Sunday School: Gospel Doctrine
Lesson 29: Building the Kingdom of God in Nauvoo, Illinois

“Lesson 29: Building the Kingdom of God in Nauvoo, Illinois,” Doctrine and Covenants and Church History: Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual (1999), 163–69

“Lesson 29,” Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Gospel Doctrine, 163–69

Lesson 29

Building the Kingdom of God in Nauvoo, Illinois


To teach about how the early Saints worked to build the kingdom of God in Nauvoo and to encourage class members to follow their example.


  1. Prayerfully study the following scriptures and other materials:

    1. Doctrine and Covenants 124:1–21, 87–90, 97–110; 126.

    2. Our Heritage, pages 51–52, 55–58, 61–62.

  2. Review the material for this lesson in the Class Member Study Guide (35686). Plan ways to refer to the material during the lesson.

  3. To gain a greater understanding of historical events related to the doctrine in this lesson, consider reviewing the following:

    1. “Organizing the Church in Nauvoo.”

    2. “‘Something Better’: The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo.”

    3. Additional historical material for this lesson.

  4. Ask class members to prepare to summarize the following accounts from Our Heritage:

    1. The trials that John Hammer and his family experienced as they sought refuge in Illinois, from the section titled “Exodus to Illinois” (pages 51–52).

    2. “Sacrifices of Nauvoo Missionaries” (pages 55–58).

    3. “The Relief Society” (pages 61–62).

  5. If you want to have the Relief Society president or one of her counselors talk about the purposes of Relief Society, extend the invitation in advance. Ask her to prepare to read the Relief Society declaration that was presented in the 1999 general Relief Society meeting. The declaration is included on page 166 of this manual and is also available as a separate item (36175, 36185, and 36195).

Suggestions for Lesson Development

Attention Activity

As appropriate, use the following activity or one of your own to begin the lesson.

Write the following sentences on the chalkboard:

  • The doctrine of baptism for the dead was revealed.

  • Temple endowments were first performed.

  • The Relief Society was organized.

  • Where did these things occur?

Explain that these things and many other important events occurred in Nauvoo, Illinois. This lesson discusses how the early Nauvoo Saints worked to build the kingdom of God and how we can learn from their example as we strive to build the kingdom of God today.

Discussion and Application

Prayerfully select the lesson material that will best meet class members’ needs. Encourage class members to share experiences that relate to the scriptural principles.

1. The Saints sought refuge in Illinois.

Explain that while Joseph Smith was in jail at Liberty, Missouri, the main responsibility for directing the Saints’ flight from Missouri fell upon Brigham Young, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. To escape their persecutors, the Saints began crossing the Mississippi River into Illinois in late 1838. Map 3 on page 276 in this manual and page 31 in the Class Member Study Guide shows the route the Saints used when they were driven out of Missouri.

Ask the assigned class member to tell of the trials that John Hammer and his family experienced as they sought refuge in Illinois (Our Heritage, pages 51–52).

The Saints gathered first in Quincy, Illinois. After Joseph Smith returned from Liberty Jail, they moved about 35 miles up the Mississippi River to what was then the small village of Commerce. The Saints quickly started draining the swampy land, planting crops, and building homes. During the summer of 1839, the Prophet renamed the place Nauvoo. He said, “The name of our City (Nauvoo) is of Hebrew origin, and signifies a beautiful situation, or place, carrying with it, also, the idea of rest” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 182).

In December 1840 the state of Illinois granted Nauvoo a charter that allowed the city to establish a militia, a municipal court, and a university. Nauvoo became the second largest city in Illinois as the Church grew rapidly and new converts gathered there.

On 19 January 1841, the Prophet Joseph Smith received a revelation in which the Lord gave commandments to the Saints about their responsibilities in Nauvoo. This revelation is recorded in D&C 124. Explain that by studying D&C 124 and the examples of the early Nauvoo Saints, we can more clearly understand the vital role each of us plays in building the kingdom of God.

2. Missionaries sent from Nauvoo converted thousands of people.

Explain that many Church members in Nauvoo, including the members of the Quorum of the Twelve, were called to serve as missionaries. Ask the assigned class member to report on the missions of the Nauvoo Saints (Our Heritage, pages 55–58).

Within a few months after arriving in England, Elder Wilford Woodruff had baptized and confirmed many people. Then he had the following experience:

“I … met with a large assembly of Saints and strangers, and while singing the first hymn the spirit of the Lord rested upon me and the voice of God said to me, ‘This is the last meeting that you will hold with this people for many days.’ I was astonished at this, as I had many appointments out in that district. When I arose to speak to the people, I told them that it was the last meeting I should hold with them for many days. They were as much astonished as I was. At the close of the meeting four persons came forward for baptism; we went down into the water and baptized them.

“In the morning I went in secret before the Lord, and asked Him what was His will concerning me. The answer I received was that I should go to the south; for the Lord had a great work for me to perform there, as many souls were waiting for His word.”

For the next two days he traveled south until he came to the farm of John Benbow in Herefordshire. Mr. Benbow and his wife, Jane, received him gladly and said that there was a company of over 600 men and women who had formed their own congregation called the United Brethren. Elder Woodruff said:

“This body of United Brethren were searching for light and truth, but had gone as far as they could, and were calling upon the Lord continually to open the way before them and send them light and knowledge, that they might know the true way to be saved. When I heard these things I could clearly see why the Lord had commanded me, while in the town of Hanley, to leave that place of labor and go to the south; for in Herefordshire there was a great harvest-field for gathering many saints into the Kingdom of God.”

Elder Woodruff’s efforts in this area of England enabled him “to bring into the Church, through the blessings of God, over eighteen hundred souls during eight months, including all of the six hundred United Brethren except one person” (in Wilford Woodruff: History of His Life and Labors, ed. Matthias F. Cowley [1909], 116–19).

  • What can we learn from Elder Woodruff’s experience?

Point out that the Church was strengthened by the sacrifices and efforts of the missionaries who served in England. Elder Harold B. Lee summarized what happened during this remarkable time:

“In one year, 1840 to 1841—one year and fourteen days, to be exact—nine members of the twelve were called to labor in the British Mission. If you remember the history [in Nauvoo], those years marked the period of some of the severest persecution that the Church was to undergo in this dispensation. In that one year and fourteen days the nine members of the twelve, with their associates, established churches in every noted town and city in the kingdom of Great Britain. They baptized between 7000 and 8000 converts. They printed 5000 copies of the Book of Mormon, 3000 hymnbooks, and 50,000 tracts, … and [they] emigrated 1000 souls to America” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1960, 108).

3. The examples of the Nauvoo Saints show the importance of enduring to the end in righteousness.

Explain that D&C 124 includes many instructions and promises to individuals who lived during the Nauvoo period. Read some of the following verses with class members and identify the instructions and promises:

  1. D&C 124:12–14 (to Robert B. Thompson).

  2. D&C 124:16–17 (to John C. Bennett).

  3. D&C 124:18–19 (to Lyman Wight).

  4. D&C 124:87–90, 97–102 (to William Law).

  5. D&C 124:103–10 (to Sidney Rigdon).

During the Nauvoo period, most of the Saints remained faithful and were greatly blessed. However, John C. Bennett, Lyman Wight, William Law, and Sidney Rigdon were among those who fell into apostasy and forfeited many of their blessings.

  • What has helped you most in your efforts to endure to the end in righteousness?

  • Read D&C 124:15 with class members. What character traits did the Lord praise in Hyrum Smith? (See also the following quotation.) How can we develop integrity of heart? How can we develop a love of what is right?

    The Prophet Joseph Smith said of his brother Hyrum, “I could pray in my heart that all my brethren were like unto my beloved brother Hyrum, who possesses the mildness of a lamb, and the integrity of a Job, and in short, the meekness and humility of Christ; and I love him with that love that is stronger than death, for I never had occasion to rebuke him, nor he me” (History of the Church, 2:338).

4. The Relief Society was organized in Nauvoo.

Explain that while the Saints were living in Nauvoo, they were blessed with a new Church organization. By the authority of the priesthood, the Prophet Joseph Smith organized the Relief Society. Ask the assigned class member to summarize the section “The Relief Society” from Our Heritage, pages 61–62.

To emphasize the purposes of the Relief Society, read the following declaration, which was presented in the 1999 general Relief Society meeting. If you have asked the Relief Society president or one of her counselors to make this presentation, invite her to do so now.

“We are beloved spirit daughters of God, and our lives have meaning, purpose, and direction. As a worldwide sisterhood, we are united in our devotion to Jesus Christ, our Savior and Exemplar. We are women of faith, virtue, vision, and charity who:

“Increase our testimonies of Jesus Christ through prayer and scripture study.

“Seek spiritual strength by following the promptings of the Holy Ghost.

“Dedicate ourselves to strengthening marriages, families, and homes.

“Find nobility in motherhood and joy in womanhood.

“Delight in service and good works.

“Love life and learning.

“Stand for truth and righteousness.

“Sustain the priesthood as the authority of God on earth.

“Rejoice in the blessings of the temple, understand our divine destiny, and strive for exaltation” (Mary Ellen Smoot, “Rejoice, Daughters of Zion,” Ensign, Nov. 1999, 92–93).

  • How does the Relief Society build faith and strengthen testimonies? How does it strengthen marriages and families? How does it help people in need?

  • What blessings have come into your life because of the Relief Society?


Emphasize that the early Saints in Nauvoo dedicated their lives to building up the kingdom of God through missionary work and through serving in many other ways. By following their examples, we can more faithfully help to build the kingdom of God today.

As prompted by the Spirit, testify of the truths discussed during the lesson.

Additional Teaching Ideas

You may want to use one or more of the following ideas to supplement the suggested lesson outline.

1. The early Saints were excused from building a temple in Missouri

  • The Saints had not built a temple in Missouri even though the Lord had commanded them to build one in Independence and one in Far West (D&C 57:1–3; 97:10–12; 115:7–12). What principle did the Lord teach the Saints in D&C 124:49–53? How can this principle apply to us today?

2. The Apostles’ efforts to fulfill the Lord’s words

Explain that D&C 118 contains the Lord’s instructions that the Twelve Apostles cross the “great waters” and preach the gospel. The Brethren were to leave from the temple site at Far West, Missouri, on 26 April 1839. However, by March 1839 most of the Saints had fled from Missouri to Illinois. Mobs threatened any leaders who returned to Far West.

Despite these threats, Brigham Young, four other Apostles, and several others returned to the Far West temple site shortly after midnight on the morning of 26 April 1839. There they ordained two additional Apostles—Wilford Woodruff and George A. Smith. They sang and prayed, and a large stone was rolled to a corner of the proposed temple site. Soon afterward, they left for their missions to England.

3. A proclamation to the world

  • Read D&C 124:1–7 with class members. What did the Lord command the Prophet Joseph Smith to write?

Explain that the Prophet Joseph Smith and others worked on this proclamation until the Prophet’s martyrdom in 1844. The Quorum of the Twelve then finished the document and published it on 6 April 1845.

The proclamation was addressed to the kings of the world, the president of the United States, and the rulers and people of all nations. The leaders of the Church proclaimed that God had again spoken from the heavens and that the kingdom of God and the holy priesthood had been restored to prepare the way for the Second Coming of the Savior. They also declared:

“We send unto you with authority from on high, and command you all to repent and humble yourselves as little children, before the majesty of the Holy One; and come unto Jesus with a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and be baptized in his name, for the remission of sins … , and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, through the laying on of the hands of the Apostles and elders, of this great and last dispensation of mercy to man.

“This Spirit shall bear witness to you, of the truth of our testimony; and shall enlighten your minds, and be in you as the spirit of prophecy and revelation. It shall bring things past to your understanding and remembrance; and shall show you things to come.

“It shall also impart unto you many great and glorious gifts; such as the gift of healing the sick, and of being healed, by the laying on of hands in the name of Jesus; and of expelling Demons; and even seeing visions, and convening with Angels and spirits from the unseen world.

“By the light of this Spirit, received through the ministration of the ordinances—by the power and authority of the Holy Apostleship and Priesthood, you will be enabled to understand, and to be the children of light; and thus be prepared to escape all the things that are coming on the earth, and so stand before the Son of Man.

“We testify that the foregoing doctrine is the doctrine or gospel of Jesus Christ, in its fulness; and that it is the only true, everlasting, and unchangeable gospel; and the only plan revealed on earth whereby man can be saved” (in James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. [1965–75], 1:252–54).

In 1975, President Ezra Taft Benson of the Quorum of the Twelve quoted part of this document in general conference and declared that the Church was once again proclaiming these truths to the world. He said:

“As humble servants of the Lord, we call upon the leaders of nations to humble themselves before God, to seek his inspiration and guidance. We call upon rulers and people alike to repent of their evil ways. Turn unto the Lord, seek his forgiveness, and unite yourselves in humility with his kingdom. There is no other way. If you will do this, your sins will be blotted out, peace will come and remain, and you will become a part of the kingdom of God in preparation for Christ’s second coming. But if you refuse to repent or to accept the testimony of his inspired messengers and unite yourselves with God’s kingdom, then the terrible judgments and calamities promised the wicked will be yours” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1975, 48; or Ensign, Nov. 1975, 34).

4. “The Heart and a Willing Mind” video presentation

If the videocassette Teachings from the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History (53933) is available, consider showing “The Heart and a Willing Mind,” an eight-minute segment. This presentation is a portrayal of Elder Heber C. Kimball’s willingness to serve the Lord by preaching the gospel. It also shows the dedication of his wife and children as they supported him when he left both Kirtland and Nauvoo to serve the Lord in England.

You may want to show this presentation during the second section of the lesson. Use the following questions to discuss the presentation with class members:

  • Read D&C 64:33–34 with class members. How did Elder Kimball show that he gave his heart to the work of the Lord? How did he show that he had a “willing mind”? What is the difference between merely being obedient and being both obedient and willing?

  • Elder Kimball and his family showed that they were willing to make sacrifices to help move forward the cause of Zion. What are some sacrifices that we need to make today to be able to serve in the work of the Lord? In what ways are our sacrifices different from theirs? In what ways are our sacrifices similar to theirs?

5. The Prophet Joseph Smith’s red brick store

Explain that the Prophet Joseph Smith’s red brick store was one of the most important buildings in the Church throughout the Nauvoo period (see the picture below). In addition to being a general store, it was a center of religious, social, and civic activity. The Saints established a public school there. They also used the building for Church and civic meetings and youth gatherings. The Relief Society was organized in this store on 17 March 1842. Before the temple was completed, the upper floor was used as an ordinance room. The first endowments in this dispensation were given there.

Red Brick Store

The Prophet Joseph Smith’s Red Brick Store. This was an important building in the Church throughout the Nauvoo period.