Thursday, December 31, 2020

"Come, Follow Me" in the Doctrine and Covenants

For many decades, this beautiful mural by Everett C. Thorpe (1904-1983) graced the front of the Providence, Utah, 2nd Ward chapel. I stared at this painting during Sacrament meeting every Sunday of my childhood. Ev Thorpe was a Providence native and a professor of art at Utah State University. Hearing that such murals would be removed from chapels, to illustrate our focus on Christ and not pioneers, a former bishop of ours paid an artist to copy out the mural and make prints on home-sized canvases. This is a photograph of my copy. (As of October 2022, the mural still hangs in the chapel.)  


Dec. 28-Jan. 3: Doctrine and Covenants 1

Jan. 4-10:  Joseph Smith--History 1:1-26


(To see my old Gospel Doctrine lessons on the Doctrine & Covenants, go to the Doctrine & Covenants page by clicking on the link in the blog heading.)

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Doctrine and Covenants 1


My dear late friend, Sadie Sproles, joined the Church many years ago while living on the East Coast.  The missionaries told her that Joseph Smith asked questions and the Lord gave him the answers, he wrote them down, and that is the Doctrine and Covenants.  She immediately said, "I want that book!"  They gave her a copy and she received a testimony of the truthfulness of the restored Church through reading the Doctrine and Covenants.  "You're not supposed to get your testimony from the Doctrine and Covenants!" she said to me. "You're supposed to get it from the Book of Mormon!" But that's where she got hers.

President Benson said, "The Book of Mormon brings men to Christ.  The Doctrine and Covenants brings men to Christ's kingdom" (April 1987 General Conference, quoted by Steven E. Snow, "Treasuring the Doctrine and Covenants", Ensign, Jan. 2009).  President Gordon B. Hinckley called it, "The constitution of the Church"  (ibid.).


The Doctrine and Covenants is not chronological. The first revelations in this dispensation to be sustained as scripture (at the first general conference of the Church, June 9, 1830) were called the "Articles and Covenants."  They were read at the start of every general conference through Joseph Smith's and Brigham Young's tenures as presidents.  These are what we know now as Sections 20 and 22 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

After this conference, in July of 1830, Joseph Smith wrote down other previously received revelations. They called this the Kirtland Revelation Book. (See Joseph Smith Papers: Introduction to the Manuscript Revelation Books.)

Brother Woolley says there are two characteristics of Latter-day Saints:  1) We're packrats [think: food storage], and 2) we all have to have our own copy of everything. The faithful early saints wanted their own copies of the revelations. Those who had access to them made copies. First Oliver Cowdery handcopied them for himself, then David Whitmer and William W. Phelps and others did as well.

Book of Commandments (1831)

Finally a special conference was held in which to decide whether the revelations should be printed and published at Hiram, Ohio, November 1, 1831.  There were 12 members in attendance, including the most well-educated church members and Joseph Smith, one of the least educated.  There were four more revelations received during those three days.  The consensus of the conference was that the revelations should not be published as making them too freely available would be "casting pearls before swine."  But Joseph Smith was for publication, and his opinion was ratified by a revelation which is one of seventy revelations published in the History of the Church and not in the Doctrine and Covenants.

The decision was made to publish 10,000 copies initially.  (5,000 copies were printed of the first edition of the Book of Mormon.)  Olivery Cowderey, Sidney Rigdon, and William E. McLellin were assigned to write a preface for the revelations during a recess in the conference.  They were stymied and finally asked Joseph Smith to pray for help.  The preface was then revealed to Joseph Smith, the first revelation to be dictated as it was received, and thus we have the only book in the history of the world whose preface was written by God Himself, now Section 1 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

Section 67 (the third revelation received at this conference) was given after the brethren were still balking at publishing the revelations because they thought the wording of them simplistic and unsophisticated.  It was then that Joseph Smith issued the challenge to the most educated, William McLellin, to write a prophecy which 1) came from the Lord, and 2) was new doctrine never before received on the earth.  Of course, we know the story:  Brother McLellin could not come up with a thing, and acknowledged that revelations received through the prophet were best as they were.

The fourth revelation received at this conference was called "Appendix to the Revelations," regards what will happen at the Second Coming, and is now Section 133. 

While they were preparing this Book of Commandments for publication, William W. Phelps, the printer, published parts of it in the periodical, The Evening and Morning Star. He used his personal copy of the Kirtland Revelation Book, therefore it is not a perfect match with the Book of Commandments (Sections 65, 68, 72, 76, 83, and part of 80).

Meanwhile, while living with her uncle, A. Sidney Gilbert, 15-year-old Mary Elizabeth Rollins gained a great love and esteem for the revelations that were to be printed.  In her own words, "One evening the brethren came to Uncle's house to converse upon the revelations that had not been printed as yet, but few had looked upon them, for they were in large sheets, not folded. They spoke of them with such reverence, as coming from the Lord; they felt to rejoice that they were counted worthy to be the means of publishing them for the benefit of the whole world." (Mary Elizabeth Rollin Lightner Autobiography, published by Robert Barrett on

When the typesetting of the Book of Commandments was done and the copies of five large sheets containing 32 uncut pages each (160 pages total) had been printed, the press was destroyed by enemies of the Church.  The pages were thrown out into the street, but were heroically rescued by Mary and her 13-year-old sister Caroline.  (See James E. Faust, "Courage in the Cornfield", Friend, July 2007.)

More from Mary's autobiography: 

"The mob renewed their efforts again by tearing down the printing office, a two story building, and driving Brother Phelps' family out of the lower part of the house and putting their things in the street. They brought out some large sheets of paper, and said, 'Here are the Mormon Commandments.' My sister Caroline and myself were in a corner of a fence watching them; when they spoke of the commandments I was determined to have some of them. Sister said if I went to get any of them she would go too, but said 'They will kill us.' While their backs were turned, prying out the gable end of the house, we went, and got our arms full, and were turning away, when some of the mob saw us and called on us to stop, but we ran as fast as we could. Two of them started after us. Seeing a gap in a fence, we entered into a large cornfield, laid the papers on the ground, and hid them with our persons."

 Picture from

"The corn was from five to six feet high, and very thick; they hunted around considerable, and came very near us but did not find us. After we satisfied ourselves that they had given up the search for us, we tried to find our way out of the field, the corn was so high we could not see where to go, looking up I saw trees that had been girdled to kill them. Soon we came to an old log stable which looked as though it had not been used for years. Sister Phelps and children were carrying in brush and piling it up at one side of the barn to lay her beds on. She asked me what I had. I told her. She then took them from us, which made us feel very bad. They got them bound in small books and sent me one, which I prized very highly."

As well she should!  Besides being of great spiritual value, they are the most expensive antique books relating to Church history today.  Only twenty are known to exist. 

Those pages which were hand-cut, hand-assembled, and sewn together were printed up as the Book of Commandments. The Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) has published replicas through their Herald House printing company. 

My replica of the Book of Commandments--
much smaller than the present day triple combination.

Title Page

First page of the revelations

Because only the first 160 pages had been printed before the mob destroyed the press, this book ends abruptly at Section 64, verse 47 in the middle of a sentence.

You can see that in the original handwritten manuscript which W.W. Phelps was using, that final word "Ephraim" had been circled--the point at which he had stopped for the day. 

Images are from my replica

Please also see Robert J. Woodford, "How the Revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants Were Compiled"Ensign, Jan. 1985 for more details on the structure of the Doctrine and Covenants.

Doctrine and Covenants (1835 to present-day)

A second special conference was held August 17, 1835 in Kirtland to discuss republishing the revelations in a new book.  Each revelation was read and ratified by the First Presidency, then the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, then the Seventy, and on down through the whole membership of the church.  They stood and voted in turn to sustain the book as scripture.  There is no evidence that there was a single negative vote.

The first edition of this book called Doctrine and Covenants was printed that summer.  It contained two sections: Joseph Smith's Lectures on Faith, and 102 revelations, divided into "chapters" rather than "sections."  Frederick G. Williams was the printer.

In 1844, the second edition of this book was published in Nauvoo, the last one that was proofread by Joseph Smith.  The wording has never been changed.  Two more editions were published from these same plates in 1845 and 1846.

In 1876, 26 sections were added.

In 1908, the "Manifesto" was included.

In 1921, the printing was put into double columns and the book included 136 sections and the Manifesto.  The Lectures on Faith were now left out.  James E. Talmadge was the editor.

In 1930 a different edition was published called Latter-day Revelation.  It omitted the personal revelations.  It was never sustained as scripture, however, and did not last.

Our current edition of the Doctrine and Covenants was published in 1981.

(Source: Bruce Woolley, "Structural Development of the Doctrine and Covenants," Lecture, BYU Education Week, August 18, 2005, personal notes, Book 7, p. 137-142)

Section 1: A Voice of Warning

In Section 1, the purpose of the Doctrine and Covenants is put forth by the Lord, and a call is made to "hearken" to it--to pay rapt attention to it, to internalize it and follow it. Verses 1-16 talk about the bad trajectory of the people of the earth and their state of wickedness. In verses 17-18, He states that to remedy this situation, the Lord has given this revelation. 

--Let me interject here that I go back and forth between loving the paper scriptures and the electronic scriptures. I love that I can put limitless notes into the electronic scriptures, and link things without having to copy them out or remember them. But one thing I can't see on the electronic scriptures so easily are the lists. I love scriptural lists, and in my margins, I mark them with numbers or with dots.--

Doctrine and Covenants 1 has two great lists. The first is prophecies that will be fulfilled if the people hearken (verses 19-23):
  • The weak things of the world will break down the mighty.
  • Every man might speak in the name of God.
  • Faith will increase on the earth.
  • God's everlasting covenant will be established.
  • The fulness of the gospel will be proclaimed by the weak to the mighty.
He then states (verse 24), that "I am God and have spoken it," and that he gave the commandments purposely to weak servants, so that (verses 24-30):
  • They might come to understanding.
  • They might know of their mistakes.
  • They might learn, if they seek wisdom.
  • They might be chastened regarding their sins, so they can then repent.
  • They can become strong, if they are humble, and be blessed from on high.
He points out that with these revelations Joseph Smith was able to translate the Book of Mormon, and the foundation of the Church was laid, and will come forth out of obscurity to the world.

In verses 31-38, the point of the voice of warning is given, and in every case in the scriptures it is the same: When the Lord points out the error of His children's ways, and warns them of calamities to come, He also gives them the opportunity to repent. Always!

In verses 37-38, the commandment is distilled: "Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled. What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heaven and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same."

Then He seals up this warning, by telling us how we can be sure that the prophecy written here is by His own voice (verse 39): 

"For behold, and lo, 
the Lord is God, 
and the Spirit beareth record, 
and the record is true, 
and the truth abideth forever and ever. 

If we were there in 1831 to hear this commendment spoken by the mouth of Joseph Smith, the young and uneducated prophet, and if we were willing to hearken to it, "the Spirit would have borne record" to us, individually, and we would have received our own testimony of that truthfulness. That is the "record that is true"--our own testimony, witnessed by the Holy Ghost. It doesn't matter that we were not there, though. The same can happen for us today, as it happened for my friend, Sadie. That "record [that] is true," that witness of truth borne by the Spirit, will stand--either to guide us as we retain and grow our testimonies, or to judge us if we ignore it. The consequences of those two options are laid out clearly in this introduction. The choice is ours.