The Pearl of Great Price and the Conversion Process
James R. Moss, “The Pearl of Great Price and the Conversion Process,” in The Pearl of Great Price: Revelations from God, ed. H. Donl Peterson and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1989), 33–56.
James R. Moss was Utah State Superintendent of Public Schools when this was published.
When the Lord taught the parable of the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45–46), he could have had direct reference to the great teachings on missionary work found within the Pearl of Great Price we value today as one of our choicest scriptural records. Contained within the histories, visions, doctrinal teachings and other inspired revelations in this standard work are some of the most important foundations and principles of missionary work for this and previous dispensations. As we learn of them our appreciation for the importance of sharing the gospel with others grows, and our understanding of the role of each member of the Church in taking the gospel to the nations of the earth deepens.
In this chapter we will examine three major areas in which the Pearl of Great Price contributes to our understanding of the conversion process and the importance of missionary work in the gospel of Jesus Christ: (1) the great covenants God entered into with Abraham and Enoch, with reference to the covenant he made with Noah as it relates to these two other covenants, form the foundation for all missionary work in this dispensation; (2) the great conversion role models of Adam and Eve, Enoch and the City of Zion, Noah and his family, and Joseph Smith are recorded in the Pearl of Great Price; and (3) the great doctrinal teachings of the Pearl of Great Price on the conversion process focus specifically on the missionary message, the qualities and qualifications for missionaries, missionary methods of proselyting, spiritual assistance in the conversion process, and identify whom the missionary message is directed to. Through learning the doctrine of the Pearl of Great Price on missionary work, we come to understand the most effective approaches in sharing the gospel.
Through understanding the great conversion role models in the Pearl of Great Price, we gain an appreciation for the most important aspects of the conversion process. And through becoming aware of the great foundational covenants of missionary work contained in the Pearl of Great Price, we will gain greater commitment to sharing the gospel with others.
God’s Covenant with Abraham
God’s covenant with Abraham is well known among Christians from its recital in the book of Genesis (Gen. 12: 1–3; 13:14–17; 15:1–5; 17:1–8). But the biblical account of that covenant does not contain its most important parts. In direct fulfillment of the prophecy recorded by Nephi, those who translated and transcribed the Bible “have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away” (1 Nephi 13:26). The Pearl of Great Price restores the fulness of this important covenant.
To appreciate the importance of the Abrahamic covenant in the conversion process and in the missionary work of this dispensation, we turn to 1 Nephi 22. After reading to his brethren from Isaiah 48 and 49 from the brass plates, Nephi prophesied that “the house of Israel, sooner or later, will be scattered upon all the face of the earth, and also among all nations” (1 Nephi 22:3). This great scattering of the House of Israel had been prophesied by Moses (Deut. 28:25, 37, 64) and later prophets, and it remained for Nephi to confirm both the prophesies and the beginnings of their fulfillment when he taught, “the more part of all the tribes have been led away; and they are scattered to and fro upon the isles of the sea; and whither they are none of us knoweth, save that we know that they have been led away” (1 Nephi 22:4).
But Moses prophesied of both the scattering and the gathering of Israel (Deut. 30:1–4), and Nephi identified this important future event as a “marvelous work among the Gentiles, which shall be of great worth unto our seed . . . and not only unto the Gentiles but unto all the house of Israel” (1 Nephi 22:8–9). And in referring to this great gathering of Israel, he reveals the centrality of the covenant God made with Abraham to the process of gathering. The thing that would be of such great worth to the seed of Nephi’s people, to the Gentiles and to all Israel would be “the making known of the covenants of the Father of heaven unto Abraham, saying: In thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed” (1 Nephi 22:9).
The covenant of God with Abraham is thus not only for Abraham’s time, but it is an essential and central foundation for the restoration of the gospel and the gathering of Israel. Father Lehi also taught this important truth when just prior to his death he spoke of prophecies of Joseph of Egypt. In counseling young Joseph, his son, Lehi recalled the ancient prophecy that the great latter-day seer raised up from Joseph’s loins would do a great work, “which shall be of great worth unto them, even to the bringing of them to the knowledge of the covenants which I have made with thy fathers” (2 Nephi 3:7). The patriarch Joseph knew well the covenants his great-grandfather Abraham had entered into with the Lord and understood their central role in the great gathering of the last days.
The covenant itself is thus to be understood as a missionary covenant, one in which the process of conversion for God’s children here on earth is a central focus. The Lord told Abraham, “I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee above measure, and make thy name great among all nations, and thou shalt be a blessing unto thy seed after thee, that in their hands they shall bear this ministry and Priesthood unto all nations . . .” (Abr. 2:9). The three major elements of this covenant are family, priesthood, and proselyting, with the major focus on proselyting. Abraham is to have a great family, who will have the right to hold the priesthood of God. And they are to use that family connection and those priesthood powers not only for themselves, but for others in all nations.
In outlining the family blessings to Abraham, the Lord focuses directly on missionary work. His family is to include not only his lineage descendants, but also “as many as receive this Gospel shall be called after thy name, and shall be accounted thy seed, and shall rise up and bless thee, as their father . . .” (Abr. 2:10). The true family of Abraham is therefore to be a spiritual family, not simply a blood-line one. Those who spiritually respond and accept the gospel of Christ are accounted as true heirs and members of the family. The Apostle Paul referred to this important truth in his epistle to the Galatians when he taught, “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (3:29).
When the Lord further outlined the promised priesthood blessings to Abraham, once again the focus was on missionary work. God said,
I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee; and in thee (that is, in thy Priesthood) and in thy seed (that is, thy Priesthood), for I give unto thee a promise that this right shall continue in thee, and in thy seed after thee (that is to say, the literal seed, or the seed of the body) shall all the families of the earth be blessed, even with the blessings of the Gospel, which are the blessings of salvation, even of life eternal (Abr. 2:11).
Abraham’s family had the right to receive the priesthood, but with it came the responsibility to use it to bless others, specifically families. This is simply an earlier recognition of the great truth taught through Joseph Smith that all who receive the Melchizedek Priesthood do so with an oath and covenant not only to be faithful but also to “magnify their calling” (D&C 84:33), in large part by enlarging and increasing the influence of God’s work among men here on the earth (D&C 84:33–42).
God’s covenant with Abraham was as an everlasting covenant, to be operative in the lives of all men in each dispensation of the gospel from the time it was given, if they would accept and live by it. The family of Abraham, those who receive the gospel, are to hold the priesthood of God, and through it to bless all nations and all families with the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the missionary covenant—to bring about conversion in the lives of all those who will receive the gospel.
God’s Covenant with Enoch
Though the covenant God made with Abraham is an everlasting one, the covenant He made with Enoch many years earlier is a prophetic one not to be fulfilled in every dispensation but to be reserved for fulfillment only in this last great dispensation of the gospel. Yet it, too, provides an important foundation for missionary work and the conversion process in the last days.
After showing Enoch the history and the future of the earth, God responded to Enoch’s cry for mercy for the children of Noah by covenanting with him “that he would stay the floods; that he would call upon the children of Noah . . .” (Moses 7:51). As in the case with the Abrahamic covenant, the world generally knows about the first part of this covenant with Enoch from the biblical account in Genesis (9:8–17). But once again, its most important plain and precious parts have been deleted from that scriptural record, and we must rely on the revelations in the Pearl of Great Price to restore those all-important elements that teach us of the foundations of missionary work in this dispensation.
After reviewing conditions that will be present on the earth in the last days, God told Enoch, “even so will I come in the last days, in the days of wickedness and vengeance, to fulfil the oath which I have made unto you concerning the children of Noah . . .” (Moses 7:60). Note that this covenant is to be fulfilled during the last days. In this sense, the blessings promised are similar to those conferred by Jacob upon his sons when he blessed them, saying “Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days” (Gen. 49:1). The covenant itself is to be fulfilled as follows. The Lord told Enoch:
Righteousness will I send down out of heaven; and truth will I send forth out of the earth, to bear testimony of mine Only Begotten; his resurrection from the dead; yea, and also the resurrection of all men; and righteousness and truth will I cause to sweep the earth as with a flood, to gather out mine elect from the four quarters of the earth, unto a place which I shall prepare, an Holy City, that my people may gird up their loins, and be looking forth for the time of my coming; for their shall be my tabernacle, and it shall be called Zion, a New Jerusalem (Moses 7:62).
This covenant is rich in gospel truths, outlining as it does the entire history and purpose of this last dispensation of the gospel on the earth. God will send down righteousness from heaven in the last days. In fulfillment of this prophecy we have received a great restoration of gospel doctrines, teachings, and revelations, and the restoration of priesthood keys, powers, and programs. All of the teachings and priesthood we have received in these last days make up the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ here upon the earth. The Church is built upon the foundation of the priesthood and provides programs and ordinances to implement and apply the great gospel teachings that have also been restored.
Next, the Lord informs Enoch that in the last days truth will come forth out of the earth, specifically truth about the Son of God and his resurrection from the dead. This obviously refers to the Book of Mormon and other latter-day scripture, the great additional witnesses and testimonies of Christ preserved to come forth in the last days as a confirmation of his resurrection, his divinity, and his atonement as the central focus of our lives. Together, righteousness from the heavens and truth from the earth—the priesthood of God, teaching correct gospel principles from the modern scriptures—are to sweep the earth like a flood. This now becomes a missionary covenant. The taking of the restored gospel to the “four quarters” of the earth is enjoined to find the “elect” of God. As the Abrahamic covenant requires, the children of Abraham to share the blessings of the gospel with all families and all nations, even so the covenant with Enoch envisions the sharing of the gospel with the “elect” from the “four quarters of the earth.”
The covenant continues with the further aspects of the conversion process to take place in the last days. The elect who respond to the gospel message are to be gathered to places referred to as an Holy City, Zion, and a New Jerusalem. There they will be enabled to prepare for the day of judgment by girding up their loins, for at these places of gathering outlined the Lord says, “there shall be my tabernacle” (Moses 7:62). We might well conclude that the great organization of stakes throughout the world, with all the priesthood and auxiliary programs given to help the covenant people to live the gospel more fully and the building of temples throughout the world to enable them to receive the higher ordinances of the priesthood necessary to exalt them are all major parts of the fulfillment of this prophetic covenant. It is now being fulfilled as the gospel goes forth through the great missionary program of the Church and the elect from all nations are being gathered into their stakes and wards. There they receive the gospel from the children of Abraham who have already entered the covenant. The elect of God who spiritually respond to the gospel message are accounted Abraham’s seed and receive the promised blessings, but in turn they are given the responsibility to share those blessings with others.
God’s Covenant with Noah
The two covenants God entered into with Abraham and Enoch thus form together a powerful commitment required of all in this dispensation who claim membership with God’s covenant people. This commitment is to share the gospel with others and to strive to bring about conversion in the lives of those God has prepared to hear the gospel. But the fulness of these two covenants together can only be realized through the further information God revealed to Noah about the prophetic covenant he entered into with Enoch.
As with the covenants of Abraham and Enoch, the world also understands only part of the covenant God made with Noah. From the Genesis account we learn that the Lord promised never again to destroy the earth by floods (Gen. 9:11) But there is more, and the fuller account of this covenant is available only through the Joseph Smith Translation, which adds the following vital elements of the covenant God made with Enoch, as revealed to Noah:
And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant, which I made unto thy father Enoch; that, when men should keep all my commandments, Zion should again come on the earth, the city of Enoch which I have caught up unto myself. And this is mine everlasting covenant, that when thy posterity shall embrace the truth, and look upward, then shall Zion look downward, and all the heavens shall shake with gladness, and the earth shall tremble with joy; And the general assembly of the church of the first-born shall come down out of heaven, and possess the earth, and shall have place until the end come. And this is mine everlasting covenant, which I made with thy father Enoch (JST Gen. 9:21–23).
God’s covenant with Enoch thus contained not only the primary emphasis on missionary work already noted, but a central focus on the conversion process, in which those who accept the gospel must also shift their entire focus in life from worldly cares to look upward toward the light of the gospel. Then, the Lord informed Enoch that earthly and heavenly powers would be united and the power of God would rest down upon the places of gathering identified to Enoch. Then, the great blessings of family and priesthood identified to Abraham would also be realized. And life eternal through the family and priesthood of God would be available to the elect of God gathered from the four quarters of the earth.
And there we have the great covenants from the Pearl of Great Price. In these covenants God entered into with Abraham and Enoch, as reflected in the covenant he entered into with Noah, we find important foundations for missionary work in this dispensation. Sharing the gospel is a covenant responsibility of all who claim to be of the family of Abraham. The great work of this last dispensation is initiated by sharing the gospel with God’s elect throughout the earth. We are a missionary Church, a missionary people. Doing missionary work is central to our very existence as a covenant people of God.
The Conversion of Adam and Eve
The second major contribution of the Pearl of Great Price to our understanding of missionary work and the importance of converting to the way of God is in providing us with role models of conversion. The first two converts to the gospel of Jesus Christ on this earth were Adam and Eve. The process of their conversion is outlined clearly in the Pearl of Great Price.
Following their expulsion from the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve entered into mortality in a fallen world, where Lucifer awaited them with trials and temptations. Adam and Eve came into the world to confront evil in the process of exercising their power of agency and choice. They had to learn to choose good over evil by responding to God’s teachings, by repenting of their transgressions, and by entering into and living sacred covenants to obey gospel principles. In the process of doing this, God allowed Adam and Eve to be exposed to the adversary sufficient to develop their understanding of the difference between good and evil, but He also provided them with the support necessary to choose the right and to follow Him instead of Satan. Not only did the covenants provide the important priesthood ordinances necessary for Adam and Eve’s personal salvation and eventual exaltation, but they also provided the motivation and commitment to live so as to qualify for that state.
In the book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price, we read that following their expulsion from Eden, Adam and Eve “called upon the name of the Lord, and they heard the voice of the Lord from the way toward the Garden of Eden, speaking unto them . . . (Moses 5:4). The very beginning of conversion is thus identified as bringing people into a spiritual frame of mind in which they will call upon God. As Adam and Eve offered prayers to God following their expulsion, so all mankind must similarly come to call upon God if they are to begin the process of conversion. And as God responded to Adam and Eve, so will he respond in various ways to all mankind.
Following this initial experience with God after their expulsion, Adam and Eve continued in the conversion process as God gave them commandments and an ordinance of sacrifice (Moses 5:5). The receiving of commandments and ordinances thus was for Adam and Eve a second major step in the conversion process. They accepted and obeyed the commandments, and they entered into and performed the ordinances, in this case the ordinance of sacrifice. Because they did these two things, they continued on the path to full conversion, and so must we if we wish to receive the same blessings and opportunities for spiritual growth.
The next step in the conversion model of Adam and Eve is establishing Christ as the central focus of their spiritual development. When Adam offered sacrifice, he was informed that his sacrifice was “a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth. Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore” (Moses 5:7–8). Adam and Eve thus learned that Christ was the only name by which they could be saved and that he was to be the central focus of their entire lives. All mankind must, in the same way, come to know and understand and apply this fundamental truth. Through obeying the commandments and fulfilling the ordinances, all the while calling upon God and receiving of his answer to us, we will come to focus our lives on Christ and do all that we do in his name.
Once they accepted Christ and made him the central focus of all in life, then, “the Holy Ghost fell upon [them]” (Moses 5:9), the next step in the conversion process. The great cleansing of the spirit, the process of sanctification, began to work in Adam and Eve to purify and prepare them to return to the presence of God. Once they had enough faith in Christ to repent of their sins and enter into the ordinances he prescribed, they were able to receive the Holy Ghost. And so must we if we wish to receive the same blessings.
The final step in the conversion story of Adam and Eve is the joy that resulted from all that had gone before. Adam exclaimed, “in this life I shall have joy”; and Eve realized “the joy of our redemption” as a direct result of following the steps of conversion after their transgression and expulsion from the Garden of Eden (Moses 5:10–11). In this, they reflected a fundamental truth; conversion to the gospel of Christ brings joy from the liberation of the spirit and association with God. Father Lehi noted this when in his telling of his great vision of the tree of life he said, “as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy” (1 Nephi 8:12). Enos reflected on the words of his father Jacob about “the joy of the saints” (Enos 1:3) when he was finally prompted to seek the same conversion experience. The end result of full conversion is joy, as Joseph Smith taught when he was told, “how great shall be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me” in conversion (D&C 18:16).
It is interesting to note the effect this joy had on Adam and Eve. When they felt the joy in the gospel, they “blessed the name of God, and they made all things known unto their sons and their daughters” (Moses 5:12). Lehi also noted, “I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also” (1 Nephi 8:12). The same was true of Enos, who began with a very self-centered prayer about himself, but eventually expanded his circle of concern to include both his friends the Nephites and then his enemies the Lamanites (Enos 1:9, 11). As the gospel entered into his life, Enos’s concern for others grew to the depth and commitment of his conversion and the joy he received in the gospel.
Some other great role models of conversion are the Sons of Mosiah. Following their conversion to the gospel, “they were desirous that salvation should be declared to every creature, for they could not bear that any human soul should perish; yea, even the very thoughts that any soul should endure endless torment did cause them to quake and tremble” (Mosiah 28:3). As Lehi, Enos, the sons of Mosiah, and Adam and Eve felt the joy of the gospel, they all wanted to share it with others. When we are as truly converted we will want to share the gospel with others as they did. That is a true measure of our personal conversion. When we are converted and we feel the joy of the gospel, we desire to share it with others. If we feel no joy and/
Enoch and the City of Zion
In the record of Enoch and in the City of Zion which Enoch built upon the foundation of the personal righteousness of his people, we can find additional role models of conversion. Of note is the fact that Enoch received an authoritative call to share the gospel with others as an official representative of the Lord. The “Spirit of God descended out of heaven, and abode upon him. And he heard a voice from heaven, saying: “Enoch,my son, prophesy unto this people, and say unto them—Repent . . .” (Moses 6:26–27). This was an external call, not something Enoch simply felt develop within him or desired for personal reasons. To be an authorized messenger of the Lord, one must receive an external call from him through the appointed channel of communication. As the Lord said to the Twelve Apostles during his own ministry, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you” (John 15:16).
Because of this authoritative calling, Enoch preached the gospel in great power. Indeed, the record indicates that “so great was the faith of Enoch” that when he spoke, “the earth trembled, and the mountains fled, even according to his command; . . . so powerful was the word of Enoch, and so great was the power of the language which God had given him” (Moses 7:13). In our own day, the Lord has instructed missionaries “To preach my gospel by the Spirit, even the Comforter which was sent forth to teach the truth” (D&C 50:14). Enoch preached in the power of the spirit, to effect conversion in the lives of his followers. In a similar fashion, the Sons of Mosiah prepared themselves for their missions by giving “themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God” (Alma 17:3). Those who share the gospel must do so with power from the spirit if they, too, are to be successful.
Three aspects of the conversion process are also evident in the record of Enoch’s City of Zion. The people “were of one heart and one mind” (Moses 7:18), that is they possessed a spiritual unity that is essential to the conversion. As the Lord has said in our own time that we must be one, for “if ye are not one ye are not mine” (D&C 38:27). Those who are truly converted are united as well, both with God and each other. In addition to being unified, the people in Enoch’s Zion had gathered to a city, a place of righteousness (Moses 7:19). A valid measure of the conversion of a people is their willingness to come out from the world into the places of righteousness where they may enjoy the fruits of the Spirit and higher ordinances of the Lord’s house, rather than cling to the ways of the world and frequent the pathways of unrighteousness.
Third, the people of Enoch’s city applied the principles of the gospel in practical ways that demonstrated their spiritual development. The record indicates “there was no poor among them” (Moses 7:18). As King Benjamin so clearly taught, the true measure of spiritual rebirth is that demonstrated by how the gospel changes our lives to conform to the example of our Savior and to put on a newness of life in our relations both with God and our fellow-men (Mosiah 2–4). True conversion includes changes in attitudes and actions, evidenced in Enoch’s city’s being known as “the City of Holiness” (Moses 7:19). We who seek personal conversion or the conversion of others must similarly build such homes and neighborhoods and cities by putting the principles of the gospel into action in our daily lives.
Noah’s Missionary Experiences
The great prophet-patriarch Noah also provides a role model of missionary work and the conversion process from the Pearl of Great Price. By contrast to Enoch, Noah’s proselyting success was very limited. But in helping to save just his own family, Noah demonstrated some important aspects of missionary work. First, he was personally a righteous messenger for the Lord. The record indicates, “Noah and his sons hearkened unto the Lord, and gave heed, and they were called the sons of God” (Moses 8:13). Personal righteousness as a prerequisite for missionary service is fundamental in the gospel. Among the many qualities the Lord has revealed as necessary for effective missionary service in this dispensation are those of having “an eye single to the glory of God,” of possessing “virtue,” and “godliness” (D&C 4:5–6). We learn from the Book of Mormon that when a missionary is unrighteous, he hinders the work of all. Alma’s son Corianton allowed unrighteousness to control him, and Alma had to reprove him; “Behold, O my son, how great iniquity ye brought upon the Zoramites; for when they saw your conduct they would not believe in my words” (Alma 39:11).
Noah also received an authoritative calling to preach the gospel; “The Lord was with Noah, and the power of the Lord was upon him. And the Lord ordained Noah after his own order, and commanded him that he should go forth and declare his Gospel unto the children of men, even as it was given unto Enoch” (Moses 8:18–19). In our own day, the Lord was declared, “it shall not be given to anyone to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by someone who has authority, and it is known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church” (D&C 42:11).
The third important role model of missionary work Noah provides from the Pearl of Great Price is his actual preaching. Noah was fearless in the face of the opposition. He called upon men to repent and they responded with mockery and ridicule. Eventually “they sought Noah to take away his life” (Moses 8:18). Faced with such opposition Noah might have simply given up or curtailed his preaching to protect himself, but he didn’t. He continued to speak out. This is the same direction the Lord gave to David Whitmer in our own dispensation: “Open your mouth to declare my gospel; therefore, fear not . . . what man can do, for I am with you” (D&C 30:5, 11). Those who are called to preach the gospel to others must preach it in faith, not fear, and Noah exemplified this quality.
The Conversion of Joseph Smith
A final role model of conversion contained in the Pearl of Great Price is that of Joseph Smith the Prophet, the first convert of this last dispensation. Joseph was converted to the gospel directly by the Father and the Son, who were aided by other heavenly messengers such as Moroni and other ancient prophets and apostles who further taught him and helped him to receive the priesthood ordinances. Joseph Smith is an excellent role model for the entire process of conversion. The steps he went through in his personal conversion are the steps the rest of us who seek the truth must follow.
First, Joseph felt the impact of a religious awakening or revival in his neighborhood (JS—H 1:5). Investigators today must also gain an initial interest through the visits of the missionaries or other means developed by the Church to arouse their concern for things of the spirit. Second, he felt a personal interest in the religious awakening, not just a passive observance. The “serious reflection and great uneasiness” (JS—H 1:8) Joseph experienced must be reflected in the lives of other investigators if conversion is to follow. Third, Joseph felt confusion and contention in his search for truth, reflecting that “the cry and tumult were . . . great and incessant” (JS—H 1:9). Investigators of the truth must expect similar contention and confusion and be prepared as Joseph was not to be discouraged by it but to use it as a further motivation in the search for truth.
Fourth, Joseph Smith was led to a choice in life, to make a fundamental decision. “Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?” (JS—H 1:10). Investigators must also be brought to this point in their search, where they realize it will require a hard and difficult choice between alternatives. Fifth, Joseph was led to use the scriptures to help answer his important question, turning as he did to the Epistle of James (JS—H 1:11). Investigators of truth must be brought into contact with the revealed word of God contained in the scriptures in order to further their conversion and resolve their questions.
Sixth, Joseph Smith added prayer to his scripture study in order to find the answers to his questions (JS—H 1:11–14, 18). And praying was a difficult experience for him, as it may be for other investigators of the truth. In his case, and in the case of other investigators to a lesser degree, Joseph also had to overcome opposition to prayer. This seventh step in the conversion process of Joseph Smith is also crucial to other investigators. All who seek righteousness will face opposition from the enemy of all righteousness, especially at a critical stage in their conversion process. Moses on the Mount faced the same opposition from Lucifer during his marvelous theophany (Moses 1:12–22). Both Moses and Joseph Smith struggled with and overcame opposition. Just so must other investigators overcome opposition if they are to receive the same reward.
Eighth, Joseph Smith received an answer to his earnest prayer. In his case it was the vision of the Father and the Son, who also answered his questions (JS—H 1:19–20). As Joseph received answers to his prayer, so will other investigators receive answers to their prayers from the same loving Father and Son. Ninth, Joseph Smith at this point in his conversion experience came to a realization of the apostasy, an acceptance of the division between righteousness and unrighteousness in the world, and an awareness of the difference between the things of God and the things of the adversary (JS—H 1:20). Joseph later reflected that, “I had now got my mind satisfied so far as the sectarian world was concerned . . .” (JS—H 1:26). Every investigator must also get his/
Tenth, Joseph Smith realized he had gained a testimony. He reported, “I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it” (JS—H 1:25). This realization is crucial to conversion. Joseph had received a revelation, but equally important he had become aware that it was a revelation. It is so vital for investigators not only to know the gospel is true, but to know that they know it. With this realization, Joseph could proceed on to the realization of his potential of being called as a prophet of God. With a similar realization, others who seek conversion can also realize their potential and continue to grow and progress in the gospel.
The conversion experience of Joseph Smith is the most detailed and the most powerful of any recorded in the Pearl of Great Price. Those who follow the ten steps outlined in Joseph’s conversion will be enabled to receive the experience and the same spiritual blessings of conversion.
The Missionary Teachings of the Pearl of Great Price
In addition to the great covenants of missionary work and the marvelous conversion role models contained in the Pearl of Great Price, this book of scripture also contains a third important contribution to our understanding of the proselyting program of the Lord for our dispensation. The great doctrinal teachings of the Pearl of Great Price on various aspects of missionary work offer important guidance for proselyting in such areas as (1) the missionary message that should be shared, (2) the qualities and qualifications for missionaries, (3) the methods of proselyting, (4) spiritual assistance in the conversion process, and (5) those to whom the missionary message is directed.
The Missionary Message
Eight important doctrinal themes emerge from the Pearl of Great Price as to what missionaries should teach. The first is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. By the early patriarchs, “faith was taught unto the children of men” (Moses 6:23). And Noah taught the people of his time to “believe” (Moses 8:24). Second, a call to repentance was issued. God himself “commanded them that they should repent” (Moses 5:14), and Adam “called upon his sons to repent” (Moses 6:1). The preachers of righteousness during Enoch’s time “called upon all men, everywhere, to repent,” (Moses 6:23), and Noah “called upon the children of men that they should repent” (Moses 8:20, 24).
The third important missionary message concerned the importance of baptism. Enoch taught that God “gave unto me a commandment that I should baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, which is full of grace and truth, and of the Holy Ghost . . .” (Moses 7:11), and Noah encouraged his people to “be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Moses 8:24). Fourth, the people in the Pearl of Great Price were taught to receive the Holy Ghost. Enoch taught, “even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit . . .” (Moses 6:59), and Noah exhorted his people to “receive the Holy Ghost” (Moses 8:24). These four principles and ordinances are obviously the heart of the missionary message in every dispensation, as evidenced by the preaching of Peter (Acts 2:37–38) and the teachings of Joseph Smith in our day (A of F #4). They form the foundation of the missionary message in each dispensation of the gospel.
In addition to the first principles and ordinances, four other important missionary doctrines are also taught in the Pearl of Great Price. The first is the importance of the Atonement and the plan of salvation. Enoch taught the people about the importance of “Jesus Christ, the only name which shall be given under heaven, whereby salvation shall come unto the children of men . . .” (Moses 6:52). He also taught that mankind must “be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten . . .” (Moses 6:59), concluding with the teaching that “this is the plan of salvation unto all men, through the blood of mine Only Begotten . . .” (Moses 6:62).
Another important doctrine of missionary work identified in the Pearl of Great Price is teaching the nature of God. Enoch taught that ‘The Lord which spake with me, the same is the God of heaven, and he is my God, and your God . . .” (Moses 6:43), identifying the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of mankind. He also taught of God’s creative powers and activities, “The heavens he made; the earth is his footstool” (Moses 6:44), and he taught the distinct nature of God when he said, “I saw the Lord; and he stood before my face, and he talked with me, even as a man talketh one with another, face to face” (Moses 7:4). The confusion over the nature of God in Enoch’s time could have been no greater than it is today, and the importance of teaching the true nature of God is therefore important for both dispensations.
Enoch also taught the people of the apostasy that existed among them during his day. He revealed the Lord’s counsel that the people’s hearts have waxed hard, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes cannot see afar off; And for these many generations, ever since . . . I created them, have they gone astray, and have denied me, and have sought their own counsels in the dark; and in their own abominations have they devised murder, and have not kept the commandments, which I gave unto their father, Adam (Moses 6:27–28).
The message of the apostasy is the institutional correlative to the message of repentance for individual unrighteousness. Both are important missionary messages designed to awaken an awareness of the need for personal and collective improvement.
A final important missionary message contained in the Pearl of Great Price comes again from Enoch. God told him to “Say unto this people: Choose ye this day, to serve the Lord God who made you” (Moses 6:33). The importance of the proper exercise of our free agency should always be fundamental to the missionary message. As ancient and modern prophets have enjoined, the time for choosing is at hand and investigators should be brought to realize the need to make correct choices and follow God and not the adversary and the ways of the world.
Qualities and Qualifications for Missionaries
Three important qualifications for missionary service are identified in the Pearl of Great Price, some of which I have already discussed in the role models of conversion outlined before. The first is an authoritative calling. Enoch and Noah were specifically called by God to preach the gospel. Additionally, Abraham recognized the need for specific appointment to officiate and act in the name of God, and he wrote, “I sought for mine appointment unto the Priesthood . . .” and the Lord responded: “I lead thee by my hand, and I will take thee, to put upon thee my name, even the Priesthood of thy father, and my power shall be over thee” (Abr. 1:4, 18). And from the Articles of Faith, the Prophet Joseph Smith has given to us a very clear statement of this principle. “We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof (#5).
A second important qualification for missionaries also already identified is that of personal righteousness. The scriptural record indicates that Enoch “continued his preaching in righteousness unto the people of God” (Moses 7:19), and Noah likewise qualified himself by personal righteousness to serve.
The third important qualification is really an identification of the lack of need for a particular qualification. Some may suppose those who share the gospel with others need to be eloquent and powerfully persuasive through training and skills to convince others of the importance of the gospel. The experience of Enoch in this regard is instructive. When called by God to serve, Enoch was very conscious of his limitations, asking the Lord, “Why is it that I have found favor in thy sight, and am but a lad, and all the people hate me; for I am slow of speech; wherefore am I thy servant?” (Moses 6:31). The Lord responded to Enoch’s lament with the assurance, “Open thy mouth, and it shall be filled, and I will give thee utterance . . .” (Moses 6:32). Earthly eloquence and skills are not required of those who share the gospel, for the power comes not from the tongue but from the spirit, as the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith in our own day (D&C 50:10–22). The Apostle Paul well understood this important factor in missionary work when he wrote to the Corinthian Saints, telling them that “when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom,” but “in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power; That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:1–5).
Four missionary methods are identified in the Pearl of Great Price, each of which was used with great effect by those who earlier preached the gospel to others. The first was to testify, as did Enoch, “testifying against their works” (Moses 6:37). The second was to prophesy. The people who listened to Enoch bore witness of this aspect of his preaching when they said, “we go yonder to behold the seer, for he prophesieth” (Moses 6:38). The third was to utilize effective prayer, as Enoch did when, “he wept, and cried unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, wilt thou not have compassion upon the earth? Wilt thou not bless the children of Noah?”(Moses 7:49). And the fourth was to use spiritual power to control the elements to effect God’s purposes. The Lord promised Enoch that “the mountains shall flee before you, and the rivers shall turn from their course” (Moses 6:34), and thus it was.
Although we generally do not use the last method for missionary purposes in this dispensation, it is still available when required by the Lord. But the first three methods are all important parts of proselyting. Coupled with the powerful teaching by the spirit evidenced by Enoch and Noah and others, they can prove fruitful avenues for conversion.
Spiritual Assistance in Missionary Work
The Pearl of Great Price identifies five important ways in which spiritual assistance can be given to missionary work. The first is through the missionary message being delivered by spiritual agencies. The record indicates that “the Lord God called upon men by the Holy Ghost everywhere,” and that the gospel was in the beginning “declared by holy angels sent forth from the presence of God, and by his own voice, and by the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Moses 5:14, 58). These divine messengers are an important avenue for inspiration to investigators, either in addition to the missionaries themselves or in place of them when required.
Another way in which spiritual assistance is given to missionary work is through spiritual support to the missionaries. The Lord told Enoch, “Open thy mouth, and it shall be filled, and I will give thee utterance . . .” (Moses 6:32). A related aspect of protection for missionaries was also promised Enoch by the Lord. When the people heard Enoch preaching, “no man laid hands on him; for fear came on all them that heard him; for he walked with God” (Moses 6:39). These twin blessings of spiritual support and spiritual protection are important adjuncts to the spiritual power in the teachings previously identified.
Two important priesthood powers for missionary work are also identified in the Pearl of Great Price. The Lord promised Enoch that in the last days, “righteousness will I send down out of heaven” (Moses 7:62), in part a reference to the restoration of priesthood keys and powers restored in this dispensation. And to Moses, the Lord provided the use of priesthood powers to resist and overcome evil. When Lucifer appeared to Moses, the great prophet “received strength, and called upon God, saying: In the name of the Only Begotten, depart hence, Satan” (Moses 1:21). The power to cast out evil spirits and Lucifer himself is thus given as another important use of priesthood powers in missionary work.
To Whom Is the Missionary Message Directed?
A final area in which the Pearl of Great Price provides direction for missionary work is in identifying those who should receive the message. From the great covenant God entered into with Abraham, we remember the charge for Abraham’s family to “bear this ministry and Priesthood unto all nations” (Abr. 2:9). Later in that same covenant, God told Abraham that through his family and priesthood, “shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Abr. 2:11). And in discussing the composition of the family of Abraham itself, the Lord said, “for as many as receive this Gospel shall be called after thy name, and shall be accounted thy seed” (Abr. 2:10), suggesting the possibilities for all to hear and accept the message.
To Enoch, the Lord revealed that the gospel “shall be sent forth in the world, unto the ends thereof (Moses 6:30). And in Joseph Smith’s inspired translation of Matthew 24, the Lord is quoted as saying, “this Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world, for a witness unto all nations . . .” (JS—M 1:31). These directions from the Pearl of Great Price clearly indicate that all of God’s children should have the opportunity to hear and accept the gospel. But that is not to say that all will accept it. In God’s covenant with Enoch, he told the patriarch that in the last days the gospel messengers were to “gather out mine elect from the four quarters of the earth” (Moses 7:62), suggesting that those who spiritually respond to the message may be prepared for it, thereby implying a differentiation of preparation for the gospel. Certainly those who convert to the gospel of Jesus Christ evidence a degree of concern and interest and spiritual awareness beyond others who reject it, and the record of conversions in the Pearl of Great Price confirms this.
Summary and Conclusions
The Pearl of Great Price is a witness of the converting power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and it provides valuable contributions to our understanding of missionary work and of the conversion process. That book of scripture itself is a powerful missionary tool, containing the inspired revelations of God that answer so many important questions in life. As we search its pages, we may be greatly blessed in gaining greater understanding, greater ability, and greater commitment to sharing the gospel with others.