precept — A general rule intended to regulate behavior or thought (Oxford English Dictionary)
On Sunday, November 28, 1841, Joseph Smith spent the day with the apostles and with Joseph Fielding, who had recently returned from a four-year mission in England, at the home of Brigham Young in Nauvoo, Illinois. He made the following declaration to this group of men:
I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book (History of the Church, 4:461).
This quotation also appears in the Introduction to the Book of Mormon.
It’s worth noting that Joseph Smith is not only an endorsing the Book of Mormon but is also extending a challenge to its readers. He did not say, “The Book of Mormon will bring a man nearer to God than any other book.” He also did not say, “A man will get nearer to God by reading the Book of Mormon than by reading any other book.” He said that we will get nearer to God if we abide by its precepts.
What are those precepts?
That is our challenge. As we study the book, we need to ask ourselves, “What is God asking me to do through the inspired authors of this book? How does He want me to behave? How does He want me to think?” And then we need to act upon the answers to those questions.
Precepts may become clear to us in layers. Isaiah taught (and Nephi reiterated) that we learn “precept upon precept; line upon line,… here a little, and there a little” (Isaiah 28:10, 13, 2 Nephi 28:30). Obeying a precept today may unlock the door to recognizing another precept tomorrow.
This year, as I study the Book of Mormon, I will pay attention to its precepts. I will ask myself, “What rules of behavior and thought am I being taught?” and I will strive to live according to those rules.