J. Lewis Taylor, Instructor, Salt Lake Institute of Religion, University of Utah
Our times are not called “the last days” for nothing! They are indeed perilous times. The Savior himself declared that in these last days we “shall hear of wars and rumors of wars … wars. …
“For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.
“And again, because iniquity shall abound, the love of men shall wax cold.” (JS—M 1:28–30.)
“The whole earth shall be in commotion, and men’s hearts shall fail them.” (D&C 45:26.)
The last days are clearly times of peril in which even the “elect” will be sorely challenged.
But our age is also a period of unparalleled promise. When Jesus’ disciples were troubled anciently over the ills of our day, Jesus responded: “Be not troubled, for, when all these things shall come to pass, ye may know that the promises which have been made unto you shall be fulfilled.” (D&C 45:35.)
Ancient prophets looked with enthusiastic anticipation to our dispensation when the fulness of the gospel would be restored and preached among all nations, and when final preparations would be made for the Second Coming and ultimate reign of the King of Kings, our Savior. Great eternal blessings, keys, and secrets of the gospel, which have been kept “hid from before the foundation of the world,” were reserved to come forth in this final dispensation to bless our lives. (See D&C 124:41; D&C 121:26–32; D&C 128:18.) How privileged we are to live in these momentous times!
Whether to us these days are ultimately times of peril or of promise depends upon our own spiritual receptivity and individual preparedness. Though all of us may be challenged, even alarmed, by the events of our day, the Savior assures us that we can acquire the spiritual resilience to hold up under the immense pressures of our time and prepare for his coming by faithful discipleship to him. This message seems to be the thrust of the parables of preparation in Matthew 25.
The parable of the ten virgins (Matt. 25:1–13) calls us to prepare diligently and watch for the Savior’s Second Coming. The five wise virgins are faithful Saints who build a spiritual reserve. They “have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide, and have not been deceived.” (D&C 45:57.) They have “spiritual oil” in their vessels against times of darkness. For these there is no ultimate doom or gloom; they are not panic-stricken by the last days. The Second Coming is an exhilarating prospect. We are not told in the parable specifically of the virgins’ thrill at entering into the marriage with the Lamb, but who can doubt the inestimable joy of at last receiving personal communion with the Bridegroom! For these, the Lord’s coming is a day to be anticipated and relished; it is a great day.
The unwise virgins are not so fortunate. They are not seemingly bad people; they are not the rogues of earth. Rather, they are members of the Church, indifferent or lackadaisical, but members nevertheless. They are spiritually unprepared. They will discover the futility of trying to buy oil at midnight, that is, of trying to “catch up” spiritually at the last minute. Significantly, the Bridegroom shuts the door on them. For these, the tribulations of our day are overpowering, and the Second Coming is a dreadful, rather than a glorious, day.
The parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14–30) reveals to us the inevitability of our being called upon to give an accounting of our stewardship. We are enjoined to magnify our gifts and to use our talents in promoting the Kingdom of God. It is a negative parable. The concern seems to be for the individual who does not prepare by enlarging his divine endowments. For him, the future is ominous, for “from him … shall be taken away even that which he hath.” (Matt. 25:29.) It is at the end of the world, at harvest time, when he shall be reduced. Thus, for him also, the Second Coming is a terrible day.
Equally sobering is the parable of the sheep and goats. (See Matt. 25:21–46.) The Lord again declares the inevitability of a future judgment in which the righteous and the wicked, who for a time are gathered together in the kingdom, shall be separated. The righteous prepare for the coming of the Son of Man, and the parable focuses on one of the most significant aspects of these preparations: the feeding of the hungry, the clothing of the naked, and the comforting of the sick and imprisoned.
Our days are perilous, but are latent with promise to those who prepare. And how, specifically, shall we further prepare? Counsel from the Lord’s anointed comes regularly, urgently: Do exactly as you should do, even if the days were not perilous, but with “a lengthened stride.” Place your trust in God. Seek his Spirit. Put your own house and family in order. Seek diligently to be a missionary. Do the Lord’s work in the wards and branches faithfully. Seek after your dead. Cultivate godliness. Be charitable and compassionate in your service. And, don’t panic; don’t run Jonah-like to the foothills. Build positively. Look forward with hope to the great day of the Lord. Elder Boyd K. Packer speaks with this timely counsel:
“I do not doubt that we are sailing into troubled waters. There are storms to ride out; there are reefs and shoals to negotiate ere we reach port. But we have been through them before and have found safe passage. ‘… the heavens shall be darkened, and a veil of darkness shall cover the earth; the heavens shall shake, and also the earth; and great tribulation shall be among the children of men, but my people will I preserve.’ (Moses 7:61.) ‘Steady as she goes.’ Our craft has weathered storms before. It is seaworthy. What a glorious time to be alive! What a marvelous age to live! Thank the Lord for the privilege of living in an adventuresome day of challenge. There is celestial radar—revelation from God—guiding us. There is an inspired captain, a prophet of God, leading us.
“I want to bear witness to you, my young friends, that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is on the right course. It is led by inspiration, and I say to you, to all of us, ‘steady as she goes.’ I bear witness that Jesus is the Christ. The gospel of Jesus Christ is true. It was formulated for strength and direction in stormy times.” (“Steady As She Goes,” address given at Brigham Young University, January 7, 1969.)