“Chapter 5: Walking in the Light of Testimony,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee (2011), 37–46
“Chapter 5,” Teachings: Harold B. Lee, 37–46
For more than 32 years, Harold B. Lee was a special witness of the Savior, Jesus Christ. He testified, “In all solemnity, and with all my soul, I bear you my testimony that I know that Jesus lives, that he is the Savior of the world.”1
In speaking of how to gain a testimony, he said:
“I once had a visit from a young Catholic priest who came with a stake missionary from Colorado. I asked him why he had come, and he replied, ‘I came to see you.’
“‘Why?’ I asked.
“‘Well,’ he said, ‘I have been searching for certain concepts that I have not been able to find. But I think I am finding them now in the Mormon community.’
“That led to a half-hour conversation. I told him, ‘Father, when your heart begins to tell you things that your mind does not know, then you are getting the Spirit of the Lord.’
“He smiled and said, ‘I think that’s happening to me already.’
“‘Then don’t wait too long,’ I said to him.
“A few weeks later I received a telephone call from him. He said, ‘Next Saturday I am going to be baptized a member of the Church, because my heart has told me things my mind did not know.’
“He was converted. He saw what he should have seen. He heard what he should have heard. He understood what he should have understood, and he was doing something about it. He had a testimony.”2
Testimony may be defined simply as divine revelation to the man of faith. The psalmist echoes the same thought: “… the testimony of the Lord is sure. …” (Psalm 19:7.) Paul, the apostle, declared “… no man can say [or know] that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” (1 Corinthians 12:3.) The prophets have further taught that if you were to “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. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” (Moroni 10:4–5.) …
God lives! Jesus is the Savior of this world! The gospel of Jesus Christ as contained in fulness in the ancient and modern scriptures is true! These things I know by the witness of the Spirit to my spirit.3
Let me share with you an experience I had with one of our business executives. His wife and children are members, but he is not. … He said to me, “I can’t join the Church until I get a testimony.” I said to him, “The next time you are in Salt Lake, come in and visit with me.” As we talked following our business meeting a few weeks later I said to him, “I don’t know if you realize whether you have a testimony or not; or if you know what a testimony is.” And so he wanted to know what a testimony is. I answered him by saying, “When the time comes that your heart tells you things your mind doesn’t know, that is the Spirit of the Lord dictating to you.” And then I said, “As I’ve come to know you, there are things that you know in your heart are true. No angel is going to tap you on the shoulder and tell you this is true.” The Spirit of the Lord is as the Master said: “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). So I said to my friend, the business executive: “Now, remember that your testimony won’t come in a dramatic way, but when it comes, the tears of gladness will water your pillow by night. You’ll know, my beloved friend, when that testimony comes.”4
I bear you my testimony that I know the Savior lives, that the most powerful witness you can have that He lives comes when the power of the Holy Spirit bears witness to your soul that He does live. More powerful than sight, more powerful than walking and talking with Him, is that witness of the Spirit by which you shall be judged if you were to turn against Him. But it is the responsibility of all of you, as well as my responsibility, to get that testimony established. We are constantly asked, just how does one receive revelation? The Lord said in a revelation to the early leaders, “I will tell you in your mind and in your heart by the Holy Ghost. It shall dwell within you. This is the revelation by which Moses led the children of Israel to the Red Sea and on across it.” [See D&C 8:2–3.] When that Spirit has witnessed to our spirit, that’s a revelation from Almighty God.5
[When Lazarus died, the Savior declared to Martha,] “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” Then He looked at Martha and He said, “Believest thou this?” And from the depths of this humble woman, something awakened and she said with the same conviction that Peter had said, “Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.” [John 11:25–27.]
Where did she get that from? It didn’t come from reading books. It didn’t come from studying theology or science or philosophy. She had had a witness in her heart, just as Peter had. If the Master had replied, He would have said, “Blessed art thou, Martha, for flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father which is in heaven.” … The most prized of all the things you can have is to have the witness in your heart that these things are true.6
Not many have seen the Savior face to face here in mortality, but there is no one of us who has been blessed to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost after baptism but that may have a perfect assurance of His existence as though we had seen. Indeed, if we have faith in the reality of His existence even though we have not seen, as the Master implied in His statement to Thomas, even greater is the blessing to those who “have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29), for “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Although not seeing, yet believing, we rejoice with joy unspeakable in receiving the end of our faith, even the salvation of our souls (see 1 Peter 1:8–9).7
Can we sum it up and say then, that any person who has received a true testimony has received a revelation from the living God, or else he would not have the testimony? Anyone who has a testimony, then, has enjoyed the gift of prophecy, he’s had the spirit of revelation. He has had the gift by which the prophets have been able to speak things pertaining to their responsibilities. …
The Lord help us all to strive to gain that testimony most vital in our preparation to know. When finally we get that one divine thought that Joseph Smith was and is a prophet and that the gospel is true, all the other seeming difficulties melt away like heavy frost before the coming of the rising sun.8
[The Savior is] quoted as having said that “… the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21.) A more correct translation probably would have said, “The kingdom of God is among you or in your midst,” but as I thought of that other statement, “The kingdom of God is within you,” I recalled an experience that we had with a group of students from Brigham Young University … over in the Lion House, and there sixteen, representing sixteen foreign countries, were asked to stand and tell how they came to know about the gospel and accept it, … and to bear their testimonies. It was a most intensely interesting evening. We heard from young men and women from Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, the Scandinavian countries, France, and England. The story was the same. When they began to relate how they came to find the gospel, it was this: They were yearning for truth. They were seeking for light. They were not satisfied, and in the midst of their search, someone came to them with the truths of the gospel. They prayed about it and sought the Lord intensely, intently, with all their hearts, and came to receive a divine testimony by which they knew that this is the gospel of Jesus Christ. … So within the heart of everyone, every honest seeker after truth, if he has the desire to know, and studies with real intent and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the kingdom of God may be within him, or in other words, the power to receive it is his.9
At the root of the individual testimony must be a righteous, pure life, else the Spirit cannot witness as to the divinity of the mission of the Lord or of this work in our day.10
The first essential … in gaining a testimony is to make certain that one’s personal spiritual “housekeeping” is in proper order. His mind and body must be clean if he would enjoy the indwelling gift of the Holy Ghost by which he could know the certainty of spiritual things.11
Conversion must mean more than just being a “card carrying” member of the Church with a tithing receipt, a membership card, a temple recommend, etc. It means to overcome the tendencies to criticize and to strive continually to improve inward weaknesses and not merely the outward appearances.12
Now when our missionaries go out, we say to those among whom they labor, “We are not asking you to join the Church just to put your name on the records. That is not our concern. We come to you offering you the greatest gift the world can give, the gift of the kingdom of God. This is here for you if you will only accept and believe.” Now that is our challenge to the world. “We can teach you the doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ and bear testimony of the divinity of the work, but the witness of the truth of what we teach has to come from your own searching.”
We say to our people whom we teach, “Now, you ask the Lord. Study, work, and pray.” This is the process by which people are brought into the Church, and it is the same way that from the beginning the honest in heart everywhere have been brought into the Church.13
As Jesus lifted up his eyes in prayer as “his hour was come,” [see John 17:1] he gave expression to a profound truth that should be full of meaning to every soul: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3.) While this expression has deeper significance than I shall discuss here, I should like to take one thought from it. How can you know the Father and the Son? … We begin to acquire that knowledge by study. The Savior counseled us to “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” (John 5:39.) Therein will be found a history of God’s dealings with mankind in every dispensation and the works and words of the prophets and those of the Savior himself as given “by inspiration of God,” as the Apostle Paul said, “and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Timothy 3:16–17.) Youth should let no day pass without reading from these sacred books.
But it is not enough merely to learn of his life and works by study. It was the Master who replied in answer to the question as to how one might know of him and his doctrine: “If any man will do his will, he shall know.” (John 7:17.) Would you think an authority on science to be one who had never experimented in a laboratory? Would you give much heed to the comments of a music critic who did not know music or an art critic who didn’t paint? Just so, one like yourself who would “know God” must be one who does his will and keeps his commandments and practices the virtues Jesus lived.14
The acquiring of knowledge by faith is no easy road to learning. It demands strenuous effort and a continual striving by faith. …
In short, learning by faith is no task for a lazy man. Someone has said, in effect, that such a process requires the bending of the whole soul, the calling up from the depths of the human mind and linking it with God—the right connection must be formed. Then only comes “knowledge by faith.”15
[The Master said to Peter,] “Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:31–32). Now, mind you, He is saying that to the chiefest of the Twelve. I am praying for you; now go out and get converted, and when you get converted, then go strengthen your brother. It means [we can become] unconverted just as well as we can become converted. Your testimony is something that you have today but you may not have it always.16
Testimony is as elusive as a moonbeam; it’s as fragile as an orchid; you have to recapture it every morning of your life. You have to hold on by study, and by faith, and by prayer. If you allow yourself to be angry, if you allow yourself to get into the wrong kind of company, you listen to the wrong kind of stories, you are studying the wrong kind of subjects, you are engaging in sinful practices, there is nothing that will be more deadening as to take away the Spirit of the Lord from you until it will be as though you had walked from a lighted room when you go out of this building, as though you had gone out into a darkness.17
That which you possess today in testimony will not be yours tomorrow unless you do something about it. Your testimony is either going to increase or it is going to diminish, depending on you. Will you remember your responsibility, then? The Lord said, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17).18
No truly converted Latter-day Saint can be immoral. No truly converted Latter-day Saint can be dishonest, nor lie, nor steal. That means that one may have a testimony as of today, but when he stoops to do things that contradict the laws of God, it is because he has lost his testimony and he has to fight to regain it again. Testimony isn’t something that you have today and you keep always. Testimony is either going to grow and grow to the brightness of certainty, or it is going to diminish to nothingness, depending upon what we do about it. I say, the testimony that we recapture day by day is the thing that saves us from the pitfalls of the adversary.19
There was an occasion during [Christ’s] ministry when His chief apostle, Peter, had fervently declared his faith and testimony of the divinity of the mission of the Master: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” The Lord had replied to Peter by declaring, “… flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” and that upon “this rock”—or in other words, the revealed testimony of the Holy Ghost, the revelation that Jesus is the Christ—His church is founded, and “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:16–18.)20
The time is coming and facing you right now … when except you have that testimony of certainty that these things [the gospel, the Church, and so on] are true you will not be able to weather the storms that are going to beat upon you and try to tear you from your moorings today. But if you know with all your soul that these things are true … , you will know who Jesus your Savior is and who God your Father is; you will know what the influence of the Holy Ghost is. If you know those things you will stand as an anchor against all the storms that shall beat upon your house, as the Master’s parable described. That one who hears His words and keeps His commandments shall be as the house that was built upon a rock, and when the storms came and the floods beat upon the house and the winds blew, it fell not, because it was founded upon a rock. “And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:26–27).
The Master was saying, and I am saying to you today, that the rains of disaster, the rains of difficulty, the floods and winds of severe trials are going to beat upon the house of every one of you. There will be temptation to sin, you will have hardship, you will have difficulty to face in your life. The only ones that will not fall when those tests come will be those who have their houses founded upon the rock of testimony. You will know no matter what comes; you will not be able to stand on borrowed light. You can only stand on the light that you have by the witness of the Spirit that all of you have the right to receive.21
It is not alone sufficient for us as Latter-day Saints to follow our leaders and to accept their counsel, but we have the greater obligation to gain for ourselves the unshakable testimony of the divine appointment of these men and the witness that what they have told us is the will of our Heavenly Father.22
I come to you today as a special witness charged with, above all else, the responsibility of bearing that witness. There have been intimate circumstances when I have known with a surety. When I was searching for the Spirit to deliver a talk on the Easter theme, the resurrection of the Lord, I closeted myself, read the four gospels, particularly down to the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and I had something happen to me. As I read, it was as though I was reliving, almost, the very incident, not just a story. And then I delivered my message and bore testimony that now, as one of the least of my brethren, I, too, had a personal witness of the death and the resurrection of our Lord and Master. Why? Because I had had something burned into my soul that I could speak with a certainty that is beside all doubt. So can you. And the most satisfying thing in all the world, the greatest anchor to your soul, in time of trouble, in time of temptation, in times of sickness, in times of indecision, in times of your struggles and work, [is that] you can know with a certainty that defies all doubt that God lives.23
Why is revelation from the Holy Spirit “the most powerful witness you can have” that the Savior lives?
What counsel did President Lee give about how to receive a testimony of the gospel? What has helped you to receive your testimony?
How can we come to know Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ?
What do you think President Lee meant when he said, “Testimony is as elusive as a moonbeam; … you have to recapture it every morning of your life”?
What might cause our testimonies to diminish or die? What must we do so that the light of our testimonies may “grow to the brightness of certainty”?
Once we gain a testimony, how can we help others to strengthen their testimonies?
In what ways is the knowledge that God lives an anchor to our souls in times of trouble? When has your testimony of the Savior been a source of strength to you?