Section 72: Newell K. Whitney Called as Second Bishop
On the fourth day of December 1831, while the Prophet and Sidney Rigdon were engaged in their assigned mission refuting their enemies, they took time out for a meeting of the elders which was called in Kirtland, Ohio. At this meeting, the Lord gave an important revelation—section 72. Remember that in December of 1831, Edward Partridge was fulfilling his office as bishop of the Church in Missouri.
In D&C 68:14, which had been received a month before this revelation, the Lord had indicated that “other bishops” besides Edward Partridge would be set apart in the future. In Section 72 the Lord declares that it is now expedient that a bishop be called to serve in the Kirtland area. Newell K. Whitney is called by the Lord as the second bishop of the Church. See his character vignette following the discussion of section 40. See also the commentary for section 41.
Another purpose of section 72 was to reveal the nature of the relationship of the two bishops of the Church. Will they be co-equal? Will one preside over the other? Note in verses 5 and 6 that the bishop in Kirtland is to report to the bishop in Zion. Thus, Bishop Whitney is to function under the direction of Bishop Partridge. This relationship perhaps forms the earliest beginnings of the concept of the presiding bishop.
The duties of the bishop are outlined in verses 9 through 14. It should be kept in mind that in December 1831 the only bishops in the Church were the two bishops in the United Order. There were no ward bishops or presiding bishops. Thus the Lord’s instructions here apply primarily to bishops in the United Order, though we commonly extrapolate and apply this counsel to all bishops in the Church today. Perhaps this is a justifiable application, but we need to be cautious as we make it.
Note also in verses 17 through 19 and in verse 25, a new concept. The Church is growing so rapidly that Edward Partridge cannot possibly know everyone in the Church. Thus, from now on when anyone goes from Ohio to Zion, they must carry a “certificate” from Bishop Whitney to Bishop Partridge introducing the member to Bishop Partridge as a member in good standing. Today in the Church our computerized membership record serves the same function. We also occasionally use, for this purpose, our temple recommend or the more specific “recommend to perform an ordinance.”
It is interesting that section 72 is really a compilation of two revelations received on the same day. The original manuscripts for them are separate, even though they are both in the handwriting of Sidney Rigdon. The first revelation comprised what is now verses 1 through 8 (note that verse 8 ends with “amen”). This revelation called Newell K. Whitney to be the bishop. Recall that at the time of this revelation he was already functioning as the bishop’s agent in Kirtland. The second revelation instructed Bishop Whitney in his duties. In verse 8 the Lord told Joseph to call Brother Whitney. In verse 9 the Lord said that He would now explain the duties of the man who had already been chosen. The actual sequence, then, was as follows: The first eight verses were given, Newell K. Whitney was called, and then the remainder of the section was given.
D&C 72:3-4 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.
1 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.
verse 1 “O ye . . . who are the high priests of my church” Although many elders and church members were present when this revelation was received, these instructions were directed specifically to the leadership of the Church, who alone could call and ordain a bishop in Kirtland.
2 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.
verse 2 The first bishop of the Church, Edward Partridge (see D&C 41:9), had moved to Jackson County, Missouri, the previous summer, but the majority of the saints still lived in Ohio and the East. Someone else needed to be called to serve the Church as bishop in the Kirtland area.
3 And verily in this thing 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.
4 For he who is faithful and wise in time is accounted worthy to inherit the mansions prepared for him of my Father.
verses 3-4 In 1831 the concept of stewardship had a specific meaning. A stewardship consisted of those materials taken from the bishop’s storehouse and given to a man and his family by the bishop. With this stewardship the man would work and provide for his family and contribute the excess of his production back to the storehouse. He had the obligation to regularly account for his stewardship and his use of it to the bishop.
Do you the reader, in this twenty-first century, have a stewardship for which you are accountable? Each individual brings into this world an array of abilities earned by diligent effort in the premortal world. As we cross into mortality, the veil blunts our memory of these abilities. Until we discern them and begin to re-define and re-develop them, they lie dormant as untapped “talents” or “gifts.” Each person is responsible to seek after and discover these latent proclivities. The Spirit of the Lord is willing and anxious and able to reveal them to you if you will but make it a matter of earnest seeking and prayer. You will be drawn to them. The areas in which your “talents” lie will become uniquely attractive and appealing to you. These dormant gifts will be of no use to you or to others lest you bring them out into the light and work assiduously to develop and improve and polish them. A secular philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, knew of this important truth and provided us with insight concerning it:
Each man has his own vocation. The talent is the call. There is one direction in which all space is open to him. He has faculties silently inviting him thither to endless exertion. He is like a ship in a river; he runs against obstructions on every side but one; on that side all obstruction is taken away, and he sweeps serenely over a deepening channel into an infinite sea. . . . He inclines to do something which is easy to him and good when it is done, but which no other man can do. He has no rival. For the more truly he consults his own powers, the more difference will his work exhibit form the work of another (Essay on “spiritual laws.”)
Our obligation, then, is to discover and enlarge upon our “stewardships” and then put them to use in serving our fellow men and to contributing uniquely to the kingdom of God on earth.
5 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.
6 These things shall be had on record, to be handed over unto the bishop in Zion.
verses 5-6 Note that the bishop in Ohio (“in this part of my vineyard”) was to report to the bishop in Missouri (“Zion”). Thus Edward Partridge in Missouri was, in a sense, the presiding bishop (see also verse 13). When Bishop Partridge died in Nauvoo in May 1840, Newell K. Whitney became the presiding bishop.
7 And the duty of the bishop shall be made known by the commandments which have been given, and the voice of the conference.
verse 7 Some portions of a bishop’s duties had already been revealed (see, for example, D&C 41:9-10; 42:31-36, 71-73, 80-83; 46:27-29; 51:3-20; 57:15-16; 58:55; 64:40; 68:15-24). Additional instructions will yet be received in this revelation (see verses 9-26).
8 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.
verse 8 It is of interest that Orson F. Whitney described Newell Whitney’s reaction to verse 8:
Newell K. Whitney, staggering under the weight of the responsibility that was about to be placed upon him, said to the Prophet: “Brother Joseph, I can’t see a bishop in myself.” No, but God could see it in him. He was a natural bishop—a first class man of affairs. Probably no other incumbent of that important office . . . has been better qualified for it than Newell K. Whitney. But he could not see it, and he shrank from the responsibility. The Prophet answered: “Go and ask the Lord about it.” And Newell did ask the Lord, and he heard a voice from heaven say: “Thy strength is in me.” That was enough. He accepted the office, and served in it faithfully to the end of his days—a period of eighteen years (CR, June 1919, 47-48).
9 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—
verses 10-17 Four major responsibilities of a bishop are discussed in these verses. Though these instructions are intended specifically for Bishop Newell K. Whitney functioning as a bishop in a united order, we can easily extrapolate them and apply them to bishops in the Church today. First, the bishop administers the Lord’s storehouse, receiving and disbursing church funds and other resources for his area (verses 10-11). Second, he evaluates and keeps track of the financial performance of individual stewards in his area (verses 11, 13, 16). Third, the bishop is responsible for the temporal welfare of the members in his area, particularly the poor and the needy (verse 12). Fourth, the bishop serves as a judge in Israel. He has the responsibility of judging and certifying the worthiness of members in his jurisdiction (see also D&C 107:68-74).
10 To keep the Lord’s storehouse; to receive the funds of the church in this part of the vineyard;
11 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;
verse 11 “To take an account of the elders” The bishop interviews individual stewards and functions as an accountant or administrator in keeping track of their surpluses or their shortfalls. While the primary focus in this verse is financial, bishops properly monitor and note the progress, successes, and failures of their ward members in matters both temporal and spiritual.
“and to administer to their wants” See D&C 42:33 and its commentary.
“who shall pay for that which they receive” The bishop’s storehouse in Kirtland was Newel K. Whitney’s store. Financially self-sufficient stewards were expected to purchase their goods at the Whitney store, and the profits from these sales were used for the good of the poor and needy (see verse 12).
12 That this also may be consecrated to the good of the church, to the poor and needy.
verse 12 “That this also may be consecrated to the good of the church” This phrase refers to the profits referred to in the commentary for the previous verse.
13 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.
verse 13 “an account shall be taken” When local stewards require financial help from the bishop’s storehouse, they receive that help from their local bishop and the resources at his disposal. A bill for the debt, however, is then to be forwarded to the bishop in Zion who reimburses the local bishop. Thus, the system of consecration and stewardship was to be a church wide system with no local bishop bearing alone the burden of support for the needy members.
The present system of fast offerings, which are a type of consecration, still operates on a pattern similar to that revealed in these verses. First, local needs are met through local offerings. Then net surpluses or net shortfalls are forwarded to the Presiding Bishop of the Church for redistribution or for reimbursement, respectively.
“bishop of Zion, who shall pay the debt” How was the bishop in Zion to get the resources to reimburse the debts of local bishops? From what “the Lord shall put into his hands.” This would include surpluses forwarded to him from profitable stewards, money sent for purchase of lands in Zion, and profits from other church enterprises, of which he was the overseer.
14 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;
verse 14 “the faithful who labor in spiritual things” Who can the bishop in Zion turn to for the resources to pay church debts? To the leadership of the Church—to Joseph Smith and his associates—whose stewardship is not to farm or to manage stores, but to administer the affairs of the kingdom. Those who hold the kingdom’s keys are ultimately responsible for the kingdom’s finances.
15 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.
verse 15 “it cometh out of the church” And where do Church leaders get the resources to pay church debts? From the cumulative faithfulness of all the Church’s members in paying their tithes and offerings and in otherwise observing the principles of consecration that they covenanted to observe,
“every man that cometh up to Zion must lay all things before the bishop in Zion” It is intended that only those who consecrated all their possessions to the Lord will be called to Zion (compare Acts 4:34-35; 51-4). All the saints in Zion are expected to consecrate all they have to the kingdom, thus providing the resources needed to answer the debts of the Church and to provide the resources needed for the continued growth of Zion.
16 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—
verse 16 “every elder in this part of the vineyard” Please recall that this revelation was given by the Lord to Joseph Smith when Joseph was in Kirtland. Thus, the expression “this part of the vineyard” refers to eastern part of the 1831 Kingdom of God that centered in Kirtland.
17 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;
verse 17 “A certificate from the judge or bishop in this part of the vineyard, unto the bishop in Zion” Here is the first mention in this dispensation of the “membership record.” Only those members in good standing with their own local bishop would be commended to the bishop in Zion. In today’s Church, membership records are kept to show a member’s standing in the Church. A bishop should not call a new member to a position of trust before receiving his or her church records or by otherwise confirming that member’s good standing.
In the early days of the Church, certificates or recommends (see verse 19) were issued by one bishop for the purpose of confirming good standing to another bishop. In this case the certificates or recommends were not used for entering the temples—there were no temples yet—but primarily for being accepted in full fellowship into the community of consecrated saints in Zion. When followed, this procedure made it difficult for dishonest individuals to receive land and other goods from the Church without first entering the covenant of consecration and otherwise proving worthy.
“for an inheritance” With a recommend from his local bishop, an individual could emigrate to Zion and receive a stewardship there.
18 Otherwise he shall not be accepted of the bishop of Zion.
verse 18 Going up to Zion was a sacred privilege (see verse 24), and only worthy, profitable stewards with recommends from their local bishop were allowed to go. Without a recommend the Ohio saints were not supposed to go, and were not to be received into fellowship or receive an inheritance there if they went on their own. The disobedience of many saints to these and other commandments, however, contributed to the failure to establish Zion in Jackson County.
19 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 accounts approved in all things.
20 And again, let my servants who are appointed as stewards over the literary concerns of my church have claim for assistance upon the bishop or bishops in all things—
verse 20 “stewards over the literary concerns of my church” See D&C 70:3. The obligation of the Literary Firm to consecrate their surplus to the bishop’s storehouse is spelled out in D&C 70:7-8. This verse in section 72 establishes the Literary Firm’s right to apply to the same storehouse for their support, if necessary—the same as with any other steward.
21 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;
22 That they also may render themselves approved in all things, and be accounted as wise stewards.
23 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.
verse 23 “this shall be an ensample” The word ensample seems to mean “example.” This phrase refers to the working relationship between the presiding bishops Edward Partridge and Newel K. Whitney described in verses 9-23.
24 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—
25 Let them carry up unto the bishop a certificate from three elders of the church, or a certificate from the bishop;
verse 25 “a certificate from three elders of the church” Perhaps because of the logistical problems arising from having only one bishop outside Zion (Newel K. Whitney), the Lord amends the instructions given in verses 17-19 to allow certificates to be signed either by the bishop or by three worthy elders.
26 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.
Brief Historical Setting
While living in the home of John Johnson in Hiram, Ohio, Joseph and Sidney spent much of their time working on the inspired revision of the King James Bible in a corner room of the Johnson home. As they translated they came to a passage in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. The Lord assisted them with the interpretation of the verse [D&C 74 -1 Corinthians 7:14].
In January 1832, an important conference was held at Amherst, Ohio, during which Joseph was sustained as “President of the High Priesthood” of the Church, and several missionary pairs were called to serve missions in the eastern states [D&C 75 Missionaries Called to the Eastern States]. Two months later Sidney Rigdon and Jesse Gause were called and ordained as Joseph’s counselors. Brother Gause received a revelation calling him to the First Presidency [D&C 81 -Counselor in the First Presidency]. Brother Gause’s name was removed from the revelation some time later (after he had left the Church in December 1832), and it was replaced by that of Frederick G. Williams who replaced him in the First Presidency in March of 1833 [D&C 90 -Reorganization of the First Presidency]. More missionaries were dispatched in the spring and summer of 1832 [D&C 79 and 80 -The Call to Preach].
- Michael J. Preece