Section 51: Law of Consecration
In May 1831 the saints from Colesville, New York, began to arrive in Ohio. The saints in Ohio had been instructed to divide their land with their eastern brethren (D&C 48:2), and it was the duty of Edward Partridge who had been appointed bishop (D&C 41) to take care of the newcomers.
The Colesville saints were settled in Thompson, Ohio, about sixteen miles east of Kirtland on a 759-acre plot owned by Leman Copley, a new convert, who had agreed to allow the saints to use his land. Here they would form a united order separate from the one getting started in Kirtland. This branch consisted largely of the extended family of Joseph Knight Sr., including Joseph’s son, Newel, and their friends and acquaintances. Newel Knight was appointed president of the branch at Thompson. The Colesville saints had been particularly persecuted in New York and had given up much to gather to Ohio. Bishop Partridge asked for divine guidance. He and the Prophet were particularly anxious to know how to provide for them. The Prophet inquired of the Lord for him and received this revelation in May 1831.
The experience of Orson Pratt, who was present when Joseph received this revelation at Thompson, Ohio, was reported later by another individual:
No great noise or physical manifestation was made; Joseph was as calm as the morning sun. But he [Orson Pratt] noticed a change in his [Joseph’s] countenance that he had never noticed before, when a revelation was given to him. Joseph’s face was exceedingly white, and seemed to shine (Millennial Star, August 11, 1874, 498-99).
The Thompson saints immediately went to work improving the farm by fencing the property and planting crops. They were commanded to settle on the land as if they were going to be there “for years” (verse 17). However, their stay turned out to last only a very “little season” (verse 16)—only about a month. After the unpleasant missionary experience among the Shakers (see commentary for D&C 49), Leman Copley left the Church, broke his agreement with the Colesville saints, and evicted them from his land.
In section 54 the Colesville saints will be commanded to move to Independence, Missouri, to begin to establish Zion. They would thus become the first group of saints to be commanded to move to Zion.
Section 51 contains important principles upon which the law of consecration is based. The Lord was beginning to train the saints in the principle of consecration as a preparatory step before they should be permitted to journey to Zion. The city of Zion was, of course, to be established upon this principle. Review the background material for section 42 regarding the law of consecration. It should be mentioned that the law of consecration, to this point, had been unfolded a little at a time—line upon line. It will continue to be revealed slowly to the saints. While some who read section 42 believe that it contains the law of consecration, it was only a beginning. Additions to the law may be found in sections 48, 51, 56, 57, 70, 78, 82, 83, 85, 90, 92, 96, 101, 104, and 105.
As originally received, section 51 directs the saints to legally deed over all their property and possessions to the bishop as agent for the Church. Stewardships would then be appointed back to them, and they were given legal title to their stewardship. Should a steward over consecrated property leave the Church, he could maintain his stewardship, but could take nothing else of his originally consecrated property with him. This was all in accordance with the law of the Lord given earlier (see D&C 42:30-32). In March 1833, however, a Missouri court held that irrevocably deeding all of one’s property to the Church was not a practice that should be allowed, since it conflicted with the court’s views of fairness and its understanding of the intent of British common law. The Missouri court ordered that property formerly consecrated to the Church be returned to its original owner in the specific case of an apostate member named Bates. Since the intent of section 51 was that that all aspects of consecration should be strictly legal, Joseph revised the wording of the revelation to accommodate the court’s decision by deleting the verse between the present verses 2 and 3 that instructed Edward Partridge to retain legal title to consecrated properties. Joseph also added verse 5, which clarifies that stewardships are the private property of their stewards.
While the specific forms of consecration observed in Ohio and later in Missouri are no longer practiced today, the law of consecration itself has never been rescinded. The obligations of consecration laid upon the Church by the law of the Lord (see D&C 42:30-39) are still binding and are observed today largely by the payment of tithes and offerings, by accepting church callings, by sacrificing the time and other resources sometimes necessary to magnify those callings, and by entering into covenants to make whatever further temporal sacrifices the Lord may ask of us.
1 Hearken unto me, saith the Lord your God, and I will speak unto my servant Edward Partridge, and give unto him directions; for it must needs be that he receive directions how to organize this people.
verse 1 “how to organize this people” Edward Partridge was the only bishop in the Church, and the responsibility for the organization and temporal welfare of the incoming saints fell to him.
2 For it must needs be that they be organized according to my laws; if otherwise, they will be cut off.
verse 2 “it must needs be that they be organized according to my laws” Zion can be created only if the Lord’s people are organized based upon the principles of heaven (D&C 105:5). On February 9, 1831, barely three months before this revelation was received, the Lord had given the Church his law, including the law of consecration (see D&C 42:30-39). Section 51 will teach Bishop Partridge and the saints how to apply the law of consecration to their circumstances in Ohio.
It should be noted that the law of consecration has been applied to saints differently in different times and circumstances, and that while the principles of consecration will always remain the same, we should not assume this law will be applied to a future Zion in the exact form described in this section.
3 Wherefore, let my servant Edward Partridge, and those whom he has chosen, in whom I am well pleased, appoint unto this people their portions, every man equal according to his family, according to his circumstances and his wants and needs.
verse 3 “those whom he has chosen” In D&C 42:31, Bishop Partridge was commanded to “appoint” and “set apart” two counselors, either elders or high priests to assist him in his work.
“this people” This phrase, of course, refers to the newly arrived Colesville saints in Thompson, Ohio.
“every man equal according to his family, according to his circumstances and his wants and needs” The bishop is directed to give to each man his stewardship—those material possessions which he requires to live and work. This stewardship is based on the size of his family and other specific circumstances to be determined by the bishop. Under this system, every man is to be “equal” not in the specific amount of goods given, but rather equal in that each man receives according to the same principles, according to the same process—a fair process administered by the bishop. One man may have a large family; another a small one. One man may farm. Another may teach. Yet another may run a mercantile store. All will receive according to their needs. Note particularly also the generous consideration given to personal preferences, or “wants,” in establishing these stewardships (see also D&C 82:17).
4 And let my servant Edward Partridge, when he shall appoint a man his portion, give unto him a writing that shall secure unto him his portion, that he shall hold it, even this right and this inheritance in the church, until he transgresses and is not accounted worthy by the voice of the church, according to the laws and covenants of the church to belong to the church.
verse 4 “a writing” This is a deed. A man’s “portion” is his stewardship. With this stewardship, he receives a deed of ownership for all of the contents of the stewardship. We will learn in the following verse, that if the man transgresses and leaves the Church, he maintains legal ownership of his stewardship, but he has no claim on the other materials which he originally consecrated to the Church.
5 And if he shall transgress and is not accounted worthy to belong to the church, he shall not have power to claim that portion which he has consecrated unto the bishop for the poor and needy of my church; therefore, he shall not retain the gift, but shall only have claim on that portion that is deeded unto him.
verse 5 “he shall not retain the gift, but shall only have claim on that portion that is deeded unto him” The individual who leaves the Church has no claim on those materials which he originally consecrated to the Church—“the gift”—but he maintains legal ownership of his stewardship—“that portion that is deeded unto him.”
6 And thus all things shall be made sure, according to the laws of the land.
verses 6 It should be noted that the system was based upon private and not communal or common ownership. Also it was the Lord’s intent that the system comply with the laws of the land.
7 And let that which belongs to this people be appointed unto this people.
verse 7 The assets consecrated to the bishop were to be used only for the welfare of church members who were themselves living the law of consecration.
8 And the money which is left unto this people—let there be an agent appointed unto this people, to take the money to provide food and raiment, according to the wants of this people.
verse 8 “And the money which is left unto this people” Bishop Partridge managed such church temporal matters as paying bills, buying and selling lands and goods, helping with construction projects, printing, and assisting the poor. Thus, he had accessible to him in the bishop’s storehouse some funds, and not just material goods.
“let there be an agent appointed unto this people” An “agent” is to be appointed to assist the bishop. This agent was to handle the actual transfer of properties in and out of the bishop’s storehouse. A. Sidney Gilbert was called the following month as the agent to assist Bishop Partridge (see D&C 53:4).
9 And let every man deal honestly, and be alike among this people, and receive alike, that ye may be one, even as I have commanded you.
verse 9 “let every man . . . be alike among this people” In the united order everyone was “alike” in that they each had what they needed for the support of themselves and their families. There were no rich or poor among them. To truly become one, the saints must be willing to share their temporal blessings freely with other saints. The personal need to be rich, to have more than one’s brothers and sisters, is incompatible with the establishment of Zion.
In absolute terms, however, the saints in the order were not alike in goods possessed or income received. A man with seven children had needs that were different from those of couples just beginning married life. The order was united in love, purpose, and commitment, but unity does not mean absolute sameness.
10 And let that which belongeth to this people not be taken and given unto that of another church.
11 Wherefore, if another church would receive money of this church, let them pay unto this church again according as they shall agree;
verses 10-11 The word “church” in these verses means branch of the Church such as the Church in Missouri as opposed to the Church in Thompson, Ohio. At this time, apparently, the Lord wished the different areas of the Church to remain financially separate from each other, and the consecration of properties within the different units was to be handled separately.
12 And this shall be done through the bishop or the agent, which shall be appointed by the voice of the church.
13 And again, let the bishop appoint a storehouse unto this church; and let all things both in money and in meat, which are more than is needful for the wants of this people, be kept in the hands of the bishop.
verse 13 The bishop is assigned to be responsible for distributing those things in the “bishop’s storehouse” wherein are kept all those things consecrated to the Church that have not yet been distributed as stewardships and those goods produced by the order in excess of their needs (the “residue”).
Though bishops’ storehouses may have changed somewhat conceptually since the early 1830s, they continue to operate in the Church today on the same general principles as stated in sections 42 and 51.
14 And let him also reserve unto himself for his own wants, and for the wants of his family, as he shall be employed in doing this business.
verse 14 “he shall be employed in doing this business” In most cases, those who are asked to serve the Church full time also have a right to temporal support through the resources of the Church. In Kirtland, Bishop Partridge was to be employed full time in managing the consecrations of the saints and administering those resources to the poor and the needy. These duties made it difficult for him to pursue his trade as a hatmaker at his home in Painesville, Ohio. In consideration of his circumstances, the bishop was allowed appropriate compensation from the storehouse.
15 And thus I grant unto this people a privilege of organizing themselves according to my laws.
verse 15 This is the Lord’s go ahead to the Colesville saints to start living the law of consecration and stewardship. The Lord also emphasizes that it is a privilege for them to participate in this celestial plan.
16 And I consecrate unto them this land for a little season, until I, the Lord, shall provide for them otherwise, and command them to go hence;
verse 16 “this land” For the saints generally, “this land” refers to the area around Kirtland, Ohio, but for the Colesville saints, to whom section 51 was specifically given, it refers to the Leman Copley farm in Thompson, Ohio.
“for a little season” The Lord informs the Colesville saints that for them Kirtland is just a stopover. In fact, the “little season” for these saints will last only about six weeks. Leman Copley, who had offered to share his farm with the incoming saints, will withdraw his offer when Bishop Partridge begins organizing things according to the law of consecration as directed in this revelation. On July 3, 1831, at the Lord’s direction, the Colesville saints will leave Thompson, Ohio, for Jackson County, Missouri.
17 And the hour and the day is not given unto them, wherefore let them act upon this land as for years, and this shall turn unto them for their good.
verse 17 “as for years” The Lord wanted the saints, even the Colesville saints, to live the gospel—including the law of consecration—and share it in Ohio as though they were to be there for a long time. Though Kirtland was home to the Ohio branch of the Church for years (see D&C 64:21-22), it was only a brief stop for the Colesville saints. Yet no place is so “temporary” that it allows us a time-out from living the principles of the gospel. Wherever we find ourselves, we must be saints. The same labors of love, diligence, industry, and service, and the same spiritual obligations to build Zion as best we can, are required of us in short-term habitations as in permanent ones. Thus, students and others who are just “passing through” some unit of the Church are expected to make the same investments of time, money, service, and emotional support to their “temporary” wards and stakes as to those in which they expect to live permanently.
18 Behold, this shall be an example unto my servant Edward Partridge, in other places, in all churches.
verse 18 “this shall be an example” Bishop Partridge is put on notice by the Lord that the Lord will be implementing the law of consecration in other places besides the Kirtland area. When the Lord eventually does so, the new organizational structure will be as has been outlined in section 51. Bishop Edward Partridge will be called to Missouri in less than one month (see D&C 52:3, 24).
19 And whoso is found a faithful, a just, and a wise steward shall enter into the joy of his Lord, and shall inherit eternal life.
verse 19 “a wise steward shall enter the joy of his Lord” This joy is likely a gift of the Spirit in the form of a subjective feeling and a permanent reward in the celestial kingdom.
20 Verily, I say unto you, I am Jesus Christ, who cometh quickly, in an hour you think not. Even so. Amen.
Brief Historical Setting
By June 1831, most of the eastern saints had arrived in the Kirtland area, and many had, for the moment at least, been settled on land belonging to Leman Copley in Thompson, Ohio. June 3, 1831, was the day appointed for a special conference of elders (see D&C 44:1). The conference was to last for three days, through June 5. This was the first conference to be held in Ohio, and forty-four elders attended. At this conference several were ordained to the office of high priest. On the day following the conference, which was June 6, the Lord favored the elders there gathered with a revelation [D&C 52 -Location of Zion] in which he named Missouri as the specific location where Zion would be built, and he called twenty-eight missionaries to leave their homes in Kirtland and travel to Missouri to proclaim the gospel.
Recall that the Colesville branch of the Church, directed by branch president Newel Knight, were uprooted when Leman Copley asked them to leave his land. They had experienced further troubles in trying to live the law of consecration, apparently in large part due to selfishness of several of their number, especially one Ezra Thayer (or Thayre). Brother Thayer had been one of the missionaries called to Missouri, but he was having serious misgivings about this missionary call and even about his church membership. Thus, the missionary assignments recorded in section 52 were altered later in June 1831 to exclude Ezra Thayer [D&C 56 -Change in Missionary Assignments].
Also in June 1831 the Lord commanded the Colesville saints to travel as a group to Missouri to establish themselves there [D&C 54 -Colesville Saints Sent to Zion].
About the middle of June 1831, Joseph was planning his trip to Missouri, having been commanded to go there as a missionary with Sidney Rigdon as his companion. Bishop Edward Partridge was called to go also. Once there, Bishop Partridge would remain in Missouri as bishop over the Church in Zion. A. Sidney Gilbert, the partner of Newell K. Whitney in the Gilbert and Whitney store, was commanded to go along with Joseph in the presidential party [D&C 53 -Algernon Sidney Gilbert]. He too would remain in Missouri to function as keeper of the bishop’s storehouse and the Church’s land agent in Missouri.
A new arrival in Kirtland, a former journalist and newspaper editor, William W. Phelps also received a revelation [D&C 55 -William Wines Phelps]. He was commanded to join the Church and then travel to Missouri with Joseph and the others. Phelps would also remain in Missouri to run the Church’s printing press and to edit the Church’s monthly magazine, the Evening and Morning Star.
Joseph and those assigned in the revelations to travel with him departed Kirtland for Missouri on June 19.
- Michael J. Preece