In the 1828 dictionary, the word consecrate means, “to make or declare to be sacred; to set apart; to dedicate, to devote, to exalt, to enroll among the gods.” Now that’s a worthy goal. In fact, that is exactly what Father wants for each of us.
We are taught in sacred spaces that if we want to be exalted and be “enrolled among the Gods” we need to receive and abide by the Law of Consecration. It is the law that governs all celestial kingdoms, and we cannot go there—we cannot be admitted into the presence of the Lord—unless we covenant to obey that law and then do our absolute best to obey it.
The objective of today’s lesson is to help us discover ways we can better obey this law in this life, and in the life to come. After all, if we aren’t able figure out how to obey this law, then we will dwell forever in telestial or terrestrial states.
So what exactly is the law? According to the Guide to the Scriptures:
The law of consecration is a divine principle whereby men and women voluntarily dedicate their time, talents, and material wealth to the establishment and building up of God’s kingdom.
Notice the word voluntarily in there? Like all commandments, we get to choose whether or not we obey this law. There are eternal consequences of course, but we are completely free to choose which consequences we prefer. Unlike bad governments, where you are forced to comply or else, in the government of God there is never any compulsion. Just good old-fashioned positive peer pressure. Mandatory obedience is never the plan of the Father.
Right now, each of us have been commanded to live this law. This law was delivered to Adam and Eve and then taught to their descendants ever since. We can find it taught throughout the standard works. We can even find it in non-canonized sacred books, scrolls and fragments, like the Book of Enoch.
But today, since we’re studying Church History and Doctrine, let’s focus on its exegeses (ek se jee sez) in modern revelation. In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to declare that one of the main objectives of the Doctrine and Covenants is to teach us how to more fully live the Law of Consecration. So let’s talk about the restoration of this law.
The Ohio Foundations
The Prophet arrived in Ohio in February of 1831. At that time, there were about a hundred members living in the Kirtland area, with the New York Saints soon to follow. Wrote Joseph Smith:
The branch of the Church in this part of the Lord’s vineyard . . . 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. (HC, 1:146-147)
Among the “strange notions” in the Kirtland area was a group of families who lived together on an 80-acre farm owned by Isaac Morley. Prior to the preaching of the gospel in Ohio, this group had organized itself in an honest attempt to live as the early Christians and have all things in common. They lived an imperfect law of sharing all things, which sometimes caused difficult feelings—a common feeling in most communal experiments.
They had a revelator known as “Black Pete”, a former slave, who was the first black Mormon convert. Some of these Ohio members claimed to see angels and to receive letters from heaven. These were people striving to do the will of the Lord, but had brought many of their earlier, incorrect practices with them into the church.
In response to the “strange notions and false spirits,” the Prophet received a revelation. This is now recorded as Section 41. In it, the Lord commands obedience to his law.
He that receiveth my law and doeth it, the same is my disciple; and he that saith he receiveth it and doeth it not, the same is not my disciple, and shall be cast out from among you;
So what exactly was the law? Glad you asked. Five days later, in the presence of 12 elders, Joseph received the revelation that is now recorded in Section 42. This was originally titled, “The Laws of the Church of Christ.”
In this revelation, many commandments that were given from the very beginning and reiterated in the days of Moses (Exodus 20) and Abinadi (Mosiah 12-13) and Paul (Romans 13) were once again proclaimed as being required for the latter-day Church. If you know your Ten Commandments, you’ll know these.
But these commandments were just the starting point for the church. They were to be given an additional law—a higher law. And, according this section, if they obeyed this law, the saints would be prepared to build the City of Zion, the New Jerusalem, the Celestial City, a place where the Lord could come and dwell and begin his millennial reign.
So let’s read more about that celestial law. Let’s turn to section 42 verse 29.
29 If thou lovest me thou shalt serve me and keep all my commandments.
Keep that in mind, will you? The foundation of this law is love. If we truly love God, we will truly love his children—all of them. And obeying this commandment is how we demonstrate it.
30 And behold, thou wilt remember the poor, and consecrate of thy properties for their support that which thou hast to impart unto them, with a covenant and a deed which cannot be broken.
Consecrate Possessions. In other words, Church members were to take care of the poor by voluntarily consecrating their possessions to the Church by legal deed, like this one:
31 And inasmuch as ye impart of your substance unto the poor, ye will do it unto me; and they shall be laid before the bishop of my church and his counselors, two of the elders, or high priests, such as he shall appoint or has appointed and set apart for that purpose.
In the previous revelation, five days earlier, the Lord had called Edward Partridge Sr.—the local milliner or hatter—as the first bishop of the church. His counselors were Isaac Morley and John Corrill.
32 And it shall come to pass, that after they are laid before the bishop of my church, and after that he has received these testimonies concerning the consecration of the properties of my church, that they cannot be taken from the church, agreeable to my commandments, every man shall be made accountable unto me, a steward over his own property, or that which he has received by consecration, as much as is sufficient for himself and family.
Receive Stewardship. After church members consecrated their possessions, the bishop granted them stewardships, or portions, from all the properties received. The size of the stewardship depended on the circumstances and needs—and wants–of the family, as determined by the bishop in consultation with the member who received it.
To be clear, the stewardship came with a deed of ownership for which the steward was responsible and accountable. The stewardship was then treated as private property rather than communal property, though the consecration ultimately belongs to God.
33 And again, if there shall be properties in the hands of the church, or any individuals of it, more than is necessary for their support after this first consecration, which is a residue to be consecrated unto the bishop, it shall be kept to administer to those who have not, from time to time, that every man who has need may be amply supplied and receive according to his wants.
Offer Surpluses. If members produced a surplus from their stewardships beyond what was necessary for their families, at the end of the year they gave it to the bishop to put in the bishop’s storehouse. The bishop used the surplus to care for the poor, to build houses of worship, and for other worthy purposes.
34 Therefore, the residue shall be kept in my storehouse, to administer to the poor and the needy, as shall be appointed by the high council of the church, and the bishop and his council;
35 And for the purpose of purchasing lands for the public benefit of the church, and building houses of worship, and building up of the New Jerusalem which is hereafter to be revealed—
36 That my covenant people may be gathered in one in that day when I shall come to my temple (the temple in Zion). And this I do for the salvation of my people.
37 And it shall come to pass, that he that sinneth and repenteth not shall be cast out of the church, and shall not receive again that which he has consecrated unto the poor and the needy of my church, or in other words, unto me—
The member who was excommunicated kept his personal property—it was legally his—but he had no claim upon the bishop’s storehouse if he became poor and needy.
38 For inasmuch as ye do it unto the least of these, ye do it unto me.
The Law of Consecration is simply about loving one another, taking care of one another—not just spiritually, but temporally as well.
It gives us opportunities to be more like Heavenly Father and Jesus, who created our spirits, who taught us as we acquired talents and skills in the premortal realms, who nurtured us, walked beside us, and helped us find the way.
They then created this beautiful world, and everything on it, and placed us on it for a relatively brief period of time, to see if we would actually do everything we promised we would do up in heaven. Because they knew we would fall short, they gave us a Savior who would overcome that deficit—but in return, all they asked us to do is truly love one another—as thy loved us. And that means taking care of each other—in every way possible.
Benefits of Obedience
So let’s consider some of the benefits of obeying the Law of Consecration.
First, when we obey this law of love, the powers of heaven are invoked, not only to those who consecrate, but also to those for whom the consecration is intended. It blessed both the giver and receiver in spiritual and tangible ways.
Second, it deals with the inequities inherent in our society. In today’s world, we see a variety of programs and organizations intended to assist the poor, along with those who have a variety of other challenges. Laws have been enacted. Government agencies setup. Charitable organizations and labor unions set up. Why? In large measure to assist those having challenges. The intent is good. The reality is that bureaucracy, competition, and disputations often get in the way of dispensing the intended assistance.
The Law of Consecration is a perfect law intended to deal with the inequities in society. It dispenses necessities to those in need. It assists those who cannot assist themselves.
The Law of Consecration is much like the operation of a family. We help and assist each other without looking for the benefit. We do it out of love. Parents take care of small children who cannot take care of or provide for themselves. Children assist elderly parents who can no longer do many things for themselves. The Law of Consecration blesses the family of God here on earth.
Third, when we pay our tithes and offerings, the church has a proven track record of using it to do amazing things. Take for example, just the building program of the church. Currently, hundreds of church buildings are built each year, including chapels, temples, missionary training centers, schools, seminary and institute buildings, and offices. These temporal facilities are all used to bless the lives of millions of people around the world—and billions who have already died. And the buildings are just one of the things our donations help fund. There are lots and lots of other things too. And all of this comes from paying a tithe—imagine what would be possible if we gave all of our surplus!
By the way, many already quietly give of their surplus time, talents, and possessions, and money. If you want to learn about consecrators, ask Sister Chung-Hoon about her full-time job and how she is responsible for receiving those consecrated surpluses.
Fourth, it helps the Lord’s people to be industrious and avoid idleness. I hate to break it to you, but life after death isn’t going to find us sitting on a cloud eating bon-bons. It isn’t a retirement program. It isn’t the big cruise ship in the sky. We’re going to be working really, really hard.
In every near-death experience I’ve read, one thing is constant: people are busy on the other side. They are all anxiously engaged in a good cause. Whether it is repenting, or teaching, or guiding, or nurturing, or preaching, or learning, or inspiring—there is always work to be done.
Which is probably why the Law of Consecration includes this clause:
Thou shalt not be idle; for he that is idle shall not eat the bread nor wear the garments of the laborer.
Besides, if I understand the scriptures correctly, one of the commandments God gave Adam and Eve was this: “By the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, until thou shalt return unto the ground.” It doesn’t sound like a savings-funded early retirement program. In fact, if we gave away our surplus every year, I’m not sure we would have a surplus to bank.
Fifth, it helps the Lord’s people be one. Let’s read a follow-up scripture from Section 51, which also tells us about the Law of Consecration. Verse 9:
And let every man deal honestly, and be alike among this people, and receive alike, that ye may be one.
In any endeavor that we become involved in, we usually find ourselves more committed. The parent that becomes involved in the school PTA, is more committed to the school, the organization, and the education of one’s children. An active member of a Rotary club, works closely with the membership to accomplish the aims of the organization. When we consecrate our time and efforts to our ward, we feel more at one with the ward family and come to more fully love the members. Consider the bishop of a ward. No one gives as much to the ward and no one is more at one with the ward membership than the bishop.
Sixth, it helps make the Lord’s people equal in earthly things and help them receive a place in the celestial kingdom. This is found is D&C 78:5-7
That you may be equal in the bonds of heavenly things, yea, and earthly things also, for the obtaining of heavenly things. For if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things; For if you will that I give unto you a place in the celestial world, you must prepare yourselves by doing the things which I have commanded you and required of you.
I’m positive the Lord isn’t talking about absolute equality here. He doesn’t want us all to have exactly the same shirt, the same pants, the same teacher, the same schooling, the same work, the same paycheck, the same intelligence, the same outcomes. He has never employed a cookie-cutter approach with his children. Each of us have different needs, different wants, different talents, different skills, different strengths, different challenges. Our earthly existence was carefully planned out by our Heavenly Parents—with our input, I’m sure—in order to maximize our growth. So absolute equality isn’t possible in this life.
What is possible, is for us all to learn to love each other equally, to serve each other equally, to not hold back what talents and gifts and offerings we have to give. We all have something in abundance—our job is to share it with someone who has a lack.
If you have an abundance of courage, give some to those who are frightened. If you have an abundance of knowledge, give some to those who are unlearned. If you have an abundance of cheerfulness, give some to those who heads are bowed. If you have a surplus of food, give some to those who are hungry. If you have a surplus of time, give some to those who have little time.
Furthermore, if we have an interest in something, but no talent, then perhaps we can work on it so we can someday use it for the good of all. All we have to do is look around in our ward and identify a need, and then quietly work on your own so that, if called, you can contribute.
Let me give you a personal example. I certainly don’t want this to come across as self-serving, but let me tell you a little secret. I never wanted to play the organ. About 30 years ago I was called as a ward organist, because the current organist was blind and was in her 90s. So even though I only had a year’s worth of piano lessons, I started teaching myself how to play.
It was a long and arduous process—just ask the many congregations who had to suffer through my performances. But now, after about 30 continuous years of having that as one of my callings, I can finally play 90% of the hymns with 90% accuracy. That’s an A in my book. Obviously, I am a very slow learner.
But here’s the deal. Now I love playing the organ. I love the hymns far more than I used to. I love regularly feeling the Spirit testify to my heart that the words are true. I love how the tears fall down my cheeks and land on my tie as I’m playing because the music is touching my soul. I love listening to you sing in response to the note, knowing that you too believe what you are singing. I love knowing that I have played a small part in helping you have a spiritual experience. This calling is one of the ways I can consecrate my time and talents, and it, in turn has blessed my life far more than I deserve.
There’s a scripture that teaches this, and it is part of the scriptures about the Law of Consecration. It is found in D&C 82:18:
. . . that every man may improve upon his talent, that every man may gain other talents, yea, even an hundred fold.
Someday, and perhaps someday soon, I’ll have to turn the keys over to you—are you ready to receive them?
You see, we all have something to give. The trick is deciding how much to give—and that my friends—is what separates the terrestrial saints from the celestial saints.
So those are just some of the benefits. There are others. Lots of others. Too many to mention.
So what’s stopping us from living this law today?
It is because the Prophet hasn’t come out and said, “Okay folks, starting tomorrow I want all of you to give all your time, all your talents, all your energies, all your money—everything which you possess—even your own life, to the building up the Kingdom of God.” That may or may not ever happen. Or has it already happened? Hmm.
May I bring one more scripture to your recollection? This one comes from D&C 58:26-27:
For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward. Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;
I don’t know about you, but this is a very empowering scripture. It is our duty, our responsibility to quietly lead out, to take the initiative, to cast off the telestial ties which keep us bound down. No one is stopping you and I from living the Law of Consecration more fully, except for you and I.
In conclusion, may I quote from one of the many latter-day prophets who lived the Law of Consecration in a manner that is worth emulating. Hear the words of Neal A. Maxwell:
The many other things we ‘give’ … are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us. However, when you and I finally submit ourselves, by letting our individual wills be swallowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him! It is the only possession which is truly ours to give!” (Ensign, Nov 1995, p24)
Brothers and Sisters, I pray that we may have the courage to eliminate the selfishness that snares our souls. I pray that we will be more willing to cooperate and strive for harmony and unity. I pray that we can lay on the altar and sacrifice whatever is required by the Lord—which always starts with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And I pray that we can consecrate our time, talents, and means as called upon by our leaders and as prompted by the whisperings of the Spirit so that we can be prepared to enter into the presence of the Lord. Both in time and throughout all eternity.
While preparing for this lesson, I came across a short story written by Orson Scott Card called Consecration: A Law We Can Live With. If you want a few minutes of a very insightful perspective, please check it out.
I also read a number of essays by Church leaders and scholars. Some of my favorite came from Hugh Nibley’s Approaching Zion.
Here is a wonderful talk called, The Law of Consecration, given in 1976 by the Presiding Bishop, Victor L. Brown.