We are entering the fifth month of essentially being shut down by the COVID pandemic. Thanks for your help and support during this difficult time. We are looking for better things to come.
august is a month of historically important events such as Christopher Columbus setting sail from Spain with three ships on August 3, 1492 to ultimately make the effective discovery of America on October 12. During the War of 1812, the British captured Washington, D. C. and on August 24 and 25, 1812 burned the Capital and White House.
As we learned in the recent Pioneer issue devoted to Women’s Suffrage, on August 18, 1920 the Nineteenth Amendment granting women nationwide the right to vote was officially ratified.
On August 6 and 9, 1945 atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. With the resulting Japanese surrender on August 14, 1945, World War II was ended.
On August 28, 1963 the march on Washington occurred as thousands witnessed Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his iconic, “I Have a Dream Speech,” which became an enduring milestone in the Civil Rights movement.
In Church History on August 15, 1840, Joseph Smith publicly announced baptisms for the dead, and on August 6, 1842, he prophesied that the Saints would be driven to the Rocky Mountains, but he would not go with them.
On August 8, 1844 Brigham Young and the Quorum of the Twelve were sustained to lead the Church. On August 29, 1852 plural marriage was first publicly announced, and on August 29, 1877, Brigham Young passed away.
Aurelia Spencer Rogers began the first Primary in the Church at Farmington, Utah on August 25, 1878.
On August 26, 1923 the Cardston, Canada Temple became the first operating temple outside the United States, and on August 24, 1939 the First Presidency directed that all missionaries leave Europe because of the threat of war.
President Benson dedicated the Frankfort Temple on August 28, 1987, the first LDS temple in Eastern Europe. On August 29, 2010 the Kyiv, Ukraine Temple became the first temple in the former Soviet Union.
Importantly, we were instructed on August 16, 2018 that we are henceforth to use the full name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The event that I desire to discuss, however, is the acceptance on August 17, 1835 of the doctrine and covenants as part of the Standard Works of the Church. Preceding the organization of the Church on April 6, 1830, the Prophet Joseph Smith had received several revelations. They were all handwritten and many were not well known among church members.
Following the official organization of the Church, revelations continued to be received regarding essential ordinances as well as instructions relative to the operation of the Lord’s Church.
In the fall of 1831 Ezra Booth published a letter in an Ohio newspaper accusing Joseph of hiding revelations and giving false revelations. On November 1, 1831, Joseph convened a council of Church leaders at Kirtland to discuss publishing the revelations. Joseph desired to publish them because he believed it would be a valuable tool for missionaries and it would provide truth about the church to critics.
For hours the council discussed whether or not to publish the revelations. David Whitmer led some in opposing publication arguing it would cause problems for Saints in Jackson County. Joseph held that the Lord wanted the words He had given to the Prophet in revelation to be published.
Following much debate, the council agreed to publish 10,000 copies of the revelations which would be titled the book of commandments. Sidney Rigdon, Oliver Cowdrey and William McLellin were assigned to write a preface and present it to the council later that day.
The council discussed their proposed preface line by line and after picking it apart, asked Joseph Smith to seek the Lord’s will regarding a preface. The Lord revealed it (D&C 1) as Sidney Rigdon recorded and Joseph spoke the words.
Some still opposed publishing the revelations because they criticized the vocabulary and grammar. The Lord had testified in Doctrine and Covenants 1: 24 that the revelations came from Him. In Doctrine and Covenants 67: 7-8 the Lord challenged the council to select the wisest man among them to write a revelation. If that man was unable to write a revelation, everyone would know and be responsible to testify that the Lord’s revelations to Joseph were true.
William McLellin was selected to write the revelation. Everyone recognized that what he wrote was not from the Lord. It was said that McClellan’s attempt revealed “he had more learning than sense.” The council members admitted their mistake and signed a statement testifying that the revelations Joseph had received were from God.
They then approved having Joseph review them and by the Holy Spirit to correct any mistakes. Members had copied the early revelations for their own study, but because errors were made in copying, those errors were perpetuated.
The Church press was housed on the second floor of the William Phelps home in Jackson County and was used for printing the Evening and Morning Star newspaper, which beginning in June 1832 contained one or more revelations per week over the next year. Unfortunately, there were typos and other errors in these.
On July 20, 1833, as the printing of the Book of Commandments was nearing completion, a mob approached demanding that the Saints leave Jackson County and that Phelps cease printing the newspaper. The Missouri Saints were given fifteen minutes to accept these demands.
When negotiations ended without an agreement, the mob descended on the Phelps home, broke in, dragged Sally Phelps and her children from the house, destroyed furniture, dumped type and ink onto the floor, tossed out paper, type, and the printing press, and removed the unbound copies of the Book of Commandments to the street.
Fifteen-year old Mary Elizabeth Rollins and her thirteen-year old sister, Caroline, watched from a hiding place. When they saw an opportunity, the two girls gathered as many pages as they could and fled. Two men saw them and pursued them into a nearby cornfield. The girls hid the pages under their bodies and lay still as the men searched. Eventually, they gave up the search and left.
That night Sally Phelps sheltered in an abandoned log stable next to the cornfield. When Mary and Caroline appeared with their arms full of the pages, Sally took them from the sisters and hid them under her brush-pile bed, thus saving much of the Book of Commandments up to verse 36 of Section 64.
What was saved was later bound and circulated. In April 1834, Sidney Rigdon was set apart to be aided by Oliver Cowdery to arrange and re-print a Book of Covenants containing all Joseph’s revelation until that date.
At a conference held August 17, 1835 several priesthood leaders testified of the truthfulness of the revelations. Because all members of the Twelve were absent serving missions, William W. Phelps read into the record their testimony of the truthfulness of the revelations. The conference voted to accept the book as arranged with seven“Lectures on Faith,” which were considered doctrine, and the Covenants and Commandments which contained the revelations.
The title of the book, Doctrine and Covenants, came from this arrangement. In 1921 the “Lectures on Faith,” were removed because they were not revelations.
The conference voted on August 17, 1835 to accept the Doctrine and Covenants as part of the standard works—scripture– equal to the Bible and Book of Mormon. The book was bound in Cleveland and was ready for distribution in early September, 1835.
In reviewing how we came by the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, I am touched by the courageous actions of two teenage girls; by Sally Phelps’ help in saving the copies of the Book of Commandments; and by the faith of the membership in accepting the revelations that contain so much instruction relative to the essentials of the Gospel as scripture.
I am also grateful for all that has been added to the Doctrine and Covenants by way of revelation since August, 1835.
I firmly believe that the many tender mercies of the Lord to us and our pioneer ancestors continue to be worthy of our review, greater understanding and deeper appreciation.
2020 National President