Feast upon the Word Blog

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RS/MP Chapter 9: Witnesses of the Book of Mormon (Joseph Fielding Smith Manual)

Posted by Robert C. on May 9, 2014

The lesson can be found online here.

From the Life

I especially like the second paragraph in this section:

Although President Smith felt these written testimonies were significant enough to share, he spoke more frequently of another testimony of the Book of Mormon: his own, which he received long before he ever worked in the Church Historian’s Office. He said, “I started to read the Book of Mormon before I was old enough to be a deacon, and I have been reading it ever since, and I know that it is true.” “I have read it many, many times,” he told the Latter-day Saints. “I have not read it enough. It still contains truths that I still may seek and find, for I have not mastered it, but I know it is true.”

My own testimony of the Church is deeply rooted in my testimony of the Book of Mormon. I developed a love for the book when I was in my teens, and my testimony of the Book of Mormon has pulled me through several periods of doubt.

It’s hard for me to describe how or why I had such a deep love for the Book of Mormon. When I read it, I would frequently feel a burning sense of truth—that what I was reading about was more important than anything else. Reading the Book of Mormon also instilled in me a deep desire to act in accordance with the principles it taught. In fact, I’m not sure these are separate facets of what I experienced: I would read and feel deeply within myself a desire to act in accordance with the principles of righteousness that the Book of Mormon was clearly teaching (even if I didn’t have a clear understanding of these principles).

Question: What experiences have you had reading the Book of Mormon?

1. The Book of Mormon bears witness of Christ

From the first paragraph in this section:

The Book of Mormon is the sacred history of the ancient inhabitants of the American continent, and contains the predictions of their prophets, the commandments of the Lord to them, and the history and destiny of those ancient peoples. It is the American volume of scripture, and is just as sacred and inspired as is the Bible, which contains the sacred records of the Hebrew race on the eastern hemisphere.

Question: What is a “sacred history”? How does this differ from secular history?

To me, the word “sacred” connotes what is of most valuable. Over the years, I have come to worry less and less about the historical aspects of scripture—and, frankly, I am not super interested in Church history. Instead, I have become more and more interested in what I will call the “moral” principles taught in the Book of Mormon. Importantly, I don’t think these principles can be reduced to any simple set of easy-to-articulate principles, and so I find the rich (“historical”) narratives in the Book of Mormon endlessly fascinating to study. However, I find myself most interested in the sacred truths (which, again, I tend to conceive in terms of moral principles) that the Book of Mormon contains, without mustering much enthusiasm for simply learning about the history of the people in the Book of Mormon, for history’s sake.

2. Special witnesses to the Book of Mormon

Nothing in this section jumped out at me in particular, partly because it seems to “historically” based—and so, per what I said above, it’s not especially that interesting to me. Nevertheless, I do find the idea of witnesses quite interesting, especially in terms of how it impinges on the way that we can serve as witnesses to the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, even though none of us have seen or handled the plates. (This is a topic developed more in Section 4.)

3. The Three Witnesses

What I find most interesting in this section is the disconnect between the sign that the witnesses received and their subsequent unfaithfulness.

Question: Why didn’t the miraculous privilege experienced by the Three Witnesses lead to a life of faithfulness in the Gospel? What signs has God blessed you with, and how have you acted in response to those signs? What prevents us from being more faithful to the signs God gives us?

4. Each member as a witness

Question: For those of you who have a testimony of the Book of Mormon, how does this knowledge differ from other kinds of knowledge you have obtained in your life? How does this “sacred knowledge” differ in the way it affects your desires and choices in life?

My own thinking here, in response to this section, and the question I’ve posed above, is that “merely” intellectual/secular knowledge tends not to have the same motivational force as spiritual/sacred knowledge. My testimony of the Book of Mormon functions more like the love I have for my wife: it motivates me to live better and make better decisions in my life, which is something that I can’t really say about knowledge that is merely intellectual or secular.

5. Continuing to read the Book of Mormon

The final few sentences of this section (and the lesson itself) are great:

This record endears itself to me more and more day by day as I see unfolded the fulfillment of prophecies uttered by these prophets who now speak from the dead, and from the dust to the nations of the earth, crying unto them repentance, and calling upon them to believe in Christ.

We’re currently struggling to help our son (who is 8.5 years old) love reading more, in general. It’s a struggle, in part because I think the competition for his time and attention has intensified (he’s basically addicted to Minecraft…). I think we all face this challenge: with the increasing quality of distracting entertainment (I don’t mean high-quality entertainment, but entertainment that is more effective at distracting us!), it is harder and harder find the time to cultivate a genuine love for the Book of Mormon. And even for those of us who do love the Book of Mormon, it’s increasingly difficult to make the time to really feast on the Book of Mormon. But it is one of the most rewarding activities we can engage in. So, enough excuses, let’s all commit ourselves to do more feasting: bon appetit!

3 Responses to “RS/MP Chapter 9: Witnesses of the Book of Mormon (Joseph Fielding Smith Manual)”

  1. From what I understand about the three witnesses they fell away due to doctrinal differences, mostly about polygamy. Though Cowdery looks to have been excommunicated not of his own free will, while the others left by choice. It is also interesting to note that Cowdery and Harris both rejoined the church, while Whitmer tried to either start-up or join several other off-shoot churches.

    This tells me that all three were faithful to their testimonies and morals (polygamy really is quite controversial). So maybe there is less disparity and more conviction on their part.

  2. Stargazer said

    I don’t differentiate in my spiritual recognition of truth. I feel the Holy Spirit confirming universal truths in my study of science, psychology, parenting, art, music, midwifery and anything else that I am reading with an open heart. I use that as my measure of truth, and it guides me in decision making and life choices. And sometimes just knowing something I did not know before.

  3. Thanks Robert, for preparing and sharing your thoughts on this lesson as it has given me much to think about.

    My testimony too, is rooted in the Book of Mormon as I had received my own sacred testimony of it, after listening to the missionaries that taught me the lessons. I think it was after the second lesson I prayed about it and received a witness of its divinity. At that point in time, I had only read very little of the book and yet, somehow, I came to know. It wasn’t until 6-8 months later that I had finished my first entire reading of it. I can tell you that my understanding and comprehension back then was not very good and yet, I had felt the presence and power of the spirit witness to me that it was indeed, truly true.

    The only point I would make in regards to the historicity of a people, whether in the BOM or early or modern day saints, is to see or recognize the place they came from, the cultures, and belief system, and languages used, and all the things in their environment, and their joys, challenges, sorrows, and all the those things that made-up, who they were, or in our day, are to become.

    Although the Book of Mormon was engraved onto plates many centuries ago, it has come down through the ages, from families who traveled through the wilderness, pitched tee tees and made camp, and believed that, they had had commerce with merchants trading goods while making their way to the seashore, where they cut down trees and were commanded to make a ship, according to the instructions and design given to Nephi from the Lord. Now their voices speak as those, who once were but are here no more, yet their words continue to have power and are, ‘as if’ they are speaking unto us from whence they came, unto the convincing of their words, which are true by the power of the Holy Ghost.

    This great and inspiring book (BOM)I believe teaches that, we in our day were made for so much more than we may understand, and that it was to be in our day, that the great latter-day work, the restoration would happen, and its rolling forth with its accompanying hastening of said work. It came from whence prophets so long ago had prophesied, and had done all they could because of what they had known, saw, preached, and were commanded to record.

    I believe they had written it with all the energy and power of their souls so they could muster from within themselves, accompanied by the spirit of revelation, to the convincing of the Jews and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ. The reason I believe this, is because it has proven true in much of what I have written and spoken of based on feedback from others. I personally had felt this same energy, passion, and the spirits witness in the works of others’ writings.

    When all your energies and heartfelt desires are focused unto this end, one cannot help but have this accompanying power of the spirit unto the witnessing of its truths. How much more so for a book of such great worth and import, unto the convincing of souls, such as, the Book of Mormon? [ Read the top of page 136 for a greater emphasis.]

    David A. Bednar has stated, in his book, on “The Power to Become” as we increase in learning, turn to the Savior, and act in doctrine, our personal testimonies of Him and His gospel are strengthened and we become more fully converted. The knowledge and spiritual conviction we receive from the Holy Ghost are the results of revelation. Seeking for and obtaining these blessings require a sincere heart, real intent, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (see Moroni 10:4). I would add that by continually confessing and repenting of our sins, for power to perform miracles and when accompanied by fasting, the longer, or rather, the deeper ones’ fast, I can testify from my own life the greater will be the effect of such faith and desire. This process has also baffled me in ways I cannot even begin to explain or describe because sometimes the Lord shows us something different than we would have believed or expected. The Lord works according to His own time and ways and not according to the dictates of man, nor according to our preconceived notions. Blessed be the name of the Lord and His goodness towards His children.

    Also something I heard our beloved Prophet, Thomas S. Monson say at conference, that has really struck the cords from within me, even to the very depths of my soul, something to the effect, that when the spirit prompts you to do something you need to listen and act on those promptings.

    How much better it would BEE to become spiritually prepared for receiving and sharing the words of heaven unto the convincing of others by the Holy Ghost, of the great Latter-day work. I was particularly stuck by this statement on page 131, “PAUL IN WRITING TO THE Corinthians said: “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.” [2 Corinthians 13:1]

    One might ask how could they (the witnesses) falter in their membership and other matters and yet remain true and faithful to their testimonies of witnessing what they had witnessed even unto adversity, persecution, and the vicissitudes of life. This may be difficult for those of us that may never had any experience with what they went through. Sometimes things happen because we are human and make mistakes, say and do dumb things, and perhaps, being too casual in our discipleship. But because they knew and knew that God and angels knew what they knew, they could not or rather, would not deny it and knew that they would be accountable for their knowingness.

    Also, how David Whitmer felt so strongly about his own witness that, he wanted to make it very clear in no uncertain terms where he stood. How from the perspective of Joseph smith, as stated, on the top of page 133, once other witnesses were established, after arriving home, he said to his mother, Lucy Mack Smith, “The load has been lifted and I am no longer alone”. I find this glimpse into history intriguing, because, who would have ever thought to say this, if this was not what he had genuinely thought and felt?

    Joseph Fielding Smith shared with us the formula that was given by the Lord himself when he declared to the Jews that they who would do the will of the father should KNOW OF DOCTRINE, whether it was of God or whether he spoke of himself [see John 7:17]. I am not sure why I felt so strongly while reading this but it made me cry.

    I have a deep and abiding testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and I love and sustain our current prophets, seers, and revelators and pray for them continually.

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