When Parley P. Pratt wrote “The Morning Breaks, the Shadows Flee” in 1840, the morning was breaking.
Elder Pratt lived in the present tense of the Gospel being restored. He was baptized in 1830—later in the same year that the Church was organized as a formal entity—and eventually served as one of the first members of the Quorum of the Twelve in this dispensation. When he wrote these words, the Church had only been given an official name two years prior. Two more years would pass before the Book of Abraham would be published for the first time.
When this hymn opened the dedication of the St. George temple in 1877, Israel’s blessings were at hand. That same day, President Brigham Young received a revelation on how to reorganize the Priesthood and stakes of Zion. Six years later President John Taylor received a revelation on the organization of the Seventies, and thirteen years later the Manifesto, terminating the practice of plural marriage, was accepted in General Conference.
When this hymn was sung in General Conference in October 1925, Zion’s light was bursting forth. President Heber J. Grant stated that this particular hymn was deserving of its place at the beginning of the hymnbook—a “place of honor”—and it seems especially so given the revelatory context of that era. President Joseph F. Smith’s miraculous vision of the redemption of the dead, now comprising D&C section 138, had occurred only seven years before. Family Home Evening had been announced as a Church program ten years before, and the inspired Church Welfare program would be instituted only eleven years hence.
When Elder Bruce R. McConkie famously used this hymn as the basis of a conference talk in 1978, glory was bursting from afar. Home teaching began in 1964. In 1976 two revelations were added to the Pearl of Great Price, later to become sections 137 and 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants. And, of course, just two months after Elder McConkie’s talk, the blessings of the Priesthood were extended to all worthy male members of the Church, as revealed by the Lord to the Prophet Spencer W. Kimball.
When we sing “The Morning Breaks” from our hymnbook, it’s still the dawning of a brighter day. We may look at decades and centuries past as a golden era of revelation, but it’s far from true. The First Presidency released the prophetic “The Family” and “The Living Christ” proclamations in 1995 and 2000, respectively. Temple service was revolutionized when President Hinckley announced the construction of small temples in 1997, which he described as a “bright and clear” answer from the Lord on how to bring the blessings of the temple to everyone. And in October 2012—in very recent memory—the Lord’s prophet Thomas S. Monson announced a change in the age of eligibility for missionary service, a change that surely came as direction from on high.
Gospel light is spilling over the Earth, and it’s happening now. The morning is breaking now, the shadows are fleeing now, and clouds of error are rapidly disappearing as truth’s divine rays shine forth. We, too, 170 years after Elder Pratt penned these words, live in the present tense of the restoration of the Gospel.
It’s a blessed day. And the morning is only now breaking.