Several months ago, Elder and Sister F. Arthur Kay and I visited the beautiful and exotic island of Tahiti. Our flight arrived at the Papeete airport at about four in the morning. We were met at the airport by a group of local Church leaders headed by regional representative Victor Cave. We quickly assembled our bags and headed for the hotel to get what rest we could before the day’s activities began.
Our route took us through the deserted, dimly lighted streets of Papeete. In the dark, we saw the faint figure of a man crossing the street in front of Brother Cave’s car. Brother Cave gave the man a lot of room to cross and told us, “That man is Brother So-and-so. He is hurrying to get to the temple. The first session of the temple doesn’t begin until nine o’clock, but he wants to be there well in advance.”
“How far away does he live?” asked Elder Kay. The answer: “Two or three blocks.” Brother Cave indicated that the caretakers open the temple gates early and that this man comes in and watches the day begin within the sacred precincts of the beautiful temple in Papeete.
I marveled at the faith of that man, who is willing to forgo his sleep and other activities in order to meditate and contemplate. Some would no doubt say, “How foolish! How wasteful of time that could be spent sleeping or studying.” I choose to hope that in those programmed hours of meditation and contemplation that faithful man is coming to know himself and his Creator.
It is important for us to nurture such a simple, untroubled faith. I urge complete acceptance of the absolutes of our own faith. At the same time, I urge you not to be unduly concerned about the intricacies, the complexities, and any seeming contradictions that seem to trouble many of us. Sometimes we spend time satisfying our intellectual egos and trying to find all the answers before we accept any.
We are all in pursuit of truth and knowledge. The nurturing of a simple, untroubled faith does not limit us in the pursuit of growth and accomplishment. On the contrary, it may intensify and hasten our progress. This is so because our natural gifts and powers of achievement are increasingly enhanced by the endless growth of knowledge. In our belief, it is possible to be even a helper of the Father and of the Son and to be under their personal tutelage.
Nephi explained that his brethren had become so wicked and insensitive to the Spirit that they became “past feeling,” even though they had seen and heard an angel, and even though God had spoken to them in a still, small voice. (See 1 Ne. 17:45.) In contrast, Nephi tells us that if we “feast upon the words of Christ … the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.” (2 Ne. 32:3.)
I have a dear friend with whom I grew up. Although bright and able, he was not a scholar. The press of family needs and concerns limited his educational opportunities. He did not graduate from high school. He acquired an old, beat-up truck and began hauling sand and gravel for a few contractors. The work was seasonal and not at all productive. The old truck frequently broke down and needed repairs.
In his teenage years he drifted some, but he married a good woman and settled down. Their circumstances were economically straitened, but somehow they managed to get a house built on part of the family property.
I was the bishop and called him to be the Aaronic Priesthood adviser. He took his calling seriously. He literally wore out the handbook, studying it. He had a notebook filled with dates when all the young men in the ward would reach the age to be advanced in the Aaronic Priesthood. He kept good track of the young men and kept the bishopric informed of their activities.
Some years after I was released, he became a member of our bishopric. He needed a little nudging to become a full-tithe payer, but he responded faithfully, as he had done before. Subsequently, he became our bishop. He served wonderfully and well. In the meantime, he and an associate had learned how to lay bricks and had formed a brick-contracting partnership. The difference between their work and the work of others was in the quality. He and his associate did beautiful work. They were in demand. He prospered and became well respected in the community. He also became the president of the local water company.
After many successful years as a bishop, he was called to the high council and served well and faithfully. Although his formal education ended before high school graduation, he is now a man of affairs, respected and honored. With the advantage of a college education he no doubt would have achieved even more.
What caused him to succeed? Industry? Thrift? Self-reliance? Yes, but there was more. Conscientiously and untiringly, he sought to know and do the mind and the will of the Lord. He had a simple, untroubled faith.
Our religion promises the opportunity to come back into the presence of the Father and the Son, and it contemplates a future perfection of the human spirit and soul. This is a preferential condition in the hereafter. Why, then, should we be preoccupied unnecessarily with too many mysteries? In fact, the worldwide mission of the Church can be simply stated; it is to perfect the Saints, proclaim the gospel, and redeem the dead in order to bring God’s children to Christ.
President Stephen L Richards explained it this way: “The immortal soul which is the union of body and spirit, becomes invested with the divine nature of our eternal Father and our elder Brother, Jesus Christ.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1945, p. 30.) That investment of the divine nature intensifies and magnifies our gifts and abilities. There is no greater teacher, no greater strength than the divine nature of the Eternal Father and Jesus Christ.
The prophet and other Church leaders are also great teachers. Before I was called as a General Authority and had a seat in general conference, I always tried to listen, either by television or radio, to the conference proceedings. One Saturday of general conference, on the opening day of duck-hunting season, my youngest son and I went duck hunting. Of course, we listened to the car radio on the way and took a portable radio with us so that we could listen to it in the duck blind. The season’s shooting began at noon, so we were able to hear the morning’s proceedings.
My son had a seminary assignment to review the conference messages. We listened faithfully to all of the messages on Saturday morning. The shooting was over by one o’clock, and we listened to the afternoon’s conference proceedings. As we were picking up our decoys and heading back to the car, my son thoughtfully said, “What are the Brethren saying?” He was trying to understand the grand overarching and undergirding messages of their talks.
We should ask ourselves: What are the Brethren saying? The living prophets can open the visions of eternity; they give counsel on how to overcome the world. We cannot know what that counsel is if we do not listen. We cannot receive the blessings we are promised if we do not follow the counsel given.
As a young stake president, I met many of the General Authorities when they came to speak at our stake conference. I can tell you—that was a great experience! President Hugh B. Brown came to one of our stake conferences just a week before he was called and sustained as a member of the Council of the Twelve. We enjoyed his warm spirit and his good humor. As I helped him with his coat and walked out to his car with him, I said, “Elder Brown, do you have any personal advice for me?”
His answer was, “Yes. Stick with the Brethren.” He did not choose to elaborate or explain, but he left that indelible message: Have the simple faith to follow the Brethren.
My grandmother, Maud Wetzel Faust, used to tell her young grandsons about going to general conference when President Brigham Young presided. (She also told us about the first train that came to Salt Lake City.) Except for the Prophet Joseph Smith, she had known all of the Presidents of the Church, up to Heber J. Grant. From her observations over the years, she had this to say: “Those who have turned their backs on the Brethren have not prospered.” Then she proceeded to tell of a few examples.
What caused her to impart this lesson to her grandsons I do not know, but I would certainly wish all of us would have the simple faith to “stick with the Brethren.”
We acknowledge that all Church leaders, past and present—except Christ himself—had human failings and weaknesses. The critics of the Church are wont to discredit this marvelous work because of the human weaknesses of its leaders. But, as President Gordon B. Hinckley said a few years ago, “to highlight the mistakes and gloss over the greater good is to draw a caricature. Caricatures are amusing, but they are often ugly and dishonest. A man may have a wart on his cheek and still have a face of beauty and strength, but if the wart is emphasized unduly in relation to his other features, the portrait is often lacking in integrity.” (Church News, 3 July 1983, p. 11.)
Of the early leaders of the Church, President Hinckley said, “If some of them stumbled, or if their characters may have been slightly flawed in one way or another, the wonder is the greater that they accomplished so much.” (Ibid.) The same is true today.
In an urgent plea for the Saints to concern themselves more with the common things, President Wilford Woodruff gave this counsel: “How much longer I shall talk to this people I do not know; but I want to say this to all Israel: Cease troubling yourselves about who God is; who Adam is, who Christ is, who Jehovah is. For heaven’s sake, let these things alone. Why trouble yourselves about these things? God has revealed himself, and when the 121st section of the Doctrine and Covenants [D&C 121] is fulfilled, whether there be one God or many gods they will be revealed to the children of men, as well as all thrones and dominions, principalities, and powers. Then why trouble yourselves about these things? God is God. Christ is Christ. The Holy Ghost is the Holy Ghost. That should be enough for you and me to know. If we want to know any more, wait till we get where God is in person. I say this because we are troubled every little while with inquiries from elders anxious to know who God is, who Christ is, and who Adam is. I say to the elders of Israel, stop this. Humble yourselves before the Lord; seek for light, for truth, and for a knowledge of the common things of the kingdom of God.” (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, ed. G. Homer Durham, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1946, pp. 235–36.)
To have a simple, untroubled faith, you must keep your spiritual innocence. That requires avoiding cynicism and criticism. This is the day of the cynics, the critics, and the pickle-suckers. Said President Hinckley: “Criticism is the forerunner of divorce, the cultivator of rebellion, sometimes a catalyst that leads to failure. In the Church, it sows the seed of inactivity and finally apostasy.” (Church News, 3 July 1983, p. 10.)
For some years now I have appreciated sharing a common reception room at the Church Administration Building with David M. Kennedy. I appreciate my relationship with him. After having been called to the Council of the Twelve Apostles, I was walking out of the Tabernacle with Brother Kennedy. I said to him, “David, there must be ten thousand men in this Church more able and qualified to serve in the Council of the Twelve than I am.”
Brother Kennedy replied, “No—fifteen thousand.”
Brother Kennedy has had a most remarkable career in government, in business, and in the Church. Yet I have found him to be a man of simple faith. He has been secretary of the treasury of the United States, ambassador-at-large, ambassador to NATO, and president and chairman of Continental Illinois Bank. He has also been a missionary, secretary of a mission, a bishop, and a member of a stake presidency, and he is now serving as a special ambassador of the First Presidency.
He has met with a host of kings, presidents, and heads of state in his lifetime. Yet his faith is basic, pure, and unshakable. He knows where he came from, who he is, where he is going, and what is most important in his life. He received this orientation from his father. When young David asked his father, “What are we supposed to be doing here on earth?” his father replied, “We are supposed to be serving God and our fellowman.”
To have a simple, untroubled faith, we must accept some absolutes. They are basic. They mean believing that—
Jesus, the Son of the Father, is the Christ, and the Savior and Redeemer of the world;
Joseph Smith was the instrument through which the gospel was restored in its fulness and completeness;
The Book of Mormon is the word of God and, as the Prophet Joseph Smith said, is the keystone of our religion;
Ezra Taft Benson is, and all of his predecessors as Presidents of the Church were, successors in holding the keys and authority restored by Joseph Smith.
You may ask, “How can I acquire an untroubled faith and a spiritual assurance that each of these absolutes is true?” This untroubled faith can come through prayer, study, and a submissive willingness to keep the commandments.
But let us be more specific. As to the first absolute, the acceptance of Jesus as the Christ, we have two thousand years of teaching and tradition, which help the inquirer accept him as our Savior and Redeemer. So this absolute, initially, at least, may be the easiest to accept after study, prayer, and trying to follow his teachings.
The second absolute, the calling of Joseph Smith as the Prophet of the Restoration, may be more difficult for the honest seeker to accept. To have a fair appreciation for the greatness of Joseph Smith’s mission, we must step back and view the grand panorama of it all. To me, the only logical explanation for the majesty and success of his work is that he saw what he said he saw, and he was what he said he was. What he restored is so complete, so all-encompassing in concept, so majestic and awesome in potential, that only God himself could have been the author and motivating force behind it. The fruits of Joseph Smith’s work, so plain for all to see, are also a testimony of the divinity of his work.
The third absolute, namely a testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, in my opinion comes exactly as Moroni states, by the power of the Holy Ghost—through asking God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if the book is true. The promise then comes: “If ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.” (Moro. 10:4.)
The fourth absolute is essential to enjoying an untroubled faith. It is the proposition that President Ezra Taft Benson is the inheritor of the restored keys, as was each of his predecessors since Joseph Smith. Some accept the Savior, the divine mission of Joseph Smith, and the Book of Mormon, but then think that after Joseph’s time somehow the Brethren went astray. Many who have thought this have taken others with them, and their efforts have not prospered.
There is a powerful precedent that comes down through the ages to sustain the succession of authority. After the crucifixion of the Savior, Peter, as the senior Apostle, became the President of the Church. Since the restoration of priesthood keys to Joseph Smith, this practice has been followed in the successions to the office of President of the Church.
As each of the Apostles has been ordained to the Apostleship and the Quorum of the Twelve, he has been given all of the keys of the kingdom of God on the earth—some of which are to be held inactive until the death of the President of the Church. Upon the death of the President of the Church, the keys rest with the Quorum of the Twelve as a body. When a new President is ordained and set apart, the Council of the Twelve unitedly lay their hands upon his head and activate the keys he has held since he was ordained an Apostle. It has been so since Peter, James, and John bestowed the keys upon the Prophet Joseph Smith. It was so with President Ezra Taft Benson.
Because of this transferring of keys and authority, we can truthfully say that, since there is priesthood authority on the earth today, President Benson holds the keys to it.
The acceptance of these four absolutes, together with the ordinances administered by the Church and obedience to the commandments, is a solid foundation for the enjoyment of the promise of the Savior—peace in this life and eternal life in the life hereafter. (See D&C 59:23.)
I bear my testimony, as one of the special witnesses of Christ, that the Father and the Son did appear to the boy Joseph Smith and that he was given direction to reestablish the Church upon the earth in its fulness. I also testify of the divine and truthful message of the Book of Mormon. I believe that President Ezra Taft Benson holds all of the keys and authority to administer the affairs of the kingdom of God on the earth.
Like that man crossing the street in Papeete at 4:00 A.M., hurrying to the temple, we can enjoy an untroubled conscience in the temples of God. Having a simple, untroubled faith can lift us above the selfish, sordid, and greedy aspects of the world toward peace and eternal life.