His Paths Are Righteous
by Elder Quentin L. Cook
Mary and I are grateful to be with you wonderful young adults and President and Sister Kusch. At his inauguration President Kusch emphasized priorities, choices, and actions consistent with what the Lord desires that you would achieve and become. Based on that I have chosen as the title for my remarks, "His Paths Are Righteous." This is taken from 2 Nephi: 9, which contains absolutely incredible instruction for young adults. There are admonitions about learning, wisdom, wealth, labor, refusing to see or hear the consequences of sin, and profound doctrine about the atonement of Jesus Christ.
My emphasis will be on the paths of righteousness that allow us to report to the Holy One of Israel, 'the keeper of the gate,' who "employeth no servant there."
When I was approximately your age, I had some incredible experiences which helped me understand and choose a path of righteousness. I gained a testimony of the Book of Mormon as an additional witness of the Savior and Joseph Smith, as a prophet of God. That does not mean I did not have some challenges to faith from time to time.
I can remember one, before my mission, where humor was used to disparage the Book of Mormon. An American Literature professor, quoted Mark Twain’s pronouncement in Roughing It, that if you took… ‘and it came to pass’ out of the Book of Mormon, it…’would have been only a pamphlet.’ We all laughed because it was meant to be humorous, but I could see that his comment created doubt in some of my classmates.
It was interesting to me a few months later while serving a mission in London, England, that another professor, a distinguished Oxford-educated teacher at London University, took exactly the opposite position. Dr. Sarofim, an Egyptian by birth, and an expert in Semitic languages, read the Book of Mormon which he had discovered in an unusual fashion and sent a letter to President David O. McKay asking if he could join the Church. President McKay referred him to the British Mission home, in London. Dr. Sarofim met with the missionaries and said he had an intellectual testimony of the validity of the Book of Mormon because he was convinced that it was indeed a translation of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians for the periods described in the Book of Mormon. One of the many examples he used was the conjunctive phrase ‘and it came to pass’ which he said mirrored how he would translate phraseology used often in ancient Semitic writings. The professor was informed that while his intellectual approach based on his profession had helped him, it was still essential to have a spiritual testimony. Through study and prayer, he gained a spiritual witness and was subsequently baptized. So, what one famous humorist saw as an object of ridicule a scholar recognized as profound evidence of the truth of the Book of Mormon, which was confirmed to him by the Spirit.
Dr. Sarofim’s true account is interesting, but I would suggest the best approach for gaining a testimony is to immerse yourselves in the Book of Mormon so you can experience the ongoing witness of the Spirit.
The essential doctrine of agency requires that a testimony of the restored gospel must be based on faith rather than external or scientific proof. Obsessive focus on things not yet fully revealed such as: how the virgin birth or the resurrection of the Savior could have occurred; or exactly how Joseph Smith translated our scriptures will not be efficacious or yield spiritual progress. These are matters of faith. Ultimately Moroni’s counsel to read and ponder and then ask God in all sincerity of heart and with real intent to confirm scriptural truths by the witness of the Spirit is the answer. In addition, when we inculcate into our lives scriptural imperatives and live the gospel, we are blessed by the Spirit and taste of His goodness with feelings of joy, happiness, and especially peace.
The attacks on the Prophet Joseph have been unrelenting from the very beginning. This continues to our day. Let’s review just a few facts to put Joseph in true perspective. He was foreordained to be the prophet of the restoration in this the final dispensation. In other words, to restore the church Jesus Christ established in the meridian of time.
To accomplish this, he not only had marvelous visions and visitations from God the Father and Jesus Christ, but also from Moroni, Peter, James, John, John the Baptist, Moses, Elias, Elijah, and others. All the doctrine and priesthood keys necessary to accomplish the Lord’s purposes were restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Essential doctrines, such as the plan of happiness, including salvation and exaltation, were also restored. Sacred ordinances were revealed for each step of the righteous pathway whereby we can return to our heavenly destination.
We could speak for hours about the Prophet Joseph’s qualities, character, and accomplishments. I am particularly impressed with the way he was an instrument in the Lord’s hand in bringing forth sacred scripture. He commenced translation of the Book of Mormon on April 7, 1829, and finished in late June 1829, an unbelievably short period of time. But he was an instrument – not the author. As he said, he translated it by the gift and power of God. Displayed on the left hand side of the screen is one page of the original Book of Mormon manuscript covering part of First Nephi. On the right hand side is the same page from the printer’s manuscript in Oliver Cowdery’s handwriting. You may have read that philanthropic contributors purchased this manuscript last month for 35 million dollars on behalf of the Church. In the Churches’ view, they are both priceless.
As you can see both manuscripts are very old and hard to read on the screen. Both are on display in the Church History Museum. I would encourage you to visit the Foundations of Faith exhibit located in the research room of the Church History Library, where you can view both of these documents and other precious materials of the Restoration.
You will note that neither of the manuscripts is divided into chapters or verses, but there are almost no cross-outs or insertions. It looks like a few periods were added to the printer manuscript, but they read today, in The Book of Mormon, as they read then.
Speaking of the translation process, Oliver Cowdery said, “These were days never to be forgotten – to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven…” I loved the fact that President Kusch echoed these words in his inaugural address.
Each of the scribes reported that when they would go to lunch and return the Prophet Joseph would begin dictating without looking or having read to him what he had dictated before lunch. As a former lawyer, who has done a lot of drafting, it is clear that Joseph was an instrument in the Lord’s hand – not the author.
The testimonies of leaders who worked with and knew the prophet are inspiring.
Wilford Woodruff speaking of Joseph Smith in relation to Zion’s Camp said this: “We gained an experience that we never could have gained in any other way. We had the privilege of beholding the face of the prophet, and we had the privilege of traveling a thousand miles with him, and seeing the workings of the Spirit of God with him, and the revelations of Jesus Christ unto him and the fulfillment of those revelations.” (Deseret News, 22 Dec., 1869, 543.)
President Woodruff, near the end of his life in his ninety-first year, bore this witness into an Edison gramophone. This recording was done in 1897. It is very old and a little hard to hear. But it is Wilford Woodruff and you can listen and read the words.
“I bear my testimony that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, ordained of God to lay the foundation of His Church and Kingdom in the last dispensation and fullness of times. I bear my testimony that in the early Spring of 1844 in Nauvoo, the Prophet Joseph Smith called the Twelve Apostles together and he delivered unto them the ordinances of the Church and the Kingdom of God; and all the keys and powers that God had bestowed upon him he sealed upon our heads. He told us that we must round up our shoulders and bear off His Kingdom or we would be damned. I am the only man now living in the flesh who heard that testimony from his mouth, and I know this is true by the power of God manifest through him.”
I never cease to be amazed at all the Prophet Joseph Smith received from the Lord. Throughout my life I have discovered amazing teachings on which I had not previously focused, even in a life-time study of the gospel. One of these, which has been of recent interest for me is the Prophet’s teaching on the return of the tribe of Judah to Israel. The Jewish people had been scattered among the Gentile nations and very few lived in the Holy Land.
In the dedicatory prayer of the Kirtland Temple on March 27, 1836, a prayer given to the Prophet Joseph by revelation, it states:
62 We therefore ask thee to have mercy upon the children of Jacob, that Jerusalem, from this hour, may begin to be redeemed;
63 And the yoke of bondage may begin to be broken off from the house of David;
64 And the children of Judah may begin to return to the lands which thou didst give to Abraham, their father.
On April 6, 1840, the Prophet appointed Apostle Orson Hyde to dedicate the Holy Land. That assignment contained the following statement: “The Jewish nation have been scattered abroad among the Gentiles for a long period; and, in our estimation, the time of the commencement of their return to the ‘holy land’ has already arrived.”
Orson Hyde, on October 21, 1841, arrived in the Holy Land and said: “My natural eyes, for the first time, beheld Jerusalem.” In Orson Hyde’s beautiful prayer on Sunday morning, October 24th he dedicated and consecrated the land “for the gathering together of Judah’s scattered remnants….”
Seventy-six years later the first step in the creation of modern Israel occurred. The British had wrested the Holy Land from the Ottoman Empire. Lord Arthur James Balfour, Britain’s foreign secretary, issued what is known as the Balfour Declaration. It begins: “His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” The declaration was sent to Lord Walter Rothschild, a leader of the Zionist Jewish community. It should be noted that the declaration included the language: “…nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” (End quote) This is consistent with the position the Church has always taken.
This month was the 100th anniversary of that declaration on November 2. A dinner was held commemorating the event hosted by third generation family members of Lord Balfour and Lord Rothschild. Britain Prime Minister Theresa May and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also attended the banquet.
Because Orson Hyde had dedicated the land 76 years before the declaration, New York Jewish leaders invited Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and myself to Israel a year ago to celebrate the 175th year of Orson Hyde’s dedication. They wanted Prime Minister Netanyahu to be aware of that seminal event. Senator Joseph Lieberman and former New York Attorney General Robert Abrams arranged a meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu where we were greeted warmly. After Abrams and Lieberman informed Netanyahu of the commemoration, he with a big smile on his face said, “I have known about that for 25 years. My pollster, Richard Wirthlin, a Latter-day Saint, told me about that 25 years ago.”
In all seriousness, it is my desire and prayer for each of you to have a testimony of the prophetic role of Joseph Smith.
Even when you do have a testimony there is still the question of what choices you make in this life.
First, the path you choose matters. Elder Marion D. Hanks, who was my mission president, introduced me to a special message from Harry Emerson Fosdick - a great Protestant teacher who said:
"The tragic evils of our life are so commonly unintentional. We did not start out for that poor, cheap goal. That aim was not in our minds at all…That's why the road to hell is always paved with good intentions, and that is why I am not celebrating high ideals, lofty aims, fine purposes, grand resolutions, but am saying instead that one of the most dangerous things in the world is to accept them and think you believe in them; and then neglect the day-by-day means that lead to them. Ah, my soul, look to the road you are walking on! He who picks up one end of a stick picks up the other. HE WHO CHOOSES THE BEGINNING OF A ROAD CHOOSES THE PLACE IT LEADS TO. It is the means that determines the end."
It isn't just the paths that lead to evil we need to avoid. In 2 Nephi 9:51 we are instructed, “…do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy."
In other words choose paths that will lead to righteousness.
Second, day-to-day consistent effort is better than occasional heroic effort. Some of us are sure that if we were asked to perform some great heroic task, we would be terrific. Yet we have trouble getting up in time for our earliest Sunday meeting or completing home or visiting teaching. A familiar scripture illustrates this principle. In 2 Kings:5; Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria, had leprosy. An Israelite maid to his wife told her mistress that the Prophet Elisha could heal Naaman. The king of Syria sent a small fortune to the king of Israel who was terrified because he knew he could not cure the leprosy. Elisha sent a message to the king of Israel saying, "Let him come now to me, and he shall know there is a prophet in Israel."
Naaman came and stood at the door of Elisha, and Elisha sent a messenger to direct him to wash in the river Jordan seven times, and he would be healed. Naaman was wroth; he felt that Elisha would at least come out and call on the name of God. He also believed that there were better rivers than Jordan. So he went away in a rage.
Naaman's servants then asked him, "...if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? Then went he down, and dipped him seven times in Jordan ...and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean."
At the conclusion of my October General Conference talk, I used the last line of part of a poem by Edmund Vance Cooke which illustrates this principle:
"O one might reach heroic heights
By one strong burst of power.
He might endure the whitest lights
Of heaven for an hour.
But harder is the daily drag...
To smile at trials ...
And not to murmur -nor to lag.
The test of GREATNESS IS THE WAY
ONE MEETS THE ETERNAL EVERY DAY."
I am grateful to Elder Hanks and others for having been such an influence on me and commend these principles to you. They were taught powerfully fifty years ago and may be even more important today.
Not all decisions you will face are between good and evil. Many need to be approached using the counsel Elder Dallin H. Oaks gave in his inspired sermon on 'Good, Better, and Best'. Even the difference between good and best can be profound.
To illustrate this point I will share an experience that occurred when I was in my mid-twenties that had a profound impact on me. This involved two funerals of two good men that took place only a few days apart. The account is true, but I have changed the names and purposely have been a little vague about a few of the facts.
I have decided to call one Rich and the other Faithful. Those two funerals are cemented in my mind because they clarified the significance of the choices all people have before them, especially the young. They also demonstrate the complexity of good, better, and best.
Both Rich and Faithful served missions as young men. By all accounts they were dedicated missionaries. Neither of them had the financial resources to complete college. From that point, their lives began to diverge. Rich married a beautiful girl who over time became less active in the Church. Faithful married an equally beautiful girl who was completely active in the church. More than any other factor, this framed the remaining decisions of their lives.
Rich had wonderful people skills and cared a great deal about people. He began employment with a major U.S. corporation and ultimately became president of that company. He had a very large income and lived in a beautiful large home set on spacious grounds. That is why I decided to call him Rich. It would be fair to say that his career choices were not just good or better, but were the best.
His family and Church choices were not so good. He was a very good man and did not engage in personal choices that were in and of themselves evil. However, his family choices and influence with his children were focused almost exclusively on education and employment.
Rich and his wife had also become less active. He always considered himself LDS and was proud of his mission, but he did not attend Church.
His funeral was held at a non-denominational chapel at the cemetery. There were many top executives and dignitaries at the funeral, including the governor of the state where he lived. Almost everyone was over the age of 50. It was, on the whole, a somber funeral and basic principles of the Plan of Happiness were not taught and little was said of Jesus Christ.
Turning to Faithful, his employment decisions were far less successful. His initial efforts at a small independent business were thwarted when the business burned, and he lost everything. He subsequently created a small business but could barely make his required payments. He had a small, but adequate home. He enjoyed his work and his interaction with people. His career was "good" and certainly satisfactory, but not distinguished or what might be called best.
His family and Church choices, on the other hand, were absolutely the best. He and his wife were completely active in the Church. He served as called and attended the temple frequently. He had wonderful relations with his children and grandchildren. They were all well-educated, but his main emphasis had been on family and Church. He was a faithful tithe payer. In his retirement, he and his wife served a mission together. He had numerous ward callings, served on a high council, and was a Patriarch in the last years of his life.
His funeral was large and I would say joyful. The services were held in the ward building and it was a great example of an LDS funeral. The Plan of Happiness was taught, and the Savior was at the center of the service. The vast majority of those attending were young people, including large numbers of grandchildren and those he had served or to whom he had given patriarchal blessings.
What was most important to me about the lives I just described, is that I realized the choices that are most significant can be made by everyone regardless of their talents, abilities, opportunities, or economic circumstances. I realized that for me, my future children, and everyone I would have the opportunity to influence—putting family, Church, and the Savior first was essential.
This is clear throughout the scriptures. I think of 1 Nephi 2:4, Lehi, "...departed into the wilderness and he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family…”
As we face the difficulties of life, many events occur over which we have little or no control.
On matters of principle, matters of conduct, religious observance, and righteous living, we are in control. Our faith in and worship of God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ is a choice that we make.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell quoting from William Law, an 18th century English clergyman, has stated this in a most succinct fashion:
“If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God, it will make in the end no difference what you have chosen instead.”
Please understand I am not advocating in reciting the true account of Rich and Faithful for less interest in goals relating to education or occupation. Quite the contrary, I believe you young people should do everything you can to advance your accomplishments in these two areas. What I am saying is that when goals relating to education and occupation are elevated to a position superior to the family, the Church, and a testimony of the Savior, the unintended consequences can be significantly adverse.
The most important meeting that each of us will have on the other side of the veil is with the Savior. Regardless of whom our ancestors are and whether we are rich or poor, we will report on our compliance with the commandments we have been given. We should live so we can look forward to meeting the Savior.
In 2 Nephi 9:41 it reads: “... the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name."
We need to be humble and sufficiently repentant to qualify for the Savior's mercy. None of us can return to God by our own good works alone without the benefit of the Savior's grace.
All of us have sinned, and it is only through the Savior’s atonement that we can obtain mercy and live with God. I testify of the reality of the atonement and the divinity of the Savior. I am one of His witnesses. I am a sure witness. I know that He lives.
In conclusion, I invoke a special blessing upon you young people. As you stay on the path of righteousness with a focus on the Savior and follow His example, you will feel the Spirit in your lives, and because of His atoning sacrifice, you will have the peace, happiness, and joy that you desire. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.