Seventeen years ago today, during the Sunday afternoon session of general conference, I responded to President Hinckley’s assignment that I represent the six newly called Seventy in accepting our calls. As I awaited my turn at the midpoint of the session, I stood between two great Apostles: Elders Marvin J. Ashton and Bruce R. McConkie. I felt their love and support as I gazed with no little trepidation at the congregation of Saints gathered in the Tabernacle. Incidentally, we’re four times greater today. Elder Ashton, sensing my feelings, whispered, “I know it’s an awesome sight, but they’re all your friends.” As I stood that first time to speak, I felt the love of the Saints washing over me. Since then, in all the places to which worldwide assignments have taken us, Shirley and I have felt that same love and tried to return it.
The unity of the Saints is unique and powerful. I have seen and felt it on virtually every continent and in the islands of the sea. That unity is a major reason the Church is progressing. Without it we would falter. As Jesus explained, “Every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.” 1 Division and fault lines abound in the world, but “we are not divided; all one body we.” 2 We have that unity under the spiritual direction of our prophet. Our wealth, social status, or skin color doesn’t matter. The feast of the gospel is freely available to all that desire to partake of its delicacies. Jesus told His disciples “that many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.” 3 The Church is quietly moving forward in crescendo, as a great symphony orchestra moving toward a climax, strengthening communities as it grows.
We enjoy that unity through love. We can neither purchase nor force it. Our method is to “persuade, … and bless with wisdom, love, and light, … but never force the human mind.” 4 To the extent we operate in other ways, we diminish our right to be recognized as disciples of Christ. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” 5
That unifying love is coupled with our individual testimonies. Almost every member could and would respond if called upon to bear their own testimonies in this conference. Yes, we are united in love and testimony.
My testimony is built on the firm convictions that the Book of Mormon is true and Jesus is our Savior. This spiritual foundation has helped me weather the storms of challenge and doubt. I started reading the Book of Mormon in my youth and have continued, learning and drinking its spirit with every study.
As one in the last large group of missionaries called before demands of the Korean War diverted our young men into military service, I participated in about five days of training in the Salt Lake Mission Home on State Street. One of our trainers was Bryant S. Hinckley, a Church leader of stature and a stimulating teacher. He invited those missionaries assembled to share reasons they believed the Book of Mormon to be true. I was impressed with the variety of reasons shared by the missionaries. On that occasion, I suggested that in addition to the witness of the Holy Ghost, the number of new names identifying people, places, animals, and things in the Book of Mormon had impressed me.
Now, 50 years later, I am still impressed by these new names. When researchers reported that they have discovered stones in the southern Arabian Desert with the name Nahom inscribed on them, I paid attention. These inscriptions appear to be dated about 700 B.C. Ishmael, we read, was buried in a place called Nahom. Nahom is one of those names that impressed me.
Evidence of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon continues to mount. During his mission in Germany, Jack Welch found verses in the Book of Mosiah that clearly form a chiasmus, or an X-shaped configuration. That finding evidenced ancient rather than modern authorship. Scholars continue to find and publish new insights into what the book says and how it says it. A distinguished literature professor has published a recent book containing his lifetime study of the Book of Mormon, detailing its astonishing variety of literary forms. 6 Statisticians have found evidence of multiple authors within the covers of the book. Although these evidences have added to my testimony, the original powerful witness of the Holy Ghost has remained unshaken and unaltered. It has also recurred many times.
I also wonder if we fully appreciate the value and strength of the witnesses’ testimonies published in each copy of the Book of Mormon. Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris saw the plates and the angel. And Joseph also showed the gold plates to eight other men who saw and, using their word, “hefted” them. 7 These witnesses did not recant their testimonies, nor have their published testimonies ever been otherwise impeached. Those eight additional witnesses, in effect, testified: “Yes, we saw and lifted those plates. Joseph had them.” The witnesses have been important to me. The Lord told Joseph that the declarations of these witnesses prove “to the world that the holy scriptures are true, and that God does inspire men and call them to his holy work in this age and generation, as well as in generations of old.” 8
Having discovered that the book is true, we must then ask, “What is its message?” Alma—and incidentally, Professor Welch says that they’ve discovered recently ancient usage of the word Alma—Alma, in speaking to the people of Gideon, put his finger on the central message of the book. He said, “There be many things to come; and behold, there is one thing which is of more importance than they all—for behold, the time is not far distant that the Redeemer liveth and cometh among his people.” 9 Yes, of course, Alma—Jesus’ coming and His Atonement, worked out in Gethsemane and on the cross, are surely more important than all other knowledge a person can gain. And the Book of Mormon is “Another Testament of Jesus Christ,” as its subtitle proclaims.
Before ever reading the Book of Mormon, I had a child’s testimony of Jesus. My first awareness of Jesus was when my Grandmother Carmack, an artist of some minor acclaim, pointed out to me the beauty of the Arizona sunset and then asked, “John Kay, who made this beautiful world?” Answering her own question, she explained, “Jesus made this world. Yes, He did.” Grandmother was right, of course. Jesus, the Son of God, did create the worlds under the Father’s direction. 10 Incidentally, grandparents should not underestimate their influence in the lives of their grandchildren.
Christ’s Atonement is the central doctrine, but of even more comfort and benefit has been how wonderfully accessible and individual His mercy and help have been to me personally. These familiar words capture my feelings about that important aspect of Jesus’ influence and ministry:
During those chaotic moments we all seem to experience—when suffering anxiety or despair, when misunderstood and depreciated—as our days demand, our Savior can and will provide that succor or help in time of need. His succor brings us peace. Did He not say, “In the world ye shall have tribulation,” but “in me ye might have peace”? 12 Oh, how I have needed that peace! And it has been available in every condition, as my days and circumstances may have demanded.
To conclude, Church members are unified in Christ through love and testimony. This dispensation’s pathway to our Savior is through Joseph and the Book of Mormon. 13 Thus we can be certain that the New Testament account of Jesus is true. Jesus is our Lord and Redeemer. At every opportunity we ought to proclaim, “Hallelujah! How great Thou art!”
President Hinckley is His prophet on the earth. This is His church. May our unity constitute evidence to the world that we are His disciples. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
“Onward, Christian Soldiers,” Hymns, no. 246.
“Know This, That Every Soul Is Free,” Hymns, no. 240.
Richard Dilworth Rust, Feasting on the Word: The Literary Testimony of the Book of Mormon (1997).
“The Testimony of Eight Witnesses,” Book of Mormon.
See Heb. 1:1–2.
“How Firm a Foundation,” Hymns, no. 85.