“Chapter 2: An Ensign to the Nations, a Light to the World,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley (2016)
“Chapter 2,” Teachings: Gordon B. Hinckley
Soon after returning home from his mission to England, Gordon B. Hinckley fulfilled one last assignment from his mission president, Joseph F. Merrill. President Merrill was also a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and he had asked Gordon to make a report to the First Presidency: Presidents Heber J. Grant, J. Reuben Clark Jr., and David O. McKay. Gordon contacted the secretary to the First Presidency and set up an appointment.
When Gordon entered the First Presidency’s council room, President Grant and his counselors greeted him warmly. Then President Grant said, “Brother Hinckley, we’ll give you fifteen minutes to tell us what Elder Merrill wants us to hear.” One hour and fifteen minutes later, Gordon left the room. In his allotted fifteen minutes, he had presented his mission president’s concern—that the missionaries needed better printed materials to help them in their work. His short presentation had led to questions from the First Presidency and an hour-long discussion.
Having fulfilled this assignment, Gordon felt that “his mission was now truly over, and it was time to move ahead and plan for the future.” He had already graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in English, and he wanted to pursue a graduate degree in journalism at Columbia University in New York City. But a phone call two days after his meeting with the First Presidency changed his plans. The call was from President McKay, who said: “Brother Hinckley, we discussed in the meeting of the Presidency and the Twelve yesterday what we talked about during your interview with us. And we have organized a committee consisting of six members of the Twelve, with Elder Stephen L Richards as chairman, to address the needs you outlined. We would like to invite you to come and work with that committee.”1
Gordon accepted the invitation and was hired as executive secretary of the newly formed Church Radio, Publicity, and Mission Literature Committee. He never went to Columbia University, and he never worked as a journalist to publish the news of the world. Instead, he began a lifelong effort to publish the good news of the gospel. These responsibilities were expanded later, when he served as a General Authority.
Having developed the ability to express himself clearly even in difficult situations, Gordon B. Hinckley often received assignments to be interviewed by news reporters. As President of the Church, he continued to welcome such opportunities, doing his part to help bring the Church of Jesus Christ “out of obscurity” (D&C 1:30). He declared:
“I believe and testify that it is the mission of this Church to stand as an ensign to the nations and a light to the world. We have had placed upon us a great, all-encompassing mandate from which we cannot shrink nor turn aside. We accept that mandate and are determined to fulfill it, and with the help of God we shall do it.”2
This Church began with the humble prayer of the boy Joseph Smith in the grove of his father’s farm. From that remarkable experience, which we call the First Vision, has grown this work. … It is the very personification of Daniel’s vision of a stone cut out of the mountain without hands rolling forth to fill the whole earth (see Daniel 2:44–45).3
When the Church was organized in 1830 there were but six members [and] only a handful of believers, all residing in a largely unknown village. … Stakes of Zion today flourish in every state of the United States, in every province of Canada, in every state of Mexico, in every nation of Central America and throughout South America.
Congregations are found throughout the British Isles and Europe, where thousands have joined the Church through the years. This work has reached out to the Baltic nations and on down through Bulgaria and Albania and other areas of that part of the world. It reaches across the vast area of Russia. It reaches up into Mongolia and all down through the nations of Asia into the islands of the Pacific, Australia, and New Zealand, and into India and Indonesia. It is flourishing in many of the nations of Africa. …
And this is only the beginning. This work will continue to grow and prosper and move across the earth.4
On July 24, 1847, the pioneer company of our people came into [the Salt Lake] valley. An advance group had arrived a day or two earlier. Brigham Young arrived on Saturday. The next day, Sabbath services were held both in the morning and in the afternoon. There was no hall of any kind in which to meet. I suppose that in the blistering heat of that July Sunday they sat on the tongues of their wagons and leaned against the wheels while the Brethren spoke. The season was late, and they were faced with a gargantuan and immediate task if they were to grow seed for the next season. But President Young pleaded with them not to violate the Sabbath then or in the future.
The next morning they divided into groups to explore their surroundings. Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, and a handful of their associates hiked from their campground. … They climbed a dome-shaped peak, President Young having difficulty because of his recent illness.
When the Brethren stood on the summit, they looked over [the] valley to the south of them. It was largely barren, except for the willows and rushes that grew along the streams that carried water from the mountains to the lake. There was no building of any kind, but Brigham Young had said the previous Saturday, “This is the place.”
The summit where they stood was named Ensign Peak out of reference to these great prophetic words of Isaiah: “And he [speaking of God] will lift up an ensign to the nations from far, and will hiss unto them from the end of the earth: and, behold, they shall come with speed swiftly.” (Isa. 5:26.)
“And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.” (Isa. 11:12.) …
I think [those Brethren] may also on that occasion have spoken of the building of the temple … in fulfillment of the words of Isaiah:
“And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.
“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: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” (Isa. 2:2–3.)
How foolish, someone might have said, had he heard these men that July morning of 1847. They did not look like statesmen with great dreams. They did not look like rulers poring over maps and planning an empire. They were exiles, driven from their fair city on the Mississippi [River] into this desert region of the West. But they were possessed of a vision drawn from the scriptures and words of revelation.
I marvel at the foresight of that little group. It was both audacious and bold. It was almost unbelievable. Here they were, almost a thousand miles [1,600 kilometers] from the nearest settlement to the east and almost eight hundred miles [1,300 kilometers] from the Pacific Coast. They were in an untried climate. The soil was different from that of the black loam of Illinois and Iowa, where they had most recently lived. They had never raised a crop here. They had never experienced a winter. They had not built a structure of any kind. These prophets, dressed in old, travel-worn clothes, standing in boots they had worn for more than a thousand miles from Nauvoo to this valley, spoke of a millennial vision. They spoke out of a prophetic view of the marvelous destiny of this cause. They came down from the peak that day and went to work to bring reality to their dream.5
Sometimes in our day, as we walk our narrow paths and fill our little niches of responsibility, we lose sight of the grand picture. When I was a small boy, draft horses were common. An important part of the harness was the bridle. On the bridle were blinders, one on each side. They were so placed that the horse could see only straight ahead and not to either side. They were designed to keep him from becoming frightened or distracted and to keep his attention on the road at his feet.
Some of us do our work as if we had blinders on our eyes. We see only our own little narrow track. We catch nothing of the broader vision. Ours may be a small responsibility in the Church. It is good to fulfill that responsibility with diligence. And it is also good to know how that responsibility contributes to the great overall program of the growing kingdom of God.
President Harold B. Lee once said … , quoting an unknown writer, “Survey large fields and cultivate small ones.”
My interpretation of that statement is that we ought to recognize something of the breadth and depth and height—grand and wonderful, large and all-encompassing—of the program of the Lord, and then work with diligence to meet our responsibility for our assigned portion of that program.
Each of us has a small field to cultivate. While so doing, we must never lose sight of the greater picture, the large composite of the divine destiny of this work. It was given us by God our Eternal Father, and each of us has a part to play in the weaving of its magnificent tapestry. Our individual contribution may be small, but it is not unimportant. …
… While you are performing the part to which you have been called, never lose sight of the whole majestic and wonderful picture of the purpose of this, the dispensation of the fulness of times. Weave beautifully your small thread in the grand tapestry, the pattern for which was laid out for us by the God of heaven. Hold high the standard under which we walk. Be diligent, be true, be virtuous, be faithful, that there may be no flaw in that banner.
The vision of this kingdom is not a superficial dream in the night that fades with the sunrise. It is veritably the plan and work of God our Eternal Father. It has to do with all of His children.
While grubbing the sagebrush of these western valleys [of Utah] to lay the foundations for a commonwealth, while doing all of the many mundane things they were required to do to stay alive and grow, our [pioneer] forebears ever kept before them the grandeur of the great cause in which they were engaged. It is a work which we must do with the same vision they held. It is a work which will go on after we have left this scene. God help us to do our very best as servants, called under His divine will, to carry forward and build the kingdom with imperfect hands, united together to execute a perfect pattern.6
My brethren and sisters, the time has come for us to stand a little taller, to lift our eyes and stretch our minds to a greater comprehension and understanding of the grand millennial mission of this The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is a season to be strong. It is a time to move forward without hesitation, knowing well the meaning, the breadth, and the importance of our mission. It is a time to do what is right regardless of the consequences that might follow. It is a time to be found keeping the commandments. It is a season to reach out with kindness and love to those in distress and to those who are wandering in darkness and pain. It is a time to be considerate and good, decent and courteous toward one another in all of our relationships. In other words, to become more Christlike.7
Unless the world alters the course of its present trends (and that is not likely); and if, on the other hand, we continue to follow the teachings of the prophets, we shall increasingly become a peculiar and distinctive people of whom the world will take note. For instance, as the integrity of the family crumbles under worldly pressures, our position on the sanctity of the family will become more obvious and even more peculiar in contrast, if we have the faith to maintain that position.
As the growing permissive attitude toward sex continues to spread, the doctrine of the Church, as consistently taught for more than a century and a half, will become increasingly singular and even strange to many.
As the consumption of alcohol and the abuse of drugs increase each year within the mores of our society, our position, set forth by the Lord more than a century and a half ago, will become more unusual before the world. …
As the Sabbath increasingly becomes a day of merchandising and entertainment, those who obey the precept of the law, written by the finger of the Lord on Sinai and reinforced by modern revelation, will appear more unusual.
It is not always easy to live in the world and not be a part of it. We cannot live entirely with our own or unto ourselves, nor would we wish to. We must mingle with others. In so doing, we can be gracious. We can be inoffensive. We can avoid any spirit or attitude of self-righteousness. But we can maintain our standards. …
As we observe these and other standards taught by the Church, many in the world will respect us and find strength to follow that which they too know is right.
And, in the words of Isaiah, “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.)
We need not compromise. We must not compromise. The candle that the Lord has lighted in this dispensation can become as a light unto the whole world, and others seeing our good works can be led to glorify our Father in Heaven and emulate in their own lives the examples they have observed in ours.
Beginning with you and me, there can be an entire people who, by the virtue of our lives in our homes, in our vocations, even in our amusements, can become as a city upon a hill to which men may look and learn, and an ensign to the nations from which the people of the earth may gather strength.8
If we are to hold up this Church as an ensign to the nations and a light to the world, we must take on more of the luster of the life of Christ individually and in our own personal circumstances. In standing for the right, we must not be fearful of the consequences. We must never be afraid. Said Paul to Timothy:
“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
You cannot simply take for granted this cause, which is the cause of Christ. You cannot simply stand on the sidelines and watch the play between the forces of good and evil. …
… I urge you with all the capacity that I have to reach out in a duty that stands beyond the requirements of our everyday lives; that is, to stand strong, even to become a leader in speaking up in behalf of those causes which make our civilization shine and which give comfort and peace to our lives. You can be a leader. You must be a leader, as a member of this Church, in those causes for which this Church stands. Do not let fear overcome your efforts.10
We have nothing to fear. God is at the helm. He will overrule for the good of this work. He will shower down blessings upon those who walk in obedience to His commandments. Such has been His promise. Of His ability to keep that promise none of us can doubt.
… Our Savior, who is our Redeemer, the Great Jehovah, the mighty Messiah, has promised: “I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up” (D&C 84:88).
“Therefore,” said He, “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.
“Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet; be faithful, keep my commandments, and ye shall inherit the kingdom of heaven” (D&C 6:34, 36–37).
Unitedly, working hand in hand, we shall move forward as servants of the living God, doing the work of His Beloved Son, our Master, whom we serve and whose name we seek to glorify.11
We must stand firm. We must hold back the world. If we do so, the Almighty will be our strength and our protector, our guide and our revelator. We shall have the comfort of knowing that we are doing what He would have us do. Others may not agree with us, but I am confident that they will respect us. We will not be left alone. There are many [who are] not of our faith but who feel as we do. They will support us. They will sustain us in our efforts.12
Let us glory in this wonderful season of the work of the Lord. Let us not be proud or arrogant. Let us be humbly grateful. And let us, each one, resolve within himself or herself that we will add to the luster of this magnificent work of the Almighty, that it may shine across the earth as a beacon of strength and goodness for all the world to look upon.13
As you read section 1, what are your feelings as you consider the growth of the Church from 1830 to the present day?
Review President Hinckley’s account of the first pioneers arriving in the Salt Lake Valley (see section 2). What can we learn from this account? How have we benefited from the prophetic vision of early Church leaders? What do you think it means to be “an ensign to the nations”? (See Isaiah 5:26; 11:12.)
In section 3, President Hinckley encouraged us to see the “grand picture” and “broader vision” of God’s work. Why do we need to see this grand picture? Why do we sometimes lose sight of it? In what ways can our small efforts contribute to the growth of God’s kingdom?
Review the ways President Hinckley says Latter-day Saints are becoming a more “peculiar and distinctive people” (section 4). How can we develop greater vision and courage in moving God’s work forward? How can we live in the world without being of the world? How can we “take on more of the luster of the life of Christ”? Why is it important for us to stand for what is right?
“Be sure you don’t believe you are the ‘true teacher.’ That is a serious mistake. … Be careful you do not get in the way. The major role of a teacher is to prepare the way such that the people will have a spiritual experience with the Lord” (Gene R. Cook, quoted in Teaching, No Greater Call , 41).