Have you ever pondered the worth of a human soul? Have you ever wondered concerning the potential which lies within each of us?
Early in my service as a member of the Council of the Twelve, I was attending the conference of the Monument Park West Stake in Salt Lake City. My companion for the conference was a member of the General Church Welfare Committee, Paul C. Child. President Child was a student of the scriptures. He had been my stake president during my Aaronic Priesthood years. Now we were together as conference visitors.
When it was his opportunity to participate, President Child took the Doctrine and Covenants and left the pulpit to stand among the priesthood to whom he was directing his message. He turned to section 18 and began to read:
“Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God. …
“And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father” (D&C 18:10, 15).
President Child then raised his eyes from the scriptures and asked the question of the priesthood brethren: “What is the worth of a human soul?” He avoided calling on a bishop, stake president, or high councilor for a response. Instead, he selected the president of an elders quorum—a brother who had been a bit drowsy and had missed the significance of the question.
The startled man responded: “Brother Child, could you please repeat the question?” The question was repeated: “What is the worth of a human soul?”
I knew President Child’s style. I prayed fervently for that quorum president. He remained silent for what seemed like an eternity and then declared: “Brother Child, the worth of a human soul is its capacity to become as God.”
All present pondered that reply. Brother Child returned to the stand, leaned over to me, and said: “A profound reply; a profound reply!” He proceeded with his message, but I continued to reflect on that inspired response.
To reach, to teach, to touch the precious souls whom our Father has prepared for His message is a monumental task. Success is rarely simple. Generally it is preceded by tears, trials, trust, and testimony.
Think of the magnitude of the Savior’s instruction to His Apostles:
“Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:19–20).
The men to whom he gave this instruction were not owners of land, nor did they have the education of the learned. They were simple men—men of faith, men of devotion, men “called of God.”
Paul testified to the Corinthians: “Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:
“But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty” (1 Cor. 1:26–27).
On this, the American continent, Alma likewise counseled his son Helaman: “I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass” (Alma 37:6).
Then and now, servants of God take comfort from the Master’s assurance: “I am with you alway” (Matt. 28:20). This magnificent promise sustains you brethren of the Aaronic Priesthood who are called to positions of leadership in the quorums of deacons, teachers, and priests. It encourages you in your preparations to serve in the mission field. It comforts you during those moments of discouragement, which come to all. This same assurance motivates and inspires you brethren of the Melchizedek Priesthood as you lead and direct the work in the wards, the stakes, and the missions.
“Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing,” said the Lord, “for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great.
“Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind” (D&C 64:33–34).
An abiding faith, a constant trust, a fervent desire have always characterized those who serve the Lord with all their hearts.
This description typified the early beginnings of missionary work following the restoration of the gospel. As early as April of 1830, Phineas Young received a copy of the Book of Mormon from Samuel Smith, brother of the Prophet, and a few months later traveled to Upper Canada. At Kingston, he gave the first known testimony of the restored Church beyond the borders of the United States.
In 1833, the Prophet Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, and Freeman Nickerson traveled to Mount Pleasant, Upper Canada. There they taught, they baptized, they organized a branch of the Church. At one time, in June of 1835, six of the Twelve held a conference in that land.
In April of 1836, Elder Heber C. Kimball and others entered the home of Parley P. Pratt and, filled with the spirit of prophecy, they placed their hands on the head of Brother Pratt and declared: “Thou shalt go to upper Canada, even to the City of Toronto, … and there thou shalt find a people prepared for the fulness of the gospel, and they shall receive thee, and thou shalt organize the Church among them, and many shall be brought to the knowledge of the truth and shall be filled with joy; and from the things growing out of this mission, shall the fulness of the gospel spread into England, and cause a great work to be done in that land” (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1975, pp. 130–31).
In July of this year there shall be commemorated the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the work in England. We rejoice in the tremendous accomplishments of those early missionaries and those whom the Lord prepared to play such a part in the advancement of this latter-day work.
The call to serve has ever characterized the work of the Lord. It rarely comes at a convenient time. It brings humility, it provokes prayer, it inspires commitment. The call came—to Kirtland. Revelations followed. The call came—to Missouri. Persecution prevailed. The call came—to Nauvoo. Prophets died. The call came—to the basin of the Great Salt Lake. Hardship beckoned.
That long journey, made under such difficult circumstances, was a trial of faith. But faith forged in the furnace of trials and tears is marked by trust and testimony. Only God can count the sacrifice; only God can measure the sorrow; only God can know the hearts of those who serve Him—then and now.
Lessons from the past can quicken our memories, touch our lives, and direct our actions. We are prompted to pause and remember that divinely given promise: “Wherefore, … ye are on the Lord’s errand; and whatever ye do according to the will of the Lord is the Lord’s business” (D&C 64:29).
Such a lesson was recounted on a radio and television program many remember with fondness. The program was entitled “Death Valley Days.” The narrator, known as the Old Ranger, seemed to come right into our living rooms as he would tell the tales of the West.
On one program, the Old Ranger related how the glass was obtained for the windows of the St. George Tabernacle. The glass had been manufactured in the East. Then it had been placed on a ship in New York, which sailed forth on the long and at times perilous journey around Cape Horn and up to the West Coast of America. The precious glass, stored in cartons, was then transported to San Bernardino, California, to await the overland trek to St. George.
David Cannon and the brethren in St. George had the duty to go to San Bernardino with their teams and wagons to retrieve the glass, that the tabernacle of the Lord could be completed. One problem: They needed the then-astronomical sum of $800 to pay for the glass. They had no money. David Cannon turned to his wife and his son and asked, “Do you think that we can raise the money, that we might obtain the glass for the tabernacle?”
His tiny boy, David, Jr., said, “Daddy, I know we can!” He then produced two cents of his own money and gave it to his father. Wilhelmina Cannon, David’s wife, went through the secret hiding places that all women have in their houses. Her search produced $3.50 in silver. The community was scoured for money, and at length the sum of $200 was accumulated—$600 short of the required amount.
David Cannon sighed the sigh of despair of one who had failed although he had tried his best. The little family was really too weary to sleep and too discouraged to eat, so they prayed. Morning dawned. There gathered the teamsters with their wagons and teams, prepared to undertake the long journey to San Bernardino. But they had no $600.
Then there came a knock at the door, and Peter Nielsen, from the nearby community of Washington, entered the house. He said to David Cannon, “Brother David, I have had a persistent dream that I should bring the money that I had saved to expand my house—bring it to you, that you would have a purpose for it.”
While all of the men gathered around the table, including little David, Jr., Peter Nielsen took out a red bandanna and dropped gold pieces, one by one, upon the table. When David Cannon counted the gold pieces, they totaled $600—the exact amount needed to obtain the glass. Within an hour the men waved good-bye and, with their teams, set forth on their journey to San Bernardino to retrieve the glass for the tabernacle.
When that true story was told on “Death Valley Days,” young David Cannon, Jr., was then eighty-seven years of age. He listened to the story with rapt attention. I feel that in his mind, he once again heard those gold pieces, one by one, dropping upon the table as astonished men saw with their very eyes the answer to their prayers.
Tabernacles and temples are built with more than stone and mortar, wood and glass. Particularly is this true when we speak of the temple described by the Apostle Paul: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16). Such temples are built with faith and fasting. They are built with service and sacrifice. They are built with trials and testimonies.
If any brethren within the sound of my voice feel unprepared, even incapable of responding to a call to serve, to sacrifice, to bless the lives of others, remember the truth: “Whom God calls, God qualifies.” He who notes the sparrow’s fall will not abandon the servant’s need.
God bless you, my brethren—you who bear the priesthood. You “are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:9).
May we respond affirmatively to the Prophet Joseph, who urged: “Brethren, shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, brethren; and on, on to the victory!” (D&C 128:22). This is my earnest and humble prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.