The Law of Consecration:
The Covenant That Requires All and Gives Everything
Clark V. Johnson
Associate Professor of Church History and Doctrine
Brigham Young University
Joseph's arrival in 1831 in Ohio began one of the most fruitful revelatory periods in the history of the Church. Through 1838, the Prophet received sixty-one revelations in Ohio and twenty-one in Missouri as well as others in sundry places, such as New York and Massachusetts. Many of these revelations are now part of the Doctrine and Covenants. The subjects of these revelations are broad, embracing the law of the Church, the personal conduct of members, Church organization, the law of consecration, the united order, prophecy, life after death, war, health laws, visions, temples, and missionary work. Almost all of these topics are an outgrowth of section 42 (the law of the Church), in which the Savior prescribed the required conduct for his people.
Much research has already been done concerning the law of consecration and stewardship. Milton V. Backman, in The Heavens Resound, Leonard Arrington, in Great Basin Kingdom and Building the City of God, and Lyndon Cook, in Joseph Smith and the Law of Consecration, discuss the doctrine of consecration and stewardship during the Kirtland-Missouri and the Western periods of Church history. This paper discusses the principles of consecration and the organization of the united order as revealed through Joseph Smith between 1831 and 1838 and recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants.
The law of consecration is the covenant of consecration as defined in the scriptures, the temple, and in the writings of Joseph Smith. The united order is the attempt made by the early Saints to apply that covenant. I will discuss three points in relation to the law of consecration and the united order: first, the covenant of consecration and the principles that undergird it; second, the implementation of the law of consecration given in the Doctrine and Covenants; third, the challenges faced by the Prophet when he attempted to implement this law in Kirtland and Missouri.
The Principles of Consecration
On 9 February 1831, eight days after the Prophet's arrival in Ohio, in the presence of twelve elders the Lord revealed to his prophet the law of the Church, now recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 42. In this revelation the Lord called upon his disciples to teach by the Spirit and to preach the gospel found in the New Testament and the Book of Mormon. (D&C 42:4-5, 7-8, 12.) The Savior instructed his followers not to kill, steal, lie, commit adultery or lust, or speak evil of others, and he warned them to beware of pride and to avoid idleness. (D&C 42:18-29, 41-42, 74-93.) He also commanded them to take care of the poor and the sick. With these instructions, the Lord began to lay down those principles upon which the law of consecration rests. "And whosoever among you are sick, and have not faith to be healed, but believe, shall be nourished with all tenderness, with herbs and mild food, and that not by the hand of an enemy.
"And the elders of the church, two or more, shall be called, and shall pray for and lay their hands upon them in my name; and if they die they shall die unto me, and if they live they shall live unto me.
"Thou shalt live together in love . . .
"And it shall come to pass that those that die in me shall not taste of death, for it shall be sweet unto them;
" . . . And again, it shall come to pass that he that hath faith in me to be healed, and is not appointed unto death, shall be healed." (D&C 42:43-51.)
At least four points are made in these verses. First, the Lord expects his disciples to sustain and help one another. Second, the priesthood is used to benefit those who are ill. Third, a person can be healed by the power of the priesthood if that individual has faith and is "not appointed unto death"--information that gives confidence to the person as he realizes that the Lord has given him time to work out his exaltation. (D&C 121:25; 42:61; Alma 34:32.) Fourth, the Lord expects his disciples to love one another. These principles--mutual assistance, proper use of priesthood, the need for faith, and reciprocal love--are the cornerstones of the covenant.
Continuing, the Lord said to remember the poor and "consecrate of thy properties for their support that which thou hast to impart unto them, with a covenant and a deed which cannot be broken.
"And inasmuch as ye impart of your substance unto the poor, ye will do it unto me; and they shall be laid before the bishop of my church and his counselors, two of the elders, or high priests, such as he shall appoint or has appointed and set apart for that purpose." (D&C 42:30-31.)
Here we see that the Lord's intent is not just to take care of the immediate needs of the poor so that the poor can sustain themselves. Rather, the Church members were to willingly set aside some of their properties for the poor and "impart unto them, with a covenant and a deed which cannot be broken." Thus we see that a person was to lay freely his properties before the bishop of the Church. Joseph Smith taught that the consecration of properties must be done by mutual consent. The bishop could not dictate in matters of consecration or he would have "more power than a king." The Prophet further explained that there must be a balance of power between the bishop and the people in order to preserve "harmony and good-will."
Through giving of his income, the donor received a stewardship from the bishop for his support and for the support of his family. In the scriptures the stewardship is also called an inheritance. (D&C 42:32; 51:4.) After the initial donation was made, the person was expected to contribute to the program by giving to the bishop what he earned in excess of the needs of his stewardship. (D&C 42:33.) The properties cannot be taken back from the Church once they have been given to it, and the stewardship, or inheritance, received from the Lord must be sufficient to support the steward and his family. (D&C 42:32.)
According to Joseph Smith, the amount of the inheritance depended upon the properties consecrated and the means provided for the poor. The more wealth given to the storehouse, the larger the stewardship. Thus the living standard of everyone, including the poor, rose according to the selfless dedication of members of the united order. Every person was accountable to the Lord for his stewardship. The Savior reminded his people that there were two kinds of stewardship--temporal and spiritual. For example, the bishop, who is charged with operating a storehouse, receiving consecrations, and managing the Lord's properties, has a spiritual stewardship; however, because he also draws from the storehouse the goods he needs to provide for himself he enjoys a temporal stewardship. (D&C 42:33, 71.) Thus Church leaders claimed goods from the storehouse for their support or to be reimbursed for their expenses. (D&C 42:71- 72; 51:14.) In the Lord's eyes, both temporal and spiritual stewardships serve to build his kingdom. (D&C 70:12.) Each stewardship was suited to the gifts and needs of the individual to give him or her the maximum opportunity for growth in the kingdom of God, with the result, Joseph Smith said, "many of our brethren are wise in . . . their labors, and have rid their garments of the blood of this generation and are approved before the Lord."
The Lord reminded his prophet, who subsequently reminded Church members, that they were the Lord's stewards and therefore, had to account for their stewardship "both in time and in eternity." (D&C 72:3; see also 70:4, 9.) The accounting procedures were quite clear. First, members accounted to the bishop for their stewardship as well as for their personal conduct. (D&C 72:5, 16-17; 104:12-13.) And second, they will ultimately account to their Father in heaven.
The Lord reminded members of the Church that when they had enough to satisfy their needs, they were to give the surplus to the storehouse. (D&C 70:7-9; 82:18.) Excess gained in the operation of the stewardship was to be used to administer to those who were in need. (D&C 42:33-34.) Every person developed and improved his stewardship according to his talent. (D&C 82:18.)
The bishop kept all surplus donated from the stewardships in a storehouse he organized. (D&C 51:13.) Once the poor were taken care of, the residue was to be used for purchasing lands and for building houses of worship and temples. (D&C 42:34-35.)
The Lord recognized that as the Church grew more than one united order would need to be organized. Hence, different organizations of the united order operated independently from one another: "If another church [branch] would receive money of this church [branch], let them pay into this church [branch] again according as they shall agree." (D&C 51:11.) The bishop or his agent represented the Lord in all donations and surpluses received into the storehouse, and they also negotiated the agreements between separate united orders. (D&C 51:10-12.)
The Savior also revealed that inheritances, or stewardships, are secured in writing and that even though a person might transgress the law of the Church, he continued to hold the property deeded to him by the bishop but he had no claim on previous donations or help from the storehouse. (D&C 51:5.)
The Lord also required the bishop of the Church to give every man an inheritance. He explained that Church members were equal according to their family, circumstances, wants, and needs. (D&C 51:4, 7.) The Lord does not desire his people to have everything the same or all things in common, but to have "all things common among them." (4 Nephi 1:3; see also Moses 7:18.) To have "all things common among them" is to understand that everything a person has is a gift from God, which God has given to bless his children. This attitude does away with superiority complexes and class structure and allows people to reach a level of equality in which there are no "rich and poor, bond and free," but all are "made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift," or life eternal. (4 Nephi 1:3; see also D&C 42:61.) Joseph Smith taught that this same attitude must exist on the part of the destitute, "He that hath not, and cannot obtain, but saith in his heart, if I had, I would give freely, is accepted as freely as he that gives of his abundance."
In accordance with the principle of equality, the Prophet taught Church members, two fundamental attitudes had to exist for a person to live the law of consecration: First, the earth and everything on it is God's. He created it; therefore, he owns it. Second, the individual is the Lord's steward, and "whatsoever man possesses in it, he holds as a stewardship."
Recognizing that differences of opinion and personality clashes might occur among Church members, the Lord also revealed the law of offense to his followers. If someone were offended, he was to go to the person who had offended him and settle the differences. If the differences could not be resolved between the two parties, then the matter was to be taken before the elders. Thus, violators of the commandments and covenants were to be tried by the Church, subject to the "law of God." (D&C 42:81.) The principle set forth by the Savior in this situation is this: "And if thy brother or sister offend many, he or she shall be chastened before many.
"And if any one offend openly, he or she shall be rebuked openly. . . .
"If any shall offend in secret, he or she shall be rebuked in secret, that he or she may have opportunity to confess in secret to him or her whom he or she has offended, and to God, that the church may not speak reproachfully of him or her." (D&C 42:90- 92.)
While the Lord continued to direct his servants in the operation of the law of consecration, the principles set forth in Doctrine and Covenants 42 and 51 outlined the basic premises for the organization of the storehouse and the united order. In subsequent revelations, Joseph learned that the united order existed "for the benefit of my church, and for the salvation of men," until the Lord comes. (D&C 104:1.) Joseph Smith wrote: "The cause of God is one common cause, in which the Saints are . . . all interested. . . . The advancement of the cause of God and the building up of Zion is as much one man's business as another's." He noted that the only differences are between the duties individuals are asked to perform: "One is called to fulfill one duty, and another another duty." By November 1831 Joseph said that no one was exempt from living the law of consecration or from giving the surplus from his stewardship to the storehouse. (D&C 70:10-11.)
Organization of the United Order
On 4 February 1831, just three days after the Prophet's arrival in Kirtland, the Savior through his prophet called Edward Partridge to be bishop and referred to him as "Nathanael of old, in whom there is no guile." (D&C 41:9- 11.) Some time later the Lord explained to Bishop Partridge that he had been chosen to organize the people according to God's laws. (D&C 51:2-3.) By 1 August 1831 the Colesville Saints had arrived in Missouri, and Joseph wrote to Bishop Partridge, giving him instructions concerning the inheritances they were to receive. He warned Bishop Partridge not to "condescend to very great particulars in taking inventories." Joseph taught that a person is bound by the covenant to consecrate his property. Because a man is his own judge, he needed to decide what he gave to the storehouse as well as what he received for an inheritance; however, the Prophet cautioned Bishop Partridge about those who tended to keep more than they needed for their support. As individuals entered the united order, deeds and leases were used to receive consecrated properties and to give inheritances. (This principle was not always complied with while the Saints resided in Jackson County, Missouri. The property in Jackson County was held by Bishop Edward Partridge.)
The forms used to exchange and secure property between Bishop Edward Partridge and Titus Billings serve as examples of the type of instruments used:
Be it known, that I, Titus Billings of Jackson county, and the state of Missouri, having become a member of the Church of Christ, organized according to law, and established by the revelations of the Lord, on the 6th day of April, 1830, do, of my own free will and accord, having first paid my just debts, grant and hereby give unto Edward Partridge of Jackson county, and state of Missouri, Bishop of said Church, the following described property, viz.:-- sundry articles of furniture valued fifty-five dollars twenty-seven cents; also two beds, bedding and extra clothing valued seventy-three dollars twenty-five cents; also farming utensils valued forty-one dollars; also one horse, two wagons, two cows and two calves, valued one hundred forty-seven dollars.
For the purpose of purchasing lands in Jackson county, Mo., and building up the New Jerusalem, even Zion, and for relieving the wants of the poor and needy. For which I, the said Titus Billings, do covenant and bind myself and my heirs forever, to release all my right and interest to the above described property, unto him, the said Edward Partridge, Bishop of said Church.
And I, the said Edward Partridge, Bishop of said Church, having received the above described property, of the said Titus Billings, do bind myself, that I will cause the same to be expended for the above mentioned purposes of the said Titus Billings to the satisfaction of said Church; and in case I should be removed from the office of Bishop of said Church, by death or otherwise, I hereby bind myself and my heirs forever, to make over to my successor in office, for the benefit of said Church, all the above described property, which may then be in my possession.
In testimony whereof, we have hereunto set our hands and seals this _____ day of __________ , in the year of our Lord, one thousand, eight hundred and thirty _____
In the presence of ____________________,
Signed, Titus Billings.
Be it known, that I, Edward Partridge, of Jackson county, state of Missouri, Bishop of the Church of Christ, organized according to law, and established by the revelations of the Lord, on the 6th day of April, 1830, have leased and by these presents do lease unto Titus Billings, of Jackson county, and state of Missouri, a member of said Church, the following described piece or parcel of land, being a part of section No. three, township No. forty-nine, range No. thirty-two, situated in Jackson county, and state of Missouri, and is bounded as follows, viz:--Beginning eighty rods E. from the S. W. corner of said section; thence N. one hundred and sixty rods; thence E. twenty-seven rods, twenty-five links; thence S. one hundred and sixty rods; thence W. twenty-seven rods, twenty-five links, to the place of beginning, containing twenty-seven and one-half acres, be the same more or less, subject to roads and highways. And also have loaned the following described property, viz:--Sundry articles of furniture, valued fifty-five dollars twenty-five cents; also two beds, bedding and clothing, valued seventy-three dollars twenty-seven cents; also sundry farming utensils, valued forty-one dollars; also one horse, two cows, two calves, and two wagons, valued one hundred forty-seven dollars, to have and to hold the above described property, by him, the said Titus Billings, to be used and occupied as to him shall seem meet and proper.
And as a consideration for the use of the above described property, I, the said Titus Billings, do bind myself to pay the taxes, and also to pay yearly unto the said Edward Partridge, Bishop of said Church, or his successor in office, for the benefit of said Church, all that I shall make or accumulate more than is needful for the support and comfort of myself and family. And it is agreed by the parties that this lease and loan shall be binding during the life of the said Titus Billings, unless he transgresses and is not deemed worthy by the authority of the Church, according to its laws, to belong to the Church. And in that case I, the said Titus Billings, do acknowledge that I forfeit all claim to the above described leased and loaned property, and hereby bind myself to give back the lease, and also pay an equivalent, for the loaned [articles] for the benefit of said Church, unto the said Edward Partridge, Bishop of said Church, or his successor in office. And further, in case of said Titus Billings' or family's inability in consequence of infirmity or old age to provide for themselves while members of this Church, I, the said Edward Partridge, Bishop of said Church, do bind myself to administer to their necessities out of any fund in my hands appropriated for that purpose, not otherwise disposed of, to the satisfaction of the Church. And further, in case of the death of the said Titus Billings, his wife or widow, being at the time a member of said Church, has claim upon the above described leased and loaned property, upon precisely the same conditions that her said husband had them, as above described; and the children of the said Titus Billings, in case of the death of both their parents, also have claim upon the above described property, for their support, until they shall become of age, and no longer; subject to the same conditions yearly that their parents were; provided, however, should the parents not be members of said Church, and in possession of the above described property at the time of their deaths, the claim of the children as above described, is null and void. In Testimony whereof, we have hereunto set our hands and seals this _____ day of __________ , in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and thirty _____
In presence of _____________________,
Signed, Edward Partridge
A clerk was appointed and a history was kept of "all things" that happened in "Zion." This history included writings of the faith and the works of the Saints, the stewardships received, and the names of people consecrating property; however, the names of those who apostatized were not recorded.
Church members who gathered to Zion were instructed to avoid disorder and haste in purchasing lands in order not to alarm the local citizens. They were cautioned to prepare temporally and spiritually--meaning they had to settle their debts and be prepared to give "all to the Lord." Joseph Smith instructed the Saints to account to the bishop in the east, Bishop Newel K. Whitney, and receive a certificate of recommendation from him. (D&C 72:17.) With this recommend a person was eligible to receive an inheritance from Bishop Partridge and to become a steward in Zion. Without the certificate a man was not acceptable. (D&C 72:18.) These instructions were published in The Evening and the Morning Star as an "extra" and made available to Church members as a handbill. Finally, a call was sent to the membership of the Church throughout the east to send money to the bishop in Zion to purchase lands for inheritances. (D&C 58:51.)
In addition to the storehouse, two treasuries were organized to receive monies donated to the order. One treasury worked in harmony with the storehouse and was used to take care of the poor, to purchase lands, to build buildings, and to satisfy the needs of the Saints. All monies received from stewardship improvements were placed in this treasury as fast as they were received. (D&C 104:68.) The other treasury, the "sacred treasury," contained those things most holy and money earned from the sale of scriptures, holy and sacred writings, and other sacred things. Monies in this treasury were used for printing the scriptures and were consecrated to the Lord for his work. (D&C 104:63, 65-66.) Treasurers were appointed to handle the accounts in each treasury. No one person could take items or monies from the storehouse or treasuries. Access to the treasuries was only by voice of the order's members or by commandment of the Lord. (D&C 104:64, 71-72.) Thus, the storehouse and treasuries belonged to members of the order, and a worthy steward had claim on the storehouse and treasury. (D&C 104:62, 72.)
Through revelation the Lord instructed his servants to honor requests from the treasury and storehouse made by the steward regardless of the sum as long as there were goods in the storehouse or money in the treasury. Hence, the items or money was not to accumulate but was to be used by the steward to improve and operate his stewardship. (D&C 104:73.) The only reason to deny access was lack of personal worthiness. (D&C 104:75.)
The Church in Kirtland and Zion operated mercantile and literary firms. The Prophet wrote that "all members of the United Firm [united order] are considered one. The order of the Literary Firm is a matter of stewardship, . . . and the mercantile establishment God commanded to be devoted to the support thereof." Historically, the united order at Kirtland was dissolved temporarily and then quickly reorganized. From 1831 through 1833 the united order in Kirtland and Zion had operated together, but as Church membership and problems increased in Missouri, it became necessary to separate the orders. (D&C 104:47-49, 51.)
Inheritances were given according to the individual's needs and talents. W. W. Phelps was congratulated by the Prophet for the improvement he made in his stewardship, which was publishing The Evening and the Morning Star. Sidney Rigdon received a home and a tannery. (D&C 104:20.) The Lord called Martin Harris to lay his monies before the bishop and then gave him a lot owned by John Johnson in exchange for his former inheritance. (D&C 58:35; 104:24.) Newel K. Whitney received the mercantile establishment he owned in Kirtland as his inheritance. (D&C 104:40-41.) Parley P. Pratt's stewardship called upon him to preach the gospel and promised him that when his work was done, God would take him to Himself. Pratt was also warned to beware of pride, strife, and vainglory and to avoid evil. In addition, Oliver Cowdery prophesied that Parley Pratt would experience persecution and imprisonment as he sought to fulfill his responsibilities as a steward. During the Nauvoo period Robert B. Thompson was called to write for the Prophet Joseph Smith. (D&C 124:12.)
The Challenges of Living the Law of Consecration
The problems that arose when Church members embraced the covenant of consecration and attempted to live the united order in Kirtland and Missouri during the 1830s proved to be insurmountable.
Prior to the Prophet's arrival in Ohio, more than one thousand people had been converted to the Church. The membership at Kirtland proved to be about one hundred saints organized into a "Family." Their desire to live the gospel as purely as possible existed previous to their baptism into the Church, and they had adopted an organization that held all things in common in the manner they believed the ancient Saints in the New Testament had used. (Acts 4:32, 34-35.) Joseph Smith observed that "strange notions and false spirits had crept in among them." He further explained that "with a little caution and some wisdom I soon assisted the brethren and sisters to overcome them. The plan of 'common stock,' . . . 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."
In a revelation given to Joseph Smith on 16 December 1833 after the Saints' expulsion from Jackson County, Missouri, the Lord said, "I, the Lord, have suffered the affliction [their expulsion] to come upon them, wherewith they have been afflicted, in consequence of their transgressions." (D&C 101:2.) He specified the nature of their transgressions: "there were jarrings, and contentions, and envyings, and strifes, and lustful and covetous desires among them; therefore by these things they polluted their inheritances.
"They were slow to hearken unto the voice of the Lord their God; therefore, the Lord their God is slow to hearken unto their prayers, to answer them in the day of their trouble.
"In the day of their peace they esteemed lightly my counsel; but, in the day of their trouble, of necessity they feel after me." (D&C 101:6-8.)
During the early Kirtland-Missouri period the Prophet faced at least three problems while he tried to implement the law of consecration among the Saints. First, personal greed was exhibited on the part of some of the members. Second, a few Church members attempted to receive revelation for the Church. Third, the unrighteous conduct of some Church leaders caused problems. In spite of these problems and the weaknesses displayed by the Saints, the Lord said, "I will own them, and they shall be mine in that day when I shall come to make up my jewels." (D&C 101:3.)
Shortly after the law of the church was received, Leman Copley, a member, consecrated his farm located in Thompson, a few miles east of Kirtland, to the united order to be used as stewardships for those who wished to enter the covenant. Joseph Smith sent for the Colesville, New York, branch to come to Kirtland to receive their inheritance. After the Colesville Saints arrived in Kirtland, the Prophet received another revelation in May 1831 and the New Yorkers settled on the Copley farm in Thompson. According to Newel Knight, they "commenced work in good faith" and made improvements on the land.
At this same time Copley, Sidney Rigdon, and Parley P. Pratt were called to serve a proselyting mission to the Quaker community near Cleveland. (D&C 49, headnote.) These brethren proclaimed the gospel in obedience to the revelation, but the Shakers failed to accept their teachings. Apparently Leman Copley, once a Quaker, still retained some of his earlier beliefs. He became disillusioned with the Church, broke his covenant, withdrew his farm from the order, and demanded that the recent arrivals leave. Commenting upon the Copley incident, Milton V. Backman noted that, "While the precise reasons for the conflict are not known selfishness and greed no doubt played a part." The History of the Church indicates that Ezra Thayre also played a part in the dislocation of the Colesville Saints. Evidence indicates that his entanglement at Thompson prevented him from fulfilling the obligations of the covenant he had made. (D&C 56:8-10; headnote.)
During the 1830s some embraced the Church only to become disillusioned with it and its prophet a short time later. The reasons were as varied as the personalities of the individuals involved. When Norman A. Brown's horse died on his way to Zion, he reasoned, "If this had been the work of God, my horse would not have died." Joseph H. Wakefield withdrew from the Church after seeing Joseph emerge from his translating room and begin playing with some children. Simonds Ryder left the Church because the Prophet misspelled his name in a revelation. Ezra Booth withdrew his membership when it appeared to him that Joseph had too many revelations of convenience. And Philastus Hurlburt was excommunicated for adultery. The Hulet brothers were censured for teaching the false doctrine that the devil, his angels, and the sons of perdition would be restored after they repented. Others were cut off from the Church for receiving revelations for the Church.
In Zion during the summer of 1833 the people lived in peace. There were no lawsuits, thieves, robbers, or murderers; few or no idlers; "all seemed to worship God with a ready heart." In August they received a revelation from Joseph Smith, who resided in Kirtland. In the revelation the Lord asked his people to build a temple "like unto the pattern which I have given you." According to Pratt the Saints never complied with the revelation, which failure led to their expulsion from Jackson County by Missouri mobs during the winter of 1833-34. Other problems also contributed to the failure of Zion. The Lord had asked his people to send monies to Zion to purchase land, specified the order for gathering to Zion, and required that the poor be cared for. Unfortunately many did not follow the requirements issued by the Prophet. For example, as more people joined the Church, the rules were often ignored as converts gathered faster with "irrational enthusiasm," the rich were afraid to send money to purchase lands, and the poor migrated "in numbers, without having any places provided."
In Zion petty jealousies developed among the leading brethren. Joseph wrote to the stake presidency in Missouri, reprimanding them for their failure to share with Bishop Partridge the information he had sent. "We were not a little surprised to hear that some of our letters of a public nature, which we sent for the good of Zion, have been kept back from the Bishop. This is conduct which we highly disapprobate." This was the result of the bishop's complaint that information from the Prophet was being withheld from him. Joseph continued to counsel the brethren in Zion, indicating that letters directing the affairs of the Church "should be laid before the Bishop, so as to enable him to perform his duty." Then the Prophet cautioned the brethren to "be careful of one another's feelings."
As contention increased among Church members, the mobs in Jackson County gained power by playing upon the disunity among the Saints, finally driving them from their homes and the land of their inheritance. A mob that broke into the storehouse managed by A. S. Gilbert destroyed and threw much of the merchandise in the street. Gilbert was forced to abandon the storehouse as he fled from Jackson County. When the question arose as to the sale of the store, the Lord commanded Sidney Gilbert not to sell it. (D&C 101:96.) During the months that followed, Gilbert engineered a correspondence with Governor Dunklin of Missouri. He tried to secure the Saints' rights to the property they had previously owned in Jackson County. On 29 June 1834 he was attacked by cholera and died.
In June 1835 the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote a letter "To the Saints Scattered Abroad," which he published in the Messenger and Advocate. He reminded the elders in Zion that the high council had been organized to administer in the spiritual affairs of the Church, whereas the bishop and his counselors presided over temporal matters. In addition he stated that "the Elders in Zion, or in her immediate region, have no authority or right to meddle with her spiritual affairs, to regulate her concerns, or hold councils." In vain he tried to teach Church members that revelation for the Church had to come from the constituted authorities of the Church.
In April 1837, the Presidency and the high council at Far West met and organized a committee to build a temple in the city. The committee consisted of Jacob Whitmer, Elisha H. Groves, and George M. Hinkle with Bishop Partridge appointed as treasurer and Isaac Morley named as secretary. In addition the committee decided that "no store" be "connected with building the house, but that every firm or individual that embarks in that business have, own, and claim such property as their own private individual property and stewardship." One year later, on 10 March 1838 at a high council meeting, charges were brought against W. W. Phelps and John Whitmer by the high council in Zion. The minutes of the meeting included complaints of everything from unchristian conduct to the most serious accusation, fraudulent use of Church funds. These men were found guilty and excommunicated from the Church.
By the end of 1838 the Missouri Militia had taken control of Far West, and during the winter and spring of 1838-39, the Mormons were forced to leave Missouri. In March 1840 in an address given to the Iowa High Council assembled at Montrose, Joseph instructed its members that "the law of consecration could not be kept here, and that it was the will of the Lord that we should desist from trying to keep it." During this meeting Joseph assumed full responsibility for the Saints' not living it. This closed almost a decade of struggle on the part of the Prophet to prepare a Zion people, a people prepared to build the New Jerusalem. Even though temples had not been built and Zion redeemed in the 1830s, the Prophet prophetically explained that the Lord would "open the way and deliver Zion in the appointed time." Once the Saints were driven from their inheritances in Jackson County, Missouri, they never successfully reinstated the united order again. The Lord revealed to them instead the law of tithing. Prior to 8 July 1838 the term tithing included not only one-tenth, but all donations made. (D&C 64:23; 85:3; 97:11.) The headnote to Doctrine and Covenants 119 states that "because of failure on the part of many to abide by this covenant [consecration], the Lord withdrew it for a time, and gave instead the law of tithing to the whole Church." The Lord required that surplus properties be placed in the hands of the bishop and thereafter that people be tithed on their increase. (D&C 119:1, 3-4.)
As early Church members sought to comply with God's will concerning them, they learned that the "work" and "glory" of God was their "immortality and eternal life." (Moses 1:39.) As revealed in Doctrine and Covenants 42 they learned that while the law of consecration promised them eternal life, it required that they give everything, both temporally and spiritually. They began to understand that they had to have personal integrity when dealing with one another, and they had to be concerned about others' welfare. They learned that the commitment had to be total and included material things as well as spiritual. The attitude they had to develop went beyond mere lip service. They had to internalize the principles of the law. (D&C 42.) They had to embrace the ideals that the earth is the Lord's and that men are the Lord's stewards.
While they attempted to establish the ideal, history shows they fell short because of contentions among themselves, personal unrighteousness, and failure to understand the operations of the Spirit because of their lack of knowledge and overzealous nature toward establishing the kingdom of God according to their own design rather than following the leadership of the Prophet and other officers appointed by the Savior to direct his Church. After their effort failed, Jesus promised them that Zion would still be redeemed but gave them the law of tithing to prepare them and their children to live the law of consecration.
The Church today is still living the law of tithing, and yet, there are subtle indications that the Lord's prophets would like to move us from a strict tithe to a more liberal attitude of giving that would be in harmony with the principles of consecration. President Spencer W. Kimball challenged us to "give, instead of the amount saved by our two meals of fasting, perhaps much much more--ten times more where we are in a position to do it." President Thomas S. Monson also asked us to increase our fast offerings so that the needs of the poor might be totally satisfied from them. If we cloaked his words in the vernacular spoken about consecration in the 1830s, he would have said bring your surplus to the storehouse or treasury and take care of the poor and receive your inheritance from the Lord. With this accomplished then all the tithes in the sacred treasury can be used for sacred things--meaning missionary work, publishing the scriptures, organizing missions, building temples, and extracting names for temple work.
As we change from donating what we are required to give to giving all we can, then we will find ourselves living the law of consecration, which we have promised to live when we are "endowed with power from on high" in the temple. Then members of our family, our ward, our stake, and finally, the Church will have all things common among them; therefore there are no rich and poor, bond and free, but all are free, and partakers of eternal life. (See 4 Nephi 1:3.)