The following is an excerpt from a talk delivered by Elder Bruce R. McConkie to the Church Sunday School Department in 1977. The entire excerpt is a direct quotation.
In all our teaching we represent the Lord and are appointed to teach His gospel. We are the Lord’s agents, and as such we are empowered to say only those things which He wants said.
Agents represent their principal. They have no power of their own. They act in someone else’s name. They do what they are told to do. They say what they are authorized to say—nothing more, nothing less.
We are the Lord’s agents. We represent Him. “As ye are agents,” He says, “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).
Our business as teachers is to teach His doctrine and none other. There is no other course we can follow if we are to save souls. We have no saving power of our own. We cannot create a law or a doctrine that will redeem or resurrect or save another person. The Lord only can do these things, and we are appointed to teach what He reveals on these and all gospel doctrines.
What then, are we authorized to do in teaching the gospel? What is our divine commission? The teacher’s divine commission is summarized under five headings:
1. We are commanded—it is something on which we have no choice; there are no alternative courses open to us—we are commanded to teach the principles of the gospel.
In the revelation known as “the law of the Church,” the Lord says, “The elders, priests and teachers of this church shall teach the principles of my gospel” (D&C 42:12). Numerous revelations say: Preach my gospel and my word, “saying none other things than that which the prophets and apostles have written, and that which is taught them by the Comforter through the prayer of faith” (D&C 52:9).
Manifestly we cannot teach that which is unknown to us. A prerequisite to teaching the gospel is studying the gospel. Hence such divine decrees as:
“Search the scriptures” (John 5:39).
“Search these commandments” (D&C 1:37).
“[Treasure] up my word” (Joseph Smith—Matthew 1:37).
“Study my word” (D&C 11:22).
“Search the prophets” (3 Nephi 23:5).
“Ye ought to search these things. Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah” (3 Nephi 23:1).
“Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed; then, if you desire, you shall have my Spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men” (D&C 11:21).
We can read all of the standard works of the Church in one year if we proceed at the rate of about six pages a day. To do the sincere searching and the solemn pondering required will take more time.
There is knowledge and there are spiritual experiences to be gained from reading, pondering, and praying about the scriptures which can be gained in no other way. No matter how devoted and active members of the Church are in administrative matters, they will never gain the great blessings which come from scriptural study unless they pay the price of that study and thus make the written word a part of their lives.
2. We are to teach the principles of the gospel as they are found in the standard works of the Church.
In the law of the Church the Lord says: “The elders, priests and teachers of this church shall teach the principles of my gospel”—and now note this restriction—“which are [found] in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, in the which is the fulness of the gospel” (D&C 42:12).
Then the Lord speaks of the need to be guided by the Spirit, but comes back to the scriptural source of gospel truth in these words: “And all this ye shall observe to do as I have commanded concerning your teaching, until the fulness of my scriptures is given” (D&C 42:15).
When this revelation was given, the Bible and the Book of Mormon were the only scriptures available to the Latter-day Saints. Now we have also the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price, and there are, of course, other revelations which shall be given in due course.
3. We are to teach by the power of the Holy Ghost.
Having commanded all teachers to teach the principles of the gospel as found in the standard works, the Lord says: “These shall be their teachings, as they shall be directed by the Spirit.”
Then He gives the great directive: “And the Spirit shall be given … by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach.”
Along with this instruction, He gives this promise: “As ye shall lift up your voices by the Comforter, ye shall speak and prophesy as seemeth me good; For, behold, the Comforter knoweth all things, and beareth record of the Father and of the Son” (D&C 42:13–14, 16–17).
Every teacher in every teaching situation might well reason along this line:
These principles of teaching gospel truths by the power of the Spirit are further expounded in another revelation by means of revealed questions and answers in this way:
Question: “I the Lord ask you this question—unto what were ye ordained?” (D&C 50:13).
That is: “What is your commission? What have I empowered you to do? What authorization have you received from me?”
Answer: “To preach my gospel by the Spirit, even the Comforter which was sent forth to teach the truth” (D&C 50:14).
That is: “Your commission, your authorization, the thing you have been ordained to do is to teach my gospel, not any private views, not the philosophies of the world, but my everlasting gospel, and to do it by the power of my Spirit, all in harmony with the commandment I have heretofore given: ‘If ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach.’”
Question: “He that is ordained of me and sent forth to preach the word of truth by the Comforter, in the Spirit of truth, doth he preach it by the Spirit of truth or some other way?” (D&C 50:17).
Before hearing the revealed answer, let us note that the Lord is here talking about teaching the gospel, the word of truth, the principles of salvation. He is not talking about the doctrines of the world and the commandments of men, the adherence to which is vain and does not lead to salvation.
The question is, when we preach the gospel, when we teach the word of truth, when we set forth the true doctrines of salvation, do we do so by the power of the Holy Ghost or in some other way? Obviously the “other way” to teach the truth is by the power of the intellect.
Now the revealed answer: “If it be by some other way it is not of God” (D&C 50:18).
Let us make this clear. Even though what we teach is true, it is not of God unless it is taught by the power of the Spirit. There is no conversion, no spiritual experience, unless the Spirit of the Lord is involved.
Question: “And again, he that receiveth the word of truth, doth he receive it by the Spirit of truth or some other way?” (D&C 50:19).
Answer: “If it be [by] some other way it is not of God” (D&C 50:20).
This is why I said at the beginning that if this presentation was to have converting power, I must present it by the power of the Spirit and you must hear and receive by that same power. Only then can “he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another,” so that “both are edified and rejoice together” (D&C 50:22).
4. We are to apply the gospel principles taught to the needs and circumstances of our hearers.
The gospel principles never change. They are the same in all ages. And in general the needs of people are the same in all ages. There are no problems which have befallen us except those which have been the common lot of men from the beginning. And so it is not difficult to take the principles of the everlasting word and apply them to our specific needs. The abstract truth must live in the lives of men if they are to bear fruit.
Nephi quoted from the book of Moses and the writings of Isaiah and then said, “I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning” (1 Nephi 19:23)—meaning he applied the teachings of Moses and Isaiah to the needs of the Nephites.
5. We must testify that what we teach is true.
We are a testimony-bearing people, as we should be. Our meetings abound in the solemn assurances that the work in which we are engaged is true. We certify with fervor and conviction that Jesus is the Lord, that Joseph Smith is His prophet, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth” (D&C 1:30).
In all of this we do well. But we ought to do more. The inspired teacher, the one who teaches by the power of the Spirit, is expected to bear testimony that the doctrine he teaches is true.
Alma set us an example in this respect. He preached a mighty sermon on being born again. Then he said he had spoken plainly, had been commissioned so to do, had quoted the scriptures, and had taught the truth.
“And this is not all,” he added. “Do ye not suppose that I know of these things myself? Behold, I testify unto you that I do know that these things whereof I have spoken are true” (Alma 5:45).
This is the crowning seal placed on gospel teaching—the personal witness of the teacher that the doctrine he has taught is true!
Who can argue with a testimony? Unbelievers may contend about our doctrine. They may wrest the scriptures to their destruction. They may explain away this or that from a purely intellectual standpoint, but they cannot overpower a testimony.
If I say this or that Messianic prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled in this or that event in the life of our Lord, many voices are waiting to debate the issue and show that the wise men of the world think otherwise. But if I say I know by the revelations of the Holy Spirit to my soul that the Messianic utterances refer to Jesus of Nazareth, who was God’s Son, what is there to debate? I have then borne personal witness on the doctrinal point being taught, and every hearer who is in tune with the same Spirit knows in his heart that what I have said is true.
Alma, having borne testimony that the things he had taught are true, then asked, “And how do ye suppose that I know of their surety?” His answer, which sets a pattern for all teachers, is: “Behold, I say unto you [that] they are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God. Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit; and this is the spirit of revelation which is in me” (Alma 5:45–46).
And so we have now before us an exposition of our status as the Lord’s agents and of the teacher’s divine commission.
We are appointed:
To teach the principles of the gospel
Out of the standard works
By the power of the Holy Ghost,
Always applying the teachings to our needs, and
To testify that what we have taught is true.
Now there remains but one more thing for me to say on these matters, and that is to bear testimony that the concepts here presented are true, and that if we follow them we will have power to convert and save the souls of men.
That the Lord has commanded us to teach the principles of His gospel as they are set forth in His holy scriptures;
That unless we do this by the power of His Holy Spirit, our teaching is not of God;
That He expects us to apply the principles of eternal truth to our lives;
That we should bear testimony to all who will hear that our teachings come from Him who is Eternal and will lead men to peace in this life and eternal life in the world to come.
That all of us who teach may do so according to this divine pattern, I pray, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.