Lesson 57: Doctrine and Covenants 50

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual, 2013


When Joseph Smith arrived in Kirtland, Ohio, he observed that “some strange notions and false spirits had crept in among” some of the Saints. He began teaching with “caution and … wisdom” to overcome these things (see History of the Church, 1:146). Elder Parley P. Pratt returned from a mission and observed similar behavior in branches of the Church outside of Kirtland. He and other elders went to Joseph Smith to receive guidance (see History of the Church, 1:170). In May 1831, the Prophet inquired of the Lord and received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 50. In this revelation, the Lord instructed the Saints to teach and receive the gospel by the Spirit of truth.

Suggestions for Teaching

Doctrine and Covenants 50:1–9

The Lord warns the elders of the Church about false spirits

Ask students to imagine attending a sacrament meeting in which some adult Church members are standing on benches and speaking loudly, while others are rolling around on the floor.

  • How would you feel? What do you think would happen to the Spirit under such circumstances? (Ensure that this discussion does not become a criticism of religions in which people engage in such activities.)

Explain that when Joseph Smith arrived in Kirtland for the first time, he saw that some of the Saints had been deceived during a time when they had been without much leadership. As a result, “some strange notions and false spirits had crept in among” them (History of the Church, 1:146). The new members in the Kirtland area had introduced strange, loud, and confusing activities into their worship services. These activities stirred people’s emotions, but they were not edifying. Some of the elders of the Church did not understand what was happening, so they asked the Prophet for counsel. He inquired of the Lord and received a revelation that would help the Saints edify one another as they taught and learned gospel truths.

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 50:1–3 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for the source of this influence among the Saints.

  • What was the source of this influence?

  • According to verse 3, why did Satan want to deceive the Saints?

Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 50:4–9 silently, looking for the Lord’s warning about some people among the Church members in Ohio.

  • What words did the Lord use to describe some members of the Church at this time?

  • What is a hypocrite? How can hypocrisy give power to the adversary?

  • What did the Lord say would happen to hypocrites? (See D&C 50:6, 8.)

Doctrine and Covenants 50:10–36

Priesthood holders are instructed how to teach and learn by the Spirit

Write the following questions on the board:

What is required to be an effective teacher of the gospel?

What is required to be an effective learner of the gospel?

Invite students to answer these questions. Record their main points on the board under each question. Then divide the class into two groups. Invite one group to read Doctrine and Covenants 50:13–20 silently, looking for answers to the first question. Invite the other group to read Doctrine and Covenants 50:13–20 silently, looking for answers to the second question. After sufficient time, invite several students to share what they have discovered.

  • What element of gospel teaching and learning is repeated in these verses? (The need for the Spirit.)

  • What roles of the Holy Ghost are mentioned in Doctrine and Covenants 50:14? (Students should express that the Holy Ghost is the Comforter and that the Holy Ghost teaches the truth.)

  • What do you think it means to teach the gospel “by the Spirit”? (D&C 50:14). What do you think it means to teach by “some other way”? (D&C 50:17).

Ask students to think of opportunities they have to teach the gospel. They may think of teaching at home, with their friends, in seminary, at church, or as home teachers. Invite a few students to share experiences they have had when they have felt the Spirit guide them in teaching the gospel or sharing their testimonies.

  • What do you think it means to “receive [the word of truth] by the Spirit of truth”? (D&C 50:19). What do you think it means to receive it by “some other way”? (D&C 50:19).

  • What can you do to better receive the gospel when it is taught by the Spirit?

Invite a student to read aloud the following story told by Elder Jack H. Goaslind of the Seventy. Ask the class to listen for insights about how we can better receive the word of truth by the Spirit.

“How many of you have assumed the ‘bored position’ during sacrament meeting? You know the position: bent forward at the waist, chin resting on hands, elbows on knees, staring vacantly at the floor. Has it occurred to you that it is your choice whether the meeting is interesting or not? …

“President Spencer W. Kimball said that worship ‘is an individual responsibility, and regardless of what is said from the pulpit, if one wishes to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth, he may do so. … If the service is a failure to you, you have failed. No one can worship for you; you must do your own waiting upon the Lord.’ (Ensign, Jan. 1978, p. 5.)

“One youth described how he first experienced the spirit of worship. He had been marginally active through his Aaronic Priesthood years. When he attended sacrament meeting, he usually sat in the back with a group of his friends, and he was less than a model of reverence. One day, however, he came in a little late, and there were no seats by his friends. He sat alone, and for the first time in his life, he closed his eyes during the prayers, he sang the hymns, he listened to the sacrament prayers, and he paid attention to the speakers. About midway through the first speaker, he found tears welling up in his eyes. With some embarrassment, he carefully glanced around; no one else seemed emotional. He didn’t know for sure what was happening to him, but the experience changed his life. It was during that meeting that he really started his spiritual preparation for his mission. He felt something, and fortunately, he acted and thus sustained those feelings” (“Yagottawanna,” Ensign, May 1991, 46).

Invite students to share which parts of this story impressed them. After a few have shared, you may want to suggest that they write one specific way they can improve in their efforts to learn by the Spirit.

Ask students to ponder how they can determine whether they are teaching and learning by the Spirit. Then invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 50:21–22 aloud, and ask the class to look for the Lord’s instruction about how to do this.

  • What happens when we teach and learn by the Spirit?

  • What do you think it means to be “edified and rejoice together”? When have you experienced this?

  • How would you summarize the Lord’s teaching in Doctrine and Covenants 50:13–22? (Students should identify the following principle: When we teach and learn by the Spirit, we understand one another and we are edified and rejoice together. Write this principle on the board.)

Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 50:23–25 silently. Ask them to look for the contrast between what happens when people teach by the Spirit and what happens when people teach and learn by “some other way” (D&C 50:17). Ask students to report what they find.

  • How did the Lord describe teaching that does not edify?

  • How did the Lord describe teaching that “is of God”? (D&C 50:24). How did He say we will be blessed as we receive such teaching?

  • What doctrine is taught in these verses? (Students should identify the following doctrine: That which comes from God enlightens and edifies, but that which is not of God brings confusion and darkness. Write this truth on the board.)

  • When have you felt that something you heard, saw, or experienced was not of God? How did the Spirit help you recognize that?

Explain to students that they will hear and see messages that are intended to damage their faith. The principles they are learning today can fortify them against those messages. You may want to share an experience you have had when the Spirit has helped you discern that a message was not of God.

Summarize Doctrine and Covenants 50:26–36 by explaining that the Lord counseled priesthood holders regarding the power and responsibilities that come with their ordination. He said that priesthood holders are to serve others and keep themselves pure. As they do so, the Lord will give them power to overcome false spirits like those that were found among some of the Saints at the time this revelation was given.

Doctrine and Covenants 50:37–46

The Lord encourages the Saints to continue growing in grace and truth, and He assures them He is with them

Show the picture Family Prayer (Gospel Art Book [2009], no. 112; see also LDS.org). Point to the littlest boy and ask the following questions:

Family Prayer
  • Can you picture this little boy serving a full-time mission when he is older? What in this picture suggests he will be prepared to serve?

  • Considering the work the Lord has in store for each of us, in what ways are we like this little boy?

Point out that Doctrine and Covenants 50:37–40 contains the Lord’s counsel to some of the elders who were present when this revelation was received. Invite a student to read verse 40 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for counsel the Lord gave to these elders.

  • According to verse 40, why did the Lord call these priesthood holders “little children”? In what ways are we like little children?

  • What do you think it means to “grow in grace”? What do you think it means to grow “in the knowledge of the truth”?

  • What can we learn from this verse about the blessings that the Savior wants us to receive? (Students should identify the following principle: The Savior wants us to grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth.)

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 50:41–46 aloud. Ask the class to look for words of comfort and assurance that the Lord gave to these elders and to us.

  • What does it mean to you when the Lord says, “You are mine”? How can this assurance help us to “fear not”? (D&C 50:41).

  • What other promises in these verses are meaningful to you?

Conclude by testifying of the principles taught in the lesson today. Encourage students to teach and learn by the Spirit more fully.

Commentary and Background Information

Doctrine and Covenants 50. The manner in which the Prophet Joseph Smith received this revelation

Elder Parley P. Pratt gave a description of Joseph Smith dictating the revelation that is now recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 50. This is one of the most detailed descriptions we have of the Prophet dictating revelations. Elder Pratt said:

“Each sentence was uttered slowly and very distinctly, and with a pause between each, sufficiently long for it to be recorded, by an ordinary writer, in long hand.

“… There was never any hesitation, reviewing, or reading back, in order to keep the run of the subject; … and I was present to witness the dictation of several communications of several pages each” (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, ed. Parley P. Pratt Jr. [1938], 62).

After Joseph Smith dictated revelations, he always reviewed the written version, seeking inspiration to make any changes that were needed.

Doctrine and Covenants 50. “Strange notions and false spirits” had come among the Saints

John Whitmer described some of the “strange notions and false spirits” (History of the Church, 1:146) among the Saints in Kirtland in the spring of 1831:

“Some had visions and could not tell what they saw, some would fancy to themselves that they had the sword of Laban, and would wield it [like a soldier on horseback], some would act like an Indian in the act of scalping, some would slide or scoot and [on] the floor, with the rapidity of a serpent, which the[y] termed sailing in the boat to the Lamanites, preaching the gospel. And many other vain and foolish manoeuvers that are unseeming, and unprofitable to mention” (Documents, Volume 1: July 1828–June 1831, vol. 1 of the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers [2013], 305).

Doctrine and Covenants 50:13–14, 17. Teaching by the Spirit of truth

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained what we must do before we can teach by the Spirit:

“We must study the scriptures. We must study the teachings of the living prophets. We must learn all that we can to make ourselves presentable and understandable. … Preparation is a prerequisite to teaching by the Spirit” (“Teaching and Learning by the Spirit,” Ensign, Mar. 1997, 10).

President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency gave insight and instruction to help us teach by the Spirit:

“Doctrine gains its power as the Holy Ghost confirms that it is true. …

“Because we need the Holy Ghost, we must be cautious and careful not to go beyond teaching true doctrine. The Holy Ghost is the Spirit of Truth. His confirmation is invited by our avoiding speculation or personal interpretation. That can be hard to do. You love the person you are trying to influence. He or she may have ignored the doctrine previously heard. It is tempting to try something new or sensational. But we invite the Holy Ghost as our companion when we are careful to teach only true doctrine” (“Teaching True Doctrine,” Ensign, Apr. 2009, 6).

Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles illustrated the difference between teaching by the Spirit and teaching by our intellect:

“Some years ago I had an assignment in Mexico and Central America similar to that of an Area President. …

“One Sunday, … I visited [a] branch priesthood meeting where a humble, unschooled Mexican priesthood leader struggled to communicate truths of the gospel. It was obvious how deeply they had touched his life. I noted his intense desire to communicate those principles. He recognized they were of great worth to the brethren he loved. He read from the lesson manual, yet his manner was of pure love of the Savior and those he taught. That love, sincerity, and purity of intent allowed the influence of the Holy Ghost to envelop the room. …

“Subsequently, I visited the Sunday School class in the ward where my family attended. A well-educated university professor presented the lesson. That experience was in striking contrast to the one enjoyed in the branch priesthood meeting. It seemed to me that the instructor had purposely chosen obscure references and unusual examples to develop his assigned topic—the life of Joseph Smith. I had the distinct impression that he used the teaching opportunity to impress the class with his great knowledge. … He did not seem as intent on communicating principles as had the humble priesthood leader. …

“… The humility of the Mexican priesthood leader was requisite to his being used as an instrument for spiritual communication of truth” (“Helping Others to Be Spiritually Led” [address to CES religious educators, Aug. 11, 1998], 10–11, LDS.org).

Doctrine and Covenants 50:19–20. Receiving by the Spirit

President J. Reuben Clark of the First Presidency suggested that we have an important role in determining whether or not a speaker teaches by the Spirit:

“We can tell when the speakers are ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost’ only when we ourselves are ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost.’

“In a way, this completely shifts the responsibility from them to us to determine when they so speak” (“When Are Church Leaders’ Words Entitled to Claim of Scripture?” Church News, July 31, 1954, 9).

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles commented on students’ responsibility to learn effectively:

“The more class members read their scriptural reading assignments, the more they bring their scriptures to class, and the more they discuss what the gospel actually means in their lives, the more will be their inspiration, growth, and joy as they try to solve their personal concerns and challenges” (“Teaching by the Spirit,” Ensign, Jan. 1989, 15).

A. Roger Merrill, Sunday School general president, emphasized the fundamental need for us to learn by the Spirit:

“I have come to better understand how vitally important it is to receive by the Spirit. We often focus, appropriately, on the importance of teaching by the Spirit. But we need to remember that the Lord has placed equal, if not greater, importance on receiving by the Spirit. (See D&C 50:17–22.)” (“Receiving by the Spirit,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2006, 93).

Elder Jack H. Goaslind of the Seventy shared the following story to illustrate that we each have the ability to choose whether or not we learn by the Spirit:

“Several years ago I heard about a good brother who described his attitude as President David O. McKay gave the concluding talk of general conference. It was a sultry afternoon, and this was the fifth session he had attended. He was sitting in the balcony, and his mind had a serious wandering problem. He noticed a man sitting in the middle section who had fallen asleep with his head tilted back and his mouth open. It occurred to him that if he were in the roof of the Tabernacle, he could drop a spit wad through one of the vent holes right into the mouth of that sleeping man. What a glorious thought! Following the meeting, he overheard two men talking about their feelings during President McKay’s talk. They were visibly moved by what they had heard. He thought to himself, These two brethren were having a marvelous spiritual experience, and what was I doing? Thinking about dropping spit wads from the ceiling!” (“Yagottawanna,” Ensign, May 1991, 46).