Recently in South America a youth inquired, “Can you give us suggestions that will help us know the Savior better and be able to constantly follow His example?” That meaningful question and others like it have prompted this message on acquiring spiritual knowledge. President Ezra Taft Benson emphasized the importance of spiritual knowledge, saying: “We should make daily study of the scriptures a lifetime pursuit. … The most important [thing] you can do … is to immerse yourselves in the scriptures. Search them diligently. … Learn the doctrine. Master the principles. … “You must … see that … searching the scriptures is not a burden laid upon [us] by the Lord, but a marvelous blessing and opportunity”. President Spencer W. Kimball commented: “Spiritual learning takes precedence. The secular without the foundation of the spiritual is … like the foam upon the milk, the fleeting shadow. … One need not choose between the two … for there is opportunity to get both simultaneously”. As you seek spiritual knowledge, search for principles. Carefully separate them from the detail used to explain them. Principles are concentrated truth, packaged for application to a wide variety of circumstances. A true principle makes decisions clear even under the most confusing and compelling circumstances. It is worth great effort to organize the truth we gather to simple statements of principle. I have tried to do that with gaining spiritual knowledge. The result is now shared in hope that it will be a beginning place for your study. . . . As spiritual knowledge unfolds, it must be understood, valued, obeyed, remembered, and expanded.
A great teacher once said, “He who does not read has no advantage over him who cannot read.” Illiteracy in the gospel seems almost inexcusable in this day of enlightenment and modern teaching techniques, especially among those of us who are committed in the waters of baptism and who reconfirm that commitment each week as we partake of the sacrament. On point number two—being willing—it always thrills me to meet with the missionaries all over the world. Is it ever convenient to pick up in the prime of life, to set schooling or an apprenticeship aside for two years, to leave family, friends, and personal interests to respond to a call from the prophet? Convenient, no. Soul satisfying, yes. And when you believe in something, you just DO IT! . . Those who become candidates to inherit all that the Father has must learn early that a home teaching assignment is more important than any TV program or any other worldly interest. When the still small voice prompts us, let’s DO IT and DO IT NOW! Spiritual sensitivity is a gift, freely given, to all who are willing to do their best. It is for those who have a desire to serve and the fortitude to take the first step, even when it doesn’t seem personally convenient to do so. As we complicate our lives, we discourage the gifts of the Spirit. The Savior taught so simply, so beautifully, but so-called modern civilization has brought so many frustrations into our lives. Today’s social environment seems to demand a sophistication in our living patterns that is too often incompatible with more important eternal objectives.
I read recently from a column in the Washington Post, by George Moore, who styled himself as the “hermit of Mount Vernon.” (Mount Vernon, of course, was the ancestral home of George Washington.) In this article he said, “I have spent the last twenty years of my life at Mount Vernon reducing my ignorance.” He claimed that a person never learns anything until he realizes how little he knows. In this article he makes this most illuminating observation about George Washington: “Washington never went to school. That’s why he was an educated man, he never quit learning.” What George Moore said of himself I suppose could be said of many of you and of myself: “I have spent more than three score years of my life reducing my ignorance.” Therein, it is my conviction, is the challenge to all who achieve distinction in any field. Some quit learning when they graduate from a school; some quit learning about the gospel when they have completed a mission for the Church; some quit learning when they become an executive or have a prominent position in or out of the Church. Remember, as George Moore said of Washington, “We can become educated persons, regardless of our stations in life, if we never quit learning.”
Over 50 years ago a wealthy captain of industry was approached by representatives of Harvard University for a substantial contribution in cash to help establish and build a graduate school of business. At first this prominent industrial leader hesitated to contribute, until he was persuaded in his own mind of the worth and importance of this educational enterprise. Once convinced, he contributed many times more than what was initially requested of him. As they were preparing for the dedicatory services they asked this great benefactor to make a speech. He declined. They tried to prevail, but again he declined. When the dedicatory services were being held, they again persisted and asked him if he would say but a few words on this important occasion. He stood before the assembly and essentially said: “I have but one thing I would like to say to you today, to the leaders and faculty and to the students of this business school …” Then after a long pause he said: “The learning process lies within.” In these five words, “The learning process lies within,” is contained a wise and profound truth – a truth which to my understanding has helped shape the objectives and the methods of that great school of business for over a half century.
No eternal learning can take place without that quickening of the Spirit from heaven. So, parents, teachers, and leaders, we must face our tasks the way Moses faced the promised land. Knowing he could not succeed any other way, Moses said to Jehovah, “If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence.” That is what our members really want when they gather in a meeting or come into a classroom anyway. Most people don’t come to church looking merely for a few new gospel facts or to see old friends, though all of that is important. They come seeking a spiritual experience. They want peace. They want their faith fortified and their hope renewed. They want, in short, to be nourished by the good word of God, to be strengthened by the powers of heaven. Those of us who are called upon to speak or teach or lead have an obligation to help provide that, as best we possibly can. We can only do that if we ourselves are striving to know God, if we ourselves are continually seeking the light of His Only Begotten Son. Then, if our hearts are right, if we are as clean as we can be, if we have prayed and wept and prepared and worried until we don’t know what more we can do, God can say to us as He did to Alma and the sons of Mosiah: “Lift up thy head and rejoice. … I will give unto you success.”
For members of the Church, education is not merely a good idea—it’s a commandment. We are to learn “of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad.” Joseph Smith loved learning even though he had few opportunities for formal education. In his journals, he spoke happily of days spent in study and often expressed his love of learning. Joseph taught the Saints that knowledge was a necessary part of our mortal journey, for “a man is saved no faster than he [gains] knowledge,” and that “whatever principle of intelligence we attain … in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.” During challenging times, it is even more important to learn. The Prophet Joseph taught, “Knowledge does away with darkness, [anxiety], and doubt; for these cannot exist where knowledge is.” Brethren, you have a duty to learn as much as you can. Please encourage your families, your quorum members, everyone to learn and become better educated. If formal education is not available, do not allow that to prevent you from acquiring all the knowledge you can. Under such circumstances, the best books, in a sense, can become your “university”—a classroom that is always open and admits all who apply. Strive to increase your knowledge of all that is “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy.” Seek knowledge “by study and also by faith.” Seek with a humble spirit and contrite heart. As you apply the spiritual dimension of faith to your study—even of temporal things—you can amplify your intellectual capacity, for “if your eye be single to [God’s] glory, your whole [body] shall be filled with light, … and [comprehend] all things.”