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Using the Book of Mormon to Face the Tests Ahead

M. Catherine Thomas

Our dispensation will embrace the greatest extremes of any day: the tares will be of greater virulence than any preceding period. President Ezra Taft Benson has declared: "Wickedness is rapidly expanding in every segment of our society (see D&C 1:14-16; 84: 49 - 53). It is more highly organized, more cleverly disguised, and more powerfully promoted than ever before." But, at the same time, the wheat will exhibit greater quality than ever before (D&C 86:1-7), because the Church and kingdom of God are increasing in strength, six, and faithfulness. "It [the Church] has never been better organized or equipped to perform its divine mission"

Thus in the midst of the worst trials ever known among the children of men, the Saints will finish up the work of this dispensation under the direction of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not a defensive position we wish to take but rather a powerful moving forward to establish all of the will of the Lord in preparation for His coming. We need not shrink before the onslaught but prepare to go out to meet the Bridegroom (D&C 133:10)

We will never meet all of the challenges of this dispensation unaided. The forces about to be unleashed against the world will be sufficient to decimate the entire population (D&C 5:19). Only those who have learned how to take the Holy Spirit for their guide will be able to read the signs and abide those days (D&C 45:57); only those who have studied how to draw on the grace, on the divine enabling power of the Lord Jesus Christ, will escape through the means the Lord will provide (D&C 63:24). We will have to be a people who understand personal revelation. We will have to live in direct contact with the temporal world, but we will have to know how to be guided by the heavenly, unseen world.

It is possible to make a long list of specific things we would have to do to endure to the end. But, the real question is this: What is the quintessential preparation from which all other preparations naturally follow? The Lord has provided the answer, and it lies in the inspired use of the Book of Mormon - in particular, the use of the Book of Mormon as an instrument of personal revelation. Nearly every description of the tests that the Saints will undergo makes it clear that only personal revelation will make faithful endurance possible. Inspired uses of the Book of Mormon lie at the very core of the Saints preparation so that they, as the children of light, will not be overtaken as by a thief in the night, at the Lord's appearance (D&C 106:4-5). Prophets through the ages have looked at our day and warned us of the trials that lie ahead. President Heber C. Kimball "often used the language, 'A test, a test is coming.'"

"We think we are secure here in the chambers of the everlasting hills, where we can close those few doors of the canyons against mobs and persecutors, the wicked and the vile, who have always beset us with violence and robbery, but I want to say to you, my brethren, the time is coming when we will be mixed up in these now peaceful valleys to that extent that it will be difficult to tell the face of a Saint from the face of an enemy to the people of God. Then, brethren, look out for the great sieve, for there will be a great sifting time, and many will fall; for I say unto you there is a test, a TEST, a TEST coming, and who will be able to stand?"

"This Church has before it many close places through which it will have to pass before the work of God is crowned with victory. To meet the difficulties that are coming, it will be necessary for you to have a knowledge of the truth of this work for yourselves. The difficulties will be of such a character that the man or woman who does not possess this personal knowledge or witness will fall. If you have not got the testimony, live right and call upon the Lord and cease not till you obtain it. If you do not you will not stand...

"...The time will come when no man nor woman will be able to endure on borrowed light. Each will have to be guided by the light within himself. If you do not have it, how can you stand?"

President Heber C. Kimball was quoted later with respect to the intensity of the tests:

"The judgments of God will be poured out upon the wicked, to the extent that our elders from far and near will be called home; or in other words, the Gospel will be taken from the gentiles, and later on will be carried to the Jews.

"The western boundaries of the State of Missouri will be swept so clean of its inhabitants that as President Young tells us, 'when we return to that place there will not be as much as a yellow dog to wag his tail.'

"Before that day comes, however, the Saints will be put to the test that will try the very best of them.

"The pressure will become so great that the righteous among us will cry unto the Lord day and night until deliverance comes...

"Then is the time to look out for the great sieve, for there will be a great sifting time, and many will fall."

President Ezra Taft Benson expanded on the nature of the tests we will face and confirmed that the process has already begun:

"There is a real sifting going on in the Church, and it is going to become more pronounced with the passing of time. It will sift the wheat from the tares, because we face some difficult days, the like of which we have never experienced in our lives. And those days are going to require faith and testimony and family unity, the like of which we have never had."

"The great destructive force which was to be turned loose on the earth and which the prophets for centuries have been calling the 'abomination of desolation' is vividly described by those who saw it in vision (see Matthew 24:15, Joseph Smith - Matthew 1:12,32). Ours is the generation to realize how literally these prophecies can be fulfilled now that God, through science, has unlocked the secret to thermonuclear reaction.

"In the light of these prophecies, there should be no doubt in the mind of any priesthood holder that the human family is headed for trouble. There are rugged days ahead. It is time for every man who wishes to do his duty to get himself prepared - physically, spiritually, and psychologically - for the task which may come at any time, as suddenly as the whirlwind."

"We will live in the midst of economic, political, and spiritual instability. When these signs are observed - unmistakable evidences that His coming is nigh - we need not be troubled, but 'stand in holy places, and be not moved, until the day of the Lord come' (D&C 87:8). Holy men and women stand in holy places, and these holy places consist of our temples, our chapels, our homes, and stakes of Zion, which are, as the Lord declares, 'for a defense, and for a refuge from the storm, and from wrath when it shall be poured out without mixture upon the whole earth' (D&C 115:6). We must heed the Lord's counsel to the Saints of this dispensation: 'Prepare yourselves for the great day of the Lord' (D&C 133:10).

"This preparation must consist of more than just casual membership in the Church. We must be guided by personal revelation and the counsel of the living prophet so we will not be deceived. Our Lord has indicated who, among Church members, will stand when He appears: 'At that day, when I shall come in my glory, shall the parable be fulfilled which I spake concerning the ten virgins' (D&C 45:56). The Lord has given the sobering revelation that in the midst of the latter-day trials, Church members will feel the Lord's refining power as he forges the Saints into a force for fulfilling his divine purposes:

"The kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world: [and the world is the children of the wicked] the angels come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: [out into the world to be burned] there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth"

(Matthew 13:47-50, JST text in brackets).

"Behold, vengeance cometh speedily upon the inhabitants of the earth, a day of wrath, a day of burning, a day of desolation, of weeping, of mourning, and of lamentation; and as a whirlwind it shall come upon all the face of the earth, saith the Lord. And upon my house shall it begin, and from my house shall it go forth, saith the Lord; first among those among you, saith the Lord, who have professed to know my name and have not known me, and have blasphemed against my name and have not known me, and have blasphemed against me in the midst of my house, saith the Lord ... But purify your hearts before me ... Cleanse your hearts and your garments, lest the blood of this generation be required at your hands"
(D&C 112:24-33; italics added; see also 88:74).

This refining process will prepare a purified Church membership to meet the Lord Jesus Christ. President Benson warned:

"It is well that our people understand this principle, so they will not be misled by those apostates within the Church who have not yet repented or been cut off. But there is a cleansing coming. The Lord says that his vengeance shall be poured out 'upon the inhabitants of the earth ... And upon my house shall it begin, and from my house shall it go forth, saith the Lord; first among those among you, saith the Lord, who have professed to know my name and have not known me ...' (D&C 112:24-26). I look forward to that cleansing; its need within the Church is becoming increasingly apparent."

"Yes, within the Church today there are tares among the wheat and wolves within the flock. As President Clark stated, 'The ravening wolves are amongst us, from our own membership, and they, more than any others, are clothed in sheep's clothing because they wear the habiliments of the priesthood ... We should be careful of them.'"

Yet, even as we witness the steady crescendo of sorrows spreading throughout the earth, it is apparent that the Lord has at least a twofold purpose. On the one hand, the wicked will be purged from the Church and from the earth; on the other, the saints will be purified and refined:

"Behold, the great day of the Lord is at hand; and who can abide the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner's fire, and like fuller's soap; and he shall sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver, and he shall purify the sons of Levi [the priesthood holders of today; D&C 84:32-34] and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord and offering in righteousness. Let us, therefore, as a church and as a people, and as Latter-day Saints, offer unto the Lord and offering in righteousness"
(D&C 128:24, italics added).

The present and the future do not hold so many terrors if we believe the Lord's reassuring words that the refining process is under his benevolent control:

"Fear not thine enemies, for they are in mine hands and I will do my pleasure with them.

"My people must be tried in all things, that they may be prepared to receive the glory that I have for them, even the glory of Zion; and he that will not bear chastisement is not worthy of my kingdom"
(D&C 136:30-31).

President John Taylor commented on the necessity of the Saints' being tested but of the insignificance of the pain of the testing process in relation to the great destiny of the Saints:

"It is necessary that we pass through certain ordeals, and that we be tried. But, why is it that we should be tried? There is just the same necessity for it now that there was in former times. I heard the prophet Joseph say, in speaking to the Twelve on one occasion:

'You will have all kinds of trials to pass through. And it is quite as necessary for you to be tried as it was for Abraham and other men of God, and (said he) God will feel after you, and He will take hold of you and wrench your very heart strings, and if you cannot stand it you will not be fit for an inheritance in the Celestial Kingdom of God.' ...

"But, all these personal things amount to but very little. It is the crowns, principalities, the powers, the thrones, the dominions, and the associations with the Gods that we are after, and we are here to prepare ourselves for those things. We are after eternal exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom of God."

In fact, Zion will be built by those who are purified by their sufferings, and have learned to endure suffering in order to obey the Lord's every command. Zion will have to suffer in order to be redeemed because her citizens have not learned to obey: "Were it not for the transgressions of my people, speaking concerning the church and not individuals, they might have been redeemed even now.

"But behold, they have not learned to be obedient to the things which I required at their hands, but are full of all manner of evil, and do not impart of their substance, as becometh saints, to the poor and afflicted among them. And are not united according to the union required by the law of the celestial kingdom; otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself.

"And my people must needs be chastened until they learn obedience, if it must needs be, by the things which they suffer"
(D&C 105:2-6).

The sacrificing to obey unlocks the blessings and powers of heaven:

"Verily I say unto you, all among them [the Saints] who know their hearts are honest, and are broken, and their spirits are contrite, and are willing to observe their covenants by sacrifice - ye, every sacrifice, which I, the Lord, shall command - they are accepted of me. For I, the Lord, will cause them to bring forth as a very fruitful tree which is planted in a goodly land, by a pure stream, that yieldeth much precious fruit"
(D&C 97:8-9).

"Let us here observe that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation ... It is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things that men do actually know that the are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God ...

"... And in the last days, before the Lord comes, he is to gather together his saints who have made a covenant with him by sacrifice."

Elder John Taylor encouraged the Saints to cleave to the Lord as the night darkens: "In relation to events that will yet take place, and the kind of trials, troubles, and sufferings which we shall have to cope with, it is to me a matter of very little moment; these things are in the hands of God, he dictates the affairs of the human family, and directs and controls our affairs; and the great thing that we, as a people, have to do is to seek after and cleave unto our God, to be in close affinity with him and to seek for his guidance, and his blessing and Holy Spirit to guide us in the right path. Then it matters not what it is nor who it is that we have to contend with, God will give us strength according to our day."

Another source of reassurance is the knowledge that our coming to the earth at this time in the earth's history was no random event. We were prepared before we came to earth to do the work we would be called to do (see D&C 138:56). President Benson has taught:

"For nearly six thousand years, God has held you reserve to make your appearance in the final days before the second coming of the Lord. Some individuals will fall away; but the kingdom of God will remain intact to welcome the return of its head - even Jesus Christ. While our generation will be comparable in wickedness to the days of Noah, when the Lord cleansed the earth by flood, there is a major difference this time. It is that God has saved for the final inning some of His strongest children, who will help bear off the kingdom triumphantly. That is where you come in, for you are the generation that must be prepared to meet your God. ...

"Make no mistake about it - you are a marked generation. There has never been more expected of the faithful in such a short period of time than there is of us. Never before on the face of this earth have the forces of evil and the forces of good been as well organized. Now is the great day of the devil's power. But it now is also the great day of the Lord's power, with the greatest number ever of priesthood holders on the earth."

Having faith in our premortal preparation, we can find unique blessings in realizing that the personal tests we face were specially suited to our individual, spiritual needs. Perhaps the greatest insight to come out of this realization is that the Lord orchestrates the details of the lives of his seeking and obedient Saints. With his orchestration of their individual trials comes also deliverance from those trials. Elder Bruce R. McConkie listed the tasks that lie ahead of these premortally prepared Saints, tasks that will require a greater commitment to spiritual principles than ever before:

"We have yet to gain that full knowledge and understanding of the doctrines of salvation and the mysteries of the kingdom that were possessed by many of the ancient Saints. O that we knew what Enoch and his people knew! Or that we had the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon, as did certain of the Jaredites and Nephites! How can we ever gain these added truths until we believe in full what the Lord has already given us in the Book of Mormon, in the Doctrine and Covenants, and in the inspired changes made by Joseph Smith in the Bible? ...

"We have yet to attain that degree of obedience and personal righteousness which will give us faith like the ancients: faith to multiply miracles, move mountains, and put at defiance the armies of nations; faith to quench the violence of fire, divide seas and stop the mouth of lions; faith to break every band and to stand in the presence of God. Faith comes in degrees. Until we gain faith to heal the sick, how can we ever expect to move mountains and divide seas? "We have yet to receive such an outpouring of the Spirit of the Lord in our lives that we shall all see eye to eye in all things, that every man will esteem his brother as himself, that there shall be no poor among us ... As long as we disagree as to the simple and easy doctrines of salvation, how can we ever have unity on the complex and endless truths yet to be revealed?

"We have yet to perfect our souls, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel, and to walk in the light as God is in the light, so that if this were a day of translation we would be prepared to join Enoch and his city in heavenly realms. How many among us are now prepared to entertain angels, to see the face of the Lord, to go where God and Christ are and be like them? ....

"We have yet to prepare a people for the Second Coming....

"Shall we not now, as a Church and as a people and as the Saints of the latter days, build on the foundations of the past and forward in gospel glory until the great Jehovah shall say: 'The work is done, come ye, enter the joy of your Lord; sit down with me on my throne; thou art now one with me and my father.'"

On another occasion, Elder McConkie made a sobering statement on the necessity of the development of our faith:

"It may be, for instance, that nothing except the power of faith and the authority of the priesthood can save individuals and congregations from the atomic holocausts that surely shall be."

President Brigham Young also observed that, in general, the Saints are not prepared for the blessings that the Lord anticipates bestowing on them: "Jesus has been upon the earth a great many more times than you are aware of. When Jesus makes his next appearance upon the earth, but few of this Church and kingdom will be prepared to receive him and see him face to face and converse with him; but he will come to his temple. ...

"When all nations are so subdued to Jesus that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess, there will still be millions o the earth who will not believe in him; but they will be obliged to acknowledge his government. You may call that government ecclesiastical, or by whatever term you please; yet there is no true government on earth but the government of God, or the holy Priesthood. Shall I tell you what that is? In short, it is a perfect system of government - a kingdom of Gods and angels and all beings who will submit themselves to that government. There is no other true government in heaven or upon the earth. ...

"Is man prepared to receive that government? He is not. I can say to these Latter-day Saints, You are not prepared to receive that government. You hear men and women talk about living and abiding the Celestial law, when they do not so much as know what it is, and are not prepared to receive it. We have little here and a little there given to us, to prove whether we will be abide that portion of law that will enable us to enjoy a resurrection with the just. ... "... We have line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, and it is something that accords with the capacity of finite beings, and you improve upon this, and the Lord will open your minds to receive more, and let you see the order of the eternal priesthood; but if you do not live your religion, you cannot receive more."

Many of us are not yet living our religion. The Saints can reach for more. In the foregoing statements of the Lord and his prophets and apostles, one common observation is that amidst the latter-day trials, the Saints will need familiarity with the Lord's voice.

For example, President Heber C. Kimball said, "Each will have to be guided by the light within himself. If you do not have it, how can you stand:" President Ezra Taft Benson remarked on the current state of the Saints' preparedness to meet the Savior:

"Watchmen - what of the night? We must respond by saying that all is not well in Zion. As Moroni counseled, we must cleanse the inner vessel (Alma 60:23), beginning first with ourselves, then with our families, and finally with the Church. ... "... It takes a Zion people to make a Zion society, and we must prepare for that."

Obviously our responses to the Lord's direction have as yet been inadequate to achieve that state of preparation, even though the Lord has made it abundantly clear that the instrument of preparation for the Second Coming is the Book of Mormon. That book is the instrument by which the citizens of Zion will have cleansed the inner vessel.

The Saints, evidently, are still under condemnation for their neglect of the Book of Mormon, the very tool that has the most power to prepare the Church for the advent of the Savior. Upon reflection, we realize that the Saints have not yet adequately made the connection between the comprehensive use of the Book of Mormon and the light that each of them will need to withstand the trials of the latter days. President Benson exclaimed: 'That they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father's kingdom; otherwise there remaineth a scourge and judgment to be poured out upon the children of Zion' (D&C 84:58). We have felt that scourge and judgment!

Perhaps some have thought that a testimony and a general knowledge of the Book of Mormon were sufficient fulfillment of the Lord's injunction. But a testimony of the Book of Mormon is not an end in itself. It is only the most rudimentary beginning. The next step, after learning that the book is true and can be trusted as a source for doctrine and the Spirit, is to learn its multiple uses and virtues. Here is the Lord's fuller text to the Church about using the Book of Mormon:

"Your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received -

"Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.

"And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all.

"And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written - That they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father's kingdom; otherwise there remaineth a scourge and judgment to pour out upon the children of Zion.
(D&C 84:54-58 italics added).

The Church apparently does not yet know all the uses and virtues of the Book of Mormon. It seems that the Lord would like us to use the Book of Mormon in ways it has not been used before and that he is waiting for us to ask his help to that end. President Benson, in urging us to get more deeply in into that book, pointed to the relationship between scripture study and the power of the Spirit in our life: "I urge you to recommit yourselves to a study of the scriptures. Immerse yourselves I them daily so you will have the power of the Spirit to attend you in your callings. Read them in your families and teach our children to love and treasure them. Then prayerfully and in counsel with others, seek every way possible to encourage the members of the Church to follow your example. If you do so, you will find, as Alma did, that 'the word [has] a great tendency to lead people to do that which [is] just - yea, it [has] more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which [has] happened unto them' (Alma 31:5)."

In that statement, President Benson has connected immersion in the scriptures with the gift and power of the Spirit. Several other Brethren have likewise pointed out the link between personal revelation and a spiritually skilled use of scripture. For example, Elder Bruce R. McConkie said: "I sometimes think that one of the best-kept secrets of the kingdom is that the scriptures open the door to the receipt of revelation." However talented men may be in administrative matters; however eloquent they may be in expressing their views; however learned they may be in the worldly things - they will be denied the sweet whisperings of the Spirit that might have been theirs unless they pay the price of studying, pondering, and praying about the scriptures."

Elder Dallin H. Oaks declared: "As a source of knowledge, the scriptures are not the ultimate but the penultimate. The ultimate knowledge comes by revelation...

"A study of the scriptures enables men and women to receive revelations ... because scripture reading puts us in tune with the Spirit of the Lord." Elder Boyd K. Packer taught; "Buildings and budgets, and reports and programs and procedures are very important. But, by themselves, they do not carry that essential spiritual nourishment and will not accomplish what the Lord has given us to do ... The right things, those with true spiritual nourishment, are centered in the scriptures." One reason that some Church members are not reaping the full reward of scripture study may be that they do not know how vital the reward could be. The Lord promises that we can hear or feel his voice in the scriptures, that we can receive messages in and above what is printed on the page, and that we can repeat that experience over and over again. Scripture reading and feasting on scripture can take on new meaning.

Those who haven't heard the voice may find the scriptures less interesting than other literature. Perhaps some are afraid to hear what the Lord has to say, and so they may read the scripture with a protective veil over their mind and then say they are bored with the scripture. The real problem may be that they are afraid to hear the voice. But the Lord says to us today, "Resist no more my voice" (D&C 108:2). It appears that the Lord intends an intersection between the daily orbit we move in and the orbit of the Book of Mormon. A power is set in motion when we become deeply involved in what the scriptures are saying to us personally. The Lord has said that "the Book of Mormon and the Holy Scriptures are given of me for your instruction; and the power of my Spirit quickeneth all things" (D&C 33:16).

Several other scriptures also show that the printed word can yield the living spirit of prophecy to the alert and prepared reader. In the very first chapter of the Book of Mormon, Lehi learned this connection between feasting on the scripture and receiving the power of revelation: "As he read [a book of scripture given him by the Lord] he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord" (1 Nephi 1:12). Nephi said, "And now, when my father saw all these things [scriptures on the plates of brass], he was filled with the Spirit and began to prophesy" (1 Nephi 5:17). Jacob made the same connection: "Wherefore, we search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy; and having all these witnesses we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh unshaken, insomuch that we truly can command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea" (Jacob 4:6). The four sons of Mosiah "waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God. But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God" (Alma 17:2-3).

The Lord, speaking of scripture, said: "These words are not of men nor of man, but of me; ... for it is my voice which speaketh them unto you; for they are given by my Spirit unto you ...; wherefore, you can testify that you have heard my voice, and know my words" (D&C 18:34-36). To hear the voice of the Lord in the scripture simply means to feel the Spirit of the Lord, because the Lord speaks "by the voice of my Spirit: (D&C 75:1). Furthermore, the Lord's "voice is Spirit" (D&C 88:66).

Thus there is a relationship between the written scripture and the voice of the Lord, or personal revelation. The same Spirit that gave the written word quickens it as one who is prepared reads it. Taking all these insights together, we may conclude that if we wish to guide our life by the Spirit, we cannot do it without also being a spiritual student of the Book of Mormon.

The Book of Mormon itself teaches the progression from feasting on the word of Christ to hearing the voice of Christ through the Holy Ghost: "Fest upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do ... if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do" (2 Nephi 32:3 - 5).

The stories and principles and doctrines in the Book of Mormon are vitally important to the Latter-day Saints, but we soon discover that an important principle taught by the book is that no collection of writings can tell a person what to do in all circumstances. Many of life's challenges are designed to require divine insight and divine power and divine direction to meet them. Therefore, perhaps no principle is stressed as much as getting the Spirit of the Lord, who "will show you all things what ye should do," as a constant guide.

We can see how the voice of the Lord is a vital component of the gospel plan - not just for prophets but for all of us. Ultimately everyone who hopes to see the face of the Lord and to remain in his presence must learn to discern and obey the voice of the Lord. That skill is essential for the serious candidate for exaltation.

Elder Richard G. Scott explicitly stated that the Book of Mormon is like a personal Liahona or Urim and Thummim: "What does the Book of Mormon mean to you? ... "If you have not yet drunk deeply from this fountain of pure truth, with all of my soul I encourage you to do so now. Don't let the consistent study of the Book of Mormon be one of the things that you intend to do, but never quite accomplish. Begin today. "I bear witness that it can become a personal 'Urim and Thummim' in your life."

Indeed, the Book of Mormon describes itself as a Liahona. A primary use of a Liahona or a Urim and Thummim is as a physical symbol to teach the dynamics of revelation. They increase faith until one has learned to get revelation without sole dependence on the physical instrument. How important it is to realize that scripture, as another form of Liahona or Urim and Thummim, instructs our spirits in the processes of revelation.

The link between a tangible object of revelation and the process of receiving revelation without an instrument is illustrated in the Prophet Joseph's training under the Lord. The Lord started Joseph Smith out with the Urim and Thummim; later, Joseph was able to receive revelation without using it, thus showing that a Liahona and Urim and Thummim, seer stones, and scripture are all variations of the sacred instruments by which a person is taught how to receive increasingly detailed revelation - revelation that is often outside the imagination or experience of the person being so trained. Joseph's experience in translating the Book of Mormon by the Urim and Thummim actually prepared him to be the founding prophet, seer, and revelator of this dispensation.

Alma understood this relationship between instruments of revelation and scripture. In Alma 37, Alma used a succession of words that suggests that relationship: records, plates of brass, Holy Scriptures, mysteries, holy writ, interpreters, Gazelem, seer stone, counseling with the Lord, and Liahona. When the Nephites used their Liahona, they had miracles every day; whenever they grew lazy and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence, they lost their way and became hungry.

Alma taught that the ball, director, compass, or Liahona was prepared by the Lord as a type of the word of Christ: "For behold, it is as easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point to you a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass, which would point unto them a straight course to the promised land. And now I say, is there not a type in this thing? For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the Promised Land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise. O my son, do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way" (Alma 37:44-46). It is possible that "vale of sorrow" means not only this mortal life as a whole but the individual vales of sorrow that the Saints come upon in their lives. That is, the Lord has given the Saints a Liahona to carry them out of their individual and collective vales of sorrow.

One problem of mortality is the inadequacy of our present language to provide vocabulary to describe spiritual experience. When missionaries try to teach investigators what the Spirit is, they have to do it by analogy or by metaphor; thus, when they see the Sprit working on an investigator, they will say "That's it! What you are feeling right now is the Spirit of the Lord!" Elder Boyd K. Packer taught: "We do not have the words (event eh scriptures do not have the words) which perfectly describe the Spirit. The scriptures generally use the word voice, which does not exactly fit. These delicate, refined spiritual communications are not seen with our eyes, nor heard with our ears. And even though it is described as a voice, it is a voice that one feels, more than one hears."

We identify the Spirit mostly by feeling, and in the scripture the Lord teaches us what the Spirit feels like. If we think we have to feel something extraordinary in hearing the voice of the Lord in scripture, we might miss the subtle impressions of the Spirit. Many people have experienced the movement of the Spirit in their souls as they read scripture. On some occasions, feelings come, or maybe tears, perhaps heightened appreciation, or a sense of peace on a particular matter, a sense of unexplainable happiness, or a sense of the Lord's love. If we are asked on such an occasion what we heard from the Lord in that experience with the scripture, we might not be able to articulate an answer. Nonetheless, we have felt something sweet, something very tender. That was the spirit of prophecy, the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ.

On other occasions, we may be reading along when an issue or problem in our life comes to mind, maybe even a subject unrelated to the scripture being read, and suddenly we just know what to do about it. All these are instances of feeling the voice of the Lord to ourselves. We could develop this skill to a high degree and enjoy a living relationship with the Lord, in which the Lord could teach us many wonderful things. To develop such a skill we must invest time and experience, labor in the Sprit, and make scripture study a part of our daily life, but it is within the capability of any serious seeker.

The Book of Mormon teaches us how to receive a revelation from scripture: "I, Nephi, beheld the pointers which were in the ball, that they did work according to the faith and diligence and heed which we did give unto them. And there was also written upon them a new writing, which was plain to be read, which did give us understanding concerning the ways of the Lord; and it was written and changed from time to time, according to the faith and diligence which we gave unto it. And thus we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things" (1 Nephi 16:28-29). By studying the spiritual conditions under which the Book of Mormon was translated, we can learn more about the process of receiving the Sprit from the scripture. Joseph Smith showed the way. David Whitmer described what the Prophet had to go through to get the spirit of prophecy so that he could translate:

"At times when Brother Joseph would attempt to translate ..., he found he was spiritually blind and could not translate. He told us that his mind dwelt too much on earthly things, and various causes would make him incapable of proceeding with the translation. When in this condition he would go out and pray, and when he became sufficiently humble before God, he would then proceed with the translation. Now we see how very strict the Lord is, and how he requires the heart of man to be just right in his sight before he can receive revelation from him."

On another occasion David Whitmer recorded: "He [Joseph Smith] was religious and straightforward man ... He had to trust in God. He could not translate unless he was humble and possessed the right feelings towards everyone. To illustrate so you can see the right feelings towards everyone. To illustrate so you can see: One morning when he was getting ready to continue the translation, something went wrong about the house and he was put out about it. Something that Emma, his wife, had done. Oliver and I went upstairs and Joseph came up soon after to continue the translation but could not do anything. He could not translate a single syllable. He went downstairs, out into the orchard, and made supplication to the Lord; was gone about an hour - came back to the hose, and asked Emma's forgiveness and then came upstairs where we were and then the translation went on all right. He could do nothing save e was humble and faithful."

This account is highly instructive. We must approach the scripture in the same way that the scripture was given to one who was in a state of humility, of desire, of courage, of forgiveness of others. We can prepare ourselves to hear the word of the Lord by realizing that in opening up the scriptures, we are about to have a conversation with the Lord. Thus we approach such an encounter in a spiritual, prayerful, thoughtful, and solemn way. We read trying to feel, to listen, to hear, and even to make notes. Our heart must be prepared to be written on; we must want to hear what the Lord wants to say to us, what the Lord's counsel is to us. So we approach the scripture with as much humility as we can, with willingness to repent and to grow.

Whenever we feel that movement of the spirit in our own soul, we are feeling the voice of the Lord to us - the Lord is speaking to us individually. We are connected by the Spirit in that moment to our Savior. IN this way, the Book of Mormon can bring us to Christ is the main objective of all scripture. Simply, we feast on the words of Christ, and, if we have prepared, he speaks to us through feelings and impressions and happiness and even words, and thus we come to Christ as we study scripture and hear his voice.

This kind of immersion in reading, this knowledge of the Book of Mormon, this learning to discern, to hear or feel, and then to obey the voice of the Lord to us personally may do more to prepare the Saints for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ than nearly any other activity we could engage in. President Benson urged the priesthood holders of the Church: "One of the most important things you can do as priesthood leaders is to immerse yourselves in the scriptures. Search them diligently. Feast upon the words of Christ. Learn the doctrine. Master the principles that are found therein. There are few other ways to gain greater inspiration as you serve.

"But that alone, as valuable as it is, is not enough. You must also bend your efforts and your activities to stimulating meaningful scripture study among the members of the Church. Often we spend great effort in trying to increase the activity levels in our stakes.

"We work diligently to raise the percentages of those attending sacrament meetings. We labor to get a higher percentage of our young me on missions. We strive to improve the numbers of those marrying in the temple. All of these are commendable efforts and important to the growth of the kingdom. But when individual members and families immerse themselves in the scriptures regularly and consistently, these other areas of activity will automatically come. Testimonies will increase. Commitment will be strengthened. Families will be fortified. Personal revelation will flow ...

"This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success'" (Joshua 1:8; italics added)."

President Benson also spoke on the centrality of the scriptures to the work that the Saints must do in the winding-up scenes of this dispensation:

"In the Book of Mormon we find a pattern for preparing for the Second Coming. A major portion of the book centers o the few decades just prior to Christ's coming to America. By careful study of that time period we can determine why some were destroyed in the terrible judgments that preceded His coming and what brought others to stand at the temple in the land of Bountiful and thrust their hands into the wounds of His hands and feet."

"My beloved brothers and sisters, I bear my solemn witness that these books [the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants] contain the mind and the will of the Lord for us in these days of trial and tribulation. They stand with the Bible to give witness of the Lord and His work. These books contain the voice of the Lord to us in these latter days. May we turn to them with full purpose of heart and use them in the way the Lord wishes them to be used."

It is clear that as wickedness increases, the Saints need a compensatory blessing to carry the Lord's work forward. We have been promised that very blessing. President Benson declared: "I bless you with increased understanding of the Book of Mormon. I promise you that from this moment forward, if we will daily sup from its pages and abide by its precepts; God will pour out upon each child of Zion and the Church a blessing hitherto unknown." Finally President Benson has spoken on how we will get from where we are now to that day when our Savior appears and the Saints stand before him prepared:

"Only a Zion people can bring in a Zion society. And as the Zion people increase, so we will be able to incorporate more of the principles of Zion until we have a people prepared to receive the Lord." When the Saints have assumed their individual responsibility to possess the Spirit of the Lord in the ways that the Lord has instructed, all other preparations will follow, and we will have a people not only ready to stand in the midst of the trials preceding the Second Coming but able to rejoice under the sanctifying and prospering hand of the Lord Jesus Christ.