Teachings of Presidents
Chapter 7: The Scriptures, ‘Great Reservoirs of Spiritual Water’

“Chapter 7: The Scriptures, ‘Great Reservoirs of Spiritual Water’” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee (2011), 59–68

“Chapter 7,” Teachings: Harold B. Lee, 59–68

Chapter 7

The Scriptures, “Great Reservoirs of Spiritual Water”

How does diligent study of the scriptures increase our spirituality and lead us toward eternal life?


President Harold B. Lee and his wife, Freda Joan Lee, journeyed through Europe and the Holy Land in 1972, teaching missionaries and members the doctrines of the gospel. Elder Gordon B. Hinckley and his wife, Marjorie Pay Hinckley, accompanied them. Sister Hinckley recalled: “It was interesting to see how President Lee moved into a situation. When we met with the missionaries, it was usually in the morning in a chapel filled with full-time and part-time local missionaries. As he stood to address them, he would seldom start with a word of greeting or preliminary remarks but would open the scriptures and begin a discourse. He moved through the scriptures with such ease that sometimes it was difficult to know when the words were his and when he was quoting. After one such meeting I asked him how he had gone about memorizing the scriptures. … He thought for a moment and then said, ‘I don’t think I ever consciously memorized a scripture. I guess I have just worked them through so much that they have become a part of me and my vocabulary.’”1

Teachings of Harold B. Lee

Why should we study the scriptures?

Just as water was and is today essential to the physical life … , just so is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ essential to the spiritual life of God’s children. That analogy is suggested by the words of the Savior to the woman at the well in Samaria, when He said: “… whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:14.)

Great reservoirs of spiritual water, called scriptures, have been provided in this day and have been safeguarded that all might partake and be spiritually fed, and that they thirst not. That these scriptures have been considered of great importance, is indicated by the words of the Savior, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39); and the experience of the Nephites being sent back to procure the brass plates which contained the scriptures so vital to the welfare of the people. The use of those scriptures was suggested in the statement of Nephi when he said, “… for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning.” (1 Nephi 19:23.) … Through these generations the messages from our Father have been safeguarded and carefully protected, and mark you likewise that in this day the scriptures are the purest at their source, just as the waters were purest at the mountain source; the purest word of God, and that least apt to be polluted, is that which comes from the lips of the living prophets who are set up to guide Israel in our own day and time.2

Our Father has in every dispensation given to us, His children, the holy scriptures by His inspiration to make us wise in overcoming temptation through faith in Him. These scriptures are “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.) So important in the Father’s plan of salvation are the scriptures that incidents are recorded wherein God commanded the taking of life to obtain possession of precious writings without which His children would stumble and be blinded by the darkness of the world [see 1 Nephi 4:13].3

We have been prone in the last while to be more concerned about reading commentaries about the scriptures. But there is nothing quite so vital as taking those scriptures in our hands and reading them. … [T]here is something that’s more electric, more spiritual, something that is more deeply meaningful when I read from the scriptures themselves. … There is nothing so vital, so necessary today, as to ingrain in your children a love for the scriptures themselves.4

The Master counseled us to search the scriptures, for in them we would find the way to eternal life, for they testify of the way men must travel to gain eternal life with Him and with “the Father which hath sent [Him]” (John 5:30).5

How does study of the Book of Mormon help us develop and maintain our spirituality?

It has always seemed to me that the words of the Prophet Joseph Smith in counsel to the brethren, impressing the value of the Book of Mormon, have greater significance than many of us attach to them. His statement was: “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” (History of the Church, 4:461).

To me this means that not only in this volume of scriptures do we have portrayed the accurate truths of the gospel, but also that by this second witness we may know more certainly the meaning of the teachings of the ancient prophets and, indeed, of the Master and His disciples as they lived and taught among men.6

If one wants to get close to God, he can do it by reading the Book of Mormon.7

You … can do nothing better to whet your spiritual appetites and to maintain your spiritual tone than to read and reread year by year the precious things as taught in the Book of Mormon. It was given to us, the fulness of the gospel through the angel Moroni to commit to man. We had, for instance, a story told us by President German E. Ellsworth, who bore his testimony in the temple before all the other mission presidents. He said that years ago while he was presiding over the Northern States Mission he had a dream or a vision in which he had been visiting the Hill Cumorah and was filled with the thoughts of the events that transpired round about that sacred place. There came to him the unmistakable challenge: “Preach to the world the Book of Mormon. It will lead the world to Christ.”8

If you want to fortify students against … the apostate teachings, the so-called higher critics that are going to challenge their faith in the Bible, give them a fundamental understanding of the teachings of the Book of Mormon. Review it again and again.

How long has it been since you have read the Book of Mormon? I was startled a little while ago by interviews with two men who were years ago in our seminary system and both of whom have gone into other teaching positions, who have obtained their graduate degrees. They have slipped away from gospel truths and now have been challenging and quarreling with and trying to destroy and criticize the teachings of the Church.

I have talked with both of them, and when I inquired about their reading the Book of Mormon, one of them said to me: “It has been fourteen years since I have read anything in the Book of Mormon.”

Another said, “I can’t remember when I last read anything from the Book of Mormon.” So it will be with any of us, if we do not continue to saturate ourselves with the teachings of this most precious book which the Lord has given us for a purpose—that is, to correct all of these errors and dissensions in our day just as He promised He would in other days.9

I talked with a man who is prominent at our state university. … While a member of the Church, he had been insidiously inciting and magnifying the doubts that were intended to destroy the faith of these youngsters. He said, “I haven’t been doing it this last quarter, though, Brother Lee.”

When I asked, “What has changed you?” he made an interesting confession:

“For twenty years I had never looked at the Book of Mormon, but I was given an assignment in the Church to do something. That assignment took me into the study of the Book of Mormon and the gospel, and I have joined the Church all over again in the last few months. Now when my students come to me, disturbed because of the teachings of philosophy, I say to them in private, ‘Now, don’t get disturbed. You and I know that the gospel is true and the Church is right.’”10

In what ways do the scriptures provide a standard of truth?

Recent years have ushered in educational theories and philosophies that have questioned all the old standards of religion, morality and family relationships. Modern iconoclasts have been at work … to destroy faith in the old and trusted authoritative teachings of the scriptures and to [replace them with] the uninspired, man-made ethical doctrines that change with time and place.11

I say that we need to teach our people to find their answers in the scriptures. If only each of us would be wise enough to say that we aren’t able to answer any question unless we can find a doctrinal answer in the scriptures! And if we hear someone teaching something that is contrary to what is in the scriptures, each of us may know whether the things spoken are false—it is as simple as that. But the unfortunate thing is that so many of us are not reading the scriptures. We do not know what is in them, and therefore we speculate about the things that we ought to have found in the scriptures themselves. I think that therein is one of our biggest dangers of today.

When I meet with our missionaries and they ask questions about things pertaining to the temple, I say to them, as I close the discussion, “I don’t dare answer any of your questions unless I can find an answer in the standard works or in the authentic declarations of Presidents of the Church.”

The Lord has given us in the standard works the means by which we should measure truth and untruth. May we all heed his word: “Thou shalt take the things which thou hast received, which have been given unto thee in my scriptures for a law, to be my law to govern my church” (D&C 42:59).12

Always there is a temptation to go beyond what the Lord has revealed and attempt to use imagination in some cases or to speculate as to these teachings. I wish you would remember that. Don’t dare to go beyond what the Lord has revealed. If you don’t know, say you don’t know; but don’t say you don’t know when you ought to know, because you ought to be students of the scriptures. Inquiries about the teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ should be answered, whenever possible, from the scriptures.13

We have what no other church has: four great books, the truth of which, if we would read them all, is so clear that we need not be in error. For instance, when we want to know about the interpretation of the parable of the tares as the Lord meant it, all we have to do is read the revelation known as the 86th section of the Doctrine and Covenants and we have the Lord’s interpretation. If we want to know something as contained in the teachings of the Beatitudes or the Lord’s Prayer, we can read the more correct version in Third Nephi. Many concepts that otherwise would be obscure are made clear and sure in our minds.14

Why should we use the scriptures when we teach the gospel?

It is the business of those who are to teach His children to teach the principles of the gospel. We are not set apart to teach notions or guesses at truth. We are not set apart to teach philosophies or sciences of the world. We are set apart to teach the principles of the gospel as found in the four standard works—the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.

As we think of that as our limitation, it is our privilege to know those truths and to have the most complete canon of scriptures known to the world. Only members of the Church have that great privilege.15

We are convinced that our members are hungry for the gospel, undiluted, with its abundant truths and insights. … [L]et us not make the mistake of boring [our members] … in our homes or in Church classes by giving them diluted sips of the gospel when they would drink thirstily from the well of living waters! … There are those who have seemed to forget that the most powerful weapons the Lord has given us against all that is evil are, by His own declarations, the plain, simple doctrines of salvation as found in the scriptures. We are shocked when we hear that some of our brethren in so-called sophisticated communities … have chosen to discard the outlined courses of study in favor of varied dissertations on subjects which have but remote resemblance to fundamental gospel truths.16

All that we teach in this Church ought to be couched in the scriptures. … We ought to choose our texts from the scriptures, and wherever you have an illustration in the scriptures or a revelation in the Book of Mormon, use it, and do not draw from other sources where you can find it here in these books. We call these the standard Church works because they are standard. If you want to measure truth, measure it by the four standard Church works. … If it is not in the standard works, you may well assume that it is speculation. It is man’s own personal opinion, to put it another way; and if it contradicts what is in the scriptures, you may know by that same token that it is not true. This is the standard by which you measure all truth. But if you do not know the standards, you have no adequate measure of truth.17

I am thinking back … about how I was taught the scriptures when I was a Primary child. … Remember, faith comes by hearing the word of God, as Paul said [see Romans 10:17]. … In my Primary class, I had a great teacher—not great in the sense that she had gone to school and had received degrees for perfection in the science of teaching, pedagogy, but she had a way of believing … that in order for her to build faith in us she had to teach us the scriptures.18

Are we growing in testimony and spirituality by diligent study of the scriptures?

Are you … continually increasing your testimony by diligent study of the scriptures? Do you have a daily habit of reading the scriptures? If we’re not reading the scriptures daily, our testimonies are growing thinner, our spirituality isn’t increasing in depth. We, ourselves, must be studying the scriptures and have a daily habit.19

The way you build spirituality [is] by study of the gospel.20

Strive in your homes, and teach others, to take some time of each day to have a quiet hour, meditation. Let there be study of the scriptures at least thirty minutes of each day. At an early morning hour, or at late night, as best suits your schedule, allow yourself an hour of prayerful meditation where you can tune in with God and discuss with Him problems that are too much for human understanding, too great for human strength.21

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 … ? 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.22

We are in the service of the Lord. We have the right to spiritual direction, if we live worthily. God grant that we may so live and study the scriptures, and let this be a reading habit that we indulge in daily, that we not fail of the high appointments for which we have been called in our Father’s kingdom.23

Suggestions for Study and Discussion

  • In what ways are the scriptures as essential to our spiritual life as water is to our physical life? How does study of the scriptures help us overcome temptation?

  • In what ways does the Book of Mormon lead us to Jesus Christ? How does the Book of Mormon help us detect truth from error? How has your study of the Book of Mormon influenced your life?

  • What experiences have you had with finding answers to your questions in the scriptures?

  • When we teach, why is it important to rely on the scriptures and the teachings of the prophets?

  • How have you been able to make scripture study a priority in your life? How have you been able to encourage your children or other family members to study the scriptures?

  • How does our study of the scriptures increase our ability to fulfill the “high appointments for which we have been called in our Father’s kingdom”?


  1. Glimpses into the Life and Heart of Marjorie Pay Hinckley, ed. Virginia H. Pearce (1999), 21.

  2. In Conference Report, Oct. 1943, 101.

  3. Stand Ye in Holy Places (1974), 370.

  4. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed. Clyde J. Williams (1996), 152–53.

  5. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 150.

  6. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 154.

  7. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 155.

  8. “Restoration of the Gospel,” 1954, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 19–20.

  9. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 157.

  10. Ye Are the Light of the World (1974), 105.

  11. Decisions for Successful Living (1973), 11.

  12. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 153.

  13. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 154.

  14. Ye Are the Light of the World, 109.

  15. Ye Are the Light of the World, 96.

  16. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 450–51.

  17. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 148–49.

  18. “How Primary Teachers Can Strengthen Their Testimonies,” 47th annual Primary conference, 3 Apr. 1953, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 9.

  19. Regional representatives’ seminar, 12 Dec. 1970, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 10.

  20. Dedication of the Southern California Region welfare ranch, 6 July 1950, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

  21. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 152.

  22. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 150.

  23. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 152.

President Harold B. Lee loved the scriptures and used them to teach the Saints. He said, “If we’re not reading the scriptures daily, our testimonies are growing thinner, our spirituality isn’t increasing in depth.”