“Five Million Members—A Milestone and Not a Summit,” Ensign, May 1982, 44
As you have heard, earlier this week the membership of the Church reached five million. This is a significant milestone. It is an occasion for quiet gratitude, but also for sober reflection. Those who laid the foundation of this work must greatly rejoice.
And those of their generation who with bitterness predicted that it would fade and die must, if they are in any position to know, look with wonder and frustration at what God has wrought. For this is his work, and he has brought it to its present strength through his miraculous power. He it was who opened it in this dispensation of time. In that process he used as his instrument a boy whose mind was clean and unencumbered, into which could be infused the instruction of divine beings and the revelation that comes through the Holy Spirit.
It was God who planted in the hearts of men and women the faith to see a chosen prophet in the young man Joseph Smith. It was the Spirit of God that opened their eyes to the miracle of this remarkable Book of Mormon, which was brought forth as a voice speaking from the dust in testimony that Jesus is the Christ. (See 2 Ne. 33:13.)
He it was who gave strength and courage when the very powers of hell were marshaled against the infant Church and against those few who comprised its membership. Thanks be to him, those days are behind us. Gone are the terrors of forced winter marches, of burning homes and desecrated temples, of unmarked prairie graves and sobbings in the night of those bereft and lonely.
We walk today in the sunlight of goodwill. The Church is widely respected and honored. The virtue of our people and the integrity of our efforts have come to be recognized and appreciated.
Let us be grateful. But let us not be boastful. Let us rather be thankful and humble, as becomes those who are the beneficiaries of such rich blessings from the Almighty.
This is a time to ask ourselves whether, although we have grown in numbers and strength, we are any nearer perfection in the virtue of our individual lives. The milestone of five million members has real significance only to the degree that we as a people bring the gospel into our lives and demonstrate its fruits in our actions. The Lord has reminded us in no uncertain terms that “of him unto whom much is given much is required.” (D&C 82:3.)
As we go forward we must never be distracted from the great and compelling triad of responsibility laid upon the Church to, first, carry the gospel of Jesus Christ to the people of the earth; second, to implement that gospel in the lives of the membership of the Church; and, third, to extend through vicarious work its blessings to those who have passed beyond the veil of death. Our mission is “as broad as eternity and as deep as the love of God.” Adherence to that mission has brought us to this significant milestone, and this must be only a milestone and not a summit.
The Lord set the parameters of this work when he declared, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” (Matt. 24:14.)
This is our great challenge and our responsibility.
I have no doubt whatever that this work will continue to grow in magnitude. I am confident that its progress will be enhanced if our people will live the gospel with faithfulness and devotion. In harmony with that observation I should like to suggest five imperatives for our observance.
The first: We must hold fast to the doctrine.
The gospel for me is not complex. It is a beautiful and simple pattern, a constant source of strength, a wellspring of faith. The keystone of that doctrine is that God is our Eternal Father and Jesus is the Christ, our living Redeemer. We are sons and daughters of God. He loves us and invites us to love him, showing that love through service to others of his children. His Beloved Son is our Savior, who gave his life on the cross of Calvary as a vicarious sacrifice for the sins of mankind. By the power of his divine Sonship he rose from the grave, becoming “the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Cor. 15:20), assuring for all a resurrection from the dead and inviting each of us to partake of eternal life according to our obedience to his laws and commandments.
They, that is, the Father and the Son, appeared to the boy Joseph Smith in a most glorious and wonderful manifestation to open this, the dispensation of the fulness of times. (See D&C 112:30.) All of the elements of previous bestowals of divine teaching and authority are now brought together through restoration in a final and everlasting dispensation.
God has not left us in ignorance to walk in darkness. His word, spoken both anciently and in our generation, is available to all to read, to ponder, and to accept. There are many books among us and many preachers, and I find virtue in the words of all. But the truest source of divine wisdom is the word of the Lord in these sacred volumes, the standard works of the Church. Here is found the doctrine to which we must hold fast if this work is to roll forth to its divinely charted destiny.
My second imperative: We must implement that doctrine more fully in our lives.
The most persuasive gospel tract is the exemplary life of a faithful Latter-day Saint. We live in a time when the pressures of life make it so easy and so tempting, in fulfillment of the words of Nephi, to commit “a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; … turn aside the just for a thing of naught and revile against that which is good.” (2 Ne. 28:8, 16.)
Said the Savior while speaking on the mount: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16.)
If we as a people will walk with integrity, will be honest and moral in our actions, will put into our lives the simple and basic and wonderful principle of the Golden Rule, others will be led to inquire and learn. We shall become as a city set upon a hill whose light cannot be hid. (See Matt. 5:14.) We shall witness an ever-growing fulfillment of the promise of Isaiah: “And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths.” (Isa. 2:3.)
My third imperative: We must work more diligently to cultivate a spirit of love and charity in our homes.
The homes of our people have been great homes where there has been love, a spirit of sacrifice, an attitude of respect for one another. There will be need for greater emphasis of these qualities in the future. Selfishness is the canker that drives out peace and love. Selfishness is the root on which grow argument, anger, disrespect, infidelity, and divorce.
Later this month we shall dedicate a beautiful new building on the Brigham Young University campus to the memory of a woman, Caroline Hemenway Harman. You probably have never heard of her. I would like to tell you briefly her story.
At the age of twenty-two Caroline married George Harman. They had seven children, one of whom died in infancy. Then, at the age of thirty-nine, her husband passed away and she was left a widow.
Her sister, Grace, had married her husband’s brother, David. In 1919, during the terrible influenza epidemic, David was seriously stricken, and then his wife, Grace, became ill. Caroline cared for them and their children as well as her own. In the midst of these afflictions, Grace gave birth to a son, and then she died within a few hours. Caroline took the tiny infant to her own home and there nurtured it and saved the child’s life. Three weeks later her own daughter, Annie, passed away.
By now Caroline had lost two of her own children, her husband, and her sister. The strain was too much. She collapsed. She came out of that collapse with a serious case of diabetes. But she did not slow down. She continued to care for her sister’s baby; and her brother-in-law, the child’s father, came each day to see the little boy. David Harman and Caroline were later married, and there were now thirteen children in their home.
Then five years later David suffered a catastrophe that tried to the very depths those who agonized with him. On one occasion he used a strong disinfectant in preparing seed for planting. This got on his body, and the effects were disastrous. The skin and flesh sloughed off his bones. His tongue and teeth dropped out. The caustic solution literally ate him alive.
Caroline nursed him in this terrible illness, and when he died she was left with five of her own and eight of her sister’s children, and a farm of 280 acres where she and the children plowed, sowed, irrigated, and harvested to bring in enough to provide for their needs. At this time she also was Relief Society president, a position she held for eighteen years.
While caring for her large family and in extending the hand of charity to others, she would bake eight loaves of bread a day and wash forty loads of clothes a week. She canned fruits and vegetables by the ton, and cared for a thousand laying hens to provide a little cash. Self-reliance was her standard. Idleness she regarded as sin. She cared for her own and reached out to others in a spirit of kindness that would permit no one of whom she was aware to go hungry, unclothed, or cold.
She later married Eugene Robison, who, not long afterward, suffered a stroke. For five years until his death she nursed him and cared for him in all his needs.
Finally, exhausted, her body racked by the effects of diabetes, she passed away at the age of sixty-seven. The habits of industry and hard work which she instilled in her children rewarded their efforts through the years. Her sister’s tiny baby, whom she nurtured from the hour of his birth, together with his brothers and sisters, all acting out of a sense of love and gratitude, have given to the university a substantial bequest to make possible the beautiful building which will carry her name.
It is well to remember men and women who have made outstanding contributions in terms of science, education, business, and the arts. Their examples can motivate all of us to higher endeavor. How appropriate also that there should be remembered with a beautiful and useful structure on the campus of a great university a woman, a mother, largely unknown and unsung, who held together, nurtured, loved, and reared to useful maturity two large families, and all of this in an environment of grinding adversity.
Her case is not unique except in a few particulars. It is, as a matter of fact, somewhat characteristic of the great families of the early days of the Church who worked together, through sunshine and storm, to break the wilderness, to educate children and teach them the refining arts and useful skills.
The circumstances of our society have changed somewhat. We have become largely an urban people. But this only emphasizes the need for additional effort in cultivating, in the coming years, family spirit, family appreciation, and family love.
My fourth imperative: We must continue even with greater effectiveness to strengthen and sustain one another.
The Lord has admonished us: “Therefore, strengthen your brethren in all your conversation, in all your prayers, in all your exhortations, and in all your doings.” (D&C 108:7.)
We live in a society that feeds on criticism. Faultfinding is the substance of columnists and commentators, and there is too much of this among our own people. It is so easy to find fault, and to resist doing so requires much of discipline. But if as a people we will build and sustain one another, the Lord will bless us with the strength to weather every storm and continue to move forward through every adversity. The enemy of truth would divide us and cultivate within us attitudes of criticism which, if permitted to prevail, will only deter us in the pursuit of our great divinely given goal. We cannot afford to permit it to happen. We must close ranks and march shoulder to shoulder, the strong helping the weak, those with much assisting those with little. No power on earth can stop this work if we shall so conduct ourselves.
My fifth imperative flows from the last, and it is that we move forward with faith. Said the Lord to his Saints in a more difficult day: “Therefore, fear not, little flock; do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail.
“Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.” (D&C 6:34, 36.)
I urge you to see the big picture and cease worrying about the little blemishes. Abraham Lincoln was a gangling figure of a man, with a long and craggy face. There were many who looked only at the imperfections of his countenance. There were others who joked over the way he walked, and kept their eyes so low that they never saw the true greatness of the man. That enlarged view came only to those who saw the whole character—body, mind, and spirit—as he stood at the head of a divided nation in its darkest hour, lacing it together “with malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God” gave him to see the right. (Second Inaugural Address.)
Of course, there are aberrations in our history. There are blemishes to be found, if searched for, in the lives of all men, including our leaders past and present. But these are only incidental to the magnitude of their service and to the greatness of their contributions.
Keep before you the big picture, for this cause is as large as all mankind and as broad as all eternity. This is the church and kingdom of God. It requires the strength, the loyalty, the faith of all if it is to roll forward to bless the lives of our Father’s children over the earth.
In reaching a membership of five million, we have reached a milestone. It must not be a summit. A far, far greater future lies ahead. Let us go forward. If we will hold fast to the doctrine, if we will live with integrity, if we will cultivate love and charity in our homes, if we will build and sustain one another and move forward with faith, the Almighty, whose church this is, will bless us and his glorious work. There is so much to do. Great sacrifice was made in the past to bring us to this level of growth. Lives were forfeited, and those not a few. We are not asked to give up our lives, and actually very little of our comfort. But we are expected to give of our loyalty, our devotion, our hearts, minds, might, and strength to the on-rolling of this, the Lord’s work. (See D&C 59:5.) God help us to be faithful, as those before us have been faithful, as we walk toward the light of an even brighter and more significant day, I humbly pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.