The Church was more than a year away from being formally organized when the Prophet Joseph Smith in February 1829 received a revelation declaring that “a marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men.”
Known to us today as Doctrine and Covenants 4, the revelation was initially directed toward the Prophet’s father. However, it is clear from the wording that the message is addressed not just to any one individual but to all “who embark in the service of God,” commanding them to serve Him with all of their “heart, might, mind and strength.”
That the revelation is a part of our scriptural canon is indication enough that it has just as much force, efficacy, urgency and relevance to us who are living today as it did when it was first given.
Verse 4 of the revelation is particularly vivid:
“For behold, the field is white already to harvest; and 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.”
The imagery of the field ready for the harvest harkens back to instruction given by Jesus.
On one occasion, His disciples encouraged Him to eat.
“I have meat to eat that ye know not of,” He replied, explaining, “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work” (John 4:31-32; 34).
Then, as if to underscore the sense of urgency He felt to complete that work, He gave this analogy:
“Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? Behold I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.
“And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together” (John 4:35-36).
The Master was telling His followers that the time for waiting was past; that the fields were “white already,” meaning that the grain stalks were already mature with heads ripe for the harvesting. They should not delay any longer to begin to reap the harvest of souls awaiting salvation and eternal life.
How significant it is that the Lord would repeat this imagery in one of the earliest revelations given in this gospel dispensation.
Throughout this gospel dispensation, we see anxiousness by the Lord’s servants to fulfill this mandate.
Amid turmoil and persecution in Missouri in 1839, when their strength would have been valuable at home to help shore up the struggling Church, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles were instructed “to depart to go over the great waters, and there promulgate my gospel, the fullness thereof, and bear record of my name” (see Doctrine and Covenants 118:4).
The sense of urgency is still maintained.
Church members old enough to remember the ministry of President David O. McKay recall his admonition first uttered in general conference of April 1959 and reflected in this 1961 statement: “Every member is a missionary. He or she has the responsibility of bringing somebody: a mother, a father, a neighbor, a fellow worker, an associate, somebody in touch with the messengers of the gospel. If every member will carry that responsibility and if the arrangement to have that mother or that father or somebody meet the authorized representatives of the Church, no power on earth can stop this church from growing. And personal contact is what will influence those investigators. That personal contact, the nature of it, its effect depends upon you (quoted in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay, Chapter 4).
In a now-famous talk given to regional representatives of the Church in April 1974, President Spencer W. Kimball said, “My brethren, I wonder if we are doing all we can. Are we complacent in our approach to teaching all the world? We have been proselyting now 144 years. Are we prepared to lengthen our stride? To enlarge our vision?” (Ensign, October 1974, p. 3)
On that occasion, President Kimball quoted President Brigham Young as writing in 1852, “‘We believe, as the time draws near, the Lord will hasten His work, and nations will soon be gathered into the fold for Christ.”
We are blessed to live in a time of unprecedented hastening of the work of salvation. As a direct consequence of the historic announcement by President Thomas S. Monson in October 2012 of the changes in age of eligibility for missionary service, there are now almost 83,000 full-time missionaries currently serving and 12,000 who have received their calls. Consider by way of comparison that there were fewer than 18,000 missionaries serving at the time President Kimball made that famous call in 1974 to “lengthen our stride.”
Surely, history will look back on our day as the dawning of an era of unprecedented expansion in the work of saving souls.
As President Monson said at the most recent general conference in October: “Now is the time for members and missionaries to come together, to work together, to labor in the Lord’s vineyard to bring souls unto Him. He has prepared the means for us to share the gospel in a multitude of ways, and He will assist us in our labors if we will act in faith to fulfill His work.”