Our approach to understanding, writing, and teaching Church history and the Doctrine and Covenants should be based on the revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith at Hiram, Ohio, in November 1831, and recorded as Section 69 in the Doctrine and Covenants.
In this revelation John Whitmer, who had been called in March 1831 as Church Historian (see D&C 47), was now directed by the Savior to travel, observe, and record the historical events of the Church. He was to preach, expound, write, copy, select, and obtain all things "which shall be for the good of the Church, and for the rising generations that shall grow up on the land of Zion, to possess it from generation to generation, forever and ever." (D&C 69:7-8.) Herein is divine perspective to those who write or teach Church history: They are to help build faith in the youth of the Church who will then be able to help establish Zion and prepare the earth for the return of the Savior.As we continue to mature and develop in the gospel of Jesus Christ, what are some of the many things that we can and should learn from our study of Church history and the Doctrine and Covenants? The following is a suggested list.
The Latter-day Saints have been and will be tested and tried in all things. The history of the Church is wrought with examples of this principle while the Doctrine and Covenants explains why it is important. For example:
- In December 1830, the Prophet Joseph Smith was commanded to move the body of the Church from the New York area to Ohio. (See D&C 37:3.) A few weeks later a second revelation was given, further directing the Saints to gather. On this occasion they were to told to sell their farms, if they couldn't sell then rent, and if they were unable to sell or rent, then leave them. (See D&C 38:37-38.) Certainly, this would be a test to anyone who has worked hard to obtain temporal possessions and the comforts of life and then suddenly be asked to give them up.
- In July 1833, persecution commenced against the Saints in Jackson County, Mo. Homes were destroyed, some individuals were tarred and feathered, while others were severely whipped, a few were wounded in a battle with the Missourians, and one, Andrew Barber, was killed. During the month of November the Saints were driven out of Jackson County across the Missouri River into Clay County. Three months later the Savior explained that He chastens and tries His people because of His love for them, that they might make up His jewels when He comes in glory. (D&C 101:1-5; see also D&C 90:36; 95:1; 136:31.) Jewels are something most precious, but require time, heat, and pressure to make.
- From December 1838 through March 1839, the Prophet Joseph Smith was incarcerated in the Liberty Jail in Missouri where he suffered physical abuse, the constant worry over his family, as well as the welfare of the Church. Under these trying circumstances the voice of God declared: "Thine afflictions shall be but a moment; and then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high. . . . " (D&C 121:7-8.) Joseph Smith is no longer in the Liberty Jail - his trials and afflictions have ended and he has gone to his exaltation (see D&C 132:49), because he "endured well" mortality. So will it be with all members of the Church who endure mortality well. They will become jewels in the Savior's crown and will see that the afflictions of mortality were but a moment.
The Lord loves and blesses his people. Therefore, the Saints should be a happy people and excited about the future.
Even though mortality is difficult and was designed to be so by the Lord, He has extended many promises to the members of the Church who strive to keep the commandments. The following are but reflective of many others that are contained in the Doctrine and Covenants:
- D&C 1:5 - The Lord's servants will go forth and none "shall stay them. . . . "
- D&C 59:23 - Those who learn to be righteous shall receive peace in this life and eternal life in the world to come. Peace is the unspeakable gift from the Holy Ghost given in this life, and that which naturally follows it is eternal life in the world to come "which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God." (D&C 14:7.)
- D&C 78:17-19 - The Savior will take us by the hand, as does a protective parent with a small child, and lead us through mortality.
- D&C 84:87-88 - Missionaries sent forth to the nations of the earth are promised that: The Savior will go before them, the Holy Ghost will inspire and bless them and, angels will assist them.
- D&C 88:96-98 - The Saints whether living on the earth or in the spirit world will be caught up to meet the Savior at His second coming. They will then descend with Him in glory to enjoy His Millennial reign.
- D&C 93:1 - Every member of the Church will see the face of the Savior and know that He lives if they will meet the five conditions listed in this verse.
- Official Declaration 1 - President Wilford Woodruff declared: "The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of the Church to lead you astray." Thus, an important key to the success and happiness of the members of the Church is to follow the living prophet. (See D&C 21:4-6.)
The Savior guides and directs His Church.
President Joseph F. Smith once said: "It has not been by the wisdom of man that this people have been directed in their course until the present; it has been by the wisdom of Him who is above man and whose knowledge is greater than that of man, and whose power is above the power of man. . . . The hand of the Lord may not be visible to all. There may be many who cannot discern the workings of God's will in the progress and development of this great latter-day work, but there are those who see in every hour and in every moment of the existence of the Church, from its beginning until now, the overruling, almighty hand of Him who sent His Only Begotten Son to the world to become a sacrifice for the sins of the world." (Conference Report, April 1904, p. 2.)
We will be able to see and appreciate the Lord's hand in this great work if we will follow the directive recorded in D&C 88:118, which states: " . . . Teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith."
As Latter-day Saints we are fulfilling and will yet fulfill the prophecies spoken of anciently concerning this dispensation.
Wilford Woodruff declared: " . . . There is no dispensation that has been looked upon with as much interest by all the prophets of God and inspired men, from the day of Joseph Smith as that in which we live, in which the Zion of God is being built up, and the earth is being prepared for the coming of the Son of Man." (Journal of Discourses 14:31-32). "You may take up Isaiah and all the prophets, and you will find that they refer to this latter-day dispensation, when the Kingdom of God should be established on the earth. There never was a prophet, from Adam down, whose records we have, but had his eye upon this great dispensation of the last days." (Journal of Discourses 13:323-324.)
A knowledge of Church history and the Doctrine and Covenants will help us see and understand the fulfilling of these prophecies. Consider the following:
- Isaiah 5:26 - An ensign would be raised to the nations from afar - meaning in a land a long ways from Jerusalem. "Over 125 years ago, in the little town of Fayette, Seneca County, N.Y., the Lord set up an ensign to the nations. It was in fulfillment of the prediction made by the Prophet Isaiah. . . . That ensign was The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which was established for the last time, never again to be destroyed or given to other people. It was the greatest event the world has seen since the day that the Redeemer was lifted upon the cross and worked out the infinite and eternal atonement. It meant more to mankind than anything else that has occurred since that day." (Doctrines of Salvation 3:254-255.)
- Ether 13:1-11 - Ether testified that a "New Jerusalem" would be built upon the American continent. The exact site was revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith as being Independence, Mo. The members of the Church in the days of the Prophet Joseph were honored in laying the foundation in preparation for the building of the Holy City. (See D&C 57:1-3; 58:7.)
- Daniel 7:9-22 - Daniel saw in vision the meeting that will be held at Adam-ondi-Ahman prior to the appearance of the Savior to all the world. D&C 116 identifies the location where this meeting will be held, while D&C 107:53-57 is a type of what the meeting will be like, and D&C 27:5-18 explains who will attend the meeting and what qualifications are required to be in attendance.
A knowledge of the past helps build our confidence in God.
At a general conference held Jan. 2, 1831, at Fayette, N.Y., the Lord warned of impending war in the United States. "Ye hear of wars in far countries and you say that there will soon be great wars in far countries, but ye know not the hearts of men in your own land." (D&C 38:29.) On Dec. 25, 1832, the Prophet Joseph Smith received the revelation on wars which would commence with the rebellion of South Carolina. (D&C 87.) During the years that followed and prior to the Civil War the Lord moved His people West. From New York to Ohio, then to Missouri, and later to Illinois, and, finally, to Utah where the Saints were established when the Civil War broke out among the states in 1861. For four years there was bloodshed and misery while the Latter-day Saints lived in peace in the Rocky Mountains. As the Lord preserved the Church in the 1860s so He will in the days that lie ahead if we keep the commandments and follow the prophet.
We learn of the nefarious ways of Satan and his attempts to destroy The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The war in heaven never ended, we simply switched battlefields. In pre-earth life Satan sought us by gift and was rejected with his plan by our Father in Heaven. Now, here upon the earth, he seeks us by the commission of sin. During the Missouri persecutions there were many who apostatized from the Church and even became enemies. The Prophet Joseph Smith spoke of their sad state and warned against apostasy.
At the conclusion of the Prophet's remarks, Isaac Behunnin, a member of the Church stated: "If I should leave this Church, I would not do as those men have done - I would go to some remote place where Mormonism had never been heard of settle down, and no one would ever learn that I knew anything about it." To which Joseph Smith replied: "Brother Behunnin, you don't know what you would do. No doubt these men once thought as you do. Before you joined this Church you stood on neutral ground. When the gospel was preached good and evil were set before you. You could choose either or neither. There were two opposite masters inviting you to serve them. When you joined this Church you enlisted to serve God. When you did that you left the neutral ground, and you never can get back on to it. Should you forsake the Master you enlisted to serve, it will be by the instigation of the evil one, and you will follow his dictation and be his servant." (The Juvenile Instructor, Vol. XXVII, 1892, p. 492.)
An inspired Joseph Smith further explained: "Cursed are all those that shall lift up the heel against mine anointed, saith the Lord, and cry they have sinned when they have not sinned before me, saith the Lord, but have done that which was meet in mine eyes, and which I commanded them. But those who cry transgression do it because they are the servants of sin, and are the children of disobedience themselves." (D&C 121:16-17.)
Why is it, then, that the apostates will not leave the Church alone? Because they are the servants of sin and have another master whose bidding they now do.
We gain a deeper appreciation for our heritage and for the great work we are involved in.
It is a privilege to hold membership in the greatest organization in the world - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To be called by the Savior to proclaim His gospel throughout the world, to hold positions in His Church whereby we can help in the perfection process, and finally to labor in the temples in behalf of those who now live in the world of spirits. The Prophet Joseph Smith declared:
"Brethren, shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, brethren; and on, on to the victory! Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceedingly glad. Let the earth break forth into singing. Let the dead speak forth anthems of eternal praise to the King Immanuel, who hath ordained, before the world was, that which would enable us to redeem them out of their prison; for the prisoners shall go free.
"Let the mountains shout for joy, and all ye valleys cry aloud; and all ye seas and dry lands tell the wonders of your Eternal King! And ye rivers, and brooks, and rills, flow down with gladness. Let the woods and all the trees of the fields praise the Lord; and ye solid rocks weep for joy! And let the sun, moon, and the morning stars sing together and let all the sons of God shout for joy! And let the eternal creations declare his name forever and ever!" (D&C 128:22-23.)
Calvin R. Stephens, on the faculty of the LDS Ogden (Utah) Institute of Religion, serves on the Church Correlation Evaluation Committee and is a member of the Milton Ward, Morgan Utah North Stake.