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Sarah Jane Weaver: What we can learn from the urgency of early Latter-day Saint missionaries

Elder Quentin L. Cook invited missionaries to study ‘The Morning Breaks,’ with lyrics penned by Elder Parley P. Pratt, and consider the urgency early missionaries felt

In 1840, Apostle Parley P. Pratt — one of the original members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the restored Church of Jesus Christ — penned the words to a celebrated Latter-day Saint hymn.

“The morning breaks, the shadows flee;
“Lo, Zion’s standard is unfurled!
“The dawning of a brighter day,
“The dawning of a brighter day
“Majestic rises on the world.”

The lyrics to the hymn were first published in May 1840 as a poem on the outside cover of the inaugural issue of the Millennial Star, a periodical published by the Church in England. Elder Pratt was the first editor of the publication. 

Later that year, as Elder Pratt prepared the Manchester hymnal, he included many of his own hymns; this quintessential hymn of the Restoration, “The Morning Breaks, the Shadows Flee,” appeared first.

Elder Quentin L. Cook of the current Quorum of the Twelve Apostles asked missionaries this week to read the words of the sacred hymn and consider the urgency felt by early Latter-day Saint missionaries in the British Isles and “how important sharing the gospel was to them.”

It is a message that has defined many important periods of Church history.

In 1974, as the world faced a fuel crisis, the late Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles also spoke of this same urgency. His words still have great meaning 49 years later.

“Brethren and sisters, we are living in a time of urgency,” he said during April 1974 general conference. “We are living in a time of spiritual crisis. We are living in a time close to midnight. There is an urgency to meet the worldwide spiritual crisis through action now. It can only be accomplished by performance. Procrastination is a deadly weapon of human progress. Thank God there is no need of a shortage in the oil of preparedness. It is accumulated at will, drop by drop, in righteous living.”

In April 2018, after being sustained as the 17th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Russell M. Nelson addressed Latter-day Saints with similar urgency.

“In coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting and constant influence of the Holy Ghost. My beloved brothers and sisters, I plead with you to increase your spiritual capacity to receive revelation.”

In the last four weeks, Elder Cook has visited seven missions — four in Africa and three in North America. “It’s been remarkable to be with the missionaries,” he said. While speaking to the missionaries at the Provo Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, Elder Cook invited them to also spread the gospel of Jesus Christ with a sense of urgency.

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It is the same urgency always felt by Elder Parley P. Pratt. When first reading the Book of Mormon, for example, he wrote:

“I read all day; eating was a burden, I had no desire for food; sleep was a burden when the night came, for I preferred reading to sleep. … I knew and comprehended that the book was true. … My joy was now full.”

He would later serve a historic mission to Canada; his urgent efforts resulted in the baptism of John Taylor, the third President of the Church, and opened the way for missionary work to John Taylor’s family in England.

Elder Cook’s great-grandfather Heber C. Kimball was among those early English missionaries — leaping from the boat with urgency in Liverpool, England, so he could be the first to touch the land. And when those early missionaries reached Preston, they saw a large election banner that read “Truth Will Prevail.”

“It being so very seasonable and the sentiment being so appropriate to us in our situation, we were involuntarily led to exclaim: ‘Amen! So let it be,’” Elder Kimball wrote.

Just before penning the words to “The Morning Breaks,” Elder Pratt wrote home, reflecting the urgency of the work in his words. “Here is a boundless harvest for the next 15 to 20 years,” he told his wife, Mary.

Elder Cook asked current missionaries to read and study the words to “The Morning Breaks.”

“I want you to read it, and I want you to think about the urgency he felt … the urgency of sharing the gospel and how important that was to them,” said Elder Cook.

It is an urgency we all feel as we have witnessed the Lord hastening His work — including invitations from His Prophet to read and study the scriptures, prepare ourselves spiritually, spend more time in the temple and gather Israel on both sides of the veil.

The inspiring and prophetic prose written by Parley P. Pratt in May 1840 — and still claiming the first page of our hymn book — summarize why it matters.  

“Angels from heaven and truth from earth
“Have met, and both have record borne;
“Thus Zion’s light is bursting forth,
“Thus Zion’s light is bursting forth
“To bring her ransomed children home.”

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