Last year at Brigham Young University I spoke of the need for integrity. I make no apology for returning to that theme, because integrity (the willingness and ability to live by our beliefs and commitments) is one of the foundation stones of good character, and without good character one cannot hope to enjoy the presence of God here or in the eternities. We must not compromise our integrity by promising what we will not do.
By taking our covenants lightly, we will wound our own eternal selves. I use the word covenant deliberately; it is a word with sacred connotations, and I mean to use it with all its special spiritual force. Self-justification is easy and rationalization seductive, but the Lord explains in modern revelation that “when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, [or] our vain ambition … the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and … [man] is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks” (D&C 121:37–38).
Of course, we can choose; the free agency is ours, but we cannot escape the consequences of our choices. And if there is a chink in our integrity, that is where the devil concentrates his attack.
I assure you that all Church standards, both those relating to moral conduct and those relating to dress and grooming, are the result of intense, prayerful consideration by Church leaders. Young adults whose clean-cut appearance demonstrates that they feel no need to follow after the pattern of the world—which often revels in filth and disorder and garish fads—and young men and young women who look like men and women, who have not succumbed to the morally destructive trend toward a unisex appearance in dress and grooming, are people living cheerful, orderly lives, devoted to improving their ability to serve God and their fellowmen.
Shakespeare had Polonius truly say, “The apparel oft proclaims the man” (Hamlet, act 1, sc. 3). We are affected by our own outward appearances; we tend to fill roles. If we are in our Sunday best, we have little inclination for roughhousing; if we dress for work, we are drawn to work; if we dress immodestly, we are tempted to act immodestly; if we dress like the opposite sex, we tend to lose our sexual identity or some of the characteristics that distinguish the eternal mission of our sex. Now I hope not to be misunderstood: I am not saying that we should judge one another by appearance, for that would be folly and worse; I am saying that there is a relationship between how we dress and groom ourselves and how we are inclined to feel and act. By seriously urging full conformity with the standards, we must not drive a wedge between brothers and sisters, for there are some who have not heard or do not understand. They are not to be rejected or condemned as evil, but rather loved the more, that we may patiently bring them to understand the danger to themselves and the disservice to the ideals to which they owe loyalty, if they depart from their commitments. We hope that the disregard we sometimes see is mere thoughtlessness and not deliberate.
Perfection is our goal, but we all still have a long road to travel. Maintain your integrity and seek to live by the Spirit. Keep all the commandments, so that you will one day stand blameless before God. Give the Lord this year and every year your faith and loyalty, that he may look with pleasure upon what you have done.
Loyalty to the Lord also includes loyalty to those leaders he has chosen. I know that those whom the Lord has called to give leadership to his children in this dispensation of time are recipients of divine inspiration. My grandfather sat in the first Quorum of the Twelve; my father served as mission president and stake president in a much smaller church than we have today, under five presidents of the Church; I have served as a stake officer and General Authority for sixty-one years. Our three lives have encompassed essentially the whole period of the restored Church; taken together, we have known with some intimacy almost all of the General Authorities since the Restoration. On that basis I tell you that those Church leaders were men whose great accomplishments have transcended even their substantial innate abilities, for the Lord has given them power to do his work.
And what I say of the Lord’s influence on leaders I say also of countless thousands of others in whose homes I have stayed, whose testimonies I have heard, and whose good works and unselfish service I have seen. I have learned that where there is a prayerful heart, a hungering after righteousness, a forsaking of sins, and obedience to the commandments of God, the Lord pours out more and more light until there is finally power to pierce the heavenly veil and to know more than man knows. A person of such righteousness has the priceless promise that one day he shall see the Lord’s face and know that he is (see D&C 93:1).
Oftentimes special notice is taken of the General Authorities, and rightly so, since we are under responsibility to pray for them, that they may be successful in their callings; but I know that the Lord is just as pleased with any soul on this earth who magnifies whatever calling the Lord gives him as he is with those whose lives and accomplishments are more visible. President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., said simply, but eloquently, “In the service of the Lord, it is not where you serve but how. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, one takes the place to which one is duly called, which place one neither seeks nor declines” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1951, p. 154). And he lived by that precept. I have all my life sustained my leaders, prayed for their welfare. And I have in these past years felt a great power coming to me from similar prayers of the Saints, raised to heaven on my behalf.
I am grateful for the Lord’s long-suffering. He seems to get so little return for his investment in us. But the principle of repentance—of rising again whenever we fall, brushing ourselves off and setting off again on that upward trail—that principle of repentance is the basis for our hope. It is through repentance that the Lord Jesus Christ can work his healing miracle, infusing us with strength when we are weak, health when we are sick, hope when we are downhearted, love when we feel empty, understanding when we search for truth.
Above all, I declare that Jesus Christ is the center of our faith; I testify to you that he lives. He leads his Church today; he hears our prayers when we humbly, earnestly, unceasingly seek to know his will, making this, too, a day of miracles and of revelation. I witness that this is the truth as my father and I, and your fathers and you, have been teaching it to the world—this gospel is true and divine.