Thoughts on Lesson 1

The Dawning of a Brighter Day

The spring of 1820 heralded the dawn of a new day. The Sacred Grove in upstate New York was not to be the location of a complete restoration, a place and a time wherein God would make all things known and correct all the flaws of a faltering world. Rather, the First Vision began the era of restitution, the times of refreshing, the season of cleansing and purification and endowment that would reach a zenith in a millennial dispensation. Unable to walk fully in the light of the Lord, the people of earth had chosen their own paths and sought to direct their own destinies. In detailing and describing the apostate condition of things in the morn of restoration, the Lord declared: "They have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant; they seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall" (D&C 1:15-16). The pressing problem was idolatry-devotion and dedication to anything other than the true and living God. The problem was one we observe frequently in our day- distraction from those things of greatest worth. The problem was that man had fashioned unto himself a god, an unknown god, the unreachable and the unknowable Essence, that Wholly Other. Whether Catholic or Protestant, Jew or Muslim, the religious leaders of the nineteenth century, with their congregants- even the most sincere among them, and surely there were many-had lost their way.

The prescription for earth's ills, the medication for the malady, the Lord set forth: "Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth"-the spiritual calamity should the people of earth continue in apostasy, as well as the perilous times which lay ahead even for those whose faith was fully centered in their Redeemer-"called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments; and also gave commandments to others, that they should proclaim these things"-the glad tidings of the Restoration-"unto the world; and all this that it might be fulfilled, which was written by the prophets-the weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that man should not counsel his fellow man" (D&C 1:17-19). That is, the children of God need no longer place their trust in or rely upon the limited wisdom of the unillumined, upon those who are not truly men and women of God (see Mosiah 23:14). Indeed, God would call upon the weak and the simple to bring forth his great and marvelous work, "those who are unlearned and despised" (D&C 35:13), those who are teachable, who are willing to unlearn falsehood and strip themselves of pride and duplicity, whose minds and hearts are open to the will of the Almighty. The Restoration heralded a day wherein men and women could come unto God, press forward through the mists of darkness, and then fall down and worship the true and living God, in the name of the Son, by the power of the Holy Ghost. The days in which only the chosen few could come unto God, those times when only a priestly hierarchy could perform the sacraments and commune with Deity, were no more. The gospel of God, the new and everlasting covenant, was restored to earth "that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world; that faith also might increase in the earth" (D&C 1:20-21).

The Restoration would begin by a revelation, a re-revelation of doctrine and principles and precepts. It would of necessity start with the First Vision, the beginning of the revelation God to man. It would be followed by the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Through the truths contained in this sacred volume-including the verities long lost on such vital matters as the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement-the fulness of the gospel could be had again. Revelation upon revelation would come to and through Joseph Smith, including the restoration of plain and precious truths once taken away or kept back from the Bible.

Surely there could be no truth of greater worth, no insight from the Restoration more precious value, no matter so well known and so frequently taught by the Latter-day Saints-and yet so mysterious and strange to others in the religious world-than the idea of an eternal gospel. That is to say, because of the supplementary scriptures of the Restoration, we know that Christian prophets have declared Christian doctrine and administered Christian ordinances since the dawn of time. Adam and Eve were taught the gospel. They prayed to the Father in the name of the Son, repented of their sins, were baptized by immersion, received the gift of the Holy Ghost, were married for eternity, and entered into the order of the Son of God. They knew and they taught their children and their grandchildren the plan of salvation and the eternal fact that redemption would be wrought through the shedding of the blood of the Son of Man (see Moses 5:1-9; 6:51-68). And what was true of our first parents was true of Abel and Seth and Enoch and Melchizedek and Abraham. They had the gospel. They knew the Lord, taught his doctrine, and officiated as legal administrators in his earthly kingdom. Isaac, Israel, Joseph, Ephraim, and all the patriarchs enjoyed personal revelation and communion with their Maker. Samuel, Nathan, and those from Isaiah to Malachi in the Old World and from Nephi to Moroni in the New-all these prophets held the Melchizedek Priesthood.

Being loyal to the Restoration entails being ready and willing to bear witness of the truths made known to us in this latter day. We love the Bible. We cherish its truths, treasure its marvelous stories of faith, and seek to live according to its precepts. But the scriptures of the Restoration carry a spirit all their own, particularly the Book of Mormon. There is a light and an endowment of spiritual power that come into our lives through searching modern revelation that can come in no other way. Being loyal to the Restoration entails teaching from and giving preferential treatment to the things that have been delivered to Joseph Smith and his successors. Thomas B. Marsh was instructed in a modern revelation: "Lift up your heart and rejoice, for the hour of your mission is come; and your tongue shall be loosed, and you shall declare glad tidings of great joy unto this generation."And what were those glad tidings? What, specifically, was Brother Marsh to declare? Was he to go forth and restate the truths of the New Testament? Was he to bear witness in the words of Peter, Paul, or John the Beloved? Was he to teach the Sermon on the Mount or repeat the words of the Master concerning the bread of life? No, he was to "declare the things which have been revealed to my servant, Joseph Smith, Jun."(D&C 31:3-4; emphasis added). Likewise, Leman Copley was specifically instructed how to teach the gospel to those of his former faith, the Shakers. He was to "reason with them, not according to that which he has received of them"-the Shakers-"but according to that which shall be taught him by you my servants."

In short, this Church is to be governed by revelation- current, daily, modern revelation-and not by written documents alone. All of God's purposes for his children cannot be codified. Nothing is more fixed, set, and established than the fact that among the people of God the canon of scripture is open, flexible, and expanding.

There are few things about which the membership of the Church need be anxious. We need to learn the gospel. We need to live the gospel, to put on Christ and put off the works of the flesh; we need to become Christian. We need to be anxiously engaged in publishing the message of the Restoration to all the world. We need to be worthy to receive the ordinances of salvation and then make the same available to our kindred dead. We need to rivet ourselves, our children, and our children's children to the redemption that is in Christ, that we and they might know to what source we must look for a remission of our sins (see 2 Nephi 25:26). Further, and this is vital, we need to look to the presidency of this Church, heed the counsel of those called and appointed to direct its destiny, and follow the Brethren as they point the way to eternal life. Though there will be individual casualties from the faith as we move toward the end, we need not be anxious about the future of the Church and kingdom of God. We need not be anxious about the leadership of the Church; we need only cultivate the little plot of ground assigned to us and leave the government of the kingdom to the King. The Lord does not ask us to magnify other people's callings.

Joseph Smith the Prophet laid the foundation. By revelation he set in motion a revolution whose foreordained effects shall not be fully realized until that day when the Lord reigns in the midst of his Saints, when evil and wickedness are done away, and when the knowledge of God covers the earth as the waters cover the sea.

Answers to Your Questions About the Doctrine and Covenants
Richard O. Cowan

The Lord's Preface

Doctrine and Covenants 1 is placed first in that book of scripture because it was designated by the Lord as his "preface" to the revelations (D&C 1:6). A preface, of course, is where a book's author sets forth his purposes in writing and explains what the reader should expect to gain. Chronologically, however, section 1 was received in November 1831 after section 66 and before section 67.

Doctrine and Covenants 1:1-4
What is the basic message of the Doctrine and Covenants and to whom is it directed?
The Lord, the author of the Doctrine and Covenants, sets forth in his "preface" (1:6) that the book's message is "a voice of warning" for "all people." The thrust of his warning is set forth in verse 12: Prepare for the Master's glorious advent, which "is nigh." The need for such a warning is made clear by the description in this revelation of the wicked condition of the world.

Doctrine and Covenants 1:16
Why can today's world be called Babylon or Idumea?
The ancient kingdoms of Babylon and Idumea (or Edom) were noted for their hedonistic wickedness. Hence their names are apt labels for today's sinful society, often contrasted with Zion, which is made up of the "pure in heart" (D&C 97:21).

Doctrine and Covenants 1:19
Why shouldn't we counsel one another?
The meaning of the phrase "man should not counsel his fellow man" can best be understood in its context. The Lord is reviewing some of the consequences of his having given the revelations contained in the Doctrine and Covenants: the spiritually blessed yet "weak things" (from the world's point of view) will confound the "mighty and strong" (again from the world's viewpoint). Inspired counselors should not rely solely on human wisdom, or, to use Jeremiah's phrase, trust in the arm of flesh (see Jeremiah 17:5). Rather than depending on their own judgment, they can and should "speak in the name of God" (D&C 1:20). Nephi taught this same truth (see 2 Nephi 28:31).

Doctrine and Covenants 1:30
In the eyes of the Lord, what is the status of the restored Church and its members?
The Master affirmed that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is his "only true and living church." It is unique in having priesthood authority and in teaching the fulness of the gospel. That is why it remains aloof from the ecumenical movement-the increasingly frequent practice of churches to overlook doctrinal or structural differences so they can merge into larger bodies.

"This Church was not formed on man's initiative," taught Elder James E. Talmage; "it was not called into being because of some brilliant leader who stepped forward with a new plan; and therefore we cannot, we have not the power nor the authority, to make any kind of affiliation with any other church; and let me say with equal earnestness, no other denomination, no church, no sect can ever affiliate as such with this, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There have been overtures made by some religious bodies to find out the terms under which they probably could come in with us; and the answer has been: Come in as every member of this Church has come in-through... the door of baptism, that ye may receive the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands" (Conference Report, Apr. 1920, 104).

Still, much good is done by other churches and their members. {See D&C 35:3.} Latter-day Saints on a growing number of occasions have cooperated with these groups to bless the lives of our Father's children in many parts of the world. The Savior put all this in perspective when he stressed that he was pleased with his Saints "collectively" but not "individually." He explained why, by declaring that he "cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance." But he added the welcome assurance that those who repent will be forgiven. (D&C 1:31-32). He chastened his Saints on a later occasion as well, but once again he did so "collectively but not individually" (D&C 105:2).

Doctrine and Covenants 1:35
Is it futile to work for peace?
The Lord has warned that "the day speedily cometh... when peace shall be taken from the earth" (D&C 1:35), but we still have the responsibility to promote the cause of peace. {See D&C 98:16.} The gospel must be preached worldwide before the Savior's second coming (see Matthew 24:14), and experience has shown that that can best be accomplished during peacetime.Even though an ultimate goal cannot be realized immediately, we should not overlook ways to do good in the meantime. Elder Glen L. Pace instructed: "We know the prophecies of the future. We know the final outcome. We know the world collectively will not repent and consequently the last days will be filled with much pain and suffering. Therefore, we could throw up our hands and do nothing but pray for the end to come so the millennial reign could begin. To do so would forfeit our right to participate in the grand event we are all awaiting. We must all become players in the winding-up scene, not spectators. We must do all we can to prevent calamities, and then do everything possible to assist and comfort the victims of tragedies that do occur" (Ensign, Nov. 1990, 8).

Doctrine and Covenants 1:37
What does it mean to "search" the scriptures?
More is involved in searching the scriptures than merely reading or even studying them. We must seek the Spirit so we can more fully understand their meaning (see D&C 18:34-36; 50:21-22). "As I have read the scriptures," reflected President Marion G. Romney, "I have been challenged by the word ponder... The dictionary says that ponder means 'to weigh mentally, think deeply about, deliberate, meditate.' Pondering is, in my feeling, a form of prayer" (Conference Report, Apr. 1973, 117). Our searching of the scriptures is still not complete until we put their precepts into practice in our daily lives (see 1 Nephi 19:23; Matthew 7:24-27).

Doctrine and Covenants 1:38
How should we regard the statements of Church leaders?
The scriptures are the standard works, by which the correctness of other statements or concepts can be judged, and the inspired words of our living prophets apply gospel teachings to our present circumstances. "The most important prophet, so far as we are concerned," affirmed President Ezra Taft Benson, "is the one who is living in our day and age. This is the prophet who has today's instructions from God to us today. God's revelation to Adam did not instruct Noah how to build the ark. Every generation has need of the ancient scripture plus the current scripture from the living prophet. Therefore, the most crucial reading and pondering which you should do is of the latest inspired words from the Lord's mouthpiece. That is why it is essential that you have access to and carefully read his words in current Church publications" (Korea Area Conference Report, 1975, 52).

President J. Reuben Clark Jr. explained which of our Church leaders may add to the standard works: "Only the President of the Church, the Presiding High Priest, is sustained as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator for the Church, and he alone has the right to receive revelations for the Church, either new or amendatory, or to give authoritative interpretations of scriptures that shall be binding on the Church, or change in any way the existing doctrines of the Church." No other person may do any of these things "unless he has special authorization from the President of the Church." President Clark explained that the counselors in the First Presidency and the members of the Twelve are also "sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators, which gives them a special spiritual endowment in connection with their teaching" (Church News, 31 July 1954, 9-10).

President Harold B. Lee emphasized that in general conferences we hear "more inspired declarations on most every subject and problem about which [we] have been worrying. If you want to know what the Lord would have the Saints know and to have his guidance and direction for the next six months, get a copy of the proceedings of this conference, and you will have the latest word of the Lord as far as the Saints are concerned" (Conference Report, Oct. 1973, 168).

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