Viewpoint: Lead Others to Righteousness with Love

Contributed By the Church News

  • 8 September 2015

We might find that, like the hapless bee in Elder Talmage’s parable, the one we would have receive our instruction is not disposed to be driven or urgently guided and, in fact, may meet our efforts with resistance, perhaps annoyance, or even hostility.   Photo by Steven Dale Deam.

Article Highlights

  • Elder Talmage shares two parables to illustrate different approaches in persuading others of the truth.
  • Our task is to create an environment where the Spirit can touch the hearts of those around us.

“The missionary servants of the Church of Jesus Christ today are sent forth, not to assail or ridicule the beliefs of men, but to set before the world a superior light, by which the smoky dimness of the flickering flames of man-made creeds shall be apparent.” —Elder James E. Talmage (1862–1933)

Elder James E. Talmage (1862–1933), who served in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from 1911 until his death, is perhaps best known as the author of the classic work Jesus the Christ, published 100 years ago.

Prior to Elder Talmage’s call to the Twelve, the First Presidency assigned him to write this treatise about the life and ministry of the Savior, and he completed much of the work in a room set aside for that purpose in the Salt Lake Temple.

A year before the book appeared, Elder Talmage began to publish a series of parables in the Improvement Era, a forerunner to today’s Ensign magazine. Taken from his personal life’s experience, these were like all good parables in that they had instructive application—even multiple applications— to the circumstances of life.

At least two of these parables—identified below—can be considered in combination for the lessons they teach.

One of them is based on an incident that apparently occurred in the temple while Elder Talmage was engaged in writing the book. On a summer day, a bee flew in through an open window and was unable to find its way out.

“When ready to close up the room and leave, I threw the window wide and tried at first to guide and then to drive the bee to liberty and safety, knowing well that if left in the room it would die,” Elder Talmage wrote.

His persistent efforts served only to frighten and anger the insect. “Then, it caught me off guard and stung my hand—the hand that would have guided it to freedom.”

The bee eventually did die.

Elder Talmage drew this lesson from the experience: “We are prone to contend, sometimes with vehemence and anger, against the adversity which after all may be the manifestation of superior wisdom and loving care, directed against our temporary comfort for our permanent blessing. … Disappointment, sorrow, and affliction may be the expression of an all-wise Father’s kindness.”

In the other parable, Elder Talmage told of his encounter as a college student one summer evening with a lamp salesman. Quite enamored with his own lamp, he invited the salesman to step inside and see a demonstration of it.

“My visitor was voluble in his praise,” he wrote of the salesman’s approach. “It was the best lamp of its kind, he said. I liked the man; he seemed to me wise, and he assuredly was ingratiating.”

But then the visitor demonstrated the lamp he was offering for sale. “Its light made bright the remotest corner of my room. In its brilliant blaze, my own little Argand wick burned a weak, pale yellow. Until the moment of convincing demonstration, I had never known the dim obscurity in which I had lived and labored, studied and struggled.

“‘I’ll buy your lamp,’ said I; ‘you need neither explain nor argue further.’”

Elder Talmage mused, “The man who would sell me a lamp did not disparage mine. He placed his greater light alongside my feebler flame, and I hasted to obtain the better.

“The missionary servants of the Church of Jesus Christ today are sent forth, not to assail or ridicule the beliefs of men, but to set before the world a superior light, by which the smoky dimness of the flickering flames of man-made creeds shall be apparent. The work of the Church is constructive, not destructive.”

Elder Talmage then concludes, “As to the further meaning of the parable, let him that hath eyes and a heart see and understand.”

Whether or not he himself ever presented these two parables in concert with each other, perhaps we can do so here and now to see what lesson might be drawn.

In persuading another to believe in truth, to follow a course of righteousness, or to improve his life, a number of approaches might be employed.

We might find that, like the hapless bee in Elder Talmage’s parable, the one we would have receive our instruction is not disposed to be driven or urgently guided and, in fact, may meet our efforts with resistance, perhaps annoyance or even hostility.

Under such circumstances, persisting in such an approach might prove ineffective, perhaps doing more harm than good.

At such a time, we must find and employ a different approach—which brings us to the second of Elder Talmage’s parables recounted above.

One who is prone to resist our more strident efforts might respond to a more subtly persuasive approach not unlike that of the affable lamp salesman in Elder Talmage’s example.

The man maintained a positive demeanor and avoided disparaging or criticizing Brother Talmage’s own cherished lamp, and even offered sincere praise for it. At an appropriate point in his visit, and after obtaining permission from Brother Talmage, he brought forth his own superior product.

As he demonstrated it for Brother Talmage, he did not have to launch into a high-pressure sales pitch. The product itself did the persuading.

Similarly, for one who has been spiritually prepared to receive gospel truths, we often find that little if any human persuasion is necessary. Countless missionaries through the years have learned that it is the Spirit that does the converting. Our task is to set the stage for that to happen through our loving invitation, support, and encouragement.

May we ever bear that in mind as we seek to bring blessings to others.