We are witnessing the dawning of a brighter day. President Ezra Taft Benson has sounded a call that will have an everlasting impact upon the Church and thus upon the world. In a voice clear and certain, he beckons us to receive a divine gift which has been offered to us for years but which some have been unable or unwilling to receive. That gift is the Book of Mormon.
In speaking of that great book, President Benson has often referred to a troubling verse of scripture. The Lord declared in 1832:
“Your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received—
“Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.” (D&C 84:54–55.)
The vanity and unbelief referred to have apparently consisted of treating as relatively unimportant that which God had given. “This condemnation,” the Lord continued, “resteth upon the children of Zion, even all.
“And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them.” (D&C 84:56–57.)
The Saints had certainly been instructed before this time to take seriously the things they had received. For example, Leman Copley, a recent convert from the Shakers, was told: “My servant Leman shall be ordained unto this work, that he may reason with them [his former people, the Shakers], not according to that which he has received of them, but according to that which shall be taught him by you my servants; and by so doing I will bless him, otherwise he shall not prosper.” (D&C 49:4; italics added.)
Leman Copley’s missionary approach was to be based not upon what he had learned as a Shaker but upon what he had learned as a Latter-day Saint. A later incident in Church history illustrates the power of this principle. Parley P. Pratt writes of an occasion when Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon addressed a large congregation:
“A very large church was opened for [Joseph] to preach in, and about three thousand people assembled to hear him. Brother Rigdon spoke first, and dwelt on the Gospel, illustrating his doctrine by the Bible. When he was through, brother Joseph arose like a lion about to roar; and being full of the Holy Ghost, spoke in great power, bearing testimony of the visions he had seen, the ministering of angels which he had enjoyed; and how he had found the plates of the Book of Mormon, and translated them by the gift and power of God. He commenced by saying: ‘If nobody else had the courage to testify of so glorious a message from Heaven, and of the finding of so glorious a record, he felt to do it in justice to the people, and leave the event with God.’” (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938, pp. 298–99.)
This was no time to declare a message that any other minister from any other church might deliver. Joseph’s was an independent revelation, and his witness an independent witness. The result of Joseph Smith’s sermon in Philadelphia? “The entire congregation were astounded; electrified, as it were, and overwhelmed with the sense of the truth and power by which he spoke, and the wonders which he related. … Multitudes were baptized in Philadelphia and in the regions around.” (Ibid., p. 299.)
We must guard against the tendency to live in the past. That, in fact, was one of the Apostle Paul’s initial problems. Like many of his day, Paul was one dispensation behind the times. Before his conversion, Paul refused a current revelation in favor of allegiance to an ancient one. But “when Paul made that change in his own life, he became useful to the then-current work of the Lord, and all his past learning and experience were channeled into the proper dispensation in which he lived. How is it with us? … Have we really caught the spirit of the restoration, or do we still measure the Book of Mormon by the text of the Bible and the traditions of the manuscripts? … We do not want to be a dispensation behind in these things. … [Let’s] make certain the road we travel both collectively and individually leads forward to the New Jerusalem, and not back to Athens, or to Rome.” (Robert J. Matthews, “What Is a Religious Education?” Address to religious education faculty, Brigham Young University, 31 Aug. 1989, pp. 16–17.)
Failure to proclaim the message of the Restoration seems to be a serious matter in the Lord’s eyes. Why? For one thing, neglecting to do so can prevent us from receiving the spirit of testimony. In the spring of 1984, Elder Bruce R. McConkie suggested to a small group of Book of Mormon instructors that perhaps in our eagerness to be accepted as Christians in a sometimes-hostile religious world, we are prone to leave the Book of Mormon and the Restoration behind in an effort to make friends and show that we are much like them. He further observed that only when we lovingly and humbly emphasize the differences—what we really have to offer—will we enjoy the quantity and quality of converts that the Lord and his prophets have described.
In a broader sense, the condemnation to which President Benson refers may be a failure to enjoy greater spiritual power. Those who do not apply the Lord’s lessons in the Book of Mormon may not enjoy fully the sweet promptings of the Spirit. They may not have received that infusion of faith the book can provide—faith that strengthens resolve and provides courage in times of unrest. Certainly, to the degree that they ignore the Book of Mormon, to that degree their minds and hearts will not be informed by the book’s logic and transforming power. As a result, their judgment in perceiving the spurious and irrelevant may be clouded.
The condemnation of which the Lord speaks may well refer to supernal privileges yet to be granted. “Our homes are not as strong,” President Benson warned, “unless we are using [the Book of Mormon] to bring our children to Christ. Our families may be corrupted by worldly trends and teachings unless we know how to use the book to expose and combat the falsehoods in socialism, organic evolution, rationalism, humanism, and so forth. Our missionaries are not as effective unless they are ‘hissing forth’ with it. … Our Church classes are not as spirit-filled unless we hold it up as a standard.” (A Witness and a Warning: A Modern-day Prophet Testifies of the Book of Mormon, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1988, p. 6.)
That is the description. The prescription is straightforward: “I will forgive you of your sins with this commandment—that you remain steadfast in your minds in solemnity and the spirit of prayer, in bearing testimony to all the world of those things which are communicated unto you.” (D&C 84:61; italics added.)
The Bible gives little evidence that its prophet-writers prepared their messages for any day other than their own. Yes, Isaiah, Daniel, Paul, and John, among others, saw and spoke of the distant future, but their words were given to the people of their own time. They never directly addressed those who would one day read their pronouncements.
How different is the Book of Mormon! It was prepared by men with seeric vision who saw our day and addressed specific issues we would confront. The poignant words of Moroni alert us to the contemporary relevance of the Book of Mormon: “Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.” (Morm. 8:35.)
President Benson observed that those who abridged the records chose “the stories, speeches, and events that would be most helpful to us. … If they saw our day, and chose those things which would be of greatest worth to us, is not that how we should study the Book of Mormon? We should constantly ask ourselves, ‘Why did the Lord inspire Mormon (or Moroni or Alma) to include that in his record? What lesson can I learn from that to help me live in this day and age?’” (A Witness and a Warning, pp. 19–20.)
Each of our books of scripture is inspired. But the Book of Mormon has a spirit all its own. “There is something more” in the Book of Mormon, President Benson explains. “There is a power in the book which will begin to flow into your lives the moment you begin a serious study of the book. … The scriptures are called ‘the words of life’ (see D&C 84:85), and nowhere is that more true than it is of the Book of Mormon. When you begin to hunger and thirst after those words, you will find life in greater and greater abundance.” (A Witness and a Warning, pp. 21–22.)
The Book of Mormon is not just a book that helps us feel good; it is a heavenly document that helps us be good. It is not only an invitation to come unto Christ; it is a pattern for accomplishing that consummate privilege. It is not just a book about religion. It is religion. The Lord has said:
“They shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written—
“That they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father’s kingdom; otherwise there remaineth a scourge and judgment to be poured out upon the children of Zion.” (D&C 84:57–58; italics added.)
Our challenge is not just to study the Book of Mormon; we must live it!
Through the generations following Lehi’s arrival in America, inspired kings and prophets wielded the sword of Laban in defense of their people. That sword was a sign, a reminder that only through the Lord’s assistance can individuals or nations be delivered from their enemies. It stood for something else as well—the price to be paid for scriptural and thus spiritual literacy. The Lehites needed the brass plates to preserve their language and their religious integrity. But a wicked man blocked their way. God thus commanded Nephi to shed Laban’s blood in order to obtain the sacred record. The scriptures are always obtained and preserved with a price.
And so it is in regard to the Book of Mormon. Too much blood has been spilled over the centuries, too many tears have been shed, too great a price has been paid for the Book of Mormon to be destroyed, or discarded, or ignored. God himself has borne solemn witness of the Book of Mormon: “[Joseph Smith] has translated the book, even that part which I have commanded him, and as your Lord and your God liveth it is true.” (D&C 17:6; italics added.)
In the words of a modern Apostle: “This is God’s testimony of the Book of Mormon. In it Deity himself has laid his godhood on the line. Either the book is true or God ceases to be God. There neither is nor can be any more formal or powerful language known to men or gods.” (Bruce R. McConkie, Ensign, May 1982, p. 33.) “Do eternal consequences rest upon our response to this book?” President Ezra Taft Benson asked. He answered: “Yes, either to our blessing or our condemnation.” (A Witness and a Warning, p. 7.)
Salvation itself is at stake here. Moroni made this abundantly clear as he closed and sealed up the record: “I exhort you to remember these things; for the time speedily cometh that ye shall know that I lie not, for ye shall see me at the bar of God; and the Lord God will say unto you: Did I not declare my words unto you, which were written by this man, like as one crying from the dead, yea, even as one speaking out of the dust?” (Moro. 10:27.)
For those outside the faith, the Book of Mormon demands a decision. Either it came from heaven, or it did not. Those who seek salvation must face that issue squarely; they cannot simply dismiss it with a wave of the hand. As for members of the Church, President Benson has declared: “Every Latter-day Saint should make the study of this book a lifetime pursuit. Otherwise he is placing his soul in jeopardy and neglecting that which could give spiritual and intellectual unity to his whole life.” (A Witness and a Warning, pp. 7–8.)
Today, in compliance with the prophetic mandate, thousands of Latter-day Saints have begun to search the Book of Mormon; many have begun to experience its subtle but certain sanctifying power. They have begun to feel a greater yearning for righteousness and the things of the Spirit, a heightened sensitivity to others, an abhorrence to sin. Many have surrendered to the Lord, desiring to know his ways and abide by his will. For such, surely the condemnation is no more.
“Righteousness will I send down out of heaven,” the Lord promised Enoch, “and truth will I send forth out of the earth, to bear testimony of mine Only Begotten; his resurrection from the dead; yea, and also the resurrection of all men; and righteousness and truth will I cause to sweep the earth as with a flood, to gather out mine elect from the four quarters of the earth, unto a place which I shall prepare, an Holy City, that my people may gird up their loins, and be looking forth for the time of my coming; for there shall be my tabernacle, and it shall be called Zion, a New Jerusalem.” (Moses 7:62.)
Such a blessing will not come without opposition. Ignorance and prejudice will abound among the indifferent and the ungodly. But amid it all the work of the Lord, with the Book of Mormon held high as an ensign to the nations, shall go forward. As Moroni explained to Joseph Smith: “Those who are not built upon the Rock will seek to overthrow this church; but it will increase the more opposed.” (Messenger and Advocate, 2:199.)
All the scriptures testify that perilous times lie ahead, that wickedness will increase and malevolence multiply, all before the Son of Man comes to reign as King of kings and Lord of lords. Before that time, before the proud and the wicked are burned as stubble, those who call themselves after his name will find security only in holy places. For only the sanctified—those who have yielded their hearts unto God (Hel. 3:35), who have an eye single to the glory of God (D&C 88:67–68), and who, like God, have come to abhor sin (Alma 13:12)—will be able to withstand the onslaught that Satan will bring to bear against them. It is my conviction that the Book of Mormon will be one of the few mainstays to which we can rivet ourselves in that future day.
May God grant us strength in our sacred care of this timely and timeless volume. Then, having done all, we shall rest our souls everlastingly with those who paid such a dear price to preserve and bring it forth.