Sunday, January 31, 2021

Doctrine and Covenants 10-11

Hearing the Voice of the Lord

It’s time to play “Jeopardy” again!  It will be like the American TV game show, except the questions are not trivial.  Here's how the game goes: You give an answer, and your family members or class members have to guess what the question is. If they can't figure it out, give them the reference so they can look it up. The first answer tells us our topic.

Answer: According to the Bible Dictionary, without it, all would be guesswork, darkness, and confusion.
Question: What is revelation?

“Continuous revelation from God to his saints…makes possible daily guidance along true paths and leads the faithful soul to complete and eternal salvation in the celestial kingdom… Without revelation, all would be guesswork, darkness, and confusion.”  (Bible Dictionary, p. 762)

Answer: Quoting Joseph Smith, “God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what He will make known unto the Twelve, and even [this person] may know all things as he is able to bear them.”  (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 149)
Question: Who is the least saint?

You and I are the least saints.  We are able to receive as much revelation as we can prepare for.  The topic of this game is one that we need to understand or we really will be in spiritual jeopardy! That topic is how to prepare to receive revelation.

Answer: In 1991, he said, “No one of us can survive in the world of today, much less in what it soon will become, without personal inspiration.”  (Conference, Oct ’91)
Question: Who is Boyd K. Packer?

Our lesson outlines six steps to take us from confusion to revelation.

1. Study the matter in your mind

Answer: According to Joseph Smith, this man became “exceedingly anxious to have the power to translate bestowed upon him.”
Question: Who is Oliver Cowdery?

Section 8 is the Lord’s answer to Oliver’s request to translate.  He said yes.  Read aloud D&C 8:1, 10-11.  What happened with Oliver Cowdery and his desire to translate?  (He was not able to do so immediately, so he gave up and went back to being scribe.  The Lord then took away the gift from him, without his ever having learned how to exercise it.  The Lord did not criticize him, but used the incident to teach him about revelation.)

The Lord had told him that according to his faith it would be done.

Oliver had faith!  Oliver Cowdery had a testimony of Joseph Smith as a prophet.  He knew that God had answered the question in a glorious way.  He had the faith to inquire of God himself.

He went to Pennsylvania to meet Joseph and found himself immediately acting as a scribe for him, having only known Joseph for a matter of days.  What he did not know about was the other half of faith: all the work Joseph had exercised along with his belief. 

In Joseph Smith-History, Joseph describes the prayer that initiated the Restoration in 2 verses (JS-H 1:15-16).  In 4 verses he describes the answer he received – the First Vision (JS-H 1:17-20).  But he spends 8 verses describing the time spent studying the problem in his mind (JS-H 1:8-15). 

Point out these words: serious reflection, great uneasiness, I attended…as often as occasion would permit, in process of time, at length…he even thought ahead about what place would be the best place to offer his prayer.

When it came to translating the golden plates, Oliver came into the picture at the point where Joseph was translating so fast that Oliver hardly had time to dip his pen in the ink.  It looked so easy.  But he had not been there to see the months that Joseph had spent learning to translate, poring over the characters, looking for similar ones, doodling with them on paper, struggling to learn what they meant. (More on that below.)  It’s like going to a concert and hearing a great violinist play a masterwork.  We may say, “I’d give half my life to play like that,” when that, in fact, is what the violinist has done.  We don’t see the preparation, the work, the frustration, the years of lessons.  We just see how easy it looks now.


Read aloud D&C 9:7-10.

The Lord kindly took away the gift from him without his having learned how to use it, and left in its place a great lesson for him and for all of us.

The scripture said,“If you had known this…”  So why didn’t the Lord tell him when he started to translate?

To answer this question, I'll tell a story. When our daughter, Camille, was six, she wanted to use a Bible flannel board kit we had bought for her part of family night.  However, she wanted to use some of the pictures that had not been cut out yet.  And she wanted to cut them out herself.  I knew that those flannel board figures were really hard to cut out.  But I also knew Camille.  I knew that it would do no good to tell her that it was too hard for her.  So I just let go ahead and try.

She cut out about two or three little pieces and discovered for herself that it was really hard.  She was no longer anxious to do it.

When Oliver saw how hard it was, like Camille with the flannel board figures, like us with a great concerto, he decided he really didn’t want to do it that badly, and he went back to being a scribe.

Our manual tells us the Lord expects us to be active, not passive, as we seek revelation from Him.  We grow as we use the gifts and resources he has provided to help us study matters out in our minds.

2. Ponder on the scriptures and words of prophets

Answer: Dallin H Oaks said, “[It] may … lead to current revelation on whatever [subject] the Lord wishes to communicate to the reader at that time.”
Question: What is scripture reading?

Elder Oaks says further, “We do not overstate that point when we say that the scriptures can be a Urim and Thummim to assist each of us to receive personal revelation.

“Because we believe that scripture reading can help us receive revelation, we are encouraged to read the scriptures again and again.  By this means, we obtain access to what our Heavenly Father would have us know and do in our personal lives today.  That is one reason Latter-day Saints believe in daily scripture study” (Dallin H. Oaks, "Scripture Reading and Revelation," Ensign, Jan. 1995, 8).

Answer: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given unto him.
Question: What is James 1:5?

Elder Boyd K. Packer says, “No message appears in scriptures more times, in more ways than, ‘Ask, and ye shall receive.’”  (Conference, Oct. ’91)

3. Inquire of the Lord in faith

Answer: The act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other (Bible Dictionary, 752).
Question: What is prayer?

“The object of prayer is not to change the will of God, but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant, but that are made conditional on our asking for them.  Blessings require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them.  Prayer is a form of work” (BD, 753).

4. Be obedient and serve God

Answer: Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught that this is the way to revelation.
Question: What is righteousness?

He also said, “We cannot have the companionship of the Holy Ghost – the medium of individual revelation – if we are in transgression or if we are angry or if we are in rebellion against God’s chosen authorities” (Dallin H. Oaks, "Teaching and Learning by the Spirit," Ensign, Mar. 1997, 9).

5. Be meek and humble

Answer: The state of mind in which Joseph found he could not translate “a single syllable.”
Question: What is anger (or pride)?

David Whitmer recalled that one morning when Joseph Smith was getting ready to resume translating the Book of Mormon, “something went wrong about the house and he was put out about it.  Something that Emma, his wife, had done.  Oliver and I went upstairs and Joseph came up soon after to continue the translation but he could not do anything.  He could not translate a single syllable.  He went downstairs, out into the orchard, and made supplication to the Lord; was gone about an hour – came back to the house, and asked Emma’s forgiveness and then came upstairs where we were and then the translation went on all right.  He could do nothing save he was humble and faithful” (B. H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church, 1:131).

6. Focus on the things of God rather than the things of the world

Answer: According to Elder Boyd K. Packer, inspiration comes more easily in this type of setting.
Question: What is peaceful?

“[The] trend to more noise, more excitement, more contention, less restraint, less dignity, less formality is not coincidental nor innocent nor harmless …

“The first order issued by a commander mounting a military invasion is the jamming of the channels of communication of those he intends to conquer.

“Irreverence suits the purposes of the adversary by obstructing the delicate channels of revelation in both mind and spirit” (Conference, Oct. 1991).

Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, “Divine guidance is so crucial … that we need to go out of our way to put ourselves in a situation in which such special help can be given” (Neal A. Maxwell, Wherefore Ye Must Press Forward, Deseret Book, 121).

A Timeline of the Marvelous Translation of the Book of Mormon

(Follow this link for a painting of Joseph Smith Translating by Anthony Sweat)

Joseph Smith had the spiritual gift of translation of an unknown language in order to give the world the gift of the Book of Mormon.  He was given the gift of translation when he was given the plates, but he had to develop that gift.  It is a fascinating and instructive example of the work required by the Lord of one who receives a spiritual gift. Oliver Cowdery came into the process of translation near the end. He didn't observe the year and a half of time and effort that had gone into the training of Joseph Smith's gift. Hence, he was surprised when he could not translate as easily.

Draw a timeline dating from September 1827 to June 1829, with individual months marked above the timeline.  As you read about each event below, mark an X on the timeline.

  • Sept. 27, 1827: Joseph Smith received the plates.  For three months he almost daily dug them up and reburied them to keep them hidden from his enemies until he found a safe situation.
  • Dec. 1827:  For the next three months, he practiced translating, until he finally had some characters figured out.
  • Feb. 1828:  Martin Harris took the finished characters to Professor Charles Anthon in New York City for verification of the translation.
  • Apr. 12, 1828:  The translation began in earnest with Martin as the scribe.  In two months and two days, the Book of Lehi was completed.
  • June 14, 1828:  Martin Harris took the Book of Lehi (116 pages) to show his wife. They were stolen.  The gift of translation was removed from Joseph Smith, as were the plates themselves and the Urim and Thummim.
  • Sept. 22, 1828:  After a three month period of repentance, all was restored to Joseph Smith, but there were no fruits to the effort so far.  Joseph started back at ground zero re-developing and relearning the gift for six months (twice as long as before).
  • Apr. 7, 1829:  Oliver Cowdery began as scribe and translation once again began in earnest, probably at the Book of 1 Nephi. (Alternatively, he could have picked up at the Book of Mosiah, where he left off. Mosiah is obviously missing the first couple of chapters of the original record, since it does not start with a heading or an introduction, as do all the other books. This alternative chronology is noted in parentheses.)
  • May 15, 1829:  Mosiah 18:8-10 (or 3 Nephi 11) was reached, and in answer to prayer regarding the passage, John the Baptist appeared to Joseph and Oliver and they were baptized.
  • June 1, 1829:  Joseph had moved to Fayette, NY and reached Ether 5 (or if he started over, 2 Nephi 27) where he read about the importance of three witnesses, whereupon he prayed for witnesses to the Book of Mormon, and his prayer was answered.
  • June 11, 1829:  The Book of Mormon was finished and the copyright was obtained.  Joseph had translated the entire book in 60-65 days, a rate of 3,100 words per day!  Although Oliver Cowdery had excellent penmanship, you can see from the photograph below that he had to write sloppily because of the great speed required as Joseph dictated.

Joseph Smith asked Oliver Cowdery to make him a copy.  It took Oliver three times as long to copy it as it took for Joseph Smith to dictate it.

(Sources: Bruce Woolley, lecture, Campus Education Week, Brigham Young University, August 19, 1999, personal notes 4:31; John W. Welch, Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations 1820-1844, chapter 3; Paul Wheeler, personal study notes given to author.)

We, Too, Can Hear the Voice of the Lord

12 And now, verily, verily, I say unto thee, put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit.

13 Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy;

14 And then shall ye know, or by this shall you know, all things whatsoever you desire of me, which are pertaining unto things of righteousness, in faith believing in me that you shall receive.

Quoting Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley, “Of all the great and wonderful and inspiring promises I have read, the most reassuring to me are the words of the Savior: ‘Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.’ (Matthew 7:7) … Let us never forget to pray.  God lives.  He is near.  He is real.  He is our Father.  He is accessible to us’” (Ensign, Jan. 1994, p. 2).

President Russell M. Nelson has made the clarion call in his time as prophet to be that we learn to hear the voice of the Lord in our own lives. Here is his personal message to all of us: Hear Him!

Bonus Story: “Turn Here!”

This story from the February 2001 Ensign, pp. 35-37, illustrates how each of the steps (except scripture reading) were used by a police officer who was a member of the Church in his amazing rescue of an accidentally kidnapped infant.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Doctrine and Covenants 6-9

“A few years ago I was observing a bug as it moved across the floor.  From my vantage point I could see that approximately 15 feet ahead he was going to run into an obstacle that would cause him to lose quite a bit of travel time.  I wanted to say, ‘Little bug, if you will change your direction and go 25 degrees to the left, you will save yourself a lot of time and trouble.’  But of course he continued his path and ran head-on into the obstacle.  He butted his head against it no fewer than 20 times as he first made a series of futile attempts to the right, then finally found his way around to the left.

“I thought, Is it not so with us and the Lord?  Is His vantage point not higher and greater than our own?”  (John B. Dickson, Ensign, Feb. ’01, pp. 21-22)

The problem with the little bug was not that there was no higher source who would have liked to help him; the problem was that he was unable to receive communication from that source.  Our lesson today is to assure us that we, as human bugs, are able to understand the communication that we receive from our Father’s higher and greater view!

“Our Heavenly Father wants to communicate with us even more than we want to communicate with him.  He wants us to be able to recognize his answers.”  (Gaylen Hinton, Ensign, Oct.’93, p. 61)

The difficulty of recognizing personal revelation

When my friend was a student at BYU, she was sharing an elevator with a young man.  Now, this can be dangerous in any situation, but most especially at BYU, because the young man turned to her and said, “I have just received a revelation that you are to be my wife!”  Now, knowing how beautiful my friend was, I can imagine that it might have been quite easy for many young men to have had a “revelation” about her.  Unfortunately, this particular young man found out quickly that his revelation was false, as she told him, “I’m sorry; I’m already married.”  Apparently, his love was truly blind and he didn’t see the ring on her finger.
So how do we tell whether we are receiving revelation from God, or whether we are getting a message from our own desires, or even from an evil source?  Or maybe we don’t recognize that we are receiving revelation at all.  Jesus said of the converted Lamanites, “at the time of their conversion, [they] were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they know it not.”  (3 Nephi 9:20)  How many of us are in that boat?  President Boyd K. Packer said, “It is not unusual for one to have received the gift [of the Holy Ghost] and not really know it.”  (Conference, Apr.‘08; and Ensign, May ’00, p.8)

This year in class we are having the blessing of studying the marvelous occurrences relating to the coming forth of the restored church.  After the First Vision, the heavens were opened and there were many other great and glorious visions, which we will learn about.  In light of this, it is very fitting that we have this lesson today, at the beginning of the year, so that we can recognize that the heavens are also open to us.

In the Munich Germany Area Conference in 1973, President Spencer W. Kimball said: “The burning bushes, the smoking mountains, … the Cumorahs, and the Kirtlands were realities; but they were the exceptions.  The great volume of revelation came to Moses and to Joseph and come to today’s prophet in the less spectacular way—that of deep impressions, without spectacle or glamour or dramatic events.

“Always expecting the spectacular, many will miss entirely the constant flow of revealed communication.”  (Quoted by Graham W. Doxey, Ensign, Nov.’91, p. 25)

Brother Doxey continues, “Even at the highest levels of responsibility in this kingdom of God, which is being built up upon the earth, the [still, small] voice is still small.”

“Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, ‘every common bush [is] afire with God; but only he who sees, takes off his shoes.’  (Aurora Leigh, book 7, lines 822-3)

“The questions are not, ‘Does God live?  Does God love me?’ … The critical question is, ‘Are you listening to him?  Have you removed your shoes?’”  (Ibid.)

Ways in which the Spirit works

Visions and great spiritual manifestations still do occur in among the faithful today.  Voices are heard from beyond the veil.  Angels do appear.  But, as Elder Dallin H Oaks says, ”These experiences are exceptional … Most of the revelation that comes to leaders and members of the Church comes by the still, small voice or by a feeling rather than by a vision or a voice that speaks specific words we can hear. I testify to the reality of that kind of revelation, which I have come to know as a familiar, even daily, experience to guide me in the work of the Lord. “ (Ensign, Mar.’97, p.14)

D&C 9:8 – The Spirit Causes Our Bosoms to Burn

This is one of the most familiar scriptures regarding revelation.  When this feeling occurs, it is a tangible manifestation confirming truth or answering prayers.  We need to be aware, however, that this is not the only way in which the Spirit speaks.  We would miss many, many revelations and and inspirations if we expected each of them to be accompanied by a powerful burning in our chest.  One of the Apostles is quoted as having said, “As I have traveled throughout the Church.  I’ve found relatively few people who have experienced a burning of the bosom.  In fact, I’ve had many people tell me they’ve become frustrated because they have never experienced that feeling even though they have prayed or fasted for long periods of time.”  (Jay E. Jensen, Ensign, Apr.’89, pp.21-2)

There are many different ways in which the Spirit speaks to us, and we are going to go over those today.  I got a great deal of help in preparing this lesson from Ensign articles, especially one by Jay E. Jensen, who was at the time Director of Scriptures Coordination for the Church Curriculum Dept., entitled “Have I Received an Answer from the Spirit?”  in April 1989. 

If class members have experiences to share after each scripture, forego the stories I have written and use theirs instead.  Put up wordstrips or write on the board each of the headings as it comes up.

D&C 6:23 – The Spirit Speaks Peace to the Mind

The most common manifestation of the Spirit is a feeling of peace, of calmness, of tranquility – or a departure of anxiety and fear.

One night when two of my brothers, both young adults with their own cars, were out late and my mother was home alone reading, the phone rang.  It was about 11:30 at night.  When she picked up the phone, the voice on the other end was very garbled.  The only words she could understand were “accident” and “hurt.”  This was in the days before cell phones, and she had no way to contact my brothers and make sure that they were okay.  Needless to say, she became flooded with an intense worry.  She was overcome by a terrible, dark feeling.  She fell to her knees and said a prayer.  She asked the Lord to tell her if there was something she was to do if one of the boys was in trouble, and if there was nothing she could do, or if there was no trouble, that he might please take away this horrible feeling.  She closed her prayer and stood up.  Immediately, as she stood, the fear left and she was wrapped in a feeling of peace.  She returned to her reading, and less than ten minutes later, my brothers both drove in at the same time, one into each of our two driveways.  She heard them call to each other across the lawn, and then they came in the house together laughing.  There had been no problem and she never knew whether the phone call had been a prank or a wrong number.

D&C 11:13-14 – The Spirit Enlightens Our Minds

The Prophet Joseph Smith indicated that at these times you may “feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas…” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.151)

How do you know that it is the Spirit and not just your own idea?  After the words “enlighten your mind,” the Lord adds the phrase “which shall fill your soul with joy.”  The feeling of understanding in the mind given by the Spirit is always accompanied by some type of positive emotion.  Brother Jensen says, “Not only is our understanding affected, but our souls seem to expand – the whole experience is delicious to us.”

D&C 11:12 The Spirit Leads to do Good

“Have you ever learned of someone in need, perhaps a close friend, and felt strongly impressed to help?  Have you ever talked with someone and been led to say the right thing?  Have you ever suddenly felt a need to fix something in the house or to weed the garden?  This is how the Spirit can work – he leads us to do good.

“Have you ever felt that you should forgive someone?  Have you ever been prompted to pay tithing before you pay certain bills?  Have you ever seen a child learn to share his toys?  These are a few times in which the Spirit can prompt a person, even a small child, to do justly. “ (Ibid., p.24)

I saw the Spirit work upon my daughter Savannah in this way when she was six or seven.  She was on the back patio and accidentally knocked over a really cute flowerpot which I had made from a kit a friend had given me as a gift.  Like most little kids, she was afraid for having made such a mistake, but she felt moved to come right in the house and confess to me.  She was upset as she told me, but knowing that it was just an accident, I thanked her for letting me know and we cleaned it up.  A few minutes later, she came back in the house and said, “Mom, I have such a strange feeling.  It’s like I’m all warm right here,” and she rubbed her chest.  Because she followed the first prompting of the Spirit to confess, she then received a confirmation that she had done the right thing.

D&C 128:1 – The Spirit Occupies our Minds and Presses upon our Feelings

How many times does this type of revelation come to the leadership of the church?!  This is how Joseph Smith was prompted many times.  The fact that the subject of baptism for the dead pressed upon Joseph’s mind at the particular time that it did is a remarkable manifestation of the Spirit, when we  realize that at the time Joseph was being pursued by enemies and was facing numerous difficulties and distractions.  This is how President Spencer W. Kimball was prompted to seek for priesthood blessings for worthy members of every race.  Another irony is that in his conference talk on revelation, Elder Graham Doxey stated that this subject, revelation, had been on his mind since the speaking assignment came.  He obviously had received revelation that he should give a talk on revelation.

President Joseph F Smith’s great vision recorded in D&C 138 was precipitated by the thoughts of the deaths of beloved family members, his own imminent death, and deaths of millions worldwide, due to the Spanish Influenza and World War I.

D&C 8:2-3 – The Spirit Tells us in our Minds and our Hearts

Elder Richard G. Scott explained this scripture very specifically in an address at the annual Church Educational System Religious Educators Symposium at BYU, August 11th, 1998: “I would explain that an impression to the mind is very specific.  Detailed words can be heard or felt and written as though the instruction were being dictated.”

Here is an amazing experience Elder Russell M. Nelson had with this type of revelation:

“Many of us have had experiences with the sweet power of prayer. One of mine was shared with a stake patriarch from southern Utah. I first met him in my medical office more than 40 years ago, during the early pioneering days of surgery of the heart. This saintly soul suffered much because of a failing heart. He pleaded for help, thinking that his condition resulted from a damaged but repairable valve in his heart.

“Extensive evaluation revealed that he had two faulty valves. While one could be helped surgically, the other could not. Thus, an operation was not advised. He received this news with deep disappointment.

“Subsequent visits ended with the same advice. Finally, in desperation, he spoke to me with considerable emotion: ‘Dr. Nelson, I have prayed for help and have been directed to you. The Lord will not reveal to me how to repair that second valve, but He can reveal it to you. Your mind is so prepared. If you will operate upon me, the Lord will make it known to you what to do. Please perform the operation that I need, and pray for the help that you need.’

“His great faith had a profound effect upon me. How could I turn him away again? Following a fervent prayer together, I agreed to try. In preparing for that fateful day, I prayed over and over again, but still did not know what to do for his leaking tricuspid valve. Even as the operation commenced, my assistant asked, ‘What are you going to do for that?’  I said, ‘I do not know.’

“We began the operation. After relieving the obstruction of the first valve, we exposed the second valve. We found it to be intact but so badly dilated that it could no longer function as it should. While examining this valve, a message was distinctly impressed upon my mind: Reduce the circumference of the ring. I announced that message to my assistant. ‘The valve tissue will be sufficient if we can effectively reduce the ring toward its normal size.’

“But how? We could not apply a belt as one would use to tighten the waist of oversized trousers. We could not squeeze with a strap as one would cinch a saddle on a horse. Then a picture came vividly to my mind, showing how stitches could be placed—to make a pleat here and a tuck there—to accomplish the desired objective. I still remember that mental image—complete with dotted lines where sutures should be placed. The repair was completed as diagrammed in my mind. We tested the valve and found the leak to be reduced remarkably. My assistant said, ‘It’s a miracle.’ I responded, ‘It’s an answer to prayer.’

“The patient’s recovery was rapid and his relief gratifying. Not only was he helped in a marvelous way, but surgical help for other people with similar problems had become a possibility. I take no credit. Praise goes to this faithful patriarch and to God, who answered our prayers. This faithful man lived for many more years and has since gone to his eternal glory.” (Elder Russell M. Nelson, Conference, Apr.’03; and Ensign, May ’03, pp.7-8)

To continue with Elder Scott’s words: “A communication to the heart is a more general impression.  The Lord often begins by giving impressions.  Where there is recognition of their importance and they are obeyed, one gains more capacity to receive more detailed instruction to the mind.  An impression to the heart, if followed, is fortified by a more specific instruction to the mind.”

It is important to note that Elder Scott, another time, counseled that we may miss further revelation if we do not record in our personal scriptures, our journals, those that we do receive.  Writing down promptings received helps us to recognize them even better the next time.  (See Richard G. Scott, Helping Others, p.11)

Alma 14:11 – The Spirit Constrains

When the wicked inhabitants of Ammonihah were about to burn the believers, Amulek suggested to Alma that they exercise their priesthood power to save the innocent.  But through the Spirit, the Lord held Alma back from doing something contrary to His divine plan.

Wilford Woodruff related a constraining encounter he had with the Spirit.  He was bringing some Saints from New England and Canada to the West.  They had scheduled passage on a boat, but the Spirit spoke to President Woodruff, “Don’t go aboard that steamer, nor your company.”  He obeyed the voice.  The boat departed and some fifty yards downstream caught fire and sank (A Story to Tell, p. 320).  I wonder how many times the Spirit constrains us to do something and we never get to see what might have happened had we disobeyed.

John 14:26 – The Spirit Brings Things to our Remembrance

This happened to Enos as he went hunting.  The Spirit brought the teachings of his father back into his mind.  They sunk deep into his heart, and he was moved to pray.  (See Enos 1:3-4.)  Had he not followed that prompting through remembrance by meditating and praying, he would not have received the testimony he did.

How many of us at key moments have had the Spirit bring to our remembrance the words of our parents, teachers, a conference address, or the scriptures?

As we keep putting the words of Christ and our testimonies into the memories of our children and those we teach, the Spirit will be able to call their attention to those when the time is right.  Hopefully, they will then follow the Spirit when it prompts them to remember those words they have been taught by us.

D&C 98:12 – The Spirit Gives Revelation Line upon Line

In his Conference address of October 1989, Elder Scott also taught: “When we seek inspiration to help make decisions, the Lord gives gentle promptings.  These require us to think, to exercise faith, to work, to struggle at times, and to act.  Seldom does the whole answer to a decisively important matter or complex problem come all at once.  More often, it comes a piece at a time, without the end in sight.”

This is in keeping with President Joseph F. Smith’s account of how he received his testimony.  Having had the Prophet Joseph as his uncle, and Hyrum Smith as his father, he was, no doubt, accustomed to hearing of marvelous manifestations of the Spirit.  As a young teen, he served as a missionary, and these are his words about how he gained his testimony.  I suspect many of us received ours in the same way.

“When I as a boy first started out in the ministry, I would frequently go out and ask the Lord to show me some marvelous thing, in order that I might receive a testimony.  But the Lord withheld marvels from me, and showed me the truth, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, until He made me to know the truth from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet, and until doubt and fear had been absolutely purged from me.”  (Gospel Doctrine, 5th edition, p.7)

D&C 43 – The Spirit Prompts According to our Stewardships

This is not just one way in which the Spirit prompts – this is a rule that governs revelation.  The prophet holds the keys of revelation for the entire church, the bishop can receive revelation for the ward, and you can receive revelation for your own family.  You cannot receive revelation for something or someone over which you have no stewardship.  (See Dallin H Oaks, “Revelation,” New Era, Sep.’82, pp.45-6)

In addition, any revelation we receive in our own capacities must be in harmony with truth received through the prophet.  The First Presidency has said, “When … inspiration conveys something out of harmony with the accepted revelations of the Church or contrary to the decisions of its constituted authorities, Latter-day Saints may know that it is not of God, no matter how plausible it may appear”  (Messages of the First Presidency, 4:285).

This is the same reason why the young man in the elevator was mistaken in his revelation about my friend.  He had no stewardship over her.

What if revelation does not come?

“Sometimes you may struggle with a problem and not get an answer.  What could be wrong?  It may be that you are not doing anything wrong.  It may be that you have not done the right things long enough.  Remember, you cannot force spiritual things.

“Put difficult questions in the back of your minds and go about your lives.  Ponder and pray quietly and persistently about them.”  (Boyd K. Packer, Oct.’79 Conference)

Remember, it took three Church presidents pondering and praying before the revelation was given that all worthy males could receive the Priesthood.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks has also counseled on this subject.  “We do not always receive inspiration or revelation when we request it.  Sometimes we are delayed in the receipt of revelation, and sometimes we are left to our own judgment.  We cannot force spiritual things.  It must be so.  Our life’s purpose to obtain experience and develop faith would be frustrated if our Heavenly Father directed us in every act, even in every important act. We must make decisions and experience the consequences in order to develop self-reliance and faith."  (BYU Devotional, Sep. 29, 1981; and Ensign, Oct.’94, p.13) (See also D&C 8:10, second half)


It may appear that Joseph Smith died prematurely, before the work of the Restoration was complete.  But he was allowed to exercise revelation from the other side of the veil in order to give counsel to his successor, Brigham Young, many times.  It’s ironic that it was at one of these appearances when revelation was obvious and grand that he gave counsel to Brigham Young on how to encourage the Saints in receiving the less obvious revelations:

“Tell the people to be humble and faithful, and be sure to keep the Spirit of the Lord and it will lead them right.  Be careful and not turn away the still small voice; it will teach them what to do and where to go; it will yield the fruits of the kingdom.  Tell the brethren to keep their hearts open to conviction, so that when the Holy Ghost comes to them, their hearts will be ready to receive it.  [And here is where he gives the best overall guide for recognizing revelation:] They can tell the Spirit of the Lord from all other spirits; it will whisper peace and joy to their souls; it will take malice, hatred, strife, and all evil from their hearts; and their whole desire will be to do good.”  (Juvenile Instructor, 8:114 (1873); Quoted in Apr.’89 Ensign, p.21)

Image from Media Library

These times are no less troubled than Brigham Young’s time.  Although we are minuscule human “bugs” in a universe of obstacles, being able to receive and recognize revelation makes us open to the Lord’s help from his vantage point high above us.  This is one of the greatest blessings given to members of the Restored Church.  As Elder Boyd K. Packer said:

“We need not live in fear of the future.  We have every reason to rejoice and little reason to fear.  If we follow the promptings of the Spirit, we will be safe, whatever the future holds.  We will be shown what to do.”  (Boyd K Packer, Apr.’00 Conference; and Ensign, May ’00)

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Doctrine and Covenants 3-5 + the 3 Witnesses

You may want to use the church video, "The Works and Designs of God" from "Teachings from the Doctrine and Covenants.


Quoting Kent P. Jackson, a professor at BYU:  "On the 21st of September, 1823, the Lord began to educate the Prophet [Joseph Smith] in preparation for the restoration of the gospel.  The Nephite prophet Moroni, as the last prophet of the Lehite dispensation and the final author, compiler, and caretaker of the Nephite record, was appropriately chosen to serve as young Joseph Smith's tutor...Moroni's message to the young Prophet outlined not only the calling of Joseph Smith, but also the destiny of the Church and kingdom of God from the time of the Restoration until the Millenium"  (Kent P. Jackson, "Moroni's Message to Joseph Smith," Ensign, August 1990, 13, 15). Brother Jackson has itemized the scriptures Moroni quoted in his article, according to the four accounts Joseph Smith dictated about his visit.

Every year Joseph met the angel, who continued to instruct him.  In 1827, when Joseph had just been married and was now 22 years old, he returned home late one night from a business trip.  His family had been worried about why he was so late.  He "smiled and said in a calm tone, 'I have taken the severest chastisement that I have ever had in my life.'" His father was upset and asked which neighbor might have given Joseph a hard time and began ranting and raving.  "Joseph replied, 'Stop, father, stop.  It was the angel of the Lord.  As I passed by the hill of Cumorah, where the plates are, the angel met me and said that I had not been engaged enough in the work of the Lord; that the time had come for the record to be brought forth; and that I must be up and doing and set myself about the things which God had commanded me to do.  But, father, give yourself no uneasiness concerning the reprimand which I received, for now I know the course that I am to pursue, so all will be well(Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith by his Mother, Bookcraft100, italics added). When the Lord sends us chastisement, it is a blessing, as Joseph said, for now we know the course to pursue. Remember that!

Shortly after that, on September 21, 1827, Joseph received the plates from the Angel Moroni.  He had them for two years, and the majority of that time was spent, not in translating them, but in simply keeping them away from those who wanted to steal them (Andrew H. Hedges, "Take Heed Continually: Protecting the Gold Plates," Ensign, January 2001).


Today we are going to focus on the lives of the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon.  Or were there actually four? Or five?  Keep reading!


The first of the Three Witnesses to meet Joseph Smith was Martin Harris.  He was a well-to-do neighboring farmer.  In the spring after Joseph received the plates and wrestled to keep them safe all winter, Martin Harris served as his scribe while Joseph translated the Book of Lehi.  Joseph and Emma had moved to Pennsylvania to avoid the mobs.  Martin's farm was back in New York.  It's quite an imposition on a farmer's time to sit as a scribe in another state, and his wife and parents questioned the value of what he was doing.  To appease them, he wanted to take the manuscript of the Book of Lehi back to New York and show his family.  He was 45 years old and Joseph was 23.  He asked Joseph to ask the Lord whether he might do this.  Joseph asked and the answer was definitely no.  He pestered Joseph to ask again.  Again Joseph asked and the answer was no.  Finally, he asked for a deal that the Lord might let him do it if he would solemnly covenant to show them to only six specified family members (his wife, his parents, his brother and his sister-in-law).  Joseph asked this and the Lord finally said yes.  From this experience, Joseph learned a very valuable lesson, which we might like to learn also, and that is not to bargain with the Lord and not to re-ask the Lord when we have been given a clear answer.

"On June 15, 1828, soon after Martin left with the manuscript, Joseph and Emma's first child was born.  They named him Alvin.  He lived only a few hours.  Emma was very sick, and Joseph, in his grief, hardly had time to think of the manuscript...When Emma regained her health, she urged Joseph to travel to Fayette to see what had happened to Martin and the manuscript" (Brian and Petrea Kelly, Latter-day History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, American Fork: Covenant Communications30).

The strain on Joseph was enormous on his return to New York, but he was blessed by the kindness of a stranger, who deserves our recognition:

"Only one passenger was in the stage[coach] beside himself; this man observing Joseph's gloomy appearance, inquired the cause of his affliction, and offered to assist him if his services would be acceptable.  Joseph thanked him for his kindness, and mentioned that he had been watching some time with a sick wife and child, that the child had died, and that his wife was still very low...Nothing more passed between them on this subject, until Joseph was about leaving the stage; at which time he remarked, that he still had twenty miles further to travel on foot that night, it being then about 10:00.  To this the stranger objected, saying, 'I have watched you since you first entered the stage, and I know that you have neither slept nor eaten since that time, and you shall not go on foot twenty miles alone this night; for, if you must go, I will be your company.

"Joseph...thanked the gentleman for his kindness, and, leaving the stage, they proceeded together.  When they reached our house it was nearly daylight.  The stranger said he was under the necessity of leading Joseph the last four miles by the arm; for nature was too much exhausted to support him any longer..." (Kelly, 31).

Joseph's parents fed Joseph and the stranger a little breakfast and sent for Mr. Harris.  He always came immediately when called upon, living just next-door, and they expected him to join the rest of them for breakfast. At 8:00 they set the table, but he didn't come. At 9:00 he didn't come. 10:00. 11:00. Noon.

"But at half past twelve we saw him walking with a slow and measured tread toward the house, his eyes fixed thoughtfully upon the ground.  On coming to the gate, he stopped, instead of passing through, and got upon the fence, and sat there some time with his hat drawn over his eyes.  At length he entered the house.  Soon after which we sat down to the table, Mr. Harris with the rest.  He took up his knife and fork as if he were going to use them, but immediately dropped them.  Hyrum, observing this, said, 'Martin, why do you not eat; are you sick?' Upon which Mr. Harris pressed his hands upon his temples and cried out in a tone of deep anguish, 'Oh, I have lost my soul!'" (Kelly, 31)

Joseph took the long, lonely journey back to Emma the following day.

Imagine how it must have felt to face God's prophet, and tell him that you did not treasure the manuscript as you should have--that you had put worldly concerns above the Book of Mormon and therefore lost something of inestimable worth.

But wait!  Don't we from time to time face that very situation?  President Benson said of our day, "The Lord is not pleased with us in the manner of attention we're giving the Book of Mormon, a New Witness for Christ.  We need it in our homes, we need it in our families.  It was written for us today."  (Church News, 9 Nov. 1986, 10).  One day we will all have an accounting of our use of the scriptures.  Will we be like Martin Harris was that day, hanging our heads, leaning against the fence, feeling deep anguish as we now realize what a great treasure we lost due to our negligence?

Martin Harris's folly is recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants for all of us to witness.  But we would do very well to be half as valiant as Martin Harris.  Here are some ways in which he was a great example:
  • He mortgaged his farm for the publication of the Book of Mormon.  How difficult it usually is for a wealthy man to part with his money!
  • Despite the fact that the Lord had commanded him to mortgage the farm, when the mortgage fell due, the Church had no money to pay it back and he had to give it up to foreclosure.  Would that be a trial of faith for many of us?
  • At about the same time, he endured the pain of divorce, rather unusual for his day.
  • He served a mission with his brother Emer and baptized at least 182 people.
  • While serving his mission he was imprisoned on a false charge.
  • After his mission, he volunteered to march on the dangerous rescue mission with Zion's Camp (which we will learn more of this year).
  • He was called to help choose the Quorum of the 12 Apostles.
  • He was a member of the first high council in Kirtland.
Later in his life, he departed from activity in the Church due to some disagreement.  But even then, as he remained behind in Kirtland, he became the self-appointed caretaker and protector of the Kirtland Temple, which had been left behind by the saints.  Without Martin, it is doubtful that building would still be standing in its beauty as it is today.

After 33 years, he rejoined the Saints, and his visits to congregations in Utah strengthened the faith of many.   His final testimony was recorded by his grandson William Pilkington, as reported in Susan Black's wonderful book:

"On the 9th day of July 1875, while he was dying, I knelt by his cot...I wanted to get what I thought would be his last words, but he could not talk audibly.'  Pilkington then prayed that his grandfather's last words could be understood.  He reported, 'Strength was given to him and he bore his testimony as he had done many times before and I understood every word.  He then bore the same testimony to the whole world and then laid back exhausted.'  Martin died on 10 July 1875 in Clarkston, Utah.  He was buried with his Book of Mormon in his right hand and the Doctrine and Covenants in his left" (Susan Easton Black, Who's Who in the Doctrine and Covenants, Bookcraft, 127).

The Urim and Thummim were taken from Joseph but were returned by Moroni so that Joseph could receive the revelation that is now Section 3 (after inquiring of the Lord).  They were taken back afterwards, but returned again in a few days so that Joseph could again inquire and receive Section 10  (History of the Church, 1:21-23).

In accordance with the revelation received in Section 10, some of which was received about July 1828, Joseph went to work to support his family and did not restart the full-time translation of the Book of Mormon until April 7, 1829 (History of the Church, 1:28, 32).


Now the second of the Three Witnesses enters the story.  While Joseph was in Pennsylvania, Oliver Cowdery, who was just a year younger than he, took up boarding with Joseph's parents back in New York.  He was the school teacher, and part of the school teacher's pay from the community he served was his room and board with one of them.  After hearing about Joseph's vision, he wanted to meet him himself.  At the same time, Joseph was praying for help in translating.  He had his wife and his brother-in-law writing for him, but they were both so busy that they couldn't do it full-time.  Olivery Cowdery showed up, and two days later, April 7, 1829, he and Joseph began to translate full-time.  The translation was finished June 30th or July 1st.  The speed with which they translated was incredible: the entire Book of Mormon in less than three months.  Oliver's normally perfect handwriting was uncharacteristically sloppy, as we noted before, because of the speed at which he was writing.  Interestingly, while Oliver was copying the Book of Mormon by hand, William B. Burt received the first U.S. patent for a typing machine (Kelly, 41).

Of Olivery, Wilford Woodruff wrote, "I have seen Oliver Cowdery when it seemed as though the earth trembled under his feet.  I never heard a man bear a stronger testimony than he did when under the influence of the Spirit" (Black, 74).


The third witness, David Whitmer, was an acquaintance of Oliver Cowdery's.  Before Oliver went to Pennsylvania, they had discussed the rumors about the Smith family and the golden plates.  Oliver had told David that he was going to find out whether the rumors were true and he would let him know.  Shortly after his arrival in Pennsylvania, he wrote to David, telling him he was convinced that Joseph actually had the plates and that he was to be the scribe in the translation.  Then he wrote another letter, including a few lines translated from the plates and bore his testimony of its authenticity as an ancient record.  Finally, Oliver wrote a letter asking--no, telling--David Whitmer that God had commanded him to come to Pennsylvania and bring Joseph and Oliver back to his own family's house. (He was still living with his parents.)  The reason for this was that persecution was now great in Pennsylvania.

David Whitmer didn't know what to do.  He had 20 acres to plow, which would not wait.  So he decided he had better do his plowing before he left.  He got up to do the work and found that 5 to 7 acres had been plowed in the night.  He said, "I do not know who did it, but it was done just as I would have done myself, and the plow was left standing in the furrow."

The next morning he went out to spread plaster on his fields, a common soil treatment of the day.  He had left the plaster in heaps near the house, but now it was gone.  He ran to his sister and asked what had happened to it.  She was surprised and said, "Wasn't it all sown yesterday?"

"'Not to my knowledge,' answered David.  'I'm astonished at that,' replied his sister, 'for the children came to me in the forenoon, and begged of me to go out and see the men sow plaster in the field, saying, that they never saw anybody sow plaster so fast in their lives.  I accordingly went, and saw three men at work in the field, as the children had said but supposing that you had hired some help, on account of your hurry, I went immediately into the house, and gave the subject no further attention'" (Smith, 136-37).

Needless to say, David Whitmer immediately took the two-day trip to Pennsylvania to bring Joseph and Oliver back with him.  (This story, as well as the following story, is also printed in Richard Lloyd Anderson, "The Whitmers: A Family That Nourished the Church," Ensign, August 1979).


At this point in the story, we find out about a fourth witness, or maybe we should say, the first witness of all.

David Whitmer's parents' home was a log cabin 20 feet by 30 feet.  There were five children still living at home, in addition to the parents, and there were only three bedrooms.  And they were taking in Joseph and Emma Smith and Oliver Cowdery--the prophet of God, his wife, and a schoolteacher.  I know I would feel pretty stressed out and very intimidated by the coming house guests, especially if my home was a tiny log cabin and I was already working all day long just to maintain the farm.

 The reconstructed Whitmer home in Fayette, New York.

David went to Fayette to fetch Joseph and Oliver while his mother readied the home.  As the men were traveling from Pennsylvania (Emma was coming later), 

" a clear, open place, a very pleasant, nice looking old man suddenly appeared by the side of our wagon and saluted us with, 'Good morning; it's very warm;' at the same time wiping his face or forehead with his hand.  We returned the salutation, and by a sign from Joseph, I invited him to ride if he was going our way.  But he said very pleasantly, 'No, I am going to Cumorah.'  The name was somewhat new to me, and I did not know what 'Cumorah' meant.  We all gazed at him and at each other, and as I looked round inquiringly of Joseph, the old man instantly disappeared so that I did not see him again.

"Sometime after this, my mother was going to milk the cows, when she was met out near the yard by the same old man (judging by her description of him), who said to her, 'You have been very faithful and diligent in your labors, but you are tired because of the increase of your toil; it is proper, therefore, that you should receive a witness, that your faith may be strengthened.'  Thereupon, he showed her the plates. My father and mother had a large family of their own, the addition to it, therefore, of Joseph, his wife Emma, and Oliver, very greatly increased the toil and anxiety of my mother.  And although she had never complained she had sometimes felt that her labor was too much, or, at least, she was perhaps beginning to feel so.  This circumstance, however, completely removed all such feelings, and nerved her up for her increased responsibilities (B.H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church, Deseret Book1:126-27, quoted in Kelly, 40).

Does the Lord care about the backstage work?  The housekeeping?  The laundry?  Yes, He does.  The Lord felt that Mary Whitmer's homemaking duties made her worthy to view the plates.  She was actually the first person besides Joseph to see the plates!


Since originally writing this post, I have learned about a fifth witness. (See, we are always learning something new if we keep studying!) The prophet's mother, Lucy Mack Smith, reported in an interview with a Henry Caswall in 1842 that she also had seen the plates.

"I have myself seen and handled the golden plates; they are about eight inches long and six wide; some of them are sealed together and are not to be opened, and some of them are loose. They are all connected by a ring which passes through a hole at the end of each plate, and are covered with letters beautifully engraved. I have seen and felt also the Urim and Thummim. They resemble two large bright diamonds set in a bow like a pair of spectacles. My son puts those over his eyes when he reads unknown languages, and they enable him to interpret them in English. I have likewise carried in my hands the sacred breastplate. It is composed of pure gold, and is made to fit the breast very exactly" (John W. Welch, Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations, 1820-1844, Brigham Young University Press and Deseret Book, 162).


On June 20, 1829, as the translation was progressing, Joseph came across a scripture that told him there were to be three witnesses to the Book of Mormon.  He didn't say which scripture it was, but there are two it could have been:  2 Nephi 27:12 or Ether 5:2,3.  Because we don't know the order in which the Book of Mormon was translated, we don't know which one it was, but when Joseph read this, Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer asked if they might be the three. (The section heading to D&C 17 tells us that they were inspired to desire this.)  Joseph then asked the Lord (because no revelation was ever received without asking first), and the Lord said yes. (See D&C 17:1-3)

After sincere prayer in the woods with the Prophet Joseph, David and Oliver saw an angel.  "In his hands he held the plates...He turned over the leaves one by one..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'"  (Kelly, 42).

Shortly afterwards, Joseph and Martin prayed fervently together and beheld the vision.  When they returned to the house it was about 3:00 in the afternoon.  Joseph threw himself down by his mother and said, "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" (Kelly, 44).

A day or two later, eight more witnesses were permitted to see and touch the plates, but without an angel.  The testimonies of all 11 of these witnesses are recorded in the very front of the Book of Mormon.