John Whitmer, Record-keeper

Why does the Lord ask us to keep written records? One reason is to communicate our experiences to others, including future generations. But another reason is more immediate: the process of writing forces us to think things through more carefully. We learn and we grow as we write.

In March 1831, John Whitmer was called to serve as church historian. Joseph Smith received a revelation in which the Lord said, “It is expedient in me that my servant John should write and keep a regular history.” The Lord further promised, “It shall be given him, inasmuch as he is faithful, by the Comforter, to write these things” (Doctrine and Covenants 47:1, 4).

A few months later, the Lord gave John additional instructions about his role: “He shall continue in writing and making a history of all the important things which he shall observe and know concerning my church” (Doctrine and Covenants 67:3). The Lord specified that church leaders everywhere should send “the accounts of their stewardships” to Missouri, for John to incorporate into his history. But John was to be proactive, and not to simply wait for these reports to arrive:

Nevertheless, let my servant John Whitmer travel many times from place to place, and from church to church, that he may the more easily obtain knowledge—

Preaching and expounding, writing, copying, selecting, and obtaining all things which shall be for the good of the church, and for the rising generations that shall grow up on the land of Zion,

Doctrine and Covenants 69:3, 5, 7-8

Writing is hard work. I think of the growth Book of Mormon prophets must have experienced as they prioritized what to write (1 Nephi 6, Jacob 3:13, Words of Mormon 1:5, Helaman 3:13-15, 3 Nephi 5:8, 3 Nephi 26:6-7, Ether 15:33), sought personal revelation to answer questions about what they were writing (3 Nephi 28:36-37), struggled to find adequate words to express important messages (2 Nephi 33:1-3, Ether 12:23-25), and in at least one case, rewrote an entire history a second time (1 Nephi 9, 1 Nephi 19:1-6). It seems clear that the writing process was not only a blessing for us; it was also a sanctifying process for them.

Many years ago, President Henry B. Eyring felt inspired to begin writing a few lines every day about how he had seen the hand of the Lord in his life. He said:

As I kept at it, something began to happen. As I would cast my mind over the day, I would see evidence of what God had done for one of us that I had not recognized in the busy moments of the day. As that happened, and it happened often, I realized that trying to remember had allowed God to show me what He had done.

O Remember, Remember,” General Conference, October 2007

Today, I will write in my journal about how the Lord has blessed me and my family. The words I write may be beneficial to others. But even if they are not, the process of writing will be beneficial to me.

2 thoughts on “John Whitmer, Record-keeper

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  1. My brother taught me the importance of writing down our thoughts and emotions. When I was going through a stressful time in my life, I wrote to my brother explaining what was going on. He told me that it would help if I wrote out what I was feeling and why. As I started writing, my thoughts became more clear. As you said, writing forces us to think more carefully. As we write out our emotions and thoughts, we can better materialize what is going on. I feel that as we are able to think more carefully and clearer on certain matters, the spirit can better prompt and guide us.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Landon. I agree that writing can open our minds to inspiration from the Holy Ghost. Taking the time and making the effort to clarify our thoughts also enables Him to influence our thoughts and provide guidance.

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