Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » B.H. Roberts, on Tracting

B.H. Roberts, on Tracting

By: Ardis E. Parshall - May 14, 2013

Anybody who’s ever been a missionary knows what it is to tract. Anybody who’s ever seen a Mormon missionary probably has some idea of tracting. Most of us didn’t especially enjoy doing it, and I suppose that most members of the public don’t especially enjoy having the missionaries knock. Historically, though, tracting has been a major source of converts – while it may not be particularly effective today, it was effective in some times and places.

Below is a rather longer-than-usual-for-blogging document, a booklet written by B.H. Roberts (1857-1933), one of the most powerful missionaries of the late 19th/early 20th century Church. If you skim through it, dipping in where your eye catches something of interest, you might catch Elder Roberts’ vision for tracting, and better understand what this now-disfavored activity meant to the work of introducing the gospel once upon a time.

If you’re not familiar with tracting, or want a shorter, more easily read introduction to it, see this 2008 post by Edje Jeter, on Juvenile Instructor.


The Most Important Duty.

After all that has been said, the greatest and most important duty is to preach the gospel.”

The above statement is from remarks of Joseph Smith, the Prophet, after an extended review on the Priesthood and Church Organization, before a gathering of the Elders of the Church at Kirtland, Ohio, in solemn assembly, April 6th, 1837. (See History of the Church, Vol. II, p. 478).


Someone has said that “Tracting is the backbone of missionary work.” I may not be in strict agreement with the statement, but whoever said it was impressed with the importance of that part of missionary activity; and that is something that matters. Quoting the saying above, one of a group of missionaries at a recent conference asked the question: “If Tracting is the backbone of missionary work, how is it that we do not have some treatise or instruction on the subject, some manual; or some definite course of training in it?”

Difficulties in the Way of a Treatise on Tracting.

There was no answer to the question except to confess to the neglect of the subject; and that, of course, was no answer. It may be that the difficulties attending upon the treatment of the subject has deterred everyone from attempting, even in outline, to give instruction on Tracting. To illustrate these difficulties: The first essential to successful Tracting is a knowledge of human nature, and a special knowledge of the class of people among whom one is working; second,awidescopeofgeneralinformation;third,ageneralknowledgeofthe whole gospel, a comprehensive knowledge of the scriptures; a thorough knowledge of the tracts being distributed. In other words the one who successfully presents the message of the New Dispensation of the gospel to the world, must know that message. That I am not mistaken in the knowledge necessary to possess in order to effectively present the New Dispensation to the world through Tracting or other methods of presentation, I quote from instructions which the Lord gave to some of the Elders of His Church in an early day of that Dispensation.

“I give unto you a commandment, that you shall teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom:

“Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand. Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land, and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms.”

And to what end was this broad field of knowledge to be harvested? Listen:

“That ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you. Behold I sent you out to testify and warn the people, and it becometh every man who has been warned to warn his neighbor.” (Doc. & Cov. Sec. 88:77-80).

If this wide general knowledge of things and conditions in the world was necessary for the equipment of the servants of God in the first decade of the New Dispensation (1830-01840), it is increasingly more necessary now, in this year of grace, 1924, when knowledge of things in general is so much more a source of power than formerly.

With this general knowledge of human nature and of the people in particular among whom one is called to labor; with a knowledge of the gospel, of the scriptures, and of the tracts to be presented – if with all this one has in addition a native or an acquired pleasing manner of approaching people; high physical and moral courage, tempered by humility; intense earnestness, accompanied by patience and gentleness; if he has fixed, determined faith – zeal without fanaticism – then one is prepared to tract successfully.

But how is one to acquire all this knowledge, and these personal qualities, and do it now? Let someone tell that story, and he will give the necessary instructions on how to tract successfully! Is it a matter of wonderment that no one has undertaken a treatise on Tracting when the largeness of the subject and its difficulties are considered? And yet it may be possible that some helpful suggestions could be given about Tracting, and surely these should be given. that is what is attempted here, and all that is attempted.

One cannot help but know that preparation of the sort indicated above can only be acquired by slow degrees – by “time, and experience, and careful, and ponderous, and solemn thoughts.” It is something, however, to know the difficulties in the way of a treatise on Tracting; something to learn the necessary work that must at least be attempted – the attainment of the knowledge, and the acquirement of the personal qualities for the work, even if such knowledge and such qualities do, at first glance, seem beyond one. Let it be remembered that in this thing as in so many others, “Unless one starts, there is no arriving.” And there is no other way of acquiring the “art” of Tracting and otherwise presenting and preaching the gospel than by obtaining a knowledge of it, and a knowledge of things related to it, and acquiring the personal qualities and tactfulness suggested above. To work, then, on preparation for Tracting.

On Acquiring Knowledge Necessary to Efficiency in Tracting.

Let this be commenced: First, by taking a survey of our general knowledge acquired at our grade schools, high schools, and colleges; or by general reading and experience, that we may be conscious of our status as to knowledge. This may be done by a little reflection – a little introspection – and may lead to the pitiful conclusion that our knowledge is not extensive. No matter, let us set to work to remedy that, by

Second, adopting a systematic daily reading of the scriptures, including all the four books of scripture, the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. By this I do not mean a hunting merely of proof texts, by reading the sacred books extensively, to get the spirit of them, their spiritual and moral atmosphere. This can only be done by reading them copiously and daily. so read them, majoring on the New Testament, and in this, stressing the teachings of the Christ. After that, as next in importance, the daily reading of the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Old Testament, and the Pearl of Great Price.

Third, master, as far as possible, a knowledge of the doctrinal development of the New Dispensation, noting especially the things in which this Dispensation differs from and goes beyond former Dispensations, and wherein it corrects the erroneous doctrines and traditions of the modern churches of men.

Fourth, acquire, as soon as may be, an historical background of the principal and sequent events in the history of the New Dispensation. Learn the story of the Latter-day Saints that you may defend them against the slanders of the prejudiced. Learn their industrial, educational, moral and spiritual status; and these in relation to the status of other people in the same lines, for by their fruits shall the Lord’s people be known.

On Acquiring Personal Qualities and Graces Essential to Successful Tracting.

So much for the acquirement of knowledge to prepare the servants of the Lord for their work of Tracting; and now as to the acquirement oft he personal qualities and graces essential to success in that work – the pleasing manner of approach; the high physical and moral courage, tempered by humility; intense earnestness, attended by patience and gentleness; the fixed faith, but zeal without fanaticism – what I should call the genius of common sense! Surely one must be born to these qualities and graces! Yes, perhaps so, in a large measure at least. And yet they may be acquired.

One of the means of acquiring these personal qualities would be to hold one’s self consciousness of the Principal one represents – the Principal that stands behind one – GOD. What a word of strength and power comes to one by recalling the ONE of whom he is the agent, the representative, the servant, the ambassador! Undoubtedly one may learn to work in the spirit of his Master.”Ye have not chosen me,”said the Christ to His chosen Twelve,” but I have chosen you and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit.” (St. John 15:16). Also the Christ prayed that His disciples – the twelve – might be one as He and the Father are one. (St. John 17:11,21): and if one, then in some degree like; and if in some degree like, then God’s servants can surely become so far conformed to His image as to acquire the personal qualities of courage, humility, boldness, gentleness, faith, zeal, strength – qualities set forth above as being necessary for the work of the Lord in Tracting. The Twelve Disciples in America, were told by Christ that they should be judges of the people among whom they labored – the Nephites. “Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be?” He asked, and He answered his own question: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, even as I am” (III Nephi 27:27). “God hath not given us the spirit of fear,” wrote Paul to Timothy, “but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (II Timothy 1:7). Then God’s servants have claim upon their Principal. He must confirm their work – vitalize it, bring it to fruitfulness. What said the Lord to Joshua, the successor of Moses, when preparing him for his work of leadership? “There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life …Only be thou strong, and very courageous … Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed; for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” (Joshua 1:5-9). And as God was with his ancient servants, so will he be with his modern servants, if only their faith is equal to laying hold of the strength of God and adding it to their own. “Emanuel,” then; which being interpreted means “God with us;” or God is with us. And if God be with us, and we can maintain that fellowship, how can we fail? Surely by diligent application one may acquire the necessary knowledge of human nature; of things in general; of the gospel in particular; of the history and the doctrines of the New Dispensation; and the knowledge of all other things that are necessary, by faith and by study. Also one may acquire the personal graces and qualities needful for his work in the ministry – Tracting especially included – if, IF, I say, one will apply himself to the cultivation of them.

To Learn Tracting by Tracting.

One other thing should be mentioned, as constituting a further difficulty in preparation for Tracting. One has need to acquire his knowledge and develop his personal qualifications, not one at a time, but simultaneously. The several lines of his efforts at preparation must run parallel and be kept somewhat abreast. His daily efforts in preparation must be somewhat like the efforts of a student at school who carries on every day several subjects, reading, arithmetic, history, English, geography, physical culture. So the missionary must daily devote himself to his several lines of preparation: scripture reading, study of gospel doctrines, reviewing tracts, acquiring an historical background for his message; study of human nature as he meets it, self culture in personal habits and qualities, the thinking out and the practicing of the best methods of approaching people of different natures and varying moods. All this must go on daily – hourly. Nor may one seclude himself in his preparations until they are completed, and then begin the application of what he has learned as theory as to Tracting. One must apply his knowledge as he gains it, and “learn to do by doing.” In nothing is the old educational formula, “learn to do by doing,” more appropriate than in Tracting – Learn to Tract by Tracting. Tracting is not to be learned in schools, nor from manuals, but in the mission field by tracting from door to door. Each delivery of a tract at a home is a lesson, each day a training period, such as no school can give, and no teacher impart, by either written word or oral instruction.

How to Enjoy Tracting.

To enjoy tracting one must work at it, earnestly work at it. One may not sluff it and at the same time enjoy it. It is a kind of work one must acquire a taste for, and do it because it is recognized as a duty to be performed faithfully and well, and can only be enjoyed because it is a duty well and faithfully performed. Performance of a duty brings a sense of satisfaction, of peace of mind, and as one may not leave a duty that he is conscious of unperformed and be happy, so the missionary may not be dilatory in Tracting – which he must recognize as a duty – and be happy. There can be no question as to Tracting before a duty in missionary work. It is made so by direction of the Church Authorities. Experience has proved it to be an effective way of presenting the gospel, both by distributing the written word and affording a means of contact with the people to preach the gospel to them by direct word of mouth, by far the most important part of the Tracting. Also it affords the best means, in fact about the only means, of fulfilling the commandment of the Lord, to the effect that whatsoever place his servants cannot go into, they shall “send” the message, that the testimony may go from them into all the world unto every creature. (Doc. & Cov. Sec. 84). This “sending” where one cannot go, may be done only by distributing the written word, of which Tracting is the chiefest and most effective means. Tracting, then, is made a duty to the missionary, and one that he may not neglect and be approved; let there be no doubt about that. It is something not to be questioned but to be done. Experience approves of it, and results obtained justify its adoption as an effective means of preaching the gospel.

Tracting to be enjoyed, moreover, must not be done in a perfunctory manner, that is to say, let no missionary think that since Tracting is made out to be a duty of missionary life, therefore it may be done merely for the sake of getting through with it, doing it without interest, or in a negligent or sullen manner. That will not discharge the missionary’s duty of Tracting. Men learn that happiness in the performance of duty depends not upon what is done, merely but the way, the spirit, in which it is done; and mainly depends on that. As in so many things in which the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life, so it is in Tracting – it is the spirit in which the work is done that gives it its life, that makes it effective, and happifying to the missionary. Let the Tracting be done, then, cheerfully and in the true spirit of service for the Master, and for the benefit of our fellow men; because we love them, and desire to share our truth with them that they may be blessed by it, as we have been and are blessed by it. If the work be done in that spirit, Tracting will become one of the most joyous parts of missionary experience.

The Deeper Purpose in Tracting.

And now a word upon the deeper things of Tracting, the real purpose behind it. It is not so much the distribution of a goodly number of tracts and books that is sought, as it is a means to an end; and that end to bring about personal contact with the people, that the gospel may be preached directly to them. It is personal contact that counts; by Tracting we seek to interest our fellow men sufficiently that they will want to investigate our message. We aim to make investigators of them, that is the real purpose of Tracting. We want to talk to them face to face, and testify to the truth – to “speak that we do know” to them; “and testify that we have seen:” (St. John 3:11). We want living witnesses to testify for the living God, and that while looking men in the face and being in personal contact with them. It will be for rejecting the servants of God, and the testimony of the Spirit of God to their spirits that men will be condemned, not for the rejecting of tracts and books. Tracting chiefly helps us to find those to whom we can thus finally deliver our message. If Tracting be regarded as a means of bringing about this personal contact, by which the gospel may be preached, the importance of it will be more rightly sensed, and the burdens of it disappear.

This brings us to where we began – “After all that has been said, the greatest and most important duty is to PREACH the gospel.”

System in Tracting.

Most things are best done by going about them in a systematic manner, Tracting with the rest; and yet no system should be slavishly followed.

An effort at systematized Tracting has been attempted in the Eastern States Mission during the past year, when introducing the work into a Tracting district or city.

In this system the need of a general outline knowledge of the whole message of the New Dispensation of the Gospel was recognized, and hence a sort of elementary booklet was presented to the missionaries, giving in very brief form an account of “Mormonism”:

The relation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Christian sects;

The Origin and History of “Mormonism”; – outline merely.

The Doctrines of the Church;

The Church organization; and the present status of the Church.

This was designed as a background to the knowledge for the missionary, chiefly, and for use as a booklet among those who would learn the first steps in the development of the subject of which it treats – the Origin and History of “Mormonism,” etc.

This was followed by a series of five small (eight page) tracts, under the general title “The Lord Hath Spoken,” it being held by the writer that from the very nature of the message of the New Dispensation the thing of first importance as to get the attention of the people directed to that fact – The Lord has spoken in this present age. To secure attention to this, clear of prejudice, the first two tracts of the series were non-committal, as to their origin, dealing merely with(1) The need of God speaking to the world; and (2) What word God would most likely speak if he should give a revelation. These two tracts were designed to be used as “drop” tracts, without any effort to come in contact with the people while opening a district for Tracting, the object being merely to arouse thought upon the general subject “The Lord hath spoken.” Number Three was designed to be presented personally, making announcement of the message which God had sent into the world, and to whom it had been given. Numbers Four and Five enlarged on the theme, “The Lord Hath Spoken,” introducing the Book of Mormon, the Restoration of the Priesthood, and the Establishment of the Church of Christ. This series would be followed by another series – three tracts – designed for investigators, under the title, “Why Mormonism.”

From the beginning it was known that this would be making headway by a process of elimination. Many might become interested in the subject matter of the first two numbers of this series of tracts – dealing with the general idea that God has spoken in this age – that there is nothing that forbids our belief in the reasonableness of his now speaking to men, and surely there is great need of his speaking to them. But when it became known through the personal presentation of Number Three, that God’s message to the world had come through Joseph Smith, the “Mormon Prophet,” many through prejudice would refuse to follow the subject further; they would eliminate themselves – “reject the counsel of God against themselves,” proving themselves unworthy of it. This would mean that progress had been made; so much of the work of warning men had been accomplished.

Many of those who would survive the shock of learning that the word of the Lord had come to Joseph Smith would stop their investigations when they found that the Book of Mormon – Number Four of our series – was part of the word which the Lord had spoken in this age. Again progress is marked, more have rejected the counsel of God against themselves. So when Number Five was presented, the like effect would follow. But out of the many who in this way would have been visited, some, a very, very few, of course, for we must always count that it will require a ton of effort to obtain an ounce of result – a very few, perhaps one or two in a district tracted, will hold on in their investigations, and to them we may continue our visits, distribute other tracts, and teach them the gospel; and of their number some may accept the truth. Thus by a systematic process of automatic self elimination, we may find a few, the “one of a city and two of a family,” who will accept our message, believe and obey the gospel.

This systematic method of Tracting has justified its adoption and its continuance in the Eastern States Mission, and I wish to see it continued whenever new districts for tracting are to be opened, until some better system is developed for introducing our message.


Of the things herein set forth this is the sum:

We have found Tracting to be one of the most important of all missionary activities; one of the most effective means of presenting the gospel to the world.

That to be successful in it one must have both a general and a special knowledge of the subject with which his Tracting deals.

That one must possess and exercise a number of special, personal qualities among which are courage, patience, humility, cheerfulness, earnestness; the love of God, and the love of fellow men.

That one must acquire this necessary knowledge, and develop and exercise these personal qualities simultaneously – while going on with the Tracting;

That Tracting must be learned by Tracting – daily Tracting.

That Tracting must be regarded as a duty of missionary service;

That since it is a duty it cannot be sluffed and the person sluffing it stand approved;

That the real purpose in Tracting is to bring the missionary into personal contact with those upon whom he calls, and to whom he presents Tracts; that he may through personal contact and orally present the gospel message to them, and while face to face with them deliver God’s message. Tracting is but a means to this end – Preaching the gospel;

That to enjoy Tracting one must work at it with great earnestness; conscientious industry is essential to successful Tracting, and to the joy of it.

That joy and success in Tracting depends upon the spirit in which the work is done;

That Tracting must be done in the spirit of service for the Master and for one’s fellow men, and out of love for both.

That in opening new Tracting districts, systematic work is better than haphazard methods; and hence the system adopted in the Eastern States Mission, and explained above – beginning with the message, “The Lord Hath Spoken” – should be continued in this mission.


In conclusion, may I say, God bless our tracting efforts in the Eastern States Mission! May it prove, O Lord, an effectual means of finding those whom Thy Spirit has prepared for reception of Thy great Latter-day message! May our missionaries charged with the responsibility of carrying on this work be inspired with the spirit of it, and with the joy of it; that the burden of it may be light, and the yoke of it easy to them, and the result of it a rich harvest of souls for the kingdom of heaven.


1. Tracting an Art: Tracting is an “Art,” requiring preparation as set forth above.

2. Greatness of the Cause in Which You Tract: The cause you are tracting for is the noblest on earth; it is an effort to save souls by directing them to God. The Lord said to one interested in the developing New Dispensation, even before the church was organized, (this was John Whitmer, 1829) —

“Many times you have desired of me to know that which would be of the most worth unto you. Behold, blessed are you for this thing, and for speaking my words which I have given you according to my commandments. And now, behold, I say unto you, that the thing which will be of the most worth unto you will be to declare repentance unto this people, that you may bring souls unto me, that you may rest with them in the kingdom of my Father. Amen.(Doc. & Cov. Sec. 15:4-6).

Again: and this time the word of the Lord was to Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer:

“Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God; for, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him … and how great is his joy in the soul that repenteth! Wherefore, you are called to cry repentance unto this people. And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father! (Doc. & Cov. Sec.18:10-15).

3. The Subject of Your Tracting: The subject of your tracting is the most important subject in the world – the gospel of Jesus Christ – God’s plan for the salvation of men; it aims to secure for men, the greatest gift of God. “Thou shalt be saved in the kingdom of God”, said the Lord to Oliver Cowdery (1829), “which is the greatest of all the gifts of God; for there is no gift greater than the gift of salvation”. (Doc. & Cov. Sec. 6:13). This is the subject of your Tracting.

4. Enthusiasm: One must believe with all his heart the thing he is trying to do. This is necessary to enthusiasm, and enthusiasm spells success.

5. Mental Attitude: One’s mental attitude towards his work presages his success or failure. There is no place for doubters in our work of preaching the gospel – of which Tracting is a means. Doubts are mental traitors to the soul’s integrity. One must have faith in his cause, in himself, and in God. “Faith is the soul’s integrity to the truth he learned ages ago.” (Author not remembered).

6. Feeling and Expression: If you feel a thing you can express it; if you can’t, you do not feel it strong enough.

7. Words and Ideas: Do not be content with words, words, words! Make your words mean something; have ideas behind them.

8. Of Treating Difficulties: Your spirit should rise to the height of your difficulties. Be undefeated. “It is in themselves that men are thus, or thus.” Resolve that you will succeed. Resolution is intense desire backed by the will to do, the will to succeed.

9. The Right Thing in the Right Way: Seek to do the right thing, in the right way, and at the right time. Listen for the still, small voice of the Spirit – your Prompter. You are entitled to that in Tracting as in speaking. You are not left to do this work alone. IMMANUEL: God is with us.

10. The Spirit in Which You Work: Tracting is a method of teaching: “The Elders…of this Church,” saith the Lord, “shall teach the principles of my gospel, which are in the Bible and the Book of Mormon; in the which is the fulness of my gospel;… and these shall be their teachings, as they shall be directed by the spirit. And the spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith.”

11. Prayer a Factor in Tracting : Prayer is an essential factor in Tracting. It may be “uttered or un-expressed.” Prayer may be in silent thought as well as in spoken word. A desire from the heart is a prayer unto God. Every house to be visited in tracting may be approached with a prayerful heart, a desire from the soul. So tract ye.

12. Tract Boldly: Never act as if you did not know why you are at the door presenting your tracts. Irresolution invites contempt, defeat. Remember, IMMANUEL! God is with you. His knowledge, wisdom, and power are yours. How then can you be fearful, or defeated? Only through your own weakness.

13. Humility and Boldness: Yet, be ye humble; but do not mistake timidity for humility. Humility is not incompatible with boldness, or with power. Humility is not fear; it does not require trembling knees, downcast eyes, or a low pitched voice, nor any sense of shame. Be bold, then, in your work; :God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (II Tim. 3:7). The true test of humility is teachability; the power to receive reproof, correction, and be bettered by them. Be humble, then, but also be bold – unafraid.

14. The Heart Aflame: Tract with heart aflame, and you will inflame those whom you Tract. When the Risen Christ talked with the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, and expounded to them the scriptures concerning himself; and when at last they recognized that the stranger who had joined them in the way, and then departed from their sight when he was discovered, was the Christ, they said one to another: “Did not our heart burn within us by the way, and while he opened up the scriptures?” It is possible for you to so work in your Tracting, the Spirit witnessing to the truth of your exposition of the scriptures.

15. Knowledge and Wisdom: Remember knowledge is power. With all thy getting, then, get knowledge; for from knowledge, wisdom is born. Wisdom is knowledge applied. Get knowledge, then, I say, that you may apply it and thus obtain wisdom.

16. Delight in Plainness

17. Have a Plan and Work It: Plan each day’s work. Have a plan, and then work your plan. Fortify yourself against vexatious things by reminding yourself each day, on starting to work, that from the nature of your work, the ignorance and prejudice of some of the people, you will have that day your patience greatly tried. Thus self fore-warned, you will before-armed against the evils of that day, and come off triumphant.

18. Three Little Words – Plus Two:  I Will! Constant work is essential to maintenance of your own interest in your task. Nothing kills enthusiasms like lapses in devotion to your work, – skipping now and then a day – and dawdling. These are deadly sins against enthusiasm, and therefore against success. You are masters of your own time, your danger is that you will waste it by dawdling. Avoid it, as you would “Hell’s pains”. No other sin against Work is so deadly as laziness.

19. Keeping Fit: to Tract successfully you must keep spiritually and physically fit; mentally awake, and, of course, morally straight. Be in health-training all the time for your work by living the simple life; eating only strength-giving foods, and indulging only in high thinking; for as a man thinketh, so is he. Your Tracting will supply the necessary physical exercise.

20. Of Making a Good Impression: It is of highest importance that one make a good impression on those met in Tracting. Essential to this are a neat, cleanly appearance; one must be suitably clothed; that means, as to Lady missionaries, modestly gowned; and as to Elders, suitably clad in serviceable, dark clothing, neatly pressed and brushed; clean linen and underwear; daily shaved, or, if bearded, then beard kept neatly trimmed. And as to both Lady missionaries and Elders, frequently bathed; nails carefully manicured; teeth brushed; shoes polished; and besides all this, keep cheerful all the day through; for yours, above all, is the gospel of cheerfulness.

21. Of Sleep: As contributing to your fitness you need sufficient sleep – but not too much sleep. The Lord has given counsel on this point – verily the best that can be given: “Cease to sleep longer than is needful; retire to thy bed early, that ye may not be weary, arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated”.  (Doc. & Cov. Sec. 88;124).

22. Mental Alertness: Mental alertness is essential to successful Tracting. Hold your mind to its task, for the mind seems to have a native inclination to play truant, and indulge in reveries rather than in thinking. You take charge of and guide the conversation at the door while tracting. Delay objections to your message on the part of the party you are Tracting by guiding the conversation to the particular thing you would present, or that you have presented. Do not allow yourself to be rushed off your feet in a direction you do not want to go. Take the initiative in the conversation, and hold it. You have come to teach, not to be taught. To you, therefore, belongs the initiative.

23. Insist on Being Heard: Do not be too easily put off in your Tracting. Insist, not, however, unreasonably, or in violation of the canons of good taste – but insist, with becoming firmness, on a hearing. The commission you bear from the ONE who has sent you, gives you the right to call men to faith in God, to repentance; and gives you the right to warn them of a judgment to come. Surely this is God’s right, and the right of those whom he has sent as his servants to do this thing. Be ye, therefore, not afraid of the faces of men, but deliver your message as one who is sent of God, and who has authority.Immanuel!

24. Be Definite: Do not so present your message when tracting that people can’t recognize the difference between your faith and that of the false systems of religion of the world. Let the distinctiveness of your message stand out in bold relief. The Restored gospel is different from the creeds of men, falsely claiming to be the Gospel of Christ.

25. The Time Element: There is a time element in Tracting. I do not mean the number of hours to be spent in Tracting each day or week, that will depend on circumstances, and the strength and health condition of the missionary. Still, I may say on that, in passing, that one should do as honest a day’s work for the Lord as he would do on a job for men – putting in as many hours, and working as diligently. But the time element I refer to here is the time element that excludes hurry. You have plenty of time when an opening for conversation on the subject of your Tracting is obtained. Never hurry your work. It is not so important how many homes you visit in a day, as it is what you say to the people in them. Say to yourself, I have now nothing to do but just this that I am doing: and I have plenty of time – all there is, and it is all coming my way. So concentrate on your work regardless of time.

26. Use Plenty of Tracts: Use plenty of tracts in your work; but be not wasteful of them. It is to prevent your wasting them that you are required, personally, to pay one-half of the cost price of them, the Church holding that such a payment by you will check reckless waste of them. Yet they should be used in sufficient numbers to make your Tracting efficient. Do not, then, in the practice of economy let all the retrenchment fall upon the tracts purchased.

27. Develop a Method of Your Own: Building up your own method of work, as largely as possible, from your own experiences. Make every visit to a door contribute something to your own particular system. Write down these experiences and ponder over them. Make it a habit to review each day’s experiences. Talk them over with your companions and get their views as to how you could have done better in especially difficult situations. Analyze your own work; and frankly own up, to yourself, its defects, and amend them.

28. “There Shall Be No Alps”: Be superior to incidental things that beset you; e.g., state of the weather; slight indisposition; disinclination to work. Remember, that as to work, laziness is immoral. Also resist and resent the influence of unenthusiastic and lazy companions. Report them to the conference or mission President for reproof, and for correction, if they repent not under your admonitions; and this for their own good, and the moral and spiritual health of the mission. But do not become contaminated with the poison of their listlessness, idleness, and indifference. These are sometimes our difficulties. Let us say of them as Napoleon said of the Alps, when the difficulties of crossing them in mid-winter were urged upon him in one of his campaigns against the Italians: “The Alps, you say, are difficult to cross! There shall be no Alps!



  1. I just skimmed through this, looking for a hint as to when Elder Roberts wrote this, and found it under the heading “A Prayer.” “God bless our tracting efforts in the Eastern States Mission . . .” (It turns out that there were three earlier references–signs of how quickly I read it.)

    That means that he wrote it during the period 1922-1927, most likely in his office at the mission home just three miles from here. In this day of apartment buildings with locked entrances, some attended by doormen, where one seldom finds an adult home during the day time, tracting has virtually ceased among the missionaries now serving where Elder Roberts once did.

    Comment by Mark B. — May 14, 2013 @ 8:29 am

  2. OK, so, you’ve succeeded in “changing my mind.” I tend to forget that tracting *has* historically been important. Social acceptance of proselyting methods has changed over time (i.e., street/open-air meetings). Just because something isn’t working now doesn’t mean it’s flawed at its core.

    Still, tracting has likely never been easy. I really, really liked Roberts’ cheerfully pragmatic approach, best summarized in his wonderful heading: “How to Enjoy Tracting.” Love it.

    Great find!

    Comment by David Y. — May 14, 2013 @ 9:01 am

  3. In Brazil 1976-78, not only did we have the dramatic revelation on the priesthood, but we had a significant change of direction in “tracting” or “batendo portas” (“knocking on doors”) When I first arrived our President and visiting Area President James E. Faust were concerned about missionaries spending too much time goofing around in members’ homes. We were directed not to visit members but to be out on the streets tracting. By the end of my mission, the directive from our President was that tracting was not as effective as spending time with member families, getting to know their non-member relatives and friends, and teaching them together with the member families. True that! We both re-activated and baptized at the same time and the Church was strengthened.

    Comment by Grant — May 14, 2013 @ 9:23 am

  4. I think many elders in the early 1920s (thanks, Mark, for pinning that down — I meant to, but this morning came so early …) felt as un-enamored of tracting as many of us did, or Pres. Roberts wouldn’t have had to try so hard to convince them that tracting was enjoyable.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 14, 2013 @ 10:01 am

  5. No Alps? I just heard otherwise from someone who’s visiting Switzerland for the first time.

    I saw some success in finding people to teach and baptize by tracting, particularly university students, but also had success with investigator referrals, member referrals, and a rather memorable self-referral after a couple visited Pipe Springs National Monument in Northern Arizona and returned to Germany wanting to know more about the Church. I guess tracting needs to be one possibility for missionary work, and should be determined mission-by-mission based on local circumstances.

    Comment by Amy T — May 14, 2013 @ 10:32 am

  6. This doesn’t have anything to do with tracting, but rather with B.H. Roberts. I’ve just read a letter from Joseph F. Merrill, president of the European Mission beginning in October 1933, notifying other mission presidents in Europe of the “death on September 27 of Elder B.H. Roberts.

    “Elder Roberts, as you know, has been in poor health for sometime. He went to the hospital in May,1931, but returned to his office some weeks later determined to carry on. Until within a week before he died he was doing this most vigorously. He was very active, spending the entire day at the office in his literary work. His death was really quite sudden. He was taken to the hospital Wednesday morning and died Wednesday afternoon at 4:30.

    “Thus has fallen another mighty warrior in the Cause of Truth.”

    Or maybe that assessment does have something to do with this post, since those traits of Pres. Roberts come out so clearly in his writing here.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 14, 2013 @ 10:55 am

  7. Amy, I’d like to hear that story about Pipe Spring. My grandpa was the caretaker there and my family members have worked there for generations. They live within walking distance. . . . now back to your regularly scheduled program thread . . .

    Comment by Carol — May 14, 2013 @ 12:17 pm

  8. I can state after three decades of experience that there are no Alps in Brooklyn. Or anywhere on Long Island, for that matter. Or anywhere in New York or New Jersey or Pennsylvania. Or Vermont.

    I’ve seen the Alps. The Alps are my friend. And, Appalachians and Catskills and Adirondacks and Green and White Mountains and even Poconos, you’re no Alps.

    Comment by Mark B. — May 14, 2013 @ 1:33 pm

  9. Link to JI isn’t working I think you mean this one?

    Now I can go back to the top and read the post…

    Comment by The Other Clark — May 14, 2013 @ 1:49 pm

  10. Thanks, TOClark — that’s the one. I’ve fixed my link.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 14, 2013 @ 2:03 pm

  11. Good stuff! Nods to the Boy Scouts with “physically fit, mentally awake, and morally straight” in there, too. I found his 28 points to be stand up to the test of time remarkably well–at least to the mid-1990s latin-american version of tracting that I’m familiar with.

    Comment by The Other Clark — May 14, 2013 @ 2:09 pm

  12. I think a large rationale for tracting is a “voice of warning” or “extend an invitation.” In other time periods, the number of baptisms has been paramount. More recently, convert retention is emphasized.

    But for large periods of the Church’s history, the emphasis has been on sharing the gospel message with as many people as possible, with not much follow-up–Elder Jones mission diary is a great example. And for reaching as many people as possible in the 19th and early 20th Century, tracting and street meetings were hard to beat.

    Comment by The Other Clark — May 14, 2013 @ 2:15 pm

  13. I’ll have to pull out my mission journal and see if I recorded the story or the names of the people at Cove Fort, Carol. The baptized couple blended in well with the ward. They were lovely people.

    Comment by Amy T — May 14, 2013 @ 4:26 pm

  14. Sigh. I meant Pipe Spring.

    Comment by Amy T — May 14, 2013 @ 4:27 pm

  15. Ardis, having witnessed your extraordinary typing skills, I think transcribing this may have taken you a couple of minutes. Great stuff!

    Comment by WVS — May 14, 2013 @ 9:14 pm

  16. Meh, maybe even four minutes, WVS. 😀

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 14, 2013 @ 10:05 pm

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