To better understand the Lord’s words in the Doctrine and Covenants, the thoughtful student will read the section headings for helpful background and other information. Occasional further information will be added herein.
Section 3 was given for Joseph Smith, Sr., but for the most part this and all revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants are directed by the Lord to all people. The Lord declared several times: “What I say unto one I say unto all” (see D&C 61:18, 36; 82:5; 92:1; 93:49; see also D&C 25:16).
D&C 3 “God Cannot Be Frustrated”
As noted earlier, 21 year-old Joseph Smith first obtained the gold plates on September 22, 1827, but it was several months before he was able to begin the translation in earnest. In June of 1828 Martin Harris borrowed and then lost the first 116 hand-written pages of the translation. At some point after this loss, the Angel Moroni called upon Joseph to return the plates and the Urim and Thummim. Then Moroni returned the interpreters so that Joseph could receive Section 3, after which Moroni took them back again. By September 22, 1828 (or possibly earlier) Joseph once again had the plates and Urim and Thummim and was allowed to continue the translation.
Find the things in verses 4-7 that the Lord said Joseph had done wrong (see also verses 12-15). What does it mean to “fear man more than God”? (verse 7). How do you sometimes fear man more than God? Read verses 8-9 and imagine how Joseph must have felt at this point. Then think of Joseph’s feelings after receiving verse 10, which says: “But remember, God is merciful; therefore repent … and thou art still chosen, and art again called to the work.”
Meanwhile, Satan continued his attempts to disrupt the latter-day restoration of the gospel, but in this revelation the Lord makes clear the following:
- “The works, and the designs, and the purposes of God cannot be frustrated” (verse 1; see also verse 3).
- “Neither doth he [God] very from that which he hath said” (verse 2).
- “Nevertheless, my work shall go forth” (verse 16; note that in this verse the Lord certifies that the Book of Mormon is the instrument through which “my people” (the Jews) will come to the knowledge of their Savior; see also Book of Mormon Title Page, Paragraph 2; 2 Nephi 25:17-18; Mormon 3:20-21; 5:12-14).
- “And for this very purpose are these plates preserved, which contain these records—that the promises of the Lord might be fulfilled, which he made to his people” (verse 19).
- “And that they may believe the gospel and rely upon the merits of Jesus Christ [and] be saved” (verse 20).
Speaking of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, the Lord says twice, “I am able to do mine own work” (2 Nephi 27:20-21). But He uses us to “help” in His work, because we need to learn and grow, and we are His work! Despite our failings, we can always repent and maintain 100% confidence that the Lord’s works will be fulfilled, both in our own lives and throughout the world.
D&C 4 Valiant Service
The heading for Section 4 begins a pattern, for it says that it was “given through Joseph Smith the Prophet to his father, Joseph Smith, Sr.” This continues today—the Lord gives revelations to us, through the living prophet.
Section 4 applies to missionary work and all other service in the Lord’s kingdom. Make a list from verses 2-7 of the Lord’s specified qualifications and efforts required of those who would “embark in the service of God.” Look at your list and consider that the Lord is not calling for those who have certain inborn talents or tools to engage in His work, but is calling upon all of us to develop the attributes and attitudes that will help us to be instruments in His hands. Also:
- Both faith and charity are mentioned twice (verses 5-6). Why do you think this is so?
- What does it mean to have “an eye single to the glory of God”? (verse 5). What does it mean to have “temperance”? (verse 6).
- The latter-day Restoration is “a marvelous work” (verse 1) and it is indeed work, as stated three times (verses 1, 3, 5).
- The reward for faithful service is identified in verse 2, telling us that we will “stand blameless before God at the last day,” and in verse 4, indicating that our faithful service “bringeth salvation” to our souls. As we serve and minister in the interest of helping to save others, our own souls can also be saved.
President Joseph Fielding Smith stated that Doctrine and Covenants 4 “contains sufficient counsel and instruction for a lifetime of study. No one has yet mastered it” (Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:35). Look again at your list of attributes from verses 2-7 and consider what you can do to enhance your ability to further “master” the Lord’s teachings in this revelation.
D&C 5 The Lord’s Message to Martin Harris
After Martin Harris went to New York to seek scholarly verification of the truth of the gold plates (see JS—H 1:63-65), and subsequently borrowed and lost the first 116 pages of the translation (see D&C 3, Section Heading), he was apparently still seeking to know for sure if Joseph Smith’s work was of God. This is also indicated by the heading to Section 5, which says that this revelation was given “at the request of Martin Harris,” and in verse 1 which states, “as my servant Martin Harris has desired a witness at my hand.”
Read verses 2, 6-7, 11-12, 16, 24-29, 32 to see the Lord’s answers to Martin. Answer the following:
- How many times did the Lord tell Martin to humble himself?
- If you were in Martin’s place, how would you feel after reading these verses? What would you do next?
- What is a testimony, and how does one gain it?
What Martin desired was a sure knowledge, but this can only be gained from God, in the form of a spiritual witness. As the Lord taught in verses 15-16, this begins by accepting the testimony of others and then appealing to God for a personal manifestation, which can lead us to a testimony; and even more, to be born again.
D&C 5 The Lord’s Message to Joseph Smith
The Lord also had much to say to Joseph Smith. Note how He makes very clear what He expects of young Joseph, as He helps him to learn and fulfill his prophetic role:
- “You should not show them [the plates] except to those persons to whom I commanded you; and you have no power over them except I grant it unto you” (verse 3).
- “You should pretend to no other gift [besides translating] until my purpose is fulfilled in this” (verse 4).
- “You shall be ordained and go forth and deliver my words unto the children of men” (verse 6; see also verse 10).
- “In addition to your testimony [there will be] the testimony of three of my servants … unto whom I will show these things” (verse 11; see also verses 12-13, 15, 18; 2 Nephi 27:12; Ether 5:1-3).
- “And now I command you, my servant Joseph, to repent and walk more uprightly before me, and to yield to the persuasions of men no more” (verses 21-22).
How well do you receive and act upon feedback and counsel that highlights your weakness? Are you open to the Spirit’s whisperings that urge you to repent and try again?
In addition to clear counsel, the Lord also gave Joseph the following reassuring promises:
- “Be firm in keeping the commandments … and if you do this, behold I grant unto you eternal life, even if you should be slain” (verse 22; a glorious promise, but also a grim foreboding).
- “I will provide means whereby thou mayest accomplish the thing which I have commanded thee” (verse 34).
- “If thou art faithful in keeping my commandments, thou shalt be lifted up at the last day” (verse 35).
Again, Joseph Smith’s publication of things that shed an unfavorable light upon himself are evidence that he was a real person with real struggles, as well as a humble, sincere, true prophet of God. We too can receive the Lord’s tutoring and experience His love, patience, mercy, and grace.