Using the Book of Mormon to Face the Tests Ahead
--Part One of Four--
by M. Catherine Thomas
Our dispensation will embrace the greatest extremes of any: the tares will be of greater virulence than any preceding period. President Ezra Taft Benson has declared:
“Wickedness is rapidly expanding in every segment of our society (see D&C 1:14-16; 84:49-53). It is more highly organized, more cleverly disguised, and more powerfully promoted than ever before.” But at the same time, the wheat will exhibit greater quality than ever before (D&C 86:1-7), because the Church and kingdom of God are increasing in strength, size, and faithfulness. “It [the Church] has never been better organized or equipped to perform its divine mission” (Ezra Taft Benson, in Conference Report, October 1988, p. 103).
Thus, in the midst of the worst trials ever known among the children of men, the Saints will finish up the work of this dispensation under the direction of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not a defensive position we wish to take but rather a powerful moving forward to establish all the will of the Lord in preparation for his coming. We need not shrink before the onslaught but prepare to go out to meet the Bridegroom (D&C 133:10).
We will never meet all the challenges of this dispensation unaided. The forces about to be unleashed against the world will be sufficient to decimate the entire population (D&C 5:19). Only those who have learned how to take the Holy Spirit for their guide will be able to read the signs and abide those days (D&C 45:57); only those who have studied how to draw on the grace, on the divine enabling power of the Lord Jesus Christ, will escape through the means the Lord will provide (D&C 63:34). We will have to be a people who understand personal revelation. We will have to live in direct contact with the temporal world, but we will have to know how to be guided by the heavenly, unseen world.
It is possible to make a long list of specific things we would have to do to endure to the end. But the real question is this: What is that quintessential preparation from which all other preparations naturally follow? The Lord has provided the answer, the use of the Book of Mormon as an instrument of personal revelation. Nearly every description of the tests that the Saints will undergo makes it clear that only personal revelation will make faithful endurance possible. Inspired uses of the Book of Mormon lie at the very core of the Saints’ preparation so that they, as the children of light, will not be overtaken as by a thief at the Lord’s appearance (D&C 106: 4-5).
Prophets through the ages have looked at our day and warned us of the trials that lie ahead. President Heber C. Kimball “often used the language, ‘A test, a test is coming’” (Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, p. 447).
“We think we are secure here in the chambers of the everlasting hills, where we can close those few doors of the canyons against mobs and persecutors, the wicked and the vile, who have always beset us with violence and robbery, but I want to say to you, my brethren, the time is coming when we will be mixed up in these now peaceful valleys to the extent that it will be difficult to tell the face of a Saints from the face of an enemy to the people of God. Then, brethren, look out for the great sieve, for I say unto you there is a test, a TEST, a TEST coming, and who will be able to stand?” (Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, p. 446; emphasis in original).
“This Church has before it many close places through which it will have to pass before the work of God is crowned with victory. To meet the difficulties that are coming, it will be necessary for you to have a knowledge of the truth of this work for yourselves. The difficulties will be of such a character that the man or woman who does not possess this personal knowledge or witness will fall. If you have not got the testimony, live right and call upon the Lord and cease not till you obtain it. If you do not you will not stand. . . .
“. . . The time will come when no man nor woman will be able to endure on borrowed light. Each 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, p. 449-450).
President Heber C. Kimball was quoted later with respect to the intensity of the tests:
“The judgments of God will be poured out upon the wicked, to the extent that our elders from far and near will be called home; or in other words, the Gospel will be taken from the gentiles, and later on will be carried to the Jews.
“The western boundaries of the State of Missouri will be swept so clean of its inhabitants that as President Young tells us, ‘when we return to the place there will not be as much as a yellow dog to wag its tail.’
“Before that day comes, however, the Saints will be put to the test that will try the very best of them.
“The pressure will become so great that the righteous among us will cry unto the Lord day and night until deliverance comes . . .
“Then is the time to look out for the great sieve, for there will be a great sifting time, and many will fail” (J. Golden Kimball, in Conference Report, October 1930, p. 59-60).
President Ezra Taft Benson expanded on the nature of the tests we will face and confirmed that the process has already begun:
“There is a real sifting going on in the Church, and it is going to become more pronounced with the passing of time. It will sift the wheat from the tares, because we face some difficult days, the like of which we have never experienced in our lives. And those days are going to require faith and testimony and family unity, the like of which we have never had.” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 1988, p. 107).
“The great destructive force which was to be turned loose on the earth and which the prophets for centuries have been calling the ‘abomination of desolation’ is vividly described by those who saw it in vision (see Matthew 24:15; Joseph Smith–Matthew 1:12, 32). Ours is the first generation to realize how literally those prophecies can be fulfilled now that God, through science, has unlocked the secret to thermonuclear reaction.
“In the light of these prophecies, there should be no doubt in the mind of any priesthood holder that the human family is headed for trouble. There are rugged days ahead. It is time for every man who wishes to do his duty to get himself prepared—physically, spiritually, and psychologically—for the task which may come at any time, as suddenly as the whirlwind” (Ezra Taft Benson, God, Family, Country: Our Three Greatest Loyalties, p. 345-346).
“We will live in the midst of economic, political, and spiritual instability. When these signs are observed—unmistakable evidences that His coming is night—we need not be troubled, but ‘stand in holy places, and be not moved, until the day of the Lord come’ (D&C 87:8). Holy men and women stand in holy places, and these holy places consist of our temples, our chapels, our homes, and stakes of Zion, which are, as the Lord declares, ‘for a defense, and for a refuge from the storm, and from wrath when it shall be poured out without mixture upon the whole earth’ (D&C 115:6). We must heed the Lord’s counsel to the Saints of this dispensation: ‘Prepare yourselves for the great day of the Lord’ (D&C 133:10).
“This preparation must consist of more than just casual membership in the Church. We must be guided by personal revelation and he counsel of the living prophet so we will not be deceived. Our Lord has indicated who, among Church members, will stand when He appears: ‘At that day, when I shall come in my glory, shall the parable be fulfilled which I spake concerning the ten virgins’ (D&C 45:56)” (Ezra Taft Benson, Come Unto Christ, p. 115-116; italics added).
The Lord has given the sobering revelation that in the midst of the latter-day trial, Church members will feel the Lord’s refining power as he forges the Saints into a force for fulfilling his divine purpose:
“The kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world: [and the world is the children of the wicked] the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: [out into the world to be burned] there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:47-50; JST text in brackets).
“Behold, vengeance cometh speedily upon the inhabitants of the earth, a day of wrath, a day of burning, a day of desolation, of weeping, of mourning, and of lamentation; and as a whirlwind it shall come upon all the face of the earth, saith the Lord. And upon my house shall it begin, and from my house shall it go forth, saith the Lord; first among those among you, saith the Lord, who have professed to know my name and have not known me, and have blasphemed against me in the midst of my house, saith the Lord. . . . But purify your hearts before me. . . . Cleanse your hearts and your garments, lest the blood of this generation be required at your hands” (D&C 112:24-33; italics added; see also 88:74).
This refining process will prepare a purified Church membership to meet the Lord Jesus Christ. President Benson warned:
“It is well that our people understand this principle, so they will not be misled by those apostates within the Church who have not yet repented or been cut off. But there is a cleansing coming. The Lord says that vengeance shall be poured out ‘upon the inhabitants of the earth. . . . And upon my house shall it begin, and from my house shall it go forth, saith the Lord; first among those among you, saith the Lord, who have professed to know my name and have not known me. . . . ‘ (D&C 112:24-26. I look forward to that cleansing; its need within the Church is becomingly increasingly apparent.” (Conference Report, April 1969, p. 10).
“Yes, within the Church today there are tares among the wheat and wolves within the flock. As President Clark stated, ‘The ravening wolves are amongst us, from our own membership, and they, more than any others, are clothed in sheep’s clothing because they wear the habiliments of the priesthood. . . . We should be careful of them” (Benson, in Conference Report, April 1969, p. 11, citing J. Reuben Clark, Jr., in Conference Report, April 1949, p. 153).
Yet, even as we witness the steady crescendo of sorrows spreading throughout the earth, it is apparent that the Lord has at least a twofold purpose. On the one hand, the wicked will be purged from the Church and from the earth; on the other, the Saints will be purified and refined:
“Behold, the great day of the Lord is at hand; and who can abide the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appeareth? For he is like refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap; and he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he shall purify the sons of Levi [the priesthood holders of today; D&C 84:32-34] and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. Let us, therefore, as a church and a people, and as Latter-day Saints, offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness” (D&C 128:24; Italics added).
Watch and Be Ready: Preparing for the Second Coming of the Lord, Various Authors, Deseret Book, 1994; Chapter Two: Using the Book of Mormon to Face the Tests Ahead, by M. Catherine Thomas