Living Scriptures from a Living God through Living Prophets and for a Living Church

Neal A. Maxwell, “Living Scriptures from a Living God through Living Prophets and for a Living Church,” in Scriptures for the Modern World, ed. Paul R. Cheesman and C. Wilfred Griggs (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1984), 1–12.

Living Scriptures from a Living God through Living Prophets and for a Living Church

Elder Neal A. Maxwell


I, for one, believe that, while the fifth verse in the epistle of the Apostle James has been helpful to many in various ages, it was also a specific verse implanted by divine design to help bring to pass the First Vision in the last dispensation. Of that verse, the Prophet Joseph Smith said with authority, “Never did any pas-sage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine” (JS-H 1:12). How blessed we are by the living God, the restored living Church, and living prophets that emerged through use of the living scriptures!

Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.” (2 Nephi 31:20; italics added.)

In his inspired translation of the King James Version, the Prophet Joseph Smith even gave us the otherwise missing definition of “the key of knowledge.” (Who would not want that key?) This “key of knowledge” is, in fact, “the fulness of the scriptures” (JST, Luke 11:53).

And the angel spake unto me, saying: These last records, which thou has seen among the Gentiles, shall establish the truth of the first, which are of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and shall make known the plain and precious things which have been taken away from them; and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world; and that all men must come unto him, or they cannot be saved. (1 Nephi 13:40; italics added.)

Furthermore, as one who cherishes the Bible—who is everlastingly grateful for it and its skilled translators, for the truths in it, and for the supernal power of its literature—I must always bear in mind that many plain and precious things have been taken away from it (see 1 Nephi 13:28). Some are restored in the Book of Mormon, and still others in other modern scriptures.

If I were to make a few suggestions as to ways in which the scriptures can be made to come alive in a dying world, they would include the following:

Second, we can make full use of the wonderful new LDS edition of the King James Version of the Bible, with its topical index and remarkable system of cross-referencing—all to the end that when we study the living scriptures we study them as a continuum and in the context of added revelations and insights given to us by modern prophets. Ponder, for instance, the rendering of Matthew 6:33 in the King James Version: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Then read the Joseph Smith Translation of this verse: “Wherefore, seek not the things of this world but seek ye first to build up the kingdom of God, and to establish his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (JST, Matthew 6:38; italics added).

Third, the Christian connection of the dispensations can best be appreciated if we realize the interconnectedness or ecology of the scriptures, as we see in this instance several centuries before Christ: “For, for this intent have we written these things, that they may know that we knew of Christ, and we had a hope of his glory many hundred years before his coming; and not only we ourselves had a hope of his glory, but also all the holy prophets which were before us. Behold, they believed in Christ and worshiped the Father in his name.” (Jacob 4:4–5; italics added.)

By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter;

Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;

Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward” (Hebrews 11:24–26; italics added).

Confirming scriptures tell us this: “Whatsoever ye ask the Father in my name it shall be given unto you, that is expedient for you; and if ye ask anything that is not expedient for you, it shall turn unto your condemnation (D&C 88:64–65).

And were it possible that man could number the particles of the earth, yea, millions of earths like this, it would not be a beginning to the number of thy creations; and thy curtains are stretched out still; and yet thou art there, and thy bosom is there, and also thou art just; thou art merciful and kind forever” (Moses 7:30; italics added). Centuries later, Brigham Young said there are “millions of earths like this” one. [1]

Seventh, we should also see the remarkable correlation of the prophets as we read the scriptures carefully. Notice this statement from Paul: “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17). You see, brothers and sisters, how well it ties with what we read in the revelation given to Joseph Smith: “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment” (D&C 121:7).

Ye are swift to do iniquity but slow to remember the Lord your God. Ye have seen an angel, and he spake unto you; yea, ye have heard his voice from time to time; and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words; wherefore, he has spoken unto you like unto the voice of thunder, which did cause the earth to shake as if it were to divide asunder.” (1 Nephi 17:45; italics added.) We then see it several centuries later in the writings of Paul to the Saints at Ephesus: “Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness” (Ephesians 4:19; italics added). Finally, we see the phrase in the words of a prophet who describes the decadence of another people several centuries after Christ: “And now, my son, I dwell no longer upon this horrible scene. Behold, thou knowest the wickedness of this people; thou knowest that they are without principle, and past feeling; and their wickedness doth exceed that of the Lamanites.” (Moroni 9:20; italics added.) Why not let companion scriptures travel together through the length and breadth of our mind?

By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned. . .” (2 Corinthians 6:6; italics added). Peter confirmed it: “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently” (1 Peter 1:22; italics added). And the Lord in a revelation to Joseph Smith spoke of it also: “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priest- hood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned” (D&C 121:41; italics added).

As mentioned earlier, if we can cluster and then liken the scriptures to ourselves and our needs, we can better cope with suffering in tribulation-of which there will be more, not less, in the years ahead. Notice how Paul opens the windows of his soul in this portion of his epistle to the Saints at Corinth about his “thorn in the flesh”:

And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.

For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:7–9.)

The Lord’s grace is sufficient for us. He will help us. Paul even intimates that certain weaknesses can somehow become a strength to us. Notice now how another prophet is told the same thing, but in an amplified way:

And when I had said this, the Lord spake unto me, saying: Fools mock, but they shall mourn; and my grace is sufficient for the meek, that they shall take no advantage of your weakness;

And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them. (Ether 12:26–27.)

Thus the Lord gives Moroni the same basic assurances that he gave to Paul, indicating that his grace is sufficient for those who humble themselves before him. He also says that we are even given certain kinds of weaknesses in order that we may be humble and that these weaknesses could then become a strength to us.

(Parenthetically, a computer would have been too clumsy to have taken account of these parallels and concepts and phraseology as they appear in these degrees between the various books of scripture.)

There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13; italics added.)

But that ye would humble yourselves before the Lord, and call on his holy name, and watch and pray continually, that ye may not be tempted above that which ye can bear, and thus be led by the Holy Spirit, becoming humble, meek, sub- missive, patient, full of love and all long-suffering. (Alma 13:28; italics added.)

The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished. (2 Peter 2:9; italics added.)

Behold, and hearken, a ye elders of my church, saith the Lord your God, even Jesus Christ, your advocate, who knoweth the weakness of man and how to succor them who are tempted. (D&C 62:1; italics added.)

And again, I say unto you, that my servant Isaac Morley may not be tempted above that which he is able to bear, and counsel wrongfully to your hurt, I gave commandment that his farm should be sold. (D&C 64:20; italics added.)

Notice now, brothers and sisters, how the prophets often play a clarifying role, as in the case of the Apostle James who turned the hose of common sense upon those who might have misunderstood who is responsible for temptation: “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: but every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed”(James 1:13–14).

The Lord in modem revelation gives us some sense of how our challenges may increase as we are able to bear them:

Behold, ye are little children and ye cannot bear all things now; ye must grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth. (D&C 50:40.)

And ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along. The kingdom is yours and the blessings thereof are yours, and the riches of eternity are yours. (D&C 78:18.)

How fitting it is that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the most Christ-centered church upon the face of the earth, that it has brought forth at this time a new edition of the Bible with a topical index and all the scriptures referenced, to join in witnessing for Christ. No wonder the Church is named after Jesus Christ-not after one of his disciples, not after a day of the week, not after one of the ordinances in his gospel, not after a country, but after him!

Happily, alterations have been made in the Church’s meeting schedules in order to give families, if they will use it, more time, not only for each other, but for the study of the scriptures and, significantly, for added Christian service-all to the end that we might have the Savior’s blessings and Spirit to accompany us in this time of special challenges. [2]

When we can receive and accept the affirmation of those searching and recurring questions, then it is no wonder that what Alma said is true; for in an otherwise sad world, we “owe all our happiness” to the sacred word of the Lord (see Alma 44:5). It was Goethe who called architecture “frozen music.” [3] The scriptures are, as it were, frozen truth—truth preserved over the length of all the human experience—but, ironically, these frozen truths melt us, warm us, nourish us; they are “preserved,” but they are also “living” scriptures.


[1] Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (London: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1855–86), 11:41.

[2] As quoted by Malcolm Muggeridge, “The Great Liberal Death Wish,” Imprimis (a publication of Hillsdale College, Hillsdale, MI), 1979.

[3] Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Philosophy of Art,” in Conversations with Eckermann, trans. Schelling (New York: Dutton and Co., 1930), 303.