The Mormon Tabernacle Choir often is invited to sing on special occasions throughout the United States, including the inauguration of a new president. Invariably the sponsor of the program requests the Choir to sing “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
This great hymn was composed by Julia Ward Howe at the time of the American Civil War between the Northern and Southern states (1861–1865). She had visited a camp of Northern soldiers, ordinary men caught up in a cause larger than themselves, a cause that transcended imperfect motives and worldly ambitions. For a moment she perceived the glory that could rise from the pain and heartache of that terrible war, and she wrote, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord … His truth is marching on.”
Her vision of glory inspired people and gave them the little extra courage they needed to achieve their goals.
We all need courage to achieve our goals. We all need to see “the glory of the coming of the Lord,” to have our vision of eternity.
The Latter-day Pioneers must have perceived their eternity. Think for a moment what it was really like to be a pioneer. Think of the dispossessed Saints as they looked back across the frozen river at their nice warm homes in Nauvoo. Think what it might have been like for one of my great aunts who was five years of age when she walked from Winter Quarters, Nebraska, to the Great Salt Lake Valley, in Utah. Imagine what it was like to walk behind a wagon or in front of a handcart over the dusty trail. Imagine spending six months traveling in the dirt and the dust. Think of the mothers who gave birth on the plains. Think of the heartbreak of bearing a child and then having to lay that precious newborn in a shallow grave and cover it with rocks, praying that the wolves would not get to the little body.
What could possibly have motivated those people to go on under those conditions? They didn’t have to. They could have gone back. There were many people who made peace with the mobs and didn’t go west. What was it that motivated the faithful Saints to do what they did? I suggest that their eyes had seen the glory of the kingdom of God. When Brigham Young saw the Salt Lake Valley, it wasn’t filled with the homes and churches and temples that he knew would one day be there. But he envisioned the glory, and he never doubted. And he was not alone. In their way, they all had seen the glory of the kingdom. That was what kept them walking across the plains. They had to have seen the glory; it was their vision or testimony.
Another example that means a great deal to me is that of my great-great-grandmother. She grew up in a pleasant section of England, a place of green, rolling hills. Her family was not wealthy, but they had a substantial living by the standards of their time. They left that condition to cross the Atlantic Ocean—not by jet plane, not even by a fashionable ocean liner. With a company of Saints, they were able to hire a ship in Liverpool, England. The only vessel available was one that was supposed to have been discarded. But they prevailed upon the owners to rent it to them for one last trip across the Atlantic. The owners thought, “Well, it has a reasonable chance of making the trip.” They found a captain and crew who were willing to sail this leaky old vessel.
When they had been at sea for about a week, a terrible storm struck the ship.
Now the captain didn’t want a bunch of panicky passengers interfering with his crew during storm conditions, so he simply closed the hatches to make sure the passengers stayed in the hold below the main deck. So there was no way of escaping.
Down in the dark of the hold, the heavy trunks containing the Saints’s household goods broke loose from the ropes that secured them and slid from one side of the cabin to the other, so that the passengers were afraid to get out of their bunks for fear they’d have their legs crushed in the dark. They had brought their cooking equipment aboard, and all the pans and dishes were clattering from one side to the other, making almost as much noise as the small children screaming in terror in total darkness all night.
When the storm stopped and the Saints were allowed up on deck, they immediately held services to thank the Lord for their deliverance. The old sea captain was impressed. After he had heard them sing their hymns and offer their prayers, he said, “You must worship a God who thinks a great deal of you, or you all would have been at the bottom of the sea this morning. The ship took on water all night, and the sailors stood knee deep in water, pumping for their lives while the old ship went with the storm.”
Now they all knew ahead of time that they were taking that risk. Why did they do it? Why do people do things like that? I suggest that they had a vision of the glory of the kingdom of God. I suspect there are a large number of people who do very heroic things because maybe just for a moment they see the significance of an ideal.
Most of our lives are spent doing the ordinary, everyday things—going to school, traveling to and from work, cleaning house, washing clothes, and all those boring things that seem very drab and dull and joyless.
But every now and then some people catch a vision of what they’re really doing, and that raises them to absolutely superhuman achievement. These are the people we look back on in history with great admiration. Such people have made it possible for us to enjoy the blessings of the gospel under very favorable conditions. We should be eternally grateful to them for that.
I hope we can all say that in some sense we have seen the glory. There are many different kinds of glory that we can see, but all are a reflection of the glory of our Father in Heaven.
Sometimes we see the glory through the achievements of God’s children. Whatever good thing is conceived and achieved by the mind and hand of man is a testimony to the mind and hand of our Creator. In my work with NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) I have seen this kind of glory many times.
Of course it’s good to keep man’s achievements in perspective. We have only to look up into the night sky to see how greatly our Father’s works surpass our own. In fact, I have often seen the glory through the beauties of the world our Heavenly Father created for us.
I do a lot of flying getting to and from training meetings and tests at the various contractors with NASA. To do that, I’m furnished with a T-38 jet plane by NASA, and I fly it as part of my training as an astronaut. I “drive to work” quite often as high as 14,000 meters, just barely under the speed of sound. At an altitude of 14,000 meters there are no commercial airlines. There are no mountains to avoid. I like to read the Doctrine and Covenants while I’m flying. Occasionally the weather is clear, and then the view is fantastic.
On one flight I could see about one-sixth of the United States in one great sweep, and that’s an impressive way to see a country. From that altitude you can see no litter on the side of the road. You can hear no family arguments. You are unaware that there are divorces going on down there and discrimination and poverty. It’s a beautiful scene. You see the world as the Lord created it.
I was flying along the east coast of the United States one night at 14,000 meters. A large thunderstorm system had gone through and left the air absolutely clear. The whole coast looked like one great sheet of black velvet onto which someone had thrown handfuls of diamonds.
Perhaps even more thrilling than the wonders of nature is the glory we see in the lives of our Heavenly Father’s children. I was at the solemn assembly when President Harold B. Lee was sustained as the new president of the Church. I had a spiritual manifestation that that man was a prophet; just as much as Abraham or Isaiah or Peter were. Those little revelations can help you do a lot of home teaching and some of the other less spectacular jobs in the Church.
I used to go to NASA meetings in Binghamton, New York, where they build the space craft simulators we fly, and I’d visit a little abandoned town called Harmony, Pennsylvania. Nearby is the Susquehanna River. There are sections of the river where you can’t see a single house or railroad or telephone pole. There’s nothing that would suggest it is any different than when Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery saw it. You can walk along the sides of that river and say, “I wonder in which of these pools John the Baptist instructed the brethren to baptize each other. I wonder on which of those little hills or in which grove Peter, James, and John appeared to these brethren to ordain them to the Melchizedek Priesthood.” You feel a little bit of the spirit of those marvelous occurrences.
I have also visited the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman in western Missouri. I get the same vision of glory there. We’re told in prophecies that someday there’s going to be a very special meeting there. It will be presided over by Adam. He will ask for reports from all the dispensations. Then the Savior will appear, and Adam will turn over to him a kingdom for the millennium. But that will be a private meeting. Probably only a few select priesthood holders will know about it. But you sense the great impact of that area.
Not everybody has a vision of the glory. For example, toward the end of the last century, a Mr. Wright was a religious leader in the community of Elkhart, Indiana. A man by the name of Professor Kelly visited him. Professor Kelly was a local teacher who was trying to raise money for research in technical matters, and he wanted Wright’s support. He said that if people concentrated their industrial and technical efforts, they could do unbelievable things to raise their standard of living. He outlined some of the things that he thought might be accomplished. He said that man could increase his life span. He could construct homes that provided unheard of comforts and conveniences. He might even fly like a bird someday.
Wright said, “That’s an ungodly thought! I’m not going to support this. Go home and pray for forgiveness. To suggest that man could fly like a bird is to defy the will of God!”
Wright had two sons—Wilbur and Orville who had their vision of eternity as they flew the first power-driven, heavier-than-air flying machine in 1903.
Sometimes people don’t see the glory. And sometimes they see a counterfeit glory. They waste their lives searching for the seven cities of gold or the fountain of youth. They’re following an image. They search for fool’s gold rather than the real thing.
Let’s hope that we can see the true glory and catch the real spirit.
Your generation, and I hope my generation too, could live to see the second coming of the Savior. You may see times of trial that make crossing the plains or an ocean voyage in a leaky sailing ship across the North Atlantic look very serene. You will need to have a vision of the glory to sustain you through such times. If you do that—if you have seen the glory of the gospel, of the Second Coming, of the millennial reign, of the celestial kingdom—it can sustain you as you cross your plains and the dust rolls up in your face. You may have to bury your children on the plains or meet whatever your challenge is to be. You will have trials as every generation has had trials. You may have more trials than most generations. You need to see the glory to sustain you through those times.