Jeffrey R. Holland: “Safety for the Soul”

Safety for the Soul


Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Jeffrey R. Holland

I want it absolutely clear when I stand before the judgment bar of God that I declared to the world … that the Book of Mormon is true.

Prophecies regarding the last days often refer to large-scale calamities such as earthquakes or famines or floods. These in turn may be linked to widespread economic or political upheavals of one kind or another.

But there is one kind of latter-day destruction that has always sounded to me more personal than public, more individual than collective—a warning, perhaps more applicable inside the Church than outside it. The Savior warned that in the last days even those of the covenant, the very elect, could be deceived by the enemy of truth. 1 If we think of this as a form of spiritual destruction, it may cast light on another latter-day prophecy. Think of the heart as the figurative center of our faith, the poetic location of our loyalties and our values; then consider Jesus’s declaration that in the last days “men’s hearts [shall fail] them.” 2

The encouraging thing, of course, is that our Father in Heaven knows all of these latter-day dangers, these troubles of the heart and soul, and has given counsel and protections regarding them.

In light of that, it has always been significant to me that the Book of Mormon, one of the Lord’s powerful keystones 3 in this counteroffensive against latter-day ills, begins with a great parable of life, an extended allegory of hope versus fear, of light versus darkness, of salvation versus destruction—an allegory of which Sister Ann M. Dibb spoke so movingly this morning.

In Lehi’s dream an already difficult journey gets more difficult when a mist of darkness arises, obscuring any view of the safe but narrow path hisfamily and others are to follow. It is imperative to note that this mist of darkness descends on all the travelers—the faithful and the determined ones (the elect, we might even say) as well as the weaker and ungrounded ones. The principal point of the story is that the successful travelers resist all distractions, including the lure of forbidden paths and jeering taunts from the vain and proud who have taken those paths. The record says that the protected “did press their way forward, continually [and, I might add, tenaciously] holding fast” to a rod of iron that runs unfailingly along the course of the true path. 4 However dark the night or the day, the rod marks the way of that solitary, redeeming trail.

“I beheld,” Nephi says later, “that the rod of iron … was the word of God, [leading] … to the tree of life; … a representation of the love of God.” Viewing this manifestation of God’s love, Nephi goes on to say:

“I looked and beheld the Redeemer of the world, … [who] went forth ministering unto the people. …

“… And I beheld multitudes of people who were sick, and who were afflicted with all manner of diseases, and with devils and unclean spirits; … and they were healed by the power of the Lamb of God; and the devils and the unclean spirits were cast out.” 5

Love. Healing. Help. Hope. The power of Christ to counter all troubles in all times—including the end of times. That is the safe harbor God wants for us in personal or public days of despair. That is the message with which the Book of Mormon begins, and that is the message with which it ends, calling all to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him.” 6 That phrase—taken from Moroni’s final lines of testimony, written 1,000 years after Lehi’s vision—is a dying man’s testimony of the only true way.

May I refer to a modern “last days” testimony? When Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum started for Carthage to face what they knew would be an imminent martyrdom, Hyrum read these words to comfort the heart of his brother:

“Thou hast been faithful; wherefore … thou shalt be made strong, even unto the sitting down in the place which I have prepared in the mansions of my Father.

“And now I, Moroni, bid farewell … until we shall meet before the judgment-seat of Christ.” 7

A few short verses from the 12th chapter of Ether in the Book of Mormon. Before closing the book, Hyrum turned down the corner of the page from which he had read, marking it as part of the everlasting testimony for which these two brothers were about to die. I hold in my hand that book, the very copy from which Hyrum read, the same corner of the page turned down, still visible. Later, when actually incarcerated in the jail, Joseph the Prophet turned to the guards who held him captive and bore a powerful testimony of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon. 8 Shortly thereafter pistol and ball would take the lives of these two testators.

As one of a thousand elements of my own testimony of the divinity of the Book of Mormon, I submit this as yet one more evidence of its truthfulness. In this their greatest—and last—hour of need, I ask you: would these men blaspheme before God by continuing to fix their lives, their honor, and their own search for eternal salvation on a book (and by implication a church and a ministry) they had fictitiously created out of whole cloth?

Never mind that their wives are about to be widows and their children fatherless. Never mind that their little band of followers will yet be “houseless, friendless and homeless” and that their children will leave footprints of blood across frozen rivers and an untamed prairie floor. 9Never mind that legions will die and other legions live declaring in the four quarters of this earth that they know the Book of Mormon and the Church which espouses it to be true. Disregard all of that, and tell me whether in this hour of death these two men would enter the presence of their Eternal Judge quoting from and finding solace in a book which, if notthe very word of God, would brand them as imposters and charlatans until the end of time? They would not do that! They were willing to die rather than deny the divine origin and the eternal truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.

For 179 years this book has been examined and attacked, denied and deconstructed, targeted and torn apart like perhaps no other book in modern religious history—perhaps like no other book in any religious history. And still it stands. Failed theories about its origins have been born and parroted and have died—from Ethan Smith to Solomon Spaulding to deranged paranoid to cunning genius. None of these frankly pathetic answers for this book has ever withstood examination because there is no other answer than the one Joseph gave as its young unlearned translator. In this I stand with my own great-grandfather, who said simply enough, “No wicked man could write such a book as this; and no good man would write it, unless it were true and he were commanded of God to do so.” 10

I testify that one cannot come to full faith in this latter-day work—and thereby find the fullest measure of peace and comfort in these, our times—until he or she embraces the divinity of the Book of Mormon and the Lord Jesus Christ, of whom it testifies. If anyone is foolish enough or misled enough to reject 531 pages of a heretofore unknown text teeming with literary and Semitic complexity without honestly attempting to account for the origin of those pages—especially without accounting for their powerful witness of Jesus Christ and the profound spiritual impact that witness has had on what is now tens of millions of readers—if that is the case, then such a person, elect or otherwise, has been deceived; and if he or she leaves this Church, it must be done by crawling over or under or around the Book of Mormon to make that exit. In that sense the book is what Christ Himself was said to be: “a stone of stumbling, … a rock of offence,” 11 a barrier in the path of one who wishes not to believe in this work. Witnesses, even witnesses who were for a time hostile to Joseph, testified to their death that they had seen an angel and had handled the plates. “They have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not of man,” they declared. “Wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true.” 12

Now, I did not sail with the brother of Jared in crossing an ocean, settling in a new world. I did not hear King Benjamin speak his angelically delivered sermon. I did not proselyte with Alma and Amulek nor witness the fiery death of innocent believers. I was not among the Nephite crowd who touched the wounds of the resurrected Lord, nor did I weep with Mormon and Moroni over the destruction of an entire civilization. But my testimony of this record and the peace it brings to the human heart is as binding and unequivocal as was theirs. Like them, “[I] give [my name] unto the world, to witness unto the world that which [I] have seen.” And like them, “[I] lie not, God bearing witness of it.” 13

I ask that my testimony of the Book of Mormon and all that it implies, given today under my own oath and office, be recorded by men on earth and angels in heaven. I hope I have a few years left in my “last days,” but whether I do or do not, I want it absolutely clear when I stand before the judgment bar of God that I declared to the world, in the most straightforward language I could summon, that the Book of Mormon is true, that it came forth the way Joseph said it came forth and was given to bring happiness and hope to the faithful in the travail of the latter days.

My witness echoes that of Nephi, who wrote part of the book in his “last days”:

“Hearken unto these words and believe in Christ; and if ye believe not in these words believe in Christ. And if ye shall believe in Christ ye will believe in these words, for they are the words of Christ, … and they teach all men that they should do good.

“And if they are not the words of Christ, judge ye—for Christ will show unto you, with power and great glory, that they are his words, at the last day. 14

Brothers and sisters, God always provides safety for the soul, and with the Book of Mormon, He has again done that in our time. Remember this declaration by Jesus Himself: “Whoso treasureth up my word, shall not be deceived” 15 —and in the last days neither your heart nor your faith will fail you. Of this I earnestly testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Hide References 

1. See Matthew 24:24; see also Joseph Smith—Matthew 1:22.

2.  Luke 21:26.

3. See History of the Church, 4:461.

4.  1 Nephi 8:30.

5.  1 Nephi 11:25, 27–28, 31.

6.  Moroni 10:32.

7.  Ether 12:37–38; see also D&C 135:5.

8. See History of the Church, 6:600.

9. Joseph Smith, in History of the Church, 4:539.

10. George Cannon, quoted in “The Twelve Apostles,” in Andrew Jenson, ed., The Historical Record, 6:175.

11.  1 Peter 2:8.

12. “The Testimony of Three Witnesses,” Book of Mormon.

13. “The Testimony of Eight Witnesses,” Book of Mormon; emphasis added.

14.  2 Nephi 33:10–11; emphasis added.

15.  Joseph Smith—Matthew 1:37.


General Conference Challenge, LAST DAY!!! September 30: At Parting

At Parting

Thomas S. Monson

President of the Church

Thomas S. Monson

None of us can conceive the full import of what Christ did for us in Gethsemane, but I am grateful every day of my life for His atoning sacrifice.

My brothers and sisters, my heart is full as we come to the close of this conference. We have felt the Spirit of the Lord in rich abundance. I express my appreciation and that of members of the Church everywhere to each one who has participated, including those who have offered prayers. May we long remember the messages we have heard. As we receive the issues of the Ensign and Liahona magazines which will contain these messages in written form, may we read and study them.

Once again the music in all of the sessions has been wonderful. I express my personal gratitude for those willing to share with us their talents, touching and inspiring us in the process.

We have sustained, by uplifted hand, Brethren who have been called to new positions during this conference. We want them to know that we look forward to working with them in the cause of the Master.

I express my love and appreciation for my devoted counselors, President Henry B. Eyring and President Dieter F. Uchtdorf. They are men of wisdom and understanding. Their service is invaluable. I love and support my Brethren of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. They serve most effectively, and they are completely dedicated to the work. I also express my love to the members of the Seventy and the Presiding Bishopric.

We face many challenges in the world today, but I assure you that our Heavenly Father is mindful of us. He loves each of us and will bless us as we seek Him through prayer and strive to keep His commandments.

We are a global church. Our membership is found throughout the world. May we be good citizens of the nations in which we live and good neighbors in our communities, reaching out to those of other faiths as well as to those of our own. May we be examples of honesty and integrity wherever we go and in whatever we do.

Thank you for your prayers in my behalf, brothers and sisters, and in behalf of all of the General Authorities of the Church. We are deeply grateful for you and for all that you do to further the work of the Lord.

As you return to your homes, may you do so safely. May the blessings of heaven be upon you.

Now, before we leave today, may I share with you my love for the Savior and for His great atoning sacrifice for us. In three weeks’ time the entire Christian world will be celebrating Easter. I believe that none of us can conceive the full import of what Christ did for us in Gethsemane, but I am grateful every day of my life for His atoning sacrifice in our behalf.

At the last moment, He could have turned back. But He did not. He passed beneath all things that He might save all things. In doing so, He gave us life beyond this mortal existence. He reclaimed us from the Fall of Adam.

To the depths of my very soul, I am grateful to Him. He taught us how to live. He taught us how to die. He secured our salvation.

As I close, may I share with you touching words written by Emily Harris which describe so well my feelings as Easter comes:

The linen which once held Him is empty.
It lies there,
Fresh and white and clean.
The door stands opened.
The stone is rolled away,
And I can almost hear the angels singing His praises.
Linen cannot hold Him.
Stone cannot hold Him.
The words echo through the empty limestone chamber,
“He is not here.”
The linen which once held Him is now empty.
It lies there,
Fresh and white and clean
And oh, hallelujah, it is empty.1

Blessings to you, my brothers and sisters. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior, amen.

Hide References 

1. Emily Harris, “Empty Linen,” New Era, Apr. 2011, 49.

General Conference Challenge, Day 32- September 29: An Ensign to the Nations

An Ensign to the Nations

Jeffrey R. Holland

Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Jeffrey R. Holland

If we teach by the Spirit and you listen by the Spirit, some one of us will touch on your circumstance.

I have been so moved by every note of music sung and every word spoken that I pray I can be able to speak at all.

Before leaving Nauvoo in the winter of 1846, President Brigham Young had a dream in which he saw an angel standing on a cone-shaped hill somewhere in the West pointing to a valley below. When he entered the Salt Lake Valley some 18 months later, he saw just above the location where we are now gathered the same hillside prominence he had seen in vision.

As has often been told from this pulpit, Brother Brigham led a handful of leaders to the summit of that hill and proclaimed it Ensign Peak, a name filled with religious meaning for these modern Israelites. Twenty-five hundred years earlier the prophet Isaiah had declared that in the last days “the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains,” and there “he shall set up an ensign for the nations.”1

Seeing their moment in history as partial fulfillment of that prophecy, the Brethren wished to fly a banner of some kind to make the idea of “an ensign for the nations” literal. Elder Heber C. Kimball produced a yellow bandana. Brother Brigham tied it to a walking stick carried by Elder Willard Richards and then planted the makeshift flag, declaring the valley of the Great Salt Lake and the mountains surrounding it as that prophesied place from which the word of the Lord would go forth in the latter days.

Brothers and sisters, this general conference and the other annual and semiannual versions of it are the continuation of that early declaration to the world. I testify that the proceedings of the past two days are yet one more evidence that, as our hymn says, “Lo, Zion’s standard is unfurled”2—and surely the dual meaning of the word standard is intentional. It is not happenstance that one English publication of our general conference messages is in a magazine simply titled the Ensign.

As our conference comes to a close, I ask you to reflect in the days ahead not only on the messages you have heard but also on the unique phenomenon that general conference itself is—what we as Latter-day Saints believe such conferences to be and what we invite the world to hear and observe about them. We testify to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people that God not only lives but also that He speaks, that for our time and in our day the counsel you have heard is, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, “the will of the Lord, … the word of the Lord, … the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.”3

Perhaps you already know (but if you don’t you should) that with rare exception, no man or woman who speaks here is assigned a topic. Each is to fast and pray, study and seek, start and stop and start again until he or she is confident that for this conference, at this time, his or hers is the topic the Lord wishes that speaker to present regardless of personal wishes or private preferences. Every man and woman you have heard during the past 10 hours of general conference has tried to be true to that prompting. Each has wept, worried, and earnestly sought the Lord’s direction to guide his or her thoughts and expression. And just as Brigham Young saw an angel standing over this place, so do I see angels standing in it. My brethren and sisters among the general officers of the Church will be uneasy with that description, but that is how I see them—mortal messengers with angelic messages, men and women who have all the physical and financial and family difficulties you and I have but who with faith have consecrated their lives to the callings that have come to them and the duty to preach God’s word, not their own.

Consider the variety of the messages that you hear—all the more miraculous with no coordination except the direction of heaven. But why wouldn’t they be varied? Most of our congregation, seen or unseen, is made up of members of the Church. However, with marvelous new methods of communication, ever larger proportions of the audience for our conferences are not members of the Church—yet. So we must speak to those who know us very well and those who know us not at all. Within the Church alone we must speak to the children, the youth and young adults, the middle-aged, and the elderly. We must speak to families and parents and children at home even as we speak to those who are not married, without children, and perhaps very far from home. In the course of a general conference, we always stress the eternal verities of faith, hope, charity,4 and Christ crucified5 even as we speak forthrightly on very specific moral issues of the day. We are commanded in the scriptures to “say nothing but repentance unto this generation,”6 while at the same time we are to preach “good tidings [to] the meek … [and] bind up the brokenhearted.” Whatever form they take, these conference messages “proclaim liberty to the captives”7 and declare “the unsearchable riches of Christ.”8 In the wide variety of sermons given is the assumption that there will be something for everyone. In this regard, I guess President Harold B. Lee put it best years ago when he said that the gospel is “to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the [comfortable].”9

We always want our teaching in general conference to be as generous and open-armed as Christ taught originally, remembering as we do the discipline that was always inherent in His messages. In the most famous sermon ever given, Jesus began by pronouncing wonderfully gentle blessings which every one of us want to claim—blessings promised to the poor in spirit, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the meek.10 How edifying those Beatitudes are and how soothing they are to the soul. They are true. But in that same sermon the Savior went on, showing how increasingly strait the way of the peacemaker and the pure in heart would need to be. “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill,” He observed. “But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother … shall be in danger of the judgment.”11

And likewise,

“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:

“But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”12

Obviously as the path of discipleship ascends, that trail gets ever more narrow until we come to that knee-buckling pinnacle of the sermon of which Elder Christofferson just spoke: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”13 What was gentle in the lowlands of initial loyalty becomes deeply strenuous and very demanding at the summit of true discipleship. Clearly anyone who thinks Jesus taught no-fault theology did not read the fine print in the contract! No, in matters of discipleship the Church is not a fast-food outlet; we can’t always have it “our way.” Some day every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ and that salvation can only come His way. 14

In wanting to measure up to the stern as well as embrace the soothing in our general conference messages, please be reassured that when we speak on difficult subjects, we understand not everyone is viewing pornography or shirking marriage or having illicit sexual relationships. We know not everyone is violating the Sabbath or bearing false witness or abusing a spouse. We know that most in our audience are not guilty of such things, but we are under a solemn charge to issue warning calls to those who are—wherever they may be in the world. So if you are trying to do the best you can—if, for example, you keep trying to hold family home evening in spite of the bedlam that sometimes reigns in a houseful of little bedlamites—then give yourself high marks and, when we come to that subject, listen for another which addresses a topic where you may be lacking. If we teach by the Spirit and you listen by the Spirit, some one of us will touch on your circumstance, sending a personal prophetic epistle just to you.

Brothers and sisters, in general conference we offer our testimonies in conjunction with other testimonies that will come, because one way or another God will have His voice heard. “I sent you out to testify and warn the people,” the Lord has said to His prophets.15

“[And] after your testimony cometh the testimony of earthquakes, … of thunderings, … lightnings, and … tempests, and the voice of the waves of the sea heaving themselves beyond their bounds. …

“And angels shall … [cry] with a loud voice, sounding the trump of God.”16

Now, these mortal angels who come to this pulpit have, each in his or her own way, sounded “the trump of God.” Every sermon given is always, by definition, both a testimony of love and a warning, even as nature herself will testify with love and a warning in the last days.

Now, in a moment President Thomas S. Monson will come to the pulpit to close this conference. May I say something personal about this beloved man, the senior Apostle and the prophet for the day in which we now live. Given the responsibilities I have referred to and all that you have heard in this conference, it is obvious that the lives of prophets are not easy, and President Monson’s life is not easy. He referred specifically to that last night in priesthood meeting. Called to the apostleship at age 36, his children were ages 12, 9, and 4, respectively. Sister Monson and those children have given their husband and father to the Church and its duties for more than 50 years. They have endured the illnesses and demands, the bumps and bruises of mortality which everyone faces, some of which undoubtedly yet lie ahead of them. But President Monson stays irrepressibly cheerful through it all. Nothing gets him down. He has remarkable faith and unusual stamina.

President, for this entire congregation, seen and unseen, I say we love and honor you. Your devotion is an example to us all. We thank you for your leadership. Fourteen others holding the apostolic office, plus others on this stand, those seated in the congregation, and legions gathered around the world love you, sustain you, and stand shoulder to shoulder with you in this work. We will lighten your load any way we can. You are one of those angelic messengers called from before the foundation of the world to wave the ensign of the gospel of Jesus Christ to all the world. You are doing so magnificently. Of that gospel being declared, the salvation it provides, and He who provides it, I so testify in the grand and glorious name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.

Hide References 

  1. 1.  Isaiah 2:2; 11:12.
    2. “The Morning Breaks,” Hymns, no. 1.

    3.  Doctrine and Covenants 68:4.

    4. See 1 Corinthians 13:13.

    5. See 1 Corinthians 1:23.

    6.  Doctrine and Covenants 6:9; 11:9.

    7.  Isaiah 61:1.

    8.  Ephesians 3:8.

    9. See Harold B. Lee, in “The Message,” New Era, Jan. 1971, 6.

    10. See Matthew 5:3–12.

    11.  Matthew 5:21–22; see also 3 Nephi 12:22.

    12.  Matthew 5:27–28.

    13.  Matthew 5:48.

    14. See Romans 14:11; Mosiah 27:31.

    15.  Doctrine and Covenants 88:81.

    16.  Doctrine and Covenants 88:89–90, 92.

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