Unique Teachings from the Doctrine and Covenants


In an age when the prevailing view is that the heavens, though probably once open to revelation, are now forever closed, the publication of a volume such as the Doctrine and Covenants is startling as well as unique. And the effect of the book upon its readers is unique, for its contents are not open to debate; they require total acceptance or total rejection. If one accepts its contents as the word of God, one does not alter the ideas therein.

The term unique means “standing alone,” something “different or new.” In the field of religious thought it means that which is different from prevailing views, that which supplies new understanding—not in opposition to other recorded scriptures but adding to, a dimension not previously had. In this sense, the Doctrine and Covenants stands alone among books printed in our day as containing the word of God to this generation. A study of some of its parts will serve to illustrate.

The apostles of Jesus Christ had authority directly from him to act in his name, with power to pass that authority on to others, without which the ordinances of the Church such as baptism and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost could not be acceptably performed. Further, this authority was evidenced by the gifts of the spirit that followed the ordinances: healing, speaking in tongues, interpreting tongues, prophecy, faith, wisdom. The organization of the primitive church is partially given in the New Testament, but the details of such organization, with the duties of each officer, are lacking.

In the Doctrine and Covenants, sections 13, 20, 84, and 107, are set forth by revelation the rights, powers, and responsibility of priesthood bearers and the organization and functions of the Church as a vehicle for the operation and expression of that priesthood. It stands unique as the only book in the world that does so; yet it is wholly in harmony with what is contained in the Holy Bible.

These sections were received by revelation in the opening of this dispensation of the gospel, when there were but few followers of the new prophet, a compact company of a few score men and women of one race and common background in a New England setting. The Doctrine and Covenants has required no substantial change after a century and a half, and the revelations function as well with three million people scattered in many countries and cultures.

In the Holy Bible we find references to a covenant people. These references indicate that the children of Israel were placed under covenant to obey the commandments of God, in return for which they were granted certain favors. The nature of the covenant is not generally understood, and it remains for the contents of the Doctrine and Covenants to clarify it.

Light is thrown on the nature of the new and everlasting covenant in section 132, where the power to seal is applied to marriage:

“And as pertaining to the new and everlasting covenant, it was instituted for the fulness of my glory; and he that receiveth a fulness thereof must and shall abide the law, or he shall be damned, saith the Lord God.

“And verily I say unto you, that the conditions of this law are these: All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations, that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, of him who is anointed, both as well for time and for all eternity … are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead.” (D&C 132:6–7.)

“And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, unto whom I have appointed this power and the keys of this priesthood; and it shall be said unto them—Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection; and if it be after the first resurrection, in the next resurrection; and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths—then shall it be written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, that he shall commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood, and if ye abide in my covenant, and commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood, it shall be done unto them in all things whatsoever my servant hath put upon them, in time, and through all eternity; and shall be of full force when they are out of the world; and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.

“Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.” (D&C 132:19–20.)

The sealing power is emphasized in the continuing discussion:

“And verily, verily, I say unto you, that whatsoever you seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever you bind on earth, in my name and by my word, saith the Lord, it shall be eternally bound in the heavens; and whosesoever sins you remit on earth shall be remitted eternally in the heavens; and whosesoever sins you retain on earth shall be retained in heaven.

“And again, verily I say, whomsoever you bless I will bless, and whomsoever you curse I will curse, saith the Lord; for I, the Lord, am thy God.” (D&C 132:46–47.)

Thus we have a unique contribution to an understanding of the new and everlasting covenant. A covenant people is a people holding the holy Melchizedek Priesthood, with the power to bind and the power to loose among both the living and the dead. This power is not understood by the world. Yet it is the heart and core of the whole matter. None of the ordinances that Christians have considered important are of any effect without this sealing by the Holy Spirit of promise. Baptisms and confirmations, the sacraments, and marriage are mere earthly conveniences without the power and authority to bind in the heavens.

Yes, the covenant with God, whereby power is conferred upon men to act in his stead, lies at the foundation of the relationship of God and man.

One of the most startling contributions of the Doctrine and Covenants is the announcement of a diversity of rewards in the world to come and the continuation of instructions eternally to all the children of God, except those who become forever the followers of Lucifer. The vision of the heavens given to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon is no ordinary vision. It is the most revealing vision of the state of man in the resurrection that is to be found in all scripture. The apostle Paul was given a similar vision but, if he recorded it, the recording has been lost. He alludes to it in a letter to the saints at Corinth, and this allusion adds verification to the latter-day contribution. (See 1 Cor. 15:39–42.)

That Paul understood the nature of the resurrection is plain, and the other apostles must also have understood, but the knowledge was lost. It remained for the latter-day prophet, Joseph Smith, to reveal once again these great truths from the resurrected Lord and Savior and to teach them again to the world. This is the most reasonable and at the same time the most optimistic doctrine of life after death that has ever been known and preached in the world: that each man shall receive again of the spirit he cultivates upon the earth, that each will receive that which he is prepared to receive, and that men will differ hereafter as they differ here.

But here is the grand summation of the matter: nearly all will obtain some light and truth, some glory. The great majority of God’s children will not be lost. Only the few who, having had opportunity either in this life or in the spirit world to know both Christ and Satan, and having chosen deliberately to follow the latter, will be cast out. For these nothing further can be done. But for all others, the educational process continues, the most advanced being taught by God himself, and the less advanced by ministering angels. But the progress of all becomes possible.

Another unique contribution of the Doctrine and Covenants is a set of rules set forth to aid in acquiring and maintaining health. The word of the Lord in this matter falls into two divisions: first, to avoid that which is harmful in the matter of foods and drink, referring specifically to tobacco and strong drinks, and second, to eat in wisdom those foods most beneficial to man. (See D&C 89:5–17.)

The findings of science tend to confirm those guides in eating and drinking. The declarations from the Lord are unique in that they so far precede scientific findings.

As early as 1831, Joseph Smith introduced a startling doctrine: that both intelligence and matter (energy) are eternal, having always existed, and are destined to endure forever.

“For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy.

“And when separated, man cannot receive a fulness of joy.” (D&C 93:33–34.)

This doctrine is unique in a world where the prevailing view has been that the spirit of man had a beginning and where the view that God created the elements is still taught.

But the teaching of the Doctrine and Covenants goes further to declare that the elements are controlled by law.

“And again, verily, I say unto you, he hath given a law unto all things by which they move in their times and their seasons;

“And their courses are fixed, even the courses of the heavens and the earth, which comprehend the earth and all the planets.” (D&C 88:42–43.)

“Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.” (D&C 93:29.)

This doctrine explains why there exist no ultimate irresolvable conflicts between the church of Jesus Christ and the truths about the universe now being opened to the minds of man by scientific research.

One of the most distinctive contributions of the Doctrine and Covenants is the doctrine of universal salvation. All men are to be resurrected from the dead. As God declared after referring to the resurrection of his Only Begotten Son:

“That as many as would believe and be baptized in his holy name, and endure in faith to the end, should be saved—

“Not only those who believed after he came in the meridian of time, in the flesh, but all those from the beginning, even as many as were before he came, who believed in the words of the holy prophets, who spake as they were inspired by the gift of the Holy Ghost, who truly testified of him in all things, should have eternal life,

“As well as those who should come after, who should believe in the gifts and callings of God by the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of the Father and of the Son.” (D&C 20:25–27.)

This doctrine is one of justice: it requires that the gospel be taught to the dead as well as the living, and that the necessary ordinances in their behalf be performed upon the earth. The building of temples is for this purpose.

The apostle Paul understood baptism for the dead: in one of his letters to those of the saints who were skeptical of the resurrection, he wrote: “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?” (1 Cor. 15:29.)

The doctrine that all the dead as well as the living shall hear the gospel of Jesus Christ and that provision is made for the saving ordinances in the temples for the dead sets The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints apart from all other churches. The doctrine that all will be resurrected, even those who reject the gospel here and in the spirit world, is equally unique. We read: “And these are the rest of the dead; and they live not again until the thousand years [the millennium] are ended, neither again, until the end of the earth.” (D&C 88:101.)

The covenant with the Lord whereby men obtained priesthood authority to “bind on earth and in heaven” makes possible the vast work for the dead now being done on earth and continuing through the millennium.

These examples of the uniqueness of the teachings of the Doctrine and Covenants should but arouse our interest and cause us to delve deeper into this important publication of our day, for in it God is speaking to us and preparing us for the reception of further light and knowledge.

[illustration] Illustration by James Christensen

William E. Berrett, professor emeritus of Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University, serves as patriarch in the Provo Utah Edgemont Stake.