“Chapter 6: Discovering the Scriptures for Ourselves,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball (2006), 59–68
“Chapter 6,” Teachings: Spencer W. Kimball, 59–68
When Spencer W. Kimball was 14 years old, he heard Brigham Young’s daughter Susa Young Gates speak at a stake conference on the subject of reading the scriptures. He recalled: “She gave a rousing talk on the reading of the scriptures and making them our own; then she stopped her dissertation to ask this mixed congregation, about a thousand of us, ‘How many of you have read the Bible through?’
“… An accusing guilt complex spread over me. I had read many books by that time, the funny papers, and light books, but my accusing heart said to me, ‘You, Spencer Kimball, you have never read that holy book. Why?’ I looked around me at the people in front and on both sides of the hall to see if I was alone in my failure to read the sacred book. Of the thousand people, there were perhaps a half dozen who proudly raised their hands. I slumped down in my seat. I had no thought for the others who had also failed, but only a deep accusing thought for myself. I don’t know what other people were doing and thinking, but I heard no more of the sermon. It had accomplished its work. When the meeting closed, I sought the large double exit door and rushed to my home a block east of the chapel; and I was gritting my teeth and saying to myself, ‘I will. I will. I will.’
“Entering the back door of our family home, I went to the kitchen shelf where we kept the coal oil lamps, selected one that was full of oil and had a newly trimmed wick, and climbed the stairs to my attic room. There I opened my Bible and began on Genesis, first chapter and first verse, and I read well into the night with Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel, and Enoch and Noah and through the flood even to Abraham.”1
Approximately one year later, Spencer finished reading the Bible: “What a satisfaction it was to me to realize I had read the Bible through from beginning to end! And what exultation of spirit! And what joy in the over-all picture I had received of its contents!”2 The experience made a lasting impression, and later in life he referred to it often in general and area conferences.
President Kimball continued to enjoy the blessings of scripture study throughout his days and encouraged others to do likewise. Elder Richard G. Scott, later a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, recalled: “Elder Spencer W. Kimball supervised our area when I was mission president. I observed how well he understood and used the Book of Mormon in his inspiring messages to members and missionaries alike. … At a missionary zone meeting on one occasion, he said, ‘Richard, you used a scripture from the Book of Mormon today that I had never thought of using in that way.’ That was the careful preparation for a very significant lesson he wanted me to learn. He then added, ‘And to think that I have read that book more than seventy-six times.’ He didn’t have to point out specifically that I knew very little about the scriptures, and that I needed to spend a lifetime in pondering and applying them. That single comment has motivated me to a lifelong goal of increased understanding of the sacred word of God.”3
Sometimes it seems we take the scriptures too much for granted because we do not fully appreciate how rare a thing it is to possess them, and how blessed we are because we do have them. We seem to have settled so comfortably into our experiences in this world and become so accustomed to hearing the gospel taught among us that it is hard for us to imagine it could ever have been otherwise.
But we need to understand that it has [not] been [many] years since the world emerged from the long night of spiritual darkness that we call the Great Apostasy. We need to sense something of the depth of the spiritual darkness that prevailed before that day in the spring of 1820 when the Father and the Son appeared to Joseph Smith—a darkness which was foreseen by the prophet Nephi and described as “that awful state of blindness” in which the gospel was withheld from man. (See 1 Ne. 13:32.) …
… The fact that I was not born in the times of spiritual darkness in which the heavens were silent and the Spirit withdrawn fills my soul with gratitude. Truly, to be without the word of the Lord to direct us is to be as wanderers in a vast desert who can find no familiar landmarks, or in the dense darkness of a cavern with no light to show us the way to escape. …
… Isaiah made direct reference to the end of darkness and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon [see Isaiah 29:11–12]. …
And thus began the marvelous work, “even a marvellous work and a wonder” which the Lord promised he would proceed to do. (See Isa. 29:14.)
Since the beginning of the restoration of the gospel through the prophet Joseph Smith, [millions of] copies of the Book of Mormon have been printed and distributed. … An untold number of Bibles have been printed, far outstripping all other published works in quantity. We also have the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. In addition to our access to these precious works of scripture, we have, to an extent unknown at any other time in the history of the world, the education and the ability to use them, if we will.
The ancient prophets knew that after the darkness there would come light. We live in that light—but do we fully comprehend it? With the doctrines of salvation easily within our grasp, I fear that some are still overcome with the “spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear.” (Rom. 11:8.)
… I ask us all to honestly evaluate our performance in scripture study. It is a common thing to have a few passages of scripture at our disposal, floating in our minds, as it were, and thus to have the illusion that we know a great deal about the gospel. In this sense, having a little knowledge can be a problem indeed. I am convinced that each of us, at some time in our lives, must discover the scriptures for ourselves—and not just discover them once, but rediscover them again and again.4
The story of King Josiah in the Old Testament is a most profitable one to “liken … unto [our]selves.” (1 Ne. 19:24.) To me, it is one of the finest stories in all of the scriptures.
Josiah was only eight years old when he began to reign in Judah, and although his immediate progenitors were extremely wicked, the scriptures tell us that “he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the way of David his father, and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left.” (2 Kings 22:2.) This is all the more surprising when we learn that by that time (just two generations before the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.) the written law of Moses had been lost and was virtually unknown, even among the priests of the temple!
But in the eighteenth year of his reign, Josiah directed that the temple be repaired. At that time Hilkiah, the high priest, found the book of the law, which Moses had placed in the ark of the covenant, and delivered it to King Josiah.
When the book of the law was read to Josiah, he “rent his clothes” and wept before the Lord.
“Great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us,” he said, “because our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of this book, to do according unto all that which is written concerning us.” (2 Kings 22:13.)
The king then read the book before all the people, and at that time they all made a covenant to obey all the Lord’s commandments “with all their heart and all their soul.” (2 Kings 23:3.) Then Josiah proceeded to clean up the kingdom of Judah, removing all the idols, the groves, the high places, and all the abominations that had accumulated during the reign of his fathers, defiling the land and its people. …
“And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him.” [2 Kings 23:25.]
I feel strongly that we must all of us return to the scriptures just as King Josiah did and let them work mightily within us, impelling us to an unwavering determination to serve the Lord.
Josiah had the law of Moses only. In our scriptures we have the gospel of Jesus Christ in its fulness; and if a taste is sweet, in fulness there is joy.
The Lord is not trifling with us when he gives us these things, for “unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” (Luke 12:48.) Access to these things means responsibility for them. We must study the scriptures according to the Lord’s commandment (see 3 Ne. 23:1–5); and we must let them govern our lives and the lives of our children.5
Every lesson in ethical standards and in proper spiritual living is found in the standard works. Here will be found the rewards of righteousness and the penalties of sin.6
We learn the lessons of life more readily and surely if we see the results of wickedness and righteousness in the lives of others. … To come to know Job well and intimately is to learn to keep faith through the greatest of adversities. To know well the strength of Joseph in the luxury of ancient Egypt when he was tempted by a voluptuous woman, and to see this clean young man resist all the powers of darkness embodied in this one seductive person, certainly should fortify the intimate reader against such sin. To see the forbearance and fortitude of Paul when he was giving his life to his ministry is to give courage to those who feel they have been injured and tried. He was beaten many times, imprisoned frequently for the cause, stoned near to death, shipwrecked three times, robbed, nearly drowned, the victim of false and disloyal brethren. While starving, choking, freezing, poorly clothed, Paul was yet consistent in his service. He never wavered once after the testimony came to him following his supernatural experience. To see the growth of Peter with the gospel as the catalyst moving him from a lowly fisherman—uncultured, unlearned, and ignorant, as they rated him—blossoming out into a great organizer, prophet, leader, theologian, teacher. …
Our children may learn the lessons of life through the perseverance and personal strength of Nephi; the godliness of the three Nephites; the faith of Abraham; the power of Moses; the deception and perfidy of Ananias; the courage even to death of the unresisting Ammonites; the unassailable faith of the Lamanite mothers transmitted down through their sons, so powerful that it saved Helaman’s striplings. Not a single one came to his death in that war.
All through the scriptures every weakness and strength of man has been portrayed, and rewards and punishments have been recorded. One would surely be blind who could not learn to live life properly by such reading. The Lord said, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” (John 5:39.) And it was this same Lord and master in whose life we find every quality of goodness: godliness, strength, controls, perfection. And how can students study this great story without capturing some of it in their lives?7
Here [in the standard works] are the biographies of the prophets and of leaders and of the Lord himself, giving example and direction so that men can, by following those examples, be perfected, happy, full of joy, and with eternity their goal and expectation.8
There are still many of the Saints who are not reading and pondering the scriptures regularly, and who have little knowledge of the Lord’s instructions to the children of men. Many have been baptized and received a testimony, and have “gotten into this straight and narrow path,” yet have failed to take the further required step—to “press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end.” (2 Ne. 31:19, 20; italics added.)
Only the faithful will receive the promised reward, which is eternal life. For one cannot receive eternal life without becoming a “doer of the word” (see James 1:22) and being valiant in obedience to the Lord’s commandments. And one cannot become a “doer of the word” without first becoming a “hearer.” And to become a “hearer” is not simply to stand idly by and wait for chance bits of information; it is to seek out and study and pray and comprehend. Therefore the Lord said, “Whoso receiveth not my voice is not acquainted with my voice, and is not of me.” (D&C 84:52.)9
The years have taught me that if we will energetically pursue this worthy personal goal [to study the scriptures] in a determined and conscientious manner, we shall indeed find answers to our problems and peace in our hearts. We shall experience the Holy Ghost broadening our understanding, find new insights, witness an unfolding pattern of all scripture; and the doctrines of the Lord shall come to have more meaning to us than we ever thought possible. As a consequence, we shall have greater wisdom with which to guide ourselves and our families.10
I ask all to begin now to study the scriptures in earnest, if you have not already done so.11
I find that when I get casual in my relationships with divinity and when it seems that no divine ear is listening and no divine voice is speaking, that I am far, far away. If I immerse myself in the scriptures the distance narrows and the spirituality returns. I find myself loving more intensely those whom I must love with all my heart and mind and strength, and loving them more, I find it easier to abide their counsel.12
I find that all I need to do to increase my love for my Maker and the gospel and the Church and my brethren is to read the scriptures. I have spent many hours in the scriptures. … I cannot see how anyone can read the scriptures and not develop a testimony of their divinity and of the divinity of the work of the Lord, who is the spokesman in the scriptures.13
Few of the billions [on] earth can walk with God as did Adam and Abraham and Moses, yet, in the world in which we live, the scriptures are available to nearly every soul, and, through them, men can become intimately acquainted with their Heavenly Father, his Son Jesus Christ, and with conditions and opportunities and expectations of life eternal.14
No amount of human study can find out God, but he has revealed himself to his servants the prophets, and they have taught us of his nature. We can each have a confirmation of the truth through our own fasting and prayer. The theological storms around us find us calm in the center of tempest with a simple, sure knowledge of the Father and the Son derived from the ancient and modern scriptures and affirmed by the Spirit. In this knowledge we have hope of eternal life.15
Consider these ideas as you study the chapter or as you prepare to teach. For additional help, see pages v–ix.
Ponder the stories on pages 59–61. How do these stories influence you? Ask yourself how you are doing in reading, understanding, and applying the scriptures. Consider your personal goals for scripture study.
As you review the section beginning on page 61, imagine your life without the scriptures. How would your life be different? What are some consequences of taking the scriptures “too much for granted”?
Why is it insufficient merely to have a few favorite scripture passages “floating in our minds”? (page 62). What do you think it means to discover the scriptures for yourself and to “rediscover them again and again”?
President Kimball encouraged us to liken the story of King Josiah to ourselves (pages 62–64; see also 2 Kings 22–23). What similarities and differences do you see between your life and the lives of King Josiah and his people?
Think of some “lessons of life” you have learned through scripture study. (For some examples, see pages 64–66.)
Review the fourth paragraph on page 66. What are some scripture passages that have helped you find answers to your problems and peace in your heart?
Read the first and second paragraphs on page 67. How has scripture study affected your relationship with God? your relationships with family members? your service in Church callings?