Last November I was asked to speak in Sacrament meeting on President Packer’s talk from the October conference. I have long made it a standard practice to save my written talks for reference later if I get a similar topic in the future. (It’s interesting to go back and read some of them and gain new insight into the topic.) Today Connor wrote about that same talk and I thought that considering the importance of the topic I should share what I had presented when I was asked to speak about it in case it was of any use to anyone. What follows is essentially my written talk with two caveats – first, that my spoken talks are never exactly the same as what I had written; second, that I will be editing this as seems appropriate (removing references specific to that sacrament meeting for example).
I wonder how many people there were like me who were excited to hear the words of President Packer when he stated the purpose he hoped to accomplish through his talk as he opened by saying:
“It is my purpose to show that in troubled times the Lord has always prepared a safe way ahead. We live in those ‘perilous times’ which the Apostle Paul prophesied would come in the last days. If we are to be safe individually, as families, and secure as a church, it will be through ‘obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.’”(Boyd K. Packer, “The Test,” Ensign, Nov 2008, 88 emphasis added)
I don’t think any of us are surprised to learn that we live in perilous times and thus it is comforting to have the renewed assurance by one of the Lord’s servants that we can be safe and secure individually, as families, and as a church by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.
President Packer told of the Independence Day celebration by the saints in Salt Lake City in 1849. He said that if we could understand why they would have that celebration and why they would choose patriotism as their theme after what they had endured we would have unlocked the key to what a Latter-Day Saint is. Brothers and sisters, while we are called Latter-Day Saints, that is a title not so much for who we are in most cases as it is for who we are striving to become. Unlocking that key, therefore, is very important if we are to grow to be worthy of that designation.
President Packer is kind enough to explicitly state the key which we should be seeking to unlock about saints. The key to what a latter-day saint is is they are anchored to revelation. Or I would say, they are anchored to revealed truth. President Packer noted three aspects of that 1849 celebration which he described as “both symbolic and prophetic”:
- that the young men carried the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence
- that each young woman carried the Bible and the Book of Mormon
- and that the Silver Greys were honored in the parade
Each of these three aspects helps us to understand the types or sources of revealed truth to which a latter-day saint will seek to anchor themselves.
Though we believe that the Constitution of our nation is an inspired document we rarely think of it as a source of truth. The awful experiences of the early saints would make it easy to forget that it is worth anchoring ourselves and our society to the truths it embodies.
The spokesman for the Silver Greys, Elder Phineas Richards, provided the necessary perspective when he declared that they had seen the United States in its glory and thus they knew by experience “that the outrageous cruelties we have suffered proceeded from a corrupted and degenerate administration, while the pure principles of our boasted Constitution remain unchanged.”
We too have lived in a day when we have seen actions from our government that didn’t live up to the “pure principles of our boasted Constitution.” That may serve as a reminder to us that we cannot let go of true principles when we see those principles implemented imperfectly.
We know that the Book of Mormon and the Bible are sources for revealed truth in our day to which we must cling. They represent the iron rod from Lehi’s dream which will lead us to the tree of life and the eternal happiness that is promised to those who press forward to reach it.
The honoring of the Silver Greys is symbolic of the value that we should place on the life experience of our elders. The Silver Greys of our day would be the senior leaders of the church – men who have likewise been “seasoned by decades of [experience].” When those leaders speak we should give special weight to their counsel in our efforts to determine the proper course of action on the issues of the day.
If we are to be saints in these latter days – anchored to revelation – we must work to build a personal foundation of knowledge of revealed truths. In Doctrine and Covenants Section 88 the Lord admonishes us to “seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” (D&C 88:118) In that section He describes the order of the School of the Prophets which was to be a place for the instruction of all the officers of the church “in all things that are expedient for them.” (D&C 88:127) Joseph Smith established that school and I find it instructive that while they primarily studied topics of a spiritual nature in that school they also studied languages and were instructed “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; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms,” as they had been promised in verse 79 of section 118. (emphasis added) We too, as we increase our knowledge of revealed truth, will find ourselves learning of things which we had not previously viewed as spiritually significant.
If we are reaching to expand our understanding with the goal to be “anchored to revelation” we must learn to recognize what constitutes revelation of a sufficiently solid foundation for us to sink an anchor. Imagine a mountain climber attaching an anchor to which he will connect his rope to ensure a safe climb. He must place that anchor not in any piece of rock on the mountain, but to a part which will not come loose as he pulls at it during his climb. Alma tells us what is strong enough to support an anchor – it is those truths which are kept, or written down, and preserved so that they might “retain their brightness.” (See Alma 37:5) In other words, it is the standard works, our conference talks and documents such as Proclamation on the Family – as opposed to a quote from one of our past prophets that has been transmitted by memory and word of mouth. While those quotes may have value as a handhold, they may not hold an anchor against the pressures that we will face in our personal climbs.
Notice that the first two things that President Packer cited as symbolic and prophetic are all written down so that we may remember them clearly – the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence as one aspect and the Bible and the Book of Mormon as another. These retain their brightness and serve as a foundation in their respective spheres of influence. When coupled with the experience and perspective of the Silver Greys of our day, being anchored to these written foundations can ensure that we safely navigate the challenges that we face in our lives.
Not only can the breadth of topics which the brethren learned about in the school of the prophets serve as an example of what we should learn about, they counsel of how to learn – “by study and also by faith” is important. The educational institutions of the world have much to say about seeking learning by study, but what does it mean to seek learning by faith? What is the process to learn in this way?
Alma taught the Zoramites very clearly the process of learning by faith. First, “exercise a particle of faith, . . . even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of [the knowledge you are trying to learn].” (Alma 32:27) Second, test the truth or goodness of the seed you have planted by observing whether it [enlarges your soul], [enlightens your mind], and even [begins to be delicious to you]. (Alma 32:28) Third, if the seed has proven to be good or true, nourish that seed of knowledge until you are able to partake of the fruit of that knowledge. (Alma 32:41) A shorter and simpler description was given by the Savior during His mortal ministry: If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. (John 7:17) To learn by faith means that we must put into practice those truths which we have not come to fully understand.
That might include paying tithing in order to see the promised blessings to know if the seed is good or it might be keeping the covenants that we have made through priesthood ordinances where we know that the seed is good, but we have not come to partake of the fruit of those covenants, which fruit includes the peace, safety, and security that President Packer is reassuring us about. If we have doubts concerning the counsel given to us by our priesthood leaders we should be seeking to learn concerning that counsel by following the path of learning by faith – we should be obedient to the counsel they have given in order that we may come to understand that counsel so that it may become part of the rock of revelation to which we are anchored. That is how we “give place for a portion of [their]words” and come to know “whether it be of God.”
As we seek learning by study and also by faith we will have a solid rock of revealed truth to which we can anchor ourselves and our families – and it will be the same rock to which this church has been anchored since it was restored upon the earth. Then we will come to know by our own experience the truth of the counsel that Alma gave to Helaman that “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 [the Liahona].” (Alma 37:44) As we give heed to the word of Christ we will find our safety and security being preserved in miraculous ways.