Section: 39 Revelation to James Covill
Shortly after the conference of January 2, 1831, a man named James Covill came to the Prophet. His surname was actually Covel, but it is spelled Covill in most all of the church’s literature. He had been a lay minister for the Baptist Church for about forty years. He was apparently converted to the Church and had entered into a covenant with the Lord to abide by any commandment which the Lord should give him through Joseph. He made this covenant known to Joseph. He was thus given this revelation. He is called to be baptized into the Lord’s Church and to preach the gospel. To do so would have meant finding new employment. He would have had to leave the ministry in which he had been involved for forty years. He apparently never did obey the Lord’s command to be baptized. He rejected this revelation from the Lord (see section 40).
1 Hearken and listen to the voice of him who is from all eternity to all eternity, the Great I Am, even Jesus Christ—
verse 1 “the Great I Am” See the commentary for D&C 38:1.
2 The light and the life of the world; a light which shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not;
verse 2 “The light and the life of the world” Just how is Jesus Christ the light and life of the world. The concept of light in the scriptures is a rich and exciting one. See The Concept of Light, volume 1, chapter 15 of Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine.
3 The same which came in the meridian of time unto mine own, and mine own received me not;
verse 3 “the meridian of time” See a discussion of this phrase in the commentary for D&C 20:26.
4 But to as many as received me, gave I power to become my sons; and even so will I give unto as many as will receive me, power to become my sons.
verse 4 The meaning of this interesting verse hinges on the tense of the verb receive. To receive Jesus Christ is to accept him as your Lord and Savior and also as your Master—to follow his example to obey him. We see in this verse an illustration of the working of the concepts of both grace and works. Keep in mind that God’s grace is his love for us, particularly that aspect of his love that inclines him to extend blessings to us that we do not fully merit. Our works are simply the efforts we expend in striving to obey the Lord’s commands—in seeking to follow his example.
The first statement, “but to as many as received me, gave I power to become my sons,” suggests that to those who became converts to the Church and agreed to the baptismal covenant, the Savior mercifully (by his grace) gave the blessing of becoming his sons or daughters. This is a one-time merciful gift, given by the grace of God. However, in order to maintain that blessing, one must continue to strive diligently to obey—this is works: “even so will I give unto as many as will receive me, power to become my sons.” Thus we see the interaction between the Lord’s grace and our works.
5 And verily, verily, I say unto you, he that receiveth my gospel receiveth me; and he that receiveth not my gospel receiveth not me.
verse 5 “he that receiveth my gospel receiveth me” The word “gospel” is often used in the Church. What exactly does it mean? The word gospel means literally good news or glad tidings. It is the good news about Jesus Christ—his atonement, the establishment of his earthly kingdom, and the possibility of living forever in his celestial presence. If we were to strip away everything from the gospel but its very essence, especially the essence of receiving the gospel, we would likely conclude that to receive his gospel (and hence to receive him) is to accept him as your Lord and Master—your exemplar—and strive diligently to obey him and his example. The gospel, then, is him, his example, his commandments. To accept him is to obey him.
6 And this is my gospel—repentance and baptism by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which showeth all things, and teacheth the peaceable things of the kingdom.
verse 6 It would seem that members of the Church can read of the idea that the gospel is faith (implied in this verse), repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost and yet not completely comprehend why these “first principles and ordinances” are the very essence of the gospel. Please review the introductory commentary for 2 Nephi 31 in Learning to Love the Book of Mormon, particularly the discussion of the three parts of the ordinance of baptism. The most fundamental aspect of faith is a willingness to deliberately do, to deliberately obey, even when one is not certain (Alma 32:27-29). Repentance is fundamentally obedience. When an individual has established a pattern of disobedience and wishes to change, then we use the word repentance. Then there is baptism. It is by the three parts of the ordinance of baptism that we grow spiritually— that we progress to become like God. And this is the essence of our purpose here on earth. If we strive to obey and progress to become like him, then we may be blessed to live with him forever. And that is the essence of the gospel. See also Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 18, Baptism, the Ordinance that Brings Spiritual Growth.
7 And now, behold, I say unto you, my servant James, I have looked upon thy works and I know thee.
verse 7 James Covill was almost seventy-five years old when he met Joseph Smith, and he had been a Baptist minister for about forty years. Though not yet baptized, the Lord referred to Covill as “my servant James,” perhaps because of the preparatory ministry he had performed as a Baptist (see D&C 35:4), and the Lord had already blessed him greatly for his service in the past (see the following verse).
8 And verily I say unto thee, thine heart is now right before me at this time; and, behold, I have bestowed great blessings upon thy head;
verse 8 We already know the sad history of Covill’s failure to accept the gospel and labor in it. In this verse we see obvious conditional clauses such as “now” and “at this time.” The Lord knew his heart and knew that he would not obey the commandments given to him.
9 Nevertheless, thou hast seen great sorrow, for thou hast rejected me many times because of pride and the cares of the world.
verse 9 Little more is known about James Covill. It is therefore impossible to say what things he had done that caused the Lord to give him this solemn warning. Obviously the things of the world (pride) had been his nemesis in the past, and just as obviously they would continue to be so in the future.
10 But, behold, the days of thy deliverance are come, if thou wilt hearken to my voice, which saith unto thee: Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on my name, and you shall receive my Spirit, and a blessing so great as you never have known.
verse 10 “the days of thy deliverance are come” The Lord points out to Covill that this is indeed a watershed moment in his spiritual life. This is his chance. Unfortunately the moment came to naught.
11 And if thou do this, I have prepared thee for a greater work. Thou shalt preach the fulness of my gospel, which I have sent forth in these last days, the covenant which I have sent forth to recover my people, which are of the house of Israel.
verses 10-11 Notice the Lord’s uses of word “if” in these verses—again, a reminder that the Lord’s promises are conditional.
verse 11 “I have prepared thee for a greater work” By implication the Lord indicates that Covill’s service as a Baptist minister had been a great work. A greater work would be for him to accept and preach the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Though coming from circumstances similar to those of Sidney Rigdon, Covill presents a foil or contrast to Sidney’s humility and obedience when he is presented with the same choices and when he is offered the same blessings.
“the covenant which I have sent forth to recover my people” This is the new and everlasting covenant of the gospel, by which the righteous descendants of Israel will be gathered back into the family, as will those adopted into Israel through their faith in Christ.
12 And it shall come to pass that power shall rest upon thee; thou shalt have great faith, and I will be with thee and go before thy face.
verse 12 “power shall rest upon thee” This phrase likely has reference to the gift of the Holy Ghost and the Melchizedek Priesthood.
13 Thou art called to labor in my vineyard, and to build up my church, and to bring forth Zion, that it may rejoice upon the hills and flourish. 14 Behold, verily, verily, I say unto thee, thou art not called to go into the eastern countries, but thou art called to go to the Ohio. 15 And inasmuch as my people shall assemble themselves at the Ohio, I have kept in store a blessing such as is not known among the children of men, and it shall be poured forth upon their heads. And from thence men shall go forth into all nations.
verse 15 “I have kept in store a blessing such as is not known among the children of men” The blessings of the keys of the sealing power and other ordinances requiring a temple had not yet been restored to the earth, but they would be restored when the saints gathered to the Ohio as commanded (see D&C 110:11-16). The reader must guard against interpreting the concept of the sealing power in its narrowest sense. See the commentary for Helaman 10:7 in Learning to Love the Book of Mormon.
16 Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, that the people in Ohio call upon me in much faith, thinking I will stay my hand in judgment upon the nations, but I cannot deny my word.
verse 16 Apparently the new converts in Ohio had been praying that the Lord would change his plans to destroy the wicked prior to his second coming. But God is just and unchanging, and all his words must be fulfilled. Thus the prayers of the Ohio saints, though fervent, faithful, and sincere, were in vain on this point.
17 Wherefore lay to with your might and call faithful laborers into my vineyard, that it may be pruned for the last time.
verse 17 The expressions “lay to” or “go to” are generally positive expressions of send-off and an encouragement similar to “God speed” or “good luck” or even “go to work.” The metaphor of the world in this final dispensation as the Lord’s vineyard is, by now, a familiar one (Jacob 5).
18 And inasmuch as they do repent and receive the fulness of my gospel, and become sanctified, I will stay mine hand in judgment.
verse 18 “inasmuch as they do repent and receive the fulness of my gospel, and become sanctified” To become sanctified is to grow spiritually—to receive the incremental attributes of Christ by personal revelation which are contingent upon obedience to the gospel commands. Sanctification also includes the idea of having incremental pieces of the natural self burned out of the soul in consequence of a man’s obedience. See Justification and Sanctification in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 17.
19 Wherefore, go forth, crying with a loud voice, saying: The kingdom of heaven is at hand; crying: Hosanna! blessed be the name of the Most High God.
verse 19 “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” What event is being referred to here? The reader should be reminded to distinguish between the kingdom of God on earth (God’s earthly church or kingdom) and the kingdom of God in heaven, or the kingdom of heaven (God’s kingdom in heaven). This verse is somewhat problematic. See a discussion of the phrase “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” in the commentary for Alma 5:50 in Learning to Love the Book of Mormon.
The phrase “at hand” might mean a few years or a few centuries.
In this particular verse the reference seems to be to the Lord’s second coming and the ushering in of the millennial kingdom of the Lord (see the following verse). There is always the possibility also that the phrase “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” may apply to each man who is never far from death. After death every man will return to God’s heavenly presence at least long enough to be judged (Alma 40:11-14).
“Hosanna!” See the commentary for D&C 19:37.
20 Go forth baptizing with water, preparing the way before my face for the time of my coming;
21 For the time is at hand; the day or the hour no man knoweth; but it surely shall come.
verse 21 The Lord obviously deliberately withholds from us the day and hour of his coming. He simply tells us to watch and be ready.
22 And he that receiveth these things receiveth me; and they shall be gathered unto me in time and in eternity.
verse 22 “in time and in eternity” “Time” refers to our present mortal lives. “Eternity” is that which extends beyond this present life. Thus, the phrase “in time and in eternity” is another way of saying both in this life and in the next.
23 And again, it shall come to pass that on as many as ye shall baptize with water, ye shall lay your hands, and they shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and shall be looking forth for the signs of my coming, and shall know me.
verse 23 “shall be looking forth for the signs of my coming” It is interesting to note that it is a direct command for each of his people to be observant and watch for the signs of his coming. See three chapters in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 3: chapter 24, Signs of the Lord’s Second Coming—Introduction, chapter 25, Signs of the Lord’s Second Coming—Those that Warn, and chapter 26, Signs of the Lord’s Second Coming—Those that Punish and Cleanse.
That said, however, this has become a favorite subject of false teachers in the Church. For reasons that are not clear, when some contemporary saints approach this subject, they lose balance, discernment, and judgment. The only reliable guides on this subject are the scriptures and the prophets.
24 Behold, I come quickly. Even so. Amen.
- Michael J. Preece