The Learning of Eternal Truths
Elder Dale E. Miller
Brigham Young University–Idaho Devotional
February 22, 2005
Laurel and I have eagerly looked forward to this visit. We enjoyed the drive up from Salt Lake City and our first ever tour of the campus. We have heard wonderful reports of progress over the years concerning this university, reports that started early in the 1970’s.
During those early years, I served as counselor to Bishop Henry B. Eyring in the Stanford I ward in Palo Alto California. Later, we became fellow bishops when the ward was divided. I remember the day well when he was called to be president of Ricks College, leaving his role as business professor at Stanford and as bishop to the LDS students. It was our loss and your gain. I rejoined Elder Eyring again in this last decade, serving on several committees together at Church headquarters. Now, I sit on the Priesthood Executive Council of the Church, to which Elder David Bednar was recently added. We have benefited greatly from the wisdom of these two great men who learned much from their experiences at this university. Thank you for preparing them both for the important roles they now play in the kingdom as Apostles of the Lord. It has been obvious in our committee interactions that BYU-Idaho is playing an important role in the Church, being represented by these two men and those who will yet follow.
Last week, I mentioned to Elder Bednar that I was to speak at this devotional. I asked for his counsel. He said to be careful not to sell you short, that you come prepared to learn, are bright, spiritual and will recognize eternal truths at the deeper levels. Based on that brief conversation, I felt impressed to speak on how to learn eternal truths and the rewards for so doing.
I ask that the Spirit of the Lord will be upon us today so that you and I might learn together. President Marion G. Romney once remarked that speakers, under the influence of the Holy Ghost might also learn, I quote, “I always know when I am speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost because I always learn something from what I’ve said” (quoted in Boyd K. Packer, Teach Ye Diligently, 1975, 304).
I am here to learn along with you, through the voice of the Spirit. For those who have experience teaching the Gospel you know that as you speak, related thoughts will come, pushing thoughts and feelings beyond what was said, both as teacher and as student. That experience comes to you over time. It is a tool used by the Holy Ghost to teach us all.
So, let us prepare our hearts and minds that the Holy Ghost might teach us today, “For he will give unto the faithful line upon line, precept upon precept…” through the power of the spirit (Doctrine and Covenants 98:12).
We begin with a true story of a past Church leader that you likely don’t know.
On the first day of April Conference, 1924, President Heber J. Grant concluded his opening remarks by announcing that President Charles W. Penrose, first counselor in the First Presidency would be the next speaker. President Penrose was 92 years old at the time and somewhat ill. He was not scheduled to speak at the conference. So, without prior notice he approached the Tabernacle pulpit to speak. This was a similar situation between President Hinckley and Elder David B. Haight in last April’s conference.
I quote President Penrose from the proceedings of that April, 1924 conference,
Brothers and Sisters, this is not the first time in my life that I have been taken by surprise. I felt quite content to sit on the stand here this morning and listen to the words of inspiration that have fallen from the lips of President Heber J. Grant, feeling that he would occupy most, if not all, of the time. I take great pleasure in bearing testimony to the truth of the things that he has uttered. Perhaps there is no need for that. I believe that that testimony is in the hearts of this vast congregation this morning. I enjoyed every word the President has uttered. I know that what he has said and read and testified of is true, and it came to us this morning in the life and power and spirit of the gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed to us in these last days. I enjoy meetings of this kind and teachings of this kind. They are more to my heart and soul than learned disquisitions of any kind.
President Penrose then proceeded to spontaneously expound upon many glorious eternal truths. He covered many topics. His thoughts and words seemed to so easily flow from an almost limitless reservoir of knowledge and wisdom. He spoke on such topics as:
• The Lord’s mandate to preach the Gospel to the nations of the world
• The coming of the Prince of Peace
• How we are to serve the Lord
• Our blessings are predicated upon serving the Lord
• Answering a scriptural question of his time on the length of a generation referred to in scripture?
• Reaffirming the fact that there is no date set for the coming of the Lord
• A charge to the Saints to perform their duty so that their blessings would be assured
• A personal reminiscence of his service and his testimony
• A plea to hang on and keep fast hold of the truth
• A blessing to the Saints
• The eternal nature of our work
• Finally, he gave his testimony of President Heber J. Grant as the world’s prophet on earth
As you read his remarks, you become aware that he was selecting topics as directed by the Spirit. It was not rambling nor disjointed. It was a flow of gratitude, doctrinal clarification, exhortation, personal experiences with a principle, invocation of a blessing and finally a testimony. Granted that this spontaneous speaking ability comes with practice, however it also requires the Spirit to give thought, organization, feeling and words to carry it to the minds and hearts of the hearers.
His vast knowledge and testimony of eternal truths allowed the Spirit to select the “menu” from his knowledge and wisdom. A principle here: When we are in tune with the Spirit, it has a way of telling us what to say and importantly, what not to say. It takes faith to go there. “I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost” (Doctrine and Covenants 8:2). It sometimes comes to your mind and sometimes to your feelings and sometimes to both.
Twelve years earlier, on his eightieth birthday, President Charles W. Penrose was honored by a celebration at Church headquarters. President Joseph F. Smith, the president of the Church at the time made a rather astounding remark about President Penrose: “No prophet, ancient or modern, knows so much of the gospel of Jesus Christ as Charles W. Penrose” (Frank W. Penrose, “A Tribute to Charles W. Penrose,” Young Women’s Journal (July 1925) 36:405).
That is a remarkable statement coming from one of our Church presidents who knew President Penrose so intimately and was himself one of the Church’s great scholars and doctrinaires.
It turns out that President Penrose is not well known in today’s Church membership. He was a “behind the scenes” counselor in the First Presidency. He was known as a clarifier of doctrine on behalf of the First Presidency. He was looked upon to keep the doctrine pure in the Church. He reviewed the correctness of doctrines both taught and written by past and contemporary leaders of the Church, including works of Parley P. Pratt, B.H. Roberts, and James E. Talmage to name a few. He crafted many of the declaration of doctrines issued under the authority of the First Presidency.
President Penrose never liked to write down talks but to let the Spirit guide. I wonder how he would have handled the world of broadcasting and the requisite Teleprompters, like the ones I am using today.
Teleprompters can be seeming, “spirit killers.” They can be awkward to use. Once you start, you feel chained to the words on the glass.
I changed my mind about Teleprompters, as I worked on the productions of the Worldwide Leadership training broadcasts. I now realize that fasting, prayer, study, research and multiple drafting do bring the Spirit into the text, as if it were scripture. It is speaking by the spirit even though the skill of delivery varies. It now becomes the audience’s responsibility to listen by the Spirit and to study it out in their own minds. I hope you get my message here!
How often have you listened to a talk, thinking it was rather uneventful, only to read it later and be amazed at how much you missed! Remember the dual responsibility:
And again, he that receiveth the word of truth, doth he receive it by the Spirit of truth or some other way?
If it be some other way it is not of God.
Therefore, why is it that we cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth (Doctrine and Covenants 50:19-21).
Was the talk not relevant to our interests or were we just listening by “some other way?”
You may be asking about now, “Why does Elder Miller start his remarks by talking of a somewhat obscure member of the First Presidency?” I will now tell you.
If you and I can understand the process of learning eternal truths used by President Penrose, we might find a useful roadmap for ourselves. Secondly, President Penrose happens to be my great, great, grandfather. I have read and reread his diaries and his teachings, trying to learn from them. The added value that our forefathers bring to us is not only to patch together our family sealing line but also to learn from them. It gives additional meaning to the spiritual magnet that turns the hearts of the children to the fathers. We learn from their lives, a tradition of eternal learning since the days of Adam. I have been inspired by the teachings and life accounts of Grampa Penrose. They have taught me much about how he learned eternal truths.
Even the Son of God received a fullness from His Father. He “received not of the fullness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fullness” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:12-13) We have several quotes from the Savior himself on how he learned,
Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things so ever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise (John 5: 19).
…I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things (John 8:28).
We admire how the Savior and the prophets, old and modern, who wrote, spoke and still speak by the Spirit. The right of passage seems to be in the price of righteous living. They maintain a constant state of “readiness” to receive, to teach and to discern by the Spirit. I see this happen most days as I work with the other General Authorities. Rest assured my young brothers and sisters, revelation continues to be a daily occurrence in this Church.
It takes work and discipline to learn, teach and discern eternal truths by the Spirit. The Prophet Joseph suggests how to start; “A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith 1976, 151).
My interpretation of his clue on learning eternal truths through inspiration is that it is an acquired ability. You must work at it. It builds upon itself and becomes easier as any tool brought by discipline.
There is an intriguing expression in Latter-day scriptures as to the process of learning eternal truths. Three examples come to mind:
1. When Joseph commented on the affect of his and Oliver Cowdery’s experience of the Holy Ghost after their baptism he said:
Our minds now being enlightened, we began to have the scriptures laid open to our understandings, and the true meaning and intention of their more mysterious passages revealed to us in a manner which we never could attain to previously, nor ever before thought of (JS-H 74).
2. When the Prophet Joseph and Sidney Rigdon had the heavens opened to them for an hour or so in the John Johnson farm at Hiram, Ohio, he said of the experience, “By the power of the Spirit our eyes were opened and our understandings were enlightened, so as to see and understand the things of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:12).
3. When President Joseph F. Smith wrote of his experiences of seeing the spirit world in some detail he described the process, “As I pondered over these things (scriptures on the atonement and the Spirit world), the eyes of my understanding were opened and the Spirit of the Lord rested upon me.” (Doctrine and Covenants 138: 11)
Do we again see a pattern here? In each case, the prophets were pondering scripture, asking questions and then, having the eyes of their understanding opened. That is a major method to learn eternal truths. The eyes of our understanding are opened to see the “mysteries” of the scriptures and to learn of eternal truths and how to fit them together.
Interestingly, the Savior, Joseph Smith, Charles Penrose and many others who have learned eternal truths at the deeper levels, came from very humble, earthly circumstances.
We do not have to be highly educated to gain high levels of learning eternal things, although it certainly helps. C.S. Lewis gives us this thought: “Anyone who is honestly trying to be a Christian will soon find his intelligence being sharpened. One of the reasons why it needs no special education to be a Christian is that Christianity is an education itself” (Mere Christianity pg.61).
Let’s look closely at why that is true. To Oliver Cowdery the Lord said, “Behold, thou knowest that thou hast inquired of me and I did enlighten thy mind; and now I tell thee these things that thou mayest know that thou hast been enlightened by the Spirit of truth” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:15). Becoming enlightened suggests that we are filled with light. We often say, “Ah, a light bulb went off!” Actually, something more profound takes place when that light comes from God.
When eternal light (meaning eternal truth) comes to us through the Holy Ghost it works an important transformation in us. This transformation is a continuing growth process, if we give room to it.
Parley P. Pratt expresses it this way, speaking of a man who receives light through the Holy Ghost, “His mind is quickened, and his intellectual faculties are aroused to intense activity. He is, as it were, illuminated. He learns more of divine truth in a few days than he could have learned in a lifetime in the best merely human institution of the world” (Key to the Science of Theology, pg. 56-60).
So, we know how it works at the start. It is the spirit of Christ within us. Now here, please follow me into the so-called mysteries of the scriptures. We read in Doctrine and Covenants 84:45-47:
For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
And the Spirit giveth light to every man that cometh into the world; and the Spirit enlighteneth every man through the world, that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit.
And every one that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit cometh unto God, even the Father.
As we illuminate this spirit it draws us to truth. In turn, truth begets more truth. “For intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:40). Like a spiritual magnet, we begin to attract all forms of truth into one great whole. As the scriptures state, this also brings us not only closer to God but brings us into God, figuratively speaking, meaning the spirit of truth resides within us. His light now becomes our light and we are transformed as a result.
It not only illuminates our minds and our hearts, it literally transforms who and what we are. Often, we don’t notice the change. Even those who know us well don’t immediately notice. The change is often imperceptible, on a day-to-day basis. It is important to understand what God is doing for us and with us. As we absorb more light and truth, we become more like Him. As we become more like Him, we ourselves are filled with a light that is no longer just a temporary reflective light but a permanent source of light on spiritual matters.
Learning eternal truths is more than intellectual acquisition; the study, analysis and explanation of doctrinal facts. That’s what scholars do. That’s what we think we are supposed to do in a Sunday school or a university religion class.
It is even more than gaining a spiritual confirmation during moments of scriptural exploration and discovery.
Let’s see if a scripture can explain it better for us:
Behold, that which you hear is as the voice of one crying in the wilderness, -- in the wilderness, because you cannot see him--my voice, because my voice is Spirit; my Spirit is truth; truth abideth and hath no end; and if it be in you it shall abound.
And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things.
Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:66-68).
Do you see the connection of acquiring eternal truths, being transformed by those truths with the result that you acquire the capacity to participate in God’s glory? “For behold, this is my work and my glory - to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1: 39).
I believe that something much more profound happens to us as we acquire an understanding of Eternal Truths and as we assimilate them into our being. I believe that it is something added to you and me as we build a relationship with God; in fact it is the undeniable and ultimate result of that relationship.
It is a transcending process in which you as a child of God become more like him because He is coming to you through your absorption of Eternal Truths. Again, it is not just a knowledge acquisition nor is it only a relationship with the Savior - it is both.
“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).
Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world?
Jesus answered and said unto him, “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him (John 14:22-23).
When we come to accept and assimilate and practice the truths of the Gospel we come closer to God and the Savior. These truths abide in us and slowly they come to make their abode with us as the Personification of truth and spirit.
It is the process by which truth becomes a part of your being, body and soul. Each learned eternal truth taken in and acted upon redefines you. You are not the same person, even though you may look the same to everyone else.
The light that accompanies the new truths you acquire changes your very character, including your countenance. It does not leave you unless you deliberately move away from that light. It may be imperceptive, but it changes you forever.
Now, I think there is something important about that process of the connection between Spirit, truth, sanctification and, having light that comprehendeth all things. I have for years missed the import of what the Lord is saying here.
Brigham Young added this thought, “It (the Holy Ghost) shows them things past, present, and to come. It opens the vision of the mind, unlocks the treasures of wisdom, and they begin to understand the things of God… They comprehend themselves and the great object of their existence” (Journal of Discourses, 1:241).
I have a tiny glimpse now of how to learn as Grampa Penrose learned and how all the prophets learned.
Now, I have thrown a lot of ideas at you, probably too much. Elder Bednar said you were a pretty bright bunch of people so I took him at his word.
By way of summary, let’s review some of the principles involved in learning eternal truths:
•We spoke not only of how to learn eternal truths but the rewards for so doing
•Speakers, under the Holy Ghost, also learn
•The Spirit pushes thought and feeling beyond what was heard and what is read
•We gain line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little
•Spontaneous speaking ability comes with practice along with the Spirit
•The Spirit tells us what to say and what not to say
•The Spirit comes to our minds or to our feelings or both
•The audience is responsible to listen by the Spirit or it is not of God
•Our hearts are turned toward our Fathers also to learn from them
•It takes a righteous life to be in readiness for the Spirit. The more we drift from the light, the less we are able to discern the light.
•Inspiration is an acquired ability
•We learn in quantum leaps when the eyes of our understanding are opened by the Spirit
•The light that accompanies eternal truth transforms us; we are not the same person as before. It adds a responsibility to us.
•This is the Way, the Truth and the Life. It brings us to the Father and the Son. His light becomes our light.
•We come to understand ourselves and the object of our existence
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
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