DC 106 Warren A. Cowdery: Biographical Sketch
"Birth: 17 (possibly 5) October 1788, Poultney, Rutland County, Vermont. Son of William Cowdery and Rebecca Fuller.
Death: 23 February 1851, Kirtland, Lake County, Ohio.
"Warren Cowdery, a successful farmer, physician, and apothecary entrepreneur in Freedom, New York, seemed less inclined to new religious leanings than other contemporaries. However, when he received some of the Book of Mormon proof sheets from his younger brother Oliver Cowdery, he perused them with faith and belief. He entered the waters of baptism in late 1831, and by 1834 was called by the Lord to preside over the Church in his local community: (quotes D&C 106:1-3).
"The Lord promised that if Warren would humble himself and continue to be faithful, 'I have prepared a crown for him in the mansions of my Father' (D&C 106:8).
"Warren's position as high priest over the Freedom branch led him to boast in his priesthood power. In September 1835 he wrote a letter that was 'derogatory to the character and teaching' of the Twelve, and the Twelve countered with 'a charge against Dr Cowdery for his unchristian conduct.' In March 1836, after Warren had moved from New York to Kirtland, the Prophet met with him and others in the upper room of the printing office regarding the Twelves' charges. Warren admitted that he was wrong and 'was willing to publish that they [the Twelve] were not in the fault.' His public apology was accepted.
"Possessing many of the same talents as his brother Oliver, Warren acted as a scribe and an assistant recorder for the Church from 1836 to 1837 and served on the Kirtland high council in May 1837. He kept Kirtland council minutes, made entries in the Prophet's diary, penned the historical record of the Church from 1835 to 1836, and scribed patriarchal blessings. He assisted in writing the dedicatory prayer for the Kirtland Temple in 1836 (see D&C 109). He was an agent or manager for the Prophet and Sidney Rigdon in the printing office and book bindery. He succeeded his brother in serving as editor of the Messenger and Advocate until February 1837. Warren edited the paper through its final edition in September 1837.
"He did not remain with the Church after 1838. His disaffection with Church leaders corresponded with that of his brother Oliver. Warren continued to reside in Kirtland, and in the Ohio federal census of 1850 he was listed as living with his wife and six children and possessing assets of seven hundred dollars. He died in 1851 at the age of sixty-two. (Susan Easton Black, Who's Who in the Doctrine and Covenants [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997], 78 - 79)
DC 106 Historical Background
Oliver Cowdery came from a large family. In 1830, his older brother Warren was living in Freedom, NY about 80 miles southwest of Palmyra. Oliver apparently had unbound proof sheets from the original printing of the Book of Mormon which he shared with his brother:
"Oliver Cowdery gave loose sheets of the Book of Mormon to his brother Warren A. Cowdery as they came from the press. Warren then showed them to others in the town of Freedom, Cattaraugus County, New York. William Hyde, an early proselyte, verified this matter, saying: 'In the year 1830 or 31, we began to hear something concerning the Book of Mormon, and the setting up of the Kingdom of God on earth in the last days. The little information that we gained upon this subject, until the Elders came preaching, was through Warren A. Cowdery, whose farm joined with ours. Warren A. obtained from his brother Oliver, at an early date, some of the proof sheets to the book of Mormon some of which we had the privilege of perusing, and we did not peruse any faster than we believed.' William [Hyde], his father and mother, and other family members were baptized at Freedom in 1834." (Larry C. Porter and Susan Easton Black, eds., The Prophet Joseph: Essays on the Life and Mission of Joseph Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1988], 82 - 83)
Warren made an impression on the Prophet Joseph Smith earlier in 1834, when he and a handful of Brethren fulfilled a mission to the East (D&C 103:37-40). Warren took particularly good care of his missionary visitors. Joseph Smith recorded:
"Sunday, March 9.-We preached in a school house, and had great attention. We found a few disciples who were firm in the faith; and, after meeting found many believing and could hardly get away from them, and appointed a meeting in Freedom for Monday the 10th, and stayed at Mr. Warren A. Cowdery's, where we were blessed with a full enjoyment of temporal and spiritual blessings, even all we needed, or were worthy to receive. (History of the Church, 2:42)
In 1835, after presiding over the saints in Freedom, he moved to Kirtland where the Prophet put him to work as a scribe. His contributions in this role are timeless. He recorded the dedicatory prayer of the Kirtland Temple, acted a scribe for the dedication, and worked as editor of The Messenger and Advocate. Most interesting is his 1835 account of the First Vision:
"In 1835 Joseph Smith spoke of his first vision to a man named Matthias. Warren Cowdery recorded this account.
"Monday Nov. 9th. . . . While sitting in his house this morning between the hours of ten and eleven, a man came in and introduced himself to him calling himself Joshua, the Jewish Minister, His appearance was something singular, having, a beard about three inches in length which is quite gray. his hair was also long and considerably silvered with age. He had the appearance of a man about 50 or 55 years old. He was tall and straight, slender frame, blue eyes, thin visage, and fair complexion. He wore a green frock coat and pantaloons of the same color. He had on a black fur hat with a narrow brim. When speaking he frequently shuts his eyes and exhibits a kind of scowl upon his countenance. He (Joseph) made some inquiry after his name, but, received no definite answer. The conversation soon turned upon the subject of Religion, and after the subject of this narrative had made some remarks concerning the bible, he commenced giving him a relation of the circumstances, connected with the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, which were nearly as follows. Being wrought up in my mind respecting the subject of Religion, and looking at the different systems taught the children of men, I knew not who was right or who was wrong, but considered it of the first importance to me that I should be right, in matters of so much moment,[matter[s] involving eternal consequences. Being thus perplexed in mind I retired to the silent grove and there bowed down before the Lord, under a realizing sense, (if the bible be true) ask and you shall receive, knock and it shall be opened, seek and you shall find, and again, if any man lack wisdom, let [him ask] of God who giveth to all men liberally & upbraideth not. Information was what I most desired at this time, and with a fixed determination to obtain it, I called on the Lord for the first time in the place above stated, or in other words, I made a fruitless attempt to pray My tongue seemed to be swoolen in my mouth, so that I could not utter. I heard a noise behind me like some one walking towards me: I strove again to pray, but could not; the noise of walking seemed to draw nearer; I sprang upon my feet and looked round, but saw no person, or thing that was calculated to produce the noise of walking. I kneeled again, my mouth was opened and my tongue loosed; I called on the Lord in mighty prayer. A pillar of fire appeared above my head; which presently rested down upon me, and filled me with unspeakable joy. A personage appeared in the midst of this pillar of flame, which spread all around and yet nothing consumed. Another personage soon appeared like unto the first: he said unto me thy sins are forgiven thee. He testified also unto me that Jesus Christ is the son of God. I saw many angels in this vision. I was about 14 years old when I received this first communication. . . ." (Joseph Fielding McConkie, Joseph Smith: The Choice Seer [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996], Appendix B)
DC 106:1 presiding high priest over my church, in the land of Freedom
In the church today, the presiding high priest is called Stake President. In 1834, two stakes had been organized-in Kirtland, and at the conclusion of Zion's Camp, in Missouri. Living in Freedom, New York, Warren was not a member of either stake. The entire church membership had not been organized into wards and stakes at this early time. Therefore, Warren is called to preside as a presiding high priest over a group saints. The closest modern day corollary would be the calling of Bishop. This calling, independent of either stake, is completely within the purview of the office of high priest. Five months later, a revelation on the priesthood would confirm, "High priests after the order of the Melchizedek Priesthood have a right to officiate in their own standing, under the direction of the presidency, in administering spiritual things." (D&C 107:10) This is precisely the authority and calling to which Warren Cowdery was ordained.
DC 106:4 the coming of the lord... overtaketh the world as a thief in the night
The Lord Jesus has declared that he will come and reign on the earth, and if you read the Book of Doctrine and Covenants you will find numerous predictions in regard to his coming, such as-"I come quickly," "I come at an hour ye think not," "My coming is at the door," "I come as a thief in the night," "I come in an hour when you are not looking for me," and "Blessed is he who is looking for the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." I say that throughout the whole of the Scriptures-the Old and New Testament, the Book of Mormon, and the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, the second coming of the Lord is frequently referred to; and has the Lord promised these things without intending to fulfill them? No, he has not, they will be fulfilled. But before Christ comes, a people have got to be prepared by being sanctified before the Lord. Temples have got to be built; Zion has got to be built up; there must be a place of safety for the people of God while his judgments are abroad in the earth, for the judgments of God will visit the earth, there is no mistake about that, the revelations are full of promises to this effect, and as the Lord has declared it, he will not fail in keeping his word. (Journal of Discourses, 18:192)
DC 106:5 that you may be the children of light, and that day shall not overtake you as a thief
Bruce R. McConkie
But before that day (the Second Coming), certain promised signs and wonders are to take place, an understanding of which will give those who wait for him an assurance as to the approximate time of his return.
It is true that no man knoweth the day nor the hour of his return - "no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only" (Matt. 24:36), as he himself expressed it - but those who treasure up his word will not be deceived as to the time of that glorious day, nor as to the events to precede and to attend it. (Jos. Smith 1:37.) The righteous will be able to read the signs of the times. To those in darkness he will come suddenly, unexpectedly, "as a thief in the night," but to "the children of light" who "are not of the night, nor of darkness," as Paul expressed it, that day will not overtake them "as a thief." They will recognize the signs as certainly as a woman in travail foreknows the approximate time of her child's birth. (Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966], 688)
We are not the children of darkness, but the children of light. Light has come unto us. We have been called out of darkness unto light. We have been translated from the kingdom of darkness unto the kingdom of God's dear Son, and therefore it may and ought to be said of us as Saint Paul said concerning the Saints: "Ye, brethren are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief" (1 Thess. 5:4). It is written and we expect it to be fulfilled upon the heads of the unbelieving and the wicked, that the Lord will overtake them as a thief in the night. (Journal of Discourses, 25:29)
DC 106:6 there was joy in heaven when my servant Warren bowed to my scepter
"God challenges all of his children to live beyond themselves in Christ-to overcome sinful tendencies, to live in harmony with truth and reality, and to recognize the deeply ingrained needs each person has for integrity, truth, and genuine bonds of love. Thus, the greatest joy in heaven comes when a soul turns to God and faces life the way it really is-by accepting truth and living in harmony with it.
"That this is possible is illustrated in the parable of the prodigal son. (Luke 15:11-32.) This is the account of a young man who took his inheritance and "wasted his substance with riotous living." When his degraded circumstances later brought him to an awareness of his sins, he determined to return to his father and accept whatever grace might be given him. The father greeted the son with open arms, demonstrating the love of our Father in heaven for the soul that repents and returns. The young man came back home, meaning that he turned away from his way of life and repented, and returned to his father. Perhaps there is no more powerful picture in all the scriptures than that of the father who runs to met his errant son and who, upon meeting him, embraces and kisses him. What a sign of the depth of the love our Father in heaven has for each of us and of his desire that we return to him!
"The practice of the Church of Jesus Christ shows how we should interpret the scriptures concerning God's forgiveness. The Church welcomes back errant sons and daughters. And those who return to the folds of the Church-who repent of past sins, submit to any required Church discipline, dedicate their lives to the Lord, give of themselves in full service to the Lord, qualify themselves to go to the temple, and live up to their covenants-have hope for exaltation in the kingdom of our Father if they endure in faithfulness to the end and overcome all things." (Kent P. Jackson and Robert L. Millet, eds., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 5: The Gospels [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1986], 355)
DC 106:7 notwithstanding the vanity of his heart
"Here is another instance of the Seeric gift of the Prophet while under divine inspiration. Warren A. Cowdery, owing to this weakness, on one occasion, in a letter to the Presidency of the Church, accused Thomas B. Marsh and others of the Twelve of having neglected to teach the Saints their duty to contribute means for the building of the Temple. But he was honest enough to acknowledge his error publicly, as soon as it was pointed out to him (Hist. of the Church, Vol. II., p. 374)." (Hyrum M. Smith and Janne M. Sjodahl, Doctrine and Covenants Commentary [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978], 690)