Records of Great Worth

Adapted from a 1979 address at the Church Educational System Religious Educators’ Symposium, Brigham Young University.

Records of Great Worth

One of the best ways to learn the gospel is to search the scriptures.

The word search means to inquire into, study, and examine for the purpose of discovering the meaning. Searching implies more than just reading or even memorizing.

When Jesus told the Jews to “search the scriptures,” he was talking to men who prided themselves on their acquaintance with the scriptures. They had spent their lives reading and memorizing them. They could and did quote reams of scripture in support of their apostate rules and rituals. They had wholly failed, however, to discover their true message.

You will recall that the Jews to whom he spoke were finding fault, claiming that Jesus had broken the law of Moses by healing the infirmed man on the Sabbath day. Jesus wasted no time, however, disputing their petty technicalities. Being the Lord of the Sabbath, he chose to respond to their charges by so declaring himself. Because they rejected the Lord and his explanation of the relationship between his Heavenly Father and himself, he told them they were without knowledge of the word of God of which they claimed to be masters.

Had they understood the scriptures they would have accepted the prophecies of Moses and the prophets concerning the promised Messiah and would have recognized in Jesus their fulfillment.

In all dispensations holy men have been taught and instructed from heaven with respect to the gospel of Jesus Christ. These teachings and instructions have been preserved in the scriptures so that all who will may learn whom to worship, and how to live in order to accomplish the purpose of mortality and thereby gain the promised rewards.

It seems to me that a study of the Old Testament yields convincing proof of the value and rewards for searching the scriptures.

In this coming year, as adult members of the Church, we will study the Old Testament. One approach that I have found helpful to an understanding of the Old Testament is to learn from other scriptures what the most righteous people who were on the scene had to say. Such men as Abraham, Moses, Lehi, and Nephi qualify as specialists on Old Testament matters. We are most fortunate to have some of the teachings of these men preserved for our use. I think we should study them and follow their counsel if we desire to understand and teach the message of the gospel from the Old Testament.

The writings of Abraham, Moses, and Enoch as recorded in the Pearl of Great Price and the writings of Lehi and Nephi as recorded in the Book of Mormon are a great asset in understanding the purpose and intent of the earliest Old Testament writings. For example, they make very clear the origin and nature of man.

For many years I had an assignment from the First Presidency to serve on what was known as the Church Publications Committee. We were expected to read and make decisions on material submitted for use in the study courses of our auxiliary organizations. In reading these materials my spirit was sometimes offended by the use of language which expressed the views of those who did not believe in the mission of Adam. I mean words and phrases such as “primitive man,” “prehistoric man,” “before men learned to write,” and similar descriptions.

The Lord said that Adam was the first man (see Moses 3:7), which, as I understand it, means the first mortal on the earth. Also, Enoch said that a record of Adam was kept in a book which had been written under the guidance of the Lord Almighty himself.

If we confuse the mission of Adam and Eve, we also confuse our understanding of the Savior’s mission. The consequences of the mission performed by Adam and Eve made necessary the atoning sacrifice of the Savior. Such is the major message of the Old Testament. The practice of blood sacrifice as described in the Old Testament was instituted to point man’s thoughts forward to the great atoning sacrifice of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Lehi and Nephi taught these truths. In fact, one of the clearest explanations of the Old Testament’s great message is contained in their writings (see 1 Ne. 20–21; 2 Ne. 6–8; 2 Ne. 12–25).

It was because of the importance of the Old Testament teachings that the Lord inspired Lehi to send his sons back to Jerusalem to get the brass plates, to get the Old Testament—that’s what those plates contained. The Lord did not want this new people he was going to raise up from the seed of Lehi to be without those records.

We see that Nephi helps us understand the message of the Old Testament when he comments on the teachings of Isaiah. I do not think there is a more simple or clear and relevant explanation of the Old Testament message than the one in chapters 25 through 33 of 2 Nephi [2 Ne. 25–33]. It would seem to me that a careful, prayerful study of these chapters would be a requirement for anyone who wanted to understand and teach the message of the Old Testament. In these chapters Nephi sifted out the important from the unimportant. He wrote:

“… we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” (2 Ne. 25:26)

That was Nephi, way back between 500 and 600 years before Christ, teaching what he had learned from the Old Testament records that were inscribed on the brass plates. That is good counsel for us who are parents and teachers today. The Old Testament teaches of salvation and the commandments we must obey in order to partake of salvation.

People who walk in darkness may not be able to discern the fundamental meaning and the basic principles contained in the Old Testament. But as Latter-day Saints, we have no excuse. Therefore, it is very important that we do not hide the true teachings in the Old Testament from our children or from those we are called to teach by getting lost in things of lesser importance. We should concentrate on the wheat and not the chaff.

We do not have the space here to consider all of the important lessons which can be taught from the Old Testament—such as authority, priesthood, obedience, loyalty, unity, faith, the importance of following the living prophets, and many other subjects of vital importance. I will, however, briefly discuss a few Old Testament teachings that seem particularly relevant.

The Old Testament provides many examples of the importance of heeding and following the Lord’s warnings concerning impending distress or disaster. The Lord warned Joseph, and the people of Egypt survived a famine because they heeded his words. The Lord preserved the human family and other forms of life through Noah’s obedience in building the ark. He preserved Moses, Abraham, Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego. He warned Israel on numerous occasions. At times they heeded and at times they did not. In our own dispensation the warning to prepare has been declared repeatedly. In modern revelation we read: “Prepare ye, prepare ye for that which is to come, for the Lord is nigh” (D&C 1:12).

The Lord knows of the calamity that is to come upon the inhabitants of the earth before he comes, and he has given directions for our protection, just as he did in days of old.

We today have been given the responsibility to warn the inhabitants of the earth. We must remember this solemn responsibility and ponder it in our minds and hearts. As Latter-day Saints, we are commissioned to deliver that which we have received from the Lord to those we teach. Sometimes, though, we attempt to teach without first obtaining the proper information and spirit.

Hyrum Smith, the Prophet’s brother, was instructed concerning this matter in a revelation given before the Church was organized. Being much impressed by the message of the Restoration, he wanted to go forth and preach before he had given the Lord the opportunity to prepare him. In the revelation, the Lord said:

“Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed; then, if you desire, you shall have my Spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men.” (D&C 11:21).

For those of us who desire to effectively share the gospel—whether it be with our children, our brothers and sisters in a formal teaching situation, or our friends—there are some very important lessons taught in this revelation. We must put our lives in order so the Lord’s Spirit can influence our thoughts and actions—so we can be taught from on high. We must work and study his word with full desire until his teachings become our teachings. Then we will be able to speak with power and conviction. If we choose to follow some other path of preparation, we have no assurance of success. We will be delivering our own ideas or some of the ideas of man, instead of the Lord’s. The primary source of the Lord’s word is the standard works, augmented as needs be by living prophets.

I feel that it is important for us to become familiar with these spiritual fundamentals. I am confident that we can be more successful in our daily lives and in delivering the gospel message to the world if we will but search the scriptures and come to a better understanding of the word of the Lord, the mind of the Lord, and the will of the Lord.

[illustration] Nephi Fashioning the Plates by Bill L. Hill

[illustration] Laban Killed by His Own Sword by Ronald Crosby, Courtesy of Deseret Book Co.