Today I want to discuss a principle that I found in my assigned New Testament reading for this week. The scripture says, “And he said unto them, Take heed what you hear: with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you: and unto you that hear shall more be given. For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath” (Mark 4:24-25).
The principle that I took from that scripture is, “I must be obedient to the gospel knowledge I have received in order to be prepared to receive more.” This means that when I gain some little nugget of knowledge, I must activate it in my life if I desire to learn more. An example could be prayer. When I learn that Heavenly Father wants us to communicate with Him often – several times each day, I must visit with Him through prayer. As I am obedient to the commandment to “pray always” (2 Nephi 32:8-9), I will receive more knowledge. The new knowledge may be a stronger testimony of the power of prayer in my life or something else about prayer, or it could be a completely new subject.
This principle is stated in a different and clearer way in the Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ. In 2 Nephi 28:30 it says, “For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.”
In an address titled “Line upon Line, Precept upon Precept” given at a devotional at Brigham Young University – Idaho on September 11, 2001, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles quotes
2 Nephi 28:30 and then explains what it means.
The theme for my message is contained in the phrase “line upon line, precept upon precept.” If you and I would learn to discern the difference between our own emotions and the promptings of the Holy Ghost, then we must come to recognize the Lord’s pattern and process for giving us spiritual knowledge.
And the phrase “line upon line, precept upon precept” describes a central feature of the Lord’s pattern.
I believe many of us unknowingly accept a faulty assumption about the Lord’s pattern. And this faulty assumption then produces erroneous expectations about how we receive spiritual knowledge. And that faulty assumption and our misinformed expectations ultimately hinder our ability to recognize and respond to the promptings of the Holy Ghost. Let me suggest that many of us typically assume we will receive an answer or a prompting to our earnest prayers and pleadings. And we also frequently expect that such an answer or a prompting will come immediately and all at once. Thus, we tend to believe the Lord will give us A BIG ANSWER QUICKLY AND ALL AT ONE TIME. However, the pattern repeatedly described in the scriptures suggests we receive “line upon line, precept upon precept,” or in other words, many small answers over a period of time. Recognizing and understanding this pattern is an important key to obtaining inspiration and help from the Holy Ghost.
Now, we all acknowledge that receiving a big answer quickly and all at once is possible and, in fact, does occur in some exceptional circumstances. Perhaps we give overmuch emphasis to the miraculous experiences of Joseph in the Sacred Grove, of Paul on the road to Damascus, and of Alma the Younger. If our personal experiences fall short of these well-known and spiritually dramatic examples, then perhaps we believe something is wrong with or lacking in us. I am suggesting that the particular spiritual process evidenced in these three examples with Joseph, Paul, and Alma is more rare than it is routine, more the exception than the rule.
In the above quote Elder Bednar explains that even Apostles and Prophets receive knowledge in small doses or “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little.” Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Ghost, give us the information that we are prepared to receive and as we are ready.
Elder Richard G. Scott, another Apostle, gives counsel on “Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge” in his General Conference address in October 1993.
As you seek spiritual knowledge, search for principles. Carefully separate them from the detail used to explain them. Principles are concentrated truth, packaged for application to a wide variety of circumstances. A true principle makes decisions clear even under the most confusing and compelling circumstances. It is worth great effort to organize the truth we gather to simple statements of principle. I have tried to do that with gaining spiritual knowledge. The result is now shared in hope that it will be a beginning place for our study. That statement of principle is: To acquire spiritual knowledge and to obey it with wisdom, one must: In humility, seek divine light; exercise faith in Jesus Christ; hearken to His counsel, [and] keep His commandments.
As spiritual knowledge unfolds, it must be understood, valued, obeyed, remembered, and expanded.
Both Elder Bednar and Elder Scott liken receiving spiritual knowledge to light. Elder Bednar explains that inspiration may come a little at a time, much like the rising of the sun, or it may come suddenly, much like the turning on a light in a dark room. Elder Scott says that light overpowers darkness unless the darkness is too intense. He gives the example of “a bulb plunged into a bucket of black ink.” He then explains that “Spiritual light overcomes the darkness of ignorance and disbelief. When transgression severely clouds a life, the focused spiritual truths of repentance cut the blackness as a laser penetrates the darkest ink.”
These two Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ explain clearly how my discovered principle works. I take hold of a little bit of knowledge, just as I notice the sun rising. As I hold tight to what I have already learned, more inspiration will come to bring greater light to my spiritual world, just as the rising sun brings light to our physical world. We are also counseled to write down the principles that we learn in order that we do not forget them. I write principles in my scriptures, but others put them in a study journal or write them electronically. We just need to keep a record of what we are learning. We to remember the knowledge we receive and put it into practice in our lives in order to receive more knowledge.