“How can we keep the Lord’s command to ‘say nothing but repentance’?” Ensign, Mar. 1999, 67
George F. Hilton, director, Hawaii Temple Visitors’ Center.
The Lord’s commandment to “say nothing but repentance” is His succinct summary of how individual progress (repentance) is the means whereby He will accomplish His work to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).
Passages in the Doctrine and Covenants teach us that preaching only repentance means unstintingly preaching the whole gospel message. For example, the Lord commanded Oliver Cowdery to preach the gospel “at all times, and in all places” (D&C 24:12). Because the gospel is “the gospel of repentance” (D&C 13:1), the Lord’s instruction here is synonymous with His general directive to “say nothing but repentance.”
To Martin Harris the Lord specified what the “glad tidings” of the gospel are: “Thou shalt declare repentance and faith on the Savior, and remission of sins by baptism, and by fire, yea, even the Holy Ghost” (D&C 19:29, 31; compare D&C 84:26–27; D&C 33:10–12). This instruction clearly admonished him to avoid discussions extraneous to the basic gospel message (D&C 19:31–32; compare D&C 52:9, 36).
The Book of Mormon offers further illumination. Shortly after Alma organized the Church of Christ, he instructed priesthood holders to “preach nothing save it were repentance” (Mosiah 18:20). However, he then urged them to also practice and preach faith, baptism, unity, Sabbath observance, and other important principles (see Mosiah 18:21–29).
Repentance is a central component of the gospel because it focuses directly on the Atonement of Jesus Christ. In 1835 the Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “We believe in preaching the doctrine of repentance in all the world. … But … in order to be benefitted by the doctrine of repentance, we must believe in obtaining the remission of sins. And in order to obtain the remission of sins, we must believe in the doctrine of baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. And if we believe in baptism for the remission of sins, we may expect a fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Ghost” (History of the Church, 2:256; see also D&C 84:27).
The Lord could have given us the essentials of His message in a brief, codified manual, but instead He has chosen to give us more than 2,000 pages of both direct and indirect instruction in the standard works of the Church. Why is the key message of repentance presented in such a repetitious manner? Because it is the principle of paramount importance. At the heart of the gospel, it is the key that bears repeating. Similarly, the resurrected Lord referred to baptism more than a dozen times during His appearance to the Nephites gathered near the temple in Bountiful (see 3 Ne. 11).
As missionaries use the missionary discussions to teach the gospel, they specifically teach the principle of repentance, along with 35 other principles; yet the theme of repentance permeates every discussion. Repentance through faith in the Lord’s Atonement is the vital, lifelong process—not an isolated event—of coming unto Christ and being sanctified in Him (see Moro. 10:32–33).
In summary, the scriptural phrase “say nothing but repentance” teaches us that the “gospel of repentance” is a gospel of hope and healing, of progress and perfection. It is also a gospel of joy, for we can draw closer to the Lord, improving daily as “with joy … [we] draw water out of the wells of salvation” (Isa. 12:3).