Joseph Fielding Smith
With a glad heart Oliver took over the work of translating, and the Prophet Joseph was ready to act as scribe. The attempt was a failure; it seems that Oliver Cowdery thought that it would be an easy matter with the aid of the Urim and Thummim to understand the engravings and give their equivalent meaning in the English language, without taking thought or studying it out in his mind. He therefore failed to comprehend the instructions the Lord had given him, notwithstanding the Lord told him he should have the gift of revelation.
It seems probable that Oliver Cowdery desired to translate out of curiosity, and the Lord taught him his place by showing him that translating was not the easy thing he had thought it to be. In a subsequent revelation (Sec. 9), the explanation was made that Oliver's failure came because he did not continue as he commenced, and the task being a difficult one, his faith deserted him. The lesson he learned was very necessary, for he was shown that his place was to act as scribe for Joseph Smith and that it was the latter who was called and appointed by command of the Lord to do the translating. There must have been some impatience in having to sit and act as scribe, but when he failed to master the gift of translating, he was then willing to accept the will of the Lord. (Roy W. Doxey, comp., Latter-day Prophets and the Doctrine and Covenants [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978], 1: 85.)
DC 9:4 the work which you are called to do is to write for my servant Joseph
“When [Oliver] Cowdery returned to Church membership in 1848 he spoke to an Iowa conference. His words there were recorded by Reuben Miller: ‘I wrote with my own pen the entire Book of Mormon (save a few pages) as it fell from the lips of the Prophet as he translated it by the gift and power of God by means of the Urim and Thummim, or as it is called by that book, holy interpreters. I beheld with my eyes and handled with my hands the gold plates from which it was translated. I also beheld the Interpreters. That book is true. … I wrote it myself as it fell from the lips of the Prophet.’” (Richard Lloyd Anderson, “By the Gift and Power of God,” Ensign, Sept. 1977, 80)
These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom! Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated, with the Urim and Thummim. (Milton V. Backman, Jr., Eyewitness Accounts of the Restoration [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983], 106.)
DC 9:5 it is because that you did not continue as you commenced
Rex D. Pinegar
…one of my recently returned missionaries confided in me a dilemma at returning home. This fine young man had served well his entire mission. He had demonstrated faith and courage under difficult circumstances. Now he faces the challenge of maintaining his missionary zeal and spirit in the surroundings of home where more subtle opposition may exist...
The counsel I would give to my missionary, and to others who may be faced with the decision to continue or not to continue a righteous course, is to recall the experience of Oliver Cowdery. Oliver had begun his labors in the kingdom with a faithful and humble service. The Lord rewarded him by giving him the gift of translation. He told Oliver of marvelous contributions he could make toward enlightening the people if he would continue faithfully in his efforts. Later when Oliver attempted to translate, he failed. The Lord told Oliver it was “because that you did not continue as you commenced.” (D&C 9:5.) Oliver had not continued in his righteous efforts, and the gift was taken from him.
Simply stated, the Lord’s counsel to one who has “commenced” properly and faithfully is, “Continue as you have commenced.” We could follow the example of Nephi, a son of Helaman, who after laboring diligently to teach and live righteously, had decided to give up and return home because the people refused to accept his counsel and to repent. As he approached his home, the voice of the Lord came to him. The Lord reminded Nephi of the blessings that would result from the unwearyingness with which he had labored and taught the people and with which he had kept the commandments of God. With renewed vigor and determination, Nephi turned from his home and returned to his labors to continue as he had commenced. (See Hel. 10:2–12.)
…To continue means more than to endure or to tolerate something. It means to maintain a steady course of action with unshaken faith in Christ. It means to be a true follower of Christ. (“We Need to Continue in Righteousness,” Ensign, Nov. 1974, 44)
DC 9:6 do not murmur, my son
The Lord knows Oliver’s heart. He knows that Oliver is not going to take this instruction well; so he wisely and gently reminds him not to be bitter. The Lord knows what he’s doing. He knows what is best. Still, there are times when we, like Oliver, want to do “some great thing” (2 Kgs. 5:13). Perhaps we want an opportunity to serve in a particular calling or we want to be released from another. So many times, our near-sightedness misses the big picture. We need to be told, like Oliver, “do not murmur,” my son or my daughter, “for it is wisdom in me that I have dealt with you after this manner.” “Be still and know that I am God” (DC 101:16).
DC 9:7 you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me
Spencer W. Kimball
We must do more than ask the Lord for learning. Perspiration must precede inspiration; there must be effort before there is the harvest. (“Seek Learning Even by Study and Also by Faith,” Ensign, Sept. 1983, 5)
Henry B. Eyring
Years ago I was asked to chair a committee of faculty from Brigham Young University and other schools with this question to study: What should be the future of higher education in the Church? Elder Neal A. Maxwell was then the commissioner of education. I told him I didn't think I could fulfill the assignment without the help of heaven. He asked if I would like a blessing. I've forgotten how it was arranged that I would see Elder Alvin R. Dyer, but that was especially pleasant for me, since I had been a priest once in a ward where he was the bishop, the president of my quorum. He listened sympathetically to my story, put his hands on my head, and gave me a blessing that included words like this as a promise: ‘In this assignment, and in many others which will come to you, your mind will be guided in channels toward the truth.’ That blessing gave me confidence, maybe too much confidence. The committee began its work. And after months of what seemed to me futile effort, I felt some desperation, much as you do when heaven seems to withhold its help in a task you know matters and is beyond you.
I somehow managed to arrange another interview. This one was with President Harold B. Lee. He received me in a kindly way. In my anxiety, I soon blurted out my question: “President Lee, how do I get revelation?”
He smiled. I am glad he didn't laugh, since it was an odd question to ask. But he answered my question with a story. It was essentially this. He said that during World War II he had been part of a group studying the question “What should the Church be doing for its members in the military service?” He said they conducted interviews at bases up and down the country. They had data gathered. They had the data analyzed. They went back for more interviews. But still, no plan emerged.
Then he gave me the lesson, which I now give to you, in about these words: “Hal, when we had done all we knew how to do, when we had our backs to the wall, then God gave us the revelation. Hal, if you want to get revelation, do your homework.”
I suppose I should have been embarrassed to take his time to learn what the Lord told us all long ago. You recall the rebuke to Oliver Cowdery and to you and me and to all of our Father's children who are called to duties that take the powers of heaven. You remember the words. I am always impressed at how kindly they really were: (quotes DC 9:3-10)
Now, in fairness to Oliver Cowdery, he had some reason to be confused. The Prophet Joseph seemed to have the windows of heaven opened to him. The words of revelation came to him, both to translate the Book of Mormon and to give us the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants, at a speed that could easily have misled Oliver.
I bear you my solemn testimony that the Lord opens the heavens to his servants today. He will answer your prayers for help beyond your human understanding. But I also bear you my testimony that the words ‘study it out’ mean a degree of patience, labor, and persistence commensurate with the value of what you seek. (To Draw Closer to God: A Collection of Discourses [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997], 95.)
DC 9:8 you must study it out in your mind
“In 1877, Elder Lorenzo Snow referred to Oliver Cowdery’s experience and said:
“’It is impossible to advance in the principles of truth, to increase in heavenly knowledge, except we exercise our reasoning faculties and exert ourselves in a proper manner. …
“’Although the gift to translate had been conferred, he could not prosecute the work, simply because he failed to exert himself before God with the view of developing the gift within him; and he became greatly disappointed, and the Lord, in his goodness and mercy, informed him of his mistake. …
“’So in regard to us, respecting the things which we are undertaking. If we expect to improve, to advance in the work immediately before us, and finally to obtain possession of those gifts and glories, coming up to that condition of exaltation we anticipate, we must take thought and reflect, we must exert ourselves, and that too to the utmost of our ability.’ (In Journal of Discourses, 18:371–72.)
“Does this revelatory process differ markedly from the scientific method of getting knowledge or ideas or truth? In a lecture at Brigham Young University a number of years ago, Dr. Edmund D. Starbuck declared: ‘The scientist studies his problem, saturates his mind with it, puzzles over it, dreams about it, but seems to find progress impossible, blocked as it were by a black, impenetrable wall. And then at last and suddenly as if out of the nowhere, there comes a flash of light, the answer to his quest. His mind is now illumined by a great discovery.’ (Quoted by Harold B. Lee in “Sweet Are the Uses of Adversity,” Instructor, June 1965, p. 217.)
“Albert Einstein said: ‘When I think and reflect how my discoveries originated and took form, a hundred times you run, as it were, with your head against the wall (meaning a hundred failures) in order to lay your hands upon and define and fit into a system what, from a merely indefinable premonition, you sense in vain. And then suddenly, perhaps like a stroke of lightning, the salient thought will come to you and the indescribably laborious task of building up and expanding the system can begin. The process is not different by which the artist arrives at his conceptions. Real faith, either to a scientist or a businessman or a minister of religion, involves the problem and struggle of searching.’ (Instructor, June 1965, p. 217.)” (Edwin Brown Firmage, “Recovering and Discovering Truth,” Ensign, Apr. 1981, 41)
DC 9:8 I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you
How do we receive answers to our prayers? Are we to expect a “burning in our bosom” every time we need an answer? If we do, we are likely to be disappointed. At times, this scripture given to Oliver to help with the process of translation, is universally applied to receiving personal revelation. This is not altogether inappropriate, but it is also not altogether useful.
Those times when “your bosom [burns] within you” are those times when the spirit of revelation has come upon you with such great intensity that the core of your soul—your spiritual heart is warmed. It is not separate from the sensation of feeling the Spirit but is a very intense form thereof. Hence, when the Nephites heard the very voice of God, “it did pierce them to the very soul, and did cause their hearts to burn” (3 Ne. 11:3, see also Luke 24:32). This is an intense spiritual feeling which is much less common than the calm, serene, assurance that all is right.
Ironically, other scriptures given to Oliver Cowdery describe the process of personal revelation perfectly, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things. Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God” (DC 6:23). And, “behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart” (DC 8:2).
A number of years ago, in a meeting of returned mission presidents, we reviewed different ways to improve missionaries’ spirituality. One person said, “We need to help all missionaries experience and recognize the ‘burning of the bosom’ taught in Doctrine and Covenants 9:7–9.” A member of the First Quorum of the Seventy then shared the following experience:
One of the Quorum of the Twelve came to tour the mission over which the Seventy was presiding. As they drove to the next zone conference, the Apostle turned to him and said, “I wonder if you might have left an impression in the missionaries” minds that has created more problems than you can resolve. As I have traveled throughout the Church, I’ve found relatively few people who have experienced a burning of the bosom. In fact, I’ve had many people tell me that they’ve become frustrated because they have never experienced that feeling even though they have prayed or fasted for long periods of time.
He explained that Doctrine and Covenants 9:7–9 was given in response to the process of translating sacred records. There the burning of the bosom was appropriate. The principle can apply to personal revelation, he said, but more precisely it related to the translation of the Book of Mormon. He counseled the mission president to refer missionaries to other scriptural references about the Holy Ghost. For example, he cited the verse “Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?” (D&C 6:23.)
Over the years, I have tried to learn the different ways in which the Spirit of the Lord works. Surely God does speak from heaven, but he manifests, confirms, or gives direction in a variety of ways. (“Have I Received an Answer from the Spirit?” Ensign, Apr. 1989, 21–22)
Dallin H. Oaks
This [burning in the bosom] may be one of the most important and misunderstood teachings in all the Doctrine and Covenants. The teachings of the Spirit often come as feelings. That fact is of the utmost importance, yet some misunderstand what it means. I have met persons who told me they have never had a witness from the Holy Ghost because they have never felt their bosom “burn within” them.
What does a “burning in the bosom” mean? Does it need to be a feeling of caloric heat, like the burning produced by combustion? If that is the meaning, I have never had a burning in the bosom. Surely, the word burning in this scripture signifies a feeling of comfort and serenity. That is the witness many receive. That is the way revelation works.
Truly, the still, small voice is just that, “still” and “small.”
“The language of peace, as spoken by the Lord, embraces a sense of quiet confidence, comfort, and warmth. It is gentle and calm, amiable and sweet; it is temperate and kind; it is orderly and identified by happiness, joy, and feelings of love” (Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet, The Holy Ghost , 14).” (“Teaching and Learning by the Spirit,” Ensign, Mar. 1997, 13)
Boyd K. Packer
This burning in the bosom is not purely a physical sensation. It is more like a warm light shining within your being.
Describing the promptings from the Holy Ghost to one who has not had them is very difficult. (“Personal Revelation: The Gift, the Test, and the Promise,” Ensign, Nov. 1994, 60)
DC 9:8 therefore, you shall feel that it is right
Ezra Taft Benson
Did you notice that last phrase? “You shall feel that it is right.”
We hear the words of the Lord most often by a feeling. If we are humble and sensitive, the Lord will prompt us through our feelings. That is why spiritual promptings move us on occasion to great joy, sometimes to tears. Many times my emotions have been made tender and my feelings very sensitive when touched by the Spirit. (“Seek the Spirit of the Lord,” Ensign, Apr. 1988, 4)
Spencer W. Kimball
Learning the language of prayer is a joyous, lifetime experience. Sometimes ideas flood our mind as we listen after our prayers. Sometimes feelings press upon us. A spirit of calmness assures us that all will be well. But always, if we have been honest and earnest, we will experience a good feeling—a feeling of warmth for our Father in Heaven and a sense of his love for us. It has sorrowed me that some of us have not learned the meaning of that calm, spiritual warmth, for it is a witness to us that our prayers have been heard. And since our Father in Heaven loves us with more love than we have even for ourselves, it means that we can trust in his goodness, we can trust in him; it means that if we continue praying and living as we should, our Father’s hand will guide and bless us. (“Pray Always,” Ensign, Oct. 1981, 5)
DC 9:9 if it be not right you shall have no such feelings
Richard G. Scott
It is vitally important to recognize that the Lord also responds a third way to prayer by withholding an answer when the prayer is offered. Why would He do that?
He is our perfect Father. He loves us beyond our capacity to understand. He knows what is best for us. He sees the end from the beginning. He wants us to act to gain needed experience:
When He answers yes, it is to give us confidence.
When He answers no, it is to prevent error.
When He withholds an answer, it is to have us grow through faith in Him, obedience to His commandments, and a willingness to act on truth. We are expected to assume accountability by acting on a decision that is consistent with His teachings without prior confirmation. We are not to sit passively waiting or to murmur because the Lord has not spoken. We are to act. (“Learning to Recognize Answers to Prayer,” Ensign, Nov. 1989, 31)
DC 9:9 you shall have a stupor of thought
“Sometimes the answer to our prayer is no. We can receive that answer in the form of a ‘stupor of thought’ (D&C 9:9); or it may come as a dark feeling, a feeling of disquiet and unrest, a feeling of uneasiness.” (Lindsay R. Curtis, “I Have a Question,” Ensign, Jan. 1980, 50)
DC 9:9 you cannot write that which is sacred save it comes from me
Dallin H. Oaks
In the acquisition of sacred knowledge, scholarship and reason are not alternatives to revelation. They are a means to an end, and the end is revelation from God.
God has promised that if we ask him, we will “receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that [we may] know the mysteries and peaceable things—that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal.” (D&C 42:61.)
In our day we are experiencing an explosion of knowledge about the world and its people. But the people of the world are not experiencing a comparable expansion of knowledge about God and his plan for his children. On that subject, what the world needs is not more scholarship and technology but more righteousness and revelation. (“Alternate Voices,” Ensign, May 1989, 30)
DC 9:12 I have given unto my servant Joseph sufficient strength
A seer will I raise up…and unto him will I give power to bring forth my word…And out of weakness he shall be made strong, in that day when my work shall commence…and they that seek to destroy him shall be confounded (2 Ne. 3:11-14).