Before reading Section 3 of the Doctrine and Covenants, it is important to understand the situation Joseph Smith was in when he received these words from the Lord. It had been less than a year earlier that the angel Moroni had been instructed by the Lord to give the plates to Joseph to translate. Since the morning of September 22, 1827, when Joseph first received the plates, he had protected the plates from thieves and had begun translation that December. Joseph spent December through February 1828 learning how to translate and copying many of the characters. Finally, in February, Martin Harris arrived to work as a scribe for Joseph and the real translation began. Already, Joseph had devoted a great deal to this work. His life had been put in danger many times, but always the Lord protected him.
By June 14, 1828, Joseph and Martin’s work had produced 116 pages of manuscript, and Martin asked Joseph for permission to show the pages to his wife and some of his acquaintances, convinced that if they could see the outcome of the work, they would be convinced of the truth of the work and of Joseph’s calling from God to be a prophet. Not only had Martin Harris devoted a great deal of time to helping Joseph, he had also given Joseph a great deal of money to help him pay off past debts, giving him more free time to work on the translation. Martin was also willing to pay for the publication of the Book of Mormon, which Joseph simply did not have the funds to do himself. Martin Harris was several years Joseph Smith’s senior. It is not difficult to imagine the gratitude Joseph felt for Martin’s help and the obligation he must have felt for all Martin had done for him.
Joseph went to the Lord to seek permission to give the pages to Martin. The Lord told him no. Under considerable pressure, Joseph asked again for permission. Again the answer was no. Joseph was under a great deal of strain when Martin would not accept the answer. Joseph asked of the Lord a third time for permission and was finally told that Martin could take the pages under a condition: he could only show the manuscript to his wife, his brother, his father and mother, and his sister-in-law. Martin agreed to the condition and took the only copy of the manuscript.
Two weeks passed without word from Martin. Joseph finally went after him. Martin, in despair, confessed to Joseph that he had broken the condition the Lord gave him and showed the manuscript to other people. Though he had searched high and low for the pages, they were gone. The anguish Joseph felt is clear from the record of their meeting:
Joseph said, “Martin, have you lost that manuscript? Have you broken your oath, and brought down condemnation upon my head as well as your own?”
“Yes; it is gone,” replied Martin, “and I know not where.”
“All is lost! all is lost! What shall I do? I have sinned—it is I who tempted the wrath of God. I should have been satisfied with the first answer which I received from the Lord; for he told me that it was not safe to let the writing go out of my possession” (Church History in the Fulness of Times, p48).
The Lord told Joseph that evil men had stolen the pages with the design of proving Joseph a false prophet. If he re-translated the record those 116 pages came from, those men planned to make changes to the original manuscript, “proving” that Joseph was not what he claimed to be. Thus, that record was never re-translated.
After returning home, the angel Moroni again appeared to Joseph and told him he must take the plates and tools of translation away from him for awhile, but that he could receive them again if he repented. During this period, Joseph received the revelation that is now Section 3 of the Doctrine and Covenants. The things which the Lord shares with Joseph in this section, when the history of events is understood, bring a good deal of understanding to those who read them.
First, the Lord assures Joseph that “The works, and the designs, and the purposes of God cannot be frustrated, neither can they come to naught” (D&C 3:1). If I had been in Joseph’s place at this time, I would have found a great deal of comfort in these words, knowing that, even though I had made a huge mistake, ultimately, no one can defeat the will of God.
The Lord goes on to chastise Joseph even further than he had already been chastised:
Behold, you have been entrusted with these things, but how strict were your commandments; and remember also the promises which were made to you, if you did not transgress them.
And behold, how oft you have transgressed the commandments and the laws of God, and have gone on in the persuasions of men.
For, behold, you should not have feared man more than God (D&C 3:5–7).
Though Joseph must have felt at an all-time low after receiving these words, he is also promised that, if he repents and remains faithful, the Lord will support him against “all the fiery darts of the adversary” (D&C 3:8).
Reading these words, I am filled with a great deal of humility and comfort. I know the Lord has a work for me to do. Surely it is not as great as the work that Joseph Smith was called to do, but in its own way, our works hold the same amount of responsibility for us individually as Joseph’s did for him. Knowing that Joseph was able to repent of such a huge mistake and press forward in the work God had for him gives me hope and peace that I can also overcome my own obstacles and weaknesses.
I am grateful to know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God. The truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ which were restored through Joseph Smith by the hand of God bring all of the necessary ordinances back to the earth which are necessary for the salvation of men. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the restored church of Jesus Christ and is led by a living prophet today. What a blessing that God still speaks to His children now, when they need more than ever to hear His voice.
This article was written by Doris White, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Doris White is a native of Oregon and graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and a minor in Editing. She loves to talk with others about the gospel of Jesus Christ.