The "miraculous growth" of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints into a widely dispersed and increasingly recognized faith is a singular fulfillment of prophecy, LDS faithful were told Sunday.
President Gordon B. Hinckley in the Sunday morning general session of the 177th Semiannual General Conference, told the worldwide congregation that the church has "become one large family scattered across the earth." More than 13 million members are located in 176 nations and territories. The conference proceedings, he said, were being carried by satellite and other means in 92 languages.
"A great miracle is taking place right before our eyes," said President Hinckley, who characterized the growth as fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy of Daniel, who saw in a dream a stone cut out of the mountain, that would "roll forth and fill the whole earth."
"And this is only the beginning," President Hinckley said. "This work will continue to grow and prosper and move across the earth ... This work is unique and wonderful. It is fundamentally different from every other body of religious doctrine of which I know." He recounted the step-by-step experiences of Joseph Smith, founding prophet of the church, and credited him with faithfully obeying the directives of God the Father and his Son to lay the foundation for the restoration of Christ's gospel in its fulness.
The coming forth of the Book of Mormon was seminal to the young church and continues to influence people in many lands. "The Bible had stood alone for centuries. It is a precious and wonderful book. Now, there was a second witness declaring the divinity of Christ," said President Hinckley. Although a vintage copy of the Book of Mormon recently sold for $105,000, he said, "the cheapest paperback edition is as valuable to the reader who loves its language and message."
Millions around the world heard the conference messages via electronics and more will have access as church publications reprint the texts.
But nothing beats a first-hand opportunity to attend conference, said Sterling and Renee Johnson, Carlsbad, Calif., who came to Utah to celebrate the birth of a new granddaughter and to attend in person the Sunday afternoon session in the Conference Center. Sterling Johnson said it was a treat to see President Hinckley perform the sustainings Saturday morning in which new general authorities were named, and his wife said she will remember the conference messages focused on love.
The couple has lived in many places around the world as his work assignments changed, but the Temple Square environs held the same lure for them as for thousands who flock to the area every six months. Sunday's overcast but dry weather was more amenable than Saturday's persistent rainstorm, and the crowds on the square were more plentiful and more animated.
President Henry B. Eyring, sustained Saturday as second counselor in the First Presidency, prefaced his Sunday talk with a tribute to his predecessor, President James E. Faust, noting that the Tabernacle Choir had earlier sung, "This is the Christ," with lyrics written by the late general authority.
"I always felt that when I grew up, I wanted to be like President Faust," he quipped. "There may still be time."
His first address as a member of the First Presidency focused on the value in looking for and recording, preferably daily, instances in which the influence of the Lord is evident. He began recording these moments some years ago and has continued to make it a daily practice, he said.
"As I would cast my mind over the day, I would see evidence of what God had done for one of us that I had not recognized in the busy moments of the day. As that happened, and it happened often, I realized that trying to remember had allowed God to show me what he had done."
Finding ways to recognize and remember God's kindnesses will build testimony, and it will help individuals to keep God in their lives in a world where it is easy to forget him, President Eyring suggested. "There is a simple cure for the terrible malady of forgetting God, his blessings and his messages to us. That remedy is to cultivate the companionship of the Holy Ghost through righteous living and respond to his promptings."
Even those who do not have the gift of the Holy Ghost, bestowed through the priesthood ordination of confirmation, have the influence of the Spirit of Christ to help them discern good from evil, President Eyring said. This gift was promised to all who experience mortality and can be instrumental in convincing individuals of religious truths.
Elder Quentin L. Cook, sustained Saturday to fill the vacancy in the Quorum of Twelve created by President Eyring's reassignment, told church members he was happy to have a new position that will allow him to "bear witness of Christ in all the world."
He mentioned missionary service as a young man in the British Isles and later assignments in the missionary department of the church as opportunities to witness first-hand the phenomenal growth of the church. In the Philippines, he said, when he was first assigned to oversee the work there, there was one priesthood holder. Now there are 600,000 members who, though challenged by poverty, have experienced "the gospel impact in their lives."
In the Polynesian islands, he said, roughly 25 percent of the population is LDS. He compared the influence of the church on their lives to their practice of seeking pure water beneath the ocean during times of drought. Skilled, wise men lead younger men to spots in the ocean where pure water percolating out of the islands can be recovered by divers. In the same way, he said, the "living waters" of the gospel are difficult to find, but life-giving in nature.
Other Sunday speakers took for their themes various gospel principles related to gaining and keeping a testimony, the benefits of temple worship, the value of scriptures, the importance of parenting, the necessity to live Christian lives and others. A sampling includes:
• Elder David A. Bednar, Quorum of Twelve: Those who are invited to stand in "in the hill of the Lord" are those who have clean hands and a pure heart. It is possible to have clean hands without a pure heart. Clean hands relate to the process of overcoming sin and evil influences, while a pure heart pertains to a transformed nature that leads one to walk guiltless before the Savior. "We will not attain a state of perfection in this life, but we can and should press forward with faith in Christ along the strait and narrow path and make steady progress toward our eternal destiny."
• Sister Julie B. Beck, general president of the Relief Society: Women in the church can be like the mothers of the Stripling Warriors whose story is recounted in the Book of Mormon. The young men were successful in battle because they had been taught "by mothers who knew." Mothers who know bear children, honor sacred ordinances and covenants, nurture others, lead in equal partnership with their husbands and teach. They may also "do less," not allowing unhealthy media use in their homes or the distractions that diminish good family life.
• Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Quorum of the Twelve: Limited time and resources do not allow us to do everything, even though the things considered may be "good." Priorities for Latter-day Saints should include those things that lead to "the best " eternal life in the Celestial Kingdom. He asked that church members evaluate the potential for "good," "better" and "best" and to put their best time and efforts into those things that will produce the desired end result. Local church leaders and organizations should use the same standard in planning activities. "Many young people are amusing themselves to death spiritual death."
• Elder Douglas L. Callister, Quorums of the Seventy: "In the genius of the gospel plan, there ultimately only has to be one witness, but that witness must be you. The testimony of others may initiate and nourish the desire for faith and testimony, but eventually, every individual must find out for himself. None can permanently endure on borrowed light."
• Elder Robert D. Hales, Quorum of the Twelve: "Personal revelation is the way we know for ourselves the most important truths of our existence, the living reality of God our eternal Father, and his son, Jesus Christ, the truthfulness of the restored gospel, and god's purpose and direction for us." The teaching and examples of prophets are guides for us to gain that personal revelation. "Revelation comes on the Lord's timetable, which often means we must move forward in faith, even though we haven't received all the answers we desire."
• Elder Richard G. Scott, Quorum of Twelve: Decision-making is complicated in an ultra-interconnected world. A constant barrage of counsel, advice and promotions can be confusing. "There are two ways to find truth, both useful, provided we follow the laws upon which they are predicated." The first is the scientific method, but the second is "simply to go to the origin of all truth and ask or respond to inspiration." Two ingredients are essential to the latter: "unwavering faith in the source of all truth and a willingness to keep God's commandments to keep open spiritual communications with him."
In closing the Sunday sessions, President Hinckley urged his LDS following to reread the messages in upcoming church publications and to discuss them together as families. "They are the products of much prayer and meditation and are well worthy of careful consideration."The revered leader, noted for his sense of humor, then reminded that another conference will be held six months from now, in April. "I'm 97," he said. "I hope I'm going to make it."