Doctrine and Covenants 55: W.W. Phelps Is Called to the Work

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Student Study Guide, (2005), 64–65


President Ezra Taft Benson taught that “men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that He can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace” (“Jesus Christ: Gifts and Expectations,”Ensign, Dec. 1988, 4). No matter what your gifts and talents might be, they will be better when they are used with the Lord’s help and in His service.The revelation inDoctrine and Covenants 55was directed to William W. Phelps. As you read it, notice what the Lord invited him to do and how He intended to use Brother Phelps’s talents.

Understanding the Scriptures

Doctrine and Covenants 55

Remission(vv. 1–2)Forgiveness 
Contrite(v. 3)Sorry for sin and willing to repent 
Residue(v. 6)Rest 

Doctrine and Covenants 55:1—Who Was W. W. Phelps?

William Wines Phelps was a successful printer, teacher, and politician in New York. He “was first introduced to the Church when he purchased a [copy of the] Book of Mormon. … He ‘satup all night to compare the Book of Mormon with the Bible.’ The following morning William exclaimed, ‘I am going to join that church; I am convinced that it is true’” (Susan Easton Black,Who’s Who in the Doctrine and Covenants[1997], 223).

William W. Phelps

Brother Phelps later bore the following testimony of the Book of Mormon:

“It is a good book and nohonestperson can read it, without feeling grateful to God, for the knowledge it contains. …

“Whenever I have meditated upon the book of Mormon, and looked ahead at the glory which will be brought to pass by that, and the servants of God, I have been filled with hope; filled with light; filled with joy, and filled with satisfaction. What a wonderful volume! what a glorious treasure!” (“Letter No. 10,”Messenger and Advocate,Sept. 1835, 177).

W. W. Phelps served as “a printer unto the church” (D&C 57:11). While in the middle of printing the Book of Commandments in Missouri in 1833, his home print shop was attacked by a mob and destroyed. He later helped print the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. He wrote many hymns for the Church. One of them was “The Spirit of God,” which was sung at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple. He fell away from the Church in 1839 and became a bitter enemy of the Prophet Joseph Smith. In 1840 he repented and rejoined the Church. He died in 1872, in Utah, at the age of 80.

Doctrine and Covenants 55:4—Instruction for Young People is Pleasing to the Lord

President Gordon B. Hinckley taught: “Get all the education you can, I wish to say to the young people. Cultivate skills of mind and hands. Education is the key to opportunity. The Lord has placed upon you, as members of this Church, the obligation to study and to learn of things spiritual, yes, but of things temporal also. Acquire all of the education that you can, even if it means great sacrifice while you are young. You will bless the lives of your children. You will bless the Church because you will reflect honor to this work” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley[1997], 172).

Studying the Scriptures

Do activity A as you studyDoctrine and Covenants 55.

Activity A iconHow Did Things Turn Out?

  1. 1.

    Review the quotation from President Ezra Taft Benson in this study guide’s introduction toDoctrine and Covenants 55. What phrase inDoctrine and Covenants 55:1do you think would have been important for William W. Phelps to pay attention to in order to receive the type of blessings President Benson promised?

  2. 2.

    You may wonder if Brother Phelps followed the counsel in this revelation. If there is a Church hymnbook available, look in the author index and find and read the titles of the many hymns written by William W. Phelps (they include “The Spirit of God,” “Redeemer of Israel,” “Praise to the Man,” “Gently Raise the Sacred Strain,” and “O God, the Eternal Father”). Although he strayed from the Church for a while, writing hymns is one example of how he used his talents to build up God’s kingdom. Write about how one of his hymns impressed you as you read it or has been an inspiration to you in the past.