A More Determined Discipleship


Neal A. Maxwell
An address delivered at Brigham Young University, 10 October 1978

A More Determined Discipleship

Speaking to student leaders in higher education, I have often used the analogy that in a university the faculty, staff, and administration are like the “natives,” and the students are like the “tourists.” In many ways, a recurring devotional speaker is more like one of the “natives.” Even so, I thank President Oaks for once again extending this precious privilege to me. You may conclude, however, that I am becoming more like a “tourist,” since today I will try to cover two topics in order to make the most of these fleeting moments.

Discipleship includes good citizenship. In this connection, if you are a careful student of the statements of the modern prophets, you will have noticed that with rare exceptions—especially when the First Presidency has spoken out—the concerns expressed have been over moral issues, not issues between political parties. The declarations are about principles, not people; and causes, not candidates. On occasions, at other levels in the Church, a few have not been so discreet, so wise, or so inspired.

Make no mistake about it, brothers and sisters, in the months and years ahead, events are likely to require each member to decide whether or not he will follow the First Presidency. Members will find it more difficult to halt longer between two opinions. (See 1 Kgs. 18:21.)

President Marion G. Romney said, many years ago, that he had “never hesitated to follow the counsel of the Authorities of the Church even though it crossed my social, professional or political life” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1941, p. 123). This is a hard doctrine, but it is a particularly vital doctrine in a society which is becoming more wicked. In short, brothers and sisters, not being ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ includes not being ashamed of the prophets of Jesus Christ!

We are now entering a time of incredible ironies. Let us cite but one of these ironies which is yet in its subtle stages: We will see a maximum, if indirect, effort made to establish irreligion as the state religion. It is actually a new form of paganism which uses the carefully preserved and cultivated freedoms of western civilization to shrink freedom, even as it rejects the value essence of our rich Judeo-Christian heritage.

M. J. Sobran wrote recently:

“The Framers of the Constitution … forbade the Congress to make any law ‘respecting’ the establishment of religion, thus leaving the states free to do so (as several of them did); and they explicitly forbade the Congress to abridge ‘the free exercise’ of religion, thus giving actual religious observance a rhetorical emphasis that fully accords with the special concern we know they had for religion. It takes a special ingenuity to wring out of this a governmental indifference to religion, let alone an aggressive secularism. Yet there are those who insist that the First Amendment actually proscribes governmental partiality not only to any single religion, but to religion as such; so that tax exemption for churches is now thought to be unconstitutional. It is startling to consider that a clause clearly protecting religion can be construed as requiring that it be denied a status routinely granted to educational and charitable enterprises, which have no overt constitutional protection. Far from equalizing unbelief, secularism has succeeded in virtually establishing it. …

“What the secularists are increasingly demanding, in their disingenuous way, is that religious people, when they act politically, act only on secularist grounds. They are trying to equate acting on religion with establishing religion. And—I repeat—the consequence of such logic is really to establish secularism. It is in fact, to force the religious to internalize the major premise of secularism: that religion has no proper bearing on public affairs.” (Human Life Review, Summer 1978, pp. 51–52, 60–61.)

Brothers and sisters, irreligion as the state religion would be the worst of all combinations. Its orthodoxy would be insistent and its inquisitors inevitable. Its paid ministry would be numerous beyond belief. Its Caesars would be insufferably condescending. Its majorities—when faced with clear alternatives—will make the Barabbas choice, as did a mob centuries ago when Pilate confronted them with the need to decide.

Your discipleship may see the time when such religious convictions are discounted. M. J. Sobran also said, “A religious conviction is now a second-class conviction, expected to step deferentially to the back of the secular bus, and not to get uppity about it” (Human Life Review, Summer 1978, pp. 58–59).

This new irreligious imperialism seeks to disallow certain opinions simply because those opinions grow out of religious convictions. Resistance to abortion will be seen as primitive. Concern over the institution of the family will be viewed as untrendy and unenlightened.

In its mildest form, irreligion will merely be condescending toward those who hold to traditional Judeo-Christian values. In its more harsh forms, as is always the case with those whose dogmatism is blinding, the secular church will do what it can to reduce the influence of those who still worry over standards such as those in the Ten Commandments. It is always such an easy step from dogmatism to unfair play—especially so when the dogmatists believe themselves to be dealing with primitive people who do not know what is best for them—the secular bureaucrats’ burden, you see.

Am I saying that the voting rights of people of religion are in danger? Of course not! Am I saying, “It’s back to the catacombs?” No! But there is occurring a discounting of religiously based opinions. There may even be a covert and subtle disqualification of some for certain offices in some situations, in an ironic irreligious test for office.

If people, however, are not permitted to advocate, to assert, and to bring to bear, in every legitimate way, the opinions and views they hold which grow out of their religious convictions, what manner of men and women would we be?

Our founding fathers did not wish to have a state church established nor to have a particular religion favored by government. They wanted religion to be free to make its own way. But neither did they intend to have irreligion made into a favored state church.

Notice the terrible irony if this trend were to continue. When the secular church goes after its heretics, where are the sanctuaries? To what landfalls and Plymouth Rocks can future pilgrims go?

If we let come into being a secular church which is shorn of traditional and divine values, where shall we go for inspiration in the crises of tomorrow? Can we appeal to the rightness of a specific regulation to sustain us in our hour of need? Will we be able to seek shelter under a First Amendment which by then may have been twisted to favor irreligion? Will we be able to rely for counterforce on value education aided in school systems which are increasingly secularized? And if our governments and schools were to fail us, would we be able to fall back upon and rely upon the institution of the family, when so many secular movements seek to shred it?

It may well be that as our time comes to “suffer shame for his name” (Acts 5:41), some of that special stress will grow out of that portion of discipleship which involves citizenship. Remember, as Nephi and Jacob said, we must learn to endure “the crosses of the world” and yet to despise “the shame of it” (2 Ne. 9: 18; Jacob 1:8). To go on clinging to the iron rod in spite of the mockery and scorn that flow at us from the multitudes in that great and spacious building seen by Father Lehi, which is the “pride of the world” (1 Ne. 11:36)—is to disregard the shame of the world. Parenthetically, why, really why, do the disbelievers who line that spacious building watch so intently what the believers are doing? (See 1 Ne. 8:33.) Surely there must be other things for the scorners to do. Unless deep within their seeming disinterest. … Unless. …

If the challenge of the secular church becomes very real, let us, as in all other relationships, be principled but pleasant. Let us be perceptive without being pompous. Let us have integrity and not write checks with our tongues which our conduct cannot cash.

Before the ultimate victory of the forces of righteousness, some skirmishes will be lost. Even in these, however, let us leave a record so that the choices are clear, letting others do as they will in the face of prophetic counsel.

There will also be times, happily, when a minor defeat seems probable, but others will step forward, having been rallied to rightness by what we do. We will know the joy, on occasion, of having awakened a slumbering majority of the decent people of all races and creeds which was, till then, unconscious of itself.

Jesus said that when the fig trees put forth their leaves, “summer is nigh” (Matt. 24:32). Thus warned that summer is upon us, let us not then complain of the heat!

Have I come today, however, only to add one more to the already long list of special challenges faced by you and me? Not really. I have also come to say to you that God, who foresaw all challenges, has given to us a precious doctrine which can encourage us in meeting this and all other challenges.

The combined doctrine of God’s foreordination is one of the doctrinal roads “least traveled by.” Yet it clearly underlines how very long and how perfectly God has loved us and known us with our individual needs and capacities. Isolated from other doctrines, or mishandled, these truths can stoke the fires of fatalism, impact adversely upon agency, cause us to focus on status rather than service, and carry us over into predestination. President Joseph Fielding Smith once warned:

“It is very evident from a thorough study of the gospel and the plan of salvation that a conclusion that those who accepted the Savior were predestined to be saved no matter what the nature of their lives must be an error. … Surely Paul never intended to convey such a thought. … This might have been one of the passages in Paul’s teachings which cause Peter to declare that there are in Paul’s writings, ‘some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction’” (Improvement Era, May 1963, p. 350; see 2 Pet. 3:16).

Paul stressed running life’s race the full distance; he did not intend a casual Christianity in which some had won even before the race started!

Yet, though foreordination is a difficult doctrine, it has been given to us by the living God, through living prophets, for a purpose. It can actually increase our understanding of how crucial this mortal second estate is and can further encourage us in good works. This precious doctrine can also help us go the second mile because we are doubly called.

In some ways, our second estate, in relationship to our first estate, is like agreeing in advance to surgery. Then the anesthetic of forgetfulness settles in upon us. Just as doctors do not de-anesthetize a patient in the midst of authorized surgery to ask him again if the surgery should be continued, so, after divine tutoring, we agreed to come here and to submit ourselves to certain experiences; it was an irrevocable decision.

Of course, when we mortals try to comprehend, rather than accept, foreordination, the result is one in which finite minds futilely try to comprehend omniscience. A full understanding is impossible; we simply have to trust in what the Lord has told us, knowing enough, however, to realize that we are not dealing with guarantees from God but extra opportunities—and heavier responsibilities. If those responsibilities are in some ways linked to past performance or to past capabilities, it should not surprise us. The Lord said:

“There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—

“And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” (D&C 130:20–21). This eternal law prevailed in the first estate as it does in the second estate. It should not disconcert us, therefore, that the Lord has indicated that he chose some individuals before they came here to carry out certain assignments; hence, these individuals have been foreordained to those assignments. “Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world,” said the Prophet Joseph Smith, “was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand Council of heaven before this world was. I suppose I was ordained to this very office in that Grand Council.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 365.)

Foreordination is like any other blessing—it is a conditional bestowal subject to our faithfulness. Prophecies foreshadow events without determining the outcome, because of a divine foreseeing of outcomes. So foreordination is a conditional bestowal of a role, a responsibility, or a blessing which, likewise, foresees but does not fix the outcome.

There have been those who have failed or who have been treasonous to their trust, such as David, Solomon, and Judas. God foresaw the fall of David, but was not the cause of it. It was David who saw Bathsheba from the balcony and sent for her. But neither was God surprised by such a sad development.

God foresaw, but did not cause, Martin Harris’s loss of certain pages of the translated Book of Mormon; God made plans to cope with failure over 1,500 years before it was to occur! (See preface to D&C 10 and W of M)

Thus, foreordination is clearly no excuse for fatalism, or arrogance, or the abuse of agency. It is not, however, a doctrine that can be ignored simply because it is difficult. Indeed, deep inside the hardest doctrines are some of the pearls of greatest price.

The doctrine pertains not only to the foreordination of prophets, but to God’s precise assessment, beforehand, as to each of those who will respond to the words of the Savior and the prophets. From the Savior’s own lips came these words, “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine” (John 10:14). Similarly the Savior said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). Further, he declared, “And ye are called to bring to pass the gathering of mine elect; for mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts” (D&C 29:7).

This responsiveness could not be gauged without divine foreknowledge concerning all mortals and their response to the gospel—which foreknowledge is so perfect it leaves the realm of prediction and enters the realm of prophecy.

The foreseeing of those who will accept the gospel in mortality, gladly and with alacrity, is based upon their parallel responsiveness in the premortal world. No wonder the Lord could say, as he did to Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; … and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jer. 1:5). Paul, when writing to the Saints in Rome, said, “God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew” (Rom. 11:2). Paul also said of God that “he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4).

The Lord, who was able to say to his disciples, “Cast the net on the right side of the ship” (John 21:6), knew beforehand that there was a multitude of fishes there. If he knew beforehand the movements and whereabouts of fishes in the little Sea of Tiberias, should it offend us that he knows beforehand which mortals will come into the gospel net?

It does no violence even to our frail human logic to observe that there cannot be a grand plan of salvation for all mankind, unless there is also a plan for each individual. The salvational sum will reflect all its parts.

Once the believer acknowledges that the past, present, and future are before God simultaneously—even though we do not understand how—then the doctrine of foreordination may be seen somewhat more clearly. For instance, it was necessary for God to know how the economic difficulties and crop failures of the Joseph Smith, Sr. family in New England would move this special family to the Cumorah vicinity where the Book of Mormon plates were buried. God’s plans could scarcely have so unfolded if—willy-nilly—the Smiths had been born Manchurians and if, meanwhile, the plates had been buried in Belgium!

The Lord would need to have perfect comprehension of all the military and political developments in the Middle East—some of which are unfolding even now—which would combine to bring to pass a latter-day condition in which “all nations” will be gathered “against Jerusalem to battle” (Zech. 14:2).

It should not surprise us that the Lord, who notices the fall of each sparrow and the hair from every head, would know centuries before how much money Judas would receive—thirty pieces of silver—at the time he betrayed the Savior. (See Matt. 26:15, Matt. 27:3, Zech. 11:12.)

Quite understandably, the manner in which things unfold seems to us mortals to be so natural. Our not knowing what is to come (in the perfect way that God knows it) thus preserves our free agency completely.

When, through a process we call inspiration and revelation, we are permitted at times to tap that divine databank, we are accessing, for the narrow purposes at hand, the knowledge of God. No wonder that experience is so unforgettable!

There are clearly special cases of individuals with special limitations in life, which conditions we mortals cannot now fully fathom. For all we now know, the seeming limitations may have been an agreed-upon spur to achievement—a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7). Like him who was “blind from birth,” some come to bring glory to God (John 9:1–2). We must be exceedingly careful about imputing either wrong causes or wrong rewards to all in such circumstances. They are in the Lord’s hands, and he loves them perfectly. Indeed, some of those who have required much waiting upon in this life may be waited upon again by the rest of us in the next world—but for the highest of reasons!

Thus, when we are elected to certain mortal chores, we are elected “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (1 Pet. 1:2). When Abraham was advised that he was “chosen before thou wast born,” he was among the “noble and great ones” (Abr. 3:22–23). Through the revelation given to us by the prophet Joseph F. Smith, we read that the Prophet Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, “and other choice spirits” were also reserved by God “to come forth in the fulness of times to take part in laying the foundations of the great latter-day work” (D&C 138:53.) These individuals are among the rulers that Abraham had described to him centuries earlier by God. They were to be “rulers in the Church of God,” (D&C 138:55), not necessarily rulers in the secular kingdoms. Thus, those seen by Abraham were the Pauls, not the Ceasars; the Spencer W. Kimballs, not the Churchills. Wise secular leaders do much lasting and commendable good, but Paul observed to the saints in Corinth that (as the world measured greatness and wisdom) “not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called” (1 Cor. 1:26).

President Joseph Fielding Smith said,

“In regard to the holding of the priesthood in the pre-existence, I will say that there was an organization there just as well as an organization here, and we there held authority. Men chosen to positions of trust in the spirit world held the priesthood.” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1956, Vol. 3, p. 81.)

Alma speaks about foreordination with great effectiveness and links it to the foreknowledge of God and, perhaps, even to our previous performance (see Alma 13:3–5).

The omniscience of God made it possible, therefore, for him to determine the boundaries and times of nations (see Acts 17:26; Deut. 32:8).

Elder Orson Hyde said of our life in the premortal world, “We understood things better there than we do in this lower world.” He also surmised as to the agreements we made there that “it is not impossible that we signed the articles thereof with our own hands,—which articles may be retained in the archives above, to be presented to us when we rise from the dead, and be judged out of our own mouths, according to that which is written in the books.” Just because we have forgotten, said Elder Hyde, “our forgetfulness cannot alter the facts.” (Journal of Discourses, 7:314–15.) Hence, the degree of detail involved in the covenants and promises we participated in at that time may be a more highly customized thing than many of us surmise. Yet, on occasion, even with our forgetting, there are inklings. President Joseph F. Smith said:

“But in coming here, we forgot all, that our agency might be free indeed, to choose good or evil, that we might merit the reward of our own choice and conduct. But by the power of the Spirit, in the redemption of Christ, through obedience, we often catch a spark from the awakened memories of the immortal soul, which lights up our whole being as with the glory of our former home” (Gospel Doctrine, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1977, pp. 13–14; italics added).

As indicated earlier, this powerful teaching of foreordination is bound to be a puzzlement in some respects, if we do not have faith and trust in the Lord. Yet if we think about it, even within our finite framework of experience, it shouldn’t startle us. Mortal parents are reasonably good at predicting the behavior of their children in certain circumstances. Of this Elder James E. Talmage wrote:

“Our Heavenly Father has a full knowledge of the nature and disposition of each of His children, a knowledge gained by long observation and experience in the past eternity of our primeval childhood; a knowledge compared with which that gained by earthly parents through mortal experience with their children is infinitesimally small. By reason of that surpassing knowledge, God reads the future of child and children, of men individually and of men collectively as communities and nations; He knows what each will do under given conditions, and sees the end from the beginning. His foreknowledge is based on intelligence and reason. He foresees the future as a state which naturally and surely will be; not as one which must be because He has arbitrarily willed that it shall be.” (James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1977, p. 29.)

Another helpful analogy for students is the reality that universities can and do predict with a high degree of accuracy the grades entering students will receive in their college careers based upon certain tests and past performances. If mortals can do this with reasonable accuracy (even with our short span of familiarity and with finite data), God the Father, who knows us perfectly, surely can foresee how we will respond to various challenges.

While we often do not rise to our opportunities, God is neither pleased nor surprised. But we cannot say to him later on that we could have achieved had we just been given the chance! This is all part of the justice of God.

One of the most helpful—indeed, very necessary—parallel truths to be pondered when studying this powerful doctrine of foreordination is given in the revelation of the Lord to Moses in which the Lord says, “And all things are present with me, for I know them all” (Moses 1:6). God does not live in the dimension of time as do we. Moreover, since “all things are present with” God, his is not simply a predicting based solely upon the past. In ways which are not clear to us, he actually sees, rather than foresees,the future—because all things are, at once, present, before him!

In a revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord describes himself as “the same which knoweth all things, for all things are present before mine eyes” (D&C 38:2). From the prophet Nephi we receive the same basic insight in which we likewise must trust: “But the Lord knoweth all things from the beginning; wherefore, he prepareth a way to accomplish all his works among the children of men” (1 Ne. 9:6).

It was by divine design that the marvelous Mary became the mother of Jesus. Further, Lucy Mack Smith, who played such a crucial role in the rearing of Joseph Smith, did not come to that assignment by chance.

One of the dimensions of worshipping a living God is to know that he is alive and living in the sense of seeing and acting. He is not a retired God whose best years are past—to whom we should pay a retroactive obeisance, worshipping him for what he has already done. He is the living God who is, at once, in the dimensions of the past and present and future, while we labor constrained by the limitations of time itself.

It is imperative that we always keep in mind the caveats noted earlier, so that we do not indulge ourselves or our whims simply because of the presence of this powerful doctrine of foreordination, for with special opportunities come special responsibilities and much greater risks.

But the doctrine of foreordination properly understood and humbly pursued can help us immensely in coping with the vicissitudes of life. Otherwise, time can play so many tricks upon us. We should always understand that while God is not surprised, we often are.

Life’s episodes may thus take on new meaning. For instance, Simon, the Cyrenian, wandered into Jerusalem on the very day of Christ’s crucifixion and was pressed into service by Roman soldiers to help carry the Savior’s cross. Simon’s son, Rufus, joined the Church and was so well thought of by the Apostle Paul that the latter mentioned Rufus in his epistle to the Romans, describing him as “chosen in the Lord” (Rom. 16:13). Was it, therefore, a mere accident that Simon “who passed by, coming out of the country,” was asked to bear the cross of Jesus? (Mark 15:21).

Properly humbled and instructed concerning the great privileges that are ours, we can cope with what seem to be very dark days, and with true perspective about “things as they really are,” we can see in them a great chance to contribute. Churchill, in trying to rally his countrymen in an address at Harrow School on 29 October 1941, said to them:

“Do not let us speak of darker days; let us speak rather of sterner days. These are not dark days: these are great days—the greatest days our country has ever lived; and we must all thank God that we have been allowed, each of us according to our stations, to play a part in making these days memorable in the history of our race.” (Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, p. 923.)

So should we regard the dispensation of the fulness of time—even when we face stern challenges and circumstances. “These are great days”! Our hearts need not fail us. We can be equal to our challenges, including the aforementioned challenge of the secular church!

The truth about foreordination also helps us to taste of the deep wisdom of Alma, when he said we ought to be content with things that God hath allotted to each of us (see Alma 29:3–4) If, indeed, the things allotted to each of us have been divinely customized according to our ability and capacity, then for us to seek to wrench ourselves free of our schooling circumstances could be to tear ourselves away from carefully matched opportunities. To rant and to rail could be to go against divine wisdom, wisdom in which we may once have concurred before we came here. God knew beforehand each of our coefficients for coping and contributing.

President Henry D. Moyle said:

“I believe that we, as fellow workers in the priesthood, might well take to heart the admonition of Alma and be content with that which God hath allotted us. We might well be assured that we had something to do with our ‘allotment’ in our preexistent state. This would be an additional reason for us to accept our present condition and make the best of it. It is what we agreed to do.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1952, p. 71.)

By the way, the things “allotted” do not include a bad temper or deficiencies of a developmental variety.

What a vastly different view Of life the doctrine of foreordination gives to us! Shorn of this perspective, others are puzzled or bitter about life. Without gospel perspective, life is like trying to play a game of billiards on a table with a rumpled cloth, with a crooked cue, and an elliptical billiard ball. Perhaps the moral of that analogy is that we should stay out of pool halls! In any event, pessimism does not see life or the universe as these things “really are.”

The disciple will be puzzled at times, too. But he persists. Later he rejoices and exclaims over how wonderfully things fit together, realizing, only then, that with God—things never were apart!

Jacob said the Spirit teaches us the truth “of things as they really are, and … really will be” (Jacob 4:13) Centuries later Paul said, “The Spirit searcheth … the deep things of God” (1 Cor. 2:10). Of some of these deep things we have spoken today and of how things really are.

Brothers and sisters, in some of those precious and personal moments of discovery, there will be a sudden surge of recognition of an immortal insight, a doctrinal deja vu. We will sometimes experience a flash from the mirror of memory that beckons us forward to a far horizon.

When, in situations of stress, we wonder if there is any more in us to give, we can be comforted to know that God, who knows our capacities perfectly, placed us here to succeed. No one was foreordained to fail or to be wicked.

When we have been weighed and found wanting, let us remember that we were measured before and were found equal to our tasks; and therefore, let us continue but with a more determined discipleship.

When we feel overwhelmed, let us recall the assurance that God will not overprogram us; he will not press upon us more than we can bear (see D&C 50:40).

The doctrine of foreordination is, therefore, not a doctrine of repose; it is a doctrine for the second-milers; it can draw out of us the last full measure of devotion.

It is a doctrine of perspiration—not aspiration. Moreover, it discourages aspiring, lest we covet, like two early disciples, that which has already been given to another (see Matt. 20:20–23).

It is a doctrine for the deep believer and will only bring scorn from the skeptic.

When, as President Joseph F. Smith said, we “catch a spark from the awakened memories of the immortal soul,” let us be quietly grateful. When of great truths we can say, “I know,” that powerful spiritual witness may also carry with it the sense of our having known before! With rediscovery, we are really saying “I know—again!”No Wonder so often real teaching is reminding.

God bless you and keep you, my special friends, to the end that you will carry out each and every assignment given to you so very long ago. You have been measured and found adequate for the challenges that will face you as citizens of the kingdom of God; of that you should have a deep inner assurance. Be true to that trust, as all of us must, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.