2 For behold, the promises which we have obtained are promises unto us according to the flesh; wherefore, as it has been shown unto me that many of our children shall perish in the flesh because of unbelief, nevertheless, God will be merciful unto many; and our children shall be restored, that they may come to that which will give them the true knowledge of their Redeemer.
(2 Nephi 10:2)
Near the beginning of Jacob’s first sermon to the people of Nephi, he connects the gathering of Israel with missionary work. “When they shall come to the knowledge of their Redeemer,” he says, “they shall be gathered together again to the lands of their inheritance” (2 Nephi 6:10). Now, after teaching the people about resurrection and atonement and emphasizing the things which can keep people from opening their hearts to the Savior (wealth, education, sinful behavior), he reassures his people that at least some of their descendants will be delivered from their captivity. He says that, through God’s mercy, they will “be restored, that they may come to that which will give them the true knowledge of their Redeemer.”
I think the indirection in that sentence is intentional. He might have said simply that “our children shall be restored to the true knowledge of their Redeemer.” But that would convey something different—it would imply that this knowledge will simply be given to them, with no effort on their part. In contrast, Jacob’s actual words suggest that the people are given access to tools which will enable them to come unto the Savior.
The first chapter of Preach My Gospel explains that the purpose of a missionary is to “invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.” The missionary’s purpose is not to bring the gospel into people’s lives, although that is his or her desire. It is not to bring people to the Savior, although that is the outcome they hope for. Instead, it is to help people receive the gospel by inviting them to take actions which will enable them to come unto Christ.
As Elder David A. Bednar has taught, learning about the gospel requires active participation, not merely passive acceptance, on the part of the learner:
Consider how missionaries help investigators to learn by faith. Making and keeping spiritual commitments, such as studying and praying about the Book of Mormon, attending Church meetings, and keeping the commandments, require an investigator to exercise faith and to act. One of the fundamental roles of a missionary is to help an investigator make and honor commitments—to act and learn by faith. Teaching, exhorting, and explaining, as important as they are, can never convey to an investigator a witness of the truthfulness of the restored gospel. Only as an investigator’s faith initiates action and opens the pathway to the heart can the Holy Ghost deliver a confirming witness. Missionaries obviously must learn to teach by the power of the Spirit. Of equal importance, however, is the responsibility missionaries have to help investigators learn by faith (“Seek Learning by Faith,” Address to Church Educators, 3 February 2006).
Today, I will remember the importance of active participation in the process of gaining spiritual knowledge. As a learner, I will participate actively in my church meetings today. And as a teacher, I will remember that I can’t give my students spiritual knowledge; I can only help them take those actions which will enable them to receive it.