It was 30 June 1977 when for the first time I held in my hands a sacred volume of scripture that was completely new to me—the Book of Mormon. The good that has come into my life since that day I trace back to the divinity and influence of this book.
From that first day, I knew the book could not have been written by any American of modern times, no matter how eloquent or linguistically gifted he might have been. The spirit and the language of the book bore witness to me that they who had originally written it had come from the place and time the text stipulates.
How could the heart and mind of a non-Christian medical student come to believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ within hours of reading the Book of Mormon for the first time? I believe it happened through the mission and spirit of this book. My experiences with the book testify of its divine mission to teach, preach, and testify of Jesus Christ and invite all to come unto him regardless of race, nationality, religion, or tongue. The language of the book is the universal language of all the prophets under Christ, the language of the love of God that sheds itself forth in the hearts of all the children of men because of the Atonement (see 1 Ne. 11:22).
The city where I was born and grew up in was a religious melting pot. I had fine, strong parents, descended from noble ancestors whose lives had been shaped by the powerful values of their religion. I believed that the other peoples of the earth were my brothers and sisters. In our home, my parents set a good example of ethnic, cultural, and religious tolerance.
Even so, because of a disagreement over religion I was dismissed from the religious high school I attended.
In the enthusiasm of youth (mixed with deep conviction), when my teacher, an ordained clergyman, spoke with venom about people of other religions, I denounced him. My father, with his deep feelings of charity and tolerance, felt pride in me for standing up to this teacher. My devout mother cried because of the dishonor I had brought upon the family by being dismissed from the prestigious school.
From my youth I was convinced by a power I could neither describe nor fully comprehend that God must have a living prophet upon the earth. Exposure to religious intolerance and extremism intensified my feelings that since God loved all his children equally he would have one religion under one living spokesman to represent him. I was ridiculed and chastised for my belief. But as I lived and traveled in Europe, my belief in the need for proper religious authority crystallized. As I studied in Germany, the United States, and Canada during my university years, I became the target of many honest efforts by sincere friends to convert me to their religions. But it was while I was isolated in a small town in western Canada that I found out that God does indeed have a living prophet upon the earth.
At the end of the first year of medical school at the University of Calgary, we students had to serve a one-month practical apprenticeship. I knew I wanted to go to a small town with mountains nearby. When I was handed a book that listed hundreds of facilities, the name Cardston stood out on the page. My physician adviser was shocked at my choice. He asked if I had ever heard of the Mormons. I had not. They were a “strange” people, he told me; they didn’t know how to have any fun, their young people lived a very restrictive lifestyle, and the town closed down at 8:00 P.M., he said. It seemed the ideal place for me at that time. I went there against his recommendation and that of many others.
On Saturday, my first day in Cardston, I wanted to visit the Alberta Temple. That same day I was approached three times by the same man, not a local resident himself, who said he could see that I was not a Mormon and he was “very concerned” that I might be drawn in by them. Each time he gave me the same set of anti-LDS literature. After ignoring his badgering for the third time, finally I made my way to the temple.
I felt a spirit that compelled me to walk through the doors of the Alberta Temple. I did not get very far before I realized I did not belong there; unlike everyone else, I was neither dressed in Sunday best nor was I able to show a special permit to be admitted. I felt strongly there was something for me to see and do inside this beautiful building—until a man put his hands on my shoulders and said I would not be able to go in. He led me outside to the visitors’ center and ushered me into a room where Man’s Search for Happiness was being shown. As I sat watching the film, my mind was flooded with memories of the many things my family had taught me about the sacredness of family relations. I knew then that something was about to happen that would change my life.
Leaving the visitors’ center later, I took one each of the pamphlets the Church had to offer. The man who had led me to the movie called me to come back and take “this book” too. It was the first time I held the Book of Mormon in my hands.
As I read the title page on that memorable day, a witness came into my heart that I had found what I had been looking for for the past 15 years. This testimony ignited an interest that kept me up reading the Book of Mormon most of that night. During that weekend, sleep and food became almost strangers to me as I read and studied this unusual book.
On Monday morning, I asked the first physician who walked through the door of the doctors’ lounge in the Cardston hospital if he were a Mormon, showed him the pamphlet on baptism, and asked what I should do to get baptized. He directed me to the missionaries. When they began to teach me the discussions, they were amazed at how much I knew about the Church; I had read and outlined each pamphlet I had found at the visitors’ center and many pages from the Book of Mormon. I was baptized before I left Cardston to go back to medical school.
The Book of Mormon brought me to Jesus Christ. However, despite my sure knowledge that it was the word of God and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was his Church, I was not fully converted to the gospel until some time later, after my baptism.
My first few months as a member were filled with frustrations and at times depression as I could not understand what was being taught in classes, though I seemed to have no difficulty understanding what was taught in the Book of Mormon. One particular Sunday as my level of frustration hit a new high, I started toward the branch president’s office to ask for a release from my calling, when I received a spiritual impression that the Church belonged to the Savior, not the branch president. I promptly turned back and finished what I had been doing. But I knew without doubt that unless I gained gospel knowledge to understand the nature of my covenants, I was going to lose my testimony and leave the Church. This was frightening to me.
During those early and challenging times of my life as a Latter-day Saint, President Marion G. Romney, who was then Second Counselor in the First Presidency, seemed through his sermons, to hold on to my hand, walk me through the challenges I met, and teach me that one can only learn the gospel by living it. Though I never met him, his words convinced me that daily pondering and studying of the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon, could bring the soothing balm of Gilead to my soul. I have learned the therapeutic impact of studying and applying the teachings of the Book of Mormon.
My wife, Kathryne Anderson, is a lifelong member of the Church who grew up in Calgary. Nine months after I joined the Church, I met her at a dance, and we were married in the Alberta Temple in August of 1978. We rely on the promise, voiced by President Romney and other prophets and apostles, that regular study of the Book of Mormon will bring spiritual strength to us and our children. President Romney said: “I feel certain that if, in our homes, parents will read from the Book of Mormon prayerfully and regularly, both by themselves and with their children, the spirit of that great book will come to permeate our homes and all who dwell therein. … Faith, hope, and charity—the pure love of Christ—will abound in our homes and lives, bringing in their wake peace, joy, and happiness” (Ensign, May 1980, 67; see also Ensign, Nov. 1986, 7, a general conference address in which President Ezra Taft Benson quoted President Romney’s promise and added valuable counsel of his own). We long to have these blessings for our family.
The testimony of the Book of Mormon, planted in the heart and nourished by learning the doctrines, keeping the covenants, and participating in the ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ, blossoms in the mind with intelligence that cannot be harvested in any other way. Twenty years of experience now with the Book of Mormon have taught me the truth of the Prophet Joseph’s statement that it is “the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man [will] get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book” (History of the Church, 4:461).
I would like to share what the Book of Mormon has come to mean to me. It is a book to bless all mankind. Here are a few of the reasons I treasure this unique scripture.
1. It is an open invitation from the God of heaven to all of his children, whoever and wherever they may be, to come back to him through his Beloved Son, Jesus Christ.
This invitation is so powerful that neither Satan nor his followers are able to block its delivery to those who recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd and long to follow it. Inevitably, the Spirit reaches out to them, as I learned many years ago in Cardston, Alberta, after being warned against Latter-day Saints or their doctrines and determining to find out the truth for myself.
The Book of Mormon is a book with a mission to help build up Zion. It is to assist in the gathering of the pure in heart from all nations, hunting and fishing the elect from all corners of the earth (see Jer. 16:16; Jer. 3:14–15; Moses 7:62). I have come to know that God commissioned the great prophet of the Restoration, Joseph Smith, and gave him the authority, keys, and means to bring about this gathering of the elect. One of these means was the Book of Mormon.
When I read it for the first time, the Holy Spirit bore witness to me that Joseph Smith translated it by the power of God. He did not write it. The voice of its prophet-writers whispered of its divinity to my soul.
At the time I received this witness of the origin of the Book of Mormon, I had neither read historical manuscripts nor heard of archaeological research in support of its authenticity. Neither had I heard of Joseph Smith. I have since read much of both archaeological and historical evidences concerning its origin, but these evidences are vastly inferior to the witness of the Holy Spirit. Linguists point to many figures of speech that link the Book of Mormon’s origin to the cultures of the Middle East. I appreciate that evidence, but I do not rely on it.
The heavenly witness that came to me is of far superior nature and of a greater binding power.
2. The book lends testimonial support to the truthfulness of the Holy Bible.
To Joseph of Egypt, the Lord promised that the Book of Mormon and the Bible “shall grow together, unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions, and establishing peace … and bringing them to the knowledge of their fathers in the latter days, and also to the knowledge of my covenants” (2 Ne. 3:12). The Lord also gave to Ezekiel, the Old Testament prophet, a promise regarding this testimonial relationship between the Bible and the Book of Mormon: “They shall become one in thine hand” (Ezek. 37:17; see Ezek. 37:15–17). Speaking of the new LDS editions of the scriptures during a 1982 general conference address, Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles affirmed: “They are indeed one in our hands. Ezekiel’s prophecy now stands fulfilled” (Ensign, Nov. 1982, 53).
Mormon, the historian-prophet who abridged generations of records into the account on gold plates that was translated by the Prophet Joseph Smith, saw our day. He spoke to us with sobering insight regarding the interdependence of the Bible and the Book of Mormon as tools to bring souls unto Christ: “Lay hold upon the gospel of Christ, which shall be set before you, not only in this record but also in the record which shall come unto the Gentiles from the Jews, which record shall come from the Gentiles unto you.
“For behold, this [the Book of Mormon] is written for the intent that ye may believe that [the Bible]; and if ye believe that [the Bible] ye will believe this [the Book of Mormon] also” (Morm. 7:8–9). Hence the two books are missionary companions—two testaments of Christ.
3. The Book of Mormon testifies of the Messiah’s mission.
It tells of his birth, his mortal ministry, his Atonement, and his ministry as the risen Lord with simple beauty and clarity not found in any other record. It identifies him by name hundreds of years before his birth (see 2 Ne. 10:3; Mosiah 3:8). Further, it gives us, in the book of Third Nephi, the only scriptural testimony of the resurrected Savior’s ministry among his disciples in the Americas.
4. The Book of Mormon testifies that the true Church of Jesus Christ will be called by his name and be founded on his doctrine.
“And how be it my church save it be called in my name?” the Savior said (3 Ne. 27:8; see 3 Ne. 27:1–10). In 1838 he specified the name: “For thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (D&C 115:4). We do not belong to the “Mormon Church.” The Church we belong to is built upon Jesus Christ’s doctrine. The Book of Mormon is not a book about the Mormons; it is a book about Jesus Christ. I have learned that if we make this distinction clear in our interactions with others, they will be less likely to label us non-Christians.
5. The Book of Mormon defines the elect and covenant people of God.
The elect of God are not limited to any one family, lineage, or ethnic or cultural background. Nephi, in his farewell to those who would receive his record according to the plan of the Lord, wrote: “For the Lord covenanteth with none save it be with them that repent and believe in his Son, who is the Holy One of Israel” (2 Ne. 30:2).
And of the Son, Nephi testified: “He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. … and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile” (2 Ne. 26:24, 33; emphasis added).
6. The Book of Mormon offers the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Lord Jesus Christ, the book’s divine Source, has declared that the Book of Mormon contains “the fulness of the gospel” (D&C 20:9). In addition to the plain and precious truths it teaches, the book leads us to the Savior, and the Savior leads us to the holy temple, where we receive the fulness of the gospel precept upon precept and ordinance upon ordinance. The more we righteously apply precepts found in the book, the more we become spiritually receptive to the sacred things found within holy temples. This lends an additional dimension to the Prophet’s declaration that we will “get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”
Those who are born again have a burning desire to please the Savior continually, and what could be more pleasing to him than to invite others to come unto him and receive of his great love? I believe the Book of Mormon is second only to the Holy Ghost as the greatest tool he has given us to help in sharing his gospel with others.
The book is not only the “keystone of our religion,” it is the keystone of millions of individual testimonies as well. “Take away the Book of Mormon and the revelations, and where is our religion? We have none,” the Prophet Joseph Smith said (History of the Church, 2:52). Take away the influence of this sacred book on my life, and there would be a great void.
To me it is significant and wonderful to know that Joseph Smith is the prophet of the Restoration, an instrument in the Lord’s hands in the translation of the Book of Mormon and its coming forth as a witness of his divinity as the Only Begotten Son of the Eternal Father. I have come to see that no one in this generation can have the fulness of the word of God except through the work of the Prophet Joseph Smith. I believe the words of the prophets, who testify that the path to world peace will not be found except through the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. In this mortal life, we are marching toward our heavenly home. People may choose any path they wish in seeking to return to our Father in Heaven, but if they desire to be clasped eternally within his arms of love, enjoying all the blessings offered according to his divine plan, they will need to follow the path revealed through the Lord’s great latter-day prophet. It is through Joseph Smith’s ministry that today we enjoy the blessing of being led by other living prophets and apostles.
In the beginning we were one family, and so it will be when at the proper time Jesus Christ gathers his covenant people from all the earth. I am grateful for the opportunity to find a place in that family.