“Chapter 19: Doctrine and Covenants 50,” Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual (2017)
“Chapter 19,” Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual
When the Prophet Joseph Smith arrived in Kirtland, Ohio, in early February 1831, he observed that “some strange notions and false spirits had crept in among” the Saints. He began teaching “with a little caution, and some wisdom” in order to put an end to these false spiritual manifestations (in Manuscript History of the Church, vol. A-1, page 93, josephsmithpapers.org). A few months later, Elder Parley P. Pratt returned from a mission and observed similar behavior in branches of the Church outside of Kirtland, so he and several other elders approached Joseph Smith for guidance (see Manuscript History of the Church, vol. A-1, page 114, josephsmithpapers.org). In May 1831 the Prophet inquired of the Lord regarding this issue and received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 50. In this revelation the Lord instructed the Saints to teach and receive the gospel by the Spirit of Truth.
Some members of the Church in Kirtland were influenced by false spiritual manifestations.
Late March 1831
Parley P. Pratt returned to Kirtland from a mission to Indian Territory and Missouri.
April 30, 1831
Emma Smith gave birth to twins, a son and a daughter, who both died within a few hours.
May 9, 1831
Doctrine and Covenants 50 was received.
May 9, 1831
Joseph and Emma Smith adopted the infant twins of John and Julia Murdock, after Julia died giving birth to the twins on April 30.
Elder Parley P. Pratt was one of four missionaries who helped to convert more than 100 people in the Kirtland, Ohio, area in late fall of 1830. After continuing his mission to preach the gospel among the American Indians west of Missouri, Elder Pratt returned to Ohio in late March 1831. At that time he witnessed surprising behaviors among Church members in Kirtland. He recounted: “As I went forth among the different branches, some very strange spiritual operations were manifested, which were disgusting, rather than edifying. Some persons would seem to swoon away, and make unseemly gestures, and be drawn or disfigured in their countenances. Others would fall into ecstacies, and be drawn into contortions, cramp, fits, etc. Others would seem to have visions and revelations, which were not edifying, and which were not congenial to the doctrine and spirit of the gospel. In short, a false and lying spirit seemed to be creeping into the Church” (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, ed. Parley P. Pratt Jr. , 61).
The Prophet Joseph Smith described the false spiritual manifestations that were present during that time: “Soon after the Gospel was established in Kirtland, and during the absence of the authorities of the Church, many false spirits were introduced, many strange visions were seen, and wild enthusiastic notions were entertained; men [ran] out of doors under the influence of this Spirit, and some of them got upon the stumps of trees and shouted, and all kinds of extravagancies were entered into by them: one man pursued a ball that he said he saw flying in the air, until he came to a precipice when he jumped into the top of a tree which saved his life, and many ridiculous things were entered into, calculated to bring disgrace upon the church of God; to cause the Spirit of God to be withdrawn; and to uproot and destroy those glorious principles which had been developed for the salvation of the human family” (in Manuscript History of the Church, vol. C-1, page 1311, josephsmithpapers.org).
Parley P. Pratt noted that this confusing behavior led some to seek clarification from the Prophet: “Feeling our weakness and inexperience, and lest we should err in judgment concerning these spiritual phenomena, myself, John Murdock, and several other Elders, went to Joseph Smith, and asked him to inquire of the Lord concerning these spirits or manifestations” (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, 61–62).
The Lord warned the Saints that there are false spirits on the earth who, along with Satan, seek to deceive and overthrow God’s children. President Boyd K. Packer (1924–2015) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles cautioned Church members to not be fooled by counterfeit feelings or false spirits:
“Be ever on guard lest you be deceived by inspiration from an unworthy source. You can be given false spiritual messages. There are counterfeit spirits just as there are counterfeit angels. (See Moro. 7:17.) …
“The spiritual part of us and the emotional part of us are so closely linked that [it] is possible to mistake an emotional impulse for something spiritual. We occasionally find people who receive what they assume to be spiritual promptings from God, when those promptings are either centered in the emotions or are from the adversary” (“The Candle of the Lord,” Ensign, Jan. 1983, 55–56).
On another occasion, President Packer spoke of the importance of distinguishing between a temptation from the devil and a true revelation from the Lord:
“There can be counterfeit revelations, promptings from the devil, temptations! As long as you live, in one way or another the adversary will try to lead you astray. …
“The Prophet Joseph Smith said that ‘nothing is a greater injury to the children of men than to be under the influence of a false spirit when they think they have the Spirit of God’ [Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 205]. …
“If ever you receive a prompting to do something that makes you feel uneasy, something you know in your mind to be wrong and contrary to the principles of righteousness, do not respond to it!” (“Personal Revelation: The Gift, the Test, and the Promise,” Ensign, Nov. 1994, 61).
The Lord warned the Saints in Kirtland about “deceivers and hypocrites” among Church members (D&C 50:6). Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained that we must beware of false prophets and false teachers:
“As Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, it is our duty to be watchmen on the tower, warning Church members to beware of false prophets and false teachers who lie in wait to ensnare and destroy faith and testimony. Today we warn you that there are false prophets and false teachers arising; and if we are not careful, even those who are among the faithful members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will fall victim to their deception. …
“When we think of false prophets and false teachers, we tend to think of those who espouse an obviously false doctrine or presume to have authority to teach the true gospel of Christ according to their own interpretation. We often assume that such individuals are associated with small radical groups on the fringes of society. However, I reiterate: there are false prophets and false teachers who have or at least claim to have membership in the Church. There are those who, without authority, claim Church endorsement to their products and practices. Beware of such” (“Beware of False Prophets and False Teachers,” Ensign, Nov. 1999, 62).
Some members in the Kirtland area were behaving as though they had spiritual power or authority that they did not actually possess. Thus, the Lord identified them as “deceivers and hypocrites” (D&C 50:6). Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin (1917–2008) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles defined hypocrisy and urged us to purge it from our lives:
“Hypocrisy … is the false pretense of virtue or righteousness and pretending to be something that we are not. If we know what is right and profess to live by that knowledge but, in fact, do not, we are hypocrites. The Savior denounced hypocrites in unmistakable language [see Matthew 23:27–28; D&C 50:6, 8]. …
“What are the Latter-day Saints to do? The answer is plain. The Saints are to be absolutely without guile in every aspect of their lives: in their homes and families, Church callings, all business dealings, and, especially, the private and personal parts of their lives into which only they and the Lord see.
“I suggest that we look into our hearts and see whether our motives and actions are pure and above reproach and to see whether we are free of deceit and fraud” (“Without Guile,” Ensign, May 1988, 82).
Church members in Kirtland, Ohio, had permitted themselves to be influenced by false spirits, which caused confusion. They had mistaken the strange religious behavior of some to be manifestations of the Holy Ghost. The Lord identified the role of the Holy Ghost as that of a “Comforter” and stated that the Holy Ghost had been “sent forth to teach the truth” (D&C 50:14), not to spread confusion. The Lord also explained that the elders of the Church had been commanded to preach the gospel with the Spirit and that if they attempted to do so by any other way, their teachings would not be of God (see D&C 50:17–18). Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave examples of teaching in ways other than by the Spirit:
“If we teach in the manner the Lord has prescribed, he can send his Spirit to edify and enlighten those whom we teach. If we do not teach in his way—if we teach according to our own knowledge and according to our own intellect, and if we slavishly tie ourselves to our own preparation or to someone else’s wisdom or text—our teaching ‘is not of God’ [D&C 50:18]. …
“If we rely on debate techniques or sales methods or group psychology, we are preaching the gospel in some other way, and it is not of God. …
“Intellectual things—reason and logic—can prepare the way, and they can help us in our preparation. But if we are tied to them instead of to the Spirit of the Lord, we are not teaching the gospel in the Lord’s way” (“Teaching and Learning by the Spirit,” Ensign, Mar. 1997, 8–9).
The Lord described His gospel as “the word of truth” (D&C 50:17); therefore, those who preach the gospel should seek to do so “by the Comforter, in the Spirit of truth” (D&C 50:17). The Holy Ghost bears witness of the truth as it is being taught. Elder L. Tom Perry (1922–2015) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained how those who preach the gospel can qualify for this essential help of the Spirit:
“It is our privilege to have the Holy Ghost, a member of the Godhead, as our constant companion, to edify and inspire us in our preparation as teachers. We should prepare ourselves through obedience to God’s commandments, that our confidence will wax strong when we call upon the Lord, that His Spirit might magnify us as we teach. When we have the Spirit to direct us, we are capable of teaching with great power. …
“Our teaching will be effective if we approach it humbly through prayer and study. We will then be assisted by the Spirit in imparting the word, consistent and in harmony with what the Lord would have us teach” (“Teach Them the Word of God with All Diligence,” Ensign, May 1999, 8).
When the gospel is taught with the Spirit, those who are receptive to the Lord’s word can be edified and nourished. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught why every teacher in the Church should seek to be guided by the Holy Ghost:
“The Lord has never given more emphatic counsel to the Church than that we are to teach the gospel ‘by the Spirit, even the Comforter which was sent forth to teach the truth’ [D&C 50:14]. …
“No eternal learning can take place without that quickening of the Spirit from heaven. …
“That is what our members really want when they gather in a meeting or come into a classroom anyway. Most people don’t come to church looking merely for a few new gospel facts or to see old friends, though all of that is important. They come seeking a spiritual experience. They want peace. They want their faith fortified and their hope renewed. They want, in short, to be nourished by the good word of God, to be strengthened by the powers of heaven. Those of us who are called upon to speak or teach or lead have an obligation to help provide that, as best we possibly can” (“A Teacher Come from God,” Ensign, May 1998, 26).
Those who hear the gospel of Jesus Christ preached by the Spirit of Truth have the opportunity to feel the Comforter, to be edified, and to receive the truth. When a person teaches truth by the Spirit and the recipient is open to receive it by the Spirit, “both are edified and rejoice together” (D&C 50:22).
In order for a person to receive the message of the gospel when it is taught by the Holy Ghost, he or she must be willing to be influenced by the Spirit of Truth. Brother A. Roger Merrill, former General Sunday School President, taught how we can best receive or learn the gospel by the Spirit:
“We often focus, appropriately, on the importance of teaching by the Spirit. But we need to remember that the Lord has placed equal, if not greater, importance on receiving by the Spirit. (See D&C 50:17–22.) …
“In our Church meetings, in our personal and family scripture study, and … as we listen to the Lord’s prophets and apostles, some of us will receive more than others. Why? I am learning that those who truly receive do at least three things that others may not do.
“First, they seek. We live in an entertainment world, a spectator world. Without realizing it, we can find ourselves coming to conference or going to church with the attitude, ‘Here I am; now inspire me.’ We become spiritually passive.
“When we focus instead on seeking and receiving the Spirit, we become less concerned about a teacher or speaker holding our attention and more concerned about giving our attention to the Spirit. Remember, receive is a verb. It is a principle of action. It is a fundamental expression of faith.
“Second, those who receive, feel. While revelation comes to the mind and heart, it is most often felt. Until we learn to pay attention to these spiritual feelings, we usually do not even recognize the Spirit. …
“Third, those who receive by the Spirit intend to act. As the prophet Moroni instructed, to receive a witness of the Book of Mormon, we must ask ‘with real intent’ (Moroni 10:4). The Spirit teaches when we honestly intend to do something about what we learn” (“Receiving by the Spirit,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2006, 93–94).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–1985) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught the following analogy to help teachers and students understand their role in gospel learning: “Real, true, genuine, Spirit-born worship, in a sacrament meeting for instance, comes when a speaker speaks by the power of the Holy Ghost, and when a congregation hears by the power of the Holy Ghost.” Elder McConkie continued by saying that what often happens in our sacrament meetings is that the congregation comes having spiritually prepared themselves to learn the gospel, “desiring to be fed. They bring a gallon jug. The speaker comes in his worldly wisdom and he brings a little pint bottle and he pours his pint bottle out and it rattles around in the gallon jug. Or else, as sometimes happens, the preacher gets his errand from the Lord and gets in tune with the Spirit and comes with a gallon jug to deliver a message, and there is not anybody in the congregation that brought anything bigger than a cup. And he pours out the gallon of eternal truth and people get just a little sample, enough to quench a moment’s eternal thirst, instead of getting the real message that is involved. It takes teacher and student, it takes preacher and congregation, both of them uniting in faith to have a proper preaching or teaching situation” (“The Foolishness of Teaching” [address to Church Educational System religious educators, Sept. 18, 1981], 9–10).
Darkness represents the evil influences of the adversary and symbolizes all that does not edify (see D&C 50:23–24). The Book of Mormon reminds readers that those who “yield unto the devil and choose works of darkness rather than light” are condemned to “go down to hell” (2 Nephi 26:10). When people disobey the commandments of God, their sins block the light that comes from the Spirit of the Lord and they find themselves “walking in darkness at noon-day” (D&C 95:6). President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) taught: “There is no saying of greater truth than ‘that which doth not edify is not of God.’ And that which is not of God is darkness, it matters not whether it comes in the guise of religion, ethics, philosophy or revelation. No revelation from God will fail to edify” (Church History and Modern Revelation , 1:201–2).
During His mortal ministry, the Savior said, “He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12; see also D&C 45:7). Those who follow the Lord “receiveth more light” that allows them to “know the truth” and to “chase darkness” away (D&C 50:24–25). Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught:
“Light dispels darkness. When light is present, darkness is vanquished and must depart. More importantly, darkness cannot conquer light unless the light is diminished or departs. When the spiritual light of the Holy Ghost is present, the darkness of Satan departs. …
“… If we let the light of the Spirit flicker or fade by failing to keep the commandments or by not partaking of the sacrament or praying or studying the scriptures, the darkness of the adversary will surely come in” (“Out of Darkness into His Marvelous Light,” Ensign, May 2002, 70–71).
The gospel of Jesus Christ prepares God’s children to become perfect through a process of spiritual growth. Those who strive to follow the Lord and to obtain a fulness of His light will eventually become perfect as He is (see Moroni 10:32; D&C 67:13). The Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–1844) taught why receiving spiritual light prepares us to become like God: “We consider that God has created man with a mind capable of instruction, and a faculty which may be enlarged in proportion to the heed and diligence given to the light communicated from heaven to the intellect; and that the nearer man approaches perfection, the clearer are his views, and the greater his enjoyments, till he has overcome the evils of his life and lost every desire for sin; and like the ancients, arrives at that point of faith where he is wrapped in the power and glory of his Maker, and is caught up to dwell with Him. But we consider that this is a station to which no man ever arrived in a moment” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 210–11).
Receiving spiritual light is the process of gaining spiritual knowledge and growing in personal righteousness. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency explained how the effort to obtain light strengthens and clarifies a person’s testimony of the truth:
“The more we incline our hearts and minds toward God, the more heavenly light distills upon our souls. And each time we willingly and earnestly seek that light, we indicate to God our readiness to receive more light. Gradually, things that before seemed hazy, dark, and remote become clear, bright, and familiar to us.
“By the same token, if we remove ourselves from the light of the gospel, our own light begins to dim—not in a day or a week but gradually over time—until we look back and can’t quite understand why we had ever believed the gospel was true. Our previous knowledge might even seem foolish to us because what once was so clear has again become blurred, hazy, and distant. …
“It is my testimony that this spiritual light is within the reach of every child of God. It will enlighten your mind and bring healing to your heart and joy to your days. My dear friends, please do not delay the moment to seek and strengthen your own personal testimony of God’s divine work, even the work of light and truth.
“Your personal testimony of light and truth will not only bless you and your posterity here in mortality, but it will also accompany you throughout all eternity, among worlds without end” (“Receiving a Testimony of Light and Truth,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2014, 22–23).
The Lord’s ordained servants have access to heavenly power to help them accomplish all that He requires. This divine help can only be given to those who are “purified and cleansed from all sin” (D&C 50:28). Elder Richard G. Scott (1928–2015) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained why our efforts to be cleansed from sin prepare us to receive answers to our prayers:
“No one would expect to receive a result from physical law without obeying it. Spiritual law is the same. As much as we want help, we must expect to follow the spiritual law that controls that help. Spiritual law is not mysterious. It is something that we can understand. …
“The Lord has the power to bless us at any time. Yet we see that to count on His help, we must consistently obey His commandments. …
“‘If ye are purified and cleansed from all sin, ye shall ask whatsoever you will in the name of Jesus and it shall be done. But know this, it shall be given you what you shall ask.’ (D&C 50:29–30; italics added.) …
“Our earnest prayers are answered when they conform to the will of the Lord. Since we cannot perfectly understand His will, we must walk with faith. He is all-knowing, and His decisions are perfect. The fact that our finite capacity does not let us understand all of His dealings with man does not limit Him from blessing us. His will is our best choice in life, whether or not we fully understand it. When we act using our moral agency wisely, the Lord will act according to His will.
“We see such a limited part of the eternal plan He has fashioned for each one of us. Trust Him, even when in eternal perspective it temporarily hurts very much. Have patience when you are asked to wait when you want immediate action. He may ask you to do things which are powerfully against your will. Exercise faith and say, Let Thy will be done. Such experiences, honorably met, prepare you and condition you for yet greater blessings. As your Father, His purpose is your eternal happiness, your continuing development, your increasing capacity. His desire is to share with you all that He has” (“Obtaining Help from the Lord,” Ensign, Nov. 1991, 84, 86).
President Marion G. Romney (1897–1988) of the First Presidency explained how our prayers can progress to the point where they express God’s will: “The time will come when we shall know the will of God before we ask. Then everything for which we pray will be ‘expedient’ [D&C 88:64]. Everything for which we ask will be ‘right’ [3 Nephi 18:20]. That will be when as a result of righteous living, we shall so enjoy the companionship of the spirit that he will dictate what we ask” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1944, 56).
As recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 50:31–35, the Lord gives His servants the power of discernment to distinguish between false spirits and true spiritual gifts and manifestations from God. With this power, priesthood leaders are to identify or announce when they detect a false or dark spirit, but they should not become boastful in this ability or they might be deceived themselves.
The Lord said that the elders of the Church were like “little children” in their knowledge of the gospel, but He promised that if they received Him, they would “grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth” (D&C 50:40) and would someday become one with the Father and the Son (see D&C 50:43). Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles reminded the Saints to not become discouraged with slow spiritual growth:
“Paced progress not only is acceptable to the Lord but also is recommended by Him. Divine declarations say: ‘Ye are little children and ye cannot bear all things now’ (D&C 50:40); ‘I will lead you along’ (D&C 78:18). Just as divine disclosure usually occurs line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, so likewise we will achieve our spiritual progress gradually (see D&C 128:21; 98:12).
“Rather than seeing ourselves as failing simply because we do not become immediately perfect, such as in the attribute of mercy, we should seek to become ever more merciful ‘in process of time.’ Even amid diligence, there need not be unrealistic expectations. Though imperfect, an improving person can actually know that the course of his life is generally acceptable to the Lord despite there being much distance yet to be covered (Men and Women of Christ , 23).