Section 53: Algernon Sidney Gilbert
What excitement there was in the Church! The saints now knew the general location of the New Jerusalem, and missionaries had been dispatched to Missouri to begin to build up the City of Zion. As soon as the city is built, the Lord will come! What can I do to help? In this spirit of intense excitement, Sidney Gilbert came to the Prophet to ask what he could do. He had not received a calling from the Lord in the conference of June 1831, and shortly after the conference he approached Joseph Smith. Joseph received section 53 in response to Brother Gilbert’s inquiry. According to the Far West Record, Sidney Gilbert was ordained an elder by Joseph Smith on June 6, 1831, along with W. W. Phelps (see section 55) and others. It is therefore likely that sections 53 and 55 were given on the same day, on or before June 6, 1831.
Sidney Gilbert, a man of great practical sense and sound judgment, had been a successful businessman merchant in nearby Painsville, Ohio. Subsequently, with Newell K. Whitney he founded the successful mercantile firm of Gilbert and Whitney in Kirtland, Ohio. He was converted and joined the Church in the fall of 1830 when the missionaries dispatched to the Lamanites stopped in the Kirtland area. He was also shy, and he shrank from speaking publicly. He preferred to work behind the scenes. Because of this natural diffidence, he was reluctant to accept a mission call and was once overheard to say that he “would rather die than be a missionary.”
Through Joseph, the Lord called Sidney Gilbert to “forsake the world” and give his services to the Church as an “agent” or assistant to Bishop Edward Partridge (see D&C 51:8). He was also called to join the presidential party and travel to Missouri with the Prophet and Sidney Rigdon.
B. H. Roberts said of Sidney Gilbert that the Lord had “few more devoted servants in this dispensation.” In Missouri he was appointed keeper of the Lord’s storehouse and also had responsibility for purchasing lands for the saints. He assisted Edward Partridge in managing the temporal affairs of the Church in Missouri. He opened another small store (see D&C 57:6-8), which was also named Gilbert and Whitney. This store also served as a bishop’s storehouse. In the persecution that came upon the saints in Jackson County, he sacrificed all his worldly goods to the cause. On July 23, 1833 he offered himself as a ransom for the saints. Shortly after the saints were forced out of Independence, he contracted cholera and died April 29, 1834, at the age of 45.
D&C 53:2 I give unto you a commandment that you shall forsake the world.
1 Behold, I say unto you, my servant Sidney Gilbert, that I have heard your prayers; and you have called upon me that it should be made known unto you, of the Lord your God, concerning your calling and election in the church, which I, the Lord, have raised up in these last days.
verse 1 “concerning your calling and election in the church” This is the only use of this phrase in the Doctrine and Covenants. Here this phrase refers only to Brother Gilbert’s calling in the Church.
2 Behold, I, the Lord, who was crucified for the sins of the world, give unto you a commandment that you shall forsake the world.
verse 2 “forsake the world” To forsake the world means to abandon worldly motivations and values. For Brother Gilbert it meant leaving his business in Kirtland to attend to the Lord’s business in Missouri. Elder George Q. Cannon taught:
We need to be born again, and have new hearts put in us. There is too much of the old leaven about us. We are not born again as we should be. Do you not believe that we ought to be born again? Do you not believe that we should become new creatures in Christ Jesus, under the influence of the gospel? All will say, yes, who understand the gospel. You must be born again. You must have new desires, new hearts. But what do we see? We see men following the ways of the world just as much as though they made no pretensions to being Latter-day Saints. Hundreds of people who are called Latter-day Saints you could not distinguish from the world. They have the same desires, the same feelings, the same aspirations, the same passions as the rest of the world. Is this how God wants us to be? No. He wants us to have new hearts, new desires. He wants us to be a changed people when we embrace his gospel (CR, October 1899, 50).
3 Take upon you mine ordination, even that of an elder, to preach faith and repentance and remission of sins, according to my word, and the reception of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands;
verse 3 “Take upon you mine ordination” Since we know that Brother Gilbert was ordained an elder on June 6, 1831, this verse provides strong evidence that section 53 was received on or before June 6.
“remission of sins” This phrase seems to be used here as a synonym for baptism.
4 And also to be an agent unto this church in the place which shall be appointed by the bishop, according to commandments which shall be given hereafter.
verse 4 “also to be an agent unto this church” Sidney Gilbert’s responsibilities as an agent include his becoming a real estate buyer in Missouri to acquire land for stewardships and for church buildings.
“appointed by the bishop” Though worded somewhat ambiguously, this verse, and particularly this phrase, seem to indicate that Brother Gilbert would be assisting Bishop Partridge. Since Edward Partridge has just been called to go to Missouri (see D&C 52:24), it is clear that if Sidney Gilbert is to assist the bishop and work under his direction he must go to Missouri with him.
5 And again, verily I say unto you, you shall take your journey with my servants
Joseph Smith, Jun., and Sidney Rigdon.
6 Behold, these are the first ordinances which you shall receive; and the residue shall be made known in a time to come, according to your labor in my vineyard.
verse 6 “these are the first ordinances which you shall receive” If the word ordinances is understood here to mean commandments, as seems likely, then this reference is to further instructions that Sidney Gilbert will receive pertaining to his duties as agent for the Church.
7 And again, I would that ye should learn that he only is saved who endureth unto the end. Even so. Amen.
verse 7 It would seem that few in the early Church were better examples of enduring to the end than was A. Sidney Gilbert. The reader should recall that enduring to the end is not to stop one’s spiritual progress and just hang on by one’s fingernails hoping to die before you begin to begin to slip spiritually; hoping to continue to be judged worthy by the Lord until mortal death. Rather, to endure to the end is to continue proactively to grow spiritually until the end. One cannot retire from gospel commandments.
- Michael J. Preece