Lesson 44: Doctrine and Covenants 39–40

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual, 2013


Introduction

In January of 1831, a Protestant minister named James Covel met with Joseph Smith in Fayette, New York, and “covenanted with the Lord that he would obey any commandment that the Lord would give through his servent Joseph” (see Documents, Volume 1: July 1828–June 1831, vol. 1 of the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers [2013], 233–34). The Lord’s response is recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 39. In the revelation, the Lord called on James Covel to be baptized and to preach the fulness of the gospel in Ohio. However, the day after the revelation was dictated, James Covel left Fayette and “returned to his former principles and people” (History of the Church, 1:145). The Lord then gave a revelation to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon explaining why Covel had not obeyed the commandments given to him. The revelation is recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 40.

Suggestions for Teaching

Doctrine and Covenants 39:1–12

Jesus Christ invites James Covel to receive His gospel and be baptized

Ask students to imagine that they have just been given a gift by a parent or another loved one. As they open the gift, they discover that it is something they really want.

  • Would you accept this gift? Are there any reasons why you would choose not to receive the gift?

  • Can you think of any gifts or offerings from Heavenly Father that His children have chosen not to receive?

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 39:1–3 aloud. Ask the class to look for what some people chose not to receive.

  • What did these people choose not to receive?

  • What do you think it means to receive Jesus Christ?

  • From what you know about the Savior’s ministry on the earth, what were some of the reasons His people did not receive Him?

Write the following incomplete statement on the board: If we receive Jesus Christ, He will …

Ask a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 39:4 aloud. Invite the class to follow along, looking for how the statement on the board could be completed to form a principle. Ask students to report what they learn.

Point out that even though the verse says “sons,” the Lord has taught that women can become the daughters of Jesus Christ (see D&C 25:1). Then complete the statement on the board as follows: If we receive Jesus Christ, He will give us power to become His children.

To help students understand what it means to become children of Jesus Christ, invite a student to read the following statement by President Joseph Fielding Smith. (You may want to write this statement on the board before class or give it to students as a handout.)

President Joseph Fielding Smith

“The Savior becomes our Father, in the sense in which this term is used in the scriptures, because he offers us life, eternal life, through the atonement which he made for us” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 1:29).

Explain that in the Book of Mormon we learn that those who have their hearts changed through faith on the name of Jesus Christ are spiritually begotten of Him. They become His sons and daughters (see Mosiah 5:7). Simply stated, the sons and daughters of Christ are “those who have accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Children of Christ,” scriptures.lds.org).

  • According to President Smith’s statement, why can we become children of Jesus Christ?

Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 39:5–6 silently, looking for how we can receive Jesus Christ and take advantage of what He offers us so that we can become His children.

  • Based on what you have learned from these verses, how would you explain what we must do to become children of Jesus Christ?

Explain that the Lord’s words in these verses were directed to James Covel, who had been a well-respected Methodist minister for about 40 years. Just before Joseph Smith received this revelation, James Covel had learned about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Although he was not a member of the Church, he had covenanted to obey any commandment he received through Joseph Smith. (Note that recent research has shed light on the identity of the man for whom this revelation was given. If students do not have the most recent edition of the scriptures, the section introduction will not reflect the newest information.)

  • Knowing that James Covel was not a member of the Church when this revelation was received, how might the teachings in verses 5–6 have applied to him?

  • Why might it have taken great faith for James Covel to receive Jesus Christ and His gospel and be baptized? (As a minister, if James Covel were to be baptized, he would have to give up the positions, associations, and income he had established over 40 years.)

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 39:7–9 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for evidence that the Lord knew James Covel. After students report what they have learned, ask the following questions:

  • If you had been in James Covel’s position, how might you have felt after hearing these words? Why?

  • What did the Lord say about the condition of James Covel’s heart at this time? What do you think it means that his heart was “now right before” the Lord? (You may want to invite students to mark the word now in verse 8.)

  • According to verse 9, why had James Covel rejected the Lord many times?

Copy the following chart on the board:

If you will …

Then …

  

Invite three students to take turns reading aloud from Doctrine and Covenants 39:10–12. Before they begin reading, ask half of the class to look for what the Lord instructed James Covel to do. Ask the other half to look for what the Lord promised James Covel he would receive if he obeyed the Lord.

As students report what they have learned, write their answers under the appropriate heading in the chart. To help students analyze these verses, ask the following question:

  • In what ways would James Covel receive greater blessings and do a greater work if he accepted the Lord’s invitation to be baptized? (Help students see that the Lord offered James the fulness of the gospel, which included responsibilities and blessings he did not have before, such as the gift of the Holy Ghost and ordination to the priesthood.)

Point out the word if in Doctrine and Covenants 39:10 and 11. You may want to suggest that students mark this word in their scriptures.

  • What is the significance of the word if in these verses? (The Lord’s promised blessings to James Covel were conditional upon James hearkening to the Lord’s voice.)

  • What principle can we learn from the Lord’s use of the word if in these verses? (Although students may use different words, they should identify the following principle: The Lord’s promised blessings are conditional upon our hearkening to His voice. Write this principle on the board.)

Ask students to silently consider some of the blessings the Lord has promised them. Then ask them to ponder the following question:

  • What conditions has the Lord placed on you before you can receive those blessings?

Doctrine and Covenants 39:13–24

James Covel is called to preach the fulness of the gospel in Ohio

Summarize Doctrine and Covenants 39:13–24 by informing students that the Lord called James Covel to preach the gospel in Ohio. The Lord gave him instructions about what to teach and how to teach it.

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 39:22 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for how this verse relates to the principles you have already discussed in this lesson.

  • How do you think you might respond if you were not a member of the Church and the instructions in this revelation were given to you?

Doctrine and Covenants 40

The Lord reveals why James Covel rejected His words

Inform students that the day after the revelation known as Doctrine and Covenants 39 was dictated, James Covel left Fayette, New York, and “returned to his former principles and people” (History of the Church, 1:145). The Lord revealed to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon why James Covel did not obey the Lord’s instructions and receive the blessings outlined in section 39.

Invite three students to take turns reading aloud from Doctrine and Covenants 40:1–3. Ask the class to follow along, looking for the reason James Covel did not hearken to the voice of the Lord.

  • Compare Doctrine and Covenants 40:1 with Doctrine and Covenants 39:8. How had James Covel’s heart changed?

  • According to Doctrine and Covenants 40:2, what ultimately led James Covel to reject the word of the Lord?

  • What principles can you identify in verse 2? (Students may identify a variety of principles, but make sure they recognize that fear and the cares of the world can cause us to reject the word of God. Write this truth on the board. You may want to suggest that students write it in their scriptures.)

  • What are some cares of the world that might prevent people from following the Lord?

Invite students to write in their class notebooks or scripture study journals some fears or cares of the world that could prevent them from following Jesus Christ and living His gospel. Then ask them to write what they can do to have faith to overcome their fears or cares. Encourage them to act on what they have written.

To help students summarize what they have learned, write the word if on the board. Then ask the following questions:

  • How does this word relate to James Covel?

  • How does it relate to us?

To conclude the lesson, invite a few students to share when they have received a blessing from the Lord because they obeyed the conditions attached to that blessing. You may also want to share your testimony of the blessings we receive when we keep the commandments.

Commentary and Background Information

Doctrine and Covenants 39. James Covel

The earliest copy of Doctrine and Covenants 39 indicated only that it was a revelation given for someone named James. The published copy of the revelation expanded the name of the recipient to “James (C.,).” In the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, his name was identified as “James Covill.” In the 1981 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, he was identified as a Baptist minister. However, recent research indicates that this revelation was given to James Covel, who was a Methodist minister.

Doctrine and Covenants 40. Why did James Covel reject the Lord’s words?

In 1831, some members of the United Methodist Church did not believe in rebaptism; nor did they believe that any man had the power to bestow the Holy Ghost. James Covel, who was a Methodist minister, may have been troubled by the command to be rebaptized (see D&C 39:10). Additionally, James Covel had spent seven years as a circuit rider (a traveling minister) under primitive and harsh conditions. He had retired from riding a preaching circuit in 1797. When the Lord called him to embark on a mission, Covel may have felt that the assignment to travel the frontier to preach was too much of a sacrifice. This may be part of the “cares of the world” (D&C 40:2) that caused him to reject the covenant he had made.

Supplemental Teaching Idea

Doctrine and Covenants 40:1–3.

Consider concluding the lesson with the following teaching idea:

To help students consider some lessons that can be learned from the revelations about James Covel, read the following statement by President Harold B. Lee. Before you read, invite students to listen to the statement and consider how it applies to James Covel.

“I sat in a class in Sunday School in my own ward one day, and the teacher was the son of a patriarch. He said he used to take down the blessings of his father, and he noticed that his father gave what he called ‘iffy’ blessings. He would give a blessing, but it was predicated on ‘if you will not do this’ or ‘if you will cease doing that.’ And he said, ‘I watched these men to whom my father gave the “iffy” blessings, and I saw that many of them did not heed the warning that my father as a patriarch had given, and the blessings were never received because they did not comply.’

“You know, this started me thinking. I went back into the Doctrine and Covenants and began to read the ‘iffy’ revelations that have been given to the various brethren in the Church. If you want to have an exercise in something that will startle you, read some of the warnings that were given through the Prophet Joseph Smith to Thomas B. Marsh, Martin Harris, some of the Whitmer brothers, William E. McLellin—warnings which, had they heeded, some would not have fallen by the wayside. But because they did not heed, and they didn’t clear up their lives, they fell by the wayside” (“Admonitions for the Priesthood of God,” Ensign, Jan. 1973, 107–8).

  • How does President Lee’s statement relate to James Covel? How does it relate to us?

Ask students to ponder the “iffy” or conditional blessings the Lord has given them. Invite a few students to share when they have received a blessing from the Lord because they obeyed the conditions attached to that blessing.