Church History Lesson 01 (Intro to Church History and the D&C)
December 26-January 1
The Dispensation of the Fulness of Times
The Bible Dictionary defines a “dispensation” as “a period of time in which the Lord has at least one authorized servant on the earth who bears the holy priesthood and the keys, and who has a divine commission to dispense the gospel to the inhabitants of the earth.”1
• Ours is the dispensation of the fulness of times (D&C 112:30–32).
• Those who serve the Lord will receive the “wonders of eternity” and things have never before been heard or seen (D&C 76:8–10).
• The Lord has revealed in our day truths long withheld from men (D&C 124:40–41).
The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “Prophets, priests and kings . . . have looked forward with joyful anticipation to the day in which we live; and fired with heavenly and joyful anticipations they have sung and written and prophesied of this our day; but they died without the sight; we are the favored people that God has made choice of to bring about the Latter-day glory; it is left for us to see, participate in and help to roll forward the Latter-day glory, ‘the dispensation of the fulness of times.”2
• We are privileged to live in the dispensation of the fulness of times (Daniel 2:44–45; D&C 65:2). We can see the Church rolling forth as prophesied anciently.
Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said, “He has given to us the kingdom. He has made us the promise that the enemy of the kingdom shall not overcome. We may have trouble. We have had trouble. We may meet with opposition, but that opposition shall fail in its endeavor to destroy the work of God. . . . The gospel has been restored, and the kingdom given to his saints according to the prophecy of Daniel. It is not again to be removed, destroyed, or given to other people, and in his own way and time he is going to break down all other systems, that his kingdom may prevail and that he may come and reign as Lord of lords and King of kings upon the face of the whole earth. . . .”3
This makes our dispensation different from any of the previous ones: This dispensation will not end in apostasy. The Church will continue to grow until it fills the earth and the way is prepared for the Lord’s Second Coming. There are special blessings and responsibilities of living in this dispensation.
Preparing for the Second Coming of Christ
• Early in the History of the Church, several members were given identical instruction by the Lord to “bring forth Zion” (D&C 6:6; D&C 11:6; D&C 12:6; D&C 39:13).
• We are given the same charge to labor to bring forth Zion. Our efforts should be devoted to seeing that great cause brought to pass.
President Harold B. Lee said, “We have some tight places to go before the Lord is through with this church and the world in this dispensation, which is the last dispensation, which shall usher in the coming of the Lord. The gospel was restored to prepare a people ready to receive him.”4
President Ezra Taft Benson said, “There has never been more expected of the faithful in such a short period of time as there is of us.”5
President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “The most serious challenge we face, and the most wonderful challenge, is the challenge that comes of growth.”6 “This is a season of a thousand opportunities. It is ours to grasp and move forward. What a wonderful time it is for each of us to do his or her small part in moving the work of the Lord on to its magnificent destiny.”7
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE DOCTRINE & COVENANTS
The D&C Is the Capstone of Our Religion
The capstone of the Salt Lake Temple is the upper half of the ball that the statue of angel Moroni stands upon. It was placed there on 6 April 1892, signifying the completion of the building.
President Ezra Taft Benson called the Doctrine and Covenants “the capstone of our religion.” [It] brings men to Christ’s kingdom, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. . . . The Book of Mormon is the ‘keystone’ of our religion, and the Doctrine and Covenants is the capstone, with continuing latter-day revelation. The Lord has placed His stamp of approval on both the keystone and the capstone.”8
The D&C Addresses the Needs of Our Day
• D&C Introduction, 3rd Paragraph, begins with the phrase “The book of . . . ”
— The Doctrine and Covenants is different from other books of scripture.
— Passages in the D&C are especially helpful and meaningful to us in our day.
Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said, “”In my judgement there is no book on earth . . . as important as the . . . the Doctrine and Covenants, with all due respect to the Book of Mormon, and the Bible, and the Pearl of Great Price, which we say are our standards in doctrine. The book of Doctrine and Covenants to us stands in a peculiar position above them all. . . . [It] contains the word of God to those who dwell here now . . . More precious than gold, the Prophet says we should treasure it more than the riches of the whole earth. I wonder if we do? If we value it, understand it, and know what it contains, we will value it more than wealth; it is worth more to us than the riches of the earth.”9
• The Doctrine and Covenants is revelation for our own day (D&C 1:1-4).
President Brigham Young said, “The Book of Doctrine and Covenants is given for the Latter-day Saints expressly for their everyday walk and actions.”10
The D&C Contains Both History and Revelation
• D&C Introduction, 6th Paragraph, begins with the phrase “These sacred revelations . . . ” But what is the relationship of these revelations to Church history?
— History is the record made by men of past events.
— Revelation is the knowledge given to man from God.
— Most of the Doctrine and Covenants is revelation.
— Some portions of the Doctrine and Covenants are history.
— Most of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants were answers to prayers.
— To understand fully the doctrine contained in a revelation, we need to know the circumstances under which it was given—what the Prophet was seeking to understand.
— Therefore, the proper study of the Doctrine and Covenants includes the study of both history and revelation.
Are all the revelations given to Joseph Smith included in the Doctrine and Covenants?
— No. Joseph Smith received many revelations in addition to those included in the D&C.
— Some of these revelations he was specifically commanded not to include.
— For some, he was commanded to include only portions of the revelation (D&C 76:114–19).
— Some other revelations were not published because it was unnecessary at that time.
— Sometimes the revelation was so personal to the individual that the principles therein did not have general application.
— Each of the revelations selected for the D&C was placed there because the Prophet believed it had some value to the Church in regard to its teachings.
• The Doctrine and Covenants is a “living” document (Articles of Faith 1:9).
President Spencer W. Kimball said, “There are those who would assume that with the printing and binding of these sacred records, that would be the ‘end of the prophets.’ But again we testify to the world that revelation continues and that the vaults and files of the Church contain these revelations which come month to month and day to day.”11
• D&C Introduction, 8th Paragraph, beginning with the phrase “In the revelations . . . ”
The following list is representative of the nature of the contents of the D&C:
— General revelations (D&C 1).
— Translations (D&C 7).
— Words spoken by Heavenly Messengers (D&C 13).
— Revelations given for the benefit of the priesthood (D&C 42).
— Revelations given specifically to the Prophet Joseph Smith (D&C 122).
— Revelations given to individuals other than Joseph Smith (D&C 25).
— Visions (D&C 76).
— Prophetic predictions (D&C 87).
— Prophetic counsel for living in a wicked world (D&C 89).
— Explanations of scriptural passages in other standard works (D&C 86).
— Words spoken in prayers (D&C 109).
— Inspiration sent through letters (D&C 128).
— Minutes of special Church meetings (D&C 102).
— Official declarations (D&C 134).
— Historical narratives (D&C 135).
The D&C Explains the Covenants of Eternal Life
• We can bind the Lord (D&C 82:10).
Covenants are part of the doctrine of the kingdom (D&C132:5;D&C 130:20–21). A gospel covenant is a solemn agreement between us and God in which we promise to do some things and refrain from doing others, [and] God promises certain blessings.
The keeping of our covenants qualifies us for God’s mercy and sanctification, but the violation of our covenants is a very serious sin (D&C 54:3–6) and will lead to the forfeiture of all the blessings God has promised as His part of the covenant.
• The “new and everlasting covenant” is the gospel of Jesus Christ (D&C 66:2).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “The gospel is the everlasting covenant because it is ordained by Him who is Everlasting and also because it is everlastingly the same. In all past ages salvation was gained by adherence to its terms and conditions, and that same compliance will bring the same reward in all future ages. Each time this everlasting covenant is revealed it is new to those of that dispensation. Hence the gospel is the new and everlasting covenant. All covenants between God and man are part of the new and everlasting covenant. . . . Thus [baptism] is a new and an everlasting covenant.”12
• The Lord established his Church on the earth so that the fulness of the gospel could be proclaimed to the entire world (D&C 45:9).
THE LORD’S PREFACE TO THE DOCTRINE & COVENANTS
The Historical Context of D&C 1
• The circumstances under which it was given (D&C 1: Heading).
At a conference held 1–2 November 1831 in Hiram, Ohio, where the Prophet Joseph Smith was living in the home of John Johnson, it was decided to print ten thousand copies of a compilation of revelations known as the Book of Commandments. During the two-day conference “a number of the brethren arose in turn and said they were willing to testify to the world that they knew that [the Book of Commandments] were of the Lord.”13
• During the afternoon of 1 November 1831, the Prophet received what is now D&C 1—what the Lord Himself calls His Preface (D&C 1:6).
President Ezra Taft Benson said, “The Doctrine and Covenants is the only book in the world that has a preface written by the Lord Himself.”14
• The Lord’s Appendix was also given at that time (D&C 133: Heading).
The Teachings of D&C 1
— The voice of the Lord is unto all men (D&C 1:1–2).
— God will not be mocked (D&C 63:58).
— The warning voice will polarize the world (D&C 63:54).
President Spencer W. Kimball reiterated this thought when he said that as righteousness increases, so will evil.15 Heber C. Kimball said the Saints will hardly escape the judgments that will be poured out upon the wicked, but “will be put to tests that will try the integrity of the best of them.”16
— “If ye are prepared ye shall not fear” (D&C 38:30).
— If we listen to the prophets we have hope for protection (D&C 45:39-57).
— Wickedness will be laid bare, producing “much sorrow” (D&C 1:3).
— The voice of warning is given to all people (D&C 1:4-7).
— The Lord’s words are available to all people so that all who will hear may hear (D&C 1:8-9, 11).
George Q. Cannon said concerning those inside the Church, “God has chosen His servants. He claims it as His prerogative to condemn them, if they need condemnation. He has not given it to us individually to censure and condemn them. No man, however strong he may be in the faith, however high in the priesthood, can speak evil of the Lord’s anointed and find fault with God’s authority on the earth without incurring His displeasure. The Holy Spirit will withdraw itself from such a man, and he will go into darkness.”17
— “They who will not hear. . . shall be cut off” (D&C 1:10, 12–14).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie said concerning those outside the Church, “In the dispensation of the fulness of times, the members of the true Church are directed by the Lord to warn the world of the desolation and destruction that is to be poured out without measure upon the wicked and ungodly . . . “For this is a day of warning, and not a day of many words. For I, the Lord, am not to be mocked in the last days” (D&C 63:58). “It becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor” (D&C 88:81).”18
• The world has become proud and idolatrous (D&C 1:15–16).
— The religions of the world have changed the Lord’s ordinances and broken His covenants.
— People worship gods (and things) of their own making—which is idolatry.
President Ezra Taft Benson said, “Yes, there is a conspiracy of evil. The source of it all is Satan and his hosts. He has a great power over men to “lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken” to the voice of the Lord. (Moses 4:4.) His evil influence may be manifest through governments; through false educational, political, economic, religious, and social philosophies; through secret societies and organizations; and through myriads of other forms. His power and influence are so great that, if possible, he would deceive the very elect. As the Second Coming of the Lord approaches, Satan’s work will intensify through numerous insidious deceptions.”19
• “Knowing the calamity which. . . shall come upon the earth” (D&C 1:17–18). Many judgments are mentioned by the prophets that will occur before the Second Coming:
— Wonders in the heavens, and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke (Joel 2:30)
— Darkening of the sun, the moon turning to blood, and stars falling from heaven (D&C 29:14; 34:9; 45:42; 88:87; 133:49)
— Lightnings, thunderings, and earthquakes wreaking havoc (D&C 43:25; 45:33; 87:6; 88:89–90)
— The sea heaving itself beyond its bounds (D&C 88:90)
— Very destructive whirlwinds (D&C 112:24)
— Overflowing rain, great hailstones, fire and brimstone (Ezek. 38:22).
— A sore affliction, pestilence, the sword, vengeance, and a devouring fire (D&C 97:25–28)
— Famines, pestilences, and earthquakes (Matt. 24:7)
— A desolating scourge or sickness (D&C 5:19; 45:31)
— A plague that will consume eyes, tongue, mouth, feet, and flesh (Zech. 14:12)
— Flies and maggots eating the flesh, a great hailstorm to destroy the crops, flesh falling from the bones, eyes from their sockets; beasts of the forest devouring people (D&C 29:16–20).
— Wars upon the face of the earth (D&C 45:26; 63; 63:33; 87)
— Withdrawal of the Spirit from the earth, bands of Gadianton robbers infesting every nation, immorality, murder, and crime increasing, with every man’s hand against his brother. (Smith, DS 3:29,34; McConkie, Conference Report, Apr 1979, 131–132)
— Desolations (D&C 29:8; 35:11; 45:19; 84:114, 17; 88:85; 112:24)
— The abomination that maketh desolate (at Jerusalem) (Dan. 11:31)
— The fire of the Lord’s jealousy (Zeph. 3:8)
— Destruction of the great and abominable church (D&C 29:21; 88:94).
• God uses servants who are “the weak things of the world” (D&C 1:19).
President Spencer W. Kimball said, “I would not say that those leaders whom the Lord chooses are necessarily the most brilliant, nor the most highly trained, but they are chosen, and when chosen of the Lord they are his recognized authority, and the people who stay close to them have safety.”20
• The purposes for the revelations in the D&C (D&C 1:20–28).
— “That every man might speak in the name of. . . the Lord . . . the Savior of the world” (v. 20).
— “That faith also might increase” (v. 21).
— “That mine everlasting covenant might be established” (v. 22).
— “That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed” (v. 23).
— To help the Lord’s servants “come to understanding” (v. 24).
— “And inasmuch as they erred it might be made known” (v. 25).
— “And inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed” (v. 26).
— “And inasmuch as they sinned they might be chastened, that they might repent” (v. 27).
— “And inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong, and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time” (v. 28).
• The only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth (D&C 1:29–30).
Elder Boyd K. Packer said, “The position that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true Church upon the face of the earth is fundamental. . . . Now to those who think us uncharitable, we say that it was not devised by us; it was declared by Him . . . . (D&C 1:30).”21
• God cannot look upon sin with any allowance, but will forgive those who repent (D&C 1:31–33).
• Peace shall be taken from the earth (D&C 1:34–36).
Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said, “The Lord said that the time was coming when peace would be taken from the earth, and I declare to you that it has been taken from the earth; and I say now—no, I don’t say it, the Lord says it—”it shall not return until the Lord comes.”22
• “Search these commandments”—every word will all be fulfilled in our day (D&C 1:37–39).
Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said, “All members of the Church are commanded to search and obey these commandments. This is also true of all others. If we fail to do so and remain ignorant of the doctrines, covenants and commandments, the Lord has given us, we shall stand condemned before his throne in the day of judgment when the books are opened. It behooves us to search that we may know the will of the Lord and thus grow in faith, knowledge and wisdom.”23
1. “Dispensations,” LDS Bible Dictionary, 105.
2. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 231.
3. Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Elder Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 1:241.
4. In Conference Report, Oct. 1970, 152.
5. Quoted by Elder Marvin J. Ashton, in Conference Report, Oct. 1989, 48; or Ensign, Nov. 1989, 36.
6. Quoted in “President Gordon B. Hinckley,” Ensign, Apr. 1995, 6.
7. In Conference Report, Oct. 1997, 90–91; or Ensign, Nov. 1997, 67.
8. In Conference Report, Apr. 1987, 105.
9. Doctrines of Salvation, 3:198–199.
10. Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. Elder John A. Widtsoe , 128.
11. In Conference Report, Apr. 1977, 115; Ensign, May 1977, 78.
12. Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. , 529–530.
13. Far West Record: Minutes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830–1844, 27.
14. In Conference Report, Oct. 1986, 101; or Ensign, Nov. 1986, 79.
15. Church News, 30 June 1979, 5.
16. As cited by President Ezra Taft Benson, in Conference Report, Apr. 1978, 46.
17. Gospel Truth, 1:278.
18. Mormon Doctrine, 828–829.
19. “May the Kingdom of God Go Forth,” in Conference Report, Apr. 1978, 47; Ensign, May 1978, 33.
20. In Conference Report, April 1951, 104.
21. In Ludlow, A Companion to Your Study of the D&C, 1:50.
22. Doctrines of Salvation, 3:43.
23. Church History and Modern Revelation, 4 vols. [1946–1949], 1:256.