Faith: The Essence of True Religion
October 1995

“Faith: The Essence of True Religion,” Ensign, Oct. 1995, 2

First Presidency Message


The Essence of True Religion

Some time ago I read the newspaper report of the remarks of a prominent journalist. He is quoted as having said, “Certitude is the enemy of religion.” The words attributed to him have stirred within me much reflection. Certitude, which I define as complete and total assurance, is not the enemy of religion. It is of its very essence.

Certitude is certainty. It is conviction. It is the power of faith that approaches knowledge—yes, that even becomes knowledge. It evokes enthusiasm, and there is no asset comparable to enthusiasm in overcoming opposition, prejudice, and indifference.

Great buildings were never constructed on uncertain foundations. Great causes were never brought to success by vacillating leaders. The gospel was never expounded to the convincing of others without certainty. Faith, which is of the very essence of personal conviction, has always been, and always must be, at the root of religious practice and endeavor.

Certitude in Former Times

There was no uncertainty in Peter’s mind when the Lord asked him, “Whom say ye that I am?

“And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:15–16).

Nor was there any doubt on the part of Peter when the Lord taught the multitude in Capernaum, declaring Himself to be the bread of life. Many of His disciples, who would not accept His teaching, “went back, and walked no more with him.

“Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?

“Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.

“And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:66–69).

Following the death of the Savior, would His Apostles have carried on, teaching His doctrine, even giving their lives in the most painful of circumstances, if there were any uncertainty concerning Him whom they represented and whose doctrine they taught? There was no lack of certitude on the part of Paul after he had seen a light and heard a voice while en route to Damascus to persecute the Christians. For more than three decades after that, he devoted his time, his strength, his life to the spreading of the gospel of the resurrected Lord. Without regard for personal comfort or safety, he traveled over the known world of his time, declaring that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,

“Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38–39).

Executed in Rome, Paul sealed with his death his final testimony of his conviction of the divine sonship of Jesus Christ.

So it was with the early Christians, thousands upon thousands of them, who suffered imprisonment, torture, and death rather than recant their stated beliefs in the life and resurrection of the Son of God.

Would there ever have been a Reformation without the certitude that drove with boldness such giants as Luther, Huss, Zwingli, and others of their kind?

Certitude in Modern Times

As it was anciently, so has it been in modern times. Without certitude on the parts of believers, a religious cause becomes soft, without muscle, without the driving force that would broaden its influence and capture the hearts and affections of men and women. Theology may be argued over, but personal testimony, coupled with performance, cannot be refuted. This gospel dispensation, of which we are the beneficiaries, opened with a glorious vision in which the Father and the Son appeared to the boy Joseph Smith. Having had that experience, the boy recounted it to one of the preachers of the community. He treated the account “with great contempt, saying it was all of the devil, that there were no such things as visions or revelations in these days” (JS—H 1:21).

Others took up the cry against him. He became the object of severe persecution. But, he said, and note these words: “I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true; and while they were persecuting me, reviling me, and speaking all manner of evil against me falsely for so saying, I was led to say in my heart: Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it” (JS—H 1:25).

There is no lack of certitude in that statement. For Joseph Smith that experience was as real as the warmth of the sun at noonday. He never flagged nor wavered in his conviction. Listen to his later testimony of the risen Lord:

“And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!

“For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—

“That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God” (D&C 76:22–24).

So certain was he of the cause he led, so sure of his divinely given calling, that he placed them above the value of his own life. With prescient knowledge of his forthcoming death, he surrendered himself to those who would deliver him defenseless into the hands of a mob. He sealed his testimony with his life’s blood.

It was so with his followers. One will find no evidence, not a scintilla of it, that certitude was the enemy of religion in their lives and actions. Time after time they left their comfortable homes, first in New York, then in Ohio and Missouri, later in Illinois; and even after reaching the Salt Lake Valley many left again to plant colonies over a vast area of the West. Why? Because of their faith in the cause of which they were a part.

Many died in those long and difficult journeys, the victims of disease, exposure to the elements, and the brutal attacks of their enemies. Some six thousand lie buried somewhere between the Missouri River and the Salt Lake Valley. Their love for the truth meant more to them than did life itself.

It has been thus ever since. I wrote these beautiful words as President David O. McKay spoke them to a small group some years ago. Said he:

“As absolute as the certainty that you have in your hearts that tonight will be followed by dawn tomorrow morning, so is my assurance that Jesus Christ is the Savior of mankind, the Light that will dispel the darkness of the world, through the gospel restored by direct revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith.”

Our beloved President Spencer W. Kimball said: “I know that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.

“He is my friend, my Savior, my Lord, my God” (Ensign, Nov. 1978, p. 73).

Certitude of Truth of This Work

It is that kind of certitude that has moved this church forward in the face of persecution, ridicule, sacrifice of fortune, the leaving of loved ones to travel to distant lands to carry the gospel message. That conviction motivates today as it has done from the beginning of this work. Faith in the hearts of millions that this cause is true, that God is our Eternal Father, and that Jesus is the Christ must ever be the great motivating force in our lives.

We have today some forty-seven thousand missionaries in the field at a cost of millions to their families. Why do they do it? Because of their conviction of the truth of this work. The membership of the Church is now approaching ten million. What is the reason for this phenomenal growth? It is because certainty comes into the hearts of hundreds of thousands of converts each year, converts who are touched by the power of the Holy Ghost. We have a great functioning and effective welfare program. Those who view it marvel at it. It works only because of the faith of those who participate in it.

With the growth of the Church we must build new houses of worship, many hundreds of them. They are costly. But the people give of their means to make all of this possible because of the certitude of the truth of this work.

By the Spirit, Results Are Certain and Testimony Sure

The marvelous and wonderful thing is that any individual who desires to know the truth may receive that conviction. The Lord Himself gave the formula when He said, “If any man will do [the will of the Father], he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17).

It will take study of the word of God. It will take prayer and anxious seeking of the source of all truth. It will take living the gospel, an experiment, if you please, in following the teachings. I do not hesitate to promise, because I know from personal experience, that out of all of this will come, by the power of the Holy Ghost, a conviction, a testimony, a certain knowledge.

People of the world seem unable to believe it, so many of them. What they do not realize is that the things of God are understood only by the Spirit of God. There must be effort. There must be humility. There must be prayer. But the results are certain and the testimony is sure.

If our people, as individuals, ever lose that certitude, the Church will dwindle as so many others have. I have no fear of that. I am confident that an ever enlarging membership will seek for and find that personal conviction which we call testimony, which comes by the power of the Holy Ghost, and which can weather the storms of adversity.

To those who vacillate, who equivocate, who qualify their assertions with uncertainty when speaking of the things of God, these words from the book of Revelation are appropriate:

“I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.

“So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth” (Rev. 3:15–16).

My brethren and sisters, I invoke the blessings of the Lord upon you as with certitude I give you my witness of the truth. I know that God our Eternal Father lives. I know that. I know that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of mankind, the author of our salvation. I know that this work of which we are a part is the work of God; that this is the Church of Jesus Christ. Great is our opportunity for service therein and strong and certain is our faith concerning it.

Ideas for Home Teachers

Some Points of Emphasis

You may wish to make these points in your home teaching discussions:

  1. Certitude is conviction. It is the power of faith that approaches knowledge—even becomes knowledge.

  2. Faith has always been, and always must be, at the root of religious practice and behavior.

  3. After the Lord’s death, His Apostles did the Lord’s work, even giving their lives, because of their certitude.

  4. The Prophet Joseph Smith and our latter-day gospel forebears time after time left their comfortable homes to build up the Church because of their convictions about this work.

  5. Any person who desires to know the truth may receive certitude concerning it, for Jesus Himself has said, “If any man will do [the will of the Father], he shall know of the doctrine” (John 7:17).

Discussion Helps

  1. Relate your feelings about the power of faith in our lives and how to obtain a personal conviction of gospel truth that sustains that faith.

  2. Are there some scriptures or quotations in this article that the family might read aloud and discuss?

  3. Would this discussion be better after a pre-visit chat with the head of the house? Is there a message from the bishop or quorum president?

The First Vision, from Salt Lake 17th Ward Chapel

Christ and Peter Talk, by Paul Mann

Winter Quarters, by Avard Fairbanks