Using the Book of Mormon to Face the Tests Ahead
--Part Three of Four--
by M. Catherine Thomas
Obviously our responses to the Lord’s direction have as yet been inadequate to achieve that state of preparation, even though the Lord has made it abundantly clear that the instrument of preparation for the Second Coming is the Book of Mormon. That Book is the instrument by which the citizens of Zion will have cleansed the inner vessel.
The Saints, evidently, are still under condemnation for their neglect of the Book of Mormon, the very tool that has the most power to prepare the Church for the advent of the Savior. Upon reflection, we realize that the Saints have not yet adequately made the connection between the comprehensive use of the Book of Mormon and the light that each of them will need to withstand the trials of the latter days. President Benson exclaimed:
“Now we not only need to say more about the Book of Mormon, but we need to do more with it. Why? The Lord answers: ‘That they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father’s kingdom; otherwise there remaineth a scourge and judgement to be poured out upon the children of Zion’ [D&C 84:58]. We have felt that scourge and judgment!” (Ensign, May 1986, p. 5; italics added)
Perhaps some have thought that a testimony and a general knowledge of the Book of Mormon were sufficient fulfillment of the Lord’s injunction. But a testimony of the Book of Mormon is not an end in itself. It is only the most rudimentary beginning. The next step, after learning that the book is true and can be trusted as a source for doctrine and the Spirit, is to learn its multiple uses and virtues. Here is the Lord’s fuller text to the Church about using the Book of Mormon:
“Your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received—
“Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.
“And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all.
“And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant; even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written—
“That they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father’s kingdom; otherwise there remaineth a scourge and judgment to pour out upon the children of Zion” (D&C 84:54-58; italics added).
The Church apparently does not yet know all the uses and virtues of the Book of Mormon. It seems that the Lord would like us to use the Book of Mormon in ways it has not been used before and that he is waiting for us to ask his help to that end. President Benson, in urging us to get more deeply into the book, pointed to the relationship between scripture study and the power of the Spirit in our life:
“I urge you to recommit yourselves to a study of the scriptures. Immerse yourselves in them daily so you will have the power of the Spirit to attend you in our callings. Read them in your families and teach your children to love and treasure them. Then prayerfully and in counsel with others, seek every way possible to encourage the members of the Church to follow your example. If you do so, you will find, as Alma did, that ‘the word [has] a great tendency to lead people to do that which [is] just—yea, it [has] more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which [has] happened unto them’ (Alma 31:5)” (Ensign, May 1986, p. 82).
In that statement, President Benson has connected immersion in the scriptures with the gift and power of the Spirit. Several other Brethren have likewise pointed out the link between personal revelation and a spiritually skilled use of scripture. For example, Elder Bruce R. McConkie said:
“I sometimes think that one of the best-kept secrets of the kingdom is that the scriptures open to me receipt of revelation” (Doctrines of the Restoration: Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie, p. 243).
“However talented men may be in administrative matters, however eloquent they may be in the worldly things—they will be denied the sweet whisperings of the Spirit that might have been theirs unless they pay the price of studying, pondering, and praying about the scriptures” (Ensign, May 1986, p. 81).
Elder Dallin H. Oaks declared:
“As a source of knowledge, the scriptures are not the ultimate but the penultimate. The ultimate knowledge comes by revelation. . . .
“. . . A study of the scriptures enables men and women to receive revelation . . . because scripture reading puts us in tune with the Spirit of the Lord” (“Scripture Reading and Revelation,” BYU Studies Academy, 29 Jan. 1993, p. 3-4; italics added).
Elder Boyd K. Packer taught:
“Building and budgets, and reports and programs and procedures are very important. But, by themselves, they do not carry that essential spiritual nourishment and will not accomplish what the Lord has given us to do. . . . The right things, those with true spiritual nourishment, are centered in the scriptures” (Ensign, May 1986, p. 81).
One reason that some Church members are not reaping the full reward of scripture study may be that they do not know how vital the reward could be. The Lord promises that we can hear or feel his voice in the scriptures, that we can receive messages in and above what is printed on the page, and that we can repeat that experience over and over again. Scripture reading and feasting on scripture can take on new meaning.
Those who haven’t heard the voice may find the scriptures less interesting than other literature. Perhaps some are afraid to hear what the Lord has to say, and so they may read the scripture with a protective veil over their mind and then say they are bored with the scripture. The real problem may be that they are afraid to hear the voice. But the Lord says to us today, “Resist no more my voice” (D&C 33:16).
Several other scriptures also show that the printed word can yield the living spirit of prophecy to the alert and prepared read. In the very first chapter of the Book of Mormon, Lehi learned this connection between feasting on the scripture and receiving the power of revelation: “As he read [a book of scripture given him by the Lord] he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord” (1 Nephi 1:12). Nephi said, “And now, when my father saw all these things [scriptures on the plates of brass], he was filled with the Spirit, and began to prophesy” (1 Nephi 5:17). Jacob made the same connection: “Wherefore, we search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy, and having all these witnesses we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh unshaken, insomuch that we truly can command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea” (Jacob 4:6). The four sons of Mosiah “waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God. But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God” (Alma 17:2-3).
The Lord, speaking of scripture, said: “These words are not of men nor of man, but of me: . . . for it is my voice which speaketh them unto you; for they are given by my Spirit unto you . . . ; wherefore, you can testify that you have heard my voice, and know my words” (D&C 18:34-36). To hear the voice of the Lord in the scripture simply means to feel the Spirit of the Lord, because the Lord speaks “by the voice of my Spirit” (D&C 75:1). Furthermore, the Lord’s “voice is Spirit” (D&C 88:66).
Thus there is a relationship between the written scripture and the voice of the Lord, or personal revelation. The same Spirit that gave the written word quickens it as one who is prepared reads it. Taking all these insights together, we may conclude that if we wish to guide our life by the Spirit, we cannot do it without also being a spiritual student of the Book of Mormon.
The Book of Mormon itself teaches the progression from feasting on the word of Christ to hearing the voice of Christ through the Holy Ghost: “Feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things that ye should do. . . . if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do” (2 Nephi 32:3-5).
The stories and principles and doctrines in the Book of Mormon are vitally important to the Latter-day Saints, but we soon discover that an important principle taught by the book is that no collection of writings can tell a person what to do in all circumstances. Many of life’s challenges are designed to require divine insight and divine power and divine direction to meet them. Therefore, perhaps no principle is stressed so much as getting the Spirit of the Lord, who “will show you all things what ye should do,” as a constant guide.
We can see how the voice of the Lord is a vital component of the gospel plan—not just for prophets but for all of us. Ultimately everyone who hopes to see the face of the Lord and to remain in his presence must learn to discern and obey the voice of the Lord. That skill is essential for the serious candidate for exaltation.
Elder Richard G. Scott explicitly stated that the Book of Mormon is like a personal Liahona or Urim and Thummim: “What does the Book of Mormon mean to you? . . .
“If you have not yet drunk deeply from the fountain of pure truth, with all of my soul I encourage you to do so now. Don’t let the consistent study of the Book of Mormon be one of the things that you intend to do but never quite accomplish. Begin today.
“I bear witness that it can become a personal ‘Urim and Thummim’ in your life” (Ensign, October 1984, p. 11; italics added).
Indeed, the Book of Mormon describes itself as a Liahona. A primary use of a Liahona or a Urim and Thummim is as a physical symbol to teach the dynamics of revelation. They increase faith until one has learned to get revelation without sole dependence on the physical instrument. How important it is to realize that scripture, as another form of Lahona or Urim and Thummim, instructs our spirits in the processes of revelation.
The link between a tangible object of revelation and the process of receiving revelation without an instrument is illustrated in the Prophet Joseph Smith’s training under the Lord. The Lord started Joseph Smith out with the Urim and Thummim; later, Joseph was able to receive revelation without using it, thus showing that a Liahona and Urim and Thummim, seer stones, and scripture are all variations of the sacred instruments by which a person is taught how to receive increasingly detailed revelation—revelation that is often outside the imagination or experience of the person being so trained. Joseph’s experience in translating the Book of Mormon by the Urim and Thummim actually prepared him to be the founding prophet, seer, and revelator of this dispensation.
Alma understood this relationship between instruments of revelation and scripture. In Alma 37, Alma used a succession of words that suggests that relationship: records, plates of brass, holy scriptures, mysteries, holy writ, interpreters, Gazelem, seer stone, counseling with the Lord, and Liahona. When the Nephites used their Liahona, they had miracles every day; whenever they grew lazy and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence, they lost their way and became hungry.
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