“How Rare a Possession—the Scriptures,” New Era, Dec. 1985, 5
How Rare a Possession—
My purpose is to encourage you to study the scriptures. As the Lord has said, “Search the scriptures; for … they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39).
Perhaps you will have noticed that for many years the General Authorities have urged us all with increasing frequency and in a spirit of love to adopt a program of daily gospel study in our homes, both as individuals and as families. Also, the standard works have replaced all other materials as texts in the adult curriculum of the Church, and scarcely a meeting comes to a close without an inspired admonition from priesthood leaders to read and study the scriptures.
We believe that there has been marked improvement. Many more Church members are bringing the scriptures to appropriate meetings, and they are coming prepared for learning and discussions. In accord with divine inspiration, many more parents are using the standard works to teach their children the doctrines of the kingdom. We view these things with pleasure and satisfaction, and know that many blessings will result.
Nevertheless, we are saddened to learn, as the authorities travel about the stakes and missions of the Church, that 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 strait 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).
Besides the almost constant encouragement and promptings which we receive from our present-day leaders, the prophets of old seem to cry out to us in almost every page of the scriptures, urging us to study the word of the Lord, the holy scriptures, “which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). But we do not always hear, and we might well ask ourselves why.
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 only been 165 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).
On the American continents, the remnant of the Book of Mormon peoples had been utterly without divine guidance for more than 14 centuries when the Book of Mormon was first published in 1830. Their sacred record had been sealed up to come forth in this dispensation of the gospel. I am deeply moved when I read the account of the great prophet Mormon standing amidst the final slaughter and destruction of his people, the Nephites, in a terrible scene of blood and carnage; for even though he knew, as did all the Book of Mormon prophets, that the dark age of apostasy must come about as prophesied, it was with anguish of soul that he reported:
“Behold, the Spirit of the Lord hath already ceased to strive with their [the Lamanites’] fathers; and they are without Christ and God in the world; and they are … led about by Satan, even as chaff is driven before the wind, or as a vessel is tossed about upon the waves, without sail or anchor, or without anything wherewith to steer her” (Morm. 5:16, 18).
In the Old World the people were also virtually without anchor, for the early church had sunk into apostasy with the death of the apostles; and although manuscripts of the Bible were in existence, they were in the hands of a comparatively few uninspired men. It was during this time that many of the “plain and most precious parts” were lost (see 1 Ne. 13:28, 32).
We are pilgrims upon this earth, sent here with a mission to perform, a great work to do, for which we need guidance from the Lord. 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.
During the war in Vietnam, some of our men were taken prisoner and kept in nearly total isolation. Permitted no access to the scriptures, they later told how they hungered for the words of truth, more than for food, more than for freedom itself. What they would have given for a mere fragment of the Bible or the Book of Mormon that lay so idly on our shelves! They learned by hard experience something of Nephi’s feelings when he said:
“For my soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them, and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children.
“Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord; and my heart pondereth continually upon the things which I have seen and heard” (2 Ne. 4:15–16).
In one passage when the prophet Isaiah referred to the Great Apostasy, he said: “For the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered” (Isa. 29:10; see also 2 Ne. 27:5).
Immediately afterward, however, Isaiah made direct reference to the end of darkness and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon:
“And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed:
“And the book is delivered to him that is not learned” (Isa. 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 (Isa. 29:14).
Since the beginning of the restoration of the gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith, more than 30 million copies of the Book of Mormon have been printed in 68 languages, with more than 10 translations in preparation. 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).
Lest the foregoing be lightly passed over, let me pause here to point out a common error in the mind of man—that is, the tendency, when someone speaks of faithfulness or success in one thing or another, to think “me,” and when someone mentions failure or neglect, to think “them.” But 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.
In this regard, 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 Kgs. 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 18th 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 Kgs. 22:11, 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 Kgs. 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. He also held a solemn passover, and “surely there was not holden such a passover from the days of the judges that judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel, nor of the kings of Judah” (2 Kgs. 23:22). All this that he “might perform the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the Lord.
“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 Kgs. 23:24–25).
I feel strongly that each of us must 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; and, having them, we must see the responsibility we have to turn our hearts to our beloved ancestors, many of whom endured the long night of darkness that we might be, and who perhaps even now anxiously await our efforts in their behalf.
The Lord’s teachings have always been to those who have “eyes to see” and “ears to hear.” The voice is clear and unmistakable, and against those who neglect so great an opportunity the witness is sure.
So I ask all to begin now to study the scriptures in earnest, if you have not already done so. And perhaps the easiest and most effective way to do this is to participate in the study program of the Church.
In the curriculum of the Church, the standard works are studied in rotation. Over a period of four years the Old Testament, the Pearl of Great Price, the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants are all studied thoroughly. It is hoped that all will support this program of scripture study—to give it great emphasis, to see that this well-correlated program of the Church is not diminished by conflicting reading or study assignments. Each of the standard works should be studied intensely in the year it is scheduled for study. We invite you to join in this excellent opportunity.
May we all read the scriptures prayerfully, study them carefully, and receive a testimony of their message that Jesus is our Lord and Savior, and that his gospel plan is the path to happiness here and eternal life hereafter.
This message originally appeared in the September 1976 Ensign and was recently reprinted, at President Kimball’s direction, in the July 1985 Ensign.