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Cover image: “The Lost Sheep” by Liz Lemon Swindle.
Editor’s Note: Our friend and longtime Meridian writer Larry Barkdull recently passed away. To remember and honor him this is one of a series of his past articles that we are republishing regularly.
What is a testimony really? What happens in heaven and on earth when we bear testimony?
Years ago, a man approached me adoringly. He named my uncle then asked if I was his nephew. I answered yes. The man turned to his wife and smiled. Then unabashedly he confessed with emotion that some years ago my uncle had saved his life. We were speaking as though we were old friends, confiding in each other tender memories. The man and his wife motioned to a bench, and I took a seat beside them. I suppose the expression on my face betrayed the fact that I had never heard the story, so patiently my new friend stepped back in time and rehearsed his wayward past. What had changed? I asked. He exchanged looks with his wife then with eyes brimming he answered, “Your uncle bore his testimony to me.”
An Avowal of the Savior
Whether spoken or by righteous actions, a testimony is an avowal of the Savior. Essentially, we are recommending Jesus as the only solution to life’s challenges and his teachings as the single way to happiness and salvation. Consider Moroni’s testimony as he recommends Jesus to us: “And now, I would commend you to seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written, that the grace of God the Father, and also the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of them, may be and abide in you forever. Amen.”[i]
We recommend Jesus to others as we would a dear and trusted friend. Because of our own experience, we can commend him because we know who He is and what He will do. We know that He is consistent, loving, a being of infinite knowledge and power, and someone who has the disposition to help. He is totally reliable; therefore, we do not hesitate to commend other people, including our wayward children, “to seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written.” The seeds planted from our sincere testimony will grow in the hearts of the hearers.
The Testimony of Emulation
Parents are given a heroic work to do; therefore their lives should emulate Christ so that they might illuminate Him to their children. Although wayward children may ridicule their parents’ Christlike example, nevertheless, even if they stray to Plutonian distances, they cannot fully break free of the gravitational force [sealing power] that holds them in their parents’ orbit. Wayward children are always tethered to their parents, who emulate the Lord. By means of righteous parents’ example, the Holy Ghost will testify to these children that Jesus is the Christ and that the gospel is true.
Speaking to parents concerning emulation, President Boyd K. Packer, said, “Where is your power? It is in the power of example,”[ii] and Elder Sterling W. Sill said, “The power of example is the greatest power in the world.”[iii] Even if our wayward children will not listen to our words, our testimony will be delivered to them by the power of the Holy Ghost by means of our example.
“Jennifer,” a recently single mother, recounted the splintering effect that her divorce had on her children. Each one suffered from the trauma, and some left the Church completely. She remained active, attended her meetings alone every week, and faithfully served in a seemingly insignificant calling. Over the years, Jennifer’s example worked on her children. Without uttering a word about religion, she modeled a Christlike character that trumpeted her testimony. Over time, one by one her children repented and returned, and now they are all active and married in the temple. When Jennifer emulated the Savior, she gained power to rescue her children.
What is Testimony?
My dictionary gives this definition: “A declaration made under oath or affirmation by a witness in court to establish a fact—a public avowal….to give witness—a firsthand account.” In other words, when I bear my testimony, I put my character on the line to avow that what I say is true. Testimony is the opposite of perjury. I do not fabricate or lie; I state facts as I know them. That is my declaration of the truth, and I stake my reputation on its validity.
Bearing testimony fulfills the law of witnesses. In essence, I am saying, “For the purpose of establishing the truth of the testimonies of other people, I add my witness.” Consider the following scriptures in light of bearing testimony to fulfill the law of witnesses:
“Now Alma… began to speak unto him, and to establish the words of Amulek.”[iv]
“And now behold, Moses did not only testify of these things, but also all the holy prophets, from his days even to the days of Abraham.”[v]
And to this group we add our testimonies.
Results for the Hearer
President Joseph Fielding Smith taught: “People are converted by their hearts being penetrated by the Spirit of the Lord when they humbly hearken to the testimonies of the Lord’s servants.”[vi] Testimonies spoken or testimonies emulated plant seeds in the soil of the soul. Over time, the seeds of truth grow until they take shape and become a bountiful tree.[vii]
Alma explained the seed of truth’s cycle of growth in the hearer:
1. The hearer feels something spiritual stirring within him.
2. The seed motivates the hearer and begins to make him a better person.
3. The seed sparks other ideas in the hearer and clarifies things.
4. The seed makes the hearer want to know more; it spurs the hearer to more action, more seeking, more studying, more hoping that the seed within him is true.[viii]
Results for the Testifier
Testimonies of words spoken or the emulation of the Savior have at least four significant benefits for the testifier:
1. Increase. A testimony grows with the bearing. The burden of testimony lies in the fact that it must be borne or it will diminish. Of testimony’s growth and obligation, Brigham Young said,
“A man who wishes to receive light and knowledge, to increase in the faith of the Holy Gospel, and to grow in the knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus Christ, will find that when he imparts knowledge to others he will also grow and increase. Be not miserly in your feelings, but get knowledge and understanding by freely imparting it to others, and be not like a man who selfishly hoards his gold; for that man will not thus increase upon the amount, but will become contracted in his views and feelings. So the man who will not impart freely of the knowledge he has received, will become so contracted in his mind that he cannot receive truth when it is presented to him. Wherever you see an opportunity to do good, do it, for that is the way to increase and grow in the knowledge of the truth.”[ix]
2. Recorded in heaven. As testimonies in a court of law are documented, so our testimonies are recorded in heaven. Apparently, they are formally entered as a growing body of evidence. When we bear testimonies, they are registered as a standing witness of the truth.
The Lord said, “Nevertheless, ye are blessed, for the testimony which ye have borne is recorded in heaven for the angels to look upon; and they rejoice over you….”[x]
3. Forgiveness. Bearing testimony seems to be part of the repentance process, and it helps us retain a remission of our sins. In the same scripture quoted above, the Lord says, “Nevertheless, ye are blessed, for the testimony which ye have borne…and your sins are forgiven you.”[xi]
4. The Lord recommends us. As we commend Jesus to others, he reciprocates and commends us to the hosts of heaven. “Also I say unto you, Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God.”[xii] By our testimonies, we are known and loved by heavenly beings! What greater commendation could we ever receive than that from the Lord’s own mouth?
Bearing an honest testimony
Testimonies range from simple to mature; but regardless, we are under obligation to stand as witnesses. Even if we cannot offer a sure knowledge, we must offer the portion that we have been given. Essentially, we are saying, “To this degree we know.” Nephi bore a similar testimony. Asked by the angel if he could bear testimony of the “condescension of God,” he answered, “I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.”[xiii] Nephi’s being willing to bear the testimony that he had developed at that point was enough to open the door to incredible blessings.
Depth of Testimony
It is one thing to testify that Christ lives, but it is quite another to testify of who He is. Just so, the testimony that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God carries less weight than the fact that all the teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith are true. The same could be said of the Book of Mormon. That it is true is not as deep a testimony as everything in the Book of Mormon is true. With propriety, we should bear the testimony that we have received.
An Act of Love
In the end, bearing testimony is an act of love. We testify of the Savior for the same reason we would stand in court and put our character on the line for a friend—that reason is affection. Because we love the Lord, we are willing to testify in His behalf. We are willing to tell what we know of Him and recommend Him to others. It is charity that drives us to bear testimony of Him. Of the connection between testimony and charity Moroni writes: “If a man be meek and lowly in heart, and confesses by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ, he must needs have charity; for if he have not charity he is nothing; wherefore he must needs have charity.”[xiv]
Following that thinking, then, the ultimate testimony that could be borne would be one’s life.[xv] That is, we verify the truth of our words, actions, and the depth of our belief by putting our all on the line and sealing our testimony with our physical or spiritual life.
An Instrument of Deliverance
Of critical interest, we recall that in the first place it was the power of testimony that helped to cast Satan out of heaven. The apostle John wrote:
“And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.”[xvi]
We expect that a similar scene will play out in the last days. It will be by the power of our testimonies that Satan will be cast away forever, and it will be by the power of our testimonies that we overcome him in our families. We must not underestimate the power of testimony and example.
Testimony—whether it is borne with words or practiced through the emulation of Jesus—is a parent’s secret weapon. Despite what we think is present evidence, the seed of testimony planted in the soul of a wayward child will grow until over time it becomes a bountiful tree. By bearing testimony in word and deed, we are recommending Jesus as our only hope and source of happiness. We are adding our witness to those of prophets, apostles and other credible people. It is in the bearing of our testimony that that testimony increases. It is recorded in heaven; we are forgiven of our sins; and the Lord commends us to God and angels. Despite the size of our testimony, we are under obligation to bear it, and ultimately when we do, it will be motivated by love. In the end, deliverance is hastened by testimony. Its power to rescue a wayward soul is beyond our capacity to imagine.
[i] Ether 12:41
[ii] Boyd K. Packer, Conference Report, October 1963, p. 64
[iii] Sterling W. Sill, Conference Report, April 1960, p.68
[iv] Alma 12:1
[v] Helaman 8:16
[vi] Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, vol. 1:36-37
[vii] See Alma 32:40
[viii] See Alma 32:27-36
[ix] Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 2:267
[x] D&C 62:3
[xi] D&C 62:3
[xii] Luke 12:8
[xiii] 1 Nephi 11:16-17
[xiv] Moroni 7:44
[xv] See D&C 135:1
[xvi] Revelation 12:7-11