Find helpful commentary on the verses below to better understand the message of this revelation.
While this revelation represents an important step toward creating the highest quorum of the Church, the First Presidency as we know it did not come into being for another year. On March 18, 1833, Sidney Rigdon and Frederick G. Williams were given priesthood keys and sustained as members of the First Presidency (D&C 90:8).1 Section 81 recognizes the creation of the presidency of the high priesthood. Today the First Presidency, consisting of the President of the Church and his counselors, serves as both the presidency of the Church (including all of its organizations) and the presidency of the high priesthood. The First Presidency as it now functions in Church was organized later, on March 18, 1833.2
The Lord declares that Joseph Smith holds the “keys of the kingdom” and that these keys belong to the presidency of the High Priesthood (D&C 81:2). A year later, in D&C 90, this matter of the keys belonging to the presidency of the High Priesthood was further clarified when the Lord told Joseph that his counselors “are accounted as equal with thee in holding the keys of this last kingdom” (D&C 90:6). These kingdom keys are those keys originally given to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery by Peter, James, and John who appeared to them near the Susquehanna river “declaring themselves as possessing the keys of the kingdom and the dispensation of the fulness of times” (D&C 128:20; see also D&C 27:13-14). In their essence, these keys give those who hold them the authority to direct how the gospel will “roll forth unto the ends of the earth” to build up the kingdom of God on earth in preparation for Christ’s return, at which time He will bring with Him the “kingdom of heaven” (D&C 65:2-6).
While Joseph Smith possessed the keys of the kingdom conferred upon him by Peter, James, and John when this revelation was given in 1832, the Restoration of keys pertaining to God’s kingdom was not yet complete, and further keys were needed. When the Kirtland Temple was dedicated in 1836, Moses, Elias, and Elijah all appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and provided further priesthood keys (D&C 110). Joseph Smith also began to pass the keys on to other leaders as the Church grew and became more complex. Joseph first passed the keys on to the other members of the First Presidency and later gave them to the Quorum of the Twelve so that they could lead the Church.3
1. See Minutes, 18 March 1833, JSP.
2. Minutes, 18 March 1833, p. 17, JSP.
3. See Appendix 3: Orson Hyde, Statement about Quorum of the Twelve, circa Late March 1845, p. 1, JSP.
When Jesse Gause left his calling, the blessings that God mentions in this revelation were given to Frederick G. Williams, though they remained conditional, based on his faithfulness (D&C 81:3). Though the apostasy of Jesse Gause must have been distressing at the time, the elevation of Frederick G. Williams into the presidency became a great blessing for the Church.
Williams became a stalwart supporter of the Church and a key figure in many of its most important events. In an earlier revelation he was counseled to not sell his farm (D&C 64:21). In the years that followed, the land from Williams’s farm was generously deeded to the Church. The Church used this land to build a printing house for the scriptures and provide a place for many Church leaders to build homes. Eventually, the land became the spot where the Kirtland Temple itself was built. Williams was the scribe for many important documents, including architectural drawings for the city of Zion, several revelations, and the first written account of the First Vision. For a time Joseph Smith’s family boarded with Williams’s family, and Williams was a frequent missionary companion of the Prophet. Joseph even named his second-born son Frederick Granger Williams Smith.4
In his journal, Joseph Smith wrote a personal tribute to Williams:
Brother Frederick [G. Williams] is one of those men in whom I place the greatest confidence and trust[;] for I have found him ever full of love and Brotherly kindness[;] he is not a man of many words but is ever wining [sic] because of his constant mind[;] he shall ever have place in my heart and is ever entitled to my confidence. He is perfectly honest and upright, and seeks with all his heart to magnify his presidency in the Church of Christ, but fails in many instances, in consequence of a want of confidence in himself: God grant that he may overcome all evil.5
Joseph and Williams did eventually conflict over the difficulties surrounding the Kirtland Safety Society. These difficulties in Kirtland took a heavy toll on Church leadership. In May 1837 the Kirtland Stake high council leveled charges of misconduct against Williams. At a conference of the Church held in Missouri in November 1837, Williams was released as a member of the First Presidency, and Hyrum Smith was chosen to take his place.6 But although Williams was removed from the First Presidency, he remained a member in good standing. He followed the Church during its exodus from Missouri and settled in Quincy, just downriver from Nauvoo. He passed away on October 10, 1842, of a lung hemorrhage, though his son, Ezra, later said it was more of a broken heart. Williams’s family was the only one from the original First Presidency to travel to Utah and stay active in the Church.7
4. Frederick G. Williams, “Frederick Granger Williams of the First Presidency of the Church,” BYU Studies 12, no. 3 (1972): 3–5.
5. JS Journal, 1832–1834, pp. 23–24, JSP.
6. Minutes, 7 November 1837, p. 83, JSP.
7. Williams, 11