Gospel restored 'line upon line'

The principle of how God provides revelation to His children is given in the Book of Mormon, "Thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear to my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more. . . ." (2 Ne. 28:30, italics added.)

The principle: God gives revelation according to man's needs, and when they heed the revelations, more is given.The importance of understanding this principle of the "line upon line" disclosure of gospel doctrine by the Lord in this dispensation is that we will be able to clearly determine the foundation doctrines of the Church because the Lord first revealed the most fundamental and essential doctrines to Joseph Smith. Additionally, we will be impressed by the unfolding sequence of gospel doctrines by the Divine Tutor - God Himself.

He provides His children revelation suited to their needs and ability to receive it. In His omniscience, He does not give more than the humblest of the saints can receive if they will, nor does He reveal principles beyond their willingness and ability to live. As a Church that is adding hundreds of thousands of converts a year to the fold, we can learn much from the Lord's tutorial system of the need to preach and teach fundamentals for many "cannot bear meat now, but milk they must receive; wherefore, they must not know these things, lest they perish." (D&C 19:22.)

The understanding of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his close associates was undoubtedly expanded by revelation during his lifetime. But that did not alter the fundamental doctrines. The understanding of the saints about revealed doctrines was also enlarged by further revelation based on each person's ability to receive light and truth, and on later Church presidents' interpretations of the doctrine. This is likely a reason why President Ezra Taft Benson has so persistently emphasized the saints study the Book of Mormon because it is the "most (doctrinally) correct of any book on earth." And it was this record that was the first book of theology for the restored Church.

As can be seen by the chart on pages 8-9, the basic doctrines of the Church were revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith during the period of 1820 to 1844. Following the Prophet's death some of the revealed doctrines were not understood by Church members so it remained for other Church presidents to clarify doctrines by interpretation and published official statements. In their rightful role as seers and revelators, these Church presidents did just that. Their interpretations built on the foundation laid by the Prophet Joseph Smith. The chart illustrates the pattern of the line upon line disclosure of doctrinal principles.

This pattern can be perceived by at least five periods in Church history. The first period, (1820-February 1831), is a time when the foundation doctrines were revealed. A second period, (February 1831 to 1839), included doctrines revealed that related to the establishment of Zion. A third period, (1839-1846), included doctrines revealed that related to the eternal sealing powers.

A fourth period, (1847-1960), was a period of doctrinal refinements by other Church presidents. A fifth period, (1960-1992), is a time of doctrinal developments occurring through the First Presidency under the program of priesthood correlation.

The first three periods cover the administration of President Joseph Smith. The fourth period, the administrations from President Brigham Young through President George Albert Smith, and the last period from President David O. McKay through President Ezra Taft Benson.


As one studies the foundation doctrines established during the formative period of Church history, one can readily see they are the same that are being emphasized today. The Lord validated these fundamental doctrines on the day the Church was organized on April 6, 1830. (See D&C 20:17-36.)

The foundation doctrines consist of the reality of the First Vision; the true nature of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ; the fact that they are separate distinct Personages from one another; that the gospel was restored through heavenly messengers to the Prophet Joseph Smith; that the Book of Mormon, an additional ancient scripture, was restored by revelation; that the dispensation of the Fullness of Times was inaugurated, the purpose of which was to establish a modern Zion in preparation for the Second Coming of Christ; that Israel is currently being gathered in fulfillment of scriptural prophecy and revelation through living Prophets; that Satan is a reality and seeks to thwart the words of God and the saints; that the Millennium, the Second Coming of Christ, the resurrection of all mankind, and the final judgment are affirmed by revelation as future realities; and that each Saint may receive the confirmation of these truths through the witness of the Holy Ghost.


More than 60 percent of the revelations in the current Doctrine and Covenants were received during this period. The saints learned from these revelations where the center place of Zion was to be located, the specific requirements for the establishment of Zion, and the reasons for its initial failure. After the expulsion from Missouri, the Prophet and others could with hindsight see what the Lord had prophesied concerning Zion - that Zion's glory would follow "after much tribulation" and that the early saints were only "honored in laying the foundation" for Zion. (See D&C 58:3, 7.)

It was during this period in Church history that vital doctrinal principles were revealed to the Church. The first compilation of the revelations were printed in the Doctrine and Covenants. These revelations included the "Voice of Warning" to this dispensation, the commission to call the world to repentance and the ordinances necessary for the salvation of the kingdom of God. Doctrines were revealed pertaining to man's ultimate potential, the resurrection and degrees of glory, the calamities and plagues that will occur before the Second Coming of Christ.

Revelations prophesied that the New Jerusalem will be built, Zion will be established, Christ will return and the millennium will be ushered in. It was also during this period that the foundation of Church government was laid and essential priesthood offices were established as the needs required. The duties of the president of the Church, the First Presidency, apostles, seventy, patri arch, elder, bishop, priest, teacher, and deacon were explained. (See D&C 107.) The doctrine of the priesthood was revealed whereby worthy priesthood holders could access the powers of heaven. (See D&C 121.)

But the crowning blessing of the Ohio and Missouri period was the restoration of priesthood keys at the Kirtland Temple in 1836 that prepared the saints for the time when they could receive the full blessings of the priesthood and the promised endowment. (See D&C 105:11-12.)


Doctrines and ordinances were revealed during this period that pertained to a man and woman's exaltation. True to the commission given him in 1831, the Prophet laid a foundation for the establishment of a future Zion, or as he declared of his own mission, "I intend to lay a foundation that will revolutionize the whole world." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 366.)

What Joseph Smith accomplished was not just an establishment of another religion with a unique theology, but a proclamation of the world that angels had brought their keys, dispensations, and priesthood authority to a new and modern dispensation, each giving "line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little." (D&C 128:21.)

The power that Jesus had conferred to His apostles to bind ordinances on earth and in heaven was now restored. No other Church or organization claimed to the world the power vested within its ministry to seal men and women to eternal life. The ordinances were not just conferred on the living; by God's command the ordinances were extended by proxy to the dead, for as the prophets said, "We without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect." (D&C 128:18.) It was during the Nauvoo period that a temple was completed and over 5,000 saints received their temple blessings before their exodus West.

While further clarifications would be made by other Church presidents to the doctrines and applications thereof, the foundation doctrines of the Church were established with the Prophet Joseph Smith. And doctrines heretofore hid from the foundation of the world were brought forward in this dispensation to the end that men could enter an order of priesthood that would entitle them through their faithfulness to exaltation and eternal life.


Over the next century, from 1847 to 1960, a number of refinements were made by the First Presidencies that clarified doctrines for the Church. Key doctrinal clarifications were the origin of man, premortal life of mankind and interpretations by the First Presidency of doctrine that pertained to members of the Godhead.

Significant revelations received during this era were the Word of the Lord to President Brigham Young regarding the organization of the saints for the journey westward, to President John Taylor regarding the organization of the Seventies, revelations to President Wilford Woodruff that rescinded the practice of plural marriage and interpreted the "law of adoption," and the revelation on the Vision of the Redemption of the Dead to President Joseph F. Smith, now canonized as Section 138 in the Doctrine and Covenants. The welfare plan of the Church was also implemented, and the Church religious education policy was defined and is still current policy. In these official statements we observe the role of presidents of the Church, who, acting in concert with counselors and the Quorum of the Twelve, are the official "interpreters" of Church doctrine.

1960 to 1992

The three decades from 1960 to 1992 have been one of the most dynamic periods of revelation in Church history. A priesthood correlated program under the First Presidency inaugurated in 1961 defined the role of the priesthood and auxiliaries, correlated a curriculum at three age groupings for the Church, institutionalized a family home evening, announced the granting of the priesthood to all worthy male members of the Church, consolidated the meeting schedule of the Church, and unified doctrines so that the Church has become more "of one mind and one heart."

A Church mission statement brought a more concentrated focus to mission work, temple work, activation of less-active members, and increased home religious study and observance. The publication of new editions of the Bible and the Triple Combination with additional helps has caused the saints to focus more on the scriptures.

The ministry of President Ezra Taft Benson has sparked a renewed study and reading of the Book of Mormon. During this period of time a dramatic growth of the Church from 2 million members in 1963 to 8.4 million by 1992 was realized. The Church has emerged from a basically American Church into a multi-cultural, international Church with more than 45,000 missionaries heralding the message of the restored gospel to more than 130 countries and territories. We have witnessed a great expansion of temples, from 15 in 1974 to 45 by 1992, with a resulting increase in temple activity and ordinances for the living and the dead. Because of the wide-spread growth, Church leaders have decentralized Church administration into multiple geographic areas of the world, all presided over by Area Presidencies. The Church is now past the point where it may be considered as a Utah Church or an American Church; it is now a global Church reflecting the diversity of members in Mexico, South America, Africa, the Philippines, Japan and throughout the world.

In all of this, the purpose of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to become more focused on the mission to assist each individual to come unto Christ and worthily receive the covenants and ordinances of the temple.

An overview and study of these key doctrinal developments will help us realize the grand purpose of this dispensation summarized by the Angel Moroni's declaration to the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1823 that it is to "plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to the fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming." Only through the sealing powers of the priesthood in the temples of the Lord may these blessings be realized. (See D&C 2.)

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