69: Effective Study, Part 1

In this episode Denver addresses the following: “How do I get the most out of Gospel study? Where do I begin? It can be frustrating to read and not really get much out of a text aside from the most obvious and superficial reading. What can I do or what skills or approaches do I need to utilize in order to make my study effective so I can both understand and experience the Gospel as well as prepare for Zion?”


DENVER: We have a tendency, all of us, to take concepts or pictures or ideas and to put them in our heads and then to rely upon those pictures as we go forward learning new things. The object being to fit what we learned that is new into the framework of what we already know or we’re already familiar with. That can be handicapping.

In 2 Nephi 28, Nephi cautioned us about permitting, what he called, the traditions of men to override, what he calls, whisperings of the spirit. And he suggests that you run into mistakes, you run into errors, some of them terrible errors, when you permit those traditions, or those pictures you already have inside your head, to be the framework from which you reconstruct new information that you learn. It is hard to do so, but when it comes to the gospel of Jesus Christ, you would be best advised to start with a blank slate and to allow it to inform you as if you are hearing it for the first time because those words in scripture don’t necessarily mean what the picture in your head suggests that they mean. Let me pull an example. If you’ve got your scriptures, you’re welcome to pull them out, and turn the pages and make all the noise you want finding the Joseph Smith History. You are NOT in a Sacrament meeting and therefore your scriptures are welcome to be used. In the Joseph Smith history, it’s the 8th verse. It’s about halfway through that 8th verse. “In process of time my mind became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect, and I felt some desire to be united with them” Once again, this is high praise for Margaret Barker, a Methodist scholar. But laying that aside; during the time of this period, there was a, particularly in the revivalist part of Methodism, there was a group called The Shouting Methodists; and The Shouting Methodists had a tradition. That tradition was to go into the woods alone to pray, and when they prayed alone in the woods, they were looking for some experience that would bind them up and when they got bound up, they knew that they had had an experience with God and The Holy Ghost and they came back converted. The miracle of The First Vision of Joseph Smith does not consist in the fact that he went in the woods alone to pray, nor does it consist in the fact that when he’s alone and praying that he got bound up by some darkness which entirely overcame him. The miracle of Joseph Smith is that when that happened, he rejected it as the source of conversion. He did not allow his fears to control him. He did not allow the tradition to control him but calling upon God, he

then pressed through to receive what lays on the other side of the fears and of the darkness and of the things that put you of the trail to God. And he tells us about the vision of the Father and the Son telling him that he was to join none of them. And he tells us about the vision of the Father and the Son telling him that he was to join none of them. He goes on for some space of years, and during that space of years, he talks about how he frequently fell into many foolish errors displayed by the weakness of youth and the foibles of human nature and then he talks about he was guilty of levity and sometimes associating with jovial company. One of the pictures you have in your head about me, if you’ve read what I’ve written and you’ve read my blog, is that you may entirely misapprehend, One, how difficult it is for me to get up here and do THIS. Two, how incredibly irreverent I am by my native nature. I am not a stoic religious person. I undertake to do what the Lord asks, what I think pleases Him; at the cost of personal convenience. I don’t like being up here and it’s being recorded by my voice and not by a camera because I don’t want people recognizing me. I don’t want to be a celebrity. I want my privacy. And when it comes to a native, cheerey temperament, I have, I suppose, a wicked sense of humor.

Well, he called upon and he had confidence because he had previously received an answer, in verse 29, he had confidence that he would have an answer and a divine manifestation as he had previously had one. Ten, he gives the account, in some detail, of the appearance of the angel Moroni, how it occupied the night and he passes through the events of his life until we get to the time in which, during the translation of The Book of Mormon, beginning in verse 68, they come upon the ordinance of baptism. They went into the woods, they prayed in May of 1829, and John the Baptist appears and confers authority upon them, and immediately after conferring the authority upon Joseph Smith, the angel says to him:

70. He said this Aaronic Priesthood had not the power of laying on hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, but that this should be conferred on us hereafter.

And then we get to verse 73, which is a description of what happened after being baptized:

73. Immediately on our coming up out of the water after we had been baptized, we experienced great and glorious blessings from our Heavenly Father. No sooner had I baptized Oliver Cowdery, then the Holy Ghost fell upon him, and he stood up and prophesied many things which should shortly come to pass. And again, so soon as I had been baptized by him, I also had the spirit of prophecy, when, standing up, I prophesied concerning the rise of this Church, and many other things connected with the Church, and this generation of the children of men. We were filled with the Holy Ghost, and rejoiced in the God of our salvation.

74 Our minds being now enlightened, we began to have the scriptures laid open to our understandings, and the true meaning and intention of their more mysterious passages revealed unto us in a manner which we never could attain to previously, nor ever before had thought of.

Now, here are the questions: He saw God the Father and he saw Jesus Christ in a vision. And if you read all of the accounts, you find out that it was a vision that included a view into heaven for he saw the heavenly hosts because The Father does not appear without a heavenly host. The Son can appear alone, but The Father never does. If you see The Father, you are going to see a Host

And thereafter he is visited by the angel Moroni and he is tutored; not merely through the one night but in successive annual nights for four years; AND YET the first time his testimony mentions the Holy Ghost is after baptism, and after baptism, using authority which the angel told him HAD NOT the right to confer the gift of the Holy Ghost. That would happen at some subsequent occasion. Why then, without the laying on of hands by one having authority, did Joseph Smith receive the Holy Ghost? Not merely as a visitation, mind you; read the words. It lingered, it persisted. Because after they were baptized, ​“we began to have the scriptures laid open to our understandings, and the true meaning and intention of their more mysterious passages revealed unto us.”

That required scripture study over the ensuing weeks, months, years. There we encounter a word: Mysterious passages. You know that

20 ​Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.21 ​For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost . (​ 2 Peter 1:20–21)

The scriptures were given by the power of the Holy Ghost, and now Joseph Smith is explaining that he could unravel their mysteries by the power of the Holy Ghost and things that did not make sense before, began to make sense. If you’ve read The Second Comforter, in the chapter “In Becoming as A Little Child”, there is an excerpt taken from a book, Godel, Escher, Bach, a brilliant mathematical book about Bongard problems. Bongard problems are designed to test a certain kind of reasoning using symbols in order to test the person evaluating them. And invariably, Bongard problems are solved by children and they confuse adults; because the children’s minds have not become cluttered by the kind of mathematical complexity that we have bouncing around in our heads. As a consequence of such, they look at it simply. They see things simply and they can solve the Bongard problems in a way in which adults fail to grasp. The gospel is adapted to the simple mind.

The statements that are contained in scripture are giving in simplicity and in plainness. So, when we encounter Joseph Smith, speaking to us now about having the mysteries of the gospel laid open to his mind as a consequence of having the Holy Ghost, I am reminded of a statement that he made that you find in The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith about the Holy Ghost on pages 149 and 150, which I am going to read an excerpt from:

“​There are two comforters spoken of, one is the Holy Ghost, the same is given on the Day of Pentecost and that all saints receive after faith, repentance, and baptism.”

And by the way, Joseph Smith is saying this at a time when the authority for the laying on of hands had been restored, but his list is: faith and repentance and baptism, and that produces the same effect as on the Day of Pentecost. If you listen to the words of the ordinance that is performed in the church, the words of the ordinance are an admonition to you to receive the Holy Ghost. It’s telling you to do something.

“​This first comforter, or Holy Ghost, has no other effect than pure intelligence. It is more powerful and expanding the mind, enlightening the understanding, and storing the intellect with present knowledge.”

Did you get that list of things? The effect of the Holy Ghost is pure intelligence. I can watch Lawrence of Arabia, and when they’ve successfully knocked the train off the track, and the group he is leading has charged and overcome the enemy, and Lawrence is walking on the tops of the trains with the flowing robes, I can get goose bumps. It is moving; it is stirring. That’s not the Holy Ghost. I can have that same effect with Les Miserables. I can have that same effect with some of the scenes with Joseph’s Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Moving and stirring things can delight your senses. That’s not the Holy Ghost. It has no other effect than pure intelligence; expanding the mind, enlightening the understanding, storing the intellect with present knowledge.

I’m not here to entertain you. I am trying to inform you of doctrine that will save you. I don’t care if any of you are stirred, or like one of our MSNBC folks, had a tremor run up his leg at the president’s speaking. I don’t care about that. I care about your salvation. I care about your souls and I care about you understanding the things that will save you. Joseph Smith gave the list: pure intelligence, expanding the mind, enlightening the mind, storing the intellect with present knowledge.

In the translation of the Book of Moses, which was Joseph correcting the Book of Genesis, he gives a list there of the Holy Ghost as well. Moses 6:61:

…the comforter, the peaceable things of immortal glory, the truth of all things, that which that which quickeneth all things, which maketh alive all things; that which knoweth all things, and hath all power according to wisdom, mercy, truth, justice, and judgment.

This is the Holy Ghost. Joseph Smith returned from the first vision and didn’t talk about the Holy Ghost because that incident, quite frankly, was not understood by Joseph Smith at the time it occurred. When he explained to his mother, “Never mind, I’m well enough off. I’ve learned for myself that Presbyterianism isn’t true.” And I think that is a candid description of what Joseph got out of it that day at that time. He had been converted and he knew now not to join the Presbyterians. What Joseph Smith learned from the angel Moroni, also did not confer upon him the Holy Ghost. Faith, repentance, baptism, and then he notes the Holy Ghost. And what are the effects that he reports, immediately? #1. Prophecy; one of the hallmark signs. Paul lists it in Corinthians. Mormon and Moroni list it in Moroni’s book. The list of what the gifts are, you can find it in D&C section 46.

11 For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.
12 To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby. 13 To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.

14 To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.
15 And again, to some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know the differences of administration, as it will be pleasing unto the same Lord, according as the Lord will, suiting his mercies according to the conditions of the children of men.

16 And again, it is given by the Holy Ghost to some to know the diversities of operations, whether they be of God, that the manifestations of the Spirit may be given to every man to profit withal.
17 And again, verily I say unto you, to some is given, by the Spirit of God, the word of wisdom.

18 To another is given the word of knowledge, that all may be taught to be wise and to have knowledge.
19 And again, to some it is given to have faith to be healed;
20 And to others it is given to have faith to heal.

21 And again, to some is given the working of miracles; 22 And to others it is given to prophesy;
23 And to others the discerning of spirits.
24 And again, it is given to some to speak with tongues;

25 And to another is given the interpretation of tongues.
26 And all these gifts come from God, for the benefit of the children of God. 
​(D&C 46:11–28)

The list of the gifts; prophecy is always included as one of the hallmark signs of what it is that the Holy Ghost does. And then secondly, allowing Joseph to understand the real intent of what is in the scriptures. How much of a blank slate was Joseph at the time that the Holy Ghost allowed him the pure spirit of intelligence.

I would suggest that if Joseph Smith can pass through the first vision and can pass through the incident of the visits of the angel Moroni and if he can even translate The Book of Mormon, which was then underway at the time this occurred, by the gift and power of God, but not attribute anything to the Holy Ghost until after he is baptized, that it is equally possible for you, good people, to go through everything you have gone through in your life, and yet not have experienced the thing that Joseph is talking about, which comes as a consequence of FAITH, REPENTANCE, and BAPTISM.

In Revelation 3:20-21 there is a promise that John records, Behold, I stand at the door and knock… In this description, it’s almost a flip. It’s not you knocking to get in, it’s the Lord knocking to come to you. It’s the Lord who is the eager One. The One who would like to have this relationship take up. He is the One knocking. He is the One trying to get into your life. And so, in this account the Lord is speaking: “I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice…” See, His sheep hear his voice. Do you hear His voice? “If any man hear my voice and open the door…” because you’re the one who shut it. You’re the one who is saying, “uh, no thanks, I’ll pass. I mean, I’ve got a skeptical mind now. I’ve been to college and have received training to practice law. I’m an engineer and I understand formulas and equations. I’m a mathematician and I know some things add up and some things don’t, and I also know that I’ve been leading a reasonably decent life and I have never had Jesus in MY car.”

Our minds are skeptical. WE have to open the door, because almost invariably the door that we configure to keep him out from our construct is something that has come about as a consequence of what has happened in your life. From the time you left that state of innocence as a child in the Garden until today. Every painful experience you have been through, every humiliation you’ve suffered, everything that has gone on in your life that has led to where you now construct a door…. Some of oak, some of iron. Whatever it is that has happened to you, you use THAT to keep Him out. “Well if he really cared, he would….”

You know, the notion that He doesn’t care is the greatest lie of all. If you knew what he suffered, you would NEVER say, “If He cared….” But if you will open the door, He says I will come into him and will sup with him, and he with me.

Well, verse 8 once again: ​so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong. ​See, that’s the way it is.

In verse 10: There’s always this war of worlds … war of words. (“War of Worlds,” that’s what your kids play.) War of words and tumult of opinions. And so Joseph is confused. How do you resolve this?

Verse 11: ​While I was laboring ​… While I was laboring—

Folks, in general, have your skulls so junked up with the crap of the Internet that you don’t even have the capacity to labor the way it needs to be labored, to solve the questions that need to be solved. It is labor; it is labor over the scriptures. It is labor. ​Under the extreme difficulties caused by​… ​these parties of religionists [he] was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

Let him ask of God ​. God gives ​to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. I​ can ask God. God will give to me. God will give to me liberally. God will not tell me, There are lines here you mustn’t cross; there are things about which you must not inquire; there are things your heart is not yet prepared to receive; you don’t have standing! He gives liberally. He can let ​you ​know what you need to know from your study and inquiry into the truth. And no man can stop that! Because this is a matter between you and God. It has always been a matter between you and God. There is no friar with a brown frock that you need to bend the knee to in order to please God. If Joseph had known that (the friar with the frock) he would never have achieved the revolution that he achieved.

Well, when you’re laboring, as verse 11 suggests, and when you hit the right verse, as verse 11 recites, then verse 12 confirms how you get answers to these kinds of inquires. ​Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force.

Turn back to Doctrine and Covenants 76, and look at verse 18. This is the vision of the redemption of the dead that gave us the three degrees of glory. They’re reading in John

(and he gives you the verse in John that they were reading, in verses 16 and 17), and look at 18: ​Now this caused us to marvel, for it was given unto us of the Spirit.

The Spirit cannot lean upon you and cannot focus your mind upon the revelation that you are entitled to receive unless you use the scriptures as they were intended to be used—as a Urim and Thummim; as the basis from which you draw out the truths of God. And the best version of that is, of course, the Book of Mormon.

You can look at D&C 138, and you’ll find that Joseph F. Smith sat in his room pondering over the scriptures. He’s near death—it’s about eight weeks before the death of Joseph F. Smith. The Church had a lot of challenges going on at that time. Fortuitously for us, the man who sat at home—infirm and worried about death—happened to happily be the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And so when he got an answer (not to his inquiry about leading the Church), when he got an answer to an inquiry that had nothing to do with his position or budgets or anything else that manages an organization—it had to do with his own concern, about his own deepest apprehensions, his impending death, which would follow about eight weeks after this—the scriptures opened like a Urim and Thummim to his view, and we get a vision of the redemption of the dead, which we’ve now canonized. ​It entered​… [this is back—verse 12 of the Joseph Smith History], ​It entered [into his heart]with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again.

Now that’s an interesting statement, because it doesn’t appear that this “labor” was a one-off event, but it occurred over and over as he sought more understanding, searching deeper and deeper into trying to understand what it was he ought to do and how it is he ought to accomplish it.

… ​again and again knowing…​ ​if any person needed wisdom from God, I did.

You should be asking God so that you can understand scripture. You shouldn’t be trusting the expositions of anyone, myself included. These scriptures have a message for you. God has a message for you. God would like to talk to ​you ​, not through me or any other man. God would like to talk with ​you .​ You’ll be saved by knowledge, and the things you need to know are uniquely situated; the things you have the right to get from God are uniquely situated.

I got an answer from God. That’s why 40 years ago today, I went in, and I got baptized. Elder Brian Black baptized me. During the baptismal service, because it was approaching twilight, the sun was beginning to set, the moon had emerged, and the first stars began to shine. And Brian Black commented in the talk that was given by him before laying on hands that all the signs of heaven—the sun, the moon and the stars—had been visible during my baptismal ceremony. I have felt the presence of God with me from that moment through today. Just this morning I checked into my office before coming here, and when I arrived at my office, there was a dove on the lawn to meet me, and she stayed there as I went by. Now it’s a small thing, but if you’re acquainted with the scriptures, you understand what such a symbol can mean, and to me, did mean.

Your lives should be filled with wonder. Be not faithless, but be believing. And be of good cheer. He knows you better than you know yourself. I was belly-aching about an idiot friend, and as I am wont to do, it was prayerful.

The Stake President asked me a few weeks ago about whether I was praying at the time that I had one of the encounters he and I discussed, and I said: “It’s not a fair question. I wake up in the morning, and I start to pray. Throughout the day, I will take care of a thousand things. And whenever I am free, my mind will revert back to the prayer, and we’ll continue the dialogue.” And it goes on all day. There’s not a moment in my life in which I am not being prayerful. And so the answer to the question is, I suppose, Yes, I was praying. Because there’s hardly a moment when I’m idle when I am not praying.

Well, God intends to speak to each of us about us and about what matters to us and about what matters to you. He, unlike us, is not bounded by the linear existence that we have. All things past, present, and future are continually before the Lord.

In fact, it’s really sort of an interesting study. If you take and you look at what the Lord does in 3 Nephi, He has this agenda that He’s been assigned by the Lord (or by the Father), and Christ discharges the agenda. And He goes through, and as you read the chapters in 3 Nephi, it’s really structured, and it’s really orderly. And then He announces: “Now I have finished what the Father has told me to deliver to you”, and He just begins to talk; and as He begins to talk, what unfolds is non-chronological. It’s topical, but it’s past, present, and future. His thoughts are not like our thoughts. They aren’t. They’re nonlinear. And sometimes that’s not easy.

At length, he says in verse 13: ​I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God. ​And so it is for all of us. You wanna know the truth of a proposition? You ask God. And don’t be fearful! If you ask, He’ll answer. But you better be prepared for the answer. Because the battle that is already upon us is going to require valiance. Cowardly, effeminate, hen-like behavior can never, never obtain the promises of God. Christ asked: ​What went you [forth] to see? A reed [shakingin]thewind?(​Matthew11:7).That’swhatyouwant?Idon’tthinkJohntheBaptist cried on demand. And Zion isn’t a bank.

So, [it is] in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty. It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt, for amidst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally. After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed…​ ​finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction. (​JSH 1:14-15)

You know, we have Orson Hyde’s account of this thick darkness, and I want to read it to you. This is Orson Hyde writing about the incident we just looked at:

He, therefore, retired to a secret place, in a grove, but a short distance from his father’s house, and knelt down and began to call upon the Lord. At first, he was severely tempted by the powers of darkness, which endeavored to overcome him. The adversary benighted his mind with doubts, and brought to his soul all kinds of improper pictures and tried to hinder him in his efforts and the accomplishment of his goal. However, the overflowing mercy of God came to buoy him up.

You know, if salvation consists in obtaining knowledge, you can’t afford to clutter your mind with the kinds of things which can readily summon up improper images, improper thoughts, improper ambitions. In fact, it doesn’t matter what you ​want ​. There’s only one thing that matters. And that is: What is the Lord’s will for you, with you. And that will is always the same—to bring about your happiness; ultimately, to bring about your joy. He tells you that His burden is light, because however it may seem in the direful circumstances of 1838 in the life of Joseph Smith, ​this ​statement of faith, ​this t​estimony of truth was worth the price that Joseph was called upon to pay to obtain it.

The things of God are infinitely preferable to anything that can be offered to you here in this world. You may indeed be able to buy anything in this world for money, but don’t let that ever be the case with your heart or your soul. Zion will not have an economy, because they have all things in common.

So Joseph, in verse 16, tells you that it is some marvelous power from the unseen world. Let me take you back to that statement: “A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge, for if does not get knowledge, he will be brought into captivity by some evil power in the other world, as evil spirits will have more knowledge, and consequently more power.” Well, apply that quote in the context of what Joseph is experiencing there and realize this is not merely something that will happen after you depart this world. It’s something that, in fact, does happen here. I mean, being blinded here is part of being captured by the captivity of the adversary of your soul.

Awake and arise! Shake off the scales that blind you (scales which, like contact lenses, on the one hand; but scales like judging wrongly, on the other hand). You have to judge a matter aright. And if the judgment that you judge is not just, then the scales of your eyes are darkness indeed.

And so he called upon God to escape this being from the unseen world, and he saw ​a pillar of light exactly over [his] head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages (​vs.17)​.​ We’llget into this more in Idaho Falls. He saw two “Personages.” Note the word. Joseph knows what he’s talking about. He was in the presence of these Beings. He will later describe them—as a doctrinal exposition which the Church accepted as doctrine, and which was, for a season, in your scriptures. That’s why you need to bring your [Lectures on] Faith to Idaho Falls. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name…​ I’ve mentioned this on a number of occasions, and I want to mention it again here. When God calls a person by name, it is not your full legal name. “Joseph Smith, Jr.” I mean, that’s my Cecil B. DeMille version of ​The Ten Commandments v​oice of God —“Moses.”The casual friendship—I don’t know what Joseph was called at this point in his life. I don’t know if it was “Joey.” I don’t know if it was “Junior.” I don’t know what the name was that he went by. Whoever his most intimate companion was, that was what the Lord called him. If it was “Joey,” it was “Joey.” God doesn’t call you by whatever your Driver’s License says. So, He called him by name. Do you know how comforting it is to have God call you by a familiar name? Instead of recoiling in horror, He is drawing you in. Instead of stiff-arming you like, “I am the Great and Powerful,” He wants you comfortable in His presence, so much so that when you enter into His presence, it is a matter of course that God invariably forgives your sins.

In 1921 The Lectures on Faith were dropped from the scriptures by a committee comprised of George F. Richards, Anthony W. Ivins, Melvin J. Ballard, James E. Talmage, John A. Widstoe, and Joseph Fielding Smith. That committee dropped The Lectures on Faith from the scriptures because, “Certain lessons entitled The Lectures on Faith which were bound with Doctrine and Covenants in some of its former issues, are not included in this edition. Those lessons were prepared for use in the School of Elders. But they were never presented or accepted by the Church as other than theological lessons or lectures.”

That’s a lie. The Joseph Smith Papers, if you will read them today, tell you that statement is not at all the truth. Part of what I hope to get to tonight, and if not tonight then in Logan, are the reasons why. Joseph Smith called this “doctrine” – important doctrine. “Leading items of the religion.” And that he would answer to every principle that was advanced in the document.

Now to his credit, Joseph Fielding Smith, who was on that committee said in 1966:

“I suppose that the rising generation knows little about the Lectures. In my own judgment these Lectures are of great value and should be studied. I consider them to be of extreme value in the study of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

And in a talk given by Elder Bruce R. McConkie at Brigham Young University, (the son-in-law to the one of the committee members, whose words I just read), in January 24, 1972, Brother McConkie said:

“In my judgment it is the most comprehensive, intelligent, inspired utterance that now exists in the English language that exists in one place defining, interpreting, expounding, announcing, and testifying of what kind of being God is. It was written by the power of the Holy Ghost, by the Spirit of Inspiration. It is in effect, eternal scripture. It is true.”

Well, this brings us then to the Third Lecture on Faith. Now we are starting to get into some really important stuff. Verse 2 of Lecture 3: “Let us here observe, that three things are necessary in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation.” Faith in God, not in man, not in men, not in an institution, not in some magic talisman, faith in God. To the extent that anyone is trying to displace your faith in God, and attract attention to themselves, myself included, that is a perversion and it will not save you. It is a distraction, it is evil, and it is wrong. It is damnable. Anyone who tries to attract your worship, myself included, ought to be sent to hell. It’s why I continually remind you, talking about me is a waste of time. Talking about the things that I’m saying, talking about the content of the scriptures, talking about the doctrines that will save you, that is very important. But you can leave me out of that. You don’t ever need to mention my name again in your life. But pay attention to the doctrine that we are talking about. Pay attention to the message that comes to us through scripture. You will never be saved because you relied upon some other guy to elevate you. The only way that will happen is when you connect with God. You have to exercise faith in God unto life and salvation.

There are three things:

First, the idea that he actually exists. (You can get that from someone else.) Second, acorrect idea of His character, perfections and attributes. Any error in that prevents you from having faith. Therefore, in order to get that right, it’s going to require something of you in the way of study and effort if you are going to have – look at the word, they italicized it – a correct idea of His character perfections and attributes. That’s what you need to study, to know what it is you’re going to have faith in. Thirdly, an actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing is according to his will. You must know this. And you cannot cover the gap by lying to yourself. You can’t lie to yourself pretending that you are on God’s course, and then have actual knowledge that the course of life that you are pursuing is according to His will. Nor can you depend entirely upon what other people are telling you.

You’re supposed to be asking and getting answers from God. Your own answers from God are going to tell you what you need to do. And the sacrifices that He will require of you are unique to you, because the contribution that you can make for the salvation of yourself and others is unique to you. There are things that you and only you can do. And if you will sign up with God, He will have you do them. You may find yourself doing things you prefer not doing. It doesn’t matter. If you have faith in Him and you do what He asks, you’ll know that the course you are pursuing is according to His will. And doing things He asks of you, according to His will, invariably produce faith. And they produce faith into salvation. Because it always grows. Light either grows or dims, it never stays static. Therefore, when you set out on this course, you never turn back. If you turn back, you lose everything that you’ve gained up to that point.

Let’s continue on with verse 5: “Thirdly, an actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing is according to his will. For without an acquaintance with these three important facts, the faith of every rational being must be imperfect and unproductive; but with this understanding it can become perfect and fruitful, abounding in righteousness, unto the praise and glory of God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

You need to know these three things:

  1. God exists.
  2. You need to study until you have a correct understanding of his character perfections and attributes.
  3. You have to live your life so that you actually know that the course you are leading conforms to what He would have.

Turn to verse 23: “But it is also necessary that men should have an idea that he is no respecter of persons, for with the idea of all the other excellencies in his character, and this one wanting, men could not exercise faith in him; because if he were a respecter of persons, they could not tell what their privileges were, nor how far they were authorized to exercisefaith in him, or whether they were authorized to do it at all, but all must be confusion; but no sooner are the minds of men made acquainted with the truth on this point, that he is no respecter of persons, than they see that they have authority by faith to lay hold on eternal life, the richest boon of heaven, because God is no respecter of persons, and that every man in every nation has an equal privilege.” That’s you. God has done nothing for Joseph Smith that He will not do for you. I understand all the doctrinal arguments. I can make them all. I have made them all. And I’ve made them to the Lord. I’ve argued with Him on every point of doctrine, I’ve quoted to Him every scripture that any of you have advanced, and many more besides. The Lord has always borne testimony back, consistently. This stuff is true. You’re hedging up the way of your own salvation, and of the salvation of others when you say no one has the privilege in our day yet, to lay hold on salvation. You’re hedging up the way, you are damning yourself, and you are damning those who will listen to you when you say, people in our time are not yet authorized to exercise faith in God unto salvation because you are authorized. I have done so. I have spoken with Him as a man speaks to another. He speaks in plain humility, reasoning as one man with another. He will reason with you. The first night I got a testimony, I was in the middle of an argument with God. I thought I was arguing with myself until I got down to the final question in my mind, which was, “How do I even know there is a God?” To which the response came, “Who do you think you’ve been talking to the last two hours?” I didn’t realize that still small voice, which will talk with any and all of you, was God. When you exercise the required faith to permit Him to step out from behind the veil, like the brother of Jared, He will do that too. He’s no respecter of persons. You should not question what your privileges are. Nor how far you are authorized to exercise faith in Him, or whether you’re authorized to do it at all. Don’t have doubts about your privileges. And then verse 24 we read it twice: “He is love…he is love.” He is love.

In verse 3 it says: “Having the assurance that they were pursuing a course which was agreeable to the will of God, they were enabled to take, not only the spoiling of their goods, and the wasting of their substance, joyfully, but also to suffer death in its most horrid forms; knowing (not merely believing) that when this earthly house of their tabernacle was dissolved, they had a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” [That’s why Joseph could say as he did, that he left with a conscience void of offense against God or any man…going as a sheep to the slaughter. But he was okay with it. He was okay with it. Verse 4:] “Such was, and always will be, the situation of the saints of God, that unless they have an actual knowledge that the course they are pursuing is according to the will of God they will grow weary in their minds, and faint;” That’s the problem with many of us. We grow weary in our minds and faint because we don’t know that the course we are pursuing is according to God. Don’t grow weary. Stay on that course. I have the absolute conviction that the much of the stuff that we plague ourselves with, and think is such a heavy burden of sin is because our minds are occupied with the wrong stuff. Study the things of God and fill yourself with light and see how quickly it is that all the rest of that stuff will simply dissolve away and evaporate. President Boyd Packer said that you can fix behavior a lot more quickly by studying doctrine then you can by studying behavior.

And you will be called upon to make a sacrifice, because you know God requires obedience to Him, and sacrifice to Him, and not to some man; certainly not to me, but neither to a pope, nor a president, not to a priest, but to Him. You’re not trying to get to know me. If you are, you are damn fool. You’re supposed to be getting to know the Lord. You’re not supposed to be getting to know some local presiding authority.

The foregoing are excerpts taken from:

  • Denver’s fireside talk on “The Temple”, given in Ogden, UT on October 28th, 2012
  • Denver’s 40 Years in Mormonism Series, Talk #1 entitled “Be of Good Cheer” given in Boise, ID on September 10th, 2013; and
  • Denver’s 40 Years in Mormonism Series, Talk #2 entitled “Faith” given in Idaho Falls, ID on September 28th, 2013

In addition, Denver has written extensively about this topic. If you are interested in learning more, please review the following blog posts:

Gospel Study​, posted November 17, 2011
Christians Should Study Mormonism​, posted January 12, 2017
How I Study the Scriptures​, posted March 18, 2010
3 Nephi 11: 36​, posted September 29, 2010
Scriptures, Not Traditions​, posted February 24, 2014