The early Church underwent significant changes to its organization in a relatively short period of time. Many of these changes can be tracked by reading the early revelations given to individuals in the Doctrine and Covenants. For modern readers, some of the earliest revelations reference lesser-known organizations or individuals. One such revelation, given on March 15, 1832 (now Doctrine and Covenants 81), was given to a relatively unknown figure from Church history: Jesse Gause.Born in 1784, Jesse Gause was raised in Pennsylvania and lived for a time in Delaware. He joined the Society of Friends (the Quakers) in 1806, married Martha Johnson in 1815, and had moved to Ohio by the following year. Five years later, he returned to Delaware. After the death of his first wife in 1828, he moved closer to his extended family—who were members of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing (the Shakers)—for help in supporting his children. By 1829, he had joined the Shaker faith. He remarried in 1830 to Minerva Eliza Byram and settled in a Shaker community in North Union, Ohio, just 15 miles from Kirtland, Ohio.
Exactly how Jesse came to be baptized is unknown, but he quickly gained Joseph Smith’s trust and rose to prominence in the Church. On March 8, 1832, at Hiram, Ohio, Gause and Sidney Rigdon were appointed counselors to Joseph Smith in the newly formed presidency of the high priesthood.Joseph’s own appointment as president of the high priesthood had taken place in January. This presidency was the forerunner to the First Presidency of the Church.
Gause not only acted as a counselor to Joseph Smith, but he also served a mission, traveled to Missouri on Church business, and served as a scribe on the Bible revision project, later known as the Joseph Smith Translation. Like many other members of the early Church, he showed his dedication to his new faith through his labors in helping the cause of Zion.
Sidney Rigdon, who had been baptized in Ohio in late 1830 and had served as a scribe for Joseph Smith, had already been the subject and recipient of several revelations. The revelation that is now Doctrine and Covenants 81, however, was the first one to address Jesse Gause directly. While it is unclear whether Gause specifically requested a revelation from Joseph Smith, the text gives important clarification of Gause’s duties, not just as a member of the Church but as a counselor to Joseph Smith.
The revelation informed Gause (and future readers) that the “keys of the kingdom” belong to the office of the presidency of the high priesthood—in this case, to Joseph Smith himself. It also said that Gause would be blessed if he was “faithful in counsel, in the office” to which he was appointed.
Gause was to “do the greatest good unto [his] fellow beings,” including praying publicly and preaching the gospel to members and nonmembers alike. This, he was told, would “promote the glory of him who is your Lord.” And if he remained “faithful unto the end,” he would receive a “crown of Immortality.”
Perhaps surprisingly, Gause was excommunicated from the Church less than a year after the revelation admonished him to endure to the end.His virtual disappearance from the historical records following his missionary labors with Zebedee Coltrin in August 1832 make it difficult to understand why he left. Given his background in both the Quaker and Shaker faiths, it is possible that he came to have theological disagreements with Joseph Smith or other Church members—particularly as Joseph continued to update the doctrine of the Church through revelations.
Modern-day readers of Doctrine and Covenants 81 will find Jesse Gause’s name only in the section heading. By the time the revelation was published in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, Gause’s name had been replaced with that of the man called to take his place: Frederick G. Williams. Subsequent editions of the Doctrine and Covenants retained Williams as the recipient of this revelation. Williams, who replaced Gause as a counselor in January 1833, had been an early convert and supporter of Joseph Smith. Like Gause and Rigdon, Williams also acted as a scribe and clerk to Joseph Smith.
The written records of Joseph Smith’s early revelations underwent changes when early leaders of the Church prepared those revelatory texts for publication in the Doctrine and Covenants in 1835.The changes were logical because some of the revelations no longer reflected the current state of Church organization or doctrinal understanding. As the editors prepared the revelations for print, they likely viewed the revelation in Doctrine and Covenants 81 not merely as counsel to an individual, but rather as a more general revelation to a counselor who was to support Joseph Smith. And because Jesse Gause had left the Church, it is understandable that the editors would have substituted the name of Williams instead.
In some ways, the early revelations were snapshots in time, providing modern readers with a window to the way continuing revelation shaped the early Church. In other ways, the revelations have broader applications. Doctrine and Covenants 81 can be read today not only as an intimate revelation to an early member of the Church, but also as counsel to anyone who is willing to support the prophet.