This is the hymn that we, more than any other, associate with the leader of our church. We sing it at General Conference after he speaks to us. We sing it when he visits our local congregation (if we’re lucky enough to have him visit). I had a missionary companion who would listen to the song every morning. He would turn it on, look at me with an excited look on his face, and say, “Prophet song!”
I was set to write an essay about prophets for today. I was ready to tell you about the unique role prophets play in the gospel as watchmen, and about the sustaining power of continuing revelation. I read through the lyrics of the hymn, excited to find quotes that told us about the incredible gift of a living prophet.
A close reading of those lyrics, however, shows that the hymn is much less about prophets than we might be led to think. Listen to the first verse, excluding the first two lines:
We thank thee for sending the gospel
To lighten our minds with its rays.
We thank thee for every blessing
Bestowed by thy bounteous hand.
We feel it a pleasure to serve thee
And love to obey thy command.
I see themes of gratitude, obedience, truth and light, but not much about prophets. Adding the phrase “we thank thee, O God, for a prophet” certainly sheds a different light on the verse, but it seems to me in this hymn, we’re grateful for the entirety of the gospel, of which a living prophet is just one part. It’s not that we’re not grateful for him–after all, our gratitude for him is in the title–it’s that we’re not only grateful for him.
The gospel provides an anchor for us. We receive conflicting and changing messages in life, and having something constant to cling to helps us to stay pointed in the right direction. There’s a reason the gospel, the word of God, is described in scripture as an iron rod. It is strong, unshakable, and provided for us to hold to. It doesn’t just help us to stay put, either; it leads us to our final destination of God’s presence.
When dark clouds of trouble hang o’er us
And threaten our peace to destroy,
There is hope smiling brightly before us,
And we know that deliv’rance is nigh.
We are grateful for the gospel in its entirety because we know that obedience to it will bring us through the challenges of life. We can look those trials in the face with a smile, knowing that God will bring us through to the other side. We know He can be counted on to fulfill His end of the bargain, so long as we keep up our end. We can count on Him because, as we sing, “we’ve proved him in days that are past.” He has always, in every case, been there to support us (though perhaps not in obvious or expected ways), and we know that He always will be.
Prophets are an important part of this protective aspect of the gospel, of course. The Lord protects us by warning us of dangers ahead, and He does that through a prophet. While the gospel gives us general counsel, a prophet can give us specific counsel relevant to our unique situations. Ancient scripture can warn us about the dangers of dishonesty and theft. A modern prophet can counsel us against online piracy and copyright violations.
So we’re grateful for our prophet, but grateful for him as a part of the gospel as a whole. We are blessed to have that truth in our lives to guide us in the right way. We rejoice in that gospel, and “bask in its life-giving light.” We know that as we are obedient to the principles we’ve been taught (by a prophet, no less!), we can go on to eternal perfection and the happiness that will accompany it.
We’re grateful for the gospel, and we’re grateful for all of it.