“The Keystone of Our Religion,” Ensign, Jan. 2004, 2–6
After many years, I still remember holding in my hand my mother’s copy of her favorite book. It was a timeworn copy of the Book of Mormon. Almost every page was marked. In spite of tender handling, some of the leaves were dog-eared and the cover was worn thin. No one had to tell her that she could get closer to God by reading the Book of Mormon than by any other book. She was already there. She had read it, studied it, prayed over it, and taught from it. As a young man I held her book in my hands and tried to see, through her eyes, the great truths of the Book of Mormon to which she so readily testified and which she so greatly loved.
But the Book of Mormon did not yield its profound message to me as an unearned legacy. Indeed I question whether one can acquire an understanding of this great book except through singleness of mind and strong purpose of heart, manifest through study and prayer. We must not only ask if it is true, but we must also ask in the name of Jesus Christ. Said Moroni, “Ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.”1
Joseph Smith, who translated the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon came, had this to say: “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.”2
One dictionary defines keystone as “the central wedge-shaped stone of an arch that locks its parts together.” A secondary definition is “the central supporting element of a whole.”3
The Book of Mormon is a keystone because it establishes and ties together eternal principles and precepts, rounding out basic doctrines of salvation. It is the crowning gem in the diadem of our holy scriptures.
It is a keystone for other reasons also. In the promise of Moroni previously referred to—namely, that God will manifest the truth of the Book of Mormon to every sincere inquirer having faith in Christ4—we have a key link in a self-locking chain.
A confirming testimony of the Book of Mormon convinces “that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God”5 and also spiritually verifies the divine calling of Joseph Smith and that he did see the Father and the Son. With that firmly in place, it logically follows that one can also receive a verification that the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price are true companion scriptures to the Bible and the Book of Mormon.
All of this confirms the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the divine mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, led by a living prophet enjoying continuous revelation. From these basic verities, an understanding can flow of other saving principles of the fulness of the gospel.
It is important to know what the Book of Mormon is not. It is not primarily a history, although much of what it contains is historical. The title page states that it is an account taken from the records of people living in the Americas before and after Christ; it was “written by way of commandment, and also by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation. … And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.”
President George Q. Cannon (1827–1901), First Counselor in the First Presidency, stated: “The Book of Mormon is not a geographical primer. It was not written to teach geographical truths. What is told us of the situation of the various lands or cities … is usually simply an incidental remark connected with the doctrinal or historical portions of the work.”6
What, then, is the Book of Mormon? It is confirming evidence of the birth, life, and Crucifixion of Jesus and of His work as the Messiah and the Redeemer. Nephi writes about the Book of Mormon: “All ye ends of the earth, hearken unto these words and believe in Christ; and if ye believe not in these words believe in Christ. And if ye shall believe in Christ ye will believe in these words, for they are the words of Christ.”7
Nephi and his brother Jacob join with Isaiah to constitute three powerful pre-Messianic voices proclaiming the first coming of Jesus. Nephi quotes Isaiah extensively because Isaiah was the principal Old Testament prophet who prophesied of the coming of the Messiah.
The Book of Mormon establishes the truthfulness of the Bible.8 It is evidence “to the world that the holy scriptures are true.”9 It foretells the establishment of the fulness of the gospel of peace and salvation. It was written to give us principles and guidelines for our eternal journey.
One of the ultimate messages of the Book of Mormon, and indeed of the Old Testament and all human history, is that mankind cannot reach perfection on our own. There is another message that comes through loud and clear from its pages. It is the often unpopular and seemingly harsh injunction “Repent or perish.” When the Book of Mormon people listened to this prophetic message, they flourished. When they forgot the message, they perished.
In Galatians Paul said, “The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ.”10 The records maintained by the Book of Mormon prophets—and portions of what is now the Bible brought from the eastern continent—served, according to Abinadi, “to keep them in remembrance of God and their duty towards him.”11 So the Book of Mormon is a schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ.12
The test for understanding this sacred book is preeminently spiritual. An obsession with secular knowledge rather than spiritual understanding will make its pages difficult to unlock.
To me it is inconceivable that Joseph Smith, without divine help, could have written this complex and profound book. There is no way that an unlearned young frontiersman could have fabricated the great truths contained in the book, generated its great spiritual power, or falsified the testimony of Christ that it contains. The book itself testifies that it is the holy word of God.
References to teachings in the Old Testament and the New Testament are so numerous and overwhelming throughout the Book of Mormon that one can come to a definitive conclusion by logic that a human intellect could not have conceived of them all. But more important than logic is the confirmation by the Holy Spirit that the story of the Book of Mormon is true.
All scriptures are one in that they testify of Jesus. Jacob, a Book of Mormon prophet, reminds us “that none of the prophets have written, nor prophesied, save they have spoken concerning this Christ.”13 Speaking of the scriptures, the Psalmist said, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”14
The Book of Mormon will encourage only righteousness. Why, then, has hostility been engendered against the book? In part, no doubt, it may have come because the origin of the book was from golden plates delivered to Joseph Smith by an angel. These were seen and handled by selected witnesses but not put on public display. Perhaps hostility comes also because the book is claimed to be primarily the work of ancient prophets here on the American continent.
The Savior Himself declared the great worth of the Book of Mormon. He said in 3 Nephi, “This is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me.”15
The Redeemer further declared in the Book of Mormon, “Behold I have given unto you my gospel.”16
As a special witness, I testify that Jesus is the Christ and that Nephi’s and Isaiah’s prophecies of His coming have in fact been fulfilled. Like Nephi, “we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ.”17
I testify through the sure conviction that springs from the witness of the Spirit that it is possible to know things that have been revealed with greater certainty than by actually seeing them. We can have a more absolute knowledge than eyes can perceive or ears can hear. God Himself has put His approval on the Book of Mormon, having said, “As your Lord and your God liveth it is true.”18
I can now see more clearly through the eyes of my own understanding what my mother could see in her precious old worn-out copy of the Book of Mormon. I pray that we may live in such a way as to merit and gain a testimony of and abide by the great truths of the Book of Mormon. I testify that the keystone of our religion is solidly in place, bearing the weight of truth as it moves through all the earth.
After you prayerfully prepare, share this message using a method that encourages the participation of those you teach. A few examples follow:
Ask family members to share their feelings about someone whose testimony and love of the Book of Mormon have influenced their lives.
Ask family members to reflect on what the Prophet Joseph Smith may have meant when he said the following about the Book of Mormon: “A man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”
Ask children or young people in the family if President Faust received his testimony of the Book of Mormon from his mother. Explain that she had worked and studied to receive a testimony, but as wonderful as it was, she could not transfer it to her children. Discuss how a person can receive a testimony of the Book of Mormon through study and prayer.
Ask family members what the subtitle of the Book of Mormon is. Explain that as they read the Book of Mormon this year they will read many prophets’ testimonies of Jesus Christ and will come to know why the Book of Mormon is subtitled “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” Read aloud 2 Nephi 25:23, 26. Ask how we can testify of Jesus Christ in our lives today.