As we launch into this lesson about the Book of Mormon it is important that we review the nature of a Spirit-born testimony first. One of the keys to understanding how our testimonies work is to remember that we are mortal. As such, our memories fade with time. Even spiritual witnesses dim if not nourished and renewed by the Spirit.
This is what happens when we become inactive in the Church. Once we stop attending our meetings, reading our scriptures, and saying our prayers, we begin to forget what we once knew and cared about with such passion. The knowledge we once possessed and used on a regular basis begins to pass from memory and becomes like a reminiscence of our childhood.
President Hinckley gave a challenge to the membership of the Church to reread the Book of Mormon before the end of the year. Those of us who accepted and completed that challenge experienced the blessings of the Spirit he promised us we would experience.
It is amazing how many met that challenge. Everyone who did so was blessed for his or her effort. As they became immersed in this added witness of our Redeemer, their hearts were quickened and their spirits touched.
Testimony is like building muscle. You either use it and it becomes stronger or you don’t use it and you lose it because it atrophies. The principle is the same whether we are talking physical or spiritual abilities.
Strength in witnesses
From the beginning of the earth, the Lord has adhered to his own personal policy of having multiple witnesses to establish the truth of all things. He has never varied from that policy. We tend to downplay the importance of the Bible because we are focusing on the Book of Mormon. But have you ever noticed that in Conference talks the Bible is quoted possibly more than the Book of Mormon is? The Brethren refer to the Bible all the time.
The Lord planned from the very beginning to have the Bible be His first witness and the Book of Mormon be His second witness. There are other witnesses to be sure, but these are the two main witnesses. He will hold the world accountable and answerable for what they do with these two main witnesses of the divinity of His son.
Above all else, the Book of Mormon stands as a witness of Jesus as the Christ. All the other things we turn to this book of scripture for—doctrine on faith, baptism, and so forth—are all of lesser importance. The purpose of the Book of Mormon is to bolster our testimony that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God.
There is nothing we could do of greater importance than to have fortified in our individual lives an unshakable conviction that Jesus is the Christ. . . . And, my brothers and sisters, that is the purpose of the coming forth of this remarkable and wonderful book.
Proof by faith
There is a lesson we all need to learn about anything the Lord does with humanity. Our purpose in this life is to learn to walk by faith. To that end, everything the Lord does ultimately requires that we exercise faith in order to accept what He has done. The Bible must be accepted on faith. The Book of Mormon must be accepted on faith. All scripture, even the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price, in the end, requires that we choose to believe their origins and live according to that belief.
Proof is only awarded to those who exercise faith first. That is the plan. Always has been. Always will be. Before any spiritual witness is given there must be an exercise of faith first. This is a necessary part of our learning and growing, and the Lord will not deny us our opportunity for growth just because some of his children complain about the lack of proof up front.
The test of its truth lies in reading it. It is a book of God. Reasonable people may sincerely question its origin; but those who have read it prayerfully have come to know by a power beyond their natural senses that it is true, that it contains the word of God, that it outlines saving truths of the everlasting gospel, that it “[came] forth by the gift and power of God . . . to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ.
The important lesson here is that there is no physical proof that can convince the soul that Jesus is the Christ. Every truth God offers to his children can only be accepted through a spiritual manifestation of that truth. All truth of an eternal nature can only be obtained by revelation to an individual through the Holy Ghost. This is why the scriptures tell us that in this life we must walk by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7).
This is also the same reason the world discounts anything you can’t prove with your senses or with hard physical evidence. Satan must try to negate the Lord’s way of doing things or risk losing our souls to the happiness God has to offer us.
A chain of spiritual witnesses
The Lord has made obtaining knowledge of many things all at once so easy as to be almost embarrassingly simple. Because of how the Book of Mormon came forth, and because of the scope of its contents, and because of the promise Moroni makes at the end of the book that if we will pray with sincerity about the truthfulness of the book we can know the truth of all things through the Holy Ghost, (I know this is a long sentence, but bear with me.) just obtaining a witness that the Book of Mormon is true brings with it witnesses of many other truths as well.
If the Book of Mormon is true, then Jesus is the Son of God, for the book so testifies in a description unexcelled in all literature.
If the Book of Mormon is true, then Jesus is verily our Redeemer, the Savior of the world. . . .
If the Book of Mormon is true, Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God, for he was the instrument in the hands of God in bringing to light this testimony of the divinity of our Lord.
If this book is true, [the president of the Church] is a prophet, for he holds all of the keys, gifts, powers, and authority held by the Prophet Joseph, who brought forth this latter-day work.
If the Book of Mormon is true, the Church is true, for the same authority under which this sacred record came to light is present and manifest among us today.
If the Book of Mormon is true, the Bible is true. The Bible is the Testament of the Old World; the Book of Mormon is the Testament of the New.
Admittedly, most people don’t make these connections all by themselves. Most have to have the logic pointed out to them, but this is the power held in the Book of Mormon. There is no need for anyone to have to go seeking individual witnesses of each of these truths because they are all bound up in this one truth, and that is that the Book of Mormon is of divine origin and that it testifies of Christ and His gospel. Everything else flows from that one big truth.
The power to change
Some of the power bound up in the Book of Mormon lies in the history and doctrine it contains. The Lord guided his prophets to record the stories of their people and inspired them to record their revelations. These were not only for the good of their people in their own day and time, but He knew that we would need these same revelations and stories to help us through the end time that was coming.
As we prepare for the second coming of Jesus to the earth, the level of wickedness that is and will be present is unprecedented in the history of the earth. But versions of these evils existed among the Book of Mormon people. The lessons they had to learn to be righteous in the face of great evil are the same lessons we need to learn.
Their societies rose and fell based on their willingness to place their faith in Jesus, the Christ. Our societies face the same challenges and results. Only when we put our faith in Jesus will we have the strength to overcome the challenges we will face as a culture. Our physical and spiritual salvation rests in this one truth, that following God through the teachings we have received in the Book of Mormon, and through His living prophets is the only thing that will lead us victoriously through our trials in the last days before Christ’s return.
I know of no other writing that sets forth with such clarity the tragic consequences to societies that follow courses contrary to the commandments of God. Its pages trace the stories of two distinct civilizations that flourished on the Western Hemisphere. Each began as a small nation, its people walking in the fear of the Lord. Each prospered, but with prosperity came growing evils. The people succumbed to the wiles of ambitious and scheming leaders who oppressed them with burdensome taxes, who lulled them with hollow promises, who countenanced and even encouraged loose and lascivious living, who led them into terrible wars that resulted in the death of millions and the final extinction of two great civilizations in two different eras.
No other written testament so clearly illustrates the fact that when men and nations walk in the fear of God and in obedience to his commandments, they prosper and grow, but when they disregard him and his word, there comes a decay which, unless arrested by righteousness, leads to impotence and death. The Book of Mormon is an affirmation of the Old Testament proverb, “Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people” (Prov. 14:34).
The power of the witness that comes with knowing of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon changes lives. The power for change found in this record is as great as any power known to man, for the witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon has caused millions of people to give up their former lives and to seek to make covenants with God and follow in the footsteps of the master teacher, Jesus Christ.
We should never forget that the real soul of the Book of Mormon is in its testimony of Christ. Everything we read within its covers should be with an eye toward the testimony that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one of Israel, and the only means we have to return to our Father in Heaven. Every lesson within this book is based on this fact.