The idea for this book arose from a personal need. Years ago, I determined to read the Doctrine and Covenants from cover to cover. I had not previously ignored the book but had spent many years memorizing a few of its verses, searching through its pages for talk material, and discussing its teachings in Sunday School classes. I had never before made a front-to-back study of this book of scripture on my own. I was determined to succeed. However, I found the reading often difficult. I frequently failed to understand the significance of verses, longer passages, and even whole sections— many of which seemed dull, repetitive, and even uninspiring. I found my enthusiasm for the project waning. It was sometimes even difficult to get back to my reading. I was in danger of failing in my commitment to finish the book!
Why was I having difficulty understanding and staying interested in this important book of scripture? I considered myself at least average in my understanding of church history and gospel principles. I loved to read, and yet I seemed to lack the necessary background and tools to make this particular book of scripture really come alive for me. I did not seem to possess an adequate framework of knowledge onto which I could hang the facts I was reading. Consequently they didn’t fit anywhere, and they were detached and lifeless. I found the available commentaries to be helpful but somehow disjointed and not sufficiently comprehensive to fulfill my particular needs.
Wouldn’t it be marvelous, I thought, if only I had access to a learned and sensitive friend who understood the Doctrine and Covenants and also perceived my particular needs, so that he might help me as I approached this book? He might say, “Let me tell you what you need to know before you begin this particular section. I’ll tell you when and why and where this section was written. And as you read it, be sure to notice this . . . and that. You’re going to find it fascinating!” I have worked hard to try to create just such a “friend.” It is this book—Learning to Love the Doctrine and Covenants.
I have intended to write for the supposed typical member of the Church, which label is in no wise intended to be derogatory. It is assumed that this typical member has a basic understanding of the Church and of the gospel principles. I will not assume, however, that he has a prior knowledge of church history. I have tried to include materials in this study guide that not only facilitate an understanding of the book but also enrich and enliven the time spent studying it. I have attempted to avoid a repetitive retelling of facts and principles that our typical member already knows. If I have succeeded, then you should find a study of this work an exciting, educationally satisfying, and spiritually uplifting experience.
In addition to the historical background, I have, in the most recent updating, included rather extensive verse commentary. For this verse commentary I have drawn heavily and quoted extensively from the four-volume series, A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants by Stephen E. Robinson and H. Dean Garrett. I am deeply indebted to these authors for their thoughtful and comprehensive work.
The confirmatory influence of the Spirit is more likely felt when we have done our homework and have earned an understanding and an interest in the scripture we are studying. It would seem unlikely that the Spirit would bear witness to us of scriptures that we read drowsily and half-heartedly and with a low level of comprehension.
The history of our Church is a vital foundation for understanding the Doctrine and Covenants. For the most part the revelations were received in a chronological sequence, and most all of them were given by the Lord at a time and in a setting where they were needed by the saints. To facilitate your being able to place the scripture onto a historical framework, I have written and included a brief history of the Church entitled, somewhat facetiously because of its brevity, the Two-Hour History of the Church. It is not intended to provide a comprehensive summary of this period of time but rather a manageable, concise summary. It begins with Joseph Smith’s birth in 1805 and ends with the saints’ entry into the Great Basin in 1847. Into this history I have inserted each of the sections of the Doctrine and Covenants. Each is referred to by its number and by an assigned title—the latter of my own making. Parts of this same history have been interjected, when appropriate, between the sections for convenience of study and to provide a smoothly flowing historical story line throughout the book. When the history of the Church is particularly pertinent and warrants further amplification, that added emphasis will be found in the commentary materials for the individual sections. At times, some minor repetition will be found between the history inserted between the sections and that in the section commentaries. This has been unavoidable, and it is hoped it will not be offensive.
This book was first published under the title Learning to Love the Doctrine and Covenants in 1988. Since then, there has been considerable updating of its content.
Throughout the book, references will be made to certain supplemental articles and other reference materials. These may be found in either this work or in a companion work, Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine. This latter book is a four-volume discussion of the most basic doctrines of the Church.
There are several brief Character Vignettes that are intended to introduce the characters into the Doctrine and Covenants story but not necessarily provide a complete profile of their sojourn in the early Church. A directory of these is not contained in the table of contents. Rather they can most easily be accessed by searching for the name of the character introduced in the vignette.
The scripture and any quotations taken directly from the scripture will be displayed in bold blue type. Longer block quotes will be displayed in red. The commentary materials are all displayed in black type.
Each section is assigned a suggested title. These titles should prove to be an important help in learning to relate the number of a section to its contents. A convenient summary of the section numbers and their corresponding titles may be found in the table of contents. It may be helpful for the reader to record these titles in your Doctrine and Covenants to the right of each section number. This will aid in your eventually memorizing them. We should henceforth in our lives never be without our scriptures in any gospel-related meeting, and we should never hear reference made to any section of the Doctrine and Covenants without turning to that section, reviewing its title, and recalling what we know about the section’s messages. Thus, we commence a life-long program of studying the book. As an example, let us assume you hear reference made, over the pulpit, to a verse in Section 58. You then may turn to the section and recall that its title is “Instructions Concerning Zion.” You may then further recall that it was received during Joseph Smith’s first trip to Missouri. In this way the verse fits onto your framework of knowledge, and you will be more apt to find and refer to that verse in the future.
My hope is that you will come to regard the Doctrine and Covenants as a familiar friend with which you are well acquainted. May you come to regard it as a dynamic, vital book, and may you come to love it and know that it is of God. I have certainly come to that knowledge.
- Michael J. Preece