Endeavoring to communicate the aim and desire of the Latter-day Saints with respect to the outside world, the late President Gordon B. Hinckley said repeatedly in sermons and interviews, "Bring with you all that you have of good and truth which you have received from whatever source, and come and let us see if we may add to it" (October 2002 general conference).
Though he frequently expressed it, this sentiment did not originate with President Hinckley. Presiding over the missionary work in Europe, President George Albert Smith in his day had occasion to meet with numerous government officials and prominent figures. In explaining the intent of the missionaries, he often said, "Keep all the good things that you have, keep all that God has given you that enriches your life, and then let us share something with you that will add to your happiness and increase your satisfaction" (quoted in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, 2010, Chapter 12).
But the thought can be found much earlier than that, in a discourse of Joseph Smith, the Prophet of the Restoration, given in Nauvoo, Ill., on Jan. 22, 1843. On that occasion, he said: "We don't ask any people to throw away any good they have got; we only ask them to come and get more. What if all the world should embrace this Gospel? They would then see eye to eye, and the blessings of God would be poured out upon the people, which is the desire of my whole soul" (quoted in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 2007, Chapter 12).
Similarly, in a discourse given in July of that year, he said: "Have the Presbyterians any truth? Yes. Have the Baptists, Methodists, [etc.] any truth? Yes. They all have a little truth mixed with error. We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true 'Mormons' " (History of the Church 5:517).
That the Latter-day Saints do not regard themselves as exclusive possessors of truth is clearly implied in the above statements. Indeed, we seek and value what is true and beautiful, wherever it is to be found.
This is reflected in our 13th Article of Faith, which reads, in part, "If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things."
Thus it has been with the covenant people of God in all ages. The language of that article of faith mirrors the expression of the Apostle Paul, who wrote to the Philippians: "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things" (Philippians 4:8).
With the deaths of Christ's apostles, the fullness of the gospel with its priesthood authority and keys was taken from the earth. But through the intervening centuries there remained among good and sincere people a vestige of the truth that the Savior brought during His mortal ministry and that He revealed earlier to His ancient covenant people.
Speaking of the restored truth that would be conveyed to mortal men and women by means of the Book of Mormon translation, the Lord revealed through Joseph Smith:
"And now, behold, according to their faith in their prayers, will I bring this part of my gospel to the knowledge of my people. Behold, I do not bring it to destroy that which they have received, but to build it up" (Doctrine and Covenants 10:52).
It is as though the Lord here acknowledges the truth already possessed by the people and states His intent to augment that truth with additional light and knowledge, just as the prophets cited above have indicated.
The revelation continues:
"And for this cause have I said: If this generation harden not their hearts, I will establish my church among them.
"Now I do not say this to destroy my church, but I say this to build up my church;
"Therefore, whosoever belongeth to my church need not fear, for such shall inherit the kingdom of heaven" (verses 53-55).
This revelation is dated April 1829. The Church of Jesus Christ in this dispensation, over which Joseph Smith presided, would not be formally organized for another year. To what could the Lord have reference when He said, "I do not say this to destroy my church, but I say this to build up my church"? Could He have broad reference to the good men and women of the earth who already believed in and worshiped Him, however imperfect their understanding? That He would not destroy the knowledge of truth they already possessed, but rather, He would "build it up"?
We are blessed today to have the gospel and church of Jesus Christ in its fullness with priesthood keys and authority. We regard ourselves as a chosen or a covenant people, but we do not do so with a sense of elitism or superiority. On the contrary, it is with a feeling of humble gratitude to God and immense responsibility and love for Heavenly Father's children, both living and dead.
We bear the duty, under the direction of prophets and apostles with Jesus Christ at the head, to carry His truth to every nation, kindred, tongue and people, affording them the opportunity to receive the saving ordinances and in turn become part of the covenant people of God. They may then help carry the gospel in its fullness to yet more people, thus helping prepare the way for the coming of Christ in glory and His millennial reign on the earth.
In so doing, we honor the truth and goodness found among people everywhere and are eager to augment and enhance it with the divine manifestation entrusted to us. We invite everyone to receive it.