Although President Joseph F. Smith had few opportunities for formal education, he was greatly influenced by the doctrine that the “glory of God is intelligence” (D&C 93:36), and he encouraged the Saints to obtain as much education as possible in both spiritual and temporal truths. President Smith continued to support the Church academies program, which provided secondary school training and religious education for many Saints. He also laid the foundation for today’s extensive Church Educational System by establishing the seminary program. The first seminary was opened in 1912, adjacent to Granite High School in Salt Lake City, Utah.
As President of the Church, he encouraged the Church auxiliaries—the Relief Society, the Sunday School, the Primary, and the Mutual Improvement Association (today the Young Men and Young Women programs)—in their mission of teaching the gospel. During his administration, uniform courses of study were established for children and adults in the Church auxiliaries, and the magazines published by the Church contained plans for weekly lessons. He served for many years as the editor of the Improvement Era, which preceded the Ensign magazine; and the Juvenile Instructor, which was published for the Sunday School organization, writing many articles and editorials that clarified Church doctrine. “He loved to write,” remembered one of his friends, “and often expressed the wish that he could have more time to devote to the Era.”1
As President Smith expressed, “To the Latter-day Saints, salvation itself, under the atonement of Christ, is a process of education. … Knowledge is a means of eternal progress.”2
There is no truth in any other religious society or organization, which is not included in the gospel of Jesus Christ as taught by Joseph Smith, the Prophet, and after him by the leaders and elders of this Church; but it requires some effort on our part, some exertion, some devotion, to learn of and to enjoy these things. If we neglect them, we are, of course, not the recipients of the blessings that follow effort, and that come from a thorough understanding of these principles. Hence it is that others may come in among us and advocate their ideas which, though not comparing with ours in plainness, instruction, and truth, are yet listened to by people who are made to believe that all these things are new, and not contained in the gospel of Jesus Christ as taught by the Latter-day Saints. This is a fearful fallacy, and one that should be guarded against by everyone who loves the gospel.3
If you love the truth, if you have received the gospel in your hearts and love it, your intelligence will be added upon; your understanding of truth will be expanded, larger than in any other way. Truth is the thing, above all other things in the world, that makes men free—free from indolence and carelessness, free from the fearful consequences of neglect, for it will be a fearful consequence, if we neglect our duty before the living God. If you will learn the truth and walk in the light of truth you shall be made free from the errors of men … ; you will be above suspicion and above wrong-doing of every description. God will approve of you and bless you and your inheritances, and make you prosper and flourish like a green bay tree.4
He that hath the privilege of learning and embracing the knowledge of God, and the way of life … is more fortunate than the finder of wealth, or of the hidden treasures of the earth. … His mind is free to accept the plain and precious truths revealed for the redemption and the life of man from the fountain head, and his heart is—or should be—wholly devoted to the great and glorious cause of human redemption.5
Where would you have people go who are unsettled in the truth? The answer is plain. They will not find satisfaction in the doctrines of Men. Let them seek for it in the written word of God; let them pray to him in their secret chambers, where no human ear can hear, and in their closets petition for light; let them obey the doctrines of Jesus, and they will immediately begin to grow in the knowledge of the truth. This course will bring peace to their souls, joy to their hearts, and a settled conviction which no change can disturb. They may be well assured that “he that heareth in secret will reward them openly.” [See Matthew 6:6.]6
Our young people are diligent students. They reach out after truth and knowledge with commendable zeal, and in so doing they must necessarily adopt for temporary use, many theories of men. As long, however, as they recognize them as scaffolding useful for research purposes, there can be no special harm in them. It is when these theories are settled upon as basic truth that trouble appears, and the searcher then stands in grave danger of being led hopelessly from the right way. …
The Church holds to the definite authority of divine revelation which must be the standard; and that, as so-called “Science” has changed from age to age in its deductions, and as divine revelation is truth, and must abide forever, views as to the lesser should conform to the positive statements of the greater, and, further, that in institutions founded by the Church for the teaching of theology, as well as other branches of education, its instructors must be in harmony in their teachings with its principles and doctrines. …
The religion of the Latter-day Saints is not hostile to any truth, nor to scientific search for truth. “That which is demonstrated, we accept with joy,” said the First Presidency in their Christmas greeting to the Saints, “but vain philosophy, human theory and mere speculations of men we do not accept, nor do we adopt anything contrary to divine revelation or to good common sense, but everything that tends to right conduct, that harmonizes with sound morality and increases faith in Deity, finds favor with us, no matter where it may be found.” [“Words in Season from the First Presidency,” Deseret Evening News, 17 Dec. 1910, 3.]
A good motto for young people to adopt, who are determined to delve into philosophic theories, is to search all things, but be careful to hold on only to that which is true. The truth persists, but the theories of philosophers change and are overthrown. What men use today as a scaffolding for scientific purposes from which to reach out into the unknown for truth, may be torn down tomorrow, having served its purpose; but faith is an eternal principle through which the humble believer may secure everlasting solace. It is the only way to find God.7
Science and philosophy through all the ages have undergone change after change. Scarcely a century has passed but they have introduced new theories of science and philosophy, that supersede the old traditions and the old faith and the old doctrines entertained by philosophers and scientists. These things may undergo continuous changes, but the word of God is always true, is always right.8
Education that has for its highest ideals the pursuit of worldly ambitions is wanting in that free and unrestrained flow of the spirit which makes for higher freedom and a more wholesome life. As we ripen in years and in experience, our spiritual lives have more and more to do with our real happiness. Our thoughts are more frequently turned inward as we contemplate the approaching end of this life and the unfolding of the greater life to come.9
We are not “ever learning and never coming to a knowledge of the truth.” [See 2 Timothy 3:7.] On the contrary, we are ever learning and are ever drawing nearer to a proper comprehension of the truth, the duty and the responsibility that devolve upon members of the Church who are called to responsible positions in it. Not only does this apply to those members who are called to act in responsible positions, but it applies to … [all] members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Who is there, under the circumstances that exist around us, that is not growing? Who is there of us that is not learning something day by day? Who is there of us that is not gaining experience as we pass along, and are attending to the duties of membership in the Church, and to the duties of citizens … ? It seems to me that it would be a very sad comment upon the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and her people to suppose for a moment that we are at a standstill, that we have ceased to grow, ceased to improve and to advance in the scale of intelligence, and in the faithful performance of duty in every condition in which we are placed as a people and as members of the Church of Christ.10
One of the greatest evils existing … is that of ignorance, coupled with indifference. I presume that if the ignorant were not so indifferent to these facts and to their condition they might be prompted to learn more than they do. The trouble with men and women is that they too frequently close their eyes to the facts that exist around them, and it seems to be very difficult for many of the people to learn and adapt to their lives those simple truths that should be in fact the household words and precepts of every Latter-day Saint, and of every home of a Latter-day Saint. How shall we stem the tide of this evil, this indifference, this consequent ignorance? It appears to me that the only way to do it is to wake up and become interested, or to interest ourselves in those things which are so important and necessary to the happiness and well-being of the children of men, especially that which is so needful for the happiness and well-being of ourselves individually.
It isn’t all that is necessary, to learn the truth or to cease to be ignorant. Following that comes the application of the understanding and knowledge that we gain, to those works and things that are needful for our protection and for the protection of our children, our neighbors, our homes, our happiness.11
Search out the truth of the written word; listen for and receive the truth declared by living prophets and teachers; enrich your minds with the best of knowledge and facts. Of those who speak in his name, the Lord requires humility, not ignorance. Intelligence is the glory of God; and no man can be saved in ignorance [see D&C 93:36; 131:6].12
Service in the Lord’s cause is a means towards obtaining a true education, and an education that is worth the name widens the fields of its possessor’s usefulness, and imparts zest and energy to all his undertakings.13
Fix in your minds noble thoughts, cultivate elevated themes, let your aims and aspirations be high. Be in a certain degree independent; to the degree of usefulness, helpfulness and self-reliance, though no human beings can be said truly to be independent of their fellow beings, and there is no one reckless enough to deny our utter dependence on our heavenly Father. Seek to be educated in the highest meaning of the term; get the most possible service out of your time, your body and brains, and let all your efforts be directed into honorable channels, that no effort shall be wasted, and no labor result in loss or evil.
Seek the very best society; be kind, polite, agreeable, seeking to learn whatever is good, and comprehend the duties of life that you may be a blessing to all those with whom you associate, making the very most and best of your lot in life.14
It is very important that the Latter-day Saints should always keep before them that recognized standard of religious and moral life which modern revelation has set up for their guidance. They should, in other words, keep a firm hold upon what has been beautifully described as the “iron rod.”
In these times when commercial, social and business organizations are taking strong hold upon the people, … the duties and obligations of the Latter-day Saints cannot safely be set aside for other standards of living.
It is to be feared that men accept for their guidance too frequently the general conduct of those by whom they are surrounded. If questionable practices are indulged in and the want of proper restraint is felt in any of these business, social and political organizations, it is no reason why those who profess to be Latter-day Saints should cut themselves loose from their moorings and drift with those who are indifferent, wayward, or immoral. …
We should never forget that we are, or should be, distinctly Latter-day Saints, wherever our lot in life might be cast, and we should never lose sight of that moral and spiritual guidance which the Gospel imposes upon us. Some of our young men who have made shipwreck of their lives may trace their misfortune and downfall to the first step they took in their willingness to be like those with whom they were associated in their temporal pursuits.
There are periods of excitement which rise often to such an extent that men and women apparently are completely carried away with it and forget everything but that which gives them temporary pleasure or worldly gain. Some, indeed, have no higher standard of morals than that which panders to worldly popularity. When these waves of excitement pass over they find themselves not only drifting aimlessly but sometimes hopelessly submerged among the debris or driftwood of wayward humanity. …
It is imperatively necessary, at all times, and especially so when our associations do not afford us the moral and spiritual support which we require for our advancement, that we go to the house of the Lord to worship and mingle with the Saints that their moral and spiritual influence may help to correct our false impressions and restore us to that life which the duties and obligations of our conscience and true religion imposes upon us.
… Let us, therefore, in the midst of our worldly callings and associations not forget that paramount duty which we owe to ourselves and to our God.15
What experiences have taught you that all truth is “included in the gospel of Jesus Christ”?
What must we do to learn the principles of truth? What are the dangers of neglecting this duty? What rewards are promised to those who learn the truth and walk in its light?
What is the position of the Church regarding the scientific search for truth? How do the theories and philosophies of men contrast with the word of God?
What are the dangers of pursuing an education only to satisfy “worldly ambitions”?
In what ways do people cease “to improve and to advance in the scale of intelligence”? How can we ensure that we are continuing to learn something day by day? (See also D&C 130:18–19.)
Why is ignorance of the truth “one of the greatest evils”? How can we “stem the tide of this evil”?
How can you “get the most possible service out of your time, your body and brains”? What attitudes and habits can help us make “the very most and best of [our] lot in life”?
What are the dangers of accepting for our guidance “the general conduct of those by whom [we] are surrounded” in our educational and temporal pursuits?
In the “midst of our worldly callings and associations,” what can we do to “not forget that paramount duty which we owe to ourselves and to our God”?