We often sing a favorite hymn, the words written well over a century ago by Parley P. Pratt:
An angel from on high
The long, long silence broke;
Descending from the sky,
These gracious words he spoke:
Lo! in Cumorah’s lonely hill
A sacred record lies concealed.
Lo! in Cumorah’s lonely hill
A sacred record lies concealed.
(Hymns, 1985, no. 13.)
These words represent Elder Pratt’s declaration of the miraculous coming forth of a most remarkable book. Permit me to tell you how Parley Pratt came to know of the book about which he wrote. Many of you will have seen aspects of this story as they are beautifully portrayed in the Church film, “The Book of Mormon: How Rare a Possession!”
In August 1830, as a lay preacher, Parley Parker Pratt was traveling from Ohio to eastern New York. At Newark, along the Erie Canal, he left the boat and walked ten miles into the country, where he met a Baptist deacon by the name of Hamlin, who told him “of a book, a STRANGE BOOK, a VERY STRANGE BOOK! … This book, he said, purported to have been originally written on plates either of gold or brass, by a branch of the tribes of Israel; and to have been discovered and translated by a young man near Palmyra, in the State of New York, by the aid of visions, or the ministry of angels. I inquired of him how or where the book was to be obtained. He promised me the perusal of it, at his house the next day. … Next morning I called at his house, where, for the first time, my eyes beheld the ‘BOOK OF MORMON’—that book of books … which was the principal means, in the hands of God, of directing the entire course of my future life.
“I opened it with eagerness, and read its title page. I then read the testimony of several witnesses in relation to the manner of its being found and translated. After this I commenced its contents by course. 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.” (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, 3d ed., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938, pp. 36–37.)
Parley Pratt was then twenty-three years of age. Reading the Book of Mormon affected him so profoundly that he was soon baptized into the Church and became one of its most effective and powerful advocates. In the course of his ministry he traveled from coast to coast across what is now the United States, into Canada, and to England; he directed the opening of the work in the isles of the Pacific and was the first Mormon elder to set foot on the soil of South America. In 1857, while serving a mission in Arkansas, he was killed by an assailant. He was buried in a rural area near the community of Alma, and today in that quiet place a large block of polished granite marks the site of his grave. Incised in its surface are the words of another of his great and prophetic hymns, setting forth his vision of the work in which he was engaged:
The morning breaks; the shadows flee;
Lo, Zion’s standard is unfurled! …
The dawning of a brighter day
Majestic rises on the world.
The clouds of error disappear
Before the rays of truth divine; …
The glory bursting from afar
Wide o’er the nations soon will shine.
(Hymns, 1985, no. 1.)
Parley Pratt’s experience with the Book of Mormon was not unique. As the volumes of the first edition were circulated and read, strong men and women by the hundreds were so deeply touched that they gave up everything they owned, and in the years that followed, not a few gave their lives for the witness they carried in their hearts of the truth of this remarkable volume.
Today, 158 years after its first publication, it is more widely read than at any time in its history. Whereas there were five thousand copies in that first edition, today’s editions are ordered in lots of as many as a million, and the book currently is printed in more than eighty languages.
Its appeal is as timeless as truth, as universal as mankind. It is the only book that contains within its covers a promise that by divine power the reader may know with certainty of its truth.
Its origin is miraculous; when the story of that origin is first told to one unfamiliar with it, it is almost unbelievable. But the book is here to be felt and handled and read. No one can dispute its presence.
All efforts to account for its origin, other than the account given by Joseph Smith, have been shown to lack substance. It is a record of ancient America. It is the scripture of the New World, as certainly as the Bible is the scripture of the Old. Each speaks of the other. Each carries with it the spirit of inspiration, the power to convince and to convert. Together they become two witnesses, hand in hand, that Jesus is the Christ, the resurrected and living Son of the living God.
Its narrative is a chronicle of nations long since gone. But in its descriptions of the problems of today’s society, it is as current as the morning newspaper and much more definitive, inspired, and inspiring concerning the solutions to those problems.
I know of no other writing that sets forth with such clarity the tragic consequences to societies that follow courses contrary to the commandments of God. Its pages trace the stories of two distinct civilizations that flourished on the Western Hemisphere. Each began as a small nation, its people walking in the fear of the Lord. Each prospered, but with prosperity came growing evils. The people succumbed to the wiles of ambitious and scheming leaders who oppressed them with burdensome taxes, who lulled them with hollow promises, who countenanced and even encouraged loose and lascivious living, who led them into terrible wars that resulted in the death of millions and the final extinction of two great civilizations in two different eras.
No other written testament so clearly illustrates the fact that when men and nations walk in the fear of God and in obedience to his commandments, they prosper and grow, but when they disregard him and his word, there comes a decay which, unless arrested by righteousness, leads to impotence and death. The Book of Mormon is an affirmation of the Old Testament proverb, “Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.” (Prov. 14:34.)
While the Book of Mormon speaks with power about the issues that affect our modern society, the great and stirring burden of its message is a testimony, vibrant and true, that Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah. The book bears witness of him who walked the dusty roads of Palestine healing the sick and teaching the doctrines of salvation; who died upon the cross of Calvary; who on the third day came forth from the tomb, appearing to many; and who, as a resurrected being, visited the people of the Western Hemisphere, concerning whom he earlier had said: “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” (John 10:16.)
For centuries the Bible stood alone as a written testimony of the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth. Now, at its side, stands a second and powerful witness to lead mankind to the Lord.
I recall hearing an officer of the United States Air Force stand before a group and tell of the circumstances surrounding his coming into the Church. He said:
“I had a date with a lovely young woman. When I called for her, I noticed on the table a copy of the Book of Mormon. I had never heard of it before. I began to read. I became interested. I secured a copy of the book and read it through.
“I had only the traditional idea of God and Jesus Christ. I had never given serious thought to the matter. But as I read this book there came into my mind light and understanding of eternal truths, and into my heart a testimony that God is our Eternal Father, and that Jesus is our Savior.”
The experience of this man who was influenced by the Book of Mormon is similar to that of millions of others in the past 158 years.
The same book that converted Brigham Young, Willard Richards, Orson and Parley Pratt, and many others of the early leaders of the Church is also converting people today in Argentina, in Finland, in Ghana, in Taiwan, in Tonga, and wherever else men and women are reading it prayerfully and with real intent. The promise of Moroni, written in his loneliness following the destruction of his people, is being fulfilled every day. (See Moro. 10:4–5.)
Each time we encourage others to read the Book of Mormon, we do them a favor. If they read it prayerfully and with a sincere desire to know the truth, they will know by the power of the Holy Ghost that the book is true.
From that knowledge there will flow a conviction of the truth of many other things. For if the Book of Mormon is true, then God lives. Testimony upon testimony runs through its pages of the solemn fact that our Father is real, that he is personal, that he loves his children and seeks their happiness.
If the Book of Mormon is true, then Jesus is the Son of God, the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh, born of Mary, “a virgin, most beautiful … above all other virgins” (see 1 Ne. 11:13–21), for the book so testifies in a description unexcelled in all literature.
If the Book of Mormon is true, then Jesus is verily our Redeemer, the Savior of the world. The great purpose of its preservation and coming forth, according to its own statement, is “to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.” (Title page of the Book of Mormon.)
If the Book of Mormon is true, then America is a choice land, but if it is to remain such the inhabitants of the land must worship the God of the land, the Lord Jesus Christ. The histories of two great nations, told with warning in this sacred volume, indicate that while we must have science, while we must have education, while we must have arms, we also must have righteousness if we are to merit the protection of God.
If the Book of Mormon is true, Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God, for he was the instrument in the hands of God in bringing to light this testimony of the divinity of our Lord.
If this book is true, Ezra Taft Benson is a prophet, for he holds all of the keys, gifts, powers, and authority held by the Prophet Joseph, who brought forth this latter-day work.
If the Book of Mormon is true, the Church is true, for the same authority under which this sacred record came to light is present and manifest among us today. It is a restoration of the Church set up by the Savior in Palestine. It is a restoration of the Church set up by the Savior when he visited this continent as set forth in this sacred record.
If the Book of Mormon is true, the Bible is true. The Bible is the Testament of the Old World; the Book of Mormon is the Testament of the New. One is the record of Judah; the other is the record of Joseph, and they have come together in the hand of the Lord in fulfillment of the prophecy of Ezekiel. (See Ezek. 37: 19.) Together they declare the Kingship of the Redeemer of the world and the reality of his kingdom.
Here is a voice that has touched the hearts of men and women in many lands. Those who have read it prayerfully, be they rich or poor, learned or unlearned, have grown under its power.
Let me tell you of a letter which we received some years ago. A man wrote, saying, “I am in a federal prison. I recently came across a copy of the Book of Mormon in the prison library. I have read it, and when I read Mormon’s lamentation over his fallen people—‘O ye fair ones, how could ye have departed from the ways of the Lord! O ye fair ones, how could ye have rejected that Jesus, who stood with open arms to receive you! Behold, if ye had not done this, ye would not have fallen’ (Morm. 6:17, 18)—I felt that Mormon was talking to me. Can I get a copy of that book?”
We sent him a copy. Some time later, he walked into my office a changed man. He was touched by the spirit of the Book of Mormon and today is a successful man, rehabilitated, earning a living honestly for himself and his family.
Such is the power of this great book in the lives of those who read it prayerfully.
Brothers and sisters, without reservation I promise you that if you will prayerfully read the Book of Mormon, regardless of how many times you previously have read it, there will come into your hearts an added measure of the Spirit of the Lord. There will come a strengthened resolution to walk in obedience to his commandments, and there will come a stronger testimony of the living reality of the Son of God.
Some Points of Emphasis. You may wish to make these points in your home teaching discussion:
Parley P. Pratt exemplifies the many persons whose lives have been profoundly affected by the Book of Mormon and who have given their all to witness of its truthfulness.
The origin of the Book of Mormon is miraculous, and it is the only book which promises that by divine power the reader may know it is true.
Knowledge that the Book of Mormon is true brings a conviction of the truth of many other things, such as Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling and the truthfulness of the restored Church.
The Book of Mormon, as does the Bible, witnesses that Jesus is the Christ, the resurrected living Son of God.
The Book of Mormon is definitive and inspired concerning the solutions of our problems.
Regardless of how many times one has previously read the Book of Mormon, prayerfully reading it again will bring an added measure of the Spirit of the Lord into one’s heart and home.
Relate your feelings about the Book of Mormon. Ask family members to share their feelings about it and encourage them to read the Book of Mormon this year.
Would this discussion be better after a pre-visit chat with the head of the house? Is there a message from the quorum leader or bishop?