Lesson 17: Gospel Teachings in Nauvoo

“Lesson 17: Gospel Teachings in Nauvoo,” Foundations of the Restoration Teacher Manual (2015)

“Lesson 17,” Teacher Manual

Lesson 17

Gospel Teachings in Nauvoo


The first several years the Saints spent in Nauvoo, Illinois, were marked by peace and prosperity. During this time Joseph Smith received revelations and then taught and clarified some doctrines that are unique to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These include the purpose of temples, our divine potential to become like Heavenly Father, and some of the doctrines taught in the Articles of Faith. This lesson will help students understand the greatness of the Prophet Joseph Smith as well as our own divine potential.

Background Reading

Suggestions for Teaching

Articles of Faith

Important statements of gospel doctrines

Explain that in Nauvoo, Illinois, Joseph Smith composed a letter to John Wentworth, the editor of a newspaper called the Chicago Democrat, who had requested information about the Mormons. In the letter, the Prophet gave an account of the history of the Latter-day Saints along with a concise list of doctrinal beliefs that later became known as the Articles of Faith. (The entire letter is reproduced in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 438–46.)

Display the following statement by Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and invite a student to read it aloud:

Elder L. Tom Perry

“[The Articles of Faith] are among the most important and certainly the most concise statements of doctrine in the Church. If you will use them as a guide to direct your studies of the gospel of Jesus Christ, you will find yourself prepared to declare your witness of the restored truth to the world. You will be able to declare in simple, straightforward, and profound ways the core beliefs you hold dear as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (“The Doctrines and Principles Contained in the Articles of Faith,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2013, 48).

  • How would you summarize what Elder Perry taught? (As students share their summary statements, help them understand this truth: As we learn the doctrines taught in the Articles of Faith, we will be better prepared to declare our beliefs to others.)

  • When have you used the Articles of Faith to help others understand the gospel?

Invite the class to turn to the Articles of Faith and silently read them. After sufficient time, discuss the following questions:

  • Which article of faith do you particularly appreciate and why?

  • How do the doctrines in the Articles of Faith help to guide you and strengthen your testimony that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God?

Doctrine and Covenants 124:25–28, 37–42

Restoration of temple ordinances

Explain that after the Saints had established themselves in Nauvoo, Illinois, the Prophet Joseph Smith received a commandment to build a temple. As with the temple constructed in Kirtland, Ohio, this task required great sacrifices from the Latter-day Saints.

Invite several students to take turns reading Doctrine and Covenants 124:25–28, 37–42 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for the Lord’s teachings about why the Saints needed a temple. Before analyzing these verses, explain that they refer to the tabernacle built by Moses and his people. Moses’s people did not perform baptisms for the dead. No work for the dead was performed until the Savior instituted that work in the spirit world after His death. Then ask students:

  • According to the Lord’s teachings in these verses, why did the Saints in Nauvoo need a temple? (As students respond, emphasize this doctrine: Certain saving ordinances are acceptable to the Lord only if they are performed in temples.)

Explain to students that the Kirtland Temple “was built primarily for the restoration of keys of authority” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 2:242). In the Nauvoo Temple, these priesthood keys were used to perform saving ordinances for the living and vicarious baptisms for the deceased. In the final two years of his life, Joseph Smith introduced the temple endowment to a small group of faithful members. He also introduced the ordinance of sealing a husband and wife together for eternity.

Ask a student to read the following statement aloud. Invite the class to listen for why temple ordinances are important in Heavenly Father’s plan:

“In response to the Lord’s command [to build a temple in Nauvoo], the Prophet and the Saints moved forward as quickly as possible to begin building a house of the Lord. But the Prophet realized that the construction would take years, and he knew that the Saints needed the full blessings of the temple. Consequently, on May 4, 1842, even though the temple was not complete, Joseph Smith administered the endowment to a small group of faithful brethren.

“The group met in the large upper room of the Prophet’s Red Brick Store. …

“The Prophet’s history records: ‘I spent the day in the upper part of the store, … in council with General James Adams, of Springfield, Patriarch Hyrum Smith, Bishops Newel K. Whitney and George Miller, and President Brigham Young and Elders Heber C. Kimball and Willard Richards, instructing them in the principles and order of the Priesthood, attending to washings, anointings, endowments and the communication of keys pertaining to the Aaronic Priesthood, and so on to the highest order of the Melchizedek Priesthood, setting forth the order pertaining to the Ancient of Days, and all those plans and principles by which anyone is enabled to secure the fullness of those blessings which have been prepared for the Church of the First Born, and come up and abide in the presence of the Eloheim in the eternal worlds’” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 413–14).

Ask students:

  • Why was the restoration of temple ordinances necessary?

As students respond, add to their understanding by sharing the following statement by Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

Elder Robert D. Hales

“The primary purpose of the temple is to provide the ordinances necessary for our exaltation in the celestial kingdom. Temple ordinances guide us to our Savior and give us the blessings that come to us through the Atonement of Jesus Christ” (“Blessings of the Temple,” Ensign, Oct. 2009, 48).

  • How has your life been blessed by the restoration of temple ordinances?

Invite students to ponder during the coming week how they might make worshipping in the house of the Lord a higher priority in their lives.

Psalm 82:6; Matthew 5:48; John 10:32–34; Romans 8:16–17; 2 Peter 1:3–4; 1 John 3:2–3; Doctrine and Covenants 93:11–20; 132:20

Our divine potential

Explain that the Bible records the words of ancient prophets who wrote of our divine potential. Write the following scripture references on the board, and invite students to read several of them and look for what they teach about our eternal potential: Psalm 82:6; Matthew 5:48; John 10:32–34; Romans 8:16–17; 2 Peter 1:3–4; 1 John 3:2–3. You might encourage students to cross-reference or link these references as they study them.

After sufficient time, ask:

  • What can we learn from these scriptures about our potential? (Though they may use different words, students should understand this doctrine: As children of our Heavenly Father, we have the potential to become like Him.)

  • What phrases in those verses describe our divine potential?

Explain that our divine potential is also taught in modern scripture. Invite a student to read aloud Doctrine and Covenants 93:11–13, 19–20 and Doctrine and Covenants 132:20. Help the students understand this doctrine: Like the Savior, we can grow from grace to grace until we receive of the Father’s fulness.

Explain that one of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s most significant sermons was given during a general conference of the Church in April 1844. During this sermon, the Prophet paid tribute to Brother King Follett, who had recently died. This talk has come to be known as the King Follett discourse. Provide a copy of the handout “Excerpts from the King Follett Discourse” to all students. Invite them to read the excerpts and underline words and phrases that explain why we should seek to understand the character of God.

handout, King Follett Discourse

Excerpts from the King Follett Discourse

Foundations of the Restoration—Lesson 17

The Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–44) taught:

Prophet Joseph Smith

“If a man learns nothing more than to eat, drink and sleep, and does not comprehend any of the designs of God, the beast comprehends the same things. It eats, drinks, sleeps, and knows nothing more about God; yet it knows as much as we, unless we are able to comprehend by the inspiration of Almighty God. If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves. …

“My first object is to find out the character of the only wise and true God, and what kind of a being He is. …

“God Himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by His power, was to make Himself visible,—I say, if you were to see Him today, you would see Him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with Him, as one man talks and communes with another” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 40).

“Here, then, is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, … by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 221).

Help students analyze these teachings by asking:

  • Why is it important for us to learn about God’s character and nature and our relationship with Him as our Heavenly Father?

  • What is the process of becoming like our Heavenly Father?

To deepen students’ understanding of their divine potential, display the following statement by President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008). Ask a student to read it aloud:

President Gordon B. Hinckley

“The whole design of the gospel is to lead us onward and upward to greater achievement, even, eventually, to godhood. This great possibility was enunciated by the Prophet Joseph Smith in the King Follett sermon [see History of the Church, 6:302–17] and emphasized by President Lorenzo Snow. It is this grand and incomparable concept: As God now is, man may become! [See The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, comp. Clyde J. Williams (1984), 1.]

“Our enemies have criticized us for believing in this. Our reply is that this lofty concept in no way diminishes God the Eternal Father. He is the Almighty. He is the Creator and Governor of the universe. He is the greatest of all and will always be so. But just as any earthly father wishes for his sons and daughters every success in life, so I believe our Father in Heaven wishes for his children that they might approach him in stature and stand beside him resplendent in godly strength and wisdom” (“Don’t Drop the Ball,” Ensign, Nov. 1994, 48).

To summarize, ask students the following questions:

  • What difference can it make in our lives to know these important truths about Heavenly Father and our divine potential?

  • As you reflect on what we discussed today (Articles of Faith, temple ordinances, and our divine potential), how can understanding these truths give you an appreciation for the Prophet Joseph Smith? How can understanding these truths help you understand the character of God and your relationship with Him as your Father in Heaven? (Give students time to record their impressions in writing.)

Invite students to testify or share a few of the impressions they wrote, if they are not too personal. Conclude by sharing your testimony of the doctrines taught in this lesson and of the Prophet Joseph Smith as a mighty revelator.

Student Readings