishop's storehouse in which were collected the materials from which to supply the needs and the wants of the poor. We have a bishop's storehouse under the Welfare Plan, used for the same purpose. . .
"We have now under the Welfare Plan all over the Church, . . . land projects . . . farmed for the benefit of the poor. . . .
"Thus . . . in many of its great essentials, we have, [in] the Welfare Plan . . . the broad essentials of the United Order. Furthermore, having in mind the assistance which is being given from time to time . . . to help set people up in business or in farming, we have a plan which is not essentially unlike that which was in the United Order when the poor were given portions from the common fund."
It is thus apparent that when the principles of tithing and the fast are properly observed and the Welfare Plan gets fully developed and wholly into operation, "we shall not be so very far from carrying out the great fundamentals of the United Order." (Conference Report, October 1942, 51-58.)
The only limitation on you and me is within ourselves. (CR, April 1966, 101).
I will leave to the individual reader the conclusions to be drawn from the two foregoing statements. I can say for myself that there has been a gradual distillation process at work within my soul for many years in my attempts to understand the law of consecration (yes, I am slow). Here are some conclusions: 1) Consecration is the making of a sacred covenant with God to freely give and dedicate one's self and possessions for God's work here on earth, and it is a fundamental law of the Church dating back to 1831, that has never been rescinded; 2) attempts by the Prophet Joseph to introduce economic systems among the Saints to implement the law of consecration are not the "real" law of consecration, but should be looked upon as the evolutionary process taking place in the Prophet's own mind in preparation for the covenant we now make in the full temple endowment ceremony that was not given until 1842; and 3) the Saints in our day can and should already be living our individual economic lives in such a way that our covenant to consecrate is in full implementation right now instead of waiting to live this covenant at some future date. To do otherwise is to succumb to a pervasive satanic deception.
Let me refine the foregoing material with a comparison of the various "programs" introduced by the Prophet Joseph, and illustrate the conclusions I have cited above. The "when," and the "why," and the "how" questions about the law of consecration are answered by personal revelation from the Holy Ghost, and we can know that we are pleasing God in pursuit of our faith here and now. Ironically, it sometimes seems those with least to give readily understand the principle (if they can overcome their envy of the wealthy), while those with spacious barns to hold their worldly possessions wrest the scriptures and our early history to delay their gifts to the undeserving poor (as they suppose in their self-righteous judgments). Thus, both the poor and the wealthy are challenged in the implementation of this lofty, even supernal, eternal principle of consecration.
The first attempt to implement a communal system for consecration among the Saints was made in 1831, in Kirtland, Ohio. Newly baptized Sidney Rigdon had been involved in other communal experiments that were common in that day, and no doubt was a catalyst affecting Joseph's inquiries to the Lord regarding the matter. Section 38 of The Doctrine and Covenants really lays the foundation in gospel principles for that which was to follow about a month later in Section 42, the first attempt to put in writing a plan of consecration. It was rigid, requiring that all property be deeded to the bishop and then a stewardship returned as an equal portion to all other stewards. All surplus profits derived were to be reconsecrated each year, then new lines of equality drawn by the bishop. The plan was tried in Kirtland first, then in Jackson County, but it failed because there was no private ownership of anything. It was doomed to fail because of the poverty of the Saints. They simply consumed more than they produced.
By 1833, the Prophet had modified his views and concluded that private ownership of the stewardship was essential to avoid putting the bishop at odds with the people in determining the size of equal stewardships, and only surplus property was consecrated by deed to the bishop's storehouse.
Here again, there was a possibility for failure on the part of the steward to declare or disclose what was surplus, but it was made clear to the bishops that they were not to judge in the matter. (See HC, 1:364-65). It was during this period of modification of the law of consecration in 1833 that the enemies of the Saints in Missouri organized against them. These events left the implementation of the program in shambles, some having dedicated property to the Church, others retaining individual ownership, and many merely clinging on to life itself.
Section 105 outlines the Lord's implicit instructions in June of 1834, after the failure of Zion's Camp to return the consecrated property of Jackson County to the Saints, and orders that "her law be executed and fulfilled after her redemption" (speaking of the land of Zion). Many have supposed this was the end of consecration in the Church, but the careful reading of this and other revelations will document that consecration and stewardship were still and always have been required of the Lord by the Saints.
Other experiments with consecration continued in Kirtland in the form of the "Literary Firm," and the "United Firm," a full of account of which can be obtained in Lyndon Cook's excellent compilation titled, Joseph Smith and the Law of Consecration, (Grandin Book Company: Provo, Utah), 1985.
It is interesting how often we read over the few verses of Section 119, and completely miss their significance. Given in 1838, rather than the introduction of a "lesser law," the law of tithing is one further modification and refinement on the ongoing theme of consecration, and is to "be a standing law unto the Church forever." (See D&C 119:4). Think what might be the condition of the Church today if we observed to keep the law of tithing by consecrating all our surplus property and donating a tenth of our annual increase thereafter! We would be equal in all things, and it would all be a voluntary and cooperative society. Instead, however, we see social classes among us that are completely repugnant to the Lord, and one of the earmarks of Israel in apostasy. (See, for example, 3 Nephi 11:15).
The next step in Joseph's continuing education of concerning consecration came in 1842, when he introduced the full endowment to his brethren in Nauvoo. He said on that occasion:
I spent the day in the upper part of the store. . . instructing them 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, and all those plans and principles by which any one is enabled to secure the fullness of those blessings which have been prepared for the Church of the Firstborn, and come up and abide in the presence of the Eloheim in the eternal worlds. . . (TPJS, 237).
What did he communicate concerning consecration? It is the crowning covenant, the last covenant, we make with God in the temple endowment. The crowning key to salvation is consecration. To obtain all that the Father hath, we must give all that we possess. It is one of the simplest statements God ever gave man, and even the least and weakest Saint is capable of comprehending what is required. Voluntary compliance, however, is always subject to overcoming the natural man.
In 1831, Joseph must have believed that rigidity and management control by the bishop was the key to implementing consecration among the Saints. By his death in 1844, he had concluded that individual expressions of faith and consecration entered into by temple covenant were more desirable. He had moved from the letter to the spirit of the law, but in both extremes the total commitment of the member was required -- that much has never changed.
I believe a father and mother who keep their temple covenants in today's society, dominated as it is by divorce, infidelity, and every moral degradation foreseen by the ancient prophets, are well along the path toward truly living the law of consecration. They give all they have in wearing out their souls in service to the Lord and in sacrifice to their children.
Consider a husband and father who toils in the workplace day after day to provide the essentials of life for his wife and children, every nickel devoted to their wellbeing. Consider a wife and mother on duty at the crossroads of her home nurturing her children with their endless lists of physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual needs, every waking moment consecrated to preparing a new generation of faithful and worthwhile saints. All their labor is done with an eye single to God's glory, and the anticipation of an eventual crowning of their efforts by those cherished words of acceptance, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."
How, then, do we live the law of consecration today? Not by waiting for some "program" to appear on the horizon, but by daily becoming a covenant father, mother, or child through the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ. It is truly a work that demands all that you possess, your time, talents, everything with which the Lord has blessed you or with which he may bless you. It is a consecrated gift we give to God in return for all he promises. If I had to pick one verse of scripture to summarize the law of consecration it would be these words:
And now, my beloved brethren, I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him, and continue in fasting and praying, and endure to the end; and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved. (Omni 1:26).
That passage defined my mother. It was so with her, and it can likewise be true of all the mothers and fathers in Zion in these last days.