Conference Report
"Seek Ye Knowledge"
Elder Levi Edgar Young
Of the First Council of the Seventy

Levi Edgar Young, Conference Report, October 1954, pp. 60-63

President McKay; brethren and sisters: We have had a number of visitors today, many of whom were Methodists who came from Australia. They seemed to be pleased with their visit to this building and what they heard. There is now in the congregation the superintendent of schools of Copenhagen, Denmark. With him are others from that country. We remember well of being in our city and visiting the university that you represent. You graduated from there, you tell me, and we recall that above the gates of your campus there is a great eagle done in bronze, something like our eagle on the Eagle Gate, just east of here. Underneath your bronze eagle is a Latin expression which I recall. It runs coelestem adspicit lucem. The eagle is looking toward the celestial light and this recalls the real motive, why the Latter-day Saints are meeting in this building today. I may say to you that we are looking toward the celestial light and this expression comes to me as I recall the beautiful eagle and the Latin expression that you know so well.

When the general conference comes around, we note that the Relief Society of the Church has its meetings with the sisters who come from all parts of the world where there are members, most of whom are mothers in this great organization. The mothers have played a great part in our history, for they have given birth and reared men who have been honored by the priesthood of God. How the have preserved the sacredness of family life! You recall with proud appreciation the pioneer mother on the Seagull Monument here, a masterpiece by Mahonri Young. The figure of the mother expresses dignity, energy, tenderness, and endurance. The face is a familiar type of character and gentleness, which give it a certain aloofness. The influence of the monument is one of deep thought and faith in life and God. Benjamin Ide Wheeler wrote these words concerning the pioneer mother:

Over rude paths beset with hunger and risk, she pressed on toward the vision of a better country. To an assemblage of men busy with the perishable rewards of the day, she brought the threefold leaven of enduring society—faith, gentleness, and home, with the nurture of children.

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Though I speak to the seventies during the few minutes I have to give a message, I realize that whatever truth is uttered is a lesson to all the brethren holding the priesthood of God. The seventies have a specific calling which none of us can forget.

Taking their name from the number of our Lord's disciples, the seventies form the central council for the missionary activity of the Church. From the be inning of their organization in 1835, the seventies have felt the need for a complete reference library, and in Times and Seasons, January 1, 1845, the following item was published:

Among the improvements going forward in this city [of Nauvoo], none merit higher praise, than the Seventies' Library. The concern has been commenced on a footing and scale, broad enough to embrace the arts and sciences everywhere, so that the Seventies' while traveling over the face of the globe, as the Lord's "Regular Soldiers," can gather all the curious things, both natural and artificial, with all the knowledge, inventions, and wonderful specimens of genius that have been gracing the world for almost six thousand ... [forming] the foundation for the best library in the world (Times and Seasons, v:762).

After the destruction of Nauvoo, the dreams of the people were never lost, and on April 7, 1851, we read in the fifth general epistle of the Church, describing Salt Lake City, the following:

On November 27th, the quorum of Seventies in conference assembled, agreed to erect an extensive rotunda in Great Salt Lake City, to be called the "Seventies' Hall of Science," and Joseph Young, their president, was appointed trustee and superintendent of the work.

Truman O. Angell, the architect of the Salt Lake Temple, was commissioned to draw the plans for the building. The large drawing that was made by Elder Angell was found many years later and was photographed and produced in an article published by the Utah State Historical Review in July 1946.

Had the project been carried through, the structure would have possessed unusual architectural interest. It had majesty and beauty that surpassed any building of its kind on the American frontier in originality and dignity. It was designed to be the repository not only of the seventies' library, but also for the library brought to Utah in 1851. Owing to the poverty of the people who were just beginning to establish their homes, President Brigham Young prevailed upon his brother Joseph, president of the seventies, not to build it for some years to come. For this reason, the edifice was never started. The seventies continued collecting books, however, and they soon had a fine library of the modern and ancient classics of literature. Among these books were:

The Holy Bible, the Works of John Locke, The Germania of Tacitus, Goethe's Faust, History of the Holy Land, Paley's Natural Theology, Bunyon's Pilgrim's Progress, Commodore Perry's Japan Expedition, Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, Wonders of Nature by Josiah Priest, Ainsworth's Latin Dictionary, Hackenberg's Greek Grammar, Southey's Lord Nelson, Marco Polo's Travels, Charles Darwin's Voyage of a Naturalist.

These few titles mentioned indicate the types of history and literature that the seventies were bringing together. The lesson of what such books contain will ever be truths that we should remember. The literature of the ages that has been preserved, conveys the thought that men had knowledge of great truths that have influenced humanity and have brought the civilization we have today. I recall that at the close of a lecture of William James at Harvard University, the learned philosopher uttered these words:

I have had much comfort lately in meditating on the passages which show the personality of the Holy Ghost, and his distinctness from the Father and the Son. It is a subject that requires searching into to find out, but when realized, gives one so much more true and lively a sense of the fullness of the Godhead, and its work in us, than when only thinking of the Spirit in its effect upon us.

President Brigham Young issued the following in 1850:

It is very desirable that all the Saints should improve every opportunity of securing at least a copy of every valuable treatise on education—very book, map, chart, or diagram that may contain interesting, useful, and attractive matter, to gain the attention of children and cause them to love to learn to read; and also every historical, mathematical, philosophical, geographical, geological, astronomical, scientific, practical, and all other variety of useful and interesting writings, maps, etc., to present to the general church recorder when they shall arrive at their destination, from which important and interesting matter may be gleaned to compile the most valuable works on every science and subject, for the benefit of the rising generation. We have a printing press, and any one who can take good printing or writing paper to the valley will be blessing themselves and the church. We also want all kinds of mathematical instruments, together with all rare specimens of natural curiosities and works of art that can be gathered.

Seldom can one read a sentence that expresses a more thoughtful ideal than the one the Prophet Joseph Smith gave us when he wrote:

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 (D&C 88:118).

It is a beautiful concept, for good books on history and fine literary writings give us the great discoverers and interpreters of life. They take us into an intellectual world and lend themselves to our uses and give themselves joyfully to our companionship. Nothing is more gratifying and inspiring in our intellectual lives than the lessons given by good books, and by good books we mean the best of the world's literature. As we study the history of the early-day missionaries of the Church, we find them men of books.

In the prayer of the Prophet Joseph Smith offered at the dedication of the temple at Kirtland, Ohio, March 27, 1836, are these words:

And do thou grant, Holy Father, that all those who shall worship in this house may be taught words of wisdom out of the best books, and that they may seek learning even by study, and also by faith, as thou hast said (D&C 109:14).

We are living in an age of books, written on all subjects and from many viewpoints. To train ourselves to seek knowledge out of the best of books is an admonition that we should carefully and most sincerely remember. To know what good books are is an art. Any missionary can have a list of the world's best literature from people who know what good literature is. Learn to read the best, however, and in time the gospel will become a field of immortal thoughts. "The beauty of a great book," says Emerson, "is the beauty of one's own mind." Think for a moment of the Holy Bible.

The Book of Genesis stands indeed at the head of the literature of the world. It is more recent than some of the writings of Chaldea or Egypt which have come down to us, and is incomparably the noblest composition of early ages, in its moral and spiritual characteristics (Geikie, Hours with the Bible).

However highly we may estimate the scientific, philosophic, and religious genius of the narrators of Genesis, I-III, more important to us, and for the religious instruction of youth, is the fact that they were men, who had surrendered themselves wholly to God, and who' had derived their knowledge from Him (Rudolph Kittel of Leipzig University, Scientific Study of the Old Testament).

"The first leaf of the Mosaic record," says Jean Paul, "has more weight than all the folios of men of science and philosophers." "And he is right," says Geikie, "for we owe to it, the earliest and grandest revelation of that first principle of all religion—the existence, the unity, the personality, and the moral government of God."

Every student of Church history knows about the high school established in the Kirtland Temple. The students were taught English by reading the best literature and the ancient classics. The principal of the school was Professor H. M. Hawes. There were also established Hebrew, Greek, and Latin classes; the professor of Hebrew was Joshua Seixas. I have found out that the attendance at these classes on the part of the elders was very large, and we have from the records the statement of how the Prophet Joseph Smith attended night in and night out the Hebrew and Greek classes. He undoubtedly felt and responded to the beauty of these languages, for only those who have studied Greek and Latin and Hebrew know of the beauty and richness of the literature that has come down to the present day from those far-off times. The Prophet Joseph Smith shows us the majesty of the statement, "Seek ye knowledge out of the best books" (see D&C 88:118) and Joseph Young, president of all the seventies in his day, insisted that the seventies in their respective quorums become students of literature and philosophy and religion. Thousands of them adopted the motto that, "Knowledge is power." The beauty of this idea lies in the fact that the concept of what knowledge means to the Latter-day Saints is this truth that God blesses us as we approach him with deep faith and ask his blessing in our obtaining knowledge. Our minds and hearts are opened, and we become students in the true sense of the term, for it is under God's direction that we learn, and Jesus Christ our Redeemer becomes our greatest teacher.

I wish to quote to you the words of the Prophet Joseph Smith on what it means to teach, and the ideal of education for which we should all strive. They are words found in the eighty-eighth section of the Doctrine and Covenants:

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.

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 88:78-79).

"I think I may safely challenge anyone," says President B. H. Roberts, 'to point out a broader field of knowledge than is here indicated. It includes all spiritual truth, all scientific truth, and all secular knowledge—knowledge of the past, of the present, of the future, of the heavens and the earth..."

In closing I wish to quote the words of John Fiske, the historian at Harvard fifty years ago who said to a class in history:

The future is lighted for us with the radiant colors of hope. Strife and sorrow shall disappear. Peace and love shall reign supreme The dream of poets, the lesson of priest and prophet, the inspiration of the great musician, is confirmed in the light of modern knowledge and as we gird ourselves up for the work of life, we may look forward to the time when in the truest sense, the kingdoms of this world shall become the Kingdom of Christ (Rev. 11:15), and He shall reign forever and ever, the King of kings and Lord of Lords (Rev. 19:16).