He Shall Know of the Doctrine


Kenneth Johnson
It is only in doing the will of the Lord that we come to know of a surety the eternal value of gospel principles.

He Shall Know of the Doctrine

Some years ago, a client seeking my professional advice described to me the nature of his business, which involved selling secondhand furniture and household goods in partnership with his father. Their stock was acquired by attending auctions and market sales and by clearing unwanted items from homes. They were always careful to ensure that they could realize more money in reselling than they had expended in the purchase.

On one occasion, the son had contracted to clear the contents of a home following the death of an elderly occupant. Hanging in one of the rooms was a painting. Pausing to examine it, he considered the possibility that one day he would discover an antique or painting of far greater value than the previous owner had realized. But concluding that this painting was not in that category, he removed it from where it was displayed, carried it to his vehicle, and put it among the other items.

Later, as he and his father were unloading the vehicle, the father picked up the artwork, examined it carefully, and said, “I wish I knew more about paintings and how to tell if they are valuable.” The son responded that he was sure this one would not be classified as such. Nevertheless, the father felt it would be worth having the painting checked by a friend of his who managed an art gallery.

Several days later, the father’s friend informed him that the painting probably had a value of at least £12,000 (almost $29,000 in the early 1970s). Excited by the news, the father and son set out for the art gallery to collect the painting. This time they took a blanket in which they carefully wrapped the work of art. The son held it securely in his arms as they returned to the shop. The painting sold at auction for £12,500.

In telling this story, my client concluded by saying, “I can’t imagine why anyone would be prepared to pay so much for such an ordinary painting.”

I have often thought of this experience and reflected on the response of the young man. He concluded to have no interest in the painting. He judged it to be of little or no value.

How do we judge the value of the gospel in our lives? Do we really appreciate our indebtedness to the Savior? In exploring my own feelings, I often ponder the scriptures. Is my interest motivated in the same way as those of whom we read in John?

“When the people therefore saw that Jesus was not there, neither his disciples, they also took shipping, and came to Capernaum, seeking for Jesus.

“And when they had found him on the other side of the sea, they said unto him, Rabbi, when camest thou hither?” (John 6:24–25.)

The Joseph Smith Translation of John 6:26 offers this insight:

“Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye desire to keep my sayings, neither because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled” (emphasis added).

How like the experience of the young man and the painting. Many who witnessed the Savior during his mortal ministry had only a superficial understanding of what he did and who he was. This is substantiated by an incident that followed Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand:

“And when he was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works?

“Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?

“And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things?” (Matt. 13:54–56.)

It would appear that many who associated with Jesus saw him as a great miracle worker or teacher but not as the Son of God. How do we progress, then, to real understanding? I believe the answer is revealed in the words of the Savior to the Jews: “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine” (John 7:17).

I am grateful that I was brought up in a home where Christian values were taught and observed, although without benefit of the knowledge of the restoration of the gospel. Later, as I was invited to explore the message of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, each new doctrine required deep consideration, often resulting in a change of lifestyle. But those changes did not come about as a result of passive belief or mere intellectual assent. The proof was in the doing, in the exercise of faith. As I learned and tested gospel principles new to me, I invariably found them to be true.

One example of this process concerns the law of the fast. My parents were very supportive as I shared with them the details of my newly developing faith. My mother, however, became really concerned when I discussed with her my desire to participate in a 24-hour fast. She was shocked, not being able to accept that such a proposal was appropriate. She was adamant, saying she would not allow me to fast while in her home, fearing that it would be detrimental to my health.

It was with a feeling of relief that I reported my mother’s objections to my member missionary, Pamela, informing her that unfortunately I would not be able to participate in the fast. Without hesitation, she responded, “We can easily take care of that. I’ll arrange with my parents for you to stay at our home for the weekend so that you can fast with us.”

This was my introduction to the law of the fast. As I continued to observe this law each fast day, I gradually gained a testimony of the principle of fasting.

President Heber J. Grant often quoted the saying “That which we persist in doing becomes easier to do; not that the nature of the thing is changed, but our power to do is increased” (Bryant S. Hinckley, Heber J. Grant: Highlights in the Life of a Great Leader, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1951, p. 49).

Each new principle of truth implemented in our lives combines in a culminating testimony of the divine source of that truth. President Brigham Young expressed his belief that “every principle God has revealed carries its own convictions of its truth to the human mind” (Journal of Discourses, 9:149). My experiences as I grew in the gospel bore out these statements about learning eternal truths, especially the relationship between obedience and testimony, on doing and knowing.

I can vividly recall a sunny Sunday afternoon in July 1959 when Pamela and I were walking and talking together. I was contemplating becoming a member of the Church through the ordinance of baptism. Pamela said, “I can’t remember the missionaries teaching you about tithing.”

“What is this tithing?” I asked.

Pamela responded that members give 10 percent of their income in obedience to God’s law and as an expression of their gratitude for all that our Heavenly Father has given them.

There have been a few moments in my life when I felt faint as a result of shock, and this was one of them. “Ten percent!” I echoed. “That’s impossible. There’s no way I could afford to pay tithing.”

Pamela calmly replied, “My father does. He has a wife and four children, and his income is less than yours.” She followed up by mentioning another family I had come to know in the branch, informing me that they lived on less money than I did and that there were six children in the family. This proved to be a useful challenge to me. If they could manage, I thought, then so could I.

Eleven years later, faced with a real test of my commitment to that law, I realized that through the payment of tithing great faith had developed. It was no longer simply a matter of money to me. In response to that test, I followed my faith, and was blessed for it (see Mal. 3:10).

Prior to my introduction to the restored gospel, I spent much of my time playing soccer, including games on the Sabbath day. Even though I had been brought up to have respect for the Lord’s day, it was through applying the principle after I came in contact with the Church that I gained an understanding of the doctrine and its blessings. Withdrawing from the Sunday league team was one of the significant sacrifices that led to my conversion. It helped me appreciate the value of the gospel in my life.

Three years later, when work commenced on building the Norwich chapel, I also withdrew from the Saturday league team so that I could make my contribution to the building project. The mist of self-interest that had previously restricted my vision was beginning to disperse, and a new panoramic view was emerging, bringing with it a deeper appreciation for and an increasing love of life.

This transition within ourselves is described in the words of the Savior to the Jews, recorded in John 8:31–32: “If ye continue in my word [I suggest that one could interpret this to mean, “If ye continue to live in harmony with my doctrine”], then are ye my disciples indeed;

“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” These words reinforce the relationship between doing and knowing.

To me there is an analogy between engaging in a physical fitness program and applying and knowing about gospel principles in our lives. When we regularly engage in physical activities, the benefits may not be dramatically apparent. However, when illness, injury, or lack of desire interrupt our fitness programs for a prolonged period, we experience great difficulty in regaining the level of fitness we previously enjoyed.

Some become so discouraged that they do not persist but settle for a lesser level of fitness.

This can be true of living in harmony with gospel principles. The benefits may not always be noticeable, and this may cause some to question the reality of the doctrine and thus to lose faith and discontinue Church activity. Those who work their way back to spiritual fitness usually discover a greater appreciation for the gospel. Others slip away, and walk no more with the Lord.

The promise to those who live in harmony with the Word of Wisdom and who “[walk] in obedience to the commandments” is that they “shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones” (D&C 89:18). The admonition to “keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments,” is significant.

Verse 19 adds another dimension that to some may seem almost unrelated to what is often seen exclusively as a health code. But the verse contains the great key and linkage between doing and knowing: “And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures.”

Possibly there are doctrines that may not be easily tested in practical terms. Nevertheless, I believe the key that opens the way to our personal understanding of the plan of salvation, with a personal assurance regarding the blessings of the Atonement of the Savior in our own lives, is found by faithful adherence to gospel principles.

There is another truth regarding the relationship of doing (being obedient or keeping the commandments) and knowing (having the truth of the gospel made known to us through our application of it). This additional truth concerns the Lord’s practice of testing our hearts and minds relative to our new knowledge. He does this so that through our overcoming a trial, we will, in a sense, have the truth of the gospel indelibly stamped upon our souls. Our understanding and our heart become further purified, almost as gold—and our inner surety after having our trials will be rich. For example, the Lord instructs Mormon to not put certain information on the plates that we were to receive in the last days because it “is expedient … to try their faith, and if it so be that they shall believe these things then shall the greater things be made manifest unto them” (3 Ne. 26:9).

The story of Job is the story of one who learned through this process in his own life. He was stripped of all that would seem to be precious. But through living righteously during his period of testing, he discovered something even more precious: God “knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).

A testimony of the restored gospel is like a fabric with divine doctrine and eternal principles woven together to create a vision of such exquisite beauty that only those who follow the prescribed pattern of doing it—that is, of living the gospel—may discover its truths.

No other means can fully develop the potential of the human soul. As we do the Lord’s will, we really can know of the truth of the doctrine, and after our faith and trust have been tried, our personal knowledge will, as ourselves, “come forth as gold.”

Let’s Talk about It

This article can furnish material for both family discussion and individual reflection. You might consider questions such as these:

  1. 1.

    What are the ways in which I have allowed the gospel to take deep root in my life and tasted its fruits?

  2. 2.

    What are the gospel principles that I really need to prove by obedience, by living them?

[illustrations] Illustrated by Brad Teare; title illustration by Tom Child