Lesson 38: Doctrine and Covenants 31–32

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual, 2013


In September 1830, the Lord called Thomas B. Marsh to preach the gospel and help establish the Church. This call, contained in Doctrine and Covenants 31, also included promises and counsel to guide Thomas in his personal life and as a missionary. In October 1830, Joseph Smith received the revelation now contained in Doctrine and Covenants 32, in which the Lord called Parley P. Pratt and Ziba Peterson to join Oliver Cowdery and Peter Whitmer Jr. on a mission to the Lamanites in western Missouri. The Lord promised to be with these men in their missionary labors.

Suggestions for Teaching

Doctrine and Covenants 31:1–8

The Lord calls Thomas B. Marsh to preach the gospel and help establish the Church

Invite students to think of their family members and the feelings they have for them. You might display a picture of your family and briefly describe your love for them. Ask students to consider whether there is anyone in their family who is not a member of the Church or is not currently living according to his or her covenants with the Lord. You might also invite students to ponder their hopes for such family members.

Explain that in Doctrine and Covenants 31, the Lord addressed a recent convert named Thomas B. Marsh and spoke to him about his family.

To help the class understand the background of this section, invite a student to read the following description of how Thomas B. Marsh became a member of the Church.

While living in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1829, Thomas B. Marsh concluded that none of the churches he knew of were consistent with the teachings of the Bible. He wrote, “I believed the Spirit of God dictated me to make a journey west.” He departed from his wife, Elizabeth, and their young family to search for the truth. After a three-month journey, Thomas was traveling home when he “heard of [a] Golden Book found by a youth named Joseph Smith.” He made his way to Palmyra, New York, where he met Martin Harris. The printer gave Thomas a proof sheet containing the first sixteen pages of the Book of Mormon. Thomas later wrote, “After arriving home … I showed my wife the sixteen pages of the Book of Mormon … with which she was well pleased, believing it to be the work of God.” About a year later, after learning about the organization of the Church, Thomas and his family moved to Palmyra. While living in the area he was baptized near Fayette and ordained an elder by Oliver Cowdery in September 1830 (see Thomas B. Marsh, “History of Thomas Baldwin Marsh,” Millennial Star, June 11, 1864, 375).

  • What impresses you about Thomas B. Marsh’s search for the truth?

Ask a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 31:1–2 aloud, and invite the class to look for phrases the Lord used to encourage Thomas following his baptism.

  • What encouragement did the Lord give to Thomas in these verses?

  • What promise did the Lord give Thomas concerning his family?

  • What principle can we learn from Doctrine and Covenants 31:1–2 that can help us if we have family members who are not members of the Church or are not faithfully living according to their covenants? (Although students may use different words, they should identify the following principle: Through our faithfulness, our family members may be blessed to believe and know the truth. Write this principle on the board.)

  • What are some ways individuals may be blessed through the faithfulness of family members? What examples of this have you seen?

Ask students to scan Doctrine and Covenants 31:3–4 and identify what the Lord called Thomas B. Marsh to do. Invite them to report what they find. Then ask a student to read the following statement by President Gordon B. Hinckley regarding the blessings that come to those who faithfully serve as missionaries. (You may want to provide students with a copy of this statement to keep in their scriptures.) Invite the class to listen for who is blessed through missionary service.

President Gordon B. Hinckley

“You will bless the lives of those you teach, and their posterity after them. You will bless your own life. You will bless the lives of your family, who will sustain you and pray for you” (“Of Missions, Temples, and Stewardship,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 52).

  • Who is blessed through missionary service?

Divide the class into three groups. Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 31:5–8 aloud. Ask one group to look for blessings that would come to those whom Thomas B. Marsh would teach. Ask the second group to look for blessings that would come to Thomas as he served as a missionary. Ask the third group to look for blessings that would come to Thomas’s family while he was away from them. After the student reads, ask the following questions:

  • What blessings would come to those whom Thomas would teach?

  • How would Thomas be blessed for his missionary service?

  • How would his family be blessed?

  • How has another person’s missionary service blessed your life or the life of someone you know?

You may want to share examples of how you have seen missionary service bless people’s lives.

Doctrine and Covenants 31:9–13

Jesus Christ gives personal counsel to Thomas B. Marsh

Explain that Doctrine and Covenants 31:9–13 contains counsel the Lord gave to help Thomas B. Marsh in his personal life and as a missionary. Before class, write the following instructions on the board or prepare them on a handout for students:

Study Doctrine and Covenants 31:9–12, and identify one item of counsel that you feel would be important for us to follow today. Prepare to answer the following questions:

  1. 1.

    Which item of counsel did you choose? Why do you think this counsel is important for us today?

  2. 2.

    What is one way we can apply this counsel in our lives?

  3. 3.

    How can we benefit from following this counsel?

Assign students to work in pairs. Ask them to study Doctrine and Covenants 31:9–12 individually and then share their answers to the questions with their partners.

After students have shared, invite them to read Doctrine and Covenants 31:13 silently and identify the blessing the Lord promised to Thomas B. Marsh if he would be faithful. Invite a student to come to the board and write this promise in the form of a principle, using the words if and then. Encourage the rest of the class to assist the student as needed. Although the student may use different words, the following principle should be clear: If we are faithful to the end, then the Lord will be with us. Point out that this truth applies to us as we try to share the gospel with others as well as in other situations.

  • When have you felt that the Lord was with you as you sought to be faithful to Him? (Give students time to ponder this question before they respond. Consider sharing an experience of your own.)

Doctrine and Covenants 32

The Lord calls Parley P. Pratt and Ziba Peterson to join the mission to the Lamanites

Ask students to look at the map in their scriptures titled “The Westward Movement of the Church” (see Church History Maps, Map 6). Or you could display a large map showing the distance between New York and Missouri, USA.

  • Where were Oliver Cowdery and Peter Whitmer Jr. called to preach the gospel? (If students do not remember, invite them to refer to Doctrine and Covenants 28:8–9; 30:5. These missionaries were called to preach “unto the Lamanites,” on the western border of Missouri. Help students locate this area on the map.)

Invite a student to read aloud the section introduction of Doctrine and Covenants 32. Ask the class to follow along and identify the question some elders of the Church had concerning the mission Oliver Cowdery and Peter Whitmer Jr. were called to perform.

  • What question did some elders of the Church have concerning the mission to the Lamanites? (They wanted to know if additional missionaries might be called to teach the Lamanites.)

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 32:1–3 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what Parley P. Pratt and Ziba Peterson were called to do and what the Lord promised them.

  • What were Parley and Ziba called to do?

  • What did the Lord promise them?

You may want to point out the similarity between the promises given in Doctrine and Covenants 32:3 and the principle written on the board: If we are faithful to the end, then the Lord will be with us.

You may want to explain that during the fall of 1830 and the winter of 1830–31, this small group of missionaries (later joined by a convert from Ohio named Frederick G. Williams) traveled nearly 1,500 miles (about 2,400 kilometers) from Fayette, New York, to Independence, Missouri, much of the way on foot. These four missionaries arrived at Independence in mid-January 1831. For part of their journey, they endured intense cold, strong winds, and exhaustion, living mainly on frozen corn bread and raw pork. In some places, the snow where they walked was three feet deep. In spite of these hardships, the missionaries succeeded in introducing the gospel to American Indians who lived in Indian Territory near the western border of Missouri. They also preached the gospel in Mentor and Kirtland, Ohio, to a congregation of people who were looking for a restoration of New Testament Christianity. (Students will learn more about these people and their leader, Sidney Rigdon, in their study of Doctrine and Covenants 35.) The Lord fulfilled His promise that He would be with these missionaries and that nothing would prevail against them. (See Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual, 2nd ed. [Church Educational System manual, 2003], 84–85.)

You may want to conclude this lesson by testifying of the truths you have discussed.

scripture mastery iconScripture Mastery Review

You can use tests and quizzes to help students assess their level of mastery in locating, understanding, or memorizing scripture mastery passages. Their performance on tests and quizzes can help them determine which passages they know well and which they still need to work on. As their performance improves, their confidence in their knowledge of the scriptures will grow.

If time permits, create and administer a scripture mastery test for your students. Tests can be given verbally or on paper. One option might be to create a matching test using the references and key words on the scripture mastery bookmark or cards. Tailor the difficulty of the questions to your students’ level of mastery. To help students perform well, give them time to study before they take the test. Studying with a partner is one effective way to prepare.

Commentary and Background Information

Doctrine and Covenants 31

The revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 31 is one of several (see D&C 30–36) that the Lord gave on missionary work between the time He first revealed the principle of gathering His people (see D&C 29:1–8) and when He first specified a gathering place for them (see D&C 37).

Doctrine and Covenants 31:2, 5–8. Through our faithfulness, our family members can come to know the truth

Every individual who learns about the gospel of Jesus Christ must choose for himself or herself whether to accept it. However, our example of faithfulness can influence others for good. The Lord’s ways and timing for fulfilling promises like the ones He made to Thomas B. Marsh in Doctrine and Covenants 31:2, 5–8 may not always meet our hopes or expectations. However, the following account by President Thomas S. Monson about an experience he had as a mission president in Canada demonstrates that the Lord does fulfill His promises to the faithful:

“There sat in my office one day a newly arrived missionary. He was bright, strong, filled with enthusiasm and a desire to serve, happy and grateful to be a missionary. As I spoke with him I said, ‘Elder, I imagine that your father and mother wholeheartedly support you in your mission call.’ He lowered his head and replied, ‘Well, not quite. You see, President, my father is not a member of the Church. He doesn’t believe as we believe, so he cannot fully appreciate the importance of my assignment.’ Without hesitating and prompted by a source not my own, I said to him, ‘Elder, if you will honestly and diligently serve God in proclaiming his message, your father will join the Church before your mission is concluded.’ He clasped my hand in a viselike grip, the tears welled up in his eyes and began to roll forth down his cheeks, and he declared, ‘To see my father accept the truth would be the greatest blessing that could come into my life.’

“This young man did not sit idly by, hoping and wishing that the promise would be fulfilled, but rather he followed the example of Abraham Lincoln, of whom it has been said, ‘When he prayed, he prayed as though everything depended upon God, and then he worked as though everything depended upon him.’ Such was the missionary service of this young man.

“At every missionary conference I would seek him out before the meetings would ever commence and ask, ‘Elder, how’s dad progressing?’

“His reply would invariably be, ‘No progress, President, but I know the Lord will fulfil the promise given to me through you as my mission president.’ The days turned to weeks and the weeks to months and finally, just two weeks before we ourselves left the mission field to return home, I received a letter from the father of this missionary. I would like to share it with you today.

“‘Dear Brother Monson:

“‘I wish to thank you so much for taking such good care of my son who recently completed a mission in Canada.

“‘He has been an inspiration to us.

“‘My son was promised when he left on his mission that I would become a member of the Church before his return. This promise was, I believe, made to him by you, unknown to me.

“‘I am happy to report that I was baptized into the Church one week before he completed his mission. …

“‘… His younger brother was also recently baptized and confirmed a member of the Church.

“‘May I again thank you for all the kindness and love bestowed upon my son by his brothers in the mission field during the past two years.

“‘Yours very truly,

“‘A grateful father.’

“The humble prayer of faith had once again been answered” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1964, 131–32).

Doctrine and Covenants 31:10. How was Thomas B. Marsh a “physician unto the church”?

Thomas B. Marsh had acquired some skills in the medicinal use of mild herbs and was able to help people with his knowledge. However, his greater calling was the healing of souls. There are many recorded instances of Thomas B. Marsh giving his time to help members of the Church resolve their problems.

Doctrine and Covenants 32. Was the mission to the Lamanites successful?

Although the first mission to the Lamanites was not very successful in proselyting American Indians, it did have a significant impact on the early history of the Church. President Joseph Fielding Smith explained:

“The journey of nearly fifteen hundred miles, through wilderness much of the way, and in inclement weather much of the time, consumed some four months time. It was, however, a very profitable journey, as many embraced the Gospel along the way and substantial branches were raised in Kirtland and other parts, and many stalwart men came into the Church. This was the first missionary journey west of the state of New York, and its results were to prove to be incalculable in the benefits to the Church” (Church History and Modern Revelation, 2 vols. [1953], 1:150).

Doctrine and Covenants 32:1–3. Parley P. Pratt and Ziba Peterson

The revelation in Doctrine and Covenants 32 was addressed to Parley P. Pratt and Ziba Peterson. Consider reading aloud the following historical information to help the class learn more about these two men:

In the summer of 1830, Parley P. Pratt and his wife, Thankful, journeyed from their home in Amherst, Ohio, to visit relatives in the state of New York. The Holy Ghost prompted Parley to stop at the village of Newark, New York, near Palmyra, where he learned about the Book of Mormon. He later wrote of his response to the book:

“I read all day; eating was a burden, I had no desire for food; sleep was a burden when the night came, for I preferred reading to sleep.

“As I read, the spirit of the Lord was upon me, and I knew and comprehended that the book was true” (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, ed. Parley P. Pratt [1938], 20).

Parley traveled to Palmyra, where he met and was taught by Hyrum Smith. Soon, Hyrum and Parley journeyed to Fayette, New York, to meet with members of the growing branch of the Church. Parley was baptized and ordained an elder by Oliver Cowdery in September 1830.

Little is known about the conversion of Ziba Peterson. We do know that he was baptized by Oliver Cowdery in April 1830 and was ordained an elder in June of the same year.

Doctrine and Covenants 32:3. “Nothing shall prevail against them”

The following account is an example of how the Lord blessed Parley P. Pratt as he fulfilled his mission:

Fifty miles west of Kirtland, Parley was arrested on a “frivolous charge,” tried, and “ordered to prison” or to pay a fine (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, ed. Parley P. Pratt [1938], 36). Because he could not pay, Parley spent the night locked in a public inn. The next morning, he was visited briefly by his companions and urged them to move ahead on their journey, promising to soon catch up with them. Parley reported: “After sitting awhile by the fire in charge of the officer, I requested to step out. I walked out into the public square accompanied by him. Said I, ‘Mr. Peabody, are you good at a race?’ ‘No,’ said he, ‘but my big bull dog is, and he has been trained to assist me in my office these several years; he will take any man down at my bidding.’ ‘Well, Mr. Peabody, you compelled me to go a mile, I have gone with you two miles. You have given me an opportunity to preach, sing, and have also entertained me with lodging and breakfast. I must now go on my journey; if you are good at a race you can accompany me. I thank you for all your kindness—good day, sir.’

“I then started on my journey, while he stood amazed and not able to step one foot before the other. … He did not awake from his astonishment sufficiently to start in pursuit till I had gained, perhaps, two hundred yards. … He now came hallooing after me, and shouting to his dog to seize me. The dog, being one of the largest I ever saw, came close on my footsteps with all his fury; the officer behind still in pursuit, clapping his hands and hallooing, ‘stu-boy, stu-boy—take him—watch—lay hold of him, I say—down with him,’ and pointing his finger in the direction I was running. The dog was fast overtaking me, and in the act of leaping upon me, when, quick as lightning, the thought struck me, to assist the officer, in sending the dog with all fury to the forest a little distance before me. I pointed my finger in that direction, clapped my hands, and shouted in imitation of the officer. The dog hastened past me with redoubled speed towards the forest; being urged by the officer and myself, and both of us running in the same direction.”

Having eluded both the dog and the officer, Elder Pratt joined his companions via an alternate route. Parley later learned that Simeon Carter, whom he had left a Book of Mormon with, along with about sixty others in that area, joined the Church (see Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, 38–39).