When Joseph Smith announced that the heavens were again opened and that the famine of Amos 8:11–12 had come to a sudden and permanent end, many of the Christians of the United States were offended. Decades and centuries of sectarianism had convinced them and their parents that divine communication with God's children had concluded with the last chapter of the Bible.
But Joseph not only had the temerity to speak of divine communication to a world that had rejected the possibility, but then also to write such communications for his followers and make them available for the world to examine and attack. Among those written collections is the Doctrine and Covenants, a selection of revelations given to the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Do you have the sense of what a miracle it is that we have this book of modern revelations? That our Father has not only called us to his holy work, but has given us a handbook—a description of his will in this day?
Consider these words:
• OLD _________
• NEW _________
• ANOTHER _________
• OUR _________
What word completes each two-word phrase above? The word is testament. And in a very real sense the Doctrine and Covenants is our testament.
"I consider that the Doctrine and Covenants, our testament, contains a code of the most solemn, the most godlike proclamations ever made to the human family." (Elder Wilford Woodruff, J.D., Vol. 22, p. 147, emphasis added)
There are eternal lessons to learn from every chapter and nearly every verse of scripture. But these revelations are to us and for us and about us. They really are our testament of Jesus Christ and His involvement with us.
As we begin this study, you ought to be aware of a few organizational concepts. First, the lesson outline for the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History is not chronological. It does not examine the sections of the Doctrine and Covenants or the events of Church History in the same order they appear in the scriptures and our histories. The lessons this year are thematic, pursuing concepts and doctrines through the years and revelations that have come since the restoration. Thus, for example, the lesson on the gathering will speak of Kirtland and Missouri and Nauvoo and Salt Lake and the present-day gathering to the stakes of Zion.
Therefore the reading blocks will not be as obvious and well-defined as they have been in previous years. However, as a service to yourself, you should plan to read every word of this wonderful book during the coming year. If all you learn from the Doctrine and Covenants is what you hear in your Sunday School class and what you read in these lessons, you will have missed the opportunity to examine a treasure that was determined by earlier Church leaders to be of more worth than the riches of the whole earth (D&C Introduction, paragraph 8).
1. The Revelations of the Doctrine and Covenants Address the Needs of Our Day
Speaking of the nature of this treasure, the Explanatory Introduction says that the book is a collection of divine revelations and inspired declarations, which include "messages, warnings, and exhortations are for the benefit of all mankind, and contain an invitation to all people everywhere to hear the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ, speaking to them for their temporal well-being and their everlasting salvation."
The Explanatory Introduction also observes that "the Doctrine and Covenants is unique because it is not a translation of an ancient document, but is of modern origin. . . . In the revelations, one hears the tender but firm voice of the Lord Jesus Christ."
Do not overlook the fact that these written revelations are the voice of Jesus Christ. In D&C 18:34–36, the Lord declared that those who read these words by the power of the Spirit can testify that they have heard His voice.
Read the sixth paragraph of the Explanatory Introduction. Reflect on the experiences that caused Joseph and others to reach out into the heavens for help and direction, and recognize that as the heavens were opened for Joseph and the Church, so they will be opened for us. These revelations and our own that come as we ponder and pray will guide us directly and precisely back to the presence of our Father and His Son.
2. The Lord Authored the Preface to the Doctrine and Covenants
Perhaps there is some significance in the words that begin each of our standard works. The first word of the Book of Mormon is "I"; the first word of the Pearl of Great Price is "The"; the first word of the Bible is "In"; but the first word of the Doctrine and Covenants is "Hearken."
That word is found in a revelation designated by the Lord as "my preface unto the book of my commandments" (D&C 1:6). I have written the prefaces and introductions to a number of books, both my own and those of others. I have read hundreds of books with prefaces authored by men and women of renown. But no other book in existence has a preface authored by the Lord Himself.
"Section 1 of the Doctrine and Covenants is the Lord's preface to the book. The Doctrine and Covenants is the only book in the world that has a preface written by the Lord Himself. In that preface He declares to the world that His voice is unto all men (see D&C 1:2), that the coming of the Lord is nigh (see D&C 1:12), and that the truths found in the Doctrine and Covenants will all be fulfilled (see D&C 1:37–38)." (Pres. Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, Nov. 1986, p. 79)
The revelation in Doctrine and Covenants 1 was given at a meeting in November of 1831, when Church members met to consider the publication of the revelations received by Joseph Smith. In a book of words that all come from the mouth of God, what was so important that the Lord Himself dictated this preface and directed that it be inserted at the beginning of the record? Here are a few things worth noticing:
In D&C 1:1–2, the Lord declares, "Hearken, O ye people of my church . . . Hearken ye people from afar . . . the voice of the Lord is unto all men, and there is none to escape."
At the end of the preface, He concludes by saying, "Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled. What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled" (D&C 1:37–38).
That message is clear enough for anyone and direct enough that those of us who believe that this book is His voice and His will are left without excuse. We must search the commandments and then we must hearken to them.
The preface is also a written document of authority—a divine commission to the Lord's "disciples, whom [He has] chosen in these last days" (D&C 1:4). For he says that Section 1 is not only his preface, but also his "authority, and the authority of [his] servants" (D&C 1:6).
"And verily I say unto you, that they who go forth, bearing these tidings unto the inhabitants of the earth, to them is power given to seal both on earth and in heaven, the unbelieving and rebellious" (D&C 1:8).
The message is important because of things that will surely happen:
1. The Lord will come and recompense everybody according to his work (D&C 1:10).
2. The anger of the Lord is kindled. His sword will fall (D&C 1:13).
3. The arm of the Lord will be revealed. Those who will not hearken will be cut off (D&C 1:14).
Therefore, the Lord tells us, He has called a prophet and reestablished his kingdom on the earth.
"Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments" (D&C 1:17).
If you knew the dam had broken upstream and a great wall of water was rushing down a valley toward your city, you would certainly try to warn everybody of the impending calamity. If you knew that an enemy army was marching on your community or state with destruction in mind, you would warn all who would listen. If the drinking water in your hometown was infected with a deadly virus, you would sound the alarm loudly and clearly, and enlist the help of any others willing to assist you in lifting the warning voice. And everybody who knows about the "calamity which should come" ought to be involved in giving the warning.
"And that every man should take righteousness in his hands and faithfulness upon his loins, and lift a warning voice unto the inhabitants of the earth; and declare both by word and by flight that desolation shall come upon the wicked" (D&C 63:37).
"Behold, I sent you out to testify and warn the people, and it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor" (D&C 88:81).
"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 1:4–5).
Twenty-three times the Doctrine and Covenants speaks of this warning, or of this need to "warn the inhabitants of the earth to flee the wrath to come" (D&C 124:106).
What does the Lord offer those who flee? Review D&C 1:20-28 and note the significant phrases that begin with the words "that" and "and."
- "That every man might speak in the name of God the Lord" (vs. 20)
- "That faith might also increase in the earth" (vs. 21)
- "That mine everlasting covenant might be established" (vs. 22)
- "That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed" (vs. 23)
- "That they might come to understanding" (vs. 24)
- "And inasmuch as they erred it might be made known" (vs. 25)
- "And inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed" (vs. 26)
- "And inasmuch as they sinned, they might be chastened, that they might repent" (vs. 27)
- "And inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong, and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time" (vs. 28)
This is the choice: wait for the wall of water, the invading army, the deadly virus, the coming calamity, or accept the Lord's alternatives listed above.
God gave his early disciples "power to lay the foundation of this church," and we have seen in recent months a dramatic fulfillment of the Lord’s prophetic promise to bring this church "out of obscurity and out of darkness" (D&C 1:30). I suspect that there are very few people now who can honestly say that they know nothing about the Mormons. Consider what has happened since 1830 in that log home in Fayette, New York.
"Now, as we look back 177 years to the organization of the Church, we marvel at what has already happened. When the Church was organized in 1830 there were but six members, only a handful of believers, all residing in a largely unknown village. Today, we have become the fourth or fifth largest church in North America, with congregations in every city of any consequence. Stakes of Zion today flourish in every state of the United States, in every province of Canada, in every state of Mexico, in every nation of Central America and throughout South America.
"Congregations are found throughout the British Isles and Europe, where thousands have joined the Church through the years. This work has reached out to the Baltic nations and on down through Bulgaria and Albania and other areas of that part of the world. It reaches across the vast area of Russia. It reaches up into Mongolia and all down through the nations of Asia into the islands of the Pacific, Australia, and New Zealand, and into India and Indonesia. It is flourishing in many of the nations of Africa.
"Our general conferences are carried by satellite and other means in 92 different languages.
"And this is only the beginning. This work will continue to grow and prosper and move across the earth. It must do so if Moroni’s promise to Joseph is to be fulfilled." (Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Stone Cut Out of the Mountain," October 2007 general conference)
Can you feel the longing of the Lord for the welfare and happiness of all his children in the following verses?
"O inhabitants of the earth: I the Lord am willing to make these things known unto all flesh; For I am no respecter of persons, and will that all men shall know that the day speedily cometh; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand, when peace shall be taken from the earth, and the devil shall have power over his own dominion. And also the Lord shall have power over his saints, and shall reign in their midst, and shall come down in judgment upon Idumea, or the world." (D&C 1:34–36)
3. This Course Will Discuss the Major Events of the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times
The thematic approach to the scriptures and history of the restoration will impose some difficulty on the author of these lessons to follow precisely the lesson divisions in the manual. I will do that as much as possible. I love the approach that has been used in the book. I feel it is an inspired treatment of the material, and I know that the direction to use this approach in the preparation of the lessons in the manual came from the leading councils of the Church. My efforts in this cyberspace course of study will be to provide insights and experiences, and scriptural and prophetic quotations, to accompany the lessons.
Thus, as we examine the major events of our dispensation, you might look at these lessons for additional content and a different perspective on the concepts of the lessons. But you should attend your weekly Sunday School class and learn from those who are called by priesthood leaders to teach these materials. I have no such call, and that has bothered me from time to time.
I hope there is no sense that I am undermining the manual or detracting from the work of inspired writers and editors and members of the correlation committee that reviewed the published lessons. If you are a teacher, you must make the manual your first source for lesson content and outline, and the scriptures your first source for insight and inspiration. Next to these, this cyberspace discussion is a pale shadow of significance.
4. We Can Each Help to Move Forward This Great Latter-day Work
When Moses blessed the tribes of Israel before they entered the promised land, he gave a special charge to Ephraim and Manasseh, the sons of Joseph, the birthright tribe (see 1 Chron. 5:1–2). He said:
"His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns: with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth: and they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh." (Deut 33:17, emphasis added)
In our own day the Lord spoke to elders of the church and gave them a charge:
"For, behold, they shall push the people together from the ends of the earth." (D&C 58:45)
Speaking to one of his servants the Lord used even more impressive language:
"[Thou] shalt magnify thine office, and push many people to Zion with songs of everlasting joy upon their heads." (D&C 66:11)
Since it is our job to help move forward the great latter-day work, perhaps this one word, push, will help us understand what precisely we are to do. I suspect that most of you who read this are of Ephraim and Manasseh. If you are of another tribe, why don't you send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org? It would be interesting to know what tribes are represented out there.
Anyway, you from Ephraim and Manasseh (and the others too, of course) have the responsibility to PUSH. Push people together, and then push them to Zion. The stone cut out without hands will not roll without hands. Commercial builders have rendered a great service to us to assist us in remembering our duty. Whenever you go to a grocery store or other business with double doors, notice what has been written on one side of nearly every one of them: PUSH.
Every time you see that word, remember what you are supposed to do. Look for non-members to push together (to the branches and wards and stakes) and look for members to push to Zion.
Throughout the pages of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord speaks of the words contained therein. He uses the phrase "these words" over and over again as He speaks of the feelings we ought to have about these revelations. Here is a sample what He has said to us:
- "treasure up these words in thy heart" (6:20)
- "remember these words" (8:5)
- "give heed [to these words] with your might" (12:9)
- "give heed unto these words and trifle not" (32:5)
- "beware how you hold [these words]" (41:12)
- "[these words] are to be answered upon your souls in the day of judgment" (41:12)
- "Hearken ye to these words" (43:34)
- "Treasure these [words] up in your hearts, and let the solemnities of eternity rest upon your minds" (43:34)
- "these words shall not pass away, but shall be fulfilled" (56:11)
Perhaps the Lord gave the best description of his words—the kind of words we find in the Doctrine and Covenants—in the Old Testament. He said, "The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times" (Psalm 12:6).
"Those who search these commandments and hearken to them shall be greatly blessed. They . . . shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper" (Psalm 1:3).