Historical Context and Background of D&C 81

Jesse Gause's name blotted out
Jesse Gause's name blotted out and replaced with Frederick G. Williams. Image via Joseph Smith Papers.

Video Overview

Brief Synopsis by Steven C. Harper

It is very good to have your sins blotted out. It is not good to have your name blotted out. Before erasers and delete keys, scribes used a blot of heavy ink to expunge the record. God keeps meticulous records. In them he blots out the sins of the repentant and the names of the rebellious unrepentant (Isaiah 44:22; Nehemiah 4:5; Alma 6:3; Moroni 6:7; D&C 109:34).

Joseph chose and ordained Jesse Gause as a counselor in the Presidency of the High Priesthood in March 1832.1 A week later Joseph received section 81, giving Jesse instructions for his calling.2

Section 81 announces that the keys of the kingdom belong to the Presidency of the High Priesthood. The Lord commanded Jesse to “be faithful; stand in the office which I have appointed unto you; succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees” (D&C 81:5). The Lord promises to bless Jesse on the specific conditions that he remain faithful, pray always, and proclaim the gospel. The revelation closes with a reiteration of the Lord’s covenant with Jesse: “If thou art faithful unto the end thou shalt have a crown of immortality and eternal life which I have prepared for thee in the mansions of my Father” (v. 6).

Jesse Gause forsook his covenant and his calling by 1833. In an early manuscript of section 81, the name of Jesse Gause is blotted out and replaced by the name of Frederick Williams. It was a tragic ink blot for Jesse but not a hindrance to God’s plan. Here, as elsewhere in the revelations, the Lord simply replaced Jesse and the kingdom rolled forward (see D&C 56 and 124:91–95).

1. “Note, 8 March 1832,” p. 10, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 7, 2020. For more on Jesse Gause, see https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/person/jesse-gause.

2. “Revelation, 15 March 1832 [D&C 81],” p. 17, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 7, 2020.

Additional Context by Casey Paul Griffiths

From Doctrine and Covenants Minute

Doctrine and Covenants 81 is a brief revelation that marks an important step in the creation of the quorum of the First Presidency. At a conference held on January 25, 1832, in Amherst, Ohio, Joseph Smith was ordained as president of the high priesthood.1 A few weeks later, on March 8, 1832, Joseph Smith chose and ordained Sidney Rigdon and Jesse Gause as his counselors in the First Presidency.2 This revelation, received on March 15, declared that the keys of the kingdom rested with the Presidency of the High Priesthood and outlined some of the duties of a counselor in the First Presidency.

The revelation was originally received on behalf of Jesse Gause, but in the earliest copies of the revelation, Gause’s name is crossed out and replaced with the name of Frederick G. Williams. Jesse Gause was a relatively new convert, baptized in late 1831 or early 1832, when he was called as a counselor in the First Presidency. Before joining the Church, Gause was a former member of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing (Shakers). After joining the Church, he acted as Joseph Smith’s scribe and accompanied Joseph and Sidney Rigdon on a trip to Missouri in the spring of 1832. Gause only served in his calling as a member of the First Presidency during the spring and summer of 1832 before he ran into difficulties. On a mission to the Shaker community at North Union, Ohio, Gause apparently attempted to convince his wife Minerva to reunite with him and join the Church. She refused his offer.

After Minerva’s refusal to join him, Gause began to struggle on his mission. He became ill and parted company with his missionary companion. Gause continued to travel to the East, but he all but disappears from the records of the Church after separating from his companion.3 A notation in Joseph Smith’s journal written on December 3, 1832, seems to indicate that Gause was excommunicated.4 In his place, Frederick G. Williams was appointed as a counselor in the First Presidency.

When this revelation was first published in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, the name of Frederick G. Williams was included instead of Jesse Gause’s name. This modification has appeared in every edition of the Doctrine and Covenants produced since that time. This action seems to indicate that Joseph Smith and other Church leaders considered this revelation to be direction for whomever held the position of a counselor in the First Presidency generally, not for a specific person.

See “Historical Introduction,” Revelation, 15 March 1832 [D&C 81]

1. Minutes, 26–27 April, p. 24, JSP.

2. Note, 8 March 1832, pp. 10–11, JSP.

3. See D. Michael Quinn, “Jesse Gause: Joseph Smith’s Little-Known Counselor,” BYU Studies 23 (Fall 1993): 487–93.

4. JS Journal, 1832–1834, p. 3, JSP.