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Cover Image: Beside Still Waters by Simon Dewey.
The Doctrine and Covenants is a unique volume in the LDS canon of holy writ. It is the only book that is nearly exclusively dictated by the Savior Jesus Christ. The D&C contains revelation after revelation in first person language of the Lord. It is the only scripture that begins with a preface from “him who dwells on high, and whose eyes are upon all men” (D&C 1:1). What a wonderful opportunity to learn about Him from the text he dictated!
Having Faith in Jesus Christ
The prophet of the restoration, Joseph Smith, received personal ministrations from Jesus-he knew him by sight and by voice. As the head of the dispensation of the fulness of times, Joseph declared that having faith in this being-Jesus Christ-was fundamental to the gospel. Indeed it stands as the very first gospel principle as stated in the Articles of Faith, which is consistent with the revelations afforded to the ancient saints (see Moses 5:14-15; 8:23-24; and to our departed dead in the spirit world, D&C 138:33). Elsewhere Joseph Smith elaborated on what is required in order for a person to effectively exercise faith in the Savior.
Let us here observe, that three things are necessary in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation. First, the idea that he actually exists. Secondly, a correct idea of his character, perfections, and attributes. Thirdly, an actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing is according to his will. For without an acquaintance with these three important facts, the faith of every rational being must be imperfect and unproductive; but with this understanding it can become perfect and fruitful, abounding in righteousness, unto the praise and glory of God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. ( Lectures on Faith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985], 3:5.)
Knowing that God and Jesus Exist
The Doctrine and Covenants and LDS Church History clearly teach us that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ exist. In the quiet grove in Palmyra , New York, from the believing prayer of a young farm boy who trusted the apostle James, we had it confirmed that there is a God in heaven. Our Heavenly Father introduced Jesus Christ to this young man and simply directed, “Hear him” (JSH 1:17). From that remarkable day in 1820 Joseph Smith knew without equivocation that there are two separate and divine beings named the Father and the Son.
The Doctrine and Covenants chronicle more visitations of Jesus to Joseph and those who served with him in the restoration. Sidney Rigdon, a long-time Campbellite minister, was privileged to behold Jesus “even on the right hand of God” and “heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father” (D&C 76:23). He and Joseph Smith obtained the right and honor to declare, “And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all , which we give of him: That he lives!” (D&C 76:22; emphasis added). The words “last of all” are not insignificant. Certainly they do not mean that they will be the last to receive such a testimony and witness. Perhaps what they were saying is that as part of the restoration of all things in these last days before the advent of the millennial reign they were adding what may be called their dispensational witness-to stand along side previous dispensation’s witnesses (see also D&C 27:12-13). Thus ‘last of all’ latter-day saints can know and declare that they too have faith in the knowledge that “he lives.” In this way we can see that the Lord “is the same God yesterday, today, and forever” (D&C 20:12).
True to the ancient order of things that in the “mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established” (2 Corinthians 13:1) Oliver Cowdery also saw Jesus Christ with Joseph Smith. They were in the Kirtland temple when the heavenly vision opened upon them and they recorded that “we saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit, before us.” They described his person as follows, “His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun; and his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters, even the voice of Jehovah” (D&C 110:2-3). Gratefully, we have in the Doctrine and Covenants the record of three actual witnesses of Jesus Christ in our dispensation-Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery and Sidney Rigdon. It is our sacred opportunity to “believe in their words” that we may “have eternal life if [we] continue faithful” (D&C 46:14).
Knowing Correctly the Character, Perfections, and Attributes of Christ
It should be noted that while we have these remarkable and personal witnesses that Jesus lives, we share a belief in his existence with other Christians. It is true that we differ on some points of the nature of his existence (e.g. that he lives in a tangible and separate body from the Father; see D&C 131:3; 22), but even beyond that, one of the things that sets the Latter-day Saint theological understanding of Jesus apart from other forms of Christianity is that we profess to know more fully about him-not only his nature, but a correct conception of his personality.
Some in the world misunderstand two of the most fundamental traits of Jesus: justice and mercy. Our latter-day revelations clearly teach that Jesus is both just and merciful. Jesus not only offered his life, suffering, death and resurrection for us; his doing so enables him to become our judge (3 Nephi 27:14-17; also D&C 20:13-15, 21-31). Who would we rather have as our judge than the one who loves us enough to offer his life for us?
Listen to the Lord’s own poignant words that he will utter during the moment of our judgment. “Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in who thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him who thou gavest that thyself might be glorified; Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto thee and have everlasting life” (D&C 45:4-5). Further testimony of his mercy towards us is the way he describes the pathos with which he will utter those beautiful words. “Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him” (D&C 45:3) We should remember what it cost Jesus to accomplish this atoning sacrifice, which the Savior himself expresses at D&C 19:18-19. These humbling passages from modern scripture certainly corroborate a merciful view of Jesus. And merciful Jesus is, from my own experience! I am so grateful to him for his wondrous offer to exchange his righteousness for my sin. Words are inadequate to convey my gratitude.
Even so, these are the last days and prophets from times past have seen that many will be deceived; the Lord even applied the parable of the ten virgins to our time-warning that unless we “are wise and have received the truth, and have taken the Holy Spirit for [our] guide, and have not been deceived” we will be “hewn down and cast into the fire” (D&C 45:56-57).
As an observer in the Church I have noticed that one of the ways we can become deceived is to focus on only the mercy of Jesus. This attention to only one of the Savior’s attributes and perfections often leads to a permissive and sometimes promiscuous attitude. I have increasingly heard the phrase “unconditional love” used in talks, lessons, and testimonies. Most of the time the speaker is appropriately referring to the Lord’s infinite and eternal care for and desire that his children achieve happiness. However, sometimes this catchy (and unscriptural) phrase can be used to promote, sometimes unknowingly, an “eat, drink, and be merry” mentality.
As stated above, Jesus does love us and has given his very life as evidence to that fact. However, he also has stated unequivocally that he will hold us accountable for our works. In his powerful personal revelation to Martin Harris recorded in Section 19 Jesus speaks very strongly about the necessity of Martin’s sincere repentance, and by extension our own. Else, the Savior warns he and we “must suffer even as [He]” (D&C 19:17). Listen to this the first person language of Jesus, “I command you to repent-repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore-how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not” (D&C 19:15). This is the same being who has offered us the chance to repent! Make no mistake; he is as just as he is merciful. He is a God of law and commandments and will not be mocked.
Because of this correct idea of Jesus’ perfection I find great comfort in the fact that Jesus will not only be kind, but that he will also be fair. Consider the potential chaos in the cosmos if the Lord were only kind and not just. Were that the case what would heaven become? If Godly power were entrusted to those who were unprepared, unrefined and unrestrained think of the horrors that would be unleashed in the universe.
Elder Orson Pratt stated that at the judgment those who have done evil will become “dead to the things of righteousness” and as such are in “misery.” This apostle went on to raise this self-evident question: “I care not where you place them; you may take any of the celestial worlds and place millions of beings there that are dead to righteousness and how long would it be before they make a perfect hell of it? They would make a hell of any heaven the Lord ever made” ( Journal of Discourses , 1:288). I know that the Lord will forgive all who seek for forgiveness, but I also know that he is just and will not suffer those “who love [him] and keep all [his] commandments, and him that seeketh so to do ” (D&C 46:9; also 137:9) to be tormented or abused by those who choose and have chosen to be evil. This understanding made possible by modern revelation certainly gives me greater reason to exercise faith in Jesus Christ.
Knowing Our Lives are in Accordance with His Will
Perhaps what the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History most dramatically teaches us is that we have a divine destiny. This is not to say that this knowledge is new to our dispensation, but rather that the D&C clearly confirms that which is sometimes only hinted at in the biblical record. Yes, we are the children of God the Father, heirs of his supernal heritage. But that is not enough! For even a “son of the morning,” an “angel of God who was in authority in the presence of God” was disobedient and “was thrust down from the presence of God and the Son” and “he is fallen! Is fallen” (D&C 76:25-27). Somewhat surprisingly we are repeatedly instructed that we must yet become the “sons and daughters of God” (D&C 76:24; see also D&C 11:30; 34:3; 35:2; 39:4; 42:52).
In the context of his atonement described above, Jesus further reveals, “as many as received me gave I power to do many miracles, and to become the sons of God” (D&C 45:8). This notion of becoming the sons of Christ is different than being spirit-sons and spirit-daughters of our heavenly parents. What the Lord is saying is the same as he said to Nicodemus-we must be born again, not from our mother’s womb, but of the water and spirit brought to us by the ordinances of baptism and the conferral of the gift of the Holy Ghost (see John 3:3-8). A pattern exists in most of these references to becoming the sons of God. We must receive Christ, believe on his name, and exercise faith in him (see John 1:12; 3 Nephi 9:17; Moroni 7:26, 48; and similarly D&C 84:34 (33-38).
In the ultimate sense, our destiny is to become what the Son has become-just like his Father. It is significant that the D&C tells us of three other mortals who have become full sons of God and Christ. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have all “entered into their exaltation, according to the promises, and sit upon thrones, and are not angels but are Gods” (D&C 132:37; see also verse 29). In the vision of the kingdoms of glory we also learn that this ultimate destiny is not reserved for only prophets, but all who become worthy to inherit the celestial kingdom. “Wherefore, as it is written, they are gods, even the sons of God-wherefore, all things are theirs, whether life or death, or things present, or things to come, all are theirs and they are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. And they shall overcome all things” (D&C 76:58-60). And who is there to thank for this supernal possibility? “Wherefore, let no man glory in man [i.e., himself], but rather let him glory in God, who shall subdue all enemies under his feet” (D&C 76:61).
What a debt of thanks we do owe our Father for providing his son Jesus Christ. What eternal gratitude we should have toward Jehovah for his gracious condescension to this earth to be “judged of the world” (1 Nephi 11:32). What weight of glory and praise is merited by Jesus who has “trodden the wine-press alone, and [has] brought judgment upon all people; and none were with [him]” (D&C 133:50). Finally, what recognition ought we feel for the Lord’s latter-day prophet Joseph Smith, Jr., through whom we learn these glorious things. Thankfully we know that Jesus lives, that he is a being both merciful and just, and that we can and must believe on him and accept his gospel in order to become happy as he is. It is so wonderful to know that each of these has ministered, and still do, that we might truly live again-finally with and ultimately like Jesus and our Father-able to dwell with them “forever and ever” (D&C 76:62).