Chapter 17: Continue in the Great Process of Learning

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley, 2016

During 2017, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The quotes from Hinckley are in bold, with my comments following. If you would like to see the church manual online, go here. Latter-day Saints study this material on the second and third Sundays of each month (thus, chapters 1-2 are January, chapter 3-4 are February, etc.)

“We must go on growing. We must continually learn. It is a divinely given mandate that we go on adding to our knowledge.”

Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley

The Lord wants us to educate ourselves so we can progress individually and contribute to society.

I am somebody who believes in education, both secular and spiritual. No argument here.

You belong to a church that teaches the importance of education. You have a mandate from the Lord to educate your minds and your hearts and your hands. The Lord has said, “Teach ye diligently … 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—that ye may be prepared in all things” (D&C 88:78–80).

We of this Church have been given a marvelous promise by the Lord. Said He: “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (D&C 50:24).

D&C 50:25, which is the next verse, says, “And again, verily I say unto you, and I say it that you may know the truth, that you may chase darkness from among you.” I think that the truth is the most important thing that a person could ever seek. Jesus said that He was the “truth” (John 14:6) and also said the “truth will make you free” (John 8:32). I believe many Latter-day Saints are either not willing or perhaps apathetic to seriously researching their faith. If they would, I think they would find out a lot of information that would perhaps shock them and even make them reconsider their membership. We should look for the truth wherever it may be found. As Joseph Smith said,

“One of the grand fundamental principles of ‘Mormonism’ is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may” (History of the Church, 5:499).

In other words, maybe something said on www.mrm.org or another “anti” site? Absolutely! My friend Peter Barnes, a former JW who passed away a few years ago, used to always say, “Truth will always run from error, but error will never run from truth.” That is so true! There is nothing to be scared about by looking further into the most important issue any of us could ever study. What’s the worst that can happen? Of course, the truth is discovered, even if it means our presuppositions are dashed to pieces.

How about this quote from Brigham Young:

“Our doctrine and practice is, and I have made it mine through life—to receive truth no matter where it comes from” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 11)

How should we do this? Young actually comes up with excellent advice:

“Take up the Bible, compare the religion of the Latter-day Saints with it, and see if it will stand the test” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 126).

I believe this standard of truth is the best thing we have going for us. Otherwise, we’re left floundering on the sea of ideas with nothing solid to stand on. While we’re at it, how about another Young gem?

“Be willing to receive the truth, let it come from whom it may; no difference, not a particle. Just as soon receive the Gospel from Joseph Smith as from Peter, who lived in the days of Jesus. Receive it from one man as soon as another. If God has called an individual and sent him to preach the Gospel that is enough for me to know; it is no matter who it is, all I want is to know the truth” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 1997, p. 16)

But it doesn’t stop there. How about third President John Taylor?

“If any person in the religious world, or the political world, or the scientific world, will present to me a principle that is true, I am prepared to receive it, no matter where it comes from” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: John Taylor, 2001, p. 215).

Notice, he said he was ready to receive it. That’s all I can ask as a Christian trying to explain why I believe Mormonism is much different than Christianity. As George Albert Smith, the eighth president, said,

“If a faith will not bear to be investigated; if its preachers and professors are afraid to have it examined, their foundation must be very weak” (August 13, 1871, Journal of Discourses 14:216).

All of these are quotes with which I agree, something that doesn’t happen all the time! Here’s my point. Mormonism is true or it is not true. As Hinckley told a General Conference audience:

“I would like to say that this cause is either true or false. Either this is the kingdom of God, or it is a sham and a delusion. Either Joseph talked with the Father and the Son, or he did not. If he did not, we are engaged in blasphemy” (Conference Reports, October 1961, p. 116).

With these quotes from Mormonism’s earliest and highest leaders as a background, let me say that there are many problems with the account believed by Latter-day Saints today. For instance, there are nine different accounts of this event, all with different details that appear to contradict, including:

  • The event supposedly took place in 1820, but:
  • There is no evidence to show that anyone in 1820 heard about this—no diary accounts or any other information to help us in this matter
  • There was no revival in that area during 1820 ; it didn’t occur until 1824!
  • The earliest account we have of the First Vision is Smith’s 1832 diary account, which is more than a decade after this event supposedly took place
  • The early accounts of the First Vision explained how Smith knew the churches were wrong, but the official version says he went to the Sacred Grove to ask God about which church was true
  • There is no reference to James 1:5 in these early visions
  • The official account is not published until the 1840s
  • Smith claims he literally saw God the Father, thus contradicting the Bible

We have written much on this topic. If Hinckley meant what he said above, I would agree. Just like the Book of Mormon, the First Vision is either true or not true. The historicity of these events is crucial to the veracity of Mormonism. So if you are a Latter-day Saint, how do you reconcile something like the First Vision? Here are some other links to consider regarding the First Vision:

The First Vision

What a remarkable statement that is. It is one of my favorite verses of scripture. It speaks of growth, of development, of the march that leads toward godhood. It goes hand in hand with these great declarations: “The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth” (D&C 93:36); “If a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come” (D&C 130:19). …

What a profound challenge is found in these marvelous statements. We must go on growing. We must continually learn. It is a divinely given mandate that we go on adding to our knowledge. …

I’m looking at the verses that have been used by Hinckley to make his statement but all I see are quotes from the D&C. He doesn’t reference the Bible. Of course, I think education and learning are important to personal growth. Yet I think about verses such as 2 Timothy 2:15, which says, “Study to show thy thyself approved unto God, a workman that needed not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Knowledge and intelligence is fine, but some of the most intelligent people I know get an “F” when it comes to spirituality and their desire to know God. Perhaps I’m being overly critical, but I don’t see this aspect stressed very much in the citations utilized by the church for this chapter.

… Said the Lord to you and to me: “Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith. … Organize yourselves. … Cease to be idle” (D&C 88:118–119, 124).

The Lord wants you to educate your minds and hands, whatever your chosen field. Whether it be repairing refrigerators, or the work of a skilled surgeon, you must train yourselves. Seek for the best schooling available. Become a workman of integrity in the world that lies ahead of you. … You will bring honor to the Church and you will be generously blessed because of that training.

There can be no doubt, none whatever, that education pays. Do not short-circuit your lives. If you do so, you will pay for it over and over and over again.

It is not enough just to live, just to survive. It is incumbent on each of us to equip ourselves to do something worthwhile in society—to acquire more and more light, so that our personal light can help illuminate a darkened world. And this is made possible through learning, through educating ourselves, through progressing and growing in both mind and spirit.

Generally, this seems to be good advice. But if a person is to gain the whole world and lose her soul, what does it matter? Something strikes me in the fact that this man is supposed to be a prophet of God, so where is the spiritual side of this equation? I don’t remember the prophet Jeremiah talking about the Israelites getting an education. Instead, he harped on their turning to God.

With planning and self-discipline, parents can create an atmosphere of learning in their homes.

What a marvelously interesting thing it is to watch young minds stretch and strengthen. I am one who greatly appreciates the vast potential of television for good. But I also am one who decries the terrible waste of time and opportunity as children in some homes watch, hour upon hour, that which neither enlightens nor strengthens.

When I was a boy we lived in a large old house. One room was called the library. It had a solid table and a good lamp, three or four comfortable chairs with good light, and books in cases that lined the walls. There were many volumes—the acquisitions of my father and mother over a period of many years.

We were never forced to read them, but they were placed where they were handy and where we could get at them whenever we wished.

There was quiet in that room. It was understood that it was a place to study.

There were also magazines—the Church magazines and two or three other good magazines. There were books of history and literature, books on technical subjects, dictionaries, a set of encyclopedias, and an atlas of the world. There was no television, of course, at that time. Radio came along while I was growing up. But there was an environment, an environment of learning. I would not have you believe that we were great scholars. But we were exposed to great literature, great ideas from great thinkers, and the language of men and women who thought deeply and wrote beautifully.

In so many of our homes today there is not the possibility of such a library. Most families are cramped for space. But with planning there can be a corner, there can be an area that becomes something of a hideaway from the noises about us where one can sit and read and think. It is a wonderful thing to have a desk or a table, be it ever so simple, on which are found the standard works of the Church, a few good books, the magazines issued by the Church, and other things worthy of our reading.

Begin early in exposing children to books. The mother who fails to read to her small children does a disservice to them and a disservice to herself. It takes time, yes, much of it. It takes self-discipline. It takes organizing and budgeting the minutes and hours of the day. But it will never be a bore as you watch young minds come to know characters, expressions, and ideas. Good reading can become a love affair, far more fruitful in long term effects than many other activities in which children use their time. …

Parents, … let your children be exposed to great minds, great ideas, everlasting truth, and those things which will build and motivate for good. … Try to create within your home an atmosphere of learning and the growth which will come of it.

Reading is so important. I attribute having my kids learn to read at an early age for helping them to do well later in their schooling years.

Education unlocks the door of opportunity for youth and young adults.

This is the great day of opportunity for you young people, this marvelous time to be upon the earth. You stand at the summit of all of the past ages. You are exposed to all of the learning of all who have walked the earth, that learning being distilled down into courses where you can acquire knowledge in a relatively short time, that knowledge which men stumbled over in learning through all of the centuries past. Do not sell yourselves short. Do not miss your great opportunity. Get at it, work at it, study hard.

It is so important that you young men and you young women get all of the education that you can. … Education is the key which will unlock the door of opportunity for you. It is worth sacrificing for. It is worth working at, and if you educate your mind and your hands, you will be able to make a great contribution to the society of which you are a part, and you will be able to reflect honorably on the Church of which you are a member. My dear young brothers and sisters, take advantage of every educational opportunity that you can possibly afford, and you fathers and mothers, encourage your sons and daughters to gain an education which will bless their lives.

Perhaps you do not have the funds to get all the schooling you would desire. Make your money go as far as you can, and take advantage of scholarships, grants, and loans within your capacity to repay.

I do not care what you want to be as long as it is honorable. A car mechanic, a brick layer, a plumber, an electrician, a doctor, a lawyer, a merchant, but not a thief.

Stop. There are very few people whose profession is “thief.” They are thieves in relationship to the other things they are doing. For instance, the the car mechanic, plumber, doctor, lawyer, and merchant will find a way to rob people of their money using these professional hats. As I have alluded to earlier, I would have used this opportunity to explain why the LDS people should strive for integrity, first and foremost, and then incorporate godliness into whatever careers they wanted to choose. If you can change the mindset of a person to follow God with all mind, heart, soul, and strength, I think following this advice will be much more natural.

The schooling of the spirit is as important, if not more so, than the schooling of the mind.

But, see, I think the “schooling of the spirit” should be foremost. Education follows.

I am awed by the great forces of knowledge represented in our time. Never before have so many been educated in the learning of the world. What a powerful thing it is—the intensive schooling of a large percentage of the youth of the world, who meet daily at the feet of instructors to garner knowledge from all the ages of man.

The extent of that knowledge is staggering. It encompasses the stars of the universe, the geology of the earth, the history of nations, the culture and language of peoples, the operation of governments, the laws of commerce, the behavior of the atom, the functions of the body, and the wonders of the mind.

With so much knowledge available, one would think that the world might well be near a state of perfection. Yet we are constantly made aware of the other side of the coin—of the sickness of society, of the contentions and troubles that bring misery into the lives of millions.

And he’s right. Some of the sickest places in our country are the secular colleges. What is being disseminated by many professors is horse manure. I  was employed as an adjunct college professor for a number of years, so I do understand the power that a professor has over his students. I talked to other professors who delight in having the chance to indoctrinate. All the education and learning in the world has done nothing to save the soul of our society.

Each day we are made increasingly aware of the fact that life is more than science and mathematics, more than history and literature. There is need for another education, without which the substance of secular learning may lead only to destruction. I refer to the education of the heart, of the conscience, of the character, of the spirit—these indefinable aspects of our personalities which determine so certainly what we are and what we do in our relationships one with another.

Again, my emphasis in this chapter would have been what Hinckley is cited as saying here. As a spiritual leader, I would have focused on this, primarily, before spending so much time begging his people to get an education. After all, I thought the top leader of the church was supposed to be a prophet of God, not a career guidance counselor.

… While serving in England as a missionary, I went to the London Central YMCA. I suppose that old building has long since gone, but I can never forget the words that faced visitors in the foyer each time they entered. They were the words of Solomon: “With all thy getting get understanding.” (Prov. 4:7.)

Understanding of what? Understanding of ourselves, of the purposes of life, of our relationship to God, who is our Father, of the great divinely given principles that for centuries have provided the sinew of man’s real progress! …

As we pursue our secular studies, let us also add to our lives the cultivation of the Spirit. If we do so, God will bless us with that peace and those blessings which come from Him alone.

And the point is made in the previous two sentences. He says, “…let us add to our lives the cultivation of the Spirit.” Hogwash. How about, “As we pursue the cultivation of the Spirit in our lives, let’s add a pursuance of secular studies”? I am reminded of Jesus’s words, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness. And all these things will be added unto you.” Perhaps with all of the citations that the editors have had to cull from a variety of sources, I am being too hard. At the same time, I think a prophet of God would want to emphasize the main things first before asking the people to pursue “all these things (which shall) be added unto you.”

To read other reviews of the Gordon B. Hinckley manual, click here.