Section 115: Far West
On April 26, 1838, nine days after his receiving of section 114, Joseph inquired of the Lord as to what the saints, now located in Far West, should do. Should they remain in Far West? Should they leave? And if they leave, where should they go? The answer was given in section 115. The Lord told them to stay in Far West, build up a city, dedicate a temple site, and build a temple.
Since its organization eight years earlier on April 6, 1830, the Church had been known by several names, including “The Church of Christ” (D&C 20:1; 107:59), “The Church of Jesus Christ,” “The Church of God,” and “The Church of the Latter-day Saints” (HC, 3:24). The first three titles proved to be too common among several Protestant denominations to adequately identify and distinguish the restored Church from many others with similar or identical names. The last title, “The Church of the latter-day Saints,” was sufficiently distinctive to identify the restored Church from all others, but it also failed to properly identify Christ as its head and source (3 Nephi 27:8). The minor difficulty of a sufficiently distinctive yet technically correct formal name for the Church was solved by revelation found in section 115. The Church would be called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (verses 3-4).
Section 115 also identified Far West, Missouri, as an official gathering place for the Latter-day Saints and headquarters of the Church as of April 26, 1838 (verses 7-8). By that time about five thousand Latter-day Saints were living in the immediate vicinity of Far West. The following months would bring even more, including the last large migration of faithful saints from Kirtland to Missouri. Known as the Kirtland Camp, it consisted of about five hundred of the poorest of the Ohio saints. These hardy faithful traveled nine hundred miles to gather in Adam-ondi-Ahman in the summer of 1838, only to be driven from the state of Missouri beginning in November and lasting into the next spring because of the Extermination Order of Governor Lilburn Boggs.
The oldest copy of section 115, which appears to be roughly contemporary with the revelation itself, is located in the Scriptory Book of Joseph Smith, the First Presidency record book kept by clerk George W. Robinson. The revelation was first printed in the Elders’ Journal, where it was labeled “An Extract of Revelation.” This fact, combined with a reference to the revelation as “lengthy” in a letter from Thomas B. Marsh to Wilford Woodruff, dated April 30, 1838, have caused some to suppose that section 115 must originally have been longer than it now appears. The Scriptory Book manuscript, however, does not support this conclusion. Section 115 first appeared in the 1876 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants at the direction of Brigham Young.
D&C 115 Far West
1 Verily thus saith the Lord unto you, my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and also my servant Sidney Rigdon, and also my servant Hyrum Smith, and your counselors who are and shall be appointed hereafter;
verse 1 “my servant Joseph Smith, Jun. . . . and your counselors” The situation of the First Presidency at this time was a little complicated but not unclear. As of September 3, 1837, the First Presidency consisted of its three “presidents” (D&C 107:22) and four assistant counselors. The three presidents were President Joseph Smith Jr. and his first and second counselors, Sidney Rigdon and Frederick G. Williams. The four assistant counselors were Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith Sr., Hyrum Smith, and John Smith (the brother of Joseph Smith Sr., and therefore the Prophet’s uncle) (HC, 2:509). Frederick G. Williams was released from the First Presidency and replaced by Hyrum Smith on November 7, 1837. Oliver Cowdery, who had been an assistant president, had been excommunicated on April 12, 1838, two weeks before section 115 was received. At the time section 115 was received, the three presidents— Joseph Smith Jr., Sidney Rigdon, and Hyrum Smith—were still being assisted by Joseph Smith Sr. and John Smith. By revelation (D&C 107:22), there are to be three presiding high priests in the First Presidency of the Church; however, these three may be assisted by any number of others who are called and sustained for that purpose. As Joseph made clear when his First Presidency counselors were sustained on September 3, 1837, only three high priests preside over the whole Church. The additional assistant counselors were called to assist the three presidents but not to preside (D&C 107:22).
2 And also unto you, my servant Edward Partridge, and his counselors;
verse 2 Edward Partridge was the bishop of the Church in Missouri. At this time his counselors were Isaac Morley and Titus Billings.
3 And also unto my faithful servants who are of the high council of my church in Zion, for thus it shall be called, and unto all the elders and people of my Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, scattered abroad in all the world;
4 For thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
verse 4 Elder B. H. Roberts provided us with a sublime description of the name of the Church: “The appropriateness of this title is self evident, and in it there is a beautiful recognition of the relationship both of the Lord Jesus Christ and of the saints to the organization. It is ‘The Church of Jesus Christ.’ It is the Lord’s; he owns it, he organized it. It is the sacred depository of his truth. It is his instrumentality for promulgating all those spiritual truths with which he would have mankind acquainted. It is also his instrumentality for the perfecting of the saints, as well as for the work of the ministry. It is his in all these respects; but it is an institution which also belongs to the saints. It is their refuge from the confusion and religious doubt of the world. It is their instructor in principle, doctrine, and righteousness. It is their guide in matters of faith and morals. They have a conjoint ownership in it with Jesus Christ, which ownership is beautifully recognized in the latter part of the title. ‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ is equivalent to ‘The Church of Jesus Christ,’ and ‘The Church of the Latter-day Saints” (HC, 3:24 footnote).
It should also be noted that since the administration of President Harold B. Lee, the formal title of the Church always begins with an upper case T: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 383).
5 Verily I say unto you all: Arise and shine forth, that thy light may be a standard for the nations;
6 And that the gathering together upon the land of Zion, and upon her stakes, may be for a defense, and for a refuge from the storm, and from wrath when it shall be poured out without mixture upon the whole earth.
verse 6 “Zion . . . for a defense, and for a refuge from the storm” Note that it is in Zion, wherever she is established in all her stakes, and not exclusively in Far West or even in Missouri, that the saints will find refuge at the last day. Concerning the importance of stakes, President Ezra Taft Benson said: “Only after a stake is organized may the full church program be authorized for the benefit of the members. This means priesthood quorums, for young men and adult males, and the auxiliary programs of the Church. These exist to assist families and individuals in building and strengthening testimonies of the gospel and in preparing for spiritual growth during our probation on earth. . . . Stakes are a defense for the saints from enemies both seen and unseen. The defense is direction provided through priesthood channels that strengthens testimony and promotes family solidarity and individual righteousness” (Ensign, January 1991, 2-4).
“wrath . . . poured out without mixture” The allusion in this phrase is likely to Revelation 14:10; 16:1-19, in which God’s wrath is depicted as being poured out upon the earth and upon the wicked as though from a vial or container. Jews anciently mixed table wine with water to avoid intoxication, but when the wrath of God is poured out at the end of the world for the wicked to drink, it will be strong and undiluted, that is, “without mixture.”
verses 7-16 The Lord commands that a temple be built in Far West. As directed, the cornerstones were laid on July 4, 1838. The Lord cautions the saints not to go into debt to build the temple, notwithstanding the importance of the temple. This was perhaps the beginning of the current Church policy not to dedicate a Church edifice until all costs are paid.
7 Let the city, Far West, be a holy and consecrated land unto me; and it shall be called most holy, for the ground upon which thou standest is holy.
verse 7 “the ground upon which thou standest is holy” The Lord had revealed to the saints in D&C 107:53-56 that Adam had lived and taught his children the gospel in the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman. Before the end of 1838, it was known that Adam-ondi-Ahman was located only thirty miles or so north of Far West. The prophet Joseph Smith also taught that Jackson County, fifty-five miles south of Far West, had been the location of the Garden of Eden. This puts Far West in the middle of sacred ancient geography. We do not know why the site of Far West itself was particularly holy ground, but it has been suggested the Far West may have been the location of the killing of Abel by his brother Cain (see McConkie and Stewart, Life of Joseph Fielding Smith, 340; see also Dyer, Center Place of Zion, 14-15). Additionally, events of the nineteenth-century Church in Far West, as well as events yet in the future, render this ground holy for the Latter-day Saints.
8 Therefore, I command you to build a house unto me, for the gathering together of my saints, that they may worship me.
verse 8 The Lord designates Far West as a site for construction of a temple. This was the third temple the saints had been commanded to build (the first two were Kirtland and Independence), although of these only the Kirtland Temple was ever completed. When section 115 was received there was actually no house, or temple, recognized by the Lord as his. He had promised to make holy the temple in Kirtland, but had declared also that if it should be defiled it should no longer be his house and his name would not be upon it. On April 3, 1836, he accepted that house, but in the summer of 1837 it had been polluted and apostates, wicked in spirit, had taken possession of that temple, hence the Lord rejected it as a sacred spot, a sacred temple. Now came the command to build another house on ground that was consecrated. Although the Church retained legal ownership of the Kirtland Temple until as late as 1846, actual possession of the building passed to several different parties, and the church’s claim was not recognized after the exodus to the West.
“that they may worship me” This commandment is a specific reference to temple worship, as opposed to weekly services in ward meetinghouses. What does it really mean to worship the Lord? In D&C 93:19-39, the Lord taught the saints that the highest form of worship was to imitate him and to become like him. It would seem that there are, then, at least two forms of worship. One of them is when we, in a quiet and spiritual setting, commit ourselves—indeed bind ourselves by covenant—to obey him and therefore become like him. The ideal place for this type of worship is during the sacrament service in a sacrament meeting or in a holy temple. The second type of worship is the actual doing—the real and immediate overcoming of our natural self and obeying the commandments. This important type of worship is done outside of Church and outside of a temple as we go about our daily lives.
Temple worship is especially important because it is only in a temple that we can fully contemplate the highest covenants we enter into with the Lord—those which we enter into in the temple. Covenants are, of course, designed by the Lord to help us become like him.
verses 9-12 The saints are commanded in these verses to gather speedily to Far West, begin construction on the temple in July 1838, and after halting for winter, resume construction on April 26, 1839, finishing the structure as soon thereafter as possible.
9 And let there be a beginning of this work, and a foundation, and a preparatory work, this following summer;
10 And let the beginning be made on the fourth day of July next; and from that time forth let my people labor diligently to build a house unto my name;
11 And in one year from this day let them re-commence laying the foundation of my house.
12 Thus let them from that time forth labor diligently until it shall be finished, from the corner stone thereof unto the top thereof, until there shall not anything remain that is not finished.
13 Verily I say unto you, let not my servant Joseph, neither my servant Sidney, neither my servant Hyrum, get in debt any more for the building of a house unto my name;
verse 13 “let not my servant . . . get in debt any more” The Kirtland Temple had been built by the individual sacrifices of the saints and the personal indebtedness of church leaders. The Lord had sanctioned this debt at that time so that the temple could be completed and the fulness of priesthood keys might be restored. From this time forth, however, the Lord commanded the entire Church collectively (“my people,” verses 15-16) to bear the financial burden of temple building, and it is presently the policy that no church-owned building be dedicated until it is fully paid for.
14 But let a house be built unto my name according to the pattern which I will show unto them. 15 And if my people build it not according to the pattern which I shall show unto their presidency, I will not accept it at their hands. 16 But if my people do build it according to the pattern which I shall show unto their presidency, even my servant Joseph and his counselors, then I will accept it at the hands of my people.
verses 14-16 The patterns of the Kirtland and Independence Temples had been revealed to the First Presidency in 1833. The Lord here reveals that the design of the Far West Temple will also be revealed to the First Presidency, but he prepares the Church to expect differences between the new temple and what they had built in Kirtland. Joseph Fielding Smith wrote: “If this temple at Far West was not built according to the Lord’s plan, he said he would not receive it. We have good reason to believe that his plan contemplated many changes not found in the house in Kirtland. The keys for the sealing of both the living and the dead had been revealed since the Kirtland Temple was built. The doctrine of salvation for the dead had been hinted at, but not yet clearly revealed. The Lord certainly intended to place in this new temple if it should be built according to his plan, the provisions that were found in the Nauvoo Temple and all the other temples erected since that day, so that the ordinance of baptism for the dead, and all the ordinances of the gospel could be given to both the living and the dead, as outlined by the Lord to the Prophet, January 19, 1841” (Church History and Modern Revelation, 3:116).
17 And again, verily I say unto you, it is my will that the city of Far West should be built up speedily by the gathering of my saints;
verse 17 “Far West should be built up speedily by the gathering of my saints” The haste commanded here represents a change in policy from earlier commandments concerning the gathering to Missouri (see D&C 58:56; 63:24; 101:68). What was earlier to be done “not in haste” (D&C 63:24) was now commanded to be accomplished “speedily.” In a revelation received January 12, 1838, the Lord commanded the presidency and their families in Kirtland to move west “as soon as it is practicable.” The Lord added, “Let all your faithful friends arise with their families also, and get out of this place [Kirtland, Ohio], and gather themselves together unto Zion” (Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 2:255). Doctrine and Covenants 117:1-5 contains a rebuke to church leaders lagging behind in Kirtland. The reasons for the change from “not in haste” to “speedily” may lie in the different demographics involved in Caldwell County as compared to Jackson County. As suggested by Smith and Sjodahl (Doctrine and Covenants Commentary, 743), had the saints gathered quickly enough and in sufficient numbers to sparsely populated northwestern Missouri and then constructed the “tower” of defense represented by a temple there, they might never have been dislodged from such a stronghold. Jackson County, on the other hand, with its “old settlers” already firmly established, required preparation, diplomacy, and gradual immigration for the saints to become secure there. Unfortunately, in neither county did sufficient numbers of the saints obey the Lord’s instructions. Beginning in November 1838 the saints were dislodged from Caldwell County and from Missouri altogether, just as they had previously been driven out of Jackson County in November 1833.
18 And also that other places should be appointed for stakes in the regions round about, as they shall be manifested unto my servant Joseph, from time to time.
verse 18 “other places should be appointed for stakes in the regions round about” If the saints were to move to Far West as quickly as was necessary and in sufficient numbers to become secure there, then the organization of additional stakes was necessary to accommodate them all. Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon had already visited Missouri in the fall of 1837 to designate locations for additional stakes (HC, 2:514). According to an uncanonized revelation received by the prophet Joseph on January 12, 1838, only the First Presidency is empowered to authorize the organization of a new stake of Zion: “No stake shall be appointed, except by the First Presidency, and this Presidency be acknowledged, by the voice of the same, otherwise it shall not be counted as a stake of Zion” (Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 2:255). Among other things, this revelation distinguished the powers of the First Presidency, as compared to those of the presidency of the Church in Missouri, regarding the formation of new stakes (Cook, Revelations, 228, 333). The question of which presidency had authority to perform what task had already been raised by the high council in Missouri (Cannon and Cook, Far West Record, 107-10; HC, 2:483-84).
19 For behold, I will be with him, and I will sanctify him before the people; for unto him have I given the keys of this kingdom and ministry. Even so. Amen.
Brief Historical Setting
Some of the saints were reluctant to leave Kirtland to gather in Far West. They were rebuked by the Lord [D&C 117 -Far West Is the Gathering Place]. This rebuke was received on July 8, 1838, following a memorable Independence Day celebration in Far West during which the cornerstones of the temple at Far West were laid. Also at this commemoration, Sidney Rigdon delivered a forceful speech in which he warned, under penalty of death, the Missourians and others to leave the saints alone, as the Mormons would not tolerate any further harassment. This speech had unfortunate consequences, as it proved to inflame prejudice against the Church.
Three additional revelations, now found in the Doctrine and Covenants, were received on July 8, 1838. On that date, Joseph also inquired of the Lord as to his will concerning the Twelve. In response, the Lord called them to go to Great Britain to preach the gospel. This call to serve was unusually specific, as it not only designated the date they were to depart, April 26, 1839, but it also specified their point of departure—the temple site at Far West [D&C 118 -The Twelve Called to Preach in England]. The Twelve later followed the Lord’s instructions to the letter, even though by April 1839 the saints had been expelled from Missouri and had been warned not to try to return.
The Twelve’s mission to England in 1839 and other missions to Great Britain that followed were extravagantly successful. More than five thousand converts resulted, and many of them migrated to America to join the saints between 1840 and 1850. These proved to be a vitally important infusion to the strength of the Church.
Also on July 8, 1838, the Lord gave a new law concerning financial contributions to the Church [D&C 119 and 120 -The Law of Tithing].
By the summer of 1838, a spirit of peace and optimism prevailed in Far West. As many as twelve thousand saints had gathered in Missouri. Not all of them had gathered in Far West, Caldwell County. Some had settled in Adam-ondi-Ahman, Daviess County on the north, and Dewitt, Carroll County, on the east.
As has been mentioned previously, most of the saints fleeing Kirtland went west in small groups, but one group of more than five hundred persons traveled in a body called “Kirtland Camp.” They arrived in Far West in October 1838, but at Joseph’s request they continued their journey twenty-two miles to the north to a place on the Grand River called Spring Hill where they settled. The Lord had previously changed the name of Spring Hill to “Adam-ondi-Ahman” [D&C 116 -Adam-ondi-Ahman].
- Michael J. Preece