Historical Context and Background of D&C 41

Early Copy of D&C 41
Early Copy of D&C 41
Source: JosephSmithPapers.org

Video Overview

Brief Synopsis by Steven C. Harper

Cross reference Sections 36 and 85

“Joseph the Prophet and Sidney arrived at Kirtland to the joy and satisfaction of the Saints,” John Whitmer wrote. They were homeless. Joseph and Emma had left their home in Pennsylvania. Sidney and Phebe Rigdon had, because of their conversions, lost the home their Reformed Baptist congregation built for them.

Joseph received section 41 the day they arrived. It answered the questions about housing and did something out of the blue: called a bishop named Edward Partridge.[1]

Edward had apprenticed four years for a hat maker in New England before venturing west to Ohio to open his own factory with his bride, Lydia Clisbee. They succeeded economically but remained unsettled. They could see a great need for God to “again reveal himself to man and confer authority upon son [sic] one, or more, before his church could be built up in the last days.”[2]

Oliver Cowdery was just such a man. When he and his companions brought the Book of Mormon to Painesville, Ohio, Edward initially reacted with disbelief. Knowingly, and perhaps with a smile, Oliver thanked God for honest-hearted souls and departed. Before long, Edward sent one of his employees to fetch a Book of Mormon from Oliver and his fellow missionaries.[3]

Hungering for truth, Edward set out for New York to interview Joseph Smith and returned to Ohio having been baptized by the Prophet himself.[4] Lydia, meanwhile, had been baptized by Parley Pratt. “I saw the Gospel in its plainness as it was in the New Testament,” she testified, “and I also knew that none of the sects of the day taught these things.”[5] Edward returned to New England to declare the good news to his parents and siblings.

Joseph, meanwhile, received Sections 37 and 38, commanding the New York Saints to move to Ohio and promising revelation of the Lord’s law and an endowment of power there. Joseph and Emma traveled to Ohio by sleigh with the returning Edward Partridge and Sidney Rigdon.

Section 41 is strikingly countercultural. It highlights the differences between the kingdom of God and the world in which Joseph Smith lived. The revelation is neither democratic nor republican. It assumes that the Lord, not the people, are sovereign. It does not separate legislative, judicial, and executive powers. The Lord exercises them all.

He assumes both the power and prerogative to bless and curse, to include and to cast out, to make and declare law, and to bring lawbreakers to judgment. He repeatedly refers to “my law” and calls for an assembly, not to debate and create law but “to agree upon” law dictated by revelation. Moreover, he commands specific action, most notably for Edward Partridge, to “leave his merchandise” and spend his whole effort executing the divine law. Section 41 is a revelation from a King with instructions about how to build His kingdom.

Edward Partridge licence
Edward Partridge’s 4 February 1831 license.
Source: JosephSmithPapers.org

As Section 38 declared, this King of Kings gives laws that make us free (D&C 38:21–22). He retains sovereignty, including the prerogative to make the laws, but grants agency—the power to decide whether or not to obey them.

“Bishop Partridge had been a member of the Church for less than two months when he was asked to sacrifice everything he had worked for in his life and devote his time completely to his new Church.” How did he choose to act on the revelation? He fed and clothed the Saints, left hat-making and factory-owning to others, and faithfully, if imperfectly, acted out the commands in this revelation and others for the rest of his life.

That was not the American way. It was the Lord’s way. Edward Partridge had been called to model and then implement the law of consecration (section 42). His daughter remembered that he “was called to leave his business, which was in a most flourishing condition, and go to Missouri to attend to the business of the Church. He went.” Soon thereafter, when the Lord called for them in section 57, Lydia and their children went too. This revelation was the beginning of the Partridge family consecrating their lives to the kingdom of God on earth.[6]

[1]Revelation, 4 February 1831 [D&C 41],” p. 61, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed July 28, 2020. B.H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 volumes (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1977–78), 1:244.

[2] Edward Partridge Papers, May 26, 1839, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[3] Richard L. Anderson, “Impact of the First Mormon Preaching in Ohio,” BYU Studies 11:4 (Summer 1971): 489.

[4] History of Edward Partridge, Jr., 5, quoted in Anderson, “Impact of the First Mormon Preaching in Ohio,” BYU Studies 11:4 (Summer 1971): 493. Lavina Fielding Anderson, Lucy’s Book: A Critical Edition of Lucy Mack Smith’s Family Memoir (Salt Lake City: Signature, 2001), 504–5.

[5] Quoted in Scott H. Partridge, “Edward Partridge in Painesville, Ohio,” BYU Studies 42:1 (2003): 59.

[6] Scott H. Partridge, editor, Eliza Maria Partridge Journal (Provo: Grandin, 2003), 2–3.

Additional Context, by Casey Paul Griffiths

From Doctrine and Covenants Minute

Even before Joseph Smith arrived in Kirtland, the Spirit of God was at work among the new converts in the area. Elizabeth Ann Whitney later wrote about a spiritual experience she and her husband, Newel, had that prepared them for the arrival of the gospel and the Prophet to her community. She later recorded, “It was midnight—as my husband and I, in our house at Kirtland, were praying to the Father to be shown the way, the Spirit rested upon us and a cloud overshadowed the house. . . . The house passed away from our vision. We were not conscious of anything but the presence of the Spirit and the cloud that was over us. . . . A solemn awe pervaded us. We saw the cloud and felt the Spirit of the Lord. Then we heard a voice out of the cloud, saying, ‘Prepare to receive the word of the Lord, for it is coming.’ At this we marveled greatly, but from that moment we knew that the word of the Lord was coming to Kirtland” (Orson F. Whitney, “Newel K. Whitney,” Contributor, Jan. 1885, 125).

In early February 1831, a sleigh carrying four people traveled through the streets of Kirtland and stopped in front of the Gilbert and Whitney Store. One of the men in the sleigh, “a young and stalwart personage,” jumped out and walked into the store and toward the proprietor, extended his hand “cordially, as if to an old and familiar acquaintance” and proclaimed, “Newel K. Whitney, thou art the man!” Whitney responded, “You have the advantage of me,” and as he mechanically shook the man’s hand added, “I could not call you by name as you have me.” The stranger replied with a smile, “I am Joseph the Prophet.” He continued, “You have prayed me here, now what do you want of me?” Joseph explained that he had seen the Whitneys in vision before he came to Kirtland. Newel soon introduced Joseph to his wife, Elizabeth, who later recalled, “I remarked to my husband that this was the fulfillment of the vision we had seen of a cloud, as of glory, resting upon our house” (Whitney, Contributor, Jan. 1885, 125).

Joseph dictated the revelation in section 41 the same day that he arrived in Kirtland. The Whitneys warmly welcomed Joseph and Emma into their home. Joseph later noted, “I and my wife lived in the family of Brother Whitney several weeks, and received every kindness and attention, which could be expected, and especially from Sister Whitney” Describing conditions among the Saints in Kirtland, Joseph added,

The branch of the church in this part of the Lord’s vineyard, which had increased to nearly one hundred members, were striving to do the will of God, so far as they knew it; though some strange notions and false spirits had crept in among them. With a little caution, and some wisdom, I soon assisted the brethren and sisters to overcome them. The plan of “common stock,” which had existed in what was called “the family,” whose members generally had embraced the everlasting gospel, 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.” (JS History, vol. A-1, p. 93, JSP).

The law Joseph refers to is Doctrine and Covenants 42, which was received in two parts, the first portion being received just a few days later on February 9 (D&C 42:1-73) and the second part a few weeks later on February 23 (D&C 42:74-93).

Church Historian John Whitmer added a notation to the first part of this revelation when he copied it down a few months later. He explained that the revelation came about because Leman Copley, a new convert from the area, asked Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon to live with him and promised to provide them with housing and provisions. This offer prompted Joseph to ask the Lord about the best course of action. In response, the Lord directed the Saints to build a home for Joseph and his family, which would keep him in the midst of the new converts in Kirtland who needed his guidance and direction. This revelation is also significant because it calls, from among the new converts, the first bishop to serve in this dispensation, Edward Partridge.

“Historical Introduction,” Revelation, 4 February 1831 [D&C 41]