Section 69 Instructions to Preserve Historical Records

Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, (2002), 147–148


Historical Background

Joseph Smith received Doctrine and Covenants section 69 during the month of November 1831 while he was staying at Hiram, Ohio. According to President Joseph Fielding Smith, “following the November conference the Prophet hastened to get the revelations arranged and in readiness by the time Oliver Cowdery was to leave [for Missouri], which was to be on or before the fifteenth day of November. The Prophet writes that at this time there were many things which the elders desired to know relative to preaching the Gospel to the inhabitants of the earth, and concerning the gathering and in compliance with their wish on the 3rd of November, the day after the conference closed, he inquired of the Lord and received the revelation which was also ordered printed with the commandments, but having been considered after the conference, it was to be placed in the volume as part of an appendix. This revelation is known as Section 133. …

“It is an erroneous thought to believe that the Prophet selected all of the revelations he had received and placed them in the collection which was to become The Book of Commandments. Each of the revelations selected for that volume was placed there because the Prophet considered that it had some value to the Church in regard to its teachings. There are some revelations still in possession of the Church which were not included. Some of these we can readily believe were not included because the inspiration of the Prophet was that it was not necessary, or because some of them had an application which was not intended for publication and to be sent to an unbelieving world.

“The preparation for the printing was soon completed, but this took a great deal of the Prophet’s time from the first of November to the twelfth, and in that time there had been held four special conferences. However, the revelations were ready for delivery to Oliver Cowdery and his companion by the fifteenth of that month.” (Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:248–49.)

The Prophet Joseph Smith stated, “the Book of Commandments and Revelations was to be dedicated by prayer to the service of Almighty God by me; and after I had done this, I inquired of the Lord concerning these things, and received the following: [D&C 69]” (History of the Church, 1:234).

Notes and Commentary

D&C 69:1–2. Why was John Whitmer Assigned to Travel with Oliver Cowdery to Missouri?

Some enemies of the Church have tried to use this scripture as proof that Oliver was not trustworthy. But as Elder B. H. Roberts explained: “The fact was that much of the journey between Kirtland and Independence, or Zion, was through a sparsely settled country, the western portion of it through a frontier country where there is always a gathering, more or less, of lawless people; and it was at considerable risk that a person traveled through such a country, especially when alone and carrying money with him. It was wisdom then, for the sake of Oliver Cowdery, and to insure the safety of the money and the sacred things he was to carry with him, that one should go with him that would be a true and faithful companion, hence the appointment of John Whitmer.” (Comprehensive History, 1:268n.)

D&C 69:3–8. John Whitmer, Church Historian

President Joseph Fielding Smith, who was the Church historian for many years, commented on the responsibility that rested on John Whitmer: “He was to observe and make a record of all the important things which he should observe and know concerning the Church. John Whitmer was also to receive counsel from Oliver Cowdery and others. The word was also declared that the accounts of the stewards were also to be carried up to Zion, ‘For,’ said the Lord, ‘the land of Zion shall be a seat and a place to receive and do all these things.’ John Whitmer was also appointed to travel ‘many times from place to place, and from church to church, that he may the more easily obtain knowledge.’” (Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:249.)

For further information on John Whitmer, see Doctrine and Covenants 15, 26, 30, and 47.

D&C 69:8. Of What Benefit Are Church Records to Future Generations?

Elder Orson Pratt wrote: “If every elder had, during the last nineteen years kept a faithful record of all that he had seen, heard, and felt of the goodness, wisdom and power of God, the Church would now have been in possession of many thousand volumes, containing much important and useful information. How many thousands have been miraculously healed in this Church, and yet no one has recorded the circumstances. Is this right? Should these miraculous manifestations of the power of God be forgotten and pass into oblivion? Should the knowledge of these things slumber in the hearts of those who witnessed them? … We should keep a record because Jesus has commanded it. We should keep a record because the same will benefit us and the generations of our children after us. We should keep a record because it will furnish many important items for the general history of the Church which would otherwise be lost.” (Millennial Star, 15 May 1849, p. 152.)

When we consider the great events that lie in the future, we can see why the Saints are encouraged to keep personal histories and journals. The return to Jackson County, the building there of the temple, the return of the ten tribes from the north countries, the council at Adam-ondi-Ahman, the establishment of the kingdom of God, the battle of Armageddon, the return of Christ in glory—think how future generations will treasure firsthand accounts written by Saints who witness these events. President Spencer W. Kimball gave the following counsel:

“Your own private journal should record the way you face up to challenges that beset you. Do not suppose life changes so much that your experiences will not be interesting to your posterity. Experiences of work, relations with people, and an awareness of the rightness and wrongness of actions will always be relevant. …

“Your own journal, like most others, will tell of problems as old as the world and how you dealt with them.

“Your journal should contain your true self rather than a picture of you when you are ‘made up’ for a public performance. There is a temptation to paint one’s virtues in rich color and whitewash the vices, but there is also the opposite pitfall of accentuating the negative. Personally I have little respect for anyone who delves into the ugly phases of the life he is portraying, whether it be his own or another’s. The truth should be told, but we should not emphasize the negative. Even a long life full of inspiring experiences can be brought to the dust by one ugly story. Why dwell on that one ugly truth about someone whose life has been largely circumspect?

“The good biographer will not depend on passion but on good sense. He will weed out the irrelevant and seek the strong, novel, and interesting. …

“Your journal is your autobiography, so it should be kept carefully. You are unique, and there may be incidents in your experience that are more noble and praiseworthy in their way than those recorded in any other life. There may be a flash of illumination here and a story of faithfulness there; you should truthfully record your real self and not what other people may see in you.

“Your story should be written now while it is fresh and while the true details are available.

“A journal is the literature of superiority. Each individual can become superior in his own humble life.

“What could you do better for your children and your children’s children than to record the story of your life, your triumphs over adversity, your recovery after a fall, your progress when all seemed black, your rejoicing when you had finally achieved?

“Some of what you write may be humdrum dates and places, but there will also be rich passages that will be quoted by your posterity.

“Get a notebook, my young folks, a journal that will last through all time, and maybe the angels may quote from it for eternity. Begin today and write in it your goings and comings, your deepest thoughts, your achievements and your failures, your associations and your triumphs, your impressions and your testimonies. Remember, the Savior chastised those who failed to record important events.” (“The Angels May Quote from It,” New Era, Oct. 1975, pp. 4–5.)

woman writing in journal

Keeping journals is a latter-day imperative.