Joseph Smith sought for the truth. In the end, he had to gain it by personal revelation.
Many people in the church seem to think that was a personal task he accomplished so that the rest of us don’t need to.
Which is hogwash.
We don’t know our most basic doctrines. Why not? Because we think we can know them by some other means than the means Joseph Smith followed. We think it will not require personal revelation.
Of the atonement, Elder Bruce R McConkie stated in his final testimony: “Now the atonement of Christ is the most basic and fundamental doctrine of the gospel, and it is the least understood of all our revealed truths.” To understand it, he said we would need to seek for that understanding by personal revelation.
We think of Joseph Smith as an exception. He had to come to a knowledge of the truth by revelation. But so do we.
I am not talking about knowing whether the church is true by revelation. I am talking about knowing what the doctrine actually means. I am talking about knowing our doctrine.
It is one thing to know the church is true. It is another thing to know what our doctrine means.
Of the priesthood, Elder McConkie stated: “This doctrine, this doctrine of the priesthood—unknown in the world and but little known even in the Church—cannot be learned out of the scriptures alone. It is not set forth in the sermons and teachings of the prophets and Apostles, except in small measure. The doctrine of the priesthood is known only by personal revelation.”
These statements about the doctrine of the atonement and the doctrine of the priesthood are both perfectly true. We may stand up and testify that we know the atonement of Christ is real, or that the priesthood is restored all we like. We will not understand what either statement actually means without revelation to ourselves.
It will not be a small matter. It will, in both of these example doctrines, be a quest of years. We cannot succeed without asking, seeking, and knocking. We cannot succeed without feasting on the scriptures. We cannot succeed without living so we have the Holy Ghost. We cannot succeed without denying ourselves of all ungodliness, or without loving God with all our heart, might, mind and strength. We cannot succeed without learning to judge truth from error by the light of Christ even as we know the daylight from the dark night.
Joseph Smith was born to a quest. That quest was the restoration of the true gospel of Jesus Christ.
And if we, like Joseph Smith, want salvation, we must realize we are born to the same quest. We must pursue truth, casting off the philosophies of men and treating the scriptures as the mind and will of the Lord.
When we redeem Zion, I expect the doctrines of the priesthood and the atonement will be understood among us, and our children will grow up understanding them, for Zion is built on doctrine. But there will still be much more for us to learn by revelation there, possibly even about these same doctrines.
Where God gives us five talents of truth, he requires us to invest that truth and return to him with ten. Revelation and salvation are linked, and so he requires us to come to know him by striving to understand his word through the holy ghost.
These days, it is not just mysteries that are known only by revelation. Even our most basic and fundamental doctrines are not understood by us, and will only be understood when we quit ourselves as our prophet Joseph, and prove ourselves in his path, coming to know truth and God through personal revelation.