Section 56: Change in Missionary Assignments
In November 1830, seven months before section 56 was received, Frederick G. Williams joined the Church and traveled with the missionaries to Missouri (to preach to the Lamanites). Williams left both his family and his 144-acre farm behind in Kirtland. The following spring, sometime before May 1831, the Williams family, the Prophet’s father, Joseph Smith Sr., and Ezra Thayre, one of the incoming New York saints (see D&C 33:1), had reached some kind of agreement concerning the use of the Williams farm. By the time Ezra Thayre received his mission call to Missouri in June (see D&C 52:22), at least three families (Williams, Smith, and Thayre), and maybe more, had been sharing the Williams farm and its facilities for some weeks.
In May 1831 Joseph Smith Jr. received a revelation concerning the Williams farm and the families living there (see Smith, Kirtland Revelation Book, 91-92). This revelation was not included in the Doctrine and Covenants, but it does give some background to sections 54 and 56. According to this revelation, Joseph Smith Sr. was to manage the Williams farm and all three families were to live there together until the Church could build another house for the Thayres on the same property. Also, a share of the property was to be deeded in stewardship to Frederick G. Williams—who still legally owned it all but had left it at the disposal of the Church when he went to Missouri.
Ezra Thayre was one of the New York Saints who went to Kirtland with a fair amount of cash, presumably from selling his New York property. It appears that he had agreed to consecrate his holdings to the Lord and had received in return a promised interest in the Williams farm. But when Ezra was called to Missouri, he wanted to secure his financial interest in Kirtland by receiving some kind of consideration: either by getting his money back or by receiving legal title to a portion of the Williams farm (see verses 9-10). Essentially, Thayre wanted to own his stewardship at a time when this was not the practice of the Church. Though called as a missionary to Missouri, Ezra would not go until his personal interests were secured. His stubbornness in the matter made it necessary for another companion to be provided for Thomas B. Marsh, who was ready to go as commanded. Four months later, on October 10, 1831, a conference of elders in Kirtland rebuked Ezra for his pride and stubbornness, but no other action was taken against him at that time (see Cannon and Cook, Far West Record, 15-16).
It is possible to assign Ezra Thayre too much blame for the failure of the saints in Ohio to live the law of consecration. He was clearly reluctant to go to Missouri with his financial interests unsecured, but he did not put the saints off his land, as did Leman Copley, nor did he cease to associate with the Church. There is no evidence that Ezra Thayre, who lived in Kirtland, was in any way involved in the troubles at Thompson, Ohio, between Leman Copley and the Colesville saints. Further, Ezra Thayre must have repented of his errors, whatever they were, for another call as a missionary to Missouri was made to him seven month later on January 25, 1832. Ezra accepted that mission call and fulfilled two other missions for the Church after that. Later in Kirtland, he participated in the School of the Prophets and served as a land buyer for the Church. He was a member of Zion’s Camp in 1834, and though briefly disfellowshipped in 1835, he moved to Missouri with the saints in 1838 and fled with them to Illinois late that year. He was a prominent church member in Nauvoo and a member of the council of fifty there. After the death of Joseph Smith, however, Ezra Thayre did not support the leadership of Brigham Young, but stayed in the East, eventually joining the Reorganized Church.
Among the missionary calls issued in section 52, Thomas B. Marsh and Ezra Thayer were called to serve together as were Newel Knight and Selah J. Griffin. The Lord had changed Newel Knight’s assignment, commanding him to continue in his calling as branch president of the Colesville saints and to go to Missouri with them. For the reasons detailed above, Ezra Thayer was dragging his feet. Hence, Thomas B. Marsh was ready and anxious to get on with his mission. Brother Marsh went to Joseph, and in response to Joseph’s inquiry of the Lord on the matter, section 56 was received.
D&C 56 Change in Missionary Assignments
D&C 56:4 I, the Lord, command and revoke, as it seemeth me good.
1 Hearken, O ye people who profess my name, saith the Lord your God; for behold, mine anger is kindled against the rebellious, and they shall know mine arm and mine indignation, in the day of visitation and of wrath upon the nations.
verse 1 “Hearken, O ye people who profess my name” The Lord addresses all those who profess his name, that is, all those who claim to revere and worship him. But among these there are the rebellious who have incurred the Lord’s anger.
Talk is cheap. Anyone can claim to worship Jesus Christ. But real commitment and real obedience are more difficult. “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21, italics mine). Those who merely profess Jesus’s name while rejecting the obligations of a disciple will incur the wrath and adverse judgment of God.
“in the day of visitation and of wrath upon the nations” In the day of the Lord’s second coming.
2 And he that will not take up his cross and follow me, and keep my commandments, the same shall not be saved.
verse 2 “he that will not take up his cross and follow me” For an explanation of the concept of “taking up one’s cross,” see the commentary for D&C 23:6.
“shall not be saved” Here, as in many cases in scripture, the word saved means saved in the celestial heaven. Technically to be saved is to be assigned any degree of Glory.
3 Behold, I, the Lord, command; and he that will not obey shall be cut off in mine own due time, after I have commanded and the commandment is broken.
verse 3 “he that will not obey shall be cut off in mine own due time” Temporally, to be “cut off” is to be excommunicated. Spiritually, it means to be cut off from the Lord’s presence.
4 Wherefore I, the Lord, command and revoke, as it seemeth me good; and all this to be answered upon the heads of the rebellious, saith the Lord.
verse 4 “I, the Lord command and revoke, as it seemeth me good” The Lord emphasizes that he may command and revoke. Even though he is an unchanging and omniscient being, rebelliousness and unrighteousness among his saints may at times necessitate the rescission of commandments already issued. Commandments, even commandments dealing with the future, are not prophecies. They are not even implied prophecies. Surely the Lord sometimes gives commandments he knows will not be obeyed.
At times, the disobedience of some individuals renders the obedience of others impossible. In these instances the Lord will either offer an alternate plan, or he will accept the offering of those who sincerely attempted to obey (D&C 124:49).
5 Wherefore, I revoke the commandment which was given unto my servants Thomas B. Marsh and Ezra Thayre, and give a new commandment unto my servant Thomas, that he shall take up his journey speedily to the land of Missouri, and my servant Selah J. Griffin shall also go with him.
verse 5 Ezra Thayer is released from his missionary calling.
6 For behold, I revoke the commandment which was given unto my servants Selah J. Griffin and Newel Knight, in consequence of the stiffneckedness of my people which are in Thompson, and their rebellions.
verse 6 The stiffneckedness of both Leman Copley and the Colesville saints made it necessary that Newel Knight remain with the Thompson, Ohio Branch, as they travel to Missouri. He is therefore released from his missionary calling as a companion to Selah J Griffin.
7 Wherefore, let my servant Newel Knight remain with them; and as many as will go may go, that are contrite before me, and be led by him to the land which I have appointed.
8 And again, verily I say unto you, that my servant Ezra Thayre must repent of his pride, and of his selfishness, and obey the former commandment which I have given him concerning the place upon which he lives.
verse 8 “Ezra Thayre must repent of his pride, and of his selfishness” Brother Thayre’s putting his concern for his own financial future above the success of the Missouri mission, above his obligation under the covenant of consecration, and above obedience to the direct command of God, is accounted by the Lord as selfishness which is, of course, a form of pride.
“obey the former commandment” This could refer to the Lord’s command to live the law of consecration and stewardship (D&C 51:3-15), especially since it concerns “the place upon which he lives.” Another possibility is that it refers to the Lord’s call to serve a mission in Missouri (D&C 52:22).
9 And if he will do this, as there shall be no divisions made upon the land, he shall be appointed still to go to the land of Missouri;
verse 9 Ezra Thayre had proposed that the Frederick G. Williams farm be divided up among the three families now occupying the farm. He further proposed that he be deeded that part of the farm designated to be his. It is clear that Thayre’s proposals violated the spirit of the law of consecration and stewardship. In this verse the Lord says that if Ezra Thayre will repent and obey spirit of the law of consecration and stewardship, then it will not be necessary to divide the farm and deed part of it to Ezra Thayre. Further, the Lord avers that then Ezra Thayre would be worthy to have the privilege of serving a mission in Missouri.
10 Otherwise he shall receive the money which he has paid, and shall leave the place, and shall be cut off out of my church, saith the Lord God of hosts;
verse 10 In this verse, the Lord outlines for Ezra Thayre the alternatives should he not repent. If Thayre continues to insist on dividing the land and having a part of it deeded to him, then the Church would return the money that he had consecrated, he would have to move off of the land, and he would lose his membership in the Church— he would be excommunicated!
Apparently, Ezra Thayre did repent, because the land was not divided, he was not paid back, and he was not excommunicated. He was again called to fill a mission in Missouri seven months later, on January 25, 1832.
11 And though the heaven and the earth pass away, these words shall not pass away, but shall be fulfilled.
verse 11 The Lord solemnly avows that the alternatives he has offered to Ezra Thayre will apply—they will not be rescinded.
12 And if my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., must needs pay the money, behold, I, the Lord, will pay it unto him again in the land of Missouri, that those of whom he shall receive may be rewarded again according to that which they do;
verse 12 The Lord has not finished speaking of the Ezra Thayre problem. The Lord states that if Thayre insists on being paid back his consecrated money, and that money is returned to him from church funds, then the Lord will make it up to Joseph and the Church through the productivity of the church activities in Missouri. Monies will be consecrated by church members in Missouri to make up the short fall, and those who contribute that money will be blessed.
13 For according to that which they do they shall receive, even in lands for their inheritance.
verse 13 The Lord reiterates that the industrious Missouri members will be compensated spiritually and materially according to the law of the harvest (D&C 6:33).
14 Behold, thus saith the Lord unto my people—you have many things to do and to repent of; for behold, your sins have come up unto me, and are not pardoned, because you seek to counsel in your own ways.
verse 14 “thus saith the Lord unto my people” While this revelation is directed to the entire Church, it likely particularly applies to those saints in Ohio who are struggling with pride and with obeying the revealed principles of consecration.
“you seek to counsel in your own ways” The prideful Ohio saints were seeking to explain to God why he must do things the way they think he should. Seeking to counsel the Lord (Jacob 4:10) continues to be a major stumbling block of some people in the Church even today. These tend to disagree with the commandments, and they seek to explain to the Lord why the commandments are wrong.
15 And your hearts are not satisfied. And ye obey not the truth, but have pleasure in unrighteousness.
verse 15 “your hearts are not satisfied” The Lord’s commands are not fulfilling to the prideful members. They need more in the way of tangible material and temporal rewards. They do not obey the commandments (“the truth”), but rather seek after things of the world. Note here that “the truth” is more than something to be believed. It is something to be done.
16 Wo unto you rich men, that will not give your substance to the poor, for your riches will canker your souls; and this shall be your lamentation in the day of visitation, and of judgment, and of indignation: The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and my soul is not saved!
verse 16 “Wo unto you rich men” This phrase refers to those who receive less back temporally from living the law of consecration than they contribute. In other words their consecration is larger than their stewardship. There is no sin in being rich; rather the sin is in being unwilling to live the law of consecration and to give up the pleasure of having more than your fellow saints. It doesn’t matter what other redeeming characteristics a rich man may possess. If he is unwilling to stop being rich so that his brothers and sisters can stop being poor, then he can neither establish Zion nor inherit the celestial kingdom. Is there clear and present spiritual danger in being rich? Indeed there is (Luke 18:18-30).
17 Wo unto you poor men, whose hearts are not broken, whose spirits are not contrite, and whose bellies are not satisfied, and whose hands are not stayed from laying hold upon other men’s goods, whose eyes are full of greediness, and who will not labor with your own hands!
verse 17 This verse refers to those who receive back more temporally from living the law of consecration than they contribute. Those poor who receive increased assets through the law of consecration must do it with a spirit of humility and gratitude rather than with a “welfare rights” or an “entitlement” mentality, demanding the assets of working people. Greed is a sin that plagues both the rich and the poor. Just as the unredeemed and greedy rich often despise the poor and withhold from them what is necessary to live, so the unredeemed and greedy poor often hate the rich and lust after their wealth. Those poor who seek to live the law of consecration out of greed or out of the desire to avoid working for a living can neither establish Zion nor inherit the celestial kingdom.
18 But blessed are the poor who are pure in heart, whose hearts are broken, and whose spirits are contrite, for they shall see the kingdom of God coming in power and great glory unto their deliverance; for the fatness of the earth shall be theirs.
verse 18 “blessed are the poor who are pure in heart” It is possible to be poor, enter the law of consecration and stewardship, and thrive both spiritually and temporarily in it. An attitude or humility and gratitude and a good work ethic are vital requirements.
The Lord’s counsel in verses 16-18 is directed specifically to those going to Missouri to lay the foundations for Zion. Living the law of consecration and stewardship is a significant challenge for every individual, be he rich or poor.
“for the fatness of the earth shall be theirs” Fatness in this context means material abundance, having more than is needed. When the law of consecration is implemented to its fullest extent by a Zion people, all those who live under it will have enough and to spare—not just of their needs, but of their wants as well.
19 For behold, the Lord shall come, and his recompense shall be with him, and he shall reward every man, and the poor shall rejoice;
verse 19 “the Lord shall come” The Lord will come in power and glory to right every wrong, to remove both iniquities and inequities from the Church and from the earth, and to justly adjudicate the proper rewards and inheritances of all people.
“his recompense shall be with him” This phrase refers to the fact that the Lord will fairly and appropriately reward or pay all of the people on earth at the moment of his second coming.
20 And their generations shall inherit the earth from generation to generation, forever and ever. And now I make an end of speaking unto you. Even so. Amen.
verse 20 “forever and ever” This earth will become the celestial kingdom for all those who have lived upon it and are worthy of that degree of glory. Thus, an inheritance upon the earth “forever and ever” is an inheritance in the celestial kingdom of God.
The next four sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, sections 57 through 60, were given in Missouri and are referred to as the Zion revelations.
Brief Historical Setting
In Missouri Joseph received instructions from the Lord concerning Zion, including the location of the temple site, the “center place” of Zion [D&C 57 -Independence Is Center Place of Zion] and a warning that Zion would be established only after much tribulation [D&C 58 -Instructions Concerning Zion].
The Lord also gave counsel to Joseph on Sabbath day observance. This was received shortly after Joseph attended the funeral of Sister Polly Knight, the wife of Joseph Knight [D&C 59 -Law of the Sabbath].
- Michael J. Preece