Section 57: Independence Is Center Place of Zion
The elders who had been called to Missouri began leaving Kirtland in pairs in the middle of June, 1831. At the time the Church was only fourteen months old. Joseph Smith, accompanied by seven others (Martin Harris, W.W. Phelps, Edward Partridge, Sidney Rigdon, Sidney Gilbert, Brother Gilbert’s wife Elizabeth, and Joseph Coe), started west on June 19 and went as far as Cincinnati by wagon, canal boat, and stage coach. From Cincinnati they proceeded by river boat to Saint Louis, Missouri, and from there Joseph and four others walked the 240 miles across the state to Jackson County. The rest came up the Missouri River by boat. In Jackson County, they met up with Oliver Cowdery, Ziba Peterson, Peter Whitmer, Jr., and Frederick G. Williams who had previously traveled to Missouri on their mission to the Lamanites. Joseph and his traveling company had traveled about one thousand miles in less than a month, and they arrived in Independence July 17, 1831. Together in Missouri, then, were the presidential party, the Lamanite missionaries (minus Parley P. Pratt), and some elders who had already arrived from Kirtland. The saints from the Colesville Branch arrived a few days later.
When Joseph Smith left Kirtland for Missouri according to the commandment received in section 52, he had been living in Kirtland for a little less than five months. He and his wife, Emma, had been living in their own quarters for less than three months. In such a short time, organization of the Church in Kirtland was not anywhere near completed, but already the Lord had made it clear that establishing the Church in Kirtland was not the long-term goal of the Church. Kirtland was merely a staging area or preliminary gathering point for the establishment of Zion in far-off Missouri. Therefore, Joseph Smith and other saints, including the Colesville saints from New York, were commanded to continue on to Missouri to prepare for Zion in that place.
In July 1831 in Jackson County, the Prophet Joseph surveyed the degenerate condition of the place and was discouraged. He wrote:
The meeting of our brethren [Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer, Jr., Ziba Peterson, and Frederick G. Williams], who had long awaited our arrival, was a glorious one, and moistened with many tears. It seemed good and pleasant for brethren to meet together in unity. But our reflections were many, coming as we had from a highly cultivated state of society in the east, and standing now upon the confines or western limits of the United States, and looking into the vast wilderness of those that sat in darkness; how natural it was to observe the degradation, leanness of intellect, ferocity, and jealousy of a people that were nearly a century behind the times, and to feel for those who roamed about without the benefit of civilization, refinement, or religion (HC, 1:189).
Joseph wondered, how and when could anything as magnificent as Zion be created out of this? In this mood he had probably been reading the book of Isaiah, and on July 20 he asked three poignant questions of the Lord—all three taken from Isaiah. These three questions were: When will the wilderness blossom as the rose (Isaiah 35:1)? When will Zion be built up in her glory (Isaiah 60:1-2)? And, where will thy temple stand unto which all nations shall come in these last days (Isaiah 2:2)?
In response to this yearning prayer, Joseph received section 57 on July 20, three days after his arrival in Independence, which answered only one of the questions—the one regarding the location of the temple. Additional answers to the Prophet’s questions were promised in the future, however.
The saints already knew from section 52 that Missouri was the location of Zion, but where specifically in Missouri? Previous revelations had suggested that it would be “on the borders by the Lamanites” (see D&C 28:9), “into the western countries” (see D&C 45:64), and “into the regions westward, unto the land of Missouri” (see D&C 54:8). Oliver Cowdery and the missionaries to the Lamanites, still faithful to their call (see D&C 28:8), were laboring in the vicinity of Independence in Jackson County, Missouri, so it was there that the Prophet and his company first headed.
The saints from Colesville, New York, about sixty in number, who had settled temporarily at Thompson, Ohio, arrived in Independence on July 25, under the leadership of Newel Knight—five days after section 57 was received.
D&C 57:1-3 The place which is now called Independence is the center place of Zion.
1 Hearken, O ye elders of my church, saith the Lord your God, who have assembled yourselves together, according to my commandments, in this land, which is the land of Missouri, which is the land which I have appointed and consecrated for the gathering of the saints.
2 Wherefore, this is the land of promise, and the place for the city of Zion.
verse 2 “this is the land of promise” A land of promise is, of course, a land obtained according to a promise of the Lord. In D&C 42:35-36 the Lord had promised the saints that the location of the New Jerusalem (see Ether 13:1-12) would be revealed to them in the future. In D&C 52:1-5 Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon were commanded to go to Missouri to hold a conference and were promised that if they were faithful the Lord would reveal to them the land of their inheritance. Verse 3 will fulfill these two promises.
“city of Zion” This is the New Jerusalem which will one day be founded based on celestial principles (D&C 105:5) including the law of consecration and stewardship. The reader is reminded that Zion may be defined on two levels—see the commentary for D&C 42:9.
3 And thus saith the Lord your God, if you will receive wisdom here is wisdom. Behold, the place which is now called Independence is the center place; and a spot for the temple is lying westward, upon a lot which is not far from the courthouse.
verse 3 This verse gives the location of the “center place” of Zion or the site of the temple. The site is just west of the courthouse in Independence and consists of 63 1/4 acres. It was dedicated as a site for the temple on August 3, 1831 by Joseph Smith. Actually, Joseph eventually laid out plans for a complex of twenty-four temples that would some day be built on the site.
Today this plot of land is owned by three separate churches. Our Church owns about 20 acres. The Hedrickites—the Church of Christ, Temple Lot—owns the small plot where Joseph placed corner stones to mark the site of the center temple. This group was organized by Granville Hedrick as a splinter group from the Utah church. They quietly purchased the center part of the temple lot after the saints departed Independence, and they located their headquarters there. Today this is a small group of friendly people who still live and worship in Independence. The Reorganized LDS Church owns the remainder, which is the largest part of the property.
4 Wherefore, it is wisdom that the land should be purchased by the saints, and also every tract lying westward, even unto the line running directly between Jew and Gentile;
verse 4 “it is wisdom that the land should be purchased by the saints” A parcel of land containing the temple site—the 63 1/4 acres—was purchased by the Church on December 19, 1831 from Jones H. Flournoy for $130.
“also every tract lying westward, even the line running directly between Jew and Gentile” The saints were instructed to buy all the land between Independence and the Indian frontier. This line is the Missouri River. In those days the United States government had given to the Indians the lands west of the Missouri. The “Jew” refers to the Indians. While none of the families of Lehi and Ishmael were actually descended from the tribe of Judah, the book occasionally refers to them as “Jews” since they came out from the land of Judah. The only actual Jews among the Book of Mormon peoples were those descended from Mulek, the son of King Zedekiah and any others in his party who may have been of the tribe of Judah. The “Gentile” refers to the people living east of the river, many of whom were a lawless element.
5 And also every tract bordering by the prairies, inasmuch as my disciples are enabled to buy lands. Behold, this is wisdom, that they may obtain it for an everlasting inheritance.
verse 5 “every tract bordering by the prairies” The Lord repeats his instruction to the saints to buy the land between Independence and the Indian frontier.
“everlasting inheritance” The scattered ten tribes of Israel will be gathered to the “New Jerusalem”—the United States of America with its center in Jackson County. Thus Jackson County is the center place of the promised land of the ten tribes of Israel. And for how long? This verse clearly states that this land is promised as an “everlasting inheritance.” Does this mean that it will cease to be a promised land at the beginning of the Millennium? At the end of the Millennium when the earth is celestialized? No, the verse suggests that it will be a promised land to that part of the house of Israel forever— even after the earth is changed into a celestial globe.
6 And let my servant Sidney Gilbert stand in the office to which I have appointed him, to receive moneys, to be an agent unto the church, to buy land in all the regions round about, inasmuch as can be done in righteousness, and as wisdom shall direct.
verse 6 For an introduction to A. Sidney Gilbert, see the introductory commentary for section 53. Sidney Gilbert is commanded to function as the land agent in buying up lands for the incoming saints under Bishop Partridge (see D&C 53:4). Also he will be instructed to establish a mercantile store in Independence for the purpose of raising money to buy lands for stewardships (see verse 8) and to meet other church financial needs. It is interesting to note that in two years in Independence, the saints bought only the sixty-three acres that comprise the temple lot.
7 And let my servant Edward Partridge stand in the office to which I have appointed him, and divide unto the saints their inheritance, even as I have commanded; and also those whom he has appointed to assist him.
verse 7 Bishop Edward Partridge is to continue in his calling in receiving consecrations and assigning and distributing those goods which make up their “inheritance” or “stewardship.” The term inheritance applies to the land or real estate that is part of the saints’ stewardship.
8 And again, verily I say unto you, let my servant Sidney Gilbert plant himself in this place, and establish a store, that he may sell goods without fraud, that he may obtain money to buy lands for the good of the saints, and that he may obtain whatsoever things the disciples may need to plant them in their inheritance.
verse 8 See the commentary for verse 6. Sidney Gilbert’s retail store would also provide goods needed by the saints in the area and eventually also serve as a bishop’s storehouse. Managing this store was Sidney Gilbert’s personal stewardship in Missouri.
9 And also let my servant Sidney Gilbert obtain a license—behold here is wisdom, and whoso readeth let him understand—that he may send goods also unto the people, even by whom he will as clerks employed in his service;
verse 9 “let my servant Sidney Gilbert obtain a license” The saints were settling right on the line between the United States and Indian territory (today approximately the Missouri-Kansas border) and apparently intended to operate on both sides of this border. On the first Sunday in Zion, W.W. Phelps preached to a mixed audience of Native Americans and settlers on the western side of the border, and as an agent for the Church in Independence, Sidney Gilbert would undoubtedly need to send goods across the border, which was only a few miles away (see verse 10). Any trade across the state line into Indian territory, was closely controlled by the federal government. Therefore, it was necessary for Sidney to get a permit or license to send goods across the border to the Lamanites, to the missionaries, and to other saints operating there.
“that he may send goods also unto the people, even by whom he will as clerks employed in his service” Brother Gilbert, once he had a proper license, could then send goods across the border to the Indians. The last part of this phrase, “even by whom he will as clerks employed in his service,” refers to the fact that once Brother Gilbert was properly authorized by the license, he could have these goods sent by anyone he wished as long as they were clerks whom he employed.
10 And thus provide for my saints, that my gospel may be preached unto those who sit in darkness and in the region and shadow of death.
verse 10 “those who sit in darkness” This phrase is used here particularly in reference to the Indians who live in Indian territory. The missionaries to the Lamanites had already preached to the Shawnees and Delawares west of the border, and the saints at this time still intended to further evangelize the Indians there. Oliver had already notified the Prophet of the great tribe known as Navajos “three hundred miles west of Santa Fe,” and it was initially envisioned that the Latter-day Saints and the Lamanites would one day mingle together. However, the missionaries were soon denied access to the Indian lands when antagonistic Protestant missionaries persuaded the Indian agent to evict the Mormon missionaries from off the Indian lands.
verses 8-10 The full meaning of these verses, once they were received from the Lord, was then later partly and purposefully disguised by the Prophet to keep the enemies of the Church from knowing specifically what the Church was planning to do to convert the Lamanites. Since the saints were not allowed to go across the border into the Indian nations, the plan was to get the Indians to come to them. It was a common practice at trading posts to cheat the less sophisticated Indians out of their barterable items. Sidney Gilbert’s store was to be a place where the Indians would get a fair exchange for their goods—“without fraud”. This would hopefully accomplish two things: (1) First, it would bring the Indians to the saints, and, (2) once the Indians saw that the saints dealt honestly with them, they would be converted to the gospel.
The two earliest manuscript copies of section 57 read in the latter part of verse 9 and all of verse 10: “That he may send goods also unto the Lamanites, even by whom he will as clerks employed in his service and then the gospel may be proclaimed unto them” (Smith, Kirtland Revelation Book, 90; see also Woodford, Historical Development, 1:728-31).
11 And again, verily I say unto you, let my servant William W. Phelps be planted in this place, and be established as a printer unto the church.
12 And lo, if the world receive his writings—behold here is wisdom—let him obtain whatsoever he can obtain in righteousness, for the good of the saints.
verses 11-12 “William W. Phelps” See the introductory commentary for section 55. Consistent with the commandments given to him earlier, Brother Phelps is instructed to carry on his assignment of printing and writing (see D&C 55:4) in Independence, Missouri. His stewardship was to be a printer and writer and to make whatever money he could at these trades “in righteousness” so that any moneys he made in excess of his own needs might be used “for the good of the saints.”
13 And let my servant Oliver Cowdery assist him, even as I have commanded, in whatsoever place I shall appoint unto him, to copy, and to correct, and select, that all things may be right before me, as it shall be proved by the Spirit through him.
verse 13 In this verse Oliver Cowdery is called to assist W. W. Phelps in the work of printing. In D&C 55:4, received in Kirtland, W.W. Phelps had been called to assist Oliver Cowdery in the work of printing and creating school books for children. Is there a discrepancy here? Has Oliver been demoted? Perhaps we learn that in the work of the Lord we are to assist each other, and it matters little who is called to lead or who is called to assist.
As a result of this commandment, W. W. Phelps and Oliver Cowdery began the process of buying and moving a printing press all the way from Cincinnati, opening a printing office, and publishing a monthly newspaper, The Evening and the Morning Star, as well as printing other tracts for the Church. Eventually, they were instructed to publish the Book of Commandments (see D&C 70:1-3; 72:20-21), which task was underway when a mob destroyed the printing office and the press on July 20, 1833.
“as it shall be proved by the Spirit through him” That is “approved” or “confirmed” by the Spirit through Brother Phelps.
14 And thus let those of whom I have spoken be planted in the land of Zion, as speedily as can be, with their families, to do those things even as I have spoken.
verse 14 “with their families” Originally, the calls issued to the Missouri missionaries were extended to the brethren themselves (see D&C 52:3-8, 22-44), and presumably the calls were for a limited period of time after which they would return to their homes. By now there are several who are instructed to remain in Missouri, including the Colesville saints, A. Sidney Gilbert, Oliver Cowdery, Edward Partridge, W.
W. Phelps, and others. If their families are not already with them, they are instructed to move their families to Independence as well.
15 And now concerning the gathering—Let the bishop and the agent make preparations for those families which have been commanded to come to this land, as soon as possible, and plant them in their inheritance.
verse 15 Bishop Partridge and Brother Gilbert are admonished to go to work to provide land and homes as stewardships or “inheritances” for all those called to live in Missouri.
16 And unto the residue of both elders and members further directions shall be given hereafter. Even so. Amen.
By the end of 1831, Bishop Partridge had established a storehouse for the reception and distribution of consecrated goods, and one year after the gathering had commenced in Missouri most of the three to four hundred converts living there had consecrated their property to the bishop and were living on inheritances. But the implementation of this law was impeded by problems. Wherever the law of consecration and stewardship was attempted, there was a tendency for poor people to be attracted to the movement and for the wealthy to shun such an undertaking. Some members did not comply or did not learn of the recommendations of the leaders in Kirtland, who instructed the saints not to gather in Missouri unless they took with them money, seeds, cattle, or other contributions to the system. Evidently, there was not sufficient property to give every family an adequate inheritance. A number of families crowded into homes that were meant to support a single family. Some became lazy while they were waiting for an inheritance or the anticipated second coming of the Lord. Others left the Church taking with them their inheritances. As early as the fall of 1832, Bishop Edward Partridge began leasing land (rather than conveying deeds) to the saints. Under the provision of these contracts, stewards were not permitted to transfer their inheritances to their wives, children, or heirs, or to sell their property.
On several occasions, the Prophet wrote to church leaders in Missouri informing them that their adaptation of the law of consecration was not correct. In a letter to W.
W. Phelps, dated November 27, 1832, Joseph Smith stated that he was displeased because the saints who had gathered in Zion had not received “their inheritance by consecrations, by order of deed from the Bishop” (Robert J. Woodford, “The Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants,” unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, BYU, 1974). The Prophet eventually resolved this problem.
Meanwhile only a smattering of members in Kirtland attempted to live the law of consecration, although their practice was not precisely the same as the basic principles of the order that had been revealed.
It is one thing to receive a revelation and quite another to implement the instructions received therein. Since the Lord has stated that we must be united under the principles of consecration and stewardship or we cannot inherit the celestial kingdom, one day we must live these principles (D&C 88:22; 105:5).
After experiencing frustrations and failures for almost a decade, in 1838 members throughout the Church were given a less comprehensive law, the law of tithing (see D&C 119-120).
- Michael J. Preece