Learning to Love
Doctrine and Covenants

Section 41: Edward Partridge Called as First Bishop By Michael J. Preece

Section 41: Edward Partridge Called as First Bishop

The story of the arrival of Joseph Smith in Kirtland was passed along in the Whitney family tradition and was related by Orson Whitney in his book Saturday Night Thoughts, (1921), 42-43:

About the first of February 1831, a sleigh drew up in front of the mercantile store of Gilbert and Whitney [A. Sidney Gilbert and Newell K. Whitney]. A stalwart young man alighted and walked into the store. Approaching the junior partner and extending his hand cordially, as if to an old and familiar acquaintance, he saluted him thus: “Newell K. Whitney, thou art the man!” The merchant was astonished. He had never seen this person before. “Stranger,” he said, “you have the advantage of me. I could not call you by name as you have me.” “I am Joseph the Prophet” said the stranger, smiling. “You have prayed me here, now what do you want of me?”

Joseph had previously seen in vision Newell K. Whitney and his wife praying that Joseph would come to Kirtland. Thus he was able to recognize him. Joseph and Emma stayed the night with the Whitneys and remained with them about five months. On her arrival in Kirtland, Emma was about six months pregnant with twins.

Section 41 was given February 4, about three days after the arrival in Kirtland. In this revelation the Lord calls Edward Partridge to be the first bishop in this dispensation—verse 9. The Church had to have a bishop before “the law” could be given—section 42.

Even before their conversion to the gospel, some of the saints in the Kirtland area had been trying, under the leadership of Sidney Rigdon, to live primitive Christianity—the pure and original Christianity of the New Testament—by following the teachings of the New Testament and nothing else. They had read in Acts that the early saints were “of one heart and one soul” and that they had “all things in common” (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-35). They had formed a communal society called “the family” and practiced group ownership of all individual resources on the Isaac Morley Farm. They referred to this arrangement as having “common stock.” When Sidney Rigdon joined the Church, he went to Fayette and invited the Prophet to Kirtland, but Joseph sent John Whitmer instead, and Sidney stayed in Fayette to act as scribe for the Prophet. Though most of “the family” in Kirtland had since joined the Church, they were still involved in living with “all things in common” when John Whitmer arrived from Fayette to preside over the community. Whitmer observed significant problems resulting from their attempting to live with the concept of “common stock,” and he wrote to the Prophet and requested that he come to Kirtland. Joseph inquired of the Lord and was told to go quickly.

On his arrival in Kirtland, Joseph found a young and enthusiastic branch of the Church there which had grown to nearly one hundred members. His own observation was that the members were “striving to do the will of God, so far as they knew it, though some strange notions and false spirits had crept in among them. With a little caution and some wisdom, I soon assisted the brethren and sisters to overcome them. The plan of ‘common stock’ which had existed in what was called ‘the family,’ whose members generally had embraced the everlasting Gospel, was readily abandoned for the more perfect law of the Lord; and the false spirits were easily discerned and rejected by the light of revelation” (HC, 1:146-47).

John Whitmer added the following information to Joseph’s account: “About these days Joseph and Sidney arrived at Kirtland to the joy and satisfaction of the saints. The disciples had all things common, and were going to destruction very fast as to temporal things; for they considered from reading the scripture that what belonged to a brother, belonged to any of the brethren. Therefore they would take each other’s clothes and other property and use it without leave which brought on confusion and disappointment, for they did not understand the scripture” (Whitmer, Early Latter Day Saint History, 37). For example, when Levi Hancock was visiting “the family,” Heman Bassett, one of its members, took Levi’s pocket watch and sold it. He later explained that he had thought “it was all in the family” (Ibid.).

For the Lord to give the true law of consecration to the Church and thus to correct the “common stock” ideas of the members of “the family,” he needed someone to act as his agent in administering properties according to his law. Consequently, Edward Partridge was called to become the first bishop in the latter-day Church. Section 41 was the first revelation received in the Ohio. Its purpose was essentially to prepare the saints for section 42, which was received five days later, on February 9, 1831.

1 Hearken and hear, O ye my people, saith the Lord and your God, ye whom I delight to bless with the greatest of all blessings, ye that hear me; and ye that hear me not will I curse, that have professed my name, with the heaviest of all cursings.

verse 1 “the greatest of all blessings” This is exaltation in the celestial kingdom of God (D&C 14:7).

“ye that hear me not will I curse, that have professed my name” The verb to hear is used here in the sense of “hearkening” or “obeying.” The Lord warns the hypocrite, the person who makes in good faith a covenant and then departs from it.

“the heaviest of all cursings” Being a covenant member of the Church is a great blessing but also a great responsibility. Those who have joined themselves to the Lord’s earthly kingdom by covenant are candidates for the greatest of all blessings. But, they have left behind the luxury of being ignorant and neutral fence sitters relative to the Lord’s commandments. They are committed to the Lord, and therefore any disobedience among them can bring upon them the greatest of all cursings or penalties.

The system of covenants allows them to rise higher or sink lower than they could otherwise have done. There is no blessing higher than that received by faithful saints, and no cursing harsher than that received by willful apostates.

2 Hearken, O ye elders of my church whom I have called, behold I give unto you a commandment, that ye shall assemble yourselves together to agree upon my word;

verse 2 “I give unto you a commandment, that ye shall assemble yourselves together to agree upon my word” There is to be a special meeting of the elders in Kirtland to hear and ratify the Lord’s law. This meeting will take place five days later, on February 9, 1831, and the “law of the Church” (section 42) is to be given to the Church at that time.

“agree upon my word” According to the law of common consent (section 26), the elders must collectively agree to accept their responsibilities under the law of the Church (section 42) by their sustaining vote.

3 And by the prayer of your faith ye shall receive my law, that ye may know how to govern my church and have all things right before me.

verse 3 “by the prayer of your faith ye shall receive my law” In order for the elders, who will gather on February 9, 1831, to receive the law of the Lord given to his Church (section 42), they will be required to pray together in faith.

“that ye may know how to govern my church” The law that will be given is for the purpose of the governance of the Church and a standard for judging its members. It will be given specifically to the elders, whose place it was, at that time at least, to govern and judge the Church, because the first high priests were not ordained until June 3, 1831.

verses 2-3 To fully understand the significance of these verses, see the introductory commentary for section 42.

4 And I will be your ruler when I come; and behold, I come quickly, and ye shall see that my law is kept.

5 He that receiveth my law and doeth it, the same is my disciple; and he that saith he receiveth it and doeth it not, the same is not my disciple, and shall be cast out from among you;

verse 5 “My law” refers to section 42, which will be given February 9, 1831. It is typical of modern thought to define discipleship in terms of beliefs. When we want to know what this or that religion is, we ask, “What to you believe?” The Lord does not define discipleship in this way. Those who do the Lord’s will are his disciples. Those who profess belief in the gospel but will not live it are to be cast out, or excommunicated. True discipleship is determined by our actions, not only by our words or beliefs.

6 For it is not meet that the things which belong to the children of the kingdom should be given to them that are not worthy, or to dogs, or the pearls to be cast before swine.

verse 6 “it is not meet” The word “meet” means proper, fitting, acceptable, permissible, right, necessary, or desirable.

President Joseph Fielding Smith discussed the limitations on sharing sacred things:

The things of the kingdom are not for the unworthy, whether they are in or out of the Church. It is the duty of the members to hold in the most solemn and sacred manner every commandment, every covenant, every principle of truth which the Lord has revealed for their salvation. He has given to the members, if they will humbly receive them, covenants and obligations which are not for the world. Things that are most holy and sacred, which are revealed to those who have made covenant to be “just and true,” and who have “overcome by faith,” things which are imparted to them as a means of bringing to pass their exaltation, should not be lightly treated, ridiculed, or spoken of before the world. “For it is not meet that the things which belong to the children of the kingdom should be given to them that are not worthy, or to dogs, or the pearls to be cast before swine.” Yet how often do we see the foolish, the ignorant and those who fail to comprehend the vastness of these sacred principles and covenants, treating them lightly and unworthily even before the world! (Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:179-80).

Currently in the Church we have room for “less active” members. But when the Church as a whole begins again to live the law of consecration institutionally instead of individually as we now do, and we begin to establish Zion, there will quickly be no more middle ground for the passive and lukewarm to stand upon. Since Zion is a community of saints who are of one heart and one mind, who dwell in righteousness, and have no poor among them, the less active who will not dwell in righteousness, or who are not of one heart and one mind with the saints, must either repent or leave—otherwise Zion cannot be established.

Diversity is not necessarily a virtue in Zion, nor is Zion a pluralistic society. There will certainly be diversity of races and to a degree a diversity of cultures, of personalities, of interests, and of wants. But there will be no diversity of values, ethics, morals, or of religious beliefs and doctrine, for Zion will be of one heart and one mind in these essentials and will dwell in righteousness according to one law—the heart and mind of the Savior, which is the law of the Church.

7 And again, it is meet that my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., should have a house built, in which to live and translate.

verse 7 Joseph and Emma had just arrived three days earlier from New York and had no lodging. “In response to the Lord’s instructions a small home was built on the [Isaac] Morley farm for Joseph and Emma, where they lived for six months” (Dahl, “Joseph Smith Translation and the Doctrine and Covenants,” 107).

8 And again, it is meet that my servant Sidney Rigdon should live as seemeth him good, inasmuch as he keepeth my commandments.

verse 8 As a Protestant minister, Sidney Rigdon had had a fine home built for him by the several congregations to whom he ministered. When he joined the Church, however, the majority in those congregations requested that he leave the home they had built. Consequently, Sidney had no place for his family. The Lord instructs Sidney to take whatever measures he must in order to provide for his family, as long as he keeps the commandments. The implication is that he will be, at least in part, supported by the members of the church.

The “law of remuneration for services” is thus introduced in this verse and in the preceding verse, as the Lord specifies that the needs of Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon should be met out of church funds.

9 And again, I have called my servant Edward Partridge; and I give a commandment, that he should be appointed by the voice of the church, and ordained a bishop unto the church, to leave his merchandise and to spend all his time in the labors of the church;

verse 9 “Edward Partridge” For an introduction to Edward Partridge, see the introductory commentary for sections 35 and 36.

“appointed by the voice of the church” The pattern of calling a bishop is illustrated. He is called by revelation received by one in authority, but he must be sustained publicly by the voice of the membership of the Church before he can be ordained.

Today, the procedure is essentially the same. A stake president seeks revelation to nominate a person to be bishop and sends that nomination to the First Presidency, who, in consultation with the Quorum of the Twelve, seek the Lord’s approval and then issue a call through the stake president. After a public sustaining vote of the ward members, the stake presidency, with approval of the First Presidency, ordains the individual to the office of bishop and sets him apart to preside over a particular ward.

10 To see to all things as it shall be appointed unto him in my laws in the day that I shall give them.

verses 10 Edward Partridge is called to be the first bishop of this final dispensation. It should be kept in mind that Edward Partridge was not a ward bishop. We didn’t have wards or ward organizations until the Nauvoo period. He was a bishop of the Church under the law of consecration, and his duties were governed by that call. The ward bishop today may have a few of the same duties, but his role is by no means comparable. In the law of consecration, the bishop was the spiritual and temporal agent who directed the program, assigned stewardships, received properties and so on. The law of consecration was to be revealed shortly, so it was appropriate that Edward Partridge should be called as the first bishop in the Church before the law was revealed.

11 And this because his heart is pure before me, for he is like unto Nathanael of old, in whom there is no guile.

verse 11 “in whom there is no guile” See John 1:47. What a marvelous compliment is paid here to Edward Partridge! Guile is any form of deceit, fraud, hypocrisy, two-facedness, or otherwise presenting things as they are not. To be without guile is to be totally open and honest.

12 These words are given unto you, and they are pure before me; wherefore, beware how you hold them, for they are to be answered upon your souls in the day of judgment. Even so. Amen.

verse 12 “These words . . . are pure before me; wherefore, beware how you hold them” God’s word is pure and holy and must not be taken (or “held”) lightly. We will be judged on how we treat God’s holy word—with reverence, respect, and obedience—or with carelessness.

- Michael J. Preece