April 5, 1914, 84th General Conference

Elder David O. McKay

[86] "The religion worth having"—A religion that fits men for the life struggle—An army of over 100,000 teachers are in the Church—Qualifications necessary to success in teaching—Powerful influence of the teacher's personality.

It is written that "he who governs well leads the blind, but he that teaches gives them eyes." I should like to say a word this afternoon to the Church teachers who are supposed to be giving "eyes to the blind." I pray that the same inspiration that has actuated this conference thus far may be present with us this afternoon in rich abundance.

In a thoughtful little work entitled "The Religion Worth Having," Thomas Nixon Carver has given several sociological marks of what he considers the true church. Among other things I find this comparison:

"Everyone is familiar with the intense struggle for existence that is carried on among the trees of the forest. It is asserted that the struggle is so intense and the issue of life and death is so sharply drawn among the young pines of a thicket, that the cutting of an inch from the top of one of them will doom it to ultimate extinction. Even that slight difference puts it at a disadvantage, and it never regains what was lost, but falls farther and farther behind and is eventually killed by its less unfortunate rivals. Now let us imagine," he continues, "that these trees were conscious beings and capable of having a religion. Let us suppose [further] that one set of trees possessed a religion which stimulated growth and helped them in the struggle for soil and light, while another possessed a religion which retarded growth and hindered in the struggle. Is there any doubt as to which of these religions would ultimately dominate the forest? Those trees which happen to possess the religion which helped them would survive, and those which happen to possess the kind of religion [87] which hinders them would perish, and their religion would perish with them." "The issues of life and death," he continues, "is never so sharply drawn among human beings as among the trees of the forest, but in the long run the results appear to be very much the same;" and then, "If that be true it will follow that the religion which best fits men for the struggle with the forces of the world, which enables them to survive in this struggle, will eventually be left in possession of the world."

I am grateful for membership in a church whose religion fits men for the struggle with the forces of the world, and which enables them to survive in this struggle. One of these acting forces is the responsibility of teaching, and the opportunity afforded for so many to share this responsibility. There are others, too, just as effective. For example, much might be said about the accomplishment of the Church in enabling men to get dominion over the forces of nature; in other words, the efficiency of the Church to supply the material needs of mankind. Though this phase of our religion is glorious to contemplate, and will establish in the minds of thinking men the superiority of this divine organization over the man-made organizations, I shall merely mention it as one of the many commendable features which fit our men in the struggle with nature's forces. Neither shall I dwell upon the social efficiency nor the opportunities which the men and women in the various organizations have of exerting an influence upon the young people and upon their associates. I might say, however, in passing, that since I came into this building this afternoon, my attention has been called to an illustration of the efficiency of the stake organization in reaching the young people. A note was passed to me just as I entered, giving a new plan adopted in one of our leading stakes of controlling the exercises and the amusements of all the young people in that stake. All organizations have agreed to close evening entertainments at an early hour in the night, that nothing in that stake should be in operation after 10 o'clock. One young man who first rebelled against the rule, but later favored it, said in answer to the question, "Well, what do you think of these new rule?" "Why," he replied, "I have this to say—all my meanness in the past was done after 10 o'clock at night." But of the social efficiency I am not going to say anything this afternoon, merely mention it and suggest that anybody who will give thought to it, and examine the divine organization, and the opportunity that men and women have of controlling their young people as social beings, will be convinced of the efficacy and superiority of the Church in this regard. But I said I would like to draw attention to the teaching force of the Church.

Luther once said: "Count it one of the highest virtues upon earth to educate faithfully the children of others, which so few, and scarcely any, do their own." The obligation of teaching is placed by the Church first upon the parents. Fathers and mothers are accepted absolutely as teachers, and the responsibility thereof has been placed upon them by divine command. But beside these there is an army of men and women, and boys and girls, who have accepted the responsibility of teaching. In the priesthood quorums alone the number runs into the thousands. Among these there are selected not a few thousand to act as instructors of the youth. There are, approximately, six thousand [88] such officers and teachers in the quorums; over one thousand teaching the high priests; over fifteen hundred teaching the seventies; over fifteen hundred teaching the elders, and so on to the priests, teachers and deacons, making a total of over six thousand officers and teachers. With them should be numbered the thousands of young men and young women associated with the mothers of the Relief Society who, too, have joined the ranks of teachers. Indeed the last report shows that there are over fifty-six thousand officers and teachers in the various auxiliary organizations of the Church, not including the ward teachers. Of course, some of these teachers of the quorums are also ward teachers, so the latter cannot be counted without duplication. Neither does the number 56,000 include the vast army of all the men and boys who have been ordained to the priesthood, every one of whom has the responsibility of teaching his fellowmen. If you include all who hold the priesthood, and to that number add mothers and young men and young women in the Relief Society, the Sunday Schools, the Mutuals, the Primary, and the Religion Class, you have an army of over one hundred thousand teachers who have the privilege of working or taking upon themselves what Luther calls "the highest virtue upon earth." Several years ago while attending a conference such as this, I heard President Smith deliver a sermon bearing on the importance of the office of teacher, in which he, too, emphasized the responsibility and virtue of this great calling. "The Church needs," he concluded in substance, "efficient men and women who will be teachers of our children."

Now I ask you—for I have the time merely to make the suggestion—in furnishing opportunity for so many to get the development that comes to the true teacher, think what the Church is doing in enabling this army of teachers as individuals to become strong in the battle against the forces of the world? First, it places upon them the obligation of teaching their fellow men by example; and there is no better safe-guard placed upon an honest man or a sincere woman. Second, it develops the divine attribute of love for others. Jesus said to one of His apostles, "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?" "Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee." "Feed my lambs." Before He gave the divine injunction to Peter and the others to teach, He preceded it by the necessary qualification of love, "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?" We shall not discuss now, what "these" signifies, but the significance is deeper than some of us think. But love should precede the responsibility of feeding those lambs. These hundred thousand must have in their hearts the love of teaching, the love of fellow men; and these officers who sit before me who call the young men and young women into this service, should ask them their willingness, their acceptance of this responsibility, impressing upon those so called the necessity of developing the divine attribute of love.

Then there is a third requirement; viz., purity of life. I cannot imagine a boy who has soiled himself teaching, successfully, purity to boys. I cannot imagine a man who has doubt in his mind about the existence of God, teaching impressively the existence of a deity to young [89] boys and girls. He cannot do it. If he act the hypocrite and attempt so to teach, what he is will speak louder than what he says; and that is the danger, fathers and mothers, of getting doubting men as teachers of your children. The poison sinks into the little beings, and unconsciously they become sick in spirit, because of the poison which the man in whom they have confidence has insidiously instilled into their souls. But the thought of any of this army's attempting to teach the youth faith in God, when they haven't it is irreconcilable with consistency, if not indeed unthinkable. So the third qualification is purity of life and faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Finally, it gives them an opportunity to serve their fellow men, therein [to] magnify the calling which has come to them, and indeed prove that they are real disciples of Christ. "Inasmuch as ye do it unto the least of these my children, ye have done it unto me." Thus the principle, the divine principle of service, is instilled in their minds.

Now I ask you to think of the effect upon society, if every one of these teachers, every one, will succeed in influencing only one other to love, to have that same purity of life, and that same desire to serve fellow men as he has. It means, at once, that there would be two hundred thousand such men and women in this community. And such a consummation is not idealistic or imaginative; it is a condition that can come, that ought to be. One hundred thousand men and women who keep the word of wisdom as faithfully as the three times sixty-six stake presidencies keep it or the three times seven hundred twenty-four bishoprics, just as faithfully as the members of the general boards, just as faithfully as the officers throughout the Church. That is what it means; think what it contemplates!

God help our teachers to feel the responsibility that comes to them, and to remember that responsibility is not measured alone by what they do, but by the opportunities that have come to them to know good from evil. Oh, how mighty then becomes the responsibility of a teacher.

Not long ago I noticed a young girl in her teens put forth a special effort to accost the little boy that was by my side. I did not know her, cannot call her name today, but I could see she wanted to recognize that boy, and I noticed that he was glad when he saw her to reciprocate or to return her salutation. As we passed I said, "Who is she?" "She is my religion class teacher." "What is her name?" "I don't know what her name is, but oh, she is a dandy!" He used an incorrect word, evidently did not know its true meaning, but the significance he gave the word I knew, and the expression on his face I read, and in my heart I thanked the young girl for the influence she has over that boy. Only in her teens, but what that girl will say to him in his religion class he will accept as gospel truth; what she does in her life he will emulate; and that young girl carries the responsibility, in a way, of molding my boy's character; and the one hundred thousand in this Church carry the same responsibility.

Well might the prophet say then:

"O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day. . . . for behold the field is white already to harvest; and [90] lo, he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not, but bringeth salvation to his soul; and faith, hope, charity and love, with an eye single to the glory of God, qualify him for the work. Remember faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, diligence." (D&C 4: 2, 4–6)

May these things be in you and abound, is my prayer in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

McKay, David O. "Address for the Eighty-fourth Annual Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints." In Conference Reports of the LDS Church April 5, 1914, by the Deseret News. Salt Lake City: The Deseret News, 1914, 86–90; reprint, Salt Lake City: Hawbes Publishing Inc.

(parts reprinted)

McKay, David O. (1951, September). "The Teacher." The Improvement Era 54, 621–622.

McKay, David O. (1967, August). "The Teacher." The Instructor, 297–298.