I should like to address my remarks to a special group of people—those who are new converts or who will shortly join the Church.
We welcome you, our friend and new member, into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. With Paul we say, “Ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God … Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.” (Eph. 2:19, 20.)
The very fact that you have felt the Spirit and received the doctrine of Christ makes you someone special. For the Lord himself said of you, “Mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts.” (D&C 29:7.)
In Old Testament times, the elect of God lived together in one land. They had their prophets and the Lord spoke to them and led them. They were eventually called the House of Israel. Yet, with the passage of time, many of them began to forget their God and, because of wickedness, were scattered at different times throughout the nations of the earth.
But the Lord also vowed that in the last days he would remember his “scattered Israel” and gather them home.
“And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries whither I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase. And I will set up shepherds over them which shall feed them: and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall they be lacking, saith the Lord.” (Jer. 23:3–4.)
This prophecy is speaking of you and your entrance into the Church of Jesus Christ. You are the elect who have heard the voice of the “Good Shepherd.”
Let us review what has happened to you, the new member, and what lies ahead of you in the Church.
First and foremost, everything that has come to you in your introduction to the Church has been Christ-centered. You will feel a special bond with the early Nephites, who said: “We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, … that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” (2 Ne. 25:26.)
From the very beginning you were asked to prepare for baptism by immersion for the remission of sins. This marked your formal acceptance of the gospel of Jesus Christ, with its covenants and commandments.
You also enjoy the knowledge and assurance that your baptism is valid, because he who performed it was called of God “by those who are in authority.” (A of F 1:5.) He did not call himself, but was called of God.
You also met the requirements of the First Presidency for entrance into the Church.
After baptism, you received the crowning gift from our Heavenly Father which you had conferred upon you, by the right person and in the right way, the gift of the Holy Ghost, called also the Comforter and the Spirit of Truth. You were made aware of this sacred and sanctifying influence when the missionaries were teaching you the doctrines of the Lord’s Church.
Remember that as the missionaries presented the specific teachings and commandments, they urged you to pray to the Lord for your own confirmation that these things are true. They even pointed out, through modern revelation, how the Lord would answer you.
“Behold, … you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right.” (D&C 9:8.)
“Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.” (D&C 8:2.)
“Therefore, you shall feel that it is right.” (D&C 9:8).
When asked how a person knows when he is converted, President Marion G. Romney, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, gave this answer: “He may be assured of it when by the power of the Holy Spirit his soul is healed. When this occurs, he will recognize it by the way he feels, for he will feel as the people of Benjamin felt when they received remission of sins. The record says, ‘the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, …’ (Mosiah 4:3.)” (in Conference Report, October 1963, p. 25.)
Following your baptism and with the reception of the Holy Ghost, there has been something additional come into your life. With the warmth and peace of the Spirit has come greater patience, greater understanding, greater confidence, the ability to do things that before seemed beyond your reach, a greater appreciation of your own self-worth, a greater understanding of the people around you, a greater feeling for the principles of the gospel and an understanding of the scriptures.
What do you have to look forward to? Well, after an appropriate time, you will be anxious to go to the temple. One of the purposes of the temple is to make marriages eternal. That is, a couple who have been married by a civil authority or minister “until death do us part” can, in the temples of the Church, be sealed for time and eternity.
The whole purpose of God’s plan for man is to provide a way for all his children to return to his presence, which is eternal life. All who accept Jesus as the Christ and are willing to obey the commandments of his gospel will be on the road to eternal life. Another requirement of eternal life is eternal marriage. When a temple sealing or marriage is performed, it means that the family can also become eternal, or, in other words, live with God in the family unit. So perfect is this divine plan that the Savior also promises those who are living the gospel, but who have no opportunity for marriage, that nothing will be lost to them.
A practical blessing of marriage in the temple is that you will be joining a very unusual group in the world today. Sociologists tell us that in our present society one out of three marriages fail. But out of those marriages joined together in the temple, the success rate is better than ninety out of a hundred. The blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ include a better marriage in this life for those firmly established in the Church, as well as a promise of the family being together in eternity.
As a new member you have now become a part of a ward or branch. You join with other members who, like you, are growing in the gospel and are striving to live Christlike lives. Some have been members for years. Most are trying to do their best and improve each day. Still there are the bad days, and occasionally someone may give offense, usually not intentionally; and if you are to help him, be patient and don’t take offense, thereby giving him time to overcome that difficulty. Such an experience would be rare, but could happen.
As you get better acquainted with your fellow members, you will probably enjoy all of them, but will relate especially well to a few, whom you will feel closest to because of similar backgrounds and interests. The members you will want to have special confidence in include your bishop or branch president and your home teachers. For the sisters, the Relief Society president and visiting teachers will be of additional help. The youth will also have special leaders. The greatest expression of love and appreciation that members can give each other is their visit to each other’s homes in the capacity of home teachers and visiting teachers. If you haven’t received it already, you will soon have such an assignment.
While you are new and somewhat inexperienced, you must remember that you are already making a most wonderful contribution. Your freshness and vitality are adding new life to the ward. Although the older members may not always say it, they enjoy being around you, because you radiate a spirit that warms them. Not that they don’t have their own testimony, but the newness of your spirit helps them remember the excitement of their own conversion. Our prophet, President Spencer W. Kimball, has also said that you do much to keep the Church vital and alive.
You, the new member, will have special challenges which will help you grow. Your testimony, as bright as it is, is also fragile. It must be nourished so it can burn with a brightness that can never be dimmed. This nourishment comes from such things as your sincere prayers, regular attendance at Church meetings, payment of tithing, keeping the Sabbath day holy, scripture reading—or, in other words, attention to all the commandments. In this way, the healing influence of the Holy Spirit will always be with you.
Finally, you may feel that, because of your newness, you are way behind those who have been in the Church longer than you. While there is much for you to learn, in another way the Lord will reward you and bless you with the same blessings as the person who has been in the Church all his life.
He teaches us this lesson in his parable of the householder who hired laborers to work in the vineyard. As he hired the first ones at the beginning of the day, he saw others standing idle and he hired them also to work in his vineyard. He did the same the sixth hour and the ninth hour and even the eleventh hour. At the end of the day he paid each the same amount, although they did not all work the same number of hours.
When the workers complained, he said:
“Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.
“Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?” (Matt. 20:13–15.)
One meaning of this great parable is that the Lord holds out the same promises for salvation and exaltation to all of his children who come to a knowledge of the truth, provided they are faithful. Note that this is not deathbed repentance. The parable shows that the same pay went to all those who heard the call of the householder and went straightway into the vineyard, no matter when they heard the call. No promise is made to the person who heard the call, early or late, and did not go.
This parable also shows that the Lord can and does call both new and old members to positions of responsibility in the kingdom. Each has certain abilities and potential and each will be called of God by revelation to fill positions for which they are best suited. Sometimes this is without any particular regard for how long they have been members.
The same thing is happening today as you learn and grow in your membership. You will find that you can do things that you once thought impossible, all because of the gift of the Spirit. This, combined with the guidance of your Priesthood leaders and the teachings of the scriptures, will prove a great blessing to you.
One of your great sources of strength will be the older members. All members of the Church have been admonished by the Lord to nourish and strengthen their new brothers and sisters in the Gospel of Christ. In the brotherhood of God, the Lord is “no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34) and he expects us all to follow his example.
We read in the tenth chapter of Acts [Acts 10] how Peter came to the realization that all who keep the law are accepted by the Lord. As you may recall, Peter saw a vision on this subject “wherein were all manner of four-footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.
“And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.” (Acts 10:12–13.)
Now all these were forbidden by Jewish law, so Peter reacted by saying, “Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.” (Acts 10:14.)
And in response came these great words from the Lord:
“What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.” (Acts 10:15.)
Small wonder that later on Peter said, “but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.” (Acts 10:28.)
From this point forward in the ancient church, the Gospel began to go forth, not just to the Jews, but to all who received the Savior and kept the commandments of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The same is true today in the Lord’s restored church. That person whom God has cleansed through faith, repentance, and baptism followed by the reception of the gift of the Holy Ghost, is accepted by the Church. That person who is pronounced clean by the Lord is fellowshipped and accepted by the members in the same way. Neither the Lord nor the members of his Church are “respecters of persons” regarding a brother or sister who has entered in at the gate.
This unity, this acceptance of each other, is also pointed out by Alma as a condition of everyone’s entrance into the kingdom of God through baptism.
“And now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places … , what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord?” (Mosiah 18:8–9, 10.)
Further evidence of acceptance of the new member is the standard Church procedure of conferring the Priesthood of Aaron on new male converts of proper age shortly after baptism and the calling of new brothers and sisters to callings within the Church that are within their capabilities to perform.
Yes, the older and more established members of the Church play a most important role in helping you, the new member, come into the kingdom and find your way. A recent convert, Alan John Nubeck, reflects on the recent conversion of his family and the role older members played.
“One of the greatest things that helped us to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was a meeting on a Thursday evening before our baptism. We were met by a family who they found had a lot of things in common with us. They talked about our pending baptism and explained things to us.
“When we went to our baptism, they greeted us at the door and said they were going to attend our baptism. It was quite an assurance for me to enter the waters of baptism and look up and see faces of friends.
“After joining the Church, they helped us in church meetings by sitting beside us with other families, and the spirit we felt from them was tremendous. They also helped to explain the various doctrines of the Church and helped us with our scripture studies. They fellowshipped us on weekdays and weekends and especially in family home evenings and helped us to design a special family home evening for our family. After fast and testimony meetings at church, we would attend a meeting at their home in which they invited other members of the Church to meet us. Even now they still remain our companions and still explain things we don’t understand.
“I know through this fellowshipping that this is the true Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
So here you are, embarking on a new journey as a valued and trusted member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Lord said, “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life.” (Matt. 7:14.) You have entered into that gate and are on a course that will take you back to his presence.
He has given you the precious gift of the Holy Ghost, which will keep your testimony untarnished and lead you into all truth if you follow its promptings. He has given you his church and kingdom upon the earth so you can be instructed more perfectly in the ways of the Lord. You have been given the help and companionship of priesthood leaders and fellow Saints so that you can learn and grow together and help each other “hold fast to the rod” that leads to eternal life.
And finally, he has put you into a world filled with great numbers of his other children. Children who “are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it.” (D&C 123:12.)
It is your example that will show them the way. It is the spirit that radiates from you that they will feel and thereby recognize the good and the true. It is through your efforts that this great experience of the gospel of Jesus Christ will come to these wonderful people. Like the city on the hill, your light burns brightly.
And so to you, the new member, our sister, our brother, from every kind of circumstance, from every kind of background, your ship has arrived at a safe and peaceful harbor. And to you, the newest star in the firmament, we say welcome.