“Why We Ask People to Read the Book of Mormon,” Ensign, Aug. 1984, 18
An experience, repeated many times during my time as mission president and again as branch president at the Missionary Training Center, confirmed for me the truth of Joseph Smith’s statement 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 its precepts, than by any other book.” (Introduction to the Book of Mormon, 1981 Edition.) From time to time, one of my missionaries would sit with me, and our interview would go something like this:
“President, I seem to have lost my enthusiasm for missionary work lately. I haven’t felt very spiritual either.”
“Can you be more specific in what you have been feeling?” I would ask.
“Oh, I just haven’t been feeling positive, excited, or enthused about doing the work.”
“Have you felt this way long?”
“For about the last three weeks.”
“Has something happened personally that we need to talk about?”
“No, President. I am keeping all the mission rules. I get up on time. I read scriptures daily. I am currently reading the Old Testament. I say my prayers. My companion and I get along well. I really can’t find anything that is out of order.”
“Are you reading the Book of Mormon as part of your scripture studies?”
“I would like you to try something for several weeks and then give me a call. In addition to your regular study in the Missionary Gospel Study Program, try reading and studying at least one chapter from the Book of Mormon a day.”
Two weeks later the missionary would call and report that things were fine and the spiritual intensity he felt he had lost had returned.
The unique relationship between feelings of spirituality among missionaries and the study of the Book of Mormon is not surprising to me. Elder Boyd K. Packer pointed out that “spiritual development is tied very closely to a knowledge of the scriptures, where the doctrines are taught.” (Ensign, May 1983, p. 67.) And nowhere else is the doctrine taught so clearly, so dramatically, or so effectively as in the Book of Mormon. Elder Bruce R. McConkie stated that God “has placed in our hands the most effective, compelling and persuasive missionary tool ever given to any people in any age. The name of this tool is the Book of Mormon.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1961, p. 38.)
The miraculous circumstances surrounding the writing, preservation, and translation of the Book of Mormon are in themselves eloquent testimony of the importance of the book and its message. In the description of the Book of Mormon found in D&C 20:8–16, the Lord gives reasons why the book is worth reading: This marvelous book contains the fullness of the gospel, testifies of the truthfulness of other scripture, shows that God operates today by inspiring men to holy work and is the same God today as in ancient times, and is the standard for judgment justifying the exaltation of those who receive the book and obey its precepts—and the condemnation of those who reject it.
Nor is this list exhaustive. The preface to the Book of Mormon itself adds that the book has a message for Israel that God has not forgotten his people or his ancient promises. Perhaps the most important purpose of the book, as stated in the preface, is “the convincing of Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD.”
The effectiveness of the Book of Mormon as a witness of the existence of God and the divinity of Christ springs partly from its mere existence, unexplainable without reference to the hand of God. The Book of Mormon represents the keystone of this latter-day work, the stone that supports all other stones in the arch. If the stone is removed, the arch crumbles. With the keystone of a testimony of the Book of Mormon firmly in place, the assurance comes that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is God’s church, that Joseph Smith was a prophet, that modern revelation guides the Church, and that God is today a God of miracles as in ancient times.
As Joseph Smith stated, a person can get nearer to God by reading the Book of Mormon than by reading any other book. And so it is. There is great motivating, sanctifying power in the words of the Book of Mormon. Alma experienced what many of our missionaries do today in changing lives through the power of the word of God. Alma went “among the people of Nephi, that he might preach the word of God unto them, to stir them up in remembrance of their duty, and that he might pull down, by the word of God, all the pride and craftiness and all the contentions which were among his people, seeing no way that he might reclaim them save it were in beating down in pure testimony against them.” (Alma 4:19; italics added.)
Some time ago I was in a meeting with several General Authorities. One of them asked the question, “What do you think it is that motivates us to do what we do in the Church, such as to pay tithing, attend meetings, be honest, accept Church callings?” They concluded that motivation comes when we understand the doctrine. Alma also found this to be true. “And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it [the preaching of the word] had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.” (Alma 31:5; italics added.)
Sincere seekers of truth everywhere are hearing the word of God. These words “shall hiss forth unto the ends of the earth.” (2 Ne. 29:2.) Through the words in the Book of Mormon, they are being led to Jesus Christ and his redeeming sacrifice. They are being convinced that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. They are being persuaded that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true and are seeking membership in it.
Have you ever gone mountain climbing? You pause periodically to view the valleys below you. As you ascend you have a good view. As you continue to climb, the good view changes into a greater view. The word greater is a comparative. Compared to the Bible, the Book of Mormon gives a greater view of Jesus Christ and his atonement. As affirmed by the Lord, “there are many things engraven upon the plates of Nephi which do throw greater views upon my gospel.” (D&C 10:45; italics added.) There are doctrines taught in the Book of Mormon that can be seen with a greater view than in the Bible, such as the law of mercy and justice; the doctrines of the Fall, agency, and the redemption of Christ; the reality of Satan and how he operates among peoples and nations; the principles of faith, hope, and charity; the purpose and necessity of baptism and the redemption of little children; and the doctrine of the Resurrection.
It is for this reason that we try to place a Book of Mormon in the hands of all seekers of truth. We desire that others may also have a greater view and appreciation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. More importantly, we know that those who read the Book of Mormon with an open, seeking mind are candidates to receive their own confirming revelation from God about the truthfulness and reality of his latter-day work. “And if ye shall ask with a sincere heart,” Moroni promises, “with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of [the Book of Mormon] unto you.” (Moro. 10:4.)
That is what we really do for a sincere seeker of truth—we provide an opportunity for him to put Moroni’s promise to the test and to receive his own revelation from God.
Thus, the Book of Mormon continues in its onward mission of being the great keystone for countless millions who have come and will come to know the work of God in these latter days. Well did the Prophet Joseph Smith say that the Book of Mormon is “the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”