Doctrine & Covenants/Church History
“This Is the Spirit of Revelation”
Our need for personal revelation.
Understanding what we should do to receive revelation.
A study of this lesson will help us understand how to prepare to receive
personal revelation and encourage us to do so.
Scripture references for study:
and Covenants 6,
Joseph Smith—History 1:8–17
Note: Underlined scripture references have been hyperlinked
to the LDS Scriptures at LDS.org and will open in a new window.
Lesson 5 Handout (PDF)
The great drama of the Restoration continues to unfold with the addition of one
of its most significant characters.
In this cast of important characters, we have thus far been introduced
to Joseph Smith, his supportive family (particularly his mother Lucy and
his father Joseph Sr.), and Martin Harris.
During the winter of 1828-1829 a young man by the name of Oliver Cowdery
taught school in the Manchester school district.
As part of the compensation for teaching school, a teacher boarded
with the families of the children. Oliver did this and had the
opportunity to lodge with the Smith family.
While he was there, the family related to him the manner in which Joseph
had received the plates from an angel and explained that Joseph was in the
process of translating them.
This account had a deep impact upon Oliver and he had the impression that
he should go to Harmony and assist Joseph in the work.
- Oliver said: "It worked on my very bones"
(History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, p139).
Prior to going to Harmony, Oliver met a young man from Fayette, New York, by the name
of David Whitmer.
The two men became friends and Oliver related to David the account of Joseph
obtaining the plates and the efforts in translating them. David was skeptical.
Oliver joined Samuel Smith on a trip to Harmony in April 1829.
On the way to Harmony, Samuel and Oliver, stopped at the Whitmer home in
- Oliver promised David that as soon as he found out anything about the plates,
either truth or untruth, he would let him know.
On April 5, 1829, Samuel Smith arrived in Harmony and introduced Oliver
to Joseph. Oliver began as Joseph's scribe on April 7, 1829, and continued
until the translation was finished.
From April 7 through the month of May, Joseph and Oliver labored on the
translation with few interruptions.
Since Joseph and Oliver were primarily concerned about the work of translation,
Joseph was unable to sufficiently provide for their temporal needs.
- Fortunately, from time to time, Joseph Knight from Colesville, New York,
brought foodstuffs that enabled Joseph and Oliver to continue the translation.
- Joseph and Emma were so poor that Oliver had to write the translation on any
piece of paper which they could find. The first manuscript was an accumulation of
many different types of paper, literally what we would call scraps. In
this modern age it is difficult to comprehend that level of poverty. It is almost nothing for us to go out and buy a pad of paper or a package
of notebook paper.
The revelation in
Section 6 is directed to both Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. Concerning
Sections 8 and 9 the Prophet wrote: "Whilst continuing
the work of translation, during the month of April, Oliver Cowdery became
exceedingly anxious to have the power bestowed upon him, and in relation
to this desire the following revelations were obtained." (HC,
Lesson 5 and Lesson 6 are closely related and use some of the same Sections
in the Doctrine and Covenants. To use an old phrase, they are two
sides of the same coin. Lesson 5 focuses on what we need to do to
obtain revelation. Lesson 6 discusses how we receive revelation.
- When we make a connection to the internet using our computers, there is a
process that must be followed:
- We need to make sure the computer is running.
- We bring up a browser.
- We might need to enter a password.
- The computer then goes through a process of connecting to the internet.
- Lesson 5 describes those things we need to do (the process) to connect to
the source of truth and revelation. Lesson 6 describes the process after we
For additional background information on the Sections discussed in this
Revelations in Context at LDS.org.
Need For Personal Revelation
WHAT IS REVELATION?
"An act of revealing or communicating divine truth.
Something that is revealed by God to humans." (first entry for
revelation, Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)
WHAT IS PERSONAL REVELATION?
- Joseph Smith: "God hath not revealed
anything to Joseph, but what He will make known unto the Twelve, and even
the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them."
Elder Bruce R. McConkie: "Accordingly, those
who are saints indeed, those who have been born again, those who are so
living as to be in tune with the Spirit—they are they who receive revelation,
personal revelation, revelation which is the mind and will of God to them
as individuals. They know there are apostles and prophets directing the
kingdom who receive revelation for the Church and the world. But they as
individuals receive personal revelation in their own affairs.
"And there are no restrictions
placed upon them; there are no limitations as to what they may see and
know and comprehend. No eternal truths will be withheld, if they obey the
laws entitling them to receive such truths." (Improvement Era,
Dec 1969, p85)
WHY IS PERSONAL REVELATION SO IMPORTANT IN OUR DAY?
It is the means for receiving a testimony of Jesus Christ, his gospel, and
the divine calling of Joseph Smith.
It is the way we learn divine or eternal truth.
"Yea, they shall know of a surety that these things
are true, for from heaven will I declare it unto them" (D&C
It is the way we receive guidance beyond our limited understanding in answering
life's questions, meeting challenges, and making decisions.
Elder Boyd K. Packer: "No one of us can
survive in the world of today, much less in what it soon will become, without
personal inspiration." (Ensign, Nov 1991, p23)
President Ezra Taft Benson said that we need to prepare for the great day
of the Lord: "This preparation must consist
of more than just casual membership in the Church. We must be guided by
personal revelation and the counsel of the living prophet so we will not
be deceived." (Come Unto Christ, p115)
If we are striving to follow the Savior during this mortal probation, we
need to be guided by his hand in our lives. We make important decisions
during this life regarding education and career, marriage, where to live,
and how to deal with issues and problems as they arise. Lehi and
his family had the benefit of the Liahona to guide them to the promised
land. Revelation is our Liahona to guide us through the challenges
of life. Sure, we can get through life without it, but will we be
where we need to be without it. Lehi was committed to obeying the
Lord. He did that which was necessary to have the Liahona work so
that he could receive instruction from the Lord. If we are committed
to the Lord, it is essential that we follow the steps necessary to obtain personal
revelation, which is our Liahona.
During my mission in Oklahoma and Kansas I met many
strong LDS families that had moved into the branches and wards where I
had the privilege to serve. In many instances, they felt that they
had been guided by the Lord to move to these areas. These members
became pillars in their wards and branches. They helped strengthen
the Church in those areas. They had followed their Liahonas to their
HOW HAS PERSONAL REVELATION GUIDED YOU IN YOUR FAMILY RESPONSIBILITIES,
YOUR CHURCH CALLINGS, OR IN OTHER AREAS OF LIFE?
How We Obtain Personal Revelation
Study the matter in your mind.
The Lord explained to Oliver why he was unable to translate
the records, "I say unto you, that you must study
it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right" (D&C 9:8). Revelation does not come from a simple request. We must do all that
we can do to resolve the question and then turn to the Lord.
Consider the process Joseph Smith went through in his search for the correct
church to join (see JS-History 1).
"During this time of great excitement my mind
was called up to serious reflection" (v8).
Joseph was caught up in the spirit of revival. Rather than be persuaded
by the emotion of the moment, he says that his mind was called up to "serious
"My feelings were deep and often poignant"
"I attended their several meetings as often as
occasion would permit" (v8).
By attending the different churches, Joseph was able to learn of their
teachings and have information to consider.
"In the midst of this war of words and tumult
of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these
parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them
be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?" (v10).
As Joseph navigated through these turbulent waters, he asked piercing
questions that prepared his mind for the answer he eventually received:
"What is to be done?" Joseph had been raised to believe in the Bible
and Jesus Christ. He had a desire to follow the Savior. There
were several churches preaching different ways of following the Savior. He wondered what he should do. He wondered which was right. And he wondered how he
could discover the truth.
We might call this the homework stage. What have we done to discover
the answer? Have we reviewed the resources available? Have
we pondered the questions in our mind and tried to identify some preliminary
answers? Joseph said, "In process of time
my mind became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect, and I felt some
desire to be united with them" (v8). Joseph still remained
confused and needed confirmation of his conclusion.
Ponder and meditate on the scriptures and the teachings of latter-day
Again, consider the process Joseph Smith went through:
"While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties
caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day
reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse"
While pondering these great questions, young Joseph turned to the Bible. What he read became the catalyst that led to the First Vision.
"I reflected on it again and again, knowing that
if any person needed wisdom from God, I did" (JS-History 1:12).
Not only did he read, but he pondered. He continued the process of
studying this out in his mind, now with additional wisdom from the Bible.
Joseph made a decision based on his reading and pondering: "At
length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and
confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God. I at
length came to the determination to 'ask of God,' concluding that if he
gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and not
upbraid, I might venture" (JS-History 1:13).
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO STUDY AND PONDER THE SCRIPTURES WHEN WE SEEK REVELATION?
Elder Dallin H. Oaks: "Scripture reading
may … lead to current revelation on whatever [subject] the Lord wishes
to communicate to the reader at that time. We do not overstate the point
when we say that the scriptures can be a Urim and Thummim to assist each
of us to receive personal revelation.
"Because we believe that scripture reading can
help us receive revelation, we are encouraged to read the scriptures again
and again. By this means, we obtain access to what our Heavenly Father
would have us know and do in our personal lives today. That is one reason
Latter-day Saints believe in daily scripture study." (Ensign,
Jan 1995, p8)
- WHAT DOES ELDER OAKS MEAN WHEN HE SAYS THE "SCRIPTURES CAN BE A URIM AND
THUMMIM TO ASSIST EACH OF US" IN RECEIVING PERSONAL REVELATION?
- Consider what Orson Pratt said about Joseph Smith receiving revelation. Elder Pratt was present when the Prophet received Section 51 at Thompson,
Ohio. Said Elder Pratt: "No great
noise or physical manifestation was made; Joseph was as calm as the morning
sun. But he noticed a change in his countenance that he had never
noticed before, when a revelation was given to him. Joseph's face
was exceedingly white, and seemed to shine. The speaker had been
present many times when he was translating the New Testament, and wondered
why he did not use the Urim and Thummim, as in translating the Book of
Mormon. While this thought passed through the speaker's mind, Joseph,
as if he read his thoughts, looked up and explained that the Lord gave
him the Urim and Thummim when he was inexperienced in the Spirit of inspiration. But now he had advanced so far that he understood the operations of that
Spirit, and did not need the assistance of that instrument."
(Millennial Star, 11 Aug 1874, pp498-499)
- Elder Oaks tells us that the scriptures can become our personal Urim and
Thummim. The scriptures guide us as we learn the workings of the
Spirit. Like Joseph, they can lead us to learn and understand that
which the Lord would have us know.
Inquire of the Lord in faith with an honest heart, believing that you
- Elder Boyd K. Packer: "No message appears
in scripture more times, in more ways than 'Ask, and ye shall receive'. " (Ensign, Nov 1991, p21).
"Therefore, if you will ask of me you shall receive;
if you will knock it shall be opened unto you" (D&C
"Remember that without faith you can do nothing;
therefore ask in faith" (D&C 8:10).
As the Lord told Oliver, "Surely
shall you receive a knowledge of whatsoever things you shall ask in faith,
with an honest heart, believing that you shall receive"
"If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation
upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries
and peaceable things—that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life
eternal" (D&C 42:61).
Joseph Smith: "And now,
brethren, after your tribulations, if you do these things, and exercise fervent
prayer and faith in the sight of God always, He shall give unto you knowledge by
His Holy Spirit, yea by the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost." (TPJS, p138)
Again, the experience of Joseph Smith provides the
example. Joseph had complete faith in James' promise. "I
at length came to the determination to 'ask of God,' concluding that if
he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and
not upbraid, I might venture. So, in accordance with this, my determination
to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt"
(JS-History 1:13-14). Joseph exercised faith by taking action and
asking the Lord. He fully expected to receive an answer.
President Spencer W. Kimball asks some questions that can help us understand
what it means to pray with faith (see New Era, Mar 1978, p17):
Do you offer a few trite words and worn-out phrases,
or do you talk intimately to the Lord?
Do you pray occasionally when you should be praying
regularly, often, constantly?
When you pray, do you just speak, or do you also
Do you give thanks or merely ask for favors?
Be obedient and serve God.
"But unto him that keepeth my commandments I will
give the mysteries of my kingdom, and the same shall be in him a well of
living water, springing up unto everlasting life" (D&C 63:23).
- The Lord speaking of those who had been driven out of Jackson County said,
"They were slow to hearken unto the voice of the
Lord their God; therefore, the Lord their God is slow to hearken unto their
prayers, to answer them in the day of their trouble. In the day of
their peace they esteemed lightly my counsel; but, in the day of their
trouble, of necessity they feel after me" (D&C 101:7-8).
- Elder Dallin H. Oaks: "We cannot have
the companionship of the Holy Ghost—the medium of individual revelation—if
we are in transgression or if we are angry or if we are in rebellion against
God’s chosen authorities." (Ensign, Mar 1997, p9)
Be meek and humble.
WHY IS HUMILITY IMPORTANT AS WE SEEK REVELATION FROM GOD?
Martin Harris had a great desire to see the plates. The Lord said
to Martin through Joseph, "Behold, I say unto
him, he exalts himself and does not humble himself sufficiently before
me; but if he will bow down before me, and humble himself in mighty prayer
and faith, in the sincerity of his heart, then will I grant unto him a
view of the things which he desires to see" (D&C 5:24).
David Whitmer recalled that one morning when Joseph Smith was getting ready
to resume translating the Book of Mormon, "Something
went wrong about the house and he was put out about it. Something that
Emma, his wife, had done. Oliver and I went upstairs and Joseph came
up soon after to continue the translation but he could not do anything.
He could not translate a single syllable. He went downstairs, out
into the orchard, and made supplication to the Lord; was gone about an
hour—came back to the house, and asked Emma's forgiveness and then came
upstairs where we were and then the translation went on all right. He could
do nothing save he was humble and faithful." (CHC, 1:131)
Focus on the things of God rather than the things of the world.
"Seek not for riches but for
wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and
then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich."
We seem to get that which we focus on. In his
work, As A Man Thinketh, James Allen said, "The
soul attracts that which it secretly harbors; that which it loves"
(p14). If our thoughts are focused on the things of the world, we
move in that direction. How can we possibly expect to learn
the things of God when watching an unsavory movie or reading a violent story? We need to pursue and focus on the things of God. How much more receptive is our mind for inspiration when reading the Book
of Mormon than when listening to loud music?
Elder Boyd K. Packer: "Inspiration comes
more easily in peaceful settings. Such words as quiet, still, peaceable,
Comforter abound in the scriptures. …
"The world grows increasingly noisy. Clothing
and grooming and conduct are looser and sloppier and more disheveled. Raucous
music, with obscene lyrics blasted through amplifiers while lights flash
psychedelic colors, characterizes the drug culture. Variations of these
things are gaining wide acceptance and influence over our youth. …
"This trend to more noise, more excitement, more
contention, less restraint, less dignity, less formality is not coincidental
nor innocent nor harmless.
"The first order issued by a commander mounting
a military invasion is the jamming of the channels of communication of
those he intends to conquer.
"Irreverence suits the purposes of the adversary
by obstructing the delicate channels of revelation in both mind and spirit."
(Ensign, Nov 1991, p21-22)
For additional information, see the topic
Gospel Doctrine Notebook
Record your thoughts on personal revelation. What can you do to more fully
prepare yourself to receive personal revelation.
Resources Used In This Lesson
A Comprehensive History of the Church by B.H. Roberts (CHC).
As A Man Thinketh by James Allen.
Come Unto Christ by Ezra Taft Benson.
History of the Church (HC).
History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, Lucy Mack Smith.
Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (TPJS).
Gospel Doctrine Class
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Changes last made on:
09 January 2017