Church History Lesson 05 (JSH 8–17; D&C 6, 8, 9)
Martin Harris’s failure created a new problem—the lack of a scribe. The Prophet had been told earlier in D&C 10:4 not to labor more than he had the strength and means provided. Therefore, Joseph apparently did little translating from June 14, 1828 until April 7, 1829.
In the winter of 1829 Oliver Cowdery taught school near the home of Joseph Smith Sr.
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.
While there he heard stories about the Book of Mormon plates and asked Father Smith to tell him the details. Father Smith finally consented, and Oliver became one of the few in whom the family confided the story.
Lucy Mack Smith said:
“Shortly after receiving this information, he [Oliver] told Mr. Smith that he was highly delighted with what he had heard, that he had been in a deep study upon the subject all day, and that it was impressed upon his mind, that he should yet have the privilege of writing for Joseph. Furthermore, that he had determined to pay him a visit at the close of the school. . . .
“On coming in on the following day, he said, ‘The subject upon which we were yesterday conversing seems working in my very bones, and I cannot, for a moment, get it out of my mind; finally, I have resolved on what I will do. Samuel [Smith], I understand, is going down to Pennsylvania to spend the spring with Joseph; I shall make my arrangements to be ready to accompany him thither, . . . for I have made it a subject of prayer, and I firmly believe that it is the will of the Lord that I should go. If there is a work for me to do in this thing, I am determined to attend to it.’”1
In April Samuel and Oliver went to Harmony, Pennsylvania, to visit Joseph.
Lucy Mack Smith said, “Joseph had been so hurried with his secular affairs that he could not proceed with his spiritual concerns so fast as was necessary for the speedy completion of the work; there was also another disadvantage under which he labored, his wife had so much of her time taken up with the care of her house, that she could write for him but a small portion of the time. On account of these embarrassments, Joseph called upon the Lord, three days prior to the arrival of Samuel and Oliver, to send him a scribe, according to the promise of the angel; and he was informed that the same should be forthcoming in a few days. Accordingly, when Mr. Cowdery told him the business that he had come upon, Joseph was not at all surprised.”2
On April 5, 1829, Oliver Cowdery arrived at Joseph’s home in Harmony, Pennsylvania.
The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “Two days after the arrival of Mr. Cowdery (being the 7th of April) I commenced to translate the Book of Mormon, and he began to write for me, which having continued for some time, I inquired of the Lord through the Urim and Thummim, and obtained the following: [D&C 6].”3
PRINCIPLES OF REVELATION
Oliver Cowdery as Scribe (D&C 6)
Later that month, Joseph received a revelation for his new scribe (D&C 6). In this revelation Oliver Cowdery was given a further testimony of the divinity of the work.
Repetitions in the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 6:1–9).
—Verses 1–9 are identical to D&C 11:1–9.
—Verses 1–5 are identical to D&C 12:1–5 and D&C 14:1–5.
—The message in these verses is of universal importance to all Saints—indeed, the Lord has said: “What I say unto one I say unto all” (D&C 61:18, 36; 82:5; 92:1; 93:49).
“Quick” as used in the Bible does not mean swift but rather means something “living, alive” ( v. 2)4. Thus, to be quickened by the Spirit means to be given spiritual life.
The establishment of Zion is the grand purpose of the restoration (vv. 6–7).
Oliver Cowdery’s sacred gift was to know the “mysteries” (D&C 6:7–13).
The personal witness Oliver received of the truthfulness of this work (D&C 6:14–24).
— Our thoughts are private (v. 16).
— Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “Men’s thoughts are secret and cannot be pried into by other men, or for that matter by devils.”5
— The Lord reminded Oliver of an event that no other man knew about (vv. 22–24).
The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “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.”6
He also had another gift if he desired it—the gift to translate ancient records (D&C 6:25–28).
An Intimation of Things to Come
“They can do no more to you than to me” (D&C 6:29–31).
Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said about 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.”7
Oliver is instructed to look unto Christ and do good continually (D&C 6:32–37).
The Spirit of Revelation Is Explained to Oliver (D&C 8–9)
The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “Whilst continuing the work of translation, during the month of April, Oliver Cowdery became exceedingly anxious to have the power to translate bestowed upon him, and in relation to this desire the following revelations were obtained: [D&C 8–9].”8
Oliver will receive knowledge concerning the engravings of ancient scriptural records (D&C 8:1, 11).
Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said, “The Lord told him that he was to continue as scribe until the translation of the Book of Mormon was completed, and that there were other ancient records to come forth, and that he might have the privilege of translating these at some future day if he would remain faithful. We learn from the Book of Mormon that there are many records and that at some time, when the people are prepared by faith to receive them, that they shall also be translated and published for the knowledge and salvation of the faithful.”9
The spirit of revelation comes by the power of the Holy Ghost (D&C 8:1–5).
The Gift of Aaron (D&C 8:6–9). Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said, “Like Aaron with his rod in his hand going before Moses as a spokesman, so Oliver Cowdery was to go before Joseph Smith. Whatever he should ask the Lord by power of this gift should be granted if asked in faith and in wisdom. Oliver was blessed with the great honor of holding the keys of this dispensation with Joseph Smith, and, like Aaron, did become a spokesman on numerous occasions. It was Oliver who delivered the first public discourse in this dispensation.”10
The power of faith (D&C 8:10–12). Oliver Cowdery had proceeded to translate the Book of Mormon; however, Oliver’s faith was insufficient to receive the essential inspiration to accomplish the task (D&C 9). In this revelation, the Lord instructs him to be content to serve for the time being as scribe.11
The reasons why Oliver could not translate the record (D&C 9:1–11).
— He went his own way, using his own wisdom (vv. 1–2).
— Revelation was the only way he would be able to translate (vv. 5, 11).
— He allowed fear to overcome his faith (vv. 8–9).
“You cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me” (v. 9).
How the Holy Ghost Communicates with Us
He speaks with a still, small voice that communicates to our minds and hearts.
He enlightens our minds.
He brings peace to our minds .
He causes a “burning in our bosom.”
He reveals things “line upon line, precept upon precept” rather than all at once.
Elder Marion G. Romney said, “The type of revelation most common is that which comes into our minds and feelings and induces us to do what is right.”12
Cautions about Personal Revelation
We should pray for the Lord’s will to be done and be willing to submit to him (D&C 109:44). We should remember that revelation will come in the Lord’s own time and way (D&C 88:68).
President Joseph F. Smith said, “When I as a boy first started out in the ministry, I would frequently go out and ask the Lord to show me some marvelous thing, in order that I might receive a testimony. But the Lord withheld marvels from me, and showed me the truth, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, until he made me to know the truth from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet, and until doubt and fear had been absolutely purged from. me. He did not have to send an angel from the heavens to do this, nor did he have to speak with the trump of an archangel. By the whisperings of the still small voice of the Spirit of the living God, he gave to me the testimony I possess. And by this principle and power he will give to all the children of men a knowledge of the truth.”13
We receive revelation according to our stewardships and responsibilities (D&C 28:2, 6–7; 43:2–4). The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “It is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one, to receive instruction for those in authority, higher than themselves.”14
We should discern whether revelation has come from God (D&C 11:12–14; 60:23–24).
The First Presidency said, “When . . . inspiration conveys something out of harmony with the accepted revelations of the Church or contrary to the decisions of its constituted authorities, Latter-day Saints may know that it is not of God, no matter how plausible it may appear. . . . Anything at discord with that which comes from God through the head of the Church is not to be received as authoritative or reliable.”15
When the desired revelation is not received or recognized, we should:
—Be patient and continue to wait faithfully on the Lord (D&C 98:2)
—Increase our efforts to be in tune spiritually
—Increase our efforts to study and pray
—Be more faithful in obeying the commandments (Isaiah 59:2)
—Set the matter aside for a while. Flashes of inspiration often come when we least expect them, while our minds are no longer consumed by the matter.
—Realize we may be seeking counsel on matters that we should determine for ourselves.
—Evaluate whether we have received an answer already but have not accepted it because it was not what we hoped for or expected.
Elder Boyd K. Packer said:
“Sometimes you may struggle with a problem and not get an answer. What could be wrong? It may be that you. are not doing anything wrong. It may be that you have not done the right things long enough. Remember, you cannot force spiritual things. Sometimes we are confused simply because we won’t take no for an answer. . . .
“Put difficult questions in the back of your minds and go about your lives. Ponder and pray quietly and persistently about them.
“The answer may not come as a lightning bolt. It may come as a little inspiration here and a little there, ‘line upon line, precept upon precept’ (D&C 98:12).
“Some answers will come from reading the scriptures, some from hearing speakers. And, occasionally, when it is important, some will come by very direct and powerful inspiration. The promptings will be clear and unmistakable.”16
1. Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, ed. Preston Nibley , 139.
2. History of Joseph Smith, 141.
3. History of the Church, 1:32–33.
4. Bible Dictionary, s..v. “quick.”
5. Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. , 777; see also 1 Kings 8:39.
6. History of the Church, 1:35.
7. Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Elder Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 1:221–122.
8. History of the Church, 1:36.
9. Church History and Modern Revelation, 4 vols. [1946–1949], 1:50, 52.
10. Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:52.
11. History of the Church, 1:36–37.
12. Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year [10 Apr. 1956], 8.
13. Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. , 7.
14. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith , 21.
15. In James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 4:285.
16. In Conference Report, Oct. 1979, 29–30; or Ensign, Nov. 1979, 21.