Memories: The Truth Shall Make You Free

Ed J. Pinegar, Richard J. Allen

When Jesus was teaching the learned Jewish leaders in the temple at Jerusalem, He declared, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). They protested His strong doctrine of liberation through repentance and instead sought recourse to their comforting tradition, claiming that Abraham was their father. The Savior’s response was pointed: “If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham” (John 8:39). When they then claimed that they had but one Father, Jesus responded: “If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; … He that is of God heareth God’s words… . If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death” (John 8:42, 47, 51). Though some of His listeners believed Him, the Pharisees took up stones to kill him, and He passed from their midst because His hour of sacrifice had not yet come.

What a contrast there is between the rejection of the Savior at Jerusalem and His beatific and celebratory reception in Bountiful on the other side of the world following His Resurrection. He said to His disciples there: “So great faith have I never seen among all the Jews; wherefore I could not show unto them so great miracles, because of their unbelief” (3 Nephi 19:35). When Jesus empowered the people to administer His doctrine after expounding to them “all things, even from the beginning until the time that he should come in his glory” (3 Nephi 26:3), He liberated an entire generation of followers from the effects of sin: “and none of them are lost; and in them I have fulness of joy” (3 Nephi 27:31). In this manner, He was able to set in motion an all-encompassing reformation so enduring that some two hundred years of liberty and peace were to ensue. It was to be a revolutionary demonstration of how truth can indeed make people free.

These thoughts about truth take my mind back to the many years I spent at Johns Hopkins University on the faculty and in the administration. The motto of that great institution, the first American university founded as a purely graduate organization, is, interestingly enough, “Veritas Vos Liberabit”—”The Truth Shall Make You Free.” Indeed, in a certain sense, the intellectual output of that institution in medicine, public health, science, applied physics, psychology, the arts, and so forth has contributed to the freeing of the human condition from ignorance and the shackles of temporal restriction. Such is the mission of all institutions of higher learning. The Lord Himself has commanded us to seek learning out of the best books (see D&C 88:118; 109:7, 14). We are to “study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people”‘ (D&C 90:15). We are to learn “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” (D&C 88:79).

I recall times when my mission president, Theodore M. Burton, who had a doctorate in chemistry, recited his rather extraordinary intellectual accomplishments before Church audiences, saying that he was doing so not to boast, but simply to state that if the Church were based on anything but true principles, he would have detected it, using his training and credentials, and rejected it out of hand. He was underscoring the fact that “Mormonism” is a rational theology based on logical truth and confirmed by faith; “Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be 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” (D&C 88:78). When the Savior spoke the words “the truth shall make you free,” He most certainly was centering His instruction on truth of a higher kind—the expedient principles of salvation and the fundamental doctrines of celestial liberation. Temporal truth and knowledge can prepare us for our missions in life; however, it is “pure knowledge” (D&C 121:42) that will ultimately free the spirit of mankind to rise in majesty to overcome the temporal and spiritual death through the Atonement of the Savior.

One day when I was going through the card file at the Johns Hopkins University Library, I came across a section of references to the writings by James Talmage, who had studied geology there many decades earlier. It was a pleasant happenstance that underscored for me the partnership of both temporal and spiritual truth. Elder Talmage (who later served as president of the University of Utah and then as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve) had traversed the pathways of truth across its full spectrum—from the science of understanding the creation to the principles of understanding the Creator Himself, even Jesus the Christ. We can do the same by seeking learning and wisdom from the best books in order to magnify our callings and prepare ourselves to be more enlightened as servants of God and to interact more knowledgeably with the peoples of the earth, thus enabling us to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ under commission of the Abrahamic covenant. At the same time, we need to keep in mind the counsel of Jacob in the Book of Mormon concerning the educated people of the world: “But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God” (2 Nephi 9:29). The “expedient” knowledge on which we should center our most devoted attention is the gospel of Jesus Christ and its saving principles. (Richard J. Allen)

Commentaries and Insights on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 2