Section 44: Conference of June 1831
In February 1831 the Lord gave this revelation, and in it he commands that an important conference of the elders of the Church be held. No date for the conference is actually set in the revelation, but Joseph is told to set the date. Since the organization of the Church, three major conferences of the elders had been held. The first was on June 9, 1830, the second on September 26, 1830, and the third on January 2, 1831. In D&C 20:61 the Lord had instructed the elders of the Church to meet in conference every three months.
Some church historians have suggested, on the evidence of John Whitmer’s history, that a general conference was held in Kirtland on March 4, 1831. The original Whitmer manuscript, however, reads June 4, 1831, a date that was later changed to read March 4. No other evidence for a March conference exists, and in a letter to Hyrum dated March 3-4, Joseph mentioned the Lord’s commandment that the elders gather to Kirtland, but he said nothing about a conference then in progress (Dean Jesee, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, 230-31).
This conference was convened on June 3, 1831, and did turn out to be one of the great conferences during which the office of high priest was revealed, and Joseph became a high priest. The location of Zion also was revealed (section 52), and the Lord called missionaries to go to Zion and help build up the New Jerusalem (also section 52).
By the end of February 1831, there were not enough Ohio saints to consecrate sufficient land to support all the new converts that would soon be coming to Kirtland expecting to receive stewardships. An obvious solution to this problem was to call the full-time missionaries from their various fields of labor and reassign them to the Kirtland area to increase the number of local converts with local resources to consecrate (see verses 1-4). Thus, instead of producing converts who left everything somewhere else to come to Kirtland and strain the meager resources there, the elders in Kirtland would find local converts who could provide additional resources for the gathering saints in Kirtland. The shortage of resources in Kirtland at that time was also one reason why many arriving eastern saints were sent on to Jackson County, Missouri (see Backman and Perkins, “United Under the Laws of the Celestial Kingdom,” 173-77).
This intensified proselyting in the Kirtland area did have the desired effect of increasing the amount of land and other resources available to the bishop’s storehouse. Thus, the Church was strengthened in Kirtland and more eastern saints were able to gather there.
1 Behold, thus saith the Lord unto you my servants, it is expedient in me that the elders of my church should be called together, from the east and from the west, and from the north and from the south, by letter or some other way.
verse 1 “my servants” This revelation was directed to Joseph and Sidney rather than to the elders or to the Church. The Lord is instructing them on how to meet the problems of the Church.
“it is expedient in me that the elders of my church should be called together, from the east and from the west” The commanded conference of elders was to include the New York saints who were still in New York at this time, the Kirtland saints, and all the elders previously sent out on missions to various parts of the country. Therefore it would be necessary to hold the conference in the spring after the New York saints had a chance to gather to Ohio and the missionaries could be contacted and called to Kirtland.
President David O. McKay explained the purposes of church conferences:
Reference to the Doctrine and Covenants will disclose the fact that there are four principal purposes for holding conferences of the Church: (1) to transact current church business [D&C 20:62], (2) to hear reports and general church statistics [D&C 73:2], (3) to “approve of those names which I the Lord have appointed, or to disapprove of them” [D&C 124:144], and (4) to worship the Lord in sincerity and reverence, and to give and to receive encouragement, exhortation, and instruction” [D&C 58:56; 72:7] (CR, October 1938, 130-31).
2 And it shall come to pass, that inasmuch as they are faithful, and exercise faith in me, I will pour out my Spirit upon them in the day that they assemble themselves together.
verse 2 Here is yet another benefit the saints enjoy when they meet in conference. The Spirit is poured out upon them and they are instructed and edified by that Spirit.
3 And it shall come to pass that they shall go forth into the regions round about, and preach repentance unto the people.
verse 3 To preach “repentance” is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is to teach of Christ’s atonement and resurrection and their implications in the eternal lives of investigators. The Lord commands that the missionaries go forth in the “regions round about”—the Kirtland area.
4 And many shall be converted, insomuch that ye shall obtain power to organize yourselves according to the laws of man;
verse 4 “many shall be converted” The population of the Church in Ohio, and particularly in Kirtland, increased roughly 50 to 100 percent annually between 1830 and 1838 (see Backman, The Heavens Resound, 140).
5 That your enemies may not have power over you; that you may be preserved in all things; that you may be enabled to keep my laws; that every bond may be broken wherewith the enemy seeketh to destroy my people.
verses 4-5 “That your enemies may not have power over you” President Joseph F. Smith wrote:
When the Lord restored the gospel, the spirit of gathering came with it. The Lord commanded the people to gather together, and that they should not only be organized as a church, but that they should be organized under the laws of the land, so that they might not be helpless and dependent and without influence or power; but that by means of united effort and faith they should become a power for the accomplishment of righteousness in the earth (CR, April 1900, 47).
It was important for the young Church to avoid lawsuits and other forms of legal harassment. The law in Ohio at that time required any religious society, that desired to be incorporated so that they could legally own property as a church and perform all the functions of a church, to register the name of their church and the names of their trustees with the clerk of common pleas. In this law, no recognition was given to a central organization, but each congregation in each community was required to register within their own county. Each congregation had to have at least twenty members in order for them to be able to incorporate. Therefore, it was important for the Church to have at least that many in each congregation. If they did not qualify, they would be denied authority to perform marriages, hold tax-free property, and have their own cemetery, etc.
One might also read into this counsel from the Lord a general admonition to the elders of the Church to obey the laws of the land as they went about preaching, “that your enemies may not have power over you.”
“that you may be enabled to keep my laws” This phrase refers to the law of the Church contained in section 42.
6 Behold, I say unto you, that ye must visit the poor and the needy and administer to their relief, that they may be kept until all things may be done according to my law which ye have received. Amen.
verse 6 “that they may be kept until all things may be done according to my law which ye have received” Joseph and Sidney had to make certain that the poor were taken care of until such time as the law of the Church with its law of consecration and stewardship of property could be fully implemented among the saints for that same purpose.
President George Q. Cannon recorded the following insight into the character of the Prophet Joseph:
At no time during the prophet’s career did the care of the poor escape his attention or become a matter of indifference to him. He was a man of large benevolence, and his sympathies were quickly aroused by any tale of sorrow or appeal for relief. In the most busy and trying periods of his life those who went to him for counsel in their troubles, always found him willing to listen, and they were sure to receive encouragement and assistance. To extend comfort to the bruised spirit, and to help the needy and distressed appeared a constant pleasure to him. His hospitality, also, was a marked feature in his character. His house was always open to entertain the stranger. One of the most cherished recollections of many of the old members of the Church is the kindness with which they were treated by “Brother Joseph,” and the warm welcome he gave them to his house upon their arrival at Kirtland and other places where he lived (Life of Joseph Smith, 109-10).
Brief Historical Setting
In March 1831, as Joseph was working on the inspired revision of the Bible, he came to Matthew 24, the great discourse given on the Mount of Olives by Jesus after his disciples had asked him about his second coming and the “end of the world.” It seems likely that Joseph’s pondering these verses was the trigger for receiving a revelation in March about events to transpire in the future [D&C 45 -The Second Coming of the Lord].
Also in March, the Lord revealed guidance to Joseph and the Church regarding the question of whether nonmembers should be allowed to attend sacrament meetings. The Lord also taught the saints how to discern valid gifts of the Spirit from manifestations of evil spirits [D&C 46 -Gifts of the Spirit].
- Michael J. Preece