Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Cautionary Tale of James Covill

James Covill had been a baptist minister for about forty years when he approached Joseph Smith just a few days after a conference in Fayette, New York, in 1831. Then and there he covenanted with the Lord that he would obey any command that the Lord gave to him through Joseph Smith the Prophet.

The Lord approved of the covenant of Reverend Covill, saying: "Behold, I say unto you, my servant James, I have looked upon thy works and I know thee. And verily I say unto thee, thine heart is now right before me at this time" (D&C 39:7-8). The Lord responded to the covenant with two commandments, each tied to specific blessings that were conditional on James Covill's fulfillment of the commandment given.

The first commandment was to enter in by the gate; to be baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. The Lord promises that if James Covill will hearken to this command, God would wash away his sins, provide "a blessing so great as you never have known", and give Mr. Covill a greater work to do.

The second commandment was the greater work promised with the fulfillment of the first: James Covill should be called serve a mission in Ohio. Again conditional blessings are offered for Mr. Covill's obedience. If James Covill would serve a mission and help the Lord keep his covenant to the house of Israel, the Lord promises that "power shall rest upon thee; thou shalt have great faith, and I will be with thee and go before thy face" (v. 12).

In Matthew 13, Christ teaches the parable of the sower. In the parable, seeds that were sewn into good ground grew into plants and brought forth fruit. Yet, some of the seeds that were sewn never grew into plants but were eaten by birds, choked by weeds, or unable to take root because of hard, stony ground. Expounding the parable to his disciples, Christ explained, "he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; yet hath he not root in himself... [and] when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended" (v. 20-21).

So it was with James Covill. Speaking of James Covill, the Lord explained to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon that "he received the word with gladness, but straightway Satan tempted him; and the fear of persecution and the cares of the world caused him to reject the word" (D&C 40:2). President Joseph Fielding Smith explained that James Covill "was convinced of the truth... However, when he withdrew from the influence of the Spirit of the Lord and had time to consider the fact that he would lose the fellowship of the world, and his place and position among his associates, he failed and rejected the promises and blessings which the Lord offered him" (Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:174).

Like James Covill, the Lord has extended wonderful promises and blessings to each of us. These blessings are extended through patriarchal and other priesthood blessings; covenants made through baptism, ordination, endowment, and/or marriage; the scriptures, conference talks and modern revelation through living prophets; and personal prayers and covenants with the Lord. These and other blessings are within our grasp, if we will hearken to the voice of the Lord. For "when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated" (D&C 130:21, see also D&C 82:10).

We can be like Naaman of old, who obtained his greatest desire and was cured of leprosy by humbly following the word of God given through his prophet, Elisha. Or we can fear the world-- fear losing friends, fear appearing out of step with modern science or 'intellectual' thought, fear the ridicule or persecution of those in the great and spacious building-- and, by letting go of the iron rod that is God's word, forfeit the marvelous blessings the Lord is wanting and ready to give us.

If there is a blessing you desire in your life, I urge you to study and pray to know how you might obtain the righteous desires of your heart. If there is a commandment the Lord has given to you, generally or specifically, I invite you to obey with full vigor of heart and soul that you may see the blessings of God sprout and grow and bear fruit.

I know that God lives, that we are His children, and that he has prepared blessings "so great as [we] have never known" for each of us. For if we know how to give good gifts to our children, "how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him" (Matthew 7:11)? The choice is ours.

My hope for you and for me is that we will keep our hearts right before the Lord, filled with faith and courage, that the Lord may prosper you and I with our greatest desires and the riches of eternity through our humble obedience. If we will obey, it will be so.


  1. “I sat in a class in Sunday School in my own ward one day, and the teacher was the son of a patriarch. He said he used to take down the blessings of his father, and he noticed that his father gave what he called ‘iffy’ blessings. He would give a blessing, but it was predicated on . . . ‘if you will cease doing that.’ And he said, ‘I watched these men to whom my father gave the “iffy” blessings, and I saw that many of them did not heed the warning that my father as a patriarch had given, and the blessings were never received because they did not comply.’

    “You know, this started me thinking. I went back into the Doctrine and Covenants and began to read the ‘iffy’ revelations that have been given to the various brethren in the Church. If you want to have an exercise in something that will startle you, read some of the warnings that were given through the Prophet Joseph Smith to Thomas B. Marsh, Martin Harris, some of the Whitmer brothers, William E. McLellin—warnings which, had they heeded, some would not have fallen by the wayside. But because they did not heed, and they didn’t clear up their lives, they fell by the wayside, and some had to be dropped from membership in the Church.” (

    Harold B. Lee in Conference Report, Oct. 1972, p. 130; or Ensign, Jan. 1973, pp. 107–8.)

  2. I want to know the life history of Brother Covill. Anybody know where I can find out what happened to him after 1831?