Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » The Cultivation of the Mind

The Cultivation of the Mind

By: Ardis E. Parshall - July 24, 2013

Here’s another Gospel Doctrine lesson written by Lowell Bennion for the young adults of the Church in 1956.

The Cultivation of the Mind

Religion is associated with a number of things, with faith, humility, love, ritual, fellowship, beauty, and mystery. Seldom in our day is it associated in the minds of people with knowledge. For them, religion means hope, faith, love, and grace. It appeals to feeling, to the affective side of human nature.

For Latter-day Saints, knowledge, as well as feeling, plays a large role in the religious life. Religion, to us, means faith, love, and fellowship; but it also means a search for truth, knowledge, and wisdom. We bring to religion our hearts and also our minds. We wish the light of reason to guide us, as well as the torch of faith.

This point of view may come as a surprise to our friends, who associate “Mormonism” with its unusual beginning in heavenly manifestations to its first prophet, Joseph Smith. To them, our religion may appear to rest wholly on faith, if not on simple, credulity. On closer acquaintance with our religion, however, the reader will discover what an important role the desire and search for knowledge played in the founding of the Latter-day Saint.

Mormonism, so-called, began in a boy’s mind, in his desire to know in his need to have a simple question answered. Living in New York state, in 1820, at a time when a number of Christian denominations in his community were bidding for his interest and membership, he became confused. Hearing varied interpretations of the Bible, he realized that contradictory positions on the same subject could not be true. In this frame of mind, and earnestly desiring to know which Church he should join, he one day read from the Book of James, “If any of you lack wisdom , let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering: for he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.” (James 1:5-7)

His desire to know was coupled with an unwavering faith. With mind and feeling intent and unified in a search for truth, the young man, Joseph Smith, resolved to act upon the advice of James. On the morning of a beautiful spring day, he entered a grove of trees not far from his home. There, in the solitude provided by nature, he opened his mind and heart to his Father in heaven.

God answered his prayer by appearing to him with Jesus Christ, his Son. They spoke to the boy and the boy spoke to them. He asked a question; he wanted to know which church he was to join. This was a simple, a needed, and a perfectly reasonable question to ask. Joseph simply wished to know where the truth lay in the midst of conflicting opinion regarding religion. He had the faith to turn to God, the ultimate source of truth, to find the answer. His inquiry was answered. this great vision was the beginning of the restoration of the pristine Gospel and Church of Jesus Christ in their true and original character.

The Latter-day Saint movement continued to develop as it had begun. The Prophet Joseph continued his search for truth. The “lack of wisdom” raised questions; his questions became prayers; and his prayers were answered through revelation from Deity. Many of the revelations themselves encourage and admonish us to learn, to search out the truth of things. In the establishment of the Church and in the restoration of the Gospel, there was little conflict between faith and knowledge. Each played an essential part. Lack of wisdom encouraged faith; faith led to knowledge; and new knowledge awakened the need of more faith.


Latter-day Saints, from the beginning of their history until this day, have been inspired by the Prophet Joseph Smith’s thirst for knowledge. And many of us can think of no more inspiring symbol of the spirit of our faith than the picture of Joseph kneeling in the grove on a beautiful spring morning looking heavenward, praying for knowledge. Not only did he receive answers to his questions, but admonition to continue to seek for more knowledge, both through study and faith. The Book of Mormon warns against arrogance based on supposed learning, but praises learning that is coupled with humility before God:

O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God. (II Nephi 9:28, 29)

When the Church was in its infancy, its leaders were told by revelation to establish a school of the prophets where they could prepare themselves through faith, and study to do the work of the ministry.

And I give unto you a commandment that you shall teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom. Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may e instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand; of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms – That ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you. (Doctrine and Covenants 88:77-80)

And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith. Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God. (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118-119)

In the remainder of this revelation, there is a balanced emphasis placed on things of the mind and things of the heart. Great religion was to consist of learning and of faith, of wisdom and of love.


In another revelation to the prophet, Joseph Smith, we read, “The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:36). God is known for his attributes of justice and mercy, impartiality and love, as Revelator and Creator, as Lord and Father: All of these are true and appropriate appellations, but we also like and are inspired by the oft-quoted phrase – “the glory of God is intelligence.”

This statement places a special value on knowledge, intelligence, and wisdom in the religious life. Man, a child of God, created in his image, ought also to know the glory of intelligence, for it is also man’s glory.


We live in a world and a universe of law and order. There are the laws of nature. As we learn of them, through everyday experience and through science, and conform our lives to them, we are able to fulfill many of our desires and purposes. Knowledge is a prerequisite to freedom. As we learn the cause of disease, we gain the power to overcome it.

There are also laws which govern human relations. Human nature has certain needs. When these needs are understood and fulfilled, there is a wholesome growth in the personality of the individual and harmonious and fruitful relations between people. One of these needs is a feeling of being wanted or loved. When we understand this and learn to love, life is immeasurably enriched.

The principles which Jesus taught, and which other prophets have taught, such as sincerity humility, justice, mercy, repentance, forgiveness, and love, are principles of life as essential to the growth of personality as soil, sunshine, and water are to the growth of a seed.

The religious life consists of more than belief, more than faith. Belief must become alive in faith, and faith must lead to knowledge, a knowledge of the very laws of character-development. The Christian religion is more than faith; it is also knowledge. We are not Christians unless we know what love is and realize its meaning in a measure in our lives. The importance of knowledge is given pointed emphasis revelations to Joseph Smith.

For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift. And again, verily I say unto you, that which is governed by law is also preserved by law and perfected and sanctified by the same. That which breaketh a law, and abideth not by law, but seeketh to become a law unto itself, and willeth to abide in sin, and altogether abideth in sin, cannot be sanctified by law, neither by mercy, justice, nor judgment. Therefore, they must remain filthy still. All kingdoms have a law given; and there are many kingdoms; for there is no space in which there is no kingdom; and there is no kingdom in which there is no space, either a greater or a lesser kingdom. And unto every kingdom is given a law; and unto every law there are certain bounds also and conditions. All beings who abide not in those conditions are not justified. For intelligence cleaveth untointelligence;wisdomreceivethwisdom;truthembracethtruth;virtueloveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light, mercy hath compassion on mercy and claimeth her own; justice continueth its course and claimeth its own; judgment goeth before the face of him who sitteth upon the throne and governeth and executeth all things. (Doctrine and Covenants 88:33-40)

And there is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated – And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated. (Doctrine and Covenants 130:20, 31)

If we wish to enjoy health, we must learn the laws of health and lend obedience to them. If we wish to return safely from a journey on the highway, we must obey the laws of safe driving, and also keep an “eagle eye” on those who don’t observe these laws. If we wish to achieve a happy family life, we must learn and practice the principles of fine inter-personal relations on which family life is based. If we wish to gain the celestial kingdom of God, we must learn to live by celestial principles taught in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the greatest of which is love.


Joseph Smith never closed the door to knowledge, or truth, or to anything” praiseworthy or of good report.” Religion, as it was given to him, was to be an ever flowing stream, with God as its source, from which man could drink again and again.

The fixed and final creeds of the Christendom of Joseph’s day, he was told, were an abomination in the sight of God. How could the things of God be known fully and finally by man? Had not Isaiah said for the Lord long ago:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.(Isaiah 55:8, 9)

As Latter-day Saints, we have many fundamental beliefs, but we have no final, fixed, complete, and codified creed. We realize that there is much we don’t know in religion as in every walk of life. We believe in eternal progression and in continuous revelation.

We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God. (9th Article of Faith)

In 1843, in the city of Nauvoo, Illinois, Joseph Smith was asked by an attorney named Butterfield, about the difference between his faith and that of other Christians. The Prophet might have singled out a number of individual differences, but instead hesitated this general and vital difference:

The most prominent difference is this: Sectarians all are circumscribed by a peculiar creed, which deprives them of the privilege of believing anything not contained therein. The Latter-day Saints, on the contrary, have no creed, but stand ready to believe all true principles that exist, as they are made manifest from time to time. (Quoted from John Henry Evans, Joseph Smith, an American Prophet, Macmillan Co., p.172)

About the same time he set forth a brief statement of thirteen Articles of Faith. They were not intended as a complete creed. And the last of these illustrates the vital spirit of seeking more truth in “Mormonism,” not only from God directly, but from all sources which have it. How appropriate that this last Article of Faith, written towards the close of his youthful mission, should carry the same spirit as the story of his first search for truth. In the beginning Joseph Smith turned to God because he was aware of his “lack of wisdom.” Twenty-three years later, and after having received many revelations from God, still he could say, “We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul – We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things. (13th Article of Faith)


Several important results have followed in the culture of the Latter-day Saints because of this rational basis of our faith. They can only be suggested here.

1. Our people have believed in and sought after education. In 1833, when the Saints were a few hundred in number, struggling to establish themselves in Kirtland, Ohio, a school of the prophets was established by revelation. There in unlettered leaders studied German, Hebrew and other subjects undertrained and paid non-Mormon scholars. The first temple built by Latter-day Saints was at Kirtland and it was planned as a house of learning as well as a house of worship. (See Doctrine and Covenants 88)

In 1840,soon after the Saints established themselves at Nauvoo, Illinois, they provided for a university. And, no sooner had they secured their bare necessities with a few crops in the Salt Lake Valley, than they established, in 1850, the University of Deseret. Enterprising Latter-day Saint pioneers brought books West and founded private schools. (Little support was given to public schools among the Latter-day Saints in the West in the first decades of their history.) Between 1875 and 1911, twenty-two academies were established, dotting the landscape of Western United States from Old Mexico to Canada. All of these except three have, in time, given way to public high schools and universities. (Brigham Young University, Ricks College, and Juarez Academy)

2. Our people have pioneered in the field of religious education in conjunction with public education. Beginning in 1912, seminaries have been established adjacent to public high schools. Latter-day Saint students, with the permission of parents, go on released time one period a day and study the Bible and their own Church history and doctrine. Today there are approximately 161 seminaries with an enrollment of 34,488 students.

On the college level the same purpose is served by institutes of religion. College students study their religion, attend Church services, receive counsel, and find a wholesome social life in Church-established institutes adjacent to more than a score of colleges and universities, which are attended by a considerable number of Latter-day Saints.

In recent years the educational program at Brigham Young University in Provo has been enlarged. Other colleges are being established throughout Latter-day Saint centers. One is now under construction in Hawaii.

3. Latter-day Saints have been inspired by the principles and educational philosophy of the Church to gain an education. Utah has been known for decades for the high percentage of its youth in high school and college. Latter-day Saints have more than their proportionate share of educators and men of science and letters in the United States; these facts are not written in the spirit of boasting, but out of gratitude to a faith which inspires people to cultivate the mind as well as the heart.


Our emphasis on knowledge and our pursuit of learning, both in secular and religious fields, have been great blessings to Latter-day Saints. They have kept religion intimately related to all whole some aspects of life. As stated in the beginning of this chapter, our religion is not limited to certain areas of life, such as faith and love or the hereafter. We want our religion to penetrate every phase of life: health, economic well-being, human relations, marriage, family life, the arts. To do this effectively, religion must include the use of the mind, the search for and application of knowledge from all sources.

The rational emphasis in our religion sometimes also creates difficulties. Every Latter-day Saint tries to understand his religion. Great numbers also teach one another. Since all of us are not equally inspired on all occasions, and since people are individual in their capacity and background, there are bound to be some differences of interpretation, particularly when we get away from the simple fundamentals of our faith. There were differences of emphasis even among the apostles of old. Each had his own style, special interest and emphasis, as is evident when one reads, for example, the words of Peter and Paul, James and John. Yet these men all had faith in Christ, in his divine mission, in the first principles of his Gospel. In the Latter-day Saint Church, where we are all studying the Gospel and teaching it, we need to be tolerant of one another, humble and careful in our interpretations, heedful of the scriptures and the word of the living prophets of God.

We need to remember, too, that religion is not the only approach to truth or to an understanding of life. Life is exceedingly complex, intricate, and far beyond man’s ability to comprehend. We need to look at it from all sides; through the eyes of the scientist, the artist, the poet, the philosopher, simple folks of common sense, and the prophet. No one of these can give us a full view of life. Life would be much poorer indeed were it not for the labors of each of them: of Pasteur and Newton, Beethoven and Leonardo da Vinci, Shakespeare and Goethe, Socrates and Plato, mother and father, Amos and Jesus.

Religion gives us the most important truths of life, our knowledge of God, of Christ, and of the meaning, destiny, and worth of human life and how it should be spent. Science, art, philosophy, and the wisdom of everyday life can provide us with many tools and much motivation with which to realize our religious faith in a fruitful way.

There will always be some conflict and some measure of disagreement among the various intellectual disciplines of life. That is as natural as the differences which arise everywhere in life. It is our faith that if we are humble and will keep the door of religion open to more revelation from God, and also to the truths and beauties he has inspired through the scientist and the artist, the truth and value of the Gospel of Jesus Christ will be increasingly established among men. As Latter-day Saints we wish to walk with humility and to “seek learning even by study and also by faith.”



  1. Very timely (not to mention timeless as well)! Thanks, Ardis.

    Comment by Gary Bergera — July 24, 2013 @ 10:04 am

  2. Life is exceedingly complex, intricate, and far beyond man’s ability to comprehend. We need to look at it from all sides; through the eyes of the scientist, the artist, the poet, the philosopher, simple folks of common sense, and the prophet.

    Lovely, and of good report.

    Comment by kevinf — July 24, 2013 @ 12:42 pm

  3. Cheers to the thinkers, the puzzlers, and the embracers of new truths. Cheers to Lowell Bennion.

    Comment by P J DLM — July 25, 2013 @ 10:42 am

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