The Book on My Closet Shelf


“What is this book doing to me?” I wondered. “Is it of the devil, or is it of God? It says we should obey the commandments and believe in Jesus Christ. Could a book of the devil teach these things?” I wrestled with these questions day after day.

Several years earlier, two Mormon missionaries had visited me in Marshall, Texas. But I politely told them I wasn’t interested. I was afraid that I didn’t know enough about the Bible to be able to judge what they were telling me, and I had a great fear that they would ask me to pray. They left a Book of Mormon with me. But when I opened it and saw names that I had never heard before—such as Lehi, Nephi, and Alma—I immediately closed it, put it on a shelf in the closet, and forgot all about it.

As the years went by, I hardly gave religion or spiritual matters a thought. But one night I became troubled with the way I was living my life. “If there really is a God,” I thought, “I want to know it.” I decided to make an honest effort to find out and felt the best place to start was the scriptures.

I started studying the New Testament and attending a Protestant church. I enjoyed what I learned there, but something bothered me. In Ephesians 4:5, we read of one Lord, one faith, and one baptism—yet I had friends of various faiths who seemed content with their different beliefs. [Eph. 4:5] I wondered how they could all be right. When I mentioned this to them, they just laughed, saying it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you accept Christ as your personal Savior.

I didn’t feel comfortable with that and tried to find the answer in the scriptures. But I wasn’t getting anywhere, and I became upset. Why didn’t the Bible just say which church was right? Next I went to the encyclopedia to see if I could find the answer there. If I learned when different churches were organized, I reasoned, maybe that would help. Again, I was disappointed.

Then one day I came across the book I had put on the closet shelf years before. I began to read it. This time I found it interesting—so interesting that I began to tell my friends at work about it. Whether I was at home, at work, or at a movie, I couldn’t get it off my mind.

When I reached the point where I had to know if the book was really of God or of the devil, I considered praying about it but was afraid of being deceived. Then I came across the scripture in Moroni 10:4–5 where we’re told to pray about what we have read in the Book of Mormon. [Moro. 10:4–5] I was still afraid the answer might come from Satan, but then a biblical scripture came to mind that alleviated that worry:

“What man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?

“Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?” (Matt. 7:9–10.) I know that the answer that later came was indeed from God.

After having read and studied for a good while, I thought, “I’ll bet my minister would like to hear about this book.” I was sure he didn’t know about it because he had never mentioned it. To my surprise, he wasn’t interested. “Clifford,” he said, “evidently you don’t feel as if you’ve ever been saved.” So we knelt in his office and prayed. When we arose from our knees, he looked at me as if to say, “Now everything is okay.”

I said, “I don’t feel any differently now than I did when we knelt.”

“Don’t you believe in the scriptures that say that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said, “but I can’t help how I feel.” I left, miserable. I felt I had failed because I couldn’t get across to him what I was feeling about the Book of Mormon.

I continued to read and study. Sometimes I’d have to stop and walk outside and cry. “What’s wrong with me? Is this book driving me crazy?” I wondered. “Surely a grown man shouldn’t cry.” I can’t describe the mental anguish I suffered during those days. I had to know if this book was true. I would go to the Bible, then to the Book of Mormon—back and forth, study and compare.

I decided to talk to my minister again. At one point during the lengthy discussion, I asked him what happens to people who die without hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Clifford, they die and go to hell.” Again, I was very depressed when I left him.

Then one day I remembered that the missionaries who had given me the Book of Mormon had told me that the local LDS branch president owned a motor company in Marshall and that if I ever had any questions, I could go to him. I visited President Murray Conley, asked some questions, and was pleased with his answers.

Later, some members of my church visited me and informed me that I was being misled. The next night, the minister and his wife came to visit. But when I asked him to explain Malachi 4:5–6, he got angry and told me I had been brainwashed by the Mormons and there was nothing more he could do. [Mal. 4:5–6]

One night I read 3 Nephi 14:13–14: “Enter ye in at the strait gate; for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, which leadeth to destruction, and many there be who go in thereat;

“Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” [3 Ne. 14:13–14]

I got up from my chair and walked outside. Alone in the darkness, I could see myself standing at that narrow scriptural gate, pacing back and forth, afraid to go in. I realized at that moment that I had found the way. The Lord spoke to me that night, not as we speak to one another, but with a still, small voice that said, “What are you going to do about it?”

I went back to tell President Conley I wanted to be baptized. But he was in Salt Lake City. Thinking that only the branch president had the authority to baptize, I left, intending to return a week later.

During that week, Satan placed another stumbling block in my path—more doubts. “Do I have to start all over again?” I wondered. After wrestling with them for three days, I started reading a book President Conley had given me—Truth Restored, by President Gordon B. Hinckley. As I did, the Spirit, which had borne witness to me of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, also bore witness to me that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the Lord’s true church.

When President Conley returned from Salt Lake City, I told him I wanted to be baptized. As we drove to Gilmer, Texas, for my baptism on 19 October 1970, I asked him, “Do I understand correctly from what I have read in the scriptures that just because I’m being baptized, I’m not saved, but that I have to endure to the end?”

He said, “That’s exactly right.”

I cried all the way to my baptism. I felt very strongly that the Church was true. After baptism, I felt it ten times more strongly.

Many times after, I wondered, “Why me? Why do I know the truth while many good Christian people don’t?” And a scripture always came to my mind, “Seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” (Luke 11:9.)

Several weeks after I was baptized, I had the privilege of receiving a witness of the Holy Ghost once again, stronger than before. One morning at about 3:00 A.M., I sat up in bed with tears streaming down my face. The Holy Ghost was bearing such a powerful witness to me of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and of the Church that I felt like saying, “Please, Lord, no more, no more. I know it’s true.”

I do know with all my heart and soul that the Book of Mormon is true. It led me to the living God, to his Son Jesus Christ, and to his church guided by a living prophet.

[illustration] Illustrated by Richard D. Hull

Clifford E. Coleman serves as a counselor in the Sunday School presidency of the Odessa Texas Stake. He is a member of the Midland Third Ward.