OREM, Utah — As a Stanford Law School graduate studying for the California bar exam, 25-year-old Quentin L. Cook was called to Utah to visit his dying 86-year-old grandfather.
The grandfather shared his own testimony and had three concerns — First, he loved all his ten children, but was concerned for one who was less active. Second, he hope that his own father and grandfather would approve of how he had lived his life. He pointed out that his father, David Patten Kimball, one of the Martin Handcart Company rescuers who helped carry weakened Saints across the icy Sweetwater River, died when he was 3-years old, and his grandfather was early Church leader Heber C. Kimball. He then cautioned his grandson to not feel any inappropriate pride or superiority because of his heritage. Third, he shared his anticipation of meeting the Savior, and he hoped that he had been sufficiently repentant to qualify for the Savior’s mercy, noting it is the most important meeting for all of us.
The grandson — now Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — recalled that visit as he spoke in a Friday devotional at the Utah Valley Institute in Orem, Utah, likening it somewhat to Alma the Younger’s counsel to his three sons in the Book of Mormon and underscoring the importance of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
“All of us have sinned, and it is only through the Atonement that we can obtain mercy and live with God,” Elder Cook said. “I can remember to this day the great love that my grandpa had for the Savior and the appreciation he had for the Atonement.”
Announcing the title of his remarks as “Spiritual ignorance leads to moral blindness: Righteous spiritual choices are the antidote,” Elder Cook offered four principles:
- “First, continue your quest for spiritual and temporal knowledge.
- “Second, your righteous spiritual choices matter,” as he cautioned against rationalization and encouraged to remember one’s accountability to the Savior.
- “Third, day-to-day consecrated effort is better than occasional heroic actions.
- “Fourth, be strong and immovable in matters of spirituality and righteousness.”
Elder Cook highlighted the key elements of Alma’s counsel to sons Helaman, Shiblon and Corianton — to seek one’s own testimony, to bridle one’s passions and to repent of sins and find peace through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
“Alma’s counsel to his sons on making spiritual and righteous choices is a great summary of the principles I have mentioned,” he said.
Alma, the son of Alma the prophet, was the chief judge of the nation, a high priest and prophet himself, shaped by a miraculous conversion that he recounted to his sons. Helaman and Shiblon had made good choices; Corianton had made very bad ones and was the focal point of much of Alma’s counsel, as found in Alma chapters 36 through 42 in the Book of Mormon.
A firm testimony
Speaking first to Helaman, as found in Alma 36, Alma underscores the importance of having a testimony of God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost. While recounting his conversion, Alma wants Helaman to have his own testimony, Elder Cook taught.
He cited his great-great-grandfather, Heber C. Kimball, on the need for a personal testimony: “The time will come when no man or woman will be able to endure on borrowed light. Each will have to be guided by the light within himself. If you do not have it, how can you stand? If you do not have it, you will not stand; therefore seek for the testimony of Jesus and cleave to it, that when the trying time comes you may not stumble and fall.”
Visions and manifestations like Alma seeing an angel are rare, said Elder Cook, adding that spiritual impressions are more typical and those made by the Holy Ghost can be equally as important as manifestations.
“‘The impressions on the soul that come from the Holy Ghost are far more significant than a vision,’” he said, quoting President Joseph Fielding Smith. “‘It is where spirit speaks to spirit, and the imprint upon the soul is far more difficult to erase.’ ”
Alma’s counsel to Shiblon includes the phrase in Alma 38:12, “see that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love.”
Focusing on anger and morality as two such passions, Elder Cook said the world teaches we cannot control passions and the adversary seeks “to fill our lives with visual evidence of violence and immorality.”
Noting that some cultures accept spouses hitting each other or parents striking a child, Elder Cook challenged listeners to “make up your mind that regardless of whether your parents did or did not hit you, you will not hit or verbally abuse your spouse or children.”
He also encouraged them to lead pure moral lives, staying away from pornography and controlling thoughts and language as well as actions.
“My experience in counseling those who have fallen into immoral conduct is that there were usually one or two bad decisions they made before engaging in sinful conduct,” he said.
Relying on repentance and the Atonement
Elder Cook then listed bad decisions Corianton had made in his moving from missionary to moral transgression: entertaining bad thoughts, leaving his companion, leaving his field of labor and going where there was much sin.
“So Alma’s counsel was to bridle passions and for those who have made mistakes to repent,” he said.
Distressed over his son’s unrighteousness, Alma needed to teach repentance and forsaking sins, including what Elder Cook said in Alma 39:11 “has been called the 13 saddest words in scripture: ‘… for when they saw your conduct they would not believe in my words.’ ”
From chapters 39 through 42, a loving father teaches his sons about justice, punishment, repentance, mercy and the Atonement, Elder Cook summarized, asking his listeners to read Alma 42 and “ponder this wonderful doctrine.”
He shared verse 29 of Alma speaking to Corianton “And now, my son, I desire that ye should let these things trouble you no more, and only let your sins trouble you, with that trouble which shall bring you down unto repentance.”
Danielle D’Costa, a Utah Valley University student from Auckland, New Zealand, appreciated Elder Cook’s straightforward counsel. “I think he was very direct and to the point — no fluff, no jokes, just to the point.”
Emily Adams from Pleasant Grove, Utah, appreciated the Apostle’s third principle that day-to-day consecrated effort is better than occasional heroic actions. “It’s my daily habits that are going to affect me the most,” she said.