Chapter 27: Learning by Study and by Faith

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, (1997), 192–201


Although President Brigham Young had only 11 days of formal schooling, he understood the need for learning both the things of the world and the wisdom of God. He never ceased learning from books, from the scriptures, and from the revelations of the Lord, and he taught the Saints to establish schools and to delight in learning. In 1850 he founded the University of Deseret, which later became the University of Utah; in 1875 he founded an academy in Provo, Utah, which later became Brigham Young University. Brigham Young College at Logan, Utah, was established in 1877 to train teachers for schools throughout the Latter-day Saint settlements. Consistent with this commitment to education, he also maintained a family schoolhouse near his home for the last 12 years of his life. A founder of universities and a profound teacher, President Young taught that if we wish to become like Heavenly Father, we must grow continually in knowledge and wisdom.

Teachings of Brigham Young

We are “duty bound to study,” learn, and live by eternal principles.

While the inhabitants of the earth are bestowing all their ability, both mental and physical, upon perishable objects, those who profess to be Latter-day Saints, who have the privilege of receiving and understanding the principles of the holy gospel, are in duty bound to study and find out, and put in practice in their lives, those principles that are calculated to endure, and that tend to a continual increase in this, and in the world to come (DNW, 20 July 1854, 1).

Not only does the religion of Jesus Christ make the people acquainted with the things of God, and develop within them moral excellence and purity, but it holds out every encouragement and inducement possible, for them to increase in knowledge and intelligence, in every branch of mechanism, or in the arts and sciences, for all wisdom, and all the arts and sciences in the world are from God, and are designed for the good of his people (DBY, 247).

Every art and science known and studied by the children of men is comprised within the Gospel. Where did the knowledge come from which has enabled man to accomplish such great achievements in science and mechanism within the last few years? We know that knowledge is from God, but why do they not acknowledge him? Because they are blind to their own interests, they do not see and understand things as they are. Who taught men to chain the lightning? Did man unaided of himself discover that? No, he received the knowledge from the Supreme Being. From him, too, has every art and science proceeded, although the credit is given to this individual, and that individual. But where did they get the knowledge from, have they it in and of themselves? No, they must acknowledge that, if they cannot make one spear of grass grow, nor one hair white or black [see Matthew 5:36] without artificial aid, they are dependent upon the Supreme Being just the same as the poor and the ignorant. Where have we received the knowledge to construct the labor-saving machinery for which the present age is remarkable? From Heaven. Where have we received our knowledge of astronomy, or the power to make glasses to penetrate the immensity of space? … From [God] has every astronomer, artist and mechanician that ever lived on the earth obtained his knowledge (DBY, 246).

The greatest difficulty we have to meet is what may be termed ignorance, or want of understanding in the people (DBY, 247).

The religion embraced by the Latter-day Saints, if only slightly understood, prompts them to search diligently after knowledge [see D&C 88:118]. There is no other people in existence more eager to see, hear, learn, and understand truth (DBY, 247).

Put forth your ability to learn as fast as you can, and gather all the strength of mind and principle of faith you possibly can, and then distribute your knowledge to the people (DBY, 247).

Let us train our minds until we delight in that which is good, lovely and holy, seeking continually after that intelligence which will enable us effectually to build up Zion, … seeking to do the will of the Lord all the days of our lives, improving our minds in all scientific and mechanical knowledge, seeking diligently to understand the great design and plan of all created things, that we may know what to do with our lives and how to improve upon the facilities placed within our reach (DBY, 247).

Karl G. Maeser

Photograph of Karl G. Maeser, the first instructor at Brigham Young Academy, which later became Brigham Young University.

We are called to grow in grace and knowledge for eternity.

This is our labor, our business, and our calling—to grow in grace and in knowledge from day to day and from year to year (DBY, 248).

I shall not cease learning while I live, nor when I arrive in the spirit-world; but shall there learn with greater facility; and when I again receive my body, I shall learn a thousand times more in a thousand times less time; and then I do not mean to cease learning, but shall still continue my researches (DBY, 248).

We shall never see the time when we shall not need to be taught, nor when there will not be an object to be gained. I never expect to see the time that there will not be a superior power and a superior knowledge, and, consequently, incitements to further progress and further improvements (DBY, 248).

Could we live to the age of Methuselah … and spend our lives in searching after the principles of eternal life, we would find, when one eternity had passed to us, that we had been but children thus far, babies just commencing to learn the things which pertain to the eternities of the Gods (DBY, 249).

We might ask, when shall we cease to learn? I will give you my opinion about it: never, never (DBY, 249).

Experience has taught us that it requires time to acquire certain branches of mechanism, also principles and ideas that we wish to become masters of. The closer people apply their minds to any correct purpose the faster they can grow and increase in the knowledge of the truth. When they learn to master their feelings, they can soon learn to master their reflections and thoughts in the degree requisite for attaining the objects they are seeking. But while they yield to a feeling or spirit that distracts their minds from a subject they wish to study and learn, so long they will never gain the mastery of their minds (DBY, 250).

A firm, unchangeable course of righteousness through life is what secures to a person true intelligence (DBY, 245).

We should educate ourselves and our children in the learning of the world and the things of God.

Teach the children, give them the learning of the world and the things of God; elevate their minds, that they may not only understand the earth we walk upon, but the air we breathe, the water we drink, and all the elements pertaining to the earth (DBY, 251).

See that your children are properly educated in the rudiments of their mother tongue, and then let them proceed to higher branches of learning; let them become more informed in every department of true and useful learning than their fathers are. When they have become well acquainted with their language, let them study other languages, and make themselves fully acquainted with the manners, customs, laws, governments and literature of other nations, peoples, and tongues. Let them also learn all the truth pertaining to the arts and sciences, and how to apply the same to their temporal wants. Let them study things that are upon the earth, that are in the earth, and that are in the heavens (DBY, 252).

Every accomplishment, every polished grace, every useful attainment in mathematics, music, and in all science and art belongs to the Saints, and they should avail themselves as expeditiously as possible of the wealth of knowledge the sciences offer to every diligent and persevering scholar (DBY, 252).

I am happy to see our children engaged in the study and practice of music. Let them be educated in every useful branch of learning, for we, as a people, have in the future to excel the nations of the earth in religion, science and philosophy (DBY, 256).

There are hundreds of young men here who can go to school, which is far better than to waste their time. Study languages, get knowledge and understanding; and while doing this, get wisdom from God, and forget it not, and learn how to apply it, that you may be good with it all the days of your lives (DBY, 252).

Go to school and study. … I want to have schools to entertain the minds of the people and draw them out to learn the arts and sciences. Send the old children to school, and the young ones also; there is nothing I would like better than to learn chemistry, botany, geology, and mineralogy, so that I could tell what I walk on, the properties of the air I breathe, what I drink, etc. (DBY, 253).

We should be a people of profound learning.

We should be a people of profound learning pertaining to the things of the world. We should be familiar with the various languages, for we wish to send missionaries to the different nations and to the islands of the sea. We wish missionaries who may go to France to be able to speak the French language fluently, and those who may go to Germany, Italy, Spain, and so on to all nations, to be familiar with the languages of those nations (DBY, 254).

We also wish them to understand the geography, habits, customs, and laws of nations and kingdoms. … This is recommended in the revelations given to us [see D&C 88:78–80; 93:53]. In them we are taught to study the best books, that we may become as well acquainted with the geography of the world as we are with our gardens, and as families with the people—so far at least as they are portrayed in print—as we are with our families and neighbors (DBY, 254–55).

We are in a great school, and we should be diligent to learn, and continue to store up the knowledge of heaven and of earth, and read good books, although I cannot say that I would recommend the reading of all books, for it is not all books which are good. Read good books, and extract from them wisdom and understanding as much as you possibly can, aided by the Spirit of God (DBY, 248).

I would advise you to read books that are worth reading; read reliable history, and search wisdom out of the best books you can procure (DBY, 256).

How gladly would we understand every principle pertaining to science and art, and become thoroughly acquainted with every intricate operation of nature, and with all the chemical changes that are constantly going on around us! How delightful this would be, and what a boundless field of truth and power is open for us to explore! We are only just approaching the shores of the vast ocean of information that pertains to this physical world, to say nothing of that which pertains to the heavens, to angels and celestial beings, to the place of their habitation, to the manner of their life, and their progress to still higher degrees of perfection (DBY, 255).

The revelations of the Lord Jesus Christ to the human family are all the learning we can ever possess. Much of this knowledge is obtained from books which have been written by men who have contemplated deeply on various subjects, and the revelations of Jesus have opened their minds, whether they knew it or acknowledged it or not (DBY, 257–58).

Our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular. You may take geology, for instance, and it is true science; not that I would say for a moment that all the conclusions and deductions of its professors are true, but its leading principles are; they are facts—they are eternal; and to assert that the Lord made this earth out of nothing is preposterous and impossible [see Abraham 3:24; D&C 131:7]. God never made something out of nothing; it is not in the economy or law by which the worlds were, are, or will exist. There is an eternity before us, and it is full of matter; and if we but understand enough of the Lord and his ways we would say that he took of this matter and organized this earth from it. How long it has been organized it is not for me to say, and I do not care anything about it. … If we understood the process of creation there would be no mystery about it, it would be all reasonable and plain, for there is no mystery except to the ignorant. This we know by what we have learned naturally since we have had a being on the earth (DBY, 258–59).

faculty of Brigham Young Academy

The faculty of the Brigham Young Academy about 1885.

We have the privilege of searching out the wisdom of God.

It is the privilege of man to search out the wisdom of God pertaining to the earth and the heavens. Real wisdom is a real pleasure; real wisdom, prudence, and understanding, is a real comfort (DBY, 262).

The person that applies his heart to wisdom, and seeks diligently for understanding, will grow to be mighty in Israel (DBY, 261).

Let wisdom be sown in your hearts, and let it bring forth a bountiful harvest. It is more profitable to you than all the gold and silver and other riches of earth. Let wisdom spring up in your hearts, and cultivate it (DBY, 261).

As we prepare materials to build a house or temple, so man can prepare himself for the reception of eternal wisdom. We go where the materials for a house are, and prepare them to answer our purpose; so we may go to where eternal wisdom dwells and there diligently seek to possess it, for its price is above rubies [see Job 28:18] (DBY, 261–62).

After all our endeavors to obtain wisdom from the best books, etc, there still remains an open fountain for all; “If any man lack wisdom let him ask of God” [see James 1:5] (DBY, 261).

If you live so as to possess the Holy Ghost, … you will at once see the difference between the wisdom of men and the wisdom of God, and you can weigh things in the balance and estimate them at their true worth (DBY, 323).

Let every Latter-day Saint constantly practice himself in the performance of every good word and work, to acknowledge God to be God, to be strict in keeping his laws, and learning to love mercy, eschew [avoid] evil and delight in constantly doing that which is pleasing to God (DBY, 261).

There is only one Source whence men obtain wisdom, and that is God, the Fountain of all wisdom; and though men may claim to make their discoveries by their own wisdom, by meditation and reflection, they are indebted to our Father in Heaven for all (DBY, 259–60).

Suggestions for Study

We are “duty bound to study,” learn, and live by eternal principles.

  • While others “are bestowing all their ability … upon perishable objects,” how should the Latter-day Saints invest their time and energies? What are “perishable objects”? List some of “those principles that are calculated to endure, and … increase … in the world to come.”

  • Who is the source of all great achievements in knowledge? Whom do people usually credit for these achievements?

  • In what ways does the gospel encourage Church members to “increase in knowledge and intelligence”? Why is there “no other … people more eager to see, hear, learn, and understand truth”? Why should we seek to never stop learning?

  • How can we “train our minds until we delight in that which is good, lovely and holy”? What results from “improving our minds”?

We are called to grow in grace and knowledge for eternity.

  • According to President Young, when does a person stop learning?

  • What course must we follow to gain mastery of our minds and to secure true intelligence?

We should educate ourselves and our children in the learning of the world and the things of God.

  • President Young commanded us to teach our children. What are we to teach them? What can we do to encourage our children to gain an education?

  • How can we balance obtaining secular knowledge with getting wisdom from God? In what ways do these goals work together?

  • In teaching children, what are the responsibilities of teachers? of parents? of other adults?

We should be a people of profound learning.

  • Why should we seek “profound learning”? What should we study? Why should we read more than just the scriptures?

  • President Young exhorted us to “study the best books.” What kinds of books did he refer to? How can we tell good books from bad? What books have you benefited from studying that you might classify as being among “the best books”? Aside from studying good books, how else might you gain knowledge?

  • What is the source of “all the learning we can ever possess”? How can we learn more effectively from that source?

  • According to President Young, what is the relationship between true religion and “the facts of science”?

We have the privilege of searching out the wisdom of God.

  • President Young said that the wisdom of God “is more profitable to you than all the gold and silver and other riches of earth.” How can true wisdom become a “pleasure” and a “comfort”?

  • To whom do we go to obtain “eternal wisdom”? How must we prepare to receive eternal wisdom? How can we “see the difference between the wisdom of men and the wisdom of God”?