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Book of Mormon Lesson 1: "The Keystone of Our Religion"

INTRODUCTION:  
We stand at the entrance to a great and wonderful mansion, with innumerable rooms of every size and configuration, and every room a repository of the riches of eternity. I remember a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon. Calvin had a shovel and was digging in the yard. Hobbes came along to observe, and wanted to know if Calvin had found anything. An old can, some disgusting grubs, a rusting spoon . . . were the sorts of things Calving mentioned that he had found.

"On your first try?" Hobbes asked, amazed.

"There's treasure everywhere!" Calvin assured him. And in like manner I assure you that in these rooms in this book there's treasure everywhere! I will point out where I can some interesting sculptures of gold sometimes overlooked, some etchings of silver glittering in infrequently explored closets and hidden rooms, some fabulous jewelry that has often been noticed but perhaps not fully appreciated. Feel free, indeed, feel obligated, to wander off on your own. Take all the time you can. Move slowly through the chambers and closets and stairwells. Shine your light around and stop to examine what you see. Walk out on the balconies of the Helaman rooms and wander through the back hallways of the Alma wing. Investigate the sheds and the out-buildings of Ether. And when you find things of great value, ask the important questions: Why is this treasure here? How will it enrich me, my family, my ward.

It is no small thing to volunteer to guide believers through the halls and rooms of the most remarkable scriptural edifice ever constructed. But if you are willing to tag along once in a while, I am willing to try. Are you ready? Lets open the door. . . .

I. THE BOOK OF MORMON IS THE KEYSTONE OF OUR RELIGION
Find a Book of Mormon. Hold it. Riffle through some of the pages. Examine the type and the text. The book is real. It exists. This has become a great dilemma for our detractors and our enemies. Since the book is here, it must have come from somewhere. For 170 years a multitude of unbelievers has been trying to explain where exactly that was. Hugh Nibley spoke of this predicament. He said:

There are three possible explanations for the origin of the Book of Mormon. One is that it is a product of spontaneous generation. Another is that it came into existence in the way Joseph Smith said it did, by special messengers and gifts from God. The third is the hypothesis that Joseph Smith or some other party or parties simply made it all up. No experiments have ever been carried out for testing any of these theories. The first has not even been considered, the second has been dismissed with a contemptuous wave of the hand, and the third has been accepted without question or hesitation.


And yet the third theory is quite as extravagant as the other two, demanding unlimited gullibility and the suspension of all critical judgment in any who would accept it. It is based on the simple proposition that since people have written books, somebody, namely Smith or a contemporary, wrote this one. But to make this thesis stick is to show not only that people have written big books, but that somebody has been able to produce a big book like this one. But no other such book exists. Where will you find another work remotely approaching the Book of Mormon in scope and daring? It appears suddenly out of nothing - not an accumulation of twenty-five years like the Koran, but a single staggering performance, bursting on a shocked and scandalized world like an explosion, the full-blown history of an ancient people, following them through all the trials, triumphs, and vicissitudes of a thousand years without a break, telling how a civilization originated, rose to momentary greatness, and passed away, giving due attention to every phase of civilized history in a densely compact and rapidly moving story that interweaves dozens of plots with an inexhaustible fertility of invention and an uncanny consistency that is never caught in a slip or contradiction. We respectfully solicit the name of any student or professor in the world who could come within ten thousand miles of such a performance. As a sheer tour-de-force there is nothing like it. The theory that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon simply will not stand examination. (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Vol.7, Ch.6, pp.137, 138)

Look at the book again. The hand and power of God are behind it. The witness of the divinity of Christ is in it. The fullness of the gospel comes from it. Elder McConkie, in a remarkable sermon given at BYU on 18 August 1978, after expressing his love and reverential awe for the Bible, made the following five statements about this book:

Most of the doctrines of the gospel, as set forth in the Book of Mormon, far surpass their comparable recitation in the Bible.

This Nephite record bears a plainer and purer witness of the divine Sonship of Christ and the salvation which comes in and through his holy name than do the old world scriptures.

Men can get nearer to the Lord; can have more of conversion and conformity in their hearts; can have stronger testimonies; and can get a better understanding of the doctrines of salvation through the Book of Mormon than they can through the Bible.

More people will flock to the gospel standard; more souls will be converted; more of scattered Israel will be gathered; and more people will migrate from one place to another because of the Book of Mormon than was or will be the case with the Bible.

There will be more people saved in the kingdom of Godten thousand times overbecause of the Book of Mormon than there will be because of the Bible. (The Book of MormonIts Eternal Destiny, by Elder Bruce R. McConkie: Church Education Symposium, Brigham Young University, August 18, 1978)

Turn in your Book of Mormon to the Introduction and read the sixth paragraph: Joseph Smith wrote
I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.
I remember looking at the arches in the Roman ruins at Caesarea. They all had keystones - specially shaped stones at the top of the arch designed to hold the arch together and to keep it from collapsing. And those arches still standing had been there for 2000 years! The image is clear enough. What would happen to the Church and to your testimony of the Church if it were to be proved tomorrow, conclusively and incontrovertibly, that the Book of Mormon is a fraud? 

President Benson said

. . . a keystone is the central stone in an arch, which holds all other stones in place things. Surely the Book of Mormon is a sacred thing, and yet if removed, the arch crumbles. . . . there are three ways in which the Book of Mormon is the keystone of the religion of Latterday Saints. "It is the keystone in the witness of Christ. It is the keystone of our doctrine. It is the keystone of testimony." (Ensign, Nov. 1986, p. 5)

Elder McConkie taught that

The Prophet's expression that "the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion" means precisely what it says. The keystone is the central stone in the top of the arch. If that stone is removed, then the arch crumbles, which, in effect, means that Mormonism socalled which actually is the gospel of Christ, restored anew in this day stands or falls with the truth or the falsity of the Book of Mormon. Thus our program and our purpose, as witnesses of the Lord in this day, ought to be to devise ways and means and to create inducements that will persuade those who are not of us to read the Book of Mormon and to read it according to the revealed pattern. (Bruce R. McConkie, Conference Report, April 1961, pp.38-39, emphasis added)

Turn to the Title Page of the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith told us in 1830 that . . . the titlepage of the Book of Mormon is a literal translation, taken from the very last leaf, on the left hand side of the collection or book of plates, which contained the record which has been translated, the language of the whole running the same as all Hebrew writing in general; and that said titlepage is not by any means a modern composition, either of mine or of any other man who has lived or does live in this generation. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Section One 183034, p.7)


Moroni told us in Mormon 8:5 that he would write the intent of the book if he had room on the plates or ore to make more plates, but he had neither. Clearly he found ore, however. For he later abridged the book of Ether and wrote the book of Moroni, and he wrote the intent of the book on the final gold leaf, on what we call the title page. The title page of the book suggests three great purposes for the Book of Mormon, and they can be summarized in three words: show, know, and convince.

SHOW: The book will show a remnant of the House of Israel - the Lamanites - the great things the Lord hath done for their fathers

KNOW: The book will help them know the covenants of the Lord, which assure them that they are not cast off forever

CONVINCE: The book will help convince the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations. 

If you are interested, other purposes of the book can be reviewed in D&C 10:62,63, Mormon 3:20, and D&C 20:13-15.

II. MANY WITNESSES HAVE TESTIFIED OF THE BOOK OF MORMON
The three witnesses and the eight witnesses wrote testimonies that are cited in every copy of the Book of Mormon. They are both remarkable statements but they are very different. It might be worthwhile to consider for a moment why they had such different kinds of involvement with the plates. 

How would people have responded if the only witness were the witness of the three? Theirs is a wonderful testimony founded exclusively in the supernatural.
We know [the plates] have been translated by the gift and power of God
His voice hath declared it unto us
The engravings . . . have been shown unto us by the power of God
An angel of God came down from Heaven
The voice of the Lord commanded us that we should bear record.


These were men who claimed to have gone off into the woods to pray, and who said that they saw the plates and an angel and heard the voice of God saying that the translation was correct. An hallucination? Mass hypnosis? Perhaps a drunken reverie? 

But what if the only testimony were the testimony of the eight who went one day with Joseph and saw and handled the plates as they lay on a stump. Their language is literal and temporal.
Joseph Smith . . . has shown unto us the plates
They have the appearance of gold
We did handle [them] with our hands
We saw the engravings
All of which has the appearance of ancient work and curious workmanship
We have seen and hefted
We . . . know of a surety that said Smith has got the plates

Their testimony is so practical, so literal, so simple. Eight men in broad daylight saw and handled and examined the plates.

Taken together, these witnesses, and the witness of the Prophet Joseph Smith which follows theirs in the beginning of the Book of Mormon, are a powerful affirmation to every person who reads the book, now matter how spiritual or cynical he or she might be.

But there are other testimonies. Our literature is filled with the accounts of those who read and prayed and knew. Here are some examples: (the numbers in parentheses after each account below are from Susan Easton Black, ed., Stories from the Early Saints: Converted by the Book of Mormon)
Within a few days of obtaining a copy of the Book of Mormon, Sidney Rigdon knew, by direct revelation, that it was true. "Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto me, but my Father which is in heaven" (p. 68). Luman Shurtliff " heard a sweet melodious voice" testify to the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith and the truth of the Book of Mormon (pp. 7172). Harrison Burgess testified that "a glorious personage clothed in white" came to him and showed him the plates from which the Book of Mormon had been translated (p. 27). Benjamin Brown found himself strongly rebuked by two of the Three Nephites for his lack of faith in the Book of Mormon, and then heard "the Spirit of the Lord" say to him, "Now, you know for yourself! You have seen and heard! If you now fall away, there is no forgiveness for you" (p. 31). The angel Moroni appeared to Oliver Granger and testified to him of the truthfulness of the book (p. 10).

Such joy, however, was not always the immediate reaction of those who came to know the truth of the Book of Mormon. The case of Daniel Spencer, Jr., illustrates this well. In 1840, he was a highly successful businessman in West Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Then the missionaries arrived. He listened to their message and gave it serious consideration. One day, while his son was with him in his study, he suddenly burst into tears and cried out, "My God, the thing is true, and as an honest man I must embrace it; but it will cost me all I have got on earth." Nevertheless, he accepted baptism and moved to Nauvoo, where he eventually succeeded Joseph Smith as mayor of the city. 

To all of this I add my witness, just as you will add yours. I know the Book is the work and the word of God. The witness of its divine origins came to me with overflowing love and burning power in 1965 as I sat reading 2 Nephi 4. It came again as a quiet, penetrating affirmation as I knelt alone late at night with the book in my hands. It came as a part of the most powerful experience I have ever had with the Spirit. Therefore, to the witness of Oliver and David and Martin and the others, I add my own. And I express my willingness to share that witness with anyone who will hold still long enough to listen.

III. THE BOOK OF MORMON WAS WRITTEN FOR OUR DAY.

The plates were buried for 1400 years. The labor of engraving and preserving was not performed for those whose lives and histories are given in the thousand years of history, nor for those who lived soon after. This book is for us. This reality is best expressed by Moroni, but it is alluded to throughout the book. Moroni said:

Behold, the Lord hath shown unto me great and marvelous things concerning that which must shortly come, at that day when these things shall come forth among you. Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing. (Mormon 8:34,35)

The title page mentions this truth - that the book was written with us in mind: Written by way of commandment, and also by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation. Why write by the spirit of prophecy and revelation unless you are writing for the future? It was for this reason that the book was sealed up and hid up until the time that the work should come forth to those who needed it most.

Why do we have such a great need? For at least three reasons: (1) In a world that retreats from the concept of absolute truth, or religious truth of any kind, this book gives us a chance to know the truth of all things. (2) In a world turning away from a belief in the divinity of Christ, this book offers Another Testament of Jesus Christ - an independent, beautiful, inspiring witness of his divinity and atonement. (3) In a world with 5000 different religions and denominations, where even the meaning of the words of God in the Bible are misunderstood, this book teaches us how to conform to his will.

IV. THE BOOK OF MORMON CAN BRING US NEARER TO GOD
The Book of Mormon has power to change human nature. Joseph's promise that abiding by its precepts will bring us closer to God is a promise that has been repeated many times by other prophets.

Elder Spencer W. Kimball said of this book in 1963,

But after all, it is not the book's dramatic crises, its history, its narrative that are so important, but its power to transform men into Christlike beings worthy of exaltation. (Spencer W. Kimball, Conference Report, April 1963, p.6)

I have felt that transforming power in my own life. I suspect that you have too. 

President Benson, who may have been the greatest advocate this book has had since Joseph Smith, said something very similar about the study of the Book of Mormon:


The Book of Mormon will change your life. It will fortify you against the evils of our day. It will bring a spirituality into your life that no other book will. It will be the most important book you will read in preparation for a mission and for life. A young man who knows and loves the Book of Mormon, who has read it several times, who has an abiding testimony of its truthfulness, and who applies its teachings will be able to stand against the wiles of the devil and will be a mighty tool in the hands of the Lord. (Ensign, May 1986 p. 43.)

President Hinckley said it this way:

Without reservation, I promise you solemnly that if each of you will observe this simple program, regardless of how many times you previously may have read the Book of Mormon, there will come into your livesan added measure of the spirit of the Lord, a strengthened resolution to walk in obedience to His command-ments, and a stronger testimony of the living reality of the Son of God. (Gordon B. Hinckley, Faith, the Essence of True Religion, p. 64)

Have you seen the Star War's movies? When the first of them appeared, I stole the name of a robot to use as an acronym to assist in studying the scriptures in a way that would enhance the power of the book to transform lives. The name was C3PO. I wrote it for my students like this:

C=Commitment - make a commitment about when and where and for how long you will study.
P=Prayer - Pray before you read and as you read. Heavenly Father, help me understand the messages that are meant for me. Help me know the truth of these things . . .
P=Pencil - Mark the scriptures as you read. Turn them into a treasure map so that you can return at appropriate times to review the things you have learned. Take notes and record insights in your journals.
P=Ponder - Take time to think about what you have read and to ask yourself some questions: Why is this account or story or verse or word in the book. Since the book contains only the hundredth part of what was available to Mormon, why did he include this? And what does it mean to me?
O=Obey - Do the things the scriptures and the Spirit teach you to do.

If you read this book of scripture regularly and in this way, with prayer and a pencil and pondering, and with a determination to do what you are taught to do, then the Book of Mormon will truly transform your life. Of that I am a witness.


CONCLUSION:
As you study this book, a witness of its divinity will come into your hearts, again and again. This is a spectacular blessing, but it is not the destination of this journey. Knowing the book is true is important, but it is for all of that less important than what else we know when we know the book is true. For you see, if the Book of Mormon is true, then Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, and Joseph Smith was his prophet, and the Church of Jesus Christ is restored again on the earth. If it is true, then we are accountable for the teachings and the doctrines and the instructions and the injunctions given in its pages. It is in a quest for those teachings and doctrines and instructions and injunctions that we come searching. They are the treasures that will show us the way to eternal life, and “he that hath eternal life is rich.

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A NOTE FROM THE TEACHER: I want these lessons to be useful to you. I want, as much as possible, to meet your needs and expectations. Please feel free to contact me with concerns and suggestions and insights and inquiries. My email address is tedgibbons@yahoo.com. Have a great year!
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