Learning to Love
Doctrine and Covenants

Section 66: William E. McLellin By Michael J. Preece

Section 66: William E. McLellinr

On October 11, 1831, a conference of the Church was held in Hiram, Ohio. Following the session on October 11, the conference was adjourned, and it resumed on October 25 in Orange, Ohio. On the latter date, William E. McLellin (in church history his name has been variously spelled McLellan and M’Lellin) sought for a blessing by revelation from the Lord through Joseph. Section 66 is that revelation.

The exact date of McLellin’s birth cannot be ascertained, but he was born in Tennessee about 1806—thus he was about a year younger than the Prophet. According to Joseph Smith, he had a “superficial education” and “more learning than sense” but a “good flow of language,” and he had worked as a teacher in several different schools. He first heard the gospel preached by Elders Samuel H. Smith and Reynolds Cahoon (see section 53:30) in Paris, Illinois, while they were en route from Kirtland to Independence in the summer of 1831. He closed up his affairs as soon as possible and followed these missionaries to Jackson County, hoping to meet the prophet Joseph, but he arrived there too late. In Independence he was baptized and ordained an elder. In the fall of 1831 he made his way to Kirtland where we find him in attendance at the special conference of October 25 in Orange, Ohio. It was there where he finally met the Prophet. During this conference, he was ordained a high priest, and when the conference was adjourned he accompanied the Prophet to Hiram, Ohio, staying with him there for three weeks. There he sought to learn the will of the Lord regarding himself. On October 29 Joseph Smith received section 66 in Hiram, Ohio, dictating it to William McLellin, who acted as scribe. McLellin’s journal specified that section 66 was received on Saturday, October 29, after McLellin and the Prophet had returned to Hiram from Orange.

Writing of this experience on another occasion seventeen years later, William McLellin said: “From this conference I went home with the Prophet, and on Saturday, the 29th, I received through him, and wrote from his mouth a revelation concerning myself. I had expected and believed that when I saw Brother Joseph, I should receive one: and I went before the Lord in secret, and on my knees asked him to reveal the answer to five questions through his Prophet, and that too without his having any knowledge of my having made such request. I now testify in the fear of God, that every question which I had thus lodged in the ears of the Lord of Sabbaoth, were answered to my full and entire satisfaction. I desired it for a testimony of Joseph’s inspiration. And I to this day consider it to be an evidence which I cannot refute” (Ensign of Liberty, of the Church of Christ, 61). The fact the McLellin wrote this account ten years after his excommunication from the Church lends credibility to its truth.

Somewhat later, he began to evidence a basic flaw in his spiritual fabric while attending another conference held in early November in Hiram, Ohio. At that conference, he voiced his doubts about the divine authenticity of section 1 of the Doctrine and Covenants (see the supplemental article A Brief History of the Evolution of Our Present-day Doctrine and Covenants).

He would later be chosen to be one of the twelve Apostles at the organization of that quorum, and he was ordained to that office on February 15, 1835. With the Quorum of the Twelve in the spring and summer of 1835, he went east on a mission and baptized five converts. While on this mission, he wrote a letter back to Kirtland censuring the church Presidency, and for this he was disfellowshipped. However, on returning to Kirtland in September, he confessed to the council of the First Presidency, was forgiven, and he was returned to full fellowship.

In May 1838, he came before a bishop’s court in Far West where he stated that he had no confidence in the Presidency of the Church. Consequently, he had stopped praying and keeping the commandments, and he had indulged himself in his sinful lusts. He was excommunicated for unbelief and apostasy. After his excommunication, he tried to establish a church on his own that he might be its head, but he had no success. He took an active part with the mob in Missouri in robbing and driving the saints. While Joseph and others were being held prisoner in Richmond, Missouri, during their trial, McLellin, who was a “large and active man,” went to the sheriff and asked for permission to flog the Prophet. Permission was granted on condition that Joseph would fight. The sheriff made this request known to Joseph, who consented to fight if his irons were removed. McLellin then refused to fight unless he could have a club—to which Joseph readily agreed. But the sheriff would not allow them to fight on such unequal terms. While Joseph was in Liberty Jail, McLellin and others robbed Joseph’s house and stable of considerable property.

Heber C. Kimball’s condemnation of McLellin, after the latter’s excommunication, was chilling. McLellin asked Brother Kimball what he thought of Joseph Smith after all the turmoil that occurred in Missouri. Here is Brother Kimball’s reply:

I am more satisfied with him a hundred fold than ever I was before, for I see you in the very position that he foretold you would be in: a Judas to betray your brethren, if you did not forsake your adultery, fornication, lying, and abominations. Where are you? What are you about? You and Hinkle, and scores of others? Have you not betrayed Joseph and his brethren into the hands of the mob, as Judas did Jesus? Yes, verily, you have. I tell you Mormonism is true, and Joseph is a true prophet of the living God, and you with all others that turn therefrom will be damned and go to hell, and Judas will rule over you (Heber C. Kimball Journal, Book 94C, 88).

McLellin later adopted the profession of medicine. He finally died in obscurity in Independence, Missouri, at about the age of 77.

1 Behold, thus saith the Lord unto my servant William E. McLellin—Blessed are you, inasmuch as you have turned away from your iniquities, and have received my truths, saith the Lord your Redeemer, the Savior of the world, even of as many as believe on my name.

verse 1 “you have turned away from your iniquities” At this time the twenty­five-year-old McLellin is a childless widower. There is no reason to suspect that he is guilty of sins which are in any way out of the ordinary.

2 Verily I say unto you, blessed are you for receiving mine everlasting covenant, even the fulness of my gospel, sent forth unto the children of men, that they might have life and be made partakers of the glories which are to be revealed in the last days, as it was written by the prophets and apostles in days of old.

verse 2 “mine everlasting covenant” This phrase refers to all of the individual gospel doctrines (including all those in the Book of Mormon) and ordinances (covenants) then available to the saints—mainly repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost.

“even the fulness of my gospel” Though additional ordinances (covenants) will yet be revealed, William E. McLellin, had received sufficient for exaltation in the celestial heaven were he to remain faithful—the fulness of the gospel.

3 Verily I say unto you, my servant William, that you are clean, but not all; repent, therefore, of those things which are not pleasing in my sight, saith the Lord, for the Lord will show them unto you.

verse 3 “you are clean, but not all” William McLellin had been recently baptized. Was he not therefore entirely clean—entirely cleansed of his sins? There are a couple of important concepts to note here.

First, the Lord forgives our sins at baptism when we truly exercise our faith and when we are sincerely repentant prior to our baptism (Mosiah 18:8-10; D&C 20:37). Hence we might argue that Brother McLellin might not have been completely repentant. While many new converts may have a sincere attitude of repentance, is there any individual who is actually fully and perfectly repentant in absolute terms? The obvious answer is no. Any individual who is perfectly repentant would remain sinless after baptism, and that is, of course, essentially impossible. The most important requirement for the repentance that precedes baptism, and the best we can hope for in any individual, is that the baptismal candidate is determined to begin, at baptism, to continually diligently strive to be obedient. As long as the individual continues to truly strive to be obedient, even though he cannot be absolutely obedient, the Lord is willing to extend the blessings of the atonement to us and repeatedly cleanse us of our sins. We may then be classified, according to scripture, as being “perfect” (Moroni 10:32-33).

Second, it is true that the Lord wipes the slate clean at the moment of baptism, but how long does complete cleansing last? Likely only a few minutes pass before the individual has sinful thoughts and is guilty of sinful words or actions. But this should not be discouraging to anyone. As mortals we all share the universal tendency to have to keep constant watch on our thoughts, words, and actions. Again, the vital requirement is that we are constantly and diligently striving to change and obey. Then, in spite of our imperfections and frequent falterings, the Lord repeatedly forgives us of our sins.

In the specific case of William E. McLellin, it seems likely however that the Lord knew that he had spiritual flaws which will soon prove to be seriously problematic.

4 And now, verily, I, the Lord, will show unto you what I will concerning you, or what is my will concerning you.

5 Behold, verily I say unto you, that it is my will that you should proclaim my gospel from land to land, and from city to city, yea, in those regions round about where it has not been proclaimed.

verse 5 “you should proclaim my gospel” William McLellin was called on a mission to those areas around Kirtland that had not been covered by previous missionaries.

6 Tarry not many days in this place; go not up unto the land of Zion as yet; but inasmuch as you can send, send; otherwise, think not of thy property.

verse 6 “go not up unto the land of Zion” Like most of the Ohio members, McLellin was concerned about emigrating to Zion. Many of the saints in Kirtland were anxious to go there, and some needed to be restrained. McLellin was to send what money he could to Zion and was not to worry about his possessions—apparently he owned no land.

7 Go unto the eastern lands, bear testimony in every place, unto every people and in their synagogues, reasoning with the people.

verse 7 “Go unto the eastern lands” William McLellin and Samuel Smith traveled and preached in eastern Ohio for six weeks before William got sick and returned to Hiram and Kirtland without his companion. The commandment for McLellin to go into the eastern lands was revoked by the Lord on January 25, 1832, a month after his return to Hiram (see D&C 75:6).

“unto every people and in their synagogues” See the commentary for D&C 63:31.

8 Let my servant Samuel H. Smith go with you, and forsake him not, and give him thine instructions; and he that is faithful shall be made strong in every place; and I, the Lord, will go with you.

verse 8 “Let my servant Samuel H. Smith go with you” Samuel was the prophet’s younger brother, the third person baptized in this dispensation, one of the original six members of the Church, one of the Eight Witness of the Book of Mormon, and the first formal missionary of the modern Church.

“give him thine instructions” This verse teaches the responsibility of missionary companions to help each other and to stay together.

“he that is faithful” This phrase refers to the missionaries, not the investigators.

9 Lay your hands upon the sick, and they shall recover. Return not till I, the Lord, shall send you. Be patient in affliction. Ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

verse 9 “Lay your hands upon the sick, and they shall recover.” William McLellin’s journal entries for this mission record some remarkable healings.

“Return not till I, the Lord, shall send you.” William McLellin was not given a specific term for his missionary service but was to remain in the field, being patient in his afflictions and not leaving his companion, until the Lord recalled him. McLellin seems to have disregarded all these instructions (see D&C 75:6-8).

10 Seek not to be cumbered. Forsake all unrighteousness. Commit not adultery—a temptation with which thou hast been troubled.

verse 10 “Seek not to be cumbered.” Cumbered means hindered or burdened. The command seems to refer to McLellin’s lingering unrighteousness and his temptation to sexual sin.

“Commit not adultery—a temptation with which thou hast been troubled.” The Lord gives a remarkably blunt piece of advice, but William McLellin seems to have accepted it with no attempt to refute the allegations, even in his private journals. Indeed, he seems even to have appreciated the warning, since he wrote that this revelation fully answered the specific questions he had asked the Lord and that he was entirely satisfied with the answers. At his excommunication trial on May 11, 1838, William McLellin stated that after he lost confidence in church leaders, he “quit praying and keeping the commandments of God, and indulged himself in his lustful desires” (HC, 3:31).

11 Keep these sayings, for they are true and faithful; and thou shalt magnify thine office, and push many people to Zion with songs of everlasting joy upon their heads.

verse 11 “push many people to Zion” Pushing the people to Zion was the calling of Ephraim (see Deuteronomy 33:17). In an addendum to section 66, as recorded in William McLellin’s journal and in the Kirtland Revelation Book, William was identified as a “true descendant” of Ephraim. His Ephraimite descent is reflected in the language used here to call him to the latter-day work. Moreover, his call is not merely to convert the people to the gospel but to help in Gathering them to Zion. According to his journal, he was particularly concerned with pushing the saints to Zion (see Shipps and Welch, Journals of William E. McLellin, 271-72).

“with songs of everlasting joy upon their heads” Singing always has been and always will be an important form of worship for the saints of God. Perhaps refusing to sing is a sin similar to refusing to pray.

12 Continue in these things even unto the end, and you shall have a crown of eternal life at the right hand of my Father, who is full of grace and truth.

verse 12 “you shall have a crown of eternal life” The crown is variously described as a crown of righteousness (see D&C 25:15), glory (see D&C 58:4), joy (see D&C 52:43), and eternal life (see D&C 20:14). It is the reward of one who overcomes through Christ and who rules in the kingdom of God (see Revelation 3:11, 21). Even with his weaknesses and temptations, if William McLellin would prove faithful to his covenants “unto the end,” he was promised the victor’s crown of eternal life.

13 Verily, thus saith the Lord your God, your Redeemer, even Jesus Christ. Amen.

- Michael J. Preece