The Book of Mormon offers a remarkable promise to those seeking knowledge of the truth. Over the years, I have heard members and missionaries offer a variety of explanations about its meaning. A close examination of the three key verses—Moroni 10:3–5 [Moro. 10:3–5]—will show us that their meaning is far more profound than many of us might have thought.
In addition to the great promise in these verses which helps those who are investigating the gospel to gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon, the process Moroni teaches here can be used in confirming all truth. This is a process we can go through every time we wish to have eternal truth confirmed.
While many missionaries and members may have thought that this great promise consists only of verses 4 and 5, verse 3 is just as significant in terms of teaching us about receiving truth from God.
Verse 3 tells us: “Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.” [Moro. 10:3]
The last five words of the verse offer an important admonition—“ponder it in your hearts.” What is the antecedent of “it”—the thing that we are to ponder? It is “how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things.” We are to remember how loving, how provident, how good, how forgiving our Heavenly Father has been toward us.
What usually happens when we begin to ponder how merciful the Lord has been to mankind? To us personally? What happens when we count our blessings, or perhaps our sins for which we must ask his forgiveness, and recognize his hand in our individual lives? Is it not true that our hearts turn to the Lord in love and gratitude? Do our faith and humility increase? Yes, and that, in my judgment, is the impact of verse 3 [Moro. 10:3]—following the counsel therein helps us to become more humble, more willing and ready to receive new information and knowledge with an open mind.
Any person who has sincerely followed the admonition of verse 3 [Moro. 10:3] is then prepared to apply the counsel on confirming truth that follows in the next two verses.
“And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost” (Moro. 10:4).
It is interesting that within verse 3 [Moro. 10:3], the verb for what we are to do with the teachings of the Book of Mormon changes from “read these things” to “receive these things.” Then verse 4 [Moro. 10:4] begins with the words, “And when ye shall receive these things,” and goes on to tell us what we are to do after receiving something. Why the word change from read to receive? Because Moroni is talking about two different states of mind. It is one thing simply to have something to read; it is quite another thing to be willing to let that which we read enter our minds and hearts in order to give it full consideration. Thus, in his usage of receive in verse 3, Moroni asks us to receive into our minds and hearts the realization of God’s mercy from the Creation until now, a realization that comes after remembering God’s goodnesses to the children of men. Now, in verse 4 he again uses the word receive in exactly the same way—but this time he is talking about the thing we have in our hands to read—the Book of Mormon. He is talking about the step of receiving the teachings contained in that which we have read—considering them or receiving them into our minds and hearts so that we can ponder them in order to be prepared for the next step, which is to accept an answer from our Heavenly Father.
Let me restate this process: it is plain that receive, as used by Moroni, means more than simply having the Book of Mormon come into our hands, or passively allowing its words to come into our consciousness. When we receive the teachings of the Book of Mormon in the way that Moroni intended, we ponder the “things” that we are receiving; thus, as outlined in verse 4 [Moro. 10:4], we prepare ourselves to accept answers from our Heavenly Father.
But notice the special manner in which we receive answers from God: we are to “ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ.” Consider the language again of “having faith in Christ.” This signifies an important state of mind. To have faith in Christ means that we accept that there is a God; accept that through the power of his Son Jesus Christ, God can answer our prayer; and believe that God can manifest truth to us. We place ourselves off the neutral line by thus exercising faith in Christ. We act! Even though our faith may be small, we do as Alma taught: we “exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if [we] can no more than desire to believe [that God can help us], let this desire work in [us]” (Alma 32:27).
Because of this desire to believe that God can help, we follow the process Moroni outlines. He exhorts us to:
Ask God, the Eternal Father,
Ask in the name of Christ,
Ask if these things are not true, and if we
Ask with a sincere heart,
Ask with real intent,
Ask having faith in Christ,
Then “he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.” [Moro. 10:3]
When our asking has truly been an exercise in faith in Christ, we will be rewarded with an answer through the power of the Holy Ghost—but it will be according to the Lord’s timing, not ours.
Verse 4 [Moro. 10:4] identifies yet another important principle: if we want an answer from God, we will move ourselves out of a neutral position and let our desire to believe that God can help us begin to work in us.
One way to understand verse 4 [Moro. 10:4] is to note that the scripture does not say we are to ask whether these things are true or not, but that we are to ask “if these things are not true.” What is the difference?
The Lord does not ask us to prove that the teachings we have read are true, or that they are not true. That is the kind of objective approach one might take in the academic, scientific world. However, that is not the best way we learn truth from the Lord.
The Lord offers us the opportunity to let him confirm truth already in our hearts. But in order to confirm religious truth, one must at least have the idea, or the thought, or the belief (however small) that he has found something true, and then pray to receive the Lord’s confirmation.
Verse 4 [Moro. 10:4], then, is the Lord’s invitation, through Moroni, to thus confirm truth. To ask “if these things are not true” implies a degree of acceptance that comes as a result of our pondering the teachings of the Book of Mormon that we have received. Notice again the importance of that very first step—remembering the mercy of God to us since the Creation—and then the next step, which is to similarly ponder and receive the teachings of the Book of Mormon. Surely such pondering of these teachings will bring to mind their truth, their power, their goodness. Thus, it is now tantamount to praying, “Father, I believe that I have received truth. Please tell me if this is not so.” This kind of humble petition is motivated by our faith in Christ, by our faith that he will let us know whether our feelings are correct concerning the Book of Mormon or whether we have been deceived. Thus, our prayer, in essence, is a request for a confirmation of our own conclusions from our pondering. The Lord may not respond exactly how and when we expect, but still our obedience to these conditions qualifies us to receive an answer; this is the scope of the process described in these verses.
In fact, in D&C 9:8–9, the Lord tells us even more about receiving this confirmation of truth:
“But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.”
“But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong.” (emphasis added).
The Lord’s invitation for us to test the principles of the gospel in our mind and heart is very broad and generous. As the boy Joseph Smith learned, our Father “giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not” (James 1:5) when we ask in faith. For example, the Lord has made it plain in a number of scriptures how he feels about the Book of Mormon; he and his prophets testify to us that it is true (see, for example, Moro. 10:28–29; 2 Ne. 33:10–11; D&C 17:6; D&C 18:2–3). Yet he still invites every reader to seek personal confirmation from him of these testimonies.
Moroni now tells us something that is of great value to all seekers of any kind of truth. In verse 5 [Moro. 10:5], the promise of confirmation is expanded far beyond verifying that the Book of Mormon is true (as important as that is to us). Here we are told:
“And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.”
Thus, while a first-time reader and ponderer may receive the needed confirmation of the book’s divine origin, members who long ago passed that milestone may have other new truths added to their spiritual store as they search the scriptures and follow the process described in Moroni 10:3–5 [Moro. 10:3–5]. The promise is extended to confirming “the truth of all things” (emphasis added); there is no restriction on the amount of truth we may receive through this process.
If we will follow on a regular basis the process that Moroni outlines, we will receive much more revelation from the Lord. Spiritual impressions will be imprinted more indelibly upon our minds and our hearts. We will see things that we have never seen before. We will understand things we have never understood before. Further, reading the scriptures with these added insights will cause us to repent and improve our lives.
Personal experience has taught me the importance of this process by which the Lord confirms truth. As one example, I will relate the story of a Protestant minister I met when I spoke at a non–Latter-day Saint symposium in California in 1983.
Brother Smith (I have not used his real name) was touched by what he felt in that San Diego meeting, and somewhat taken aback by the fact that “even Mormons have the Spirit.” I was impressed with him when we first met; I felt a great spirit in him.
He had congregations in California and in several places in Latin America where he preached, but he accepted my invitation to take time to attend general conference in October 1983. He seemed deeply touched by the fulness of the doctrine of Jesus Christ that he heard in the conference sessions. Over the next four years, we had a number of encounters on the telephone and in person. His married daughter and her husband received the gospel and joined the Church in Germany. I challenged him to receive the missionary lessons also, and he did. He became converted to many of the truths he found in the Book of Mormon and taught them to his congregations without disclosing their source.
Then, after four years of Brother Smith’s struggle to obtain sufficient testimony and faith to be baptized, something happened that changed his life. It followed a telephone conversation in which I told him, basically, that the Lord would not wait on him much longer. He had been given a number of witnesses that the Book of Mormon was true, and he needed to act on this knowledge. I challenged him to seek a final confirmation and then to be baptized.
In the course of our conversation, I asked him to explain to me once again how he was reading the Book of Mormon. He said he was reading it to find out if it were true. While we were talking, it dawned on him that he had never read the Bible that way; he had always read it in faith that it was from the Lord, and then he had sought confirmation of its truths. He had a change of spiritual perspective as he realized that the process for reading the Book of Mormon should be exactly the same. He promised me that he would honestly ask God in the same manner; he would treat the Book of Mormon as truth—as the word of God, like the Bible—and would humbly and receptively seek a confirmation.
A day or so later, Brother Smith called to tell me that he had had a tremendous spiritual experience in which the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon was confirmed to him, and he was now ready to be baptized. He said that after confirmation of the truth had come to him by the Spirit, he had received added assurance through a familiar means—inspiration to turn to specific scriptural references.
This had happened to him before. In times past when he had been studying the Bible or preaching, he had found that a particular biblical reference—such as Isaiah 6:7—might suddenly come into his mind. When he looked up the scripture, he would find that it dealt with the very topic or problem at hand. Because this had worked for him so frequently, he determined to try the same test with latter-day scriptures.
He prayed, “Father, if this book is true—and I’m feeling these feelings confirming that it is—then help me know that it is, talking with me through the scriptures the way thou hast done in the Bible.” Immediately flashed into his mind D&C 17:3. He looked up the scripture: “And after that you have obtained faith, and have seen them [the Book of Mormon plates or, in his instance, the printed Book of Mormon] with your eyes, you shall testify of them, by the power of God.”
Deeply moved by that response, he nevertheless asked, “Lord, wouldst thou do it one more time, as thou hast said that ‘in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established’” (2 Cor. 13:1). Immediately Alma 13:6 came to his mind: “And thus being called by this holy calling, and ordained unto the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to teach his commandments unto the children of men, that they also might enter into his rest. …” He then felt a strong witness that the Lord was calling him to a holy calling in the true Church and that he would be ordained to the high priesthood in order to teach the Lord’s commandments to the children of men.
Then he prayed again humbly, as did Gideon, “Let not thine anger be hot against me” (Judg. 6:39), and asked the Lord to give him just one more witness that he was truly deciding correctly. As he prayed, a reference came into his mind—Moro. 6:3: “And none were received unto baptism save they took upon them the name of Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end.” That verse and the verses immediately surrounding it pressed heavily upon him and convinced him that he must be baptized and be “cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost” (Moro. 6:4).
I had the privilege of baptizing him, his wife, and all of his children but one. A number of members of his old church were also baptized. A year later, I had the privilege of sealing him and his wife and children in the Los Angeles Temple.
Brother Smith’s experience taught me again how generous our Father in Heaven is in giving us the opportunity to find truth through the spiritual process prescribed in Moroni 10:3–5 [Moro. 10:3–5]. The principles taught there are powerful, and they can be employed by all people who seek truth.
Relative to the Book of Mormon, when we follow the process outlined by Moroni, remembering the mercy of God to us all since Creation, humbling ourselves as we read and ponder the book, exercising our faith in Christ, and being receptive to the Spirit, we will receive an answer, and we will become more fully converted.