Our Missionary Duty
“Chapter 8: Our Missionary Duty,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: John Taylor, 67
I never see the elders go forth on missions to preach the gospel [without considering] that they are going forth to take part in one of the greatest works ever committed to the human family. 1
From the Life of John Taylor
Elder John Taylor served as a missionary within the United States and abroad, fulfilling several full-time missions between 1839 and 1857. He demonstrated his great faith and testimony while often preaching under trying circumstances, sometimes without money or food. He trusted that the Lord would protect him and his family and provide the means for him to preach the gospel.
One such instance of the Lord’s sustaining power occurred shortly after Elder Taylor left his family in Montrose, Iowa, to fulfill a mission in England. As he was traveling through Indiana, he became very ill and was forced to spend several weeks recovering at a hotel. During this time, Elder Taylor taught the gospel in meetings he held next to the hotel, even though he had to sit part of the time while he spoke. His listeners noticed that despite his difficult circumstances, he never asked for money. Finally, one of them approached him and said: “Mr. Taylor, you do not act as most preachers do; you have said nothing about your circumstances or money, yet you have been here some time sick; your doctor’s, hotel and other bills must be heavy. Some friends and myself have talked these matters over and would like to assist you.”
Elder Taylor gratefully accepted this help and was soon able to resume his journey, having paid all his bills. Regarding this experience, Elder Taylor said, “I would rather put my trust in the Lord than in any of the kings of the earth.” 2 With his trust in the Lord and his dedication to teaching the gospel to others, John Taylor is a powerful example of how we should do missionary work.
Teachings of John Taylor
Missionary work brings knowledge of life and immortality to all mankind.
We are here for a certain purpose; the world was organized for a certain purpose; … the gospel has been introduced for a certain purpose in the different ages of time, and among the different peoples to whom it has been revealed and communicated, and we, today, are in subjection to the general rule. The Lord has led us along as he once led Israel, and as he led the Nephites from the land of Jerusalem, and the ten tribes, and other peoples, who went to different places. He has led us along, and the first thing he did with us … was to send his gospel, having revealed it first to Joseph Smith, and he, being authorized by the Almighty, and having received his appointment through the holy priesthood that exists in the heavens, and with that appointment authority to confer it upon others, did confer it upon others, and they in turn upon others, and hence the gospel was sent to us in the various nations where we resided.
And when these men went forth to proclaim this gospel, they went, as Jesus said, not to do their “will, but the will of the Father who sent them,” [see John 5:30] and to cooperate with the holy priesthood here upon the earth in introducing correct principles. Hence they went among the nations, and thousands and tens of thousands and millions listened to their testimonies; but as it was in former days, so it has been in latter days. Says Jesus—“Strait is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and few there be that find it; while wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many there be that go in thereat.” [See Matthew 7:13–14.] This has been the case in all ages and among all peoples, wherever and whenever the gospel has been preached to them. 3
God has restored the gospel for the purpose of bringing life and immortality to light; and without the knowledge of the gospel there is no knowledge of life and immortality; for men cannot comprehend these principles only as they are made known unto them. … When the heavens were opened and the Father and Son appeared and revealed unto Joseph the principles of the gospel, and when the holy Priesthood was restored and the Church and kingdom of God established upon the earth, there were the greatest blessings bestowed upon this generation that it was possible for man to receive. If they could comprehend it, it was the greatest blessing which God could confer upon humanity. 4
It is our duty to assist the Lord through missionary work.
Now then, the Lord has been desirous, in this age, as he has in other ages, to gather to himself a people who would do his will, keep his commandments, listen to his counsel and carry out his behests. … The Lord, in this age as on former occasions, sends by whom he will send; he selects his own messengers and sends them among the people. And when the elders of Israel went forth, he said to them in a certain revelation—“Go forth, and mine angels shall go before you, and my spirit shall accompany you.” [See D&C 84:88.] And they went forth, and God was true to his word, and many of you, at that time in distant nations, listened to the words of life, and when you heard them you knew and understood then, just as Jesus said—“My sheep hear my voice and know me, and they follow me, but a stranger will they not follow, because they know not the voice of a stranger.” [See John 10:5, 27.] You heard the voice of truth accompanied by the spirit of God, and that caused a chord to vibrate within your own bosoms and you yielded obedience. …
Now, then, we are gathered together to help, what to do? To look after our own individual interest? No. To accumulate wealth? No. To possess and wallow in the good things of this life? No, but to do the will of God and devote ourselves, our talents and abilities, our intelligence and influence in every possible way to carry out the designs of Jehovah and help to establish peace and righteousness upon the earth. This, as I understand it, is what we are here for, and not to attend to our own individual affairs and let God and his kingdom do as they please. We are all interested in the great latter-day work of God, and we all ought to be co-workers therein. 5
I was ordained an Elder by the proper authorities, and I went forth to preach this Gospel. Other Elders went forth as I did to the civilized nations, preaching the same doctrine and holding out the same promises. Some of them were not very learned; some were not very profoundly educated. We send a singular class of people in our Elders. Sometimes a missionary is a merchant, sometimes a legislator, a blacksmith, an adobe maker, a plasterer, a farmer, or common laborer, as the case may be. But all under the same influence and spirit, all going forth as missionaries to preach the Gospel of light, of life and of salvation. They have received the treasures of eternal life, and they are enabled to communicate them to others; and they hold out the same promises.
You who hear me this afternoon as well as thousands upon thousands of others, have listened to those principles, you have had held out unto you those promises; and when you obeyed the Gospel, you received this same spirit; and you are my witnesses of the truth of the things that I now proclaim in your hearing and of the Spirit and power of God attending the obedience to the Gospel, and you will not deny it. This congregation will not deny it. When you yielded obedience to the laws of God, obeyed His commandments, and were baptized for the remission of your sins and had hands laid upon you for the reception of the Holy Ghost, you did receive it; and you are living witnesses before God. This is a secret that the world does not comprehend. … We are in possession of the principles of eternal life, and are operating for eternity; and then we are operating to build up the Zion of God, where righteousness can be taught, and where men can be protected, and where liberty can be proclaimed to all men of every color, of every creed and of every nation. 6
Our duty is to preach the Gospel to all men. … And we are doing this in spite of the opposition of men, and in the name of God we will do it. … And if they love the devil better than God, they can do so and sup trouble and sorrow and calamity and war and bloodshed. For nation will rise against nation, country against country; and thrones will be cast down; and empires will be scattered to the four winds, and the powers of the earth everywhere will be shaken; and the Lord will come forth by and by to judge the nations; and it behooves us to know what we are doing, and while we profess to be the saints of God not to be hypocrites, but be full of truth and full of integrity and magnify our calling and honor our God.
This is what God expects of us. And then to build temples, and what then? Administer in them. Send the gospel to the nations of the earth. And then gather the people in. What then? Build more temples. What then? Have men administer in them. 7
Missionaries teach eternal truth with the power and authority of God.
There is a very great difference between our mode of promulgating the gospel, and that pursued by the world. Many of these men … would be very unlikely instruments for preaching the gospel according to popular notions; but the grand difference between us and them is that we go forth in the name of Israel’s God, sustained by His power, wisdom and intelligence, to proclaim the principles of eternal truth communicated to us by Him; while they go forth to proclaim what they have learned in colleges.
Our Elders go forth in weakness. … When [they] go forth, they have no preparation beyond the common rudiments of education that all are supposed to learn; but it is not words they go to teach, it is principles. And although before an audience learned in the laws of God, they may feel a good deal of tremor and bashfulness in trying to express themselves, yet, when they go forth and stand before congregations in the world, the Spirit of the Lord God will go with them, the Lord will sustain them and will give unto them wisdom, “that all their adversaries will not be able to gainsay, nor resist.” [See Luke 21:15.] That is the promise made to the servants of the Lord who go forth trusting in Him. 8
These young men are just like the rest of us: they have received the spirit of life, light and intelligence, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and they are the messengers of the Great Jehovah, whom He has selected, set apart, and ordained to go and proclaim His will to the nations of the earth. They go not in their own name or strength, but in the name, strength and power of Israel’s God. That is their position, and if they cleave to God and magnify their callings, adhere to the principles of truth, and shun temptation and corruption of every kind, the power of God will be with them, and God shall open their mouths, and enable them to confound the wisdom of the wise, and they will say things that will astonish themselves and those who listen to them.
I would say to these brethren, let it be your study to fulfill your mission. Never mind the world; never mind the dollars and cents, the pounds, shillings, and pence. You cleave to God, live your religion, magnify your callings, humble yourselves before God, call upon Him in secret and He will open your path before you. 9
We need to prepare ourselves spiritually in order to be effective missionaries.
I would say, however, to those going on missions that they should study the Bible, Book of Mormon, Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and all our works, that they may become acquainted with the principles of our faith. I would also say to other young men who are not now going on missions, but who will probably have to go at some time in the future, that these things are of more importance to them than they realize at the present time. We ought to be built up and fortified by the truth. We ought to become acquainted with the principles, doctrines, and ordinances pertaining to the Church and Kingdom of God.
We are told in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants to search after wisdom as we would for hidden treasures, both by study and by faith; to become acquainted with the history and laws of the nation we live in, and of the nations of the earth [see D&C 88:78–80, 118]. I know that when young men are working around here, going to the canyon, working on the farm, going to the theatre, and so on, their minds are not much occupied with these things; but when they are called upon to take a part in the drama themselves, many of them will wish they had paid more attention to the instructions they have received, and had made themselves more familiar with the Bible, Book of Mormon, and the Book of Doctrine and Covenants. 10
The kind of men we want as bearers of this gospel message are men who have faith in God; men who have faith in their religion; men who honor their priesthood; men in whom the people who know them have faith and in whom God has confidence. … We want men full of the Holy Ghost and the power of God. … Men who bear the words of life among the nations, ought to be men of honor, integrity, virtue and purity; and this being the command of God to us, we shall try and carry it out. 11
We must have faith and courage to fulfill our missionary duty.
There is a terrible time approaching the nations of the earth, … worse than has ever entered into the heart of man to conceive of—war, bloodshed, and desolation, mourning and misery, pestilence, famine, and earthquakes, and all those calamities spoken of by the prophets will most assuredly be fulfilled. … And it is for us, Latter-day Saints, to understand the position we occupy. …
… There are some things that make it extremely difficult for men sometimes to perform the kind of missions that they did formerly, owing to age, infirmities, and circumstances. Yet I have frequently felt ashamed when I have seen the acts of many of these quorums to which I refer, when they have been called upon to go on missions. One has one excuse, and another, another. It was easier some twenty years ago to raise two or three hundred men than it is now among all those thousands in Israel. How do you account for this? Partly in consequence of an apathy that exists. 12
There are lots of able-bodied men who, if they could only have a little more faith in God, and could realize the calamities that are coming upon the earth, and the responsibilities of that priesthood that God has conferred upon them, they would be ready to break all barriers and say, Here I am, send me; I wish to benefit the human family. If Jesus came to seek and save those who are lost, let me be possessed of the same spirit. 13
I, myself, have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles preaching the gospel; and without purse or scrip, trusting in the Lord. Did he ever forsake me? Never, no never. I always was provided for, for which I feel to praise God my Heavenly Father. I was engaged in his work, and he told me that he would sustain me in it. He has been true to his trust; and if I have not been true to mine, I hope he will forgive me and help me to do better. But the Lord has been true and faithful, and I have never needed anything to eat or drink or wear, and was never prevented for want of means of traveling where I pleased. 14
I have a great deal more confidence in men who rise here feeling their weakness and inability, than I have in those who feel that they are well informed and capable of teaching anything and everything. Why? Because when men trust to themselves they trust in a broken reed; and when they trust in the Lord they will never fail. … The Lord is over all, He watches over His people, and if these brethren will continue to trust in God … , His Spirit will rest upon them, enlighten their minds, enlarge their capacities and give to them wisdom and intelligence in time of need. They need not be under any apprehension with regard to the wisdom of the world; for there is no wisdom in the world equal to that which the Lord gives to His Saints; and as long as these brethren keep from evil, live their religion, and cleave to the Lord by keeping His commandments, there is no fear as to the results; and this will apply to all the Saints as well as to these brethren. 15
Whatever their feelings may be, [missionaries] go forth as the angels of mercy bearing the precious seeds of the gospel, and they shall be the means of bringing many from darkness to light, from error and superstition to life, light, truth, and intelligence, and finally, to exaltation in the celestial kingdom of our God.
When these brethren go forth, it may be a new work to them. They will have to combat the errors of ages, contend with the prejudices which they themselves state to you held such a powerful influence over them; they will also have to preach to and reason with men who have no regard for truth, much less for the religion which we have embraced, yet these elders go forth as the sent messengers of the Lord Jesus Christ. They go to proclaim that God has established his work upon the earth, that he has spoken from the heavens, and that the visions of the Almighty have been opened to our view; the light of ages is being revealed to the servants of the Most High, the darkness which has enshrouded the world for ages is being dispersed; and these chosen elders of Israel are sent forth to proclaim these glad tidings of salvation to the dark and benighted nations of the earth. … They go forth and they shall come back rejoicing, bearing precious sheaves with them, and they will bless the name of the God of Israel, that they have had the privilege of taking a part in warning this generation. 16
Suggestions for Study and Discussion
• How does missionary work help fulfill the Lord’s purposes? As one who has received the gospel, what missionary duties do you have in the Lord’s plan?
• Why does the Church send young and inexperienced people as full-time missionaries?
• Why is faith in the Lord fundamental to missionary work?
• How does our personal preparation and worthiness affect our ability to be effective instruments for the Lord?
• In addition to serving a full-time mission, what other opportunities do we have to share the gospel?
• What are some of the reasons members give for not participating in missionary work? What can you do to overcome your own obstacles in this area?
• How have you seen the Lord bless those who give their time, talents, energy, and means to share the gospel?
10. Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 15 June 1867, 2. Note: At the time of this statement, the Pearl of Great Price had not yet been canonized; it became a standard work of the Church in 1880.