Friday, December 1, 2017

President Ezra Taft Benson on careful choices in personal reading

President Ezra Taft Benson (1899-1994) was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1943, and served as the 13th President of the Church from 1985 until his death in 1994 at age 94.
"Today, with the abundance of books available, it is the mark of a truly educated man to know what not to read. 'Of making many books there is no end' (Ecclesiastes 12:12). Feed only on the best. As John Wesley’s mother counseled him: 'Avoid whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, takes off your relish for spiritual things, ... increases the authority of the body over the mind.'
"The fact that a book is old does not necessarily make it of value. The fact that an author wrote one good work does not necessarily mean that all his books are worthy of your time. Do not make your mind a dumping ground for other people’s garbage. It is harder to purge the mind of rotten reading than to purge the body of rotten food, and it is more damaging to the soul....
"Let us summarize. The most vital knowledge you can learn is the saving truths of the gospel—the truths that will make the difference in your eternal welfare. The most vital words that you can read are those of the Presidents of the Church—particularly the living prophet—and those of the apostles and prophets. God encourages learning in many areas, and vocational skills will have increasing importance. There is much reading material that is available that is either time-wasting or corrupting. The best yardstick to use in discerning the worth of true knowledge and learning is to go first and foremost to the words of the Lord’s prophets."
- Ezra Taft Benson, "In His Steps," BYU Fireside, March 4, 1979
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

I was a student at BYU when President Benson gave this address. I remember his encouragement to walk in the Savior's steps: "The greatest yardstick of success is to see how much your daily walk can be like Christ’s—how closely you can walk each moment in His steps."

He used the words of the Savior as an invitation for us: "And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man" (Luke 2:52). This excerpt came as he encouraged students to "increase in wisdom"—to be learning and growing intellectually. While learning is crucial to our ongoing progress and growth, it's clear that not all learning is of equal importance; and that there are traps and pitfalls that we can encounter in our reading and studying.

How carefully we must choose what we put into our minds! We should filter carefully to make sure that the "garbage" of the world is kept out. One important way to do that, President Benson suggests, is to focus first on the teachings of the scriptures and prophets; and then to judge everything else by that standard.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

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