Cover image via Gospel Media Library.
It is easy to overlook what the Sermon on the Mount says about General Conference. But it’s there. And—good news!—once you’ve seen it, you won’t be able to unsee it.
The First Beatitude
Let’s do a little experiment.
Try to recall the first beatitude the Lord gave to the Nephites when He delivered the Sermon on the Mount to them. Don’t look it up. Just think for a second.
Was it “blessed are the peacemakers”? “Blessed are the meek”? How about “blessed are the pure in heart” or, perhaps, “blessed are the merciful”? Could it be “blessed are the poor in spirit”?
The answer is actually none of the above. The first beatitude the Lord gave to the Nephites was: “Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen” (3 Nephi 12:1). This appears before any of the beatitudes that are so familiar to us.
In this sacred account of the Lord’s transcendent Sermon, the Lord begins by simply telling his listeners to follow the apostles. Surely that up-front placement is not accidental. In our own time He also said that we are to receive what He reveals to his prophets “as if from mine own mouth” (D&C 21:4–5). From the beatitudes to modern scripture, the Lord has asked us to “give heed unto the words of these twelve” (twelve in the apostolic office in the Nephites’ day, and fifteen in that office today).
“No Book Presides Over this Church”
Of course, these instructions make sense only if these leaders truly represent Him, and only if they truly receive guidance and direction from Him. And the reality is, they do. The Lord said He would lead us through His prophets, and that’s what He is doing.
Wilford Woodruff once remarked that if all we had were the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants, “they would scarcely be sufficient to guide us for twenty-four hours.”[i] His point was that while the scriptures obviously teach us many things, the specific direction we need in our own time requires revelation in our own time.
Orson F. Whitney of the Twelve said, profoundly, that “no book presides over this Church.” He added: “The Latter-day Saints . . . do not do things because God told the Jews to do them; nor do they do or leave undone anything because of instructions that Christ gave to the Nephites. Whatever is done by this Church is because God speaking from heaven in our day has commanded this Church to do it.” Elder Whitney summarized: “You cannot pile up books enough to take the place of God’s priesthood inspired by the power of the Holy Ghost.”[ii]
The formula is really quite simple. In one form or another, the Lord reveals His will regarding the kingdom to those in the apostolic office, and they communicate His desires to us. All of this is part of the ongoing process of revelation. In the words of Howard W. Hunter: “There is an unending stream of revelation flowing constantly from the headwaters of heaven to God’s anointed servants on earth. Since the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the voice of the Lord to his prophets has continued as before.”[iii]
There Really Are Prophets, Seers, and Revelators
This is a wonderful reality. There really are prophets, seers, and revelators, and we are the luckiest people on earth to know it! As we approach General Conference, it is our good fortune to be able to embrace, and follow, the admonition the Lord gave to the Nephites at the very beginning of His most famous Sermon. It was simply: “Give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen.”
How better could we honor the Lord than by simply doing what He has asked us to do? [iv]
Duane Boyce and Kimberly White are father and daughter. Learn more about modern prophets in their new book, The Last Safe Place: Seven Principles for Standing with the Prophets in Troubled Times.
[i] Wilford Woodruff, in G. Homer Durham, ed., The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1946, 1990), 48.
[ii] Orson F. Whitney, General Conference, October 1916, cited in Loren C. Dunn, “A Living Prophet,” General Conference, April 1976, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1976/04/a-living-prophet?lang=eng#p7.
[iii] Howard W. Hunter, in Clyde J. Williams, ed., The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, Teachings of the Latter-day Prophets (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1997), 196.
[iv] Although we have focused on the Sermon on the Mount as it appears in Third Nephi, the same general principle appears even in the New Testament. Joseph Smith’s inspired revision (today formally called the JST) makes clear that the Sermon opens with the Lord addressing the Twelve he had called. He says to them, first, that “blessed are they who shall believe on me,” but, second, that in their testifying of Him, “more blessed are they who shall believe on your words” (Matthew 5:3, JST). He then repeats the point, saying, “Yea, blessed are they who shall believe on your words,” emphasizing that their teachings would center on humbly coming unto Christ, being baptized in His name, receiving the Holy Ghost, and receiving a remission of their sins (Matthew 5:4, JST). Only after stating this beatitude does the Lord then set forth the other beatitudes that are so familiar to us. The pattern is the same as He followed with the Nephites.