In last week’s blog post on the doctrines of the gospel and particularly the doctrine of Christ, we highlighted the overarching themes that God has given to man to comfort the soul and inspire the mind. In today’s topic, we’ll address the principles of the gospel that accompany the doctrines.
Recall that doctrines are the teachings of the gospel that answer the “why” questions we have. Why are we here? Why is gender important? Why was the atonement necessary? Why is marriage between a man and a woman ordained of God? Why is the family central to the plan of salvation?
Two things before we proceed. This Boyd K. Packer’s quote is life changing, literally. If you didn’t add it to your collection note last week on doctrines, you should do so. I neglected to include it in the article but I have added it now.
“True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior.
The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior. Preoccupation with unworthy behavior can lead to unworthy behavior. That is why we stress so forcefully the study of the doctrines of the gospel.”
– Boyd K. Packer, Little Children, October 1986 General Conference
And the Savior’s teaching in John 7:17:
17. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.
Principles of the gospel are the guidelines that provide direction in living and understanding the gospel. Noah Webster defines principles as proven foundational truths and that they are the operative cause that produces things.
It is important to keep these ideas in mind as we proceed because what the Savior is telling us is that if we want to know if the doctrines are true, we must follow the principles that govern the doctrine and we will then gain a testimony of their truthfulness. We have to apply some tests to it.
Here’s a few examples from Elder Bednar’s book that I mentioned last week, “Increase in Learning.”
|Nature of the Godhead||Love, Unity, Prayer|
|Plan of Happiness||Obedience, Service, Progress and Become|
|Atonement||Faith in Christ, Repentance, Endure valiantly to the end|
Elder Bednar notes that the first three articles of faith identify doctrines of the gospel while the fourth links principles as guidelines of what to do, to that doctrine (faith & repentance).
A couple months ago I was asked to make a presentation about Scripture Notes at an upcoming conference for the FIRM Foundation (April 9-11th, Details and tickets here: http://firmfoundationexpo.org/program/). If you want to attend, the live show will go on unless it’s forced to become a streaming event due to the Coronavirus outbreak.
In preparation for the event, I prayed to know what to speak on in a way that would both allow me to demonstrate the power of a tool like Scripture Notes, but also be something of value in building testimonies of the Book of Mormon for the attendees. I believe the Lord answered my prayer and I’ll share with you what I’m speaking on and how to start your own study of the principles of the gospel in a very unique way.
As the Savior taught, if we follow the principles outlined in the gospel, we will know if the doctrines are true. There is a cause and effect to the principles. If you live them, the effect is you will know. It’s a logical outcome. Now there are many ways to approach this but here is one way that opens the door to all others. You’ll see what I mean at the end…
The word “if” is central to logic. Computer programmers employ “if/then” statements in their code to specify “if condition X is true, then perform action Y.” Sometimes these statements become if/then/else where if condition X is true, perform action Y, or else if X is false, perform action Z. These “if” statements are exactly what the Savior is getting at. If you live principle X, action Y will come into your life, otherwise you may face action Z.
Performing a search in the scriptures for the word “if” shows that it appears in 2,332 verses as follows:
At this time there is currently a limitation in Scripture Notes where you can only save 300 verses at a time into a collection note. So for my project in studying if statements in the Book of Mormon, I performed 3 searches on the database and saved the verses from the introduction through Mosiah in the first collection note, Alma through 4th Nephi in the second, and Mormon through Moroni in the third.
Then as I marked each verse and analyzed it, I delete it from the collection so I am only retaining the verses I have yet to review. Instead of preserving the collection notes, I’m using them as a holding pen for my study until I get to each verse.
Watch this video if you want a visual of how I did this:
For example, in these verses in Alma, we clearly see a wonderful example of an if/then statement.
The if statement is one we are all familiar with, but the then statement is a list of things that come to God’s covenant people for being obedient and qualifying to prosper in the land. I’ve done a blog post on that topic before so I won’t rehash it here, but prospering in the scriptures means far more than monetary prospering.
Here’s another example of if/then logic. In this case, Abinadi is teaching the wicked King Noah and his priests that it was necessary for Christ to come into the world to perform the atonement or else there would be no redemption or resurrection.
Now lets look at an if/then/else statement.
As long as we’re talking programming, lets look at a “case” statement. A case statement is when there are multiple statements like a list of options and each one has a result. You could view these verses in that way regarding things God could command Nephi to do and what the results would be. Pretty cool!
One last example. Look at this verse in 1 Nephi. We have the same if/then statement, but then we get a “wherefore” by Nephi. There are hundreds of wherefore and therefore statements in the Book of Mormon. These are often statements by the prophets showing the results of what happened by living the if/then statements.
In this instance, Nephi points out that they did keep the commandments and the Lord did in fact confirm their faith by providing for them while they were in the wilderness. It’s an evidence that the principle held true for them and, therefore, it will for us.
What doing this project has taught me is that the scriptures are loaded with instructions and logic. I now see in verses that don’t contain the word “if,” many instances of if/then logic just as if the word “if” had been used. In other words, as a result of this exercise, I’m more able to spot cause and effect principles in the scriptures. These statements are treasures of guidance from prophets who have been taught by God through inspiration, revelation, and experience, what the principles of the gospel are that guide us in living so that we come to have powerful testimonies of the doctrines of the gospel.
I highly encourage you to do this exercise. Make notes as you go and if you want some more fascinating thoughts on this subject, attend my presentation at the FIRM Foundation next month or catch the replay on their streaming service.
Now you may be wondering what my markup scheme is that I’m using. Until this project came up, I hadn’t decided on an initial markup scheme, but now I have. I chose to do the following (and you can get your own schema template below). It’s not complete yet, but for highlighting, this first pass through, this is what I’m doing so far. When I decide what yellow highlights and text color are to be, I will fill those in.
To download a blank template for your own use, right-click on this image below and save it to your computer. Then open your word processor or a paint/art program and import it and print out a copy. Keep it by your computer as you study so you know what markup scheme you are using. Scripture Notes is built so in the future you’ll be able to have multiple markup schemes and switch between them so if you do one scheme now, you can do another later as if you’d purchased a brand new set of scriptures for marking and all your notes instantly transferred over to them! Powerful fun!
(Featured Digital Head Image (c) Daniil Peshkov @123rf.com)