October 12, 2010
Almost half a century ago I taught a
Sunday School class of teenagers in Southern California. There were about fifty in the class,
including a young man who naturally surpassed most of the others in athleticism
and leadership attributes. Upon
graduation from high school he attended a very liberal university in the West
and disassociated himself from the Church.
In his view he had grown beyond the simple truths of the Restoration.
The summer following his freshman
year he returned to his home. As a
courtesy to his parents he accompanied them to our worship services. One Sunday we sat next to each other in a
Sunday School meeting. A boy was at the
pulpit bearing his testimony of Joseph Smith.
My friend whispered to me: “How could a boy possibly know whether Joseph
was a prophet?” I invited my friend to
my home to answer that question, and a dozen others.
When he arrived, there was a large
bundle of books under his arm, signaling that this conversation was destined to
be a very long one, unless it was a very short one. I said, “Before you begin with your long
series of queries and doubts, may I ask just one question? “Who wrote the Book of Mormon?”
His face paled. “Why do you have to ask that question?” he
inquired. “For almost all the other
questions I have fashioned an answer which does not require embracing the
faith. But I read the book; I felt
something; I cannot bring myself to say the book is not true.”
“Then you have already answered most
of the rest of your questions,” I said.
“If the book is true, Joseph was a prophet—not a sometimes prophet—not a
Sunday prophet—but the great prophet of the Restoration, and from that
knowledge consequences flow.” He left my
home discouraged and with his books unopened.
He could not deny what he had felt while reading the Book of Mormon.
The Savior said to the people of the
American continent: “I will try the
faith of my people.”
The faith of every one of us, even the
very elect, must be tested. The test
will be real because it will seldom be the type of test we anticipated. If you lose your childlike faith, you will
someday lament in the words of King Saul: “I have played the fool, and have
Before you came to this earth you
may have prayed a thousand times ten thousand times that during the course of
your earthly journey you would find the truth—or that it would find you—and
that you would thereafter remain as true to that testimony as the needle is to
the pole. Every night and morning of
your life you ought to plead with the Lord that you never lose your faith,
virtue or testimony; for the possession of these in the next world will mean
more to you than you can possibly imagine.
Mortality is just a dot on the
spectrum of eternity, but it is a very important dot because it is the
probationary or testing period. It is a
closed-book test in that you cannot recall how important it was to you in a pre-mortal
estate that covenants are kept. Worlds
without end you will live with the consequences of having kept or lost your
If you want to sustain your faith
and virtue, immerse yourself in the Book of Mormon. It is impregnable, and its penetrating,
soaring spirit will fill your soul with light, joy and testimony. There may be storms in life, but they will
harmlessly roll beneath the hull of the ship if you are faithful in your Book
of Mormon reading. This I promise you.
I recently completed one of my many,
many immersions in the book. I was not
in a hurry. With pen in hand I made over
six hundred notes, some as preludes to spiritual journeys. Dozens of times my soul was stirred and I
wrote to myself: “Joseph could never
have written this,” or “This is magnificent; only a true prophet could have
penned these words,” or “This could never have come from a deceitful man,” or
“This verse is proof enough that Joseph was a prophet.” Hundreds of times, sometimes with tears in my
eyes, I looked up from the page and thanked the Lord for the stirring witness
of that book.
In your early readings of the Book
of Mormon you may, at first, be drawn to the faith-promoting stories. As your
testimony matures you will, in even larger proportion, be drawn to the
compelling doctrine and, most of all, to the spirit the book breathes.
Almost a century ago one of the very
literate members of the Council of the Twelve was Elder Orson F. Whitney. A leader of another faith took to task one of
our volumes of scripture. Elder Whitney
responded: “We know Shakespeare’s
writings by the very sound of them—they have the Shakespearean ring, and
thereby literary experts can tell the difference between his writings and all
others. We recognized Milton’s poetry by
the Miltonic ring; the poetry of Byron or Tennyson and the Byronic or
Tennysonian ring. Then, if God speaks,
why should it not have a Godlike ring, something that no man can counterfeit,
nor any but a spiritual expert fully discern or appreciate?”
“That’s the way to answer me,” was
the reply. “I am one with you in the
belief that the highest evidence of the truth and authenticity of any work is
the spirit it breathes and the wisdom it inculcates.”
A few years ago a friend of the
Church approached one of our well-known leaders. The friend said: “At their further request I have prayed about
it, following the counsel of Moroni found in its last chapter. But nothing happened.” The Church leader thoughtfully inquired: “Well, is the book true?” “Of course the book is true,” the friend
answered, “but nothing happened.” The
Church leader smiled. “God revealed to
you the truthfulness of the book while you were reading it. He does not now need to send an angel to
confirm what He has already made known.”
God could produce the gold plates,
but their physical presence would not be a more compelling or sustaining
witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon than the spirit that emanates
from the book.
Most of us acquire our testimonies
of the Book of Mormon while immersed in the pages of the book itself. Dozens of time, as we turn a page, we find
ourselves saying, “That must be from God.”
Nothing could be more persuasive and sustaining than that. The testimony process during reading is
peaceful and sweet, such as no man or evil influence could ever
counterfeit. If you cannot feel the
spirit of this book while reading it, then God is hammering on cold iron. The influence of the Holy Ghost is most often
felt while something else, of spiritual dimension, is happening—such as
attending a worship service, participating in a baptism, serving in the temple,
praying or reading God’s word.
A season ago a man came to one of
the General Authorities and said, “I am just not religious.” The Church leader answered, “How could you
ever hope to be religious? You don’t go to Church, you don’t read the
scriptures, and you don’t pray to God.
What right do you have to be religious?”
The Church leader then spoke of a
toy clown he had seen at Christmas time.
The figure had a lead weight in the crown of its head, which could
always be depended upon to return the clown to an upside-down position.
The Church leader observed that we
do the same thing. We weight our interests, in part by what we read, and then
we respond accordingly. His friend could quote the batting averages of many
major league ballplayers, but he could not quote a single verse of the word of
We are not so different. If we could observe the reading material you
keep next to your bed we would know a great deal about you. If you were placed on a desert island for an
extended period and could only take a handful of books, would you choose the
opinions of men over the word of God?
The Prophet Joseph reminds us that “Spring water tasted best right from
The glorious truths of the gospel are most
compelling when the Book of Mormon pours pure spirituality into our souls.
In 1975 Sister Callister and I
attended a Mission Presidents’ Seminar in Chicago. The presiding General Authority asked the
wife of each mission president to say something unusual or different about her
husband that we would not otherwise have known.
One of the other wives said her husband is the only man she knows who
reads the Book of Mormon once every five weeks.
When he was asked to respond, he acknowledged this was true, confirming
he had read the book thus far twenty-two times while presiding over his
mission. I watched him through the
balance of the seminar. Spirituality
emanated from every pore. He had
weighted the head of the clown with spiritual things by reading the Book of
Mormon in the earliest hours of every morning, and he responded
accordingly. When a man has spent a
lifetime studying the word of God, no one has to tell us. We know it every time he opens his mouth.
C.S. Lewis said: “The sure mark of an unliterary man is that
he considers ‘I’ve read it already’ to be a conclusive argument against reading
a work. … Those who read great works, on
the other hand, will read the same work ten, twenty, or thirty times during the
course of their life.”
Positive evidence of a spiritual infant is
that he considers one reading of the Book of Mormon to suffice. We ought to read the book at least once per
year for the rest of our lives.
President Henry B. Eyring reminds us that “if we become casual in our
study of the scriptures, we will become casual in our prayers. We may not cease to pray, but our prayers
will become more repetitive, more memorized, lacking real intent.”
In 2005, at the urging of President
Hinckley, there was a wonderful surge in Book of Mormon reading. This must be very pleasing to the Lord. How we read the book, however, may be as
important as the fact that we read it at all.
The following suggestions may enrich your reading experience:
1. Don’t Hurry the Journey.
Robert Frost observed that there ought to be
class in slow reading.
The ultimate test is what we learn, feel and
resolve with each reading, not how quickly we have read or how many times we
have perused the book’s pages. Just as we cannot assimilate a great work of art
in seconds, or appreciate all a great museum can offer in an hour or two, our
reading emphasis must be on digestion, not speed. The Lord is not impressed with how many times
you read the book. He is very concerned
with the spiritual success of your reading journey. The book of Mormon is not meant to be briefly
tasted, then swallowed in a passing gulp.
It is to be savored. We are meant
to feel great stirrings within. Like
Nephi, our spirits are to be carried away to high places, followed by the
spontaneous “Wilt Thou make me that I may shake at the appearance of sin?”
As we read with our eyes, we write on the
tablets of our hearts, and from this will come quiet and lasting resolves.
2. Read Out-Loud.
Perhaps this is how the scriptures were meant to be read, especially the
direct words of the Savior and the prophets.
Awareness is heightened when we both see with our eyes and hear with our
ears. Paul taught the saints in Rome
that “faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God.”
a very literal sense we can hear the word of the Lord as we read select
Years ago when I
served as a bishop I received a telephone call one Saturday evening from a
distraught sister in our ward. There had
been tension and angry words in her family through the day. On the eve of the Sabbath she sought counsel
that would bring her peace. I suggested
she take a warm shower, read aloud 3 Nephi 17, pray and retire. The next morning she acknowledged it was a
You would have the same experience if you
read aloud the theophany of Enos—or Nephi’s powerful exhortation to his
brethren in 1 Nephi 17 in which his frame was so full of the Spirit of God that
he had no strength—or Lehi’s, the trembling parent’s eloquent plea in 2 Nephi 1
for his sons to “arise from the dust and be men”
countless other examples that tug at the heartstrings of those who live the
things of godliness. Indeed, if you want
to have a spiritual Pentecost, read aloud all of the Book of Mormon blessings
of fathers to sons, or sermons by fathers to their children.
3. Read with a Pencil. Reading the book of Mormon once with a
pencil, making notes of your impressions, may be of greater worth than reading
it several times without. Writing oft
eliminates the fuzziness of our thinking.
When I became a
General Authority one of the members of the Twelve said to me: “In the next few
months you will receive many impressions from the Lord, on the condition you
write them down. If you stop recording
the experiences, God will stop sending them.”
As we write,
both words and thoughts become less ambiguous.
This is the observation of C.S. Lewis:
“I sometimes think that writing is like driving sheep down a road. If there is any gate open to the left or the
right the readers will most certainly go into it.”
There once lived
a man who was rejected from school at age seven. The teacher said: “He simply doesn’t want to learn.” His mother taught him to read and write. He wore cracked, scuffed shoes, ink-stained
clothes and a tattered hat. In the cold
winter he refused to buy an overcoat.
Instead, he bought scientific books and experimental apparatus. He also had the habit of carrying with him
everywhere he went a pocket notebook into which he scribbled his drawings,
notes and impressions. His name was
Thomas Alva Edison, and it is said that in his lifetime he filled 2,500
notebooks. He seemed to thing better
with a pencil.
4. Read at the Right Time, and With the Right Posture. There are few things of real worth that ought
to be left until the very close of the day.
The 30th Psalm, verse 5 tells us that “joy cometh in the
morning.” Inspiration does also. As you study your scriptures, note the number
of significant things that happened to Joseph, or to Christ, Himself, in the
morning. It is the time of day when
our minds and spirits have been refreshed, and the veil is thin. The Lord commands in D&C 88:124 “arise
early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated.” This is the time to receive the revelations
of the Lord. Twenty minutes of
uninterrupted gospel study in the morning may be worth twice that time at the
close of the day.
5. Pause to Pray Before You Read. Ask the Lord to help you find what He would
have you know and feel. You are not
likely to find anything if you are not looking for something. The Book of Mormon is our greatest
prayer-text. It has our most powerful
sermons on the Atonement. Its teachings
on faith are sublime and unsurpassed. It
is our greatest treatise on the blessings and destiny of Israel. At every reading look for one or more of
these messages and you will find hidden treasures.
Southern Russia there is a large city named Volgograd. In earlier years it was called
Stalingrad. One of the decisive and
extended battles of the Second World War was fought there. About 800,000 Germans died, together with
1,200,000 Russians. The city was
destroyed. Even today there is a
lingering memory and animosity on the part of older Russians toward the German
One of our Area Seventies in Eastern
Europe was Elder Manfred Schuetze, a German.
He speaks Russian fluently. He
was once assigned to preside over a district conference in Volgograd. He accepted with some trepidation, knowing
the reservoir of hatred some Russians harbored toward Germans. He began the first meeting of the district
conference with these words: “My dear
Russian brothers and sisters: The Germans are back. I am one of them. This time I have brought new weapons.” He held up the Book of Mormon. They loved him. At a later date he gave some of them their
patriarchal blessings in their native tongue.
The spirit of the Book of Mormon can penetrate every barrier as it
touches men’s hearts.
When I was a student in law school I
acquired a friend with whom I studied the law.
He was a devout member of another Christian faith. Sometimes we spoke of politics, sports or
religion, but generally our conversations were centered in the law cases we
were required to review. One day I sat
opposite him in the law library, quietly reading. He closed his book, looked, up, and
said: “I can’t stand it any longer. How could anyone trained in the reasoning
process of the law like you ever believe a story as incredible as the story of
Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon?”
I closed my book. “Is the Bible true?” I inquired. “Of course,” he said. “How do you know it is true?” I asked. “The Bible is true because it is the Bible,”
he answered. “Everyone knows it is
true.” I could see from the pained
expression on his face that he was not altogether satisfied with the depth of
“Imagine,” I said, “That I have just
come from a distant, non-Christian land, and now in my early twenties for the
first time learned of the Bible. I read
in this Bible of a six-day creation. I
read that the sun stood still. I read that a sea was parted. I read of a virgin birth. I read of men raised form the dead. I read of the most extraordinary
miracles. Could you imagine my saying to
you, ‘How could anyone trained in the reasoning process of the law like you
ever believe a story as incredible as the story of the Holy Bible?’” (repeating
to him the same words with which he had indicted my faith in the Book of
My friend blushed. He continued:
“I suppose that if you never heard of the Bible until two decades after
your birth it might be a little more difficult to accept.”
“Would it be important for me to
know if the Bible contains the Word of God?”
I inquired. “Of course,” he
said. “But how could I know?” My friend thoughtfully answered: “You would
have to read the book with an open mind, asking God in prayer whether the book
is true.” I loved his answer, and
returned to him the same prescription, to be applied to reading the Book of
Mormon, with the assurance he would as easily have believed in the Book of
Mormon as the Bible if he had only learned of it in the same hour.
When parents and teachers read to me
as a young boy the stories of the Bible, I often wished I had lived in the
meridian of time and had been there. I
would like to have been a Bethlehem shepherd to observe the great star in
heaven. I would like to have seen the
infant Deliverer who cried. I would like
to have heard the very voice of the Master, for “never man spake like this
In similar thought and urging I
often wished I could have lived in Book of Mormon times. I would like to have seen and felt the love
of the first Nephi who “watered his pillow by night”
because of his affection for the people.
I would like to have known his reverie after he had been carried away
upon exceedingly high mountains “upon the wings of [God’s] spirit”
and his eyes “beheld great things, yea, even too great for man.”
I may have trembled to hear his eloquent
plea: “Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin.
Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.”
I would like to have felt the faith
and power of Abinadi’s testimony as he told King Noah his life should be
“valued even as a garment in a hot furnace,”
and “Touch me not, for God shall smite you.”
I would like to have seen Lehi’s
vision of the tree of life.
I would like to have known the
brothers Nephi and Lehi, for whom the veil ceased to exist, for they had “many
I would like to have been part of
the multitude who saw with their eyes and felt with their hands the wounds of
the resurrected Savior and heard the voice bearing record that He was “the God
of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and [had] been slain for the sins of
I would like to have seen noble,
righteous Nephi bow “himself before the Lord and kiss his feet.”
I would like to have heard the
Savior’s prayer, too sacred to be recorded.
And such is only the beginning of
the times while reading the book that thought has taken flight, and I have
wished to be an eye and ear witness.
The more often I read, the greater
the realization of this dream. Nephi,
Lehi, Alma, Helaman, Moroni and other shooting stars of righteousness, whose
names and lives are so richly interwoven into the pages of the Book of Mormon,
are no longer characters of the distant past.
To return to their writings is to return to the house of my friends.
In these great times of refreshing
and restoration the Lord has promised to yet bring forth other wonderful
scriptures, in which will be revealed all things from the beginning until the
end of time. There will be the sealed
portion of the Book of Mormon, the brass plates, the records of Zenos and
Zenoch, the panoramic writings of Enoch, the testaments of Joseph and Abraham,
the complete record of John the Revelator, Adam’s Book of Remembrance, and many
more sacred texts. But these writings
will not come forth until God has tried the faith of His people, to see if they
will read and live by the abundant scriptures we already have. Not two-thirds, but all of the gold plates,
are sealed to those who will not read.
When we read and believe these things, then shall the greater things be
For many years I practiced law in
Southern California. About twenty-five
years ago one of my clients died. He was
a wealthy physician. He had never been
married; he had never been a parent; he had never concerned himself with
religious things. His life was devoted
to the acquisition of treasures from his travels throughout the world.
These worldly acquisitions were
openly displayed in his two expensive homes.
They included a magnificent library, some of the volumes being
Everything was sold, in part to pay
the large federal estate tax. The
executrix of the estate then came to my office and said: “I have just walked
through the decedent’s home for the last time.
Nothing remains—not even his vast library. We were able to sell everything, except one
book. Years ago someone gave him a book
entitled the Book of Mormon. We were not able to sell it; we could not
give it away.” Such splendid and proper
irony here! The only thing the doctor owned of any worth, the copy of the Book
of Mormon, was the only thing that could not be sold.
The storms of life will surely come,
for God will turn neither to the right nor to the left as to the prophecies of
the latter-days. Some, unhappily, will
become causal and lukewarm, and they may lose their testimonies. They will forget how many times their
pre-earthly prayers pled with the Lord that this would never happen. When they return to the presence of the
Father they will seek the shadows and hide their faces in shame that they did
not fulfill their missions on this earth.
If you wish it to be otherwise, nourish a lifelong love affair with the
Book of Mormon. It is the one book with
comes to us with the personal testimony of the Almighty, for He said “As your
Lord and your God liveth it is true.”
I add my personal witness to that of
Divinity. I have not only read the book
dozens of times; I have felt the book dozens of times and the spirit it
breathes. I testify of this book. And my
witness is true.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Whitney, Through Memory’s Halls
Sterling W. Sill, November 9. 1965, BYU Speeches of the Year, 1965, 9
The Words of Joseph Smith, 122
C.S. Lewis, The Quotable Lewis
Elder Henry B. Eyring, October 2001 Conference Report
Susan Easton Black, Expressions of Faith:
Testimonies of Latter-day Saint Scholars
C.S. Lewis, The Quotable Lewis
Wendell J. Ashton, Ensign, October 1960