My friend Janet gave a wonderful lesson about testimonies to the Relief Society sisters in my ward last Sunday. She asked a question that I pondered often during her lesson: what is a testimony? The question has many answers, but to me, a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ is everything. It is the difference between night and day; it is the difference between bitter and sweet. It is the difference between simply believing and knowing. It is receiving revelation from God.
I come from a long line of people who belonged to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. All eight of my great-grandparents were among the earliest members of the Church and crossed the plains to Utah, the last line arriving on the railroad. I grew up as a member of the Church and always believed what I was taught. I was a good member of the Church and lived the religion, but I was not a solid convert.
The time came when I was in my thirties when I desired to know for myself; I wanted to receive the confirmation of the Holy Ghost; I wanted to know that know. I realized that the Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ held the key for getting that confirmation, and I embarked on a prayerful and sincere study of that book. The confirmation did not come quickly or easily. After I paid the price in desire, personal study, and sincere prayer, the confirmation came and changed my life forever. The Holy Ghost filled my entire body with light, an experience that galvanized my soul and filled me with pure joy.
Lorenzo Snow had a similar experience when he was baptized and confirmed in June 1836. He later explained that he “believed they [the Latter-day Saints] had the true religion, and I joined the Church. So far my conversion was merely a matter of reason…. I was perfectly satisfied that I had done what was wisdom for me to do under the circumstances.”
President Snow was content with this understanding for a time, but he later “yearned for a special manifestation of the Holy Ghost.” Even though he had not received a manifestation, he expected to receive one. I recognize his situation as being very similar to my own. I had no doubts about what I had been taught but simply longed for a confirmation from God.
“This manifestation did not immediately follow my baptism, as I expected,” President Snow recalled. “But, although the time was deferred, when I did receive it, its realization was more perfect, tangible and miraculous than even my strongest hopes had led me to anticipate. One day while engaged in my studies, some two or three weeks after I was baptized, I began to reflect upon the fact that I had not obtained a knowledge of the truth of the work – that I had not realized the fulfillment of the promise: `He that doeth my will shall know of the doctrine;’ [see John 7:17] and I began to feel very uneasy.
“I laid aside my books, left the house and wandered around through the fields under the oppressive influence of a gloomy, disconsolate spirit, while an indescribable cloud of darkness seemed to envelop me. I had been accustomed, at the close of the day, to retire for secret prayer to a grove, a short distance from my lodgings, but at this time I felt no inclination to do so.
“The spirit of prayer had departed, and the heavens seemed like brass over my head. At length, realizing that the usual time had come for secret prayer, I concluded I would not forego my evening service, and, as a matter of formality, knelt as I was in the habit of doing, and in my accustomed retired place, but not feeling as I was wont to feel.
“I had no sooner opened my lips in an effort to pray, than I heard a sound, just above my head, like the rustling of silken robes, and immediately the Spirit of God descended upon me, completely enveloping my whole person, filling me from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet, and O, the joy and happiness I felt! No language can describe the instantaneous transition from a dense cloud of mental and spiritual darkness into a refulgence of light and knowledge, as it was at that time imparted to my understanding. I then received a perfect knowledge that God lives, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and of the restoration of the Holy Priesthood, and the fullness of the gospel.” (See Teachings of Presidents of the Church – Lorenzo Snow, pp. 60-61.)
Like President Snow, I realized that there is a huge difference between simply believing the gospel and having its truthfulness confirmed by God. It is the difference between night and day in my spiritual life.
President Gordon B. Hinckley eloquently explained: "Each time we encourage a man to read the Book of Mormon we do him a favor. If he reads it prayerfully and with a sincere desire to know the truth, he will know by the power of the Holy Ghost that the book is true. And from that knowledge there will flow a conviction of the truth of many other things.
"For if the Book of Mormon is true, then God lives. Testimony upon testimony runs through its pages of the solemn fact that our Father is real, that he is personal, that he loves his children and seeks their happiness. If the Book of Mormon is true, then Jesus is the Son of God, the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh…. If the Book of Mormon is true, then Jesus is verily our Redeemer; the Savior of the world. If the Book of Mormon is true, then this land is choice above all other lands; but if it is to remain such, the inhabitants of the land must worship the God of the land, the Lord Jesus Christ…. If the Book of Mormon is true, Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, for he was the instrument in the hands of God in bringing to light this testimony of the divinity of our Lord….
"I repeat, if the Book of Mormon is true, the Church is true, for the same authority under which this sacred record came to light is present and manifest among us today. It is a restoration of the Church set up by the Savior in Palestine. It is a restoration of the Church set up by the Savior when he visited this continent as set forth in this sacred record" (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, 39).
Elder Douglas L. Callister also spoke about the importance of knowing the truth for ourselves: "The testimony of others may initiate and nourish the desire for faith and testimony, but eventually every individual must find out for himself. None can permanently endure on borrowed light.
"… It is necessary, however, that each find out for himself and carry that burning testimony into the next life….
"It is a grand thing to know - and to know that you know and that the light has not been borrowed from another."
Elder McCallister told the story of a young acquaintance who had not yet paid the price to know. He said, "I told my friend that as long as he casually read and prayed, he never would find out, worlds without end. But when he set aside a period for fasting and pleading, the truth would be burned into his heart, and he would know that he knew….
"If you want to know that you know, a price must be paid. And you alone must pay that price….
"… As a fire will not burn, except the flame be revealed, a testimony cannot abide except it be expressed" (Ensign, Nov. 2007, 100-101).
I know for myself that the Book of Mormon is the true word of God. This testimony changed me from an active, believing member of the Church to a strong, capable, converted member who could finally say "I know." Receiving this confirmation did not change my activities because I was already doing the right things. It did, however, help me to keep my priorities straight while giving me power to perform my duties better. What is a testimony? Everything that is needed