The Pillars of Testimony

AN ADDRESS GIVEN TO THE BRIGHAM YOUNG UNIVERSITY STUDENT BODY

DR. CHAUNCEY C. RIDDLE
Dean of the Graduate School
June 30, 1970 – Devotional

with an introduction by
Dr. Dean A. Peterson
Dean of the Summer School

DR. DEAN A. PETERSON

It is our privilege this morning to have as our devotional speaker, Dr. Chauncey C. Riddle, dean of the Graduate School and professor of philosophy. Dean Riddle was named Professor of the Year in 1962 and BYU Honors Professor of the Year in 1967. He also received the Karl G. Maeser Award for Teaching Excellence.

He received his bachelor of science degree from Brigham Young University and his master’s degree and Ph.D. from Columbia University. He is a member of Phi Kappa Phi Honorary Scholastic Society and the American Plains Division of the American Philosophical Society. Since 1965 he has been a member of the high council in the Sharon Stake and has served on high councils since 1958. He is a former bishop of three wards: Provo Eighth Hard, Provo Nineteenth Ward, and the BYU Second Ward.

Chauncey Riddle is a native of Salt Lake City and is married to the former Bertha Alfred. They are the parents of twelve children, ten of whom are living, and their twelfth child, a son, was born this past Sunday. We congratulate Dr. and Sister Riddle. It is now our pleasure to turn the time to Dr. Riddle.

DR. CHAUNCEY C. RIDDLE

Several years ago I was descending the main stairs of the Butler Library at Columbia University in New York City when a fellow student stopped me. He asked if it was true that I had graduated from Brigham Young University. Upon receiving my affirmative reply, he volunteered that he was a graduate of one of our neighboring institutions. But the thing that so delighted him about his university, he went on to explain, was that he had been “liberated.” I took the bait and innocently asked him from what he had been liberated. Then the roof fell in. For the next two hours, as we stood there on the stairs, he explained to me all of the terrible evils of the Mormon Church. He began quite calmly to explain these evils, but as time progressed his explanations became a tirade punctuated by invectives and blasphemies. His face became beet red; his fury was so great that he began to jump up and down in sort of a war dance. l wondered if he would leap upon me to vent his obviously full spleen.

He told how he had once been a “good little Mormon boy.” He had attended all of his meetings faithfully, graduated from Primary, bad become a deacon, teacher, and priest in due order. He was well read in Church literature — was so well informed about doctrine that he was asked to teach a class in one of the auxiliaries of the Church during his freshman year at the university. Then he began to take classes in philosophy.

His professors of philosophy had carefully explained to him the delights of being “an intellectual.” As an intellectual he was given to understand that religion is all subjective, and therefore completely unworthy of any thinking man’s allegiance. They convinced him that the General Authorities of the Church had no such thing as revelation from God since there is no personal God. These authorities, they said, were simply paranoid and had a variety of illusions of grandeur. They were power mad, according to his professors.

Shades of Korihor 

My fellow student, of course, wasn’t just quoting his professors. He believed fully in what he was telling me. He went on to explain how the Church was really a system for making money and emphasized how shameful it was that all those Mormons out there in Utah were being slavishly led around by the nose. His attack included the Book of Mormon in particular, which he claimed was gibberish, and the Bible, which to him was a collection of myths and bedtime stories. One by one he decried the major doctrines of the Church showing how, to him, each was ridiculous when compared with modern science.

At first l attempted to counter his statements. As he launched upon the Brethren or certain doctrines, I would point out inconsistencies and untruths in what he was saying. These replies only made him the more angry, and soon I perceived that his attack was completely emotional and not intellectual.

On only one point could we agree. l challenged him with the idea that he had taken this apostate stand because he couldn’t live the standards of the Church. He then vehemently affirmed that such was not the case, that he saw real value in the Word of Wisdom and in the moral standards of the Church. He claimed that he had never broken these standards and never would, for he saw a utilitarian value in these things quite apart from the gospel.

The conclusion to his long outburst was that he intended to get his Ph.D. and then spend the rest of his days bringing light and cheer to Mormons of guilty conscience in order to smash the Church and its authorities wherever and whenever he could. Shades of Korihor!

By the time we parted, l was somewhat numb, drenched with his vituperation, and frustrated too, for I had been unable to help him. l wondered how on earth anyone could help him. l especially wondered how he would fare in New York City in keeping true to the moral standards he claimed he would never violate. My wonder ceased after a few months. The last time I saw him was in a dimly lit corner of a campus restaurant. He was reclining in a booth, obviously drunk, surrounded by empty beer cans, with a cigarette in one hand, and the other hand on a girl whose appearance told the rest of the story.

A Real Testimony       

Oh, sad, sad story! I cannot think back on him without wanting to weep. That this could happen to the youth of the noble birthright is appalling. But it did happen and it does happen. And it happens again and again for the same reason. That reason is the lack of a real testimony.

A testimony is that precious gift that enables a person to have enduring faith in These then are the components of testimony. First, an ability to hear the voice of the Lord when he guides us to righteousness; this we called recognition of spiritual experience. Second, knowledge of the work and the ways of God; this we might cull understanding. Third, having in our lives that most precious fruit of the gospel, the quiet inner peace that passeth understanding.

The Parable of the Sower        

The Savior gives us a graphic illustration of these three elements in the parable of the sower. He tells us what would happen if we were to lack any one of these elements.

A sower went out to sow his seed.. and as he sowed, some fell by the way side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it. (Luke 8:5.)

The Savior explained this as follows:

The seed is the word of God.

Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. (Luke 8:11-12.)

These people of the beaten path are those of the world who are so trodden down by the influences of the world that they do not recognize the word of the Lord when it comes to them. When the word of the Lord comes to any man, it is carried by the Holy Spirit into his heart. But perhaps that man pays little attention to his heart, priding himself on being objective in responding only to “hard, cold physical evidence” which affects his body and which he can demonstrate publicly to others. If so, the precious things in his heart lie undiscriminated, unsorted as time passes, it is easy for the adversary to snatch the precious word of the Lord from his memory. So, for want of attention and honest recognition of admitted worth, the word of the Lord is lost from consciousness and the opportunity to have a testimony and to be saved is gone.

Returning to the Savior’s parable, we see the second error.

And some [seed] fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up. it withered away, because it locked moisture. (Luke 8.6)

This is interpreted by the Savior as follows:

They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away. (Luke 8:13.)

These are persons who are able to recognize and treasure the word of the Lord. They begin to keep his commandments; yet they do not understand his work. In the face of temptation they wither because they cannot see the purpose and necessity of being different from the world, of keeping themselves pure and unspotted. Lacking the perspective of eternity, they fall easy prey to the desires of the moment, and the joy of the word of the Lord is overwhelmed by the lusts of the flesh. Had they searched in the scriptures and listened carefully to their priesthood leaders, they would have caught the point of sacrifice and they would have had the hope of the rewards of righteousness. This would have nourished their souls in the hot glare of temptation. But lacking root, not understanding what they were doing, they withered.

The third problem is represented in the teaching of our Savior as follows:

And some [seed] fell among thorns: and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it.

And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth and are choked with cares and rich’s and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection. (Luke 8:7, 14.)

This is the problem of what it is that satisfies us. Some persons hear the gospel message but are quite content with the world the way it is. They busy themselves with making and preserving their wealth and in living deliciously; they see no reason for a change. This is the problem of the upper economic classes of society especially. The Book of Mormon speaks of them being comforted with carnal security and thus being carefully led away down to hell. If they are ill, they have the best doctors; if they are hungry, they command the finest cuisine; if they are lonely they throw a party; if they are depressed or nervous, they are soothed by drugs, tobacco, alcohol, or whatever suits their fancy. They fancy, of course, that they do not need a Savior. Whatever they need, they can get — they think. These persons seldom gain testimonies until their health and wealth are taken from them. Bereaved of the temporal salvation they have so ignorantly enjoyed, they begin to glimpse the fact that there might be something better to life than just sating the flesh.

The Gospel Produces Good Fruit   

Undoubtedly there are some persons who do not have the fruits of the gospel in their lives simply because of not knowing what they are missing. My neighbor has a nectarine tree. He enjoyed its abundant fruit each year until he tasted one of the nectarines on my tree. Now his taste terrible, and he has grafted in many twigs from my tree hoping to convert his into a tree that produces good fruit.

Producing good fruit is the point of the gospel. If we live the gospel, our lives produce love, kindness, charity; we produce righteousness. Righteousness is caring more to see others happy than worrying about our own happiness. This is one of the paradoxes of the gospel. The only way to be really happy is to forget about our own happiness and to labor diligently for the happiness of others. The Savior said:

“He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it. (Matthew 10:39.)”

Pillars of Testimony    

Above all, our God is a god of righteousness. Whatever we do for his sake, we do in the cause of righteousness. And, among those who have tasted of the fruits of righteousness which have come through obedience to Christ, there are those who desire this fruit above all else. It is even more important than life itself to them. These are they who have strong, secure testimonies of the gospel, of the Savior. They know the gospel is true because when they heard the word of the Lord they had a spiritual quickening. Through this spiritual experience, they gained insight into the work of the Lord, the work of righteousness. And, when through faith they acted in obedience to that understanding, they tasted the precious fruit of the tree of life and knew of God’s goodness and love. Then they were founded on the rock. Then they had an anchor for their souls. These are they of whom the Savior said:

And other [seed) fell upon good ground and sprang up, and bear fruit an hundredfold.

But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience. (Luke 8:8, 15.)

Testimonies and Righteousness     

One plain and very important conclusion we may draw from the Savior’s parable is that testimonies are not for everyone. There will come a day when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess, but today only those who have honest and good hearts can be sure of gaining a testimony, and they gain one because they love righteousness. That love of righteousness leads them to the Savior, because only in and through him are they able to bring forth true fruits of righteousness. He is the way, the truth, and the life.

We have seen in the example of the Savior’s parable of the sower what happens when we leave out one of the necessary elements in gaining a testimony. Let us observe the consequence of trying to depend upon only one of these elements.

Spiritual Imitations        

Rather frequently there are manifest in our society persons who claim to be spiritual. They have had some unusual experience which has caused them to embark on a crusade or to alter their way of life. With all seeming sincerity they claim to have discovered the truth, which supposed truth they pursue with great zeal. When we see this claim to spiritual manifestation and its attendant zeal, we ought to check carefully for the other two aspects of true testimony. First, does this spirituality this person claims to have bring him understanding? Does it ring true in comparison with What the scriptures tell us? Is it consistent with the advice and counsel of the authorities of the Church? Secondly, does it bring forth in that person’s life the works and fruits of righteousness: love, kindness, joy, peace?

The Savior has given us a measure by which to judge those who claim to be spiritual. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” (Matthew 7:20.) It takes very little experience to separate good fruits from bad fruits if we are doing careful thinking. The reason for bad fruits and for being very wary of those who claim special spiritual experience is that Satan produces his own revelation or experience abundantly in the world. Many, many of those who think they have found the Lord have simply lent an ear to Satan. Undoubtedly, only those who are honest and good in heart can detect all spurious revelation, that is to say, revelation not from God.

Detecting Spurious Revelation

But there are rational means for detecting spurious revelation. Recognizing that a rational formula is no substitute for long experience in any field, we might note the following marks which are associated with people who have had false revelation.

  1. Indiscriminate recounting of the spiritual experience. (The Savior told us not to cast our pearls.)
  2. Insisting that others accept this spiritual experience. (In the Lord’s system each person depends on his own personal revelation.)
  3. Inconsistency of the supposed revelation with scripture and with the words of the living prophets. (The Lord has told us that his house is a house of order.)
  4. Fruits of unhappiness, contention, hate, confusion. (For the Lord’s way is light, truth, simplicity and unity.)

There is no shortage of revelation in this world. The problem is to tell that which is true revelation, given of the Lord, from that which is spurious revelation, given of the adversary.

Knowing or Living                            

Let’s turn now to an examination of what happens when a person attempts to base his testimony solely on a knowledge or understanding of the gospel. We occasionally see a person who has read all the books and has accumulated a tremendous store of catechistic answers to questions about religious matters. When challenged on a point, the person uses the method of proof-texting; that is, he produces scriptures and quotations which purportedly substantiate his opinion. This person is in the tradition of the scribes and Pharisees whom the Savior so roundly scored because they delighted in knowing the words about the work of God rather than in living by the word of God.

Many times this person who has only great knowledge has correct answers. He will quote scripture and propound the words of the prophets at great length. His problem is that it all comes from his head and not from his heart. It is sometimes said that this person has an intellectual testimony, which is to say, he is fascinated by the rational unity and consistency of the gospel and the scriptures. But this fascination is not a true testimony. It is only an intellectual game which the person is playing. Anyone who is said to be “intellectually” converted to the Church is not founded on the rock. Soon some other intellectual game will fascinate him more and he will be as zealous and catechistic about it as he was about the gospel. Or perhaps the Brethren will ordain certain of the seventy to be high priests, or they might put five counselors in the First Presidency, or perhaps they might even do away with one or more of the auxiliaries of the Church. These persons are then offended because the work of a former president of the Church is being countermanded. They see this as an inconsistency, and their intellectual house of cards is toppled. They forget that the original instruction was given spiritually, by revelation; that the change is given spiritually, by revelation; and that a member of the Church can appropriately sustain either or both only by means of his own personal revelation.

But the person who glories only in knowing about the kingdom of God does not enjoy personal revelation from the Lord. And because he does not live the gospel, which he cannot do without personal revelation, he does not have the special fruits of the Spirit in his life. He will not and cannot endure in the kingdom unless he repents and adds these missing dimensions to his life.

And Signs There Are      

Turning now to the third possibility, we see the case of the person who settles for the fruits only, who has no spirituality nor depth of understanding in his life. This is the person who depends upon signs. And signs there are. Signs follow those who believe in Christ. Signs also follow those who knowingly or unknowingly serve Satan. The signs of these two masters are not always the same, but they are not always different. Thus a person who depends on signs alone has no true idea as to what or who might be the cause of the signs on which he depends.

It is not unusual to see in the Church a person who believes the Church is true because he was there when Aunt Annie was administered to by the priesthood and was miraculously healed. He saw them lay on hands; he saw Aunt Annie healed. Is that not proof enough? It is for him. Building his house on the sand, he proceeds as if he had a testimony. But then Aunt Annie becomes ill again. She is administered to again, but this time she passes on. Everyone is grief stricken at losing beloved Aunt Annie. But our friend who based his testimony on her healing is not only grief stricken, he is terrified. He thinks that maybe the gospel is not true; perhaps there is no God; perhaps life is just a monstrous joke of nature. Because be has not accepted into his life the comforts and guidance of the spirit of the Lord, be does not and cannot know why Aunt Annie was restored on the one occasion and released on the other. He does not have the understanding of the gospel to know that death is not a curse but a blessing to the righteous. Bereaved of moorings, our friend is swept with the tide of skepticism and despair now despising the sandy foundation which once supported his unstable house of testimony.

Testimony and Faith     

It has been obvious through this discussion that testimony and faith are very closely associated in the gospel of Jesus Christ. What we have here called testimony is very close to what Paul talks about when he discusses faith in the book of Hebrews. The formula we have given sounds very much like Alma’s description of how to gain faith. The connection is that testimony is the necessary prerequisite to sustained faith. Testimony is the basis, the foundation for acting on faith. A testimony is knowing that the gospel is true. Knowing that, one can then exercise great faith.

To exercise faith in Jesus Christ, one must hear the words of Christ. These come to us in the still, small voice of his spirit. If we then believe and obey the Savior, we are showing forth faith in him. But a person cannot go very far acting on faith, not far enough to save his soul, without knowing that the course he is pursuing is the will of God. Without that knowledge it is too risky and expensive to act on faith. The sacrifices demanded are too great. A sandy foundation will not support them. But when we have tried our God and know that he is just and true and righteous, then we can exercise faith in him, unto death if necessary, because we have a testimony.

On the other hand, one may have a testimony and not continue to act in faith. This is the terrible route that apostates of every dispensation have taken. Having known the goodness of the Lord, they chose to stand apart, to forsake the ways of righteousness and to return to the world and to sin. A testimony never impels a person to be righteous; it only enables him so to act. The devils all have testimonies of Christ. They know him and know who he is, but they deliberately choose the way of sin because their hearts are not honest and good.

The scriptures plainly reveal to us that testimony and faith must grow together before either is strong or of great value. The beginning point is always personal revelation for the Lord always takes the first step by extending the arms of mercy towards a man. The man must desire to believe and hope to find righteousness enough to try the Lord, to try the experiment of obeying him and his cords. If a man obeys the Lord, he receives a reward, a spiritual reward. This reward shows him that it is good to obey God. Thus, as a man adds obedience to spirituality, understanding to obedience, and recognizes the result, he has a testimony. As he is further obedient, he gains more understanding and more rewards which increase his testimony. As his testimony grows, he can stand greater and greater spiritual manifestations. As he obeys the instructions from the Lord given in these revelations, his faith becomes greater and greater. Thus these two, faith and testimony, grow together as the saving grace of our Savior until that person has overcome the world.

Perhaps you have watched concrete being poured. In any job that is intended to be strong and lasting, reinforcing steel is placed at strategic intervals. This steel makes the concrete almost indestructible. It may crack and the surface may chip, but the mass remains solid and steadfast. If you have watched somebody trying to destroy reinforced concrete, you know that the simplest thing to do usually is just to pick up the whole mass and cart it off.

Concrete is like faith. A testimony is like reinforcing steel. Satan is the destroyer trying to smash your faith. If you are full of reinforcing steel, Satan cannot smash you. He would like to take you up bodily and cast you away. But our Savior does not give him that power. So Satan hunts for faith without testimony, for good acts, obedient acts, where the person is not sure whom he is obeying, why he is obeying, and if it is worthwhile to obey. When he finds such a person, he puts the pressure on. Not necessarily a great massive pressure – just enough to chip off a corner. And then another corner. Here a piece, there a piece, the person is destroyed all the while trying to do what is right. Trying but not succeeding – because of only half trying. Trying to live the gospel without searching the things of the spirit, without pondering the meaning of the Lord’s message, without keenly observing the fruits of the Spirit. To try to have faith without a testimony is to be thoughtless. But to think, to search, to obey, to experiment, to find that rock upon which to build, that is thinking, the best kind of thinking; it is called repentance. And that kind of thinking is real living; in fact, it is the beginning of eternal life.

Testimony Bearing        

A word about the bearing of testimony. In one sense a testimony is a wholly private thing. It is something you know; it is part of your life, your conscience, your experience, but you cannot show it to anyone else because it is part of your inner life and experience, your spiritual life. That, of course, is why it is so valuable to you. It is your personal comfort and warrant for your faith. No matter what happens to anyone else, you have something you know for sure about spiritual matters. You and the Lord have a functioning, ongoing relationship and companionship.

The privacy of your testimony is another witness to your personal free agency. Because it is private, other persons cannot judge you nor assist you in your thinking. You must think through the evidence for yourself. It is your own personal evidence. Others may check your reasoning, but they cannot check either your data or your desires. So you remain free of men because of your privacy, and free from the flesh because these data are spiritual. This is the freedom which the gospel offers to all who seek the truth.

But though your testimony is private, the Lord does nt always want you to keep hidden the fact tat you have one. Under his guidance you are to bear your testimony. When he prompts you, he wants you to express to others the fact that you have one, as Paul says, to give account to men of the hope that is within you. You can never give another person your testimony, or even a testimony. But there are times when you must stand up to be counted.

For when you bear your testimony, you declare yourself to be on the side of the Savior. You express to men that you have tried the Lord and found him to be good, and you stand as a personal witness to that truth. As you speak, truly the Holy Ghost is your companion. He, the Holy Ghost, also bears his witness to the souls of your bearers. He is a God; his witness is divine. His witness is the beginning of spiritual life, the basis of testimony, the opportunity for faith. While your witness is nothing so grand and mighty as that of the Holy Ghost, nevertheless your witness is the occasion and opportunity for his witness. Thus you are an important and even indispensable part of the Savior’s plan to save mankind. If no man bore true witness of God, the occasions for revelation from God would be so sharply diminished as to throw the world into another black night of apostasy. So we are sent into the world to be witnesses of the light. We are not the light. But we know him and bear testimony of him; he is Jesus Christ.

There is also a responsibility upon those who receive a testimony, a witness of Christ. Like it or not, they must judge. When a man declares himself to be of Christ all of his hearers who claim to be servants of Christ also must react. If a man bears a true witness and his hearers who are members of the Church accept it, the speaker and bearers strengthen one another and draw closer to each other in the bonds of fellowship and unity that characterize the perfected kingdom of God. But if these members reject a true witness, they have opted in behalf of Satan. If a man bears a false witness and members of the Church accept it as true, they have likewise declared themselves against the Savior and for Satan. If members reject a false witness, then they know to labor with this man as an unbeliever. If they try not to accept or reject, then they are pretending that the occasion is unimportant. But a testimony of Christ is never unimportant; it is a matter of spiritual life or death for both hearers and bearers. When we attend sacrament meeting and especially testimony meeting we are all accountable. We add or detract from the meeting and we will have to answer for what we do. Sometimes it is fashionable for people to express boredom with a testimony meeting. But, for those who have and understand testimonies, a testimony is always a spiritual feast, a rich opportunity for discernment, an occasion to know how to act toward our brothers and sisters.

Many times a point is made of the fact that we bear testimony in our deeds as well as in our words. And indeed we do. Whenever we who are covenant servants of Christ make a decision or perform a deed, we are bearing our testimony. If we seek and yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, we declare ourselves to be servants of Christ. Whenever we avoid him or act contrary to what we know to be right, we are plainly bearing witness to ourselves and to any who see our acts that we do not really believe in Christ. We are saying that though he may exist and he may be all right in his place he is not good enough to be worshipped with all of our heart, might, mind, and strength. And thus do we reject him.

But thank the Lord for those few stalwart souls sprinkled through our midst who unpretentiously and steadily opt for the Savior. They can discern the Spirit of the Lord and they love it. They understand the gospel and have their eye on eternity, whose name is Jesus. They bear the fruits of faith in their lives, for they strengthen the weak knees, they lift up the hands that hang down. They build the kingdom of God day and night, summer and winter, by showing forth in purity of life the love of God towards men.

In conclusion, may l give you my witness. l testify with all my heart and soul that I know that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true. I know because I have tried it. I know that it works. I know that the Holy Ghost is a sweet and a pure companion that leads to righteousness. I know that the gospel is profound, consistent. I know that to learn about the mysteries is a great and overwhelming blessing even though we may not speak of them. I know that God reigns in power in his priesthood, for I have seen lives change under the ordinances of the gospel and I have seen miracles performed. I witness to you that the authorities of the Church are men of God. They have his power; they have his authority; they are filled with his love; and they are working tirelessly to bring salvation to us and to all men. Above all I know that our God is god of righteousness and truth. I give glory to the name of our Savior, and I witness unto you that I know him to be true, to be good. And I know that all that I know that is good and true and virtuous I know though him.

I pray that each of us may inventory his testimony, and then do whatever is necessary that we will never falter in our faith. I pray that we might love the Lord enough to become pure in heart, to establish Zion. That we might show forth the glory, honor, and majesty, and righteousness of the true and living God, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen

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