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[Also see the Family Home Evening lesson, The Commandments--Gifts From A Loving Father.]

by Dix S. Coons

Latter-day Saints believe that commandments are divine directives for righteous living; bring happiness and spiritual and temporal blessings; and are part of God's way to redeem his children and endow them with eternal life. Therefore, commandments provide not only a test of faith, obedience, and love for God and Jesus Christ but also an opportunity to experience love from God and joy both in this life and in the life to come. Commandments are received by revelation directly from deity or through his prophets. Written accounts of such revelations are contained in the scriptures, which include the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.

At the organization of the Church on April 6, 1830, Joseph Smith was designated a seer, translator, prophet, apostle, and elder. On that occasion, the Lord said to the Church, "Thou shalt give heed unto all [Joseph Smith's] words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; for his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith" (D&C 21:4-5; cf. D&C 1:37-38; 5:10; 68:34). Based upon these admonitions, members of the Church accept righteous instruction from those authorized by God as commandments binding upon the Church and upon individuals. (See Follow the Prophets home page)

To the Church in 1831 the Lord restated the "first and great" commandment (cf. Matt. 22:37-38): "Wherefore, I give unto them a commandment, saying thus: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy might, mind, and strength; and in the name of Jesus Christ thou shalt serve him" (D&C 59:5). This reiteration was followed by the previously established divine injunctions not to steal, commit adultery, or kill (D&C 59:6).

In the Doctrine and Covenants, section 42, which the Lord identified as the "law of the Church" (D&C 42:2, 59), verses 19-27 reaffirm many admonitions from the ten commandments. These basic commandments have been reiterated in successive dispensations, or eras, in essentially the same form (Ex. 20:3-17; Deut. 5:6-21; Mosiah 12:34-36; D&C 42:19-27; cf. Matt. 5:17-48).

In Old Testament times, because the prohibition of certain outward acts was emphasized, the consequences of disobedience were seemingly stressed more than spiritual and physical redemption through obedience (see Law of Moses). With a different emphasis the New Testament and the Book of Mormon accentuate the purifying process of obedience. Christ made it clear that the commandments were to include not only the deeds of men and women but also their thoughts and motives. In the Sermon on the Mount, he contrasted the old law and the new. For instance, to look upon a woman with lust in one's heart was defined as a type of adultery (Matt. 5:28). To become angry with neighbors placed one in danger of judgment (Matt. 5:21-22). Rather than seeking vengeance and "an eye for an eye," Jesus' followers were to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile (Matt. 5:38-42). To sum up the new law, Christ said, "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shall love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; …Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5:43-44, 48; cf. 3 Ne. 12:43-48).

To those listeners in the Western Hemisphere who survived the destruction of A.D. 34, the resurrected Christ explained the relationship between the law and the gospel: "Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets. I am not come to destroy but to fulfil; for verily I say unto you, one jot nor one tittle hath not passed away from the law, but in me it hath all been fulfilled. And behold, I have given you the law and the commandments of my Father, that ye shall believe in me, and that ye shall repent of your sins, and come unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit" (3 Ne. 12:17-19). Christ's new law clearly requires that not only outward acts but also inner thoughts and feelings conform to the spirit of the law (cf. Alma 12:12-14; D&C 88:109).

In the Church today, the Lord has emphasized that his commandments include the responsibility of self-direction: "Behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward. Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; for the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves" (D&C 58:26-28). When the "law of the Church" was received in 1831 (D&C 42), this individual responsibility was also stressed: "Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart" (42:22), and "Thou shalt not speak evil of thy neighbor, nor do him any harm" (42:27). Later, the Lord said, "Thou shalt not steal; neither commit adultery, nor kill, nor do anything like unto it" (D&C 59:6). It is apparent that God requires an awareness of one's agency and in effect grants each the power to direct oneself. As one lives in accord with the commandments and thereby becomes more sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Ghost, outward observances become less important and the perfection of one's thoughts and motives comes to occupy one's attention.

Thus is it that Latter-day Saints find fulfillment and happiness in obedience not only to specific commandments such as the Word of Wisdom (D&C 89) and the law of tithing (D&C 119) but also to the counsel from inspired leaders given in Church conferences and in approved written sources, such as official Church publications.


Richards, Stephen L. "Keep the Commandments." IE 52 (May 1949):273, 345-48.

Sill, Sterling W. "Keep the Commandments." Ensign 3 (Jan. 1973):82-83.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 1, Commandments

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

by Elder Bruce R. McConkie

Those things which men are directed to do to attain peace in this life and gain eternal life in the world to come are collectively called the commandments. They are the laws, ordinances, covenants, contracts, statutes, judgments, decrees, revelations, and requirements which come to man from God. They are "the words of eternal life," with reference to which it is proclaimed: "You shall live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God." (D. & C. 84:43-44.)

It is God's right to command; he is not restricted to sending requests or petitions. He made us; we belong to him; in his infinite wisdom he orders us to do what will further our interests and his. By obedience we are blessed. Failure to obey denies us the blessing and makes us guilty of the additional sin of ingratitude.

"If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments," was our Lord's succinct statement to the rich young man. (Matt. 19:17.) "If ye love me, keep my commandments," he said to his disciples. (John 14:15.) "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous," John wrote. (1 John 5:3.) "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man." (Eccles. 12:13.)

Mormon Doctrine, P. 149

Copyright by Bookcraft

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