Section 6: Confirmation of Oliver Cowdery’s Testimony
In the winter of 1828-29 the twenty-two year old Oliver Cowdery was a school teacher in Manchester, New York, and he was boarding at the home of the Joseph Smith, Sr., family. It was the custom of the day for teachers to board in the homes of their pupils, and since the Smiths had children in Oliver’s school, he came to stay with them. Through the Smith family he had heard of the Prophet Joseph and the gold plates. He had also learned of the plates from a friend whom he had met in Palmyra, a man from Fayette, New York, named David Whitmer. Oliver had been moved to pray and ask the Lord concerning the authenticity of Joseph’s calling. As Oliver explained, “The subject . . . seems working in my very bones, and I cannot, for a moment, get it out of my mind” (Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, 139). Oliver had been granted a spiritual witness of Joseph’s mission, and he was convinced that the Lord wanted him to assist in the work of translation. According to an 1832 history of Joseph Smith, Oliver had actually seen the Lord and the plates in vision before seeking out the Prophet Joseph (Dean Jessee, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, 8).
Oliver was the youngest of eight children and was born October 3, 1806 in Wells, Vermont. Thus, he was nearly a year younger than Joseph. In 1825 he moved to New York where he worked successively as a clerk in a general store, as a blacksmith, and as a farmer. In 1828 he entered the teaching profession in Manchester, New York.
In April 1829 Oliver traveled to Harmony, Pennsylvania, with Samuel Smith arriving on April 5. Lucy Mack smith reported that about three days before the arrival of Oliver and Samuel (2 April), Joseph had called upon the Lord to send him a scribe, and that Joseph had been informed that the scribe should be forthcoming in a few days (History of Joseph Smith, 141).
Of course Joseph knew immediately why Oliver had come. Shortly after Oliver’s arrival in Harmony, Joseph inquired of the Lord through the Urim and Thummim and received section 6 which consists of instructions and counsel to Oliver Cowdery. By April 7, he and Joseph were working full time on the Book of Mormon translation.
While Joseph translated, Oliver acted as scribe. By July 1, 1829, they finished the translation of the entire Book of Mormon. They moved from Harmony, Pennsylvania, to Fayette, New York, before the translation was completed. See The Process of Translating the Book of Mormon, volume 2, Appendix A of Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine.
Scripture Mastery D&C 6
D&C 6:7 Seek not for riches but for wisdom.
D&C 6:16 Yea, I tell thee, that thou mayest know that there is none else save God that knowest thy thoughts and the intents of thy heart.
D&C 6:22-23 Oliver Cowdery’s secret prayer. D&C 6:33 The law of the harvest: Fear not to do good, my sons, for whatsoever ye sow, that shall ye also reap; therefore, if ye sow good ye shall also reap good for your reward.
D&C 6:34, 36 Therefore, fear not, little flock; do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail. Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not. D&C 6:37 Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet; be faithful, keep my commandments, and ye shall inherit the kingdom of heaven.
verses 1-9 These verses in this section are identical to verses 1-9 of section 11, a revelation given to Hyrum Smith, the prophet’s brother. Also verses 1-5 of this section are identical to verses 1-5 of section 12, a revelation to Joseph Knight and to verses 1-5 of section 14, a revelation given to David Whitmer. Further, D&C 6:6 is also very similar in substance to D&C 14:6, and section 4 is similar in substance to the opening verses of sections 6, 11, 12, and 14. Why the repetition? It should not be understood as a divine “form letter” implying less than personal or individual concern for the recipients. Rather, it emphasizes the importance of the calling made to these servants and to all who have followed them in the Lord’s service. The sacred ordinances of the gospel, while creating an individual, personal bond between the Lord and each person who enters into the covenants, often employ the same words for all who receive them. That the Sermon on the Mount was repeated on more than one occasion, for example (see Matthew 5-7; Luke 6; 3 Nephi 12-14), emphasizes the tremendous importance of the sermon.
1 A great and marvelous work is about to come forth unto the children of men.
2 Behold, I am God; give heed unto my word, which is quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword, to the dividing asunder of both joints and marrow; therefore give heed unto my words.
verse 2 “quick” The word of the Lord is “quick.” Quick here does not mean swift but rather means something living and alive. Thus, to be quickened by the Spirit means to be given spiritual life. The word of the Lord is quick and powerful because it is a source of life, energy, and real power.
“sharper than a two-edged sword” How might we explain the symbolism here? This refers not to a one-handed foil or a saber, but to a heavy, two-handed broadsword that is sharpened on both its edges. This two-edged sword is highly effective and can cut in any direction regardless of the direction in which the blow was struck. Thus, just as a two-edged sword can cut deep enough to sever joints and cleave bone, so might the Lord’s word bring spiritual death to those who do not give heed to it. Also, the word of God has power to pierce the soul as a sword and penetrate to the inmost parts of man. Also, it can cut through error and falsehood with particular efficiency. The two-edged sword will cut regardless of which way it is swung. There is no place that a person may touch it without feeling the effect it has or could have. Likewise, the word of God will have a positive or a negative effect upon whomever it contacts.
3 Behold, the field is white already to harvest; therefore, whoso desireth to reap, let him thrust in his sickle with his might, and reap while the day lasts, that he may treasure up for his soul everlasting salvation in the kingdom of God.
4 Yea, whosoever will thrust in his sickle and reap, the same is called of God.
5 Therefore, if you will ask of me you shall receive; if you will knock it shall be opened unto you.
verse 5 Joseph Fielding Smith, in a conference address taught, “There is no reason in the world why any soul should not know where to find the truth. If he will only humble himself and seek in the spirit of humility and faith” (CR, April 1951, 59).
6 Now, as you have asked, behold, I say unto you, keep my commandments, and seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion;
verse 6 “as you have asked” The Lord is speaking to Oliver Cowdery. Oliver had requested a revelation from the Lord. He wanted to know what the Lord had in mind for him to do relative the Book of Mormon plates. Other sections of the Doctrine and Covenants (4, 11, 12, and 14) were all given in response to individuals’ requests that Joseph inquire of the Lord in their behalf.
“keep my commandments, and seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion” Here it is in a nutshell. Here is all one must do in this life to inherit eternal life. Keep the commandments and work to establish Zion in this final dispensation! Keep in mind that the Church had not yet been organized.
“Zion” Let us briefly review the concept of Zion.
Literally, Zion is the kingdom of God upon the earth, a society that governs itself by celestial principles. Because of ancient scriptural prophecy we have greatly embellished the concept of Zion using various metaphors. Figuratively, Zion is that glorious city or land which will be established in the latter days some time prior to the Lord’s second coming. It is represented figuratively as a city with high thick walls and an impenetrable gate. This safe refuge will serve as a place of gathering and security to those who accept the gospel of Jesus Christ. Zion is often metaphorically compared to a tent that covers the earth. This tent is anchored by a center pole and stakes.
Zion will be the abode of Jesus as he administers the government of the earth during the Millennium. It will not be a secret place. Rather, all will know of it, even those who do not dwell there. Zion is described in scripture as “Fair as the sun, clear as the moon, and . . . terrible unto all nations; [such] that the kingdoms of this world [will be] constrained to acknowledge that the kingdom of Zion is in very deed the kingdom of our God and his Christ” (D&C 105:31-32).
In the latter days two places will be called the center places of Zion. The first is the city of Jerusalem itself which will be restored to its holy position of grandeur and beauty. It will serve as a gathering place for the tribe of Judah. The second is the New Jerusalem to be built upon the western hemisphere with its center pole in Jackson County, Missouri. To Zion on the western hemisphere will gather the rest of Israel and those Gentiles without the house of Israel who accept the gospel and are “adopted” into the house of Israel.
Zion is not limited just to the city of Jerusalem and Jackson County, Missouri. In the latter days, wherever there are saints of God who have embraced the restored gospel, there is Zion. These are found in stakes all over the world.
Zion may also be something other than a place. Zion may also be an attitude of acceptance of the gospel, a spirit of obedience, a purity of heart. Just as the title Babylon may refer in a specific way to an ancient city or in a general way to the evil which exists in the world, so may the word Zion represent either a city or label used to describe all that is truly righteous, wholesome, and in tune with the Spirit of the Lord and his eternal plan.
Those who assist in the cause of Zion in the latter days will be exalted.
7 Seek not for riches but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich.
verse 7 Here is a priceless verse well-worth committing to memory!
“Seek not for riches but for wisdom” Wisdom may be defined as the ability to view any situation, person, or object in an eternal perspective. It is spiritual common sense.
“the mysteries of God” Harold B. Lee taught that a mystery is a spiritual truth that may be grasped only through divine revelation—a fact or concept that can truly be understood only with the help and influence of the Spirit of God. It is this type of mystery referred to in this particular verse. All spiritual truths are “mysteries” to those who are “hard-hearted” or “stiff-necked,” as they simply are unable to understand them (Ye Are the Light of the World, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1974], 211).
Today we might use the word “mystery” in an additional context: A mystery may be a point of doctrine that is unusually sacred or esoteric, and one should not speak freely about it. Usually the Lord has not given a complete revealed explanation of this type of mystery, nor is it necessarily his intent to do so.
8 Verily, verily, I say unto you, even as you desire of me so it shall be unto you; and if you desire, you shall be the means of doing much good in this generation.
9 Say nothing but repentance unto this generation; keep my commandments, and assist to bring forth my work, according to my commandments, and you shall be blessed.
verse 9 “Say nothing but repentance unto this generation.” This is not to say that the Lord’s servants should not say anything about the other principles of the gospel such as baptism and obedience to the commandments, but all that the missionaries do and say should be in the spirit of bringing the people to repentance.
10 Behold thou hast a gift, and blessed art thou because of thy gift. Remember it is sacred and cometh from above—
verse 10 “thou hast a gift” The gift here is Oliver’s calling to be the scribe of Joseph, to assist in the translation of the Book of Mormon, and to establish Zion. See also the commentary for verses 10-12. This gift, together with its attendant blessings of revelation, was lost by Martin Harris through his carelessness and lack of faith.
11 And if thou wilt inquire, thou shalt know mysteries which are great and marvelous; therefore thou shalt exercise thy gift, that thou mayest find out mysteries, that thou mayest bring many to the knowledge of the truth, yea, convince them of the error of their ways.
verse 11 “thou shalt know mysteries which are great and marvelous” Anything that is known to God and not known to man is a mystery to man. One of the promises made to Oliver and others in this dispensation is that if they seek, they can know mysteries. At the time of this revelation, the content of the Book of Mormon was a mystery, and much of what we take for granted today as basic principles of the restored gospel was still a mystery to Oliver and Joseph in 1829.
12 Make not thy gift known unto any save it be those who are of thy faith. Trifle not with sacred things.
verses 10-12 Oliver’s gift was a talent for receiving divine revelation (see D&C 8:1-5). We will learn that Oliver had other special gifts (see D&C 6:25-28 and D&C 8:69).
To what extent does each member of the Church have the gift of revelation? Elder Bruce R. McConkie pointed out:
It is the privilege and the right of every member of the Church to receive revelation and to enjoy the gifts of the Spirit. When we are confirmed members of the Church, we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, which is the right to the constant companionship of that member of the Godhead, based on faithfulness. . . .
Religion comes from God by revelation and deals with spiritual things; and unless and until a man has received revelation, he has not received religion, and he is not on the path leading to salvation in our Father’s kingdom (CR, April 1971, 100-01).
Joseph Smith said: “God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what he will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them” (TPJS, 149).
“Make not thy gift known” Is the Lord advising Oliver to keep the fact of his calling relative to the Book of Mormon secret? It would seem more likely that the Lord here is cautioning Oliver to treat as sacred the divine revelations and mysteries to which he will be privy in this new calling (Matthew 7:6).
13 If thou wilt do good, yea, and hold out faithful to the end, thou shalt be saved in the kingdom of God, which is the greatest of all the gifts of God; for there is no gift greater than the gift of salvation.
verse 13 “there is no gift greater than the gift of salvation” At that time the words “salvation” (verse 13) and “exaltation” were used interchangeably. What a spiritual pearl is contained in this verse: The “greatest of all the gifts of God” is the gift of exaltation or eternal life (see also D&C 14:7). Though some would try to take credit for “working out their own salvation,” we are reminded that salvation is ultimately a gift of God—not a purchase, reward, or wage. Salvation is a gift, through the mercy of God and the atonement of Christ.
14 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, blessed art thou for what thou hast done; for thou hast inquired of me, and behold, as often as thou hast inquired thou hast received instruction of my Spirit. If it had not been so, thou wouldst not have come to the place where thou art at this time.
verse 14 This revelation to Oliver helped put his doubts to rest. In this verse (and also in verses 15, 22, and 23) the Lord reminds Oliver about two experiences that Oliver had never shared with Joseph. The first was Oliver’s practice of inquiring of the Lord for direction and the fact that he had “received instruction” of the Spirit. The second was Oliver’s specific inquiry about Joseph and the plates. On the particular night that Oliver had inquired of the Lord in prayer, the Lord, through the Spirit, provided Oliver with a witness as to the divine nature of Joseph’s mission and the authenticity of the plates. Oliver had told no one, including Joseph, about these experiences, and they were known only to God and to himself.
15 Behold, thou knowest that thou hast inquired of me and I did enlighten thy mind; and now I tell thee these things that thou mayest know that thou hast been enlightened by the Spirit of truth;
16 Yea, I tell thee, that thou mayest know that there is none else save God that knowest thy thoughts and the intents of thy heart.
verse 16 How private are our thoughts? “Men’s thoughts are secret and cannot be pried into by other men, or for that matter by devils” (McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 777). Elder James E. Faust taught, “He [Satan] cannot know our thoughts unless we speak them” (CR, October 1987, 43). Only God knows our thoughts and feelings: “Thou, [even] thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of men” (1 Kings 8:39). This verse is Solomon’s prayer to the Lord.
17 I tell thee these things as a witness unto thee—that the words or the work which thou hast been writing are true.
18 Therefore be diligent; stand by my servant Joseph, faithfully, in whatsoever difficult circumstances he may be for the word’s sake.
19 Admonish him in his faults, and also receive admonition of him. Be patient; be sober; be temperate; have patience, faith, hope and charity.
verse 19 “Admonish him in his faults” Even prophets have faults. Oliver is commanded to admonish Joseph in his faults; which means to counsel, advise, and caution Joseph against his faults.
20 Behold, thou art Oliver, and I have spoken unto thee because of thy desires; therefore treasure up these words in thy heart. Be faithful and diligent in keeping the commandments of God, and I will encircle thee in the arms of my love.
verse 20 “Behold, thou are Oliver” As D&C 3:9 does for Joseph Smith, this statement does for Oliver Cowdery. This provocative statement implies that Oliver was foreordained to his calling for good reason.
21 Behold, I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I am the same that came unto mine own, and mine own received me not. I am the light which shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not.
22 Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things.
23 Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?
24 And now, behold, you have received a witness; for if I have told you things which no man knoweth have you not received a witness?
verses 22-24 Joseph Smith reported:
After we had received this revelation [D&C 6], Oliver Cowdery stated to me that after he had gone to my father’s to board, and after the family had communicated to him concerning my having obtained the plates, that one night after he had retired to bed he called upon the Lord to know if these things were so, and the Lord manifested to him that they were true, but he had kept the circumstance entirely secret, and had mentioned it to no one; so that after this revelation was given, he knew that the work was true, because no being living knew of the thing alluded to in the revelation, but God and himself (HC, 1:35).
Oliver had also informed his close friend David Whitmer of the remarkable witness he had received. According to Whitmer, Oliver “wrote me that Joseph had told him his [Oliver’s] secret thoughts, and all he had meditated about going to see him, which no man on earth knew, as he supposed, but himself, and so he stopped [at Harmony] to write for Joseph” (Jenson, “Three Witnesses,” 208).
verses 25-30 Oliver is the “means,” spoken of in section 5, provided by the Lord to enable the translation process to proceed.
In these verses Oliver is given the keys of the gift of translation conjointly with the Prophet Joseph. This is likely the beginning of power given to Oliver to be the second witness of this dispensation. Later he will be given the apostleship and be called as the Second Elder of the Church. Note in verses 29 and 30 the intimation that this might even lead him to a martyr’s crown.
25 And, behold, I grant unto you a gift, if you desire of me, to translate, even as my servant Joseph.
26 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that there are records which contain much of my gospel, which have been kept back because of the wickedness of the people;
verse 26 “records . . . which have been kept back because of the wickedness of the people” These likely include the sealed portion of the plates of Mormon which contained an account of the vision seen by the brother of Jared. Other records would also include parts of Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible (see D&C 35:20), the book of Moses (revealed June 1830-February 1831), and also the book of Abraham. Undoubtedly, there are yet other records still waiting to be brought forward.
27 And now I command you, that if you have good desires—a desire to lay up treasures for yourself in heaven—then shall you assist in bringing to light, with your gift, those parts of my scriptures which have been hidden because of iniquity.
28 And now, behold, I give unto you, and also unto my servant Joseph, the keys of this gift, which shall bring to light this ministry; and in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.
verses 25-28 Another of Oliver Cowdery’s gifts is the gift of translation.
verse 28 “in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established” Oliver was to be a second witness of the restoration, Joseph Smith being the first witness. Oliver will be involved with every major restoration event—the translation of the Book of Mormon, the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood, the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood, and the restoration of priesthood keys in the Kirtland Temple. It would be Oliver’s duty and right to bear witness of these events. Joseph would no longer stand alone.
29 Verily, verily, I say unto you, if they reject my words, and this part of my gospel and ministry, blessed are ye, for they can do no more unto you than unto me.
30 And even if they do unto you even as they have done unto me, blessed are ye, for you shall dwell with me in glory.
verses 29-30 “even if they do unto you even as they have done unto me, blessed are ye” President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote the following concerning Oliver Cowdery and the martyrdom of Hyrum Smith:
Had Oliver Cowdery remained true, had he been faithful to his testimony and his calling as the “Second Elder” and Assistant President of the Church, I am just as satisfied as I am that I am here that Oliver Cowdery would have gone to Carthage with the prophet Joseph Smith and laid down his life instead of Hyrum Smith. That would have been his right. Maybe it sounds a little strange to speak of martyrdom as being a right, but it was a right. Oliver Cowdery lost it and Hyrum Smith received it. According to the law of witnesses—and this is a divine law—it had to be” (Doctrines of Salvation, 1:221-22).
31 But if they reject not my words, which shall be established by the testimony which shall be given, blessed are they, and then shall ye have joy in the fruit of your labors. 32 Verily, verily, I say unto you, as I said unto my disciples, where two or three are gathered together in my name, as touching one thing, behold, there will I be in the midst of them—even so am I in the midst of you.
verse 32 “where two or three are gathered together in my name” At this point in church history there were just a handful of disciples who knew the truth of the work. It was indeed a “little flock” (see verse 34).
33 Fear not to do good, my sons, for whatsoever ye sow, that shall ye also reap; therefore, if ye sow good ye shall also reap good for your reward.
verse 33 This verse is a succinct statement of the Law of the Harvest (“whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap”—Galatians 6:7).
34 Therefore, fear not, little flock; do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail.
35 Behold, I do not condemn you; go your ways and sin no more; perform with soberness the work which I have commanded you.
36 Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.
37 Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet; be faithful, keep my commandments, and ye shall inherit the kingdom of heaven. Amen.
verses 36-37 The Lord reminds us to remember him always and keep him and his purposes in our minds continuously. His reference to the “wounds” and “prints” is only figurative. We “behold the wounds which pierced [his] side, and also the prints of the nails in [his] hands and feet” when we prayerfully ponder his atoning sacrifice and death.
Brief Historical Setting
From April 7, the translation proceeded steadily until early July 1829, when it was completed. This period of translation was a colorful and important period in our church history as the following pages will relate.
- Michael J. Preece