The phrase line upon line comes from the following scriptures:
- For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little (Isaiah 28:10)....
- For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have (2 Nephi 28:30).
- For he will give unto the faithful line upon line, precept upon precept; and I will try you and prove you herewith (Doctrine and Covenants 98:12).
- And again, the voice of God in the chamber of old Father Whitmer, in Fayette, Seneca county, and at sundry times, and in divers places through all the travels and tribulations of this Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints! And the voice of Michael, the archangel; the voice of Gabriel, and of Raphael, and of divers angels, from Michael or Adam down to the present time, all declaring their dispensation, their rights, their keys, their honors, their majesty and glory, and the power of their priesthood; giving line upon line, precept upon precept; here a little, and there a little; giving us consolation by holding forth that which is to come, confirming our hope (Doctrine and Covenants 128:21)!
Real progress and growth take time. It is the process of becoming. As we hearken (listen, learn, and do), we gain knowledge and wisdom. We act wisely on that which we have received, and then the Lord will give us more. We grow a step at a time. There can be life-changing moments, and then we must act upon those with dedication and consistency. Each day can be a growing experience filled with hope: a growing and becoming day that represents yet another forward advance, one step or one line at a time. The Lord makes clear that line upon line and precept upon precept is the mode and process of learning: the faithful receive more while those who say they have enough or reject the teachings find that that portion given will be taken away even as Isaiah teaches (see Isaiah 6:9-13 and 28:13; compare also Alma 12:9-11). We must welcome the opportunities of challenges and moments of growth as a blessing from the Lord. This is easy to say, yet hard to do unless we act with faith and pray for strength.
Modern Prophets Speak
The Savior came into this world as an infant just as all others enter mortal birth. In the Doctrine and Covenants we have the testimony of John wherein the statement is made that Christ learned line upon line, precept upon precept and received not the fulness at first pertaining to his mortal or earthly life.
- And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace; And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness; And thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first (Doctrine and Covenants 93:12-14).
- (Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1957-1966], 5: 165.)
Once having turned fully to the Lord, we are now more free to follow him--;“I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left.” (Doctrine and Covenants 84:88.) This is just the guidance we need on the straight and narrow path. Things then unfold--; “here a little, and there a little,” “line upon line, precept upon precept,” for we “cannot bear all things now” (Doctrine and Covenants 128:21; 98:12; 50:40). And every step forward mercifully brings with it its own reinforcing.
This is all done, then, in process of time, as described by the Prophet Joseph Smith, who knew the process well:
- "The nearer man approaches perfection, the clearer are his views, and the greater his enjoyments, till he has overcome the evils of his life and lost every desire for sin; and like the ancients, arrives at that point of faith where he is wrapped in the power and glory of his Maker and is caught up to dwell with Him. But we consider that this is a station to which no man ever arrived in a moment." (Joseph Fielding Smith, comp., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976], p. 51.)
- (Neal A. Maxwell, Men and Women of Christ [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1991], 30.)
Ideas for Daily Living
Here are seven ideas to help us grow line upon line and precept upon precept:
1. Understanding—Let us understand that growth is a process, a becoming, a progressive moment and not an instantaneous happening. Just as healing takes time, so does becoming take time. Wisdom does not spring mature into the life of any individual; it takes day-by-day effort to understand and practice enduring principles before one can gradually experience enhanced capacity, expanded faculties, extended vision, strengthened character, and more godly wisdom.
2. Patience—Let us be patient with others as well as with ourselves and the things we do. Bread takes so long to prepare and to bake. Seeds take so long to germinate and develop into plants that bear fruit. Be aware of the process so there will be no unrealized expectations that can result is stress or negative feelings.
3. Goal-setting—Target dates are important. When setting goals and making plans, there can be logical check points along the way to determine if one is progressing as planned. These dates can give one hope and encouragement along the way.
4. Time is an ally—Let us never forget that as we grow we are doing something that takes effort and time. Sometimes it takes longer than anticipated -- twice as long or longer. Develop a mindset that envisions the end goal with clarity, supported and nurtured by time. With time one can still achieve objectives, one patient step after the other.
5. Divine Heritage—We are the literal children of Heavenly Father with the divine capacity to become like Him. This knowledge and understanding gives us hope to carry on and become all that we can be.
6. Talents and Abilities—Within each of us are latent qualities that, through the strength of the Lord and diligent effort, can be improved upon one step at a time.
7. Exercise Faith—As we step into the dark, let us remember that the Lord will provide the way and the light to make it through.
Illustrations for our Time
“The Currant Bush”
You sometimes wonder whether the Lord really knows what He ought to do with you. You sometimes wonder if you know better than He does about what you ought to do and ought to become. I am wondering if I may tell you a story. It has to do with an incident in my life when God showed me that He knew best.
I was living up in Canada. I had purchased a farm. It was run-down. I went out one morning and saw a currant bush. It had grown up over six feet high. It was going all to wood. There were no blossoms and no currants. I was raised on a fruit farm in Salt Lake before we went to Canada, and I knew what ought to happen to that currant bush. So I got some pruning shears and clipped it back until there was nothing left but stumps. It was just coming daylight, and I thought I saw on top of each of these little stumps what appeared to be a tear, and I thought the currant bush was crying. I was kind of simpleminded (and I haven’t entirely gotten over it), and I looked at it and smiled and said, “What are you crying about?” You know, I thought I heard that currant bush say this:
“How could you do this to me? I was making such wonderful growth. I was almost as big as the shade tree and the fruit tree that are inside the fence, and now you have cut me down. Every plant in the garden will look down on me because I didn’t make what I should have made. How could you do this to me? I thought you were the gardener here.”
That’s what I thought I heard the currant bush say, and I thought it so much that I answered. I said, “Look, little currant bush, I am the gardener here, and I know what I want you to be. I didn’t intend you to be a fruit tree or a shade tree. I want you to be a currant bush, and someday, little currant bush, when you are laden with fruit, you are going to say, ‘Thank you, Mr. Gardener, for loving me enough to cut me down. Thank you, Mr. Gardener.’"
Years passed, and I found myself in England. I was in command of a cavalry unit in the Canadian Army. I held the rank of field officer in the British Canadian Army. I was proud of my position. And there was an opportunity for me to become a general. I had taken all the examinations. I had the seniority. The one man between me and the office of general in the British Army became a casualty, and I received a telegram from London. It said: “Be in my office tomorrow morning at 10:00,” signed by General Turner.
I went up to London. I walked smartly into the office of the general, and I saluted him smartly, and he gave me the same kind of a salute a senior officer usually gives—a sort of “Get out of the way, worm!” He said, “Sit down, Brown.” Then he said, “I’m sorry I cannot make the appointment. You are entitled to it. You have passed all the examinations. You have the seniority. You’ve been a good officer, but I can’t make the appointment. You are to return to Canada and become a training officer and a transport officer.” That for which I had been hoping and praying for 10 years suddenly slipped out of my fingers.
Then he went into the other room to answer the telephone, and on his desk, I saw my personal history sheet. Right across the bottom of it was written, “THIS MAN IS A MORMON.” We were not very well liked in those days. When I saw that, I knew why I had not been appointed. He came back and said, “That’s all, Brown.” I saluted him again, but not quite as smartly, and went out.
I got on the train and started back to my town, 120 miles away, with a broken heart, with bitterness in my soul. And every click of the wheels on the rails seemed to say, “You are a failure.” When I got to my tent, I was so bitter that I threw my cap on the cot. I clenched my fists, and I shook them at heaven. I said, “How could you do this to me, God? I have done everything I could do to measure up. There is nothing that I could have done—that I should have done—that I haven’t done. How could you do this to me?” I was as bitter as gall.
And then I heard a voice, and I recognized the tone of this voice. It was my own voice, and the voice said, “I am the gardener here. I know what I want you to do.” The bitterness went out of my soul, and I fell on my knees by the cot to ask forgiveness for my ungratefulness and my bitterness. While kneeling there I heard a song being sung in an adjoining tent. A number of Mormon boys met regularly every Tuesday night. I usually met with them. We would sit on the floor and have Mutual. As I was kneeling there, praying for forgiveness, I heard their singing:
“But if, by a still, small voice he calls To paths that I do not know, I’ll answer, dear Lord, with my hand in thine: I’ll go where you want me to go.” (Hymns, no. 270)
I arose from my knees a humble man. And now, almost 50 years later, I look up to Him and say, “Thank you, Mr. Gardener, for cutting me down, for loving me enough to hurt me.” I see now that it was wise that I should not become a general at that time, because if I had I would have been senior officer of all western Canada, with a lifelong, handsome salary, a place to live, and a pension, but I would have raised my six daughters and two sons in army barracks. They would no doubt have married out of the Church, and I think I would not have amounted to anything. I haven’t amounted to very much as it is, but I have done better than I would have done if the Lord had let me go the way I wanted to go.
Many of you are going to have very difficult experiences: disappointment, heartbreak, bereavement, defeat. You are going to be tested and tried. I just want you to know that if you don’t get what you think you ought to get, remember, God is the gardener here. He knows what He wants you to be. Submit yourselves to His will. Be worthy of His blessings, and you will get His blessings.
- (Hugh B. Brown, “The Currant Bush,” New Era, Apr. 2001, 12; previously in the New Era, January, 1973.)
A Few More Thoughts
• “Thus we see how experiences illuminate principles, and principles illuminate experiences. Given the reality of this process, how could our learning be other than ‘line upon line,’ experience upon experience, and understanding upon understanding?” —Neal A. Maxwell (But for a Small Moment [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1986], 125).
• “So, to protect us and at the same time to help us to grow, he gives us line upon line, precept upon precept, a little bit here and a little bit there. As quickly as we have applied a new truth in our lives, he will give us more—but not sooner, so that it won’t be to our condemnation. If you want to receive more revelation from God and hear his voice much more frequently, the key is to obey what you have already received.” —Gene R. Cook (Searching the Scriptures: Bringing Power to Your Personal and Family Study [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997], 45-46).
As we embrace the truths of the gospel line upon line and precept upon precept, we grow a step at a time—we become. This is our mortal growing time here upon the earth, an exciting time indeed. We should learn to be content in our growth (not that we would ever be complacent) in allowing the Lord in His infinite wisdom to fashion us into His image so that when He appears we will be like Him (see Moroni 7:48; 1 John 3:1-2). President Benson has taught us that, “Men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that He can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace. Whoever will lose his life in the service of God will find eternal life” (Ezra Taft Benson, The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988], 361).
- This article was adapted from What We Need to Know and Do, by Ed J. Pinegar and Richard J. Allen.