A Testimony of the Truth (David O. McKay Lesson 17)

A testimony of the truth is the most precious possession in the world.

The most precious of all possessions. There are some people in the world today... who know that God is their father and that he is not far from them. If they were to speak on the subject, they would tell you that of all their possessions this knowledge is the most precious. From it they obtain power to resist temptation, courage in times of danger, companionship in hours of loneliness, and comfort in sorrow. This knowledge of God gives them faith and hope that tomorrow will be better than today. It is an anchor to their souls which gives purpose to life, though all men and things about them be in confusion and chaos. They know that such conditions have come because men are without that knowledge and are therefore not guided by God. (Marion G. Romney, Ensign, Aug. 1976, p. 4.)

A possession more valuable than sight. Some time ago a lovely sister in the Church came to see me. Though she was blind from birth, she was a convert to the Church through the missionary program. She had two sisters, but she was the only one in her family who had accepted the gospel. She said she wouldn't trade places with her sisters for anything. When I asked her why not, she said, "They have their sight and I don't, but they cannot see." Then she bore testimony to me that she knew God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and that the gospel has been restored. This testimony was more valuable to her than anything else, even more than to have her sight. (Eldred G. Smith, Area Conference Report, Aug. 1973—Munich, Germany, p. 9.)

The most valuable thing in the world. The story is told that there was a new minister who moved into the community where Thomas Carlyle lived, and he went to the office of Carlyle and asked this question: "What do the people of this community need more than anything else?" And Carlyle's answer was: "They need a man who knows God other than by hearsay."

You know, I have thought a lot about that. I think what this world needs today more than anything else is to know God other than by hearsay ....

I would like to say to all those who are within the sound of my voice this day, and who are not members of this Church and do not know the truth of this testimony other than by hearsay: I promise you, as one of his apostles of this dispensation, that if you will study his message and ask God, the Eternal Father, he will manifest the truth of this unto you, and it will be worth more to you than all else in this world. (LeGrand Richards, Conference Report, Apr. 1968, pp. 120, 122.)

I wanted every senator to know. I picked up volume three of the "Investigation of Reed Smoot," and it opened to page 593. I read these words, which are part of the charges made against me by Mr. Tayler, the prosecuting attorney, I may term him, at that time:

Several hundred thousand sincere men and women have believed and now believe, as they believe in their own existence, that Joseph Smith, Jr. received revelations direct from God, and if anyone ever believed that we must assume that Senator Smoot believes it. Now a Senator of the United States might believe anything else in the world but that and not be ineligible to a seat in the body to which he belongs. He might believe in polygamy; he might believe that murder was commendable; he might deny the propriety as a rule of life of all the ten commandments; he might believe in the sacrifice of human life; he might believe in no God or in a thousand gods; he might be Jew or Gentile, Mohammedan or Buddhist, atheist or pan-theist; he might believe that the world began last year and would end next year, but to believe with the kind of conviction that Reed Smoot possesses that God speaks to him or may speak to him is to admit by the inevitable logic of his conviction that there is a superior authority with whom here and now he may converse, and whose command he can no more refuse to obey than he can will himself not to think.

My brethren and sisters, in my answer to the charges of Mr. Tayler, do you think for a moment that I would admit that I was not to be a Senator because I believed in a living God; because I believed that Joseph Smith was a prophet of the living God, establishing God's work here upon this earth in this dispensation? No. I wanted every Senator and every person in all the world, if it were possible, to understand that the charge that was made against me upon that occasion I agreed was correct as far as my belief in receiving revelations from God, or that Joseph Smith was a prophet of the living God. I never want to live long enough that that testimony shall not be burning in my soul. Rather would I die than have such a thing happen to me. I know that he was a prophet of God. I know that God and his Son Jesus Christ appeared to him. I know that this is the work of God, and just as sure as we live the world will acknowledge it some time or other. (Reed Smoot, Conference Report, Oct. 1934, p. 68.)

More valuable than mortal life. Let me conclude by saying to you what I have said many times, and what I hope I will ever stand by. I would a thousand times rather go to my grave as I am, with the convictions that I possess, than to falter for one instant in that which God has revealed to me. It is more than mortal life to me. (Joseph F. Smith, Conference Report, Apr. 1912, p. 137.)

Worth more than any sign or gift. This testimony comes from God; it convinces all to whom it is given in spite of themselves, and it is worth more to men than any sign or gift, because it gives peace, happiness, and contentment to the soul. It assures me that God lives; and if I am faithful, I shall obtain the blessings of the celestial kingdom. (Joseph Fielding Smith, Conference Report, Oct. 1968, p. 125.)

The most useful possession in life. The most precious thing in all the world is to accept God as our Father, to accept His Son as our Redeemer, our Savior, and to know in one's heart that the Father and the Son appeared in this dispensation and gave the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the happiness, salvation, and exaltation of the human family. To accept that as an eternal truth is to have the greatest possession that the human mind can possess.

I believe with the great English philosopher and scientist, Sir Humphrey Davy, that:

If I could choose what of all things would be at the same time the most delightful and the most useful to me, I should prefer a firm religious belief above every other blessing; for this makes life a discipline of goodness; creates new hopes when all earthly ones vanish; throws over the decay of existence the most glorious of all lights; awakens life even in death; makes every torture and shame the ladder of ascent to paradise; and far above all combinations of earthly hopes, calls up the most delightful visions of the future, the security of everlasting joys ....

That is the message we should like to give to all the world: that the most delightful, the most useful possession in life is a testimony of the truth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (David O. McKay, Instructor, Apr. 1964, p. 129.)

Greater than anything else achievable in life. I would rather have my children and my grandchildren enjoy the companionship of the Holy Ghost, a witness of the divinity of this work, than anything else that they can achieve in this life, or any companionship that they can gain. (LeGrand Richards, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year, 1972-73, p. 40.)

As we are obedient, we receive a testimony through the Spirit.

Prerequisites for a testimony. All blessings from God come as a result of obedience to the laws upon which they are predicated. This rule, or law, applies to the acquisition of a testimony of the gospel or any related subject. Any accountable person can gain a testimony if he will obey the laws upon which the receipt of such knowledge is predicated. But here, as elsewhere, there are certain prerequisites, which may be listed roughly as follows:

  • The seeker must desire to know the truth of the gospel or whatever is involved in his quest.
  • He must study and learn everything possible with relation to the matter involved. In John 5:39 we read: "Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life." And we are directed in the D&C 1:37 to "Search these commandments."
  • The applicant must practice the principles and truths which he learns and bring his life into harmony with them. The Savior said: "My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself." (John 7:16-17.)
  • He must constantly pray to the Father and exercise faith that the truth will be manifested by revelation through the Holy Ghost. (Hugh B. Brown, Relief Society Magazine, Oct. 1969, pp. 724-725.)

Wrapping ourselves in obedience. I know some people who will say, "Well, how can I conduct my life so as to be responsive to the message that comes from an unseen world?" There is an old illustration—a high school illustration—that bears on this subject: We may take a rod of soft iron and place it with some filings without apparently causing any change—the rod is not magnetic. But if we wrap the rod with a wire carrying an electric current, it becomes a magnet. Though the rod has not changed in shape and width and length, it has undergone a deep change. It has become changed so that it attracts iron filings or whatever else is subject to magnetic action. Just so, if we—men and women—could wrap ourselves in obedience to God's love, and live as we should, a wonderful change is effected in us, and we too can then hear the messages from the unseen world. (Harold B. Lee, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year, 15 Oct. 1952, p. 4.)

The way to obtain a testimony is clear. To those who truly desire a testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel, the way to obtain one is clear. First, the Lord asks that we study the gospel diligently. In speaking to Oliver Cowdery, he made the importance of diligent study very clear: "Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right .... (D&C 9:7-8.)

As the Lord indicates, diligent study of the gospel is vital in order to gain a testimony. Study of the gospel builds faith; it provides evidence upon which one's testimony can be built. The apostle Paul said that faith is based on "evidence" (Heb. 11:1), and study will provide that evidence.

Coupled with personal study, a second most important step in obtaining a personal testimony is that you live the gospel and keep the commandments. The Savior spoke regarding this step toward gaining a testimony. He said: "My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself." (John 7:16-17.)

Alma, the Nephite prophet, made a similar declaration as he challenged the people to experiment upon his words. He said," ... behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words." (Alma 32:27.)

Obedience to the commandments of God is essential if a person is to be prepared to receive a testimony ....

Third, to gain a testimony, you must approach the Father in humble prayer, just as did the Prophet Joseph. As Joseph Smith found, and thousands of others confirm, the following declaration of the Lord is true: "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him." (James 1:5.) (John H. Vandenberg, Improvement Era, Dec. 1968, p. 111.)

Live by faith first, then knowledge comes. President John Henry Smith gave this advice: "If you want to have a testimony about any part of it [meaning the gospel] live that part and you will get your testimony. It does not matter what principle it is, live the principle for awhile and get your own testimony." This is very sage advice for all to follow. We must learn to live by faith before the witness of knowledge is received. Christ said to the doubting Thomas: "Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." (John 20:29.) (Delbert L. Stapley, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year, 23 Mar. 1971, pp. 2-3.)

The Holy Ghost will not dwell with the disobedient. Now I am going to say something that maybe I could not prove, but I believe it is true, that we have a great many members of this Church who have never received a manifestation through the Holy Ghost. Why? Because they have not made their lives conform to the truth. And the Holy Ghost will not dwell in unclean tabernacles or disobedient tabernacles. The Holy Ghost will not dwell with that person who is unwilling to obey and keep the commandments of God or who violates those commandments willfully. In such a soul the spirit of the Holy Ghost cannot enter. That great gift comes to us only through humility and faith and obedience. Therefore, a great many members of the Church do not have that guidance. Then some cunning, crafty individual will come along teaching that which is not true, and without the guidance which is promised to us through our faithfulness, people are unable to discern and are led astray. It depends on our faithfulness and our obedience to the commandments of the Lord if we have the teachings, the enlightening instruction, that comes from the Holy Ghost.

When we are disobedient, when our minds are set upon the things of this world rather than on the things of the kingdom of God, we cannot have the manifestations of the Holy Ghost. Did you ever stop to think what a great privilege it is for us to have the companionship of one of the members of the Godhead? Have you thought of it that way? That is our privilege, if we keep the commandments the Lord has given us. (Joseph Fielding Smith, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year, 25 Oct. 1961, pp. 4-5.)

A testimony of the gospel is an anchor to the soul.

This is the secret. Students of human affairs, theologians and other thinking men have expressed their amazement at the vitality of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and they say we have some secret for our unprecedented development. Now let me tell you what that secret is. I take you all into confidence .... This is the secret. Every member of this Church stands upon his own feet, upon his own testimony, upon his own conviction that this is the Church of Jesus Christ .... Now, in a great building such as this Tabernacle, one part depends upon the other parts. Knock out one of those columns and that part of the gallery would be endangered. Remove several of them and a section of the balcony would collapse. But suppose that every part of the building rested upon its own foundation. Then the destruction of one part would not affect the others. Now, that is the secret. ( James E. Talmage, Conference Report, Apr. 1920, p. 104.)

Strength of the church not in its buildings, chapels, etc. I would like to say to you, that is the strength of this cause, the individual testimony that lies in the hearts of the people. The strength of this church is not in its buildings, in its chapels, in its offices, in its schools; it is not in its programs or its publications. They are important, but they are only a means to an end, and that end is the building of testimony—a conviction that will weather every storm and stand up to every crisis in the hearts and the lives of the membership. (Gordon B. Hinckley, Area Conference Report, Aug. 1971—Manchester, England, pp. 160-161.)

"Black secret" of Mormonism. Years ago, when our missionaries were being severely persecuted in England, the English government sent a representative to Utah to study our people. They wanted to know what it was that caused the Church to keep sending its missionaries there when they were being so persecuted. After that individual had spent some time in our midst, he returned to his native land and told them that the black secret of Mormonism was the fact that each member knew he had the truth. Now, isn't that what we ought to have? Isn't that just what Jesus promised—that if you will do the will of the Father, you "shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself"? (John 7:17.) (LeGrand Richards, Conference Report, Apr. 1968, pp. 120-121.)

It was not Brigham Young. On a certain occasion I had a conversation with Dr. Frederick L. Paxson, chairman of the History Department at the University of California and one of America's outstanding historians. This conversation suggests God's method of transmitting light and knowledge to his children here on earth, and so I shall use it as the basis of my talk today.

Dr. Paxson stated that it was his opinion that Brigham Young was perhaps the greatest colonizer that the world had ever known. He explained that after founding Salt Lake City, Brigham Young sent settlers in every direction from that center, resulting in colonizing an expansive desert country. Dr. Paxson stressed the point that wherever President Young told his followers to go, they went without any hesitation. Then he gave his reasons to account for Brigham's outstanding success as a colonizer.

"Brigham Young," so he explained, "was one of those rare individuals blessed with an exceedingly forceful personality. He was a man naturally endowed with unusual powers of leadership. Through those natural powers of leadership and as a result of his unusual forceful personality, he was able to completely dominate the lives of the Latter-day Saints. Thus his followers always did Brigham's biddings."

After completing his explanation, Dr. Paxson said to me, "Am I not correct, Mr. Hunter, in my appraisal of Brigham Young, and are not these the reasons why he was so successful in colonizing such a vast empire in the great West?"

I replied: "No, Dr. Paxson, in my opinion the reasons you gave are not the most vital factors which caused the Mormon leader to do such an outstanding job as a colonizer. I do agree that he possessed the powers of personality and leadership that you described, but there is another factor far more important than anything that you mentioned which completely dominated the lives of Brigham Young and his people.

"The supreme reason Brigham Young and all the Saints migrated to Utah was that each of them had in his heart a burning testimony of the truthfulness of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Each one accepted without any mental reservation the reality of the existence of God the Father and Christ the Son and felt a close personal relationship to them. It was a positive fact to each Latter-day Saint that the Eternal Father and his only Begotten Son had appeared to Joseph Smith in the Sacred Grove, and also that other heavenly beings had appeared to the Prophet and given to him the priesthood through which he had organized the true Church of Jesus Christ. They firmly maintained that all the principles and ordinances of the gospel which had been on earth in former dispensations were revealed from heaven to the Prophet Joseph. Thus, Brigham Young and his followers maintained that Joseph had been God's mouthpiece here upon the earth—his holy prophet, seer, and revelator—just as literally as had any of the Old Testament prophets.

"Following the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, the members of the Church who migrated to Utah maintained that all the power and authority from God which had been brought by heavenly beings to Joseph had been bestowed upon his successor, Brigham Young. The Saints were positive that their pioneer leader was now God's holy anointed prophet, seer, and revelator. His word was accepted, therefore, as the word and the will of the Lord. The Saints firmly believed that they with Brigham were building the kingdom of God under divine direction from heaven.

"Thus, Dr. Paxson," I concluded, "an individual testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ possessed by each Latter-day Saint was actually the dynamic force which caused Brigham Young and his followers to withstand mob violence and terrible persecutions in the East, to leave their homes and comforts of life, and to willingly suffer untold hardships, hunger, disease, and—for many of them—death, and endure numerous other difficulties encountered in making more than a thousand miles' trek through the wilderness to their promised land. Their positive, dynamic testimonies caused thousands of people to follow Brigham Young's suggestions, obey his instructions and commands, and successfully make 'the desert... blossom as the rose.'" (Isa. 35:1.) (Milton R. Hunter, Conference Report, Oct. 1965, pp. 80-81.)

Wherein lies the secret of the Church's vitality? Many people today wonder wherein lies the secret of the growth, stability, and vitality of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The secret lies in the testimony, possessed by each individual who is faithful in the Church, that the gospel consists of correct principles. It is that same testimony that was given to Peter and to others in the primitive Church.

This testimony is revealed to every sincere man and woman who conforms to the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ, who obeys the ordinances, and who becomes entitled to receive, and does receive, the Holy Ghost to guide him. (David O. McKay, Improvement Era, Feb. 1967, p. 2.)

The Church is built on testimony. The restored Church of our Lord is built upon... the individual testimonies of its members. Indeed no one is asked to come into the Church until he has personal assurance of the divine truth it teaches. At times it is something of a shock to applicants for admission into the Church to be advised that the evidences of their real conversion are not adequate. Such persons are not infrequently urged to further investigation and more supplication that they may know of a surety that it is the truth which they embrace.

A young lawyer once told me that he would like to join our Church. I knew him to be a fine fellow and I told him we would be glad to have him as a member. I told him also that it was necessary to do something more than merely to indicate his desire for membership. I advised him that he should make careful study of the gospel, that the principles taught by the Church would seem reasonable and desirable to him but that that was not enough. I then told him that in his studies he would be expected to supplicate the Lord for a divine impression of the truth and divinity of the work, which we call a testimony. He was much surprised and I think disappointed. He said he had assumed that all that was necessary was a willingness to join. He did not know that the true disciples of Christ are they who have no doubt as to His divinity and His Lordship. (Stephen L Richards, Church News, 16 Jan. 1943, p. 7.)

The strength of the Church not in money paid as tithing. The strength of this Church is not to be measured by the amount of money paid as tithing by the faithful members, nor by the total membership of the Church, nor by the number of chapels or temple buildings. The real strength of the Church is measured by the individual testimonies to be found in the total membership of the Church. (Harold B. Lee, Area Conference Report, Aug. 1972—Mexico City, Mexico, p. 117.)

We are only a handful: testimony is our strength. We know that Joseph Smith's testimony is true; we know it by the Holy Ghost; and that is the strength of this Church. It is not the sagacity of its leaders, it is not its members, that constitutes its strength. We are only a handful in the midst of millions. The strength of this Church is in the testimony possessed by every man and woman belonging to it, that it is indeed the work of God. (Orson F. Whitney, Conference Report, Apr. 1914, p. 41.)

The fruits of a true testimony: high ideals. High ideals and standards of living are the fruits of a true testimony. From the moment one is gained, we start to grow and advance. A testimony motivates us to action. It brings about a change in our hearts and lives. It instills and impels a desire to be an example and an inspiration to others. A testimony brings peace—a calm assurance—and it encourages us to conduct ourselves righteously and give kindly attentions to our loved ones and all of our Heavenly Father's children. (Delbert L. Stapley, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year, 23 Mar. 1971, p. 4.)

Walking above the things of the world. That is what I think a testimony is for, to guide and direct us to do the things that will bring us true joy and happiness. If you apply this in your own lives, you will know how wonderful it is when your testimony is such that it enables you to walk above the things of the world, and the weaknesses and wickedness of the world, so that you can look all men in the face and fear no man because you are walking in the ways of the Lord and keeping His commandments. (LeGrand Richards, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year, 10 May 1955, p. 5.)

It enables one to pass through the dark valley of slander. If you have that testimony of truth on your side, you can pass through the dark valley of slander, misrepresentation, and abuse, undaunted as though you wore a magic suit of mail, that no bullet could enter, no arrow could pierce. You can hold your head high, toss it fearlessly and defiantly, look every man calmly and unflinchingly in the eye, as though you rode, a victorious king returning at the head of your legions, with banners waving and lances glistening and bugles filling the air with music. (David O. McKay, Conference Report, Apr. 1958, p. 130.)

A shield against the fiery darts of the adversary. Of what value is a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ? It is of much value, because it is the only plan of life that will bring us happiness, tranquility of spirit, and understanding. It also keeps us striving unabatedly and eternally for perfection of soul. It is the strongest shield one can have against the fiery darts of the adversary. (Delbert L. Stapley, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year, 23 May 1971, pp. 3-4.)

A testimony leads to revelation in other fields. Well, now, if anyone has a testimony, that means that he has managed to that extent to get in tune with the revelations of the Spirit, and consequently he has received knowledge from a Divine Source of the truth and divinity of the work. If you can get in tune with the Lord and have a testimony of the divinity of this work, then you can comply and conform with the same law that entitles you and enables you to get inspiration and knowledge in other fields; you can learn what you ought to do in your Church affairs, in your school affairs, and in your personal affairs. You can learn whom you should marry, what job you should take, whom you should associate with, and where you should go, whether you should accept a call to missionary service, or whatever it may be. (Bruce R. McConkie, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year, 29 Sept. 1964, p. 7.)

Requirements become challenges rather than burdens. As President Lee indicated yesterday, the strength of this church lies in the hearts of its people, in the individual testimony and conviction of the truth of this work. When an individual has that witness and testimony, the requirements of the Church become challenges rather than burdens. Declared the Savior: "... my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matt. 11:30.) (Gordon B. Hinckley, Conference Report, Apr. 1973, p. 74.)

Eternal hope and a heavenly monitor. A personal testimony is and ever will be the strength of the Church. Happy the man in whose soul this unwavering, rocklike power abides, for he has eternal hope and a heavenly monitor that will dwell in him here and hereafter.

The power of a testimony is measured by what the bearer of the testimony of Jesus Christ is willing and ready to suffer for it. (Charles A. Callis, Improvement Era, Aug. 1945, p. 487.)

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