Introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History; D&C Section 1
Nothing is more exciting than being the people of the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times and starting a new year of scripture study of the scriptures that were given to us in our day, revealed to us by a Prophet of our day. The Doctrine and Covenants is a series of revelations and personal directions from the Lord Himself, given to us “to guide us in these latter days.” The revelations are personal and intimate. The revelations are transcendent, meaning if they were given, for example, to Oliver Cowdery, the teachings, blessings, promises and warnings are for all. After speaking very candidly and very personally to Emma Smith, the Lord concluded that revelation by saying, “And verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my voice unto all.” (D&C 25:16) “Therefore, what I say unto one I say unto all,” the Lord repeated elsewhere. (See D&C 82:5; 93:49).
Something is different about this course of study-different from the other three books of scriptures that we carefully study. What is that difference? We could list a few common answers (as viewed from English-speaking North America):
- These revelations were given in English, and are therefore not a translated document, given directly from the Lord, through the mouth of the Prophets, and written down and published as they are given.
- The revelations are generally answers to specific questions offered by specific individuals or which came as a result of specific situations. They are not in story or historical form such as the Book of Mormon, or The Gospels of the New Testament. The revelations, however, as a whole, form their own history when placed in context.
- The Doctrine and Covenants were given in very near history, the oldest recorded revelation of which is only 178 years old. The last recorded words of the Book of Mormon, the next youngest scripture, dates to approximately 1,580 years ago.
- The Doctrine and Covenants is modern scripture, a living proof of continuing revelation, showing to the world that we do “believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God. (See 9th Article of Faith)
- The Doctrine and Covenants is a living scripture, being added upon as recently as twenty-two years ago with Official Declaration 2, the extending of the Priesthood to all worthy male members of the Church. Sections 137 and 138, though given in the time of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Prophet Joseph F. Smith respectively (1836 and 1918) were added into the official canon of scripture twenty-five years ago (1976). Other revelations may be added as needed.
All of the above are certainly good answers and give us some idea of the unique nature of the Doctrine and Covenants, but none of those answers is the most compelling about this year’s course of study.
All other courses of study of past dispensations, that is, the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Book of Mormon are careful studies of a people who were given instructions from the Lord, were taught by Him, were even visited by Him personally, and all of those peoples as they began to not heed the word of the Lord and not follow His teachings, by an by, ended in apostasy. This year’s course of study is about a Dispensation that will not end in apostasy but it will usher in the great Dispensation when the Lord Himself will come and rule and reign personally upon the earth for a thousand years. The teachings and instructions of the Doctrine and Covenants are for a people preparing to meet the Lord, and they will meet Him. “For the great Millennium, of which I have spoken by the mouth of my servants, shall come.” (D&C 43:30)
A Voice of Warning
We read in Isaiah of a warning voice to the people of his time: “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken.” (Isaiah 1:2) We also read: “Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye people, from far; The Lord hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name. And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me; And said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” (Isaiah 49:1-3) Such “ancient language” is found throughout the Doctrine and Covenants, but specifically we hear the familiar warning voice in the first few verses of Section 1:
Hearken, O ye people of my church, saith the voice of him who dwells on high, and whose eyes are upon all men; yea, verily I say: Hearken y e people from afar; and ye that are upon the islands of the sea, listen together. For verily the voice of the Lord is unto all men, and there is none to escape; and there is no eye that shall not see, neither ear that shall not hear, neither heart that shall not be penetrated. And the rebellious shall be pierced with much sorrow [the sword and shaft motif like Isaiah]; for their iniquities shall be spoken upon the housetops, and their secret acts shall be revealed. And the voice of warning shall be unto all people, by the mouths of my disciples, whom I have chosen in these last days. And they shall go forth and none shall stay them, for I the Lord have commanded them. (D&C 1:1-5)
The imagery of a two-edged sword is used throughout the Doctrine and Covenants (see, for example, D&C 6:2; 11:2; 12:2; 14:2; 33:1). A sword is used to protect and to kill. It can fall upon the inhabitants of th e earth or it can save them. The sword can swing either way. The Spirit of the Lord is often used in the imagery of the sword as we see in putting on the whole armor of God. “And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of my Spirit, which I will pour out upon you, and my word which I reveal unto you…” (D&C27:18) Paul wrote: “And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Eph. 6:17) The word of the Lord is extended to all people (or will be extended to all people) by the mouth of the servants of the Lord and those who heed the word of the Lord will be protected and even saved by it, and those who don’t will be condemned and even lose their eternal lives over it if they do not given heed to it.
The Capstone of our Religion
President Ezra Taft Benson said: “The Doctrine and Covenants brings men to Christ’s kingdom, even the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ‘the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth’ (D&C 1:30)…The Book of Mormon is the ‘keystone’ of our religion, and the Doctrine and Covenants is the capstone, with the continuing latter-day revelation. The Lord has placed His stamp of approval on both the keystone and the capstone.” (April 1987)
The Doctrine and Covenants is a powerful and underestimated book of scripture for our time. “In the revelations,” states the explanatory introduction, “the doctrines of the gospel are set forth with explanations about such fundamental matters as the nature of the Godhead, the origin of man, the reality of Satan, the purpose of mortality, the necessity for obedience, the need for repentance, the workings of the Holy Spirit, the ordinances and performances that pertain to salvation, the destiny of the earth, the future conditions of man after the resurrection and the judgement, the eternity of the marriage relationship, and the eternal nature of the family.
In short, this marvelous and powerful book of scripture, is yet another testimony and witness of Jesus Christ, with a powerful purpose and mission. Nephi saw the Doctrine and Covenants in vision: “And after it [the Bible] had come forth unto them [the remnant of seed of his family] I beheld other books, which came forth by the power of the Lamb, from the Gentiles unto them, unto the convincing of the Gentiles and the remnant of the seed of my brethren, and also the Jews who were scattered upon all the face of the earth, that the records of the prophets and of the twelve apostles of the Lamb are true.” (1 Nephi 13:39, emphasis added) “Finally,” the explanatory introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants continues, “the testimony that is given of Jesus Christ-his divinity, his majesty, his perfection, his love, and his redeeming power-makes this book of great value to the human family and of more worth than the riches of the whole earth.” (emphasis added)
The Preface to the Book
A critical component of any good book is the preface. In a novel it may come in the form of a number of chapters introducing the setting and the characters of the story. In some books it could be a brief statement to help the reader understand what is about to be presented. A preface gives a foreshadowing of the rest of the book. It is there to instruct and direct, to inform and to orient the reader to the correct line of thinking that the author will present throughout the book.
The preface to the Doctrine and Covenants is what we have identified as Section 1. It was given and identified by the Lord Himself as the preface. “Behold, this is mine authority, and the authority of my servants, and my preface unto the book of my commandments, which I have given them to publish unto you, O inhabitants of the earth.” (D&C 1:6)
In this preface the Lord sends a warning voice to all the people of the earth, declares that apostasy and wickedness will precede His Second Coming, declares to the inhabitants of the earth that He has called Joseph Smith to restore to the earth the Lord’s truths and powers, declares the Book of Mormon to have been directed and given of Him and testifies that this Church is the only true and living Church upon the face of the whole earth; he declares that peace shall be taken from the earth and that the inhabitants of the earth should search these commandments and His words, because they will all be fulfilled. This is a powerful preface.
Setting for Receiving the Preface
A conference was called in the late fall of 1831 to convene at the home of Brother John Johnson in the township of Hiram, Ohio about 31 miles to the south of Kirtland. Eight conferences of the Church would be held at the Johnson Farm, this conference was the most significant. These conferences were generally small with anywhere from six to twelve brethren in attendance, sometimes a few more. At this particular conference it was decided that the many revelations that had already been received by the Prophet Joseph (approximately 65 to that time) should be compiled and published so that the people could have easier access to read them and that the missionaries could use them in their preaching.
To that time, brethren or sisters might have been with the Prophet or with someone who had been with him and received a hand-written copy of one of the revelations that was copied from a copy of Oliver Cowdery’s or John Whitmer’s record. That single revelation would be carefully folded and kept as a treasure in the pocket of the person obtaining it. But having one revelation and only hearing of the others in second, third and fourth-hand recounting was not conducive to harmony and accuracy in the building of the Lord’s little kingdom.
At this conference it was decided that the sixty-five revelations should be taken to Missouri by Oliver Cowdery and John Whitmer and there Brother W.W. Phelps would compile, print and publish them as the Book of Commandments. Of course this book needed an introduction or a preface, and the Lord saw fit to reveal the preface to the Prophet Joseph on November 1, 1831.
The Weak Things of the World
The Lord makes it clear in this revelation that he trusts His servants and that He knows who it is He is calling. “Knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth,” the Lord says, [I the Lord] “called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments.” (D&C 1:17) What an amazing statement from the Lord! Knowing of great destructions and evils and calamities and great spiritual darkness which would come upon the earth, the Lord called from among the great and noble ones His servant Joseph Smith to do his work. Joseph F. Smith recorded of his uncle Joseph the Prophet, his father Hyrum and others, “I observed that they were also among the noble and great ones who were chosen in the beginning to be rulers in the Church of God. Even before they were born, they, with many others, received their first lessons in the world of spirits and were prepared to come forth in the due time of the Lord to labor in his vineyard for the salvation of the souls of men.” (D&C 138:55,56)
These noble and great ones came to earth disguised as the weak and simple ones. Who would lay the foundations of the Kingdom of God on the earth in the last Dispensation? Two simple farmers and a one-room school teacher would become the principle witnesses of the Book of Mormon. A potter, glazer and simple carpenter would be called to stand firm by the Prophet Joseph. A twenty-three year old printer, who never joined the Church, would actually print and publish the Book of Mormon. A simple German farming family would provide a small 20 x 30 foot cabin as the first headquarters of the Church. A poor, unsuccessful homesteader who had never really been able to finish his payments on his land would be called off a canal boat to become one of the great missionaries of these last days. The list could go on and on. And all of these led by a simple farm boy from western New York. And this would indeed be the stone cut out of the mountain without hands that will roll forth and fill the whole earth.
And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever. (Daniel 2:44)
“What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken,” the Lord states at the end of the Preface to the Doctrine and Covenants, “and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens 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.
” (D&C 1:38)
May I briefly step upon my soapbox and add a personal note at the end of this lesson. What I am about to say I have said to every institute and gospel doctrine class I have taught, near the beginning of the semester or curriculum year, for the past twenty years.
Brethren and Sisters, it is time for us to take seriously the admonition and counsel of the Lord and His prophets concerning the reading of the scriptures. It is time for us to read and study the scriptures every day, not casually, not reluctantly, not unwillingly, but with all of our hearts–and every single day, the rest of our lives. We should never miss, no, not one day. Today is the day we should start. Okay, so twenty years ago would have been the best day to start, but the second best day to start is today, this very day, Friday, January 5, 2001 or Saturday, January 6, 2001, or whatever day it is you are reading this endnote. It will change your life forever. You can set a goal, and obtain that goal, of reading the scriptures every day the rest of your life from this day forward-never miss. Never, never, never miss. I passed ten thousand days in a row nearly a year ago, I can invite you to do the same from a place where I know that the blessings that flow into your life are inestimable. Today is the day. I know, sometimes you go to bed at night, you are beat, you had a hard day at the office, the kids nearly divided the house in two, the dog made a mess on the new carpet, you had not one, but two flat tires, and, ah, yes, the finances are so bad and you are feeling so much pressure to pay not just last month’s bills but everything is crashing down at once, yes, this is the time to commit, no matter what, at all hazards, you will read the scriptures every day, never fail, the rest of your life. You can do this. I know, you are about to doze off to sleep and the thought strikes your mind, “I didn’t read my scriptures today.” Fine, turn on your flashlight, your night light, light your candle, whatever, read a verse of scripture, turn out the lights and go to bed. This cannot happen often, but use that in case of emergency. You can do this. I plead with you, all of you who are reading this lesson and these words (and there are untold thousands now throughout the world) to begin today. I still have students who come to me and say, “Scot, I am still doing it. Yes. October 24, 1994 I began reading the scriptures every day and I have never missed since.” Today is the day. Now is the time. It is the right thing to do. It will bless you forever. I promise.