The choices that are the most significant — to put family, Church and the Savior first — can be made by everyone regardless of their talents, abilities, opportunities or economic circumstances, said Elder Quentin L. Cook on Nov. 28.
“As we face the difficulties of life, many events occur over which we have little or no control,” said Elder Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “On matters of principle, matters of conduct, religious observance, and righteous living, we are in control. Our faith in and worship of God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ is a choice that we make.”
Speaking during an LDS Business College devotional on Nov. 28 in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square, Elder Cook addressed the subject, “His Paths are Righteous.”
The title, he said, is based on 2 Nephi 9, which contains “admonitions about learning, wisdom, wealth, labor, refusing to see or hear the consequences of sin, and profound doctrine about the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”
“My emphasis will be on the paths of righteousness that allow us to report to the Holy One of Israel," said Elder Cook of the talk, during which he displayed slides of important Church history documents and played an 1897 recording of then-Church President Wilford Woodruff made with a Edison gramophone.
Recalling a time when he was a young adult, Elder Cook recounted gaining a testimony of the Book of Mormon as an additional witness of the Savior and Joseph Smith, as a prophet of God.
Still he had challenges to his faith.
Once, before his mission, an American literature professor, quoted “Mark Twain’s pronouncement in Roughing It, that if you took ‘and it came to pass’ out of the Book of Mormon, it ’would have been only a pamphlet,’” recalled Elder Cook. “We all laughed because it was meant to be humorous, but I could see that his comment created doubt in some of my classmates.”
Elder Cook said it was interesting to him that a few months later while serving a mission in London, England, that another professor, a distinguished Oxford-educated teacher at London University, took exactly the opposite position. "Dr. Sarofim, an Egyptian by birth and an expert in Semitic languages, read the Book of Mormon and gained an intellectual testimony of the validity of the book because he was convinced that it was indeed a translation of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians.
“One of the many examples he used was the conjunctive phrase ‘and it came to pass’ which he said mirrored how he would translate phraseology used often in ancient Semitic writings,” explained Elder Cook.
Through study and prayer, the professor gained a spiritual witness and was subsequently baptized. “So, what one famous humorist saw as an object of ridicule a scholar recognized as profound evidence of the truth of the Book of Mormon, which was confirmed to him by the Spirit.”
Elder Cook said while Dr. Sarofim’s true account is interesting, the best approach for gaining a testimony “is to immerse yourselves in the Book of Mormon so you can experience the ongoing witness of the Spirit.”
The essential doctrine of agency requires that a testimony of the restored gospel must be based on faith rather than external or scientific proof, he said.
“Obsessive focus on things not yet fully revealed such as: how the virgin birth or the resurrection of the Savior could have occurred; or exactly how Joseph Smith translated our scriptures will not be efficacious or yield spiritual progress. These are matters of faith. ... When we inculcate into our lives scriptural imperatives and live the gospel, we are blessed by the Spirit and taste of His goodness with feelings of joy, happiness, and especially peace.”
Elder Cook said the attacks on the Prophet Joseph Smith have been unrelenting from the very beginning. This continues to our day.
“We could speak for hours about the Prophet Joseph’s qualities, character, and accomplishments. I am particularly impressed with the way he was an instrument in the Lord’s hand in bringing forth sacred scripture.”
Elder Cook said the Prophet Joseph commenced translation of the Book of Mormon on April 7, 1829, and finished in late June 1829, an unbelievably short period of time. “But he was an instrument — not the author. As he said, he translated it by the gift and power of God.”
Displaying images of the original Book of Mormon manuscript and the printers manuscript, Elder Cook encouraged the young people to visit the Foundations of Faith exhibit in the research room of the Church History Museum and view the documents and other precious materials of the Restoration.
Elder Cook then played the recording made in 1897 into a Edison gramophone by President Wilford Woodruff, testifying that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God.
He said it is his prayer that each student have a “testimony of the prophetic role of Joseph Smith.”
In addition to that testimony, young people must make good choices, he added.
“First, the path you choose matters,” he said noting that students should choose paths that lead to righteousness.
“Second, day-to-day consistent effort is better than occasional heroic effort,” he added. “Some of us are sure that if we were asked to perform some great heroic task, we would be terrific. Yet we have trouble getting up in time for our earliest Sunday meeting or completing home or visiting teaching."
Elder Cook recounted the story of Captain Naaman found in 2 Kings 5. Naaman, obeying Elisha, was healed of leprosy after washing seven times in the River Jordan. Yet, a wroth Naaman almost refused to follow the simple directive.
He told the students that not all decisions they will face will be between good and evil. “Many need to be approached using the counsel Elder Dallin H. Oaks gave in his inspired sermon on 'Good, Better, and Best,’” he said. “Even the difference between good and best can be profound.”
Elder Cook recalled attending, while in his 20s, two funerals a few days apart of two good men, both returned missionaries.
The first man was rich and successful but did not always make great family choices and was less-active in the Church.
“His funeral was held at a non-denominational chapel at the cemetery,” Elder Cook explained. “There were many top executives and dignitaries at the funeral, including the governor of the state where he lived. ... It was, on the whole, a somber funeral and basic principles of the plan of happiness were not taught and little was said of Jesus Christ.”
The second man had a good and certainly satisfactory, but not distinguished, career. His family and Church choices, on the other hand, were absolutely the best. He was a patriarch in the last years of his life.
“His funeral was large and I would say joyful,” explained Elder Cook. “The services were held in the ward building, and it was a great example of an LDS funeral. The plan of happiness was taught, and the Savior was at the center of the service.”
From the two funerals, Elder Cook realized putting family, Church and the Savior first was essential.
Elder Cook said he did not recite the account of the funeral to advocate less interest in goals relating to education or occupation. “Quite the contrary, I believe you young people should do everything you can to advance your accomplishments in these two areas. What I am saying is that when goals relating to education and occupation are elevated to a position superior to the family, the Church and a testimony of the Savior, the unintended consequences can be significantly adverse.
“The most important meeting that each of us will have on the other side of the veil is with the Savior. Regardless of whom our ancestors are and whether we are rich or poor, we will report on our compliance with the commandments we have been given. We should live so we can look forward to meeting the Savior.”
Concluding, Elder Cook left a special blessing with the college students. “As you stay on the path of righteousness with a focus on the Savior and follow His example, you will feel the Spirit in your lives, and because of His atoning sacrifice, you will have the peace, happiness and joy that you desire.”