Doctrine and Covenants 39–40

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Resource Manual, (2001), 73–74


In his vision of the tree of life, Lehi described a great and spacious building. It was filled with people mocking and pointing their fingers at those who were eating the fruit of the tree. Some who tasted the fruit “were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost” (1 Nephi 8:28). Sections 39–40 concern James Covill, a man touched by the spirit of the Restoration. But his conversion was temporary because of “the fear of persecution and the cares of the world” (D&C 40:2). Elder Harold B. Lee, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, taught: “That which you possess today in testimony will not be yours tomorrow unless you do something about it. Your testimony is either going to increase or it is going to diminish, depending on you” (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed. Clyde J. Williams [1996], 135).

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Additional Resources

Suggestions for Teaching

Doctrine and Covenants 39:7–11; 40. Pride, fear of persecution, and the cares of the world can lead us to reject the Lord and turn from our covenants.

(40–45 minutes)

Display pictures of you when you were a child. Ask students to describe how you have changed. Read 1 Samuel 16:7 and briefly describe how your heart has changed during those same years. Ask students to compare the section headings for Doctrine and Covenants 39 and 40 and identify what took place in less than a month. Ask:

  • How did James Covill’s heart change?

  • What do you think could have caused him to reject the Lord’s word so soon?

Read Doctrine and Covenants 39:7–9. Invite students to look again at verse 7 and insert their names in place of “James.” Ask if they think the Lord could call them by name and say that He has seen their works and knows them. Ask:

  • Why do you think the Lord watches and knows about you?

  • How might verse 8 have made James Covill feel?

  • What does it mean that his heart is right before the Lord?

  • Had James Covill’s heart always been right before the Lord? What had he previously struggled with?

Share the following statement by President Ezra Taft Benson:

“Essentially, pride is a ‘my will’ rather than ‘thy will’ approach to life. …

“Pride is characterized by ‘What do I want out of life?’ rather than by ‘What would God have me do with my life?’ It is self-will as opposed to God’s will. It is the fear of man over the fear of God” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1986, 5–6; or Ensign, May 1986, 6–7).

Refer students to the section heading for Doctrine and Covenants 39, and ask what work James Covill had done for 40 years. Read verses 10–11, and discuss why the Lord could say James Covill would be doing a greater work. Ask: What word in verse 11 shows that the promised blessings are conditional?

Compare Doctrine and Covenants 39:8 with 40:1. Ask: What word in Doctrine and Covenants 40:1 indicates how James Covill’s heart had changed?

Draw the accompanying picture on the board. Discuss why the word was is significant. Share the following statements (or some of your own) and ask students to describe what difference it makes when was is inserted in the sentence instead of is.

2 Hearts
  • Hiroshi ____________ staying morally clean.

  • Audrey ____________ keeping the Word of Wisdom, including staying away from drugs.

  • Antonio ____________ reading the scriptures and praying every day.

  • Maria ____________ preparing to be sealed in the temple.

Have students write the message of Doctrine and Covenants 40:2 in their own words. Invite a few students to share what they wrote. Discuss the following:

  • What does straightway mean? (Immediately.)

  • Why would Satan straightway tempt someone who had just received a revelation?

  • What caused James Covill to reject the word of the Lord?

  • Read verse 3. According to this verse, what did James’s fear of persecution and concern for the cares of the world lead him to do?

Read the parable of the sower (see Matthew 13:3–8, 18–23). Have students tell which verses they think describe James Covill, and why. Invite them to write a short paragraph explaining how they can strengthen their testimonies and be true to their covenants.