Commentary on Doctrine & Covenants 38

/ Doctrine & Covenants 38 / Commentary

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

Verses 1-3

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

 

In the opening of this revelation, the Savior makes a simple statement of His omniscience, or His attribute of possessing all knowledge. This principle is taught in multiple places throughout the scriptures and is confirmed in the teachings of latter-day prophets. In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Jacob taught, “O how great the holiness of our God! For he knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it” (2 Nephi 9:20). Old Testament prophets taught the same principle. The Psalms declare, “Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite” (Psalms 147:5). The Apostle James declared, “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning to the end” (Acts 15:18).

 

Early members of the Church also believed in the omniscience of God. The Lectures on Faith, a collaborative project among many of the early Church leaders, taught this principle. Lecture four lists six essential attributes of Deity, namely, knowledge, faith or power, justice, judgment, mercy, and truth. The lecture states,

 

A little reflection shows that the idea of the existence of these attributes in the Deity is necessary to enable any rational being to exercise faith in him. For without the idea of the existence of these attributes in the Deity, men could not exercise faith in him for life and salvation, seeing that without the knowledge of all things God would not be able to save any portion of his creatures. For it is the knowledge which he has of all things from the beginning to the end that enables him to give that understanding to his creatures by which they are made partakers of eternal life. And if it were not for the idea existing in the minds of men that God has all knowledge, it would be impossible for them to exercise faith in him.” (Lectures on Faith, 4:11; emphasis added)

 

In referring to the attributes of God, we are referring to the attributes of our Heavenly Parents, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, who each know all things. In his discourse at the temple, King Benjamin refers to the mission of Jesus Christ and then teaches, “Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend” (Mosiah 4:9). During His sojourn in mortality, Jesus gave up all knowledge and gained it back “grace for grace” (see D&C 93:12–14; Philippians 2:7–9). This perhaps explains why when the Apostles asked Him to tell the day and hour of the Second Coming He remarked, “But of that day, and hour, no one knoweth; no, not the angels of God in heaven, but my Father only” (JST, Matthew 1:40). In His current resurrected state Jesus exhorted His disciples to become “perfect even as I, or your Father who is heaven is perfect” (3 Nephi 12:48).

 

Does the omniscience of God mean that men and women do not possess agency to make their own choices? If God knows all things, so the argument goes, then we have no power to prevent things from happening in our lives. This argument assumes that God’s foreknowledge of circumstances is always the cause of the events themselves. At times God chooses to intervene, and at other times he does not. The Lord told Isaiah, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8–9). Just because God knows we will do something does not mean we are predetermined to do it.

 

If a teacher knew on the first day of class which grade each student would deserve, would that make the teacher responsible for the final grades earned? The grade comes as a result of the effort and study the students put into the class. Likewise, if God knows the final destination of each of His children, which kingdom of glory or ruin they will eventually attain, does that make Him responsible for their own eventual end? If God simply assigned His sons and daughters to their respective kingdoms of glory based on His foreknowledge, He would be depriving them of the experiences necessary to become worthy of that glory. The struggles we face, the knowledge we gain, and the experiences that refine us are what make us worthy of the glory that God bestows upon His children. God respects our agency so deeply that He allows us to make our own mistakes and become who we choose to be.

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 4-8

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

 

Joseph Smith received Doctrine and Covenants 38 shortly after he received Moses 6–7 in December 1830. The Savior’s promise to be in the midst of His Saints closely parallels the blessings given to Enoch and the City of Zion built anciently. Enoch’s writings record, “And Enoch and all his people walked with God, and he dwelt in the midst of Zion; and it came to pass that Zion was not, for God received it up into his own bosom” (Moses 7:69). In the months following this revelation, the location of the latter-day city of Zion was revealed (D&C 57:1–2) and work to build the latter-day city of Zion began in earnest.

 

The Lord’s promise that He would be in the Saints’ midst was also fulfilled in the months immediately following the sacrifice they made to gather to Kirtland. Appearances of the Father and the Son have been documented at four separate locations in and around the Kirtland region. At a conference held at the Isaac Morley farm in June 1831, John Whitmer, the Church Historian at the time, recorded,

 

The Spirit of the Lord fell upon Joseph in an unusual manner. . . . After he had prophecied, he laid his hands upon Lyman Wight [and ordained him] to the High priesthood after the holy order of God. And the Spirit fell upon Lyman, and he prophecied, concerning the coming of Christ. . . . He saw the heavens opened, and the Son of man sitting on the right hand of the Father, making intercession for his brethren, the Saints. He said that God would work a work in these Last days that tongue cannot express, and the mind is not capable to conceive. The glory of the Lord shone around. (John Whitmer, History, 1831–circa 1847, 27–28, JSP)

 

The Father and the Son also appeared in a vision to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon on February 16, 1832 (D&C 76). At a meeting held on March 18, 1833, Frederick G. Williams recorded that “many of the brethren saw a heavenly vision of the Savior and concourses of angels and many other things of which each one has a record of what they saw” (Minutes, 18 March 1833, JSP). When the School of the Prophets was organized in Kirtland, several members recorded seeing visions of the Savior. Zebedee Coltrin recorded, “On the 23rd of January 1833, when we were all together, Joseph having given instructions, and while engaged in silent prayer, kneeling, with our hands uplifted each one praying in silence, no one whispered above his breath, a personage walked through the room from east to west, and Joseph asked if we saw him. I saw him and suppose the others did and Joseph answered that is Jesus, the Son of God, our elder brother” (Minutes, Salt Lake City School of the Prophets, October 11, 1883).

 

These appearances climaxed in the spiritual outpourings surrounding the dedication of the Kirtland Temple in early 1836. Joseph Smith saw a vision of the Father and the Son, along with his brother Alvin, in the Celestial Kingdom. This vision opened the door to Joseph’s understanding of work on behalf of the deceased (D&C 137). The Savior Himself appeared to Joseph and Oliver Cowdery on April 3, 1836 and promised that this manifestation was only the first of many that would occur in the temples the Saints would build in the latter days. The Savior told Joseph and Oliver, “For behold, I have accepted this house, and my name shall be here; and I will manifest myself to my people in mercy in this house. Yea, I will appear unto my servants, and speak unto them with mine own voice, if my people will keep my commandments, and do not pollute this holy house” (D&C 110:7–8).

 

For a record of all the appearances of the Savior in the Kirtland area, see Karl Ricks Anderson, Joseph Smith’s Kirtland, 1996, 107–113.

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 9-12

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

 

These verses represent another key point where the Savior testifies of the apostasy that requires his intervention to restore the gospel in its fulness. Though the Savior promises that “the enemy shall not overcome” He also tells the Saints that “the powers of darkness prevail upon the earth” (D&C 38:9, 11). An epistle written in 1834 to the elders of the Church in Kirtland illustrates this view of the evident signs of apostasy on the earth:

 

Consider for a moment, brethren, the fulfillment of the words of the prophet; for we behold that darkness covers the earth, and gross darkness the minds of the inhabitants thereof [Isaiah 60:1–2]—that crimes of every description are increasing among men—vices of every enormity are practiced—the rising generation growing up in the fulness of pride and arrogance . . . intemperance, immorality, extravagance, pride, blindness of heart, idolatry, the loss of natural affection, the love of this world, and indifference toward the things of eternity increasing among those who profess a belief in the religion of heaven, and infidelity spreading itself in consequence of the same.” (Letter to the Church, circa February 1834, 135, JSP)

 

The conditions the early Saints described in this epistle have only grown worse in our time. However, the early Saints and those of our time still have cause for optimism. The restoration of the gospel offers new hope. The 1834 letter continues:

 

But now, the gloomy cloud is burst, and the gospel is shining with all the resplendent glory of an apostolic day; and that the kingdom of the Messiah is greatly spreading, that the gospel of our Lord is carried to divers nations of the earth, the scriptures translating into different tongues, the ministers of truth crossing the vast deep to proclaim to men in darkness a risen Savior, and to erect the standard of Emmanuel where light has never shone . . . and those who but a short time previous followed the traditions of their fathers and sacrificed their own flesh to appease the wrath of some imaginary god, are now raising their voices in the worship of the Most High, and are lifting their thoughts up to him with the full expectation, that one day they will meet with a joyful reception into his everlasting kingdom!” (Letter to the Church, circa February 1834, p. 135, JSP)

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 13-22

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

 

Doctrine and Covenants 38:13–22 could be called the covenant of the gathering. As the Savior did in past ages of the world, He gives a new covenant to the Saints (D&C 38:20), promising them blessings if they obey His commandments and a land of promise where they can gather and know peace. The Lord made similar covenants with the Israelites (Deuteronomy 11:8–9) and the children of Lehi (2 Nephi 1:5). The most detailed account of this covenant is given in the writings of Abraham where the Lord promised “to make of thee a minister to bear my name in a strange land which I will give unto thy seed after thee for an everlasting possession, when they hearken to my voice” (Abraham 2:6).

 

As with His promise to Abraham, the Lord’s promise to the Saints of a land of inheritance was only the beginning of a holistic covenant that blesses every man and woman who enters into it. Some of the promised blessings require administration in a dedicated house of God, the first of which in the latter days would be built by the Saints who gathered to Kirtland. The Lord promised Abraham, “I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee above measure, and make thy name great among all nations, and thou shalt be a blessing unto thy seed after thee, that in their hands they shall bear this ministry and Priesthood unto all nations” (Abraham 2:9).

 

The Lord’s initial promise to the Saints involved land, as did His promise to Abraham, but the ultimate aim was that the land given to Abraham’s posterity, which includes the Saints, would bring the blessings of God unto all the nations of the earth. President Russell M. Nelson outlined the blessings of the Abrahamic covenants, including the blessing of a promised land, as follows: “The covenant God made with Abraham (Genesis 17:1–10, 19) and later reaffirmed with Isaac and Jacob (Leviticus 26:42) is of transcendent significance. It contained several promises, including:

 

    • Jesus the Christ would be born through Abraham’s lineage.
    • Abraham’s posterity would be numerous, entitled to an eternal increase, and also entitled to bear the priesthood.
    • Abraham would become a father of many nations.
    • Certain lands would be inherited by his posterity.
    • All nations of the earth would be blessed by his seed.
    • And that covenant would be everlasting—even through “a thousand generations.” (Deuteronomy 7:9)

 

President Nelson also declared, “Some of these promises have been fulfilled; others are still pending. I quote from an early Book of Mormon prophecy: ‘Our father [Lehi] hath not spoken of our seed alone, but also of all the house of Israel, pointing to the covenant which should be fulfilled in the latter days; which covenant the Lord made to our father Abraham’ (1 Nephi 15:8). Isn’t that amazing? Some 600 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, prophets knew that the Abrahamic covenant would be finally fulfilled only in the latter days.” (“Covenants,” October 2011 General Conference; emphasis in the original)

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 23-27

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

 

While diversity and tolerance are correctly celebrated among the Saints today, these virtues must also be balanced in harmony with the blessings of unity. As the work of the Lord grows and moves into different nations and cultures, the unity of the Saints throughout those cultures is a key element of our strength and capacity to bless those around us. President Howard W. Hunter counseled,

 

Within this Church there is a constant need for unity, for if we are not one, we are not his (see D&C 38:27). We are truly dependent on each other, “and the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you” (1 Cor. 12:21). Nor can the North Americans say to the Asians, nor the Europeans to the islanders of the sea, “I have no need of thee.” No, in this church we have need of every member, and we pray, as did Paul when he wrote to the church in Corinth, “that there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.

 

President Hunter continued,

 

As we think of the great growth of the Church, the diversities of tongues and cultures, and the monumental tasks that yet lie before us, we wonder if there is any more important objective before us than to so live that we may enjoy the unifying spirit of the Lord. As Jesus prayed, we must be united if the world is ever to be convinced that he was sent by God his Father to redeem us from our sins.

 

It is unity and oneness that has thus far enabled us to bear our testimony around the globe, bringing forward tens of thousands of missionaries to do their part. More must be done. It is unity that has thus far enabled the Church, its wards and stakes, branches and districts, and members, to construct temples and chapels, undertake welfare projects, seek after the dead, watch over the Church, and build faith. More must be done. These great purposes of the Lord could not have been achieved with dissension or jealousy or selfishness. Our ideas may not always be quite like those who preside in authority over us, but this is the Lord’s church and he will bless each of us as we cast off pride, pray for strength, and contribute to the good of the whole.” (“That We May Be One,” April 1976 General Conference).

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 28-33

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

 

Here the Lord provides the “why” behind the purpose of the gathering: first to give unto the Saints His law and then to endow them with power from on high (D&C 38:32). The law came in a revelation given in February 1831, now canonized as Doctrine and Covenants 42. The law included a collection of laws directing and governing the Church, among them the beginnings of the law of consecration (D&C 42:30–42). The second part of the commandment is essentially the beginning of the restoration of temple ordinances in the latter days.

 

The endowment of power intended for the Saints was associated with the central purpose of the gathering. Joseph Smith later taught,

 

What was the object of gathering the Jews, or the people of God in any age of the World? . . . The main object was to build unto the Lord a house whereby he could reveal unto his people the ordinances of his house and the glories of his kingdom, and teach the people the way of Salvation, for there are certain ordinances and principles that when they are taught and practiced must be done in a place or house built for that purpose. It was the design of the Councils of heaven before the world was, that the principles and Laws of the Priesthood were predicated upon the gathering of the people in every age of the world. . . . It is for the same purpose that God gathers together his people in the last days to build unto the Lord a house to prepare them for the ordinances and endowments washings and anointings.” (JS History, vol. D-1, 1572, JSP)

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 34-42

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

 

Considerable sacrifice was required of the Saints living in New York and Pennsylvania to obey the Lord’s command to gather to the Ohio. Newel Knight, a member of the Colesville Branch, later wrote, “We were obliged to make great sacrifices of our property. Most of my time was occupied visiting the brethren and helping to arrange our affairs so that we might be ready to go in one company together from here to Ohio . . . having made the best arrangements we could for the journey, we bade adieu to all we had held dear on the earth, except the few who had embraced the gospel of the new and everlasting covenant as revealed through Joseph Smith Jr.” (Rise of the Latter-day Saints, 32).

 

While “certain men” were appointed to oversee the gathering (D&C 38:34), women also played a considerable role in leading the departing Saints to their new home. In her history, Lucy Mack Smith described the key role she played in ensuring passage of the Palmyra branch of the Church to Ohio. According to Lucy, Solomon Humphrey, the oldest member of the Church, and Hiram Page, one of the eight witnesses of the Book of Mormon, both refused to lead the group, instead deferring to her leadership. Leading a group of about eighty Church members, Lucy traveled to Buffalo, New York, hoping to sail across Lake Erie to arrive in Ohio. When Lucy and her party arrived in Buffalo, they found a group of Saints from the Colesville Branch waiting for the ice in the harbor to break to allow boats to get through. The Colesville Saints urged Lucy and others to keep quiet about their faith to avoid inciting persecution.

 

Instead of heeding this advice, Lucy stood on the deck of the steamboat where her company was gathered and publicly testified of her beliefs. Her discourse, one of the earliest given by a woman in the Church, was recorded in her 1844 history as follows:

 

“Brethren and sisters,” said I, “we call ourselves Latter-day Saints and profess to have come out from among the world for the purpose of serving God with a determination to serve him with our whole might, mind, and strength at the expense of all earthly things, and will you suffer yourselves to begin at the very first sacrifice of comfort to complain and murmur like the children of Israel? And even worse, for here are my sisters fretting for the want of their rocking chairs!”

 

“And brethren, from you I expected assistance and looked for some firmness in you, but instead of that you are complaining that you have left a good house and now you have no home to go to and do not know as you shall have one when you get to the end of your journey, and more than all, you do not know but you will all starve before you get away from Buffalo. Who in the company has been hungry? Who has lacked anything to make them comfortable, as our circumstances would admit of? Have I not set food before you every day and made you all as welcome as my own children, that those who had not provided for yourselves might lack nothing?”

 

“And even if this were not the case, where is your faith? Where is your confidence in God? Do you know that all things are in his hands? He made all things and still rules over them, and how easy a thing it would be with God if every Saint here would just lift their desires to him in prayer that the way might be opened before us. How easy would it be for God to cause the ice to break away, and in a moment’s time we could be off on our journey; but how can you expect the Lord to prosper you when you are continually murmuring against him?”

 

Just then a man cried out from the shore, “Is the Book of Mormon true?” “That book,” said I, “was brought forth by the power of God and translated by the same power. And if I could make my voice to sound as loud as the trumpet of Michael the Archangel, I would declare the truth from land to land and from sea to sea, and it would echo from isle to isle until not one should remain of the whole family of man but that was left without excuse. For all should hear the truth of the gospel of the Son of God, and I would sound it in every ear that he has again revealed himself to man in these last days and set his hand to gather his people together upon a goodly land, and if they will fear him and walk uprightly before him it shall be unto them for an inheritance; but if they rebel against his law, his hand will be against them, to scatter them abroad and cut them off from the face of the earth. For God is now going to do a work upon the earth, and man cannot hinder a work which is for the salvation of all who will believe it unto the uttermost, even all who call on him; and it will prove unto everyone who stands here this day a savior of life unto life or of death unto death: a savior of life unto life if ye will receive it, but of death unto death if ye reject the counsel of God unto your own condemnation.”

 

Lucy then declared to the gathered Saints, “And now, brethren and sisters, if you will, all of you, raise your desires to heaven that the ice may give way before us and we be set at

 liberty to go on our way, as sure as the Lord lives it shall be done.” As soon as Lucy finished her discourse she and the Saints heard a loud noise “like bursting thunder” as the ice blocking the harbor “parted leaving barely a pathway for the boat.” The captain of the ship sped through an opening but it was “so narrow that as it passed through the buckets were torn from the water wheel.” Lucy later wrote that “our boat and one other had just time enough to get through and the ice closed again and remained three weeks longer” (Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844, books 11–12, p. 12, 1–2, JSP).

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)