“Come unto Me,” Ensign, Apr. 1998, 16
In the 11th chapter of Matthew, verses 28–30, the Savior says: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” [Matt. 11:28–30]
This is my basic message to each of you, wherever you live, whatever your joys or sorrows, however young or old you may be, at whatever point you may find yourself in this mortal journey of ours. Some of you are where you want to be or you know where you want to go with your lives, and some of you don’t. Some of you seem to have so many blessings and so many wonderful choices ahead of you. Others of you feel, for a time and for whatever reason, less fortunate and with fewer attractive paths lying immediately ahead.
But whoever you are and wherever you find yourself as you seek your way in life, I offer you “the way … and the life” (John 14:6). Wherever else you think you may be going, I ask you to “come unto him” as the imperative first step in getting there, in finding your individual happiness and strength and success.
When two of Christ’s disciples first heard him speak, they were so moved, so spellbound, that they followed him as he left the crowd. Sensing that he was being pursued, Christ turned and asked the two men, “What seek ye?” (John 1:38). Other translations render that simply, “What do you want?”
They answered, “Where dwellest thou?” or “Where do you live?”
It seems to me that the essence of our lives is distilled down to these two brief elements in these opening scenes of the Savior’s mortal ministry. One element is the question to every one of us, “What seek ye? What do you want?” The second is his answer as to how to get that. Whoever we are and whatever our problems, his response is always the same, forever: “Come unto me.” Come see what I do and how I spend my time. Learn of me, follow me, and in the process I will give you answers to your prayers and rest to your souls.
Beloved friends, I know of no other way for you to succeed or to be happy or to be safe. I know of no other way for you to be able to carry your burdens or find what Jacob called “that happiness which is prepared for the saints” (2 Ne. 9:43). That is why we make solemn covenants based on Christ’s atoning sacrifice, and that is why we take upon us his name. In as many ways as possible, both figuratively and literally, we try to take upon us his identity. We seek out his teachings and retell his miracles. We send latter-day witnesses, including prophets, apostles, and missionaries, around the world to declare his message. We call ourselves his children, and we testify that he is the only source of eternal life. We plead for him to swing open the gates of heaven in our behalf, and we trust everlastingly that he will, based upon our faithfulness.
My desire for you is to have more straightforward experience with the Savior’s life and teachings. Perhaps sometimes we come to Christ too obliquely, focusing on structure or methods or elements of Church administration. Those are important and, like the tithes of mint and anise and cummin Christ spoke of (see Matt. 23:23), should be observed—but not without attention to the weightier matters of the kingdom, first and foremost of which is a personal spiritual relationship with Deity, including the Savior, whose kingdom this is.
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught in the Lectures on Faith that it was necessary to have “an acquaintance” (that’s his phrase) with the divine attributes of the Father and the Son in order to have faith in them. Specifically he said that unless we believe Christ to be “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, long-suffering and full of goodness”—unless we can rely on these unchanging attributes—we will never have the faith necessary to claim the blessings of heaven. If we cannot count on “the excellency of … character” (that is also his phrase) maintained by the Savior and his willingness and ability to “forgive iniquity, transgression, and sin,” we will be, he said, “in constant doubt of salvation.” But because the Father and the Son are unchangeably “full of goodness,” then, in the words of the Prophet, such knowledge “does away [with] doubt, and makes faith exceedingly strong” (Lectures on Faith , 41–42).
I don’t know what things may be troubling you personally, but, even knowing how terrific you are and how faithfully you are living, I would be surprised if someone somewhere weren’t troubled by a transgression or the temptation of transgression. To you, wherever you may be, I say, Come unto him and lay down your burden. Let him lift the load. Let him give peace to your soul. Nothing in this world is more burdensome than sin—it is the heaviest cross men and women ever bear.
The world around us is an increasingly hostile and sinful place. Occasionally that splashes onto us, and perhaps, in the case of a few of you, it may be nearly drowning you. To anyone struggling under the burden of sin, I say again with the Prophet Joseph that God has “a forgiving disposition” (Lectures on Faith, 42). You can change. You can be helped. You can be made whole—whatever the problem. All he asks is that you walk away from the darkness and come into the light, his light, with meekness and lowliness of heart. That is at the heart of the gospel. That is the very center of our message. That is the beauty of redemption. Christ has “borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows,” Isaiah declared, “and with his stripes we are healed”—if we want to be (Isa. 53:4–5; see also Mosiah 14:4–5).
For anyone seeking the courage to repent and change, I remind you that the Church is not a monastery for the isolation of perfect people. It is more like a hospital provided for those who wish to get well. Do whatever you have to do to come into the fold and be blessed. For some of you that is simply to live with greater faith, to believe more. For some of you it does mean to repent—right here. Today. For some of you it means to be baptized and come into the body and fellowship of Christ. For virtually all of us it means to live more by the promptings and promises of the Holy Ghost and to “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men.”
“This is the way,” Nephi said—there is that word again—“and there is none other way … whereby man [or woman] can be saved in the kingdom of God” (2 Ne. 31:20–21).
This reliance upon the forgiving, long-suffering, merciful nature of God was taught from before the very foundation of the world. It was always to give us hope and help, a reason to progress and improve, an incentive to lay down our burdens and take up our salvation. May I be bold enough to suggest that it is impossible for anyone who really knows God to doubt his willingness to receive us with open arms in a divine embrace if we will but “come unto him.” There certainly can and will be plenty of external difficulties in life; nevertheless, the soul that comes unto Christ dwells within a personal fortress, a veritable palace of perfect peace. “Whoso hearkeneth unto me,” Jehovah says, “shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil” (Prov. 1:33).
That is exactly what Paul said to the Corinthians. Trying to help them keep their chins up—and the Corinthians had a lot to be grim about—he wrote: “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God” (2 Cor. 1:3–4).
Jesus taught the same thing to the Nephites, who also lived in a difficult world. “For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed,” he said, “but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed [from thee]” (3 Ne. 22:10; see also 3 Ne. 22:13–14). I love that. The hills and the mountains may disappear. The seas and oceans may dry up completely. The least likely things in the world may happen, but “my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed [from thee].” After all, he has, he reminds us, “graven thee upon the palms of my hands” (1 Ne. 21:16). Considering the incomprehensible cost of the Crucifixion, Christ is not going to turn his back on us now.
The Lord has probably spoken enough such comforting words to supply the whole universe, it would seem, and yet we see all around us unhappy Latter-day Saints, worried Latter-day Saints, and gloomy Latter-day Saints into whose troubled hearts not one of these innumerable consoling words seems to be allowed to enter. In fact, I think some of us must have that remnant of Puritan heritage still with us that says it is somehow wrong to be comforted or helped, that we are supposed to be miserable about something.
Consider, for example, the Savior’s benediction upon his disciples even as he moved toward the pain and agony of Gethsemane and Calvary. On that very night, the night of the greatest suffering that has ever taken place in the world or that ever will take place, the Savior said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you. … Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).
I submit to you, that may be one of the Savior’s commandments that is, even in the hearts of otherwise faithful Latter-day Saints, almost universally disobeyed; and yet I wonder whether our resistance to this invitation could be any more grievous to the Lord’s merciful heart. I can tell you this as a parent: as concerned as I would be if somewhere in their lives one of my children were seriously troubled or unhappy or disobedient, nevertheless I would be infinitely more devastated if I felt that at such a time that child could not trust me to help or thought his or her interest was unimportant to me or unsafe in my care. In that same spirit, I am convinced that none of us can appreciate how deeply it wounds the loving heart of the Savior of the world when he finds that his people do not feel confident in his care or secure in his hands or trust in his commandments.
Just because God is God, just because Christ is Christ, they cannot do other than care for us and bless us and help us if we will but come unto them, approaching their throne of grace in meekness and lowliness of heart. They can’t help but bless us. They have to. It is their nature. That is why Joseph Smith gave those lectures on faith, so we would understand the nature of godliness and in the process have enough confidence to come unto Christ and find peace to our souls. There is not a single loophole or curveball or open trench to fall into for the man or woman who walks the path that Christ walks. When he says, “Come, follow me” (Luke 18:22), he means that he knows where the quicksand is and where the thorns are and the best way to handle the slippery slope near the summit of our personal mountains. He knows it all, and he knows the way. He is the way.
Listen to this wonderful passage from President George Q. Cannon teaching precisely this very doctrine: “No matter how serious the trial, how deep the distress, how great the affliction, [God] will never desert us. He never has, and He never will. He cannot do it. It is not His character [to do so]. He is an unchangeable being; the same yesterday, the same today, and He will be the same throughout the eternal ages to come. We have found that God. We have made Him our friend, by obeying His Gospel; and He will stand by us. We may pass through the fiery furnace; we may pass through deep waters; but we shall not be consumed nor overwhelmed. We shall emerge from all these trials and difficulties the better and purer for them, if we only trust in our God and keep His commandments” (“Freedom of the Saints,” in Collected Discourses, comp. Brian H. Stuy, 5 vols. [1987–92], 2:185; emphasis added).
Once we have come unto Christ and found the miracle of his “covenant of peace,” I think we are under obligation to help others do so, just as Paul said in that verse to the Corinthians—to live as much like he lived as we possibly can and to do as much of what he did in order that others may walk in this same peace and have this same reassurance.
Much of the comfort I am speaking of comes from the Savior’s power to heal—to heal the wounds of life or of sorrow or, where necessary, of transgression. I would ask you now to help with this healing, healing for others, healing for those you love and, yes, perhaps especially for those you don’t. The people around us need a lot of help, and I think the Lord expects us to join in that effort. I think that is what he meant when he said, in essence, Come see what I do and watch how I spend my time.
Following my call to the Quorum of the Twelve, I read all of the standard works again, with special concentration on anything said or done by the Savior. Inasmuch as I couldn’t sleep, I seemed to have more than the usual amount of time and privacy to consider these great teachings. As I put somewhat new and often tear-filled eyes to the scriptures, I saw perhaps for the first time the majesty of Christ’s healing influence—probably because I was needing so much of that myself.
Of the beginning of the Savior’s ministry in the New Testament, Matthew records: “And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people. And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatick, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them” (Matt. 4:23–24).
Then, following the Sermon on the Mount, in rapid succession he heals a leper, the servant of a centurion, Peter’s mother-in-law, and “many that were possessed with devils … , and healed all that were sick: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses” (Matt. 8:16–17).
This is then followed in equally rapid fashion by the casting out of the devils near Gergesa, the healing of a man with palsy, the miracle of the woman diseased 12 years with an issue of blood, the raising of a young woman from the dead, the sight returned to the eyes of two blind men, and speech returned to one who was dumb.
With all of this work lying behind him, Jesus caps off this almost nonstop scriptural sequence with these verses, which every missionary has heard in responding to his or her call: “But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd. Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:36–38).
We all know that that call for more laborers into the work of the harvest refers primarily to teaching and testifying. It is a wonderful missionary scripture. But I wish to suggest that in context it surely is a call to heal one another as well. Jesus certainly did his missionary work, and he did that first. But as he went about preaching and teaching, he bound up all manner of wounds in the process. The verse summarizing all of this, coming just before the calling of the Twelve Apostles and their charge to do likewise, says: “And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people” (Matt. 9:35).
Most of the healing I am speaking of is not necessarily that of administering to the physically sick, though we surely should be ready and worthy to either request or give such a blessing at a moment’s notice according to the order of the priesthood. No, what I refer to are those rending, wrenching illnesses of the soul that need to be healed but may be quite personal—some burden held deep inside, some weariness that is not always particularly obvious to the rest of the world. Here in the shadow of the 21st century we are more often to face slightly more metaphysical sicknesses than those biblical ills of old such as leprosy and consumption.
On the example of the Savior himself and his call to his Apostles, and with the need for peace and comfort ringing in our ears, I ask you to be a healer, be a helper, be someone who joins in the work of Christ in lifting burdens, in making the load lighter, in making things better. As children, when we had a bump or a bruise, didn’t we say to Mom or Dad, “Make it better”? Well, lots of people on your right hand and on your left are carrying bumps and bruises that they hope will be healed and made whole. Someone you know is carrying a spiritual or physical or emotional burden of some sort, or some other affliction drawn from life’s catalog of a thousand kinds of sorrow. In the spirit of Christ’s first invitation to his twelve Apostles, jump into this work. Help people. Heal old wounds and try to make things better.
Often we can, usually unwittingly, be quite insensitive to the circumstances and difficulties of those around us. We all have problems, and ultimately each individual has to take responsibility for his or her own happiness. None of us is so free of difficulty ourselves or so endowed with time and money that we can do nothing but tend “the wounded and the weary” (“Lord, I Would Follow Thee,” Hymns, no. 220). Nevertheless, in looking to the Savior’s life for an example, I suspect we can probably find a way to do more of that than we do.
Since I have mentioned repentance, let me repent a bit myself—or at least do the confessing part and hope even now there is a way for me to make some restitution.
My confession is that I wish I could go back to my youth and there have another chance to reach out to those who, at the time, didn’t fall very solidly onto my radar scope. Youth want to feel included and important, to have the feeling they matter to others. Young people deserve to have true friendships—the real value of which, like our health, may never be realized until we face life without them. I think that my problem was not that I had too few friends but almost too many. But it is the associations I didn’t have, the friends I didn’t reach, that cause me some pain now all these years later.
Let me cite just one case, which will be guilt enough for now. In 1979 we held in St. George, Utah, our 20-year class reunion for Dixie High School. We had great high school years filled with state football and basketball championships and a host of other “hometown, USA” memories. An effort was made to find current addresses for the entire class and get everyone to the reunion.
In the midst of all that fun, I remember the terribly painful letter written by one very bright—but, in her childhood, somewhat less popular—young woman who wrote something like this:
“Congratulations to all of us for having survived long enough to have a 20-year class reunion. I hope everyone has a wonderful time. But don’t reserve a place for me. I have, in fact, spent most of those 20 years trying to forget the painful moments of our school days together. Now that I am nearly over those feelings of loneliness and shattered self-esteem, I cannot bring myself to see all of the class and run the risk of remembering all of that again. Have a good time and forgive me. It is my problem, not yours. Maybe I can come at the 30-year mark.”
Which, I am very happy to report, she did. But she was terribly wrong about one thing—it was our problem, and we knew it.
I have wept for her—my friend—and other friends like her in my youth for whom I and a lot of others obviously were not masters of “the healer’s art” (Hymns, no. 220). We simply were not the Savior’s agents or disciples that he intends people to be. I cannot help but wonder what I might have done to watch out a little more for the ones not included, to make sure the gesture of a friendly word or a listening ear or a little low-cost casual talk and shared time might have reached far enough to include those hanging on the outer edge of the social circle, and in some cases barely hanging on at all.
Jesus said in his most remarkable sermon ever: “For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?” (Matt. 5:46–47).
I make an appeal for us to reach beyond our own contentment, to move out of our own comfort and companion zone, to reach those who may not always be so easy to reach.
If we do less, what distinguishes us from the biblical publican? I might not have been able to heal all the wounds of those I met in my young adult years, but I can’t help thinking that if I had tried even harder to be more of a healer, more of a helper, a little less focused on myself and a little more centered on others, some days in the lives of those God placed in my path would have been much better. “I have called you friends,” the Savior said in one of his highest compliments to his disciples (John 15:15). Therefore, “love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12). That harvest is great and the laborers are few.
One last piece of counsel regarding coming to Christ; it comes from an unusual incident in the life of the Savior that holds a lesson for us all. It was after Jesus had performed the miracle of feeding the 5,000 from five loaves of bread and two fishes. (By the way, let me pause here to say, Don’t worry about Christ running out of ability to help you. His grace is sufficient. That is the spiritual, eternal lesson of the feeding of the 5,000.) After Jesus had fed the multitude, he sent them away and put his disciples into a fishing boat to cross over to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. He then “went up into a mountain apart to pray” (Matt. 14:23).
We aren’t told all of the circumstances of the disciples as they set out in their boat, but it was toward evening, and certainly it was a stormy night. The winds must have been ferocious from the start. Because of the winds, these men probably never even raised the sails but labored only with the oars—and labor it would have been. We know this because by the time of “the fourth watch of the night” (Matt. 14:25)—that is somewhere between three and six in the morning—they had gone only a few miles. By then the ship was caught up in a truly violent storm, a storm like those that can still sweep down on the Sea of Galilee to this day.
But, as always, Christ was watching over them. He always does, remember? Seeing their difficulty, the Savior simply took the most direct approach to their boat, striding out across the waves to help them, walking on the water as surely as he had walked upon the land. In their moment of great extremity, the disciples looked and saw in the darkness this wonder in a fluttering robe coming toward them on the ridges of the sea. They cried out in terror at the sight, thinking that it was a phantom upon the waves. Then, through the storm and darkness—when the ocean seems so great and little boats seem so small—there came the ultimate and reassuring voice of peace from their Master. “It is I,” he said; “be not afraid” (Matt. 14:27).
This scriptural account reminds us that the first step in coming to Christ, or in his coming to us, may fill us with something very much like sheer terror. It shouldn’t, but it sometimes does. One of the grand ironies of the gospel is that the very source of help and safety being offered us is the thing from which we may, in our mortal shortsightedness, flee. For whatever the reason, I have seen investigators run from baptism, I have seen elders run from a mission call, I have seen sweethearts run from marriage, and I have seen members run from challenging callings. Too often too many of us run from the very things that will bless us and save us and soothe us. Too often we see gospel commitments and commandments as something to be feared and forsaken.
Let me quote the marvelous Elder James E. Talmage of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on this matter: “Into every adult human life come experiences like unto the battling of the storm-tossed voyagers with contrary winds and threatening seas; ofttimes the night of struggle and danger is far advanced before succor appears; and then, too frequently the saving aid is mistaken for a greater terror. [But,] as came unto [these disciples] in the midst of the turbulent waters, so comes to all who toil in faith, the voice of the Deliverer—’It is I; be not afraid’” (Jesus the Christ , 337).
Elder Talmage used the word succor. Do you know its meaning? It is used often in the scriptures to describe Christ’s care for and attention to us. It means literally “to run to.” What a magnificent way to describe the Savior’s urgent effort in our behalf! Even as he calls us to come to him and follow him, he is unfailingly running to help us.
Finally recognizing the Master that night, Peter exclaimed, “Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water” (Matt. 14:28).
And Christ’s answer to him was as it always is to all of us: “Come,” he said.
Instantly, as was his nature, Peter sprang over the vessel’s side and into the troubled waves. While his eyes were fixed upon the Lord, the wind could toss his hair and the spray could drench his robes, but all was well—he was coming to Christ. Only when his faith and his focus wavered, only when he removed his glance from the Master to see the furious waves and the black gulf beneath him, only then did he begin to sink. In fear he cried out, “Lord, save me” (Matt. 14:28–30).
In some disappointment the “Master of ocean and earth and skies” (“Master, the Tempest Is Raging,” Hymns, no. 105) stretched out his hand and grasped the drowning disciple with the gentle rebuke “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” (Matt. 14:31; see also Frederic W. Farrar, The Life of Christ , 310–13).
Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. This is his true and living Church. He wishes us to come unto him, to follow him, to be comforted by him. Then he wishes us to give comfort to others. However halting our steps are toward him—though they shouldn’t be halting at all—his steps are never halting toward us. May we have enough faith to accept the goodness of God and the mercy of his Only Begotten Son. May we come unto him and his gospel and be healed. And may we do more to heal others in the process. When the storms of life make this difficult, may we still follow his bidding to “come,” keeping our eye fixed on him forever and single to his glory. In doing so we too will walk triumphantly over the swelling waves of life’s difficulties and remain unterrified amid any rising winds of despair.