“Chapter 9: The Precious Gift of Testimony,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley (2016)
“Chapter 9,” Teachings: Gordon B. Hinckley
“The earliest instance of which I have recollection of spiritual feelings,” said President Gordon B. Hinckley, “was when I was about five years of age, a very small boy. I was crying from the pain of an earache. … My mother prepared a bag of table salt and put it on the stove to warm. My father softly put his hands upon my head and gave me a blessing, rebuking the pain and the illness by authority of the holy priesthood and in the name of Jesus Christ. He then took me tenderly in his arms and placed the bag of warm salt at my ear. The pain subsided and left. I fell asleep in my father’s secure embrace. As I was falling asleep, the words of his administration floated through my mind. That is the earliest remembrance I have of the exercise of the authority of the priesthood in the name of the Lord.
“Later in my youth, my brother and I slept in an unheated bedroom in the winter. … Before falling into a warm bed, we knelt to say our prayers. There were expressions of simple gratitude. … I recall jumping into my bed after I had said amen, pulling the covers up around my neck, and thinking of what I had just done in speaking to my Father in Heaven in the name of His Son. I did not have great knowledge of the gospel. But there was some kind of lingering peace and security in communing with the heavens in and through the Lord Jesus. …
“That testimony grew in my heart as a missionary when I read the New Testament and the Book of Mormon, which further bore witness of Him. That knowledge became the foundation of my life, standing on the footings of the answered prayers of my childhood. Since then my faith has grown much further. I have become His Apostle, appointed to do His will and teach His word. I have become His witness to the world.”1
We have become as a great family spread across this vast world. We speak different tongues. We live under a variety of circumstances. But in the heart of each of us beats a common testimony: You and I know that God lives and is at the helm of this His holy work. We know that Jesus is our Redeemer, who stands at the head of this Church which carries His name. We know that Joseph Smith was a prophet and is a prophet who stands at the head of this the dispensation of the fulness of times. We know that the priesthood was restored upon his head and that it has come down to us in this day in an unbroken line. We know that the Book of Mormon is a true testament of the reality and divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ.2
This thing which we call testimony is the great strength of the Church. It is the wellspring of faith and activity. … It is as real and powerful as any force on the earth. The Lord described it when He spoke to Nicodemus and 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). This thing which we call testimony is difficult to define, but its fruits are plainly evident. It is the Holy Spirit testifying through us.3
Personal testimony is the factor which turns people around in their living as they come into this Church. This is the element which motivates the membership to forsake all in the service of the Lord. This is the quiet, encouraging voice which sustains without pause those who walk in faith down to the last days of their lives.
It is a mysterious and wonderful thing, a gift from God to man. It overrides wealth or poverty when one is called to serve. This testimony which is carried in the hearts of our people motivates to an impelling duty. It is found in young and old. It is found in the seminary student, in the missionary, in the bishop and the stake president, in the mission president, in the Relief Society sister, in every General Authority. It is heard from those who hold no office other than membership. It is of the very essence of this work. It is what is moving the work of the Lord forward across the world. It impels to action. It demands that we do what we are asked to do. It brings with it the assurance that life is purposeful, that some things are of far greater importance than others, that we are on an eternal journey, that we are answerable unto God. …
It is this element, weak and somewhat feeble at first, which moves every investigator in the direction of conversion. It pushes every convert toward security in the faith. …
Wherever the Church is organized its power is felt. We stand on our feet and say that we know. … The simple fact is that we do know that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, and that this is their cause and their kingdom. The words are simple; the expression comes from the heart. It is at work wherever the Church is organized, wherever there are missionaries teaching the gospel, wherever there are members sharing their faith.
It is something that cannot be refuted. Opponents may quote scripture and argue doctrine endlessly. They can be clever and persuasive. But when one says, “I know,” there can be no further argument. There may not be acceptance, but who can refute or deny the quiet voice of the inner soul speaking with personal conviction?4
[David Castañeda], his wife, Tomasa, and their children lived on a dry little run-down ranch near Torreón [in Mexico]. They owned 30 chickens, 2 pigs, and 1 thin horse. The chickens provided a few eggs to sustain them and the means whereby to earn an occasional peso. They walked in poverty. Then the missionaries called on them. Sister Castañeda said, “The elders took the blinders from our eyes and brought light into our lives. We knew nothing of Jesus Christ. We knew nothing of God until they came.”
She had two years of schooling, her husband none. The elders taught them, and they were eventually baptized. … They gradually built a prosperous business in which the father and his five sons worked. With simple faith they paid their tithing. They put their trust in the Lord. They lived the gospel. They served wherever called to do so. Four of their sons and three of their daughters filled missions. … They have been taunted by their critics. Their answer is a testimony of the power of the Lord in their lives.
Some 200 of their family and friends have joined the Church due to their influence. Over 30 sons and daughters of family and friends have served missions. They donated the land on which a chapel now stands.
The children, now grown to maturity, and the parents take turns going to Mexico City each month, there to work in the temple. They stand as a living testimony of the great power of this work of the Lord to lift and change people. They are typical of thousands upon thousands throughout the world who experience the miracle of Mormonism as a testimony of the divinity of the work comes into their lives.5
I met a naval officer from a distant nation, a brilliant young man who had been brought to the United States for advanced training. Some of his associates in the United States Navy, whose behavior had attracted him, shared with him at his request their religious beliefs. He was not a Christian, but he was interested. They told him of the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, who gave his life for all mankind. They told him of the appearance of God, the Eternal Father, and the resurrected Lord to the boy Joseph Smith. They spoke of modern prophets. They taught him the gospel of the Master. The Spirit touched his heart, and he was baptized.
He was introduced to me just before he was to return to his native land. We spoke of these things, and then I said: “Your people are not Christians. What will happen when you return home a Christian, and, more particularly, a Mormon Christian?”
His face clouded, and he replied, “My family will be disappointed. They may cast me out and regard me as dead. As for my future and my career, all opportunity may be foreclosed against me.”
I asked, “Are you willing to pay so great a price for the gospel?”
His dark eyes, moistened by tears, shone from his handsome brown face as he answered, “It’s true, isn’t it?”
Ashamed at having asked the question, I responded, “Yes, it’s true.”
To which he replied, “Then what else matters?”
These are questions I should like to leave with you: “It’s true, isn’t it? Then what else really matters?”6
I once listened to the experience of an engineer who recently had joined the Church. The missionaries had called at his home, and his wife had invited them in. She had eagerly responded to their message, while he felt himself being pulled in against his will. One evening she indicated that she wished to be baptized. He flew into a fit of anger. Didn’t she know what this would mean? This would mean time. This would mean the payment of tithing. This would mean giving up their friends. This would mean no more smoking. He threw on his coat and walked out into the night, slamming the door behind him. He walked the streets, swearing at his wife, swearing at the missionaries, swearing at himself for ever permitting them to teach them. As he grew tired his anger cooled, and a spirit of prayer somehow came into his heart. He prayed as he walked. He pleaded with God for an answer to his questions. And then an impression, clear and unequivocal, came almost as if a voice had spoken with words that said, “It’s true.”
“It’s true,” he said to himself again and again. “It’s true.” A peace came into his heart. As he walked toward home, the restrictions, the demands, the requirements over which he had been so incensed began to appear as opportunities. When he opened the door, he found his wife on her knees praying.
… Before the congregation to whom he told this, he spoke of the gladness that had come into their lives. Tithing was not a problem. The sharing of their substance with God, who had given them everything, seemed little enough. Time for service was not a problem. This only required a little careful budgeting of the hours of the week. Responsibility was not a problem. Out of it came growth and a new outlook on life. And then this man of intellect and training, this engineer accustomed to dealing with the facts of the physical world in which we live, bore solemn testimony with moistened eyes of the miracle that had come into his life.7
Some years ago a brilliant and highly educated young woman spoke in Berchtesgaden, Germany, to a conference of military personnel who were members of the Church. I was there and heard her. She was a major in the army, a medical doctor, a highly respected specialist in her field. She said:
“More than anything else in the world I wanted to serve God. But try as I might I could not find him. The miracle of it all is that he found me. One Saturday afternoon in September 1969 I was at home in Berkeley, California, and heard my doorbell ring. There were two young men there, dressed in suits, with white shirts and ties. Their hair was neatly combed. I was so impressed with them that I said: ‘I don’t know what you’re selling, but I’ll buy it.’ One of the young men said: ‘We aren’t selling anything. We’re missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and we would like to talk with you.’ I invited them to come in, and they spoke about their faith.
“This was the beginning of my testimony. I am thankful beyond words for the privilege and honor of being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The joy and peace this glad gospel has brought to my heart is heaven on earth. My testimony of this work is the most precious thing in my life, a gift from my Heavenly Father, for which I will be eternally thankful.”8
So it is with hundreds of thousands in many lands—men and women of capacity and training, of business and the professions, hard-headed, practical [people] who do things in the work of the world, in whose hearts there burns a silent witness that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, that this work is divine, that it was restored to earth for the blessing of all who will partake of its opportunities.9
This witness, this testimony, can be the most precious of all the gifts of God. It is a heavenly bestowal when there is the right effort. It is the opportunity, it is the responsibility of every man and woman in this Church to obtain within himself or herself a conviction of the truth of this great latter-day work and of those who stand at its head, even the living God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus pointed the way for the acquisition of such a testimony when He said: “My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.
“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 7:16–17).
We grow in faith and knowledge as we serve, as we study, as we pray.
When Jesus fed the 5,000 they recognized and wondered at the miracle He had performed. Some came back again. To these He taught the doctrine of His divinity, of Himself as the Bread of Life. He accused them of not being interested in the doctrine but rather only in the satisfaction of the hunger of their bodies. Some, on hearing Him and His doctrine, said, “This is an hard saying; who can hear it?” (John 6:60). Who can believe what this man is teaching?
“From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.
“Then said Jesus unto the twelve [I think with some feeling of discouragement], 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).
This is the great question, and the answer thereto, which we must all face. If not to Thee, then “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.”
It is this conviction, this quiet inward certainty of the reality of the living God, of the divinity of His Beloved Son, of the restoration of their work in this time, and of the glorious manifestations which have followed which become for each of us the foundation of our faith. This becomes our testimony.
… I’ve recently been in Palmyra, New York [near where Joseph Smith received the First Vision]. Of the events which occurred in that area, one is led to say: “They either happened or they did not. There can be no gray area, no middle ground.”
And then the voice of faith whispers: “It all happened. It happened just as he said it happened.”
Nearby is the Hill Cumorah. From there came the ancient record from which was translated the Book of Mormon. One must accept or reject its divine origin. Weighing of the evidence must lead every man and woman who has read with faith to say, “It is true.”
And so it is with other elements of this miraculous thing which we call the restoration of the ancient gospel, the ancient priesthood, and the ancient Church.
This testimony is now, as it has always been, a declaration, a straightforward assertion of truth as we know it.10
Said Paul to Timothy: “Take heed unto thyself”—listen to this—“and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” (1 Timothy 4:16). What a wonderful direction Paul gave to young Timothy.
He went on to say this: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power—the power of the message; and of love—love for the people, love for what we have to offer; a sound mind—the simple, understandable principles of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
“Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord” (2 Timothy 1:8). Never, my brothers and sisters, be thou ashamed of the testimony of our Lord. … Here is a great charge, a mandate that is laid upon us: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord.”11
This is God’s holy work. This is His Church and kingdom. The vision that occurred in the Sacred Grove was just as Joseph said it was. There is in my heart a true understanding of the importance of what happened there. The Book of Mormon is true. It testifies of the Lord Jesus Christ. His priesthood has been restored and is among us. The keys of that priesthood, which have come from heavenly beings, are exercised for our eternal blessing. Such is our testimony—yours and mine—a testimony which we must live up to and which we must share with others. I leave this testimony, my blessing, and my love with each of you and my invitation to continue to be part of this great latter-day miracle that is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.12
In what ways does your personal testimony contribute to the strength of the Church? (See section 1.)
President Hinckley emphasizes that testimony sustains us and “impels [us] to action” (section 2). How has your testimony sustained you? How has your testimony influenced your actions? What personal applications can you make from the stories in section 2?
What can we learn from President Hinckley’s teachings about obtaining a testimony? (See section 3.) What experiences have helped you gain your testimony? What can we do to strengthen our testimonies?
Why do you think our testimonies grow stronger when we share them? How have you overcome feelings of fear about sharing your testimony? How have you been blessed by the testimonies of others? (See section 4.)
“As you come to know and understand each person, you will be better prepared to teach lessons that speak to their individual situations. This understanding will help you to find ways to help each person participate in discussions and other learning activities” (Teaching, No Greater Call , 34).