Historical Context and Background of D&C 109

Video Overview

Brief Synopsis by Steven C. Harper

What does one pray for when dedicating the first House of the Lord in the last dispensation, having never done anything like it before? Joseph thought about that question on March 26, 1836, the day before he dedicated the Kirtland temple. He met with his counselors and secretaries “to make arrangements for the solemn assembly.”1 Oliver Cowdery’s sketch book adds the detail that he assisted Joseph “in writing a prayer for the dedication of the house.”2

The next morning the House of the Lord filled to capacity with nearly a thousand Saints. An overflow meeting convened next door. The solemn assembly began at 9:00 A.M. with scripture readings, choir singing, prayer, a sermon, and the sustaining of Joseph Smith as Prophet and Seer. In the afternoon session the sustaining continued, with each quorum and the general body of the Church sustaining, in turn, the leaders of the Church.3 Another hymn followed, “after which,” Joseph’s journal says, “I offered to God the following dedication prayer.”4

Joseph read section 109 from a printed copy. It is an inspired temple prayer. It begins with thanks to God, then makes requests of him in the name of Jesus Christ. It is based heavily on section 88’s temple instructions, as well as other temple-related scriptural texts. It “sums up the Church’s concerns in 1836, bringing before the Lord each major project.”5

Joseph began by asking God to accept the temple on the terms he had given in section 88, which the Saints had tried to fulfill in order to obtain the promised blessing of entering the Lord’s presence (D&C 88:68; 109:4–12). Joseph prayed that all the temple worshippers would be endowed with God’s power and “that they may grow up in thee, and receive a fulness of the Holy Ghost, and be organized according to thy laws, and be prepared to obtain every needful thing” (D&C 109:15). Joseph prayed, in other words, a temple prayer that the Saints would become like their Heavenly Father by degrees of glory as they obeyed His laws and prepared to enter His presence. He prayed for what section 88 had taught him to pray for.

Joseph prayed that the Saints, “armed” or endowed with priesthood power from the temple, could go to “the ends of the earth” with the “exceedingly great and glorious tidings” of the gospel to fulfill the prophecies that declared they would (D&C 109:22–23). He asked Heavenly Father to protect the Saints from their enemies (vv. 24–33). He asked Jehovah to have mercy upon the Saints and to seal the anointing ordinances that many of the priesthood brethren had received in the weeks leading up to the solemn assembly. He asked for the gifts of the Spirit to be poured out as on the biblical day of Pentecost (Acts 2:2–3). He asked the Lord to protect and empower the missionaries and postpone judgment until they had gathered the righteous. He prayed that God’s will be done “and not ours” (D&C 109:44).

Joseph prayed that the Saints would be delivered from the prophesied calamities. He asked Heavenly Father to remember the Saints oppressed and driven from Jackson County, Missouri, and prayed for their deliverance. He asked how long their afflictions would continue until avenged (D&C 109:49). He asked for mercy “upon the wicked mob, who have driven thy people, that they may cease to spoil, that they may repent of their sins if repentance is to be found” (v. 50). He prayed for Zion.

Joseph prayed for mercy on all nations and political leaders so that the principles of individual agency captured in the Constitution of the United States would be established forever. He prayed for “all the poor, the needy, and afflicted ones of the earth” (D&C 109:55). He prayed for an end to prejudices so that the missionaries “may gather out the righteous to build a holy city to thy name, as thou hast commanded them” (v. 58). He asked for more stakes to facilitate the gathering and growth of Zion. He asked for mercy for the Native Americans and for the Jews; indeed, he prayed for “all the scattered remnants of Israel, who have been driven to the ends of the earth, [to] come to a knowledge of the truth, believe in the Messiah, and be redeemed from oppression” (v. 67).

Joseph prayed for himself, reminding the Lord of his sincere effort to keep his covenants. He asked for mercy upon his family, praying that Emma and the children “may be exalted in thy presence” (D&C 109:69). This is the first usage of exalted in the Doctrine and Covenants to refer to the fulness of salvation through temple blessings.6 Joseph prayed for his in-laws to be converted. He prayed for the other presidents of the Church and their families. He prayed for all the Saints and their families and their sick and afflicted. He prayed, again, for “all the poor and meek of the earth,” and for the glorious Kingdom of God to fill the earth as prophesied (vv. 68–74).

Joseph prayed that the Saints would rise in the first resurrection with pure garments, “robes of righteousness,” and “crowns of glory upon our heads” to reap “eternal joy” (D&C 109:76). Thrice repeating his petition, Joseph asked the Lord to “hear us” and accept the prayers and petitions and offerings of the Saints in building the house to His name. He prayed for grace to enable the Saints to join the choirs surrounding God’s throne in the heavenly temple “singing Hosanna to God and the Lamb” (v. 79). “And let these, thine anointed, be clothed with salvation, and thy saints shout aloud for joy. Amen, and Amen” (v. 80).

Section 109 dedicated the first House of the Lord in the last dispensation and set the pattern for all subsequent solemn assemblies met for the same holy purpose. It teaches the Saints how to pray, including what to pray for and to ask according to the will of God. It teaches the doctrine and evokes the imagery of the temple, perhaps most poignantly in the idea that temple worshippers can “grow up” by degrees of glory until they become like their Heavenly Father (cross-reference section 93). That is the meaning of being exalted in God’s presence. Joseph’s temple revelations call this “fulness,” including fullness of joy. Section 109 continues the expansive work of the temple revelations in sections 76, 84, 88, and 93 and points us forward to the culminating revelation on exaltation, Section 132:1–20. Section 109 invites mortals who occupy a polluted telestial planet where they cannot think of more than one thing at a time, and generally only in finite terms, to be endowed with power that will enable them to journey to the real world where God lives “enthroned with glory, honor, power, majesty, might, dominion, truth, justice, judgment, mercy, and an infinity of fulness, from everlasting to everlasting” (D&C 109:77).7

1. “History, 1838–1856, volume B-1 [1 September 1834–2 November 1838],” 713, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed November 24, 2020.

2. Oliver Cowdery, Sketch Book, March 26, 1836, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.

3. Steven C. Harper, “‘A Pentecost and Endowment Indeed’: Six Eyewitness Accounts of the Kirtland Temple Experience,” in John W. Welch, editor, Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations, 1820–1844 (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 2005), 327–71.

4. Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 2:195.

5. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 317.

6. See Section 49:10, 23 for earlier usages in a different context.

7. Emphasis added. See Hugh Nibley, “A House of Glory,” (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1993)

Additional Context by Casey Paul Griffiths

From Doctrine and Covenants Minute

The dedication of the house of the Lord was the culmination of years of effort on the part of the men and women in the Kirtland community of Saints. When the Church was less than a year old, the Lord commanded the Saints to gather to Ohio, promising that they would “be endowed with power from on high” (D&C 38:32). In the years following, the Lord identified the location of the city of Zion and commanded the Saints to construct a temple there (D&C 57:2–3; 84:3). Just a short time later, the Lord commanded the Saints in Kirtland to also begin work on a temple that would serve as a school, a place for solemn assemblies, and a venue for receiving holy ordinances (D&C 88:70, 119, 127, 138–141). When the Lord reproved the Kirtland Saints six months later for not working on the temple, he provided further guidance on the size and nature of its structure (D&C 95). The First Presidency was even granted a vision in which they saw the building before it was built (see commentary for D&C 95:11–17).1

Every member of the Church in Kirtland contributed to the construction of the temple. Joseph Smith recorded in his own history, “I continued to preside over the church in Kirtland, and in forwarding the building of the house of the Lord. I acted as foreman in the temple stone quarry, and when other duties would permit[,] labored with my own hands.”2 Eliza R. Snow recalled, “At the time . . . the Saints were few in number, and most of them very poor; and, had it not been for the assurance that God had spoken, and had commanded that a house should be built to his name, of which he not only revealed the form, but also designated the dimensions, an attempt toward building that Temple, under the then existing circumstances, would have been, by all concerned, pronounced preposterous.”3

Doctrine and Covenants 109 is the dedicatory prayer for the Kirtland Temple. On March 26, the day before the temple was dedicated, Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, and two of Joseph Smith’s scribes, Warren A. Cowdery and Warren Parrish, met in the Prophet’s office on the attic floor of the temple. Oliver wrote in his journal that during this meeting he “assisted in writing a prayer for the dedication of the house.”4 The text of the prayer was read by Joseph Smith at the dedication the following day, set in type soon after, and printed as a broadside.5

At the dedicatory service held on Sunday morning, March 27, 1836, approximately one thousand people filled every corner of the building. At nine o’clock, Sidney Rigdon offered an opening prayer and the service commenced. After a hymn, Sidney rose again and gave a two-and-a-half-hour sermon, drawing his text from Matthew 8:18–20, which reads in part, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). After his sermon, Sidney presented Joseph Smith to the Church as a prophet and seer, and asked those in attendance to acknowledge him as a prophet by standing up. Everyone in the congregation rose in response.6 Later in the meeting, Joseph rose and presented “the several Presidents of the church, then present, to the several quorums respectively, and then to the church as being equal with himself, acknowledging them to be Prophets and Seers.”7

After several more hymns, there was a fifteen-minute intermission, during which—the history carefully notes— “none left their seats except a few females, who from having left their infants with their friends, were compelled to do so to take care of them.”8 When the dedication reconvened, Joseph Smith addressed the congregation. After one more hymn, Joseph read the dedicatory prayer, and then a choir sang a hymn composed specifically for the dedication, “The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning” by W. W. Phelps. The sacrament was administered, and several more brethren, including Oliver Cowdery, Frederick G. Williams, Hyrum Smith, and Sidney Rigdon, shared their testimonies. Then the Hosanna Shout was performed for the first time in this dispensation. Following the Hosanna Shout, Brigham Young spoke in tongues. He was interpreted by Elder David W. Patten, who then also spoke in tongues. Joseph Smith pronounced a blessing on the congregation, and the service concluded at 4:00 p.m.9

See “Historical Introduction,” Minutes and Prayer of Dedication, 27 March 1836 [D&C 109]

1. Elwin C. Robinson, The First Mormon Temple, 1997, 8.

2. JS History, vol. B-1, p. 553, JSP.

3. Quoted in Karl Ricks Anderson, Joseph Smith’s Kirtland, 1996, 155.

4. Quoted in Lyndon W. Cook, Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 1985, 218.

5. Prayer, at the Dedication of the Lord’s House in Kirtland, Ohio, March 27, 1836, copy at the Church History Library.

6. Minutes and Prayer of Dedication, 27 March 1836 [D&C 109], p. 276, JSP.

7. Minutes and Prayer of Dedication, 27 March 1836 [D&C 109], p. 277, JSP.

8. Minutes and Prayer of Dedication, 27 March 1836 [D&C 109], p. 276, JSP.

9. Minutes and Prayer of Dedication, 27 March 1836 [D&C 109], p. 276–81, JSP.