This post is part of the ongoing General Conference Odyssey project. My previous contributions can be found here. Posts by other bloggers writing about the October 1971 General Conference today are linked at the end of this post. You can also visit the project group on Facebook.
Today we are writing about the Sunday Afternoon Session of the October 1971 Conference.
It is always interesting to read talks given by future presidents of the church that were given long before they became president. I sometimes wonder if we read these talks differently in retrospect than those who received them at the time did, because we know that the speaker will someday be the prophet of the church. While I haven’t necessarily focused on them, during the course of this project we have read from all of the future prophets.
In the Sunday Afternoon session of General Conference, I was impressed by the sermon given by Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, entitled “If Ye Be Willing and Obedient.” President Hinckley was a marvelous speaker. I encourage you to read the whole talk. However, I will focus on a story he relates about when he was a young missionary in England:
“Nearly forty years ago I was on a mission in England. I had been called to labor in the European Mission office in London under President Joseph F. Merrill of the Council of the Twelve, then president of the European Mission. One day three or four of the London papers carried reviews of a reprint of an old book, snide and ugly in tone, indicating that the book was a history of the Mormons. President Merrill said to me, ‘I want you to go down to the publisher and protest this.’ I looked at him and was about to say, ‘Surely not me.’ But I meekly said, ‘Yes, sir.’
I do not hesitate to say that I was frightened. I went to my room and felt something as I think Moses must have felt when the Lord asked him to go and see Pharaoh. I offered a prayer. My stomach was churning as I walked over to the Goodge Street station to get the underground train to Fleet Street. I found the office of the president and presented my card to the receptionist. She took it and went into the inner office and soon returned to say that Mr. Skeffington was too busy to see me. I replied that I had come five thousand miles and that I would wait. During the next hour she made two or three trips to his office, then finally invited me in. I shall never forget the picture when I entered. He was smoking a long cigar with a look that seemed to say, ‘Don’t bother me.’
I held in my hand the reviews. I do not know what I said after that. Another power seemed to be speaking through me. At first he was defensive and even belligerent. Then he began to soften. He concluded by promising to do something. Within an hour word went out to every book dealer in England to return the books to the publisher. At great expense he printed and tipped in the front of each volume a statement to the effect that the book was not to be considered as history, but only as fiction, and that no offense was intended against the respected Mormon people. Years later he granted another favor of substantial worth to the Church, and each year until the time of his death I received a Christmas card from him.
I came to know that when we try in faith to walk in obedience to the requests of the priesthood, the Lord opens the way, even when there appears to be no way.”
It is fascinating to get a glimpse into these kinds of personal experiences of future prophets; experiences that helped prepare them for the responsibilities that the Lord had in store for them. Even if his verbal response was “Yes, sir,” his internal reaction to Apostle Joseph F. Merrill’s assignment was “Surely not me.” I can imagine the anxiety such an assignment would have given me had I been in young Elder Hinckley’s shoes.
But for me, the important message of his experience was his reaction when he was told that the president of the publishing company was too busy to see him. He could have given up then and reported back to Elder Merrill that the publisher wouldn’t see him. But instead, he insisted on staying and waiting. And then after he persisted through multiple rejections during the next hour, he was finally invited in.
Faith requires persistence.
Earlier in his talk, Elder Hinckley related an experience that had prepared him to act in faith:
“I recall sitting in this Tabernacle when I was fourteen or fifteen—up in the balcony right behind the clock—and hearing President Heber J. Grant tell of his experience in reading the Book of Mormon when he was a boy. He spoke of Nephi and of the great influence he had upon his life. And then, with a voice ringing with a conviction that I shall never forget, he quoted those great words of Nephi: ‘I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.’ ”
Once invited in to speak with the publishing president, his words to his already-annoyed host were guided by the Holy Ghost to say the right thing to soften the man’s heart. Not only did he accomplish the thing that Elder Joseph F. Merrill had asked him to do, but it set up a relationship that, years later, would result in another favor for the church (though he never mentions what it was).
Elder Hinckley taught:
“What marvelous things happen when men walk with faith in obedience to that which is required of them! […] I believe that if we will walk in obedience to the commandments of God, if we will follow the counsel of the priesthood, he will open a way even where there appears to be no way.”
I think it is helpful to point out here that Elder Merrill’s assignment to Elder Hinckley was to protest the publication of misleading material about the church. Had the president of the publishing company reacted differently, and thrown Elder Hinckley out into the street, it would not have negated his faith. Acting in faith doesn’t mean that you will get the results you expect every time, if you are just persistent enough. But it does mean that the Lord can act to accomplish what He wants through your faith and persistence.
Other bloggers writing today about the Sunday Afternoon Session of the October 1971 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints:
- On the Inevitability of Worship by Nathaniel G.
- If Ye Be Willing and Obedient by Chastity W.
- Worshiping the True and Living God by Daniel O.
- “Go, Do, Become” by Michelle L.
- On Worship, Practical, Contemplative, and Aesthetic-Humanitarian by Ralph H.
- Emulating the Great Exemplar by Walker W.
- Living by Power—A Woman of God by SilverRain
- “The World Needs a Bath in Christ’s Pure Religion” by Jan T.