Find helpful commentary on the verses below to better understand the message of this revelation.
Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)
The commandment given here highlights the importance of keeping a history. Note that the two words the Lord uses to describe the history are “regular” and “continual” (D&C 47:1, 3). Throughout his prophetic service, Joseph Smith made diligent attempts to keep a regular and continual written and documentary record of the history of the Church. The Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ contained a brief sketch of the rise and progress of the Church, totaling about sixteen verses in the current version of the revelation (D&C 20:1–16). Beginning with this revelation, John Whitmer began recording a history, “The Book of John Whitmer,” which included copies of revelations, letters, and other materials important to the history of the Church. In summer 1832, the year after this revelation was given, Joseph Smith and Frederick G. Williams wrote a six-page account titled “A History of the Life of Joseph Smith,” which contained the earliest account of the First Vision. Oliver Cowdery began another history in 1834 and continued it until 1836; it contains many journal entries and transcripts of newspaper articles.
Ironically, it was John Whitmer’s departure in 1838 that fully prompted Joseph Smith to take the reins in compiling and writing the history of the Church. This was a collaborative effort involving the assistance of clerks such as James Mulholland, Willard Richards, Howard Coray, and Robert B. Thompson. By the time Joseph Smith was killed in 1844, the “manuscript history of the Church” as it came to be known, numbered 812 pages in two substantial volumes. The history directly overseen by Joseph Smith ran up to August of 1838. After Joseph’s death, Brigham Young directed other Church leaders, such as Willard Richards and Wilford Woodruff, to complete the work. They relied on accounts from diligent record keepers, such as Thomas Bullock, William Clayton, and Eliza R. Snow. By 1856 the work had been reviewed by the First Presidency and was published as “The History of Joseph Smith.”
The massive task of compiling Church history should not overshadow the importance of each individual member keeping his or her own history. Such personal works are critical in the composition of larger historical stories and are an invaluable resource to loved ones. Individual leaders such as Heber J. Grant and Spencer W. Kimball kept journals that provide important insights into their lives and times. Wilford Woodruff’s journal was so important to the compilation of the history of the Church that one historian declared, “Wilford Woodruff largely made the glasses through which we see the [Latter-day Saint] past.”
Addressing some of the concerns around keeping a regular and continual history, President Spencer W. Kimball made this prophetic promise: “People often use the excuse that their lives are uneventful and nobody would be interested in what they have done. But I promise you that if you will keep your journals and records they will indeed be a source of great inspiration to your families, to your children, your grandchildren, and others, on through the generations.”
 Introduction to History, 1838–1856, JSP.
 Preserving the History of the Latter-day Saints, 2010, 117.
 “Hold Fast to the Iron Rod,” October 1978 General Conference.
(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)