Lesson 59: Doctrine and Covenants 53–55

“Lesson 59: Doctrine and Covenants 53–55,” Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual (2013)

“Lesson 59,” Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual

Lesson 59

Doctrine and Covenants 53–55


In June 1831, the Prophet Joseph Smith received the revelations recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 53–55. The revelations contained the Lord’s instructions for some members of the Church who lived in Ohio but would soon move to Missouri. In these revelations, the Lord spoke to Sidney Gilbert, Newel Knight, and William W. Phelps, giving them instructions that were specific to their Church assignments and their talents.

Suggestions for Teaching

Doctrine and Covenants 53

The Lord calls Sidney Gilbert to be an elder and travel with Joseph Smith to Missouri

Invite two students to come to the front of the class. Ask one to instruct the other how to do a certain task. For example, one student may teach the other to tie a specific type of knot, fold a paper airplane, or perform a certain kind of dance. (If possible, ask a student ahead of time to be prepared to teach a skill.)

  • In this demonstration, why is it important that the learner follow all the instructions? What would happen if he or she decided to ignore one part of the instructions?

Remind students that the Lord had called missionaries to travel to Missouri (see D&C 52). Explain that a recent convert named Sidney Gilbert found that he was not listed as one of those missionaries. He went to the Prophet Joseph Smith and asked what the Lord would have him do. Joseph inquired and received the revelation in Doctrine and Covenants 53, which gives Sidney some initial steps of instruction.

Divide students into pairs. Invite each pair to read Doctrine and Covenants 53:1–5 together, looking for the instructions the Lord gave to Sidney Gilbert. Encourage them to mark each instruction they discover.

  • What instructions did the Lord give Sidney Gilbert? (As students report what they have found, it may be helpful to point out that Brother Gilbert’s assignment to “be an agent unto [the] church” is explained more completely in Doctrine and Covenants 57:6–10, 15.)

Explain that the Lord referred to this list of instructions as “the first ordinances which [Sidney would] receive” (D&C 53:6). The word ordinance sometimes refers to a rule or a decree. Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 53:6 aloud, and ask the class to look for the time when the Lord would give Sidney the rest (“residue”) of His instructions.

  • What can we learn from verse 6? (Consider suggesting that students cross-reference this passage with Doctrine and Covenants 52:4–5. Students may remember identifying the following principle in the previous lesson: As we follow God’s instructions faithfully, He reveals more of His will to us.)

Doctrine and Covenants 54

The Lord instructs the Colesville Saints to leave Thompson, Ohio, and move to Missouri

Explain that in April 1831, Newel Knight led a group of Saints from Colesville, New York, to join the Saints in Ohio. In May, the Prophet Joseph Smith instructed Bishop Edward Partridge to have those Saints settle on land in Thompson, Ohio, that Leman Copley had previously covenanted (or promised) to give for that purpose. They planted crops there and started making other improvements on the property. But even as they worked together to improve the land, they began to be selfish and greedy. Their situation worsened when Leman Copley returned from his mission to the Shakers and began doubting his faith (see D&C 49 and lesson 56). He rejected his developing testimony of the restored gospel, and he ordered the Saints to leave the land. He also charged them 60 dollars. Because Leman had broken his covenant, these Saints now had nowhere to live. Newel Knight and others asked the Prophet what they should do. (See Documents, Volume 1: June 1828–June 1831, vol. 1 of the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers [2013], 334–335.)

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 54:1–3 aloud, and ask the class to look for what the Saints needed to do to help improve their situation.

  • Why do you think repentance and humility would help these Saints?

Point out that the Lord was displeased with the Saints in Thompson who had broken their covenants. Ask students to read Doctrine and Covenants 54:4–5 silently and look for words and phrases the Lord used to describe what happens when a covenant is broken.

  • What do you think it means for a covenant to “become void and of none effect”? What blessings do we lose when we do not keep our covenants?

Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 54:6 silently, looking for a blessing we receive when we keep our covenants and obey the commandments. Ask students to report what they find. They may use different words, but their answers should convey the following principle: If we keep our covenants and obey the Lord’s commandments, we will obtain mercy. Write this principle on the board.

  • When have you seen that the Lord extends mercy to those who keep their covenants with Him?

Encourage students to keep the covenants they made at baptism and to obey the commandments so they can receive mercy from the Lord.

Summarize Doctrine and Covenants 54:7–9 by explaining that after these Saints lost their homes on Leman Copley’s land, the Lord commanded them to travel to Missouri. They were to appoint someone to pay for expenses along the way. The Lord said that once they got to Missouri, they would work for their living there until the Lord would prepare a place for them to settle.

To help students discover how the Lord wanted these Saints to respond to their trials, invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 54:10 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and look for the Lord’s counsel to these Saints.

  • In your experience, what are some blessings we receive when we are “patient in tribulation”?

  • Who did the Lord say would “find rest to their souls”? (Invite students to answer this question with an “if–then” sentence. As they answer the question, write this principle on the board: If we seek the Lord early, then we will find rest to our souls.)

To help students understand what it means to find rest to our souls, read the following statement by Elder Per G. Malm of the Seventy:

Elder Per G. Malm

“To find rest unto our souls includes peace of mind and heart, which is the result of learning and following the doctrine of Christ” (“Rest unto Your Souls,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2010, 101).

To help students understand some of what it means to seek the Lord early, ask the following questions:

  • What do you think it means to seek the Lord early? (Answers may include that it means to seek Him early in our lives, that it means to seek Him early every day, and that it means to seek His help before trials come in our lives.)

  • Why do you think we find rest to our souls when we seek the Lord early?

  • How would seeking the Lord early, before a time of tribulation, be different than seeking Him during the tribulation?

Invite students to write responses to the following questions in their class notebooks or scripture study journals. You may want to write these questions on the board or prepare them on a handout:

  • In what ways can you seek the Lord early, before trials that may come in your future?

  • What can you do to seek the Lord early each day?

  • What can you do to seek the Lord now, while you are in your youth?

After students have had time to write, invite a few of them to share their thoughts.

Doctrine and Covenants 55

The Lord calls William W. Phelps to assist in the writing and printing of Church materials

In advance, ask a student to come to class prepared to demonstrate a talent or skill. Ensure that the student’s presentation will be conducive to the Spirit. Or ask students to list on the board some of the talents and skills they have seen in each other. Then call a student by name and ask the following questions:

  • Why do you think your talents and skills are different from the talents and skills of others in the class?

  • Why do you think you were blessed with those talents and skills?

Invite students to read the section introduction to Doctrine and Covenants 55 silently, looking for one of William W. Phelps’s skills. Ask them to report what they find.

Explain that William W. Phelps purchased a copy of the Book of Mormon two weeks after it was offered for sale. This led to his conversion. He later said, “Notwithstanding my body was not baptized into this church till … June, 1831, yet my heart was there from the time I became acquainted with the book of Mormon” (in Documents, Volume 1: June 1828–June 1831, 337). On June 14, 1831, soon after Brother Phelps arrived in Kirtland, the Prophet Joseph Smith received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 55.

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 55:4 aloud, and ask the class to look for another talent William W. Phelps had. Ask students to report what they find. Then invite another student to read Doctrine and Covenants 55:5 aloud, and ask the class to find the location where Brother Phelps was called to do the work of writing and printing. (The Lord instructed him to travel with Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon to Missouri.)

Write the following principle on the board: God can use our talents, skills, and abilities to bless His children.

  • How have you seen God use people’s talents and abilities to bless His children?

Ask students to think of a talent or ability that they have and how they might use that ability to help others and move the Lord’s work forward. Invite a few students to share their insights.

Conclude the lesson by referring to the doctrines and principles written on the board. Invite a few students to choose one truth and to share why it is important to them and what they would like to do to apply it more fully in their lives.

Commentary and Background Information

Doctrine and Covenants 55. William W. Phelps’s contributions to the Church

William W. Phelps set up the first printing press for the Church in Missouri. He published the first Church newspaper, the Evening and the Morning Star. He helped compile, prepare, and publish the revelations in the Book of Commandments in 1833 and later in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. He helped prepare the first Church hymnbook and wrote the words to a number of hymns, including “The Spirit of God,” which was sung at the Kirtland Temple dedication. He gave 500 dollars to help complete that temple.

Doctrine and Covenants 55:6. Joseph Coe’s contributions to the Church

Joseph Coe, who was an early convert to the Church in New York, arrived in Kirtland in 1831. He traveled to Missouri with Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon, leaving Kirtland on June 19, 1831. Later, again in Kirtland, he was appointed general agent of the Church. He supervised land purchases in 1833, including 103 acres of the Peter French farm, on which the Kirtland Temple would be built. He was called to the Kirtland high council in February 1834. In July 1835, he helped with the purchase of Egyptian mummies and papyri, which led to Joseph Smith bringing forth the book of Abraham.