Section 19: The Gift of Repentance

Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, (2002), 36–39


Historical Background

President Joseph Fielding Smith gave the following background to this section: “This revelation was given some time in March, 1830 [in Manchester, New York]. It would seem that Martin Harris had come to Joseph Smith seeking further assurance in relation to his standing before the Lord, being sorely troubled in spirit because of his transgression. He had already been granted the privilege, on his earnest solicitation, of being one of the Three Witnesses, and that wonderful vision had been given. Perhaps out of this came much serious reflection and he sought further light. However, there is no indication in the History of the Church as to the reason why the revelation was given, and the exact day is unknown when it was given. It was without question a revelation of great comfort to Martin, and it is one of the great revelations given in this dispensation; there are few of greater import than this. The doctrine of the atonement of the Lord, as directly applying to the individual, and his exposition of ‘Eternal Punishment,’ as here set forth, give to the members of the Church light which was not previously known.” (Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:85.)

Notes and Commentary

D&C 19:1. The Names of the Lord

Smith and Sjodahl explained the significance of the names given here:

“Our Lord begins this Revelation by introducing Himself under five different names, each indicating His nature or work:

“Alpha and Omega. The first and the last letter of the Greek alphabet, used as symbols of the beginning and the ending. Christ is so called, because He is the Author and the Preserver of all things (Heb. 1:2, 10).

“Christ the Lord. ‘Christ’ means ‘anointed.’ Prophets, Priests, and Kings were anointed, and our Lord unites all these offices in Him. He is the anointed Lord. The Greek word Christ is the same as the Hebrew Messiah (Mashiac), the title used in John 1:41, and 4:25.

“I am He. This is equivalent to Jehovah. …

“The Beginning and the End. He was in the beginning and will remain throughout all eternities. He is endless (v. 4).

The Redeemer of the World. Christ is our Redeemer. He delivers those who turn to Him from the bondage of sin and guilt. He has ‘bought’ us ([1 Corinthians] 6:20; 7:23; [2 Peter] 2:1). And the world will in due time be delivered from the power of Satan, from sin and all its consequences, such as war, poverty, ignorance, sickness, and even death.” (Commentary, p. 91.)

D&C 19:3. What Is Meant by the Phrase “End of the World”?

Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained that this expression does not mean the end of the earth: “The end of the world is the end of unrighteousness or of worldliness as we know it, and this will be brought about by ‘the destruction of the wicked’ [JS—M 1:4]. When our world ends and the millennial era begins, there will be a new heaven and a new earth. (Isa. 65:17–25; D. & C. 101:23–24.) Lust, carnality, and sensuousness of every sort will cease, for it will be the end of the world.” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 848.)

D&C 19:4–12. Great Additional Truths Concerning God’s Punishments

These verses provide one of the most important insights into the Judgment found anywhere in scripture. Elder James E. Talmage stated: “During this hundred years [of Church history] many other great truths not known before, have been declared to the people, and one of the greatest is that to hell there is an exit as well as an entrance. Hell is no place to which a vindictive judge sends prisoners to suffer and to be punished principally for his glory; but it is a place prepared for the teaching, the disciplining of those who failed to learn here upon the earth what they should have learned. True, we read of everlasting punishment, unending suffering, eternal damnation. That is a direful expression; but in his mercy the Lord has made plain what those words mean. ‘Eternal punishment,’ he says, is God’s punishment, for he is eternal; and that condition or state or possibility will ever exist for the sinner who deserves and really needs such condemnation; but this does not mean that the individual sufferer or sinner is to be eternally and everlastingly made to endure and suffer. No man will be kept in hell longer than is necessary to bring him to a fitness for something better. When he reaches that stage the prison doors will open and there will be rejoicing among the hosts who welcome him into a better state. The Lord has not abated in the least what he has said in earlier dispensations concerning the operation of his law and his gospel, but he has made clear unto us his goodness and mercy through it all, for it is his glory and his work to bring about the immortality and eternal life of man.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1930, p. 97.)

D&C 19:7. Is There a Difference between Eternal Punishment and Eternal Damnation?

Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained the difference between these two terms:

“Eternal damnation is the opposite of eternal life, and all those who do not gain eternal life, or exaltation in the highest heaven within the celestial kingdom, are partakers of eternal damnation. Their eternal condemnation is to have limitations imposed upon them so that they cannot progress to the state of godhood and gain a fulness of all things.

“They ‘remain separately and singly, without exaltation, … to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever.’ (D. & C. 132:17.) Their kingdom or progress has an ‘end,’ and they ‘cannot have an increase.’ (D. & C. 131:4.) Spirit children are denied to them to all eternity, and they inherit ‘the deaths,’ meaning an absence of posterity in the resurrection. (D. & C. 132:16–25.)

“They are never redeemed from their spiritual fall and taken back into the full presence and glory of God. Only the obedient are ‘raised in immortality unto eternal life.’ The disobedient, ‘they that believe not,’ are raised in immortality ‘unto eternal damnation; for they cannot be redeemed from their spiritual fall, because they repent not.’ (D. & C. 29:42–44.)” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 234.)

D&C 19:13–41. Instructions to Martin Harris

“These verses contain special instructions to Martin Harris. Notwithstanding the many manifestations he had received concerning the Book of Mormon, he was still tormented with doubts, to such an extent that it became sinful. Skepticism has its legitimate use, in so far as it prompts one to investigate, but to doubt in the face of overwhelming evidence is perversity.” (Smith and Sjodahl, Commentary, p. 96.)

D&C 19:13–20. The Terrible Reality of Christ’s Suffering

Here, in a personal revelation of His own suffering, Jesus revealed how unbearable His pain was during the Atonement. Luke’s is the only Gospel that mentions the blood during the agony of Gethsemane: “And his sweat was as it were great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44). For this reason many commentators have said Luke only used a metaphor, that it was not actually blood but only like blood. In this revelation Jesus dispelled that idea. Suffering is the price for violating the laws of God. In the Garden the Savior paid that price for all the sins of the world.

Speaking of the extent of the suffering required of Christ, President Joseph Fielding Smith said:

“We cannot comprehend the great suffering that the Lord had to take upon himself to bring to pass this redemption from death and from sin. …

“We get into the habit of thinking, I suppose, that his great suffering was when he was nailed to the cross by his hands and his feet and was left there to suffer until he died. As excruciating as that pain was, that was not the greatest suffering that he had to undergo, for in some way which I cannot understand, but which I accept on faith, and which you must accept on faith, he carried on his back the burden of the sins of the whole world. It is hard enough for me to carry my own sins. How is it with you? And yet he had to carry the sins of the whole world, as our Savior and the Redeemer of a fallen world, and so great was his suffering before he ever went to the cross, we are informed, that blood oozed from the pores of his body.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1947, pp. 147–48.)

Similarly, Elder James E. Talmage wrote:

“Christ’s agony in the garden is unfathomable by the finite mind, both as to intensity and cause. … He struggled and groaned under a burden such as no other being who has lived on earth might even conceive as possible. It was not physical pain, nor mental anguish alone, that caused Him to suffer such torture as to produce an extrusion of blood from every pore; but a spiritual agony of soul such as only God was capable of experiencing. No other man, however great his powers of physical or mental endurance, could have suffered so; for his human organism would have succumbed, and syncope would have produced unconsciousness and welcome oblivion. In that hour of anguish Christ met and overcame all the horrors that Satan, ‘the prince of this world’ could inflict. …

“In some manner, actual and terribly real though to man incomprehensible, the Savior took upon Himself the burden of the sins of mankind from Adam to the end of the world.” (Jesus the Christ, p. 613.)

Christ in Gethsemane

“If they would not repent they must suffer even as I” (D&C 19:17).

D&C 19:13–21. “I Command You to Repent”

“The heading of this section of the Doctrine and Covenants indicates that it is ‘A Commandment of God’ rather than referring to it only as a ‘revelation’ as is the usual format. Section 19 might thus be referred to as a revelatory commandment, for the revelation contains not only instruction but also a definite and clear commandment—to repent: ‘I command you to repent’ (verse 15), ‘I command you again to repent’ (verse 20), ‘I command you that you preach naught but repentance’ (verse 21).

“When the doctrine of repentance is fully understood, then it is seen that repentance is all that ever needs to be taught, for repentance means not only to stop doing those things which are wrong but also to start doing those things which are right.” (Ludlow Companion, 1:143; see also D&C 1:31–32; 58:42–43; 82:7.)

D&C 19:24. “I Am Jesus Christ

Enrichment D in the Appendix discusses the Doctrine and Covenants as a witness for Christ.

D&C 19:27. How Are the Lamanites a Remnant of the Jews?

President Joseph Fielding Smith taught that “Lehi was a citizen of Jerusalem, in the kingdom of Judah. Presumably his family had lived there for several generations, and all of the inhabitants of the kingdom of Judah, no matter which tribe they had descended through, were known as Jews. …

“Not only in the Book of Mormon are the descendants of Lehi called Jews, but also in the Doctrine and Covenants. In section 19, verse 27, this is found: [D&C 19:27]. Again, in giving instruction to the elders who had journeyed from Kirtland to Missouri, the Lord revealed the place for the building of the temple and gave instruction for the purchase of land ‘lying westward, even unto the line running directly between Jew and Gentile.’ (Section 57:4.) This line westward was the dividing line between the whites and Indians.” (“How Was Lehi a Descendant of the Jews?” Improvement Era, Oct. 1955, p. 702.)

The Mulekites in the Book of Mormon were of Judah (see Mosiah 25:2; Omni 1:14–19; Helaman 8:21), and present-day Lamanites share this heritage. Also, in the Book of Mormon Jew is sometimes used to mean the whole house of Israel (see, for example, 1 Nephi 15:17, 20).

D&C 19:28, 38. The Commandment to Pray

Elder Rudger Clawson, deeply impressed by these verses, said that “they enter into a man’s life and comprehend his whole existence, at least from the years of his accountability until he passes into the grave. He must pray under all circumstances. Prayer is not reserved for the Sabbath day or for any particular occasion. It is not only to be used at the general conferences of the Church, but the spirit of prayer must be in our hearts unceasingly. We must pray in our families; we must pray in secret; we must pray in our hearts. The spirit of prayer must be with us when we retire at night and when we arise in the morning. It must be upon us when we leave our homes for our daily employment; in the office; in the shop; in the field; in the mountains or in the valleys, or wherever we are. We are told … that if that spirit is upon us the Lord will bless us, and the blessings which will come in answer to prayer will be of more importance to us than treasures of earth.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1904, pp. 42–43; see also Matthew 26:41; Alma 34:17–28; 3 Nephi 18:15; D&C 10:5; 88:126.)

boy praying

It is a commandment to pray.

D&C 19:29–32. Sharing the Gospel

The Lord commanded Martin Harris to “declare glad tidings” of the restored gospel to all people he might be permitted to be among (D&C 19:29). All Saints are under the same obligation (see Mosiah 18:9–10). The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “After all that has been said, the greatest and most important duty is to preach the Gospel” (Teachings, p. 113).

For a discussion of the Restoration of the gospel and the Saints’ obligation to share the message through missionary work, see Enrichment A.

D&C 19:37. What Is the Meaning of Hosanna?

Hosanna is a transliteration of a Hebrew (or Semitic) word that literally means ‘save now’ and that could be translated ‘grant us salvation.’ Most of the prayers said by the Jews at the Feast of Tabernacles begin with this word, and it was also used by the multitude as they greeted Jesus Christ when he came into Jerusalem during the last week of His life upon the earth. (Matt. 21:9, 15.) This term appears in five sections of the D&C—19:37; 36:3; 39:19; 109:79; 124:101.” (Ludlow, Companion, 2:136.)