The Doctrine and CovenantsThe Capstone of Our Religion
Elder L. Tom Perry
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
CES Fireside for Young Adults
4 March 2001
Charles Dickens began his famous story of The Tale of Two Cities
with these words:
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age
of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, . . . it was the season of Light,
it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter
of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we
were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way."
I would imagine that could be said of all periods of time. This is a
wonderful time to be alive! As I witness the marvelous strides mankind
is making today, I sometimes wish that I was your age. With the pace at
which man is progressing, the Lord seems to be preparing us to accomplish
much more as we wind up this final period of man's mortal experience.
Of course, it could be said it is the worst of times because most of mankind
has not embraced the gospel of our Lord and Savior.
It is evident from the signs of the times that the Lord is directing
the destiny of His children here on earth. For example, there has been
a significant change in the growth of the world's population. At the end
of the first millennium following our Savior's birth, the world's population
was only 300 million. During the next eight hundred years to the time
of the birth of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the population had grown to
one billion, or 700,000,000 more during those eight hundred years. Today
the world's population is over 6.2 billion5.2 billion added in the last
two hundred years.
In the post-Restoration period, the Lord has sent billions more of His
children to the earth to hear His gospel. To facilitate this teaching,
He has opened the minds of His children that they might bring forth an
abundance of technologies to improve our ability to travel, communicate,
and carry the gospel to the world.
Prior to the beginning of the nineteenth century, travel was much as
it had been ancientlyby foot, by domestic animal, and by ship on waterways.
Communication was by word of mouth and very little written. After eighteen
hundred years of a sluggish development, it was as if a bright light was
turned on to illuminate the minds of mankind, and suddenly the fields
of transportation and communication moved forward with a new and exciting
For example, in 1803 Fulton invented the steamboat. In 1814 Stevenson
developed the steam locomotive. In 1819 Napier, the flatbed cylinder press.
In 1837 Morse, the telegraph. In 1845 the oceanic cable was laid. In 1876
Bell, the telephone. In 1880 Edison, the electric light. In 1893 Ford,
the automobile. And in 1903 the Wright brothers flew their first airplane.
Since that time there has been an explosion of developments that have
improved our abilities to travel and communicate, making most parts of
the world accessible via travel or by electronic means.
The Value of Scripture
To me, the most significant evidence of the Lord's concern for His children
is the way He has provided communication channels to direct us in the
path He would like us to follow. We have the scriptures.
I marvel at how these wondrous stories of God's dealings with His children
here on earth were preserved through the ages. The records were kept on
tablets of clay or stone; they were written on metal plates, on leather
scrolls, and, of course, papyrus discovered by the Egyptians about the
time Abraham was on the earth. I marvel that great and stalwart leaders
like Jerome, Wycliffe, and Tyndale accumulated the writings of the ancient
prophets and were able to put them in an accessible form even though the
ability to make records was so crude in that time. Sometimes they even
gave up their lives to preserve what we have today.
We find the Lord communicating with His children from the very beginning.
After Adam and Eve had been driven out of the Garden of Eden, we find
this great account of the Lord instructing them:
"And Adam and Eve, his wife, called upon the name of the Lord, and they
heard the voice of the Lord from the way toward the Garden of Eden, speaking
unto them, and they saw him not; for they were shut out from his presence.
"And he gave unto them commandments, that they should worship the Lord
their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering
unto the Lord. And Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord.
"And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying:
Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him:
I know not, save the Lord commanded me.
"And then the angel spake, saying: This thing is a similitude of the
sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and
"Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son,
and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore.
"And in that day the Holy Ghost fell upon Adam, which beareth record
of the Father and the Son, saying: I am the Only Begotten of the Father
from the beginning, henceforth and forever, that as thou hast fallen thou
mayest be redeemed, and all mankind, even as many as will.
"And in that day Adam blessed God and was filled, and began to prophesy
concerning all the families of the earth, saying: Blessed be the name
of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this
life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God.
"And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were
it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never
should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the
eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.
"And Adam and Eve blessed the name of God, and they made all things known
unto their sons and their daughters" (Moses 5:4-12).
Thus from the time of the Creation we have the beautiful scriptures that
lay a pattern to guide us through mortality. We learn our beginnings through
the story of Adam and Eve. An article in the Ensign some years
ago enlarged my understanding of the very important role Adam played in
the creation of the earth. Actually Adam's role in the eternal plan of
God began in our premortal first estate, and the fact that he became the
first inhabitant tells us of the eminence of his premortal status. It
was part of the plan that he and Eve partake of the forbidden fruit. President
Joseph Fielding Smith said:
"He partook of that fruit for one good reason, and that was to open
the door to bring you and me and everyone else into this world" (in Conference
Report, Oct. 1967, 121).
Adam continues to play an important role in the post-mortal spirit world
and will until the time of the Resurrection.
It is in the Old Testament that we learn of Father Abraham and his willingness
to sacrifice his son if the Lord required him to do so. In all things
he set the example of faithfulness to the Lord. Through Abraham's "seed
shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed
my voice" (Genesis 22:18).
And don't you love the story of Joseph with his marvelous lesson! He
had quite a lifebeing a favored son, a slave, a prisoner, and ultimately
ruler over the land of Egypt. The Pharaoh said, "Only in the throne will
I be greater than thou" (Genesis 41:40). This because he was "a man in
whom the Spirit of God is" (Genesis 41:38).
Then there was Moses. He was given an impossible assignment to lead the
children of Israel out of the land of Egypt where they had been in bondage
for over four hundred years. Elder Mark E. Petersen said:
"The true Moses was one of the mightiest men of God in all time. . .
"He walked and talked with God, . . .
". . . saw the mysteries of the heavens and much of creation, and received
laws from God beyond any other ancient man of whom we have record" (Moses:
Man of Miracles , 49).
In the Old Testament we learn of great and noble women, such as Eve,
Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, Rachel, Hannah, and many others. The book of Ruth
tells us of Ruth's life and her devotion to righteous principles. She
was a true convert to Jehovah and, after losing her husband, chose to
remain with her mother-in-law, Naomi, that "thy people shall be my people,
and thy God my God" (Ruth 1:16). Ruth later married Boaz, and they became
the parents of a noble posterity, including King David, Mary, and the
Esther is also from a book of the Old Testament. She was of Jewish descent
and found favor with the king and became his queen without revealing her
kindred. Later, when the lives of her people were threatened, she risked
her own life to save them. They were saved because of her faith and that
of her people.
The New Testament is just what the title page tells us. It is the New
Testament of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Here we may come to know
of the events of His life, His lineage, and His miraculous though humble
birth. The New Testament does not reveal a great deal about the early
years of preparation of His ministry, but in Luke we read:
"And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and
man" (Luke 2:52).
We learn of His teachingsHis example, His love, His knowledge, His
power, His judgment, His kindness, His mercy, His patience. Moreover,
we learn of His suffering at Gethsemane, His agony on the cross, His death,
then His Resurrection. He made the ultimate sacrifice for us, not only
losing His life, but in doing so, atoning for our sins. Most of all He
has shown us the way, and we need to learn of Him that we may become "perfect,
even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).
I marvel that the Lord's dealings with His prophets have been preserved
through all ages of time in these great scriptures. The materials on which
the words were written were not of permanent quality. To preserve them
from generation to generation, they had to be copied over and over to
keep them from the destructive forces of nature. The repeated copying
by the scribes led to mistranslations and omissions. Nephi warned us,
"For behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts
which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord
have they taken away" (1 Nephi 13:26).
A New Witness: The Book of Mormon
However, because of the various translations and the difficulty to produce
the translations, the Lord saw fit at the time of the Restoration to bring
forth a new witness of His mission. We have the great blessing of the
Book of Mormon that is another testament of Jesus Christ. It is a record
of God's dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas and contains
the fulness of the everlasting gospel.
The Prophet Joseph Smith told us, "The Book of Mormon was the most correct
of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would
get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book"
(Book of Mormon Introduction).
There were prophets who summarized on the pages the things that men must
do in order to gain the fulness of salvation. Those who believe the witness
it bears and obey the doctrines it teaches will be led to further light
and knowledge revealed in our day and to the mysteries that the believing
Saints alone can receive.
I marvel at the account of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. Joseph
Smith's prophetic call was to bring forth this great publication. It was
in the year of 1823 at the age of seventeen that he was shown the hidden
records by the angel Moroni. After several visitations over the next four
years, Joseph Smith was allowed to remove the sacred record that had rested
at the Hill Cumorah near Palmyra, New York.
When Joseph went to the hill on the 22nd day of September 1827, the angel
instructed him in matters pertaining to his sacred duty. At last the time
arrived for the delivery of the plates and the Urim and Thummin and the
breastplate to the Prophet Joseph Smith. He finally had them in his possession.
The Prophet commenced the translation very slowly and methodically. He
needed a scribe. In February of 1828 Martin Harris went to his home. Martin
had been impressed with the stories he had heard about the Prophet having
the gold plates. He acted as scribe from the 12th of April 1828 until
he finally convinced the Prophet that he be allowed to take the record
and show it to a few people to convince them that the work he was doing
Permission was finally granted to him on the 14th day of June. Of course
we know that that part of the record was lost. Joseph was soundly rebuked
and warned against yielding to temptation. The records were taken from
him for a season to give him time to repent. It was a bitter lesson for
the young prophet, but it was necessary to prepare him for the great responsibility
that was ahead of him. Sometime during the fall of the year 1828, the
record was back in his hands, but once again he needed a scribe. It was
on the 5th day of April 1829 that a young schoolteacher named Oliver Cowdery
went to the home of the Prophet and inquired about his work. On the 7th
day of April, Oliver Cowdery started acting as scribe to the Prophet.
As the history records, the Prophet and Oliver Cowdery spent long hours
together dictating the translation without reference to any books, papers,
or manuscripts. When they would break, the Prophet would return and resume
the dictation where the previous segment had ended.
As we examine the record, it is clear that Joseph Smith could not be
the author of the Book of Mormon. The marvel of the whole translation
was the rapidity with which the Book of Mormon was translated. It required
only eighty-five days from the 7th day of Aprilthe date Oliver Cowdery
commenced acting as scribeuntil the end of June when the complete text
was finished and ready to turn over to the printer.
The Doctrine and Covenants gives us evidence of the power of translation
of the Prophet Joseph Smith as contained in the 20th section, verses 8-12:
"And gave him power from on high, by the means which were before prepared,
to translate the Book of Mormon;
"Which contains a record of a fallen people, and the fulness of the
gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and to the Jews also;
"Which was given by inspiration, and is confirmed to others by the ministering
of angels, and is declared unto the world by them
"Proving to the world that the holy scriptures are true, and that God
does inspire men and call them to his holy work in this age and generation,
as well as in generations of old;
"Thereby showing that he is the same God yesterday, today, and forever."
The Capstone: The Doctrine and Covenants
This was not the end, for in the ninth article of faith we read:
"We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal,
and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things
pertaining to the Kingdom of God."
The Lord continues to inspire His holy prophets to make a record of His
dealings with them. In our time we have another scripturenot one of ancient
origin, as are the Bible and the Book of Mormon, but one that has come
forth in our time, one contained in the book of Doctrine and Covenants.
President Ezra Taft Benson, in explaining the Doctrine and Covenants,
put it this way:
"The Doctrine and Covenants brings men to Christ's kingdom, even The
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 'the only true and living
church upon the face of the whole earth.' . . . I know that.
"The Book of Mormon is the 'keystone,' . . . 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" (in Conference
Report, Apr. 1987, 105; or Ensign, May 1987, 83).
The keystone and the capstone teach us about the cornerstone of our
religion, which is the Savior.
Shortly after the organization of the Church, the members were desirous
of obtaining copies of the revelations given to the Prophet Joseph Smith
up to that time. In the summer of 1830 the Prophet by divine command commenced
to copy and prepare the revelations, no doubt with the thought in mind
of having them published. Some of the elders were carrying copies in their
pockets as far as the Lord would permit them, for there were some of the
revelations that were forbidden to be published to the world.
On November 1-2, 1831 a conference was held at Hyrum, Ohio, when it was
decided that the revelations should be compiled and published. On the
first day of the conference the Lord gave approval to the plan by giving
a revelation He called His "preface unto the book of my commandments,
which I have given them to publish unto you, O inhabitants of the earth"
During the course of the conference there was not perfect harmony among
the brethren. A few criticized the language found in the revelations.
They forgot that the Lord uses men as instruments as they are available,
through whom He communicates, just as an author when writing makes use
of whatever pen, paper, or ink he may be able to obtain to produce his
work. Some of the brethren did not fully realize that divine revelation
is independent from university study, and they were wavering in their
faith. In answer to this inquiry, the Lord issued a challenge:
"Now, seek ye out of the Book of Commandments, even the least that is
among them, and appoint him that is the most wise among you;
"Or, if there be any among you that shall make one like unto it, then
ye are justified in saying that ye do not know that they are true;
"But if ye cannot make one like unto it, ye are under condemnation if
ye do not bear record that they are true" (D&C 67:6-8).
William E. McLellin accepted the offer and undertook to initiate the
revelations of the Lord. His efforts to produce a revelation were witnessed
with great interest by the elders assembled, and when they were aware
of his complete failure, all doubts concerning the revelations of God
vanished. They were then willing to testify to the truth and signed a
document containing their testimonies and witness to the truthfulness
of the book.
Following the testimonies of the brethren, the conference authorized
the publication of the revelations as the Book of Commandments. On the
12th day of November 1831, the Lord called John Whitmer, the Church historian
and recorder, to accompany Oliver Cowdery, who had been commanded to carry
the manuscripts to Missouri for printing.
On the 20th of November 1831, Oliver and John started for Missouri, arriving
in Independence on the 5th of January 1832 after a long, cold journey.
In June, Elder W. W. Phelps, who had the printing press of the Church
in Independence, Missouri, began publishing extracts from the revelations
in the Evening and Morning Star and setting the type for the Book
of Commandments. The work on the press was slow and tedious.
Material for covers for the book was lacking but proved to be unnecessary.
On the night of July 23, 1833, a mob broke into the establishment, carrying
away the press and destroying the type and burning most of the papers
and printed matter. One of the elders working on the publication, seeing
the mob at the front door, hastily snatched an armload of assembled sheets
of the Book of Commandments, found his way out the rear door, and buried
them beneath the hay in an old barn. Then, fearing that he had been seen
with his burden and that the copies might be found and destroyed, he loaded
his arms with some bricks he found in the barn and in broad view started
off in another direction. The ploy apparently worked, for as night came
upon the city, at least twenty of the Book of Commandments had been preserved,
but the publication of the Book of Commandments was effectively stopped.
In September of 1834, the First Presidency was appointed to select the
revelations to be published, and the Prophet revised some of them from
the original Book of Commandments to correct some of the printing errors
and add additional information and some revelations received since 1833.
The committee's work was completed the following summer, and a solemn
assembly was convened on the 17th day of August 1835 to vote on the new
book of scriptures to be called the Doctrine and Covenants.
The preface of the Doctrine and Covenants introduces the message of
"Hearken, O ye people of my church, saith the voice of him who dwells
on high, and whose eyes are upon all men; yea, verily I say: Hearken ye
people from afar; and ye that are upon the islands of the sea, listen
"For verily the voice of the Lord is unto all men, and there is none
to escape; and there is no eye that shall not see, neither ear that shall
not hear, neither heart that shall not be penetrated.
"And the rebellious shall be pierced with much sorrow; for their iniquities
shall be spoken upon the housetops, and their secret acts shall be revealed.
"And the voice of warning shall be unto all people, by the mouths of
my disciples, whom I have chosen in these last days.
"And they shall go forth and none shall stay them, for I the Lord have
"Behold, this is mine authority, and the authority of my servants, and
my preface unto the book of my commandments, which I have given them to
publish unto you, O inhabitants of the earth.
"Wherefore, fear and tremble, O ye people, for what I the Lord have
decreed in them shall be fulfilled" (D&C 1:1-7).
Then verses 37-39:
"Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the
prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled.
"What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself;
and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass
away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the
voice of my servants, it is the same.
"For behold, and lo, the Lord is God, and the Spirit beareth record,
and the record is true, and the truth abideth forever and ever."
The entire book of scripture stands as a warning to the nations that
God will not be mocked. Those who heed the voice of warning will find
protection and peace, but those who refuse it will reap bitter fruit.
President Joseph Fielding Smith has said:
"This Doctrine and Covenants [is not a book just for the Latter-day
Saints. It is more than that. It] belongs to all the world, to the Catholics,
to the Presbyterians, to the Methodists, to the infidel, to the non-believer.
It is his book if he will accept it. . . . The Lord has given it unto
the world for their salvation. If you do not believe it, you read the
first section in this book, the preface, and you will find that the Lord
has sent this book and the things which it contains unto the people afar
off, on the islands of the sea, in foreign lands, and his voice is unto
all people, that all may hear. And so I say it belongs to all the world,
not only to the Latter-day Saints, and they will be judged by it, and
you will be judged by it" (in Conference Report, Oct. 1919, 146).
Joseph Fielding Smith went on to say:
"In my judgment there is no book on earth yet come to man as important
as the book known as 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.
"I am going to tell you why. When I say that, do not for a moment think
I do not value the Book of Mormon, the Bible, and the Pearl of Great Price,
just as much as any man that lives; I think I do. I do not know of anybody
who has read them more, and I appreciate them; they are wonderful; they
contain doctrine and revelation and commandments that we should heed;
but the Bible is a history containing the doctrine and commandments given
to the people anciently. That applies also to the Book of Mormon. It is
the doctrine and the history and the commandments of the people who dwelt
upon this continent anciently.
"But this Doctrine and Covenants contains the word of God to those who
dwell here now. It is our book. It belongs to the Latter-day Saints. 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" (Doctrines of Salvation,
comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954-56], 3:198-99).
The explanatory introduction gives us wonderful insight to what is contained
in this collection of divine revelations and inspired declarations on
the establishment and regulation of the kingdom of God on earth in the
latter days. Just a quote from two of the paragraphs in the explanatory
"The book of Doctrine and Covenants is one of the standard works of
the Church in company with the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the
Pearl of Great Price. However, the Doctrine and Covenants is unique because
it is not a translation of an ancient document, but is of modern origin
and was given of God through his chosen prophets for the restoration of
his holy work and the establishment of the kingdom of God on the earth
in these days. In the revelations, one hears the tender but firm voice
of the Lord Jesus Christ, speaking anew in the dispensation of the fulness
of times; and the work that is initiated herein is preparatory to his
second coming, in fulfillment of and in concert with the words of all
the holy prophets since the world began."
Then down to the next to last paragraph it states:
"In the revelations the doctrines of the gospel are set forth with explanations
about such fundamental matters as the nature of the Godhead, the origin
of man, the reality of Satan, the purpose of mortality, the necessity
for obedience, the need for repentance, the workings of the Holy Spirit,
the ordinances and performances that pertain to salvation, the destiny
of the earth, the future conditions of man after the resurrection and
the judgment, the eternity of the marriage relationship, and the eternal
nature of the family. Likewise the gradual unfolding of the administrative
structure of the Church is shown with the calling of bishops, the First
Presidency, the Council of the Twelve, and the Seventy, and the establishment
of other presiding offices and quorums. Finally, the testimony that is
given of Jesus Christhis divinity, his majesty, his perfection, his love,
and his redeeming powermakes this book of great value to the human family
and of more worth than the riches of the whole earth."
Thus we see how carefully the Lord is preparing every detail to carry
out the full plan He has designed for the guidance of His children on
their journey through mortality. The population growth indicates He is
sending many more of His spirit children to earth to have a mortal experience.
Technology makes travel and communication accessible to all corners of
the earth, and, most important, He is protecting and preserving His holy
scriptures for our guidance.
My encouragement to you tonight is to study the doctrines of the Lord's
Church. With all the mountains of information being fed to the world today,
how comforting it is to know that the Lord has preserved His dealings
with His children as contained in His holy scriptures. Here is our foundation
of truth. It will stand the test of time. It is the doctrine and His revealed
covenants we must take upon ourselves that will lead us back to His presence.
It is the only course that will lead to life eternal, which is surely
the objective of each of us. This is my witness to you in the name of
our Lord and Savior, even Jesus Christ, amen.