Following the baptisms of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery on 15 May 1829, the Prophet Joseph reported:
“Our minds being now enlightened, we began to have the Scriptures laid open to our understandings, and the true meaning and intention of their more mysterious passages revealed unto us in a manner which we never could attain to previously, nor ever before had thought of. In the meantime we were forced to keep secret the circumstances of having received the Priesthood and our having been baptized, owing to a spirit of persecution which had already manifested itself in the neighborhood. . . .
“After a few days, however, feeling it to be our duty, we commenced to reason out of the Scriptures with our acquaintances and friends, as we happened to meet with them. About this time my brother Samuel H. Smith came to visit us. . . .
“Not many days afterwards, my brother Hyrum Smith came to us to inquire concerning these things, when at his earnest request, I inquired of the Lord through the Urim and Thummim, and received for him the following: [D&C 11].” (History of the Church, 1:43–45.)
For a discussion of these verses, see Notes and Commentary for Doctrine and Covenants 4:1–4; 6:1–9.
“When the Lord calls upon his servants to cry nothing but repentance, he does not mean that they may not cry baptism, and call upon the people to obey the commandments of the Lord, but he wishes that all that they say and do be in the spirit of bringing the people to repentance. Any missionary who fails to do this in his ministry is derelict in his duty.” (Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:57.)
Like Oliver Cowdery (see D&C 8:6–9) Hyrum Smith was promised a gift from the Lord. President Joseph Fielding Smith explained what the gift was: “The Lord declared that Hyrum Smith had a gift. The great gift which he possessed was that of a tender, sympathetic heart; a merciful spirit. The Lord on a later occasion said: ‘Blessed is my servant Hyrum Smith; for I, the Lord, love him because of the integrity of his heart, and because he loveth that which is right before me, saith the Lord.’ (D. & C., 124:15.) This great gift was manifest in his jealous watch care over the Prophet lest some harm come to him.” (Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:57.)
Hyrum’s gift was not promised unconditionally. It would come only after he exercised faith in Jesus Christ. (See D&C 11:10.)
“Blessed is my servant Hyrum Smith” (D&C 124:15).
President Lorenzo Snow taught of the powerful influence that following the Spirit can have on one’s life: “There is a way by which persons can keep their consciences clear before God and man, and that is to preserve within them the spirit of God, which is the spirit of revelation to every man and woman. It will reveal to them, even in the simplest of matters, what they shall do, by making suggestions to them. We should try to learn the nature of this spirit, that we may understand its suggestions, and then we will always be able to do right. This is the grand privilege of every Latter-day Saint. We know that it is our right to have the manifestations of the spirit every day of our lives. . . . From the time we receive the Gospel, go down into the waters of baptism and have hands laid upon us afterwards for the gift of the Holy Ghost, we have a friend, if we do not drive it from us by doing wrong. That friend is the Holy Spirit, the Holy Ghost, which partakes of the things of God and shows them unto us. This is a grand means that the Lord has provided for us, that we may know the light, and not be groveling continually in the dark.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1899, p. 52.)
In section 11 “the Lord . . . teaches Hyrum Smith several steps to be followed in preparing for a mission:
“1. Desire to serve the Lord. (11:10, 17.)
“2. Live worthily to receive the Spirit of the Lord so it can ‘enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy.’ (11:13.)
“3. Keep the commandments of the Lord, assisting in the work of the Lord in any way that you might be asked. (11:18–20.)
“4. Seek to obtain the word of the Lord through (a) studying the word of the Lord that had already gone forth—the Bible—and (b) studying the word of the Lord that was then being translated—the Book of Mormon. (11:21–22.)
“5. Build upon the gospel, denying not either the spirit of revelation nor the spirit of prophecy. (11:24–25.)
“The Lord indicates further that these suggestions are for ‘all who have good desires’ to serve. (11:27.)” (Ludlow, Companion, 1:108–9.)
The concept of having proper authority from God in order to act for Him is central to Church organization. President Joseph Fielding Smith explained that “it is quite the common thing in the world for men to assume authority and to act in the name of the Lord when he has not called them. No man is authorized to act in the name of the Lord, or to officiate in any ordinance, unless he has been properly called. For this reason the Priesthood was restored and the Church organized. When this revelation was given the Church had not been organized. Presumably some of those who sought light and the will of the Lord felt that when the Lord spoke to them, they were authorized to go forth to act in his name. Here he informs Hyrum Smith that he was to wait (v. 15), yet he was to put his trust in the Holy Spirit and to walk humbly, to judge righteously, ‘and this is my Spirit.’” (Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:57.)
The Lord often repeated the instruction to keep the commandments (see vv. 9, 18, 20).
In Moses 1:39 the Lord says, “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (italics added), whereas to Hyrum the Lord says, “This is your work, to keep my commandments, yea, with all your might, mind and strength” (D&C 11:20; italics added).
Similar language was used by the Lord to respond to the question of the Pharisees about which is the great commandment in the law (see Matthew 22:36–37). Only by keeping the Lord’s commandments can one show love for the Lord and accomplish His work.
On several occasions the Lord used the word rock to refer to the gospel (see Matthew 7:24–25; 3 Nephi 11:32–39; D&C 18:4–5, 17; 12:12–13).
The word rock also refers to a principle of the gospel as explained by the Prophet Joseph Smith: “Jesus in His teachings says, ‘Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’ What rock? Revelation.” (History of the Church, 5:258.)
Another use of the word rock in the scriptures applies directly to the Lord Himself (see D&C 50:43–44; Deuteronomy 32:2–4).
President Joseph Fielding Smith explained that this counsel to Hyrum Smith would serve as “good counsel for all of us today. There are some members of the Church who seemingly complain because the Lord is not giving revelations to be placed in the Doctrine and Covenants, as in the beginning, and they ask why revelation has ceased in the Church. Usually it is the case that these critics are not faithfully keeping the commandments the Lord has already given and their eyes are blind to the fact that revelation and the guidance of the Lord is being meted out to the Church constantly. No one with the spirit of discernment can fail to see that the hand of the Lord has guided this people from the beginning and this guidance is manifest today as in other times to all who are humble and have a contrite spirit. (See Jacob 4:8.)” (Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:57.)
President Hugh B. Brown also taught the central importance of revelation in the Church: “The things of God can only be understood by the Spirit of God and the Spirit of God is a revealing spirit. The Master promised before he left the earth to send another Comforter which would lead men into all truth. [See John 15:26; 16:7.] Divine revelation had always been a characteristic of the living Church—it is absolutely essential to its continued existence in an organized state on the earth.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1961, pp. 93–94.)
Enrichment C in the Appendix contains a further discussion of personal revelation.
See Doctrine and Covenants 84:85 for insight into the significance of this command and the blessings that result from obedience to it.
See Doctrine and Covenants 76:51–60; 84:33–38; 132:22–24; Moses 6:57–68; 1 John 3:1–10.
“For fifteen years he has been faithful and true, and even-handed and exemplary, and virtuous and kind, never deviating to the right hand or to the left. Behold he is a righteous man . . . and it shall be said of him, by the sons of Zion, while there is one of them remaining, that this man was a faithful man in Israel; therefore his name shall never be forgotten.” (History of the Church, 5:124–25.)
This tribute was written by Joseph Smith of his true and trusted friend, Joseph Knight Sr., on 22 August 1842.
Joseph Knight Sr. had early in the history of the Church become a close and helpful friend of the Prophet. Joseph Smith first met him in 1826 when Joseph Knight hired him to work at his farm and grist mill in Colesville, Broome County, New York. From that time forth Joseph Knight offered both material and spiritual support to Joseph Smith, including provisions that allowed the Prophet and his scribe to work on the translation of the Book of Mormon at a very crucial time of its production. Joseph Smith wrote:
“About the same time an old gentleman came to visit us of whose name I wish to make honorable mention—Mr. Joseph Knight, Sen., of Colesville, Broome county, New York, who, having heard of the manner in which we were occupying our time, very kindly and considerately brought us a quantity of provisions, in order that we might not be interrupted in the work of translation by the want of such necessaries of life; and I would just mention here, as in duty bound, that he several times brought us supplies, a distance of at least thirty miles, which enabled us to continue the work when otherwise we must have relinquished it for a season.
“Being very anxious to know his duty as to this work, I inquired of the Lord for him, and obtained the following: [D&C 12].” (History of the Church, 1:47–48.)
The Prophet received the revelation sometime in May 1829 while living in Harmony, Pennsylvania.
Joseph Knight offered his means to aid Joseph Smith.
Notes and Commentary on Doctrine and Covenants 6:1–9 explains why certain sections have identical verses.
After briefly describing the Savior’s life, Elder Spencer W. Kimball gave the following definition of humility:
“If the Lord was meek and lowly and humble, then to become humble one must do what He did in boldly denouncing evil, bravely advancing righteous works, courageously meeting every problem, becoming the master of himself and the situations about him and being near oblivious to personal credit. . . .
“Humble and meek properly suggest virtues, not weaknesses. They suggest a consistent mildness of temper and an absence of wrath and passion. Humility suggests no affectation, no bombastic actions. It is not turbid nor grandiloquent. It is not servile submissiveness. It is not cowed nor frightened. No shadow or the shaking of a leaf terrorizes it.
“How does one get humble? To me, one must constantly be reminded of his dependence. On whom dependent? On the Lord. How remind one’s self? By real, constant, worshipful, grateful prayer.” (Humility, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year [Provo, 16 Jan. 1963], pp. 2–3.)
Love is a motivator. When a person is full of love for God and his fellowman, he is motivated to serve both. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “Love is one of the chief characteristics of Deity, and ought to be manifested by those who aspire to be the sons of God. A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race.” (History of the Church, 4:227.)
“It is our Lord who is speaking. He calls Himself the Light and the Life of the World . . . (John 1:4, 9; 3:19; 6:35; 12:35; 14:6). The Savior frequently quotes in these Revelations; or, rather, expressions familiar to the readers of John’s writing meet us here again and again. John had a prominent part in the ushering in of this dispensation. On the Isle of Patmos he saw the coming, in our day, of the ‘mighty angel’ with the ‘little book open,’ and it was said to him, ‘Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings’ (Rev. 10:11). In fulfilment of this prediction, he and two fellow Apostles conferred the Melchizedek Priesthood upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. No wonder if the spirit of the teachings of these Apostles, and especially that of John, the last of the first Twelve, should be discernible in these Revelations.” (Smith and Sjodahl, Commentary, p. 67.)
Universal apostasy followed the death of the Savior and His Apostles. Over the centuries that followed, man was no longer authorized to act for God. This condition helped to fulfill prophecy: “The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant” (Isaiah 24:5).
The coming of John the Baptist in this dispensation, as promised by the Savior (see Matthew 17:11–13), meant that mortal man was once again divinely commissioned to act in behalf of his Creator.
Joseph Smith explained the circumstances surrounding the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood (see JS—H 1:68–72), which took place along the bank of the Susquehanna River near Harmony, Pennsylvania. Oliver Cowdery, who was with the Prophet on this occasion, was filled with awe and wonder, for it was his first experience with a heavenly messenger. He wrote:
“On a sudden, as from the midst of eternity, the voice of the Redeemer spake peace to us, while the vail was parted and the angel of God came down clothed with glory, and delivered the anxiously looked for message, and the keys of the gospel of repentance!—What joy! what wonder! what amazement! While the world was racked and distracted—while millions were groping as the blind for the wall, and while all men were resting upon uncertainty, as a general mass, our eyes beheld—our ears heard. As in the ‘blaze of days;’ yes, more—above the glitter of the May Sun beam, which then shed its brilliancy over the face of nature! Then his voice, though mild, pierced to the center, and his words, ‘I am thy fellow-servant,’ dispelled every fear. We listened—we gazed—we admired! ’Twas the voice of an angel from glory—’twas a message from the Most High! and as we heard we rejoiced, while his love enkindled upon our souls, and we were wrapt in the vision of the Almighty! Where was room for doubt? No where; uncertainty had fled, doubt had sunk, no more to rise, while fiction and deception had fled forever!
“But, dear brother think, further think for a moment, what joy filled our hearts and with what surprise we must have bowed, (for who would not have bowed the knee for such a blessing?) when we received under his hand the holy priesthood.” (Times and Seasons, 1 Nov. 1840, p. 202.)
See Doctrine and Covenants 107:13–14, and compare Doctrine and Covenants 84:26–27.
President Wilford Woodruff recorded the following about his experience with the ministering of angels:
“I had the administration of angels while holding the office of a priest. I had visions and revelations. I traveled thousands of miles. I baptized men, though I could not confirm them because I had not the authority to do it.
“I speak of these things to show that a man should not be ashamed of any portion of the priesthood.” (Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, p. 298.)
“We may be sure that the Aaronic Priesthood will never be taken from the earth while mortality endures, for there will always be need for temporal direction and the performance of ordinances pertaining to ‘the preparatory Gospel.’” (Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:62.)
John the Baptist restored the Aaronic Priesthood.
President Joseph Fielding Smith explained that “after the children of Israel came out of Egypt and while they were sojourning in the wilderness, Moses received a commandment from the Lord to take Aaron and his sons and ordain them and consecrate them as priests for the people. (Ex. 28.) At that time the males of the entire tribe of Levi were chosen to be the priests instead of the firstborn of all the tribes, and Aaron and his sons were given the presidency over the Priesthood thus conferred. Since that time it has been known as the Priesthood of Aaron, including the Levitical Priesthood.” (Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:63.)
The Prophet Joseph Smith commented as follows on this scripture:
“It is generally supposed that sacrifice was entirely done away when the Great Sacrifice [i.e.,] the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus was offered up, and that there will be no necessity for the ordinance of sacrifice in the future; but those who assert this are certainly not acquainted with the duties, privileges and authority of the Priesthood, or with the Prophets.
“The offering of sacrifice has ever been connected and forms a part of the duties of the Priesthood. It began with the Priesthood, and will be continued until after the coming of Christ, from generation to generation. . . .
“These sacrifices, as well as every ordinance belonging to the Priesthood, will, when the Temple of the Lord shall be built, and the sons of Levi be purified, be fully restored and attended to in all their powers, ramifications, and blessings. This ever did and ever will exist when the powers of the Melchizedek Priesthood are sufficiently manifest; else how can the restitution of all things spoken of by the Holy Prophets be brought to pass. It is not to be understood that the law of Moses will be established again with all its rites and variety of ceremonies; this has never been spoken of by the prophets; but those things which existed prior to Moses’ day, namely, sacrifice, will be continued.” (Teachings, pp. 172–73.)
President Joseph Fielding Smith further explained that “we are living in the dispensation of the fulness of times into which all things are to be gathered, and all things are to be restored since the beginning. Even this earth is to be restored to the condition which prevailed before Adam’s transgression. Now in the nature of things, the law of sacrifice will have to be restored, or all things which were decreed by the Lord would not be restored. It will be necessary, therefore, for the sons of Levi, who offered the blood sacrifices anciently in Israel, to offer such a sacrifice again to round out and complete this ordinance in this dispensation. Sacrifice by the shedding of blood was instituted in the days of Adam and of necessity will have to be restored.
“The sacrifice of animals will be done to complete the restoration when the temple spoken of is built; at the beginning of the millennium, or in the restoration, blood sacrifices will be performed long enough to complete the fulness of the restoration in this dispensation. Afterwards sacrifice will be of some other character.” (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:94.)
Notes and Commentary for Doctrine and Covenants 128:24 contains additional insights into what else might be included in the offering of the sons of Levi.
While Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery worked on the translation of the Book of Mormon at the Prophet’s farm in Harmony, Pennsylvania, persecution began to increase, making it more and more difficult to finish the work. At this time Oliver Cowdery wrote to David Whitmer requesting him to come to Harmony to take him and Joseph Smith to the home of David’s father, Peter Whitmer Sr., who was a resident of Fayette, New York. They wanted to reside with the Whitmer family while they completed the work of translation. Earlier Joseph Smith had become acquainted with Peter Whitmer and several members of the family. Oliver Cowdery had also been corresponding with David Whitmer while the Book of Mormon was translated. Through this correspondence the whole Whitmer family became acquainted with the work of the Restoration.
The Prophet Joseph Smith recorded that “in the beginning of the month of June, his [Peter Whitmer Sr.’s] son, David Whitmer, came to the place where we were residing, and brought with him a two-horse wagon, for the purpose of having us accompany him to his father’s place, and there remain until we should finish the work. It was arranged that we should have our board free of charge, and the assistance of one of his brothers to write for me, and also his own assistance when convenient. Having much need of such timely aid in an undertaking so arduous, and being informed that the people in the neighborhood of the Whitmers were anxiously awaiting the opportunity to inquire into these things, we accepted the invitation, and accompanied Mr. Whitmer to his father’s house, and there resided until the translation was finished and the copyright secured. Upon our arrival, we found Mr. Whitmer’s family very anxious concerning the work, and very friendly toward ourselves. They continued so, boarded and lodged us according to arrangements; and John Whitmer, in particular, assisted us very much in writing during the remainder of the work.
“In the meantime, David, John and Peter Whitmer, Jun., became our zealous friends and assistants in the work; and being anxious to know their respective duties, and having desired with much earnestness that I should inquire of the Lord concerning them, I did so, through the means of the Urim and Thummim, and obtained for them in succession the following revelations: [D&C 14–16].” (History of the Church, 1:48–49.)
Replica of the Peter Whitmer home, where the Book of Mormon translation was completed.
Several key concepts were repeated in some of the first revelations given to Joseph Smith. Notes and Commentary on Doctrine and Covenants 4, 6, and 11 discusses these concepts.
In order for David Whitmer or any of God’s children to have eternal life they must endure to the end, that is, remain faithful throughout their mortal probation. The scriptures are replete with this doctrine (see Matthew 10:22; 24:13; Mark 13:13; 1 Corinthians 13:7; 1 Nephi 13:37; 2 Nephi 9:24; 31:20; 3 Nephi 15:9; 27:16–17; D&C 10:69; 53:7; Articles of Faith 1:13; see also Topical Guide, “endure,” 121).
The Lord counseled David Whitmer to ask in faith and to be believing so that he would receive the Holy Ghost and also that he might see, hear, and know the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. David’s faith was sufficient, and he became one of the three special witnesses of the Book of Mormon.
President Wilford Woodruff, speaking in a day when there were few Jewish converts to the Church, said: “We are all Gentiles. The Latter-day Saints are all Gentiles in a national capacity. The Gospel came to us among the Gentiles. We are not Jews, and the Gentile nations have got to hear the Gospel first. The whole Christian world have got to hear the Gospel, and when they reject it, the law will be bound and the testimony sealed, and it will turn to the house of Israel. Up to the present day we have been called to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, and we have had to do it. For the last time we have been warning the world, and we have been engaged in that work for forty-five years.” (In Journal of Discourses, 18:112.)
See Historical Background for Doctrine and Covenants 14.
Elder John A. Widtsoe gave these insights into why personal revelations for specific individuals are included in the Doctrine and Covenants:
“The Doctrine and Covenants is a compilation of the revelations received by Joseph Smith to individuals and for the guidance of the Church. From the first years of the work the Prophet kept every scrap of paper pertaining to the progress of the work. In fact this care of things that must have seemed trivial is one of the evidences of the sincerity of the man. For example, when John and Peter Whitmer asked for help, he received for each of them a revelation, substantially the same: [D&C 15–16].
“This simple revelation is directed to the individual and at first sight has no permanent value for the Church. Yet as a revelation from God it was preserved and published. An insincere man could have eliminated this and other similar revelations as of little consequence. Not so with Joseph. The Lord had spoken. The words were part of the building of the kingdom of God, and the same advice would be useful to many men then and now.” (Joseph Smith, pp. 251–52.)
The Book of Commandments contained early revelations to Joseph Smith.
A person’s arm represents that person’s strength and power. Similarly, the phrase “arm of God” denotes His power and authority. The following references illustrate different ways this phrase is used: Doctrine and Covenants 1:14; 3:8; 35:8; Isaiah 52:10; John 12:38; 3 Nephi 9:14; see also Notes and Commentary on Doctrine and Covenants 1:14.
Earlier the Lord had given Oliver Cowdery a similar revelation concerning the thoughts and intents of his heart (see Notes and Commentary on D&C 6:16).
Elder Rudger Clawson, of the Quorum of the Twelve, commented on the significance of this revelation for all: “Cast your minds back to the early days of this Church, and there stood this man John Whitmer, recently come into the Church of Christ. Various occupations in which he might engage were before him. He had the opportunity to labor upon the farm, to engage in merchandising, to follow mining, to study the profession of medicine or law, or to adopt one of the many other occupations in which men employ themselves. The question he asked himself at that time was, What would be of the most worth to him? By his industry and thrift he might acquire the wealth of a Gould or a Vanderbilt; he might obtain a beautiful home, well furnished in every detail, and most desirable for the comfort and convenience of himself and family; he might obtain worldly renown in one of the professions, and by study and reflection become a skillful practitioner in medicine or a wise and able lawyer. I say, these opportunities were before him, because the country was before him, and this country is full of opportunities, which are within the reach of all. We live in a free country, and the way is open to you and to me, as it was to this man. He stood there in this situation, not having been trained long in the Gospel of Christ, and I say to you—for it is on record here—that a voice came to that man from the eternal worlds, and that voice set at rest in him every doubt, every dubiety, every fearful anticipation. At a critical time in his life, when he must choose which way to go, that voice said unto him that that which would be of most worth unto him was to declare repentance unto the people and bring souls unto Christ. The message was of such importance that it came to him with ‘sharpness and with power.’ It was the voice of Jesus Christ.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1901, p. 7.)
As the translation of the Book of Mormon continued, the Prophet Joseph Smith recorded, “we ascertained that three special witnesses [see D&C 5:11–15] were to be provided by the Lord, to whom He would grant that they should see the plates from which this work (the Book of Mormon) should be translated; and that these witnesses should bear record of the same [see Ether 5:2–4; 2 Nephi 11:3; 27:12]. . . . Almost immediately after we had made this discovery, it occurred to Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and the aforementioned Martin Harris (who had come to inquire after our progress in the work) that they would have me inquire of the Lord to know if they might not obtain of him the privilege to be these three special witnesses; and finally they became so very solicitous, and urged me so much to inquire that at length I complied; and through the Urim and Thummim, I obtained of the Lord for them the following: [D&C 17].” (History of the Church, 1:52–53.)
The Prophet Joseph Smith described how the men who sought to be the Lord’s witnesses to the Book of Mormon were granted this privilege:
“Not many days after the above commandment was given, we four, viz., Martin Harris, David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery and myself, agreed to retire into the woods, and try to obtain, by fervent and humble prayer, the fulfilment of the promises given in the above revelation—that they should have a view of the plates. We accordingly made choice of a piece of woods convenient to Mr. Whitmer’s house, to which we retired, and having knelt down, we began to pray in much faith to Almighty God to bestow upon us a realization of these promises.
“According to previous arrangement, I commenced by vocal prayer to our Heavenly Father, and was followed by each of the others in succession. We did not at the first trial, however, obtain any answer or manifestation of divine favor in our behalf. We again observed the same order of prayer, each calling on and praying fervently to God in rotation, but with the same result as before.
“Upon this, our second failure, Martin Harris proposed that he should withdraw himself from us, believing, as he expressed himself, that his presence was the cause of our not obtaining what we wished for. He accordingly withdrew from us, and we knelt down again, and had not been many minutes engaged in prayer, when presently we beheld a light above us in the air, of exceeding brightness; and behold, an angel stood before us. In his hands he held the plates which we had been praying for these to have a view of. He turned over the leaves one by one, so that we could see them, and discern the engravings thereon distinctly. He then addressed himself to David Whitmer, and said, ‘David, blessed is the Lord, and he that keeps His commandments;’ when, immediately afterwards, we heard a voice from out of the bright light above us, saying, ‘These plates have been revealed by the power of God, and they have been translated by the power of God. The translation of them which you have seen is correct, and I command you to bear record of what you now see and hear.’” (History of the Church, 1:54–55.)
Joseph Smith then concerned himself with Martin Harris, who had departed from them: “I now left David and Oliver, and went in pursuit of Martin Harris, whom I found at a considerable distance, fervently engaged in prayer. He soon told me, however, that he had not yet prevailed with the Lord, and earnestly requested me to join him in prayer, that he also might realize the same blessings which we had just received. We accordingly joined in prayer, and ultimately obtained our desires, for before we had yet finished, the same vision was opened to our view, at least it was again opened to me, and I once more beheld and heard the same things; whilst at the same moment, Martin Harris cried out, apparently in an ecstasy of joy, ‘’Tis enough; ’tis enough; mine eyes have beheld; mine eyes have beheld;’ and jumping up, he shouted, ‘Hosanna,’ blessing God, and otherwise rejoiced exceedingly.” (History of the Church, 1:55.)
The Three Witnesses: Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris
Refer to the following scriptures: Joseph Smith—History 1:34–35; 1 Nephi 4:8–9; 16:10, 16, 26–30; 2 Nephi 5:14; Jacob 1:10; Ether 3:23–24, 28.
Though the Three Witnesses were privileged to see an angel and see and feel the plates, the real power of their witness came through the Holy Ghost. President Joseph Fielding Smith explained: “Christ is the second person in the Godhead. But Christ has himself declared that the manifestations we might have of the Spirit of Christ, or from a visitation of an angel, a tangible resurrected being, would not leave the impression and would not convince us and place within us that something which we cannot get away from which we receive through a manifestation of the Holy Ghost. Personal visitations might become dim as time goes on, but this guidance of the Holy Ghost is renewed and continued, day after day, year after year, if we live to be worthy of it.” (Doctrines of Salvation, 1:44; see also Luke 16:27–31; D&C 5:7–10.)
The Three Witnesses fulfilled an important law established by the Lord. Elder Bruce R. McConkie pointed out that “whenever the Lord has established a dispensation by revealing his gospel and by conferring priesthood and keys upon men, he has acted in accordance with the law of witnesses which he himself ordained. This law is: ‘In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.’ (2 Cor. 13:1; Deut. 17:6; 19:15; Matt. 18:15–16; John 8:12–29.)
“Never does one man stand alone in establishing a new dispensation of revealed truth, or in carrying the burden of such a message and warning to the world. In every dispensation, from Adam to the present, two or more witnesses have always joined their testimonies, thus leaving their hearers without excuse in the day of judgment should the testimony be rejected.” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 436.)
Lucy Mack Smith, the Prophet’s mother, gave the following account describing Joseph’s feelings after he returned home from the manifestation to the Three Witnesses: “When they returned to the house it was between three and four o’clock p.m. Mrs. Whitmer, Mr. Smith and myself, were sitting in a bedroom at the time. On coming in, Joseph threw himself down beside me, and exclaimed, ‘Father, mother, you do not know how happy I am: the Lord has now caused the plates to be shown to three more besides myself. They have seen an angel, who has testified to them, and they will have to bear witness to the truth of what I have said, for now they know for themselves, that I do not go about to deceive the people, and I feel as if I was relieved of a burden which was almost too heavy for me to bear, and it rejoices my soul, that I am not any longer to be entirely alone in the world.’” (History of Joseph Smith, p. 152.)
The testimony of the Three Witnesses is given in the preface to the Book of Mormon.
Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris never faltered in bearing testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. As history attests, however, they did falter in other Church-related areas. David Whitmer left the Church and never came back. Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris both left the Church but were eventually rebaptized and died in full fellowship. But even while they were out of the Church, all three continued to bear solemn witness of the reality of their experience on that day. They undoubtedly felt the weight of the Lord’s warning to them to keep his commandments or the gates of hell would prevail against them.
Francis W. Kirkham wrote about Oliver Cowdery’s death that “in the year 1878, David Whitmer said to Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith concerning his departure: ‘Oliver died the happiest man I ever saw. After shaking hands with the family and kissing his wife and daughter, he said, “Now I lay me down for the last time; I am going to my Savior”; and he died immediately, with a smile on his face.’” (New Witness for Christ, 1:248.)
The Richmond Democrat carried the following account of David Whitmer: “On Sunday evening, at 5:30 (Jan. 22, 1888), Mr. Whitmer called his family and some friends to his bedside, and addressing himself to the attending physician, said: ‘Dr. Buchanan, I want you to say whether or not I am in my right mind, before I give my dying testimony.’ The doctor answered: ‘Yes, you are in your right mind, for I have just had a conversation with you.’ He then addressed himself to all around his bedside in these words: ‘Now you must all be faithful in Christ. I want to say to you all, the Bible and the record of the Nephites (Book of Mormon) is true, so you can say that you have heard me bear my testimony on my death-bed. All be faithful in Christ, and your reward will be according to your works. God bless you all. My trust is in Christ forever, worlds without end. Amen.’” (In Jenson, Biographical Encyclopedia, 1:270.)
The last testimony of Martin Harris was given to Elder William Harrison Homer, who was with him at the time of his death. Elder Homer recorded:
“The next day, July 10, 1875, marked the end. It was in the evening. It was milking time, and Martin Harris, Jr., and his wife, Nancy Homer Harris, had gone out to milk and to do the evening’s chores. In the house with the stricken man were left my mother, Eliza Williamson Homer, and myself, who had had so interesting a day with Martin Harris at Kirtland. I stood by the bedside holding the patient’s right hand and my mother at the foot of the bed, Martin Harris had been unconscious for a number of days. When we first entered the room the old gentleman appeared to be sleeping. He soon woke up and asked for a drink of water. I put my arm under the old gentleman, raised him, and my mother held the glass to his lips. He drank freely, then he looked up at me and recognized me. He said, ‘I know you. You are my friend.’ He said, ‘Yes, I did see the plates on which the Book of Mormon was written; I did see the angel; I did hear the voice of God; and I do know that Joseph Smith is a Prophet of God, holding the keys of the Holy Priesthood.’ This was the end. Martin Harris, divinely-chosen witness of the work of God, relaxed, gave up my hand. He lay back on his pillow and just as the sun went down behind the Clarkston mountains, the soul of Martin Harris passed on. . . .
(Signed) William Harrison Homer.
“Signed in the presence of Mrs. W. H. Homer, Joseph Homer, Leah Widtsoe, John A. Widtsoe.” (In New Witness for Christ, 1:253–54.)
After a man has done all that he can for himself, it is only by the grace of the Lord (that is, by his love, mercy, and condescension) that he can gain salvation (see 2 Nephi 11:24; 25:23). These three men were promised that if they would do all that they were instructed in this revelation, the Lord’s grace is sufficient to ensure their salvation (see also 2 Corinthians 12:9; Ether 12:26–27).
President Joseph Fielding Smith taught that “we are all transgressors of the law to some extent, no matter how good we have tried to be—we are therefore unable in and of ourselves to receive redemption from our sins by any act of our own.
“. . . it is by the grace of Jesus Christ that we are saved.” (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:309.)
After John the Baptist had appeared and foretold the restoration of a higher priesthood (see D&C 13), the Prophet Joseph and Oliver Cowdery “now became anxious to have that promise realized to us, which the angel that conferred upon us the Aaronic Priesthood had given us, viz., that provided we continued faithful, we should also have the Melchizedek Priesthood, which holds the authority of the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. We had for some time made this matter a subject of humble prayer, and at length we got together in the chamber of Mr. Whitmer’s house, in order more particularly to seek of the Lord what we now so earnestly desired; and here, to our unspeakable satisfaction, did we realize the truth of the Savior’s promise—‘Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you’—for we had not long been engaged in solemn and fervent prayer, when the word of the Lord came unto us in the chamber, commanding us that I should ordain Oliver Cowdery to be an Elder in the Church of Jesus Christ; and that he also should ordain me to the same office; and then to ordain others, as it should be made known unto us from time to time. We were, however, commanded to defer this our ordination until such times as it should be practicable to have our brethren, who had been and who should be baptized, assembled together, when we must have their sanction to our thus proceeding to ordain each other, and have them decide by vote whether they were willing to accept us as spiritual teachers or not; when also we were commanded to bless bread and break it with them, and to take wine, bless it, and drink it with them; afterward proceed to ordain each other according to commandment; then call out such men as the Spirit should dictate, and ordain them; and then attend to the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, upon all those whom we had previously baptized, doing all things in the name of the Lord. The following commandment will further illustrate the nature of our calling to this Priesthood, as well as that of others who were yet to be sought after: [D&C 18].” (History of the Church, 1:60–62.)
“In this revelation, Oliver Cowdery was informed that he had received a witness by the Spirit of Truth of the work, especially of the Book of Mormon. Many times during the translating of the record, manifestations of this kind had come to him. Not only had the Spirit made this truth manifest, but he had previous to this revelation stood in the presence of a heavenly messenger and under his hands received the Holy Aaronic Priesthood. Therefore, the Lord could say to him: ‘I have manifested unto you by my Spirit in many instances, that the things which you have written (i.e., as scribe) are true; wherefore you know that they are true.’” (Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:81.)
When the Lord refers to His Church, He is referring to the assembled believers and disciples who have taken upon themselves His name and covenanted to be obedient to His gospel (see D&C 10:67). The Lord defined His gospel in Doctrine and Covenants 39:6. The rock spoken of here and elsewhere is explained in Notes and Commentary on Doctrine and Covenants 11:24.
“Attention is called to the name, because the Scriptures predict the coming of a great deliverer in the latter days, so named. Nephi says that Joseph, the Patriarch, predicted the coming forth of the House of Israel on the American continents, of a ‘righteous branch’ and a Seer, whose name, he said, ‘shall be called after me’ (Joseph), and after the name of his father (II. Nephi 3:1–15).” (Smith and Sjodahl, Commentary, p. 83.)
In Hebrew the name yasaph means “may God add sons” (see Genesis 30:24a). Great sons of God have borne this name: Joseph, the son of Jacob, inheritor of the birthright of Israel; Joseph, the husband of Mary, the mother of Christ; Joseph Smith Sr., the first Patriarch to the Church in these last days; Joseph Smith Jr., the prophet through whom the Lord opened the last dispensation; Joseph F. Smith, sixth President of the Church, who saw the hosts of Israel in vision (see D&C 138:38–46); and Joseph Fielding Smith, tenth President of the Church, a preacher of righteousness in the last days. Surely the Lord has added great sons to Israel through the loins of Joseph, who saw the house of Israel bow before him (see Genesis 37:3–11).
“In New Testament times, the Savior called and ordained twelve men whom he called both disciples and apostles to be special witnesses for him. Later other men, including Paul, were called and ordained as apostles. In this revelation, the Lord announces that he is going to give some men in this dispensation the same powers and authority he gave anciently to Paul. (18:9.)” (Ludlow, Companion, 1:133–34.)
Brigham Young taught that Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer were the first Apostles of this dispensation (see Journal of Discourses, 6:320). To these, according to Heber C. Kimball, Martin Harris was later added (see Journal of Discourses, 6:29). These men were instructed to find and ordain twelve others who would form the Quorum of the Twelve.
Elder Rudger Clawson, of the Quorum of the Twelve, asked: “And how are we to determine the value of souls? This matter has been determined for us also by revelation. The souls of men are so precious in the sight of God that He gave to the world His Only Begotten Son, that by the shedding of His blood He might draw all men unto Him. That is why the great Prophet of this dispensation, Joseph Smith, and these others, John Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and the rest, were called to bring souls unto Christ. And if one of these men should labor all his days, and bring save it be but one soul unto Christ, and that one should be his wife, what great joy he would have with his wife in heaven. Then if he should labor all his days and bring unto Christ the souls of his wife and his children, and none else perchance, how great would be his joy in heaven with his wife and children.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1901, pp. 7–8.)
“The worth of souls is great” (D&C 18:10).
The use of the word church to describe Satan and his followers has confused some because they think of the term in the more limited sense of a specific religious organization. But if one thinks of the phrase “the church and kingdom of God,” one has a better concept of what is meant by the church of the devil. It is his kingdom, the sphere of his influence, the whole of his area of power.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained that “the titles church of the devil and great and abominable church are used to identify all churches or organizations of whatever name or nature—whether political, philosophical, educational, economic, social, fraternal, civic, or religious—which are designed to take men on a course that leads away from God and his laws and thus from salvation in the kingdom of God” (Mormon Doctrine, pp. 137–38).
This definition explains why Nephi was taught that “there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church” (1 Nephi 14:10). In the scriptures Satan’s kingdom is called by various names: Babylon, the great and abominable church, the mother of harlots, the church of the devil, and the kingdom of the devil (see 1 Nephi 22:22; 2 Nephi 28:18–19; Mormon 8:28–38; D&C 10:56; 18:20).
It is, therefore, the obligation of the Saints to stand against evil wherever it may be found. The method of doing so is clear, according to President Joseph Fielding Smith: “All who go forth to teach should do so in wisdom and not contend with the churches or engage in profitless debates, but teach in the spirit of kindness and try to persuade people to receive the truth” (Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:83).
The word contend carries with it ideas of debate, striving, struggling, and even quarreling and disputing. The Savior taught that such a method of doing missionary work is contrary to gospel principles (see 3 Nephi 11:28–30). The Prophet Joseph Smith taught the same principle: “The Elders would go forth, and each must stand for himself . . . to go in all meekness, in sobriety, and preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified; not to contend with others on account of their faith, or systems of religion, but pursue a steady course. This I delivered by way of commandment; and all who observe it not will pull down persecution upon their heads, while those who do, shall always be filled with the Holy Ghost; this I pronounced as a prophecy, and sealed with hosanna and amen.” (History of the Church, 2:431.)
Explaining how one hears the voice of the Lord, Elder S. Dilworth Young declared:
“In 1835 the Twelve were chosen, as you know, and on one occasion they were called together and given their instructions. Oliver Cowdery was the spokesman; and after having given them some very powerful and heartwarming instruction, so moved was he, himself, that he had to stop two or three times to weep. He finally read the revelation [now designated as section 18].
“Brigham Young was so impressed by it that he copied it in his laborious handwriting into his diary. I am impressed by it likewise. These are the words: [D&C 18:34–36].
“The thing that impresses me about this is, and I have never thought of it before, when I read a verse in the Doctrine and Covenants I am hearing the voice of the Lord as well as reading his words, if I hear by the Spirit.
“Now I have heard it said many times by men that they have often asked the Lord for a special testimony and oftentimes haven’t had it. They seem to want to hear the voice of the Lord. I confess I have often wanted to hear the voice of the Lord, without knowing that all these years I have been hearing it with deaf ears. This woke me up.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1963, p. 74.)
Joseph Smith was the first apostolic witness of the present dispensation. Oliver Cowdery, as noted in Doctrine and Covenants 20:3, was the second. David Whitmer and Martin Harris also became special witnesses. Thus, the original quorum of twelve special witnesses was called by the first special witnesses of the Restoration.
President Joseph Fielding Smith gave the following background to this section: “This revelation was given some time in March, 1830 [in Manchester, New York]. It would seem that Martin Harris had come to Joseph Smith seeking further assurance in relation to his standing before the Lord, being sorely troubled in spirit because of his transgression. He had already been granted the privilege, on his earnest solicitation, of being one of the Three Witnesses, and that wonderful vision had been given. Perhaps out of this came much serious reflection and he sought further light. However, there is no indication in the History of the Church as to the reason why the revelation was given, and the exact day is unknown when it was given. It was without question a revelation of great comfort to Martin, and it is one of the great revelations given in this dispensation; there are few of greater import than this. The doctrine of the atonement of the Lord, as directly applying to the individual, and his exposition of ‘Eternal Punishment,’ as here set forth, give to the members of the Church light which was not previously known.” (Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:85.)
Smith and Sjodahl explained the significance of the names given here:
“Our Lord begins this Revelation by introducing Himself under five different names, each indicating His nature or work:
“Alpha and Omega. The first and the last letter of the Greek alphabet, used as symbols of the beginning and the ending. Christ is so called, because He is the Author and the Preserver of all things (Heb. 1:2, 10).
“Christ the Lord. ‘Christ’ means ‘anointed.’ Prophets, Priests, and Kings were anointed, and our Lord unites all these offices in Him. He is the anointed Lord. The Greek word Christ is the same as the Hebrew Messiah (Mashiac), the title used in John 1:41, and 4:25.
“I am He. This is equivalent to Jehovah. . . .
“The Beginning and the End. He was in the beginning and will remain throughout all eternities. He is endless (v. 4).
“The Redeemer of the World. Christ is our Redeemer. He delivers those who turn to Him from the bondage of sin and guilt. He has ‘bought’ us ([1 Corinthians] 6:20; 7:23; [2 Peter] 2:1). And the world will in due time be delivered from the power of Satan, from sin and all its consequences, such as war, poverty, ignorance, sickness, and even death.” (Commentary, p. 91.)
Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained that this expression does not mean the end of the earth: “The end of the world is the end of unrighteousness or of worldliness as we know it, and this will be brought about by ‘the destruction of the wicked’ [JS—M 1:4]. When our world ends and the millennial era begins, there will be a new heaven and a new earth. (Isa. 65:17–25; D. & C. 101:23–24.) Lust, carnality, and sensuousness of every sort will cease, for it will be the end of the world.” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 848.)
These verses provide one of the most important insights into the Judgment found anywhere in scripture. Elder James E. Talmage stated: “During this hundred years [of Church history] many other great truths not known before, have been declared to the people, and one of the greatest is that to hell there is an exit as well as an entrance. Hell is no place to which a vindictive judge sends prisoners to suffer and to be punished principally for his glory; but it is a place prepared for the teaching, the disciplining of those who failed to learn here upon the earth what they should have learned. True, we read of everlasting punishment, unending suffering, eternal damnation. That is a direful expression; but in his mercy the Lord has made plain what those words mean. ‘Eternal punishment,’ he says, is God’s punishment, for he is eternal; and that condition or state or possibility will ever exist for the sinner who deserves and really needs such condemnation; but this does not mean that the individual sufferer or sinner is to be eternally and everlastingly made to endure and suffer. No man will be kept in hell longer than is necessary to bring him to a fitness for something better. When he reaches that stage the prison doors will open and there will be rejoicing among the hosts who welcome him into a better state. The Lord has not abated in the least what he has said in earlier dispensations concerning the operation of his law and his gospel, but he has made clear unto us his goodness and mercy through it all, for it is his glory and his work to bring about the immortality and eternal life of man.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1930, p. 97.)
Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained the difference between these two terms:
“Eternal damnation is the opposite of eternal life, and all those who do not gain eternal life, or exaltation in the highest heaven within the celestial kingdom, are partakers of eternal damnation. Their eternal condemnation is to have limitations imposed upon them so that they cannot progress to the state of godhood and gain a fulness of all things.
“They ‘remain separately and singly, without exaltation, . . . to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever.’ (D. & C. 132:17.) Their kingdom or progress has an ‘end,’ and they ‘cannot have an increase.’ (D. & C. 131:4.) Spirit children are denied to them to all eternity, and they inherit ‘the deaths,’ meaning an absence of posterity in the resurrection. (D. & C. 132:16–25.)
“They are never redeemed from their spiritual fall and taken back into the full presence and glory of God. Only the obedient are ‘raised in immortality unto eternal life.’ The disobedient, ‘they that believe not,’ are raised in immortality ‘unto eternal damnation; for they cannot be redeemed from their spiritual fall, because they repent not.’ (D. & C. 29:42–44.)” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 234.)
“These verses contain special instructions to Martin Harris. Notwithstanding the many manifestations he had received concerning the Book of Mormon, he was still tormented with doubts, to such an extent that it became sinful. Skepticism has its legitimate use, in so far as it prompts one to investigate, but to doubt in the face of overwhelming evidence is perversity.” (Smith and Sjodahl, Commentary, p. 96.)
Here, in a personal revelation of His own suffering, Jesus revealed how unbearable His pain was during the Atonement. Luke’s is the only Gospel that mentions the blood during the agony of Gethsemane: “And his sweat was as it were great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44). For this reason many commentators have said Luke only used a metaphor, that it was not actually blood but only like blood. In this revelation Jesus dispelled that idea. Suffering is the price for violating the laws of God. In the Garden the Savior paid that price for all the sins of the world.
Speaking of the extent of the suffering required of Christ, President Joseph Fielding Smith said:
“We cannot comprehend the great suffering that the Lord had to take upon himself to bring to pass this redemption from death and from sin. . . .
“We get into the habit of thinking, I suppose, that his great suffering was when he was nailed to the cross by his hands and his feet and was left there to suffer until he died. As excruciating as that pain was, that was not the greatest suffering that he had to undergo, for in some way which I cannot understand, but which I accept on faith, and which you must accept on faith, he carried on his back the burden of the sins of the whole world. It is hard enough for me to carry my own sins. How is it with you? And yet he had to carry the sins of the whole world, as our Savior and the Redeemer of a fallen world, and so great was his suffering before he ever went to the cross, we are informed, that blood oozed from the pores of his body.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1947, pp. 147–48.)
Similarly, Elder James E. Talmage wrote:
“Christ’s agony in the garden is unfathomable by the finite mind, both as to intensity and cause. . . . He struggled and groaned under a burden such as no other being who has lived on earth might even conceive as possible. It was not physical pain, nor mental anguish alone, that caused Him to suffer such torture as to produce an extrusion of blood from every pore; but a spiritual agony of soul such as only God was capable of experiencing. No other man, however great his powers of physical or mental endurance, could have suffered so; for his human organism would have succumbed, and syncope would have produced unconsciousness and welcome oblivion. In that hour of anguish Christ met and overcame all the horrors that Satan, ‘the prince of this world’ could inflict. . . .
“In some manner, actual and terribly real though to man incomprehensible, the Savior took upon Himself the burden of the sins of mankind from Adam to the end of the world.” (Jesus the Christ, p. 613.)
“If they would not repent they must suffer even as I” (D&C 19:17).
“The heading of this section of the Doctrine and Covenants indicates that it is ‘A Commandment of God’ rather than referring to it only as a ‘revelation’ as is the usual format. Section 19 might thus be referred to as a revelatory commandment, for the revelation contains not only instruction but also a definite and clear commandment—to repent: ‘I command you to repent’ (verse 15), ‘I command you again to repent’ (verse 20), ‘I command you that you preach naught but repentance’ (verse 21).
“When the doctrine of repentance is fully understood, then it is seen that repentance is all that ever needs to be taught, for repentance means not only to stop doing those things which are wrong but also to start doing those things which are right.” (Ludlow Companion, 1:143; see also D&C 1:31–32; 58:42–43; 82:7.)
Enrichment D in the Appendix discusses the Doctrine and Covenants as a witness for Christ.
President Joseph Fielding Smith taught that “Lehi was a citizen of Jerusalem, in the kingdom of Judah. Presumably his family had lived there for several generations, and all of the inhabitants of the kingdom of Judah, no matter which tribe they had descended through, were known as Jews. . . .
“Not only in the Book of Mormon are the descendants of Lehi called Jews, but also in the Doctrine and Covenants. In section 19, verse 27, this is found: [D&C 19:27]. Again, in giving instruction to the elders who had journeyed from Kirtland to Missouri, the Lord revealed the place for the building of the temple and gave instruction for the purchase of land ‘lying westward, even unto the line running directly between Jew and Gentile.’ (Section 57:4.) This line westward was the dividing line between the whites and Indians.” (“How Was Lehi a Descendant of the Jews?” Improvement Era, Oct. 1955, p. 702.)
The Mulekites in the Book of Mormon were of Judah (see Mosiah 25:2; Omni 1:14–19; Helaman 8:21), and present-day Lamanites share this heritage. Also, in the Book of Mormon Jew is sometimes used to mean the whole house of Israel (see, for example, 1 Nephi 15:17, 20).
Elder Rudger Clawson, deeply impressed by these verses, said that “they enter into a man’s life and comprehend his whole existence, at least from the years of his accountability until he passes into the grave. He must pray under all circumstances. Prayer is not reserved for the Sabbath day or for any particular occasion. It is not only to be used at the general conferences of the Church, but the spirit of prayer must be in our hearts unceasingly. We must pray in our families; we must pray in secret; we must pray in our hearts. The spirit of prayer must be with us when we retire at night and when we arise in the morning. It must be upon us when we leave our homes for our daily employment; in the office; in the shop; in the field; in the mountains or in the valleys, or wherever we are. We are told . . . that if that spirit is upon us the Lord will bless us, and the blessings which will come in answer to prayer will be of more importance to us than treasures of earth.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1904, pp. 42–43; see also Matthew 26:41; Alma 34:17–28; 3 Nephi 18:15; D&C 10:5; 88:126.)
It is a commandment to pray.
The Lord commanded Martin Harris to “declare glad tidings” of the restored gospel to all people he might be permitted to be among (D&C 19:29). All Saints are under the same obligation (see Mosiah 18:9–10). The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “After all that has been said, the greatest and most important duty is to preach the Gospel” (Teachings, p. 113).
For a discussion of the Restoration of the gospel and the Saints’ obligation to share the message through missionary work, see Enrichment A.
“Hosanna is a transliteration of a Hebrew (or Semitic) word that literally means ‘save now’ and that could be translated ‘grant us salvation.’ Most of the prayers said by the Jews at the Feast of Tabernacles begin with this word, and it was also used by the multitude as they greeted Jesus Christ when he came into Jerusalem during the last week of His life upon the earth. (Matt. 21:9, 15.) This term appears in five sections of the D&C—19:37; 36:3; 39:19; 109:79; 124:101.” (Ludlow, Companion, 2:136.)
This revelation is associated with a number of firsts in Church history. In the first conference of the Church (9 June 1830) this revelation, along with what is now known as section 22, was read to the Church membership as “Articles and Covenants of the Church” and unanimously accepted by those present (see Far West Record, Archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, p. 1). It thus became the first revelation given through Joseph Smith to be formally sustained by the Church membership. In June 1832 “Articles and Covenants of the Church” appeared on the first page of the first issue of the Evening and Morning Star, the first newspaper published by the Church.
Section 20 is a concise treatment of the basic doctrine, ordinances, and requirements for membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It reflects the use of the Book of Mormon and revelations previously given to Joseph Smith and also Oliver Cowdery’s assisting Joseph Smith (see D&C 18:1–5).
Of this section the Prophet wrote: “In this manner did the Lord continue to give us instructions from time to time, concerning the duties which now devolved upon us; and among many other things of the kind, we obtained of Him the following [D&C 20], by the spirit of prophecy and revelation; which not only gave us much information, but also pointed out to us the precise day upon which, according to His will and commandment, we should proceed to organize His Church once more here upon the earth” (History of the Church, 1:64).
The Prophet Joseph Smith recorded that the Lord commanded them to organize the Church on 6 April 1830 (see History of the Church, 1:64). The importance of 6 April was explained by President Harold B. Lee: “April 6, 1973, is a particularly significant date because it commemorates not only the anniversary of the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in this dispensation, but also the anniversary of the birth of the Savior, our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1973, p. 4; or Ensign, Apr. 1973, p. 2).
President Spencer W. Kimball commented that “the name Jesus Christ and what it represents has been plowed deep into the history of the world, never to be uprooted. Christ was born on the sixth of April. Being one of the sons of God and His Only Begotten, his birth is of supreme importance.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1975, pp. 3–4; or Ensign, May 1975, p. 4.)
Peter Whitmer’s home, place where the Church was organized
The propriety of having only one revelator for the Church explains why the Lord designated a “first” and a “second” elder in the early stages of the existence of the Church.
The Prophet Joseph Smith stated: “I will inform you that it is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one, to receive instructions for those in authority, higher than themselves; therefore you will see the impropriety of giving heed to them; but if any person have a vision or a visitation from a heavenly messenger, it must be for his own benefit and instruction; for the fundamental principles, government, and doctrine of the Church are vested in the keys of the kingdom” (History of the Church, 1:338).
Thus, if Joseph had not been clearly established as the head, confusion and problems could have arisen.
The Prophet Joseph Smith described the time period involved and the activities referred to by the Lord: “During the space of time which intervened between the time I had the vision and the year eighteen hundred and twenty-three—having been forbidden to join any of the religious sects of the day, and being of very tender years, and persecuted by those who ought to have been my friends, and to have treated me kindly, and if they supposed me to be deluded to have endeavored in a proper and affectionate manner to have reclaimed me,—I was left to all kinds of temptations; and mingling with all kinds of society, I frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature; which, I am sorry to say, led me into divers temptations, offensive in the sight of God. In making this confession, no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins. A disposition to commit such was never in my nature. But I was guilty of levity, and sometimes associated with jovial company, etc., not consistent with that character which ought to be maintained by one who was called of God as I had been. But this will not seem very strange to any one who recollects my youth, and is acquainted with my native cheery temperament.” (History of the Church, 1:9–10.)
“Our revelations say that the Book of Mormon contains the fulness of the gospel. (D. & C. 20:9; 27:5; 42:12; 135:3.) This is true in the sense that the Book of Mormon is a record of God’s dealings with a people who had the fulness of the gospel, and therefore the laws and principles leading to the highest salvation are found recorded in that book.” (McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 333; see also 3 Nephi 27:13–20.)
One issue that has troubled many is the inherent goodness or evil of mankind. Do people by virtue of their birth inherit some kind of original sin, or are they instinctively good? Those who argue that people are inherently wicked and their very nature sinful cite the abundant wickedness in the world. People have demonstrated a widespread tendency to be selfish, immoral, cruel, and greedy. Those who think people are basically good point out that if we are inherently evil, then we would have had to inherit that evil from God, since we are His children. That, of course, contradicts all we know of God’s nature.
Even some Latter-day Saints are troubled by the controversy. They think that modern scriptures teach that man’s nature is evil. King Benjamin taught that the “natural man is an enemy to God” (Mosiah 3:19; italics added), and Alma said that men had “become carnal, sensual, and devilish, by nature” (Alma 42:10; italics added). But section 20 in the Doctrine and Covenants, combined with these other scriptures, clearly teaches that the word natural, or nature, does not mean something inherent in our eternal being, but refers to a state to which mankind has fallen through disobedience to God’s law (see especially v. 20; Alma 42:12).
The scriptural definition of “natural man” is fallen, disobedient man, and this “nature” (see Alma 42:10) can be overcome when a person “yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord” (Mosiah 3:19).
Thus, as in many other areas, the revelations of the Doctrine and Covenants clear up questions that have troubled believers for centuries.
This passage has troubled some Latter-day Saints, since the Church teaches that there are three distinct, individual members of the Godhead. President Joseph Fielding Smith explained that both concepts are true: “It is perfectly true, as recorded in the Pearl of Great Price and in the Bible, that to us there is but one God [see Moses 1:6; Mark 12:32]. Correctly interpreted God in this sense means Godhead, for it is composed of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This Godhead presides over us, and to us, the inhabitants of this world, they constitute the only God, or Godhead. There is none other besides them. [See 1 Corinthians 8:5–6.] To them we are amenable, and subject to their authority, and there is no other Godhead unto whom we are subject. However, as the Prophet has shown, there can be, and are, other Gods.” (Answers to Gospel Questions, 2:142.)
Elder Bruce R. McConkie defined the law of justification as being “all covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations (D. & C. 132:7), in which men must abide to be saved and exalted, [that] must be entered into and performed in righteousness so that the Holy Spirit can justify the candidate for salvation in what has been done. . . . An act that is justified by the Spirit is one that is sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise, or in other words, ratified and approved by the Holy Ghost. This law of justification is the provision the Lord has placed in the gospel to assure that no unrighteous performance will be binding on earth and in heaven, and that no person will add to his position or glory in the hereafter by gaining an unearned blessing.
“As with all other doctrines of salvation, justification is available because of the atoning sacrifice of Christ, but it becomes operative in the life of an individual only on conditions of personal righteousness.” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 408.)
President Brigham Young explained what sanctification means to the Saints by declaring:
“I will put my own definition to the term sanctification, and say it consists in overcoming every sin and bringing all into subjection to the law of Christ. God has placed in us a pure spirit; when this reigns predominant, without let or hindrance, and triumphs over the flesh and rules and governs and controls as the Lord controls the heavens and the earth, this I call the blessing of sanctification. . . .
“All the Lord has called us to do is to renovate our own hearts, then our families, extending the principles to neighborhoods, to the earth we occupy, and so continue until we drive the power of Satan from the earth and Satan to his own place. That is the work Jesus is engaged in, and we will be co-workers with him. Do not suppose that we shall ever in the flesh be free from temptations to sin. Some suppose that they can in the flesh be sanctified body and spirit and become so pure that they will never again feel the effects of the power of the adversary of truth. Were it possible for a person to attain to this degree of perfection in the flesh, he could not die neither remain in a world where sin predominates. Sin has entered into the world, and death by sin. I think we shall more or less feel the effects of sin so long as we live, and finally have to pass the ordeals of death.” (In Journal of Discourses, 10:173.)
Elder Theodore M. Burton said that this scripture, as he understood it, “means that Jesus Christ is kind and merciful to us when we serve him with our whole hearts, but not any of us can take refuge in past righteousness or service. It also means that there is a possibility that any one of us can fall out of good standing, even those who have already achieved a certain degree of righteousness. Therefore, we need to be on our constant guard, each of us, that we not allow ourselves to fall into habits of carelessness in our faith, in our prayers, or in our various Church activities or responsibilities. It is for this reason that I am resolving again to live closer to God each day and to follow his chosen prophets and apostles more diligently than I have ever done in the past.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1973, p. 153; or Ensign, Jan. 1974, p. 116.)
President Joseph Fielding Smith defined both of these terms:
“Contrition is manifestation of a broken heart with deep sorrow for sin, a realization of the nature of wrongdoing and a desire for forgiveness through the grace of God. A contrite spirit is essential to salvation.” (Religious Truths Defined, p. 273.)
“What is a broken heart? One that is humble, one that is touched by the Spirit of the Lord, and which is willing to abide in all the covenants and the obligations which the Gospel entails.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1941, p. 93.)
“We learn at this time the Lord revealed that the designation ‘Elder’ is one applicable to the apostles and likewise to all others who hold the Melchizedek Priesthood. The use of this designation makes it needless to use unnecessarily sacred terms as ‘Apostle,’ ‘Patriarch,’ ‘High Priest,’ etc. It is proper in general usage to speak of the apostles, the seventies and all others holding the Melchizedek Priesthood as ‘elders.’ Of course, the term President, in speaking of the First Presidency, is the proper designation.” (Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:95.)
Elder Bruce R. McConkie outlined the importance of both kinds of baptism:
“To gain salvation every accountable person must receive two baptisms. They are the baptism of water and of the Spirit. (John 3:3–5.) The baptism of the Spirit is called the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost. (Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:16; 2 Ne. 31:13–14; 3 Ne. 11:35; 12:1–2; Morm. 7:10; D. & C. 20:41; 33:11; 39:6.) By the power of the Holy Ghost—who is the Sanctifier (3 Ne. 27:19–21)—dross, iniquity, carnality, sensuality, and every evil thing is burned out of the repentant soul as if by fire; the cleansed person becomes literally a new creature of the Holy Ghost. (Mosiah 27:24–26.) He is born again.
“The baptism of fire is not something in addition to the receipt of the Holy Ghost; rather, it is the actual enjoyment of the gift which is offered by the laying on of hands at the time of baptism. ‘Remission of sins,’ the Lord says, comes ‘by baptism, and by fire, yea, even the Holy Ghost.’ (D. & C. 19:31; 2 Ne. 31:17.) Those who receive the baptism of fire are ‘filled as if with fire.’ (Hela. 5:45.)” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 73.)
In addition, as Elder Harold B. Lee explained, “baptism by immersion symbolizes the death and burial of the man of sin; and the coming forth out of the water, the resurrection to a newness of spiritual life. After baptism, hands are laid upon the head of the baptized believer, and he is blessed to receive the Holy Ghost. Thus does the one baptized receive the promise or gift of the Holy Ghost or the privilege of being brought back into the presence of one of the Godhead, by obedience to whom and through his faithfulness one so blessed might receive the guidance and direction of the Holy Ghost in his daily walks and talks, even as Adam walked and talked in the Garden of Eden with God, his Heavenly Father. To receive such guidance and such direction from the Holy Ghost is to be spiritually reborn.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1947, p. 64.)
With no specific responsibilities assigned to the office of deacon, “the duty of Deacons is to assist the Teachers. A Deacon holds the power and authority first bestowed in the Aaronic Priesthood. One who performs those duties well, thereby qualifies himself for the more advanced positions.” (Smith and Sjodahl, Commentary, p. 108; see also Enrichments M and N in the Appendix.)
President Joseph Fielding Smith said: “The Lord could not reveal to the Church in the beginning all the knowledge and organization which would be essential to the full and complete organization of the Church. Had this been done, it would have been like an overwhelming flood that would have brought destruction. The truth had to come piecemeal—line upon line, precept upon precept, just like knowledge comes to all of us. However, all that was revealed in this section was expedient for the government of the Church at the time of its organization.” (Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:95.)
President Harold B. Lee taught why conferences are so important to the Latter-day Saints: “Now, you Latter-day Saints, I think you have never attended a conference where in these three days you have heard more inspired declarations on most every subject and problem about which you have been worrying. If you want to know what the Lord would have the Saints know and to have his guidance and direction for the next six months, get a copy of the proceedings of this conference, and you will have the latest word of the Lord as far as the Saints are concerned.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1973, p. 168; or Ensign, Jan. 1974, p. 128.)
See Notes and Commentary on Doctrine and Covenants 26.
President John Taylor said: “What is meant by sustaining a person? Do we understand it? It is a very simple thing to me; I do not know how it is with you. For instance, if a man be a teacher, and I vote that I will sustain him in his position, when he visits me in an official capacity I will welcome him and treat him with consideration, kindness and respect and if I need counsel I will ask it at his hand, and I will do everything I can to sustain him. That would be proper and a principle of righteousness, and I would not say anything derogatory to his character. If that is not correct I have it yet to learn. And then if anybody in my presence were to whisper something about him disparaging to his reputation, I would say, Look here! are you a Saint? Yes. Did you not hold up your hand to sustain him? Yes. Then why do you not do it? Now, I would call an action of that kind sustaining him. If any man make an attack upon his reputation—for all men’s reputations are of importance to them—I would defend him in some such way.” (In Journal of Discourses, 21:207–8.)
President John Taylor pointed out that in addition to this injunction’s being “a direct command of Jehovah, and as such should be studiously complied with without hesitancy or objection, we think quite a number of excellent reasons can be adduced to prove that this command is attended with beneficial results to babe and to parents, who by bringing their child before the Church manifest their faith in the sight of their brethren and sisters, in God’s word and in his promises, as well as their thankfulness to him for increasing their posterity and for the safe delivery of his handmaiden. The child is also benefited by the united faith and responsive prayers of the assembled Saints.” (Millennial Star, 15 Apr. 1878, p. 235.)
“Baptism is for the remission of sins, and no man can repent of a sin until he is accountable before God” (Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 2:50; see also Moroni 8:5–26).
The baptismal prayer and the two sacramental prayers are set prayers. A set prayer is one that is read or memorized and repeated word for word. That lack of flexibility gives added significance to these prayers: “These two set prayers are very dignified, spiritual, and beautiful, and merit our most careful attention and study. Notice that the emblems of our Lord’s flesh and blood are to be taken in remembrance of His great sacrifice.” (Sperry, Compendium, p. 97.)
See Notes and Commentary for Doctrine and Covenants 27:1–4.
Enrichment I gives a more detailed treatment of the laws of the Church for dealing with transgressions committed by members.