Why (Study) The Book of Mormon?
By Ken K. Gourdin
In the recently concluded General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Thomas S. Monson promised that members of the Church would be blessed if they will undertake a serious study one of the Church’s foundation Scriptures, the Book of Mormon. I responded in part:
Joseph Smith reported, “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (2007) 64, History of the Church 4:461) I take Brother Joseph’s “most correct” comment to mean that the Book of Mormon teaches the most correct principles in the clearest manner. As clearly as the Gospel is taught in many places in the Holy Bible, many of its more opaque concepts and precepts are elucidated much more clearly in the Book of Mormon.
As for “get[ting] nearer to God by abiding by its precepts,” who wouldn’t want to do that? I take a John 7:17 approach to such an invitation: Christ said, “If any man will do His will, he will know of the doctrine, whether it be of God or whether I speak of myself,” and I think that’s true of any man claiming to speak on God’s behalf, including (and especially, in many respects) Joseph Smith. And as for being the keystone of our religion, Dictionary.com (s.v. “keystone” http://www.dictionary.com/browse/keystone) and last accessed April 10, 2017) defines “keystone” as “the wedge-shaped piece at the summit of an arch, regarded as holding the other pieces in place,” and “something on which other things depend.” The Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion in both of these senses.
President Ezra Taft Benson called the Book of Mormon “one of the most siginficant gifts given to the world in modern times” (General Conference, October 1986, “The Book of Mormon—Keystone of Our Religion”). President Benson goes on to say that the Lord Himself impressed upon us the importance of the Book of Mormon:
“By His own mouth He has borne witness (1) that it is true (D&C 17:6), (2) that it contains the truth and His words (D&C 19:26), (3) that it was translated by power from on high (D&C 20:8), (4) that it contains the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ (D&C 20:9, D&C 42:12), (5) that it was given by inspiration and confirmed by the ministering of angels (D&C 20:10), (6) that it gives evidence that the holy scriptures are true (D&C 20:11), and (7) that those who receive it in faith shall receive eternal life (D&C 20:14).”
(Id.) Further, President Benson says that the Book of Mormon’s importance can be seen in where its coming forth occurred in the overall timetable of events comprising the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, noting that only Joseph Smith’s vision of the Father and the Son preceeded it (Id.) President Benson also notes that the Lord condemned the early Saints for treating the Book of Mormon lightly, quoting Doctrine and Covenants 84:54-57:
54 And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received—
55 Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.
56 And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all.
57 And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written[.]
President Benson goes on to ask, if the Saints of the Restoration were condemned for treating the Book of Mormon lightly, whether we are under any less condemnation in our day if we do the same (Id.). I think the very fact that President Benson asks the question indicates that, no, we are under no less condemnation than were they if we treat the Book of Mormon lightly.
Regarding Joseph Smith calling the Book of Mormon the keystone of our religion, President Benson goes on to say that “a keystone is the central stone in an arch. It holds all the other stones in place and if [it is] removed, the arch crumbles.” (Id.) He goes on to cite three ways in which the Book of Mormon is “the keystone of our religion”: “It is the keystone in our witness of Christ. It is the keystone of our doctrine. It is the keystone of testimony.”
The Book of Mormon “is the keystone of our witness of Christ,” President Benson says, because “[i]t bears witness of His reality with power and clarity.” It is the keystone of our doctrine because “in the Book of Mormon we will find the fulness of those doctrines required for our salvation. And they are taught plainly and simply so that even children can learn the ways of salvation and exaltation.” And the Book of Mormon is the keystone of testimony because if the Book of Mormon were not true, then Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling is not divine, his claim to restored priesthood keys is fraudulent, and the restoration fails in toto. (See id.)