When the Lord invited John Johnson to participate in the United Firm in 1833, He coupled that invitation with an assignment:
He shall seek diligently to take away incumbrances that are upon the house named among you,Doctrine and Covenants 96:9
An encumbrance (or incumbrance) is a burden or an impediment to progress. As a legal term, it refers to a claim against a property, such as a mortgage. In John Johnson’s case, the Lord seems to have had a mortgage in mind. The Church had recently purchased a 103-acre farm, which members called the French Farm because the seller was named Peter French. The Lord had assigned Newell K. Whitney, the bishop, to divide the land into lots for the use of church members, but to allocate a portion of the land for church members to build a “holy house,” the Kirtland Temple. (See Doctrine and Covenants 96:2-3.)
In response to the revelation, John Johnson sold his farm and donated the proceeds to the Church. Combined with other assets, these funds were used to pay the mortgage on the property, paving the way for the church to build the temple. (See Craig James Ostler, “The Laws of Consecration, Stewardship, and Tithing,” in Sperry Symposium Classics: The Doctrine and Covenants, ed. Craig K. Manscill (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2004), 155–175.)
King Benjamin emphasized the importance of removing encumbrances in a timely manner.
Whosoever among you borroweth of his neighbor should return the thing that he borroweth, according as he doth agree, or else thou shalt commit sin; and perhaps thou shalt cause thy neighbor to commit sin also.Mosiah 4:28
President Heber J. Grant taught:
If there is any one thing that will bring peace and contentment into the human heart, and into the family, it is to live within our means. And if there is any one thing that is grinding and discouraging and disheartening, it is to have debts and obligations that one cannot meet.Gospel Standards, comp. G. Homer Durham , 111, quoted in Gordon B. Hinckley, “To the Boys and to the Men,” General Conference, October 1998
Of course, inherent in living with other people is entering into obligations with each other. Whether we have financial debts or not, all of us are encumbered with commitments we have made, things we have agreed to do, obligations we have entered that we must fulfill. As long as we fulfill these obligations promptly, they need not impair our happiness. But when we are slow to fulfill them or when we enter into more obligations than we can reasonably fulfill, they can become an overwhelming burden.
Last week, a friend of mine agreed to do something for me. I thought he would fulfill the agreement over the next few days, but about two hours later, I learned that he had already completed the task. I was impressed that he was so quick to fulfill his commitment, and I reflected on how much stress I could avoid if I fulfilled my obligations more quickly.
Today, I will seek diligently to remove the encumbrances in my life. I will review the commitments I have made to other people and fulfill them in a timely manner. I will also be careful as I make new commitments to ensure that I have the capacity to fulfill them.