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Elder Douglas L. Callister

A Divine Ring

            Almost half a century ago I taught a Sunday School class of teenagers in Southern California.  There were about fifty in the class, including a young man who naturally surpassed most of the others in athleticism and leadership attributes.  Upon graduation from high school he attended a very liberal university in the West and disassociated himself from the Church.  In his view he had grown beyond the simple truths of the Restoration.
            The summer following his freshman year he returned to his home.  As a courtesy to his parents he accompanied them to our worship services.  One Sunday we sat next to each other in a Sunday School meeting.  A boy was at the pulpit bearing his testimony of Joseph Smith.  My friend whispered to me: “How could a boy possibly know whether Joseph was a prophet?”  I invited my friend to my home to answer that question, and a dozen others.
            When he arrived, there was a large bundle of books under his arm, signaling that this conversation was destined to be a very long one, unless it was a very short one.  I said, “Before you begin with your long series of queries and doubts, may I ask just one question?  “Who wrote the Book of Mormon?”
            His face paled.  “Why do you have to ask that question?” he inquired.  “For almost all the other questions I have fashioned an answer which does not require embracing the faith.  But I read the book; I felt something; I cannot bring myself to say the book is not true.”
            “Then you have already answered most of the rest of your questions,” I said.  “If the book is true, Joseph was a prophet—not a sometimes prophet—not a Sunday prophet—but the great prophet of the Restoration, and from that knowledge consequences flow.”  He left my home discouraged and with his books unopened.  He could not deny what he had felt while reading the Book of Mormon.
            The Savior said to the people of the American continent:  “I will try the faith of my people.” [1]  The faith of every one of us, even the very elect, must be tested.  The test will be real because it will seldom be the type of test we anticipated.  If you lose your childlike faith, you will someday lament in the words of King Saul: “I have played the fool, and have erred exceedingly.” [2]
            Before you came to this earth you may have prayed a thousand times ten thousand times that during the course of your earthly journey you would find the truth—or that it would find you—and that you would thereafter remain as true to that testimony as the needle is to the pole.  Every night and morning of your life you ought to plead with the Lord that you never lose your faith, virtue or testimony; for the possession of these in the next world will mean more to you than you can possibly imagine.
            Mortality is just a dot on the spectrum of eternity, but it is a very important dot because it is the probationary or testing period.  It is a closed-book test in that you cannot recall how important it was to you in a pre-mortal estate that covenants are kept.  Worlds without end you will live with the consequences of having kept or lost your faith here.
            If you want to sustain your faith and virtue, immerse yourself in the Book of Mormon.  It is impregnable, and its penetrating, soaring spirit will fill your soul with light, joy and testimony.  There may be storms in life, but they will harmlessly roll beneath the hull of the ship if you are faithful in your Book of Mormon reading.  This I promise you.
            I recently completed one of my many, many immersions in the book.  I was not in a hurry.  With pen in hand I made over six hundred notes, some as preludes to spiritual journeys.  Dozens of times my soul was stirred and I wrote to myself:  “Joseph could never have written this,” or “This is magnificent; only a true prophet could have penned these words,” or “This could never have come from a deceitful man,” or “This verse is proof enough that Joseph was a prophet.”  Hundreds of times, sometimes with tears in my eyes, I looked up from the page and thanked the Lord for the stirring witness of that book.
            In your early readings of the Book of Mormon you may, at first, be drawn to the faith-promoting stories. As your testimony matures you will, in even larger proportion, be drawn to the compelling doctrine and, most of all, to the spirit the book breathes.
            Almost a century ago one of the very literate members of the Council of the Twelve was Elder Orson F. Whitney.  A leader of another faith took to task one of our volumes of scripture.  Elder Whitney responded:  “We know Shakespeare’s writings by the very sound of them—they have the Shakespearean ring, and thereby literary experts can tell the difference between his writings and all others.  We recognized Milton’s poetry by the Miltonic ring; the poetry of Byron or Tennyson and the Byronic or Tennysonian ring.  Then, if God speaks, why should it not have a Godlike ring, something that no man can counterfeit, nor any but a spiritual expert fully discern or appreciate?”
            “That’s the way to answer me,” was the reply.  “I am one with you in the belief that the highest evidence of the truth and authenticity of any work is the spirit it breathes and the wisdom it inculcates.” [3]
            A few years ago a friend of the Church approached one of our well-known leaders.  The friend said:  “At their further request I have prayed about it, following the counsel of Moroni found in its last chapter.  But nothing happened.”  The Church leader thoughtfully inquired:  “Well, is the book true?”  “Of course the book is true,” the friend answered, “but nothing happened.”  The Church leader smiled.  “God revealed to you the truthfulness of the book while you were reading it.  He does not now need to send an angel to confirm what He has already made known.”
            God could produce the gold plates, but their physical presence would not be a more compelling or sustaining witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon than the spirit that emanates from the book.
            Most of us acquire our testimonies of the Book of Mormon while immersed in the pages of the book itself.  Dozens of time, as we turn a page, we find ourselves saying, “That must be from God.”  Nothing could be more persuasive and sustaining than that.  The testimony process during reading is peaceful and sweet, such as no man or evil influence could ever counterfeit.  If you cannot feel the spirit of this book while reading it, then God is hammering on cold iron.  The influence of the Holy Ghost is most often felt while something else, of spiritual dimension, is happening—such as attending a worship service, participating in a baptism, serving in the temple, praying or reading God’s word.
            A season ago a man came to one of the General Authorities and said, “I am just not religious.”  The Church leader answered, “How could you ever hope to be religious? You don’t go to Church, you don’t read the scriptures, and you don’t pray to God.  What right do you have to be religious?”
            The Church leader then spoke of a toy clown he had seen at Christmas time.  The figure had a lead weight in the crown of its head, which could always be depended upon to return the clown to an upside-down position.
            The Church leader observed that we do the same thing. We weight our interests, in part by what we read, and then we respond accordingly. His friend could quote the batting averages of many major league ballplayers, but he could not quote a single verse of the word of the Lord. [4]
            We are not so different.  If we could observe the reading material you keep next to your bed we would know a great deal about you.  If you were placed on a desert island for an extended period and could only take a handful of books, would you choose the opinions of men over the word of God?  The Prophet Joseph reminds us that “Spring water tasted best right from the foundation.” [5]  The glorious truths of the gospel are most compelling when the Book of Mormon pours pure spirituality into our souls.
            In 1975 Sister Callister and I attended a Mission Presidents’ Seminar in Chicago.  The presiding General Authority asked the wife of each mission president to say something unusual or different about her husband that we would not otherwise have known.  One of the other wives said her husband is the only man she knows who reads the Book of Mormon once every five weeks.  When he was asked to respond, he acknowledged this was true, confirming he had read the book thus far twenty-two times while presiding over his mission.  I watched him through the balance of the seminar.  Spirituality emanated from every pore.  He had weighted the head of the clown with spiritual things by reading the Book of Mormon in the earliest hours of every morning, and he responded accordingly.  When a man has spent a lifetime studying the word of God, no one has to tell us.  We know it every time he opens his mouth.
            C.S. Lewis said:  “The sure mark of an unliterary man is that he considers ‘I’ve read it already’ to be a conclusive argument against reading a work. …  Those who read great works, on the other hand, will read the same work ten, twenty, or thirty times during the course of their life.” [6]  Positive evidence of a spiritual infant is that he considers one reading of the Book of Mormon to suffice.  We ought to read the book at least once per year for the rest of our lives.  President Henry B. Eyring reminds us that “if we become casual in our study of the scriptures, we will become casual in our prayers.  We may not cease to pray, but our prayers will become more repetitive, more memorized, lacking real intent.” [7] 
            In 2005, at the urging of President Hinckley, there was a wonderful surge in Book of Mormon reading.  This must be very pleasing to the Lord.  How we read the book, however, may be as important as the fact that we read it at all.  The following suggestions may enrich your reading experience:
1.     Don’t Hurry the Journey.  Robert Frost observed that there ought to be class in slow reading. [8]  The ultimate test is what we learn, feel and resolve with each reading, not how quickly we have read or how many times we have perused the book’s pages. Just as we cannot assimilate a great work of art in seconds, or appreciate all a great museum can offer in an hour or two, our reading emphasis must be on digestion, not speed.  The Lord is not impressed with how many times you read the book.  He is very concerned with the spiritual success of your reading journey.  The book of Mormon is not meant to be briefly tasted, then swallowed in a passing gulp.  It is to be savored.  We are meant to feel great stirrings within.  Like Nephi, our spirits are to be carried away to high places, followed by the spontaneous “Wilt Thou make me that I may shake at the appearance of sin?” [9]  As we read with our eyes, we write on the tablets of our hearts, and from this will come quiet and lasting resolves.
2.     Read Out-Loud.  Perhaps this is how the scriptures were meant to be read, especially the direct words of the Savior and the prophets.  Awareness is heightened when we both see with our eyes and hear with our ears.  Paul taught the saints in Rome that “faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” [10] In a very literal sense we can hear the word of the Lord as we read select portions aloud.
Years ago when I served as a bishop I received a telephone call one Saturday evening from a distraught sister in our ward.  There had been tension and angry words in her family through the day.  On the eve of the Sabbath she sought counsel that would bring her peace.   I suggested she take a warm shower, read aloud 3 Nephi 17, pray and retire.  The next morning she acknowledged it was a healing tonic.
      You would have the same experience if you read aloud the theophany of Enos—or Nephi’s powerful exhortation to his brethren in 1 Nephi 17 in which his frame was so full of the Spirit of God that he had no strength—or Lehi’s, the trembling parent’s eloquent plea in 2 Nephi 1 for his sons to “arise from the dust and be men” [11]—or countless other examples that tug at the heartstrings of those who live the things of godliness.  Indeed, if you want to have a spiritual Pentecost, read aloud all of the Book of Mormon blessings of fathers to sons, or sermons by fathers to their children.
3.     Read with a Pencil.  Reading the book of Mormon once with a pencil, making notes of your impressions, may be of greater worth than reading it several times without.  Writing oft eliminates the fuzziness of our thinking.
When I became a General Authority one of the members of the Twelve said to me: “In the next few months you will receive many impressions from the Lord, on the condition you write them down.  If you stop recording the experiences, God will stop sending them.”
As we write, both words and thoughts become less ambiguous.  This is the observation of C.S. Lewis:  “I sometimes think that writing is like driving sheep down a road.  If there is any gate open to the left or the right the readers will most certainly go into it.” [12]
There once lived a man who was rejected from school at age seven.  The teacher said:  “He simply doesn’t want to learn.”  His mother taught him to read and write.  He wore cracked, scuffed shoes, ink-stained clothes and a tattered hat.  In the cold winter he refused to buy an overcoat.  Instead, he bought scientific books and experimental apparatus.  He also had the habit of carrying with him everywhere he went a pocket notebook into which he scribbled his drawings, notes and impressions.  His name was Thomas Alva Edison, and it is said that in his lifetime he filled 2,500 notebooks.  He seemed to thing better with a pencil. [13]
4.     Read at the Right Time, and With the Right Posture.  There are few things of real worth that ought to be left until the very close of the day.  The 30 th Psalm, verse 5 tells us that “joy cometh in the morning.”  Inspiration does also.  As you study your scriptures, note the number of significant things that happened to Joseph, or to Christ, Himself, in the morning.  It is the time of day when our minds and spirits have been refreshed, and the veil is thin.  The Lord commands in D&C 88:124 “arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated.”  This is the time to receive the revelations of the Lord.  Twenty minutes of uninterrupted gospel study in the morning may be worth twice that time at the close of the day.
5.     Pause to Pray Before You Read.  Ask the Lord to help you find what He would have you know and feel.  You are not likely to find anything if you are not looking for something.  The Book of Mormon is our greatest prayer-text.  It has our most powerful sermons on the Atonement.  Its teachings on faith are sublime and unsurpassed.  It is our greatest treatise on the blessings and destiny of Israel.  At every reading look for one or more of these messages and you will find hidden treasures.
In Southern Russia there is a large city named Volgograd.  In earlier years it was called Stalingrad.  One of the decisive and extended battles of the Second World War was fought there.  About 800,000 Germans died, together with 1,200,000 Russians.  The city was destroyed.  Even today there is a lingering memory and animosity on the part of older Russians toward the German nation.
            One of our Area Seventies in Eastern Europe was Elder Manfred Schuetze, a German.  He speaks Russian fluently.  He was once assigned to preside over a district conference in Volgograd.  He accepted with some trepidation, knowing the reservoir of hatred some Russians harbored toward Germans.  He began the first meeting of the district conference with these words:  “My dear Russian brothers and sisters: The Germans are back.  I am one of them.  This time I have brought new weapons.”  He held up the Book of Mormon.  They loved him.  At a later date he gave some of them their patriarchal blessings in their native tongue.  The spirit of the Book of Mormon can penetrate every barrier as it touches men’s hearts.
            When I was a student in law school I acquired a friend with whom I studied the law.  He was a devout member of another Christian faith.  Sometimes we spoke of politics, sports or religion, but generally our conversations were centered in the law cases we were required to review.  One day I sat opposite him in the law library, quietly reading.  He closed his book, looked, up, and said:  “I can’t stand it any longer.  How could anyone trained in the reasoning process of the law like you ever believe a story as incredible as the story of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon?”
            I closed my book.  “Is the Bible true?” I inquired.  “Of course,” he said.  “How do you know it is true?” I asked.  “The Bible is true because it is the Bible,” he answered.  “Everyone knows it is true.”  I could see from the pained expression on his face that he was not altogether satisfied with the depth of that reasoning.
            “Imagine,” I said, “That I have just come from a distant, non-Christian land, and now in my early twenties for the first time learned of the Bible.  I read in this Bible of a six-day creation.  I read that the sun stood still. I read that a sea was parted.  I read of a virgin birth.  I read of men raised form the dead.  I read of the most extraordinary miracles.  Could you imagine my saying to you, ‘How could anyone trained in the reasoning process of the law like you ever believe a story as incredible as the story of the Holy Bible?’” (repeating to him the same words with which he had indicted my faith in the Book of Mormon).
            My friend blushed.  He continued:  “I suppose that if you never heard of the Bible until two decades after your birth it might be a little more difficult to accept.”
            “Would it be important for me to know if the Bible contains the Word of God?”  I inquired.  “Of course,” he said.  “But how could I know?”  My friend thoughtfully answered: “You would have to read the book with an open mind, asking God in prayer whether the book is true.”  I loved his answer, and returned to him the same prescription, to be applied to reading the Book of Mormon, with the assurance he would as easily have believed in the Book of Mormon as the Bible if he had only learned of it in the same hour.
            When parents and teachers read to me as a young boy the stories of the Bible, I often wished I had lived in the meridian of time and had been there.  I would like to have been a Bethlehem shepherd to observe the great star in heaven.  I would like to have seen the infant Deliverer who cried.  I would like to have heard the very voice of the Master, for “never man spake like this man.” [14]
            In similar thought and urging I often wished I could have lived in Book of Mormon times.  I would like to have seen and felt the love of the first Nephi who “watered his pillow by night” [15] because of his affection for the people.  I would like to have known his reverie after he had been carried away upon exceedingly high mountains “upon the wings of [God’s] spirit” [16] and his eyes “beheld great things, yea, even too great for man.” [17]  I may have trembled to hear his eloquent plea: “Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin.  Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.” [18]
            I would like to have felt the faith and power of Abinadi’s testimony as he told King Noah his life should be “valued even as a garment in a hot furnace,” [19] and “Touch me not, for God shall smite you.” [20]
            I would like to have seen Lehi’s vision of the tree of life.
            I would like to have known the brothers Nephi and Lehi, for whom the veil ceased to exist, for they had “many revelations daily.” [21]
            I would like to have been part of the multitude who saw with their eyes and felt with their hands the wounds of the resurrected Savior and heard the voice bearing record that He was “the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and [had] been slain for the sins of the world.” [22]
            I would like to have seen noble, righteous Nephi bow “himself before the Lord and kiss his feet.” [23]
            I would like to have heard the Savior’s prayer, too sacred to be recorded.
            And such is only the beginning of the times while reading the book that thought has taken flight, and I have wished to be an eye and ear witness.
            The more often I read, the greater the realization of this dream.  Nephi, Lehi, Alma, Helaman, Moroni and other shooting stars of righteousness, whose names and lives are so richly interwoven into the pages of the Book of Mormon, are no longer characters of the distant past.  To return to their writings is to return to the house of my friends.
            In these great times of refreshing and restoration the Lord has promised to yet bring forth other wonderful scriptures, in which will be revealed all things from the beginning until the end of time.  There will be the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon, the brass plates, the records of Zenos and Zenoch, the panoramic writings of Enoch, the testaments of Joseph and Abraham, the complete record of John the Revelator, Adam’s Book of Remembrance, and many more sacred texts.  But these writings will not come forth until God has tried the faith of His people, to see if they will read and live by the abundant scriptures we already have.  Not two-thirds, but all of the gold plates, are sealed to those who will not read.  When we read and believe these things, then shall the greater things be made manifest.
            For many years I practiced law in Southern California.  About twenty-five years ago one of my clients died.  He was a wealthy physician.  He had never been married; he had never been a parent; he had never concerned himself with religious things.  His life was devoted to the acquisition of treasures from his travels throughout the world.
            These worldly acquisitions were openly displayed in his two expensive homes.  They included a magnificent library, some of the volumes being leather-bound.
            Everything was sold, in part to pay the large federal estate tax.  The executrix of the estate then came to my office and said: “I have just walked through the decedent’s home for the last time.  Nothing remains—not even his vast library.  We were able to sell everything, except one book.  Years ago someone gave him a book entitled the Book of Mormon.  We were not able to sell it; we could not give it away.”  Such splendid and proper irony here! The only thing the doctor owned of any worth, the copy of the Book of Mormon, was the only thing that could not be sold.
            The storms of life will surely come, for God will turn neither to the right nor to the left as to the prophecies of the latter-days.  Some, unhappily, will become causal and lukewarm, and they may lose their testimonies.  They will forget how many times their pre-earthly prayers pled with the Lord that this would never happen.  When they return to the presence of the Father they will seek the shadows and hide their faces in shame that they did not fulfill their missions on this earth.  If you wish it to be otherwise, nourish a lifelong love affair with the Book of Mormon.  It is the one book with comes to us with the personal testimony of the Almighty, for He said “As your Lord and your God liveth it is true.” [24]
            I add my personal witness to that of Divinity.  I have not only read the book dozens of times; I have felt the book dozens of times and the spirit it breathes.  I testify of this book. And my witness is true. 
            In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

[1] 3 Nephi 26:11
[2] 1 Samuel 26:21
[3] Whitney, Through Memory’s Halls, 271-272
[4] Sterling W. Sill, November 9. 1965, BYU Speeches of the Year, 1965, 9
[5] The Words of Joseph Smith, 122
[6] C.S. Lewis, The Quotable Lewis, 79
[7] Elder Henry B. Eyring, October 2001 Conference Report
[8] Susan Easton Black, Expressions of Faith: Testimonies of Latter-day Saint Scholars, 169
[9] 2 Nephi 4:31
[10] Romans 10:17
[11] 2 Nephi 1:21
[12] C.S. Lewis, The Quotable Lewis, 624
[13] Wendell J. Ashton, Ensign, October 1960
[14] John 7:46
[15] 2 Nephi 33:3
[16] 2 Nephi 4:25
[17] 2 Nephi 4:25
[18] 2 Nephi 4:28
[19] Mosiah 12:3
[20] Mosiah 13:3
[21] Helaman 11:23
[22] 3 Nephi 11:14
[23] 3 Nephi 11:19
[24] D&C 17:6


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