“Seek Learning, Even by Study and Also by Faith”

The key scripture in today’s lesson comes from section 88, verse 118:

D&C 88:118

118 And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.

This lesson is called “Seek Learning, Even by Study and Also by Faith”. Its objective is to encourage us to continuously develop the habit of learning “by study and faith.”

When I think of the word study, I think of something that requires the body’s as well as our physical senses so that we gather data by touching, smelling, seeing, tasting, feeling, and hearing. With this material data we can use our cognitive abilities to reason and conjecture and test hypothesis.

When I think of the word faith, I think of something that is spiritual in nature and transcends the body. If requires hope and trust and assurance of things that are meta-physical in nature—things that can be proven to be true without requiring physical evidence.

Because we are living souls with a dual nature of both physical and spiritual components, it should come as no surprise that the Lord is commanding us to use both of these facilities together—our bodies and our spirits.

Which makes perfect sense to me. After all, we have two legs on our bodies, and when we use both of them together, we can make lots of forward progression down the straight and narrow path. But if we use only one, we might find ourselves bouncing around like a Tigger who has run out of Ritalin and can never find a way out of the 100-acre wood.

Section 88 is an amazing revelation. Joseph Smith called it “the ‘Olive Leaf’ which we have plucked from the Tree of Paradise, the Lord’s message of peace to us” (History of the Church, 1:316). It was delivered to Joseph because the Saints were getting worried about whether or not they could survive the turbulent last days before the Second Coming of Christ. I can relate, can’t you?

So they prayed for divine guidance. And the answer, which came to the Prophet, is that they need to study a bit harder about the things that are most important. They need to learn as much as possible, not only about the material world and the things in it, but the spiritual world and how it operates.

Once people are endowed with knowledge, then apply that knowledge to do good things for other people, then fear and anxiety fly out the window to be replaced with faith that all things will work out for our good.

As we learn and understand more about God and his dealings with his children, we will find spiritual peace and gain spiritual refinement. Learning will help us prepare our bodies and spirits so that one day we can dwell with the Savior and enter his celestial kingdom—which is not only found in heaven, but here on earth in sacred spaces such as our holy temples.

In some ways, this revelation is also intended to be a temple preparation text—to help the saints of that day prepare themselves to receive the blessing of the temple which would soon be built. It is just as useful for us as we prepare to go to the temple, whether for the first time or the ten thousandth time.

Historical Background

Let’s start off with a little historical background. It had been 2½ years since the Church was organized. Most of the Saints were now living in Ohio. Since little farming could be done during the snowy winter months, this is when the Saints had extra time on their hands, where they could spend more time studying the scriptures. And like I mentioned, some began to fret about the things the scriptures foretold.

They knew one of their primary roles as Latter-day Saints was to prepare the world for the Second Coming of the Savior. Unfortunately, the scriptures are quite explicit that the pre-Millennial era would an almost universally wicked place and the Saints will need to endure lots of awful things while simultaneously stepping up their game to a level of righteousness that has rarely been found in the past. So some were getting rather anxious about the burden on their shoulders and were praying for divine help.

Things are so much different now-a-days. Today, no one ever gets stressed-out about anything. Unless, of course, the pharmacy can’t refill their prescriptions. J But 184 years ago, the only “mother’s little helpers” they had at the time came in a little brown jug, which was about to be prohibited in a couple of months.

On December 27, Joseph called a two-day council of some of the church leaders in the area. About 10 high priests assembled together, during which time Joseph instructed them on how to receive the blessings of heaven and the mind of the Lord.

It was during this meeting, that verses 1 through 126 of section 88 were revealed and written down in the Kirtland Revelations book.

And what did it contain? Essentially, it describes the Lord’s pattern for learning—what you should learn and how you should learn them.  Then, as we learn, we will be prepared to do whatever need to be done to fulfill our life’s mission.

Let’s read a couple of verses.

D&C 88:77-80

77 And I give unto you a commandment that you shall teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom.

78 Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;

79 Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms—

80 That ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you.

So the saints were encouraged to learn about all things that would help them be better prepared to fulfill their missions. But how exactly were they to implement this principle? The answer came one week later when fourteen more verses were added that talked about how to organize and run a new school, which they originally called “the School of the Prophets.”

The School of the Prophets

The school was started on January 23, 1833 in a small 10-foot by 14-foot room with a fireplace above the Newel K. Whitney Store in Kirtland, which was the headquarters of the Church until the Temple was finished three years later.

Given the size of the room, enrollment was limited to selected priesthood holders and probably never exceeded twenty-five.

The first meeting had 16 members: Joseph Smith, his three brothers (Hyrum, William, Samuel) and father, Orson Hyde, Frederick G. Williams, Zebedee Coltrin, Sylvester Smith, Levi Hancock, Martin Harris, Sidney Rigdon, Newel K. Whitney, John Murdock, Lyman Johnson and Ezra Thayer.

It would have been a snug fit for grown men that bathed perhaps once a week during the winter months—and keep in mind that home-made lye soap wasn’t used on the body at the time, but mainly for cleaning clothes.

The School of the Prophets room at the Newel K. Whitney store in Kirtland, Ohio

Which is why, it isn’t surprising, that the revelation included some conditions that foster learning. I call these the 10 Ceases:

  1. Cease from all your light speeches
  2. Cease from all laughter
  3. Cease from all your lustful desires
  4. Cease from all your pride and light-mindedness
  5. Cease from all your wicked doings.
  6. Cease to be covetous
  7. Cease to be idle
  8. Cease to be unclean
  9. Cease to find fault one with another
  10. Cease to sleep longer than is needful

In accordance with the revelation, members were initiated into the class through the washing of feet, as described in verses 138-141. This is following the example set by Jesus in John 13:4-17.

School usually began at sunrise and dismissed in late afternoon. The teacher would precede the students into the classroom and kneel down to offer a personal prayer. Then, as the students gathered, the instructor would arise and salute the students with uplifted hands. He would then recite a specific oath which the students would repeat. You can find this in verses 132-135.

Instruction focused on scripture and doctrine, though some time was devoted to secular topics such as grammar. Joseph Smith presided and Orson Hyde and Sidney Rigdon provided the instruction.

The classes often continued until 4:00 PM. They often fasted all day, breaking their fast by partaking of the sacrament together before returning home, where many of the brethren then taught their wives and families what they had learned.

This school continued to operate until the weather was good enough in the spring for missionary service to being, when the prophet padawans would preach and proclaim what they had pondered and practiced.

While being in this cramped environment was often painful for a number of brethren, they had a number of amazing experiences. Let me give you one example, perhaps one of the most dramatic, which came from an interview with Zebedee Coltrin, which he gave 50 years later.

Once Joseph gave notice to the school for all to get up before sunrise, then wash themselves and put on clean clothing and be at the school by sunrise, as it would be a day of revelation and vision.  They opened with prayer.  Joseph then gave instructions to prepare their minds.  He told them to kneel and pray with uplifted hands.

While engaged in silent prayer, kneeling, with hands uplifted each one praying in silence, no one whispered above his breath, a personage walked through the room from East to west, and Joseph asked if we saw him.  I saw him and suppose the others did, and Joseph answered that is Jesus, the Son of God, our elder brother.

Afterward Joseph told us to resume our former position in prayer, which we did.  Another person came through; He was surrounded as with a flame of fire.  He [Bro Coltrin] experienced a sensation that it might destroy the tabernacles as it was of consuming fire of great brightness.  The Prophet Joseph said this was the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  I saw Him.

When asked about the kind of clothing the Father has on, Bro Coltin said; I did not discover His clothing for He was surrounded as with a flame of fire, which was so brilliant that I could not discover anything else but His person.  I saw His hands, His legs, his feet, his eyes, nose, mouth, head and body in the shape and form of a perfect man.  He sat in a chair as a man would sit in a chair, but this appearance was so grand and overwhelming that it seems I should melt down in His presence, and the sensation was so powerful that it thrilled through my whole system and I felt it in the marrow of my bones.

The Prophet Joseph said:  Brethren[,] now you are prepared to be the apostles of Jesus Christ, for you have seen both the Father and the Son, and know that They exist and that They are two separate Personages.

This appearance occurred about two or three weeks after the opening of the school.  (Minutes, Salt Lake City School of the Prophets, October 3, 1883, p. 38-39)

Additional Schools

The following year, the school was organized again, this time it was called the “School of the Elders. Those who attend the school studied such subject as English grammar, penmanship, philosophy, government, literature, geography, and ancient and modern history.

Among the texts they used were Richard Watson’s Theological Institutes or a View of the Evidences, Doctrines, Morals, and Institutions of Christianity (1834) and Royal Robbins’s The World Developed in Its History and Geography Embracing a History of the World (1832).

Although the students explored a variety of disciplines, religious topics received the main emphasis. In fact, if you have ever read or heard about the Lectures on Faith series, this is where they were first taught.

During the Kirtland era, other schools were created, such the more traditional Kirtland High School, with 140 students, both old and young, male and female, taught by 28-year old William McLellin—who, a year later, would become one of the members of the first Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Sadly, three years after that, he fell into apostasy and actively led people away from the church. In fact, William really, really disliked the Prophet, who called him out on his sins. Here’s what a newspaper published about one confrontation between William and Joseph:

While Joseph was in prison at Richmond, Mo., Mr. McLellin, who was a large and active man, went to the sheriff and asked for the privilege of flogging the Prophet; permission was granted, on condition that Joseph would fight. The sheriff made McLellin’s earnest request known to Joseph, who consented to fight, if his irons were taken off. McLellin then refused to fight, unless he could have a club, to which Joseph was perfectly willing; but the sheriff would not allow them to fight on such unequal terms. (Millennial Star, 1864, vol. 26, p. 808.)

Now-a-days, William McLellin’s legacy is to server as a cautionary tale about how even modern apostles can apostatize. Everyone can lose the light they’ve been given if they choose to sin. Everyone. This is a terribly sad story, so let’s get off this tangent and get back on the main thread.

There was also the Hebrew School, where Joshua Seixas, a recent convert to Christianity from Judaism, was hired to teach Hebrew to the brethren for six months, at a time when Jews seldom got jobs as teachers.

There was also lots of home schooling going on, as well as a “select school for young ladies” taught by Eliza R. Snow. Some of these schools were even housed inside the Kirtland temple.

Later, church schools were erected in Independence, Far West, and Nauvoo, and Winter Quarters. And then in Salt Lake City and a quiet little town called Provo. Who knew that these two schools would eventually become the bitter rivals known as University of Utah and Brigham Young University.

Other church schools, including elementary schools, secondary schools, and colleges, were established in seven western states, as well as Canada, Mexico, and the Pacific islands.

In 1882, the Church was compelled by the federal Edmunds Act to divest its holdings in educational institutions. As the government started providing more and more public-supported educational alternatives, the church’s educational mission switched its focus to the seminary and institute programs, which now serve over 750,000 students worldwide.

It is a mind-blowing legacy of learning which has blessed and will bless the lives of millions of Latter-day Saints all around the world—and it all started with a handful of anxious Saints sitting around a fireplace on a cold winter’s day who decided to seek learning by study and by faith.

What Lessons Should We Learn?

This revelation explains that we should learn as much as we can in life. We shouldn’t just quit after we graduate from school. After all, education isn’t just so we can get a job and earn a living. Education is something that we’ll be doing throughout eternity. It precedes and follows mortality.

Our knowledge is one of the few things we take with us when we die. As far as I can tell, when we die, we take with us our character, our talents, our ordinances, and our knowledge. If you need proof, let’s turn to D&C 130:18-19 for a moment.

D&C 130:18-19

18 Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.

19 And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.

I suspect the inverse of that is also true. If we don’t take the time and spend the energy acquiring knowledge and intelligence in this life, that will prove to be a disadvantage to us in the post-mortal world to come. I’m not sure why that is—but perhaps one of the reasons is that it is an indicator that we have chosen to spend our time on more trivial pursuits.

By the way, now is a good time to define this term intelligence. Let’s look over at D&C 93:36-37.

D&C 93:36-37

36 The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.

37 Light and truth forsake that evil one.

In other words, intelligence comes as we are filled with light and forsake the evil one.

What is light and truth? The scriptures teach us that Jesus is the light of the world and that Jesus is the truth. Thus, following Jesus, making the same choices he made, is the way to eternal life and glory and light and truth and intelligence.

What kinds of things should we study? Earlier we read verse 79 that talks about some of the things we should learn are things that that pertain to this life and world. When I read that verse, I see some of the approved subjects are astronomy, agronomy, geology, minerology, history, domestic and foreign affairs, geography, and language.

In D&C 93:53 we are taught that we should “…obtain a knowledge of history, and of countries, and of kingdoms, of laws of God and man”. I suppose that is the only scriptural precedent for becoming a professional lawyer. Oops, did I say “lawyer” or “liar.” I don’t suppose it makes a difference. J

This is a partial list of good things to study, of course. We could expand that to anything that brings light and truth into the world. Surely it must be expanded to include computers, technology, the arts, medicine, philosophy, literature, theatre, engineering, mechanics, design, statistics, and filmmaking, to name a few.

In fact, John Taylor, the third president of the Church, once said:

We ought to foster education and intelligence of every kind; cultivate literary tastes, and men of literary and scientific talent should improve that talent; and all should magnify the gifts which God has given unto them. … If there is anything good and praiseworthy in morals, religion, science, or anything calculated to exalt and ennoble man, we are after it. But with all our getting, we want to get understanding, and that understanding which flows from God. (Gospel Kingdom, p277)

These are just some of the things that will help us be better missionaries, better leaders, better parents, better teachers—better anything—just fill-in-the-blank.

You see, I believe we each have pretty specific missions to perform in this life. And these missions certainly require our unique talents and abilities. Therefore, the more light and truth we can bring to the table, the more we can help others who are struggling to learn them too.

We aren’t acquiring knowledge to become some great “know-it-all” like the “Great and Powerful Oz” or Ken Jennings, or to become rich, or powerful, or famous—but to quietly raise our families in righteousness while being of service in building up the Lord’s kingdom and the Lord’s people.

I like what Gordon B. Hinckley said about learning back in a 1964 General Conference, he said:

I should like to suggest that you follow that injunction given by the Son of God. With all of your learning, learn of him. With all of your study, seek knowledge of the Master. That knowledge will complement in a wonderful way the secular training you receive and give a fulness to your life and character that can come in no other way. (CR, Oct 1964)

This should be the cornerstone of our study program. Everything else should supplement our study of the gospel. We have weekly church meetings where we receive instruction in the doctrines of the kingdom. We should involve ourselves in daily reading of the scriptures as individuals and families. We should also study the teachings of our inspired leaders.

Of course, in these things, you always have your agency. As teachers, we certainly try to prep our lessons so that they will be tasty and appetizing to as many students as possible. That way you’ll want to come and partake of the smorgasbord we’re offering and enjoy it too. But sometimes, you just aren’t interested in unleavened bread and bitter herbs. I get that. And I’m fine with that.

For example, if you wanted to teach me how to properly score tennis, I’d probably roll my eyes at you and disengage my brain. Don’t take it personally. You may be the greatest tennis chef out there, but I just don’t find tennis appetizing. It turns my stomach.

In psychology, one of the things we learn is you can’t force anyone to change. Oh you can teach a mouse to run a maze, or a soldier to break down a gun, but if mouse didn’t find a compelling reason to run the maze, like getting a reward or escaping punishment or fulfilling his sense of curiosity, he would do it. He needs to be motivated.

However, the best motivation is intrinsic motivation—motivation that comes from within an individual—not through external force or coercion.

In my experience, people learn best when they are hungry for the answers. No one can force you to learn and retain what you’ve learned. If it is to be lasting, if it is to be permanent, if it is to be meaningful, it must be an entirely intrinsic experience—it must come from within.

So it is with spiritual education. Even more so.

Temple Prep

Spiritual education is essential to our temporal salvation as well as our eternal salvation. Earlier I mentioned how section 88 can also be viewed as a temple preparation outline.

You see, learning by faith is epitomized by the temple experience—both for ancient and modern covenant people. In what other environment can we learn the things we know to know that will enable us to return to the celestial kingdom?

Furthermore, the more we understand of history, or symbols, of sacraments, of cultures, of languages, and of the traditions and scriptures of our people, the more we will understand and appreciate that which surrounds us.

Yes, there are some physical things we need to discover in the temple that involve sight and sound and touch and hearing—things that we need to have a physical body to acquire. But there are also things that can be learned that go beyond the physical senses.

In fact, I believe there is an unseen library full of spiritual education that can be acquired if we look beyond the presentations we experience with our senses. There is more—much more, if we have ears that hear the voice of the Holy Ghost.

And what better place to acquire that spiritual education than in a place where only those who are humble and worthy may enter? A physical place that is built to reflect the glory of God in all of its elements, from the gate around the perimeter, to the increasingly glorious rooms as you ascend through the building, to the angel that stands at the top bridging the gap between heaven and earth, pointing us to the rising Son of God.

The temple truly is a magnificent place, made even more magnificent by the Spirit of God which does, in fact, dwell there just like you and I dwell in our own homes.

Brothers and sisters, can you see how preparing to go to the temple, is exactly the same as preparing to enter the celestial kingdom of God? The admission requirements are identical. The type of people we meet therein are identical. The type of work we do there is every bit as unselfish as the work we will do on the other side of the veil. The temple is a type and shadow of the celestial kingdom. If we are truly worthy to go to the temple, we are truly worthy to live with God.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is my hope that we may each learn the highly-individualized lessons that God wants us to learn in life so that we can return to his presence as more worthy, more humble, more capable, more wise, and more obedient children.

Which, of course, we can only do because we have been cleansed from our iniquities through the limitless love of the mighty Christ who will always lift us up out of our self-dug graves if we humbly reach up for his outstretched and terribly scarred hands.

May we learn more of him and this beautiful world he created for us, and the remarkably diverse people on it, and the glories and dominions and principalities that can be ours in the eternities to come—if we learn to follow him more perfectly, which we can all do through study and by faith.

I am a teacher in my local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saint congregation. This lesson is based on D&C 88. The objective is to inspire us to learn “by study and also by faith” throughout our lives. This lesson was presented on 2 July 2017 and corresponds with lesson 23 in the LDS Gospel Doctrine: Doctrine and Covenants and Church History class.

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