Section 15-16

Historical Background


For a missionary to make contact with a “golden investigator” is one of the greatest joys in the gospel, but an entire family of golden investigators is truly a pearl of great price. Such was the Whitmer family to the Prophet Joseph. Though the church had not yet been organized, the work needed entire families who could be a source of strength and stability. Four of the Whitmers, David, John, Peter Jr. and Peter Sr. would be specifically mentioned in the Doctrine and Covenants. The mother, Mary Whitmer, would be the only woman to be shown the gold plates by the angel Moroni. David would become one of the Three Witnesses; John, Peter Jr., Christian, and Jacob would be shown the plates and testify with the others of the Eight Witnesses.


Joseph Smith

Upon our arrival, we found Mr. Whitmer's family very anxious concerning the work, and very friendly toward ourselves. They continued so, boarded and lodged us according to arrangements; and John Whitmer, in particular, assisted us very much in writing during the remainder of the work.

In the meantime, David, John and Peter Whitmer, Jun., became our zealous friends and assistants in the work; and being anxious to know their respective duties, and having desired with much earnestness that I inquire of the Lord concerning them, I did so.” (History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols., introduction and notes by B. H. Roberts [Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1932-1951], 1: 49.)


Biographical Sketch:  John Whitmer

“Birth: 27 August 1802, Fayette Township, Seneca County, New York. Son of Peter Whitmer Sr. and Mary Musselman.

Death: 11 July 1878, Far West, Caldwell County, Missouri.

It was on the family farm in Fayette that John Whitmer learned the art of husbandry. He also learned the value of religious worship in his youth by attending the German Reformed Church. His religious life dramatically changed in June 1829 when Joseph Smith accepted the hospitality of the Whitmers. John readily received the prophetic calling of Joseph and his message of the Restoration. He assisted the young Prophet as a scribe for the translation of the Book of Mormon before being baptized by Oliver Cowdery.

Sacred events in holy writ witness of his devotion and the Lord's love for him (see D&C 15). He remembered with gratitude his privilege to be one of the Eight Witnesses to the Book of Mormon. John was an influence for good during the early days of the Church in New York. He did as directed by divine revelation: ‘Let your time be devoted to the studying of the scriptures, and to preaching, and to confirming the church at Colesville’ (D&C 26:1). He strengthened the Colesville Saints and acted as a scribe for the Bible translation in its early stages. Following the September 1830 Church conference in Fayette he was told, ‘My servant John, … thou shalt commence from this time forth to proclaim my gospel, as with the voice of a trump’ (D&C 30:9).

From Fayette, New York, to Kirtland, Ohio, John shared news of the Restoration, but not all were pleased with his message. ‘A young man by the name of Whitmer arrived here last week … with a new batch of revelations from God, as he pretended, which have just been communicated to Joseph Smith,’ announced the Painesville Telegraph.  Undaunted by mockery, John unflinchingly asserted the truthfulness of the gospel.

When not proselytizing he continued to share his scribal talents with the Prophet, and the Lord called him to write the history of the Church (see D&C 47:1). He initially fulfilled this assignment with faithfulness. His ninety-six written pages are considered by some historians to be the most authoritative history of the Church before 1838.” (Susan Easton Black, Who's Who in the Doctrine and Covenants [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997], 331-332.)

Biographical Sketch:  Peter Whitmer, Jr.

“Birth: 27 September 1809, Fayette Township, Seneca County, New York. Son of Peter Whitmer Sr. and Mary Musselman.

Death: 22 September 1836, Liberty, Clay County, Missouri.

He and his family worshiped with the German Reformed congregation of Zion's Church, just south of the Whitmer farm, until 1829. In the summer of 1829 young Peter became acquainted with Joseph Smith. Their friendship grew as the Prophet resided in the family home in Fayette. Peter was privileged to assist him sometimes as scribe in the translation of the Book of Mormon and to be one of Eight Witnesses who saw and handled the Book of Mormon plates.

In June 1829 the Prophet was given a revelation of what would ‘be of the most worth’ to Peter: ‘The thing which will be of the most worth unto you will be to declare repentance unto this people, that you may bring souls unto me, that you may rest with them in the kingdom of my Father. Amen.’ (D&C 16:1, 3-6.)

The first soul Peter brought to the Lord was his own. He was baptized by Oliver Cowdery and ordained an elder in June 1830. According to the testimony of his brother David, given in 1881, Peter was one of the first seven elders ordained in the latter days.

In September 1830 he was called by revelation to preach the gospel with Oliver Cowdery: ‘Behold, I say unto you, Peter, that you shall take your journey with your brother Oliver; for the time has come that it is expedient in me that you shall open your mouth to declare my gospel.… to build up my church among the Lamanites.… Be diligent in keeping my commandments, and you shall be blessed unto eternal life.’ (D&C 30:5-6, 8.)

One month later Peter was directed to accompany Parley P. Pratt, Oliver Cowdery, and Ziba Peterson ‘into the wilderness among the Lamanites’ (D&C 32:2).

The missionaries to the Lamanites, as they became known, began their journey in October 1830 to the frontier to share the Book of Mormon with Indian tribes. They trekked near Buffalo, New York, where they preached to the Catteraugus Indians. From Buffalo they traveled to Mentor, Ohio, where they baptized Sidney Rigdon and many of his congregation...

“Peter and his family suffered from mobocracy and religious persecution in 1833 before fleeing to Clay County. Residing in temporary shelters on the disease-ridden swamplands of Clay proved distressing for Peter's health…Unfortunately, in 1835 [Peter’s brother] Christian died. Although Peter suffered from consumption and infection at this time, his problems did not preclude his service on the local high council in 1836.

However, ten months following the death of Christian, on 22 September 1836, Peter died near Liberty, Clay County. He was buried by the side of his brother. Their brother-in-law Oliver Cowdery wrote in eulogy of the faithful brothers:

By many in this church, our brothers were personally known: they were the first to embrace the new covenant, on hearing it, and during a constant scene of persecution and perplexity, to their last moments, maintained its truth-they were both included in the list of the eight witnesses in the Book of Mormon, and though they have departed, it is with great satisfaction that we reflect, that they proclaimed to their last moments, the certainty of their former testimony.’”

(Susan Easton Black, Who's Who in the Doctrine and Covenants [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997], 334 - 337.)


DC 15 & 16 Why did the Lord say the same thing to John and Peter Whitmer?


The fact that the Lord said exactly the same thing to both brothers should not bother the student. John and Peter were in the same situation in the same family. It’s not hard to imagine both of these brothers, after seeing the miraculous conditions under which David was called to the work, petitioning the Lord to know how they could help. Indeed, they were in the same stage of spiritual development and felt the same way about the Prophet Joseph and his new message. That the Lord had the same message for both of them shouldn’t surprise us. He has the same message for us as well. Besides, later in the Doctrine and Covenants, individual instructions would be given to both John and Peter (DC 30:5-11, DC 47, DC 69:1-2, DC 70:1).


Theodore M. Burton

Why would the Lord give two identical revelations and have them published in the Doctrine and Covenants, one following the other? The Lord is a Master Teacher; he knows the value of repetition in learning. It may be that these revelations were intended not only for those to whom they were given, but also for all of us. If these revelations do indeed apply to you and to me, they help us understand that what is of greatest worth to each of us is to declare repentance to others and to practice it ourselves. (“The Meaning of Repentance,” Ensign, Aug. 1988, 7)


DC 15:3 I will tell you that which no man knoweth save me and thee alone


John Taylor

God searches the hearts and tries the reins of the children of men. He knows our thoughts and comprehends our desires and feelings; he knows our acts and the motives which prompt us to perform them. He is acquainted with all the doings and operations of the human family, and all the secret thoughts and acts of the children of men are open and naked before him. (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886], 16: 302.)


DC 15:4 you have desired of me to know that which would be of the most worth unto you


Rudger Clawson

The matters that are brought to our attention in these words of revelation are most glorious for contemplation. Cast your minds back to the early days of this Church, and there stood this man John Whitmer, recently come into the Church of Christ. Various occupations in which he might engage were before him. He had the opportunity to labor upon the farm, to engage in merchandising, to follow mining, to study the profession of medicine or law, or to adopt one of the many other occupations in which men employ themselves. The question he asked himself at that time was, What would be the most worth to him?. . . I say, these opportunities were before him, because the country was before him, and this country is full of opportunities, which are within the reach of all. . . . He stood there in this situation, not having been trained long in the Gospel of Christ, and I say to you—for it is on record here—that a voice came to that man from the eternal worlds, and that voice set at rest in him every doubt, every dubiety, every fearful anticipation. At a critical time in his life, when he must choose which way to go, that voice said unto him that which would be of most worth unto him was to declare repentance unto the people and bring souls unto Christ. The message was of such importance that it came to him with "sharpness and with power." It was the voice of Jesus Christ. (Roy W. Doxey, comp., Latter-day Prophets and the Doctrine and Covenants [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978], 1: 145.)


DC 15:6 the thing which will be of the most worth unto you will be to declare repentance unto this people


Ben B. Banks

I know you young men are growing up in a challenging world with all kinds of peer pressure. You may even be struggling with the decision of going on a mission because of your educational and vocational desires, or because of a budding musical or athletic career, or a serious girlfriend you may find hard to leave. I understand, because I have seven sons, as well as a son-in-law, who have had to make similar decisions. Yet each has made that decision to serve.


If you wonder or struggle as to what will be of most worth to you, listen to the direction given by the Lord: ‘For many times you have desired of me to know that which would be of the most worth unto you. … And now, behold, I say unto you, that the thing which will be of the most worth unto you will be to declare repentance unto this people, that you may bring souls unto me, that you may rest with them in the kingdom of my Father.’ (D&C 15:4, 6.)


I promise you young men that if you will commit and prepare to serve a mission, it will be the most rewarding and exciting experience of your lives. (“The Value of Preparation,” Ensign, Nov. 1989, 41)


Melvin J. Ballard

There is nothing in all this world that can be compared to the value of a human soul, redeemed, sanctified, and made worthy to receive the blessings of God our Father. There is no investment which you men can put your money or your time into that will pay you so well in time or in eternity as to invest in a human soul, whether that shall be in the missionary field or at home, in the care of those precious ones who have come under our supervision. We have already heard scripture in this conference, from the Lord Jesus Christ, wherein he declares that the worth of souls is great in his sight, and if we should labor all our days and as the result of that labor bring, save it be but one of those precious souls, how great will be our joy! I know that I need not convert you to the fact that this is a true doctrine, but we constantly need to be appealed to, to be willing to give ourselves and our means in the accomplishment of this, the greatest work there is in all the world. (Conference Report, October 1925, Afternoon Session 129.)