Learning to Love
Doctrine and Covenants

Section 96: Peter French Farm By Michael J. Preece

Section 96: Peter French Farm

This revelation was received June 4, 1833, the day before work on the construction of the Kirtland Temple began. Some two and one half months previously, a committee of three men had been called to go around Kirtland and find out what properties were available on which to build the temple. Joseph Coe, Moses Dailey, and Ezra Thayer looked over the available properties and recommended purchase of the most expensive piece, the Peter French Farm. It seemed ideal because it was thought that the temple would be built of bricks, and the French Farm contained good clay deposits and a fully operational brick kiln. Also the property could be subdivided among the saints who had consecrated. It was hoped that through their surpluses placed in the Bishop’s storehouse, they might pay for the property. Thus, the decision was made to go deeply into debt and borrow the money to buy this farm.

Kirtland was intended to become a city of Zion in accordance with a plot plan drawn by the Prophet. The plan was much like the one for Independence, except this one called for only one temple. The streets and properties were similarly arranged. Even today Kirtland retains many features of the beginnings of this city of Zion.

There were many misgivings held by some as to whether or not the Church should have bought this expensive property, particularly after it was decided to build the temple of stone. “Perhaps we need not have spent the very high price for this choice piece of land. So what should we do with it? And how are we going to get out from under this huge debt? Who should take charge of this church-owned farm and subdivide it among the saints who have consecrated?” All of these questions weighed on the Prophet’s mind as he prayed on June 4, 1833 in the presence of a group of gathered high priests in Joseph’s translating room adjacent to the schoolroom above Newel K. Whitney’s store.

1 Behold, I say unto you, here is wisdom, whereby ye may know how to act concerning this matter, for it is expedient in me that this stake that I have set for the strength of Zion should be made strong.

verse 1 “this stake” Kirtland was the first stake of Zion in this dispensation (see the commentary for D&C 82:13). The “center pole” was in Zion or Independence

2 Therefore, let my servant Newel K. Whitney take charge of the place which is named among you, upon which I design to build mine holy house.

verse 2 “let my servant Newel K. Whitney take charge” In answer to their prayer of inquiry, the Lord informs the brethren that the person with responsibility for the Lord’s properties in Kirtland is the bishop in Kirtland, Newel K. Whitney. The building committee was to oversee construction, but control of church-owned properties and the structures built upon them would remain with the bishop.

3 And again, let it be divided into lots, according to wisdom, for the benefit of those who seek inheritances, as it shall be determined in council among you.

verse 3 “let it be divided into lots” The Bishop is designated to divide the Peter French Farm among those entering the United Order. The Lord’s answer in verses 2 and 3 seems the obvious one, and it is a little puzzling that they even had to ask the Lord.

4 Therefore, take heed that ye see to this matter, and that portion that is necessary to benefit mine order, for the purpose of bringing forth my word to the children of men.

verse 4 “mine order, for the purpose of bringing forth my word to the children of men” Some the newly acquired land was also designated for the literary firm, which consisted of those church leaders responsible for publication of the revelations. Receiving such stewardships, or inheritances, would make it possible for these brethren to devote their full time to the work of the Lord.

5 For behold, verily I say unto you, this is the most expedient in me, that my word should go forth unto the children of men, for the purpose of subduing the hearts of the children of men for your good. Even so. Amen.

verse 5 “this is the most expedient in me” The most important duty of the church leadership at this time in church history is to publish the Lord’s modern revelations to the world.

“subduing the hearts” Making the Lord’s revelations to the Church publicly available to all interested parties not only educates the members, but also informs nonmembers about the actual beliefs of the Church—sometimes with positive results.

verses 6-9 The wealthy farmer John Johnson is called to pay the debt owed by the Church on the farm and become a member of the United Firm.

The reader will recall that Brother Johnson and his family lived in Hiram, Ohio. The Smith and Rigdon families had lived at the Johnson farm while Joseph, with Sidney as scribe, wrote much of the Joseph Smith Translation. Joseph and Emma occupied part of the Johnson home, and Joseph received several revelations there, including section 76. The Johnson home was also the location of several church conferences. There also Joseph and Sidney were tarred and feathered by a mob. Unavoidably, all of these things had put additional burdens upon the Johnson family. For bearing these patiently, the Lord here blesses Brother Johnson and directs that he be made a part of the United Firm. Members of this order consecrated their possessions to the Church, agreeing to conduct their affairs according to the law of consecration for the benefit of the Church, and Brother Johnson was to put up the security to pay off the Peter French property for the firm (see verse 9).

6 And again, verily I say unto you, it is wisdom and expedient in me, that my servant John Johnson whose offering I have accepted, and whose prayers I have heard, unto whom I give a promise of eternal life inasmuch as he keepeth my commandments from henceforth—

7 For he is a descendant of Joseph and a partaker of the blessings of the promise made unto his fathers—

verse 7 “he is a descendant of Joseph” John Johnson, like many in the Church today, is informed that he is a descendant of Joseph, the son of Jacob (Israel) who was sold into Egypt. His lineage would be through either Ephraim or Manasseh, and he would therefore be heir to the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant and the promises made to the Patriarchs, or “his fathers” (see also Abraham 2:6-12).

8 Verily I say unto you, it is expedient in me that he should become a member of the order, that he may assist in bringing forth my word unto the children of men.

9 Therefore ye shall ordain him unto this blessing, and he shall seek diligently to take away incumbrances that are upon the house named among you, that he may dwell therein. Even so. Amen.

verse 9 “incumbrances that are upon the house” This refers to the Peter French property upon which the Kirtland Temple would eventually be built. An encumbrance is a legal claim such as a mortgage or lien attached to a property which shows that money is owed to the holder of the encumbrance. The property, upon which an inn was located, was still under a mortgage when the Church acquired the property.

This simple passage in the Doctrine and Covenants had a profound influence in the life of John Johnson and the history of the Church. John sold his home and farm in Hiram, Ohio, as part of honoring the covenant he had made as a member of the United Firm. The large frame home is still standing today, along with several other buildings on the property. In fact, the home is used as a visitors’ center for the Church. It is evident that John was a prosperous farmer in the community. The proceeds from the sale of his farm in Hiram were combined with the money of the order to pay the mortgage on the Peter French farm. It was on a part of this land that the Kirtland Temple was built. This temple and the blessings received in it (among them the preparatory ordinances of the endowment), many great spiritual manifestations, and the long-awaited restoration of priesthood keys held by Moses, Elias, and Elijah were made possible in part by this one man’s offering. Therefore, an obscure commandment in the Doctrine and Covenants to an individual not commonly known shows the importance of the covenants made by real people of the 1830s. Further, the implication is that members today who keep their covenant of consecrating their worldly wealth and time may someday be given the same promise the Lord gave to John Johnson, “Unto whom I give a promise of eternal life inasmuch as he keepeth my commandments from henceforth” (verse 6).

“the house named among you” The temple being discussed among you.

“that he may dwell therein” It is unclear to whom the pronoun he refers. It could be John Johnson or the Lord.

Brief Historical Setting

1833 July

By July 1833, the saints had been in Jackson County, Missouri, for about two years. Their presence and their beliefs had proved an increasing irritant to the Missourians, and on July 20 the Missourians’ smoldering anger exploded into overt rage.

- Michael J. Preece