Feast upon the Word Blog

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RS/MP Lesson 10: “The Scriptures, the Most Valuable Library in the World” (George Albert Smith Manual)

Posted by BrianJ on May 19, 2012

For me, this lesson has three parts:

I. The scriptures are the best literature/library ever.

II.The scriptures contain all the truth that is needed for salvation.

III. D&C 1 should be carefully studied.

Regarding I

“…the scriptures [are] the better part of this world’s literature.”

“…[the scriptures] cost the best blood that has ever been in this world.”

I don’t have much to say about this claim. It is either true or it is not. Whichever it is will only be determined by assuming that this claim is true and behaving accordingly; i.e., reading the scriptures faithfully, etc.

What I’m more interested in is discussing is why such claims are made. What is the purpose and measure of this comparison? Is it meant to be taken literally (e.g., Moroni’s blood was “better” than Pasteur’s, Paul’s blood was “better” than Cady-Stanton’s), or is it an intentionally hyperbolic claim meant only to draw attention (but not undue attention)?

Consider another such comparison: Water is more essential for your health than food (water : food :: scriptures : other books). In this comparison, two essential things are ranked more on the immediacy of their importance, but both are still obviously important; man cannot live on water alone!

Alternatively, consider: Water is more essential for your health than fresh fruit. In this comparison, only one of the things is truly essential. Fresh fruit (i.e., the world’s literature) is not at all essential for life—even a long life—but it will improve one’s health, etc. Fresh fruit is optional for health, but not optional for the best health.

Regarding II

This claim is related to the first and has three parts:

  1. To have an assurance of the Gospel, “all you have to do is to search the scriptures prayerfully.”
  2. Knowledge that is not contained in the scriptures is not essential.
  3. The scriptures have all that was deemed important by God.

The first surprised me. How does scripture study trump, replace, or compensate for life experience? Would a life of monastic scripture study offer more knowledge—assurance—of the Gospel than a life spent in service? Consider how the scriptures themselves answer:

But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. (James 1:22-24)

It seems that a hearer/studier of the word risks losing his knowledge if he does not secure (assure) it through action. What then, are we to understand by President Smith’s statement?

The second point raises the question: Why does God inspire men and women to great discoveries and ideas if those ideas are not of value?

Think of the millions of volumes that there are in [the] Congressional Library at Washington, in the British Library, and in the libraries of other countries, millions of volumes… I frequently go into homes where I see all the latest magazines. I find the books that are advertised as best sellers on the bookshelves. If you were to throw them all away and retain only these sacred scriptures, you wouldn’t lose what the Lord has caused to be written and made available for us all to enjoy. (emphasis added)

Do we believe that all truth is contained in the scriptures? That all that is beneficial, “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy” is found in the scriptures? If we answer “yes,” how does that square with the idea that God inspires science and art?

“Every discovery in science and art, that is really true and useful to mankind has been given by direct revelation from God, though but few acknowledge it.” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, Ch 4)

Why does God bother to enlighten men and women if that enlightenment is so…disposable?

On the third point, I am reminded of Voltaire’s Candide, where again and again the characters are confronted with  atrocities that happen in this, the “best of all possible worlds.” Are the scriptures perfect or even the very best possible? Do they contain all that God wishes that they would have contained? Do they contain only that which God wanted them to contain? If you answer “no” to those last two questions, how does that influence how you read the scriptures?

Regarding III

Just a few brief notes on D&C 1:

1. Verses 2 and 11 seem contradictory:

2. …there is no eye that shall not see, neither ear that shall not hear

11. Wherefore the voice of the Lord is unto the ends of the earth, that all that will hear may hear

Verse 11 suggests that there is a choice, whereas verse 2 suggests that none can resist.

2. Verses 17-28 contain an intriguing justification for the scriptures. “Wherefore,” it begins, “I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come…gave [Joseph Smith, Jr] commandments.” What follows is a list of what the Lord hoped the proclamation of those commandments would accomplish:

  • that weak things will break down the strong so that man will not trust in the arm of flesh
  • that everyone will speak in the name of God
  • that faith will increase (see section I, above)
  • that God’s covenant will be established
  • that God’s servants will come to an understanding.

That last goal is then dissected into a series of “inasmuches” (vs. 25-27) which show what kind of understanding God had in mind:

  • errors will be made known,
  • seekers of wisdom will be instructed,
  • and sinners will be chastened unto repentance.

One Response to “RS/MP Lesson 10: “The Scriptures, the Most Valuable Library in the World” (George Albert Smith Manual)”

  1. hkgrobinson said

    The lesson includes an ellipse in one quote which may distort Pres. Smith’s meaning. The manual quotes: “all the truth that is…necessary for our salvation, is contained with in the lids of the books that I have already enumerated.” The original actually reads: “all the truth that is advocated in all the teachings of men, necessary for our salvation, is contained within the lids of the books that I have already enumerated.” I think the original reads with quite a different intent than the version in the manual. I find it particularly helpful to look at the Conference Reports themselves when I see such omissions. In fact, in that same address, Pres. Smith did not just quote a few verses of D&C 1; he actually read the entire section. That’s something you don’t hear often in General Conference today!

    I also find it very interesting that several of the quotes in this lesson were delivered during the World Wars. In fact, the quote about the “day of trial. This is a day when men’s hearts are failing them with fear…” was delivered in April Conference, 1942. I wonder if he was responding directly to Pearl Harbor (Dec. 7, 1941) and America’s entrance into World War II. In that case, he is perhaps advocating a position like that of President Benson–to use the scriptures as comfort in times of war.

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