On November 1, 1831, Joseph Smith proposed publishing the revelations received for the ongoing restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ into a book. The leaders of the Church felt that such a book would help missionaries share the gospel and provide correct information about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to others. Since there were only handwritten copies of the revelations Joseph had received, they were not well known among most members. The Lord provided His own preface for this new book of scriptures originally known as the Book of Commandments.
In His preface, Christ testifies the revelations came from Him, and they are given to His servants “in their weakness, after the manner of their language” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:24). The Lord also outlines exactly what the Doctrine and Covenants will contain and how it can apply to us: “And inasmuch as they erred it might be made known; and inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed; and inasmuch as they sinned they might be chastened, that they might repent; and inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong, and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:25-28). This divine revelation explains that the Doctrine and Covenants contains corrective doctrine, provides divine instructions, offers chastisement for mistakes, and gives strength during trials.
For more about the history behind Doctrine and Covenants 1, see Saints, 1:140-143.
Under strict rules, the Lord reluctantly allowed Martin Harris to take the first 116 manuscript pages of the Book of Mormon home with him. Unfortunately, the manuscript was lost and never found. Doctrine and Covenants 10 is the Lord’s consolation to Joseph that all was not lost.
God had prepared the Book of Mormon 2,400 years in advance by inspiring Nephi to begin the small plates of Nephi “for a wise purpose” (1 Nephi 9:5). He reminds us that His “wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil” (Doctrine and Covenants 10:43).
Along with these assurances, the Lord explains why modern revelation is important: “that there may not be so much contention; yea, Satan doth stir up the hearts of the people to contention” (Doctrine and Covenants 10:63). One of the key purposes of the Book of Mormon and the revelations of the Restoration is to correct false doctrine and remove contention. Examples of these corrective doctrines are the correct mode of baptism (see: Doctrine and Covenants 20:72-74), the existence of degrees of glory (see: Doctrine and Covenants 76), the eternal nature of marriage (see: Doctrine and Covenants 132:19), and the wonderful blessings of vicarious temple work (see: Doctrine and Covenants 138). President Russell M. Nelson explains that the scriptures of the Restoration teach “true doctrine to dispel false religious traditions” (“The Book of Mormon: What Would Your Life Be without It?”, Ensign, Nov. 2017).
The Doctrine and Covenants documents how the Lord’s designated Prophet received instructive revelations. For example, the introduction of Doctrine and Covenants, Come, Follow Me, November 1-7 lesson (189) describes how the practice of vicarious baptism was initially revealed: “In August 1840, a grieving Jane Neyman listened to the Prophet Joseph speak at the funeral of his friend Seymour Brunson. Jane’s own teenage son Cyrus had also recently passed away. Adding to her grief was the fact that Cyrus had never been baptized, and Jane worried what this would mean for his eternal soul. Joseph knew how she felt; he had wondered the same thing about his beloved brother Alvin, who also died before being baptized. So the Prophet decided to share with Jane, and everyone else at the funeral, what the Lord had revealed to him about those who had died without receiving the ordinances of the gospel—and what we can do to help them. The doctrine of salvation for our dead thrilled the Saints; their thoughts turned immediately to deceased parents, grandparents, and other family members. Now there was hope for them!”
In 1841, Joseph Smith received important revelations that called for the construction of a temple and linked the ordinance of baptism for the dead with temples: “For a baptismal font there is not upon the earth, that they, my saints, may be baptized for those who are dead—For this ordinance belongeth to my house” (Doctrine and Covenants 124:29-30).
The Lord later revealed the necessity of a recorder for baptisms for the dead: “That in all your recordings, it may be recorded in heaven … Let all the records be had in order, that they may be put in the archives of my holy temple, to be held in remembrance from generation to generation” (Doctrine and Covenants 127:7-9). Then, the Lord inspired His Prophet to teach: “The earth will be smitten with a curse unless there is a welding link of some kind or other between the fathers and the children, upon some subject or other—and behold what is that subject? It is the baptism for the dead. For we without them, cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect” (Doctrine and Covenants 128:18).
Another witness of the truthfulness of the Doctrine and Covenants is the inclusion of examples of divine chastisement. Joseph Smith stands as an example as one loved yet chastened by the Lord. To carry out his mission effectively, he had to learn many lessons. Sometimes the Lord merely reminded him to humble himself, become more submissive, and “confess [his] sins” (Doctrine and Covenants 19:20). After Martin Harris lost the 116 manuscript pages of the Book of Mormon, the Lord withdrew his power of translation and warned, “if thou art not aware thou wilt fall” (Doctrine and Covenants 3:9). Examples of others receiving chastisement are found throughout the Doctrine and Covenants. In fact, the Lord reminded the Saints, “whom I love I also chasten that their sins may be forgiven” (Doctrine and Covenants 95:1).
Strength in Times of Need
January of 1839 was a dark time for Joseph Smith. He and his fellow prisoners had been in the cramped quarters of Liberty Jail for months. The narrative history Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days (384-385) describes their situation: “Life in prison wore Joseph down. Hecklers would peek through the barred windows to gawk or shout obscenities at him. He and the other prisoners often had nothing but a little cornbread to eat. The straw they had used for bedding since December was now matted and provided no comfort. When they lit a fire to try to warm themselves, the dungeon filled with smoke and choked them … Mobs had driven the Saints out of Zion in Jackson County. Internal dissent had divided the Church in Kirtland and left the temple in the hands of creditors. And now, after a terrible war with their neighbors, the Saints were scattered along the eastern bank of the Mississippi River, disheartened and homeless.”
Under these trying circumstances, Joseph questioned: “O God, where art thou?... How long shall thy hand be stayed?” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:1-2).
In answer to his plea, the Lord comforted His servant, “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:7). God explained that no power or person can “hinder the Almighty from pouring down knowledge from heaven upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:33). Then, the Lord provided one of the greatest examples of how all of us can understand and approach adversity and trials: “Know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” (Doctrine and Covenants 122:7-8).
That Our Faith Might Increase
In the preface to the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord teaches us that He called Joseph to restore the gospel so that everyone “might speak in the name of God the Lord … that faith also might increase … that [His] everlasting covenant might be established … that the fullness of [His] gospel might be proclaimed” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:20-23).
Those prophetic promises continue today. In the recent Bicentennial Proclamation to the World, it states, “We gladly declare that the promised Restoration goes forward through continuing revelation.” As we begin to study the Doctrine and Covenants 2021, Come, Follow Me, December 28-January 3, we need to become more aware of how personal revelation will correct, instruct, chasten, and strengthen our faith.