Elder Jay E. Jensen was called to full-time church service June 6, 1992, being named to the Second Quorum of the Seventy. He was called to the First Quorum of the Seventy on April 1, 1995. He served in Area Presidencies in Central and South America and in different areas in the USA and Canada. The last four years as a General Authority, he served as a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, and in 2012, he was made an emeritus General Authority Seventy.
Prior to Elder Jensen’s call to the Seventy, he was the Church’s Director of Scriptures Coordination.
He has served in the missionary programs of the Church including a full-time mission to the Texas/New Mexico area where he worked among the Spanish-speaking people. In the Church Education System, he taught seminary, wrote curriculum and trained prospective seminary teachers before he was called as a mission president of the Colombia Cali Mission from 1975–78. After his mission release, he returned to the Church Educational System where he worked as Director of Curriculum. He also worked for a time as Director of Training for the Missionary Department. From 2013 to 2016 Elder and Sister Jensen served as president and matron of the Cochabamba, Bolivia temple.
Educationally he holds bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees, all from Brigham Young University.
Try the Virtue of the Word
Sister Jensen and I are thankful for the love and kindness of your administrators and leaders and those who helped us with this broadcast, especially President and Sister Kusch, Brother Royce Hinton and Sister Lynette Sharp. The title of my message is “Try the Virtue of the Word,” a homily, or one-liner, from Alma 31:5.
Before I explain more about trying the virtue of the word, I share this thought that what I know about and treasure about the holy scriptures may be organized around what I call the “five P’s” of scripture mastery. A personal experience will introduce them.
It occurred on an airplane many years ago. I had settled into my seat. To pass the time prior to takeoff, I pulled a magazine from the back of the seat in front of me and skimmed through it. There was a newspaper available, and I skimmed through it. Then I pulled something from my briefcase and read it for a moment. I always travel with my scriptures, and I opened them and began to thumb through a few pages; and as I did so this sentence came into my mind as clearly as if it were a voice, truly a rebuke by the Spirit; “Jay, you are treating these sacred words and pages just like a magazine or a newspaper. These are holy and sacred. Treat them differently.” This was a life changing experience for me. To treat them differently, remember these five P’s of scripture mastery:
1. Power of the word—there is power in the word of the Lord in the scriptures. For example, Alma chapters 31 through 34, if you disregard chapters and what we call versification, you will find it is one of the best theses or essays on the power of the word in the four standard works. Note especially the emphasis in Alma 32 where the word is compared to a seed, and not to faith.
2. Prayer—pray before you get into them; ponder and pray as you search them and pray after you finish.
3. Processes—these are the different ways you work through them. Elder David A. Bednar taught CES teachers to read the scriptures from beginning to end or study the scriptures by topic, and search the scriptures for connections, patterns, and themes. (Elder David A. Bednar, “Reservoirs of Living Water,” from a CES Fireside, 4 February 2007.)
4. Price—the price of scripture mastery is the divine patterns, skills, methods, and helps to get into the scriptures and to get them in to you. Remember that we are to do more than read them as supported by the following verbs: study, search, liken, feast upon, treasure up and ponder.
5. Promises—there are two categories, one is promises for this life and the other is promises for the next life. My search of the scriptures has led me to learn that most promises concerning the scriptures pertain to this life.
These five “P’s” will lead you to see more in the scriptures as illustrated by two truths. First, from my personal files I share this quote from President Boyd K. Packer: “There is a height, a breadth and a depth to the scriptures that we have yet to find.”
Second, Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught the following: “The Book of Mormon is…like a vast mansion with gardens, towers, courtyards and wings. There are rooms yet to be entered, with flaming fireplaces waiting to warm us. The rooms glimpsed so far contain further furnishings with rich detail yet to be savored, but decor dating from Eden is evident. There are panels inlaid with incredible insights, particularly insights about the great question. Yet we as Church members behave like hurried tourists, scarcely venturing beyond the entry hall” (Neal A. Maxwell, Not My Will, But Thine (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft Inc., 1988, 33). Although Elder Maxwell taught this about the Book of Mormon, I believe it may be likened to all scriptures.
To find the height, breadth and depth of the scriptures and to avoid being hurried tourists in a vast mansion, I will now focus on the specific title of my message, “Try the Virtue of the Word.” Before explaining these ten patterns, I will read Alma 31:5. It is the source for the title of my message. In this verse I use four of the ten patterns. As we have not talked about them, I will not refer to them.
“And now as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just, yea it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else which had happened unto them—therefore, Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.”
The word “virtue” is best defined as “power,” which I discovered by connecting it to Luke 8:46; a woman with an illness exercised the faith to touch the border of his garment and was healed. “And Jesus said, Somebody touched me: for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me” (Luke 8:46). The superscript ‘a’ by the word “virtue” leads you to the footnote which gives the Greek definition, “power.” Also, the antecedent for the word “it” in line four is “the preaching of the word.” By likening the pronoun “it” to our day, it is also the studying, searching, likening, feasting upon, treasuring up and pondering. I will now share the ten divine scripture patterns.
Pattern number 1.
Definitions: I emphasize two kinds of definitions. One is the Lord’s definitions in the scriptures, often found by identifying the verbs “is” and “are” followed by a definition; and the other is looking for definitions in dictionaries, lexicons and current scripture footnotes.
- “The word of the Lord is truth, whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (D&C 84:45).
- “The glory of God is intelligence; or, in other words, light and truth” (D&C 93:36).
- The other definitions are those where you look up a word in the dictionary, in a footnote as illustrated with the word “virtue” in Alma 31:5; or in a lexicon as illustrated by President Russell M. Nelson, a master in linguistics and word definitions.
His most recent example is in the October 2020 General Conference which I quote: “With the help of two Hebrew scholars, I learned the meanings of the word Israel ‘let God prevail.’ Thus the very name Israel refers to a person who is willing to let God prevail in his or her life. That concept stirs my soul!” (President Russell M. Nelson, “Let God Prevail,” Ensign, November 2020, p. 92). Also, it is a homily, a one-liner, explained later in my message.
Pattern number 2.
Cause and Effect: The Lord frequently speaks in the patterns of “Cause” and “Effect,” often introduced with the word “this” followed by the word “that.”
- “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life…” (John 15:13).
- “And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled…” (Alma 13:11).
Also, it is a homily. A one-liner explained later in my talk.
Pattern number 3.
Promises and Blessings: Doctrines and truths are often followed by a promise, a warning and/or a consequence. An example is the word “if” followed by the word “then.”
- “…if ye were righteous and were willing to hearken…, then ye would not murmur” (1 Nephi 16:3).
- “If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day;… Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord” (Isaiah 58:13-14).
The previous two patterns, “Cause and Effect” and “Promises and Blessings” are similar, but I make the distinction with the precise words “this/that” and “if/then.”
Pattern number 4.
Lists: The Lord and His prophets often speak sequentially as illustrated by lists or truths in a series.
- “These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him…” (Proverbs 6:16-19).
- “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free,…to deal thy bread to the hungry…” (Isaiah 58:6-7).
- There are 13 Articles of Faith and verses 4, 5, 6, 7 and 13 quickly stand out, each with separate lists.
Many lists are connected by the conjunction “and.” President Russell M. Nelson has shared this very inspiring experience about 18 and’s in Helaman 3:14.
“Sister Nelson and I have a close friend and former neighbor, Sami Hanna, who was born in Egypt. He is a scholar with special expertise in Semitic languages. He translated the Book of Mormon from English into Arabic. The exercise converted him to the divinity of the Book of Mormon. Among the many linguistic features that convinced him of the book’s divinity was this unusual sentence in Helaman, chapter 3, verse 14. This would hardly be an expression of a 24-year-old man from the New York frontier:
‘But behold, a hundredth part of the proceedings of this people, yea, the account of the Lamanites and of the Nephites, and their wars, and contentions, and dissensions, and their preaching, and their prophecies, and their shipping and their building of ships, and their building of temples, and of synagogues and their sanctuaries, and their righteousness, and their wickedness, and their murders, and their robbings, and their plundering, and all manner of abominations and whoredoms, cannot be contained in this work.’
“That single sentence has eighteen ands. Now, if you were a teacher of English you might tend to downgrade the composition of that sentence. Yet my scholarly Egyptian friend said that every one of those ands was an important element in the construction of that sentence, allowing his translation to flow smoothly back to a Semitic language” (Russell M. Nelson, Ensign, July 1993, p. 63).
Pattern number 5.
Questions: Questions invite revelation, such as the First Vision and Moroni’s visit to Joseph Smith. Also, the Lord uses them to help us ponder, pray and search in order to know Him and to see ourselves, others and eternity more clearly.
- “Whom say ye that I am?” (Matthew 16:15).
- “Have ye inquired of the Lord?” (1 Nephi 15:8).
- “What manner of men ought ye to be?” (3 Nephi 27:27).
- “Wherefore, I the Lord ask you this question—unto what were ye ordained?” (D&C 50:13).
Pattern number 6.
Antecedents and Pronouns: In the scriptures, pronouns have antecedents or subjects to which they refer, and they may be found by searching backwards and/or forward in a verse or verses, and by substituting the noun for the pronoun. We learned this early in our family scripture reading. One of our daughters interrupted our family reading by saying, “Dad, I don’t know who is speaking nor about what.” That changed our approach and from then on we regularly substituted the noun for the pronoun. Also, you may substitute your name for the name or the pronoun in a verse.
- “I beheld a book,… Behold it proceedeth out of the mouth of a Jew. And I, Nephi, beheld it…” (2 Nephi 13:20-23).
- “…for without this no man can see the face of God and live” (D&C 84:22).
- “I, Nephi [I, Jay], having been born of goodly parents; therefore, I was taught.” (1 Nephi 1:1).
Pattern number 7.
Summaries: The Lord often concludes doctrinal truths with the words “wherefore,” “therefore,” or “thus we see,” etc.
- “Now behold, a marvelous work is about to come forth…Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God…” (D&C 4:1-2).
- “And thus we see the end of him who perverteth the ways of the Lord; and thus we see that the devil will not support his children at the last day, but doth speedily drag them down to hell” (Alma 30:60).
Pattern number 8.
Doctrinal Explanations: A further unfolding of the scriptures regarding a doctrine may be in a verse or a series of verses as you link them with cross-references. I share two illustrations; one is the Book of Mormon purpose statements and the other is how to recognize the voice of the Spirit.
- Book of Mormon purpose statements are found in five key references—Moroni’s is found in the Book of Mormon Title page; Nephi’s is found in 1 Nephi 15:14; Mormon’s in Mormon 3:18-22; and in chapter 5:12-15; and in Doctrine and Covenants 3:19-20, which I cite. Note also it is a list and a cause and effect “this/that.”
- “…that the promises of the Lord might be fulfilled...”
- “…that the Lamanites might come to the knowledge of their fathers…”
- “…that they might know the promises of the Lord…”
- “…that they may believe the gospel…”
- “…and [that they] rely upon the merits of Jesus Christ…” (D&C 3:19-20).
The second one: Recognize the voice of the Spirit:
- “Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter?” (D&C 6:23).
- “…the Spirit…leadeth to do good, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously…” (D&C 11:12).
- “…my Spirit…shall enlighten your mind, [and] shall fill your soul with joy…” (D&C 11:13).
- “…as that subject seems to occupy my mind and press itself upon my feelings the strongest…” (D&C 128:1).
These four scriptures are among my favorites about recognizing the impressions from the Holy Ghost. Others you know are in Doctrine and Covenants 8 and 9.
Pattern number 9.
“One-Liners” or Homilies: One definition of a homily is an inspirational catchphrase that has substance and meaning. Elder Neal A. Maxwell called them one-liners with this counsel: “Store up one-liners in your mind in times of need” (Notes in the personal files of Jay E. Jensen). The title of my message is a homily. The titles to most of Elder Maxwell’s more than twenty books are homilies. For example:
- The smallest part (Alma 26:16).
- That my family should partake (1 Nephi 8:12).
- Wherefore, ye must press forward (2 Nephi 31:20).
- Notwithstanding my weakness (2 Nephi 33:11).
- All these things shall give thee experience (D&C 122:7).
One recently emphasized by President Nelson is “Hear Him” (JS-H 1:17).
One of my favorites is from Doctrine and Covenants 3:5; “…remember also the promises…” It came alive to me from the following experience:
As president of the Cali Colombia mission, I had flown to a city in our mission to meet with missionaries and hold a district conference. During the four days I was there, I found challenges with the missionaries and a struggling young mission district. The experiences I had there left me feeling low. On the flight home I opened the scriptures and providentially turned to Doctrine and Covenants 3. As I read verses one through four, I found many parallels to what I had experienced over the past four days. When I came to verse five, I found a one-liner, a treasure and one of the most wonderful insights I have ever found in the scriptures; “…remember also the promises…” For four days I had been focusing on problems, and not once had I stopped to consider promises given to me such as in my patriarchal blessing, in my setting apart, in the temple and many others.
Pattern number 10.
Liken/Story Parallels: Some scripture stories or events from the past contain key elements that parallel our day, or as Nephi said, “I did liken all scripture unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning” (1 Nephi 19:23). Many years ago as a seminary teacher and curriculum writer we sought to build a bridge between “Them-There-Then” in the past to the “Me-Here-Now.” A classic illustration is from Matthew 4.
- Jesus fasted and sought communion with God.
- Jesus received inspiration, strength and help.
- Jesus was challenged by Satan and He overcame him.
- Jesus proceeded with increased light and truth.
Parallels in our day:
- We seek communion or divine help.
- Inspiration, help and strength come.
- Challenges and temptations come, but we conquer them.
- We proceed with increased light and truth.
I testify that the Holy Ghost is the Teacher, and as Nephi taught “…the Holy Ghost carrieth it [words] unto the hearts of the children of men” (2 Nephi 33:1). The word “unto” is part of the prepositional phrase “unto the hearts.” It may be replaced by the word “into” as you exercise your agency so that when He knocks, you may open the door of your heart and mind and allow His words to enter.
I testify that the Holy Ghost unlocks the mysteries as Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery experienced; “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” (JS-H 1:73-74).
Finally, remember that what I have shared and what the Holy Ghost has taught you is not an end, rather these truths, principles and patterns are a means to a higher end, to know and have a testimony of the Father and the Son, of whom I witness and testify. They appeared to and spoke with Joseph Smith to begin the restoration of the fullness of the gospel. The Holy Scriptures are true and the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.