Out of Obscurity: How Merciful the Lord Has Been

June 12, 2018

Elder Quentin L. Cook

Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Elder Quentin L. Cook was sustained as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on 6 October 2007.  Called as a General Authority in April 1996, he served in the Second Quorum, the First Quorum, and the Presidency of the Seventy.

He previously served in the Area Presidency in the Philippines, as president of the Pacific Islands and the North America Northwest Areas, and as Executive Director of the Missionary Department. 

At the time of his call to be a General Authority of the Church, he was vice chairman of Sutter Health System.  He had previously served as president and chief executive officer of a California healthcare system.  Prior to that, he was a business lawyer and managing partner of a San Francisco Bay Area law firm.

He is a native of Logan, Utah, received a bachelor’s degree in political science from Utah State University, and a Doctor of Jurisprudence from Stanford University.

He has served the Church as a full-time missionary in the British Mission and as a bishop, stake president in the San Francisco California Stake, Regional Representative, and Area Authority in the North America West Area.

He married Mary Gaddie on November 30, 1962.  They are the parents of three children and have eleven grandchildren.

Spiritual Preparation

Pre-devotional Discussion:

I look forward to speaking at the next BYU-I devotional!

My remarks will focus on Church history, including a new history called Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days that the Church is publishing this year.

Do you have an experience when your faith has been strengthened through Church history? If so, please share with us on the discussion board.

I also recommend that you explore the Saints website and read the first chapter. On the discussion board, please share what did you learned and feel?

You are a marvelous sight; it is a great privilege to be with you. I bring you greetings from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

I first met your incredible president when he was a child in the San Francisco Bay Area. I am not surprised at the wonderful leader he is and the exceptional woman he married.

Thank you, students, for your thoughtful responses posted on the discussion board. I am very impressed with the spiritual power of those responses.

In a revelation that is recorded in the first section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord promised the Prophet Joseph that He would bring forth His church “out of obscurity and out of darkness.” [i]In a talk given in 1984, Elder Neal A. Maxwell spoke of this promise and observed, “[T]he past obscurity of the Church is giving way to visibility. Obscurity denotes that which is ‘generally unknown’ and ‘withdrawn from the centers of activity’: hence, the obscure is often misunderstood.” [ii]

Across many disciplines and fields of endeavor, the Church has in dramatic ways become better known and more visible. The Church has more than doubled in size. Media exposure has exploded; prominent Latter-day Saints have come to the forefront in many areas. This morning I want to cover one area, Church history, where the growth, visibility, and quality have increased dramatically. Let us review that progression:    

On the day the Church was organized, the Lord declared, “Behold . . . a record [shall be] kept among you.” [iii] As Latter-day Saints, we have always been commanded to keep records documenting our own lives and the life of the Church. Soon after the Church’s organization, Joseph Smith also received divine guidance that he should appoint a Church historian, and he asked Oliver Cowdery to take on the role. When John Whitmer was asked to replace Oliver as the Church historian in March 1831, he initially hesitated. “I would rather not do it,” he said, “but observed that the will of the Lord be done, and if he desires it, I desire that he would manifest it through Joseph the Seer.” [iv] Have any of you ever felt this way about a calling: “I would rather not do it, but if I know it is coming from inspiration, then I will.” Joseph received two revelations for John Whitmer that described some of the duties of the Church historian. He was asked to “write and keep a regular history [and] keep the church record and history continually.” His duties also included “obtaining all things which shall be for the good of the church, and for the rising generations that shall grow up on the land of Zion.” [v]

Since those early days, the Church has been blessed by a long line of dedicated, faithful Church historians who have made great efforts to preserve and share its history, particularly to teach the “rising generations” about our past. My emphasis will be what the Church is doing currently to collect, preserve, and share our history. I particularly want to focus on what has occurred in the past several years during which Elder Steven E. Snow, a General Authority Seventy, has been the Church Historian and Recorder. Under his wise leadership, we have collected more records than ever before and shared more of our history than ever before.

These efforts are helping the history of the Church to come “out of obscurity.” It is true that some of our Church history has been misunderstood. Much has been forgotten or overlooked, obscured, and crowded out by the larger concerns of the world. Some people have even purposely misrepresented stories of the past to sow doubt. We can instead plant faith by studying more about Church history. In learning more, we will bind our hearts together with the Saints of yesterday and today. We will find examples of imperfect people who went forward with faith and allowed God to work through them to accomplish His work. In doing so, we will see better how He can work through imperfect people like you and me.

Elder Maxwell, speaking of imperfections, said, “History deals with imperfect people . . ., whose imperfections produce refractions as the pure light of the gospel plays upon them. There may even be a few pieces . . . which, for the moment, do not seem to fit. [However], [t]he final mosaic of the Restoration will be resplendent.” Elder Maxwell reminded us that “there is not full correlation among the four Gospels about the events and participants at the empty garden tomb. Yet the important thing is that the tomb was empty, because Jesus had been resurrected! 2

Joseph Smith Papers

We know more about our past than we ever have. The catalyst for much of this new knowledge has been the Joseph Smith Papers. Founded in 2001, the project is publishing all of Joseph Smith’s documents—his letters, journals, revelations, histories, minutes of meetings he attended, and even business and legal records. The project is a massive undertaking. Already, 17 very thick volumes have been published. When the project is complete in about five years, there will be an additional 10 books or so.

In the past, authors wrote on the history of Joseph Smith and the early Church without always using the extensive documentary record left by Joseph and other early Saints. Because of the Joseph Smith Papers, never again can authors write on Joseph and the early Church in a credible manner without accessing Joseph Smith’s own documents. The project is dedicated to reaching the highest scholarly standards of documentary editing and has received many accolades from other scholars. Thomas Slaughter, a leading scholar of U.S. history, has noted, “This project remains the gold standard in the field of historical documentary editing.” [vi]

An integral part of the Joseph Smith Papers Project is its website, josephsmithpapers.org. Here, you will find all of the documents and explanatory material that are in the print volumes. You can see what Joseph Smith’s documents say about topics such as priesthood restoration and the Nauvoo Relief Society. You can see the images of the actual documents, the handwriting of the Prophet and his associates in the work. There is power in being able to see historical documents.

Those of you with FamilySearch accounts may have even received an email regarding the Joseph Smith Papers. On the Joseph Smith Papers website, there are currently 935 biographies of individuals who interacted with the Prophet in some way. Those individuals have 880,000 descendants with FamilySearch accounts. Recently, each of them received an e-mail to see what role their ancestors played in the Restoration.

The Church has benefitted in numerous ways from the Joseph Smith Papers. In 2013, a new edition of the Doctrine and Covenants was published with about 80 updated section headings. The doctrine is, of course, the same, but the headings include new information on the historical context of the revelations from the Joseph Smith Papers. We have a more well-rounded view of the Prophet, his ministry, and his life because of the project, and more and more books, scholarly articles, and histories of the early Latter-day Saints are relying on the project’s publications. The Joseph Smith Papers emphatically demonstrate that the Prophet Joseph can withstand historical scrutiny!

Because most of you will not read these 17 massive volumes of historical material, the Church uses the insights from the Joseph Smith Papers in other products [vii], such as a series of articles called “Revelations in Context.” In addition, in recent years, the Church has published a series of Gospel Topics essays that often draw upon new knowledge about our past to help increase understanding of subjects such as Book of Mormon translation, the Book of Abraham, and plural marriage. If you have questions about these topics, I encourage you to begin your study with these essays.

Women’s History

The Church has also recently focused more on understanding and describing the experience of women throughout our history. We need to listen to the voices of women from the past—to hear their counsel, learn from their examples, and be strengthened by their testimonies. In the past few years, the Church has published, in print and online, two large collections of women’s history. The first is a compilation of the most important documents from the first 50 years of the Relief Society.

The second, At the Pulpit, contains sermons by women from each decade of the Church’s history, from Lucy Mack Smith in 1831 to Sister Gladys Sitati in 2016. These powerful discourses contain deep insights into the gospel of Jesus Christ and how we can better live our religion. All of us, men and women, would benefit from studying them. [viii]

Church History Library

When the Saints left Nauvoo in February 1846, they carefully packed up their historical records for the trek across the plains. Two years later, the historical materials were placed in a “record wagon” that traveled to the Salt Lake Valley as part of a large wagon company led by President Brigham Young. At that point, the Church’s sacred historical records could fit in one wagon. [ix]

Not anymore! The Church opened a new, state-of-the-art Church History Library in 2009. The library contains a tremendous variety of materials. The records range in age and type from fragments of papyrus created before the birth of Jesus Christ (which came into the possession of Joseph Smith in Kirtland) to bits of information entered recently into any of the Church’s electronic systems for tracking missionaries or temple ordinances. Records stored in the library are made out of seemingly every kind of material—paper made from linen, cheap wood pulp, and modern commercialized processes; photographs taken on glass plate negatives and with high-speed digital cameras; audio recorded on wax cylinders, metal wires, or MP3 files; video recorded on film strips, VHS tapes, and Blu-Ray discs; electronic files created with word-processing software or archived from websites. The breadth of materials testifies to the Church’s ongoing efforts to spread the word of God across the earth in every possible way. The Church carefully preserves all of these records so that we can continue to learn from them. These records also allow us to see the personal sides of Church leaders and members.

As the Church has grown, so too it has greatly increased record keeping. A major focus in recent years has been acquiring more records about international history and women’s history. [x] As one example: digital records are stored in enormous computer servers located in the Granite Mountain Record Vault located in Little Cottonwood Canyon outside of Salt Lake City; each day they ingest 8-10 terabytes of new information into this storage (the equivalent of four million cellphone photographs each day).

These records are not just of interest to historians. They are used every day in carrying forward the work of salvation. Church leaders often seek to understand historical records to make decisions for the contemporary Church.

Because most Church members cannot come to Salt Lake City to look at records, the Church is digitizing records so that more people have access to them. There are now more than 11 million images in the library's online catalog. And more are put up at a rate of approximately 300 images per hour!

Many of our records are also of interest to persons seeking information about their ancestors. A pioneer database identifies 57,000 people who crossed the plains between 1847 and 1869. A missionary database seeks to identify every missionary who served during the first hundred years of Church history—more than 38,000 people who served missions in three dozen countries. If you have ancestors who crossed the plains or served a mission in that time, you can likely find information about them—including journals describing their experience on the trail or letters containing their testimony as they accepted a mission call—in these databases.

Church History Museum and Church History Sites

I would love to tell you about the Church History Museum and Church history sites which are both great examples of the increase in visibility and growth of the Church. I will leave it up to you to explore more about those. It is exciting to contemplate all the endeavors the Church has made to bring its history out of obscurity.

Saints

Let me now tell you about one more Church history project, one that is about to be published. The first five chapters of The Standard of Truth have already been published in issues of the Ensign and Liahona. The next three chapters will also be serialized and then the entire volume will be available in September. You can read the chapters already published—and the associated supplemental material—online at saints.lds.org or via Gospel Library. For the first time in nearly a hundred years, a new multi-volume history of the Church is being issued under the direction of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Titled Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, this narrative history tells the true story of ordinary people who became Saints through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. [xi] The first volume, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846, is now complete and is being translated into 14 languages for distribution all around the world starting in September. While it’s a narrative history, everything described is supported by historical records. If the book says it was raining, it was raining.

Saintsis the story of how God restored His everlasting covenant because of His love for His children. It shows how the Lord restored His gospel to provide hope and peace in times of tumult, trial, and suffering. It also shows how restored covenants lead to exaltation through Jesus Christ.

The story begins in 1815 with the explosion of an Indonesian volcano, which caused widespread death, disease, and disruption. This beginning point was chosen in light of what the Lord revealed about how He restored covenants that bind us to the Savior and enable us to overcome all of life’s problems: I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments . . . that mine everlasting covenant might be established.” [xii]

From its opening scene to its worldwide distribution, Saints signals to God’s children everywhere that it is the story of their covenant with God, who knows their hardships. Through His prophet, God renewed covenants that do not eliminate evil, sorrow, suffering, and separation at death but sanctify and endow our lives with transcendent meaning, promise healing through the Savior’s Atonement, and assure us that relationships we cherish here on earth can endure in eternity, coupled with eternal glory. [xiii]

Saintscontinues a divine pattern in which prophets, as part of their ministry, use the past to help us learn who we are and see God’s purposes in our lives. In the scriptures, many prophets begin their teaching by recounting stories of the Lord’s mercy to their forefathers. [xiv]

Saintsteaches these lessons and many more. It will help you see the Lord’s hand in your life as you vicariously experience the trials of faith, the heartaches and joys, the revelations and resolve of people who loved the Lord and who felt His love.

As you read, you will discover new insight and meaning even in stories you have heard before. No scene in Church history is better known than Joseph Smith’s First Vision, but Saints helps us better understand how Joseph struggled to reconcile what he felt in his heart with what he thought in his mind.

Joseph’s heartfelt desire to feel the Savior’s forgiveness had gone unfulfilled because he observed that none of the existing churches taught “the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament.” [xvi] In his mind, Joseph pondered which church was right or if they were all wrong. In his heart, he desperately hoped that one of them was right so he could find the peace he sought. With his head and his heart at odds, Joseph discovered that he could ask of God. He went to the woods to pray. There he saw the Father and the Son, who forgave him and resolved his dilemma in a way he had never imagined. [xvii]

Joseph, his family, and the many other people who embraced the Lord’s restored covenant wanted to feel God’s love for them, learn how they could draw closer to Him, or heal relationships with loved ones. Saintstells their stories.

It includes the heart-wrenching story of Amanda Barnes Smith and her family, who obeyed the Lord’s commandments and were doing His will. [xviii] Amanda’s husband and one of her sons were brutally killed along with 15 other Saints camped at a small settlement in Missouri called Hawn’s Mill. The Lord sustained Amanda through the horrifying experience, answered her prayers, gave her courage, and enabled her to heal her severely wounded son. [xix]

Saintsshows how Amanda learned to trust in the Lord through extreme adversity. It also tells what Joseph Smith learned about God’s goodness even in times of suffering. It shows that knowing the dealings of the Lord gives us eternal perspective, helps us see things as they really are and will be, and helps us exercise faith that the Lord will see us through hard times.

When Joseph learned what had happened to Amanda’s family and others at Hawn’s Mill, he felt he would rather go to prison or be killed than let the Saints be slaughtered. The next day he attempted to negotiate a peaceful solution with the Missouri militia, which was poised to attack the Saints’ main settlement of Far West. Instead, Joseph was captured and held as a prisoner.

Nearly five months later Joseph remained in custody, confined in a cold, cramped underground cell in Liberty, Missouri. He wondered where God was hiding and how long He could stand to listen to the cries of widows and orphans. “O Lord, how long shall they suffer these wrongs and unlawful oppressions before thine heart shall be softened towards them, and thy bowels be moved with compassion?” he prayed. [xx] 

Joseph’s time in Liberty Jail teaches us that adversity is not evidence of the Lord’s disfavor nor a withdrawal of His blessings. Opposition is part of God’s plan to refine us and prepare us for an eternal, celestial destiny. [xxi] Joseph learned that the Savior’s infinite suffering enables Him to succor us when we suffer and eventually to exalt us. [xxii] In answer to Joseph’s anguished cry, the Lord listed all kinds of challenges before concluding: “If the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” [xxiii]

Experiencing these things ourselves can endow us with Christlike empathy for those who are afflicted. “My heart will always be more tender after this than ever it was before,” Joseph realized while in jail. He wished he could be with the Saints to comfort and console them. “I never could have felt as I now do,” he explained, “if I had not suffered the wrongs that I have suffered.” [xxiv] 

One reason the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles commissioned and approved Saints is that it can help each of us experience these things through the stories of others. We can learn from Amanda that even when God sees fit in His infinite wisdom to not prevent evil or suffering, He loves us, and He is mindful of us. He hears our prayers and is merciful and kind.

Nowhere is that mercy and kindness shown to us better than in the temple. At its heart, Saints is the story of restored temple blessings. The first volume ends as thousands of Saints receive sacred ordinances in the Nauvoo Temple in 1846. Volume two will culminate in the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple and the Saints beginning to receive ordinances there in 1893. The third volume will conclude with European Saints beginning to gather to the temple in Switzerland in 1955. The fourth volume will bring the story up to the present, when temples dot the earth and Saints all around the globe receive the ordinances of exaltation, as the prophets envisioned long ago.

In the Lord’s house, we make covenants and are endowed with the power to overcome the effects of the Fall, including evil and suffering in this world. We receive protection and ultimately power to come forth in the Resurrection, sealed forever to our loved ones.

Saints will help us keep covenants by enlarging our memories. It will help us to always remember what the Savior has done for us. Without records of God’s dealings in the past, we could not “remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men.” [xxv] For these reasons, we are indebted to the Lord and to the Saints who recorded their experiences of His love for them.

Knowing that a new history of the Church would bless the lives of Church members everywhere, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles began planning Saints 10 years ago. Now we encourage you to read it, trusting that it will assist you in understanding God’s plan, seeing how merciful the Lord has been, enduring faithfully in good times and bad, gaining Christlike empathy for others, and keeping the covenants leading you to exaltation.

Conclusion

Elder Snow, the Church Historian, has taught that these stories “are interwoven together, [and] provide a beautiful . . . tapestry . . . that really is remarkable to look at. [In their] entirety, [they are] very faith-promoting and inspiring. If you look very closely, you may find some threads that you’ll have a question about, but if you focus just on [those] threads, you’re going to miss the beauty of the tapestry, the beauty of all of these stories woven together, which is our history.” [xxvi]

The history of the Restoration will continue to unfold. There may be some things that we will not understand fully in that history, but in totality, the true stories are beautiful and build faith in Jesus Christ and His restored gospel. They evidence how merciful the Lord has been.

I bear witness of the restoration of the Lord’s Church through the Prophet Joseph Smith. I bear witness that Russell M. Nelson is the Lord’s prophet for this generation.

As an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, I bear a certain and solemn witness of His divinity. He lives and guides His Church in our day.

In the name of Jesus Christ.


[i] Doctrine and Covenants 1:30.

[ii] Neal A. Maxwell, “Out of Obscurity,” Ensign, Nov. 1984; lds.org.

[iii] Doctrine and Covenants 21:5.

[iv] “John Whitmer, History, 1831–circa 1847,” 24, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed June 4, 2018, http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/john-whitmer-history-1831-circa-1847/28.

[v] Doctrine and Covenants 69:8; see also Doctrine and Covenants 47:1, 3.

[vi] Endorsement by Thomas P. Slaughter for Documents, Volume 3: February 1833–March 1834, available at http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/articles/documents-volume-3-february-1833-march-1834 .

[vii] One example is the “Foundations of the Restoration” course that you will all take as part of your religion classes. In the History section of lds.org or in the Gospel Library app, you can also find a series of articles called “Revelations in Context,” which uses the material from the Joseph Smith Papers to give greater depth to our understanding of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants.

[viii] These two books can be found online at churchhistorianspress.org and, for At the Pulpit, in the Gospel Library app.

[ix] Thomas Bullock, Journal, May 24–25, 1848, CHL.

[x] Hundreds of oral histories are recorded each year with Church members around the world. This has allowed us to tell the story of global pioneers. Last year, the Church collected records from 67 countries in 115 languages. The Church’s records are stored around the world—in the Church History Library in Salt Lake City and in storage facilities located in 23 countries.

[xi] Mosiah 3:19.

[xii] Doctrine and Covenants 1:17, 22.

[xiii] Doctrine and Covenants 130:2.

[xiv] Examples include Nephi (1 Nephi 17:23–43), King Benjamin (Mosiah 1), Limhi (Mosiah 7), the angel of the Lord to Alma the Elder (Mosiah 27), Alma the Younger (Alma 9:10), Mormon (Mormon 3:17–22), and Moses (Exodus 13:3). And Moroni exhorted readers of the Book of Mormon to “remember how merciful the Lord hath been” throughout history, “and ponder it in your hearts.” Reflecting on God’s goodness prepares us to receive the witness of the Spirit, which teaches us “of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be” (Moroni 10:3–5; Jacob 4:13).

[xv] Alma 62: 48-50.

[xvi] “History, circa Summer 1832,” 2, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed Feb. 16, 2018, http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-circa-summer-1832/2.

[xvii] “History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834],” 3, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed Feb. 16, 2018, http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1838-1856-volume-a-1-23-december-1805-30-august-1834/3.

[xviii] A revelation to Joseph Smith in January 1838 commanded the faithful Saints in Kirtland, Ohio, to “arise with their families” and “gather themselves unto Zion” in Missouri. “Revelation, 12 January 1838–C,” [1], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed Mar. 2, 2018, http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-12-january-1838-c/1.

[xix] See Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, vol. 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2018), chapter 30, “Fight like Angels.”

[xx] Doctrine and Covenants 121:3; See also “Letter to the Church and Edward Partridge, 20 March 1839,” 2, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed Feb. 9, 2018, http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/letter-to-the-church-and-edward-partridge-20-march-1839/2.

[xxi] See  2 Nephi 2:11.

[xxii] See Alma 7:11–12; Doctrine and Covenants 121:7–8.

[xxiii] Doctrine and Covenants 122:7-8; see also Letter to Edward Partridge and the Church, circa 22 March 1839,” 4, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed Feb. 9, 2018, http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/letter-to-edward-partridge-and-the-church-circa-22-march-1839/4; “Our Savior’s Love,” Hymns, no. 113.

[xxiv] “Letter to Presendia Huntington Buell, 15 March 1839,” [1], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed Feb. 9, 2018, http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/letter-to-presendia-huntington-buell-15-march-1839/1.

[xxv] Moroni 10:3.

[xxvi] Steven E. Snow, “Understanding of Events in Church History,” LDS Media Library, accessed June 30, 2018, https://www.lds.org/media-library/video/2012-01-5080-understanding-of-events-in-church-history?lang=eng.

BYU-Idaho Radio Interview

Elder Quentin L. Cook's interview with BYU-Idaho Radio about his devotional, Spring 2018.