“Chapter 1: Learning and Teaching the Gospel,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant (2011), 1–10
“Chapter 1,” Teachings: Heber J. Grant, 1–10
Learning and Teaching the Gospel
Gospel teaching is beneficial only when it is presented and received by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.
From the Life of Heber J. Grant
President Heber J. Grant said: “I know of nothing that brings greater joy to the human heart than laboring at home or abroad for the salvation of the souls of men. I know of nothing which gives us a greater love of all that is good, than teaching this Gospel of Jesus Christ.”1
In addition to being a dedicated gospel teacher, President Grant was eager to learn from the testimonies of others. He observed: “I am always pleased when I have the opportunity of meeting with the Latter-day Saints in any of their gatherings. I never attend any of our meetings, in the wards or stakes or at the general conferences, that I am not blessed, instructed and encouraged in the faith of the Gospel; that I do not hear something that in very deed feeds me the bread of life.”2
When Heber J. Grant was a young man, he had an experience that helped him see the importance of teaching and learning by the Spirit. He later recalled:
“There stand out in my life many incidents in my youth, of wonderful inspiration and power through men preaching the gospel in the spirit of testimony and prayer. I call to mind one such incident when I was a young man, probably seventeen or eighteen years of age. I heard the late Bishop Millen Atwood preach a sermon in the Thirteenth Ward. I was studying grammar at the time, and he made some grammatical errors in his talk.
“I wrote down his first sentence, smiled to myself, and said: ‘I am going to get here tonight, during the thirty minutes that Brother Atwood speaks, enough material to last me for the entire winter in my night school grammar class.’ We had to take to the class for each lesson two sentences, or four sentences a week, that were not grammatically correct, together with our corrections.
“I contemplated making my corrections and listening to Bishop Atwood’s sermon at the same time. But I did not write anything more after that first sentence—not a word; and when Millen Atwood stopped preaching, tears were rolling down my cheeks, tears of gratitude and thanksgiving that welled up in my eyes because of the marvelous testimony which that man bore of the divine mission of Joseph Smith, the prophet of God, and of the wonderful inspiration that attended the prophet in all his labors.
“Although it is now more than sixty-five years since I listened to that sermon, it is just as vivid today, and the sensations and feelings that I had are just as fixed with me as they were the day I heard it. Do you know, I would no more have thought of using those sentences in which he had made grammatical mistakes than I would think of standing up in a class and profaning the name of God. That testimony made the first profound impression that was ever made upon my heart and soul of the divine mission of the prophet. I had heard many testimonies that had pleased me and made their impression, but this was the first testimony that had melted me to tears under the inspiration of the Spirit of God to that man.
“During all the years that have passed since then, I have never been shocked or annoyed by grammatical errors or mispronounced words on the part of those preaching the gospel. I have realized that it was like judging a man by the clothes he wore, to judge the spirit of a man by the clothing of his language. From that day to this the one thing above all others that has impressed me has been the Spirit, the inspiration of the living God that an individual [has] when proclaiming the gospel, and not the language. … I have learned absolutely, that it is the Spirit that giveth life and understanding, and not the letter.” [See 2 Corinthians 3:6.]3
Teachings of Heber J. Grant
When we teach the gospel, we must focus on simple, foundational principles and commandments.
It is not the food we look at and think is delicious which is of benefit to us, but only such as we eat and digest. Neither is it the grand feast that adds most to our strength and comfort and aids us to perform well in the battle of life, but on the contrary ofttimes the most simple food gives the only good and lasting benefits to those who partake of it. So, also, it is not always the feast prepared by the learned that adds to our strength to do nobly and manfully our duty in the battle of life, but ofttimes the teachings from the most humble find a response in our hearts and very souls which add to our strength to press on and do our duty in the daily struggle for improvement.4
Church organizations must have as their purpose the building up of firm testimonies in the minds and hearts of the Saints, particularly of the youth,—testimonies of the truth of the Restored Gospel, of the Messiahship of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the divinity of the mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith, of the divine origin of this Church established by God and His Son by and through the Prophet, and of the fact that this is and always will be the Church of Jesus Christ with all that this connotes,—all to the end that the Saints may have and enjoy these testimonies, that they may live in keeping with the commandments of the Lord, that they may constantly increase their knowledge of the Truth, thus enabling them so to live that salvation, exaltation, and eternal happiness in the Celestial Kingdom may come to them, and lastly that they in turn may lead others of the world to a knowledge and testimony of the Truth both by their precept and by their example, so bringing to them these same blessings.5
I believe that the teacher who has a love of God and a knowledge of Him, a love of Jesus Christ and a testimony of His divinity, a testimony of the divine mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith; who implants these things in the hearts and very beings of the children he is teaching, that such a teacher is engaged in one of the noblest and most splendid and remarkable labors that any person can be engaged in.6
Teach and live the first principles of the gospel, and let the mysteries of heaven wait until you get to heaven.7
Like the frequent singing of our songs … , we can never repeat too often the commandments of the Lord to this people, and urge upon the Saints to live up to them.8
Very many times people have said to me, “I am sick and tired of hearing the same thing over and over again. There is no need of repeating.” Many men find fault with the sermons they hear because there are repetitions in them. … It seems that the Lord recognizes the necessity of repetition in impressing upon the minds of the people any message that he has to give. Our Savior, in his teaching, would repeat, time and time again, in different language the same idea, apparently to fasten it irrevocably upon the minds and hearts of his hearers.9
To be effective gospel teachers, we must teach by the power of the Holy Spirit.
On the first trip of any length that I took after being made a member of the Council of the Twelve, with the late Elder Brigham Young, Jr., [also of the Council of the Twelve,] I remember making up my mind that I would not any more, on that trip—which lasted about four months—speak upon what is known among us as “The Word of Wisdom.” … I resolved that at the next meeting I attended I would certainly find some other theme. I tried for about 20 minutes to talk on something else, and made a dismal failure. Then I talked for another 20 minutes, with most perfect ease, upon the Word of Wisdom; and I afterwards learned that if there was any one thing that the people needed, in the little town that I was visiting, it was to be taught the Word of Wisdom. … After that experience I made up my mind that whenever I had an impression to speak upon a certain subject, and felt like doing so, although I might have been preaching upon that subject for weeks at a stretch, I certainly would preach on it again. …
In my ministry among the people I have been very pleased to be able to testify that when we are humble and prayerful and desirous of teaching the people, the Lord does inspire us.10
There is a dread and a timidity that follow all of us when we stand up before the people to proclaim unto them the plan of life and salvation. I suppose it is well that such is the case, because we realize our own dependence, our own weakness, and our own inability to instruct those that we speak to without the aid of the Holy Spirit. … I am thankful myself that this spirit of timidity has always attended me in my public speaking to the Latter-day Saints, because I never want to be in a position where I do not feel a desire that the light and the inspiration of God may abide with me in speaking to the people. I know I cannot comprehend that which is for the best good of the people, but through the voice of inspiration.11
It has ever been my desire in addressing the Latter-day Saints, that my mind might be lighted up with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I realize that, in teaching the people, unless the speaker is inspired of our Father in Heaven it is impossible to say anything that will be of benefit or worth to the Saints.12
No man can teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ under the inspiration of the living God and with power from on high unless he is living it.13
This is our duty—to place ourselves in a position whereby when we stand up to teach the people, we can teach them by the inspiration of the spirit of God as it shall descend upon us; but if we are not observing the commandments of God, we can not with power, and with force, and with strength urge upon other people that they obey the commandments that we ourselves are failing to obey.14
To benefit from Church meetings and classes, we must be receptive and willing to put into practice what we learn.
No matter how powerful the testimony or what inspiration there is in it, unless the person listening has a receptive mind it makes very little impression. It is a good deal like planting good grain in barren soil.15
Hunger makes food very delicious. Hunger for the Gospel of Jesus Christ makes us enjoy [our] conferences.16
There are some people that attend meetings year after year and listen to the servants of the Lord teach them in simplicity and humility the duties that devolve upon them, and they go away from those meetings and never put in practice what they hear; yet they take great credit to themselves for always going to meeting. Now, my friends, if you always went to your dinner, sat down and took a good look at the food, and never partook of any of it, it would not be long till you died of starvation. There are some Latter-day Saints that go to meeting, and they die of starvation spiritually because they do not receive and digest the spiritual food that is dispensed there. We should not be hearers of the word alone, but doers of it, too [see James 1:22].17
When we are in a meeting we partake of the spirit of that meeting. When we are absent from it and somebody tells us of the wonderful spirit that was present and what was accomplished by being there to partake of it, we cannot appreciate those things. It is very much like the man who was hungry and someone told him of a fine dinner, but he did not appreciate that dinner. We have to eat for ourselves, we have to live for ourselves, we have to be in the line of our duty in order to partake of the Spirit of the Lord, if the Spirit of the Lord is manifest.
… Francis M. Lyman [of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles] had to come from Tooele the night before our meeting and spend one night [in Salt Lake City] and all day in order to be at the meetings of the Presidency and Apostles which lasted two or three hours, but he never missed one of them.
I said to him one day: “It is remarkable to me that you are so prompt and always present at our meetings.”
He said: “I do not want to miss any inspiration from the Lord; I do not want the Spirit of the Lord to come to me second hand. I want to partake of it, and to feel it, and to realize it, and to know it for myself.”18
Through the prayer of faith, teachers and learners are mutually benefited and strengthened.
I desire, as I always do while addressing the Saints, that I may have the benefit of your faith and prayers, that the good Spirit may be present with us, and that we may be mutually benefited and strengthened in our most holy faith through having met together. … Some of the people, I know, think it is almost a set phrase with the speakers to call for the faith and prayers of the Saints, but I wish to say that I think there is altogether too much of a neglect on the part of the people in supplicating the Lord to bless and inspire those who may speak. On occasions of this kind we are guilty, as a rule, of not concentrating our thoughts and our feelings upon the speaker and desiring earnestly and prayerfully that he may be blessed of the Lord. I plead guilty myself to occasionally forgetting, while my brethren are speaking, to pray to the Lord to bless them by His Holy Spirit.
I know from experience that no Elder stands up to address the Saints, if he has a sincere desire to benefit them, without earnestly desiring the faith and prayers of the people. … In response to the prayers of the assembled Saints, I do know that God will bless me and others that stand before you from time to time to proclaim unto you the duties and the obligations that you owe to your Maker.19
When we go to meeting, we should go with a prayer in our hearts that the Lord will inspire those who speak, by His spirit, and after they have spoken to us by the inspiration of His Spirit, we should go away with a determination, with a desire, with a prayer, that we shall in very deed learn the lesson that we have heard, that we shall put it into practice in our lives.20
There has never come into my life any joy, or happiness, or peace that can compare with the joy, the happiness and the peace that I have experienced when people who had heard me preach the gospel of Jesus Christ have come to me and said that they had a witness of the divinity of this work; that the words that had fallen from my lips had brought into their hearts a knowledge that the plan of life and salvation had again been restored to the earth. I believe there is nothing in all the world that can compare with the joy that a man feels when he realizes that he has been the instrument in the hands of the living God of reaching some honest heart, inspiring in it a love of God and the desire to serve Him.21
Suggestions for Study and Discussion
Why is it necessary to teach the basic principles of the gospel “over and over again”? How have you benefited from frequent repetition of gospel principles?
What opportunities do we have to teach the gospel? As we prepare to teach, why is it important to acknowledge our weakness before the Lord?
What does it mean to teach by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit? (See also 2 Nephi 33:1; D&C 50:13–22; 100:5–8.) What can we do to receive the guidance of the Spirit in our teaching? (See also Alma 17:2–3; D&C 11:18–21; 42:14.)
What responsibilities do we have when we listen to others teach the gospel? How does our receptiveness affect our experience in Church classes? In what ways might our receptiveness influence the teacher and others in the class?
What can teachers do to encourage class members to participate in lessons?
In what ways have Church meetings helped you grow spiritually? Why is it our duty to pray for those who teach in Church meetings?
As we look ahead to a study of President Grant’s teachings, what can we do to apply what we have learned in this chapter?