Years ago my great-great-grandfather picked up a copy of the Book of Mormon for the first time. He opened it to the center and read a few pages. He then declared, “That book was either written by God or the devil, and I am going to find out who wrote it.” He read it through twice in the next 10 days and then declared, “The devil could not have written it—it must be from God.” That is the genius of the Book of Mormon—there is no middle ground. It is either the word of God as professed, or it is a total fraud. This book does not merely claim to be a moral treatise or theological commentary or collection of insightful writings. It claims to be the word of God—every sentence, every verse, every page. Joseph Smith declared that an angel of God directed him to gold plates, which contained the writings of prophets in ancient America, and that he translated those plates by divine powers. If that story is true, then the Book of Mormon is holy scripture, just as it professes to be; if not, it is a sophisticated but, nonetheless, diabolical hoax. . . You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. … But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Unless we read the Book of Mormon and give heed to its teachings, the Lord has stated in section 84 of the Doctrine and Covenants that the whole Church is under condemnation: “And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all. The Lord continues: “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.” Now we not only need to say more about the Book of Mormon, but we need to do more with it. Why? The Lord answers: “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.” We have felt that scourge and judgment! The Prophet Joseph said that “the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than any other book.” The Book of Mormon has not been, nor is it yet, the center of our personal study, family teaching, preaching, and missionary work. Of this we must repent
In order for us to be strong and to withstand all the forces pulling us in the wrong direction or all the voices encouraging us to take the wrong path, we must have our own testimony. Whether you are 12 or 112—or anywhere in between—you can know for yourself that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true. Read the Book of Mormon. Ponder its teachings. Ask Heavenly Father if it is true. We have the promise that “if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.” When we know the Book of Mormon is true, then it follows that Joseph Smith was indeed a prophet and that he saw God the Eternal Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. It also follows that the gospel was restored in these latter days through Joseph Smith—including the restoration of both the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods. Once we have a testimony, it is incumbent upon us to share that testimony with others. Many of you brethren have served as missionaries throughout the world. Many of you young men will yet serve. Prepare yourselves now for that opportunity. Make certain you are worthy to serve. If we are prepared to share the gospel, we are ready to respond to the counsel of the Apostle Peter, who urged, “Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.”
We commend that vast number of faithful Saints who individually and as families are changing their lives, cleansing the inner vessel, through the daily reading of the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is the instrument that God designed to “sweep the earth as with a flood, to gather out [His] elect.” This sacred volume of scripture needs to become more central in our preaching, our teaching, and our missionary work. Now, my good Saints, we have a great work to perform in a very short time. We must flood the earth with the Book of Mormon—and get out from under God’s condemnation for having treated it lightly. . . I challenge all of us to prayerfully consider steps that we can personally take to bring this new witness for Christ more fully into our own lives and into a world that so desperately needs it. . . I have a vision of the whole Church getting nearer to God by abiding by the precepts of the Book of Mormon. Indeed, I have a vision of flooding the earth with the Book of Mormon.
In these remarks I will seek to use rational argument, but I will not rely on any proofs. I will approach the question of the historicity of the Book of Mormon from the standpoint of faith and revelation. I maintain that the issue of the historicity of the Book of Mormon is basically a difference between those who rely exclusively on scholarship and those who rely on a combination of scholarship, faith, and revelation. Those who rely exclusively on scholarship reject revelation and fulfill Nephi’s prophecy that in the last days men “shall teach with their learning, and deny the Holy Ghost, which giveth utterance” The practitioners of that approach typically focus on a limited number of issues, like geography or “horses” or angelic delivery or nineteenth century language patterns. They ignore or gloss over the incredible complexity of the Book of Mormon record. Those who rely on scholarship, faith, and revelation are willing to look at the entire spectrum of issues, content as well as vocabulary, revelation as well as excavation. Speaking for a moment as one whose profession is advocacy, I suggest that if one is willing to acknowledge the importance of faith and the reality of a realm beyond human understanding, the case for the Book of Mormon is the stronger case to argue. The case against the historicity of the Book of Mormon has to prove a negative. You don’t prove a negative by prevailing on one debater’s point or by establishing some subsidiary arguments.
As an answer to those who may be wandering aimlessly, searching for something to satisfy their need and to end their state of confusion and emptiness, I would like to introduce a few thoughts by relating a remarkable vision which came to an ancient prophet by the name of Lehi—600 years before Christ. To the faithful members of the Church this will be an oft-related incident recorded in the Book of Mormon. To those not of our faith this may, if they will ponder seriously, be very significant in the light of many trends in our modern society. In this dream, or better called a vision, the prophet Lehi was led by a heavenly messenger through a dark and dreary waste to a tree laden with delicious fruit which proved to be very satisfying to his soul. He beheld a river of water nearby along which was a straight and narrow path leading to the tree laden with delicious fruit. Between the river bank and the path was a rod of iron, presumably to safeguard the travelers from falling off the narrow path into the river. . . The rod of iron as seen in the vision interpreted was the word of God, or the gospel of Jesus Christ. . . Wouldn’t it be a great thing if all who are well schooled in secular learning could hold fast to the “iron rod,” or the word of God, which could lead them, through faith, to an understanding, rather than to have them stray away into strange paths of man-made theories and be plunged into the murky waters of disbelief and apostasy? . . Conversion must mean more than just being a “card carrying” member of the Church with a tithing receipt, a membership card, a temple recommend, etc.
I read again the other day Parley P. Pratt’s account of his reading the Book of Mormon and coming into the Church. Said he: “I opened it with eagerness, and read its title page. I then read the testimony of several witnesses in relation to the manner of its being found and translated. After this I commenced its contents by course. I read all day; eating was a burden, I had no desire for food; sleep was a burden when the night came, for I preferred reading to sleep. “As I read, the spirit of the Lord was upon me, and I knew and comprehended that the book was true, as plainly and manifestly as a man comprehends and knows that he exists”. The gift of faith touched his life. He could not do enough to repay the Lord for what had come to him. He spent the remainder of his days in missionary service. He died a martyr to this great work and kingdom. . . .It was this mysterious and wonderful manifestation of faith that brought reassurance, that spoke with certainty, that came as a gift from God concerning this great latter-day work. As it was then, so it is today. This precious and marvelous gift of faith, this gift from God our Eternal Father, is still the strength of this work and the quiet vibrancy of its message. Faith underlies it all. Faith is the substance of it all. Whether it be going into the mission field, living the Word of Wisdom, paying one’s tithing, it is all the same. It is the faith within us that is evidenced in all we do.
For 179 years this book has been examined and attacked, denied and deconstructed, targeted and torn apart like perhaps no other book in modern religious history—perhaps like no other book in any religious history. And still it stands. Failed theories about its origins have been born and parroted and have died—from Ethan Smith to Solomon Spaulding to deranged paranoid to cunning genius. None of these frankly pathetic answers for this book has ever withstood examination because there is no other answer than the one Joseph gave as its young unlearned translator. In this I stand with my own great-grandfather, who said simply enough, “No wicked man could write such a book as this; and no good man would write it, unless it were true and he were commanded of God to do so.” I testify that one cannot come to full faith in this latter-day work—and thereby find the fullest measure of peace and comfort in these, our times—until he or she embraces the divinity of the Book of Mormon and the Lord Jesus Christ, of whom it testifies. If anyone is foolish enough or misled enough to reject 531 pages of a heretofore unknown text teeming with literary and Semitic complexity without honestly attempting to account for the origin of those pages—especially without accounting for their powerful witness of Jesus Christ and the profound spiritual impact that witness has had on what is now tens of millions of readers—if that is the case, then such a person, elect or otherwise, has been deceived; and if he or she leaves this Church, it must be done by crawling over or under or around the Book of Mormon to make that exit.
First came Moroni with the plates from which was translated the Book of Mormon. What a singular and remarkable thing this was. Joseph’s story of the gold plates was fantastic. It was hard to believe and easy to challenge. Could he have written it of his own capacity? It is here, my brothers and sisters, for everyone to see, to handle, to read. Every attempt to explain its origin, other than that which he gave, has fallen of its own weight. He was largely unschooled; and yet, in a very brief time, he brought forth the translation which in published form comes to more than 500 pages. Paul declares that “in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established”. The Bible had stood for centuries. It is a precious and wonderful book. Now there was a second witness declaring the divinity of Christ. The Book of Mormon is the only book ever published, of which I know, that carries in it a promise that one who reads it prayerfully and asks concerning it in prayer will have revealed to him by the power of the Holy Ghost a knowledge that it is true. Since its first publication in a rural print shop in Palmyra, New York, there have been more than 133 million copies produced. It has been translated into 105 languages. Not long ago it was named one of the 20 most influential books ever published in North America. Recently a first edition sold for $105,000. But the cheapest paperback edition is as valuable to the reader who loves its language and message.