Commentary on Doctrine & Covenants 19

/ Doctrine & Covenants 19 / Commentary

Find helpful commentary on the verses below to better understand the message of this revelation.

Verses 1-3

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

The Lord begins the revelation by reassuring Martin of the power He has to save and overthrow the machinations of the adversary. The Lord assures Martin that there is an end to the struggle between good and evil and that Satan’s works will eventually be overthrown. He distinguishes here between the end of the world, likely a reference to the Second Coming, and the last great Day of Judgment, which will occur after the end of the Millennium and the short season in which Satan is loosed.

 

The book of Revelation speaks of Satan being bound for a thousand years by an angel sent from God to “set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more” (Revelation 20:3). Nephi explains that the seal is kept in place “because of the righteousness of his people, Satan has no power; wherefore, he cannot be loosed for the space of many years; for he hath no power over the hearts of the people, for they dwell in righteousness, and the Holy One of Israel reigneth” (1 Nephi 22:26). The last great Day of Judgment comes after Satan is loosed for a “little season” (Revelation 20:3). After a final conflict, Satan is consigned to Perdition, and Christ carries out the Final Judgment. (Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 4-12

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

Here, the Savior resolves a possible question lingering in Martin’s mind about the duration of punishment in the afterlife. Though the phrase “endless torment” does not appear in the King James Bible, it does appear seven times in the Book of Mormon (2 Nephi 9:19, 26; 28:23; Jacob 6:10; Mosiah 3:25; 28:3; Moroni 8:21). Martin likely read the Book of Mormon manuscript and, still feeling guilt about his own sins and his role in the episode with the lost manuscript of the book of Lehi, wondered about his state after this life. Martin was also a Universalist, one of a group of people who believed God would eventually save everyone, even if some individuals had to endure temporary punishment after this life. As Martin felt the weight of his own sins, the concept of “endless torment” and “eternal damnation” must have filled him with dread.

 

The Lord resolves Martin’s concerns by explaining that the words “endless” and “eternal” as used in these passages are nouns and not adjectives. The Lord’s name is endless and eternal, and He oversees the rehabilitation of men and women in the afterlife. These terms denote His ownership of the punishment of the wicked, and not the duration of the punishment itself. Elder James E. Talmage explained,

 

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 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. . . . 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” (Conference Report, April 1930, 97).

 

While the Book of Mormon uses the phrase “endless torment,” it should be noted that the book also promises a deliverance from the punishments given in the afterlife. Jacob taught, “O the greatness of the mercy of our God, the Holy One of Israel! For he that delivereth his saints from that awful monster the devil, and death, and hell, and that lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment” (2 Nephi 9:19). The primary point of Jacob’s teaching in this passage is that mankind would not be delivered from death and hell without the Atoning Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Because of His sacrifice, the Savior frees men and women from death and hell and allows suffering and punishment only to the extent to which it is useful in helping them mend their ways and reach their potential. (Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 13-20

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

The most intimate account of the Savior’s suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross at Calvary is found in this section of the Doctrine and Covenants. According to the biblical accounts, Peter, James, and John accompanied Jesus into the garden but fell asleep and did not witness the Savior’s prayer or suffering (Matthew 26:37–40; Luke 22:40–46). Thus, the only firsthand account of Jesus’s atoning events is found here, given by the Lord Himself. The Savior confirms several details given in scriptural accounts, such as bleeding from every pore (Mosiah 3:7; JST Luke 22:44) and feeling fear when facing the bitter cup. Here is Jehovah of the Old Testament both admitting that the depth of the suffering He faced caused Him to tremble, while affirming his divine determination to humbly partake of the cup through his death. The Savior’s words here become even more poignant in context of Martin’s own wrestle to potentially sacrifice his own farm so that the Book of Mormon can be printed. The Lord seems here to be expressing his empathy for Martin’s plight, saying in essence, “Martin, I know how hard it is to sacrifice for the salvation of others. But it is worth it.”

 

The Savior draws another parallel between his own atoning suffering and Martin Harris’s situation when He reminds Martin that the Spirit was withdrawn from Him during a part of the atoning process, an experience Martin had experienced, but only to “the least degree” (D&C 19:20). This is the only revelation in which the Savior reveals that as part of His Atonement the Spirit was completely withdrawn from Him. (Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 21-28

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

The Lord commands Martin Harris not to “covet thine own property, but impart it freely unto the printing of the Book of Mormon” (D&C 19:26). The sacrifice Martin made to bring forth the Book of Mormon is considerable. Joseph and Martin spoke with several printers in Palmyra and Rochester, New York, before settling on E. B. Grandin, who owned a print shop in Palmyra. Grandin refused to begin work on the book until Martin promised to ensure the payment for printing. Grandin charged $3,000 to print five thousand copies of the book. Martin mortgaged 240 acres of his farm, and essentially all of the property he owned, to pay for the printing. Martin’s sacrifice essentially paid for the cost of printing the Book of Mormon before a copy of the book was ever produced (“Historical Introduction,” Revelation, circa Summer 1829, JSP).

 

The financial sacrifice also placed pressure on Martin’s already strained relationship with his wife, Lucy Harris. Lucy proved antagonistic toward the work, and the selling of their property appears to have caused a break in their relationship. Historian Andrew Jenson explained that partly because of Martin’s financial support of the Book of Mormon Lucy Harris “partially separated from him, which he patiently endured for the gospel’s sake.” Their separation became permanent after June 1830 (LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, 1:275). There is no record of the two receiving a divorce, and Lucy died a few years later in 1836. Martin married Caroline Young shortly after the death of Lucy Harris (Black and Porter, Martin Harris, 2018, 278–81). (Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 29-35

  Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

In January 1830 Joseph Smith entered into an agreement with Martin Harris to give him “equal privilege” to sell copies of the Book of Mormon to assist with the cost of printing. However, the books did not sell well initially, and Martin became nervous that he might no be able to recoup the cost of his investment. According to Joseph Knight Sr., Martin, wracked with anxiety, approached Joseph Smith, saying, “The books will not sell for nobody wants them.” Joseph replied, “I think they will sell well.” Martin insisted on receiving a revelation from the Lord, to which Joseph responded, “Fulfill what you have got,” apparently a reference to Doctrine and Covenants 19.

 

That night Martin stayed at the Smith home, sleeping in a bed on the floor next to Joseph Knight Sr. In the middle of the night Martin woke up Father Knight, asking if he felt something on the bed. Having felt nothing, Knight asked Martin why he was alarmed. Martin replied that he had felt something like a large dog jumping onto his chest. Knight neither felt nor saw anything. Disturbed by the dream, Martin insisted again the next morning that Joseph receive a revelation on his behalf. Joseph agreed, receiving Doctrine and Covenants 19 on Martin’s behalf (Dean Jessee, “Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History,” BYU Studies 17 no. 1, Autumn 1976, 10–11).

 

Apparently, Joseph did not provide a further commandment for Martin. In spite of this, Martin complied with the earlier revelation and sold the property necessary to pay off the debt. In obeying the Lord’s commandments, Martin became one of the most important financial contributors to the coming for the of the Book of Mormon. (“The Contributions of Martin Harris,” Revelations in Context, 2016) Martin was also able to eventually recover the debt associated with the cost of the printing. According to one source, when asked years later if he ever lost any of the $3,000 Martin said, “I never lost one cent. Mr. Smith paid me all that I advanced, and more too.” (“Testimonies of Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris,” Millennial Star, vol. 21, 545) (Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 36-41

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

Martin Harris soon put into practice the Savior’s counsel to revile “not against revilers” (D&C 19:30). He became an enthusiastic proponent of the Book of Mormon, inviting his friends and neighbors in Palmyra to purchase copies of the book. One early source from this time records, “Harris was proverbially a peaceful as well as an honest man. He was slow to retaliate an offence. . . . Urging the sale of the book with pertinacious confidence in the genuiness of the Smith revelation, he fell into debate about its character with a neighbor of irascible temperament. His opponent became angry, and struck him a severe blow upon the right side of his face. Instantly turning toward the assailant the other cheek, [Martin] quoted the Christian maxim, reading it from the book in his hand [The Book of Mormon] page 481 (as it also appears in Matthew): “Whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise and Progress of Mormonism,1867, 61) (Doctrine and Covenants Minute)