Find helpful commentary on the verses below to better understand the message of this revelation.
The Lord’s admonition for His servants to forgive refers to the reconciliation of Sidney Rigdon and Edward Partridge, who in the months leading up to this revelation had been embroiled in conflict with each other. A few months before, in November 1831, Sidney wrote a letter to the Saints in Missouri in which he charged Partridge with defrauding funds, insulted Joseph Smith, and presumed to take authority over the Prophet. At a conference of the Church held in Missouri on March 10, 1832, Bishop Partridge asked a council of high priests to write a letter to Sidney in which Bishop Partridge answered the charges leveled against him and asked for forgiveness from those he had wronged. A month later, during the conference that Joseph Smith called on April 26, Sidney and Bishop Partridge reconciled and ended the bad feelings between them that had persisted for several months.1
The dispute between Sidney Rigdon and Edward Partridge was just one of the problems the leaders of the Church worked through at the April 26 conference. The Lord uses the revelation in section 82 to teach His leaders that if they do not keep their covenants, they will be under great condemnation. As the Book of Mormon illustrates, some people fall away into sin and transgression after they have been enlightened by the Spirit of God and have had a great knowledge of things pertaining to righteousness. If they fall away, these people become more hardened and worse off than those who have never received the gospel (Alma 24:30).
1. Minutes, 26-27 April 1832, JSP.
After declaring to the elders present that “all of you have sinned” (D&C 82:2), the Lord warns against the influence of the adversary (D&C 82:5). He points out the simple truth that “none doeth good” (D&C 82:6), or as the Book of Mormon states it, all men and women are “unprofitable servants” (Mosiah 2:21). But while the Lord recognizes the faults and sins of the leaders and members of His Church, He still sees their potential for immense good. It is important for members of the Church to recognize the same potential in their leaders and themselves.
Elder Dale G. Renlund once quoted Nelson Mandela, who said, “I’m no saint—that is, unless you think a saint is a sinner who keeps on trying.” Elder Renlund added, “This statement—‘a saint is a sinner who keeps on trying’—should reassure and encourage members of the Church. Although we are referred to as ‘Latter-day Saints,’ we sometimes flinch at this reference. The term Saints is commonly used to designate those who have achieved an elevated state of holiness or even perfection. And we know perfectly well that we are not perfect . . . God cares a lot more about who we are and who we are becoming than about who we once were. He cares that we keep on trying.”2
2. Dale G. Renlund, “Latter-day Saints Keep on Trying,” April 2015 General Conference.
The new commandment that the Lord mentions in verse 8 was to organize the united firm (or united order), a consecrated effort to provide for the Saints in Missouri and Kirtland, especially the poor. One of the things that separates the law of consecration from the regular charitable acts that are expected of the Lord’s disciples is the law’s associated covenant. The Lord introduced consecration early in the Restoration and it has remained as one of the vital covenants that Church members enter into as part of their discipleship. The united firm was an iteration of the law of consecration that was expressed through a business partnership between the leaders named in this section. In verse 11 the Lord counsels the members of the united firm to be bound “by a bond and covenant that cannot be broken by transgression, except judgment shall immediately follow.”
In verse 10 the Lord exhorts the members of the united firm to keep their covenants by promising that He is bound when they keep their covenants. How can an omnipotent and infinite being be bound by anything? James E. Talmage explains:
[My religion] has taught me that God holds Himself accountable to law even as He expects us to do. He has set us the example in obedience to law. I know that to say this would have been heresy a few decades ago. But we have his divine word for it: [D&C 82:10]. He operates by law and not by arbitrariness or caprice. He is no tyrant to be propitiated and placated by honeyed words. He cannot be moved by wordy oratory. He is not a judge sitting to be influenced by the specious pleas of crafty advocates; and yet there is an eloquence that moves Him; there is a plea that influences Him. The eloquence of prayer from a broken heart and contrite spirit prevails with him.3
3. James E. Talmage, in Conference Report, April 1930, 96.
Verses 13 and 14 contain the first mention in the Doctrine and Covenants of a stake of Zion. The concept is taken from Isaiah, who likened Zion and the latter-day house of Israel to a great tent held securely by cords fastened to firm stakes. Isaiah admonished Israel to “enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes” (Isaiah 54:2). In verse 13 the Lord refers to Kirtland as a stake, meaning it is to become a stronghold of Zion.
In Joseph Smith’s time some assumed that every member of the Church would eventually relocate to Zion in Missouri. Today some members still make the same assumption. But while the building of the New Jerusalem remains a central goal of the Restoration (see D&C 101:17–19), the physical city has yet to be established. According to Isaiah’s vision, the borders of Zion, like an expanding tent, are meant to be enlarged in an ever-expanding way until Zion covers the earth. Such a massive tent must be stabilized by many strong stakes. The Lord is here designating Kirtland as the first such stake of what would become a vast network of thousands of strong Church communities throughout the world.
In verse 17 the Lord admonishes the members of the united firm to be equal. This counsel echoes the direction the Lord gave the members of the other consecrated effort operated by the Church, the literary firm (D&C 70:14). Members of both groups were admonished to place any profits beyond “their necessities and their wants” into the Lord’s storehouse so that “the benefits thereof shall be consecrated unto the inhabitants of Zion and unto their generations” (D&C 70:7–8). Both the united firm and the literary firm were iterations of the law of consecration that served their purpose and then came to an end (see D&C 104).
The “everlasting order” referred to in verse 20 is a reference to the United Firm, but also the Law of Consecration generally. The United Firm, inspired by and governed by the principles of consecration, did eventually come to an end (See D&C 104). But the principles of consecration that informed the governance of the firm everlasting. The fact that the law of consecration is everlasting does not mean that consecration will look exactly the same in every era of the Church. Even though consecration has been a part of the teachings and work of the Church from the time this law was first revealed, the consecrated effort by a Church of millions spread across the world will undoubtedly look different than the effort carried out by a small group of Saints in North America during the 1830s.
Some people incorrectly think that the law of consecration is solely a system of finance. The law of consecration is much more holistic: saints contribute not only through material means but through their time, talents, and any other way they can. A bishop who works long hours for the good of his ward is consecrating. A parent who acts as a chaperone at a youth activity is consecrating. Dedicated ministering brothers or sisters who drop off meals or assist with childcare are also consecrating. Material means are only part of the law; the Lord intends a person to consecrate their whole self.
The Lord’s counsel to “make friends with the mammon of unrighteousness” (D&C 82:22) may seem curious in light of His teachings on another occasion that “ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24). President Joseph Fielding Smith explained:
The commandment of the Lord that the Saints should make themselves “friends with the mammon of unrighteousness,” seems to be a hard saying when not properly understood. It is not intended . . . that the brethren were to partake with them in their sins; to receive them into their bosoms, intermarry with them and otherwise come down to their level. [The brethren] were to so live that peace with their enemies might be assured. They were to treat them kindly, be friendly with them as far as correct and virtuous principles would permit, but never to swear with them or drink or carouse with them. If they could allay prejudice and show a willingness to trade with [them] and show a kindly spirit, it might help to turn them away from their bitterness. Judgement was to be left to the Lord.4
4. Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, 1948, 2:89.