Section 85: One Mighty and Strong
Since September 1832, Joseph and Emma had been living in Kirtland, Ohio, in quarters above Newel K. Whitney’s store. On November 6, 1832, Joseph Smith returned to Kirtland from a brief mission to New York, Albany, and Boston to which the Lord had called Bishop Whitney and on which the Prophet accompanied him. Sometime during the next three weeks, Joseph received letters from church leaders in Missouri, that caused him real concern about the situation of the saints there.
On the 27th of November 1832, the Prophet wrote to William W. Phelps, who was in Independence in charge of the printing office, about several things that were “lying with great weight upon [his] mind” (Jessee, Personal Writings, 285-87; see also HC, 1:297-99; The Evening and the Morning Star, January 1833). Brother Phelps had also been delegated with the authority to assist Bishop Edward Partridge in matters concerning the establishment of the saints and distributing to them their inheritances according to the law of consecration. Joseph was seriously concerned. He had received word that Bishop Partridge was not being fair in distributing inheritances or stewardships. Instead of legally deeding to the saints their inheritances, he was leasing the land to them. Under the provisions of Bishop Partridge’s contracts, stewards were not permitted to transfer their inheritances to their wives, children, or heirs, and they were prohibited from selling their property. These contracts further stipulated that if an individual left the Church, he had no legal claim to his inheritance.
Although the original of Joseph’s letter to Brother Phelps has not been preserved, the file copy made by Joseph’s scribe, Frederick G. Williams, is in the possession of the Church, and the full text has been published several times. Brother Phelps received Joseph’s letter in December 1832 and promptly published portions of it in the January 1833 issue of The Evening and the Morning Star. The full text of the letter, except a postscript, was also published at Nauvoo in the Times and Seasons for October 15, 1844. In 1876 Orson Pratt was directed by President Brigham Young to include portions of the Phelps letter, roughly equivalent to what had appeared in The Evening and the Morning Star in 1833, as section 85 in the Doctrine and Covenants. Section 85 did not appear in editions of the Doctrine and Covenants before 1876, but its inclusion as a divine revelation is clearly justified by the Prophet’s language in verses 56 (“saith the Lord of Hosts,” and “thus saith the still small voice”) and by his declaration in verse 10 that “these things I say not of myself.”
D&C 85:7 I the Lord God will send you one mighty and strong, holding the scepter of power in his hand . . . to set in order the house of God.
D&C 85:8 That man . . . that putteth forth his hand to steady the ark of God, shall fall by the shaft of death, like as a tree that is smitten by the vivid shaft of lightning.
verses 1-5, 9-12 Bishop Partridge’s mismanagement wasn’t the Lord’s only concern. Some of the Missouri saints were failing to keep their covenants and commitments. In these verses the Lord reminded them that records were being kept that would reflect their obedience to his laws. This record is referred to by two names in the scripture: the “Book of the Law of the Lord” and the “Book of Remembrance.” It is interesting to note that an actual book was kept in those days and is now in the possession of the Church. It contained the names and recordings of specific sacrifices, contributions, etc. made for the benefit of the Church.
Today, analogous records might be tithing records and any other church records indicating those who are living the law of sacrifice and the law of consecration as we interpret them today. The scripture is clear. If our name is not in the “book” we should not expect to be exalted.
Apparently Jesse Gause was excommunicated the week after this letter was written. Some wonder why his name is not found more often in our history, or why his name is not as well known as the others who served as Joseph’s counselors. Perhaps the answer lies in these verses. He apostatized at the same time the Lord declared that such people should not have their names found in the church records.
Another note of interest is that just before section 85 was received, Brigham Young, Joseph Young, and Heber C. Kimball traveled from Mendon, New York, to Kirtland to meet the prophet Joseph Smith. They found the Prophet in a field behind the Whitney store where he was chopping wood with his brothers. Though all three had previously joined the Church (in April 1832), this was the beginning of their close association with the Prophet in Kirtland.
1 It is the duty of the Lord’s clerk, whom he has appointed, to keep a history, and a general church record of all things that transpire in Zion, and of all those who consecrate properties, and receive inheritances legally from the bishop;
verse 1 “the Lord’s clerk” Although the Prophet’s letter was addressed to W.
W. Phelps, the portions of it that make up section 85 consist of instructions originally directed to John Whitmer, the church historian (see D&C 47), or “the Lord’s clerk” who was then living in Missouri. These instructions emphasize the importance of obeying the law of the Lord governing inheritances in Zion and of documenting compliance with that law through scrupulous record keeping.
“to keep a history” On the very same day the Church was organized, the Lord directed that a record should be kept of its affairs (see D&C 21:1). As church historian, John Whitmer already knew that he was to keep a general history of the Church in Missouri, for this had been specified when he was called (see D&C 47:1). In this revelation, however, Whitmer is instructed to keep other kind of records as well, including financial and membership records for the saints in Missouri (see verses 1-5).
“those who consecrate properties, and receive inheritances” The conveyance of resources between the Church and its members in the context of the law of consecration and stewardship are to be matters of permanent church records. This practice continued to include tithing and fast offering contributions in the contemporary Church.
2 And also their manner of life, their faith, and works; and also of the apostates who apostatize after receiving their inheritances.
verse 2 “their manner of life” The Church was also to keep what would today be called membership records, which would include an indication of an individual’s standing in the Church. Church records were also to indicate those who left the Church after making sacred covenants.
3 It is contrary to the will and commandment of God that those who receive not their inheritance by consecration, agreeable to his law, which he has given, that he may tithe his people, to prepare them against the day of vengeance and burning, should have their names enrolled with the people of God.
verse 3 “contrary to the will and commandment of God” In order to understand clearly the meaning of this verse, read the phrase prior to the first comma followed directly by the phrase following the final comma—thus eliminating the explanatory material between these two commas. Then, a careful reading of this verse reveals the following interpretation: It is against the Lord’s will that those people going up to Zion who do not have any personal possessions to consecrate be included with those in Zion who are part of the law of consecration and stewardship. Or, stated in the positive sense, it is the Lord’s will that those going up to Zion should have personal possessions to consecrate and then receive back a stewardship. Then they can rightly be included with those in Zion who are living the celestial law. Too many of the saints were traveling to Missouri without permission and seeking to obtain a stewardship without having any personal possessions to consecrate—“those who receive not their inheritance by consecration.”
It is obvious that in encouraging the saints to live the celestial law, the Lord wishes to “tithe his people.” In this verse the word tithe does not specifically refer to specific offering of a tenth of the saints income, but rather the word tithe is used in a general sense to mean “require sacrifice of.” Those who consecrate all of their personal possessions have sacrificed for the Lord’s cause and kingdom, and thus have been “tithed.”
As stated previously, it was intended originally that “go[ing] up unto Zion” (D&C 72:24) from the East would be a privilege for those saints who had prepared themselves both materially and spiritually and who would consecrate all their possessions to the bishop in Zion upon arriving there (D&C 72:15). The Lord had told his people very clearly how they were to establish Zion (see D&C42; 48; 51; 56-59; 63; 70; 72). The law of consecration and stewardship were sufficiently explained in these revelations and in instructions from the Prophet Joseph. Those who went up to Zion were supposed to be debt-free and also were to have the means to purchase land in Missouri upon their arrival. Ideally, they were to bring with them enough food and clothing to last for a year. Most importantly, they were supposed to be called to go up and were to arrive in Missouri with recommends from the Church in Kirtland attesting to their worthiness and good standing (D&C 72:3-6, 16-18, 24-26).
Unfortunately, enthusiastic but disobedient members were emigrating to Missouri on their own without observing the Lord’s law, without being called, and without sufficient financial resources or preparation. Their disobedience and the consequent financial drain they placed on the Missouri Church threatened the very establishment of Zion. Whatever their motives may have been, the Lord commands here that such individuals were not to be accepted as members in good standing when they arrived in Missouri. No one should have claim upon the blessings of Zion who will not observe the principles of Zion or make and keep the covenants of Zion. Had this commandment been observed by the saints in Jackson County, the financial pressures which frustrated the establishment of Zion there would have been greatly reduced.
4 Neither is their genealogy to be kept, or to be had where it may be found on any of the records or history of the church.
verse 4 “Neither is their genealogy to be kept” This reference is not to genealogical records in the modern sense but rather to family membership records. Those uncalled or unauthorized saints who arrived in Zion unannounced were not to be included on the membership records of the Church there.
5 Their names shall not be found, neither the names of the fathers, nor the names of the children written in the book of the law of God, saith the Lord of Hosts.
verse 5 “Their names shall not be found . . . in the book of the law of God” Those unprepared and ill-advised saints who traveled to Zion of their own volition were not only to be excluded from the membership records of the Church in Missouri, but their names also were not to be “written in the book of the law of God.” In Joshua 24:26, we are told that Joshua wrote in “the book of the law of God” an account of the covenant by which Israel entered the promised land. This same term is used here in a similar fashion to indicate a physical record of those who received inheritances in Missouri by covenant according to the law of God, that is, Doctrine and Covenants section 42 (see Cook, Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 178). Apparently, the terms “book of the law of God” (verses 5, 7), “book of remembrance” (verse 9), and “book of the law” (verse 11) all refer to the same record of those who have entered the covenant of consecration and are to receive inheritances in Zion.
6 Yea, thus saith the still small voice, which whispereth through and pierceth all things, and often times it maketh my bones to quake while it maketh manifest, saying:
7 And it shall come to pass that I, the Lord God, will send one mighty and strong, holding the scepter of power in his hand, clothed with light for a covering, whose mouth shall utter words, eternal words; while his bowels shall be a fountain of truth, to set in order the house of God, and to arrange by lot the inheritances of the saints whose names are found, and the names of their fathers, and of their children, enrolled in the book of the law of God;
verse 7 “I, the Lord God, will send one mighty and strong” The Lord states his intention of sending “one mighty and strong” to Zion to set in order the house of God.
Over the years many apostate groups have been formed when one individual or another decided that he is the “one mighty and strong.” Some of these individuals have been obviously mentally ill. One of the most notorious was Ervil LeBaron who felt inspired to begin to systematically eliminate rival leaders so that he might eventually take over the world and present it as properly prepared at the return of the Savior.
In the Church, there has been much discussion as to the identity of the “one mighty and strong.” We have a statement by the First Presidency of the Church that attempts to clarify the identity of the “one mighty and strong.” This article implies that section 85 was originally intended for Bishop Partridge that that verse 7 specifically refers to Bishop Partridge or one of his bishop successors in Zion (“One Mighty and Strong,” Official statement by the First Presidency, The Improvement Era, October, 1907, 929).
Others have strongly insisted that the “one mighty and strong” is Jesus Christ. Stephen E. Robinson and H. Dean Garrett, in their book, A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, insist: “A comparison of verses 7-9 and their parallels elsewhere shows that the coming of ‘one mighty and strong’ is described in section 85 in precisely the same language used elsewhere to describe the coming of Christ (see also JS-M 1:53-54). The idea proposed by some that the ‘one mighty and strong’ is some intermediary character who will arrive prior to the second coming of the Savior in order to straighten out the Church is incorrect. This is a distortion that persists only because it allows dissidents to envision the Church as presently in need of correction— and to declare themselves or someone else as the ‘one mighty and strong’ called to steady the ark. But verse 8 makes it clear that the ark needs no one to steady it, just as it reveals the fate of any who may try. No one may steady this ark until the coming of Jesus Christ, the One Mighty and Strong, who will settle all accounts, right every wrong, and rewards all his faithful saints at his glorious coming” (73-74).
If the “one mighty and strong” carries out all his responsibilities as he should, then verse 7 applies to him. If he falters, then verse 8 outlines his fate in colorful detail. In the event that he should fail, then the Lord would send another “mighty and strong.” After hearing of Joseph’s displeasure over the way in which he was distributing stewardships, Bishop Partridge quickly repented (who wouldn’t after reading verse 8!?).
“to arrange by lot the inheritance of the saints” See Numbers 26:55-56; 33:54. “By lot” means by chance, as in drawing straws or drawing the names from a hat. Arranging things by lot eliminates the possibility of any human influence or favoritism on the outcome. At the same time, since there is no random chance with God and he controls all things, the outcome will reflect his divine judgment. Since the inheritances of all consecrated saints are to be equal (adjusting for individual “circumstances, wants, and needs”; see D&C 51:3), there is no need to worry that a selection “by lot” will unfairly favor some or disadvantage others. In a sense, selecting equal inheritances “by lot” allows God to arrange his people however he wishes without the influence of preexisting bias on the part of the saints.
8 While that man, who was called of God and appointed, that putteth forth his hand to steady the ark of God, shall fall by the shaft of death, like as a tree that is smitten by the vivid shaft of lightning.
verse 8 “that man” Latter-day Saint tradition has tended to identify “that man” in this verse as specifically and exclusively Edward Partridge. However, a contemporary document indicates that this is too narrow an understanding. Over a year after Joseph wrote his letter containing section 85 to W. W. Phelps, Oliver Cowdery wrote to John Whitmer to clarify the duties of the clerk as they had been given in that revelation. Concerning verse 8 specifically, Oliver wrote: “Brother Joseph says, that the item in his letter that says, that the man that is called . . . and puts forth his hand to steady the ark of God, does not mean that any one had at the time, but it was given for a caution to those in high standing to beware, lest they should fall by the shaft of death” (cited in Cook, Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 179). Although the warning contained in verse 8 undoubtedly was intended for Bishop Partridge and his associates in Missouri, it was a warning only, and the phrase “that man” was not intended to single out an individual or to indicate that such a sin had already been committed.
There is no doubt that Edward Partridge experienced some difficulty in following all the instructions of the prophet Joseph Smith, and it is likely that the warning in verse 8 was intended primarily for him. But Bishop Partridge was faithful, repented, of his unbelief, and died in good standing the Church (HC, 2:302-03).
“to steady the ark of God” The reference is to an incident recorded in 2 Samuel 6:6-7. When David brought the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem, Uzzah, one of the teamsters driving the wagon (see 2 Samuel 6:3), took it upon himself to steady the load by touching the ark himself rather than waiting for an authorized priest to do it. For this presumption, Uzzah was struck dead “like as a tree that is smitten by the vivid shaft of lightning” (see 2 Samuel 6:8). It doesn’t matter how sincere our belief may be that those who hold the keys are wrong; when we presume to invade their stewardship and correct what we think to be “errors,” we, like Uzzah, are steadying the ark. Even where there may be genuine problems, these must be resolved in the Lord’s appointed way, through priesthood channels, and not by self-appointed judges or spiritual vigilantes.
Ark steadying is a subtle form of apostasy that falls short of open rebellion. Today some well-intentioned people, not willing to fully entrust the administration of the Lord’s earthly kingdom to his chosen servants (and by corollary to him), seek to “steady the ark.” They feel some need to counsel the prophets and seek to shape the Church and its practices (and even doctrines) after their own pattern. They call in question the actions of the Lord’s anointed and offer unsolicited and uninspired suggestions. Often their murmuring is really an attempt to introduce government by popular demand— changing the Church from a theocracy to a democracy.
“Perhaps when we murmur we are unconsciously complaining over not being able to cut a special deal with the Lord,” observed Elder Neal A. Maxwell. “We want full blessings but without full obedience to the laws upon which those blessings are predicated. For instance, some murmurers seem to hope to reshape the Church to their liking by virtue of their murmuring. But why would one want to belong to a church that he could remake in his own image, when it is the Lord’s image that we should come to have in our countenances? (see Alma 5:19). The doctrines are His, brothers and sisters, not ours. The power is His to delegate, not ours to manipulate!” (Ensign, November 1989, 83).
President Brigham Young taught that the Lord will “steady the ark” if necessary. He can better direct the work of the Church in his appointed ways than can mere mortals who lack the eternal revelatory perspective:
Let the kingdom alone, the Lord steadies the ark; and if it does jostle, and appear to need steadying, if the way is a little sideling [to go sideways] sometimes, and to all appearance threatens its overthrow, be careful how you stretch forth your hands to steady it; let us not be too officious in meddling with that which does not concern us; let it alone, it is the Lord’s work. I know enough to let the kingdom alone, and do my duty. It carries me, I do not carry the kingdom. I sail in the old ship Zion, and it bears me safely above the raging elements. I have my sphere of action and duties to perform on board that ship; to faithfully perform them should be my constant and unceasing endeavor. If every bishop, every president, every person holding any portion of the holy priesthood, every person who holds a membership in this church and kingdom would take this course the kingdom would roll without our help (JD, 11:252).
The Lord directs the affairs of his church through proper channels of authority by the keys of the kingdom. The inspiration given to administer the Church also stays within those parameters. When we doubt that inspiration, questioning and seeking to undermine the authorized administration, we presume to steady the ark—a right that is not ours to take. When those inspired leaders pay little attention to our suggestions and do not make the changes that we may desire, we may become more vocal and critical of them. This pattern of apostasy leads from well-intentioned criticism to ever-increasing dissension and disaffection. There are many modern methods of steadying the ark by seeking to “straighten out” the Lord’s appointed leaders. Elder Spencer W. Kimball declared that apostasy often begins with criticism of current leaders. He spoke of various forms of rebellion that contribute to the “devolutionary process” of apostasy (President Kimball’s use of the term devolutionary suggests it is intended to mean the opposite of evolutionary. To evolve is to develop. To devolve is to deteriorate— eventually into oblivion.):
Apostasy usually begins with question and doubt and criticism. It is a retrograding and devolutionary process. The seeds of doubt are planted by unscrupulous or misguided people, and seldom directed against the doctrine at first, but more often against the leaders. They who garnish the sepulchers of the dead prophets begin now by stoning the living ones. They return to the pronouncements of the dead leaders and interpret them to be incompatible with present programs. They convince themselves that there are discrepancies between the practices of the deceased and the leaders of the present. . . . They allege love for the gospel and the Church but charge that leaders are a little “off the beam”! Soon they claim that the leaders are making changes and not following the original programs. Next they say that while the gospel and the Church are divine, the leaders are fallen. Up to this time it may be a passive thing, but now it becomes an active resistance, and frequently the blooming apostate begins to air his views and to crusade. He is likely now to join groups who are slipping away. He may become a student of the Journal of Discourses and is flattered by the evil one that he knows more about the scriptures and doctrines than the Church leaders who, he says, are now persecuting him. He generally wants all the blessings of the Church: membership, its priesthood, its temple privileges, and expects them from the leaders of the Church, though at the same time claiming that those same leaders have departed from the path. He now begins to expect persecution and adopts a martyr complex, and when finally excommunication comes he associates himself with other apostates to develop and strengthen cults. At this stage he is likely to claim revelation for himself, revelations from the Lord directing him in his interpretations and his actions. These manifestations are superior to anything from living leaders, he claims. He is now becoming quite independent (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 462).
9 And all they who are not found written in the book of remembrance shall find none inheritance in that day, but they shall be cut asunder, and their portion shall be appointed them among unbelievers, where are wailing and gnashing of teeth.
verse 9 “shall find none inheritance in that day” If a person’s church records show faithful obedience to the financial laws of God, then that individual will have a claim upon the Lord for an inheritance in his kingdom. Those saints who have not kept their financial covenants will have no valid claim and will receive no inheritance in Zion or in the celestial kingdom. President Joseph F. Smith indicated that for contemporary saints this referred particularly to the law of tithing (CR, October 1899, 42).
10 These things I say not of myself; therefore, as the Lord speaketh, he will also fulfil.
11 And they who are of the High Priesthood, whose names are not found written in the book of the law, or that are found to have apostatized, or to have been cut off from the church, as well as the lesser priesthood, or the members, in that day shall not find an inheritance among the saints of the Most High;
12 Therefore, it shall be done unto them as unto the children of the priest, as will be found recorded in the second chapter and sixty-first and second verses of Ezra.
verse 12 “the children of the priest” When the Jews returned from their captivity in Babylon to Jerusalem, beginning around 539 BC, it was necessary to reconstitute the priesthood for service in the temple, according to the genealogies and other records which had been kept during the captivity. At that time it was discovered that many who claimed the priesthood by right of descent could not prove their claim by the official records (see verse 11; D&C 128:6-7; Revelation 20:12; Daniel 7:10; 2 Nephi 29:11; 3 Nephi 27:25-26). These individuals were therefore dismissed from the priesthood as “polluted” or of irregular (non-Levitical) descent (Ezra 2:62; Nehemiah 7:64). These included several of those referred to as “children of the priests” in Ezra 2:61.
- Michael J. Preece