Despite its current positioning in the hymnal, this is less of a “men’s hymn” than we traditionally assume. Although its title and first line are directed to “all ye sons of God,” three out of the four verses actually address scattered Israel, making this yet another of the many missionary hymns of the Church.
The first verse immediately identifies sharing the gospel as a priesthood duty (and, in fact, the only priesthood duty, as far as this hymn is concerned):
Come, all ye sons of God who have received the priesthood;
God spread the gospel wide and gather in his people.
The latter-day work has begun:
To gather scattered Israel in
And bring them back to Zion to praise the Lamb.
After this verse, however, the hymn never again addresses church members and instead talks to Israel, urging her to “repent and be baptized.” Verse 2, however, drew my interest because of its shift in focus:
Come, all ye scattered sheep, and listen to your Shepherd,
While you the blessings reap which long have been predicted.
By prophets long it’s been foretold:
He’ll gather you into his fold
And bring you home to Zion to praise the Lamb.
Verse 1 commissioned individual missionaries to gather converts to Zion, but when we turn to address those converts, there’s no talk of listening to the missionaries or being gathered by those individual Church members. Although the gospel is being delivered by mortal messengers, Israel is instead urged to “listen to your Shepherd” and told that “He’ll gather you into his fold.” Israel is urged to turn to the Savior, and all those missionaries addressed in verse 1 are rendered completely invisible for the remainder of the hymn.
And that, I think, is precisely as it should be. As missionaries, our goal should be to minimize our visibility, to build a relationship between the investigator and the Savior, and to give all the glory to God.
This is the same kind of invisibility the saints are supposed to bear all the time, actually. We are made in the image of God, his icon, intended to point people to him even in appearance. Our goal is to have our countenances remade (Alma 5:14), our names overwritten with His (3 Ne 27:5), and our individual work subsumed by his eternal purposes.
Although that kind of self-sacrifice and invisibility can be a frightening prospect, the gospel promises us that in so doing, we can be adopted in with Israel and join them in receiving the blessings this hymn outlines in verse 4:
And when your grief is o’er and ended your affliction,
Your spirits then will soar to await the Resurrection;
And then his presence you’ll enjoy,
In heav’nly bliss your time employ,
A thousand years in Zion to praise the Lamb.
This is perhaps the greatest paradox in the gospel, articulated by the Savior himself:
He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it. (Matt 10:39)