Covenant, 29 November 1834
JS and , Covenant, , Geauga Co., OH, 29 Nov. 1834. Featured version copied [29 Nov. 1834] in JS, Journal, Nov. 1832–Dec. 1834, pp. 87–91; handwriting of ; includes signatures of JS and ; JS Collection, CHL. For more complete source information, see the source note for JS, Journal, Nov. 1832–Dec. 1834.
On 29 November 1834, JS and signed a covenant that Cowdery recorded in JS’s journal, pledging that a tenth of all that God gave them would be given to the poor of the church or used for other purposes designated by God. JS and Cowdery were prompted to make the covenant in gratitude for a loan received the previous day. In a meeting of the , Ohio, on 28 November, and Caroline Tippets, representatives of the , New York, of the church, had provided loans totaling $430. JS, Cowdery, and cosigned notes to repay the loans the following spring.Although JS and may have had personal debts needing repayment, there are a number of other possible reasons the loans were necessary. The money may have been needed to repay debts that had assumed on behalf of the church. Whitney still owed over $2,000 to New York merchants for goods he had obtained for his , which was operating as a church . Although this store served the needs of the general populace, it also supplied the needs of the poor as directed by Whitney in his role as bishop. An account book that Whitney kept shows he made payments totaling $450 to these merchants in late November and December 1834, perhaps using the $430 from the branch. Whitney had also assumed a $3,000 debt for the church’s purchase of the , where church members were constructing the ; and a $1,500 payment on that debt was coming due in April 1835. In addition, as work proceeded on the House of the Lord, payment for building materials was probably required. , a firm operated by Cowdery and Williams to oversee the church’s in Kirtland, also had monthly expenditures that sometimes exceeded its receipts. In accordance with instructions given by the Kirtland high council in September 1834, the church was beginning an effort to print a compilation of “the items of the doctrine of Jesus Christ for the government of the church of Latter-Day Saints” and may have needed additional funds to finance the printing. Whatever use JS and Cowdery made of the money, the $430 apparently came at an opportune time for them. Before making the covenant, they offered thanks to God for the loan and asked for “the continuance of blessings.”The concept of , or paying a tenth of one’s property or money to a religious organization, was not unfamiliar in the . Churches in European nations—especially the Catholic and Anglican churches—had for centuries requiring tithes of crops and other property for the sustenance of priests; in fact, such offerings were often required by law. Some colonies in British North America, such as , also instituted legally established tithes to support the Anglican clergy, but such practices generally came to an end following the Revolutionary War. One study found that Church of England rectors in late eighteenth-century Virginia suffered after taxes could no longer be used to compensate the clergy. “Salaries had to be raised by subscription from parishioners unaccustomed to voluntary contributions,” the study states, and “the result was that rectors received very little for their ministerial services.” By the 1830s, Protestant denominations in the United States generally relied on free-will offerings, pew-rental systems, book sales, preachers’ subscriptions, and other sources for income rather than requiring tithes. Earlier JS revelations stated that God required the tithing of his people, but tithing in those revelations seemed to mean the practice of consecrating money and property to the church, rather than supplying a tenth of all that one had.The idea for the covenant likely came from Genesis 28, in which the biblical prophet Jacob “vowed a vow” that if God provided him with the necessary nourishment and raiment in his travels, he would give God a tenth out “of all that thou [God] shalt give me.” According to a prayer that follows the covenant in JS’s journal, JS and considered Jacob’s vow “a like covenant” to the one they made. Similar to Jacob’s vow, JS and Cowdery’s covenant was conditional; the tenth would be paid when they were no longer in debt. But no such time was in sight. By September 1835, JS was still petitioning God to bless him with “prosperity, untill I will be able to pay all my depts.” An 1838 letter written after JS left stated that “wicked vexatious Lawsuits” over the past seven years had prevented him from leaving his financial affairs “in as good a situation as I had antisipated.” Cowdery, too, was still saddled with debt in 1838, in part because of the failure of church business initiatives that he was involved with. Because JS and Cowdery lacked the resources to free themselves completely from debt, they apparently did not begin paying the promised tithe before a July 1838 revelation required church members to give to the bishop “all their surpluss” and then “one tenth of all their interest annually.”entered the covenant into JS’s journal as part of a larger entry for 29 November 1834. The covenant is preceded by a paragraph explaining a prayer Cowdery and JS offered on the evening of 29 November. Following the covenant is the transcription of another prayer, asking God to allow them to prevail over their enemies.
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