One of the best ways to learn the gospel is to search the scriptures.
The word search means to inquire into, study, and examine for the purpose of discovering the meaning. Searching implies more than just reading or even memorizing.
When Jesus told the Jews to “search the scriptures,” he was talking to men who prided themselves on their acquaintance with the scriptures. They had spent their lives reading and memorizing them. They could and did quote reams of scripture in support of their apostate rules and rituals. They had wholly failed, however, to discover their true message.
You will recall that the Jews to whom he spoke were finding fault, claiming that Jesus had broken the law of Moses by healing the infirm man on the Sabbath day. Jesus wasted no time, however, disputing their petty technicalities. Being the Lord of the Sabbath, he chose to respond to their charges by so declaring himself. Because they rejected the Lord and his explanation of the relationship between his Heavenly Father and himself, he told them they were without knowledge of the word of God of which they claimed to be masters. “With humiliating directness He admonished [them to] … ‘Search the scriptures, … for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me’” (James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1977, p. 211; see also John 5:39). Had they understood the scriptures they would have accepted the prophecies of Moses and the prophets concerning the promised Messiah and would have recognized in Jesus their fulfillment.
This incident from the life and teachings of Jesus graphically distinguishes between searching and wresting the scriptures and reveals the awful consequences of wresting them. Searching them for the purpose of discovering what they teach as enjoined by Jesus is a far cry from hunting through them for the purpose of finding passages which can be pressed into service to support a predetermined conclusion. “Behold,” said Alma, “the scriptures are before you; if ye will wrest them it shall be to your own destruction” (Alma 13:20).
In all dispensations holy men have been taught and instructed from heaven with respect to the gospel of Jesus Christ. These teachings and instructions have been preserved in the scriptures so that all who will may learn whom to worship, how to worship, and how to live in order to accomplish the purpose of mortality and thereby gain the promised rewards.
It seems to me that a study of the Old Testament yields convincing proof of the value and rewards for searching the scriptures.
The writings of Moses constituted the scriptures for ancient Israel. Included in them was the “Book of the Law.” As the following examples illustrate, over and over again the Lord urged Israel to search these scriptures and live by “the law.”
—To Joshua, who was to lead Israel over Jordan into the promised land, the Lord said:
“Be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest.
“This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success” (Josh. 1:7–8).
Note that Joshua was to “meditate therein [upon the law] day and night,” an important step in understanding the scriptures.
—The story of Israel is one long series of heights and depths, lights and shadows. Both the people and their civilization rise and fall as they search and obey or neglect and reject the law of the scriptures.
Following the Babylonian captivity, one of the first things the humbled Jews did upon their return to Jerusalem was gather “themselves together … [and direct] Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses … before the congregation. … And he read therein … the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading” (Neh. 8:1–3, 8).
—Isaiah’s counsel was to test familiar spirits and wizards by the teachings of the scriptures.
“To the law and to the testimony,” he said, “if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa. 8:19–20).
—During his post-resurrection ministry among the Nephites (who were Israelites in America), Jesus admonished them to search the scriptures. Commenting on the words of Isaiah, he said, “Behold, I say unto you, that ye ought to search these things. Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search [them] diligently. …
“Give heed to my words; write the things which I have told you; and according to the time and the will of the Father they shall go forth unto the Gentiles. And whosoever will hearken unto my words and repenteth and is baptized, the same shall be saved. Search the prophets, for many there be that testify of these things” (3 Ne. 23:1, 4–5; italics added).
Then Jesus further emphasized the importance of the scriptures by directing the Nephites to write into them certain things they had omitted (see 3 Ne. 23:6–14).
—As in former dispensations, so in this last dispensation men have been taught and instructed directly from heaven with respect to the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the preface to the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord said, “Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled” (D&C 1:37).
—To the Prophet Joseph and Oliver Cowdery, the Lord said, “Behold, I say unto you that you shall let your time be devoted to the studying of the scriptures” (D&C 26:1).
—In the great revelation known as the law of the Church, it is written:
“Thou shalt take the things which thou hast received, which have been given unto thee in my scriptures for a law, to be my law to govern my church;
“And he that doeth according to these things shall be saved, and he that doeth them not shall be damned if he so continue” (D&C 42:59–60).
One cannot honestly study the scriptures without learning gospel principles because the scriptures have been written to preserve principles for our benefit.
Learning the gospel from the written word, however, is not enough. It must also be lived. As a matter of fact, getting a knowledge of the gospel and living it are interdependent. They go hand in hand. One cannot fully learn the gospel without living it. A knowledge of the gospel comes by degrees: one learns a little, obeys what he learns; learns a little more and obeys that. This cycle continues in an endless round. Such is the pattern by which one can move on to a full knowledge of the gospel.
This year, as adult members of the Church, we will study the Old Testament. One approach that I have found helpful to an understanding of the Old Testament is to learn from other scriptures what the most righteous people who were on the scene had to say. Such men as Abraham, Moses, Lehi, and Nephi qualify as specialists on Old Testament matters. We are most fortunate to have some of the teachings of these men preserved for our use. I think we should study them and follow their counsel if we desire to understand and teach the message of the gospel from the Old Testament.
The writings of Abraham, Moses, and Enoch as recorded in the Pearl of Great Price and the writings of Lehi and Nephi as recorded in the Book of Mormon are a great asset in understanding the purpose and intent of the earliest Old Testament writings. For example, they make very clear the origin and nature of man.
For many years I had an assignment from the First Presidency to serve on what was known as the Church Publications Committee. We were expected to read and pass upon material submitted for use in the study courses of our auxiliary organizations. In reading these materials my spirit was sometimes offended by the use of language which expressed the views of those who did not believe in the mission of Adam. I have reference to words and phrases such as “primitive man,” “prehistoric man,” “before men learned to write,” and the like. Sometimes these terms are used in ways which evidence a misunderstanding of the mission of Adam. The connotation of these terms, as used by unbelievers, is out of harmony with our understanding of the mission of Adam, as taught by such teachers as Enoch, Moses, and Nephi.
“Adam fell that men might be” (2 Ne. 2:25). There were no pre-Adamic men in the line of Adam. The Lord said that Adam was the first man (see Moses 1:34, Moses 3:7; D&C 84:16). The Lord also said that Adam was the first flesh (see Moses 3:7), which, as I understand it, means the first mortal on the earth. I understand from a statement made by Enoch, in the book of Moses, that there was no death in the world before Adam (see Moses 6:48; 2 Ne. 2:22). Enoch also said that a record of Adam was kept in a book which had been written under the tutelage of the Almighty himself.
Consider the deep import of the truth revealed in this scripture:
“And Enoch continued his speech, saying: The Lord which spake with me, the same is the God of heaven, and he is my God, and your God, and ye are my brethren, and why counsel ye yourselves, and deny the God of heaven?
“The heavens he made; the earth is his footstool; and the foundation thereof is his. Behold, he laid it, an host of men hath he brought in upon the face thereof.
“And death hath come upon our fathers; nevertheless we know them, and cannot deny, and even the first of all we know, even Adam.
“For a book of remembrance we have written among us, according to the pattern given by the finger of God; and it is given in our own language.
“And as Enoch spake forth the words of God, the people trembled, and could not stand in his presence” (Moses 6:43–47).
I am not a scientist. I do not profess to know much about what they know. My emphasis is on Jesus Christ, and him crucified, and the revealed principles of his gospel. If, however, there are some things in the strata of the earth indicating there were men before Adam, then they were not the ancestors of Adam. And we should avoid using language and ideas that would cause confusion on this matter.
If we confuse the missions of Adam and Eve, we also confuse our understanding of the Savior’s mission. The consequences of the missions performed by Adam and Eve made necessary the atonement wrought by Jesus. Such is the major message of the Old Testament, which was a precursor to the fulfillment of Christ’s atoning mission. The practice of blood sacrifice was instituted to point man’s thoughts forward to the great atoning sacrifice of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Lehi and Nephi taught these truths. In fact, one of the clearest explanations of the Old Testament’s great message is contained in their writings as found in the Book of Mormon (see 1 Ne. 20–21; 2 Ne. 6–8, 12–25).
It was because of the importance of Old Testament teachings that the Lord inspired Lehi to send his sons back to Jerusalem to get the brass plates from Laban. That’s an important idea. The Lord sent Lehi’s sons back to Jerusalem to get the plates, to get the Old Testament—that’s what those plates contained. The Lord did not want this new people he was going to raise up from the seed of Lehi to be without those records. As Nephi states:
“And now when my father saw all these things, he was filled with the Spirit, and began to prophesy concerning his seed—
“That these plates of brass [which contained the Old Testament records] should go forth unto all nations, kindreds, tongues and people who were of his seed. …
“And it came to pass that thus far I and my father had kept the commandments wherewith the Lord had commanded us.
“And we had obtained the records which the Lord had commanded us, and searched them and found that they were desirable; yea, even of great worth unto us, insomuch that we could preserve the commandments of the Lord unto our children” (1 Ne. 5:17–21).
Later, Lehi said to his son Jacob: “Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise.
“Wherefore, he is the firstfruits unto God, inasmuch as he shall make intercession for all the children of men; and they that believe in him shall be saved” (2 Ne. 2:8–9).
The Old Testament testifies of Christ’s coming and his mission. Nephi helps us understand this message of the Old Testament when he comments on the teachings of Isaiah. I do not think there is a more simple or clear and relevant explanation of the Old Testament message than the one in chapters 25 through 33 of 2 Nephi [2 Ne. 25–33]. It would seem to me that a careful, prayerful study of these chapters would be a requirement for anyone who wanted to understand and teach the message of the Old Testament. In these chapters Nephi sifted out the important from the unimportant. He also explained how these teachings are important to us who live in the latter days. Using his own people as an example, he said:
“For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.
“And, notwithstanding we believe in Christ, we keep the law of Moses, and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled.
“For, for this end was the law given; wherefore the law hath become dead unto us, and we are made alive in Christ because of our faith; yet we keep the law because of the commandments.
“And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins” (2 Ne. 25:23–26).
That was Nephi, way back between 500 and 600 years before Christ, teaching what he had learned from the Old Testament records that were on the brass plates. That is good counsel for those of us who are parents and teachers today. The Old Testament teaches the message of salvation and the commandments we must obey in order to partake of salvation.
People who walk in darkness may not be able to discern the fundamental meaning and the basic principles contained in the Old Testament. But as Latter-day Saints, we are left without excuse. Therefore, it is very important that we do not hide the true teachings in the Old Testament from our children or our students by getting lost in things of lesser importance. We should concentrate on the wheat and not the chaff.
The Old Testament, like other scriptures, is a handbook on how to proceed in times of threatened adversity. Because of the sharp and graphic contrasts that have been preserved in it, the lessons become unmistakable. As observed in one of our early Sunday School manuals, “The language of the Bible never leaves one in doubt in the matter of choice between good and evil.
“Like other books, it reveals the thoughts and feelings of the age which it portrays. Unlike other books, it gives us very distinct ideas of God and our relations to him” (Old Testament Studies, vol. 1, pp. 3, 1).
We do not have space here to consider all of the important lessons which can be taught from the Old Testament—such things as authority, priesthood, obedience, loyalty, unity, faith, the importance of following the living prophets, and many other subjects of vital importance. I will, however, briefly discuss a few Old Testament teachings which seem particularly relevant.
The Old Testament provides many examples of the importance of heeding and following the Lord’s warnings concerning impending distress or disaster. The Lord warned Joseph, and the people of Egypt survived a famine because they heeded his words. The Lord preserved the human family and other forms of life through Noah’s obedience in building the ark. He preserved Moses, Abraham, Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego. He warned Israel on numerous occasions. At times they heeded and at times they did not. In our own dispensation the warning to prepare has been declared repeatedly. In the preface of the Doctrine and Covenants we read this emphatic statement: “Prepare ye, prepare ye for that which is to come, for the Lord is nigh” (D&C 1:12).
The Lord knows of the calamity which is to come upon the inhabitants of the earth before he comes, and he has given directions for our protection, just as he did in days of old. The record in the Old Testament should be a lesson for us. Through the revealed welfare program, the Church is today pointing the way to the solution of society’s economic problems. In the future, a disintegrating generation can point to that solution as a light on a hill capable of solving the world’s chaotic disorder. Civilization is crumbling while the Church is moving forward on the same eternal principles taught in the Old Testament. Our young people need to learn the importance of preparation and the principles that make it possible. This can be accomplished in large part from a study of the Old Testament.
We today have been given the responsibility to warn the inhabitants of the earth. The only people who authoritatively can call them to repentance are the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Such a call cannot be made without a divine commission, and no other people have this divine commission. We must remember this solemn responsibility and ponder it in our minds and hearts. There is nothing vindictive in our call for repentance. It is a message of salvation and hope, not condemnation. This was true in the Old Testament days of Jonah, it was true in Paul’s day, and it is true today. Those who come to know God learn that he is a living and loving God. It has always been so. God does not change.
But, before we attempt to teach our neighbors and loved ones, we should remember that the Lord gave us some specific instructions concerning teaching:
“Ye are not sent forth to be taught,” he said, “but to teach the children of men the things which I have put into your hands by the power of my Spirit.
“And ye are to be taught from on high. Sanctify yourselves and ye shall be endowed with power, that ye may give even as I have spoken” (D&C 43:15–16).
As Latter-day Saints, we are commissioned to deliver that which we receive from the Lord to those we teach. Sometimes, though, we attempt to teach without first obtaining the proper information and spirit.
Hyrum Smith, the Prophet’s brother, was instructed concerning this matter in a revelation given before the Church was organized. Being much impressed by the message of the Restoration, he wanted to go forth and preach before he had given the Lord opportunity to prepare him. In the revelation, the Lord said:
“Behold, I command you that you need not suppose that you are called to preach until you are called.
“Wait a little longer, until you shall have my word, my rock, my church, and my gospel, that you may know of a surety my doctrine.
“And then, behold, according to your desires, yea, even according to your faith shall it be done unto you.
“Keep my commandments; hold your peace, appeal unto my Spirit; …
“Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed; then, if you desire, you shall have my Spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men” (D&C 11:15–18, 21).
For those of us who desire to effectively share the gospel, there are some very important lessons taught in this message: We must put our lives in order so the Lord’s Spirit can influence our thoughts and actions—so we can be taught from on high. We must work and study his word with full desire until his teachings become our teachings. Then we will be able to speak with power and conviction. If we choose to follow some other path of preparation, we have no assurance of success. We will end up delivering our own ideas or some other man’s ideas, and we will not be profitable servants of the Lord. The primary source of the Lord’s word is in the standard works, augmented as needed by living prophets.
I feel that it is important for us to become familiar with these spiritual fundamentals. When I pray for the Spirit of the Lord to help me in my life and to teach, I pray for the spirit of revelation, the help of the Holy Ghost. The Lord said that we should receive the Spirit by the prayer of faith. Nephi said on one occasion that “when a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men” (2 Ne. 33:1). I am persuaded that one of the deepest truths, the most glorious principles, revealed to the world during the Restoration is that “the Spirit giveth light to every man that cometh into the world; and the Spirit enlighteneth every man through the world, that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit. And everyone that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit cometh unto God, even the Father” (D&C 84:46–47).
I have confidence that as the Church grows and as we get used to being guided by that Spirit, we will be able to more successfully do the work of the Lord in our homes and in the world to bring many souls to Christ.