I had the privilege again today of speaking in another ward’s sacrament meeting, on the topic of “faith of our fathers.” I tried to take a slightly different approach to the subject, mostly trying to connect it to the Savior, scripture, and basic gospel doctrines. I think it turned out pretty well:
This is the time of year when we build inspiration and faith by focusing on the great lives of our pioneer ancestors. Whether or not we have great grandparents who pulled handcarts across the plains, whether we were born into the church or were baptized yesterday, as Latter-day Saints, we all get to draw from this great well of pioneer devotion and sacrifice to fill our hearts.
This is not the only dispensation where pioneer stories have been helpful in strengthening the Saints. In Alma chapter 5 in the Book of Mormon, the prophet Alma gives a great talk where he does the same thing. First he introduces himself and explains that he’s there to speak to them with authority from previous leaders, like any visiting authority in the church today. Then Alma reminds them of the hardships faced by those previous generations who had founded their church, starting in verse 5:
I say unto you, they were in captivity, and again the Lord did deliver them out of bondage by the power of his word; and we were brought into this land, and here we began to establish the church of God throughout this land also.
We’ve heard that we’re supposed to liken scriptures to our lives, and one application here seems very appropriate as we honor our own spiritual heritage. Just as Alma reminded the Nephites, our own ancestors in the church made great sacrifices to follow their testimony of the truth of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Many were separated from family, many had to leave their homes, and when they joined with the church, they faced nearly constant adversity, until they had to leave all, and follow the prophet into the wilderness of the pioneer trail. But here in the deserts of the west, they established a foundation of faith that’s still strong today.
Then, in verses 6 and 7, Alma asks them the question that we ask ourselves and each other every July:
And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, you that belong to this church, have you sufficiently retained in remembrance the captivity of your fathers? Yea, and have you sufficiently retained in remembrance his mercy and long-suffering towards them? And moreover, have ye sufficiently retained in remembrance that he has delivered their souls from hell?
Behold, he changed their hearts; yea, he awakened them out of a deep sleep, and they awoke unto God. Behold, they were in the midst of darkness; nevertheless, their souls were illuminated by the light of the everlasting word; yea, they were encircled about by the bands of death, and the chains of hell, and an everlasting destruction did await them.
Perhaps we could remember that the Lord blesses us physically and spiritually, just as He has always saved those who love Him. For our pioneer ancestors, as with the Nephites, and with each of us today, the Lord saves us from sin and death by the Atonement, and learning this truth, and then feeling the Spirit in our hearts, truly does change us and lift us up, as Alma said.
Another aspect of the Lord’s love, mercy, and salvation for us is His protection and deliverance in physical things as well. It was the power of God that led the early Saints in their trials with mobs and starting new lives in the church, and then guiding them across the wilderness, and then still as they struggled to turn these deserts into a home.
Just as we can see the Lord’s love and power and mercy in the lives of those who have gone before us, we know that He still saves and delivers today. As the prophet Alma said of his own life in another chapter of the Book of Mormon, “And I have been supported under trials and troubles of every kind, yea, and in all manner of afflictions; yea, God has delivered me from prison, and from bonds, and from death; yea, and I do put my trust in him, and he will still deliver me.” I testify that the Lord loves us just as much as these other believers in history, and I know that each of our lives, difficult as they often are, are also filled with examples like these.
How do we find such great faith? How do we keep it throughout our lives? The same chapter of the Book of Mormon we were discussing before, chapter 5, verses 10-13, contains the answer. After Alma taught the Nephites about their own pioneer forefathers, he taught them about the faith, both in the past and the present:
And now I ask of you on what conditions are they saved? Yea, what grounds had they to hope for salvation? What is the cause of their being loosed from the bands of death, yea, and also the chains of hell?
Behold, I can tell you—did not my father Alma believe in the words which were delivered by the mouth of Abinadi? And was he not a holy prophet? Did he not speak the words of God, and my father Alma believe them?
And according to his faith there was a mighty change wrought in his heart. Behold I say unto you that this is all true.
And behold, he preached the word unto your fathers, and a mighty change was also wrought in their hearts, and they humbled themselves and put their trust in the true and living God. And behold, they were faithful until the end; therefore they were saved.
And there it is. When we go to the words of the prophets, in scripture and in the church today, and strive to make those teachings a part of who we are, we come nearer to our Savior and Redeemer and are blessed by Him.
I’d like to conclude with some remarks about a different kind of pioneer. As I said, our heritage is a source of comfort and faith for all of us, regardless of who’s in our family tree, but for all of us in the church today, in some way or another, we are still the pioneers. Maybe we’re converts ourselves, or our parents were. Maybe we’re coming back to the church or trying to live the gospel every day in circumstances where it’s hard. There are a lot of ways to be pioneers, and there’s another pioneer who might serve as a good role model.
Doctrine and Covenants 132:32 says, “Go ye, therefore, and do the works of Abraham; enter ye into my law and ye shall be saved.” The great biblical patriarch Abraham was basically a convert himself, suffered much adversity, including being driven away from home and family and nearly losing his life, and often had to live in environments where the gospel wasn’t understood or welcome.
In Abraham 1:2, this great pioneer tells us of the faithful desires he had that helped him draw closer to the Lord:
And, finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers.
What did Abraham want in life? Happiness and peace and rest. Gospel knowledge. To have a great family and to keep the commandments. And what did Abraham do to find these blessings? According to the same verse, he studied the gospel that his own spiritual ancestors had been given, he lived righteously and exercised the priesthood. Ultimately, Abraham was given all the blessings he sought, just as we know the Lord wants to pour out great blessings upon us.
The lives of all these pioneers testify to the promise of the Lord found in Doctrine and Covenants 88:63:
Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
I know that Jesus Christ lives and loves us and blesses us through His restored church and the gospel. I know that He will save all of us as we love Him and serve Him, just as He has always done, for pioneers past, present, and future, for God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.