What Is the Doctrine and Covenants?
Along with the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Pearl of Great Price, the Doctrine and Covenants is one of the four standard works of the Church. This means that these four books are accepted as divinely inspired scripture, which members of the Church covenant to follow. President Joseph Fielding Smith, then President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, explained how the Doctrine and Covenants is different from other scriptures:
“The Bible is a history containing the doctrine and commandments given to the people anciently. That applies also to the Book of Mormon. It is the doctrine and the history and the commandments of the people who dwelt upon this continent anciently.
“But this Doctrine and Covenants contains the word of God to those who dwell here now. It is our book. It belongs to the Latter-day Saints. More precious than gold, the Prophet [Joseph Smith] says we should treasure it more than the riches of the whole earth. I wonder if we do? If we value it, understand it, and know what it contains, we will value it more than wealth; it is worth more to us than the riches of the earth” (Doctrines of Salvation,comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 3:199).
President Gordon B. Hinckley, then a counselor in the First Presidency, wrote that “the Doctrine and Covenants is unique among our books of scripture. It is the constitution of the Church. While the Doctrine and Covenants includes writings and statements of various origins, it is primarily a book of revelation given through the Prophet of this dispensation [Joseph Smith].
“These revelations open with a thundering declaration of the encompassing purposes of God in the restoration of His great latter-day work:
“‘Hearken, O ye people of my church, saith the voice of him who dwells on high, and whose eyes are upon all men; yea, verily I say: Hearken ye people from afar; and ye that are upon the islands of the sea, listen together.
“‘For verily the voice of the Lord is unto all men, and there is none to escape; and there is no eye that shall not see, neither ear that shall not hear, neither heart that shall not be penetrated.’ (D&C 1:1–2.)
“From that majestic opening there unfolds a wondrous doctrinal panorama that comes from the fountain of eternal truth. Some is direct revelation, with the Lord dictating to His prophet. Some is the language of Joseph Smith, written or spoken as he was moved upon by the Holy Ghost. Also included is his narrative of events that occurred in various circumstances. All brought together, they constitute in very substantial measure the doctrine and the practices of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. …
“The variety of matters the book deals with is amazing. They include principles and procedures concerning the governance of the Church. Unique and remarkable rules of health, with promises both physical and spiritual, are set forth. The covenant of the eternal priesthood is described in a manner not found elsewhere in scripture. The privileges and blessings—and the limitations and opportunities—of the three degrees of glory are announced, building on Paul’s brief mention of a glory of the sun, and of the moon, and of the stars. Repentance is proclaimed in language clear and compelling. The correct mode of baptism is given. The nature of the Godhead, which has troubled theologians for centuries, is described in language understandable to all. The Lord’s law of finance is pronounced, mandating how funds for the operation of the Church are to be acquired and disbursed. Work for the dead is revealed to bless the sons and daughters of God of all generations.
“It is evident from reading the Doctrine and Covenants that Joseph Smith had an all-encompassing understanding of the eternal purposes of God” (“The Order and Will of God,”Ensign,Jan. 1989, 2, 4).
Why Is a Study of the Doctrine and Covenants and the History of the Church Important to Me?
President Ezra Taft Benson said:
“The Doctrine and Covenants is the binding link between the Book of Mormon and the continuing work of the Restoration through the Prophet Joseph Smith and his successors.
“In the Doctrine and Covenants we learn of temple work, eternal families, the degrees of glory, Church organization, and many other great truths of the Restoration.
“‘Search these commandments,’ said the Lord of the Doctrine and Covenants, ‘for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled.
“‘What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same’ (D&C 1:37–38).
“The Book of Mormon brings men to Christ. The Doctrine and Covenants brings men to Christ’s kingdom, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ‘the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth’ (v. 30). I know that.
“The Book of Mormon is the ‘keystone’ of our religion, and the Doctrine and Covenants is the capstone, with continuing latter-day revelation. The Lord has placed His stamp of approval on both the keystone and the capstone” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1987, 105; orEnsign,May 1987, 83).
As you study the Doctrine and Covenants this year, you will learn how the Lord restored gospel truths “line upon line, precept upon precept” (D&C 128:21). Your testimony of modern revelation will grow, and your appreciation for the Prophet Joseph Smith will deepen. As you study significant events in Church history, you will read inspiring examples of sacrifice and devotion—men and women who knew the Lord and helped in the growth of His kingdom here on earth, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Through study and prayer, your faith in Jesus Christ will be strengthened, as will your desire to serve in the building of His kingdom.