“Joseph Smith was a visionary and subject to hallucinations. There is no truth to his story.” Such was the announcement made to me by one of my best friends while attending junior high school.
His comment was in reaction to our previous conversation on religion at which time I had relayed to him the story of the first vision in detail. My friend documented his opinion with a library reference book supplied him by his parents. There it was in black and white, and from the public library no less. Certainly there could be no more authentic source in the mind of a thirteen-year-old boy than the public library.
For the first time in my young life, all that I had been taught by those I loved and trusted seemed to be in jeopardy. Just two years before in Primary it had all been so simple. My teachers had been good, my acceptance of their teachings complete. Now all of a sudden all that before had been so secure and neatly packaged for me was under attack.
Sooner or later such a moment comes to every Latter-day Saint. The day of childhood faith and unquestioned reliance on the word of others fades and eventually must be replaced by personal conviction if one’s faith in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is to survive.
Heber C. Kimball, counselor to President Brigham Young, foresaw the day when the Church would be under attack on prime social issues and even fundamental doctrine. Addressing himself to the individual members of the Church, he said:
“… To meet the difficulties that are coming, it will be necessary for you to have a knowledge of the truth of this work for yourself. The difficulties will be of such a character that the man or woman who does not possess his personal knowledge or witness will fall. … The time will come when no man or woman will be able to stand on borrowed light. Each of you will have to be guided by the light within himself. If you do not have it, how can you stand?” (Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball [Bookcraft, 1967], p. 450.)
There seems to be a worldwide return to thought about God, which is a reversal of the “God is dead” fad that was so prevalent a few years ago. Traditionally in the Church, teenage and young adult baptisms have been more numerous than those of other age groups. Lately this trend has been even more pronounced. In some cases new converts know more about the Church and develop stronger testimonies than many young members who have been in the Church all of their lives and who seem to take for granted that which should be a most urgent factor in their lives.
A firm and abiding testimony of this great latter-day work is not reserved for your bishopric and a select circle of high priests in the ward. A testimony of the truth is a free gift from God to everyone who is willing to go through the process of building a testimony. A young lad of fourteen was chosen to open this dispensation for many good and sufficient reasons: His mind was not set. He was teachable. He was young and believing. He was not too far removed from the faith of his childhood, a faith that is too often left behind for a life of skepticism and doubt. In my opinion a young mind and heart can be a most fertile field for seeds of testimony to take root and grow.
A person’s search for testimony can start in earnest only if it becomes a matter of vital concern with him whether or not the Joseph Smith story is true, whether or not the Book of Mormon is an inspired document, whether or not this is a prophet-led Church! Only then can a person really be ready for the noble quest of light and truth. But the acquisition and maintenance of a testimony require effort. Without strong desire, without study, and without the necessary self-discipline to live worthily, answers to questions will not likely come.
My teenage years were very much like those of many youth I talk to from day to day. They frequently say, “If the Lord would only let me know for sure, then I would certainly be willing to dedicate my entire life to the work.” Testimonies built on miracles alone are at best shallow and can only be perpetuated by other miracles. Such is not the eternal process considered best for the acquisition of a testimony that can withstand the troubles spoken of by Heber C. Kimball.
Even President David O. McKay went through this mental process as a teenage boy. He has told us about kneeling by a serviceberry bush as a boy in Huntsville to find out once and for all about the truth of the work. May I quote President McKay as he tells of that occasion:
“I knelt down and with all the fervor of my heart poured out my soul to God and asked him for a testimony of this gospel. I had in mind that there would be some manifestation; that I should receive some transformation that would leave me absolutely without doubt.
“I got up, mounted my horse, and as he started over the trail, I remember rather introspectively searching myself and involuntarily shaking my head, saying to myself, ‘No sir, there is no change; I am just the same boy I was before I knelt down.’ The anticipated manifestation had not come. …
“However, it did come, but not in the way I had anticipated. Even the manifestation of God’s power and the presence of his angels came; but when it did come, it was simply a confirmation, it was not a testimony.” (Treasures of Life, [Deseret Book Co., 1962], pp. 229–30.)
There are no shortcuts to eternal life with our Father. Knowledge and testimony must come “line upon line, precept upon precept.” (D&C 98:12.) The Savior said, “Search the scriptures”; then he refers to eternal life about which the scriptures teach and concludes, “… they are they which testify of me.” (John 5:39.)
A wonderful brother whom I admire very much, especially for his knowledge of the scriptures, was discussing the Book of Mormon one day. Someone asked him how one could ever begin to gain such facility with the scriptures as he possesses.
His answer was classic. “Why, it is very simple,” he explained. “You begin on page one, and then turn to page two, and so on.” Few of us are willing to start on page one. May I reemphasize, there are no shortcuts to life eternal. To learn gospel principles, we start on page one, then go to page two, and hopefully unto a perfect knowledge.
Concerning the principles we learn about, we need to remember that the gospel of Jesus Christ is undeviating. As you know, man is continually seeking to rationalize the scriptures, fitting them to a here and now expediency or perhaps fitting them to meet a temporary convenience, but the Lord says in latter-day revelation: “Search these commandments, for they are true. … What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself.” He concludes with an observation that should be taken as a guide for every young Latter-day Saint: “… whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.” (D&C 1:37–38.) Isn’t it reassuring that we have access to day-to-day direction from living prophets?
“Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.
“If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” (John 7:16–17.)
As a missionary arrives in the mission field, he can find joy and success only as he decides to jump in and get wet all over. Youth all over the world are being “turned on” in one way or another. Recently I saw a group of high school seniors in California “turn on” as they worked on a special project side by side with some handicapped employees at a Deseret Industries plant. One young man said, “I’ll never be the same again.”
While on their summer vacation a quorum of deacons in Australia decided to go all out as volunteer laborers on the construction of their new meetinghouse. They still refer to it as our building. A class of Laurel girls in Salt Lake City selected a nearby hospital for volunteer service during the summer. They donated over 600 hours for others. In a testimony meeting at the end of the summer, one girl said, “It was like heaven on earth.”
Then there was the bishop’s youth committee in Logan, Utah, that decided to fix up a widow’s home. One young man commented, “When I saw her cry, I decided then and there that I had finally found the key to real happiness.” A girl commented, “I never knew till now what my teachers meant when they taught us about ‘pure religion and undefiled before God. …’” (James 1:27.)
There are hundreds of such examples all over the Church as young people in every part of the world gain a sweet confirmation of testimony by the gift of the Spirit as they do his will. Just learning about it is not enough. You’ve got to get in on the action yourself.
“And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
“And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” (Moro. 10:4–5.)
This scripture alone has led more people to a testimony of the Book of Mormon than any other prompting or encouragement. Fasting and prayer are the means used by all of the prophets who have ever lived to gain spiritual strength and to communicate better with our Father. All of them have encouraged us to do likewise.
Every Latter-day Saint must gain a firm testimony for himself—a personal knowledge that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of the living God, that Joseph Smith is the prophet through whom the gospel has been restored, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is “… the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth. …” (D&C 1:30.)
Anyone can acquire this testimony by following the established procedure by which the Lord gives a testimony. There are no shortcuts. A desire to know is imperative. To learn the doctrine is essential. To do his will will sanctify that teaching in your heart. To pray often will open the way and make all things possible through him, for he has said, “… without me ye can do nothing.” (John 15:5.)
May each of you be capable of standing on your own testimony, for borrowed light may not be sufficient as you face the future.