Lesson 129: Doctrine and Covenants 123

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual, 2013


Introduction

While the Prophet Joseph Smith was imprisoned in Liberty Jail from December 1, 1838, to April 6, 1839, he wrote letters of comfort and counsel to the Saints. Doctrine and Covenants 123 is an excerpt from a letter dated March 20, 1839, that he wrote to the Saints. In this excerpt, the Prophet asked the Saints to collect and publish accounts of their persecutions and suffering and to help those deceived by false doctrines.

Note: The next lesson (“The Establishment of Nauvoo,” lesson 130) provides an opportunity for two students to teach portions of the lesson. You may want to select two students now and give them copies of the designated portions of lesson 130 so they can prepare.

Suggestions for Teaching

Doctrine and Covenants 123:1–6

Joseph Smith counsels the Saints to collect and publish accounts of their persecutions and suffering

Begin by reading the following statement:

“This may certify that I, Delia Reed, moved to Missouri in the year 1836. My husband died soon after we arrived and left me with seven small children. … When the troubles came on between the inhabitants and the Mormons, I, with the rest of our society, was obliged to leave the state. … I was obliged to sacrifice the most of my property [and] my family [became] scattered, and I had to gain a daily pittance among strangers” (Delia Reed, in Mormon Redress Petitions: Documents of the 1833–1838 Missouri Conflict, ed. Clark V. Johnson [1992], 523; punctuation, capitalization, and spelling standardized).

Explain that this was an official statement Sister Reed gave to a judicial official. Then invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 123:1 silently.

  • From what you learned in this verse, what might be one purpose for Sister Reed to have given this statement?

Remind students that from December 1838 to April 1839 the Prophet Joseph Smith and some other Church leaders were imprisoned in the jail at Liberty, Missouri. Around the same time, the Saints were driven from the state of Missouri during the harsh winter months because of Governor Lilburn Boggs’s extermination order. Explain that Doctrine and Covenants 123 is an excerpt of a March 1839 letter the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote from Liberty Jail giving counsel to the Saints during this difficult time.

Invite a few students to take turns reading aloud from Doctrine and Covenants 123:1–5. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what Joseph Smith counseled the persecuted Saints to do. To help students understand these verses, you may need to explain that in verse 5 the phrase “concatenation of diabolical rascality” refers to a collection of wicked lies and the phrase “nefarious and murderous impositions” refers to evil and violent deeds.

  • What did the Prophet counsel the Saints to do in these verses?

Many of the Saints were obedient to the Prophet’s counsel and collected accounts of their persecutions. Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 123:6 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for reasons why the Saints were told to collect accounts of their persecutions and sufferings. You may want to explain that the phrase “enjoined on us” means “required of us.” You may also want to remind them that the Lord had previously promised to redeem the persecuted Saints and to “come forth out of his hiding place, and in his fury vex the nation” (D&C 101:89).

  • According to Doctrine and Covenants 123:6, why did Heavenly Father command the Saints to collect accounts of their persecution?

  • What does this verse teach that we must do before the Lord will fulfill His promises?

Invite students to write a principle statement that expresses this relationship between our efforts and the Lord’s promises. Ask a few students to share the principle they identified. The following is one way students might phrase this principle: The Lord will fulfill His promises after we have done our part. Write this principle on the board.

  • Why do you think the Lord expects us to do our part before He will fulfill His promises?

  • When have you seen this principle confirmed in your own life or in the life of someone you know?

Doctrine and Covenants 123:7–17

Joseph Smith counsels the Saints to help those who are deceived by falsehoods

Invite students to imagine that they have been given an assignment to write a report about the Church for one of their school classes. As part of the requirement, they need to include at least three sources.

  • What sources might you use for your paper?

  • Why does it matter what sources you use to write about the Church?

  • How do you know which sources accurately describe the Church?

Summarize Doctrine and Covenants 123:7–10 by explaining that when Joseph Smith recorded these verses, many lies were being spread about the Church. The Saints were told that it was their “imperative duty” (D&C 123:7) to respond to these lies and to collect and publish the accounts of their persecutions and sufferings.

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 123:11–12 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for additional reasons why the Saints were directed to collect and publish accounts of their persecutions and sufferings. Ask students to report their findings.

  • According to verse 12, how are many of the pure in heart blinded from seeing the truth?

  • How do you think lies about the Church affect those who are not of our faith?

  • According to verse 12, why are many people on the earth kept from the truth? (Students may use different words, but they should identify the following truth: There are many who are kept from the truth because they do not know where to find it.)

  • How might publishing the truth about the Saints’ persecutions and sufferings at this time have helped people find the truth?

Remind students that there are still many people today “who are blinded by the subtle craftiness of men” and who are kept from the truth only because they do not know where to find it (D&C 123:12). Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Ask the class to listen for something that keeps people from knowing the truth about the Church in our day.

Elder M. Russell Ballard

“Far too many people have a poor understanding of the Church because most of the information they hear about us is from news media reports that are often driven by controversies. Too much attention to controversy has a negative impact on peoples’ perceptions of what The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints really is” (“Sharing the Gospel Using the Internet,” Ensign, July 2008, 62).

  • According to Elder Ballard, what is something that keeps people from knowing the truth about the Church in our day?

Explain that, similar to the Saints in 1839, we are directed to help others have a correct understanding of the Church—its members, leaders, beliefs, history, teachings, and practices.

  • What can you do to help others obtain a correct understanding of the Church? (Write students’ responses on the board.)

Invite a student to read the following statement by Elder M. Russell Ballard. Ask the class to listen for one way we can help others obtain a correct understanding of the Church.

Elder M. Russell Ballard

“There are conversations going on about the Church constantly. Those conversations will continue whether or not we choose to participate in them. But we cannot stand on the sidelines while others, including our critics, attempt to define what the Church teaches. While some conversations have audiences in the thousands or even millions, most are much, much smaller. But all conversations have an impact on those who participate in them. Perceptions of the Church are established one conversation at a time. …

“Now, may I ask that you join the conversation by participating on the Internet to share the gospel and to explain in simple and clear terms the message of the Restoration. … This, of course, requires that you understand the basic principles of the gospel. It is essential that you are able to offer a clear and correct witness of gospel truths” (“Sharing the Gospel Using the Internet,” 61, 62).

Add Elder Ballard’s suggestion to those already listed on the board.

Invite students to consider the ways to help others learn truth that are listed on the board. Ask them to choose one that they feel they could use. Invite a few students to report which suggestion they chose and how they plan on using it to help others have a correct understanding of the Church. Encourage all of the students to act on the suggestion they chose to help others find the truth.

Ask students to think about a time when they have helped others have a correct understanding about the Church. Invite a few students to share their experiences with the class.

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 123:13–16 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Saints were told about their efforts to present an accurate account of the truth to others.

  • According to verse 15, why were the Saints told not to consider their efforts as “small things”?

  • What principle can we learn from the Lord’s counsel in verse 15 about the small decisions we make now? (Students may use different words, but they should identify the following principle: Our decisions to obey the seemingly small commandments of the Lord can have great influence on our lives in the future.)

  • How could a small decision to have a gospel conversation with someone have a large influence?

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 123:17 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for how this verse relates to the truth written on the board earlier: The Lord will fulfill His promises after we have done our part. Invite students to share their insights with the class.

  • Why do you think it is important to cheerfully “do all things that lie in our power”?

  • Based on verse 17, what can we be assured of if we do everything we can to be obedient to the Lord’s commands? (Students may use different words, but they should identify the following principle: If we do all things that lie within our power to be obedient to the Lord’s commands, then we can have the assurance that God will use His power to help us according to His will and timing.)

  • What do you think it means to have the assurance that God will use His power to help us if we “cheerfully do all things that lie in our power”? What are some things you can do to have that assurance in your life?

Share your testimony that we can be confident that when we have done everything we can to obediently follow God’s commands, He will fulfill His promises.

Commentary and Background Information

Doctrine and Covenants 123:1. “Gathering up a knowledge of … sufferings and abuses”

The Saints who suffered in Missouri were obedient to the Prophet Joseph Smith’s counsel in Doctrine and Covenants 123, and they collected numerous accounts of their persecutions. The following are two of the official statements given to judicial officials:

“General Clark came to Caldwell with his troops. I was living about two miles from Far West … near to Mr. Gad Yale’s. A number of General Clark’s troops came to Mr. Yale’s house and stopped there for about two days and destroyed considerable property. They tore up both the floors of the house, destroyed their poultry and hogs, and set fire to … a haystack. I saw them set fire to the stack, which was entirely destroyed. They took what corn they wanted for their horses from Mr. Yale, and I believe he had about ten acres destroyed. … Some of the hogs which they shot down were left to rot on the ground. I also saw some of the militia go into Mr. Cyrus Daniel’s house, which they plundered. I saw them carry out one bed and bedding and some clothing” (Mary K. Miles, in Mormon Redress Petitions: Documents of the 1833–1838 Missouri Conflict, ed. Clark V. Johnson [1992], 496–97; punctuation, capitalization, and spelling standardized).

“I hereby certify that my father stopped at Haun’s mill and was living in a tent at the time the massacre took place there. I was in the tent when the company rode up. Some of our people hollered to the women and children to leave the tents. I ran into a blacksmith shop where my father was. I crept under the bellows, as also did my brother and another boy by the name of Charles Merrick. I was wounded on the hip, my brother had his brains blown out, and the other boy received three wounds and has since died of them. My mother tells me that I was eight years old last month. I saw some of our enemies pull off my father’s boots before he was dead” (Alma Smith, in Mormon Redress Petitions, 537; punctuation, capitalization, grammar, and spelling standardized).

Doctrine and Covenants 123:4–5. “The libelous publications that are afloat”

Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained how negative publicity about the Church can help our missionary efforts:

“Experience shows that seasons of negative publicity about the Church can help accomplish the Lord’s purposes. In 1983 the First Presidency wrote to Church leaders, ‘Opposition may be in itself an opportunity. Among the continuing challenges faced by our missionaries is a lack of interest in religious matters and in our message. These criticisms create … interest in the Church. … This provides an opportunity [for members] to present the truth to those whose attention is thus directed toward us’ [First Presidency letter, Dec. 1, 1983].

“We can take advantage of such opportunities in many ways: a kind letter to the editor, a conversation with a friend, a comment on a blog, or a reassuring word to one who has made a disparaging comment. We can answer with love those who have been influenced by misinformation and prejudice—who are ‘kept from the truth because they know not where to find it’ (D&C 123:12). I assure you that to answer our accusers in this way is never weakness. It is Christian courage in action” (“Christian Courage: The Price of Discipleship,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2008, 73).

Doctrine and Covenants 123:4–5. Evaluating the intent and validity of sources

Some authors who write about the Church and its history present information out of context or include partial truths that can be misleading. The intent of some of these writings is to destroy faith in the Church and its leaders.

Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke about such trials of our faith:

“There have always been a few who want to discredit the Church and to destroy faith. Today they use the Internet.

“Some of the information about the Church, no matter how convincing, is just not true. In 1985, I remember a colleague walking into my business office in Florida. He had a Time magazine article entitled ‘Challenging Mormonism’s Roots.’ It spoke of a recently discovered letter, supposedly written by Martin Harris, that conflicted with Joseph Smith’s account of finding the Book of Mormon plates.

“My colleague asked if this new information would destroy the Mormon Church. The article quoted a man who said he was leaving the Church over the document. Later, others reportedly left the Church. I’m sure it was a trial of their faith.

“A few months later, experts discovered (and the forger confessed) that the letter was a complete fraud. I remember really hoping that those who had left the Church because of this deception would find their way back” (“Trial of Your Faith,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2012, 41).

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles encouraged Latter-day Saints to carefully evaluate what they read about the Church and its history and to rely on the Holy Ghost as well as their intellect as they do so:

“Evaluation … has two dimensions, intellectual and spiritual.

“In terms of the intellectual, readers and viewers clearly need to be more sophisticated in evaluating what is communicated to them. …

“For Latter-day Saints, evaluation also has a spiritual dimension. This is because of our belief in Moroni’s declaration that ‘by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things’ (Moroni 10:5). That promise assures spiritually sensitive readers a power of discernment that will help them evaluate the meaning of what they learn.

“In connection with our spiritual powers of evaluation, we need to remember that the Spirit of the Lord will not guide us if our own attitude is one of faultfinding. That principle applies to readers and writers. …

“Our individual, personal testimonies are based on the witness of the Spirit, not on any combination or accumulation of historical facts. If we are so grounded, no alteration of historical facts can shake our testimonies. Our Heavenly Father gave us powers of reason, and we are expected to use them to the fullest. But he also gave us the Comforter, who he said would lead us into truth and by whose power we may know the truth of all things. That is the ultimate guide for Latter-day Saints who are worthy and willing to rely on it” (“Reading Church History,” in Symposium Speeches [symposium on the Doctrine and Covenants and Church history, Aug. 14–16, 1985], 4, 5).

Doctrine and Covenants 123:17. “Do all things that lie in our power”

The Prophet Joseph Smith believed and lived the principle that we must do all we can before we can have the assurance of God’s help. As recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 101:86–89, the Lord commanded the Saints to bring the accounts of their suffering and persecution to the attention of government leaders, including the president of the United States. On November 29, 1839, the Prophet Joseph Smith and Elias Higbee, a judge, met with the president of the United States, Martin Van Buren.

“At first Van Buren was inconsiderate of the Prophet’s plea. However, as the discussion progressed, the president promised to reconsider his position and ‘felt to sympathize with [the Mormons], on account of [their] sufferings’ [in History of the Church, 4:40].

“After their visit with President Van Buren, the Prophet and Elias Higbee stayed two months in the East, trying to gain support from senators and representatives who might be willing to espouse their cause [see History of the Church, 4:40, 43–44]. They met with President Van Buren again in February 1840. By this time, Van Buren had lost any sympathetic feelings he might have had for the Church. According to the Prophet, the president treated them rudely and declared: ‘Gentlemen, your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you. … If I take up for you I shall lose the vote of Missouri’ [in History of the Church, 4:80]” (Arnold K. Garr, “Joseph Smith: Campaign for President of the United States,” Ensign, Feb. 2009, 49).

Even though the president of the United States refused to help the Saints, the Prophet Joseph Smith continued to seek help from other government leaders. Because Joseph did everything within his power, he was confident that God would use His power to help him.