"All Things are the Lord's": The Law of Consecration in the Doctrine and Covenants

Steven C. Harper

Steven C. Harper, "'All Things Are the Lord's': The Law of Consecration in the Doctrine and Covenants," The Doctrine and Covenants: Revelations in Context, ed. Andrew H. Hedges, J. Spencer Fluhman, and Alonzo L. Gaskill (Provo and Salt Lake City: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, and Deseret Book, 2008), 212–28.

Steven C. Harper is an associate professor of Church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University and an editor of The Joseph Smith Papers when this was published.

The law of consecration contained in the Doctrine and Covenants is not the law many Latter-day Saints believe it to be. The intervening history between when and why the revelations were given and the present day has resulted in what some historians have called a “folk memory” among Latter-day Saints. This version of the past recalls that early Saints could not live the law of consecration, so the Lord rescinded the higher law and gave the lower law of tithing instead. Someday we will live the higher law again.[1] No matter how widely believed it is, that is not the law of consecration contained in the Doctrine and Covenants.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught that “many ignore consecration because it seems too abstract or too daunting. The conscientious among us, however, experience divine discontent.”[2] Conscientious covenant keepers need to know the law of consecration contained in the Doctrine and Covenants. This chapter works to meet that need, though it must do so summarily rather than exhaustively. The purpose of this chapter is to help conscientious Saints understand and live the law of consecration as it is embodied in present-day Church practices.

The first premise of this chapter is, as President Gordon B. Hinckley taught, that “the law of sacrifice and the law of consecration were not done away with and are still in effect.”[3] No revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants rescind, suspend, or revoke the law of consecration. The Doctrine and Covenants never refers to a higher or a lower law, only the law. Indeed, the revelations do not speak of the laws of God as we do of bills before the legislature, as subject to passage, veto, or amendment. Rather, they speak of the laws of God as eternal. The law, in other words, was revealed to Joseph Smith in February 1831, but the law itself simply has been, is, and ever will be. Consecration is the law of the celestial kingdom, and section 78 teaches that no one will receive an inheritance there who has not obeyed the law (see D&C 78:7).

The Law of Consecration

The law itself is stated plainly enough in each of the standard works and most explicitly in the Doctrine and Covenants. It is, wrote Hugh Nibley, “explained there not once but many times, so that there is no excuse for not understanding it.”[4] It was first revealed in this dispensation at a conference of a dozen elders gathered in Kirtland, Ohio, on February 9, 1831. The Lord had promised to reveal the law on the condition that the New York Saints would gather to Ohio (see D&C 38:32). Days after Joseph and Emma arrived in Kirtland, the Lord fulfilled His word. He said:

And behold, thou wilt 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.

And it shall come to pass, that after they are laid before the bishop of my church, and after that he has received these testimonies concerning the consecration of the properties of my church, that they cannot be taken from the church, agreeable to my commandments, every man shall be made accountable unto me, a steward over his own property, or that which he has received by consecration, as much as is sufficient for himself and family.

And again, if there shall be properties in the hands of the church, or any individuals of it, more than is necessary for their support after this first consecration, which is a residue to be consecrated unto the bishop, it shall be kept to administer to those who have not, from time to time, that every man who has need may be amply supplied and receive according to his wants.

Therefore, the residue shall be kept in my storehouse, to administer to the poor and the needy, as shall be appointed by the high council of the church, and the bishop and his council;

And for the purpose of purchasing lands for the public benefit of the church, and building houses of worship, and building up of the New Jerusalem which is hereafter to be revealed—

That my covenant people may be gathered in one in that day when I shall come to my temple. And this I do for the salvation of my people. (D&C 42:30–36)

The law of consecration found in the Doctrine and Covenants is both simple and sublime. Summed in a single short verse, it says, “If thou obtainest more than that which would be for thy support, thou shalt give it into my storehouse” (D&C 42:55).

But consecration is more than the act of giving. It is the sanctification that comes of giving willingly, for the right reasons, which section 82 describes as “every man seeking the interest of his neighbor, and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God” (v. 19). To consecrate is not to give away; it is to sanctify or make sacred or holy. Possessions, time, and spiritual gifts can be made sacred by offering them, but philanthropy is not consecration, nor is making a token offering of one’s abundance, as illustrated by the Gospel of Luke’s account of the Savior distinguishing between the rich men who cast gifts into the treasury and the widow who offered all (see Luke 21:1–4).

Consecration is keeping the two great commandments, where the key words are love and all. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself” (Luke 10:27; emphasis added). This command to consecrate all is reiterated in the Doctrine and Covenants: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy might, mind, and strength; and in the name of Jesus Christ thou shalt serve him” (D&C 59:5). The outward manifestation of all of one’s love has been identified by one scholar as “giving all we can” as compared to obligatory donations of what is required.[5] Amounts of money and time may be the same in both scenarios, but one who gives all is consecrated. One who keeps back part is not yet consecrated (see Acts 5:1–11).

Our money-conscious culture conditions us to think of consecration in monetary terms. The Lord asks for offerings of money to build the kingdom and to assess the desires of our hearts, “for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). If consecration must be thought of in terms of exchange, then it is the exchange of all we have for all the Father has, or what the revelations call “the riches of eternity” (D&C 38:39), in clear contrast to the trifling “things of this world” (D&C 121:35), or what the Lord elsewhere in the Doctrine and Covenants called “all their detestable things” (D&C 98:20; see also 67:2; 68:31; 78:18). “What an exchange rate!” declared Elder Neal A. Maxwell.[6] Only the shortsighted would refuse it (see Luke 12:16–21).

Agency, Stewardship, and Accountability

The law of consecration found in the Doctrine and Covenants can be envisioned as a three-legged stool, where the legs are agency, stewardship, and accountability. Agency is the power we have to act independently on the law, regardless of what anyone else thinks, says, or does. Once we know the law, we can keep or reject it, procrastinate or obey, ignore or observe, offer all or keep back part. No one will ever be forced to comply with the law of consecration. Note how this worked in the early 1830s: “Thou wilt 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).

A few early Saints consecrated their property to the poor with both a covenant and a deed, according to details explained in a May 1831 revelation to Joseph Smith (see D&C 51). Bishop Edward Partridge, as the revelation said, was to

appoint unto this people their portions, every man equal according to his family, according to his circumstances and his wants and needs.

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.

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 the needy of my church; therefore, he shall not retain the gift, but shall only have claim on that portion that is deeded unto him.

And thus all things shall be made sure, according to the laws of the land. (D&C 51:3–6)

Joseph wrote Bishop Partridge his “views concerning consecration, property, [and] giving inheritances,” highlighting the fundamental principle of agency:

The law of the Lord, binds you to receive, whatsoever property is consecrated, by deed, The consecrated property, is considered the residue kept for the Lords store house, and it is given for this consideration, for to purchase inheritaces for the poor, this, any man has a right to do, agreeable to the laws of our country, to donate, give or consecrate all that he feels disposed to give, and it is your duty, to see that whatsoever is given, is given legally, therefore, it must be given for the consideration of the poor saints.[7]

The Prophet continued to teach Bishop Partridge the law of consecration, reminding him always to preserve agency in individuals: “Concerning inheritances, you are bound by the law of the Lord to give a deed, secureing to him who receives inheritances, his inheritance for an everlasting inheritance, or in other words, to be his individual property, his private stewardship.”[8]

The deeds Bishop Partridge used in the early 1830s to receive consecrations and give inheritances illustrate the principles of agency, stewardship, and accountability. Less than a dozen of these deeds are known to exist. One that does exist belongs to Levi Jackman, a carpenter who lived in Portage County, Ohio. In 1831, Levi Jackman met Joseph Smith, read the Book of Mormon, and converted. He and other converts gathered to Zion in Jackson County, Missouri. There he deeded his property to Bishop Partridge, on behalf of the Church, “of [his] own free will.” It was not much—”sundry articles of furniture valued thirty seven dollars, also two beds, bedding, and feathers valued forty four dollars fifty cents, also three axes and other tools valued eleven dollars and twenty five cents”—but it was all he possessed. In return, Brother Jackman received a parcel of land in present-day Kansas City and “sundry articles of furniture . . . two beds bedding and feathers . . . also three axes and other tools.”[9] Brother Jackman offered the Lord all he had. The Lord returned his meager offering and added a handsome farm. For Levi Jackman, obedience to the law of consecration was no vow of poverty; it was a wise investment both spiritually and temporally—a willing exchange based on obedience to the first great commandment to love God with all he had and to receive in return all of God’s love.

Though the personal property Jackman received from the bishop was exactly what he consecrated, the exchange represents more than a technicality. By consecrating his possessions to the Lord, Jackman had placed himself in the capacity of a steward rather than an owner. Note how the Lord highlights stewardship in this passage from the law:

And it shall come to pass, that after they [properties] are laid before the bishop of my church, and after that he has received these testimonies concerning the consecration of the properties of my church, that they cannot be taken from the church, agreeable to my commandments, every man shall be made accountable unto me, a steward over his own property, or that which he has received by consecration, as much as is sufficient for himself and family.

And again, if there shall be properties in the hands of the church, or any individuals of it, more than is necessary for their support after this first consecration, which is a residue to be consecrated unto the bishop, it shall be kept to administer to those who have not, from time to time, that every man who has need may be amply supplied and receive according to his wants. (D&C 42:32–33)

An owner is accountable to no one. A steward is a free agent empowered to act independently but accountable to the actual owner for all actions. For this reason, the law is often and accurately referred to as both consecration and stewardship. It commands: “Thou shalt stand in the place of thy stewardship” (D&C 42:53), and further revelations elaborate: “An account of this stewardship will I require of them in the day of judgment” (D&C 70:4), “and he that is a faithful and wise steward shall inherit all things” (D&C 78:22).

In July 1831, the Lord made William Phelps a free agent. He had power to act independently, and in Doctrine and Covenants section 55, the Lord gave him a commandment to act upon. He was to assist Oliver Cowdery as a steward over the Church’s printing press and publication efforts, tasks he carried out with a paper and a press purchased with consecrated resources (see D&C 55:4). With the power to act, talents and property to act upon, and a commandment from the Lord, Phelps was accountable to the Lord for what he did with what the Lord had given him: agency, talent, time, a printing press, ink, and paper. In March 1834, Joseph wrote to William Phelps from Kirtland to correct an errant sense of ownership: “Bro. William—You say ‘my press, my types, &c.’ W[h]ere, our brethren ask, did you get them, & how came they to be ‘yours?’ No hardness, but a caution, for you know that it is, We, not I, and all things are the Lord’s, and he opened the hearts of his Church to furnish these things, or we should not have been privileged with using them.”[10]

Moses had to issue the same reminder to the wandering Israelites, who seemed to forget as easily as we do: “Thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:18). How easy it is to remember what we have earned or are owed. How easy to forget or fail to recognize how much we take, literally, for granted. Hugh Nibley worked hard to debunk the notion that there is no free lunch. Lunch is free in the sense that matters most. So, said Father Lehi, is salvation (see 2 Nephi 2:4). As King Benjamin profoundly taught, we neither earn nor own anything except in terms of earthly agreements that evaporate “when men are dead” (D&C 132:7; see also Mosiah 2:21–25). When we see things as they really are and will be, we see ourselves as stewards of the Lord’s bounty.

The law of consecration and stewardship makes free agents of stewards by appointing them their “own property” without giving a false sense of ownership (D&C 42:32). The underlying doctrines here are agency and accountability. The false doctrine is ownership, which implies unaccountability.[11] Perhaps because our culture of ownership so deeply conditions us to the concept of “mine,” actually acting as if we were simply accountable stewards is difficult, even countercultural. President Brigham Young taught that “no revelation that was ever given is more easy of comprehension than that on the law of consecration. . . . Yet, when the Lord spoke to Joseph, instructing him to counsel the people to consecrate their possessions, and deed them over to the Church in a covenant that cannot be broken, would the people listen to it? No, but they began to find out they were mistaken, and had only acknowledged with their mouths that the things which they possessed were the Lord’s.” President Young continued, “What have you to consecrate that is actually your own? Nothing.”[12]

The Lord is adamant about the connections between agency, stewardship, and accountability. Because He has empowered us to act independently with His property, we will be held accountable. He repeats this point clearly throughout the Doctrine and Covenants, including in section 104: “Organize yourselves and appoint every man his stewardship; that every man may give an account unto me of the stewardship which is appointed unto him. For it is expedient that I, the Lord, should make every man accountable, as a steward over earthly blessings, which I have made and prepared for my creatures” (vv. 11–13). As if to emphasize that last point about the real ownership of the earth and its contents, the Lord continues emphatically: “I, the Lord, stretched out the heavens, and built the earth, my very handiwork; and all things therein are mine. And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine. . . . I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.” The implication? “Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment” (D&C 104:14–15, 17–18).

This potent passage draws on the New Testament story of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16. The earliest manuscripts of section 104 link the Lord’s point even more closely with that passage in the gospel of Luke. The Kirtland Revelation Book, for example, says that if one does not share according to the Lord’s law “he shall with Dives lift up his eyes <in hell> being in torment.”[13] Dives is the Latin word for rich and, drawing on Latin translations of the Bible, was adopted as the name of the rich man in Christ’s story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19–31. In the account recorded in Luke, the rich man “fared sumptuously” (v. 19) in life while a “beggar named Lazarus” (v. 20) waited in vain for some of his table scraps. When the two men died, angels carried Lazarus into Abraham’s bosom while the rich man went to hell. “And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments” (v. 23), ironically begging Lazarus to relieve his suffering. Doctrine and Covenants 104:18 evokes that story and applies it to Latter-day Saints. When the Church published this revelation as section 98 in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, the name Dives was changed to “the wicked,” perhaps because the name is not found in the New Testament but comes from later lore, or perhaps because the meaning of Dives may not have been well known among Latter-day Saints. Even so, the presence of Dives in the earliest manuscripts makes the essential meaning of this passage unmistakable, namely that stewards of the Lord’s abundance who do not impart to the poor of the substance they possess will, like the rich man in Christ’s story, someday regret that use of their agency.

This is one of the Lord’s main points in section 104. He emphasizes, “Again, a commandment I give unto you concerning your stewardship which I have appointed unto you. Behold, all these properties are mine, or else your faith is vain, and ye are found hypocrites, and the covenants which ye have made unto me are broken” (D&C 104:54–55).

The Lord claims ownership of “the earth” and “all things therein,” including “all these properties” and compels us to choose. Either He is the omnipotent Creator and owner of the earth and everything in it or else He is something less and therefore incapable of rewarding our faith. If we acknowledge Him as Lord of all and yet fail to consecrate per His command, we are hypocrites. To acknowledge God is to grant that He is well within His divine prerogative to redistribute His own wealth according to His own will. Thus the revelations do not apologize for such radical notions as one of the law’s stated purposes: “I will consecrate of the riches of those who embrace my gospel among the Gentiles unto the poor of my people who are of the house of Israel” (D&C 42:39), or the Lord’s decree “that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low” (D&C 104:16; see also 58:8–12). Indeed, the revelations give stewards no right to keep or use the Lord’s things for any other purposes than His. “It is not given that one man should possess that which is above another,” the Lord told Joseph in May 1831, “wherefore the world lieth in sin” (D&C 49:20).

Consecration Today

When the Saints were driven from the Jackson County land Bishop Partridge had legally purchased and deeded to the Saints, Joseph Smith prayed to the Lord in July 1838 and asked, “O! Lord, show unto thy servents how much thou requirest of the properties of thy people for a Tithing?”[14] Modern Saints may be puzzled that he had to ask the question. Didn’t he know that tithing is 10 percent? The answer is no for two reasons. First, though the Hebrew roots for the word tithes in Malachi 3:8, 10 refer to a tenth, tithing was not associated with one-tenth in this dispensation until the Lord answered Joseph’s prayer with Doctrine and Covenants section 119. Second, that revelation uses the word tithing once and tithed twice. In all three cases the words refer to the revelation’s first commandment: “Thus saith the Lord, I require all their surplus property to be put into the hands of the bishop of my church in Zion” (D&C 119:1). That is the beginning of tithing, which is not a lower or temporary law according to section 119, but rather “a standing law unto them forever” (D&C 119:4), given for the same purposes as the law of consecration in section 42 and several others. Though some of the tactics for implementation are different, there is no great discrepancy between what the Lord expects of the Saints today and what He originally commanded in section 42 or the later amendment in section 119. In other words, section 119 is not given instead of the law of consecration; it is a restatement of the law of consecration and sets the terms by which we can live the law today.

Brigham Young was present when the Lord revealed section 119. He was assigned to go among the Saints “and find out what surplus property the people had, with which to forward the building of the Temple we were commencing at Far West.” Before setting out he asked Joseph, “‘Who shall be the judge of what is surplus property?’ Said he, ‘Let them be the judge themselves.’”[15] As a result, some Latter-day Saints offered their surplus property. Some offered some of it. Some offered none. None were coerced. And so it remains. Individuals decide to obey or not of their own free will. Sometimes we say that we should be ready to live the law of consecration when we are asked to do so. Sometimes we use the word required, essentially putting the responsibility on the Church or its leaders. I’m often asked by students, why don’t Church leaders require us to live the law of consecration today? I wonder what they mean by require. Do we anticipate that the deacons quorum will be sent to inspect our pantries or audit our bank accounts? If so, we do not understand the law of consecration or the way God works. And we definitely do not understand the law of consecration as contained in the Doctrine and Covenants. Put another way, we have been commanded to keep the law of consecration. And many have covenanted to do so. We are, in that sense, required to do so if we hope to claim the promised blessings, including celestial glory. The Lord may not send the deacons to confiscate our surplus now, but, as Doctrine and Covenants 104:13–18 declares, covenant breakers will end up tormented in hell later on.

What, then, the conscientious covenant keeper wants to know, does the Lord expect? What does it mean in the twenty-first century to comply with the law of consecration? What is meant by ambiguous terms in the law, like residue, sufficient, more than is necessary, wants, and amply supplied? The carefully worded law clearly teaches principles, not dogma. It gives knowledge of the Lord’s will without coercion or compulsion. It enables anyone to become “anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; for the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward. But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned” (D&C 58:27–29). Put another way, words like sufficient leave stewardship and therefore accountability where it belongs. Ironically, they compel us to exercise our agency and act for ourselves. We decide what they mean in terms of amounts of time or money, because we are the empowered stewards accountable to the Lord for our use or abuse of what is rightfully His. Joseph understood and taught this principle. He counseled Bishop Partridge, who was sometimes officious, not to “condescend to very great particulars in taking inventories.” As Joseph put it, “A man is bound by the law of the Church, to consecrate to the bishop before he can be considered a legal heir to the kingdom of Zion and this too without constraint and unless he does this he cannot be acknowledged before the Lord on the Church book. . . . Evry man must be his own Judge how much he should receive and how much he should suffer to remain in the hands of the Bishop.”[16]

After the Saints were driven from Jackson County in 1833, Bishop Partridge no longer received offerings and gave stewardships by deed. The Fishing River revelation that ended Zion’s Camp in the summer of 1834, now section 105, has a verse that some commentators believe postpones compliance with the law of consecration: “Let those commandments which I have given concerning Zion and her law be executed and fulfilled, after her redemption” (v. 34). It says nothing about revoking the law. It says that the specific commands to purchase land and build a temple in Jackson County, and perhaps even the deeding of specific stewardships, are to be executed after Jackson County is returned to the Saints. How will that ever happen unless the law is obeyed beforehand? Hugh Nibley wrote with some frustration that “the express purpose of the law of consecration is the building up of Zion. . . . We do not wait until Zion is here to observe it; it is rather the means of bringing us nearer to Zion.”[17] Lorenzo Snow taught that the Saints were “not justified in anticipating the privilege of returning to build up the center stake of Zion, until we shall have shown obedience to the law of consecration.” He was certain the Saints would “not be permitted to enter the land from whence we were expelled, till our hearts are prepared to honor this law, and we become sanctified through the practice of the truth.”[18]

Empowered with correct knowledge of the law, we are free agents—accountable stewards of the Lord’s possessions, including ourselves. We must act right now either in obedience or disobedience to the law of consecration. To ignore it is to disobey. But the bishop neither asks me for a deed nor gives me an inheritance. How can I obey? Elder Orson Pratt wisely observed that there is nothing “laid down in the revelations, requiring us to take [a] particular method.”[19] So what does the Lord expect? C. S. Lewis believed that “the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, and amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charities expenditure excludes them.”[20] Beside the Lord’s open invitation to do much good of our own free will, priesthood leaders extend specific opportunities to offer time, talent, and property to relieve poverty and build the kingdom. One offered this guide (consistent with D&C 42:54; 104:18; and section 119) to exercising agency: “In addition to paying an honest tithing, we should be generous in assisting the poor.”[21] President Marion G. Romney asked, “What prohibits us from giving as much in fast offerings as we would have given in surpluses [in the 1830s]? Nothing but our own limitations.”[22] President Spencer W. Kimball commanded, “Give, instead of the amount we saved by our two meals of fasting, perhaps much, much more—ten times more where we are in a position to do it.”[23] Parents live the law when they “lay aside the things of this world” in favor of raising God’s children (D&C 25:10). Couples live the law when they forego leisure to venture into places far and near where they can “bring to pass much righteousness” (D&C 58:27). Professionals live the law when they offer their skills to the needy without concern for compensation or acclaim. We can live the law by becoming “the common property of the whole church,” and “seeking the interest of [our] neighbor, and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God” (D&C 82:18–19). Often the only necessary paperwork is the familiar tithing and offering slip available wherever Latter-day Saints gather. The only limitations, said President Romney, are self-imposed.

Wilford Woodruff, one of the valiant soldiers of Zion’s Camp, did not believe that the revelation that ended the camp (see D&C 105) either rescinded or postponed the law of consecration. At the end of 1834, six months after that revelation was given, Wilford wrote Bishop Partridge a paper with these words inscribed on it: “Be it known that I Willford Woodruff do freely covenant with my God that I freely consecrate and dedicate myself together with all my properties and affects unto the Lord for the purpose of assisting in building up his kingdom even Zion on the earth that I may keep his law and lay all things before the bishop of his Church that I may be a lawful heir to the Kingdom of God even the Celestial Kingdom,” and then he listed his property.[24]

Wilford perfectly understood the doctrines of the law of consecration. He was a free agent. Twice he says that he acted freely, without coercion or even any other invitation than the original revelation. He was a steward of “properties and affects,” and he was accountable to the Lord and His servant Bishop Partridge. Wilford Woodruff seized his agency and became anxiously engaged in the only cause that ultimately matters. Neither the disobedience of brothers and sisters, the viciousness of mobs, nor an oppressive, materialistic culture preoccupied with consumption for its own sake deterred him from the path of consecration. It would have been hard to persuade him that the Lord had revoked the law. Joseph realized as the Saints were driven destitute from Missouri in 1839 that they would be unable to build New Jerusalem then or live the law as a group. He did not say the Lord had revoked it, only that the Saints had little subsistence, to say nothing of surplus. But Joseph was hardly out of Liberty Jail before he began to build Nauvoo, crowning it with its consecrated temple, whose powerful ordinances climaxed in the covenant to consecrate one’s life to the kingdom of God. Having been endowed with power under Joseph’s hands in Nauvoo, Wilford left his front door open and went west to build more temples. His home and property had served their purpose as a temporary means to a sacred end. Levi Jackman joined with him and the others who were led by President Young and inspired by these words in Doctrine and Covenants section 136, a revelation that reaffirms every principle of the law of consecration: “This shall be our covenant—that we will walk in all the ordinances of the Lord” (v. 4).

“In pondering and pursuing consecration,” said Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “understandably we tremble inwardly at what may be required. Yet the Lord has said consolingly, ‘My grace is sufficient for you’ (D&C 17:8). Do we really believe Him? He has also promised to make weak things strong (Ether 12:27). Are we really willing to submit to that process? Yet if we desire fulness, we cannot hold back part!”[25]


[1] Leonard J. Arrington, Feramorz Y. Fox, and Dean L. May, Building the City of God: Community and Cooperation among the Mormons (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992), 426.

[2] Neal A. Maxwell, in Conference Report, April 2002, 41.

[3] Gordon B. Hinckley, Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997), 639.

[4] Hugh W. Nibley, Approaching Zion, ed. Don E. Norton (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989), 167.

[5] Clark V. Johnson, “The Law of Consecration: The Covenant That Requires All and Gives Everything,” in Doctrines for Exaltation: The 1989 Sperry Symposium on the Doctrine and Covenants (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989), 112.

[6] Maxwell, in Conference Report, April 2002, 43.

[7] Joseph Smith to Edward Partridge, May 2, 1833, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.

[8] Joseph Smith to Edward Partridge, June 25, 1833, Joseph Smith Letter Book 1829–35, 44–50, Church History Library.

[9] Levi Jackman, Deed of Consecration, Church History Library, is reproduced in Arrington, Fox, and May, Building the City of God, 28–29. As originally commanded, Bishop Partridge leased the property he bought to the Saints. Legal controversy, Joseph’s counsel, and his prophetic revision of section 51 altered the technical procedure, resulting in Bishop Partridge’s being instructed to deed land to the Saints in fee simple. Under this way of implementing the law, the Saints rather than Bishop Partridge were to “own” their stewardships in the proximate, legal sense. But subsequent revelations (section 104 especially) continued to stress that ultimate ownership rests with God and that we are still stewards.

[10] Postscript, Joseph Smith to Edward Partridge and Others, March 30, 1834, in Joseph Smith, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, ed. Dean C. Jessee, rev. ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2002), 338–39.

[11] Orson Pratt, in Journal of Discourses (Liverpool: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1881), 21:148.

[12] Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses (Liverpool: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1855), 2:305, 307.

[13] Kirtland Revelation Book, 102, Church History Library, forthcoming in Steven C. Harper, Robin Scott Jensen, and Robert J. Woodford, eds., The Joseph Smith Papers: Revelations and Translations Series, vol. 1 (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press).

[14] Joseph Smith, journal, July 8, 1838, in Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Papers of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992), 2:257.

[15] Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 2:306.

[16] Joseph Smith Jr., Sidney Rigdon, and Frederick Williams to William Phelps and Others, June 25, 1833, Joseph Smith Letter Book 1829–35, 44–50, Church History Library.

[17] Nibley, Approaching Zion, 390.

[18] Lorenzo Snow, in Journal of Discourses (Liverpool: Latter-Day Saints’ Book Depot, 1874), 16:276.

[19] Orson Pratt, in Journal of Discourses, 21:148.

[20] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2001), 86.

[21] Joe J. Christensen, in Conference Report, April 1999, 11.

[22] Marion G. Romney, in Conference Report, April 1966, 100.

[23] Spencer W. Kimball, in Conference Report, April 1974, 184.

[24] Wilford Woodruff, journal, December 31, 1834, Church History Library.

[25] Maxwell, in Conference Report, April 2002, 44.