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Gospel Doctine Lesson 5: How We Taught This Topic in the Past

By: Ardis E. Parshall - January 25, 2009

Lesson 5: “This Is the Spirit of Revelation”

While this year’s Lesson 4 focused on the Book of Mormon and Lesson 9 will include the formal organization of the Church, I have chosen these lessons from 1934 concerning the divinity of the Book of Mormon and the organization of the Church because so many parts of these lessons deal with the receiving of revelation, in keeping with our lesson next week. (Again, a reminder that old lessons posted here may not represent current historical scholarship; that is particularly true with some details of the 1934 lessons. On the other hand, one 1934 lesson does cite from the Journal of Discourses and does discuss seer stones – when is the last time you heard mention of those in Sunday School?)

The 1955 manual is similar to ours in important ways: that manual teaches principles and topics drawn from the Doctrine and Covenants and sometimes illustrated with stories from Church history, rather than being a straight history course.

1907: The Seventy’s Course in Theology, by B.H. Roberts

Lesson 2

I. The Revelations – Classification (a) as to Whom Given.

(a) To Individuals.
(b) To the Church
(c) To groups of Elders.
(d) To the world.


(a) Secs. 3, 5, 6, 12, 14, 15, 19, 126.
(b) Secs. 1, 45, 46.
(c) Secs. 84, 58, 29, 61.
(d) Sec. 76.

II. Classification as to How They Were Received.

(a) Direct Word of Mouth from the Lord.
(b) By Urim and Thummim.
(c) By Direct communication of Angels.
(d) By the operations of the Spirit of God on the Prophet’s Mind.


(a) The First Vision, history of the Church, Vol. I, Chap. 1; Doc. & Cov., Sec. 110.
(b) Doc. & Cov., Secs. 3, 6, 10, 11, 12, 14, 16, 17.
(c) Docs. & Cov., Sec. 110.
(d) the greater number of the Revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants.

III. Classification as to Subject Matter.

(a) Didactic, Instruction or Direction to Individuals, to the Elders, to the Church.
(b) On Organization of the Church and Priesthood.
(c) Doctrinal.


(a) Doc. & Cov., Secs, 21, 24, 25, 26, 28, 68.
(b) Secs. 20, 24, 102, 107, 124.
(c) Secs. 19, 20, 21, 42, 76, 84, 88, 93.

SPECIAL TEXT: “Behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. Now behold this is the Spirit of revelation; behold this is the Spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea, on dry ground.” – the Lord to Oliver Cowdery.


1. How the Revelations Were Received:

He received communications through Urim and Thummim, for by that means he translated the Book of Mormon and received a number of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants, among others sections 3, 6, 10, 11, 12, 14, 16, 17. He received divine intelligence by open visions, such intelligence as is contained in section 76, and section 107. He also received revelations through the inspiration of God, operating upon his mind; and indeed the larger number of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants were received in this manner. Speaking of the revelations which were compiled preparatory to the publication of the Book of Commandments, he desired that the labors of himself and brethren who had been associated with him from the early days of the church up to that time should be acknowledged and made a matter of record, saying, “If this conference thinks these things worth according to the mind of the spirit, for by it these things [the collected revelations] were put into my heart, which I know to be the Spirit of truth.” This indicates the medium through which most of the revelations came – from the inspired mind of the Prophet. (See also Doc. & Cov. Secs. 8, 9.)

2. The Manner of Inditing Revelations: Elder Parley P. Pratt gives the following description of the manner in which a revelation was given through the Prophet in his presence.

After we had joined in prayer in his translating room he dictated in our presence the following revelation: Each sentence was uttered slowly and very distinctly, and with a pause between each, sufficiently long for it to be recorded, by an ordinary writer, in long hand. This was the manner in which all his written revelations were dictated and written. There was never any hesitation, reviewing, or reading back, in order to keep the run of the subject; neither did any of these communications undergo revisions, interlinings, or corrections. As he dictated them so they stood, so far as I have witnessed; and I was present to witness the dictation of several communications of several pages each. (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, pp. 65-6.)

The statement of Elder Pratt needs modifying, at least to the extent of saying, that additions were made sometimes to the revelations, as a comparison between the revelations as they appeared in so much of the “Book of Commandments” as was published at Independence, in 1833, and the same revelations as they stand in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants. Indeed in the Doctrine and Covenants additions are sometimes noted (see section 20, verses 65-67, and foot-note, also section 27, introduction; also sec. 42, verses 31 and 34 and footnote). In the main, however, the statement of Elder Pratt may be taken as not only applying to the revelations which he witnessed the dictation of, but to all that the Prophet received.

3. The Divers Manners in Which Revelations Were Given in Ancient Times: As to the various ways in which the prophets in olden times received revelations, (agreeing with the various ways in which God communicated his mind and will to Joseph Smith) I quote the following from the “Annotated Bible,” published in 1859.

The divine communications were made to the prophets in divers manners: God seems sometimes to have spoken to them in audible voice; occasionally appearing in human form. At other times he employed the ministry of angels, or made known his purposes by dreams. But he most frequently revealed his truth to the prophets by producing that supernatural state of the sentient, intellectual, and moral faculties which the scriptures call ‘vision.’ Hence prophetic announcements are often called ‘visions,’ i.e., things seen; and the prophets themselves are called ‘seers.’ Although the visions which the prophet beheld and the predictions of the future which he announced were wholly announced by the divine Spirit, yet the form of the communication, the imagery in which it is clothed, the illustrations by which it is cleared up and impressed, the symbols employed to bring it more graphically before the mind – in short, all that may be considered as its garb and dress, depends upon the education, habits, associations, feelings and the whole mental, intellectual and spiritual character of the prophet. Hence the style of some is purer, more sententious, more ornate, or more sublime than others.

Also the Reverend Joseph Armitage Robinson, D.D., Dean of Westminster and Chaplain of King Edward VII of England, respecting the manner in which the message of the Old Testament was received and communicated to man, said, as late as 1905:

The message of the Old Testament was not written by the divine hand, nor dictated by an outward comulsion; it was planted in the hearts of men, and made to grow in a fruitful soil. and then they were required to express it in their own language, after their natural methods, and in accordance with the stage of knowledge which their time had reached. Their human faculties were purified and quickened by the divine Spirit; but they spoke to their time in the language of their time; they spoke a spiritual message, accommodated to the experience of their age, a message of faith in God, and of righteousness as demanded by a righteous God.’ (Defense of the Faith and the Saints, p. 266-7.)

4. The Spirit of Revelation: In one of the revelations there is given a description as to the manner in which revelations are given through the operation of the spirit of the Lord upon the mind of man, “for, verily,” as Job piuts it, “there is a spirit in man and the inspiration of the Lord giveth them understanding.” The revelation alluded to, is one given to Oliver Cowdery in relation to his having the privilege of translating ancient records, by means of Urim and Thummim. The Lord said concerning such translation:

Behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. Now, behold, this is the Spirit of revelation; behold, this is the Spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground. (Doc. & Cov. Sec. 8.)

Oliver’s faith, however, seems to have failed him in the matter, and in explanation of that failure, the Lord said to him:

And, behold, it is because that you did not continue as you commenced, when you began to translate, that I have taken away this privilege from you. Do not murmur, my son, for it is wisdom in me that I have dealt with you after this manner. Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought, save it was to ask me; but, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right; but if it be not right, you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought, that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore you cannot write that which is sacred, save it be given you from me. (Doc. & Cov. Sec. 8.)

From this, it appears, that the co-operation of the mind of man by mighty effort is necessary to the obtaining of the spirit of revelation. Prophets are not mere automatons, who repeat, machine like, what is given them. There must be striving for the Spirit of truth, and the power to express it.

20 May 1934: Church History Sunday School Lessons

Lesson 17

Let us look at some of the reasons why the Mormons believe that their Book of Mormon is sacred, being given by the Lord.

First: The sacred plates, themselves, were made at the command of the Lord by the Prophet Mormon. the writing was done by holy men inspired by the Lord. The records hid in the Hill Cumorah and protected by the Angel Moroni. Joseph obtained them under the direction of that angel, who also guarded them while Joseph wrote the story, and then received them, and has them in safe keeping today.

Second: Joseph of himself couldn’t read one word of the curious writing upon the plates. Try as he would, he couldn’t do it. The Urim and Thummim, given him by the holy angel, were two clear stones set in silver bows, like spectacles. Into these the Prophet looked. Sometimes he could read the plates, sometimes he couldn’t. It was all according to his faith. At other times when he looked, he saw visions and received God’s word in revelations. At one time, soon after Oliver started to help Joseph translate, April, 1820, the Prophet looked into the stones and saw a parchment written by Christ’s apostle, John the Beloved. Although it was written in a strange language, Joseph read it to Oliver who copied it. It was only eight verses. You may read it if you choose. Turn to the Doctrine and Covenants, Section seven.

Then there was the seer stone, chocolate colored, and about the size of an egg, found by Joseph and Hyrum while digging a well northwest from the Hill Cumorah. Here is an experience with this stone. One day when Joseph had been reading from the plates with it, he and Martin Harris put up their work and strolled out to the river for exercise. While throwing rocks into the stream, Martin picked up an egg-shaped, chocolate colored stone, looking for all the world like the seer stone. Slipping it into his pocket, he thought, “I’ll test Joseph out. I’ll make a trade, finding if the Seer Stone is really divine, blessed of the Lord; people tell me Joseph is fooling me. I’ll see if he can go on with his story. If he does, I’ll quit writing, knowing he is a fake.”

Back at the house, it took but a minute to make the change. Joseph opened the plates, found the page and hurriedly picked up the stone, ready to read. On the other side of the curtain Martin sat breathless, his heart beating rapidly. Here was the test! What would happen? There was silence. Then more silence. Martin waited. Joseph looked, thought, and prayed. Not a word! Not a thing could he see! What was wrong? Then he exclaimed, “Martin! Martin! What’s the matter? All is as black as Egypt!” Then for the first time he looked at the stone; saw the mistake, and turned to Martin for explanation.

“Well,” said Martin, “I did that to stop the mouths of fools. They have told me that you learned your sentences off by heart and could look in any stone and tell your story.” As soon as the other stone was brought out, Oh, what a change! Joseph read the strange language right off. Martin Harris lived ninety-two years, and all his life he continued to tell this story as proof that the Book of Mormon was written by the Power of God.

Third: while Oliver Cowdery was aiding Joseph, he thought that translating was rather easy, so he asked to try his skill with the Urim and Thummim. Joseph prayed and looked into the Urim and Thummim for the answer. The Lord was willing; for he said to Oliver, “And, behold, I grant unto you a gift, if you desire of me, to translate, even as my servant, Joseph. Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you. Ask that you may know the mysteries of God, and that you may translate and receive knowledge from all those ancient records which have been hid up, that are sacred; and according to your faith shall it be done unto you.” (D. and C., Secs. 6 and 8.)

Oliver was happy. Taking the Seer Stones, he tried time and time again, he tried to read, but failed completely. He had to give up. Joseph looked into the Urim and Thummim and received these words for Oliver, “Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it were to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right, I shall cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right, you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from above.”

Thus by divine revelation did the Prophet receive each sentence in the Book of Mormon through the Seer Stones. His “bosom burned” with testimony continually. In order to find out how hard it was to write the Book of Mormon, you might try a little test yourself. Take a piece of clear glass, playing that you were Joseph, and see how many verses you can read through it before you grow weary and stop. You may tell the class next week how much you read. Be sure and try it, but remember, that Joseph had to repeat it slowly, then wait while Oliver wrote every sentence. Thus they went, page after page.

Fourth: If Joseph even got out of patience or vexed, the Seer Stones refused to tell him anything. Two lessons back, we learned that one morning he and his wife had some words over something. Although it was not much, yet when Joseph looked into the stones, he couldn’t read a thing. He tried and tried, but to no use. He went out into the trees and prayed for a long time, then came back and fixed things up with his wife and went up stairs to his work. Everything now worked great; he could translate and receive revelation. This was a lasting testimony to him and the Whitmers where the work was going on.

Fifth: While the angel was talking to the Three Witnesses, not only did he declare that the records were divine, but the voice of God spoke from heaven, telling them that the Book of Mormon was written correctly, and commanding them to bear testimony of it.

Sixth: In broad daylight the Eight Witnesses handled the plates. They examined them carefully, finding there was no fraud. Even the best of them could not read one word of the strange language. They knew that only by divine aid could Joseph have done it.

Seventh: The plates were returned in a divine manner. Brigham Young says, “When Joseph got the plates, the angel instructed him to carry them back to the Hill Cumorah, which he did. Oliver says that when Joseph and Oliver went there, the hill opened, and they walked into a cave, in which there was a large and spacious room. It was just as light as day. They laid the plates on the table; it was a large table that stood in the room. Under this table there was a pile of plates as much as two feet high, and there were altogether in the room more plates than, probably, many wagon loads; they were piled up in the corners and along the walls. The first time they went there, the sword of Laban hung upon the wall; but when they went again, it had been taken down and laid upon the table across the gold plates; it was unsheathed, and on it were written these words, ‘This sword will never be sheathed again, until the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our God and His Christ.’

“I take the liberty of referring to those things so they will not be forgotten and lost. Carlos Smith was a witness to these things. I want you to carry them to the ears of my brothers and sisters and to the children also, that they may grow to an understanding of some things which seem to be entirely hidden from the human family. I relate this to you, and I want you to understand it.” (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 19, p. 38)

3 June 1934: Church History Sunday School Lessons

Lesson 19

Ten long, testing years had now come and gone since Joseph, a fourteen-year-old boy, prayed in the grove, asking which Church to join. Ten years since Christ said, “Join none of them!” Ten years since he was told that if he proved faithful, he should be taught how to form the true Church. Then, too, seven years had slipped by since Moroni stood near Joseph’s bed in glory, telling him about the sacred records, containing the True Gospel. Nine months had now passed since the Book of Mormon story was finished, and two weeks had gone since 5,000 copies were printed. Was there anything else to do before the Church could be organized? That was what Joseph wanted to know. He longed to form Christ’s Church, the True Church, and invite all good folks to join it. While he waited, the Lord gave him a revelation, which only made him the more anxious. It said (Sec. 17): “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God. If it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father. And if your joy will be great with one soul, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!”

Then, too, the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood had come, giving the brethren power to form a church. They had had this for almost a year, still they couldn’t say to one another, “I belong to this church or to that church.” In fact they had no church. For ten years it had been promised but had not come. Joseph’s little group of followers asked many questions as to when they could hear preaching and attend a church. The neighbors laughed, saying, “they’ll never form a church! and if they do, I wonder what sort it will be? What shall they name it?”

God had not forgotten them, however. The day of all days was right at hand. A day seen by the Holy Prophets! The day when “the little stone (church) should be cut out of the mountains without hands, should roll forth and fill the whole earth.” America had been unveiled! She had been found. The Bible had come; religious freedom granted; and the Book of Mormon and the Holy Priesthood given. But, best of all, the Lord was ready, and here was his mighty Prophet Joseph Smith, fully prepared. Why wait?

Under these conditions Joseph inquired of the Lord and received the divine word that the next Tuesday, April 6, 1830, Christ’s birthday, was the time! The revelation said it “being one thousand eight hundred thirty years since the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh.” How happy was the little group! God’s kingdom was ready to begin, preparing the world for Christ’s second coming. Since Joseph had never organized a church, he continued to seek the Lord for wisdom, wishing to make sure that it should be a pattern of God’s Heavenly Kingdom. In this matter, the Prophet was fully rewarded, for after the Church was organized, he heard a voice declaring that God’s Kingdom had been given to the earth. Joseph writes, “Hearken, and lo, a voice as of one from on high, who is mighty and powerful, whose going forth is unto the ends of the earth, yea, whose voice is unto all men. The keys of the Kingdom of God are committed unto man on the earth, and from thence shall the gospel roll forth unto the ends of the earth – that the inhabitants thereof may receive it, in the which the Son of man shall come down – clothed in the brightness of his glory, to meet the Kingdom of God which is set up on the earth. Wherefore, may the Kingdom of God go forth, that the Kingdom of Heaven may come, that thou, O God mayest be glorified in heaven so on earth.”

On Tuesday morning, April 6th, all was ready. The home of Peter Whitmer, Senior, and his wife, Mary, was as neat as a pin. Everything was in order. Log house though it was, still it was a real home. It was into this house this day that the long looked for church was to be formed. Six God-fearing men, chosen from the Witnesses, sat at the table. In the room also were Brother and Sister Whitmer, Father and Mother Smith and several others. They, however, were not to take part in the forming of the Church. The six men at the table would do that. Joseph was fulfilling the law of the State of New York, which said, that at least six persons must sign the papers when a new church was formed. These men were, Joseph Smith, Jr., Hyrum Smith, Samuel H. Smith, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Peter Whitmer, Junior.

When everyone was quietly seated, and things were all ready, Joseph arose. His face solemn, but heavenly. The utmost peace prevailed. Not a sound. Nothing but the “Tick Tock! Tick Tock!” of the old farm clock. What was the Prophet going to say? What would he do? How would he begin? He alone knew how to form the True Church. He nodded at one of the brethren and asked him to offer a “solemn prayer,” asking the Lord’s help. The Prophet then began forming the Church after the revealed pattern. He knew that without revelation he could not succeed; but with revelation, he could not frail. As he took each step and explained it, he asked the brethren to raise their hands if they accepted it. In this first meeting he set the pattern, calling upon the members to vote over all important matters.

Joseph writes, “I then laid my hands upon Oliver Cowdery and ordained him an elder of the Church of Jesus Christ; after which he also ordained me to the office of an elder of the said Church. We then took bread, blessed it and broke it with them, also wine, blessed it and drank it with them. We then laid our hands on each member of the Church present, that they might receive the gift of the Holy Ghost and be confirmed members of the Church of Christ. The Holy Ghost was poured out upon us to a very great degree. Some prophesied, whilst we all praised the Lord and rejoiced exceedingly.” As the Holy Ghost fell upon these men, they arose and spoke with such power that everyone in the room knew full well that the gifts of God’s Kingdom had been restored. The happy day had come!

Once during the meeting, when everything was quiet, and the members began wondering what else would take place, Joseph turned to Oliver, saying for him to write, for the Lord was giving Joseph a revelation. Here is part of it, “Behold, there shall be a record kept among you, and in it thou shalt be called ‘a seer, a translator, a prophet, an apostle of Jesus Christ’.” Then to the members, the Lord said, “Thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; for his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.” Joseph then called a vote, and found that all hands were raised to accept this revelation.

On this day, too, everyone was rebaptized, even to Joseph the Prophet. When Father Smith was coming up out of the water, Joseph grasped his hand, and, as tears of joy ran down their faces, the son exclaimed, “Oh, how happy I am that I have lived to see my own father baptized into the True Church of Christ!” Next Mother Smith was met in the same manner. The Holy Spirit thrilled their souls, making them all rejoice greatly.

This day, Christ’s birthday, and the birthday of the True Church, was never to be forgotten. Today, a hundred years have made it even more sacred. Joseph Smith’s name, too, has become more famous. Of Joseph’s greatness, the Lord said, “The ends of the earth shall inquire after thy name.” It was also to be had “for good and evil among all people.” As with Joseph, so it is with the Church, the Lord told him to call it the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This means the Church belongs to Christ, and is made up of Latter-day Saints. From that first day until the present, God has continued to reveal the gifts of his Kingdom to the True Church.

1947: Melchizedek Priesthood Quorums: Church History and Modern Revelation, by Joseph Fielding Smith

Lesson 11


1. How the Spirit of Revelation is Received.

a. Knowledge received by faith, vs. 1-2, 10, 11.
b. A means of deliverance from enemies, vs. 4-5.
c. the Gift of Aaron, vs. 6-8. Note 2.

2. Oliver Cowdery’s Desire to Translate.

a. The request granted. D. and C. Introduction, v. 1 (Section 8.)
b. Oliver instructed to continue as scribe. Sec. 9, verses 1, 3-6.
c. Other records to come forth. Section 9, verse 2. Note 3.
d. Key by which revelation may be known. Section 9, verses 8-14.


Sections 8 and 9.
D. & C., Sec. 8. Note 1; D.H.C., Vol. 1:36-37.
D.H.C., Vol. 1:36-37.
II Nephi 27:7-11; III Nephi 26:6-10.


1. While the Prophet and Oliver were working on the translation during the month of April, 1829, Oliver Cowdery became exceedingly anxious to have the power to translate and made that request of the Prophet. Inquiry was made by Urim and Thummim and the Lord gave consent in the revelation known as section eight. At this time the Lord seemed perfectly willing that Oliver Cowdery as well as Joseph Smith should engage in this labor of translating the plates, and he gave in some detail what qualifications are necessary for the reception of knowledge by revelation and also the procedure necessary im translating ancient records. Oliver was informed that this power could not be received except by the exercise of faith with an honest heart, and by this faith, knowledge of the ancient records and their engravings should be made known. The Lord said: “Behold I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.” This is the spirit of revelation. With a glad heart Oliver took over the work of translating, and the Prophet Joseph was ready to act as scribe. The attempt was a failure; it seems that Oliver Cowdery thought that it would be an easy matter with the aid of the Urim and Thummim to understand the engravings and give their equivalent meaning in the English language, without taking thought or studying it out in his mind. He therefore failed to comprehend the instructions the Lord had given him, notwithstanding the Lord told him he should have the gift of revelation.

It seems probable that Oliver Cowdery desired to translate out of curiosity, and the Lord taught him his place by showing him that translating was not the easy thing he had thought it to be. In a subsequent revelation (Sec. 9), the explanation was made that Oliver’s failure came because he did not continue as he commenced, and the task being a difficult one his faith deserted him. The lesson he learned was very necessary for he was shown that his place was to act as scribe for Joseph Smith and that it was the latter who was called and appointed by command of the Lord to do the translating. There must have been some desire on the part of Oliver Cowdery to be equal with the Prophet and some impatience in having to sit and act as scribe, but when he failed to master the gift of translating, he was then willing to accept the will of the Lord who said to him: “Be patient, my son, for it is wisdom in me, and it is not expedient that you should translate at this present time. * * 8 Do not murmur my son, for it is wisdom in me that I have dealt with you after this manner; Behold you have not understood, you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it as to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.” (D. & C. 9:3-9.)

A similar privilege is given to any member of the Church who seeks knowledge in the spirit of prayer and faith. The Lord will cause the feeling of security and truth to take hold of the individual and burn within the bosom and there will be an overwhelming feeling that the thing is right. Missionaries have felt the manifestation of this gift while laboring in the field; when searching the scriptures; when speaking before congregations on the streets and in public gatherings. When you have been listening to some inspired speaker who has presented a new thought to you, have you not felt that burning within and the satisfaction in your heart that this new thought is true? On the other hand, have you experienced the feeling of stupor, gloom, or uneasiness, when some thought has been presented which was in conflict with the revealed word of the Lord, and you have felt by this manifestation of the Spirit that what was said is not true? It is a great gift, which all may receive, to have this spirit of discernment, or revelation, for it is the spirit of revelation. This is what Paul meant when he said to the Corinthian Saints: “Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.” (I Cor. 14:1.0 he was not so anxious that the members of the Church in that day should seek for the power to reveal the future as he was to have this spirit by which they could discern truth and separate it from error. The better our understanding of the scriptures and the more diligent we are in the service of the Lord, the better will we comprehend this truth and have this gift bestowed upon us. The Lord has told us that we “are commanded in all things to ask of God, who giveth liberally,” and the Spirit will testify unto us if we live in holiness of heart, walking uprightly before him, “doing all things in the spirit of prayer and thanksgiving, that ye may not be seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men; for some are of men, and others of devils.” (D. and C. 46:7-8.) We have a sure word by which we may be guided in these matters, and that is faithful, prayerful obedience to the commandments of the Lord.

2. The gift of revelation promised to Oliver Cowdery was to be a protection to him, if he would heed it and it would deliver him out of the hands of his enemies, and protect him from the destroyer. This the Lord endeavored to impress upon him by saying: “Oh, remember these words, and keep my commandments. Remember this is your gift.”

There was another gift bestowed upon Oliver Cowdery, and that was the gift of Aaron. Like Aaron with his rod in his hand going before Moses as a spokesman, so Oliver Cowdery was to go before Joseph Smith. Whatever he should ask the Lord by power of this gift should be granted if asked in faith and in wisdom. Oliver was blessed with the great honor of holding the keys of this dispensation with Joseph Smith, and like Aaron did become a spokesman on numerous occasions. It was Oliver who delivered the first public discourse in this dispensation.

3. After his failure to translate Oliver Cowdery was instructed to continue as scribe for Joseph Smith, and he was to be sober minded and the Lord said, “trifle not with these things; do not ask for that which you ought not.” (Sec. 8:10.)

The Lord told him that he was to continue as scribe until the translation of the Book of Mormon was completed, and that there were other ancient records to come forth, and that he might have the privilege of translating these at some future day if he would remain faithful. We learn from the Book of Mormon that there are many records and that at some time when the people are prepared by faith to receive them that they shall also be translated and published for the knowledge and salvation of the faithful. (II Nephi 27:7-08; III Nephi 26:6-11; Ether 3:22-28 and 4:5-7.)

Later there came into the hands of the Prophet other records which had to be translated, such as the book of Abraham, but these records of the ancient inhabitants on this American continent were not translated. It is possible that some of them might have been translated had the people received the Book of Mormon with full purpose of heart and had been faithful to its teachings. This was the promise the Lord made through Mormon. He said he would try the faith of the people and if they were willing to accept the lesser things (i.e. the Book of Mormon) then he would make known to them the greater things. That we have failed in this is very apparent, we have not accepted the revelations in the Book of Mormon neither in the Doctrine and Covenants with that faith and willingness to know the will of the Lord which would entitle us to receive this greater information. Oliver Cowdery was a party to this failure by turning away from the Church for a number of years when it needed his service. He therefore lost his privilege to translate through his own disobedience, and the people have lost the privilege of receiving the “greater things” spoken of by the Lord to Mormon (III Nephi 26: 8-11) until the day shall come when they are willing to be obedient in all things and will exercise faith such as was had by the brother of Jared. It should be remembered that such faith has rarely been seen on the earth. it appears, therefore, that we must wait until the reign of unrighteousness is at an end before the Lord will give to the people these writings, containing “a revelation from God, from the beginning of the world to the ending thereof.” (II Nephi 27:7.)

1955: Teachings of the Doctrine and Covenants, by William E. Berrett

Lesson 3

As indicated in the previous chapter, the bulk of the Doctrine and Covenants consists of revelations from the Lord. Any attempt to classify these revelations as to subject matter or the manner in which they were received is subject to such differences of opinion as to make the attempt futile. Nevertheless, for study purposes, we may attempt a rough segregation of the revelations on the basis of the manner in which they were received. this should serve to help us understand what revelation is and the channels through which it comes. For our purposes we will make five classifications:


Examples: Sec. 76 and Sec. 110.

It will be noted that a very small part of the contents of the Doctrine and Covenants was received by the Prophet through vision. That method of revelation, while impressive, is rare, constituting only about one and one-half percent of the material in the Doctrine and Covenants. It is also only a small fraction of the material in the Bible and other books of scripture.


In using the word revelation many individuals have in mind the direct conversations between heavenly beings and the Prophet. While such an occurrence constitutes a remarkable type of revelation, it is infrequent in all ages and constitutes a small part of revelation as a whole. In the Book of Doctrine and Covenants there are but four instances where the manner of revelation is distinctly and unquestionably of that type. Section 2 records the words of Moroni in one of several appearances. Section 13 records part of the words of John, the Baptist, at the time of his appearance to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery on the banks of the Susquehanna River, May 15, 1829. Section 27 contains the words of an angel to Joseph Smith relative to the sacrament and other matters. Section 110 contains, among other things, the direct words of the Savior to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery given them in the Kirtland Temple, April 3, 1836 (verses 5-8).


Revelation through the means of mechanical devices are to be noted recorded in scriptures other than the Book of Doctrine and Covenants. In the Book of Mormon it is recorded that Lehi and his son, Nephi, received revelations by means of an instrument known as the Liahona. [1] In the Bible it is recorded that various prophets received revelations by Urim and Thummim. [2] Several revelations received by Urim and Thummim are contained in the Doctrine and Covenants. [3] Sections 14-19 are all of this type. While some earlier revelations were received in that manner, there are none following Section 19.


The bulk of the revelations contained in the Doctrine and Covenants came through the operation of the spirit upon the mind of the Prophet. The Prophet termed it “inspiration.” The word, inspiration, however, has been so freely used, with such a variety of meanings, as to render it inaccurate as a description of what happened in the cases to which we refer. Certainly the so-called inspiration of the poet, artist, or inventor has little in common with the type of stimulus which, entering the Prophet’s mind, caused him to speak forth the mind and will of God. The genius of the artist and the inventor has seemingly no direct relationship with inspiration by the Holy Ghost since the inspiration, so-called, often comes when the individual is living in violation to commandments of the Almighty, or in open denial of Him. On the other hand, the “inspiration” of which the Prophet spoke came only during those rare intervals when the Prophet’s mind was in complete harmony with his Maker.

Perhaps this method of receiving revelation is best understood when we examine the circumstances surrounding the receiving of the word of God in this manner. Fortunately for our purposes, the life of Joseph Smith is an open book and those who will, may read. His revelations were ordinarily received in the light of day and in the presence of other persons. They were not secrets hurled from the security of dark corners and mystified by lonely seances. The Prophet’s companions were enabled to observe his demeanor throughout; to hear his dictation to his clerk; to question him concerning the message; and at times to share the inspiration with him. Oliver Cowdery not only accompanied the Prophet while he received revelations, but also often saw the same vision and heard or felt the same message. [4] Sidney Rigdon shared the famous vision of “the Glories.” [5] Not only were many leaders of the church present on various occasions when revelations were received, but also they recorded in their diaries and journals what they saw and felt. In his Autobiography, Parley P. Pratt records:

Feeling our weakness and inexperience, and lest we should err in judgment concerning these spiritual phenomena, myself, John Murdock, and several other Elders, went to Joseph Smith, and asked him to inquire of the Lord concerning these spirits of manifestations.

After we had joined in prayer in his translating room, he dictated in our presence the following revelation: – (Each sentence uttered slowly and very distinctly, and with a pause between each, sufficiently long for it to be recorded, by an ordinary writer, in long hand.)

This was the manner in which all his written revelations were dictated and written. There was never any hesitation, reviewing, or reading back, in order to keep the run of the subject; neither did any of these communications undergo revisions, interlinings, or corrections. As he dictated them, so they stood, so far as I have witnessed; and I was present to witness the dictation of several pages each. [6]

Similar quotations may be found in journals of other Church leaders. The particular revelation to which Parley P. Pratt refers now appears as Section 50. It is a remarkable Section carrying with it a test for the word of God which should not be overlooked.

And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness.

That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.

And again, verily I say unto you, and I say it that you may know the truth, that you may chase darkness from among you; [7]

To apply that test to the contents of the Doctrine and Covenants is to emerge with a new and profound respect for the book. All of the advice and admonition contained therein is productive of good in all people. There is nothing to degrade, but only to enrich mankind. Men may deny the Prophet’s claim to divine help; they may argue about the source, but they cannot deny the message.

Some critics, in examining a single Section of the Doctrine and Covenants, such as Section 50 above referred to, have advanced the idea that a keen, intelligent man with sufficient nerve might well dictate such a revelation from his own unaided mind, and have looked upon Joseph Smith as an intelligent charlatan who thrived upon the superstitious beliefs of his followers. Such a critic fails to see the forest for the trees. It is only when one views the book of Doctrine and Covenants as a whole, or at least that portion designated as revelation, that he realizes the greatness of the volume. It might appear plausible that Joseph Smith could extemporaneously dictate from his own mind the answer to one of the problems presented to him by his followers, but when we consider that problems were pressed upon him almost daily involving countless phases of religious life and philosophy – and the answers given immediately following prayer – and then, when we put all of these answers together and find a perfect and harmonious philosophy, a complete religion, at once in harmony with the Holy Bible, and adding greatly thereto – we must come to the conclusion that here was either the keenest intellect of all time, or a prophet of the Living God. Either conclusion leaves the reader without excuse in not believing and following such a man.

When we realize the daily problems pressing upon the Prophet, having to do with the organization of the Church and the duties of the respective officers and members of the priesthood and find him giving answers to one problem today and another tomorrow until the answers run into scores; then when we fit all of these answers together and find an organization so perfect and adaptable that it has withstood the exigencies of time and place, adapted to the government of the church in all ages, under various forms of civil government, equally efficient with a few members or millions – we stand in awe, convinced that here was the organizing genius of all time, or here was a prophet of the Almighty. In the humility in which each of the revelations was received, in the constant avowal of Joseph Smith that without the inspiration of God he was as other men, in his willingness to suffer persecution and violent death to defend his humble position, we find the final climax to our assertion that here is a unique book – the word of God to our generation.

It must be kept in mind in studying this type of revelation that while the ideas infringe upon the Prophet’s mind from forces outside himself, he is left to express ideas after the manner of his own language and his own style of writing. Hence, the finding of grammatical errors in such revelations should in nowise detract from the genuineness of the revelation, but it is a constant reminder of the human element which enters into all such relationships of man to his maker. The explanation of the Lord given November 1, 1831, is again vital to our understanding:

Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding. [8]


One cannot understand the claim of the Church to continuous revelation without an understanding of how revelation comes through the confirmation by the Holy Ghost. God is the great teacher, master of the laws of learning and desirous of the growth of His children. When the Prophet Joseph in the early years of the Church began to seek the Lord’s will in all things before making a decision or embarking upon a venture, he was admonished.

For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.

Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will; and bring to pass much righteousness;

For the power is in them wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward. [9]

Therein is stated one of the greatest of truths. The growth of the human mind can come only from the exercise of initiative. Man cannot build his brain from without. It must function from within or stagnate. Yet initiative without guidance results in a woeful waste of energy. This can be illustrated from a simple teaching situation. A woodwork instructor faces a class of boys – his objective being to develop their abilities properly to plan and construct furniture. If all of the boards are sawed, planed, and finished by him in his private office and only shown to the boys upon completion, the learning process for the boys would be indefinitely postponed. They would not become cabinetmakers. Even if they were permitted to watch the processes of construction, their hands would remain without skill and their minds without initiative. On the other hand, if all of the equipment and materials were placed in the boys’ hands and they were told to go forward and build what they liked in the manner of their own choosing, there would be a sorry waste of effort and material, and the process of developing cabinetmakers would be exceedingly long.

The skilled teacher does a far different thing. He places tools and materials in the student’s hands and invites him to construct what he wishes. But before beginning the student is to make his plans and submit them to the instructor for approval or correction. Once the plans are approved by the instructor, the student moves with confidence and assurance toward the finished product.

So in the relationship of man and God, both the initiative and the ultimate task must remain with man. But no plan man may make is too simple, or contemplated course of action too mundane, but he may take the matter to God through prayer for approval or disapproval. The Apostle Paul, contemplating a missionary journey into Asia, when bringing the matter before the Lord, was “constrained by the Spirit not to go into Asia,” [10] the writers Nephi and Mormon were constrained of the Spirit many times not to write certain things in his abridged record of his people. [11]

The student of the Doctrine and Covenants is sometimes amazed to find in the volume, revelations on matters never thought to warrant the attention of the Almighty. Thus, in Section 124, we find instructions on the formation of a business corporation, the issuance and sale of shares of stock therein. Certainly this revelation is unique. But it is wholly in keeping with the principles of revelation. Joseph Smith realized a vital need in Nauvoo – a hotel suitable to house and care for the numerous Saints arriving from distant lands, until further settlement of them had been effected, and to provide accommodations for the rapidly-growing number of visitors to that fair city. To build such a hotel was a major undertaking for a Church whose treasury was empty. Once, in Kirtland, Ohio, the Church had ventured into the banking business and because of unwise methods of stock selling, the venture was easily swept to destruction by the financial panic of 1837, and the result on the Church membership had been wholesale apostasy by those who had felt that the Prophet was guided by the Lord in all matters affecting the Church. Hence, it is not surprising to find the Prophet, before launching a new corporation which would greatly concern the Church, taking his plans before the Lord for divine approval. When the Spirit confirmed those plans, they had all the force of revelation, for they then represented not only the initiative of the Prophet, but also the mind and will of the Lord.

In the Ninth Section of the Doctrine and Covenants we read these words concerning the power of God given to the translator of ancient records:

But, behold I say unto you, that you must study it out in your own mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore you shall feel that it is right.

But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me. [12]

This principle of revelation has never ceased in the Church,. Let us take a concrete example. In 1936, the Authorities of the Church inaugurated a Church Welfare Program. Although the First Presidency pointed out that the Program was based upon revelations given in the early days of the Church, those revelations go only into the spirit and not into the details of the present program. No new “Thus, saith the Lord,” was declared. The details have been worked out by the deliberations of men in the exercise of their free agency. But there has been no lack of revelation. On separate occasions each of the members of the First Presidency has individually announced that having taken this matter in prayer to the Lord, he has received an inward assurance of the Spirit that the plan is acceptable to the Lord. This does not mean that the plan is as perfect as though God had dictated it; but it is in accordance with His will, and has the force of revelation to this people.

The whole principle of revelation by the confirmation of the spirit must be understood or we stand baffled and lost in our study of the whole subject. In ancient times the Apostle Paul declared:

No man can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Ghost. [13]

Joseph Smith has said that no one may know this truth without having a revelation and then added:

No man can receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelations. [14]

This is in keeping with the admonition of Moroni in the Book of Mormon:

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

And by the power of the Holy Ghost you may know the truth of all things.

And whatsoever thing is good is just and true. ]15]

Every person in the Church with a testimony of Jesus Christ is a living witness of the continuity of revelation and should from his own personal experience better understand the revelations contained in the Doctrine and Covenants.

[1] See – I Nephi 16:9-10; Alma 37:38

[2] See – Exodus 28:30; Leviticus 8:8; Deuteronomy 33:8; Numbers 27:21; I Samuel 28:6; Ezra 2:63

[3] Note – For a discussion of the instrument and its use in translating the Book of Mormon, See Berrett, The Restored Church, pp. 50-53

[4] See – Doc. & Cov. 13

[5] Ibid., 76

[6] Parley P. Pratt, Life and Travels of Parley P. Pratt, pp. 65-66

[7] Doc. & Cov. 50:23-25

[8] Ibid., 1:24

[9] ibid., 58:26-28

[10] Acts 16:6

[11] I Nephi 14:28; III Nephi 26:16; 27:23

[12] Doc. & Cov. 9:7-9

[13] I Cor. 1:3

[14] Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 328

[15] Moroni 10:3-6



  1. I liked the orderly layout of the “proofs” of the Church. Also, I really liked the different explications of revelation, including a percentage of the D&C revelations received as “visions.” Cool stuff. And it rings true.

    But the the urim and thummim as “chocolate colored”? Never heard that one before.

    Thanks for this!

    Comment by Hunter — January 25, 2009 @ 10:01 pm

  2. Chocolate colored seer stone. Not U&T.

    Comment by Reed Russell — January 26, 2009 @ 1:19 pm

  3. sounds like Martin Harris was a trickster swapping out the seer stone with a chocolate easter egg.

    Interesting to compare these lessons with ours today. The above lessons seem more concrete compared to the more emotional/application-based lessons of today.

    Comment by jose — January 26, 2009 @ 4:31 pm

  4. To “The Teacher” at GDU: Your comment was caught in my spam filter, and when I tried to free it I hit the delete button by mistake. I couldn’t find contact information at your blog, and your system wouldn’t let me post a comment for some reason.

    I hope you’ll see this, and post your comment again. If it goes back to the spam filter I promise not to be so ham-fisted about freeing it.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 26, 2009 @ 5:08 pm

  5. Ardis: Thanks so much for compiling this information. It is really interesting to see the different approach to Sunday School instruction. I agree with jose that the older material seems more substantive and meaty than today’s manual. Hope you do not mind that I have linked to Keepa at my blog, Gospel Doctrine Underground.

    Comment by The Teacher — January 26, 2009 @ 5:10 pm

  6. I like the questions you ask on your blog — thanks for the link via your signature.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 26, 2009 @ 5:16 pm

  7. I had never heard the bit about the unsheathed sword of Laban before. Is there a primary source for this information?

    Comment by Eric Boysen — January 27, 2009 @ 6:35 am

  8. I’m not familiar with such a source, Eric, although the description of the underground room with its stacked records and table are familiar from sources I consider folk legend. My history is weakest for the earliest period of church history, though. Maybe some other reader will come to the rescue, and in the meantime I’ll ask friends who may know.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 27, 2009 @ 7:16 am

  9. Cameron Packer’s paper on Cumorah’s cave presents and cites a number of cave accounts.

    Comment by Justin — January 27, 2009 @ 8:21 am

  10. That’s exactly what we needed, Justin; thanks.

    I found one of the folk legend-sources I recall, in the writings of the mad but wonderfully named Orestes Utah Bean, who included this paragraph in his missionary lectures:

    Mormon told Moroni always to hold the cart-loads of National History and Genealogy in an especially erected vault hid away, then and now in the North End of Hill Cumorah; and into which beautifully decorated vault, about fifteen feet one way and twenty feet the other way, is located a beautifully decorated table about six feet long and three wide; and the side walls are nearly all surrounded with stacks upon stacks of plates, all of the plates written upon since Nephi first made plates for preservation of the history and the genealogy of all their Nephite race from 600 B.C. down to their then, 420 A.D., time of being, turned over to Mormon the Nephite Prophet, via Amaron, more than three hundred years after Messiah had been born at Bethlehem in Judea

    which, as you can see, embroiders greatly on even the second-hand sources given in Cameron Packer’s paper.

    It is not something I would mention in a Sunday School class today unless somebody else asked about it, in which case I’m glad now to be prepared with a decent answer.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 27, 2009 @ 9:07 am

  11. Thanks for the info on the cave stories. And the suggestion to wait for questions on this topic! On a different note: Can you imagine the chocolate-colored seer stone stories being included in today’s manuals?

    Comment by The Teacher — January 27, 2009 @ 1:18 pm

  12. No! and it isn’t the blank stares that would follow from half the class that would scare me if I brought it up — it’s the eager hand-waving by a few class members who have their pet theory to advance that would scare me more.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 27, 2009 @ 1:33 pm

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