The Covenant Path of Testimony

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In order to participate in President Monson’s call to hasten the work of salvation and rescue those who are lost, we must develop and maintain a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. To testify is to declare a belief about, of, or in something. It is to declare our knowledge of truth. The word testimony comes from a Latin word meaning witness. It is also related to the Latin words for three and stand, implying that the witness stands as a third or third-person (and therefore independent) witness. We are taught in the Old Testament, New Testament, and Doctrine & Covenants that the Lord’s pattern is for multiple witnesses to establish truth. Incidentally, testament is the same word as testimony; a testament is also a covenant. So we have an Old Covenant, a New Covenant, and a latter-day Doctrine and Covenants with, of course, the Book of Mormon standing as a special testament of Jesus Christ (and a special covenant between God and the remnants of the people of Lehi). All books of scripture serve to co-establish the truths contained within each other book. All of God’s word is established by multiple witnesses (Deut. 19:15Matt. 18:16D&C 6:28). The Godhead, though one in witness, purpose, and glory, constitute multiple witnesses. When Jesus Christ was baptized, His Father bore witness to John the Baptist saying, “This is my beloved Son.” The Holy Ghost also descended like a dove to bear witness to John of the divinity of Jesus Christ.

When Alma and Amulek started preaching to the people in the land of Ammonihah, people were astonished that two people bore witness unto them: “And now, when Amulek had spoken these words the people began to be astonished, seeing there was more than one witness who testified of the things whereof they were accused, and also of the things which were to come, according to the spirit of prophecy which was in them” (Alma 10:12). This is one reason LDS missionaries go out two by two – they act as multiple witnesses of the truths of the gospel. Their witnesses are further fortified by the witness of the Holy Ghost, who carries the words of testament directly into the hearts of those present who are willing to hear.

A testimony is belief or knowledge of truth and is most effectively shared by multiple witnesses. In order to share a testimony, it must first be gained. Testimonies are gained by seeking to know the truth through humble and honest prayer while diligently seeking to obtain knowledge from God. Testimonies are strengthened by living the principles of the gospel. Elder Richard G. Scott stated: “A strong testimony is the sustaining power of a successful life. It is centered in an understanding of the divine attributes of God our Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. It is secured by a willing reliance upon Them. A powerful testimony is grounded in the personal assurance that the Holy Ghost can guide and inspire our daily acts for good. A testimony is fortified by spiritual impressions that confirm the validity of a teaching, of a righteous act, or of a warning of pending danger. Often such guidance is accompanied by powerful emotions that make it difficult to speak and bring tears to the eyes. But a testimony is not emotion. It is the very essence of character woven from threads born of countless correct decisions” (Ensign, Nov. 2001, Scott; emphasis added).

Let me repeat: “[A testimony] is the very essence of character woven from threads born of countless correct decisions.” A testimony is based on the goodness of our lives, of our characters, and our actions. Our testimonies are strengthened as we live in accordance to the principles and ordinances of the gospel. In fact, that is the surest way to gain a testimony! Live the gospel principles for which you strive to gain a testimony. If you want a testimony, act as if as though you have it and that action will help create the reality of it. If you want to have a testimony of tithing, pay it! If you want to have a testimony of Jesus Christ, keep His commandments. If you want to have a testimony of the Book of Mormon, read it, pray about it, and live the doctrines contained within. That is one reason we are taught in Alma 32 to “experiment upon the word.” As we test what God has told us, we can know of its truth. We rarely receive a witness when we seek not; testimonies are gained and strengthened through mighty prayer and righteous living. Sometimes – or most times – we must wrestle in prayer as we seek a witness of the truths of the gospel.

For any who want to receive a witness of the truthfulness of the gospel Elder Scott offers His apostolic counsel: “Try reading the Book of Mormon because you want to, not because you have to. Discover for yourself that it is true. As you read each page ask, ‘Could any man have written this book or did it come as Joseph Smith testified?’ Apply the teachings you learn. They will fortify you against the evil of Satan. Follow Moroni’s counsel. Sincerely ask God the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, with real intent, if the teachings of the Book of Mormon are true (see Moro. 10:3–5). Ask with a desire to receive a confirmation personally, nothing doubting…. You will then know that Jesus Christ lives, that Joseph Smith was and is a prophet, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s Church. You will confirm that the Savior guides His Church through a living prophet. These truths will become a foundation for your productive life.” (Elder Scott, Ensign, November 2003).

Thus, testimonies effect changes in our lives. A testimony is a foundation of faith upon which we anchor our actions and as such becomes the foundation for our life of covenant service to God.

The prophet Joseph Smith saw in vision people who had received testimonies of Jesus Christ but who were not valiant in their testimonies. They were good people but people who did not live up to or partake in all the covenants required for exaltation. They received testimonies but did not take the additional steps required as disciples of Christ. These individuals, in Joseph’s vision, were unable to return to live with God again (see D&C 76:79).

Being valiant with our testimonies includes sharing them with others. Such declarations are recorded in heaven: “Ye are blessed, for the testimony which ye have borne is recorded in heaven for the angels to look upon; and they rejoice over you, and your sins are forgiven you.” (D&C 62:3).

I know of a group of youth who recently held their own testimony meeting using social media. They shared their testimonies with friends and strangers alike. In a world full of much filth and negativity, it was beautiful to see young men and women freely bearing their witnesses of Jesus Christ and the restored church. As they shared their testimonies, many of the youth were touched by the Spirit. In sharing their testimonies freely, they were following apostolic admonitions to share the gospel using the internet, social media, and whatever other means are available (see M. Russell Ballard, July 2008 Ensign).

An important part of developing and strengthening testimonies is to develop and strengthen faith. Faith and testimony are intertwined – we cannot have one without the other. The word faith is often used colloquially as a synonym for trust, belief, or confidence. Understanding faith to be simply belief or trust does not encapsulate the real meaning of faith.

The apostle Paul said: “Now faith is the substance [assurance] of things hoped for, the evidence [proof] of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1). Alma gave this definition of faith: “And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” (Alma 32:21).

A part of faith is hope or belief but faith is more than that. Thomas Hobbes explained: “But what (may some object) if a King, or a Senate, or other Soveraign Person forbid us to beleeve in Christ? To this I answer, that such forbidding is of no effect, because Beleef, and Unbeleef never follow mens Commands. Faith is a gift of God, which Man can neither give, nor take away by promise of rewards, or menaces of torture.” (Hobbes, Leviathan, iii. xlii. 271). “Faith is a gift of God.” We give the gift of our belief, hope, and trust to God. What He gives us in return is faith. Faith is a gift from God that is granted unto us in return for our belief and righteousness.

As Paul wrote, faith is an assurance of things hoped for and evidence of things not seen. Faith is the evidence or proof of our belief. Faith isn’t the antecedent, faith is the consequent. Belief and good works are the antecedent. Alma further taught: “But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words. Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.” (Alma 32:27-28).

If we are seeking a testimony of the gospel, if we are seeking or want to strengthen faith in God, we can plant what Alma called a seed in our hearts. This seed is the word of God, it is also the seed of faith. We do not create this seed – it is a gift from God – but our responsibility is to plant the seed and not cast out it out by our unbelief. We believe and trust and follow the Lord’s commands to nurture the seed of faith. As we do so, we are blessed with further evidence (namely, faith) as we see the seed grow and sprout and produce good fruit. Faith is not believing without evidence, faith is the evidence supporting our belief.

Why it is important to recognize that faith is evidence (proof) is that many times we feel like we are acting “just with faith” or “in blind faith” until we receive proof – some big spiritual manifestation that will remove the need for faith. However, faith is the proof we are looking for. Faith is a gift from God. Faith comes of and by the Spirit of the Lord. Faith and testimony are core components of disciples of Christ.

The apostle Peter provided a blueprint of a strait and narrow road, a path whereon disciples of Christ travel and become more like the Savior. “And beside [giving up sinful ways], giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8).

First, we act with diligence. We cease our sinning, we repent, and we follow the teachings and commandments of Christ. This takes tenacity and perseverance. As we start to follow the teachings of Christ and His prophets, we are blessed with faith.

Faith is just a start. We next add virtue to our faith. Virtue is goodness, it is chastity. It is being morally clean in all the meanings of the word moral. Once we are filled with virtue we can gain knowledge. So first faith, then virtue, then knowledge. Why is this order important? Nephi provides an answer: “O that cunning plan of the evil one [notice that Satan has a plan for us just as Heavenly Father has one]! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.” (2 Nephi 9:28). Without a foundation of faith and virtue (goodness or valor in living truth), knowledge has a way of fostering pride and sin; without a foundation of faith and virtue, knowledge profits nothing. Knowledge can be powerful and without a virtuous foundation, knowledge can be misused.

Along this path to Christ – to diligence, faith, virtue, and knowledge we add temperance. Temperance is control, it is restraint. It is power over our appetites, passions, and desires. We learn and grow and understand the value and power of self-mastery. Part of learning temperance is learning self-restraint. Within the LDS Church we have Fast Sundays where part of our practice is to gain control over our appetites. We also are taught and given other reminders to be temperate in our physical appetites and passions.

To temperance we add patience. We can be patient in the midst of afflictions; we can be patient towards others; we can be patient by living in the hope of Christ’s promised blessings. Life flows more smoothly when we have an abundance of patience.

Next, we add to patience godliness. Godliness means having the characteristics and qualities of God – particularly holiness. Holiness means that we consecrate all we have to God and to His work. It means that we separate ourselves from and rise above the sins of the world living sanctified lives. It means, for Latter-day Saints, attending the temple and remaining true to the covenants we make there.

Now, all these Christian characteristics so far have been primarily focused on the self. That’s only part of what the gospel is about; being a disciple of Christ affects our interactions with others. To be truly like Christ we serve others. In order to serve others as Christ did, we develop brotherly kindness. We recognize that each individual is a child of God. We are all children of God and are asked to treat one another as such. If we are godly, we can then develop a true brotherly kindness and strive to do good to all others, even those who do evil to us.

Lastly, we add charity. The chief virtue is charity. This is the “pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.” (Moroni 7:47). Charity is without end, it endures forever. Charity is much more than helping others, it is more than treating others well, it is a pure love that comes from God. Charity is a gift from God. It is a pure fruit from an everlasting tree of beauty and purity with preciousness above all else.

The path to Christ and our Father in Heaven is clear but strait and narrow. The foundation of this path is built on faith, our testimony, repentance, keeping God’s commandments, and receiving necessary ordinances. As we are diligent, we can become more like the Savior, becoming filled with the pure love of Christ. We will be able to bless the lives of those around us and have a desire to bless the whole world. As we walk the path of faith, starting with a simple testimony and persevering on, we will feel the pull to share God’s love with those around us.

This path of testimony is a covenant path. It leads from baptism through the temple unto life eternal. What begins as a simple witness turns into a life of consecration. We consecrate all we have to building the kingdom of God and serving God’s children. Recently, Pres. Monson has called for a renewed focus on hastening the work of salvation and rescuing those who are lost. A story from the Revolutionary War teaches the principle of rescue.

On a bitter cold Christmas night the Continental Army, led by George Washington, made a bold maneuver against the superior forces of the British army. General Washington led his troops over the Delaware in what would prove to be a defining moment of the Revolutionary War and American history. The crossing of the Delaware took all night; it was a significant adversity. Severe winter weather blew and froze the troops all during the crossing and the following day. Even so, the poor weather was a mixed blessing – it made the crossing treacherous but it also masked the movements of the Americans. Even after crossing the icy river, surviving the danger of that maneuver, it was so frigid that there are reports of at least two soldiers freezing to death that night. John Greenwood was a member of the army; he served as a fifer but because of the circumstances, John the fifer became John the soldier when he was called to carry a musket during the upcoming assault. As the army marched on its way after crossing the Delaware, John Greenwood was exhausted like many others. During one break he sat down with the intention of going to sleep. The voice of the bitter cold enticed John, lulling him into a false sense of security. He was so fatigued that he didn’t care if he never awoke from his slumber. As he drifted off to sleep, a passing sergeant noticed John, roused him, and got him up and moving. This act saved his life. Had the sergeant not noticed the lowly fifer, had the sergeant not gone after a sleeping sheep, John’s life would have been lost.

This story exemplifies the principle of stewardship in the gospel. All members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have responsibilities to other people. All are ideally called as visiting teachers or home teachers. Do we watch over others or do we leave them by the wayside to suffer the effects of their inaction? Cain asked a simple but condescending question of the Lord, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). Even though Cain’s reason for asking was neither honest nor of concern for his brother, whom he had just killed, it is a question we would do well to ask ourselves in honesty. Do we really see ourselves as our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers?

When asked the similar question of: “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answered with a parable:

“A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?

“And he [the man] said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.” Luke 10:30-37.

The Samaritan could have walked by the beaten man but he stopped and helped. He might have been on his way to a business meeting or to a family gathering; maybe his fields needed sowing. Surely he was not less busy than those who did not stop. He took care of a man on the edge of death just as the Continental Army sergeant did for John Greenwood. It is our covenant duty we have as members of the Church to love others and watch over them – even when inconvenient, maybe especially when inconvenient. When we watch over others we might just save their lives spiritually or physically. We can participate in Pres. Monson’s prophetic priorities by participating in hastening the work of salvation and rescuing those who are lost by sharing our testimonies with those in need.

When criticized by the Pharisees for spending time with sinners, Jesus said,

“What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.” (Luke 15:4-7)

May we develop and strengthen our testimonies and move onward and upward in supporting the work of the Lord by strengthening those in need. I bear my testimony that all can receive a witness of the truthfulness of the gospel. I bear witness of the reality and divinity of Jesus Christ. I bear witness that Pres. Monson is a prophet of God. In the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, amen.