Learning to Love
Doctrine and Covenants

Section 33: The Eleventh Hour By Michael J. Preece

Section 33: The Eleventh Hour

Section 33’s importance lies in its theme, which is the imminence of the Lord’s second coming. In this section, the Lord uses the symbolism contained in the parable of the ten virgins as related in Matthew 25:1-13.

Jewish wedding customs of Jesus’s day called for the bridegroom and his friends, after a bachelors’ party of sorts, in processional array, to call for the bride who waited with her friends and attendants to be taken to the wedding feast. As the wedding celebration was held at night, friends and attendants of the bride sometimes grew weary and sleepy with waiting. When word was received that the bridegroom was coming, the bride’s party would go out and meet them. Each member of the bride’s party was expected by tradition and practical need to carry a lamp to find her way in the dark.

In the parable of the ten virgins, the bridegroom is Jesus. The ten virgins are those who profess a belief in Christ and are awaiting his second coming. Those attending the “wedding feast” are those who have received his gospel and have persisted in righteousness until his coming. They will celebrate as they receive the rewards promised the righteous. “Midnight” represents the unlikely and unexpected hour of his coming. The expression “the bridegroom tarried” refers to the fact that his coming is delayed to a time more distant than the saints expected. The “eleventh hour” is now—the time just before his return—when each of us must stay constantly prepared lest we lose our reward. When the hour of the bridegroom’s coming arrived, the virgins arose and trimmed, or prepared, their lamps. It was then that the five foolish virgins discovered they had no oil.

Regarding the application of this parable to our day, President Spencer W. Kimball has explained:

I believe that the ten virgins represent the people of the Church of Jesus Christ and not the rank and file of the world. All of the virgins, wise and foolish, had accepted the invitation to the wedding supper; they had knowledge of the program and had been warned of the important day to come. They were not the Gentiles or the heathens or the pagans, nor were they necessarily corrupt and reprobate, but they were knowing people who were foolishly unprepared for the vital happenings that were to affect their eternal lives.

They had the saving, exalting gospel, but it had not been made the center of their lives. They knew the way but gave only a small measure of loyalty and devotion. . . . They had heard of his [the bridegroom’s] coming for so long, so many times, that the statement seemingly became meaningless to them. Would he ever come? So long had it been since they began expecting him that they were rationalizing that he would never appear. Perhaps it was a myth.

Hundreds of thousands of us today are in this position. Confidence has been dulled and patience worn thin. It is so hard to wait and be prepared always. But we cannot allow ourselves to slumber. The Lord has given us this parable as a special warning. . . .

The foolish asked the others to share their oil, but spiritual preparedness cannot be shared in an instant. The wise had to go, else the bridegroom would have gone unwelcomed. They needed all their oil for themselves; they could not save the foolish. The responsibility was each for himself. This was not selfishness or unkindness. The kind of oil that is needed to illuminate the way and light up the darkness is not shareable. How can one share obedience to the principle of tithing; a mind at peace from righteous living; an accumulation of knowledge? How can one share faith or testimony? How can one share attitudes or chastity, or the experience of a mission? How can one share temple privileges? Each must obtain that kind of oil for himself.

In the parable, oil can be purchased at the market. In our lives, the oil of preparedness is accumulated drop by drop in righteous living. Attendance at sacrament meetings adds oil to our lamps, drop by drop over the years. Fasting, family prayer, home teaching, control of bodily appetites, preaching the gospel, studying the scriptures—each act of dedication and obedience is a drop added to our store. Deeds of kindness, payment of offerings and tithes, chaste thoughts and actions, marriage in the covenant for eternity—these, too, contribute importantly to the oil with which we can at midnight refuel our exhausted lamps.

Midnight is so late for those who have procrastinated (Faith Precedes the Miracle, 256).

1 Behold, I say unto you, my servants Ezra and Northrop, open ye your ears and hearken to the voice of the Lord your God, whose word is quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword, to the dividing asunder of the joints and marrow, soul and spirit; and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

verse 1 “whose word is quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword” See the commentary on this phrase in D&C 6:2.

“and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” The Lord is perfectly perceptive of your heart and mind. It is impossible to hide anything from him. Ultimately each of us will be judged by him according to this perfect knowledge. The scriptures teach that we each will be rewarded by the Lord according to our “desires” (Alma 29:4; D&C 137:9). But the scriptural word desires means more than that which we may prefer, choose, or elect. Your desires are what you really are in your heart of hearts. Ultimately we each will be judged according to what we truly are at the very center of our mind and heart and not according to what we may say that we want.

2 For verily, verily, I say unto you that ye are called to lift up your voices as with the sound of a trump, to declare my gospel unto a crooked and perverse generation.

verse 2 “to declare my gospel unto a crooked and perverse generation” Even those on the earth who are considered by human standards to be “good people” are controlled largely by their natural self until they accept Christ and his atonement and become new creatures through the sanctifying influence of the Spirit of God. By the standards of heaven they are “crooked and perverse” and “enemies to God” until they come to Christ.

3 For behold, the field is white already to harvest; and it is the eleventh hour, and the last time that I shall call laborers into my vineyard.

verse 3 “it is the eleventh hour” The Lord confirms that this dispensation is the final one—the last one before the Savior’s second coming. This is the eleventh hour of the Lord’s “day,” and the crew of laborers of this final dispensation is the last. The Lord’s reference here is to the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1­16).

4 And my vineyard has become corrupted every whit; and there is none which doeth good save it be a few; and they err in many instances because of priestcrafts, all having corrupt minds.

verse 4 “my vineyard has become corrupted every whit” Elder Hyrum M. Smith explained the special use of the term “corrupt” in this passage:

Let me explain, when I use the term “corrupt” . . . that I use it in the same sense that I believe the Lord used it when he made that declaration to Joseph Smith, the prophet, in answer to the prophet’s prayer. He did not mean, nor do I mean, that the ministers of religion are personally unvirtuous or impure. I believe as a class they, perhaps, in personal purity, stand a little above the average order of men. When I use the term “corrupt” I mean, as I believe the Lord meant, that they have turned away from the truth . . . and have turned to that which is false. A false doctrine is a corrupt doctrine; a false religion is a corrupt religion; a false teacher is a corrupt teacher. Any man who teaches a false doctrine, who believes in and practices and teaches a false religion is a corrupt professor, because he teaches that which is impure and not true (CR, October 1916, 43).

This same counsel might also apply to those within the Church who preach false doctrine. President Joseph F. Smith said:

Among the Latter-day saints, the preaching of false doctrines, disguised as truths of the gospel, may be expected from people of two classes, and practically from these only. They are:

First—the hopelessly ignorant, whose lack of intelligence is due to their indolence and sloth, who make but a feeble effort, if indeed any at all, to better themselves by reading and study; those who are afflicted with a dread disease which may develop into an incurable malady—laziness.

Second—the proud and self-vaunting ones, who read by the lamp of their own conceit; who interpret by rules of their own contriving; who have become a law unto themselves, and so pose as the sole judges of their own doings. These are more dangerously ignorant than the first.

Beware of the lazy and the proud! Their infection in each case is contagious. It would be better for them, and for all, that they be compelled to display the yellow flag of warning, that the clean and uninfected may be protected (Juvenile Instructor, volume 41, 178).

“they err in many instances because of priestcrafts” If a man represents himself as a priesthood or church leader, yet his primary motive is personal popularity, power, or financial gain rather than the selfless serving of his fellow man, then he is guilty of practicing priestcrafts or priestcraft. In other words, if his primary motive is worldly—the stuff of pride—then he is guilty of priestcraft. Might this occur within the Church of Jesus Christ as well as without the Church?

5 And verily, verily, I say unto you, that this church have I established and called forth out of the wilderness.

verse 5 “this church have I established and called forth out of the wilderness” This imagery is drawn from the book of Revelation where the Church of Jesus Christ, symbolized as a woman, is driven into the wilderness, or apostasy, by the great dragon who is Satan (see Revelation 12:1-17). Hence, to call the Church from out of the wilderness refers to the restoration of the Church upon the earth after centuries of apostasy.

6 And even so will I gather mine elect from the four quarters of the earth, even as many as will believe in me, and hearken unto my voice.

verse 6 “I will gather mine elect from the four quarters of the earth” This phrase—“the four quarters of the earth”—along with the phrase “the isles of the sea” are scriptural phrases, found especially in the book of Isaiah, that refer to the locations of scattered Israel (see also the commentary for D&C 29:7-9). The phrase “four quarters of the earth” is a metaphor meaning over the entire surface of the earth.

7 Yea, verily, verily, I say unto you, that the field is white already to harvest; wherefore, thrust in your sickles, and reap with all your might, mind, and strength.

verses 8-10 It is sobering for the young missionary, newly arrived in the mission field, to contemplate the idea that the Lord has commanded them to open their mouths—and particularly that it is a sin to fail to do so (see D&C 60:2).

8 Open your mouths and they shall be filled, and you shall become even as Nephi of old, who journeyed from Jerusalem in the wilderness.

verse 8 “and you shall become even as Nephi of old” In 2 Nephi 1:27, Lehi states that Nephi had the power of God with him when he taught his rebellious brothers. It was not Nephi who spoke, but “it was the Spirit of the Lord which was in him, which opened his mouth to utterance that he could not shut it.”

9 Yea, open your mouths and spare not, and you shall be laden with sheaves upon your backs, for lo, I am with you.

verse 9 “you shall be laden with sheaves upon your backs” See the commentary for D&C 31:5. Remember that the “sheaves” of grain are the people whom these missionaries will “harvest” through teaching them the gospel.

10 Yea, open your mouths and they shall be filled, saying: Repent, repent, and prepare ye the way of the Lord, and make his paths straight; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand;

verse 10 “make his paths straight” In their Doctrine and Covenants commentary, Smith and Sjodahl explained:

Eastern potentates, when traveling from one part of the kingdom to another, would proclaim their coming and order their subjects to prepare the way for them, by building roads where there were none; if necessary by leveling hills and filling up depressions, and straightening out the winding paths. . . . To prepare the way of the Lord and make his paths straight is to acknowledge his sovereignty and to make all necessary preparations for his reception. He will not come to reign until all necessary preparations for his coming have been made. Joseph Smith said, “Hear this, O earth! The Lord will not come to reign over the righteous in this world . . . until everything for the Bridegroom is ready (HC, 5:291)” (174).

11 Yea, repent and be baptized, every one of you, for a remission of your sins; yea, be baptized even by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost.

verse 11 “and then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost” For a discussion of this important concept, see the introductory commentary for 2 Nephi 31.

12 Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and remember that they shall have faith in me or they can in nowise be saved;

verse 12 “I say unto you, this is my gospel” The Lord teaches that faith, repentance, the baptism of water, and the baptism of the Spirit comprise the essence of his gospel. They are not merely the introductory or initial first principles of the gospel. Rather, they are the gospel.

“they shall have faith in me” Please never read this commandment of the Lord without reminding yourself that to have faith in the Lord is to obey his commandments. Faith is not merely something you hold and ponder in your mind. Rather, it is something you do. It is a principle of action.

13 And upon this rock I will build my church; yea, upon this rock ye are built, and if ye continue, the gates of hell shall not prevail against you.

verse 13 “upon this rock I will build my church” For a discussion of the word rock in the scriptures, see the commentary for D&C 11:24.

14 And ye shall remember the church articles and covenants to keep them.

verse 14 “the church articles and covenants” These instructions and procedures are found in section 20.

15 And whoso having faith you shall confirm in my church, by the laying on of the hands, and I will bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost upon them.

verse 15 “you shall confirm . . . and I will bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost” This verse teaches that those who lay hands on the head of a newly baptized individual to confirm them a member of the Church do not actually bestow the Holy Ghost. They perform the ordinance of confirmation, but the Lord alone bestows or withholds the gift of his Holy Spirit.

16 And the Book of Mormon and the holy scriptures are given of me for your instruction; and the power of my Spirit quickeneth all things.

verse 16 The Lord bears his testimony again of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon (see also D&C 17:6). It is notable that the Lord prioritizes the scriptures in this verse—first, the Book of Mormon, and then the others.

“the power of my Spirit quickeneth all things” The Lord’s Spirit gives life to all things, that is, the Spirit makes the scriptures come to life in our hearts and minds.

17 Wherefore, be faithful, praying always, having your lamps trimmed and burning, and oil with you, that you may be ready at the coming of the Bridegroom–

verse 17 Here is clear warning for the saints to maintain a state of spiritual readiness as the coming of the Lord draws ever closer. The Lord’s warning here to “pray always” is the sixth time in the first thirty-three sections of the Doctrine and Covenants that the Lord has repeated this instruction. It would seem that prayer is most important. The Lord’s reference here is to the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25:1-13.

President Spencer Kimball wrote:

In our lives the oil of preparedness is accumulated drop by drop in righteous living. Attendance at sacrament meetings adds oil to our lamps, drop by drop over the years. Fasting, family prayer, home teaching, control of bodily appetites, preaching the gospel, studying the scriptures—each act of dedication and obedience is a drop added to our store. Deeds of kindness, payment of offerings and tithes, chaste thoughts and actions, marriage in the covenant for eternity—these, too, contribute importantly to the oil with which we can at midnight refuel our exhausted lamps (Faith Precedes the Miracle, 256).

18 For behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, that I come quickly. Even so. Amen.

verse 18 “I come quickly” This is the first time the Lord uses the expression “I come quickly.” This phrase will be repeated several times more in the remainder of the Doctrine and Covenants. Intuitively we are usually inclined to understand this statement of the Lord to mean that his second coming is near, that he will be coming soon. President Joseph Fielding Smith provided an alternate interpretation:

“I come quickly.” This is a scriptural expression that occurs frequently, especially in the book of Revelation. This is “speaking after the manner of the Lord” (D&C 63:53). This does not mean that immediately the Lord will make his appearance, but when he does come he will come suddenly, when he is least expected. He told his disciples that the day would come when men were unawares, as the thief in the night. For this reason we should watch and pray, “For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth” (Luke 21:34-35). There is no excuse for any of us, then, not to be prepared, for we have been fully and frequently warned (Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:157).

Brief Historical Setting

Fall 1830

In the late fall of 1830, a few important new converts to the Church and an investigator traveled to Fayette to meet Joseph. These men were given personal revelations. They included Orson Pratt, who had been converted by his older brother Parley P. Pratt [D&C 34 -Orson Pratt], Sidney Rigdon [D&C 35 -Sidney Rigdon Called as Scribe], and a former follower of Sidney Rigdon’s, a successful hatter from Kirtland named Edward Partridge [D&C 36 -Edward Partridge]. Sidney Rigdon had already been baptized in Kirtland, but Edward Partridge waited until he met Joseph and then was baptized by him.

Character Vignette

Orson Pratt

Shortly after his arrival in Fayette, Orson was called to preach the gospel with his brother Parley in Missouri (see D&C 34; 52:26). After their mission, Orson became the first man in this dispensation to serve as an elders quorum president. He set the example for priesthood brethren by serving another mission (see D&C 75:14), for which he traveled “on foot near 4,000 miles, attended 207 meetings . . . baptized 104 persons and organized several new branches of the church” (Orson Pratt Diaries, 2 February 1833, as cited in Breck England’s The Life and Thought of Orson Pratt [Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1985], 31). After returning to Kirtland he worked on the limestone foundation of the temple before becoming a member of Zion’s Camp (see D&C 103:40).

While reading the Messenger and Advocate Orson learned that he was requested to be in Kirtland for a meeting on April 26, 1835. Within two days of reading the notice he arrived at the temple site and was ordained to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. During the time of his service in the Quorum he earned a “Certificate of Proficiency” in Hebrew and taught English grammar. He earned a certificate qualifying him to teach Hebrew as well.

Orson had begun his teaching career in December 1835. It was interrupted as religious persecution drove the Saints from Ohio to Missouri and from there to Illinois. In Illinois he led the department of literature and mathematics at the University of Nauvoo. Unfortunately, as his educational abilities soared, his faith wavered. He was excommunicated on August 20, 1842. Wilford Woodruff wrote the reason for the apostasy: “John C. Bennett was the ruin of Orson Pratt” (Wilford Woodruff Journals, August 1842, as cited in Breck England’s The Life and Thought of Orson Pratt [Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1985], 81). Within a few months, Orson confessed his sins and manifested deep repentance. He was rebaptized by the Prophet on January 20, 1843, and he received back the priesthood and the same power and authority as in former days.

After the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum, Orson was confident in the leadership of Brigham Young and followed him to the temporary encampments of Iowa Territory and on to the Rockies (see D&C 136:13). Orson kept a meticulous log of the miles traveled and astronomical and other scientific observations, and he calculated the latitude and longitude of prominent sites. He was one of two Latter-day Saints to first view the Salt Lake Valley: “We could not refrain from a shout of joy” (Orson Pratt, extracts from journal, in Millennial Star 12 [15 June 1850]: 178).

After traversing Emigration Canyon he dedicated the Valley and then helped plat the city of the Great Salt Lake. He returned to the Camps of Israel in Iowa and from there journeyed east to England. His literary contributions in England include a booklet, “The Kingdom of God,” and a pamphlet, “New Jerusalem, or the Spirit of Modern Prophecy,” and he served as editor of the newspaper The Millennial Star. He returned to America in the 1850s. Orson would eventually cross the Atlantic Ocean some sixteen times to share the gospel with those in the British Isles.

His Church service dramatically changed when he publicly announced the doctrine of plural marriage in 1852. His remaining years were spent defending the doctrine, and Mormonism in general. His philosophical writings led to tension between himself and Brigham Young. For Orson this was most disturbing, as writing was not always joyous to him: “Writing has always been tedious to me, but seeing the good that may be accomplished, I have whipped my mind to it, till I am nearly baldheaded, and grey-bearded, through constant application. I almost envy the hours as they steal away. . . . I wish to accomplish something ere I die, that shall not only be esteemed great by good and holy men, but that shall be considered great in the sight of God” (Orson Pratt letter to Parley P. Pratt, 2 November 1853, as cited in Breck England’s, The Life and Thought of Orson Pratt [Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1985], 197-98).

Brigham Young chose to differ, saying to Orson, “You have been like a mad stubborn mule” (Ibid., 210). He counseled, “I want you to do just as you have done in your Apostleship, but when you want to teach new doctrine, to write those ideas, and submit them to me, and if they are correct I will tell you” (Ibid., 215). In spite of strong counsel, Brigham was very supportive of Orson Pratt. Upon overhearing another deride the Apostle he remarked, “If Brother Orson were chopped up in inch pieces, each piece would cry out Mormonism was true” (Ibid., 217).

The goodness that Orson accomplished in his life proclaimed his testimony. He presided over the territorial legislature, served as a regent of the University of Deseret, and debated the Reverend John Phillip Newman, chaplain of the United States Senate and pastor of the Metropolitan Church of Washington, D. C. He and his family were baptized over twenty-six hundred times for deceased kindred dead. In 1874 he was appointed historian and general church recorder, which position he held at the time of his death.

In 1875 when President Young reorganized the Quorum of the Twelve according to seniority in service, Orson, who had been ranked second in the Quorum, was now ranked fifth. John Taylor became the senior Apostle. Orson later published an affidavit in the Deseret News affirming his support for the change: “I unreservedly endorse John Taylor” (Deseret News, 1 October 1877).

Near the end of his life he suffered from severe diabetes. On September 19, 1880 he announced in a Tabernacle address that it was fifty years to the day since he had joined the Church. After the speech was concluded, Wilford Woodruff addressed the congregation: “We are not in the habit of flattering any man, but I want to say a few words concerning Brother Pratt. . . . I never saw a man in my life that I know of that has spent as few moments idly as he has. I have never seen a storm at sea so heavy-even when shipping seas over the bow, side and stern, but what he would read his book. . . .

He has improved his time. . . . I feel to thank God that we can still hear his voice” (JD, 21:314, 315).

Orson’s last speech was given in the Tabernacle on September 18, 1881. “Tomorrow—if I live till tomorrow—I shall be seventy years of age,” he said. “They are the years appointed to man. . . . I know what my hopes are. I know the plan of salvation” (Journal History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Church Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah, 18 September 1881).

Orson Pratt was the last surviving member of the original Council of the Twelve Apostles. He filled a total of seven missions and earned a life-long reputation as one of the most capable defenders of the faith.

On October 3, 1881, after telling Joseph F. Smith the inscription he wanted on his tombstone—“My body sleeps for a moment, but my testimony lives and shall endure forever”—Orson died.

- Michael J. Preece