Brothers and sisters, the scriptures offer us so many doctrinal diamonds. And when the light of the Spirit plays upon their several facets, they sparkle with celestial sense and illuminate the path we are to follow. Exemplifying this happy reality are the doctrinal teachings concerning desire, which relates so directly to our moral agency and our individuality. Whether in their conception or expression, our desires profoundly affect the use of our moral agency. Desires thus become real determinants, even when, with pitiful naivete, we do not really want the consequences of our desires. Desire denotes a real longing or craving. Hence righteous desires are much more than passive preferences or fleeting feelings. Of course our genes, circumstances, and environments matter very much, and they shape us significantly. Yet there remains an inner zone in which we are sovereign, unless we abdicate. In this zone lies the essence of our individuality and our personal accountability. Therefore, what we insistently desire, over time, is what we will eventually become and what we will receive in eternity. “For I [said the Lord] will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts”. Alma said, “I know that [God] granteth unto men according to their desire, … I know that he allotteth unto men … according to their wills”. To reach this equitable end, God’s canopy of mercy is stretched out, including “all that shall die henceforth without a knowledge of [the gospel], who would have received it with all their hearts, shall be heirs of that kingdom; “For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts”.
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.
The scriptures act as a cairn by helping us find answers to our questions and by giving us comfort in times of distress. When lost on the trail to Heavenly Father, we can look to the scriptures for voices of warning, for the glorious promise of eternal life, for the example of a perfect life, for answers to our questions, for comfort from our trials, and for the law that we must keep to obtain eternal life. President Howard W. Hunter stated: Obedience requires that we search the scriptures to know the law. In order to be obedient to the law of the gospel and be obedient to the teachings of Jesus Christ, we must first understand the law and ascertain the will of the Lord. This is accomplished best by searching and studying the scriptures and the words of the prophets. This mortal life occupies a short period of time in relation to our eternal existence, and it should be emphasized that it is simply one part of our eternal trail. A long trail can be composed of many segments of varying terrain. Two long and easily identified segments can be connected with a short portion that is obscure and difficult to traverse. If we keep to the first long segment, we will eventually reach the short segment that is difficult to follow. If we fail to keep on the short, connecting segment by following the cairns along the way, we will be unable to find the final path that leads to our eventual goal and will be lost forever. This, of course, relates to our eternal existence. We have all been successful in following our premortal trail and have reached this earth life, where we will be for a very short but important period of time. During this mortal life we will encounter cairns that, if followed, will lead us back to our heavenly home.
In other words, “Scripture itself points … away from itself and to the fact that final and true authority belongs to God himself.” So the scriptures are not the ultimate source of knowledge for Latter-day Saints. They are manifestations of the ultimate source. The ultimate source of knowledge and authority for a Latter-day Saint is the living God. The communication of those gifts comes from God as living, vibrant, divine revelation. This doctrine lies at the very heart of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and of our message to the world. It dramatizes the significance of a solemn assembly yesterday, in which we sustained Thomas S. Monson as a prophet, a seer, and a revelator. We believe in a God who is engaged in our lives, who is not silent, not absent, nor, as Elijah said of the god of the priests of Baal, is He “[on] a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be [awakened].” In this Church, even our young Primary children recite, “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” In declaring new scripture and continuing revelation, we pray we will never be arrogant or insensitive. But after a sacred vision in a now sacred grove answered in the affirmative the question “Does God exist?” what Joseph Smith and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints force us to face is the next interrogative, which necessarily follows: “Does He speak?” We bring the good news that He does and that He has. With a love and affection born of our Christianity, we invite all to inquire into the wonder of what God has said since biblical times and is saying even now. In a sense Joseph Smith and his prophetic successors in this Church answer the challenge Ralph Waldo Emerson put to the students of the Harvard Divinity School 170 years ago this coming summer. To that group of the Protestant best and brightest, the great sage of Concord pled that they teach “that God is, not was; that He speaketh, not spake.” I testify that the heavens are open.
Our Father in Heaven understood that for us to make desired progress during our mortal probation, we would need to face difficult challenges. Some of these would be almost overpowering. He provided tools to help us be successful in our mortal probation. One set of those tools is the scriptures. Throughout the ages, Father in Heaven has inspired select men and women to find, through the guidance of the Holy Ghost, solutions to life’s most perplexing problems. He has inspired those authorized servants to record those solutions as a type of handbook for those of His children who have faith in His plan of happiness and in His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ. We have ready access to this guidance through the treasure we call the standard works—that is, the Old and New Testaments, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. Because scriptures are generated from inspired communication through the Holy Ghost, they are pure truth. We need not be concerned about the validity of concepts contained in the standard works since the Holy Ghost has been the instrument which has motivated and inspired those individuals who have recorded the scriptures. Scriptures are like packets of light that illuminate our minds and give place to guidance and inspiration from on high. They can become the key to open the channel to communion with our Father in Heaven and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ. The scriptures provide the strength of authority to our declarations when they are cited correctly. They can become stalwart friends that are not limited by geography or calendar. They are always available when needed. Their use provides a foundation of truth that can be awakened by the Holy Ghost. Learning, pondering, searching, and memorizing scriptures is like filling a filing cabinet with friends, values, and truths that can be called upon anytime, anywhere in the world.
We are commanded to “feast upon the words of Christ” and not just nibble. Remember President Spencer W. Kimball’s statement: “I find that when I get casual in my relationships with divinity and when it seems that no divine ear is listening and no divine voice is speaking, that I am far, far away. If I immerse myself in the scriptures the distance narrows and the spirituality returns”. How many times did President Ezra Taft Benson urge us to read from the Book of Mormon daily? There is no other book that provides us with so much opportunity to “feast on the words of Christ.” It really is another testament of Jesus Christ Within its pages are 3,925 references to the Savior. On average, every 1.7 verses make reference to the Lord Jesus Christ. He is referred to by 101 different titles: Lord, Savior, Redeemer, the Only Begotten Son, the Good Shepherd, and so on. If you were to start on January 1st reading just two pages a day, by the time you came to September 22nd, you would have read the entire book. Are you reading from the scriptures every day? If not, now, this very day, is a good time to repent.