It was November 1831, and Joseph Smith and others have convened a conference where the major task was to publish the revelations that had come to Joseph Smith in a new book of scripture that they would call the Book of Commandments and we would now call, with its additions, the Doctrine and Covenants. Joseph Smith, of course, had published the Book of Mormon, but publishing his own revelations as scripture? This is new territory.
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Years ago, I remember that when the annual Pioneer Day parade in Salt Lake City was coming, occasionally it might be our stake’s year to supply a float. I remember thinking how hard it would be to be called to head up such a task. What if a priesthood leader called me into his office and requested that I head up the float committee? Impossible. I couldn’t imagine anything more out of my comfort zone. I wouldn’t have had the foggiest idea where to begin. The task would have been absolutely beyond me. Put together a float? Don’t ask me.
I’ve laughed about that thought over the years—that I was so glad never to have been asked to put together a float—when I think about the immensity of what those early leaders in Kirtland were about to do. It was November 1831, and Joseph Smith and others have convened a conference where the major task was to publish the revelations that had come to Joseph Smith in a new book of scripture that they would call the Book of Commandments and we would now call, with its additions, the Doctrine and Covenants. Joseph Smith, of course, had published the Book of Mormon, but publishing his own revelations as scripture? This is new territory.
Hello we’re Scot and Maurine Proctor and welcome to Meridian Magazine’s Come Follow Me podcast where this week we are studying Doctrine and Covenants 67-70 in a lesson called “Worth…the Riches of the Whole Earth.” You can find the transcripts for this podcast and all of our podcasts at latterdaysaintmag.com/podcast.
So, by November 1831, Joseph had received 65 revelations, and it was time to publish them. He told the brethren at the conference he convened that the contents of this book should “be “prized by this Conference to be worth to the Church the riches of the whole Earth.” In a world where men’s best ideas can never be more than puny and inadequate compared to the knowledge of God, these modern revelations were beyond a treasure. Think what it means to have a glimpse into the mind and will of God and to have revelation coming as sheer light to a prophet.
On November 1, the Lord had given the preface to the book—what we now call Section 1 of the Doctrine and Covenants and had said, “These commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:24).
They looked to publish 10,000 copies of the revelations. This is no small task or expense.
Steven C. Harper describes the process. “The question arose, ‘Was the simple language of Joseph Smith worthy of the voice of God?’ Joseph’s history says that a discussion followed ‘concerning Revelations and language.’ Some fears went unspoken during the discussion. After all, everyone in the room must have recognized how their council might appear to an outsider. A poorly educated, twenty-six-year-old farmer planned to publish ten thousand copies of a revelation that unequivocally declared themselves to be the words of Jesus Christ. They called the neighbors idolatrous and Missourians enemies, commanded them all to repent, and foretold calamities upon those who continued in wickedness. Moreover, the punctuations were not properly punctuated, the orthography was haphazard, and the grammar was irregular.”
Harper continues, “Though lacking confidence in his own literary skills, or perhaps because of his limitations, Joseph was sure that his revelation texts were divine if imperfect productions. He promised the Brethren present that they could know for themselves as well. Just a few days earlier Joseph had predicted that if the Saints could all ‘come together with one heart and one mind in perfect faith the veil might as well be rent today as next week or any other time.’ Seeking confirmation of the revelations, the brethren tried to rend the veil, as had the brother of Jared in the Book of Mormon. They failed. Joseph asked why, and in answer he received Section 67.” End quote (Steven C. Harper
In this section, the Lord assures the men that he has heard their prayers and knows their hearts. The Lord explains why they could not rend the veil, saying:
“Ye endeavored to believe that ye should receive the blessing which was offered unto you; but behold, verily I say unto you there were fears in your hearts, and verily this is the reason that ye did not receive” (Doctrine and Covenants 67:3).
God then goes on to give them assurances that the revelations lying on the table ready to be published are true. Harper makes an interesting point, “They have been watching Joseph, listening to him, observing his imperfections and have secretly wished, or perhaps even assumed, that they can do a better job than he. The Lord offers them an opportunity to try.” (Steven C. Harper, Making Sense of the Doctrine & Covenants, ((Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2008)).
In verse 5 through 8, the Lord indicates that He knows exactly what the men have been thinking. Yes, God knew their thoughts and knows ours precisely. He can see exactly what is holding us back. In their case, it was fear. To help them further understand that these revelations are true, the Lord gives them a challenge:
“Your eyes have been upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and his language you have known, and his imperfections you have known; and you have sought in your hearts knowledge that you might express beyond his language; this you also know.
“Now, seek ye out of the Book of Commandments, even the least that is among them, and appoint him that is the most wise among you; or, if there be any among you that shall make one like unto it, then ye are justified in saying that ye do not know that they are true;
“But if ye cannot make one like unto it, ye are under condemnation if ye do not bear record that they are true.”
The Lord is saying, if you think you can do better, or if you think these revelations are just of Joseph, write a revelation. William E. McLellin stepped forward to take up the challenge. He had been baptized that summer of 1831 and went to Ohio to meet the Prophet, living with him about three weeks and said, “and from my acquaintance then and until now I can truly say I believe him to be a man of God, a prophet, a seer and revelator to The Church of Christ.”
Susan Easton Black writes: “Desirous to receive a revelation from the Lord through his Prophet, ‘I went before the Lord in secret, and on my knees asked him to reveal the answer to five questions through his Prophet, and that too without his having any knowledge of my having made such request.’ He then asked Joseph Smith to inquire of the Lord concerning him. The subsequent revelation both commended and reproved his actions (see D&C 66:1-3). He wrote in response to the revelation, ‘I now testify in the fear of God, that every question which I had thus lodged in the ears of the Lord of Sabbath, were answered to my full and entire satisfaction.’
”However, just one month later William criticized the language of the revelations in the proposed Book of Commandments. Through Joseph Smith the Lord challenged anyone, particularly ‘him that is the most wise among you,’ to imitate even the least of the revelations contained therein (see D&C 67:6-7). Joseph later wrote, ‘William E. M’Lellin, as the wisest man, in his own estimation, having more learning than sense, endeavored to write a commandment like unto one of the least of the Lord’s, but failed.’” (Susan Easton Black , Who’s Who in the Doctrine and Covenants, ((Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1997).
Steven Harper notes: “Doctrine and Covenants 67 challenges assumptions about what constitutes a revelation. Must it be literarily lovely? Many revelations are, but not all. Nevertheless, any standard set by mortals will be subjective. God will never satisfy all his self-appointed editors. But the Lord seems unconcerned about the substance of the elders’ literary fears. He does not ask whether Joseph dangled any of his participles or spelled everything just right. The Lord asks whether the revelations are righteous. He thus sets a standard for truthfulness that involves observations and experiments but in the end can only be known spiritually. The things of God are known only by communication from the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:10-14).
I have to say here, Maurine, that this scene of a number of brethren standing around and having criticisms of the Prophet Joseph in their hearts reminds me of similar circles in our day. I run into some members of the Church today who seem to think they know better than the Prophet Joseph Smith and have answers that they think he didn’t have. They think they have better judgment than he did. They think they have better ideas than he had. They just plain think they know better than Joseph Smith.
Now, back to November 1831, I have always wondered about the nature of the literary concerns the men had about these revelations in the Book of Commandments. Think about how sublime Section 1 of the Doctrine and Covenants is, that was received on November 1st, just preceding these meetings.
Here are a couple of verses:
“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; for their iniquities shall be spoken upon the housetops, and their secret acts shall be revealed” (Doctrine and Covenants 1: 2,3).
This to me is very potent, clear and powerful language. It is clear and interesting, however, that the revelations that prophets receive come through their own voice. Isaiah and Alma use different language patterns and words and so did Joseph Smith.
In fact, we have intriguing studies that have been done on the Book of Mormon to determine if the different authors there have their own language patterns. If so, it would be another demonstration to the critics that Joseph Smith didn’t write this book from his own imaginative mind.
A report from FAIR Latter-day Saints notes, “If Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon, we should be able to see his “literary style” across the entire book. If he copied from someone, we should see that author’s writing style likewise. If the Book of Mormon was written by ancient authors, we should be able to see distinct writing styles among each different author. This study of this is called analyzing “word patterns”, “wordprinting” or “stylometry”. It is the science of identifying authorship by measuring the words and phrases a person unconsciously uses.”
When John Hilton and non-LDS colleagues at Berkeley compared Book of Mormon texts by Nephi and Alma they found a 1 in 15 trillion chance that Nephi and Alma were written by the same author.
After McLellin failed to write a revelation and the revelation was given that is now Section 67, 18 of the brethren said they were willing to testify to the world that they knew these scriptures were of the Lord and 12 more elders in Missouri also signed a statement supporting their truthfulness. It was a vote of confidence.
Harper said, “Joseph was by his own acknowledgement no writer. He felt imprisoned by what he called the “total darkness of paper, pen, and Ink and a crooked, broken, scattered and imperfect Language.” He considered it ‘an awful responsibility to write in the name of the Lord.’ Yet he knew the responsibility was his.” The Lord had told him that “this generation shall have my word through you.” (D&C 1:17, 5: 10) We have to acknowledge it is a powerful word.
As a result of these meetings, Oliver Cowdery, accompanied by John Whitmer, was told to carry the compiled manuscripts of revelations and commandments to Independence, Missouri for printing on a press that had been purchased specifically for that work. This is huge task involving a good sum of money for a church that was still in its infancy, but it demonstrates again that the revelations from God found in the scriptures are “worth…the riches of the whole earth.”
Now, let’s return to that idea that the veil could have been rent for these men under these conditions. The Lord said in 67:10 “I give unto you that have been ordained unto this ministry, that inasmuch as you strip yourselves from jealousies and fears, and humble yourselves before me, for ye are not sufficiently humble, the veil shall be rent and you shall see me and know that I am—not with the carnal neither natural mind, but with the spiritual.”
The Lord was certainly speaking directly to them, many of whom were paralyzed by jealousy and fear, but this is also a larger message and invitation for us. Jealousy and fear are common weaknesses in this mortal journey we’re on and we are held back, like water behind a dam, from living up to our spiritual possibilities by these two culprits. Let’s talk for a minute about fear.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland takes us to the hours before Gethsemane when Jesus told his troubled apostles:
“On that very night, the night of the greatest suffering that has ever taken place in the world or that ever will take place, the Savior said, ‘Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you…Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid’ (John 14:27).
“I submit to you, that may be one of the Savior’s commandments that is, even in the hearts of otherwise faithful Latter-day Saints, almost universally disobeyed; and yet I wonder whether our resistance to this invitation could be any more grievous to the Lord’s merciful heart” (“Come unto Me”, Ensign, April 1998)
We may think of a phrase like “let not your heart be troubled” as a word of comfort, a comforting pat on the back from a loving parent, but a commandment? Doesn’t that seem a little hard, in fact, almost impossible?
What could be more natural than to be troubled or frightened when distress can come upon us at any moment and we swallow it like sea water, gulping for life? Why not be afraid? After all, we live in a world where we are always at the mercy of thousands of forces that are far beyond our control and yet impact our lives dramatically. Tomorrow is dim and subject to surprises that disappoint and burn. We cannot prepare well enough to sidestep them. It is not surprising that we may not feel entirely safe.
After all, we didn’t choose to be on edge and on the line. Isn’t it just part and parcel of the mortal condition? When we came to mortality weren’t we just cast into a whirlpool of uncertainty? So how can we be commanded to be neither troubled, nor afraid? Isn’t that just a lot to ask?
One of the most terrifying things for us is the judgment of others—just as the men were concerned before the decision was made to publish the Book of Commandments. What would the world think if they proclaimed these new revelations as scripture? Are they really true?
In part, that fear of the judgment of others comes from our most basic human need to be loved and admired. We are fearful that we are not enough, that we will not be judged worthy or lovable. We suspect sometimes that we are not worthy or lovable. This fear can translate into the filter through which we see the world. It can make us afraid to trust. Are we safe with the Lord concerning all these things that matter so much to us?
Elder Holland continues, explaining why our living in a fearful or anxious state would grieve the Lord : “I can tell you this as a parent: as concerned as I would be if somewhere in their lives one of my children were seriously troubled or unhappy or disobedient, nevertheless I would be infinitely more devastated if I felt that at such a time that child could not trust me to help or thought his or her interest was unimportant to me or unsafe in my care. In that same spirit, I am convinced that none of us can appreciate how deeply it wounds the loving heart of the Savior of the world when he finds that his people do not feel confident in his care or secure in his hands or trust in his commandments.”
What he suggests here is that anxious, over-wrought living is a manifestation that we do not understand the very nature of God and his personal, intimate care of us as his child. Oh, we may be able to give lip-service to his attributes, reciting his characteristics of loving kindness with the best of them in Sunday School class, but it is in the hollow chambers of our own soul that we must make that knowledge soul-deep. It is when life presents us or our loved ones with the challenges that harrow the heart, that we are left having to come straight up against it. Is God who he says he is, and am I safe or have I only been giving lip service to a beautiful idea?
We truly do have to know God’s attributes in our bones. Elder Holland again, “Just because God is God, just because Christ is Christ, they cannot do other than care for us and bless us and help us if we will but come unto them, approaching their throne of grace in meekness and lowliness of heart. They can’t help but bless us. They have to. It is their nature.”
The world is an anxious place, but that is because most of us two-legged creatures roaming here, have forgotten him, amnesiac about his nature. He tells us not to fear as an expression of the nature of our relationship with him. We have to trust that he is able to do his own work. He is watchful, not careless. His memory is everlasting, not spotty. His notice penetrates to our individual level—and he cannot do otherwise.
What makes us fearful or anxious? Anxiety or worry can begin to dominate our souls when we think that life is about demonstrating and relying on our own strength and that we can be safe only with a certain prescribed outcome. When we attempt to rely only on our own strength—or our own vision, limited as it is—we very quickly find out that we fail, flaccid and limp before the assaults of a fallen world.
If it is our assumption that this walk is ours to make alone, that we must provide the muscle power to row up the Niagaras, we are left shaken and shaking.
What’s more, it is not only the circumstances outside of us that can erode our peace, but internal concerns about our own performance, our own adequacy, our gumption to continue to grapple with the difficult forces in our lives that make us feel contracted, warred upon, and weary.
One of the curses that the Nephites experience when they become entangled in pride in the Book of Mormon is that because they boasted in their own strength, they were left in their own strength.
It is described in this way: “And because of this their great wickedness, and their boastings in their own strength, they were left in their own strength; therefore they did not prosper, but were afflicted and smitten, and driven before the Lamanites, until they had lost possession of almost all their lands” (Helaman 13:4).
How ironic it is that being “left in your own strength” is a curse from the Lord. Yet, sometimes we curse ourselves by erroneously believing that we travel through life alone, just “left in our own strength.” We create a false mental construct that we are on our own, while all the time the very Creator of the universe is stretching out his arm to us and sustains us day by day.
Thinking that we have only our own strength to rely on, we can be as nervous and unsure as if every good thing is on the line, when actually we are being carried along and protected by the Lord all along.
We cannot feel safe if our security is based on our own resources, for life offers manifold demonstrations of how flimsy our control is over anything external to ourselves. If we become wedded to our plan of how things must be to give ourselves a sense of control, every detail is pitched by minefields and snags, and we are left bewildered why things don’t go the way we thought they should.
The assumption that we are on our own, and therefore insecure, comes from blindness, a misunderstanding of ourselves and the human condition. If, as Nephi tells us, we are saved by grace after all we can do, the “what we can do” part is puny compared to the overwhelming grace that God offers.
We are safe. We are not insecure, we only think we are. (Maurine Proctor, “Do Not Take Counsel from Your Fears” Meridian Magazine https://latterdaysaintmag.com/article-1-8938/).
Stripping ourselves of fear is foundational in our spiritual progress. It is a requirement to rend the veil and see His face. He promises that if we will strip ourselves of jealousy and fear and humble ourselves, that we will as the Lord says, “see me and know that I am.” Not really knowing that is the biggest source of our fear. Life teaches us in very raw ways how terrifying it would be to go it alone.
Let’s turn to this significant commandment in Section 68, that the Lord says is essential for building Zion.
“And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents…
“And they shall also teach their children to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord. (vs. 25, 28).”
Maurine, that verse 28 means so much to me. When I was a child growing up in the little Rolla Ward in Missouri, that verse was framed and placed over the clerk’s desk in our chapel. I remember staring at that before I could read and I wondered what it said. Week after week during sacrament meeting as I began to discern letters and words, I would stare at that picture on the wall, knowing that it must be important if that was hanging in our chapel. I carefully read that verse And…they…shall…also teach their children to pray and to walk uprightly before the Lord. This was the first scripture I memorized and it set deep into my soul and I have never forgotten it. My parents certainly did that for me and I hope I have done that for our own children.
I remember so many times as we gathered our family to pray and no matter how much the family was in disarray, it was time for prayers, and I especially remember when Michaela was a little one, she always used to climb up on your back as you kneeled. She was like a little kangaroo baby who climbed up on her mother and this went on for years. Those prayers may not have been great every day, but they certainly set a pattern and our children knew that we knew that He was there and was listening.
Teaching our children to walk uprightly before the Lord was our greatest desire and we prayed about that constantly as a couple. Over time, these things have blessed our family and have taken in the hearts of our children.
I remember those many, many prayers tenderly with Michaela climbing up on my back as we kneeled, and now she’s the producer of this podcast. It is important to note that teaching our children the doctrine of Christ is a very serious commandment and wonderful privilege. To think that an eternal being comes into this world, suddenly stripped of all his or her power and knowledge, and we are given the charge to teach and escort them on this journey is an astonishing thing. Nothing we ever do is more important—and I think we know that, but it is not always easy.
Sometimes our children resist our teaching. When they are young, they have short attention spans and when they become a little older, they may express their independence by tuning out. I liked what one of my friends said. She told her daughter who didn’t want to hear her talk of the gospel, “You may not want to hear it, but you have to understand, I am your mother, and the Lord has commanded me to teach you these things. I have to obey Him.” She said this with love and kindness, but she was clear. It is too easy to back off of our efforts to teach them, if we think the children in our home are not receptive. We can’t do that. We must not do that.
Another friend said to her daughter who was resisting her, “I want to be your friend, but it is more important that I am your mother. You have many friends, but you have only one mother, and I have been given something I must teach you.” We can’t let our desire to be our children’s best friends and buddies strip us of the responsibility to also teach them about Jesus Christ, even when they don’t want to hear. If we don’t stand by what is true and teach them well, how can we expect them to grow up and be true? If we don’t have the courage or time to instill the gospel in our children’s hearts, how will they have the courage to stand up in a world that is growing more and more hostile toward religion?
I have to say a word here about the phrase that if we don’t do this the sin be upon the heads of the parents. After all they can do, parents do not have control over what their children ultimately choose, and they may see them turn from the gospel. That really hurts. Your dearest hopes for them are dashed. This is heartbreaking for parents who have so carefully and steadfastly sought to implant the gospel in the children’s hearts. Yet still we don’t give up. Our love never ends for them and we let them know that our love is always a safe place for them. Our prayers also never end for them that they may remember what they’ve learned and that it will come back to them in a moment of need like it came back to Alma:
“And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remember also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.
“Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. (Alma 36: 17, 18).”
It may not have appeared to any bystander who saw Alma persuading people to leave the Church, that his father’s teachings still lived within him, but they did. Your teachings will continue to live within your children too.
If your children have turned away from the gospel, know that it doesn’t mean that you have failed, if you have done your best to teach them. You have followed the commandment and the Lord is able to do His own work.
The teachings from my parents certainly live within me as a glow to which I return. It’s not just in the formal times when you sit down together to study the scriptures that your children will learn, but also in your conversations, the very air you breathe and the choices you make. They are watching and they see you and they know what matters to you. That’s why if you want to teach your children to walk uprightly, you begin with developing a deep and abiding spirituality and love of God in yourself.
I remember a moment when my mother was teaching me the gospel and I was a grown man. We were in Liverpool, England together and hoped to go see the hall where the apostles used to meet and hold meetings. Maurine, you and I had been there many times, and it had been remarkably and beautifully preserved. What a shock to take my mother there and walk through the building. It had been turned into a sleazy bar, and we, who had been hoping to show my mother this wonderful, historic spot, grieved. Yet, as we emerged back into the fresh air of the street, my mother sang a line from a hymn that immediately comforted us, “Change and decay in all around I see. Oh, thou, who changest not, abide with me.”
That was such a profound teaching moment, and completely unplanned. She didn’t have to plan it, because the gospel was so woven into her soul. To know her was to know that she knew.
A moment from my father stands out to me. When my brothers were little they had paper routes, carrying these heavy bags of papers each day around on their bicycles. This was not an easy task, but was made much more difficult in the winter when the snows were deep, and they had to peddle those clunky bikes through bluster and drifts. One day in the winter, one of my brothers asked if he could quit his paper route. My father gave an answer that has stood for all time since then in the hearts of his posterity. He said, “You can quit in the summer when it is easy, but you can’t quit in the winter when it is hard.” That teaching has stayed with me my entire life and guided my choices.
When my brother Rees was bent with Parkinson’s disease and was in an assisted living center, we could not go to see him because of COVID restrictions. This was made especially hard because he had also just lost his wife Virginia. We had been digitizing some slides that my mother had taken when my family was young, and had come upon a classic photo of my brother Rees when he was a young boy posed by his bicycle with a double bag of newspapers slung across it. We enlarged the photo, framed across it, and wrote across the bottom, “You can quit in the summer when it is easy, but you can’t quit in the winter when it is hard.” We took it to his window for Father’s Day and showed him, then left it as a gift. That framed photograph with those telling words sat in his room so he could see it, until the day he died. I am sure my father’s words strengthened him through that tender time.
You know, if your Dad had been trying to be popular with his son instead of wanting to help him develop character and strength, it would have been much easier to say, go ahead and quit. The fact is, the person that so often helped Rees and your other brothers, especially on cold Sunday mornings in the winter was your father himself, who got up early after a whole week of work, to help your brother deliver those heavy papers. What a sacrifice to teach his children something so vital.
So it will be for us. It will cost us something to teach our children the gospel and the values that flow from it, but what price is more important to pay? It may cost you time to develop your own spirituality. It may cost you effort to prepare ways to teach. It may cost you learning how to overcome the resistance of a child who doesn’t want to learn right now. Remember, they really do want to learn. They came to your home, believing that you would teach them the words of eternal life. You can do it.
That’s all for today. We’re Scot and Maurine Proctor and this has been Meridian Magazine’s Come Follow Me podcast. Next week we will study Doctrine and Covenants 71-75 in a lesson called “No Weapon That is Formed against You Shall Prosper.” Remember to tell a friend about our podcast and find the transcript and all the podcasts at latterdaysaintmag.com/podcast. Thanks to Paul Cardall for the music and our producer Michaela Proctor Hutchins. See you next week.