I know two men who started out in life in very much the same way. Both were born to active LDS parents who lived in the same community. They belonged to the same ward, they had the same teachers, the same bishop, the same friends, and they even went to the same school.
Today those men are as different as they can be, not only in their vocational pursuits, but in their philosophies of life and their degree of spirituality. They are both successful professional men and financially secure, but there the similarity ends. One of them holds a responsible position in the Church, and has a family of sons and daughters who have honored their parents and who themselves have lived in accordance with the teachings of the gospel, striving to be a credit to their noble parents, and to their Church and community.
The other man gradually drifted away from the Church, married a nonmember, and became the father of children, at least two of whom were a constant source of worry and concern because of influences in their lives which caused them to be in what seemed a never-ending series of law violations—speeding, drunk-driving, drug abuse, etc.
We see these contrasting life-styles all around us, and it is not my intent to pass judgment or fix responsibility for behavior. However, when the second man came to me for advice in his desperation, it caused me to reflect and to wonder about those influences which draw men away from their faith and beliefs. I pondered over the circumstances which brought each of these two men to his present station in life, and was reminded of Paul’s warning to the elders of the Church in Ephesus as he declared:
“Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God which he hath purchased with his own blood.
“For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.
“Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:28–30.)
Later, after expressing thanks to God for the love, faithfulness, and hope of the Colossians as they accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ, Paul warned them as follows:
“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” (Col. 2:8.)
Why are some men deceived by the philosophies of men while others are able to accept the gospel and various teachings through faith? Some are like Thomas who was not with the Twelve when Jesus appeared to them following his resurrection. You will remember that Thomas said:
“Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Eight days later, when Jesus appeared again and Thomas was with the others, Jesus said:
“Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.”
And then upon the acknowledgement by Thomas, the Savior said:
“Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20:25, 27, 29.)
Sometimes I think we feel there is more disputation and uncertainty and anti-Christ sentiment abroad today than ever before. Perhaps this is true if we consider the increase in world population, but there have always been dissidents and persecutors and false prophets who would lead the people astray and destroy the divine plan of God the Father.
These are the words of President Joseph F. Smith in the October conference of 1909:
“There never was a time, perhaps, when there were more false prophets than there are today, when there were more visionary men or more false Christs than there are today. We get letters from them, and commands and threats from them, and admonitions and warnings and revelations from them, nearly every day. … There is no one that can get up some foolish idea, or start out proposing to organize a church of some kind, no matter what the inconsistency of his claims may be, but what he will find some one to follow him, somebody as foolish as he is, and who knows as little. To the faithful Latter-day Saint is given the right to know the truth, as God knows it; and no power beneath the celestial kingdom can lead him astray, darken his understanding, becloud his mind or dim his faith or his knowledge of the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It can’t be done, for the light of God shines brighter than the illumination of falsehood and error, therefore, those who possess the light of Christ, the spirit of revelation and the knowledge of God, rise above all these vagaries in the world; they know of this doctrine, that it is of God and not of man.” (Conference Report, Oct. 1909, pp. 8–9.)
We are so fortunate to understand the purpose of Christ’s mission, to have the gospel, to be led by a prophet of God, and to be encouraged by the testimonies of the General Authorities and others who bear witness of the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are encouraged to study and to gain a knowledge for ourselves that this work is true, and each individual can have this testimony through study and prayer.
In October 1935, Elder Stephen L. Richards, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, addressed the general conference as follows:
“I believe that as high an order of intelligence is required to understand and interpret the things of the spirit as is required to comprehend the truths of science and other secular matters. I believe that accomplishments and achievements in the field of religion are just as worthy and commendable and great as are accomplishments in the field of science, in the domain of business and commerce, and in all other worldly affairs.
“I also believe that a great many people in this world do not believe this thing. I am convinced that the people of the world have so deprecated, in their own estimation, the real place and value of the spiritual life and of religious activity that they have been weaned away from allegiance to religious institutions, spiritual concepts, and this great world that is out beyond the so-called natural world. To me it is the greatest misfortune that can overtake the human family, and I believe that the youth of our Church, unfortunately, are not free from the influence of this worldly philosophy that has so engulfed the minds and thinking of men.”
He expressed great concern for the youth of the land who were being subjected to worldly philosophies which deny the existence of the spiritual world, and stated:
“Their education has contributed in no small measure to this situation, not purposely perhaps, but nevertheless truly, for I have but little doubt that there are to be found many young men and women who have lost faith and departed from the old practices and the old traditions, because those things have not only been omitted but they have been purposely ignored and ofttimes deprecated by the educational systems and influences under whose tutelage the youth have come. …
“I believe that as I make appeal to the teachers of the country to encourage their students to keep open minds on all these questions that affect the faith of their fathers, I not only speak the sentiment of our own Church but likewise the sentiment of all good religious people who seek to bring to the youth of their churches the spirit, the theology and the traditions which they foster.
“It is such an easy thing to discourage faith in this world of materiality, in this world of science, where we have laid so much emphasis on all the scientific processes and developments that have been so much in evidence the last few decades. It is so easy to say a word to undermine faith. I wish that those who have within their power the formation of the views of youth, the cultivation of their character, I do wish that they would be careful.
“As a tax-payer and a supporter of the public school system, which I admire, which I regard as one of the greatest factors for the civilization of the race, which I have always regarded as being an essential constituent of a democracy and on which my children are dependent for education, I have always entertained the view that there is no right on the part of those to whom that education is entrusted to in any way say one single word or promote one thought that will tear down the faith of my children and lead them from the philosophy of faith.
“Now, our youth are especially susceptible to influences that lead them away from faith because, in my opinion, they do not always have an adequate and proper understanding of the Gospel of Christ. Sometimes I fear they seem to feel so much concerned about the injunctions and the inhibitions and the proscriptions, that they fail to appreciate the positive, beautiful, life-giving, joyful message of the Gospel of Jesus. …
“I wish that it were possible for us to teach our youth that all the enduring satisfactions they may ever hope for, all the real joys and pleasures of life, are to be had in pursuance of and not in contravention of Gospel principles.” (Conference Report, Oct. 1935, pp. 94–96.)
There is no happiness or peace of mind except through obedience to the commandments of God. There is no salvation or eternal life except through acceptance of the gospel and living according to its teachings. There are no problems facing the nations of the world or individuals for which answers cannot be found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. He came to earth for that purpose—to give us a plan of life and salvation through which we could enjoy happiness and eternal life.
May I remind us of Paul’s message to the Ephesians:
“There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;
“One Lord, one faith, one baptism,
“One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. …
“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
“For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
“Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
“That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
“But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.” (Eph. 4:4–6, 11–15.)