Welcome to lessons for the Book of Mormon for 2016. I consider your participation in this Cyberspace Sunday School to be an important stewardship.
We stand at the entrance to a great 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 Calvin 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 corners, 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 as much as you can of 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? What am I being taught to do?
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? Let's 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 some of our detractors and enemies. Since the book is here, it must have come from somewhere. For 170 years, a multitude of people 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 "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 God—ten thousand times over—because of the Book of Mormon than there will be because of the Bible. ("The Book of Mormon: Its 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 that are still standing have 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 Latter‑day 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 so‑called—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 title‑page 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 title‑page 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 1830B34, 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 if he had 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: 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.