The glory of Easter morning fills the souls of those who yearn for eternal life. A similar glory touched the majestic morning when the Father and the Son announced the dawning of the day of salvation in the last days.
To contemplate what happened on those mornings of grandeur stirs the innermost feelings of the members of the Church.
A mystic, spiritual force, similar to the magnetism of the lodestone, has drawn the Saints to seek the place where their longings can be satisfied. This is the spirit of the Gathering, foretold in the scriptures. It is the reason why each one of us is here today, as we have been drawn both literally and spiritually to Zion—an actual, tangible place where the soul’s yearning can be fulfilled in anticipation of salvation and eternal life in the kingdom of God.
As I respond to the new appointment which has been given to me, I have deep feelings about the man whose passing away left the vacancy into which I have been called, Elder G. Homer Durham. Elder Durham married Eudora, the daughter of Elder John A. Widtsoe. Aside from their Church service, these two men, Dr. Durham and Dr. Widtsoe, have been outstanding in positions of leadership and responsibility, particularly in the field of education. Dr. Durham was the first commissioner of Higher Education in the state of Utah, and earlier presided over Arizona State University. He is greatly missed. Dr. John A. Widtsoe was the president of two universities before he was called to serve as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
Many years ago Elder Widtsoe told the story of his mother, Anna Karine Gaarden Widtsoe, who, one hundred years ago was caught up in the “gospel net.” Elder Widtsoe’s prologue is as follows:
“This is the story of a woman, a seeker after truth, who, tossed by the waves of mysterious fate, was caught by the Gospel net, and carried into a far country, where, through the possession of eternal truth, though amidst much adversity, she and her family found unbounded happiness.” (In the Gospel Net, Independence, Mo: Zion’s Printing and Publishing Co., 1941, Prologue.)
The beautiful story concerning his mother, who came from an obscure island off Norway, has been repeated thousands of times in the lives of the Latter-day Saints. These experiences are the foundation of the faith of every member of the Church. As I make reference to some of the influences that have drawn us into the gospel net, I hope that every Latter-day Saint will reflect on the spiritual power which has brought us to the gospel.
Elder Widtsoe’s mother responded to the words of a humble shoemaker who had placed some tracts in her child’s shoes. Speaking to her with some hesitation as she was leaving his shop, he said, “You may be surprised to hear me say that I can give you something of more value than soles for your child’s shoes.”
She responded, “What can you, a shoemaker, give me better than soles for my son’s shoes?”
He answered, “If you will but listen, I can teach you the Lord’s true plan of salvation for His children. I can teach you how to find happiness in this life and to prepare for eternal joy in the life to come. I can tell you whence you came, why you are upon the earth, and where you will go after death. I can teach you as you have never known it before, the love of God for his children on earth.” (See In the Gospel Net, pp. 54–55.)
The deep and powerful influence which has reached out across time and space, often into far and hidden corners of the earth, has the effect to snatch people from their normal life patterns and bring them to Zion.
Since the Church was organized in 1830, the gospel net has encircled and drawn together many millions of people who, either through their own personal experience, or through receiving the teachings of their parents and grandparents, have found the way to eternal life.
This means that for those who receive the message, the confusion of ages about how to come to Christ has ended. The answers are at hand to the great questions, such as:
What is the meaning of human life on earth?
Is there revelation from heaven?
Where are the Apostles and prophets?
What about those who never heard of Christ?
Which of the many churches is authorized by God?
Who has authority to administer the gospel?
How can I know what God wants me to do?
There is only one way these questions could ever be answered. God would have to tell us. To do so he has called a latter-day prophet. He has sent heavenly messengers to confer the true priesthood and authority. He has revealed the Book of Mormon to support the witness of the Bible that Jesus is Christ. He has reestablished the ordinances and restored the everlasting covenant. The sure way to eternal life is again in place.
My own membership in the Church is in response to this powerful influence. My own grandparents in Switzerland were also led by the Spirit in the midst of ridicule and persecution to find the path by which they could rear their children with the sure knowledge of divine truth.
My mother’s grandparents were among the first in England to respond to the teachings of Heber C. Kimball and Willard Richards in 1837.
They vibrated to the thrilling news that the kingdom of God had been brought back to the earth.
The human soul, to be spiritually alive, requires a vision, a yearning, a longing, a desire. The spirit of America reaches out to that longing: the great vision of liberty, the spirit of freedom, the land of opportunity and hope.
Sister Bangerter and I recently stood at the feet of the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor with President and Sister McGregor of Caldwell, New Jersey. They pointed out Ellis Island as the entry point into this land for hundreds of thousands of immigrants, including my grandparents and also Elder Widtsoe and his mother. We read again the inspiring words of Emma Lazarus announcing the beacon to wandering souls. Referring to the ancient statue on the Greek island of Rhodes, she speaks of “The New Colossus”:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land:
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome: her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your stored pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost, to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
Then President McGregor coupled this feeling to the words of Lehi:
“Wherefore, this land is consecrated unto him whom he shall bring. And if it so be that they shall serve him according to the commandments which he hath given, it shall be a land of liberty unto them; wherefore, they shall never be brought down into captivity; … but unto the righteous it shall be blessed forever.” (2 Ne. 1:7.)
The yearning of ancient Israel was to Jerusalem. During their captivity, the soul of the people was expressed in the 137th Psalm:
“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. …
“For they that carried us away captive required of us a song: and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
“How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
“If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
“If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.” (Ps. 137:1, 3–6.)
All of us should reflect on what we have joined and what power has captured our faith. Hundreds of thousands living today have in their own lifetime personally found the pearl of great price. They are the grandparents of the future whose names will be blessed by their posterity.
For forty-five years I have had close association with the land of Brazil. Many tens of thousands have joined the Church in that country. I had great joy yesterday in hearing of the call of Elder Helio da Rocha Camargo, our companion and fellow member of the Church. Brother Camargo and his wife were stalwart, faithful people before they joined the Church. They had been brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Brother Camargo was a graduate of the military academy of Brazil. Later, still a young man, he became a Methodist minister. He told me something of his experience with the “gospel net.” One evening two young men called at his home. He said that the first thing he noticed was the huge feet of one of the young men. He looked upward from the feet until he found the face of the tallest North American he had ever met. He was not at first impressed with the beauty of either the feet or the face. However, he invited the young men in, and in the process of their presentation they left him a copy of the Book of Mormon.
On a subsequent visit they inquired if he had read the book. He explained that he had read considerable, making notes of the things with which he did not agree. The elder then suggested that it was not in keeping with a book of scripture to read it to see what was wrong with it, but that it should be read as Moroni says, “with a sincere heart” and “real intent,” having “faith in Christ” and desiring to know the truth of the book. (See Moro. 10:4.)
Brother Camargo said he found it necessary to read the book again. In the process the Spirit witnessed to him that it was the true word of God, and he joined the Church with his family. He sometimes refers to the scripture in Isa. 52:7 which says, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet [those huge missionary feet] of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; … that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!” The truth he has found has brought similar beauty to the feet of three of his sons as they have served as missionaries. All of his children were married in the temple covenant, and he and his wife have great joy and rejoicing in their posterity. One of his sons is present at this conference today as a stake president.
President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., captured the spirit of this drawing power in his memorable address in 1947 “to them of the last wagon”—our pioneers who endured the hardships of their great journey:
“They had,” he said, “their testimony burning always like an eternal fire on a holy altar, that the restored gospel was true. …
“When in the evening the last wagon creaked slowly into its place in the circle corral, and the Brethren came to inquire how the day had gone with the mother, then joy leaped in their hearts, for had not the Brethren remembered them? New hope was born, weariness fled, fresh will to do was enkindled; gratitude to God was poured out for their knowledge of the truth, for their testimony that God lived, that Jesus was the Christ, that Joseph was a prophet, … and that for the righteous a crown of glory awaited that should be theirs during the eternities of the life to come.”
He states that at the conclusion of their journey, “[they] all sank to their knees in the joy of their souls, thanking God that at last they were in Zion. ‘Zion, Zion, lovely Zion, beautiful Zion, Zion, City of our God.’” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1947, pp. 157–58.)
What a thrill of joy must have moved Andrew as he said to Peter, “We have found the Messias.” (John 1:41.) Along with countless thousands, it has “come to pass that the righteous shall be gathered out from among all nations, and shall come to Zion, singing with songs of everlasting joy.” (D&C 45:71.)
May we lift our souls this beautiful Easter morning with the assurance that through the mystic call of the restored gospel we have come to the threshold of Zion and the gateway to eternal life. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.