Nearly two months elapsed between the receipt of the revelation that is now section 48 of the Doctrine and Covenants and the two revelations that are now sections 49 and 50. These were turbulent times for Joseph Smith, his wife Emma, and other Church members. During this period, Emma gave birth to twins. Like their older brother before them, these twins died. Emma had borne three children, only to watch them all die, a heartbreak for her and her husband. During this same period, many of the New York Saints were still struggling to reach Ohio, a journey that tried their faith. In Ohio, a local newspaper continued to criticize the Saints, and the new converts in that state still struggled to understand spiritual gifts. In the midst of all these difficulties, the Lord gave revelations to strengthen and expand the fledgling Church.
Doctrine and Covenants 49
On May 7, 1831, the Lord gave the revelation that is now section 49 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Recent convert Leman Copley had left the Shakers (United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing) to join the Church. No one at this time had been a member of the Church for much more than a year, and many new members like Leman were struggling with forsaking some of the teachings of their former religions.
One of the best ways to learn the gospel is to teach it, and the Lord directed Leman to go a nearby Shaker community with Sidney Rigdon and Parley Pratt to “preach my gospel which ye have received, even as ye have received it, unto the Shakers” (verse 1). Some things in the revelation were intended to correct erroneous teachings of the Shakers.
The revelation emphasized the first principles and ordinances of the gospel later incorporated into the fourth Article of Faith. Verses 12–14 commanded, “Believe on the name of the Lord Jesus, who was on the earth, and is to come, the beginning and the end; repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, according to the holy commandment, for the remission of sins; and whoso doeth this shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, by the laying on of the hands of the elders of the church.”
To correct an erroneous belief about marriage, verses 15–17 read, “And again, verily I say unto you, that whoso forbiddeth to marry is not ordained of God, for marriage is ordained of God unto man. Wherefore, it is lawful that he should have one wife, and they twain shall be one flesh, and all this that the earth might answer the end of its creation; and that it might be filled with the measure of man, according to his creation before the world was made.”
Verses 18–21 corrected false ideas about eating meat, explaining that it was permissible but forbidding waste and needless killing of animals: “And whoso forbiddeth to abstain from meats, that man should not eat the same, is not ordained of God. For, behold, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which cometh of the earth, is ordained for the use of man for food and for raiment, and that he might have in abundance. But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin. And wo be unto man that sheddeth blood or that wasteth flesh and hath no need.”
For further historical background on section 49, click here.
Doctrine and Covenants 50
The revelation that is now section 46 of the Doctrine and Covenants instructed the members of the new Church about spiritual gifts and avoiding excesses. Section 50 of the Doctrine and Covenants, given on May 9, 1831, continued with this theme.
In teaching the Saints how to distinguish the true Spirit from false ones, the Lord offered some key principles. In verses 21–22, He explained that when someone preaches “by the Spirit of truth,” then hearers should also be able to receive “the word by the Spirit of truth” so that “he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.”
This is a powerful principle. Those who teach and those who receive their teachings can both tune into the Spirit of truth and receive personal testimonies of the truth.
Verse 24 further explains that when people follow truth and light, they grow spiritually: “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.”
For further historical background on section 50, click here.
Photo Credit for Image at Top of Post: Many of the New York Saints traveled to Ohio in part on the Erie Canal. The image at the top of this post is detail from John William Hill, View on the Erie Canal, I.N. Phelps Stokes Collection of American Historical Prints, New York Public Library, public domain, copied from http://eriecanal.org/images/general-1/Hill-1830.jpg (accessed May 9, 2021).