The following epistle was written by Joseph Smith Jr. to William W. Phelps, November 27, 1832. Part of this Epistle as canon for use in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as Section 85 of their Doctrine and Covenants. Inspired changes to the text have been placed in italics.
1 Brother William W. Phelps, I say brother because I feel so from the heart, and although it is not long since I wrote a letter unto you, yet I feel as though you would excuse me for writing this, as I have many things which I wish to communicate; some things which I will mention in this letter which are laying great with weight upon my mind.
2 I inform you I am well, and family; God grant that you may enjoy the same, and yours, and all the brethren and sisters who remember to inquire after the commandments of the Lord and the welfare of Zion and such a being as me.
3 And while I dictate this letter, I fancy to myself that you are saying or thinking something similar to these words:
4 My God, great and mighty art thou! Therefore, shew unto thy servant what shall become of all these who are assaying to come up unto Zion in order to keep the commandments of God, and yet receive not there inheritance by consecration, by order or deed from the Bishop, the man that God has appointed in a legal way, agreeable to the Law given to organize and regulate the Church and all the affairs of the same;
5 Brother William, in the love of God, having the most implicit confidence in you as a man of God, having obtained this confidence by a vision of heaven;
6 Therefore, I will proceed to unfold to you some of the feelings of my heart and proceed to answer the questions.
7 [85:1-2a] Firstly, it is the duty of the Lord’s clerk, whom He has appointed, to keep a history and a general Church record of all things that transpire in Zion, and of all those who consecrate properties and receive inheritances legally from the Bishop; and also there manner of life, and their faith and works;
8 [85:2b] And also of all the apostates who apostatize after receiving there inheritances; whoa in that day shall not find an inheritance among the Saints of the Most High;
9 Therefore, it shall be done unto them as unto the children of the Priest, as you will find recorded in the second chapter and sixty first and second verses of Ezra.
10 Now Brother William, if what I have said is true, how careful then had men aught to be what they do in the last days, lest they think they stand should fall because they keep not the Lord’s commandments;
11 Whilest you who obey, who do the will of the Lord, and keep His commandments have need to rejoice with unspeakable joy;
12 For such shall be exalted very high, and shall be lifted up in triumph above all the kingdoms of the world.
13 But I must drop this subject at the beginning: O Lord, when will the time come when Brother William, thy servant, and myself behold the day that we may stand together and gaze upon eternal wisdom engraven upon the heavens?
14 While the majesty of our God holdeth up the dark curtain, until we may read the record of eternity to the fullness of our immortal souls?
15 O Lord God, deliver us in thy due time from the little narrow prison, almost as it were total darkness of paper, pen and ink, and a crooked broken scattered and imperfect language.
16 [85:3] I would inform secondly; it is contrary to the will and commandment of God that those who receive not their inheritance by consecration, agreeable to His Law, which He has given that He may tithe His people, to prepare them against the day of vengeance and burning, should have there names enrolled with the people of God;
17 [85:4] Neither is their genealogy to be kept, or to be had where it may be found on any of the records or history of the Church;
18 [85:5] There names shall not be found, neither the names of their father or the names of their children written in the Book of the Law of God, saith. the Lord of hosts.
19 [85:6] Yeab, thus saith the still small voice which whispereth through and pierceth all things, and often times it maketh my bones to quake while it maketh manifest, saying:
20 [85:7-8] And it shall come to pass that I, the Lord God, will send one mighty and strong, holding the scepter of power in his hand, clothed with light for a covering, whose mouth shall utter words, eternal words, while his bowels shall be a fountain of truth to set in order the house of God, and to arrange by lot the inheritance of the Saints whose names are found; and the names of their fathers, and of their children enrolled in the Book of the Law of God while that man, who was called of God and appointed, that putteth forth his hand to steady the ark of God shall fall by the shaft of death, like as a tree that is smitten by the vivid shaft of lightning.
21 [85:9] And all they who are not found written in the Book of Remembrance shall find none inheritance in that day, but they shall be cut asunder, and their portion shall be appointed them among unbelievers where is wailing and gnashing of teeth.
22 [85:10] These things I say not of myself; therefore, as the Lord speaketh He will also fulfill,
23 [85:11] Andc they who are of the High Priesthood, as well as the lesser Priesthood, or the members whose names are not found written in the Book of the Law, or that are found to have apostatized, or to have been cut off out of the Church, in that day shall not find an inheritance among the Saints of the Most High;
24 [85:12] Therefore, it shall be done unto them as unto the children of the Priest as you will find recorded in the second chapter and sixty first and second verses of Ezrad.
25 Now, Brother William, if what I have said is true, how careful then had men and women aught to be what they do in the last days, lest they are cut short of their expectations and they that think they stand should fall, because they keep not the Lords commandments whilst you who do the will of the Lord and keep his commandments have need to rejoice with unspeakable joy;
26 For such shall be exalted very high and shall be lifted up in triumph above all the kingdoms of this world; but I must drop this subject at the beginning.
27 O Lord, when will the time come when Brother William, thy servant, and myself behold the day that we may stand together and gaze upon eternal wisdom engraven upon the Heavens, while the majesty of our God holdeth up the dark curtain; until we may read the sound of eternity to the fullness and satisfaction of our immortal souls?
28 O Lord God, deliver us in thy due time from the little narrow prison, almost as it were total darkness of paper, pen, and ink and a crooked broken scattered and imperfect languagee.
29 No more, my love for all the Brethren; yours in bonds, Amen. -Joseph Smith Jr
a. Word added for clarification.
b. At this point, Frederick G. Williams handwriting ends and Joseph Smith Jr’.’s begins.
c. This text was changed for clarity, it originally read: And they who are of the High Priesthood, whose names are not found written in the Book of the Law, or that are found to have apostatized, or to have been cut off out of the Church, as well as the lesser Priesthood, or the members, in that day shall not find an inheritance among the Saints of the Most High;
d. Ezra 2:61-62: “And of the children of the priests: the children of Habaiah, the children of Koz, the children of Barzillai; which took a wife of the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite, and was called after their name: these sought their register among those that were reckoned by genealogy, but they were not found: therefore were they, as polluted, put from the priesthood.”
e. Text omitted between this and the next verse is as follows: “I would inform you that I have obtained ten subscribers for the Star and received pay their names and place of residence are as follows: John McMahhan, James McMahhan, James White, William Brown, Henry Kingery, Micayer Dillions, Abraham Kingery, John A Fisher, David Houghs, Thomas Singers, the papers and all to be sent to Guyndotte Post office Verginea, except David Houghs his is to be sent to Wayne County, Worster Township, Ohio. Vienna Jaqis has not received her papers, please inform her Sister Hariet, that Shee is well and give my respects to her. Tell her that Mr. Angels Brother came after her and the child soon after she went from here, All he wanted wanted was the child.”