Moral Foundations and Sacred Testimony

One of the joys of studying the words of modern day prophets at the same time as one studies and teaches from the Book of Mormon is the wonderful synchronicity that occurs as thoughts expressed in the Book of Mormon are preached powerfully over the pulpit. This experience has strengthened my testimony that God speaks through a united voice in modern and ancient scriptures alike.

Two of those moments came during this weeks reading for the General Conference Odyssey, and so I decided that I should write about both of them.

Ezra Taft Benson/ Mosiah 29

Last week, I taught a lesson on the decision by King Mosiah to end the reign of kings and institute the reign of judges. In class, we discussed Mosiah’s belief that “it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right” (Mosiah 29: 26). We considered what conditions in the Nephite society existed which gave Mosiah confidence that representative government would establish and preserve righteousness. There were a couple of factors that really stood out. The society had both just laws and wise leaders who had been taught righteous principles. Those leaders were accountable to the people and the people felt a stake in their society and were willing to hold their leaders accountable. In such conditions, society could thrive and build upon the solid foundation of liberty. On the other hand, when the moral foundation of the people decayed, Mosiah could not longer have confidence that the majority of the people would choose righteously.

Ezra Taft Benson spoke of the moral foundations of this nation is an impassioned and eloquent fashion. He noted that “The United States of America has been great because it has been free. It has been free because it has trusted in God and was founded upon the principles of freedom set forth in the word of God.” And he quoted de Tocqueville’s prophetic revelation that “America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

President Benson noted that modern society has “erod[ed] away character and man’s freedom to think and act for himself.” He observed that the same vices that crippled the Roman Empire can be seen in our culture. And he urged us to realize that the problems that face us are not merely economic of social, but moral. “We must recognize that these fundamental, basic principles—moral and spiritual—lay at the very foundation of our past achievements. To continue to enjoy present blessings, we must return to these basic and fundamental principles.” And he assured that “[t]here is great safety in a nation on its knees.”

So just as King Mosiah did, President Benson recognized that it is only a moral and virtuous people that can sustain a representative government. Bereft of moral principles, the people are likely to drift towards accepting vice. And in such a state they are ripe for destruction. King Mosiah and President Benson both understood the need for a national spiritual revival in order to preserve the liberties and freedoms that are sacred and foundational.

Bruce R. McConkie/ Alma 4

Today I taught a lesson about Alma the Younger’s sermon to the people of Zarahemla in Alma Chapter 5. We began the lesson by describing the creeping apostasy that had spread in the Church. We then discussed Alma’s decision to “go forth among his people” and “preach the word of God.” He left the position of Chief Judge because he “s[aw] no way that he might reclaim [the people] save it were in bearing down in pure testimony against them.” From this verse, we turned to discussing the power and importance of bearing testimony. One sister in the class bore a powerful witness of a recent experience she had where a friend had born testimony to her of a gospel principle and the spirit had born such powerful witness and helped her overcome long standing doubts. Other discussed the feeling they had as missionaries when they began to bear testimony and how the act of bearing witness drove away the spirit of contention. We were edified as we considered why testimony has such profound power.

Lo and behold, Bruce R. McConkie spoke about this exact same theme in this conference that was held over 43 years ago!  He emphasized that knowledge of the gospel is not enough. Instead, we must be ready and willing to bear witness through the spirit:

“Now this gives us two premises. On the one hand we are obligated and required to know the doctrines of the Church. We are to treasure up the words of eternal life. We are to reason as intelligently as we are able. We are to use every faculty and capacity with which we are endowed to proclaim the message of salvation and to make it intelligent to ourselves and to our Father’s other children. But after we have done that, and also in the process of doing it, we are obligated to bear testimony—to let the world know and our associate members of the Church know—that in our hearts, by the revelation of the Holy Spirit to our souls, we know of the truth and divinity of the work and of the doctrines that we teach.”

Elder McConkie then spoke of many scriptural examples where Prophets of old bore powerful spiritual witness. He explained that testimony “put[s] an approving, divine seal on the doctrine that we teach.” And that it allows us to “speak as one having authority” which “is the great thing that separates us from the world.” We do not need a title or a particular calling to give our testimony weight and authority. Instead, when “[w]e have received this revelation . . . we are in a position to speak as those having authority.”

I bear my witness of the truth of the things taught by Alma and Elder McConkie. The spirit is the real teacher and he always teaches of Christ. As we boldly witness of him, the spirit will bear that truth to the hearts of those who listen.

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