Reviewed by Catherine K. Arveseth
It is February 2005, and many of you are one month into your study of the Doctrine and Covenants curriculum for the year. How is it going? In the explanatory introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants, we read that this collection of divine revelations contains an “invitation to all people everywhere to hear the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ, speaking to them for their temporal well-being and their everlasting salvation.”
This book of scripture is unique in its modern origin and in the hearing of the “tender but firm voice of the Lord Jesus Christ, speaking anew in the dispensation of the fullness of times.” President Ezra Taft Benson referred to it as the “capstone” of our religion, one that seals and solidifies other scripture found within the standard works of the Church. A poignant course of study for Latter-day Saints, these pages of revelation contain treasures of truth not to be overlooked. Consequently, I have generated a list of study helps I hope you will find worthwhile. Below is a succinct overview of several publications available now to readers.
click to buy
Scripture Study for Latter-day Saint Families – The Doctrine and Covenants
By Dennis H. Leavitt and Richard O. Christensen
The first two study helps, Scripture Study for Latter-day Saint Families and Church History for Latter-day Saint Families (see below) complement each other nicely; the first focuses upon the scripture itself while the second details the history of the Church, including commentary intended to add light to each revelation. Leavitt and Christensen assisted with both works, acting as associate editors for Church History for Latter-day Saint Families in stride with several other authors.
Both texts are set up in similar format with icon helps that indicate different tools to which you can refer. For instance, in Scriptural Study for Latter-day Saint Families, the sun icon means insight. By finding the sun on the bottom of the page, you can discover a new insight about a certain subject. Other icons represent object lesson ideas, quotations (usually from general authorities), stories, writing or scripture marking suggestions, and interactive activities.
Biographical sketches in shaded boxes detail the lives of prominent individuals mentioned within the Doctrine and Covenants. These sketches, in concert with the historical background given at the beginning of each section, can bring greater meaning to family scripture study. Wording is simple and easy to understand if reading with children. Sections are covered in numerical order, 1 – 138, and include the Official Declarations, a section on the Articles of Faith and Joseph Smith’s History.
click to buy
Church History for Latter-day Saint Families
Thomas R. Valletta, General Editor
Similar to the format above, Church History for Latter-day Saint Families is also a useful tool for family scripture study or Family Home Evening. Reading helps include blue words, which indicate a word definition at the bottom of the page. The sun icon offers more light on a certain story from modern scripture and/or Church leaders. A question mark icon encourages you to stop and ponder what you have been reading. A list of thoughts or questions aids you in meditation, and finally, the magnifying glass icon provides explanation about the background, history or meaning of an idea. Icons can make reading fun for children, giving them something to look for, read or do.
From the Apostasy to the Restoration, all the way through the martyrdom of the prophet Joseph and the Saints westward migration, this lovely hardbound book offers a well-researched history. Included are maps, old photographs of significant individuals and beautiful illustrations.
As mentioned in the titles above, these first two study helps are intended for families, ideal for gatherings with a study or learning purpose. Simple and clear in style, they are filled with practical teaching suggestions and creative application ideas.
click to buy
Doctrine and Covenants Encyclopedia
By Hoyt W. Brewster, Jr.
This large, soft-back volume was originally published in 1988. Hoyt W. Brewster brings together the people, places and doctrines mentioned in the Doctrine and Covenants in one comprehensive storehouse of information. I found Brewster’s encyclopedia to be quite helpful, a welcome library addition for Gospel Doctrine teachers. You can refer to it often if simply wanting more clarification about a phrase, subject or place. For instance, several nights ago, I wanted to know more about the “gift of Aaron” mentioned in section 8. Brewster’s book was a reach away and promptly answered several of my questions.
From “Aaron” to “Zoramites,” the book is alphabetically designed for quick reference, particularly if you want a tidbit, not a discourse, on a phrase, subject or place mentioned within the Doctrine and Covenants. Brewster has done a fine job creating this all-inclusive, easy to use encyclopedia.
A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, Volume 3: Sections 81-105
By Stephen E. Robinson and H. Dean Garrett
This third volume of Robinson and Garrett’s commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants is now available and follows two other volumes previously published: Volume 1(Sections 1-40) and Volume 2 (Sections 41-80). Each gives a thorough historical background to sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, followed by a verse-by-verse commentary. Robinson and Garrett are experienced authors who have drawn from diaries, journals, maps and atlases to set a historical context that will help clarify the scriptures and bring to life the people and incidents behind each section.
I enjoy using Robinson and Garrett’s work during my own personal study. Section explanations are not lengthy or overdone. They give just enough information to enhance your reading with richness and depth. To get a taste of Robinson and Garrett’s writing, read the following explanation of Doctrine and Covenants Section 88:7 regarding “the light of Christ.”
“The light of Christ is not a person, and it has no body, neither spiritual nor physical. It is a power, the creative power of God, which originates with the Father and has been given in its fullness to the Son. This power fills the universe, imposes laws or principles (see vv. 21-26, 36-42), and brings order out of chaos. The light of Christ is the divine energy and power of God which is employed to improve and to glorify all things.
All energy, power, force, motion, heat, intelligence, instinct, truth, priesthood, glory, and so on, are dimension – more or less pure and refined – of this light or power of Christ” (101).
Sperry Symposium Classics – The Doctrine and Covenants
Edited by Craig K. Manscill
click to buy
I saved my favorite for last. This book is a compilation of significant articles on the Doctrine and Covenants presented by general authorities and other scholars at BYU’s annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium. Over the past three decades, five of the Sperry Symposiums have been devoted to a study of the Doctrine and Covenants. As a result, contributors include some of the great gospel minds – James E. Faust, Dallin H. Oaks, Jeffrey R. Holland and Bruce R. McConkie. Several of these articles have not been accessible until now. We can be excited that these timeless messages are now available.
This has been my favorite study help because it has the most meat, the most insight, and the greatest amount of commentary on modern revelation. Not a quick reference like the helps listed above, this book reads like the title implies, as if attending a symposium. Concise explanations of historical situations that brought forth each revelation preface the chapters. The bulk of the book covers many topics including the law of common consent, the law of consecration, the doctrines of submission and forgiveness, Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible, the visions of Section 76, and the “Elect Lady” revelation.
The chapter by Elder Dallin H. Oaks on revelation was most inspiring, revelation being a master theme throughout the Doctrine and Covenants. He identifies eight different purposes served by communication from God: to testify, to prophesy, to comfort, to uplift, to inform, to restrain, to confirm, and to impel. Describing each in that order, he also gives examples.
Elder Oaks then asks this question. “What about those times when we seek revelation and do not receive it? We do not always receive inspiration or revelation when we request it. Sometimes we are delayed in the receipt of revelation, and sometimes we are left to our own judgment. We cannot force spiritual things. It must be so. Our life’s purpose to obtain experience and to develop faith would be frustrated if our Heavenly Father directed us in every act, even in every important act. We must make decisions and experience the consequences in order to develop self-reliance and faith…Where a choice will make a real difference in our lives – obvious or not – and where we are living in tune with the Spirit and seeking its guidance, we can be sure that we will receive the guidance we need to attain our goal. The Lord will not leave us unassisted when a choice is important to our eternal welfare” (20-22).
What wonderful and wise counsel. Words that offer comfort, yet lead us to become strong in our agency – the priceless gift God gave us to follow Him. As we study the Doctrine and Covenants this year, I believe the Lord hopes our communication with Him will improve. He wants us to more keenly hear His tender voice, ask in greater faith, and be ready to receive (D&C 4:7).
The Doctrine and Covenants stands in a class by itself, a witness that modern revelation from God is ongoing, necessary, and personal in the most intimate of ways. The above study helps will aid us in learning and teaching the doctrines of this powerful book, “that [we] may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the Kingdom of God, that are expedient for [us] to understand” (D&C 88: 78).