“Chapter 23: Doctrine and Covenants 63,” Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual (2017)
“Chapter 23,” Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual
In the summer of 1831, the Prophet Joseph Smith was overseeing the dedication of land in Independence, Missouri, where the Saints were to build Zion. When the Prophet returned to Kirtland, Ohio, on August 27, the Saints there were anxious to learn more about this new land and their role in establishing Zion.
Unfortunately, during the Prophet’s absence, some members of the Church in Kirtland had turned away from the Lord’s commandments and committed serious sins. On August 30, 1831, the Prophet received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 63, in which the Lord warned the Saints about the consequences of wickedness and rebellion. The Lord also told the Saints how to prepare to gather to Zion and prepare for His Second Coming.
July 14, 1831
Joseph Smith and others arrived in Independence, Missouri.
August 2–3, 1831
Land in Jackson County, Missouri, was dedicated for the establishment of Zion, and a site for the temple was dedicated in Independence, Missouri.
August 27, 1831
Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery returned to Kirtland, Ohio.
August 30, 1831
Doctrine and Covenants 63 was received.
When the Prophet Joseph Smith and other Church leaders returned to Ohio from Missouri on August 27, 1831, they announced to the Church members there that the Lord had identified Jackson County, Missouri, as the location for the city of Zion. The Prophet recorded: “In these infant days of the church, there was a great anxiety to obtain the … word of the Lord upon every subject that in any way concerned our salvation; and as ‘the land of Zion’ was now the most important temporal object in view, I inquired of the Lord for further information upon the gathering of the Saints and the purchase of the land and other matters” (in Manuscript History of the Church, vol. A-1, page 146, josephsmithpapers.org). On August 30, in answer to his inquiry, Joseph Smith received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 63. The “other matters” the Prophet inquired about may have included his concern for several Church members in Ohio who had committed serious sins and fallen away while he and other leading elders had been in Missouri. The revelation helped clarify that only those who were faithful followers of Jesus Christ were to go and help establish Zion in Missouri.
In earlier revelations the Lord had told the Saints that in order to establish and inhabit Zion they must be a righteous people (see D&C 58:19; 59:1, 3). He opened the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 63 with a solemn reminder that His commandments are not to be taken lightly and that those who ignore them or rebel against them will be punished. This reminder was necessary because many Church members claimed to be anxious to build Zion but were not obeying God’s laws.
During the summer and autumn of 1831, some Church members lost faith in the restored gospel and spoke out publicly against the Prophet Joseph Smith. Two particularly vocal critics apostatized and began to publish anti-Mormon material in newspapers beginning in September and October of 1831. One of the critics was Ezra Booth, a former Methodist preacher who had joined the Church in early 1831 after reading the Book of Mormon, meeting with Joseph Smith, and witnessing the Prophet heal Alice (Elsa) Johnson’s crippled arm. After his baptism, Ezra Booth was ordained a high priest and called to serve a mission to Missouri. He expected to convert many by displaying great signs and performing miracles. However, after preaching for a short time without seeing the results he anticipated, Booth “turned away, and … became an apostate” (Joseph Smith, in Manuscript History of the Church, vol. A-1, page 154, josephsmithpapers.org).
The other critic was Symonds Ryder (or Simonds Rider), who was introduced to the Church by Ezra Booth. Ryder traveled to Kirtland, Ohio, to investigate the Church, and while he was there heard a Church member predict an earthquake in China. A few weeks later, in April 1831, Symonds read a newspaper account of a destructive earthquake in Peking, China, and believed that he had witnessed a miraculous prophecy. He was baptized soon thereafter, but just a few months later he came out in open opposition to the Church.
The instructions recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 63 about those who seek for signs help clarify that while Latter-day Saints should seek spiritual gifts, they should not seek signs to satisfy a curiosity, to convince others of the truth, or to sustain their own faith. Rather, signs and miracles come as a result of faith in Jesus Christ in combination with the will of God (see also D&C 35:8; 58:64).
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles counseled Church members about seeking signs:
“In bearing testimonies and in our public addresses we rarely mention our most miraculous experiences, and we rarely rely on signs that the gospel is true. We usually just affirm our testimony of the truthfulness of the restored gospel and give few details on how we obtained it. Why is this? Signs follow those that believe. Seeking a miracle to convert someone is improper sign seeking. …
“There are good reasons why we do not seek conversions by exhibiting signs. ‘The viewing of signs or miracles is not a secure foundation for conversion. Scriptural history attests that people converted by signs and wonders soon forget them and again become susceptible to the lies and distortions of Satan and his servants (Hel. 16:23; 3 Ne. 1:22; 2:1; 8:4.). …
“‘In contrast to the witness of the Spirit, which can be renewed from time to time as needed by a worthy recipient, the viewing of a sign or the experiencing of a miracle is a one-time event that will fade in the memory of its witness and can dim in its impact upon him or her’ [Dallin H. Oaks, The Lord’s Way (1991), 87]” (“Miracles,” Ensign, June 2001, 10).
President Boyd K. Packer (1924–2015) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained how faith prepares a person to believe:
“In a world filled with skepticism and doubt, the expression ‘seeing is believing’ promotes the attitude, ‘You show me, and I will believe.’ We want all of the proof and all of the evidence first. It seems hard to take things on faith.
“When will we learn that in spiritual things it works the other way about—that believing is seeing? Spiritual belief precedes spiritual knowledge. When we believe in things that are not seen but are nevertheless true, then we have faith” (“What Is Faith?” in Faith , 43).
As recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 63:14–19, the Lord warned that some of the Saints were guilty of the sin of adultery. The term adultery refers to a person having sexual relations with someone other than his or her spouse (see D&C 42:22–26; 59:6; 66:10). Those who are guilty “shall not have the Spirit, but shall deny the faith” (D&C 63:16), meaning that if adulterers do not repent, they will eventually find themselves turning in opposition to God’s work. Because immorality and adultery are among the most serious of sins, those who choose to persist in wickedness rather than repent will suffer searing emotional pain—“that lake which burneth with fire and brimstone”—and spiritual death, also known as the “second death” (D&C 63:17; see also Alma 12:16; Helaman 14:16–19; D&C 29:27–29; 76:36–38).
The Lord explained that those who look with lust upon another “shall not have the Spirit, but shall deny the faith” (D&C 63:16). In an earlier revelation known as “the law of the Church,” the Lord issued a similar warning to the Saints against lust and the sin of adultery (see D&C 42:22–24). In general, lust is an intense longing or craving. However, in the context of these passages, lust refers to the inappropriate carnal desire to commit sexual sin. In today’s world, the availability of pornography has led many people to suffer the destructive effects of lust. Elder Dallin H. Oaks described how pornography destroys spirituality:
“‘Pornographic or erotic stories and pictures are worse than filthy or polluted food. The body has defenses to rid itself of unwholesome food. With a few fatal exceptions, bad food will only make you sick but do no permanent harm. In contrast, a person who feasts upon filthy stories or pornographic or erotic pictures and literature records them in this marvelous retrieval system we call a brain. The brain won’t vomit back filth. Once recorded, it will always remain subject to recall, flashing its perverted images across your mind and drawing you away from the wholesome things in life’ [Dallin H. Oaks, Challenges for the Year Ahead (pamphlet, 1974), 4–5; reprinted in “Things They’re Saying,” New Era, Feb. 1974, 18)]. …
“… Those who seek out and use pornography forfeit the power of their priesthood. …
“Patrons of pornography also lose the companionship of the Spirit. Pornography produces fantasies that destroy spirituality. …
“The scriptures repeatedly teach that the Spirit of the Lord will not dwell in an unclean tabernacle. When we worthily partake of the sacrament, we are promised that we will ‘always have his Spirit to be with [us].’ To qualify for that promise we covenant that we will ‘always remember him’ (D&C 20:77). Those who seek out and use pornography for sexual stimulation obviously violate that covenant. They also violate a sacred covenant to refrain from unholy and impure practices. They cannot have the Spirit of the Lord to be with them. …
“Pornography also inflicts mortal wounds on our most precious personal relationships. …
“Pornography impairs one’s ability to enjoy a normal emotional, romantic, and spiritual relationship with a person of the opposite sex. It erodes the moral barriers that stand against inappropriate, abnormal, or illegal behavior. As conscience is desensitized, patrons of pornography are led to act out what they have witnessed, regardless of its effects on their life and the lives of others.
“Pornography is also addictive. It impairs decision-making capacities and it ‘hooks’ its users, drawing them back obsessively for more and more. …
“… When persons entertain evil thoughts long enough for the Spirit to withdraw, they lose their spiritual protection and they are subject to the power and direction of the evil one” (“Pornography,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2005, 88–89).
In our day, the spread of pornography has exposed many to the temptation to lust after others. Elder Richard G. Scott (1928–2015) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles affirmed that the use of pornography is a lustful activity that will limit a person’s ability to enjoy the blessings of the Spirit:
“I share a warning. Satan is extremely good at blocking spiritual communication by inducing individuals, through temptation, to violate the laws upon which spiritual communication is founded. With some, he is able to convince them that they are not able to receive such guidance from the Lord.
“Satan has become a master at using the addictive power of pornography to limit individual capacity to be led by the Spirit. The onslaught of pornography in all of its vicious, corroding, destructive forms has caused great grief, suffering, heartache, and destroyed marriages. It is one of the most damning influences on earth. Whether it be through the printed page, movies, television, obscene lyrics, vulgarities on the telephone, or flickering personal computer screen, pornography is overpoweringly addictive and severely damaging. This potent tool of Lucifer degrades the mind and the heart and the soul of any who use it. All who are caught in its seductive, tantalizing web and remain so will become addicted to its immoral, destructive influence. For many, that addiction cannot be overcome without help. The tragic pattern is so familiar. It begins with curiosity that is fueled by its stimulation and is justified by the false premise that when done privately, it does no harm to anyone else. For those lulled by this lie, the experimentation goes deeper, with more powerful stimulations, until the trap closes and a terribly immoral, addictive habit exercises its vicious control. …
“If you are ensnarled in pornography, make a total commitment to overcome it now. Find a quiet place; pray urgently for help and support. Be patient and obedient. Don’t give up” (“To Acquire Spiritual Guidance,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2009, 8–9).
The Lord has promised that the Saints who choose to do His will and endure to the end will inherit the terrestrial earth when the Millennium begins and also when the earth becomes a celestial world and part of the celestial kingdom following the Millennium and Final Judgment (see D&C 38:17–20; 45:58; 63:49; 88:17–20). The phrase “the day of transfiguration” in Doctrine and Covenants 63:20 refers to the time following the Second Coming of the Lord, when “the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory” (Articles of Faith 1:10). This change, or transfiguration, will occur after all of the wicked and corruptible things of the earth have been “consumed,” or done away with, and “all things shall become new” (D&C 101:24–25). The earth itself will return to the paradisiacal glory that it had before the Fall of Adam and Eve (see Isaiah 11:6–7; 51:3; D&C 133:22–24, 29). According to Doctrine and Covenants 63:21, this transfiguration of the earth was shown in vision to the Apostles Peter, James, and John during their sacred experience on the Mount of Transfiguration (see Matthew 17:1–3, 9).
President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) identified the four stages of the earth’s existence: “This earth is passing through four grand degrees or stages: 1. The creation and the condition antedating [existing before] the fall. 2. The telestial condition which has prevailed since the fall of Adam. 3. The terrestrial condition [or transfiguration of the earth] that will prevail when the Savior comes and ushers in the millennial era. 4. The celestial or final state of the earth when it has obtained its exaltation” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie , 1:82).
The Lord promised to give knowledge, or “the mysteries of [His] kingdom,” to those who keep His commandments (D&C 63:23). The mysteries of God’s kingdom refer to eternal truths that can be received or known only through revelation. The Lord likened receiving this spiritual outpouring of knowledge to possessing a “well of living water” within us that brings “everlasting life” (D&C 63:23). President Boyd K. Packer explained how our faithfulness invites continual revelation: “Be believing and your faith will be constantly replenished, your knowledge of the truth increased, and your testimony of the Redeemer, of the Resurrection, of the Restoration will be as ‘a well of living water, springing up unto everlasting life’ [D&C 63:23]. You may then receive guidance on practical decisions in everyday life” (“Personal Revelation: The Gift, the Test, and the Promise,” Ensign, Nov. 1994, 61).
When the Prophet Joseph Smith returned to Kirtland, Ohio, and the Saints learned that the Lord had identified the area of Independence, Missouri, as the center place for the city of Zion, many were anxious to begin the process of moving there. However, the Lord made it clear that the Saints were not to gather to the land of Zion “in haste” (D&C 63:24; see also D&C 58:56). In fact, the Lord gave the Prophet the ability to “discern by the Spirit” who should relocate there (D&C 63:41).
Regarding these instructions from the Lord, President Joseph Fielding Smith explained why the Saints were to gather in an orderly fashion under the direction of Church leaders: “[The early members] were warned against creating antagonism among their neighbors, many of whom were extremely bitter towards the members of the Church. The Lord said the land could not be obtained by the shedding of blood. Those who had the privilege of assembling there should not go up to Zion in haste, but gradually. The reason for this advice is apparent, for haste would lead to confusion, unsatisfactory conditions and pestilence, and then, also, it creates consternation and fear in the hearts of their enemies and arouses greater opposition. Satan desired to destroy them and in his anger endeavored to stir them up to strife and contention as well as the older settlers in Missouri” (Church History and Modern Revelation , 1:232).
To manage the number of Saints gathering to Zion, Church leaders required those in Ohio desiring to go to Missouri to obtain a Church-issued certificate before they could migrate and participate in the law of consecration in Missouri. However, many enthusiastic members disregarded the instruction and went to Missouri in large numbers. A Church historian appointed by the Prophet Joseph Smith later wrote, “The church immediately began to gather in Jackson County, and on this subject they became quite enthusiastic. They had been commanded not to go up in haste, nor by flight, but to have all things prepared before them. Money was to be sent up to the bishop, and as fast as lands were purchased, and preparations made, the bishop was to let it be known, that the church might be gathered in. But this regulation was not attended to, for the church got crazy to go up to Zion, as it was then called. The rich were afraid to send up their money to purchase lands, and the poor crowded up in numbers, without having any places provided, contrary to the advice of the bishop and others, until the old citizens began to be highly displeased” (John Corrill, A Brief History of the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints , 18–19, josephsmithpapers.org; see also The Joseph Smith Papers, Histories, Volume 2: Assigned Histories, 1831–1847, ed. Karen Lynn Davidson and others , 146).
In Luke 20:19–26 we read about how the chief priests and the scribes tried to set a trap for Jesus by asking Him if it was legal for the Jews to pay tribute to the Roman emperor Caesar. They knew that if He said yes, the Jews would reject Him because they hated the Romans, who had conquered them. If Jesus said no, they could report Him to the Romans, who would arrest Him for treason against Roman rule. Jesus showed them a coin with Caesar’s image stamped on it and said, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s” (Luke 20:25).
The Lord’s reference to this event in Doctrine and Covenants 63:26–27 helped teach the Saints that even though the whole earth belongs to the Lord, the Saints still had to buy the lands on which the Lord had commanded them to build the city of Zion. This purchase was necessary in order for the Saints to have legal ownership of the land and to prevent future contention.
In response to the increasing wickedness upon the earth, the Lord has decreed judgments and consequences. As recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 63:33–35, the rebellious will be chastened and eventually destroyed, and though the Saints will also suffer, the Lord’s promise is that He will be with them. The Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–1844) recorded what took place during a meeting at his home in September 1839: “[I] explained concerning the coming of the Son of Man; also that it is a false idea that the Saints will escape all the judgments, whilst the wicked suffer; for all flesh is subject to suffer, and ‘the righteous shall hardly escape’ [see D&C 63:34]; still many of the Saints will escape, for the just shall live by faith [see Habakkuk 2:4]; yet many of the righteous shall fall a prey to disease, to pestilence, etc., by reason of the weakness of the flesh, and yet be saved in the Kingdom of God. So that it is an unhallowed principle to say that such and such have transgressed because they have been preyed upon by disease or death, for all flesh is subject to death; and the Savior has said, ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged’ [see Matthew 7:1]” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 253).
The Lord instructed the Saints who were living on Isaac Morley’s farm—including Joseph and Emma Smith—to make the necessary arrangements to move. When Isaac Morley was called in June 1831 to serve a mission to Missouri, his brother-in-law Titus Billings was given charge of the property. As recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 63:38–40, Titus Billings was commanded to sell the land and use the proceeds to go to Missouri and help others do the same. Because of the need to relocate, Joseph and Emma Smith received an invitation from John and Alice (Elsa) Johnson to move to their farm in Hiram, Ohio, approximately 30 miles southeast of Kirtland.
Those who have endured in faith and righteousness, even unto death, will be resurrected at the Lord’s Second Coming. They will partake of His glory and join with the righteous who are living at that day in inheriting a place in the city of Zion during the Millennium (see D&C 61:39; 63:49; 88:96–98; 101:35). Children who are living on the earth when the Millennium begins will “grow up until they become old” and will then die and be resurrected “in the twinkling of an eye” (D&C 63:51; see also Isaiah 65:20). President Joseph Fielding Smith taught: “Men on the earth will still be mortal, but a change shall come over them so that they will have power over sickness, disease and death. Death shall all but be banished from the earth, for men shall live until they are the age of a tree or one hundred years old (See [D&C] 63:50–51), and then shall die at the age of man, but this death shall come in the twinkling of an eye and mortality shall give way to immortality suddenly. There shall be no graves, and the righteous shall be caught up to a glorious resurrection” (Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:461).
From God’s perspective of time, the events of the Second Coming are “nigh at hand” (D&C 63:53). While we do not know the hour of the Second Coming, the Lord’s parable of the foolish and wise virgins reminds us to prepare now for that day (see Matthew 25:1–13). It is essential that we view the Second Coming as imminent so that we will prepare ourselves. The clarification in Doctrine and Covenants 63:54 that “until that hour there will be foolish virgins among the wise” means that even among the Latter-day Saints there are those who will be found wicked and who will be separated and cast out from among the righteous, as in the parable of the wheat and tares (see Matthew 13:24–30, 36–43). Therefore, the Lord commanded the Saints to repent and prepare for His coming. Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained the need for Church members to prepare:
“While we are powerless to alter the fact of the Second Coming and unable to know its exact time, we can accelerate our own preparation and try to influence the preparation of those around us.
“A parable that contains an important and challenging teaching on this subject is the parable of the ten virgins. Of this parable, the Lord said, ‘And at that day, when I shall come in my glory, shall the parable be fulfilled which I spake concerning the ten virgins’ (D&C 45:56).
“Given in the 25th chapter of Matthew, this parable contrasts the circumstances of the five foolish and the five wise virgins. All ten were invited to the wedding feast, but only half of them were prepared with oil in their lamps when the bridegroom came. The five who were prepared went into the marriage feast, and the door was shut. The five who had delayed their preparations came late. The door had been closed, and the Lord denied them entrance, saying, ‘I know you not’ (v. 12). ‘Watch therefore,’ the Savior concluded, ‘for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh’ (v. 13).
“The arithmetic of this parable is chilling. The ten virgins obviously represent members of Christ’s Church, for all were invited to the wedding feast and all knew what was required to be admitted when the bridegroom came. But only half were ready when he came” (“Preparation for the Second Coming,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2004, 8).
A month before the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 63 was given, the Lord had commanded Sidney Rigdon to write a description of the land of Zion to share with others so that funds could be raised to purchase lands in Missouri (see D&C 58:50–52). After Sidney wrote it, the Lord declared that his description of the land was “not acceptable” because he had “exalted himself in his heart, and received not counsel, but grieved the Spirit” (D&C 63:55–56). Though Sidney’s first attempt to describe Jackson County, Missouri, may have exaggerated its qualities (see The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 2: July 1831–January 1833, ed. Matthew C. Godfrey and others  54, note 305), it clearly did not meet the Lord’s expectations. In any case, the Lord commanded him to write a second draft, which was accepted and became the means of raising money for Zion.
At the time the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 63 was given, some of the Saints had acted in the Lord’s name without the proper authority and were, therefore, under condemnation (see D&C 63:60–63). The Lord called the Saints to repentance, commanding all to “beware how they take [His] name in their lips” (D&C 63:61). Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained that the Lord’s name is to be used with authority and in reverence:
“This scripture [D&C 63:61–62] shows that we take the name of the Lord in vain when we use his name without authority. This obviously occurs when the sacred names of God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, are used in what is called profanity: in hateful cursings, in angry denunciations, or as marks of punctuation in common discourse.
“The names of the Father and the Son are used with authority when we reverently teach and testify of them, when we pray, and when we perform the sacred ordinances of the priesthood.
“There are no more sacred or significant words in all of our language than the names of God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. …
“When the names of God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, are used with reverence and authority, they invoke a power beyond what mortal man can comprehend.
“It should be obvious to every believer that these mighty names—by which miracles are wrought, by which the world was formed, through which man was created, and by which we can be saved—are holy and must be treated with the utmost reverence. As we read in modern revelation, ‘Remember that that which cometh from above is sacred, and must be spoken with care, and by constraint of the Spirit.’ (D&C 63:64.)” (“Reverent and Clean,” Ensign, May 1986, 49–51).
The Prophet Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon each had small homes located on the Isaac Morley farm. Having commanded that the farm be sold, the Lord told Joseph and Sidney to seek divine guidance in finding new places to live (see D&C 63:65). On September 17, 1831, Joseph and Emma Smith moved to Hiram, Ohio, to live with the family of John and Alice (Elsa) Johnson. Shortly thereafter, the Rigdons moved to a log home in Hiram as well. Certainly, the families of the Prophet and of Sidney Rigdon would have been concerned about their temporal needs when they learned that they would be losing their homes on the Morley farm. The Lord endeavored to calm their worries by reminding them that they would be guided by the Spirit as they called upon God in prayer and that through their patience they would be blessed (see D&C 63:65–66).