The world in which students of today choose spiritual life or death is changing, said Elder Henry B. Eyring of the Quorum of the Twelve and Commissioner of Church Education.
Schools and campuses have radically different moral climates than a few years ago. Language in the hallways and locker rooms has coarsened. Clothing is less modest. Pornography has moved into the open, Elder Eyring said Aug. 14 to an estimated 11,000 seminary and institute teachers in the Marriott Center on the BYU campus.
"We must raise our sights," he said. "Our aim must be for them to become truly converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ while they are with us."
Addressing the volunteer and staff instructors of the Church Educational System as part of a weeklong conference, Elder Eyring painted the picture of a world becoming increasingly tolerant of wickedness and said, "The spiritual strength sufficient for our youth to stand firm just a few years ago will soon not be enough."
"Many of [the youth] are remarkable in their spiritual maturity and in their faith. But even the best of them are sorely tested. And testing will become more severe."
Elder Eyring explained how the seminary and institute curriculum has changed over the years as the world has changed. "Where once there was a wealth of material calculated to hold the wandering interest of young people and even entertain them, the words of the scriptures are now doing the holding. . . . You have made the scriptures live for them.
"But they need more," he said, noting that too many graduates of seminary fail to qualify for the mission field and temple ordinances. "To them, missions and the temple are far distant, in some time when the joys of youth have flown away. Those goals are distant enough that too many, way too many, say to themselves: 'Well, I know I may have to repent some day . . . but I can always take care of that when the time comes. . . . I'll see the bishop when it's time and I'll make the changes later. I'm only young once. For now, I'll go with the flow."
"Well, the flow," said Elder Eyring, "has become a flood and soon will be a torrent. It will become a torrent of sounds and sights and sensations which invite temptation and offend the Spirit. Swimming back upstream to purity against the tides of the world was never easy. It is getting harder and may soon be frighteningly difficult."
Students need to derive more from seminary and institute during their time in class, Elder Eyring said. "That is when they make the daily choices which will bless or mar their lives.
"The pure gospel of Jesus Christ must go down into the hearts of students by the power of the Holy Ghost. It will not be enough for them to have had a spiritual witness of the truth and to want good things later. It will not be enough for them to hope for some future cleansing and strengthening. Our aim must be for them to become truly converted to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ while they are with us," he said.
"Then they will have gained a strength from what they are, not only from what they know. They will become disciples of Christ. They will be His spiritual children who always remember Him with gratitude and in faith. They will have the Holy Ghost as a constant companion. Their hearts will be turned outward, concerned for the temporal and the spiritual welfare of others. They will walk humbly. They will feel cleansed and they will look on evil with abhorrence."
Though he could have recounted personal experiences to emphasize his teachings, Elder Eyring said he chose to quote extensively from the Book of Mormon to prove that change is possible, and that "the way change is brought about and what the person becomes is always the same."
"The words of God in pure doctrine go down deep into the heart by the power of the Holy Ghost. The person pleads with God in faith. The repentant heart is broken and the spirit contrite. Sacred covenants have been made. And then God keeps His covenant to grant a new heart and a new life, in His time.
"Whether the miracle comes in a moment or over years, as is far more common, it is the doctrine of Jesus Christ that drives the change. We sometimes underestimate the power that pure doctrine has to penetrate the hearts of people."
Why did so many respond to the missionaries when the Church was so young, so small and seemingly so strange, he asked? What did Brigham Young and John Taylor and Heber C. Kimball preach in the streets and on the hills of England? "They taught that the pure gospel of Jesus Christ had been restored," he said.
"That pure doctrine went down into the hearts then, as it will now, because the people were starved and the doctrine was taught simply.
"Our students may not know that they are fainting from famine, but the words of God will slake a thirst they did not know they had, and the Holy Ghost will take it down into their hearts. If we make the doctrine simple and clear, and if we teach out of our own changed hearts, the change for them will come as surely as it did for Enos," he said, quoting from Enos 1:1-4, noting the change that came as Enos remembered the words of his father.
"What we seek for our students is that change. We must be humble about our part in it. True conversion depends on a student seeking freely in faith, with great effort and some pain. Then it is the Lord who can grant, in His time, the miracle of cleansing and change. Each person starts from a different place, with a different set of experiences and so a different need for cleansing and for change. The Lord knows the place and so only He can set the course," he said.
"But for all of our students, we can play a vital part. Enos remembered the words of eternal life which he had been taught. So did Nephi, and so did the people of King Benjamin. The words had been placed in memory in such a way that the Holy Ghost could take them deep into the heart. We are teachers whose charge is to place those words so that when the student chooses and pleads, the Holy Ghost can confirm them in the heart and the miracle can begin."