“Chapter 14: Doctrine and Covenants 35–36; 39–40,” Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual (2017)
“Chapter 14,” Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual
In the winter of 1830, Sidney Rigdon and Edward Partridge traveled from Ohio to New York to meet the Prophet Joseph Smith. Both men had heard the restored gospel preached by Oliver Cowdery, Parley P. Pratt, Ziba Peterson, and Peter Whitmer Jr. in the Kirtland, Ohio, area. Soon after Sidney and Edward’s arrival in Fayette, New York, Joseph Smith received revelations for each of them. In the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 35, the Lord gave Sidney Rigdon specific responsibilities within the newly restored Church. In the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 36, the Lord called Edward Partridge to preach the gospel.
Several weeks later, James Covel, who had been a Methodist minister for about 40 years, visited the Prophet Joseph Smith and covenanted with the Lord to obey any commandment given him through the Prophet. Consequently, on January 5, 1831, Joseph Smith received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 39. In it the Lord commanded James Covel to be baptized and to preach the restored gospel. However, the day after the revelation was received, James left Fayette, New York, without being baptized and “returned to his former principles and people” (Joseph Smith, in The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 1: July 1828–June 1831, ed. Michael Hubbard MacKay and others , 237). The Lord then gave Joseph Smith the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 40, explaining that James Covel’s “fear of persecution and the cares of the world caused him to reject [God’s] word” (D&C 40:2).
- October 29, 1830
Oliver Cowdery, Parley P. Pratt, Ziba Peterson, and Peter Whitmer Jr. preached the gospel in northeastern Ohio for several weeks.
- Early December 1830
Sidney Rigdon and Edward Partridge traveled from Ohio to New York to meet the Prophet Joseph Smith.
- December 7, 1830
Doctrine and Covenants 35 was received.
- December 9, 1830
Doctrine and Covenants 36 was received.
- December 11, 1830
Edward Partridge was baptized by Joseph Smith.
- January 2, 1831
The third conference of the Church was held, and Joseph Smith announced that the Saints were to gather in Ohio.
- January 1831
James Covel, a Methodist minister, became acquainted with Joseph Smith.
- January 5, 1831
Doctrine and Covenants 39 was received.
- January 6, 1831
Doctrine and Covenants 40 was received.
Within six months after the organization of the Church, Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer Jr., Ziba Peterson, and Parley P. Pratt were called to preach the gospel to the American Indians. On their way to the western borders of Missouri, they stopped in Mentor and Kirtland, Ohio, where they shared the message of the restored gospel with Elder Pratt’s friend and former minister Sidney Rigdon. In a short time, more than 120 people, including Sidney Rigdon and many members of his congregation, were baptized. This approximately doubled the Church’s total membership.
Sidney Rigdon had been ordained a Baptist minister in 1821. Shortly thereafter, he joined the Reformed Baptist movement of Alexander Campbell. Those who followed Campbell were eventually called Disciples of Christ or Campbellites, and they earnestly looked for a restoration of New Testament Christianity. Sidney Rigdon gained a reputation as an influential Reformed Baptist preacher in Mentor, Ohio, and in surrounding communities, including Kirtland. Sidney’s commitment to a restoration of New Testament Christianity prepared him and his followers to listen intently to the message brought by the missionaries from New York.
When Sidney Rigdon received a copy of the Book of Mormon from the missionaries, he began an intense study of it. His son later remarked that Sidney became so engaged in reading the Book of Mormon that “he could hardly lay it aside long enough to eat his meals. He continued to read it night and day until he had read it through and then he thought about and pondered over it” (John W. Rigdon, “Lecture on the Early History of the Mormon Church” , 18, Church History Library, Salt Lake City; capitalization and punctuation standardized). Once he was convinced of the truthfulness of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, Sidney said to his wife, Phebe, “‘My Dear you have followed me once into poverty, are you again willing to do the same[?]’” She responded, “I have weighed the matter, I have contemplated on the circumstances in which we may be placed, I have counted the cost, and I am perfectly satisfied to follow you. [Y]ea, it is my desire to do the will of God, come life or come death” (in The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 1: July 1828–June 1831, 213, note 91).
Furious with Sidney and Phebe’s conversion to the newly restored Church, many members of Sidney’s former congregation of Reformed Baptists who were not among those who accepted the missionaries’ message refused to let the Rigdons move into the new house they had built for them and wanted nothing more to do with them. Having lost their source of income, home, and many of their friends and associates, Sidney and Phebe moved their family to Kirtland to live with other recently baptized members of the Church.
The Lord was not teaching that He and Heavenly Father are the same person when He said, “I am one in the Father, as the Father is one in me” (D&C 35:2). Rather, this passage clarifies that Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, are united in purpose and possess the same character, perfections, and attributes. They invite true followers to become one with Them. Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained how we can become “one” with Heavenly Father and His Son:
“Jesus achieved perfect unity with the Father by submitting Himself, both flesh and spirit, to the will of the Father. His ministry was always clearly focused because there was no debilitating or distracting double-mindedness in Him. Referring to His Father, Jesus said, ‘I do always those things that please him’ (John 8:29). …
“Surely we will not be one with God and Christ until we make Their will and interest our greatest desire. Such submissiveness is not reached in a day, but through the Holy Spirit, the Lord will tutor us if we are willing until, in process of time, it may accurately be said that He is in us as the Father is in Him. At times I tremble to consider what may be required, but I know that it is only in this perfect union that a fulness of joy can be found. I am grateful beyond expression that I am invited to be one with those holy beings I revere and worship as my Heavenly Father and Redeemer” (“That They May Be One in Us,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2002, 72–73).
The Lord told Sidney Rigdon that He had “looked upon” him and his works and had heard his prayers (D&C 35:3). Not only was the Lord aware of Sidney, his experience, and his work as a Protestant minister, but He knew of Sidney’s great potential. The Lord also said that He had prepared Sidney Rigdon for “a greater work” than the work he had already done (D&C 35:3). This “greater work” included helping others receive baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost through proper authority and thereby opening the door to receive the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ (see D&C 35:5–6). Just as He did with Sidney Rigdon, the Lord provides opportunities and experiences that prepare us to accomplish the “greater work” He calls us to do.
After sharing experiences from his life, President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency testified: “Your life is carefully watched over, as was mine. The Lord knows both what He will need you to do and what you will need to know. He is kind and He is all-knowing. So you can with confidence expect that He has prepared opportunities for you to learn in preparation for the service you will give. You will not recognize those opportunities perfectly, as I did not. But when you put the spiritual things first in your life, you will be blessed to feel directed toward certain learning, and you will be motivated to work harder. You will recognize later that your power to serve was increased, and you will be grateful” (“Education for Real Life” Ensign, Oct. 2002, 18–19).
The Lord compared Sidney Rigdon’s work as a Protestant minister to that of John the Baptist in the New Testament (see D&C 35:4). Through their ministry, both of these individuals prepared people to hear and accept the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) explained how Sidney Rigdon had prepared the way for others to receive the message of the restored gospel: “It should be carefully noted that a great number of forceful, intelligent men who became leaders in the Church had been gathered by Sidney Rigdon, with the help of the Lord, in this part of the land. … When, therefore, Parley P. Pratt, Ziba Peterson and their companions came to Kirtland they found the way prepared for them through the preaching, very largely, of Sidney Rigdon, so that it was not a difficult matter for these missionaries to convince this group of the truth. While Sidney was preaching and baptizing by immersion without authority, which the Lord informed him in this revelation, yet it all resulted in good when the Gospel message reached them. These men were not only convinced and ready for baptism, but were in a condition by which the Priesthood could be given them, and this was done” (Church History and Modern Revelation , 1:160).
The Lord taught Sidney Rigdon that “miracles, signs, and wonders” are given in response to faith (D&C 35:8; compare D&C 63:7–12). It is important to remember that miracles and wonders “should not be regarded as deviations from the ordinary course of nature so much as manifestations of divine or spiritual power. Some lower law was in each case superseded by the action of a higher” (Bible Dictionary, “Miracles”). Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles described two types of “genuine miracles”:
“First, miracles worked by the power of the priesthood are always present in the true Church of Jesus Christ. The Book of Mormon teaches that ‘God has provided a means that man, through faith, might work mighty miracles’ (Mosiah 8:18). The ‘means’ provided is priesthood power (see James 5:14–15; D&C 42:43–48), and that power works miracles through faith (see Ether 12:12; Moro. 7:37). …
“A second type of genuine miracle is the miracle worked through the power of faith, without specifically invoking the power of the priesthood. Many of these miracles occur in our Church, such as by the prayers of faithful women, and many occur outside it. As Nephi taught, God ‘manifesteth himself unto all those who believe in him, by the power of the Holy Ghost; yea, unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, working mighty miracles, signs, and wonders, among the children of men according to their faith’ (2 Ne. 26:13; see also 1 Ne. 7:12; James 5:15)” (“Miracles,” Ensign, June 2001, 8–9).
Elder Oaks further explained why some miracles may not happen even when our faith is sufficient: “I have been speaking of miracles that happen. What about miracles that don’t happen? Most of us have offered prayers that were not answered with the miracle we requested at the time we desired. Miracles are not available for the asking. … The will of the Lord is always paramount. The priesthood of the Lord cannot be used to work a miracle contrary to the will of the Lord. We must also remember that even when a miracle is to occur, it will not occur on our desired schedule. The revelations teach that miraculous experiences occur ‘in his own time, and in his own way’ (D&C 88:68)” (“Miracles,” 9).
The “weak things of the world” (D&C 35:13) refer to those who are considered weak by worldly standards such as influence, wealth, and education, but who are considered by the Lord to have spiritual strength because they are meek, humble, full of love, and rely upon the strength and inspiration of God. President James E. Faust (1920–2007) of the First Presidency explained why the Lord calls such individuals to accomplish His great work:
“The Lord has a great work for each of us to do. You may wonder how this can be. You may feel that there is nothing special or superior about you or your ability. …
“The Lord can do remarkable miracles with a person of ordinary ability who is humble, faithful, and diligent in serving the Lord and seeks to improve. … This is because God is the ultimate source of power” (“Acting for Ourselves and Not Being Acted Upon,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 47).
President Boyd K. Packer (1924–2015) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught, “The work in the Church today is performed by ordinary men and women called and sustained to preside, to teach, and to administer. It is by the power of revelation and the gift of the Holy Ghost that those called are guided to know the Lord’s will” (“Guided by the Holy Spirit,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2011, 31).
The word thresh in Doctrine and Covenants 35:13 refers to the practice of threshing grain. Threshing is the process by which grain, such as wheat, is separated from its stalk and husk. The grain is kept, and the stalk and husk are discarded. Therefore, “to thresh the nations” refers to the work of preaching the gospel so that converts can be gathered in as grain. (Note: In previous English editions of the Doctrine and Covenants, D&C 35:13 used the word thrash instead of thresh. In the 2013 edition the word was changed to thresh to reflect the wording of the original revelation.)
The Lord used the imagery of battle to help His called servants understand how He will help them “fight manfully” (D&C 35:14), or courageously, for His cause. As used in D&C 35:14, the arm denotes power or strength. The Lord promised that His power and strength will be with those whom He calls to accomplish His work. Moreover, the Lord assured His servants that He “will be their shield and their buckler” (D&C 35:14), meaning that He will defend and protect them. The Lord will also “gird up their loins” (D&C 35:14). This phrase refers to the custom in ancient Israel of gathering up and securing loose clothing under a belt or girdle in preparation for work or battle. Using this imagery, the Lord promised to help His servants gather scattered Israel through the preaching of the gospel.
President Thomas S. Monson taught that the Lord will help us accomplish the work He calls us to do: “Some of you may be shy by nature or consider yourselves inadequate to respond affirmatively to a calling. Remember that this work is not yours and mine alone. It is the Lord’s work, and when we are on the Lord’s errand, we are entitled to the Lord’s help. Remember that the Lord will shape the back to bear the burden placed upon it” (“To Learn, to Do, to Be,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2008, 62).
The Lord calls “the weak things of the world” to do His work (D&C 35:13), including Joseph Smith. The translation of the Book of Mormon illustrates one way in which the Lord blessed Joseph in his weakness. Near the end of her life, Emma Smith (1804–1879) testified:
“Joseph Smith [as a young man] … could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter, let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon. And, though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired, and was present during the translation of the plates, and had cognizance of things as they transpired, it is marvelous to me, ‘a marvel and a wonder,’ as much so as to anyone else. …
“My belief is that the Book of Mormon is of divine authenticity—I have not the slightest doubt of it. I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscript unless he was inspired; for, when [I was] acting as his scribe, [Joseph] would dictate to me hour after hour; and when returning after meals, or after interruptions, he would at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him. This was a usual thing for him to do. It would have been improbable that a learned man could do this; and, for one so ignorant and unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible” (“Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” The Saints’ Herald, Oct. 1, 1879, 290).
“The mystery of those things which have been sealed” (D&C 35:18) refers to divine light and knowledge that can only be known through revelation. Joseph Smith held the keys of the priesthood, which allowed him to receive, by the Spirit, divine truths that God had hidden from the world (see D&C 84:19). The Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–1844) stated:
“[The Melchizedek Priesthood] is the channel through which all knowledge, doctrine, the plan of salvation, and every important matter is revealed from heaven. …
“… It is the channel through which the Almighty commenced revealing His glory at the beginning of the creation of this earth, and through which He has continued to reveal Himself to the children of men to the present time, and through which He will make known His purposes to the end of time” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 108–9).
John Whitmer, who had served as a scribe to the Prophet Joseph Smith during the Bible translation, was called on a preaching mission (see D&C 30:9–11). At about this same time, Sidney Rigdon was baptized and, thereafter, became the principal scribe for this sacred labor. In response to the Lord’s instruction in the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 35, Sidney promptly commenced writing for the Prophet as Joseph dictated a lengthy inspired translation of Genesis 5:22–24 (as recorded in Moses 6:26–8:4; see The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 1: July 1828–June 1831, 223, note 147).
The Lord stated that the translation of the Bible would “be given, even as they are in mine bosom” (D&C 35:20). The Prophet Joseph Smith did not “translate” the Bible in the traditional sense of the word. He did not study ancient languages in order to make a new translation into English. Rather, he received the spiritual gift to make inspired revisions. While some of the revisions the Prophet made to the text restored original biblical passages that had been lost, other changes corrected, expanded, and supplemented existing biblical text. Overall, through revelation, Joseph revised passages to reflect the meaning God intended. The changes found today in the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible restore plain and precious truths and covenants once found in the Bible (see 1 Nephi 13:28–36). The Lord explained that the inspired translation would do far more than provide information or even edification for the Saints. He said it was also given for “the salvation of mine own elect” (D&C 35:20). Furthermore, several revelations contained in the Doctrine and Covenants were received as a direct result of Joseph’s work of translation (see D&C 76; 77; 91). The inspired translation of the Bible is further witness of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s divine calling and ministry.
Sidney Rigdon fulfilled the Lord’s command to “tarry with” the Prophet Joseph Smith (D&C 35:22) until the Prophet’s martyrdom. He was the only counselor in the First Presidency who served during the entire administration of the Prophet. He was also the scribe for several of the revelations, some of which were received conjointly with Joseph Smith (see D&C 40; 44; 71; 73; 76; 100). He fulfilled the command to “forsake him not” (D&C 35:22) when he endured the tarring and feathering at Hiram, Ohio, in 1832 and suffered in Liberty Jail with the Prophet during the winter of 1838–39.
The Lord promised Sidney Rigdon that He would “cause the heavens to shake for [his] good” (D&C 35:24). One meaning of shake is to dislodge or release something from a support or a container. Thus, one interpretation of this verse could be that when the heavens shake “for [our] good,” revelations and blessings are released and poured out upon us.
The Prophet Joseph Smith described Edward Partridge as “a pattern of piety, and one of the Lord’s great men” (in Manuscript History of the Church, 1838–1856, vol. A-1, page 78). Edward was a successful businessman from Painesville, Ohio, who was well respected in his community. He and his wife, Lydia, heard the restored gospel taught by Oliver Cowdery, Parley P. Pratt, and their companions. Lydia was soon baptized, but Edward remained skeptical. Lydia wrote that her husband “partly believed but he had to take a journey to New York State and see the Prophet” before he could be satisfied (account of Lydia Partridge, in Edward Partridge genealogical record, 1878, 6, Church History Library, Salt Lake City). Edward traveled with Sidney Rigdon to New York, arriving in December 1830. After hearing the Prophet Joseph Smith preach, Edward declared his belief in the restored gospel and said he was ready to be baptized if the Prophet would baptize him. Soon thereafter, the Prophet dictated a revelation, now recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 36, for Edward. Two days later, on December 11, 1830, Joseph Smith baptized Edward Partridge.
In Doctrine and Covenants 36:2, the Lord said He would “lay [His] hand upon” Edward Partridge through His “servant Sidney Rigdon” and give him the gift of the Holy Ghost. President Harold B. Lee (1899–1973) referred to this verse as an example of the way in which the Lord manifests His power through His servants: “The Lord here [in D&C 36:2] is saying that when one of his authorized servants puts his hands by authority upon the head of one to be blessed, it is as though he himself was putting his hand on with them to perform that ordinance. So we begin to see how he manifests his power among men through his servants to whom He has committed the keys of authority” (Be Secure in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year [Feb. 11, 1958], 6).
The Lord instructed Edward Partridge to declare His gospel, or “the peaceable things of the kingdom,” which the Holy Ghost would teach him (see D&C 36:1–2). Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained how the gospel of Jesus Christ brings peace: “Peace—real peace, whole-souled to the very core of your being—comes only in and through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. When that precious truth is discovered and gospel principles are understood and applied, great peace can distill in the hearts and souls of our Heavenly Father’s children. Said the Savior through Joseph Smith, ‘He who doeth the works of righteousness shall receive his reward, even peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come’ (D&C 59:23)” (“The Peaceable Things of the Kingdom,” Ensign, May 2002, 88).
The Saints are commanded to hate “the garments spotted with the flesh” (D&C 36:6; see also Jude 1:23; Revelation 3:4). President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) explained: “This is symbolic language, yet is plain to understand. This is [a wicked] generation, walking in spiritual darkness, and the punishment for sin is spoken of as punishment in fire. Garments spotted with flesh are garments defiled by the practices of carnal desires and disobedience to the commandments of the Lord. We are commanded to keep our garments unspotted from all sin, from every practice that defiles. We are therefore commanded to come out of the world of wickedness and forsake the things of this world” (Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:163).
When the Saints gathered in Fayette, New York, in the early part of January 1831, for the third conference of the Church, they discussed the Lord’s command for them to move to Ohio (see D&C 37:3; 38:32). A Methodist minister named James Covel may have attended that conference and afterward spoke with Church leaders. It appeared as though he was prepared to convert to the restored gospel. According to John Whitmer, James Covel “covenanted with the Lord that he would obey any commandment that the Lord would give through his servant Joseph” (in The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 1: July 1828–June 1831, 233–34). The Prophet Joseph Smith received a revelation for James Covel on January 5, 1831.
The earliest copy of the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 39 indicated only that it was a revelation given for someone named James. The published copy of the revelation expanded the name of the recipient to “James (C.,).” In the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, his name was identified as “James Covill.” In the 1981 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, he was identified as a Baptist minister. However, recent research indicates that this revelation was given to James Covel, who was a Methodist minister.
To receive Jesus Christ, a person must be willing to believe and obey His gospel, which includes repenting, being baptized, and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. Because he had been a Methodist preacher for about 40 years, James Covel may have felt that he had already received the Savior and His gospel. Nevertheless, the Lord’s message to James Covel was to repent of his sins and be baptized into His restored Church. The Lord’s message is the same today. Regardless of a person’s professed beliefs or previous baptism into another Christian denomination, the Lord commands people everywhere to receive Him by accepting the restored gospel, repenting of their sins, and receiving baptism from His authorized servants.
The Lord revealed that in the past, James Covel had struggled with pride and with being caught up in the cares of the world (see D&C 39:9). However, at the time the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 39 was received, his heart was right before God (see D&C 39:8). Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that we can educate the desires of our hearts, which will make our heart right with God:
“When is our heart right with God? Our heart is right with God when we truly desire what is righteous, when we desire what God desires.
“Our divinely granted willpower gives us control over our desires, but it may take many years for us to be sure that we have willed and educated them to the point that all are entirely righteous.
“President Joseph F. Smith taught that the ‘education … of our desires is one of far-reaching importance to our happiness in life.’ (Gospel Doctrine, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1939, p. 297.)
“How do we educate our desires? We begin, I suppose, with our feelings. The desires of our hearts are deep-seated and fundamental. But our feelings are closer to the surface and easier for us to identify and influence. …
“In order to have righteous desires, we have to control our thoughts and achieve appropriate feelings. My widowed mother understood that principle. ‘Pray about your feelings,’ she used to say. She taught her three children that we should pray to have the right kind of feelings about our experiences—positive or negative—and about the people we knew. If our feelings were right, we would be more likely to take righteous actions and to act for the right reasons” (“The Desires of Our Hearts,” Ensign, June 1986, 65).
In the Lord’s eyes, James Covel struggled with pride and had rejected Him in the past. President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) taught how pride can prevent us from accepting God’s word and authority in our lives:
“The proud cannot accept the authority of God giving direction to their lives. (See Hel. 12:6.) They pit their perceptions of truth against God’s great knowledge, their abilities versus God’s priesthood power, their accomplishments against His mighty works.
“… The proud wish God would agree with them. They aren’t interested in changing their opinions to agree with God’s. …
“The proud do not receive counsel or correction easily. (See Prov. 15:10; Amos 5:10.) Defensiveness is used by them to justify and rationalize their frailties and failures. (See Matt. 3:9; John 6:30–59.) …
“… The proud are not easily taught. (See 1 Ne. 15:3, 7–11.) They won’t change their minds to accept truths, because to do so implies they have been wrong” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson , 232, 236).
The Lord promised James Covel that if he would be baptized, he would receive power, great faith, and support from God. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin (1917–2008) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained how the Lord’s promise to James Covel in Doctrine and Covenants 39:12 applies to Church members today: “What is said here to James [Covel] in this dispensation, when the Church was only nine months old, applies with equal force to us now—and is a remarkable and powerful reiteration of the promise made by the Savior during his earthly ministry. His pledge that he will be in our midst when two or three are gathered together in his name is a wonderful declaration of his unbounded love for each of us and assures us of his presence in our church services, in our individual lives, and in the intimate circles of our families” (“There Am I in the Midst of Them,” Ensign, May 1976, 55).
In January 1831, the Lord repeated what He taught His disciples in Jerusalem—that no one knows the time of His Second Coming (see D&C 39:21; see also Matthew 24:36). Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated:
“I am called as one of the Apostles to be a special witness of Christ in these exciting, trying times, and I do not know when He is going to come again. As far as I know, none of my brethren in the Quorum of the Twelve or even in the First Presidency knows. And I would humbly suggest that if we do not know, then nobody knows, no matter how compelling their arguments or how reasonable their calculations. The Savior said that ‘of that day, and hour, no one knoweth; no, not the angels of God in heaven, but my Father only’ (JST, Matt. 1:40).
“I believe that when the Lord says ‘no one’ knows, He really means that no one knows” (“When Shall These Things Be?” Ensign, Dec. 1996, 56).
On January 6, 1831, the day after the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 39 was received, James Covel abruptly left Fayette, New York. On that same day the Lord gave the Prophet Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 40, “explaining why [James Covel] obeyed not the word.” The Prophet Joseph Smith later said that James had “rejected the word of the Lord, and returned to his former principles and people” (in The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 1: July 1828–June 1831, 237).
Using language similar to that in His New Testament parable of the sower, the Lord described James Covel as having “received the word with gladness,” but then “the fear of persecution and the cares of the world caused him to reject the word” (D&C 40:2; see Matthew 13:20–22). The Lord revealed that James’s heart “was right before [Him]” (D&C 40:1; italics added) and that the word had genuinely taken root in his heart, but he had nevertheless chosen to break his covenant with the Lord (see D&C 40:3).
At the time James Covel heard the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, he was about 60 years old. He was a prominent leader of the Methodist reform movement and had built extensive associations over his 40-year career as a traveling preacher. Furthermore, two of his sons were Methodist preachers. To become a member of the Church and move west to Ohio to fulfill the Lord’s call to preach the gospel would have required leaving his home in New York and cutting ties with his former associates. The sacrifice required by the Lord was apparently too much for him to accept. The adversary tempted him, and the fear of persecution and personal loss caused him to reject God’s word.
President Thomas S. Monson exhorted Church members to have courage when faced with ridicule and opposition: “We will face fear, experience ridicule, and meet opposition. Let us have the courage to defy the consensus, the courage to stand for principle. Courage, not compromise, brings the smile of God’s approval. Courage becomes a living and an attractive virtue when it is regarded not only as a willingness to die manfully, but also as a determination to live decently. A moral coward is one who is afraid to do what he thinks is right because others will disapprove or laugh. Remember that all men have their fears, but those who face their fears with dignity have courage as well” (“The Call for Courage,” Ensign, May 2004, 55–56).
Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles recounted an experience in which the cares of the world could have led him to become casual in his efforts to keep the commandments:
“In 1980 we moved as a family across the street from the hospital where I trained and worked. I worked every day, including Sundays. If I finished my Sunday work by 2:00 p.m., I could join my wife and daughter and drive to church for meetings that began at 2:30.
“One Sunday late in my first year of training, I knew that I would likely finish by 2:00. I realized, however, that if I stayed in the hospital just a little longer, my wife and daughter would depart without me. I could then walk home and take a needed nap. I regret to say that I did just that. I waited until 2:15, walked home slowly, and lay down on the couch, hoping to nap. But I could not fall asleep. I was disturbed and concerned. I had always loved going to church. I wondered why on this day the fire of testimony and the zeal that I had previously felt were missing.
“I did not have to think long. Because of my schedule, I had become casual with my prayers and scripture study. I would get up one morning, say my prayers, and go to work. Often day blended into night and into day again before I would return home late the following evening. I would then be so tired that I would fall asleep before saying a prayer or reading the scriptures. The next morning the process began again. The problem was that I was not doing the basic things I needed to do to keep my mightily changed heart from turning to stone.
“I got off the couch, got on my knees, and pleaded with God for forgiveness. I promised my Heavenly Father that I would change. The next day I brought a Book of Mormon to the hospital. On my to-do list that day, and every day since, were two items: praying at least morning and evening and reading in the scriptures. Sometimes midnight would come, and I would have to quickly find a private place to pray. Some days my scripture study was brief. I also promised Heavenly Father that I would always try to get to church, even if I missed part of the meeting. Over the course of a few weeks, the zeal returned and the fire of testimony burned fiercely again. I promised to never again fall into the spiritual death trap of being casual about these seemingly small actions and thereby jeopardizing things of an eternal nature, regardless of circumstances” (“Preserving the Heart’s Mighty Change,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2009, 98–99).