The law of consecration was revealed early in this last dispensation. On the second day of January 1831, through the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord said to his infant church, not yet a year old:
“Let every man esteem his brother as himself.
“For what man among you having twelve sons, and is no respecter of them, and they serve him obediently, and he saith unto the one: Be thou clothed in robes and sit thou here; and to the other: Be thou clothed in rags and sit thou there—and looketh upon his sons and saith I am just?
“Behold, this I have given unto you as a parable, and it is even as I am. I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.” (D&C 38:25–27)
Thirty-eight days later, 9 February 1831, the Lord revealed the law of consecration as the means by which the inequality between the rich and the poor could be removed. These are his words:
“If thou lovest me thou shalt serve me and keep all my commandments.
“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.
“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.
“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.” (D&C 42:29–32)
The basic principle and the justification for the law of consecration “is that everything we have belongs to the Lord; therefore, the Lord may call upon us for any and all of the property which we have, because it belongs to Him. … (D&C 104: 14–17, 54–57)” (J. Reuben Clark, Jr., in Conference Report, Oct. 1942, p. 55)
The intent of the law of consecration was that every man is to be “equal according to his family, according to his circumstances and his wants and needs.” (D&C 51:3) Under it, every man, including the poor, was to receive a “‘portion’ … such as would make him equal to others according to his circumstances, his family, his wants and needs.
“The land which you received from the bishop by deed, whether it was part of the land which you, yourself, had deeded to the Church, or whether it came as an out-right gift from the Church … and the personal property which you received, were all together sometimes called a ‘portion’ (D&C 51:4–6), sometimes a ‘stewardship’ (D&C 104:11–12), and sometimes an ‘inheritance.’ (D&C 83:3)” (J. Reuben Clark, Jr., in Conference Report, Oct. 1942, p. 56)
The Saints in Jackson County, Missouri, organized a “united order” and attempted to live the law of consecration. They failed, however, and were expelled from Missouri.
The Lord explained the reason for their failure and afflictions as follows:
“Verily I say unto you who have assembled yourselves together that you may learn my will concerning the redemption of mine afflicted people—
“Behold, I say unto you, were it not for the transgressions of my people, speaking concerning the church and not individuals, they might have been redeemed even now.
“But behold, they have not learned to be obedient to the things which I required at their hands, but are full of all manner of evil, and do not impart of their substance, as becometh saints, to the poor and afflicted among them;
“And are not united according to the union required by the law of the celestial kingdom;
“And Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom; otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself.
“And my people must needs be chastened until they learn obedience, if it must needs be, by the things which they suffer.
“Therefore, in consequence of the transgressions of my people, it is expedient in me that mine elders should wait for a little season for the redemption of Zion—
“That they themselves may be prepared, and that my people may be taught more perfectly, and have experience, and know more perfectly concerning their duty, and the things which I require at their hands.” (D&C 105:1–6, 9–10)
So ended the first attempt to implement the law of consecration.
In October of 1936, about one hundred years after the termination of the law of consecration experience, the First Presidency of the Church announced the organization of the welfare program.
President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., its principal architect, said concerning the welfare program and the united order:
“We have all said that the Welfare Plan is not the United Order and was not intended to be. However, I should like to suggest to you that perhaps, after all, when the Welfare Plan gets thoroughly into operation … we shall not be so very far from carrying out the great fundamentals of the United Order.
“In the first place I repeat again, the United Order recognized and was built upon the principle of private ownership of property; all that a man had and lived upon under the United Order, was his own. Quite obviously, the fundamental principle of our system today is the ownership of private property.
“In the next place, in lieu of residues and surpluses which were accumulated and built up under the United Order, we, today, have our fast offerings, our Welfare donations, and our tithing, all of which may be devoted to the care of the poor, as well as for the carrying on of the activities and business of the Church. After all, the United Order was primarily designed to build up a system under which there should be no abjectly poor, and this is the purpose, also, of the Welfare Plan.
“In this connection it should be observed that it is clear from these earlier revelations, as well as from our history, that the Lord had very early to tell the people about the wickedness of idleness, and the wickedness of greed, because the brethren who had were not giving properly; and those who had not were evidently intending to live without work on the things which were to be received from those who had property. …
“Furthermore, we had under the United Order a bishop’s storehouse in which were collected the materials from which to supply the needs and the wants of the poor. We have a bishop’s storehouse under the Welfare Plan, used for the same purpose.
“As I have already indicated, the surplus properties which came to the Church under the Law of Consecration, under the United Order, became the ‘common property’ of the Church … and were handled under the United Order for the benefit of the poor. We have now under the Welfare Plan all over the Church, ward land projects. In some cases the lands are owned by the wards, in others they are leased by the wards or lent to them by private individuals. This land is being farmed for the benefit of the poor, by the poor where you can get the poor to work it. …
“Thus you will see, brethren, that in many of its great essentials, we have, as the Welfare Plan has now developed, the broad essentials of the United Order. Furthermore, having in mind the assistance which is being given from time to time and in various wards to help set people up in business or in farming, we have a plan which is not essentially unlike that which was in the United Order when the poor were given portions from the common fund.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1942, p. 57–58)
In light of the fact that we are not now required to live the law of consecration and the further fact that we have the welfare program which, as President Clark said, if put “thoroughly into operation … we shall not be … far from carrying out the great fundamentals of the United Order,” I suppose the best way to live the principles of the law of consecration is to abide by the principles and practices of the welfare program.
These principles and practices include avoiding idleness and greed, contributing liberal fast offerings and other welfare donations, paying a full tithing, and complying with the purpose for which the First Presidency organized the program, which they thus stated:
“Our primary purpose was to set up, in so far as it might be possible, a system under which the curse of idleness would be done away with, the evils of a dole abolished, and independence, industry, thrift and self respect be once more established amongst our people. The aim of the Church is to help the people to help themselves. Work is to be re-enthroned as the ruling principle of the lives of our Church membership.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1936, p. 3)