The Greatness of the Evidence
The Greatness of the Evidence By Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
Chiasmus 50th Anniversary, JSB, Brigham Young University August 16, 2017
Brothers and sisters and friends, Sister Holland and I are as thrilled as you are to have been part of this wonderful evening tonight. I don’t know about you, but I don’t get invited to many jubilees. Church conferences, yes. Missionary meetings, yes. An occasional barn raising, yes. But it is rare to be part of a jubilee. This whole thing has made me—well, jubilant. To all who have, as Yogi Berra once said, “made this event necessary,” we say thank you. And the “we” I am representing includes the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
In that spirit I wish to say at the outset that the presiding officers of the Church appreciate and applaud the exceptional work being done by so many to search and to substantiate, to defend and promulgate the history and doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including and especially the Book of Mormon, in a way both scholarly and spiritual. Obviously one of the influential, representative figures in this generation of such work is our friend and colleague John W. Welch, being honored tonight. I have known and loved Jack and other members of the Welch family for at least 40 of the 50 years we are commemorating. In deference to the clock I will not recount all of his academic accomplishments (much of which has been referenced here tonight), but suffice it to say, Jack, that the Brethren are grateful for your faith, your loyalty, your productivity, and what is increasingly your scholarly legacy in defending the kingdom of God. That compliment is, of course, extended to a legion of other men and women across the Church who are putting their shoulders to the wheel of reasoned, determined, persuasive gospel scholarship.
I would also like to thank the many donors and other supporters who have aided the scholarly pursuit and publication of materials important to the Church of Jesus Christ in these latter days. I must not even begin to name names because I would inevitably miss some, but please know that as officers of the Church and trustees of the university, we know it takes money and other resources to research and write and publish these marvelous pieces of scholarship that we have enjoyed for so many decades. Your generosity and devotion have helped do that. Some of the agencies, departments, institutes, and scholars doing such work are an institutional part of and integral to Brigham Young University. Other groups and like-minded colleagues are not part of the university per se but are spread out around the Church. Our heartfelt thanks go to all of you wherever you are and to President Kevin Worthen and the BYU administration who facilitate the inside and coordinate at least some of the outside scholarly activity to which I am referring.
Faith and testimony, gospel devotion and Church loyalty, conviction so strong it leads to covenants and consecration are ultimately matters of the Spirit. They come as a gift from God, delivered and confirmed to our soul by the Holy Ghost in His divine role as revelator, witness, teacher of truth. But it should be noted that truly rock-ribbed faith and uncompromised conviction comes with its most complete power when it engages our head as well as our heart.
“Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind,” Jehovah declared to the early Saints, and to Oliver Cowdery specifically He said, “I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost. . . . Behold, this is the spirit of revelation.”
I have always loved that definition of revelation. For one thing, it makes clear that all revelation that can be called revelation comes through the influence of the Holy Ghost—that is to say that the receipt of any truth is ultimately a spiritual experience, an enlightenment facilitated and confirmed by the Holy Ghost. Secondly, that definition makes it clear that truth borne by the Holy Spirit comes with, in effect, two manifestations, two witnesses if you will—the force of fact as well as the force of feeling.
Peter assumed that two-fold aspect of our conviction when he said, “Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.”
Reasons for the hope that is in us. Reasons for our belief. I am not a lawyer as virtually all the Welch family men are, but I don’t have to be one to understand in a court of law the power and primacy of evidence. In making our case for the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, I believe God intends us to find and use the evidence He has given—reasons, if you will—which affirm the truthfulness of His work.
One of the seldom-told but truly striking stories of conversion in all of scripture is the success the later Nephi and Lehi had on their mission to the Lamanites outlined in the book of Helaman. After a dramatic sequence of earthquakes and voices from heaven, of angels appearing and prison walls crumbling, Mormon records that the people “were bidden to go forth and marvel not, neither should they doubt. And . . . they did go forth . . . declaring throughout . . . the [region] . . . all the things which they had heard and seen, inasmuch that the more part of the Lamanites were convinced of them, because of the greatness of the evidences which they had received.”
In his classic definition of faith the Apostle Paul suggests, with one of those paradoxes that so frequently crop up in the gospel, that evidence is still evidence even if it is not immediately observable. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” he wrote. For me a classic example of substance I hope for and evidence of things I have not seen is the 531 pages of the Book of Mormon that come from a sheaf of gold plates some people saw and handled and hefted but I haven’t seen or handled or hefted, and neither have you. Nevertheless, the reality of those plates, the substance of them if you will, and the evidence that comes to us from them in the form of the Book of Mormon is at the heart, at the very center, of the hope and testimony and conviction of this work that is unshakably within me forever.
It is with reference to evidence and in this case literal, corporeal substance that Luke introduces the book of Acts:
“The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,
“Until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen:
“To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.”
In one of the earliest such manifestations after His Resurrection, Jesus came to the eleven, inviting them to touch His hands and feet as He sat to eat meat and honeycomb. To those who doubted, Mark says He “upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart.” The message is that if members of the Godhead go to the trouble of providing “many infallible proofs” of truth, then surely we are honor bound to affirm and declare that truth and may be upbraided if we do not. My testimony to you tonight is that the gospel is infallibly true and that a variety of infallible proofs supporting that assertion will continue to come until Jesus descends as the ultimate infallible truth of all. Our testimonies aren’t dependent on evidence—we still need that spiritual confirmation in the heart of which we have spoken—but not to seek for and not to acknowledge intellectual, documentable support for our belief when it is available is to needlessly limit an otherwise incomparably strong theological position and deny us a unique, persuasive vocabulary in the latter-day arena of religious investigation and sectarian debate. Thus armed with so much evidence of the kind we have celebrated here tonight, we ought to be more assertive than we sometimes are in defending our testimony of truth.
To that point I mention that while we were living and serving in England, I became fond of the writing of the English cleric Austin Farrer. Speaking of the contribution made by C. S. Lewis specifically and of Christian apologists generally, Farrer said: “Though argument does not create conviction, lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.”
May we leave to Moroni the last word regarding our celebration of gospel scholarship tonight, the same Moroni who gave his farewell testimony three times at the conclusion of the Book of Mormon, making him something of a one-man version of the Three Witnesses. Said he in the first of those valedictory testimonies “And now, . . . ye know these things and cannot deny them [because of the] many evidences which ye have received; yea, even ye have received all things, both things in heaven, and all things which are in the earth, as a witness that they are true.”
When such revelation comes, when that complete witness is borne to our heart and our head, then surely we will know how Martin Harris felt when, after considerable struggle of both body and spirit, he was able to behold the angel Moroni holding the gold plates, turning their leaves one by one before his very eyes. In response to that spiritual and temporal evidence he shouted for all of us, “Tis enough, ‘tis enough; mine eyes have beheld, mine eyes have beheld.”
May our Father in Heaven bless us and an ever-larger cadre of young scholars around the Church to do more and more to discover and delineate and declare the reasons for the hope that is in us, that like those converted Lamanites, we may with bold conviction hold up to a world that desperately needs it “the greatness of the evidences which [we have] received,” especially of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, the keystone of our religion. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
 Doctrine and Covenants 64:34.
 Doctrine and Covenants 8:2–3.
 1 Peter 3:15.
 Helaman 5:49–50; emphasis added.
 Hebrews 11:1; emphasis added.
 Acts 1:1–3; emphasis added.
 See Luke 24:42.
 Mark 16:14.
 Acts 1:3.
 Austin Farrer, “The Christian Apologist,” in Light on C.S. Lewis, ed. Jocelyn Gibb (1965), 26.
 Helaman 8:24; emphasis added.
 Joseph Smith, History, 1838-1856, vol. A-1, 25, Church History Library.
 Helaman 5:50.