Monday, March 31, 2014

Continuing To Reap Success: A Paper Memory

Continuing To Reap Success
March 2014

[Today's blog is turned over to Elder Sterling W. Sill for one of the ideas which he urged upon his audiences frequently.  I encountered this idea while I was in Pennsylvania on my first mission.  It was in one of Elder Sill's other books, Leadership. In there he said something like, "The palest ink is better than the best memory."  That made a great deal of sense to me so I began recording those thoughts and ideas that appealed to me. I have been doing so ever since then. This blog is part of our Continuing To Reap Success series.]

A great psychologist challenges us when he asks, “How would you like to create your own mind?”  At first thought that idea may seem a little strange and yet it has the most substantial possibilities.  Actually, the mind is made up of what it feeds upon.  The mind, like the dyer’s hand, is colored by what it holds.  If I hold in my hand a sponge full of purple dye, my hand becomes purple; if I hold in my mind and heart great ideas of faith, ambition, enthusiasm, and devotion to God, my whole personality is colored accordingly.
But the mind was never intended primarily as a baggage room or a storehouse.  Its greatest service comes from its possibilities as a mental machine or as a great spiritual workshop.  The mind’s chief functions are to think, to make decisions, to motivate, and to take action.  The memory function of the mind is also important, but this is one of the departments that needs assistance.  If anyone plans to reap the most profitable harvest, he will need to supplement his powers of recall.  However, this fault may be corrected by supplementing our mental powers with a paper memory.
To illustrate, just imagine that you attend some kind of a three-day educational convention.  Suppose that during that period you heard one hundred ideas that you wanted to remember.  Without the aid of some kind of paper memory, the average person would have lost 60 percent of these ideas by the time the meeting closed.  The ideas may still be in your mind and they could be recognized if someone else reminded you of them, but they have passed beyond your ability to recall them.  As time passes, they sink deeper and deeper into oblivion and take many others with them.  That is, if you wait another six months, many of the other ideas will join them in regions of forgetfulness.  In time, a large majority of our ideas will have slipped below the level of consciousness.
One of the difficult things about this situation is that the moment of forgetting, like the moment of birth, is an unconscious moment.  We don’t know that we are being born during the time that it is actually taking place, and we don’t find out that we have been born until some time afterward.  The moment of learning is a conscious moment, but the moment of forgetting is an unconscious moment, and we can sometimes lose our finest ideas without actually realizing our losses.
However, when these ideas are made a part of our marvelous paper memory, they become our permanent possession. Many people are capable of extensive reading and straight thinking, but they are weak in remembering.  In fact, everyone complains of a poor memory.  One man once said, “There are three things that I can’t remember: The first thing I can’t remember is names; the second thing I can’t remember is faces; and I have forgotten the third thing I can’t remember.”
Writing an idea down helps you retain possession of it and it can also be a helpful aid to understanding.  That is, before we write a thing down, we usually think it through and make decisions about those points that are not clear or about which we have doubts.  The act of writing an idea down stamps it more indelibly in our mental memory, but it also makes an imperishable paper record which can be used as an aid to the memory. In fact, it has been said that so far as memory is concerned, one dull pencil is worth five sharp minds.
It can be very helpful for one to get in the habit of reading with a pencil in his hand.  He can underline, make notes, and add any ideas of his own that may be turned up in the process.  It has been pointed out that there is a way to get more out of a book or a lecture than there is in it.  By absorbing each thought as we read it, we can get everything out of the book that there is in it.
As one’s mind pursues the content of the book, it will occasionally strike an idea that will send his thought ricocheting out into space.  It is suggested that we should let our minds follow and make notes about those ideas that we come in contact with along the way.  You will find that some of your best ideas will be those you think during one of these mental excursions. By this process, your thought will lead you to a lot of its friends and relatives that you didn’t know before.  Ideas almost always come in chains or clusters or in family groups. Following ideas is one of the best ways to learn things. When your exploring effort has exhausted itself, you may come back and take up your reading again at the place where you left off.
You will certainly want to write down the flashes of inspiration that sometimes seem to come from nowhere. If, as has been said, we sit in the lap of an immense intelligence, some of our most outstanding ideas will be those things that we ourselves think.  In trying to connect up the human race, the evolutionists have talked a great deal about “missing links.” There are also a lot of missing links in our philosophies, our morals, our inventions, and our business successes, as well as in our religion.
Most people’s ideas come in fragments and if we keep the pieces, the missing links will soon show up so that the jigsaw will be complete.  Sometimes we must discover the key idea that makes the whole meaningful, or sometimes we get the materials that will purge the impurities out of the mixture that has been causing our philosophy or our lives to malfunction. A reading process can be like a mining operation wherein we burn out the dross, eliminate the slag, and keep the pure gold.
Very frequently ideas deteriorate in our mental memory. They sometimes disappear as they come–in fragments.  We may have the general idea, but a missing key word or a missing punch line or a supporting phrase makes the whole weak and unproductive.  But if an idea is transferred to your paper memory while you have the spirit of it, it can be recorded in all its vigor and beauty.  Its cheeks can be painted, its attire can be made spotless, and its hair arranged at its best, and that is the way it will always remain. You can preserve your memory, your culture, your spirituality, and your occupational know-how by an acquisition of the right combination of ideas that are properly kept in your paper memory, ready to be applied whenever the need arises.
Of course, the book from which we get ideas can’t do the job by itself.  That is, every inspired book needs an inspired reader. And an inspired reader is one who already has some parts of the ideas. He is one who thinks, meditates, makes notes, joins ideas together, decides questions, and makes applications. Someone was once asked what he thought about a certain thing and he said, “I don’t know, I haven’t spoken on it yet.” Before one speaks effectively on a subject, he needs to think it through, come to some conclusions about it, and develop some convictions on the subject. Then he is in a position to write it down and prepare to take action.
Some people may read and listen endlessly to the thoughts of others, only to have these go in one ear and out the other, without any gain or profit to the one concerned. The reason that the teacher always learns more than the student is that the teacher must get a better possession of the facts.
An idea collector should make a personal examination of the pros and the cons of any matter.  Both the teacher and the student should have done their homework and have effectively researched the subject in such a way that each is capable of a written report.  One is only able to get the clearest ownership title to an idea after he has put it into action.  Neither the giver nor the receiver should sit back and expect the other to do all of the work.  Whether one is reading for enjoyment or for profit, it is necessary for him to use his powers of understanding, concentration, conviction, and action.
Hearing pretty words and high-sounding philosophies may by itself be useless. There may be little value in ideas about culture, education, and success unless we link with the actual industry that must always be present in any success. That is, we learn to do by doing.
As a part of one man’s New Year’s resolutions, he decided to stop smoking, but he said, “Don’t tell anyone about it because I may not want to go through with it.”  This man would do better with his resolutions if he first made some strong decisions about them. His determination could then have been strengthened by writing it down.  Someone has said that a plan is not really a plan until it is on paper. No architect would amount to much without a good set of paper drawings.
One of the most important parts of our religion is memory. From the top of Mount Sinai the Lord said, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.”  (Exod. 20:8) The entire scriptures should be part of our paper memory.  To strengthen this part of our lives is also the purpose of books of remembrance and diaries.
A written memory helped Ralph Waldo Emerson’s moods to believe in each other. He said it was as difficult to manage his mind as it was to manage thunderbolts. Emerson’s chief business was thinking, writing, and speaking for the benefit of others, yet he says that at times his brain would become a blank and his mind would be left in a state of barrenness. Life seemed to him like an occasional flash of light followed by long periods of darkness.  As one of his most profitable moves, Emerson decided to keep a journal. Once begun, it was kept up faithfully.
In his journal he wrote down his every thought and made many helpful written suggestions to himself.  Each day he collected in his journal his disjointed dreams, his mental reveries, and the fragments of all of those ideas that his mind was able to conceive.  He found that the act of writing an idea down improved both his idea and his mind.  His journal became the hive in which he stored the honey of his mind and the bees of his brain distilled it.  Once his thoughts were written down, he could come back and review them again and again and make all needed improvements.
As he visited with great ideas every day, he grew accustomed to their faces.  After he improved their dress, brightened their eyes, and increased their muscle power, he was able to join them together in a more effective order.  Once Mr. Emerson snared an idea, he never allowed it to get away.  He not only wrote it down immediately, he also put it in his mental incubator. He knew that ideas have a natural tendency to propagate and every idea has the possibilities for a large posterity.
He knew that every personality needs an emotional generator to set industry in motion. There are many of these stimulators that should be made a part of our paper memory. Sometimes a song or a phrase or a poem has the power to set our greatest impulses in motion.  But left in our mental memory alone, they soon grow dim, indistinct, and unusable. Ideas can deteriorate very quickly, and when a particular word is misplaced or the spirit of the idea is lost or its rhythm is forgotten, the idea loses both its punch and its beauty. But when we keep our poems, our philosophies, and other spiritual motivators in our paper memory, they always remain as fresh as when they were written down and they can be used to revitalize our entire personality.
Mind is the master power that builds and molds,
And mind is man; and evermore he takes
The tools of thought and fashions what he wills,
Brings forth a thousand joys, a thousand ills.
We think in secret and it comes to pass;
Environment is but a looking glass.
May the Lord help us to use all of our God-given resources in order that we might live most effectively.

Sterling W. Sill, The Keys of the Kingdom, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft Inc., 1972), pp. 235-240.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Why I Believe: Evidence Eleven: Joseph Smith's Testimony Of Jesus Christ: Part 2, The Law Of Witnesses And Faith

101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith Was A Prophet

Evidence Eleven: 
Joseph Smith’s Testimony Of Jesus Christ: Part 2, The Law Of Witnesses And Faith© 

The Law of Witnesses

In the Church we talk a lot about the “law of witnesses.”  What exactly is it and why is it important?  The law of witnesses was expressed in its most elementary form in precisely the same words by both Jesus and Paul, when they said, “in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.”(1) This is a matter of both civil and religious law in the Bible.  In the Deuteronomy reference, charges of iniquity had to be substantiated by two or three witnesses.  Similar principles guide our present legal system.  In religion the principle extends to the words and works of God–they are to be “established” by accredited witnesses. Some relevant definitions of “establish” are: to put on a firm or stable basis, to show to be valid or true, to prove, to cause to be accepted or recognized.  All of these and perhaps more are the work of witnesses in the Church and kingdom of God.  But why?  How does it work?  And what has all of this got to do with Joseph Smith and the various aspects of his calling?

The Purpose and Importance of Witnesses

There are a number of answers to the above questions.  In this essay we will focus on perhaps the most basic purpose for witnesses–the establishment of faith.  In the book of Romans the Apostle Paul taught a principle that isn’t clearly understood by many, but which is vital to understanding the role of witnesses, particularly that of Joseph Smith.  In chapter 10 he taught:
13) For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.  14) How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?  15) And how shall they preach, except they be sent? .... 17) So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.(2)
There is a sequence toward faith outlined here by Paul:
  1. If you call on the name of the Lord you shall be saved.
  2. How can you call on Him in whom you have not believed?
  3. How can you believe unless you have heard about Him?
  4. How can you hear unless God sends someone to tell you?
  5. Principle: Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
Joseph Smith clarified the principle when he said, “Faith comes by hearing the word of God, through the testimony of the servants of God; that testimony is always attended by the Spirit of prophecy and revelation.”(3) On another occasion he taught that “Salvation cannot come without revelation,” and “Whenever salvation has been administered, it has been by testimony.”(4)

Paul also taught that faith is built upon evidence.  Hebrews 11:1 says “faith is ... the evidence of things not seen.”  The testimony of eye witnesses becomes evidence and that evidence is intended to generate faith to believe, accept, and act.  Without getting too involved in a philosophical  discussion, it is important to remember that in the gospel context, evidence is not just physical evidence, it may include spiritual evidence as well. Thus Paul speaks of revelation in this sense.  “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit.... For what man knoweth the things of a man,  save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.”(5) According to Joseph Smith the Spirit of God will attend the testimony of one legitimately sent as a witness to testify of something and confirm that testimony by revelation.

So, as we saw in part 1 of this series, Peter taught Cornelius that he (Peter) had been 1) sent, 2) was an especially chosen eyewitness, 3) he was commanded to testify of what he had seen, 4) all the prophets were likewise witnesses of Christ, and 5) following his testimony the Spirit fell upon Peter’s audience just as Joseph Smith said.(6)  As an aside, we have in these two New Testament passages and Joseph’s simple commentary, another significant evidence of his great ability to understand, interpret, and teach the Holy Scriptures.

These principles are taught in other ways in several passages of scripture.   Christ’s final charge to his disciples as found in Matthew 28 illustrates this pattern:
19) Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; 20) Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you....(7)
Notice the sequence–teach, baptize, teach.  There are different Greek words for each of the words translated into English as “teach”.  In Greek they mean different things. These ideas are highlighted for us in the footnotes of the LDS edition of the KJV. Footnote 19a tells us that the first “teach” means to preach or make disciples. As we see in these examples this is done by the teaching and testimony of the missionary. Then they are baptized, after which they are taught again and footnote 20a tells us that this is “post-baptismal teaching.” Investigators do not have to know everything about the gospel before they are baptized. They need to hear the basics and the testimony of a properly authorized and sent “witness.” Once the Holy Ghost confirms the teachings and testimony, they are baptized.  When they are in the Church they will be taught the fulness of the gospel throughout the rest of their lives. That is the proper manner of building faith in investigators to bring them to Christ.

Here is a precious example from the book of Moroni chapter 7:
30) For behold, they [angels] are subject unto him [God], to minister according to the word of his command, showing themselves unto them of strong faith and a firm mind in every form of godliness.  31) And the office of their ministry is to call men unto repentance, and to fulfill and do the work of the covenants of the Father, which he hath made unto the children of men, to prepare the way among the children of men, by declaring the word of Christ unto the chosen vessels of the Lord, that they may bear testimony of him. 32) And by so doing, the Lord God prepareth the way that the residue of men [mankind] may have faith in Christ, that the Holy Ghost may have place in their hearts, according to the power thereof....(8)
Once again lets analyze the sequence:
  1. The office of angels is to show themselves unto “them of strong faith and a firm mind in every form of godliness,”–“chosen vessels of the Lord”--prophets and apostles.
  2. Angels are to call men to repentance and “prepare the way among the children of men, by declaring the word of Christ unto the chosen vessels of the Lord, that the chosen vessels may bear testimony of him. 
  3. And by so doing, the Lord God prepares the way that mankind may have faith in Christ, that the Holy Ghost may have place in their hearts, according to the power thereof, just as Joseph Smith explained. 
When we discuss Joseph Smith as a seer we will have occasion to refer back to this passage. The point here, however, is that the sequence is the same in different scenarios. Here the witness sees angels and hears their words and then testifies of what he has seen and heard. This testimony becomes evidence to their audience–the residue of men–and is a potential source of faith when it is believed and the Holy Ghost confirms it.

Joseph Smith's Witness And Testimony

What does this all have to do with our theme relative to Joseph Smith’s various assignments as a prophet, apostle, translator, seer, revelator, and presiding elder? In each of these roles Joseph Smith acted as a divinely “sent” witness of Christ and his gospel. I have set myself the task to examine the evidence that he did so in each of these roles. As a prophet he will teach and testify about Christ by the spirit of prophecy and revelation.  As an apostle we will see him as a special “sent” witness of Christ and his resurrection.  As a seer he will truly become a witness of many things central to Christ and his gospel and as a revelator he will open to us the Lord’s plan of salvation based upon the infinite atonement of Jesus Christ. As a translator we will see him bring us more testimony of ancient prophets and apostles than any other single prophet or apostle in the history of the world. Indeed, more than the top three combined, if not the top five. As presiding elder over the Dispensation of the Fulness of times and of the Church and Kingdom of God upon the earth, he will be the preeminent witness in and to this dispensation. Cumulatively this study will constitute what I think is the superstructure of the most profound evidence of Joseph Smith’s divine calling(s).

Thank God for Joseph Smith.

Lets think together again, soon


1. Mt. 18:16; 2 Cor. 13:1; see also Deut. 19:15; Eth. 5:4; D&C 6:28, and 128:3.  Elder Robert D. Hales has written: “God established the divine law of witnesses so that there would be witnesses to attest to the significant bestowals and proclamations that affected the people on earth.”   Robert D. Hales, “Oliver Cowdery,” in Heroes of the Restoration, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997), p. 14.  On pages 14-15 he lists nine tests to apply to witnesses to determine their legitimacy and credibility.

2.   Rom. 10:13-17, all emphasis added.

3.  Joseph Smith, TPJS, p. 148; HC 3:379, 27 June 1839.    Compare also 2 Ne. 33:1 and D&C 100:7-8.  

4.   Joseph Smith, TPJS, p. 160; HC 3:389-90, 2 July 1839.

5.  1 Cor. 2:10-11.  Several significant passages referring to the importance of evidence are in The Book of Mormon at: Al. 30:40-14; Hel. 5:50, and 8:24.  See also Lectures on Faith, lectures 2-4.  Several General Authorities have addressed the relationship between evidence and faith.   For example: Orson Pratt, “True Faith,” in N. B. Lundwall, Lectures on Faith, (Salt Lake City: n.p. n.d) pp. 70-71, “The Kingdom of God,” in Orson Pratt’s Works on the Doctrines of the Gospel, (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1945), pp. 48-49;  Jedediah M. Grant, JD 2:273, 3:278; James E. Talmage, Articles of Faith,(Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1975), pp 100-101; Harold B. Lee, Youth and the Church, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1970), p. 75; Gene R. Cook, Living by the Power of Faith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985), p. 57.

6.  Acts 10:34-45.

7. Mt. 28:19-20.

8.  Moroni 7:30-32, all emphasis added.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Why I Believe: Evidence Ten: You Find The Name "Alma" In The Strangest Places

101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith Was A Prophet

Evidence Ten: 
You Find The Name “Alma” In The Strangest Places© 

During one of our trips to Israel leading a group of Seminary and Institute teachers and their wives, we visited the famous Shrine of the Book, a part of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem where some of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other artifacts are housed. Prior to the trip I learned something interesting about a display in the entrance to the Shrine of the Book.  I found it and discussed it briefly with the guide.  He confirmed that the Hebrew said what I had been told it said, so I called the group around us and said something like this, “Brothers and Sisters, this display contains something I think you will find especially interesting.  In 132 A.D. the Jews revolted against the Romans for about the third time. They were led by a man named Simon bar Kokhba.  Sometime around 1960, after the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, the Israelis and Jordanians undertook a survey of the caves in the Wilderness of Judea. One they found had been occupied by Bar-Kokhba during that war. A number of documents were found there and this is one of them.  It is a deed or a land document, which in itself is not particularly interesting to most of us. But the name of one of the people mentioned here, you will find exciting.  I’m going to ask our guide Moolie to read a line or two.”

Moolie read to us, and all of a sudden we came to attention when we heard the phrase “Alma the son of yehudah.”  Alma?  Alma a man’s name?  Wow!  Most people in the United States and elsewhere in the western world think of Alma as a female name or connect it with their school, their Alma Mater which in Latin means “fostering mother.” For this reason, the use of the name Alma for a man in the Book of Mormon, even a great man, has sometimes been ridiculed by critics of Joseph Smith.

Well here it is in a Jewish document from no later than 135 A.D., and not discovered until the middle of the 20th century. Therefore, Joseph Smith could have known nothing of it. The documents were discovered and later translated by archaeologist Yigael Yadin.  He tells an interesting story about speaking at a meeting in the spring of 1960 to tell people about the discovery. Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion attended. During the course of his remarks, Yadin said, “Your Excellency, I am honoured to be able to tell you that we have discovered fifteen dispatches written or dictated by the last President of ancient Israel 1800 years ago.”  His audience was dumbstruck and they broke out into cries of joy and astonishment. My audience was also pretty excited.  The plowboy prophet Joseph Smith had done it again.

Here is what the document says according to Yadin’s book:
On the twenty-eighth of Marheshvan, the third year of Shimon bar Kosiba, President of Israel; at En-gedi.  Of their own free will, on this day, do Eleazar son of Eleazar son of Hitta and Eliezer son of Shmuuel, both of En-Gedi, and Tehina son of Shimeon and Alma son of Yehudah, both of Luhith in the coastal district of ‘Agaltain, now residents of En-Gedi, wish to divide up amongst themselves the places that they have leased from Yehonathan son of Mhnym the administrator of Shimeon ben Kosiba, President of Israel, at En-Gedi.
After precise specification of the plots, the document which consists of 26 lines with an average of eight words per line, 200 words in all, states which lands have been allocated to the first two lessees.  It then proceeds to enumerate newly divided terms of payment.
All is done and agreed on condition that the above four people will pay the dues of the lease of these places which they leased from Yehonathan son of Mhnym, as follows: Eleazar son of Eleazar Hitta and Eliezer son of Shmuel both will pay half of the money less sixteen dinars, which are four Sela’im only; while Tehina son of Shimeon and Alma son of Yehudah will pay half of the above money plus sixteen dinars, which are four Sela’im.*
Thirteen decades after the Book of Mormon came off the press a document surfaced from a dry cave in the forbidding Judean Wilderness with a single word, that when translated from the Hebrew showed the world that what Joseph Smith had written and which many people thought was a howler, was in fact absolutely genuine.

I love the Prophet, he always gets it right.  Thank God for him.

Lets think together again, soon.

* Yigael Yadin, Bar-Kokhba: The Rediscovery of the Legendary Hero of the Second Jewish Revolt against Rome. Jerusalem: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1971, p. 176.  Page 177 has a photograph of seven lines of this document.  At the time the original was in the 2nd window on the left as you entered the cave/tunnel to the museum.  I have not been there for many years so I do not know if it is still there or if the display about the document is still in the entry way.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Why I Believe: Evidence Nine: Joseph Smith's Testimony Of Jesus Christ: Part 1

101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith Was A Prophet

Evidence Nine: 
Joseph Smith’s Testimony Of Jesus Christ: Part 1© 

Joseph Smith’s Callings

The calling of Joseph Smith to restore the fulness of the gospel was comprised of several very important facets. In writing about the First Vision in 1842, he said, “I was informed that I was chosen to be an instrument in the hands of God to bring about some of His purposes in this glorious dispensation.” (Joseph Smith to John Wentworth, 1 March 1842, HC 4:537.)  The scriptures tell us quite a bit about what the Lord wanted him to do as such an instrument. Many passages found in the three volumes of scripture produced by Joseph Smith refer to directly or allude to various branches of his calling. Two are reproduced below which give us the major titles by which he would be called. The first one, given on the day the Church was organized, said:
Behold, there shall be a record kept among you; and in it thou [Joseph Smith] shalt be called a seer, a translator, a prophet, an apostle of Jesus Christ, an elder of the church through the will of God the Father, and the grace of your Lord Jesus Christ...  (D&C 21:1, emphasis added.)
In Nauvoo in 1841, the Lord again spoke of Joseph’s work:
I give unto you my servant Joseph to be a presiding elder over all my church, to be a translator, a revelator, a seer, and prophet. (D&C 124:125, emphasis added.)
Six important titles suggest the breadth of the work he was to do–all would involve in one way or another revelation from God.  He was to be a: 
* Prophet
* Apostle
* Seer
* Revelator
* Translator
* Presiding Elder
Analysis of Joseph’s work at each of these tasks suggests that one important theme or topic lay as the foundation of Mormonism and serve as an umbrella under which every aspect of it fit.  In our analysis we shall see that these doctrinal duties intertwine with, overlap, mutually reinforce, compliment, and become an integral part of each other in fulfilling one great purpose.

The most important element of the restored doctrine was a correct knowledge about and ultimately of Jesus Christ. (See John 17:3; D&C 132:24.)  This was necessary for many reasons, chief of which is so mankind may have faith in Jesus Christ sufficient to lay hold of life and salvation. (Lectures on Faith, Lectures 1-4,7, see also D&C 1:17, 21.)  Joseph was to simultaneously testify to the world of the reality of the living resurrected Christ and to teach that same world about him and his message in their fulness.  He was to bring this generation to Christ, and through him to the Father. When one thinks about Joseph’s roles in these terms an important insight emerges. In one way or another each of these duties center on this primary assignment–to be the preeminent witness of Jesus Christ to this generation.  

The young Prophet did not go unnoticed by Satan. Old Scratch opposed him from his boyhood  when a gun shot zinged past his head and again at age fourteen in the Sacred Grove when Satan’s power seemed to almost overwhelm him, to his unwittingly falling for Satan’s deception which Moroni earlier warned him about when he was told not to seek to get the plates of the Book of Mormon for the purpose of getting rich. Oliver Cowdery tells us on that occasion at the Hill Cumorah Moroni showed him a vision of Satan in vivid contrast with one of God so he would know the difference and never follow the Evil One again. Would that it would have been so for him and could be for us!  But true to the purposes of mortality he battled Satan throughout his life. One of his more serious acts of willfulness and disobedience led to the loss of 116 pages of the manuscript of the translation of the Book of Mormon. Most know the wrenching story. What is important for us here is something the Lord told him when the plates were returned to him and he was to resume his work on the book. The loss of those pages, he was told, was the work of conspirators who hoped to publish them after he had re-translated the same part again and claim that he only “pretended to translate", but in fact contradicted himself.  (D&C 10:32.) There was a Satanic motive behind all of this:
Thus Satan thinketh to overpower your testimony in this generation, that the work may not come forth in this generation.  (D&C 10:33)
But it was not to be.  His testimony was not to be overpowered.  There was something so important about his testimony to this generation that the Lord went to extraordinary lengths, such as preparing the Small Plates of Nephi to replace the portion which was in the hands of the conspirators, to protect him so his testimony would not be trumped. Miraculous protection and guidance can be seen throughout his history almost as frequently, when watched for, as the more obvious opposition of Satan which regularly dogged him clear up to Carthage.

In coming blogs we will explore how Joseph’s witness and testimony of Jesus Christ is at the heart of each of the facets of his calling; as they exhibit his various testimonies as a the “witness” of Jesus Christ in the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times.  I believe this study of his assignments when viewed individually and/or collectively contains the germ of the most important evidence of his divinely given calling as a prophet of God.

Thank God for Joseph Smith!

Lets think together again, soon.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Differences Between The Americans and Russians

With the world all in a dither about what is going on between Russia and Urkaine, perhaps a touch of humor from President Ronald Reagan will give a little relief.
I spoke [to students in Russia] of the difference between our two countries [USA and USSR]. I try to follow the humor of the Russian people. We don't hear much about the Russian people. We hear about the Russian leaders. But you can learn a lot, because they do have a sense of humor, and you can learn from the jokes they're telling. And one of the most recent jokes I found kind of, well, personally interesting. Maybe you might -- tell you something about your country.
The joke they tell is that an American and a Russian were arguing about the differences between our two countries. And the American said, "Look, in my country I can walk into the Oval Office; I can hit the desk with my fist and say, 'President Reagan, I don't like the way you're governing the United States.'" And the Russian said, "I can do that.'' The American said, "What?'' He says, "I can walk into the Kremlin, into Brezhnev's office. I can pound Brezhnev's desk, and I can say, 'Mr. President, I don't like the way Ronald Reagan is governing the United States.'''
Ronald Reagan, commencement address at his alma mater, Eureka College, California, 9 May 1982.

Lets think together again, soon.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Learn To Like ...

Some years ago I read a list of “Learn to Like” by Lowell L. Bennion.  It stimulated me to make my own list. What would you add to it?


  • Good rather than evil, right rather than wrong, light rather than dark.
  • Faith, confidence, and trust in God.
  • Repentance, change which brings self-improvement and positive growth.
  • Service, lifting, building, and blessing others.
  • The principles of obedience, sacrifice and consecration.
  • Covenants and keeping them.
  • The commandments of God.
  • Work, productivity, building, contributing.
  • Studying rather than just reading the holy scriptures.
  • Having a generous spirit.
  • Worshiping and loving God.
  • Prayer and fasting.
  • Temple worship and being a Savior on Mt Zion.
  • Minding your own business.
  • Following the prophets and apostles of God in righteousness.
  • Duty, self-discipline, and thought control.
  • Building the kingdom of God, fulfilling stewardships, and the responsibility of righteous leadership.
  • Keeping clean hands and a pure heart.

Danel W. Bachman

Lets think together again, soon.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Evils Of Ignorance, Part 2

Unnecessary Suffering

One of the evils resulting from ignorance is unnecessary suffering.  Sometimes we suffer because we have no control over events, but the fact is that much suffering is caused by ignorance and is unnecessary.  This happens often in matters of health and safety, social relations, international relations, spiritually.   The old saying, “What you don’t know, can’t hurt you!” is false and dangerous.  Here are four other ways of looking at this issue. Herbert Prochnow said, “All things come to him who crosses the street without looking.”(1) Adlai Stevenson, former Senator and candidate for the Presidency said, “The way of the egghead is hard ”(2) Prochnow again:  “Ignorance is a voluntary misfortune.”(3)  And finally Elder Sill: “Without the opiate of ignorance no one could possibly be unafraid of the terrors of hell.”(4)  This one is interesting.  An opiate is something that induces rest or inaction. Ignorance, for Elder Sill is an opiate.  It desensitizes us and makes us fearless of the terrors of hell.

There is an interesting relationship between ignorance and sin.  For something to be a sin, one must know it is wrong and do it anyway.  Ignorance of the law makes violation of the law a transgression, but not a sin.  The temporal penalties may be the same, but the spiritual penalties are significantly different.  Yet Elder Sill tells us “... almost all of the sins of the world are the sins of ignorance.”  How can that be?  He goes on: 
“Most of those who violate the commandments of God don’t really know the importance of what they are doing.  When we fill our minds with evil thoughts, we seldom understand until it is too late that these ideas will determine our eternal destiny.”(5)   
He is talking about sins committed in ignorance of why the commandment is there, and of the consequences, not the fact of the commandment itself.  In this respect something that President Stephen L. Richards once taught Elder Marion G. Romney is both important and profound.  Elder Romney, speaking of the importance of  constantly sharpening and deepening our understanding of the gospel through self-disciplined study said,   
“President Stephen L. Richards indelibly impressed upon my mind the importance of understanding the gospel years ago as I rode in an automobile with him to a stake conference.  We were, at the time, discussing the means for encouraging the Saints to more faithfully live up to church standards.  He said to me, in effect: “I feel sure that the membership of the Church would be more faithful in observing the commandments if they more fully understood the principles of the gospel.”  I agreed with him then and I am still of the same opinion.(6)
Since this is the case, then the consequences of sin are often unnecessary suffering and unnecessary complaining.  Laman and Lemuel “did murmur because they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them .” (1 Ne. 2:12, emphasis added)  Elder Maxwell said, “Our defiance of God is an expression of our ignorance not of our individuality.”(7)  

Let me refer to two examples of unnecessary suffering caused by ignorance.  One is spiritual, the other is temporal.  It has always interested me that it took Lehi and his family 8 years to cross Arabia.  (1 Ne. 17:4) Though Arabia is a big place, it does not take that long to cross it if you know where you are going.  Presumably they could have crossed it in eight months, or maybe even eight weeks.  So why did it take so long?  Well, the book of Alma informs us that because of disobedience the Liahona stopped working and “they did not progress in their journey” or “did not travel in a direct course” and “were afflicted with hunger and thirst.” (Al. 37:41-42) Alma is telling us that the length of the journey and its attendant trials was the consequence of the family’s disobedience.  Without a compass they did not know where they were going and their journey consequently lengthened–to 8 years. One might be forgiven for wondering if they were a bit slow in figuring this out.  In reality it probably took that long to penetrate the obsidian hearts of Laman, Lemuel and their wives. Nephi’s account repeatedly refers to the difficulties the family encountered in Arabia.  For me, however, his most potent and evocative metaphor is when he explained, “And we did travel and wade through much affliction in the wilderness....”  (1 Ne. 17:1)  “Wade!?”  It wasn’t just ankle-deep trouble he is talking about. It was full-fledged up to your belt buckle tough, wearying, wading.  If you want to understand how bad those afflictions would have been, take a look at the latter part of the wonderful DVD entitled, Journey of Faith.  Unnecessary suffering indeed!

Our second example most of you know about from grade school.  In 1519 Ferdinand Magellan started on the first rip around the world.  En route some of his men died of scurvy caused by a deficiency of vitamin C.  Tragically, in their ignorance, they didn’t know that the cargo of limes they had aboard their vessel were high in this life-saving vitamin.  Unfortunately, the ignorance of Magellan and his men was not their own fault, so in this case it probably really wasn’t unnecessary suffering, but it is nevertheless useful to make the point: “It is equally possible for us to die mentally, financially and spiritually while all of the time the means for curing our diseases are in the good books that are right under our noses.”(8)  The problem is that in their pride or sloth, many won’t even open the lid of the barrel.

The Uneven Playing Field

My final point for this part comes from a wonderful quotation by a pretty sharp man named Criswell Freeman.  He said,  
“By and large, the uneducated must play the entire game of life on an uneven field.  But the value of education is often invisible to young people who rebel against the very tool that might level the field on which they play–or even tilt it in their direction.”(9)  
Derek Bok, made the stinging point, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”(10)  And James Thom observed, “Probably the most honest, “self-made man” ever was the one we heard say: “I got to the top the hard way–fighting my own laziness and ignorance every step of the way.”(11)  An ignorant man’s world is restricted by the limits of his knowledge. These expressions suggest that ignorance forces us to play the game of life on an uneven field.  The ignorant always battle uphill. 

One way this happens is through the neglect of available resources.  Elder Sill was rather direct with this potent observation: “Our bookshelves are loaded with the most helpful volumes and yet ignorance and the violation of tested and proven principles remains one of the greatest curses of mankind.”(12)  Another wasted resource is our own talent.  Wasted talent leaves undeveloped your potential in many areas of life. It is an unnecessary self-imposed limitation. Wasted talent is unknown talent, undiscovered talent, and undeveloped talent.  A certain lack of understanding, ignorance and sloth is responsible for much of this waste.

Another way the ignorant play on an uneven field is to be constantly chained to that very ignorance.  Elder Sill eloquently said: ““The sentence of one who fails to study is that he is chained to his ignorance, and wherever he goes forevermore he must drag his ignorance along.”(13) One of those chains is to live an uninspired and unprogressive existence. President David O. McKay said, “To be ignorant of one’s own ignorance is to be in an unprogressive, uninspired state of existence.”(14) Alfred North Whitehead, famous educator said, “In the conditions of modern life, the rule is absolute: Those who do not value trained intelligence are doomed. There is no appeal from the judgment which is pronounced on the uneducated.”(15) I don’t think Whitehead was referring to judgmentalism on the part of others or even of society, though that may be a factor.  I think he spoke of the judgment of natural consequences growing out of ignorance. Things like fear and insecurity, the spawn of ignorance, which inhibit our progress and success. 

At its most practical level, the uneducated have difficulty getting and holding a job.  A government survey which took five years to conduct was published in 1993.  It found that 90 million Americans, nearly half of the adult population, read and write so poorly that it is difficult for them to hold a decent job.  It is hard for them to perform such tasks as calculating the difference in price of two items or to fill out a Social Security form.(16)

The tragedies of unnecessary suffering and fighting the battle uphill are tragedies indeed, because today with modern technology and the “age of information” getting an education, even if we must educate ourselves, is more available and easier to obtain than it has ever been in the history of mankind.


Formal education does not completely eliminate ignorance, and to the extent which it does not, the dangers, problems, and difficulties mentioned above are still threats.  Therefore, one’s life should be a constant effort to eradicate ignorance.  It is in our interest to follow the teachings of President Gordon B. Hinckley, who repeatedly counseled us to “get all the education” we can, because it is the will of the Lord.

Lets think together again, soon.


1. Herbert V. Prochnow, The Complete Toastmaster, p. 73.

2. Adlai E. Stevenson, in Criswell Freeman, ed., The Teachers’ Book of Wisdom, (Nashville, TN.: Walnut Grove Press, 1998), p. 39.

3. Herbert V. Prochnow, The Complete Toastmaster, p. 293.

4. Sterling W. Sill, The Power of Believing, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1968), p. 76.

5. W. Sill, The Glory of the Sun, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft Inc., 1961), pp. 345-346.

6. Marion G. Romney, Conference Report, October 1976, p. 106.

7. Neal A. Maxwell, “Not My Will, But Thine”, p. 67.

8. Sterling W. Sill, The Upward Reach, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1962), pp. 60-61.

9. Criswell Freeman, ed., The Teachers’ Book of Wisdom, (Nashville, TN.: Walnut Grove Press, 1998), p. 45.

10. Derek Bok, educator, Geoffrey Steck, ed., Leadership, (11 December 2001), p. 13.

11. James Thom, in Bits & Pieces, (August 2006), p. 19.

12. Sterling W. Sill, The Upward Reach, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1962), p. 58.

13. Sterling W. Sill, Leadership, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, Inc., 1958), p. 323.

14. David O. McKay, Pathways To Happiness, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft Inc., 1957), pp. 351-352. 

15. Alfred North Whitehead, in Criswell Freeman, ed., The Teachers’ Book of Wisdom, (Nashville, TN.: Walnut Grove Press, 1998), p. 100.

16. Cal Thomas, The Things that Matter Most, (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1994), p. 159.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Evils Of Ignorance, Part 1

The story is told about a missionary reunion sometime back.  One returned missionary who wasn’t remembered as the sharpest tack in the box arrived at the reunion in a chauffeured Rolls-Royce. It seems he had become a fabulously successful president of a gasket company. Naturally, all of his former companions and fellow missionaries were curious how someone like him had made so much money. So after all the handshaking, back patting and “oos” and “ahs” someone put the question to him. "Just how were you able to put together this gasket operation you run?'  "It was easy," he replied. "I found a manufacturer who could make them at one cent apiece and then I sold them at five cents apiece. And you just can't beat that four percent profit!"  ...  If you didn’t get that you may be in for the Rolls-Royce ride of your life.  My theme today is “the evils of ignorance.”

During our mission in California I created a list of potential topics for our mission newsletter.  One of them was “ignorance.”  This file was first created about May 2003 and I have been adding to it for over a decade. On my first mission, our fifth discussion was on the plan of salvation.  We taught the people that three lethal enemies faced mankind, from which we need to be saved: sin, death, and ignorance.  I had not thought much about that since then, until our mission in California.  Studying Elder Sill alerted me to it.  Some of the evils accompanying ignorance are: superstition, darkness, suspense, doubt, prejudice and bigotry, fear, intolerance, hatred, poor judgment, lack of understanding and wisdom, and impatience. These are not all, of course.  You can think of others. The point is that ignorance is one of the great enemies of mankind!  Bob Edward said, “A little learning is a dangerous thing, but a lot of ignorance is just as bad.”(1)  President Howard W. Hunter agreed, and was more specific when he said:  
“Only by knowledge can we banish ignorance, superstition, prejudice, fear, and hatred, the evils from which spring most of our world’s problems. Therefore it is imperative that you continue to seek knowledge.”(2)
A second insight came during my frequent preparations to give patriarchal blessings since we have returned from California.  I have thought a lot about what might and should be said in patriarchal blessings about education.  Somewhere in that process it occurred to me that: We are born into total ignorance, and we must spend the rest of our lives overcoming ignorance. Although he was probably referring to problems in society, the following from Elder Sterling W. Sill can also apply to many individuals, “The thick blackness of the Dark Ages has not yet been dispersed.”(3)

LDS Philosophy Of Education

What is the LDS philosophy of the importance of education?  A statement or two from the scriptures gives us some background.  Proverbs 1:5 says “A wise man will hear, and will increase learning....”  There are a few additional statements such as that in the Bible, but I could cite more than a score of passages on the subject from the Doctrine and Covenants alone, not to mention the almost innumerable statements by Church leaders since the days of Joseph Smith.  I will refer to just these: “pure knowledge shall greatly enlarge the soul. (D&C 121:42).”  “It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.” (D&C 131:6)  And “Let him that is ignorant learn wisdom by humbling himself and calling upon the Lord his God, that his eyes may be opened that he may see, and his ears opened that he may hear; For my Spirit is sent forth into the world to enlighten the humble and contrite, and to the condemnation of the ungodly.”  (D&C 136:32-33).

Willful Ignorance Is A Sin

It is true we are all born totally ignorant, but we are not to stay that way, especially regarding knowledge of the existence of God, learning his will and commandments. Failure to do so is a sin, and brings with it judgment and punishment. God wants us to know, but Satan wants to keep us in ignorance and darkness.  Satan is “that wicked one” who “cometh and taketh away light and truth.” (D&C 93:39) Satan wants us to remain in total ignorance that way he can more easily rule over us. In Mormonism willful ignorance of the gospel is a sin. Elder Talmage wrote, 
“Willful ignorance of Gospel requirements is sin.  Man is untrue to his Divine lineage and birthright of reason when he turns away from the truth, or deliberately chooses to walk in darkness while the illumined path is open to his tread. Positive rejection of the truth is even graver than passive inattention or neglect. Yet to every one is given the right of choice and the power of agency, with the certainty of his meeting the natural and inevitable consequence.”(4)
Robert Browning agreed with this, but in more general terms. “Ignorance is not innocence, but sin.”(5) For Elder Talmage to be correct, there must be some requirement made of us, some expectation, some duty imposed to learn, and there must be the capacity to learn. These are philosophical matters worth considering.  Above I have pointed out that there are such requirements, expectations, and duties imposed in the Restored Gospel.  We also know that all minds are capable of enlargement, and to the degree which they are, we should be about it. The worst and most sinful kind of ignorance is willful, intentional, slothful ignorance.  There is no blindness so dark as that which will not see. There is no deafness so profound as that which will not hear. There is no ignorance so deep as that which will not know.

Closed minds are a manifestation of willful ignorance. Anna Quindlin said, “Ignorance is death.  A closed mind is a catafalque.”(6)  A “catafalque” is “an ornamental structure sometimes used in funerals for the lying in state of the body; a pall-covered coffin-shaped structure used at requiem masses celebrated after burial.” In other words, it is basically a coffin without a body. She is saying the closed mind is an empty mind. Joseph Smith spoke forcefully about his experience with closed minds:  “There are a great many wise men and women too in our midst who are too wise to be taught; therefore they must die in their ignorance, and in the resurrection they will find their mistake.  Many seal up the door of heaven by saying, So far God may reveal and I will believe.”(7) Minds get closed in several ways; pride and sloth being the chief causes.  Have you ever corrected someone and they say: “Whatever!”? That response is symptomatic of either pride or laziness, maybe both, but it is a pervasive attitude among many today.

Like so many other things, overcoming ignorance is largely a matter of attitude.  Elbert Hubbard said,   “The recipe for perpetual ignorance is: Be satisfied with your opinions and content with your knowledge.”(8)  The real shame is not ignorance, but being unwilling to learn!  Elder Sill tells the story of a girl in her twenties who came to him to talk about her problems.  She didn’t believe the Bible.  She said it was a collection of fairy tales.  She had never read it, let alone study it. She waved aside the notion that Jesus and his apostles underwent great hardships and violent deaths in support of their testimony “as if these men were merely playing a childish game.”  Elder Sill concludes the account with this very interesting statement:  
“She seemed not the least concerned with what seemed to me like suicidal irresponsibility.  There seemed to her to be not the slightest chance that the wisdom of the prophets including the Savior himself, might outweigh her inexperience and lack of information.”(9)    
He could have said “ignorance” there instead of “lack of information.”

Pilate is yet another example.  Again Elder Sill: 
“Too frequently we follow a procedure similar to the one used by Pilate when he said to Jesus, ‘What is truth?’  And then without waiting for the answer he turned and walked out of the room.  Mostly we don’t have the answers because we have not been willing to invest the time and study necessary to find the truth....”(10)
I will continue this important theme in the next blog.


1. Bob Edward, in Glenn Van Ekeren, Speaker's Sourcebook II, (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1994), p. 232.

2. Howard W. Hunter, The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, ed. Clyde J. Williams, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997), p. 177.

3. Sterling W. Sill, The Upward Reach, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1962), p. 59.

4. James E. Talmage, Vitality of Mormonism, (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1919), p. 271.

5. Robert Browning, in Richard L. Evans, Richard Evans’ Quote Book, (Salt Lake City: Publishers Press, 1971), p. 78.

6. Anna Quindlen, How Reading Changed My Life, (New York: Ballantine Books, 1998), p. 69.

7. Joseph Smith, TPJS, p. 309.

8. Elbert Hubbard, in B. C. Forbes, The Forbes Scrapbook of Thoughts on the Business of Life, (New York: Forbes, Inc., 1976), p. 132.

9. Sterling W. Sill, The Upward Reach, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1962), pp. 51-52.

10. Sterling W. Sill, The Upward Reach, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1962), p. 61.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Why I Believe: Evidence Eight: Joseph's Simple Faith To Believe The Scriptures

101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith Was A Prophet

Evidence Eight:   
Joseph’s Simple Faith To Believe The Scriptures© 

The First Vision did not come out of a vacuum.  Nearly everyone knows that one of the catalysts which led to it was a passage of scripture–James 1:5.  What is not as well known is the degree of faith which Joseph Smith placed in what he read in the Bible and that other passages reinforced the message of James.  Joseph possessed the simple faith to believe the scriptures and he had it from a very young age.  His belief in what the scriptures say also played a role in his second great spiritual experience, the coming of Moroni.  Many other examples of his trust in scripture punctuate his life.(1) Today lets explore what we know about the influence of the scriptures in bringing about the First Vision.

Unlike many of Joseph’s other visions, there were no witnesses or fellow observes of the First Vison.  So it seems almost divinely ironical, that as historian Richard Anderson has pointed out:
His account of that sacred experience is not only his best-documented vision of Deity, but there are few spiritual experiences in world history that rival the First Vision in rich detail and full reporting.(2)
Most readers are aware that there are a number of renditions of the First Vision.  Since the late 1960s when knowledge of these accounts came to the attention of the Church and outsiders, they have been the center of a great deal of study and controversy.  However, when we take one simple question to our reading of these chronicles we come away from the endeavor with an important insight into the heart and mind of Joseph Smith and with a new appreciation for why he was called to be the Prophet of the Restoration of the Gospel.  That question?  “What can we learn from the recitals of the First Vision about the role which the Holy Scriptures played in influencing him to pray?”

Evidence of his involvement and belief in the scriptures

The oldest of the reports left by Joseph Smith of his early spiritual experiences was produced in 1832.  In many ways it is the simplest and most unsophisticated portrayal which lends a certain innocence and purity to this memoir that appeals to me.  More importantly, it contains several important statements relative to our subject.  In them Joseph refers to the Bible as a “sacred depository,” a clue to his esteem for the Bible. As he tells the story we see that he learned some important concepts from the scriptures which bolstered his faith in God.  The italicized portions of the following quotations highlight these points.
Excerpt 1: “...about the age of twelve years my mind became serously imprest with regard to the all important concerns for the welfare of my immortal soul which led me to searching the scriptures believing as I was taught, that they contained the word of God.  Thus applying them and my intimate acquaintance with those of different denominations led me to marvel excedingly for I discovered that they did not adorn their profession by a holy walk and Godly conversation agreeable to what I found contained in that sacred depository....”
Excerpt 2: “Thus from the age of twelve to fifteen I pondered many things in my heart concerning the situation of the world of mankind....  My mind became exceedingly distressed for I become convicted of my sins and by searching the Scriptures I found that mankind did not come unto the Lord...”
Excerpt 3:  “...I felt to mourn for my own sins and for the sins of the world for I learned in the scriptures that God was the same yesterday to day and forever that he was no respecter to persons for he was God....”(3)
In these excerpts we see several important ways which the scriptures were interwoven into his quest.  First, is the rather remarkable fact that Joseph Smith had been reading and thinking about the scriptures for a long period in his early youth–from age 12-15!  Second, they demonstrate that he had a soberness of mind similar to young Mormon in the Book of Mormon.  (Mor. 1:15)  Even at that age he was cognizant of his own inner state and observant of the religious conditions of the time.  This maturity is unusual for a boy of this age, but it is an important ingredient in possessing firm faith. Thirdly, during this period the scriptures were a major element of Joseph’s thinking about the universe, the present religious situation, and his personal status with God.

As he continued the narrative he tells us of other important principles he learned, the most important of which we can now see from hindsight were about God himself.  These expressions were all paraphrases of or allusions to scripture.  The list of what he said he understood includes:

  • God is unchanging.  He answers prayers.  (Heb. 13:8)
  • Anyone may approach God, since he is no respecter of persons.  (Acts. 10:34)
  • Those who worship him should do so in spirit and in truth.  (Jn. 4:23-24 )(4)

James 1:5

The 1832 history does not mention the now famous James 1:5 passage, however, the 1838 report is the most important of the seven of the nine contemporary accounts which name this passage as decisive for Joseph Smith. This emphasis highlights the great importance of this passage which profoundly influenced his actions and thereby changed the world.

Here Joseph once again refers to his youthful emotional reaction to religious excitements in his area of New York.  (See JS-H 1:8-9.)  He goes on to say that one day while reading the epistle of James he encountered verse 5 of the first chapter.  It deeply affected him and his description suggests the power and influence of the Holy Ghost came upon the lad.
Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man that this did at this time to mine.  It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart.  I reflected on it again and again.... At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs....  I at length came to the determination to "ask of God," concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture.  So, in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt.(5)
What did Joseph Smith learn from James 1:5-6 that would have increased his faith because he believed what he was reading?  This passage further enlightened young Joseph with three things about God in addition to what he had learned from the scriptures listed above.  First, if a man lacks wisdom, and he felt he did, he should ask God.  Second, God gives liberally to all men who ask.  Third, God does not upbraid those who ask.(6)

He now possessed six important truths about God, several of which overlapped each other conceptually, but because he believed them they greatly shaped the course of events to follow. This is exactly as it should have been for him, and should be for us.  After all this is one of the major purposes of Holy Writ.  It is to cause us to act not just emote.  God reveals himself and his will so we know what to do not just what to believe. Reflection upon these ideas spotlighted in his study and thinking prior to going into the grove to pray all lead to one conclusion– Joseph should trust God; he hears and answers prayers.

Twice in the above quotation Joseph refers to the conclusion to which his reflections upon James 1:5 led him.  If he had been reticent or fearful, or both, now believing that God liberally gives wisdom to those who lack it and he will not chastize the supplicant, Joseph concluded that he “might venture” to pray.  In an 1842 letter to Chicago editor John Wentworth, Joseph confirmed that he not only believed the passage but it hiked his confidence:  “Believing the word of God, I had confidence in the declaration of James–....”(7)   The record indicates in clear language that encouraged by these ideas he decided to act.

The provision of James 1:6-7 should also be considered

Verses six and seven of James chapter one must also be considered in any serious discussion of the role the scriptures played in Joseph’s life leading to the First Vision.  They contain a proviso that we do not often discuss in relationship to Joseph Smith, but which speak directly to his case.
But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.  For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.  For let not that man think he shall receive anything of the Lord.”  (Emphasis added.)
In light of this demanding standard it is readily apparent that Joseph received the correct message from the scriptures; a message that bolstered his natural faith in the word of the Lord. The scriptures moved him from enlightenment and understanding to action. Moreover, if we accept his account of the result of his prayer–the First Vision–then it follows that he must have met the qualifications of these latter verses. But, we are not left without further evidence to substantiate this conclusion.

The depth of his commitment to get an answer

It is significant that twice in the 1838 statement Joseph mentions his “determination to ask.”  However, he did not come to the decision in haste.  He reflected upon the passage over and over again.  Doubtless the other passage he referred to in his 1832 statement were included in those reflections.  Two statements, both from 1835, speak to the depth of Joseph’s commitment to get an answer to his prayer. In 1835 Oliver Cowdery, the Church’s first historian, wrote several letters about early church history to W. W. Phelps, then editor of the Church’s newspaper The Messenger and Advocate. Recalling events leading to the First Vision he wrote:
“...our brother was urged forward and strengthened in the determination to know for himself in the certainty and reality of pure and holy religion.  And it is only necessary for me to say, that while this excitement continued, he continued to call upon the Lord in secret for a full manifestation of divine approbation, and for, to him, the all important information, if a Supreme being did exist, to have an assurance that he was accepted of him."(8)
The second is found in Joseph's 9 November 1835 Journal.  He said, “...information was what I most desired at this time, and with a fixed determination to obtain it, I called upon the Lord...”(9)  Not only had the scriptures brought him to the “conclusion” that he must take his questions to God in prayer, they also strengthened his “determination” to do so.

"Believing," "confidence," and "determination" are strong active words which tell us something important about the mental attitude and quality of faith which Joseph took with him into the "Sacred Grove" in the Spring of 1820.  What wonderful things the Scriptures can produce in the heart and mind of a fourteen-year-old!

The insights gained from the various retellings of the First Vision story which play up Joseph’s belief in the scriptures and the workings of the Lord in guiding him to passages which would bolster that faith and focus it to a greater degree in believing that God hears and answers prayer, strengthen’s my own faith that he was a Prophet of God.  Vance Havner, one of my favorite Baptist ministers unwittingly left a statement which wonderfully summarizes the point of this essay.  He wrote:
“After all, the Word of God yields its deepest secrets not to scholarly analysis but to simple faith that dares to “let God be true, but every man a liar.”  After the wise and prudent, even among the orthodox, have argued at length over this verse and that, God raises up some nonentity who dares to believe God’s bold, brave words, and puts all the rest of us to shame.  Few of us ever stand with all our weight on the Word of God.  We pretend to, but in a crisis we usually make some concession to human weakness, and the Word does not profit us as it might, being mixed with unbelief in us who hear it.”(10)
Thank God for Joseph Smith.  Lets think together again, soon.


1 One example: Young William Taylor once asked Joseph if he got frightened “when all those hounding wolves are after you?”  Joseph said, “No, I am not afraid; the Lord said he would protect me, and I have full confidence in his word.” William Taylor, Young Woman's Journal, 17 (December 1906), pp. 547-548.

2  Richard L. Anderson, "Joseph Smith's Testimony of The First Vision," Ensign, April 1996, 10.

3 Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1984), 4-6.  I have not corrected the spelling.

4 Jessee, Personal Writings, 5-6.

5 JS-H 1:12-14.

6 Very similar precepts are taught in Luke 11:9-13.

7 HC, 4:536.

8  Oliver Cowdery, "Letter IV, to W. W. Phelps, Esq.," Messenger and Advocate, 1 (February 1835), 78, emphasis added.

9 Dean C. Jessee, The Papers of Joseph Smith: Volume 2, Journal, 1832-1842, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book,1992), 69, entry for 9 November 1835, emphasis added.

10  Vance Havner, The Secret of Christian Joy, (New York: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1938), p. 23, bold emphasis added. Havner said this in an essay or sermon on how modern “believers” privately interpret, misinterpret, and take the life out of scripture. Five decades after Havner’s statement, Mormon scholar Stephen Robinson wrote a best-selling book in Mormonism titled Believing Christ: The Parable of the Bicycle and Other Good News, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992).  It’s focus was not just believing in Christ, but believing what he says.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

John Stuart Mill's Astonishing Reading From Age Eight To Twelve

[I said Thursday I would add this information about Mill. It appears that few are interested in it, but since I promised it, here it is.]
"In the same year in which I began Latin [age 8], I made my first commencement in the Greek poets with the Iliad.  After I had made some progress in this, my father put Pope’s translation into my hands.  It was the first English verse I had cared to read, and it became one of the books in which for many years I most delighted: I think I must have read it from twenty to thirty times through.  I should not have thought it worth while to mention a taste apparently so natural to boyhood, if I had not, as I think, observed that the keen enjoyment of this brilliant specimen of narrative and versification is not so universal with boys, as I should have expected both a priori and from my individual experience.  Soon after this time I commenced Euclid....

From my eighth to my twelfth year the Latin books which I remember reading were, the Bucolics of Virgil, and the first six books of the Aeneid; all Horace except the Epodes; the fables of Phaedrus; the first five books of Livy (to which from my love of the subject I voluntarily added, in my hours of leisure, the remainder of the first decad); all Sallust; a considerable part of Ovid’s Metamorphoses; some plays of Terence; two or three books of Lucretius; several of the Orations of  Cicero, and of his writings on oratory; also his letters to Atticus, my father taking the trouble to translate to me from the french the historical explanations in Mongault’s notes.  In Greek I read the Iliad and Odyssey through; one or two plays of Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes, though by these I profited little; all Thucydides; the Hellenics of Xenophon; a great part of Demosthenes, Aeschines, and Lysias; Theocritus; Anacreon; part of the Anthology; a little of Dionysisus; several books of Polybius; and lastly, Aristotle’s Rhetoric, which, as the first expressly scientific treatise on any moral or psychological subject which I had read, and containing many of the best observations of the ancients on human nature and life, my father made me study with peculiar care, and throw the matter of it into synoptic tables. ...
As to my private reading, I can only speak of what I remember.  History continued to be my strongest predilection, and most of all ancient history.  Mitford’s Greece I read continually.   My father had put me on my guard against the Tory prejudices of this writer, and his perversions of facts for the whitewashing of despots, and blackening of popular institutions. These points he discoursed on, exemplifying them from the Greek orators and historians, with such effect that in reading Mitford, my sympathies were always on the contrary side to those of the author, and I could, to some extent, have argued the point against him: yet this did not diminish the ever new pleasure with which I read the book. Roman history, both in my old favorite, Hooke, and in Ferguson, continued to delight me.  A book which, in spite of what is called the dryness of its stile, I took great pleasure in, was the Ancient Universal History: through the incessant reading of which, I had my head full of historical details concerning the obscurest ancient people, while about modern history, except detached passages such as the Dutch war of independence, I knew and cared comparatively little.

... I had read, up to this time, very little English poetry.  Shakespeare my father had put into my hands, chiefly for the sake of the historical plays, from which however I went on to the others.   My father never was a great admirer of Shakespeare, the English idolatry of whom he used to attack with some severity.  He cared little for any English poetry except Milton (for whom he had the highest admiration), Goldsmith, Burns, and Gray’s Bard, which he preferred to his Elegy: perhaps I may add Cowper and Beattie.  He had some value for Spenser, and I remember his reading to me (unlike his usual practice of making me read to him) the first book of the Fairie Queene; but I took little pleasure in it.  The poetry of the present century he saw scarcely any merit in, and I hardly became acquainted with any of it till I was grown up to manhood, except the metrical romances of Walter Scott, which I read at his recommendation and was intensely delighted with; as I always was with animated narrative.  Dryden’s Poems were among my father’s books, and many of these he made me read, but I never cared for any of them except Alexander’s Feast, which, as well as many of the sons in Walter Scott, I used to sing internally, to a music of my own: to some of the latter indeed I went so far as to compose airs, which I still remember.  Cowper’s short poems I read with some pleasure, but never got far into the longer ones; and nothing in the two volumes interested me like the prose account of his three hares.  In my thirteenth year I met with Campbell’s Poems, among which Lochiel, Hohenlinden, the Exile of Erin, and some others, gave me sensations I had never before experienced from poetry.  Here, too, I made nothing of the longer poems, except the striking opening of Gertrude of Wyoming, which long kept its place in my feelings as the perfection of pathos."

Let's think together again, soon.

John Stuart Mill, Autobiography, edited by Jack Stillinger, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1969), pp.  8-12.