I would like to share some personal experiences and observations about what the gospel means to me and what it meant to me in my home.
In 1832, two years after the Church was organized, two young men went out in the state of New York as missionaries. There was a man by the name of John Tanner who heard that they were coming to his community and speaking in the schoolhouse that evening. He was a community-minded man and he was a religious man. Though he had been a cripple for several months with a diseased leg, and was in a wheelchair, he determined to go to that meeting and see that those Mormon missionaries didn’t teach any false doctrine. He had his son wheel him right up to the front of the stand.
As the first missionary told about the Apostasy and the need for the restoration of the gospel, he listened and said nothing. As the other missionary spoke, John Tanner didn’t interrupt him in any way.
Then, after the meeting, he asked his son to go up to the front and bring the two missionaries down so he could meet them. He asked those missionaries if they would like to stay with him that evening. They accepted the invitation and went home and discussed religion on into the early hours of the morning.
Finally John Tanner said, “If I were well enough, I think I would like to be baptized.”
The missionaries asked him if he thought the Lord could heal him. He said, “The Lord could if he wanted to.”
The missionaries explained that they were elders and that the Lord had said that if there were any sick among you, let them call in the elders to pray over them (see James 5:14). Then they asked him if he would like to be administered to. He said he would. They administered to him. That very day he left his wheelchair never to return to it, and he walked three-quarters of a mile to be baptized.
He knew he would be criticized and ostracized, but when he heard the truth, he had the courage to accept it. I am so glad that those two missionaries went out into the field to preach the gospel, and that when John Tanner heard it, he had the courage to accept it.
He and his family remained true to the faith, and his son Nathan Tanner remained true to the faith, and then William Tanner and his son Nathan William, who is my father, accepted the gospel and remained true to the faith. As a result, I am a member of the Church today.
I hope that all who investigate the Church will have the courage and the strength to accept the gospel when they know it is true. It will be the greatest decision they have made in their lives, and I promise that the Lord will bless them.
My father and mother were married in Salt Lake City, Utah, and decided to go to southern Alberta, Canada. That was over 900 miles, and they had to go by team and covered wagon. It took them six weeks, and when they arrived there, father hadn’t any money. He had to sell his team in order to buy groceries and other things that he needed; but he trained horses for the ranchers in that area because if he trained four horses, he could use two of them.
They had no money to buy a home, and they couldn’t build one at that time, so they lived in a dugout for some months. They dug into the side of the hill and had a dirt floor and dirt walls that they covered with logs and grass. Sometime later they moved to the little village.
Father was made the bishop of the ward in that area. All the time I was in the Aaronic Priesthood, my father was my bishop. In that little hamlet or village, we had no electricity, no wells, no newspaper or radio, and we had to haul our water in a barrel. That is the way we lived for the first few years in Canada.
I would like to share a few of the things that I learned while I was living there with my father and mother. The first thing father taught me was that I was a son of God—a spirit son of God. I couldn’t understand that and I couldn’t believe it, but he kept telling me that I was actually a spirit child of God, that God was interested in me, and that if I would live as he wanted me to, he would answer my prayers and bless me with success.
The slogan that he gave me was “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33). I believed my father and tried to do what he instructed me to do.
He taught us to have prayer in our home—family prayer and individual prayer. When we had family prayer, there was no question in my mind—no doubt whatever—that there was a God, because my father actually talked to God. In the morning he would say, “Let thy blessings attend us this day, that we may do what is right and be successful,” and he told the Lord that we would report to him at night. That always helped me live as I should during the day, because I knew I was going to report to the Lord that night in family prayer. It helped me a great deal to overcome temptations.
I remember one evening when we were kneeling in family prayer, my father said to the Lord, “Eldon did something today he shouldn’t have done; he’s sorry, and if you will forgive him, he won’t do it anymore.”
That made me determined not to do it anymore—much more than a trouncing would have done. I didn’t want the Lord to know I’d done anything wrong, but here father was telling him.
We prayed for the sick and for those who needed our assistance in any way. And father taught us that when we pray for the sick and the needy we should do what we can to help them. In fact, he said to me one day when I’d been praying, “If you want your prayers to be answered, you’d better get on your feet and do something about it.”
I remember one evening when I was an ordained teacher, father said, “Eldon, will you lead in prayer tonight? And remember your sister, Lily, who is ill.” (She had had spinal meningitis for some weeks, and the doctors didn’t seem to be able to cope with it.) So I prayed to the Lord that she might be made well, that his healing influence would be upon her. I felt so good as I said those words because I felt that I was actually praying to God for blessings which we needed at that particular time. It’s always been a testimony to me that the Lord does answer prayers. She, my older sister, began to heal shortly after that prayer was offered and became entirely well, and is a mother and a grandmother today, enjoying life.
I was taught that Jesus Christ actually came, that he thought enough of us and thought it important enough that he would give his life for us and tell us how we could live if we wanted to go back into the presence of God, the Eternal Father.
Father explained to me before anyone else did how the Book of Mormon came into being and what it is and why we should pay attention to it and study it. And he explained about Joseph Smith. As father and mother taught me this, I could just see that young boy kneeling there in that grove, seeing this great light and in it two personages, whose brightness challenged any description.
Father taught me the importance of the Word of Wisdom—how important it was that we take nothing harmful into our bodies, because, he said, it is the temple of the Spirit, and you should do nothing to defile it.
As I became a deacon holding the priesthood, my father also taught me how important it was to hold the priesthood of God. When I was a deacon, my father used to take me to stake priesthood meeting. It would take us two hours by team and wagon. It didn’t matter what kind of weather it was, we never missed a stake priesthood meeting. The importance of the priesthood was impressed on my mind—and that we should show our appreciation by the way we live in carrying out our duties. I’ve always been so thankful for that.
I worked on the farm all the summer months, and some months when I should have been at school. When I finished my school, I wanted to go to Calgary to the normal school where I could learn to teach. Father couldn’t afford to give me the money, so he told me if I could borrow it, it would be all right for me to go. I went down to the bank to see if I could borrow the money. I was frightened, of course. When I talked to the bank manager, he asked me who my father was. I told him I was N. W. Tanner’s son. He said, “Well, if you are N. W. Tanner’s son I’ll let you have the money.” I determined then that I would try to live so that my children would also be blessed with a father with a good name and good credit.
My father taught me to never be ashamed of the gospel of Christ. And I’ve found that to be a great blessing to me when I was in the government, when I was teaching school, or wherever I was.
I was in the government of Canada for several years, and during that time I went to Texas to speak to a group of oil men. As the governor of Texas introduced me, he said, among other things, that I was now president of the Edmonton Branch and had been bishop of the Cardston Ward of the Mormon church. Then he said, “Any man who is worthy to be bishop in that church needs no other introduction as far as I am concerned.” What a tremendous thing for the governor of that big state of Texas to say!
I thought how important it is that every one of us who is a member of the Church live worthy of our membership and that our returned missionaries carry on as the Lord would have them do. What a great influence we would have in the world if every one of us lived according to the teachings of the gospel.
I remember another experience when I was out campaigning with the attorney general for the province of Alberta. We had had a heavy day. We had held a meeting in the morning, one right after noon, and one in the evening. We hadn’t had any lunch. After the meeting that evening they served us some refreshments—coffee and ham sandwiches. It was Friday, and the attorney general was a Catholic. He refused to have a ham sandwich and took the coffee. I took the ham sandwich and didn’t take the coffee. And as I took it, I turned to him and said, “I’m certainly glad I’m a Mormon; at least I can eat!” (I knew him very well or I would have never spoken like that.) But as we left that evening, and I thought of it more and more, I realized what a great thing he had done. As hungry as he was, he would not let down his great determination to do what he had been taught to do—to stand by the standards he had accepted. And then I thought, too, if I feel that way about him, he must feel that way about me!
People expect us to live up to our standards, whoever we are and wherever we are, and the Lord will bless us as we do.
Another experience I had when I was in the government in Alberta was as Provincial Commissioner of Scouting. I traveled all over the province with the president of the Scout association and another man, Mr. McCosham, who was supporting us in every way. Mr. McCosham always had a bottle of whiskey in his club bag, and he would have a drink before dinner every evening. He never got drunk, but he always used to ask me to take a drink before dinner. He said, “You are tired. This will revive you, and you will feel much better.” Of course, I refused.
A very interesting thing happened. A man who was chosen to head the Church institute program in Edmonton where we lived had to have his furniture moved there from Salt Lake City, Utah. Since he didn’t have money enough to pay for the moving of his furniture when it arrived, the delivery man wouldn’t unload his furniture. He took it to a storage place.
The institute man went to the storage place and asked for part of the furniture, saying that he would leave the other there to pay for the moving charges. They refused to do it. So he went to the manager, who was Mr. McCosham, the man I traveled with who wanted me to have a drink before dinner.
He said, “What are you doing in Edmonton?” And he replied, “I’m head of the institute program for the Mormon church.” He said, “That’s the church Eldon Tanner belongs to, isn’t it? Do you pay your tithing? Do you keep the Word of Wisdom?” You see, I had been talking to this man about the Word of Wisdom and the Church teachings. The Institute director said he did, and so Mr. McCosham said, “You may take your furniture and pay for it when you can.”
The people with whom you associate respect you if you live according to the teachings of the church of Jesus Christ. People expect a great deal from the members of this Church because we profess much. I have never at any time found that my membership in the Church and living according to the teachings of the gospel were deterrents.
Let each of us every day live an exemplary life, that our influence may be felt for good and that others, seeing our good works, may be led to glorify God. Parents, be an example every day to your children—and you children and young people, live to show the world that you are “not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Rom. 1:16).
We are members of the church of Jesus Christ. May we always live worthy of this.