Come Follow Me: Doctrine and Covenants 60–62 “All Flesh Is in Mine Hand”

Using Our Best Judgment

These sections focus on counsel given to a group of missionaries who traveled from  Kirtland, Ohio to Jackson County, Missouri in the summer of 1831.

Missouri River, photo by Aimee Castenell

Read the following verses. What do they have in common?

But, verily, I will speak unto you concerning your journey unto the land from whence you came. Let there be a craft made, or bought, as seemeth you good, it mattereth not unto me, and take your journey speedily for the place which is called St. Louis.
D&C 60:5

And it mattereth not unto me, after a little, if it so be that they fill their mission, whether they go by water or by land; let this be as it is made known unto them according to their judgments hereafter.
D&C 61:22

And then you may return to bear record, yea, even altogether, or two by two, as seemeth you good, it mattereth not unto me; only be faithful, and declare glad tidings unto the inhabitants of the earth, or among the congregations of the wicked.
D&C 62:5

I, the Lord, am willing, if any among you desire to ride upon horses, or upon mules, or in chariots, he shall receive this blessing, if he receive it from the hand of the Lord, with a thankful heart in all things. These things remain with you to do according to judgment and the directions of the Spirit.
D&C 62:7-8

  • Why do you think the Lord chose not to give specific instructions about those things?
  • Why is it good for us to make some decisions without specific direction from God?

A desire to be led by the Lord is a strength, but it needs to be accompanied by an understanding that our Heavenly Father leaves many decisions for our personal choices. Personal decision making is one of the sources of the growth we are meant to experience in mortality. Persons who try to shift all decision making to the Lord and plead for revelation in every choice will soon find circumstances in which they pray for guidance and don’t receive it. For example, this is likely to occur in those numerous circumstances in which the choices are trivial or either choice is acceptable. “We should study things out in our minds, using the reasoning powers our Creator has placed within us. Then we should pray for guidance and act upon it if we receive it. If we do not receive guidance, we should act upon our best judgment.”
— Elder Dallin H. Oaks “Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall,” 1994

Taking Initiative

The Lord has taught:

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; For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.
D&C 58:26-28

  • Why does the Lord want us not to be “compelled in all things”?
  • What prevents us from “bringing to pass much righteousness “of [our] own free will”?

Reading these sections brought me back to my own missionary days. When I was 21 years old, I wanted to serve a mission. Actually, I had always wanted serve a mission since I was a child. But Church leaders were counseling women to make the decision about whether to serve a mission of matter of prayer, seeking personal revelation from God about whether or not we should serve. Many of my friends were wrestling with the decision and some of them told me about the spiritual experiences they had when they received an answer from God. Although I had always planned on serving a mission, I second-guessed myself. I prayed for revelation about whether I should go on a mission. No such revelation came. I felt no direction from Lord. But I wanted to go, so I submitted my papers anyway, without feeling any particular guidance from the Spirit on the matter. It wasn’t until after I submitted my papers that I felt joy that confirmed to me that I had made the right decision. I believe that the Lord did not answer my prayer because I did not need an answer. I knew what I wanted to do and I knew that it was a good thing to do,  so I was capable of making the decision on my own without waiting for the Lord to intervene.

  • Does anyone have an example of a time when you needed to make a decision based on your best judgment, in the absence of divine inspiration?  How did you reach your decision?

So often, we feel like we need to have someone give us direction. We don’t. Use your own initiative, your own inspiration, your own personal revelation to find ways to bless.”
— Relief Society General President Jean B. Bingham, Church News, 2021

  • How can we better use our own initiative?
  • Can you think of some examples from your scriptures, history or personal experience when someone took initiative and did good without waiting for  an assignment?

So what instructions did the Lord give the  missionaries?

Behold, they have been sent to preach my gospel among the congregations of the wicked; wherefore, I give unto them a commandment, thus: Thou shalt not idle away thy time, neither shalt thou bury thy talent that it may not be known. And after thou hast come up unto the land of Zion, and hast proclaimed my word, thou shalt speedily return, proclaiming my word among the congregations of the wicked, not in haste, neither in wrath nor with strife.
D&C 60:13-14

  • Why do you think the Lord gave these instructions?
  • How would following these instructions make us better missionaries (or better people)?

Opening Our Mouths

The Lord rebuked some missionaries:

But with some I am not well pleased, for they will not open their mouths, but they hide the talent which I have given unto them, because of the fear of man. Wo unto such, for mine anger is kindled against them. And it shall come to pass, if they are not more faithful unto me, it shall be taken away, even that which they have.
D&C 60:2-3

Review the parable of the talents.  How does it apply to opening our mouths to speak important truths?

For the kingdom of heaven is as a man traveling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.

Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.

After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.

And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.

His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.

His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:

And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.

His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
Matthew 25:14-29

  • How is your testimony like a “talent,” or a treasure from God?
  • In what ways do we sometimes “hide [our] talent”?

Sister [Eliza R.] Snow gave the following counsel to such sisters: “Do not let your president have to say all. … Has not God endowed you with the gift of speech? … If you are endowed with the Spirit of God, no matter how simple your thoughts may be, they will be edifying to those who hear you.”

Emily S. Richards said that Sister Snow helped her learn to speak in public: “The first time [she] asked me to speak in meeting, I could not, and she said, ‘Never mind, but when you are asked to speak again, try and have something to say,’ and I did.” Sister Richards continued to improve in her ability as a public speaker, and in 1889 she spoke at the National Woman Suffrage Association convention in Washington, D. C.

A journalist described Sister Richards as “trembling slightly under the gaze of the multitude, yet reserved, self possessed, dignified, and as pure and sweet as an angel. … It was not the words themselves but the gentle spirit [that] went with the words and carried winning grace to every heart.”
Daughters in My Kingdom: A Wide and Extensive Sphere of Action

  • How can we better prepare “to have something to say” when opportunities arise?

Overcoming Fear

Scattered throughout these revelations to early missionaries are reassurances that can help us overcome our fears about sharing the gospel—or other fears we might be facing:

I, the Lord, rule in the heavens above.
D&C 60:4

I am able to make you holy.
D&C 60:7

All flesh is in mine hand.
D&C 61:6

And now, verily I say unto you, and what I say unto one I say unto all, be of good cheer, little children; for I am in your midst, and I have not forsaken you; And inasmuch as you have humbled yourselves before me, the blessings of the kingdom are yours.
D&C 61:36-37

The Lord your God, even Jesus Christ, your advocate…knoweth the weakness of man and how to succor them who are tempted.
D&C 62:1

  • What reasons do we see in these verses to “be of good cheer”?
  • How could you help you remember that the Savior is “in [our] midst”?

Um, no.

There are a few problematic verses in these sections that have been used over the years to perpetuate outdated practices and Mormon myths. I would not recommend emphasizing these verses as part of your lesson plan but it is good to know some background information about them in case a class member brings them up.

Shake off the dust of your feet against people who reject missionaries?

Missionaries we  re told on August 8, 1831:

And shake off the dust of thy feet against those who receive thee not, not in their presence, lest thou provoke them, but in secret; and wash thy feet, as a testimony against them in the day of judgment. Behold, this is sufficient for you, and the will of him who hath sent you.
D&C 60:15-16

This verse repeats similar counsel given in July 1830, where this action is described as a ritualistic curse:

And in whatsoever place ye shall enter, and they receive you not in my name, ye shall leave a cursing instead of a blessing, by casting off the dust of your feet against them as a testimony, and cleansing your feet by the wayside.
D&C:24:15

This cursing ritual had Biblical origins:

And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city.
Mark 6:11

By the turn of the century, however, church leaders were teaching that cursing is not in accordance with the spirit of missionary work:

If they cursed, in the spirit of righteousness and meekness before God, God would confirm that curse; but men are not called upon to curse mankind; that is not our mission; it is our mission to preach righteousness unto them. It is our business to love and to bless them, and to redeem them from the fall and from the wickedness of the world. . . . We are perfectly willing to leave vengeance in the hands of God and let him judge between us and our enemies, and let him reward them according to his own wisdom and mercy.
— Joseph F. Smith, 1904  Available in Samuel R. Weber, “Shake Off the Dust of Thy Feet”: The Rise and Fall of Mormon Ritual Cursing, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought , Spring 2013, Vol. 46, No. 1 

By the middle of the 20th century , the Missionary Handbook banned the practice altogether:

Bless, but do not curse.
— 1946 edition. The Missionary’s Hand Book Available in Samuel R. Weber, “Shake Off the Dust of Thy Feet”: The Rise and Fall of Mormon Ritual Cursing, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought , Spring 2013, Vol. 46, No. 1 

Today it is not the general custom in the Church for our Elders on missions to shake off the dust of their feet against the people who do not receive them. In our time the Lord is giving men everywhere ample opportunity to receive the Gospel. Consequently, Elders may return to the same people time and time again, thus giving them every opportunity to receive the word of God before His judgments come unto them.
— Doctrine and Covenants Compendium, 1960 Available in Samuel R. Weber, “Shake Off the Dust of Thy Feet”: The Rise and Fall of Mormon Ritual Cursing, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought , Spring 2013, Vol. 46, No. 1 

Satan rules the waters?

After a day of dangerous travel via canoe on the Missouri River in August 1831 with a group of missionaries, Joseph Smith had this revelation:

Behold, I, the Lord, in the beginning blessed the waters; but in the last days, by the mouth of my servant John, I cursed the waters. Wherefore, the days will come that no flesh shall be safe upon the waters.
D&C 61:14-15

The section header reports that another member of the party also had a vision:

Elder William W. Phelps, in a daylight vision, saw the destroyer riding in power upon the face of the waters.
D&C 61 header

This section, combined with a modern ban in the Missionary Handbook on swimming and water sports, has been used to perpetuate Mormon myths about waterways. According to the text for this chapter:

The Lord’s warning in Doctrine and Covenants 61 was, in part, a warning about the dangers His people could face while traveling to Zion on the Missouri River, which was known at that time for being dangerous. This warning should not be interpreted to mean that we should avoid traveling by water. The Lord has “all power,” including power over the waters.
Come, Follow Me For Individuals and Families: Doctrine and Covenants 60-62

It should also be noted that the Missionary Handbook bans several land-based activities as well, such as horseback riding and rock climbing.

April Young Bennett

April Young Bennett is the author of the Ask a Suffragist book series and host of the Religious Feminism Podcast. Learn more about April at aprilyoungb.com.

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