Lesson 14: Doctrine and Covenants 5

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual, 2013


Introduction

Although Martin Harris lost the 116 manuscript pages during the summer of 1828, he maintained a desire to assist in the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. In March 1829 Martin traveled from his home in New York to visit Joseph and Emma Smith in Harmony, Pennsylvania. While there, Martin requested a witness that Joseph had the gold plates. Joseph Smith inquired of the Lord and received the revelation now known as Doctrine and Covenants 5. In this revelation, the Lord declared that three witnesses would be called to testify of the Book of Mormon and informed Martin of what he must do to qualify to become one of these witnesses.

Suggestions for Teaching

Doctrine and Covenants 5:1–22

The Lord will bring forth His word in the last days, and witnesses will testify

    Invite students to respond to the following questions:
  • What is something you have only heard about but would like to see with your own eyes? Why would you like to see it?

After a few students have answered, invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 5:1 silently, looking for what Martin Harris wanted to see for himself. After students identify what Martin wanted to see, you might ask them if they would like to see the gold plates. Ask one or two students to explain their answers.

To help students understand why Martin sought an additional witness of the existence of the plates, explain that in March 1829, Martin planned to travel from his home in New York to visit Joseph and Emma Smith in Harmony, Pennsylvania. However, his wife, Lucy Harris, was upset about the time and money her husband was dedicating to the publication of the Book of Mormon. She was also angry with Joseph Smith for having denied her earlier requests to see the gold plates. She filed a legal complaint against Joseph and gathered a number of people who were willing to testify that he had lied about the existence of the plates. In addition to the threat of the lawsuit against Joseph, these people warned Martin that if he did not join them in testifying of Joseph Smith’s alleged deception and fraud, Martin would be complicit with Joseph and would join him in prison. At this time, Martin had never seen the gold plates himself, although he had acted as a scribe for Joseph. After traveling to Joseph’s home, Martin expressed his desire to receive a further witness of the reality of the gold plates. He may have believed that if he could see the plates himself, he would be prepared to testify in court of their existence and clear his and Joseph Smith’s names of fraud. After Joseph listened to Martin’s request to see the plates, he inquired of the Lord and received the revelation in Doctrine and Covenants 5.

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 5:2–3 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for how the Lord told Joseph Smith to answer Martin Harris’s request.

  • How did the Lord tell Joseph to answer Martin?

  • Why couldn’t Joseph Smith show Martin Harris the plates?

Invite students to ponder why the Lord has not allowed the gold plates to be displayed before the world. Ask a student to read the following statement by President Joseph Fielding Smith:

President Joseph Fielding Smith

“Frequently when [people] … hear the story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, they ask if the plates are in some museum where they may be seen. Some of them with some scientific training, [suggest] that if the scholars could see and examine the plates and learn to read them, they would then bear witness to the truth of the Book of Mormon and the veracity of Joseph Smith, and the whole world would then be converted” (Church History and Modern Revelation, 2 vols. [1953], 1:40).

Divide the class into pairs. Invite each pair to take turns reading Doctrine and Covenants 5:5–10 aloud, looking for why the Lord told Joseph Smith not to display the plates before the world.

  • What reasons did the Lord give for why Joseph Smith should not display the plates before the world? (If people did not believe the Lord’s words revealed through Joseph Smith, they still would not believe if they saw the plates [see D&C 5:7]; the Lord reserved the plates from the world for a wise purpose [see D&C 5:9].)

  • What do we learn from Doctrine and Covenants 5:10 about Joseph Smith’s unique calling? (Students may use different words, but be sure they identify the following truth: The Lord called Joseph Smith to deliver His word to the world. You might want to suggest that students write this truth in their scriptures next to Doctrine and Covenants 5:10.)

  • Why do you think it is important for us to have a testimony of this truth?

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 5:11 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Lord said He would do to support Joseph Smith’s testimony of the Book of Mormon. After students report what they learned, write the following truth on the board: The testimony of the Three Witnesses will stand as evidence of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.

Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 5:11–15 silently, looking for what the Three Witnesses would hear, see, and be charged to do. Ask students to report what they have found.

  • How is it helpful to know that in addition to Joseph Smith, the Lord called three witnesses who saw the plates and heard the Lord declare their truthfulness?

Explain that in addition to directing Joseph Smith and the Three Witnesses to bear testimony, the Lord provided another means by which we can know of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 5:16–18 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Lord promised those who believe in the Book of Mormon.

  • What did the Lord say He would send upon those who believe His words? (Students may use different words, but they should identify the following principle: If we will believe on the Lord’s words, He will confirm their truth through His Spirit.)

To help the class see how they can apply the truths expressed above, invite a student to read the following statement by President Ezra Taft Benson. Ask students to listen for what we should do once we have received a testimony of the Book of Mormon.

President Ezra Taft Benson

“We each need to get our own testimony of the Book of Mormon through the Holy Ghost. Then our testimony, coupled with the Book of Mormon, should be shared with others so that they, too, can know through the Holy Ghost of its truthfulness” (“The Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants,” Ensign, May 1987, 84).

Give students a few minutes to write in their class notebooks or scripture study journals (1) their own testimonies of the Book of Mormon or (2) what they can do to gain or strengthen their witness that the Book of Mormon is true. You may want to invite a few students to share what they have written with the class.

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 5:21–22 aloud, replacing the name “Joseph” with his or her own name. Ask the student to summarize what the Lord is teaching in these verses.

  • How can someone avoid yielding “to the persuasions of men”?

  • What did the Lord promise that Joseph Smith would receive if he would be faithful—even if he was “slain”? (Eternal life.)

Doctrine and Covenants 5:23–35

Martin Harris may be called as one of the Three Witnesses if he repents

If possible, show students a lightbulb (or draw one on the board). Ask what we have to do to make the lightbulb work. Then put the lightbulb in a lamp. Plug in the lamp and turn it on. Explain that just as there are several steps to turning on a lightbulb, Martin Harris learned that there would be several steps to receiving the witness of the plates he desired from the Lord.

Ask students to read Doctrine and Covenants 5:23–24 silently, looking for the conditional promise the Lord gave to Martin Harris using the words if and then. Invite a student to write what he or she found on the board. The student may write something like “If Martin Harris will pray in humility, faith, and sincerity, then the Lord will grant him a view of the plates as he desired.” Point out that through this promise, the Lord was offering Martin Harris the opportunity to be a witness of the Book of Mormon.

  • What do you think it means to pray in humility, faith, and sincerity?

To help students identify a truth from Doctrine and Covenants 5:24, ask them to rephrase the “if–then” statement on the board in a way that can be applied to all of us. Students should express something similar to the following truth: If we sincerely pray in humility and faith, then we can receive answers according to our righteous desires.

  • How do you think praying with humility, faith, and sincerity might prepare us to receive answers from the Lord?

  • When have you heard or offered a prayer that you felt was offered in humility, faith, and sincerity? What made this prayer different from other prayers you had heard or offered?

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 5:25–26 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Lord expected Martin Harris to do after becoming a witness to the Book of Mormon. Ask students to report what they find.

Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 5:27–28, 32 silently, looking for additional counsel and warnings that the Lord gave to Martin Harris.

  • What did the Lord counsel and warn Martin Harris to do?

  • What does the Lord say will happen to Martin Harris if he does not humble himself and “receive a witness” (D&C 5:32) from the Lord?

  • How might we relate the counsel in Doctrine and Covenants 5:32 to ourselves?

Invite students to record in their class notebooks or scripture study journals any impressions that came to them during today’s lesson. You might encourage them to focus on specific changes they feel they need to make in order to pray with greater humility, faith, and sincerity so they are better able to receive answers from the Lord.

Commentary and Background Information

Doctrine and Covenants 5:7, 16. A true witness comes through the Holy Ghost

President Gordon B. Hinckley counseled against relying on physical or scientific evidence alone to sustain our faith in the Book of Mormon:

“The evidence for its truth, for its validity in a world that is prone to demand evidence, lies not in archaeology or anthropology, though these may be helpful to some. It lies not in word research or historical analysis, though these may be confirmatory. The evidence for its truth and validity lies within the covers of the book itself. The test of its truth lies in reading it. It is a book of God. Reasonable people may sincerely question its origin; but those who have read it prayerfully have come to know by a power beyond their natural senses that it is true, that it contains the word of God, that it outlines saving truths of the everlasting gospel, that it ‘came forth by the gift and power of God … to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ’ (Book of Mormon title page)” (“Four Cornerstones of Faith,” Ensign, Feb. 2004, 6).

President Joseph F. Smith taught that a manifestation of truth through the Holy Ghost is more powerful than anything we might perceive through our senses:

“We may see a great many things with our natural sight, but that may be deceived. We may hear with our ears, but they may be deceived. Our natural senses are susceptible to deception. … But let me tell you when the Almighty reveals Himself unto man, He does it by the power of the Holy Ghost, and not through the natural eye or the natural ear. He speaks to man as if He were speaking to him independent of his body; He speaks to the spirit. Therefore, if God Almighty speaks to you and bears record of His truth by the power of the Holy Ghost, … you will know as God knows. It will not be something that you believe only; something that has been communicated to you through your natural senses, in which you may be mistaken or deceived; but it will be that which God has spoken to the heart, to the living soul, to the eternal being of man, which, like God, is indestructible and eternal” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith [1998], 6).

Supplemental Teaching Idea

Doctrine and Covenants 5:1–10. Martin Harris obeys the revelation and defends Joseph Smith in court

To help students understand how Martin Harris responded to the Lord’s words contained in Doctrine and Covenants 5:1–10, explain that not long after this revelation was received, he was called to testify before a judge in New York concerning the charges of deception and fraud against Joseph Smith. Martin boldly testified of Joseph Smith’s honesty and character and told the court, “As to the plates which he professes to have, gentlemen, if you do not believe it, but continue to resist the truth, it will one day be the means of damning your souls” (in Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, ed. Preston Nibley [1958], 146). After hearing Martin’s testimony, the judge dismissed the case against Joseph Smith.

  • Why is it important to you to know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God?