There is a poem often quoted by men who work with boys to the effect that what men do for boys is to preserve them not only from evil but also from the pitfalls leading to evil. It tells about an old man walking at eventide. He came to a chasm deep and wide, and he stopped to build a bridge across this dangerous, flood-filled chasm. When asked why he stopped and built the bridge, he answered that following him was an inexperienced youth and the bridge was being built for him.
I liked the idea and often quoted it. However, I did notice that the poem did not rob the old man of the pleasure of building the bridge. I have wondered if the young man was really strengthened by the construction. I have thought that the young man—the youth—following on behind might have received greater strength if he had been permitted to build his own bridge. The youth could have gained more real strength if the old man had stopped and posted a sign by the chasm which could have read:
This is a deep and wide chasm.
The water in it conceals rapids and dangers.
It is not safe to swim across.
You’d better build a bridge—
Here is a hammer, nails, and an ax and saw.
Material is in the woods to your right.
Go to it, son, and build yourself a safe bridge.
If I have learned anything in my 78-year journey through life, it is that one makes no progress when things are done for him, but he must do things for himself. I have wondered many times if I were on the right trail through my wilderness traveling toward my goal.
I soon learned in hiking with boys that they got no pleasure out of my reading the map and showing them the direction. But if I provided each one with a map and a compass and pointed to a spot on the map indicating where he was, then pointed to another spot on the map and said, “Meet me at that point at 4:00 this afternoon,” he embarked on a great adventure, a great challenge, and received immense satisfaction in solving the problem. But all of this was physical satisfaction.
Our ultimate purpose in life is not physical; it is spiritual. It is to come to know God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent. That is what Christ the Lord said when he began his great prayer in Gethsemane. (See John 17.) The gospel is given to us so that we can be guided to the objective given us—to know the Father and the Son. It is as though he said to me, “Son, here is a map and a compass. You are at this spot, and your objective is to reach this other spot. You can do it quickly, or you can take a long time. The sooner you do it, the happier you will be.”
I take the map and gaze at the strange symbols on it. The directions are plainly written, yet I do not quite comprehend. They are words without meaning to me. Just what is an azimuth anyhow, or what does BM x 8270 mean? What are the blue lines as opposed to the black lines and those brown lines in semi-symmetrical patterns? I must understand them to be guided by a map.
Our map, of course, is the revealed word. Our compass is the prophet of the Lord. Understanding comes when one has obtained the Spirit of the Lord, the Holy Ghost.
So let us start on our journey to find eternal life. We will need a map.
Many years ago the Lord gave to the Church a revelation through the Prophet Joseph Smith. In the latter part of it he spoke to the Twelve Apostles and gave them some instructions. Finally he bore witness as to how they could know it was from him. The remarkable thing about it was that there was no Quorum of the Twelve at that time (June 1829). In 1835, six years later, the Quorum of the Twelve was organized and its members chosen. Now the Prophet gathered them together and read to them this revelation. It was read to them in the spring of 1835 by the Prophet as their first instruction. Verses 34 through 36 of the revelation are the testimony of their truth.
“These words are not of men nor of man, but of me; wherefore, you shall testify they are of me and not of man;
“For it is my voice which speaketh them unto you; for they are given by my Spirit unto you, and by my power you can read them one to another; and save it were by my power you could not have them;
“Wherefore, you can testify that you have heard my voice, and know my words.” (D&C 18:34–36.)
Now if you will read this testimony, you will discover—
1. The words are of God and not of man.
2. They are given by his Spirit (through Joseph Smith).
3. Without that Spirit you could not have them.
4. By that Spirit you can read them—one to another.
5. Having read them by the Spirit, therefore, you may know that you have heard the voice of the Lord and know his word.
I had read that series of verses many times, saying to myself that the Twelve received their instruction by revelation through the Prophet. Then one day as I was reading them, in some manner of which I was not conscious at the time, I suddenly realized that the message was for me as well as for the Twelve—not the message itself, but the manner of receiving the message.
Into my mind came the question: How does one hear the word of the Lord? The answer was sharp and clear: By reading the scriptures—by my Spirit they are given to you in writing through my prophets.
Ever since that day whenever I have read the scriptures, there grows in me a thirst—a hunger—to learn more. I start; I don’t want to stop; I am absorbed in the wonder of the word, its scope, its completeness. I can now read the map that guides me to eternal life.
Then I wondered how the Spirit manifests itself to me. How can I know how to seek and obtain the Spirit so that I am hearing by the Spirit? One can read the words without it, and they are just words. I had done that many times. But to read and expand and glow with its warmth, that, I learned, is entirely another thing.
After I had the experience to which I have just referred, I began to search to see how it happened to others. One day I was reading in Enos. The tenth verse almost leaped out at me.
“And while I was thus struggling in the spirit, behold, the voice of the Lord came into my mind again, saying. …” (Enos 1:10.)
“Behold, I will tell you in your mind [there it is again] and in your heart.” (What does he mean by “heart”?)
Then in section 9, verse 8. [D&C 9:8]
“Behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you.” (There it is again, mind and bosom—heart.) So I conclude that it comes into my mind accompanied by a feeling that may center in my bosom. Then finally it seemed to me to be entirely clear to me when I read in 1 Nephi 17:45 [1 Ne. 17:45], Nephi’s rebuke of his brothers. He reminded them of the times the Lord had spoken and that finally He had spoken to them with the still, small voice, but they were without feeling and they could not feel his words. Why did he say “feeling” and “feel” rather than “hearing” and “hear”? Because it is by feeling, not by hearing.
So here is your bridge, young folks; here is your map, your compass, and your guide:
1. Be righteous.
2. Read the scriptures with pure heart and desire.
3. Learn to interpret the “feeling” that comes to you when you do read.
Then more often than you will ever realize, the word of the Lord will come into your mind. You will have the “feeling” for it, and you will have received direct revelation yourself for you alone, which will guide you right every time and help you make the decisions that will assure you that you will know the eternal God and his Son Jesus Christ and be led to eternal life.