I have the blessing of being the gospel doctrine teacher in my ward. Today the lesson was Lesson 11: “The Field Is White Already to Harvest” and we had a great discussion about missionary work. One of the promises the Lord gives his missionaries is that when we go to preach the gospel, that he will help us to know what to say (see D&C 33:8-10).
To balance this idea, I like the revelation given to Hyrum where the Lord tells him, “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). The Lord will give us what to say, but it is also important to realize that we cannot teach what we do not know. Those who teach the gospel are most effective if they are living what they are teaching and willing to become lifelong learners.
I love the story of Jedediah Grant and his ability to teach a gospel sermon whenever called upon. Although I did not share this in our class, I had to post this- first for its value in reminding us that the Lord will help us to know what message to share, second for its humorous flavor.
The Paper is Blank
In the early part of President [Jedediah M.] Grant’s ministry in [the South], he gained quite a reputation as a ready speaker, frequently responding to invitations to preach from such subjects or texts as might be selected at the time of commencing his sermon, by those inviting him. In time it became a matter of wonder with many as to how and when he prepared his wonderful sermons. In reply to their queries he informed them that he never prepared his sermons as other ministers did. “Of course, I read and store my mind with a knowledge of gospel truths,” said he, “but I never study up a sermon.”
Well, they did not believe he told the truth, for, as they thought, it was impossible for a man to preach such sermons without careful preparation. So, in order to prove it, a number of persons decided to put him to test, and asked him if he would preach at a certain time and place and from a text selected by them. They proposed to give him the text on his arrival at the place of meeting, thus giving him no time to prepare. To gratify them he consented. The place selected was Jeffersonville, the seat of Tazewell county, at that time the home of the late John B. Floyd, who subsequently became secretary of war, and many other prominent men. The room chosen was in the court house.
At the hour appointed the house was packed to its utmost capacity. Mr. Floyd and a number of lawyers and ministers were present and occupied front seats. Elder Grant came in, walked to the stand and opened the meeting as usual. At the close of the second hymn, a clerk, appointed for the occasion, stepped forward and handed the paper (the text) to Elder Grant, who unfolded it and found it to be blank. Without any mark of surprise, he held the paper up before the audience, and said:
“My friends, I am here today according to agreement, to preach from such a text as these gentlemen might select for me. I have it here in my hand. I don’t wish you to become offended at me, for I am under promise to preach from the text selected; and if anyone is to blame, you must blame those who selected it. I knew nothing of what text they would choose, but of all texts this is my favorite one. You see the paper is blank (at the same time holding it up to view). You sectarians down there believe that out of nothing God created all things, and now you wish me to create a sermon from Nothing, for this paper is blank. Now, you sectarians believe in a God that has neither body, parts nor passions. Such a God I conceive to be a perfect blank, just as you find my text is. You believe in a church without prophets, Apostles, Evangelists, etc. Such a church would be a perfect blank, as compared with the Church of Christ, and this agrees with my text. You have located your heaven beyond the bounds of time and space. It exists nowhere, and consequently your heaven is blank, like unto my text.”
Thus he went on until he had torn to pieces all the tenets of faith professed by his hearers, and then proclaimed the principles of the gospel in great power. He wound up by asking, “Have I stuck to the text and does that satisfy you?” As soon as he sat down, Mr. Floyd jumped up and said: “Mr. Grant, if you are not a lawyer, you ought to be one.” Then turning to the people, he added: “Gentlemen, you have listened to a wonderful discourse, and with amazement. Now, take a look at Mr. Grant’s clothes. Look at his coat: his elbows are almost out: and his knees are almost through his pants. Let us take up a collection.” As he sat down another eminent lawyer Joseph Stras, Esq., still living in Jeffersonville, arose and said: “I am good for one sleeve in a coat and one leg in a pair of pants, for Mr. Grant.”
The presiding elder of the M. E. church, South, was requested to pass the hat around, but he replied that he would not take up a collection for a “Mormon” preacher. “Yes you will,” said Mr. Floyd; “Pass it around,” said Mr. Stras, and the cry was taken up and repeated by the audience, until, for the sake of peace, the minister had to yield. He accordingly marched around with a hat in his hand, receiving contributions, which resulted in a collection sufficient to purchase a fine suit of clothes, a horse, saddle and bridle for Brother Grant, and not one contributor a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, though some joined subsequently. And this from a sermon produced from a blank text. 1
1. Andrew Jenson, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia, 4 vols. (Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson History Co., 1901), 1:57-58. Also in Jack M. Lyon, Linda Ririe Gundry, and Jay A. Parry, eds., Best-Loved Stories of the LDS People [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997], 385.