Words are completely inadequate to describe the feelings Susan and I have each time we return to this campus. We cherish the memories of the people with whom we served, the special and set apart nature of this place, and the extraordinary experiences we shared. Some of the most meaningful events of our lives occurred here, and we are grateful to be with you today.
The title of my message is quite unusual, “Repeat Over Again . . . the Same Things as Before.” This abbreviated phrase is found in the forty-sixth verse in the Joseph Smith History and describes an characteristic of the instruction Joseph received from the angel Moroni. I have chosen this title because my purpose is to explain the spiritual value and importance of repetitious learning and teaching.
Precisely because repetition is a pattern related to receiving and recognizing revelation, I pray earnestly for the Holy Ghost to help us understand one another and rejoice together.
Moroni’s Appearances to Joseph Smith
To prepare for this devotional, you were invited to read selected verses in the Joseph Smith History in the Pearl of Great Price. Let me quickly review several key incidents from the four appearances of Moroni and his communications with Joseph Smith.
On the evening of September 21, 1823, young Joseph Smith prayed and asked forgiveness for his sins and follies so that he might know his standing before God. While in the act of praying, a light filled his room and the angel Moroni appeared at his bedside standing in the air. The heavenly messenger called Joseph by name and said that God had a work for him to do, and that his name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues. Moroni told Joseph about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and reviewed numerous Old and New Testament prophecies that would be fulfilled in God’s latter-day work.
We are all familiar with the fact that Moroni returned two more times that same night and once the next morning and repeated his message to Joseph Smith. This example of repetitious teaching was intended to emphasize the deep significance of the things that had been communicated.
It is quite common for many of us in describing this series of events to state that Moroni delivered the same message to Joseph a total of four times. Such a statement is accurate but incomplete. As we now consider the three subsequent visitations by Moroni, we will see that indeed the same message was presented on all four occasions. But in visitations two, three, and four additional information and instruction also was given to Joseph.
After receiving the initial teachings from Moroni, Joseph marveled greatly at what had been told to him by such an extraordinary messenger. In the midst of his meditation, the room again began to be filled with light and Moroni once more was by his bedside.
The angel commenced and again related the very same things he conveyed during his first visit, without the least variation. He then informed Joseph of great judgments which were coming upon the earth, with great desolations by famine, sword, and pestilence; and that these grievous judgments would come on the earth in this generation. At the conclusion of this instruction, the second visitation ended.
The core messages delivered by Moroni in both the first and second appearances were exactly and precisely the same. Please note, however, that in the second interaction a description of future judgments and calamities was added to the initial message. Thus, the content of the first and second messages was both the same and different. In the second visitation, the initial teaching was built upon and added to with supplementary information about important future events.
At this point in the night, the impressions made upon Joseph’s mind by the two previous visitations from Moroni were so deep that sleep had fled from his eyes. Then suddenly a third time he beheld the same messenger at his bedside and heard him rehearse or repeat again the same things as before. Interestingly, in this third exchange Moroni added an individual caution to Joseph, telling him that Satan would tempt him to get the golden plates for the purpose of becoming rich. This he forbade Joseph to do and taught him that he must have no other object in view in obtaining the plates but to glorify God. At the conclusion of this instruction, the third visitation ended.
Note once again the pattern—repeating the core message exactly, and then adding to the original content a very strong and personal warning to young Joseph.
The next morning Joseph attempted to perform his customary chores but was so weakened by the miraculous experiences of the previous night that he was unable to work. While laboring together, Joseph’s father noticed something clearly was not right with his son and instructed him to return to their home. As Joseph attempted to climb a fence on his way back to the house, he fell on the ground and for a time was quite unconscious of anything.
The first thing Joseph could recollect was a voice speaking to him, calling him by name. Moroni was standing above the boy and again related to him all that he had related the previous night. The angel also commanded Joseph to go to his father and tell him of the vision and commandments which he had received. At the conclusion of this instruction, the fourth visitation ended.
Again in this appearance of Moroni, the fundamental message remained exactly the same. Significant, however, is the addition of a specific commandment to Joseph to tell his father about the visions and instruction he had received.
In each of the four appearances of Moroni to Joseph Smith, the core message was identical. But in a line upon line and precept upon precept pattern of revelation and learning, additional knowledge and instruction were given in the second, third, and fourth manifestations: a foretelling of future events, a personal warning, and a commandment. All of the messages were the same and were different in a pattern of repetitious teaching and learning.
Repetition as a Pattern for Receiving and Recognizing Revelation
A hallmark in the ministry of any General Authority or auxiliary leader is repetitious teaching. For example, I frequently and repeatedly teach about and testify of the divinity and living reality of our Heavenly Father and His Only Begotten Son; of our resurrected Redeemer; of the basic doctrine, principles, ordinances, and covenants of the Savior’s restored gospel; of the reality of the latter-day Restoration; and of the essential nature of priesthood authority and keys. Many times each day and thousands and thousands of times each year I am blessed to bear my apostolic witness concerning the truthfulness of these eternal verities.
My wife, Susan, and I have learned a remarkable revelatory lesson during my years of service in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. As we travel and serve together around the world, Susan records simple notes about the places we visit, the people we meet, and the topics we teach. She has become adept at noticing in various venues the things that are dissimilar in my explanations of the same gospel principles. Susan listens for the statements I have never used before, changes in an explanation, or refinements in the answer to a question. Interestingly, the messages always are the same and always are different.
We have learned to treasure the spiritual gems that are revealed through repetition. The distinctive nuggets of inspiration and spiritual knowledge that flow into our minds and hearts as we repeatedly teach and testify of gospel truths are the product of a line upon line and precept upon precept pattern of revelation. Repetition is a vehicle through which the Holy Ghost can enlighten our minds, influence our hearts, and enlarge our understanding.
Have you ever heard a Sunday School teacher introduce the topic for a lesson and thought, “I already know about this subject?” Have you ever heard a speaker in sacrament meeting identify the theme about which he or she will speak and responded, “Not again?” Have you ever wondered, “Why do Church leaders always address the same basic doctrine and principles in general conference?” Have you ever “checked out” mentally and spiritually because you anticipated an episode of repetitious teaching? We all have, of course. And we need to repent for doing so and more fully appreciate the value of repetition as a means of facilitating revelation.
Consider how often we hear exactly the same words in the ordinance of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, in conferring the gift of the Holy Ghost and confirming a new member of the Church, in the sacramental prayers,
and in temple ordinances. I find it especially instructive that repetition is such an important aspect of the essential and most sacred ordinances in which we participate as members of the Savior’s restored Church. Repetitious learning and teaching as a line upon line and precept upon precept pattern of revelation can invite the Holy Ghost to renew, enrich, and enlarge the knowledge we already have obtained; it also can bring new knowledge and understanding into our minds and hearts.
A Repetitious Warning and Promise
Given the emphasis placed thus far in my message on the value of repetitious learning and teaching, you should not be surprised that I now am going to repeat a warning and a promise I have given on this campus on other occasions. Some history and context should help you to understand my reasons for repeating the warning.
I began my service on this campus in the summer of 1997, at what was then the largest private two-year college in the United States—Ricks College. In September of that year President James E. Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency, visited the school to dedicate the new John Taylor Building. Elder Henry B. Eyring of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the Commissioner of Church Education was President Faust’s companion for that special occasion.
Elder Eyring arrived in Rexburg one day early to review several matters with me and to ensure that everything was in order for President Faust. When I picked up Elder Eyring at the airport, I learned that he had just returned from a two-week assignment in South America. He obviously was tired from his travels, and I was anxious to get him to our home so he could rest.
As we drove to Rexburg, I asked Elder Eyring if he was interested in quickly walking through the completed Taylor Building. He answered that he was interested, and we spent approximately 15 minutes inspecting the classrooms and other facilities.
Our last stop was the Taylor Chapel, and Elder Eyring stood near the pulpit on the stand and surveyed the seating area for quite a long time. After a few minutes, I asked him: “Elder Eyring, what are you thinking about?” He answered with this profound and penetrating observation: “I am thinking about how much we do for so few and how little we do for so many.” He then continued, “The tithing of the people I just visited in South America and from good people all over the world paid for this facility. And most of the people who have made this beautiful facility possible will never see or step foot in a building like this. That is what I am thinking about.”
That experience and the lesson I learned from Elder Eyring influenced me greatly during the time I served at BYU–Idaho. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has invested millions of tithing dollars over the last 15 years to upgrade the BYU–Idaho campus and programs. Such expenditures have been made to enhance your learning, developmental, and employment experiences. Please do not take these sacred resources, your choice opportunities, and this beautiful campus for granted. Please do not think that you are somehow more deserving or worthy. Please be grateful for the singular chance you have to learn and work here and for the responsibility that rests upon you as one who has been the recipient of great blessings.
In October of 2006, I returned to BYU-Idaho as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve to speak in a devotional and to preside at the groundbreaking ceremony for this BYU-Idaho Center and the Manwaring Center addition. I repeat again the warning and promise I expressed on that occasion.
“In the authority of the holy Apostleship, I now raise a voice of warning and make a solemn promise. If the day ever were to come that intellectual arrogance, a lack of appreciation, and a spirit of demanding entitlement take root on this campus—among the students, faculty, employees or the administration, or within the community—then in that day the Spirit of Ricks will be well on the way to being extinguished—and the heavenly influence and blessings that have prospered this institution and the people associated with it will be withdrawn. Conversely, as long as intellectual modesty, humility, gratitude, obedience, and frugality continue to characterize those who learn and serve at BYU–Idaho, then this university will shine forth ever brighter as a beacon of righteousness and of inspired educational innovation” (David A. Bednar, The Spirit and Purposes of Gathering, Oct. 2006, 10-11).
I repeated that identical warning and promise at the dedicatory service of this building in December of 2010. Today I emphasize, affirm, and renew that warning and promise for a third time.
Why Repeat This Warning and Promise a Third Time?
You understandably may be asking yourself the question, why repeat this message a third time?
I am not the same man who warned and promised in 2006 and 2010. I am the same man, but I am different. I have traveled the earth for more than a decade and visited countless homes of faithful Church members—the rich and the poor, the meek and the humble, the educated and the uneducated. Those converted and consecrated Latter-day Saints have changed me.
I participate every year in the Council on the Disposition of the Tithes with the First Presidency, the other members of the Twelve, and the Presiding Bishopric. I witness firsthand the watch care exercised by the leaders of this Church over the widow’s mite that makes it possible for you to be a student or an employee at this university. Those experiences have changed me.
As sincere and earnest as I was in 2006 when I first delivered that warning and promise, I am many times more focused and intense about it today than I was then.
This campus is not the same campus it was in 1997 or 2006 or 2010. The campus is the same but different. I have watched for many years as the Lord has blessed and prospered the students, staff, and faculty of this remarkable university. The facilities are functional and beautiful. The students, staff, and faculty are faithful and diligent. So much has been accomplished in such a short period of time.
And precisely because you and the university are being blessed and prospered, the warning and promise are needed a third time. In particular, a warning is most needed when we do not think we need to be warned. Using the language of the Old Testament prophet Haggai, I invite you to carefully and prayerfully “consider your ways” (Haggai 1:5, 7).
Is your pride allowing intellectual arrogance to creep into your mind and heart?
Are you forgetting the Lord and failing to appreciate His bounteous blessings and promises?
Are you turning inward, becoming self-centered, and gradually developing an attitude of personal privilege and entitlement?
These insidious spiritual flaws can develop in us so subtly that we may not recognize or respond to them. As you ponder these questions sincerely and with real intent, I promise the Holy Ghost will help you to see yourself as you “really are” (Jacob 4:13) and to identify both the things you presently are doing well and the course corrections you need to make in your life.
I believe consecrated people like you in this sacred and set apart place, with the help of the Lord and by the power of His Holy Spirit, can attenuate the pride cycle so prominently highlighted throughout the Book of Mormon. You can prosper and remain submissive. You can succeed and avoid arrogance. You can receive blessings with gratitude and not be seduced by a sense of self-serving entitlement. You can increase the intensity of the righteous light that shines forth from Brigham Young University-Idaho.
Blessing and Testimony
I love you, and I love BYU-Idaho. I invoke the Lord’s blessings upon you, both individually and collectively—even the spiritual capacities and gifts that will be necessary for you to overcome and avoid the pride that so often follows periods of great prosperity.
I testify of and witness the living reality of our Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son. I know Jesus the Christ is our resurrected and living Savior. And I witness that the Father and the Son appeared to and instructed Joseph Smith, thus initiating the restoration of the gospel in the dispensation of the fulness of times. Of these truths I testify in the sacred name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.