From the Life of Joseph F. Smith
Throughout the trek to the Salt Lake Valley in 1848, Mary Fielding Smith sat with her son Joseph and other family members and studied the scriptures by lamp and firelight. These were the days of Joseph’s earliest spiritual education, obtained from his mother in the tent, in the camp, and on the prairie.1 Later in life, President Joseph F. Smith recalled: “As a child I was impressed, deeply, with the thought, and firmly with the belief, in my soul that the revelations that had been given to and through Joseph the Prophet … were the word of God, as were the words of the ancient disciples when they bore record of the Father and of the Son. That impression made upon me in my childhood has followed through all the vicissitudes of more than sixty years of actual and practical experience in the mission field, throughout the nations of the world, and at home in the midst of the authorized servants of God.”2
At the general conference held on 10 October 1880, the First Presidency of the Church—President John Taylor and his Counselors George Q. Cannon and Joseph F. Smith—presented to the Church the Pearl of Great Price and some additional sections of the Doctrine and Covenants “as revelations from God to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and to all the world.”3 By unanimous vote, the Church members accepted these revelations, thus expanding the canon of scriptures of the Church. For President Smith, the scriptures remained a constant source of “spiritual wealth.”4 He wove the scriptures into his teaching throughout his life, and it was while pondering the scriptures that he received the great revelation now known as Doctrine and Covenants section 138.
Teachings of Joseph F. Smith
The scriptures convey words of love and spiritual wealth.
To [those who are] at a loss to know what to do, among all the various teachings that are extant in the world, I would say: Search the Scriptures, seek God in prayer, and then read the doctrines that have been proclaimed by Christ in his sermon on the mount, as found in Matthew, and as reiterated to the ancient saints upon this [the American] continent (III Nephi). Having studied these splendid standards, and searched deeply the significance of these matchless sentiments, you may defy the philosophies of the world, or any of its ethics to produce their equal. The wisdom of men is not to be compared with them. They lead to the rest of the peaceable followers of Christ, and enable mankind to become perfect as he is perfect. No other philosopher has ever said as Jesus said, “Come unto me.” From the beginning of the world until the present time, no other philosopher has ever cried unto the people such words of love, nor guaranteed and declared power within himself to save. “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” is his call to all the sons and daughters of men [Matthew 11:28].
The Latter-day Saints have answered the call, and thousands thereby have found rest and peace surpassing all understanding; and this notwithstanding the outward, fiery ordeals, the turmoil and the strife, through which they have passed. They rest in the knowledge that no man could declare or teach such doctrine; it is the truth of God.5
That which characterizes above all else the inspiration and divinity of the Scriptures is the spirit in which they are written and the spiritual wealth they convey to those who faithfully and conscientiously read them. Our attitude, therefore, toward the Scriptures should be in harmony with the purposes for which they were written. They are intended to enlarge man’s spiritual endowments and to reveal and intensify the bond of relationship between him and his God. The Bible, as all other books of Holy Writ, to be appreciated must be studied by those spiritually inclined and who are in quest of spiritual truths.6
The greatest achievement mankind can make in this world is to familiarize themselves with divine truth, so thoroughly, so perfectly, that the example or conduct of no creature living in the world can ever turn them away from the knowledge that they have obtained. “In the footsteps of the Master,” the greatest of all the teachers that this world has ever received, is the safest and surest course to pursue that I know of in the world. We can absorb the precepts, the doctrines and the divine word of the Master, without any fear that the exemplar will fail of carrying out and executing his own precepts and fulfilling his own doctrines and requirements.7
Modern scriptures teach us the word of God and testify that Jesus is the Christ.
By the testimony of the Holy Spirit of God to me, I know that this book, the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, which I hold in my hand, is the word of God through Joseph Smith to the world, and especially to the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints throughout the world, and that by the gift and power of God he translated this book (the Book of Mormon) from its original language, and from the engravings upon the golden plates into the language which we now read within the lids of this book; and it contains the fullness of the everlasting Gospel. It will lead men to the obtaining of the knowledge of truth whereby they may be saved and brought back again into the presence of God and partake of His glory and of endless lives.8
Christ himself burst the barriers of the tomb, conquered death and the grave and came forth “the first fruits of them that slept.” [1 Corinthians 15:20.] … [His] disciples witness and testify to the resurrection, and their testimony can not be impeached. It therefore stands good, and is true and faithful.
But is this the only evidence we have to depend on? Have we nothing but the testimony of the ancient disciples to rest our hopes upon? Thank God we have more. And the additional evidence which we possess enables us to become witnesses to the truth of the testimony of the ancient disciples. We go to the Book of Mormon; it testifies of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in plain and unmistakable terms; we may go to the book of Doctrine and Covenants containing the revelations of this dispensation, and we shall find clear and well defined evidence there. We have the testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the testimony of Oliver Cowdery, and the testimony of Sidney Rigdon, that they saw the Lord Jesus—the same that was crucified in Jerusalem—and that he revealed himself unto them [see D&C 76:22–24].9
The Book of Mormon [is] a book of scripture that was translated by the gift and power of God, for the voice of God declared to the three witnesses that it had been translated by the gift and power of God and that it was true. The three witnesses declared and testified to its truth, and eight other witnesses, besides the Prophet Joseph, declared that they beheld the plates and handled them, and saw the engravings on them, and that they do know that Joseph Smith did have the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated.10
The Book of Mormon, which Joseph Smith was the instrument in the hands of God in bringing forth to this generation, has been translated into the German, French, Danish, Swedish, Welsh, Hawaiian, Hindustani, Spanish, and Dutch languages, and this book will be translated into other languages, for according to the predictions it contains, and according to the promises of the Lord through Joseph Smith it is to be sent unto every nation, and kindred, and people under the whole heavens, until all the sons and daughters of Adam shall have the privilege of hearing the gospel as it has been restored to the earth in the dispensation of the fulness of times.11
That God will manifest his purposes to the Lamanites in his own time and way there can be no doubt in the minds of those who believe in the divine origin of the Book of Mormon—for in that book this fact is made unmistakably clear, but just how he will do so in every particular, and just what agencies he will use to bring about his purposes in this regard, may be matters of conjecture beyond what has actually been revealed. One of the agencies, we know, will be the Book of Mormon itself.12
I say to my brethren that the book of Doctrine and Covenants contains some of the most glorious principles ever revealed to the world, some that have been revealed in greater fulness than they were ever revealed before to the world; and this, in fulfilment of the promise of the ancient prophets that in the latter times the Lord would reveal things to the world that had been kept hidden from the foundation thereof; and the Lord has revealed them through the Prophet Joseph Smith.13
I believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ, because more than ever I come nearer the possession of the actual knowledge that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, through the testimony of Joseph Smith contained in this book, the Doctrine and Covenants, that he saw Him, that he heard Him, that he received instructions from Him, that he obeyed those instructions, and that he today stands before the world as the last great, actual, living witness of the divinity of Christ’s mission and His power to redeem man from the temporal death and also from the second death which will follow man’s own sins, through disobedience to the ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ.14
Study the standard works to obtain a knowledge of the word of God.
I have found very often in my experience in reading over passages of Scripture that the Spirit has brought to my mind new light, and has shown up to my understanding thoughts and views which seemed to be new to me, notwithstanding I had been familiar with those Scriptures and had read them over and over again. In fact, there is a peculiarity which I have found accompanies the reading of the word of God, that whenever read it is calculated to refresh the soul, to revive the spirit of man, and to draw him nearer, if possible, to the fountain of light, truth, wisdom, love and knowledge. Therefore, it is a good thing for the Latter-day Saints to read very often the word of God as it is recorded in the Bible, the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants, and as it has been discussed also by the leading Elders of the Church with a view to making plain the laws of God to the understanding of the children of men.
And in reading the word of the Lord we should take into consideration its application to us under the circumstances and in the conditions in which we find ourselves, and we should reflect as to whether we are complying with the requirements of the Gospel or not, and whether we have the Spirit in our hearts which accompanies the work and word of the Lord. We should not read merely to say that we have read; but we should read with the spirit and with the understanding, in order that we may be profited, and that the truth may be revealed, as far as possible, unto our understanding, and may be so impressed upon our minds that it will never depart from us, but will be in us like a fountain which springeth up unto everlasting life, and which shall be an unfailing source of truth, of light, of joy and of peace in our hearts continually.15
All members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should be as familiar as possible with the words that are recorded in the New Testament, especially with reference to those things spoken as recorded by the apostles, and the Savior Himself. The Book of Mormon should be read carefully, and the book of Doctrine and Covenants should be read very carefully by the Latter-day Saints. These are standard works of the Church and they contain truth, not error, not the mere words and opinions of men, not novels or novelettes, not suppositions, but the truth, God’s word, for God’s word is truth, and these are things which our daughters, and our sons, our fathers and mothers should thoroughly understand. Let us know the truth for the truth makes us and will make us free from error, from superstition, from false tradition, from false science or so-called science, and from the vagaries of men and the vain philosophies of the world. If we can learn the truth then we will be free from those errors and from the power of error that is so potent in the world.
… We want our sons and our daughters to know God’s truth and not the vagaries of the world and we want you to study those books from whence you will obtain a knowledge of the word of the Lord to us.
Some of our good people read many of the books that are published today, popular fiction so-called but they haven’t time to read the Word of the Lord. Many of these books are beautiful, but often many ideas are expressed which are only pretty words, well-connected sentences or sentiments that are like flowers blooming on the stem without root. Real truth you can gain from books that have been adopted as standard works of the Church. I see too many of our people who are very much better read in the things that are written by some of the popular authors of books than they are in the things of God. They don’t know one thing about the real essence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they don’t know or comprehend one thing about the rites of the Priesthood and the principles of government that God has revealed to the children of men to maintain the kingdom of God in the earth. They know more about novels than they do about the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants—yes, far more.16
It is surprising to hear the multitude of questions that are continuously sent to the Presidency of the Church, and to others of my brethren who are in leading positions, for information upon some of the most simple things that pertain to the Gospel. Hundreds of questions, communications, and letters are sent to us from time to time asking information and instruction on matters that are so plainly written in the revelations of God—contained in the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and the Bible—it seems that any one who can read should understand.17
We have in the gospel the truth. If that is the case, and I bear my testimony that so it is, then it is worth our every effort to understand the truth, each for himself, and to impart it in spirit and practice to our children. … This should be done every day, and in the home, by precept, teaching and example. … Spend ten minutes in reading a chapter from the words of the Lord in the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, before you retire, or before you go to your daily toil. Feed your spiritual selves at home, as well as in public places.18
Suggestions for Study
How do the scriptures “lead to the rest of the peaceable followers of Christ” and enable us to become perfect? How have they helped you to become a peaceable follower of Christ?
What are the “purposes for which [the scriptures] were written”? How do they “intensify the bond of relationship” between us and God?
How do you feel when you study the scriptures? With what attitude should we study the scriptures?
What passages in the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, or Pearl of Great Price have most strengthened your testimony that Jesus is the Christ? What passages have strengthened your testimony of the divine calling of the Prophet Joseph Smith?
How are God’s purposes being made manifest today among the descendants of Book of Mormon peoples?
What are some of the “most glorious principles ever revealed to the world” that are found in the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price? What difference have these principles made in your life?
What does it mean to read the scriptures very carefully? Why should we do so? How have you been most successful in reading and studying them?
How can we ensure that we and our families do not allow popular books, television, and other entertainment to take priority over study of the scriptures?
What is the value of daily personal and family scripture study? How have you or others successfully incorporated scripture study into busy personal and family lives?
See Edward H. Anderson, “A Biographical Sketch,” in Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. (1939), 529.
Gospel Doctrine, 493.
“Fiftieth Semi-Annual Conference,” Millennial Star, 15 Nov. 1880, 724.
Gospel Doctrine, 45.
Gospel Doctrine, 128.
Gospel Doctrine, 45–46.
Gospel Doctrine, 3–4.
In Brian H. Stuy, comp, Collected Discourses Delivered by President Wilford Woodruff, His Two Counselors, the Twelve Apostles, and Others, 5 vols. (1987–92), 5:29.
Gospel Doctrine, 444–45; paragraphing altered.
Gospel Doctrine, 466.
Gospel Doctrine, 481.
Gospel Doctrine, 378.
Gospel Doctrine, 45.
Gospel Doctrine, 495.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 6 Feb. 1893, 2; paragraphing added.
“Reading,” Young Woman’s Journal, Aug. 1917, 412–13.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1915, 138.
Gospel Doctrine, 301–2.