Joseph Smith received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 3 after Martin Harris lost 116 pages of the manuscript that Joseph had translated from the gold plates. In this revelation, the Lord said that His work would prevail despite the wickedness of men. The Lord also rebuked Joseph and warned him what would happen if he did not repent. Finally, the Lord explained His purposes in bringing forth the Book of Mormon.
Suggestions for Teaching
Joseph Smith learns that the work of God cannot be frustrated
Invite students to ponder situations in which they might be tempted to listen to a friend rather than follow the commandments or the counsel of their parents or leaders.
Why is it sometimes difficult to resist our friends when they try to influence us to do something wrong?
Ask students to share what they know about the events leading up to the loss of the 116 pages of the Book of Mormon manuscript.
As students respond, you may want to supplement their answers with some of the following details:
From mid-April 1828 to mid-June 1828, the Prophet Joseph Smith was translating the plates while living in Harmony, Pennsylvania. A prosperous farmer and businessman named Martin Harris was acting as scribe to Joseph while he translated. Martin was 22 years older than Joseph and had given Joseph and Emma $50 (which was a substantial amount of money at that time) to help them move to Harmony, Pennsylvania (where Emma’s family lived), thus helping to support Joseph while he translated the plates. In February 1828, Joseph encouraged Martin to take copies of characters from the plates to professors in New York (see Joseph Smith—History 1:63–65). Lucy Harris, Martin’s wife, became increasingly concerned about Martin’s interest and financial involvement in the translation of the plates. She and others began to press Martin for evidence of the plates’ existence. To appease their concerns, in mid-June Martin requested that Joseph allow him to take the 116 pages of manuscript they had completed to show as evidence.
Invite students to imagine the difficult position the Prophet was in when Martin Harris asked to take the manuscript pages. To help with context, consider inviting a student to read the following account from the history of the Prophet Joseph Smith:
“[Martin] desired of me that I would inquire of the Lord, through the Urim and Thummim, if he might not [take the manuscript home and show it]. I did inquire, and the answer was that he must not. However, he was not satisfied with this answer, and desired that I should inquire again. I did so, and the answer was as before. Still he could not be contented, but insisted that I should inquire once more” (in History of the Church, 1:21).
Why do you think Joseph Smith persisted in asking God the same question even after receiving a clear answer?
Explain that after much pleading from Martin, Joseph asked the Lord a third time, and the Lord gave permission for Martin to take the manuscript “on certain conditions” (History of the Church, 1:21). Martin promised that he would show the manuscript only to his wife and a few other family members. Martin returned to New York with the manuscript. Shortly after Martin’s departure, Emma Smith gave birth to a son, Alvin, who died shortly after birth. Emma nearly died herself, and for two weeks Joseph stayed at her bedside. By this time, Martin had been gone for three weeks and they had heard nothing from him. Emma, who was slowly recovering, persuaded Joseph to go to New York and find out why Martin had not sent any word. Joseph traveled to his parents’ home, and once he arrived there, he sent for Martin. Martin took all morning to arrive. When he did, he sat down to eat with the Smith family but immediately dropped his utensils. When asked if he was all right, he cried out and eventually admitted that he had lost the 116 pages of manuscript. (See History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, ed. Preston Nibley , 124–29 for more details of this account.)
Consider these difficult circumstances for the Prophet Joseph Smith. How do you think you would feel in this situation?
Inform students that upon returning to Harmony without the 116 pages of manuscript, Joseph Smith prayed for forgiveness. Because Joseph had “wearied the Lord in asking for the privilege of letting Martin Harris take the writings” (History of the Church, 1:21), Moroni had taken the Urim and Thummim and Joseph had lost the gift to translate. However, Moroni promised that Joseph could receive them again if he would be “humble and penitent” (History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, 134). Some time later, Joseph received the revelation now known as Doctrine and Covenants 3.
Invite a student to read aloud Doctrine and Covenants 3:1–3. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Lord wanted the Prophet Joseph Smith to understand.
How would you summarize the Lord’s message to Joseph Smith in these verses? (As students share their ideas, emphasize the following doctrine: The purposes of God cannot be frustrated. You may want to suggest that students mark this truth in verse 1. It may be helpful to explain that in Doctrine and Covenants 3:1, the word frustrated means prevented from being accomplished.)
How might this truth have helped Joseph Smith during this difficult time? Why is it important for all of us to understand this truth?
The Lord rebukes Joseph Smith and exhorts him to repent
Explain that although God said that His work could not be frustrated, He also wanted the Prophet to understand the mistakes he had made and the consequences of those mistakes. Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 3:4–6 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, identifying words and phrases that might have been hard for Joseph Smith to hear. Invite a few students to share the words and phrases they have chosen and why.
In what way had Joseph “gone on in the persuasions of men”? (D&C 3:6).
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 3:12–15 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and find phrases that emphasize why Joseph’s actions were so serious. Then invite students to report what they discovered.
Ask a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 3:7 aloud. Invite the class to identify what the Lord said Joseph Smith should have done when he was under pressure from Martin Harris. (Before the student reads, you may want to explain that in this passage the word man refers to mankind.) After students identify the Lord’s counsel, write the following principle on the board: We should fear God more than man. (You may want to suggest that students mark words or phrases in verse 7 that teach this principle.)
What do you think it means to fear God more than man?
To help students understand what it means to fear God, invite a student to read the following explanation by Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“There are many places in the scriptures that counsel mankind to fear God. In our day we generally interpret the word fear as “respect” or “reverence” or “love”; that is, the fear of God means the love of God or respect for Him and His law. That may often be a correct reading, but I wonder if sometimes fear doesn’t really mean fear, as when the prophets speak of fearing to offend God by breaking His commandments. …
“… We should so love and reverence Him that we fear doing anything wrong in His sight, whatever may be the opinions of or pressure from others” (“A Sense of the Sacred” [CES fireside for young adults, Nov. 7, 2004], 6–7, LDS.org; see also speeches.byu.edu).
According to Elder Christofferson, what does it mean to fear God?
How can fearing God, as Elder Christofferson explained, help us make right decisions even when we feel peer pressure?
Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 3:8 silently, looking for what God would have done if Joseph Smith had listened to the initial answer to Martin’s request. Invite students to summarize what we can learn from this verse. Students may use different words, but make sure they understand that if we are faithful to the Lord’s commandments, He will support us during times of trouble. You may want to write this principle on the board.
Ask students to think about a time when they followed the Lord’s commandments rather than the persuasions or influence of other people. Invite a few students to share how they received the Lord’s support for their obedience.
Remind students that at the beginning of the lesson, you asked them to think about situations when they might be tempted to listen to a friend instead of being obedient. Then draw their attention to the truth you have written on the board.
How can this truth help you when you are tempted by a friend to do something you know is not right?
Invite students to write in their class notebooks or scripture study journals about how they can apply this truth to their current relationships with friends and family.
After sufficient time, ask a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 3:9–10 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for the promise the Lord gave Joseph Smith despite the seriousness of the mistakes Joseph had made. (You may want to suggest that students mark what they find.)
What promise did the Lord give to Joseph Smith? How does this promise apply to us? (Students may suggest a variety of principles, but be sure to emphasize that if we repent of our sins, we will receive the Lord’s mercy.)
Keeping in mind what the Lord said to Joseph in Doctrine and Covenants 3:4–6, how would you have felt after hearing this promise from the Lord if you were in Joseph’s place?
Ask students to read Doctrine and Covenants 3:9, 11 silently and identify the warnings the Lord gave to the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Why are these warnings important to remember as we repent of our sins and seek the Lord’s mercy?
The Lord explains His purposes for the Book of Mormon
Ask students to read Doctrine and Covenants 3:16–20 silently, identifying the purposes the Lord gave for the Book of Mormon.
Why was the work that Joseph Smith and Martin Harris were doing so important to the Lord and His people?
Conclude this lesson by inviting a few students to share what they have learned and felt today and how they might apply the truths they have learned. Share your own testimony of the Lord’s mercy as we repent of our sins. You may also want to tell students that in the next lesson, they will learn how the Lord compensated for the loss of the 116 manuscript pages.
Commentary and Background Information
Doctrine and Covenants 3. Lucy Harris
Lucy Mack Smith recorded that Martin Harris’s wife, Lucy, “was a very peculiar woman, one that was naturally of a very jealous disposition … and when anything was said that she did not hear distinctly she suspected that it was some secret which was designedly kept from her.” Lucy Harris was suspicious of Joseph Smith and was intent on seeing the plates. When Martin went to see Joseph about the work of the translation, Lucy Harris went along and questioned Joseph about the plates, demanding to see them. He told her she could not, “for he was not permitted to exhibit them to any one except those whom the Lord should appoint to testify of them.”
The night after Joseph told Lucy Harris this, she had a dream, which she reported to the Smiths in the morning: “A personage appeared to her who told her that as she had disputed the servant of the Lord, … she had done that which was not right in the sight of God. After which he said to her, ‘Behold, here are the plates, look upon them and believe.’” Lucy then told Joseph that she wanted to help support the translation.
Unfortunately, Lucy Harris’s change of heart did not last long, and she soon demanded physical evidence of the plates again. Shortly after Joseph and Emma moved to Harmony, Pennsylvania, Martin followed without telling his wife that he was leaving. When she found out, she was angry that her husband was spending so much time away from her and was even more concerned that the Smiths were trying to defraud him.
Martin returned to New York shortly, but when he prepared to go to Harmony again, Lucy Harris insisted on going with him. When they arrived at Joseph and Emma’s home, she announced that she was not going to leave until she saw the plates. She ransacked the entire house, but did not find them. From then on, she claimed that her husband had been duped by “a grand imposter.” After two weeks, Martin took her home. Despite her attempts to dissuade him, he returned to Harmony to help Joseph. In Martin’s absence, Lucy continued going about “from house to house, telling her grievances, and declaring that Joseph Smith was practicing a deception upon the people.” (See History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, ed. Preston Nibley , 114–22.)
Doctrine and Covenants 3. Anguish over the lost manuscript
Shortly after Martin Harris left with the 116 pages of manuscript, Emma Smith bore a son, Alvin, who died the day he was born. Emma nearly died herself, and for two weeks Joseph stayed at her bedside. By this time, Martin had been gone for three weeks and they had heard nothing from him. Joseph worried about the manuscript but did not mention anything to Emma for fear of her fragile health.
“In a few days, however, [Emma] mentioned the subject herself, and desired her husband to go and get her mother to stay with her, while he should repair to Palmyra [New York], for the purpose of learning the cause of Mr. Harris’ absence as well as silence. At first Joseph objected, but seeing her so cheerful, and so willing to have him leave home, he finally consented.
“He set out in the first stage that passed for Palmyra, and, when he was left to himself, he began to contemplate the course which Martin had taken, and the risk which he (Joseph) had run in letting the manuscript go out of his hands … and that, by persisting in his entreaties to the Lord, he had perhaps fallen into transgression, and thereby lost the manuscript.”
After disembarking from the stage and walking the last 20 miles during the night, Joseph finally arrived at his parents’ home in Manchester. “When Joseph had taken a little nourishment, … he requested us to send immediately for Mr. Harris. This we did without delay. … We commenced preparing breakfast for the family; and we supposed that Mr. Harris would be there, as soon as it was ready, to eat with us, for he generally came in such haste when he was sent for. At eight o’clock we set the victuals on the table, as we were expecting him every moment. We waited till nine, and he came not—till ten, and he was not there—till eleven, still he did not make his appearance. But at half past twelve we saw him walking with a slow and measured tread towards the house, his eyes fixed thoughtfully upon the ground. On coming to the gate, he stopped, instead of passing through, and got upon the fence, and sat there some time with his hat drawn over his eyes. At length he entered the house. Soon after which we sat down to the table, Mr. Harris with the rest. He took up his knife and fork as if he were going to use them, but immediately dropped them. Hyrum, observing this, said ‘Martin, why do you not eat; are you sick?’ Upon which Mr. Harris pressed his hands upon his temples, and cried out in a tone of deep anguish, ‘Oh, I have lost my soul! I have lost my soul!’
“Joseph who had not expressed his fears till now, sprang from the table, exclaiming, ‘Martin, have you lost that manuscript? Have you broken your oath, and brought down condemnation upon my head as well as your own?’
“‘Yes; it is gone,’ replied Martin, ‘and I know not where.’ …
“Said Joseph, … ‘All is lost! all is lost! What shall I do? I have sinned—it is I who tempted the wrath of God. I should have been satisfied with the first answer which I received from the Lord; for he told me that it was not safe to let the writing go out of my possession.’ He wept and groaned, and walked the floor continually.
“At length he told Martin to go back and search again.
“‘No’; said Martin, ‘it is all in vain; for I have ripped open beds and pillows [looking for the manuscript]; and I know it is not there.’
“‘Then must I,’ said Joseph, ‘return with such a tale as this? I dare not do it. And how shall I appear before the Lord? Of what rebuke am I not worthy from the angel of the Most High?’ …
“The next morning, he set out for home. We parted with heavy hearts, for it now appeared that all which we had so fondly anticipated, and which had been the source of so much secret gratification, had in a moment fled, and fled forever” (Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, ed. Preston Nibley , 125–29).