Section 99: John Murdock called to Preach
In our present-day Doctrine and Covenants, Section 99 is, temporally speaking, out of sequence. Although editions of the D&C since 1876 have listed this revelation as being received in August 1833, earlier editions and other historical records indicate that it was actually given in Kirtland in August 1832. For example, the Kirtland Revelation Book records section 99 as having been received August 24, 1832 “by Joseph the Seer and written by F. G. Williams, scribe.” It is further recorded that section 99 was received in Hiram, Ohio. It most likely was received in the John Johnson home in Hiram, as Joseph did not move his family from there back to Kirtland until mid-September 1832. John Murdock’s dairy and journal also record the date of this revelation as August 1832. Section 99 would naturally have fallen between sections 83 and 84.
Like sections 79 and 80, section 99 calls a specific elder to serve a mission. In this case, the call is issued to one of the great men of the early Church, John Murdock. He is called to a mission in the “eastern countries.” Brother Murdock, like Lehi of old, was “a visionary man” (1 Nephi 2:11), joining the Church just seven months after its organization as the missionaries to the Lamanites preached in Kirtland on their way to Missouri. Between November 1830 and March 1831, Brother Murdock preached the gospel of the Restoration and baptized between sixty and seventy persons. A month later, on April 30, 1831, John’s beloved wife Julia, died just six hours after giving birth to twins. On that same terrible night, Emma Smith also gave birth to twins. Emma lived, but her twins died. Being widowed and with five children to care for, John Murdock agreed to having Joseph and Emma adopt the two babies. This they gladly did, naming the girl Julia after her mother and the boy Joseph after his adoptive father. One of the twins, Joseph, died when he was one year old, shortly after the mobbing of Joseph in Hiram, Ohio, in March of 1832. The other twin, Julia, was reared to maturity.
Prior to adopting the Murdock twins and prior to her losing the twins in April of 1831, Emma had lost her firstborn child in 1828. Julia lived to become their eldest child. Fortunately, Joseph and Emma did have other children who lived. Two other children, sons, were born while the family was living in Ohio. Joseph Smith III was born November 6, 1832, and Frederick Granger Williams Smith was born on June 20, 1836. After Joseph and many of the Kirtland Saints moved to Missouri, Emma gave birth to Alexander Hale Smith on June 2, 1838. Shortly after they settled in Nauvoo, Illinois, Don Carlos Smith was born on June 13, 1840. He died fourteen months later, on August 15, 1841. Another infant son, unnamed, died at birth on December 26, 1842, one day after Christmas and three days after the Prophet’s birthday. David Hyrum Smith, whom the Prophet never saw, was born in Nauvoo on November 27, 1844, just five months after his father’s martyrdom.
Julia eventually married Elisha Dixon. He was killed in an explosion of a steamship on Red River, Texas. She then married John J. Middleton. They had no children. She died near Nauvoo in 1880.
John Murdock was first mentioned in D&C 52:8 when he received his first mission call to Missouri, just five weeks after the death of his wife. On his return to Kirtland from Missouri, he learned of the death of his young son, Joseph. Nevertheless, he accepted this additional mission call, recorded as section 99, leaving a month later with Zebedee Coltrin on September 27, 1832, after providing for his children as advised in verse 6. In view of his steadfast obedience and faithfulness, it is not surprising that Brother Murdock’s private journal contains the following notation of a vision he received after a promise made to him by the prophet Joseph in the School of the Prophets the next spring: “I saw the form of a man [the Savior], most lovely, the visage of his face was sound and fair as the sun. His hair a bright silver grey, curled in most majestic form, his eyes a keen penetrating blue, and the skin of his neck a most beautiful white and he was covered from the neck to the feet with a loose garment, pure white, whiter than any garment I have ever before seen. His countenance was most penetrating, and yet most lovely” (John Murdock Journal, as cited in Black, Who’s Who in the Doctrine and Covenants, 202). He served faithfully in many other callings, including Zion’s Camp. He remarried and moved to Missouri in the summer of 1836. Eventually, he moved with the Church to the valleys of the West where he had a major role in founding Beaver, Utah. He was ordained a patriarch and died in Beaver in 1871 at the age of seventy-nine.
1 Behold, thus saith the Lord unto my servant John Murdock—thou art called to go into the eastern countries from house to house, from village to village, and from city to city, to proclaim mine everlasting gospel unto the inhabitants thereof, in the midst of persecution and wickedness.
verse 1 “eastern countries” Based on Brother Murdock’s journal, he seems to have understood this to refer primarily to the areas immediately east of Kirtland and in New York state but also to the other eastern states.
2 And who receiveth you receiveth me; and you shall have power to declare my word in the demonstration of my Holy Spirit.
verse 2 “And who receiveth you receiveth me” The Savior taught this principle of representation to his disciples in the time of the New Testament Church (see Matthew 10:40-42; 25:30-35). It is in part an extension of the principle of the divine investiture of authority that is inherent in the priesthood. Just as the Son may speak in the person of the Father (see Moses 1), or the Holy Ghost may speak in the person of the Son (see Moses 5:9), so a properly ordained apostle or prophet may say, “Thus saith the Lord,” and then deliver the rest of his message in the first person as though it were the Lord himself speaking (for example, see Isaiah 50:1; D&C 1). Beyond this, however, anyone—male or female—under the guidance of the Holy Spirit may represent the Lord in many situations, e.g., missionaries, Sunday School teachers, or Relief Society presidents (see D&C 1:38).
“in the demonstration of my Holy Spirit” The language here was not without special significance for John Murdock, for as a child he had had a vision which had caused him to seek for the true church of Christ until he found it in November 1830. One thing that had particularly caused him to lose patience with one church after another was their lack of, or even denial of, the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit. Now in this second mission call, this visionary man was promised that he would preach the gospel in power and in the demonstration of the very Holy Spirit he had sought all his life and had only recently received as a gift after his baptism (Black, Who’s Who in the Doctrine and Covenants, 201-202).
3 And who receiveth you as a little child, receiveth my kingdom; and blessed are they, for they shall obtain mercy.
verse 3 “blessed are they, for they shall obtain mercy” According to the fifth Beatitude (see Matthew 5:7), it is the merciful who shall obtain mercy, but in the days of missionaries traveling without purse or scrip, to receive penniless strangers—to feed and house and clothe them, to nurse them when they were sick, to hide them from their enemies, as well as to listen to them preach—all of this was merciful indeed. And those who so succored the missionaries would receive the Lord’s mercy.
4 And whoso rejecteth you shall be rejected of my Father and his house; and you shall cleanse your feet in the secret places by the way for a testimony against them.
verse 4 “you shall cleanse your feet” See the commentary for D&C 24:15 (see also Matthew 10:14-15). This ordinance should not be done in such as way as to anger those who have rejected the gospel, but rather should be done discretely “in the secret places by the way for a testimony against them.”
5 And behold, and lo, I come quickly to judgment, to convince all of their ungodly deeds which they have committed against me, as it is written of me in the volume of the book.
verse 5 “I come quickly to judgment” See the commentary for D&C 33:18.
“as it is written of me in the volume of the book” “The book” referred to here could be (1) the book of Jude, in which the quotation appears (Jude 1:14-15), (2) the book of Enoch (in Jude 1:14-15, Jude was quoting the prophet Enoch), or (3) the Bible itself, which contains the book of Jude.
6 And now, verily I say unto you, that it is not expedient that you should go until your children are provided for, and sent up kindly unto the bishop of Zion.
verse 6 “it is not expedient that you should go until your children are provided for” John and Julia Murdock had three children before Julia gave birth to the twins. With the twins safely in the care of Joseph and Emma, Brother Murdock arranged for his three older children to be taken to Missouri by Caleb Baldwin and arranged for their support there by Bishop Partridge until Brother Murdock could join them. Edward Partridge was a close personal friend of Brother Murdock’s. Brother Murdock wrote in his journal, “Previous to this I had provided for my children and sent them up to the Bishop in Zion, according to the revelation, by Dr. Caleb Baldwin and paid him thirty dollars for carrying them and [other] things. And after making proper preparations according to the revelation I journeyed forth. Sept. 27, 1832. Br. Zebedee Coltrin and myself started on a mission.”
“sent up kindly unto the bishop of Zion” That is, they are to be sent with affection and in such a manner that, having just lost their mother, they will not come to doubt the continuing love of their father. The Lord specifically instructs that they must not feel rejected or abandoned.
7 And after a few years, if thou desirest of me, thou mayest go up also unto the goodly land, to possess thine inheritance;
verse 7 Although Brother Murdock was soon reunited with his children in Missouri, he was also called upon to serve several missions and later become a bishop and patriarch. His daughter Phebe became ill and died in Missouri in 1834, but the two remaining sons lived to adulthood, went west, and served faithfully in the Church. In 1836, Brother Murdock married Amoranda Turner and settled with his children in Missouri, only to be driven from that state with the rest of the Church in February 1839.
8 Otherwise thou shalt continue proclaiming my gospel until thou be taken. Amen.
Brief Historical Setting
As if to teach us that the work must go forward in spite of adversity, Joseph and others left for a one-month mission to Canada in early October. Joseph received a revelation while on this mission [D&C 100 -Brief Mission to Canada].
- Michael J. Preece