Viewpoint: A Testimony Requires Nurturing
Contributed By the Church News
“Sophistry, doubt and the craft of misbelief have surged in threatening torrents about the delicate roots of the feeble plant of my faith; yet through the protecting care of the All Merciful, these dark rivers have been made to yield nutriment and impart strength to the rising stem and its sprouting branches.” —Elder James E. Talmage, former member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
It is thrilling to hear accounts of those who receive a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As impressive as they are, such accounts vary in detail and circumstances.
Parley P. Pratt (1807–1857), after years of religious truth-seeking in his youth, was introduced to the Book of Mormon in his young adulthood.
He recounted, “I read all day; eating was a burden, I had no desire for food; sleep was a burden when the night came, for I preferred reading to sleep.
“As I read, the Spirit of the Lord was upon me, and I knew and comprehended that the book was true, as plainly and manifestly as a man comprehends and knows that he exists. My joy was now full, as it were, and I rejoiced sufficiently to more than pay me for all the sorrows, sacrifices and toils of my life” (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt).
He then sought out the Prophet Joseph Smith, was baptized, and eventually became a member of the original Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in this dispensation.
Compare his account with that of James E. Talmage (1862–1933)—not as dramatic, perhaps, but no less impressive.
When he was 30 years old, 18 years before he would be ordained an Apostle, he wrote, “You ask me to tell you how I received my testimony that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true Church of God. I cannot tell you, for I do not know myself. That I have such a testimony, an unquestionable knowledge of the truth of this work, I am most certain; but how or when such knowledge came to me I know not any more than I know the moment which marks the passing away of night and the dawning of day” (Young Woman’s Journal, Mar. 1893).
Brother Talmage was not born into the Church, he wrote, but from his earliest memories of childhood was acquainted with the teachings of the Latter-day Saints because his parents had previously learned of the restored gospel.
“I have never been without an assurance of the divinity of this cause, and therefore, I claim no honor for having gained such knowledge. I regard it as the greatest gift of God to me on earth; for though it is a natural endowment, I am nonetheless certain of its divine origin. I cannot remember a time when I did not live, yet I know that my life is a gift of our Heavenly Father; so also is my testimony of His will.”
A brilliant scholar, chemist, and geologist, Brother Talmage added that one should not conclude his faith had never been challenged.
“I call to mind many periods of sore temptation and trial, when snares of the wily adversary have been set with alluring baits of mis-called science, and that which men style wisdom,” he wrote. “Sophistry, doubt and the craft of misbelief have surged in threatening torrents about the delicate roots of the feeble plant of my faith; yet through the protecting care of the All Merciful, these dark rivers have been made to yield nutriment and impart strength to the rising stem and its sprouting branches.”
Yet another scholar and Apostle of this dispensation, Elder Joseph F. Merrill (1868–1952), was born into a faith-filled home and steeped in the doctrines of the Latter-day Saints. But his testimony did not come so easily in the beginning.
From age 10, he prayed fervently to receive a divine witness, but his prayers were not answered until he was 19, just as he was about to go away from home to enroll at a university.
“Had I left without an answer, I may have forgotten to continue to pray, for college life is none too helpful to a religious faith,” he reflected. “Many students begin to study science, as I did, and many students of science begin to feel sooner or later that there is no personal God. I always remembered the remarkable way in which the Lord answered me, so I never forgot to pray” (Improvement Era, May 1944, 348).
Among those of us who receive a divine witness of gospel truth, there will be those who, like Elder Pratt, receive such a manifestation immediately when they are exposed to it after a period of searching. Others, like Elder Talmage, are blessed to have had such a witness instilled within their consciousness and nurtured seemingly from birth or very early childhood. Still others, like Elder Merrill, must persist in faith and prayer through years of struggle before the blessing ultimately comes.
And like Elder Talmage, many on occasion will be required to withstand challenges to their faith and testimony as they strive to endure to the end.
While a testimony of truth is always a gift from God, it is important to note that few, if any, are able to find that path unaided in the first place or are able to remain on that path thereafter without considerable nurturing. That is why the Lord Jesus Christ commissions prophets and apostles to minister to the inhabitants of the earth and calls faithful men and women to serve under their direction.
In a sense we are all like the Ethiopian whom Philip encountered as the man was reading from the words of Isaiah (see Acts 8:26-40).
Philip asked him, “Understandest thou what thou readest?” He replied, “How can I, except some man should guide me?” (Perhaps some of us who have read Isaiah can relate to that!)
Philip then expounded the scripture, showing how it pertains to the mission of Jesus Christ, thus aiding the Ethiopian to gain understanding that led to his acceptance of the gospel.
We can gain inspiration and motivation from reading or hearing of others’ faith-building experiences. But how or when or under what circumstances we receive a witness from God are not nearly so important as whether we do receive it and continue to build on it as we fulfill our mortal probation.