"God has revealed to me the absolute need for us to move the Book of Mormon forward now in a marvelous manner."
- General Conference, Oct. 1, 1988
Almost immediately, President Ezra Taft Benson established what will likely be remembered as the most prominent theme of his presidency.
President Benson continually and powerfully admonished members to study the Book of Mormon. When he was at the Mexico City Temple dedication in December 1983 he received an impression that God was not well pleased with the neglect of the Book of Mormon by the Saints and they could not please Him until the Book of Mormon was used more in missionary work, teaching, preaching, and private study.
In his first general conference address as Church president on April 5, 1986, President Benson warned, "Unless we read the Book of Mormon and give heed to its teachings, the Lord has stated in Section 84 of the Doctrine and Covenants that the whole Church is under condemnation."
Delivering the admonition in the context of "cleansing the inner vessel," he said, "The Book of Mormon has not been, nor is it yet, the center of our personal study, family teaching, preaching, and missionary work. Of this we must repent."
President Benson again underscored this admonition during his conference address on Oct. 4, 1986. "Has the fact that we have had the Book of Mormon with us for over a century and a half made it seem less significant to us today? Do we remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon?" he asked.
"In the Bible we have the Old Testament and the New Testament. The word testament is the English rendering of a Greek word that can also be translated as covenant. Is this what the Lord meant when He called the Book of Mormon the `new covenant?' It is indeed another testament or witness of Jesus. This is one of the reasons why we have recently added the words `Another Testament of Jesus Christ' to the title of the Book of Mormon."
Stating that the Book of Mormon was "meant for us," the prophet also emphasized that it is "the keystone of our religion - the keystone of our testimony, the keystone of our doctrine, and the keystone in the witness of our Lord and Savior."
At the same conference, on Oct. 5, 1986, the prophet said the Book of Mormon's purpose is "to show what great things the Lord has done, to teach of the covenants of the Lord, and to convince both Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ."
Explaining the parallel between conditions today and those in 3 Nephi prior to the Lord's visit, President Benson said on April 4, 1987, at general conference, "In light of our mortal probation, our future resurrection, and our final judgment, we need to remember the question which the resurrected Lord posed to His disciples as recorded in 3 Nephi in the Book of Mormon.
" `Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be?' " (3 Nephi 27:27.)
During general conference on Oct. 4, 1987, he admonished, "Let us continually re-read the Book of Mormon so that we might more fully come to Christ, be committed to Him, centered in Him, and consumed in Him."
President Benson focused on the Book of Mormon again on Oct. 1, 1988, at general conference: "The time is long overdue for a massive flooding of the earth with the Book of Mormon for the many reasons which the Lord has given. In this age of electronic media and mass distribution of the printed word, God will hold us accountable if we do not now move the Book of Mormon in a monumental way."
President Benson accentuated this counsel with, "I have a vision of homes alerted, of classes alive, and of pulpits aflame with the spirit of Book of Mormon messages.
"I have a vision of home teachers and visiting teachers, ward and branch officers, and stake and mission leaders counseling our people out of the most correct of any book on earth - the Book of Mormon.
"I have a vision of artists putting into film, drama, literature, music, and paintings great themes and great characters from the Book of Mormon.
"I have a vision of thousands of missionaries going into the mission field with hundreds of passages memorized from the Book of Mormon so that they might feed the needs of a spiritually famished world.
"I have a vision of the whole Church getting nearer to God by abiding by the precepts of the Book of Mormon.
"Indeed, I have a vision of flooding the earth with the Book of Mormon."
The response of Church members was acknowledged and commended by the prophet in the same address. It had been a landmark year for use of the book, he said, mentioning production of the video "How Rare a Possession"; donation of copies for use in missionary work; broadcasts by radio stations of excerpts from the book; use of the book in various Church organizations; inclusion of articles in Church publications; organization of lectures and symposia on the Book of Mormon; members making it the subject of talks, lessons, articles and books; and daily individual reading.
President Benson commended the Church on the improved use of the Book of Mormon during general conference, on April 1, 1989, but added, "Not only must we move forward in a monumental manner more copies of the Book of Mormon, but we must move boldly forward into our own lives and throughout the earth more of its marvelous messages."
His exhortation to study and teach the Book of Mormon was repeated at many of the regional conferences at which he spoke in various parts of the Church. "Every Latter-day Saint should make the study of this book a lifetime pursuit," he often said. "Otherwise he is placing his soul in jeopardy and neglecting that which could give spiritual and intellectual unity to his whole life."
In his addresses to the regional conferences, he explained: "The Book of Mormon is the great standard we are to use" in testifying of the gospel to the ends of the earth. "It shows that Joseph Smith was a prophet. It contains the words of Christ, and its great mission is to bring men to Christ, and all other things are secondary."
He admonished: "We have not been using the Book of Mormon as we should. Our homes are not as strong unless we are using it to bring our children to Christ. Our families may be corrupted by worldly trends and teachings unless we know how to use the book to expose and combat the falsehoods in socialism, rationalism, etc. Our missionaries are not as effective unless they are `hissing forth' with it. (2 Ne. 29:2.) Social, ethical, cultural, or educational converts will not survive under the heat of the day unless their taproots go down to the fulness of the gospel which the Book of Mormon contains. Our Church classes are not as spirit-filled unless we hold it up as a standard. And our nation will continue to degenerate unless we read and heed the words of the God of this land, Jesus Christ, and quit building up and upholding the secret combinations which the Book of Mormon tells us proved the downfall of both previous American civilizations."
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