David Golding, “‘Unto the Convincing of Men’: Teaching with Power in Missionary Work,” Selections from the Religious Education Student Symposium 2006 (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2006), 15–29.
“Unto the Convincing of Men”: Teaching with Power in Missionary Work
By late August 1830, Parley P. Pratt had already read the Book of Mormon and was convinced of its truthfulness. He returned to see Hyrum Smith, whom he had met days earlier, and asked to be baptized. Hyrum introduced Parley to Oliver Cowdery the following day, and Parley’s request was carried out. He “was baptized by the hand of an Apostle” and soon confirmed a member of the Church, given the gift of the Holy Ghost, and ordained an elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood. Parley had long shared his religious views to fulfill a self-appointed duty “to enlighten mankind,” but he never felt comfortable assuming divine authority to call himself a minister. Anxious to declare the truthfulness of the gospel and confident in his new calling, Parley wrote, “I now felt that I had authority in the ministry.” Less than a week later, Parley organized his first public gathering as an ordained minister. He preached before a “large concourse of people,” later writing that “the Holy Ghost came upon me mightily. I spoke the word of God with power, reasoning out of the Scriptures and the Book of Mormon. The people were convinced, overwhelmed in tears, and four heads of families came forward” to be baptized.
This account of the beginning of what would become a lifelong ministry describes one of Parley P. Pratt’s experiences with “the power of God unto the convincing of men” (D&C 11:21). Other missionaries of the nineteenth century noted similar episodes during their ministries and routinely connected missionary success with the convincing power. Additionally, scriptural examples illustrate the ancient understanding of God’s power to convince, and they provide critical instructions for seeking this spiritual gift.
A verse commonly used to teach the importance of missionary preparation is Doctrine and Covenants 11:21: “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.” This scripture defines the Lord’s convincing power as the combination of His Spirit and His word. Like Elder Pratt in 1830, a desirous person may teach with enough power through the Spirit to bring a convincing effect upon an audience. This power is a function or tool of the Spirit that establishes the truth of things as they have been, as they are, and as they will be (see Jacob 4:13), and through it man can be invited to change, to repent, and to progress. Regardless of a person’s worthiness or wickedness, this power can bear down on a person in plainness (see 2 Nephi 33:5) to the point that he or she must acknowledge the truth.
Being convinced of gospel truth is not the same as being converted to it. Latter-day Saints rightfully see conversion, not convincing, as the main goal of missionary work. President Spencer W. Kimball taught:
If the Lord were primarily interested in convincing people of the divine nature of this work, he could, and perhaps would, demonstrate his powers in such a way that large numbers of people could know the truth in a relatively brief period of time. . . . But if those persons thus convinced did not really change their lives for the better, repent of their sins, and turn to him in righteousness, they would be worse off than before and would be more insensitive to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit.
No, the Lord is not primarily interested in having his children only convinced of his work. He would like them to be converted to the gospel.
After a persuasive witness has been proffered, a person may choose to reject the convincing evidence. When one turns away from this most powerful influence of the Spirit, his or her conversion is compromised. In a revelation to Nephi, the Lord explained that, “on the one hand,” people will be convinced by His “great and . . . marvelous work,” or, on “the other” hand, people will be delivered “to the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds” (1 Nephi 14:7). Likewise, a withdrawal of the Spirit is likely when one dismisses its invitation, as the Prophet Joseph Smith explained: “There is a difference between the Holy Ghost and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Cornelius received the Holy Ghost before he was baptized, which was the convincing power of God unto him of the truth of the Gospel, but he could not receive the gift of the Holy Ghost until after he was baptized. Had he not taken this sign or ordinance upon him, the Holy Ghost which convinced him of the truth of God, would have left him.”
Elder Parley P. Pratt, who frequently taught convincing sermons, wrote during another mission that hundreds of the people “were convinced of the truth,” yet their hearts “were too much set on the world to obey the gospel.” Because he noticed they were already convinced of gospel truth, further attempts on his part to bring about conversion would only be overbearing and lacking. Aware of his own role as a gospel teacher, Elder Pratt did not linger in an effort to force conversion; rather, he departed soon thereafter, having baptized only a few converts.
Indeed, the Lord has the ability to bring about instant proof of all truth. In fact, the scriptures promise a future day when “every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:11; see also Isaiah 45:23; Romans 14:11; Mosiah 27:30–31; D&C 88:103–4). But for now, mankind is in mortal probation, learning to distinguish truth from error and deciding to what degree they will follow the gospel.  For all individuals, now is the time to prepare to meet God, the time to learn and make choices (see Alma 34:32–33). On the other hand, for gospel teachers, now is the time for invitation and warning, the time for the gospel to be declared with conviction and power (see D&C 63:57–58). No matter how compellingly the Spirit has worked on us, ultimately our level of conversion is linked to our agency. Time and agency, as blessings of the Lord, allow for mankind to grow in conversion. All a missionary can do to help others increase in devotion to the gospel is to teach by persuasion and love and not coerce (see D&C 63:64). Indeed, a missionary is most effective when teaching by the convincing power of God. Although personal conversion is ultimately the choice of every individual, a greater understanding of the doctrine of the convincing power of God and of how missionaries have utilized it effectively will benefit gospel teachers to desire this power and will aid them in understanding how to provide the best opportunities for conversion.
The Spirit to Convince Mankind
Communion with the Holy Spirit is experienced through exercising faith (see Jarom 1:4). This communion can occur with many people at the same time (see Mosiah 4:20). Someone does not need to be baptized to feel the Holy Spirit, but to have its influence “more abundantly” he or she must be confirmed a member of the Church (see Mosiah 18:10). The Spirit is the great communicator, able to impart precisely the needed influences to bring any individual to an assurance of the truth.
When the Spirit is the teacher, the effect is felt by both righteous and wicked. With terms like the “softening” or “pricking” of hearts, the scriptures describe this effect. Notice, for example, how the prophet Nephi’s heart was softened by the Lord: “I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father. . . . And I spake unto Sam, making known unto him the things which the Lord had manifested unto me by his Holy Spirit” (1 Nephi 2:16–17; emphasis added).
The Book of Mormon tells of an instance when “the Holy Spirit of God did come down from heaven, and did enter into” the hearts of not only the Lord’s servants but also the Nephite and Lamanite dissenters, who were “filled as if with fire, and they could speak forth marvelous words” (Helaman 5:45). Subsequent examples illustrate connections between the Holy Spirit’s convincing influence and the activities of missionaries, angels, and congregations.
The prophet Nephi observed that his ability to speak mightily was different than his ability to write forcefully because “when a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men” (2 Nephi 33:1). While missionaries of the nineteenth century certainly made attempts to produce numerous written tracts, often their use of public speaking methods brought a more noticeable convincing effect.
When Lorenzo Snow was ordained an elder, he started out on his first mission on foot and alone, proclaiming the gospel in Ohio. Arriving at his uncle’s neighborhood, Elder Snow addressed a gathered assembly apprehensively, feeling it a “sore trial” to face that audience. But he “believed and felt an assurance that a Spirit of inspiration would prompt and give [him] utterance.” Personal preparation, fasting, prayer, and humility were part of Elder Snow’s experience as a missionary. Now he was to stand “in the capacity of a preacher” and impart the gospel to a “respectable congregation,” never having before preached in his life. Although he “knew not one word” that he was supposed to say, he recounts that “as soon as I opened my mouth to speak, the Holy Ghost rested mightily upon me, filling my mind with light and communicating ideas and proper language by which to impart them.” His message was received with success. He recalled, “The people were astonished and requested another meeting.” At this time some were baptized, including Elder Snow’s future wife.
As an Apostle, Elder John Taylor served a mission to the British Isles at a time when the Church was expanding at an unprecedented pace. Eager to declare repentance to the people of England, and feeling the word of God “like fire in [his] bones,” Elder Taylor canvassed Liverpool, seeking halls licensed for preaching. Among those who responded favorably was William Mitchell, a preacher from a Baptist society. In his biography of Elder Taylor, B. H. Roberts explained that after Mitchell had invited Elder Taylor to teach in his home, the house was crowded during the next week “notwithstanding all the efforts on the part of . . . preachers and class-leaders to prevent their members from going.” Afterward, around three hundred people came to a hall in Preston Street to hear Elder Taylor’s message. He cited the history of the Reformation, noting the efforts of “Luther, Melancthon, Calvin, Wesley, Whitfield and others.” He then used references from the New Testament to support the claim that such a reformation failed to “bring about the ancient order of things.” After speaking of the ministration of angels and of how the Prophet Joseph had received revelations from the Lord, Elder Taylor “showed them how what they had been praying for was now accomplished, and exhorted them to receive it.” Roberts noted that the effect of this discourse was “overwhelming.” “Exclamations of praise and thanksgiving were heard in various parts of the house, while the weeping of others testified to the emotion they could not otherwise express.” When the meeting closed, ten persons “offered themselves for baptism.”
Elder Heber C. Kimball had the special gift of the convincing power many times throughout his missions. His demeanor when persuading others to be saved was unique and personal. Biographer Stanley B. Kimball wrote:
Heber capitalized on his natural talents. He was simple, sincere, and personal. Although he often preached publicly, he sought individuals in their private homes, and most of his converts were made in more intimate gatherings rather than in open meetings. While no copy of his early sermons survives, Brigham Young did record that he would say to someone, “Come my friend, sit down; do not be in a hurry.” Then he would begin to preach the Gospel in a plain, familiar manner, and “make his hearers believe everything he said, and make them testify of its truth, whether they believed it or not, asking them ‘Now you believe this? You see how plain the Gospel is? Come along, now,’” and he would lead them into the waters of baptism. He was popular. Sometimes people would stay with him all day and were often converted after one sermon. At the right moment, “he would put his arm around their necks, and say, ‘Come let us go down to the water.’” When his own sons became missionaries, he urged them to preach short and simple sermons, directed by the Spirit, and told them, “I said but little, but what I did say went straight to the hearts of the honest.”
More of his successes as a missionary are recorded in Elder Kimball’s journal: “It being known that we had but a short time to remain in that country, great numbers flocked to hear us preach, and many were baptized. Some days we went from house to house, conversing with the people on the things of the kingdom, and by such a course were instrumental in convincing many of the truth. I have known as many as twenty persons baptized in one day who have been convinced on such occasions.”
As Elder Kimball and his companions administered baptism, scores of additional prospective converts were found. On some occasions, he would administer baptism “six or seven times in a day.” People would request the ordinance so frequently at times that after changing his wet clothes and before returning to his home he would have to go back to the water for more baptizing.
Angels and Congregations
The story of Alma the Younger’s conversion demonstrates how an angel may play a convincing role through the Spirit. As Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah went about “seeking to destroy the church,” an angel appeared in such power that they all “fell to the earth” (Mosiah 27:10, 12). The angel, whose voice was so intense that it shook the ground, said, “For this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants might be answered according to their faith.” After three days and three nights, Alma awoke from having been carried away in the Spirit and expressed his conviction and conversion to the gospel by saying, “I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold, I am born of the Spirit” (Mosiah 27:14, 24; emphasis added).
The Holy Spirit can work a convincing effect through congregations of people. One such event occurred during the mission of Dan Jones, a Welshman who served in the nineteenth century. Elder Jones had become acquainted with a native Hindu gentleman who had approached him “for charity.” As a youth, Elder Jones had lived in India and felt an immediate connection with him. He could recall little Hindi but was able to communicate well enough that the man learned of the Church and “‘appeared very thankful for the instructions he received.’”
Elder Jones wrote to British Mission president Orson Spencer that he took the Hindu gentleman to the regular Church meetings on Sunday, “and requested the Saints to pray that the great dispenser of all spiritual gifts would cause him to be instructed in a language which he understood.” As a result, the congregation of Saints began experiencing outpourings of the gift of tongues and “before the close of the meeting,” Elder Jones and the Saints there witnessed that “he had heard a language which he understood.” The man was so impressed by their speaking Hindi that he “pulled a Hindoostanee hymn-book out of his pocket, and fain would sing in the meeting with them, supposing they could follow him in that too.” The daughter of Margaret Morris Mathews, a sister who sang in tongues in that meeting, wrote that the man “sang with [Margaret], the tears streaming down his cheeks” and asked “who the lady was who sang so perfectly” a tune he had heard his own mother sing to him as a boy. The following day, Elder Jones and others taught for four hours “so plain and forcibly, that before [the Hindu man] left the room he requested to be baptized.” This man was later baptized on July 21, 1847, “thus becoming the first Hindu convert to the Church.”
“The Virtue of the Word”
As noted previously, the word and the Spirit, when used together, can effect the convincing power. Thus, the word of God (including, and especially, the Book of Mormon) is the fundamental text and message that leads mankind to conversion.
The title page of the Book of Mormon was likely written by the prophet Moroni and “is a literal translation, taken from the very last leaf” of the plates. The two paragraphs that comprise this introduction mention one key component of the powerful nature of the Book of Mormon: “And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.” Designed by God through prophets, the text of this book was made to be convincing evidence to all who read it (see D&C 18:44).
The Lord describes the nature of His word in revelation by stating, “A great and marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men. Behold, I am God; give heed to my word which is quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword, to the dividing asunder of both joints and marrow; therefore, give heed unto my word” (D&C 11:1–2). The Prophet Mormon wrote that “the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God” (Alma 31:5).
The Articles of Faith state that we believe “the Book of Mormon to be the word of God” (Articles of Faith 1:8). Also, the “Articles and Covenants of the Church” state that the Book of Mormon “was given by inspiration. . . . Proving to the world that the holy scriptures are true” (D&C 20:8, 10–11). In other words, “give heed to the Book of Mormon which is quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword, to the dividing asunder of both joints and marrow; therefore, give heed unto the Book of Mormon.” Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught:
The “choice” translator brought forth—”by the gift and power of God”—the Book of Mormon, something tangible and verifiable. For all who heed it, the Book of Mormon is like the flinging open of long-closed doors on what was assumed to be a complete canon of scripture.
Noted on the very title page is the book’s special role in “convincing” mortals “that Jesus is the Christ” (see also 2 Nephi 25:18). In a day of disbelief and equivocation regarding this preeminent fact, this “convincing” effect is so needed! How sharp-edged that promise!
A person may seek out the convincing power of God’s word to amplify one’s own personal conviction and commitment to the gospel. President Ezra Taft Benson taught: “We have an increasing number who have been convinced, through the Book of Mormon, that Jesus is the Christ. Now we need an increasing number who will use the Book of Mormon to become committed to Christ. We need to be convinced and committed.”
The Value of Teaching the First Principles of the Gospel
Nephi had great joy in writing the truths of the gospel “in plainness” (2 Nephi 33:6). He condemned those who would not “search knowledge, nor understand great knowledge, when it is given unto them in plainness, even as plain as word can be” (2 Nephi 32:7). Indeed, the simplicity of the gospel is powerful. When accompanied by the influence of the Spirit, the first principles of the gospel are persuasive. Effective missionaries have always based their preaching on these principles.
Elder Heber C. Kimball and his companions, during their mission to England in 1837, began their efforts with a visit to the brother of Joseph Fielding (one of the missionaries), a minister in Preston. Reverend Fielding, without any request from the elders themselves, “gave out an appointment for some one of [them] to preach in the afternoon.” As news spread that some American elders had arrived to preach, a large audience gathered. Elder Kimball remembered, “It falling to my lot to speak, I called their attention to the first principles of the gospel.” Orson Hyde followed and “bore testimony to the same,” afterward scheduling another appointment for the evening. Others bore testimony of the restored gospel. Elder Kimball’s journal records, “A number now being convinced of the truth, believed the testimony and began to praise God.” Eight days later, the missionaries began baptizing many who had been “in a great measure prepared for the reception of the gospel, probably as much so as Cornelius was anciently.”
Perhaps the most excellent example of the effectiveness of teaching the first principles of the gospel is that of Elder Wilford Woodruff’s missionary labors in Herefordshire, England. Considered by many to be one of the greatest missionaries of all time, Elder Woodruff worked so closely with the Spirit that over six hundred people were baptized during his relatively short stay. He recorded that he preached morning, afternoon, and evening to audiences “estimated to number a thousand.” During one such conference, Elder Woodruff wrote that he preached for over an hour “the first principles of the everlasting gospel.” His sermon was so powerful that at the close of the meeting “seven offered themselves” for baptism. Of his sermon, Elder Woodruff remembered, “The power of God rested upon me, the spirit filled the house, and the people were convinced.” In just thirty days after arriving in Herefordshire, he baptized “forty-five preachers” and one hundred and sixty others. Of all the topics Elder Woodruff could have chosen to preach, it is noteworthy that this model missionary centered his teachings on the first principles of the gospel and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.
Some gospel students desire miracles or signs instead of the convincing power of the Spirit, mistaking such evidences as more forceful proofs of truth. Elder George A. Smith of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke of a time when the Prophet Joseph Smith met with a Campbellite preacher whom he remembered as “Hayden.” The preacher had approached the Prophet after a journey of “considerable distance” with the purpose of being “convinced of the truth.” The Prophet remembered that Hayden pledged to not only align himself with the gospel cause but to dedicate all his “talents and time in defending and spreading the doctrines” of the kingdom. Hayden boasted that to convince him would be “equivalent to convincing all [his] society, amounting to several hundreds.” Joseph Smith did not decline from the opportunity to convince the man but rather began to explain the “coming forth of the work, and the first principles of the Gospel.” Hayden was frustrated at this and demanded a more powerful manifestation from the Prophet. He was remembered to have said, “O this is not the evidence I want, the evidence I wish to have is a notable miracle” and argued that if Joseph could not perform some spectacular miracle, he would become the Church’s “bitterest enemy.” Joseph parried the challenge by saying, “What will you have done? Will you be struck blind, or dumb? Will you be paralyzed, or will you have one hand withered? Take your choice, choose which you please, and in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ it shall be done.” Joseph explained that after further rebuke Hayden withdrew because “the poor preacher had so much faith in the power of the Prophet.”
Missionary experiences from the nineteenth century and the scriptures are replete with evidence of the “power of God unto the convincing of men.” Using the scriptures (especially the Book of Mormon), the first principles of the gospel, and the Holy Spirit in missionary work provides opportunities for the convincing power to be experienced. Through the continued use of the convincing power, more will be brought to know the truth. More will find the joy mentioned in Nephi’s final words: “I glory in plainness; I glory in truth; I glory in my Jesus, for he hath redeemed my soul from hell” (2 Nephi 33:6).
 Parley P. Pratt, Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985), 24–27; see also D&C 20.
 See Pratt, Autobiography, 14–16.
 Pratt, Autobiography, 27.
 Pratt, Autobiography, 27.
 A likely example of this is found in the New Testament. A Jewish council asked Peter and John by what power they were able to heal a man who had been lame since birth. “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost,” told them it was by the power of Jesus Christ (see Acts 4:8–10).
“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.
“And beholding the man which was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.
“But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves,
“Saying, What shall we do to these men? for that indeed a notable miracle hath been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it” (Acts 4:13–16).
 Edward L. Kimball, ed., The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982), 570; emphasis in original.
 Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1973), 4:555.
 Pratt, Autobiography, 73.
 See 1 John 4:6; Alma 12:24; 2 Nephi 2:16. The prophet Lehi taught that the Lord “prolonged” time for men to repent (2 Nephi 2:21), thus providing an opportunity to increase one’s degree of conversion; the great moment when all will be convinced is held in reserve to give way for individual growth. However, personal experiences of the convincing power should (and ultimately, will) occur in each individual’s life.
 Missionary duties of the elders are to sound the “voice of warning” (D&C 1:4) and to “thrash the nations by the power of [the Lord’s] Spirit” (D&C 35:13), thereby proclaiming the gospel “unto all who have not received it” (D&C 84:75)—not to “boast themselves of these things” (D&C 84:73) or to “contend with others on account of their faith, or systems of religion,” as Joseph Smith taught (see Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith [American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2002], 109). Hence, no missionary is the direct agent of personal conversion but the medium through which God may more compellingly convince His children. God wants His children to be converted to truth, and he persuades His children in His own time through His servants, His Spirit, and His word.
 For more on current doctrinal teachings regarding the individualized process of conversion, see The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, True to the Faith (Salt Lake City: Intellectual Reserve, 2004), 41.
 Lorenzo Snow, “Autobiography,” in Eliza R. Snow Smith, Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1884), 16.
 B. H. Roberts, The Life of John Taylor (Salt Lake City: George Q. Cannon and Sons, 1892), 78–80.
 Stanley B. Kimball, Heber C. Kimball: Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1981), 47; 54nn7–8.
 Heber C. Kimball, President Heber C. Kimball’s Journal (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1882), 43.
 Kimball, Journal, 43.
 2 Nephi 32:3 teaches, “Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost.” Even though this example shows an angel manifesting God’s power, it is assumed that this episode was attended also by the power of the Spirit and as such, is pertinent to the discussion at hand.
 Alma the Younger’s missionary career is one of the most prolific in all scripture and is worth noting here. The prophet Mormon commented on the secret of Alma’s teaching success when he wrote that Alma “began to declare the word of God unto the church . . . according to the revelation of the truth of the word . . . and according to the spirit of prophecy which was in him, according to the testimony of Jesus Christ . . . and the holy order by which he was called” (Alma 6:8). A thorough analysis of Alma’s use of the convincing power is not contained in this essay for logistical reasons. However, much of what is discussed herein is also evident in passages of Alma’s teachings and amplifies the discussion (see Alma chapters 5–16 and 31–35).
 Ronald D. Dennis, “The Welsh and the Gospel,” in Truth Will Prevail (Salt Lake City: Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1987), 256–57.
 Smith, History of the Church, 1:71.
 This term “great and marvelous work” apparently refers to the Book of Mormon (see D&C 4:1; 6:1; 11:1; 12:1; 14:1, along with chronological headings). Once the Book of Mormon was published, these statements apparently ceased in subsequent revelations.
 Evening and Morning Star, June 1832, 1.
 Neal A. Maxwell, in Conference Report, October 2003, 105.
 Ezra Taft Benson, “Come unto Christ,” Ensign, November 1987, 84.
 Kimball, Journal, 18–19.
 Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff: History of His Life and Labors as Recorded in His Daily Journals, ed. Matthias F. Cowley (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1964), 117–19.
 George A. Smith, in Journal of Discourses, 2:326.