Section 67: The Challenge
During the first twelve days in November 1831, four short conferences of the elders of the Church were held at the home of John Johnson in Hiram, Ohio, where Joseph was living. Please review the pertinent materials in the supplemental article entitled A Brief History of the Evolution of Our Present-day Doctrine and Covenants. Keep in mind that at this point in church history, the only General Authorities of the Church were the elders. There was no President, no First Presidency, and no Quorum of the Twelve. Thus, these conferences of the elders were conferences of the General Authorities or the governing body of the Church. The elders present were: Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, John Whitmer, Peter Whitmer, Jr., Sidney Rigdon, William E. McLellin, Orson Hyde, Luke Johnson, and Lyman Johnson.
For some months before the Prophet moved to Hiram, he was inspired by the Lord to prepare his important revelations for publication. As church membership grew, the need to instruct the members increased. During the morning of the first day of conference, the brethren were united in their desire to publish the revelations, and they set the number of copies to be printed at ten thousand. This expression of faith by these brethren brought a revelation now identified as section 1, the Lord’s preface to the Book of Commandments.
It is an erroneous thought to believe that the Prophet selected all of the revelations he had received and placed them in the collection which was to become the Book of Commandments. Each of the revelations selected for that volume was placed there because the Prophet considered that it had some value to the Church in regard to its teachings. There are some revelations still in possession of the Church that were not included. Some of these we can readily believe were not included because the inspiration of the Prophet was that it was not necessary, or because some of them had an application that was not intended for publication to an unbelieving world
The preparation for the printing was soon completed, but this took a great deal of the Prophet’s time from the first of November to the twelfth, and in that time there had been held four special conferences. However, the revelations were ready for delivery to Oliver Cowdery and his companion [John Whitmer] by the fifteenth of that month (Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:248-49).
During the second session of the conference in the afternoon of November 1st, the Prophet asked the elders what testimony they were willing to attach to these commandments which would shortly be sent to the world “inasmuch as the Lord had bestowed a great blessing upon us in giving commandments and revelations.” A number of brethren arose and said they were willing to testify to the world that they knew that they (the commandments) “were of the Lord.” However, there were a few of the brethren present who felt perhaps because of their “superior” education, that there should be some improvement in the language of the revelations. While it was true that there were grammatical errors in the revelations, it would seem that the spirit of the questions raised concerning the language represented a lack of faith in the divine origin of the revelations. Considerable time was spent in discussions concerning the language as it had been given, whereupon the Prophet, after prayer, received section 67 in the presence of the elders assembled.
In this section the Lord issued a challenge to the learned brethren. He invited them to attempt on their own to write a “revelation” equal to “even the least” of the revelations that Joseph had received. If they succeeded, then they were justified in being hesitant to bear testimony of them. If they failed, however, then they would fall under heavenly condemnation if they failed to bear witness of them.
Note that in verse 5 the Lord acknowledges that some of the elders had been critical of Joseph’s language. The Lord actually issues the challenge in verses 6 through 8.
It appears that this revelation silenced the critics, all except one, William E. McLellin, who was given to some boasting in his own strength and evidently lacked the spiritual preparation to know by the Spirit that the revelations were true. He thus accepted the challenge.
Brother McLellin retired to an adjacent room. There are no historical accounts to tell us how long he was gone, but it seems likely that no one slept in anticipation of his return. When he did return, he stood in the doorway and wept with nothing written on his note papers. A pentecostal-type outpouring of the Spirit followed, as all bore testimony of the truthfulness of the revelations.
This still did not solve the problem of some grammatical errors within the revelations. During the next session of the conference the elders voted that Joseph should review them again and make any corrections he felt were needed.
Joseph received by revelation the wording of a special testimony which was to be signed by the elders present and published in the Book of Commandments. It may have been signed by the elders, but it was later published with the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants and signed—not by the elders present at the conferences of November 1831—but rather by those brethren that comprised the original Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in this dispensation. This testimony has been included in every edition of the Doctrine and Covenants since 1835.
D&C 67 The Challenge
D&C 67:11-12 No man has seen God at any time in the flesh, except quickened by the Spirit of God.
1 Behold and hearken, O ye elders of my church, who have assembled yourselves together, whose prayers I have heard, and whose hearts I know, and whose desires have come up before me.
verse 1 “Behold and hearken” The Lord almost seems a bit impatient. He says, “Look and listen.” In effect, he says, “Pay attention.”
2 Behold and lo, mine eyes are upon you, and the heavens and the earth are in mine hands, and the riches of eternity are mine to give.
3 Ye endeavored to believe that ye should receive the blessing which was offered unto you; but behold, verily I say unto you there were fears in your hearts, and verily this is the reason that ye did not receive.
verse 3 Apparently the Lord had promised a special experience to these elders in connection with the Book of Commandments that would be similar to the experiences granted the Three Witnesses and Eight Witnesses of the Book of Mormon (compare verse 10). Verse 14 suggests that they might have been promised this manifestation by the laying on of hands by the Prophet Joseph. It is also apparent that the elders were expecting it to be a very special manifestation, perhaps even a miraculous one.
From this verse, it is obvious that this special blessing of testimony was not received. The Lord states the reason they did not receive this blessing and informs them that it was because of the “fears in your hearts.” Wouldn’t these elders have been eager and enthusiastic about the possibility of witnessing a miraculous manifestation from the Lord? What would cause them to fear? Why would fear render them unable and perhaps unworthy to have this anticipated experience?
“fears in your hearts . . . the reason that ye did not receive” See the commentary for D&C 63:16. It would seem likely that the presence of fear in the hearts of these elders is the secondary consequence of a more primary cause.
As we sojourn through mortality, it is not possible to avoid all fear. After all, we are, by divine design, living in a telestial world outside the direct presence of our Father in Heaven. The Apostle Paul warned the Philippians that they must: “Work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). All of us who live here on earth and engage its inevitable challenges will be required to overcome our fears and learn to exercise courage and fortitude. Yet, the Lord has provided blessed relief from fear, and he yearns for us to take advantage of his support and succor. His solution to fear is the influence of the Spirit of God.
When a mortal is deprived of the influence of the Lord’s Spirit, this world is a frightening place, and indeed he or she will find much to fear. There is the fear of death (Mormon 6:7; D&C 101:36), the fear of the final judgment and the eternal future (Hebrews 10:27; Mosiah 2:38; Moroni 10:22; Moses 7:1), and even the fear of man (D&C 60:2). The cause of this loss of responsiveness to the Spirit’s influence is sin. It is the unrighteous and rebellious who will surely “fear and tremble” (D&C 63:6). The individual without the Spirit is inevitably fearful and does not feel God’s presence.
To a righteous, worthy individual, the Spirit communicates to the soul peace, hope, confidence, and the love of God. The individual who is in tune with the Spirit is confident in the presence of God (D&C 121:45). Feeling the reassurance of God’s love, communicated to a righteous man only by the Spirit of God, casts out from the man’s heart all fear (1 John 4:18-19; Moroni 8:16).
In summary, these elders did not have the promised spiritual experience because in their hearts there was uncertainty, doubt, and fear rather than the conviction and testimony that would bring the reassuring witness of the Spirit.
4 And now I, the Lord, give unto you a testimony of the truth of these commandments which are lying before you.
verse 4 Since the elders failed to qualify spiritually for the promised spiritual experience which would have left them with a powerful spiritual witness, the Lord is preparing to offer an alternative solution to their doubts.
“these commandments which are lying before you” The “commandments” are, of course, the revelations received by the Prophet Joseph. Apparently, the collected revelations were there at the conference in manuscript form for these elders to examine.
5 Your eyes have been upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and his language you have known, and his imperfections you have known; and you have sought in your hearts knowledge that you might express beyond his language; this you also know.
verse 5 “Your eyes have been upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun.” The elders were aware and have been commenting on Joseph and his limitations. Joseph had less education than several of the elders present, and these others apparently were privately embarrassed at the unpolished, frontier quality of Joseph’s spelling, punctuation, diction, and such. Note that the Lord basically agrees with their estimate of Joseph’s writing skills, but that was not the issue. Some of the elders doubted, on the grounds of Joseph’s unsophisticated language, that all the revelations could truly be from God.
“you have sought in your hearts knowledge that you might express beyond his language” Some of the more educated elders wanted to rewrite or “improve” the revelations to make them sound more impressive to an educated audience. Forgetting that the Lord speaks to humans “in their weakness, after the manner of their language” (D&C 1:24), these elders thought the unlearned language of the Prophet argued against the divine origins of his revelations. They also wanted to say more than Joseph had said—to “express beyond his language.”
Latter-day Saints believe that God speaks through prophets. Prophets are not, however, merely scribes taking down divine dictation in a single, pure, perfect, and timeless form. Rather, the precise wording of a revelation can be influenced by the mind, education, and verbal or literary skills (or lack thereof) of the prophet himself (see D&C 1:24; 1 Corinthians 1:27). Therefore, there is actually no reason why a revelation could not, with a prophet’s approval, be edited for spelling and punctuation, so long as such changes do not alter the meaning or intent of the original—that is, “express beyond his [Joseph’s] language.” Such editorial changes have been frequently authorized in printed editions of the LDS scriptures.
6 Now, seek ye out of the Book of Commandments, even the least that is among them, and appoint him that is the most wise among you;
verse 6 “the least that is among them” This phrase refers to the least well-written of the revelations in the estimation of the elders present.
“appoint him that is the most wise among you” The Lord obviously inspired the prophet Joseph to write this phrase with a touch of irony, since the elder that was so designated would be obviously not “wise” at all, but rather would be presumptuously challenging and tempting the Lord. By allowing himself to be designated as the “wisest” among the group, William McLellin displayed his foolish lack of sensitivity and common sense.
7 Or, if there be any among you that shall make one like unto it, then ye are justified in saying that ye do not know that they are true;
verse 7 “if there be any among you that shall make one like unto it” Here is the essence of the Lord’s challenge. Joseph was an uneducated man, and many of the elders were educated. So if Joseph’s revelations were not from God, then it should be a simple matter for the elders to write one that sounded as good—to create a “revelation” with the same inspirational quality which they all acknowledged in Joseph’s revelations. If they could indeed create such a revelation, then they were entitled to doubt. It should be noted that the challenge proposed here by the Lord was not an open ended one. That is, it was not a challenge offered to the world in all time and in all places. It was for those elders gathered at that place and at that particular time. The result of the challenge is already known to the reader.
8 But if ye cannot make one like unto it, ye are under condemnation if ye do not bear record that they are true.
verse 8 On the other hand, a failure to produce a satisfactory “revelation” would obligate the elders to bear testimony to the divinity of Joseph’s revelations.
Immediately following the vain attempt of William McLellin, Joseph received by revelation the following document, which was then signed by the elders present:
The testimony of the witnesses to the book of the Lord’s commandments, which He gave to His Church through Joseph Smith, Jun., who was appointed by the voice of the Church for this purpose; we therefore feel willing to bear testimony to all the world of mankind, to every creature upon the face of all the earth and upon the islands of the sea, that the Lord has borne record to our soul, through the Holy Ghost, shed forth upon us, that these commandments were given by inspiration of God, and are profitable for all men, and are verily true. We give this testimony unto the world, the Lord being our helper; and it is through the grace of God, the Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ, that we are permitted to have this privilege of bearing this testimony unto the world, that the children of men may be profited thereby.
A slightly revised version of this testimony, signed by the original Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, is included at the beginning of the present edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.
9 For ye know that there is no unrighteousness in them, and that which is righteous cometh down from above, from the Father of lights.
verse 9 “Father of lights” This expression is also found in James 1:17. The Father and the Son are the source of divine “light” in the universe (see Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 15, The Concept Light).
10 And again, verily I say unto you that it is your privilege, and a promise I give unto you that have been ordained unto this ministry, that inasmuch as you strip yourselves from jealousies and fears, and humble yourselves before me, for ye are not sufficiently humble, the veil shall be rent and you shall see me and know that I am—not with the carnal neither natural mind, but with the spiritual.
verse 10 “you shall see me” This is the wonderful promise of the Second Comforter repeated again to disciples in this last dispensation (see John 14:12-17; D&C 93:1), though not every appearance of Christ necessarily bestows the Second Comforter. We thus learn that the astounding privilege of seeing the Savior in open vision is not reserved for prophets only, but is available to any man willing to pay the price required in personal righteousness (see D&C 50:45-46; 88:68-69; 93:1; 130:3). The Prophet Joseph wrote:
The other Comforter spoken of is a subject of great interest, and perhaps understood by few of this generation. After a person hath faith in Christ, repents of his sins, and is baptized for the remission of his sins and receives the Holy Ghost, (by the laying on of hands,) which is the first Comforter, then let him continue to humble himself before God, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and living by every word of God, and the Lord will soon say unto him, Son, thou shalt be exalted, etc. When the Lord has thoroughly proved him, and finds that the man is determined to serve him at all hazards, then the man will find his calling and his election made sure, then it will be his privilege to receive the other Comforter, which the Lord hath promised the Saints, as is recorded in the testimony of St. John, in the 14th chapter, from the 12th to the 27th verses . . . [verses 16, 17, 18, 21, 23]
Now, what is this other Comforter? It is no more or less than the Lord Jesus Christ himself; and this is the sum and substance of the whole matter; that when any man obtains this last Comforter, he will have the personage of Jesus Christ to attend him, or appear unto him from time to time, and even he will manifest the Father unto him, and they will take up their abode with him, and the visions of the heavens will be opened unto him; and the Lord will teach him face to face, and he may have a perfect knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of God; and this is the state and place the ancient Saints arrived at when they had such glorious visions—Isaiah, Ezekiel, John upon the Isle of Patmos, St. Paul in the three heavens, and all the Saints who held communion with the general assembly and Church of the First Born (TPJS, 150-51).
Such a privilege, of course, does not come easily. A high level of personal righteousness and spiritual commitment is required.
Joseph Fielding Smith commented upon the above quotation by the Prophet Joseph:
“and know that I am”
Joseph Smith speaks of two Comforters: the first is the Holy Ghost, the second is the Son of God himself. He uses the 14th chapter of John as the basis of his discourse. Verses 16, 17, and 26 definitely refer to the Holy Ghost. They speak of the Spirit of truth which “dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” Verses 18, 21, and 23 clearly refer to the Lord himself and his coming to man.
The Holy Spirit of Promise is not the Second Comforter; the Holy Spirit of Promise is the Holy Ghost who places the stamp of approval upon every ordinance that is done righteously, and when covenants are broken, he removes the seal (Doctrines of Salvation, 1954, 1:55).
When through faithfulness the veil has been parted and individuals receive the Second Comforter, then they no longer testify of Christ through faith, for their faith has become sure and certain knowledge. According to Joseph Smith, the Second Comforter is the resurrected Savior himself, and an individual who receives this blessing “will have the personage of Jesus Christ to attend him, or appear unto him from time to time, and even he will manifest the Father unto him, and they will take up their abode with him, and the visions of the heavens will be opened unto him, and the Lord will teach him face to face, and he may have a perfect knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God” (TPJS, 151). After a person receives the Second Comforter, faith in Christ becomes knowledge of Christ. Those who receive the Second Comforter no longer rely primarily upon the witness of others, or upon the witness of the scriptures, or even upon the witness of the Spirit, for they have come to know of themselves through their own experience (compare Ether 3:19).
“not with the carnal, neither natural mind but with the spiritual” At present, we are fallen beings and therefore naturally of the telestial order. It is not possible for what is telestial in nature to interact directly with things of a higher order. In order to interact with celestial beings, we must first be transfigured by the Holy Spirit. In other words, our present, fallen natures must be temporarily raised to a higher state of being by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and partake momentarily of the nature that will be ours in the resurrection.
Ordinarily we associate the phenomenon of transfiguration, and the need for transfiguration, with a mortal being who is blessed to be in the physical presence of a divine celestial being. His or her telestial body must be transfigured or temporarily changed so that it has celestial properties which protect the body from damage resulting from celestial glory (see the commentary for Mosiah 13:5). But the same general principle applies for the communication of celestial or spiritual concepts. The telestial, or “natural” mortal mind, cannot grasp celestial concepts lest that mortal mind be “transfigured” temporarily by the Spirit of the Holy Ghost or lifted to a higher celestial state (1 Corinthians 2:14). Only then can the mind grasp (understand and learn) the celestial or eternal concept. We say that the celestial or eternal concepts are “revealed” to the individual. It is notable that over time, the mind that seeks and receives heavenly revelation becomes less and less telestial and more and more celestial. This is spiritual progress. This is the process of becoming more like God. For further discussion of the phenomenon of transfiguration, see Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 3, chapter 14, Transfiguration.
The distinction made here between “natural” and “spiritual” is not between our bodies and our spirits but rather between our present fallen minds and bodies and our future glorified minds and bodies. This can cause some confusion as we read the scriptures. See, for example, 1 Corinthians 15:44 in which the term natural body refers to the fallen telestial mortal body, and the term spiritual body refers to glorified physical bodies. It is a common error of the orthodox Christian world that “spiritual” must mean “nonphysical.”
11 For no man has seen God at any time in the flesh, except quickened by the Spirit of God.
verse 11 The phrase “in the flesh” means in an unprotected mortal or telestial condition. God possesses a celestial glory, and all humans from the fall of Adam and Eve to the present have been of the telestial order. In order for the two to interact, either God must veil his glory or humans must be temporarily raised to a more-thanhuman glory. This latter phenomenon may be referred to as being quickened or transfigured. This was the experience of all the prophets who have seen God (Moses 1:2, 11, 14).
12 Neither can any natural man abide the presence of God, neither after the carnal mind.
verses 11-12 What missionary hasn’t encountered an investigator who has brought up John 1:18 or 1 John 4:12: “no man hath seen God at any time.” These verses provide us with the modern-day scriptural explanation of these troublesome passages.
13 Ye are not able to abide the presence of God now, neither the ministering of angels; wherefore, continue in patience until ye are perfected.
verse 13 “Ye are not able to abide the presence of God now, neither the ministering of angels” Though the elders present on this occasion were good men devoted to the kingdom, they were not sufficiently stripped of jealousy, fear, and pride to be transfigured and receive the second Comforter. Indeed, some were not ready at that time for the appearance of an angel, though at least two of them had already enjoyed this blessing—Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer.
“continue in patience until ye are perfected” The term perfected here does not refer to philosophical perfection or absolute unimprovability. This would be an impossible interpretation, given the LDS belief in eternal progression or enlargement. Rather, the individual who has proved his spiritual mettle through continuous unfailing striving to overcome his natural self and obey the commandments, over time, is eventually considered by the Lord to be perfect (Moroni 10:32-33).
14 Let not your minds turn back; and when ye are worthy, in mine own due time, ye shall see and know that which was conferred upon you by the hands of my servant Joseph Smith, Jun. Amen.
verse 14 “Let not your minds turn back” That is, don’t dwell on the opportunity that was lost here. Rather, look forward to the eventual reception of the promised blessing.
“ye shall see and know that which was conferred upon you by the hands of my servant Joseph Smith, Jun.” The reference to the conferral of a blessing by the laying on of Joseph’s hands may be figurative, or it may indicate that the elders had received a blessing or some other ministration from the Prophet in preparation for the offered experience. It should not be assumed that all the elders present on this day had doubts. After all, as witnesses of the Book of Mormon, Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer had conversed with angels, and John Whitmer and Peter Whitmer Jr. had seen and handled the gold plates.
He was nearly a year older than the Prophet, having been born on January 8, 1805, in Connecticut. His father served in the United States Army in the War of 1812. He had eight brothers and sisters. His mother died when Orson was only seven years old, and the family was scattered. Orson came to live with a man named Nathan Wheeler. When Orson was fourteen years old, Wheeler moved with his family to the area of Kirtland, Ohio. After trying several different occupations, Orson finally went to work as a clerk in the Gilbert and Whitney store.
In 1827 Orson converted to the Methodist faith. About this same time he heard that a “golden Bible” had been dug out of a rock in New York, and he expressed a curiosity if not an interest in it. A short time later, he heard the Campbellite minister Sidney Rigdon preach, and he was baptized into the Campbellite faith. He became a student of theology with a view toward becoming a minister for the Campbellites. In 1830 he was made a pastor over two congregations of Campbellites in Ohio. In the fall of 1830 he heard the missionaries preach as they traveled toward Missouri to preach to the Lamanites. He initially opposed the message of the restored gospel, but eventually, being reproved by the Spirit in his private thoughts, he suspended his opposition and prayerfully inquired further. He was finally baptized the first Sunday in October 1831 by his friend Sidney Rigdon.
On February 15, 1835, at Kirtland he was ordained an Apostle. Subsequently he filled many missions in the states, and in 1837 he went to England with other church leaders. Being partly of Jewish extraction, Elder Hyde was sent to Palestine to dedicate that land for the return of the Jews. He actually departed for this mission in 1840. He crossed the Atlantic Ocean, traveled through England and Germany, visited Constantinople, Cairo, and Alexandria, and finally reached Jerusalem. On Sunday morning, October 24, 1841, he ascended the Mount of Olives, built an altar, and so dedicated the land.
He died at age 73 in Spring City, Utah, in Sanpete County, November 28, 1878.
- Michael J. Preece