Few promises made in scripture have the credentials and guarantees of the promise made to those who endure to the end: “Look unto me, and endure to the end, and ye shall live; for unto him that endureth to the end will I give eternal life.” (3 Ne. 15:9.)
Nearly thirty other passages from the standard works refer to this promise. Such overwhelming scriptural attestation is extraordinary. In addition to the statements of the many prophets who have repeated this promise in the name of God, scripture quotes both the Father (2 Ne. 31:15, 20) and the Son (3 Ne. 27:16) as making this promise directly. There simply can be no doubt that those who endure to the end will be saved in the kingdom of God.
This joyous affirmation is one of the most consoling features of the gospel’s restoration through the Prophet Joseph Smith. God’s promise, given to us in our dispensation in such clarity, is sure: Once we are on the path leading to eternal life, we need only endure in order to enjoy the promised blessings.
Yet exactly what does it mean to endure to the end? Endure what, and how? And when is the end? For some people, the term endure calls up images of tar and feathers or other forms of persecution. But few Saints actually face such suffering today. Are we therefore less tested than the Saints of former times? I think not.
The fact is that enduring affliction is only a small part of what “enduring to the end” means. Most frequently, the scriptures use the term endure to mean “to last,” “to continue,” or “to remain,” rather than “to suffer.” For example, Alma expresses hope that his son Shiblon “will continue in keeping [God’s] commandments; for blessed is he that endureth to the end.” (Alma 38:2; emphasis added.) Nephi explains that we must “be reconciled unto Christ, and enter into the narrow gate, and walk in the strait path which leads to life, and continue in the path until the end of the day of probation.” (2 Ne. 33:9; emphasis added.) Thus, to endure is to continue in the path we adopted at baptism by keeping our commitments to Christ, until the end of our mortal life.
Usually the scriptures link “enduring to the end” with keeping one’s covenants with Christ. (See, for example, D&C 20:29; 2 Ne. 9:24.) The Savior himself reinforced this dimension of endurance when teaching the Nephites, specifically emphasizing repentance and baptism: “And it shall come to pass, that whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world.” (3 Ne. 27:16; see also 3 Ne. 27:13–22.)
So enduring to the end means, in general, entering into the gospel covenant (through faith in Christ, repentance, baptism, and receiving the Holy Ghost) and then remaining faithful to that covenant.
We often refer to those who continue in their commitments to Christ as being “faithful.” In the Old Testament, the words for faith, faithful, and faithfulness all come from the Hebrew ‘aman, which means “to be firm or reliable” and implies primarily qualities of loyalty and determination. Thus, being faithful means that we can be trusted to keep our commitments. The covenants of baptism and of the temple are solemn promises we make to God about how we will conduct our lives. Enduring to the end is keeping those promises throughout our lives—no matter what. It means we don’t quit because of life’s difficulties or temptations. Conversely, failing to endure means backing away from what we’ve started—first promising loyalty to God and then withholding what we promised. Endurance is not so much a matter of stamina as it is a matter of loyalty and integrity. Can you be trusted to faithfully hold your course? Just as a spouse who can be trusted to keep the marriage covenant is called faithful, so those who can be trusted to keep their gospel covenants are called faithful.
I once knew a man who had to decide whether to pay his tithing every time his check came, whether to go to his meetings every time they were held, whether to take an alcoholic drink every time he was offered one. Finally a friend asked him: “Why can’t you just decide once and for all which side you’re on? Why do you have to re-examine your loyalty every time a decision is called for? You are spiritually reinventing the wheel over and over again, and you will never make any progress until you can build on what you already know.”
A few weeks later he called his friend and asked for a ride to some stake meetings. The friend was pleased he was going, and when he told him so, the man responded: “You know, I wouldn’t like it if my wife told me she had to decide every morning whether she still loved me or not, or if she told me she only stayed with me because she hadn’t found a reason to leave—yet. I guess the Lord is entitled to more of a commitment than that from me. I’m ready to stop reinventing the wheel and move on.”
Some people are basically saying, “well, today I think the Church is true, but ask me again tomorrow.” There must come some point at which our commitment to the gospel and our conviction of its truth settles questions of faith in advance and predetermines our response to whatever challenges that commitment.
A testimony isn’t like a hypothesis in science, which may be supported by evidence one day and destroyed by it the next. It is a conviction based on the evidence of things not seen that some things are eternally true. (See Heb. 11:1.) The provisionally converted are those who just haven’t found a reason to leave—yet. Just as such a relationship would be unsatisfactory in a marriage, so it is unsatisfactory in the spiritual marriage of the gospel. Such individuals need to become converted, to receive the witness of the Spirit and the conviction that accompanies faith. Just as partners in a truly celestial marriage say, “we are sealed, no matter what,” so a truly converted member says: “I am a member of this church. My lot is cast with the Apostles and prophets—no matter what. Above all other issues, loyalties, agendas, and commitments, this is where I stand.”
Without such a prior commitment, some new policy or required sacrifice, some imagined (or real) offense on the part of Church leaders, might challenge our endurance. Of those who fluctuate in their commitment, the Lord said that they have no “depth of earth” in which to sow the word of the gospel, and when trials come, by and by they are offended. (See Matt. 13:18–21; Mark 4:3–20.) We must not fear to send the roots of the gospel deep into our hearts.
Besides keeping the commandments, other component parts of remaining faithful to our covenants include:
Looking unto Christ (see 3 Ne. 15:9)
Taking upon us the name of Christ (see 3 Ne. 27:6)
Offering our whole souls to Christ and continuing in fasting and prayer (see Omni 1:26)
Following the example of Christ (see 2 Ne. 31:16)
Worshipping the Father in the name of Christ (see D&C 20:29)
Seeking to bring forth Zion (see 1 Ne. 13:37)
Notice that the common focus of all of these exhortations is loyalty to Christ. Consequently, enduring to the end is more than just “being active” in the Church. Enduring to the end requires a personal awareness of obligations made to the Savior and a personal determination to keep those covenants faithfully. While the term “being active” describes visible behavior, “enduring faithful to the end” describes an inner commitment to the gospel and to the church of Jesus Christ. It’s possible to appear to be an active member of the Church without such a conviction.
Occasionally, those who cannot keep their commitments seek to justify themselves by separating loyalty to Christ from loyalty to his church, but this is impossible. Our covenants in the restored gospel of Christ are covenants which specifically include our relationship with his church and which are administered through his church—The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We cannot endure to the end in those covenants without enduring to the end in that church. This is made clear by the Savior himself: “And now, behold, whosoever is of my church, and endureth of my church to the end, him will I establish upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.” (D&C 10:69; emphasis added.)
There are no private arrangements. Enduring in one’s covenants means enduring in the Church. God will not excuse those who leave the Church, thinking that they have good reasons or that they can keep covenants made in and through the Church while rejecting the Church. No matter what their intentions, they are deceived. By definition, if they have not lasted, they have failed to endure to the end.
In Matthew 24:9–13, the Savior’s promise to those who endure includes a warning against three specific hazards. These are affliction, deception, and iniquity. [Matt. 24:9–13]
Concerning affliction, Church history, both ancient and modern, provides us with many examples of those who broke their covenants rather than face persecution. They couldn’t bear the malice of the world. When Satan threatened them with pain or loss, they gave up the kingdom.
On the other hand, Church history provides no better examples of enduring afflictions than those of the early pioneers. Consider someone like Hosea Stout, who buried his wife and five of his six children on the journey west. After arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, he made only a simple notation in his journal: “My family then consisted of eight members, and now but two.” In the resurrection, how could we face those who lost their lives, who lost their homes and fortunes, who buried their loved ones in shallow graves—all for the gospel’s sake—if we wither in the face of lesser trials?
The Savior warned of a second hazard to our endurance, perhaps even more relevant to today’s Saints than affliction. This is the hazard of deception: “For in those days, there shall also arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if possible, they shall deceive the very elect, who are the elect according to the covenant.” (JST, Matt. 24:23.)
If Satan can’t intimidate us with physical trials, he’ll sometimes try to fool us with substitute programs. He would like us to invest our time, talent, and energy in causes that are not the cause of Zion, in the hope they may ultimately replace our commitment to the gospel. Often, these other concerns are valid and worthwhile. The deception comes in giving them a higher priority than our covenants. Those who are fooled in this way usually feel the Church is not doing enough in the area of their pet concerns. They may become disenchanted with the program of the Church and begin to follow “alternate voices.”
These members do not lack zeal; indeed, they are often strong enough to endure tremendous trials. But Satan has diverted their zeal to the wrong causes, and they don’t perceive their shifting loyalties as unfaithfulness. Generally, they do not feel that they are rejecting Christ; they just decide to interpret his will differently or to serve him in different ways according to new standards and values. Consequently, their original commitments take a back seat to their new agenda. But the bottom line is still that they couldn’t be trusted to hold their original course and keep their original commitments. They didn’t endure.
Again and again the Lord has warned the Church about following other voices. (See, for example, D&C 43:1–6.) Right now, there are many alternate voices vying for the attention of the Saints—social voices, intellectual voices, political voices, and other voices. In our premortal life, all of us rejected Satan’s persuasions to subscribe to a plan alternate to the Father’s. Now in mortality, we must do it again. If we are to endure, we must avoid alternate religious “special interest” groups.
I know a man who is going through a difficult time. He is politically intense and is particularly worried about what he sees as events leading up to the end of the world. He sees conspiracies in government and society, and he can’t understand why the Church isn’t as intense and as concerned as he is about these perceived threats. He spends a great deal of time trying to warn other members of the Church whom he believes to be asleep, and he privately wonders if some in leadership positions aren’t also asleep. Basically, his thinking runs like this: “My Church and my politics are telling me two different things, and I know that my politics are true … so there must be something wrong with the Church.” He does not consider the other logical possibility, nor does he recognize the reversal of loyalty evident in his thinking.
There may be some truth in some things he says, but that is not the point. The point is that he is listening to other voices and has transferred his highest loyalty to programs other than the Lord’s. Tragically, his politics have become the idol to which all else in his life must bow—even his commitment to the Church.
For all of us, our main defense against Satan’s deceptions must be a strong and abiding testimony that the Church is true. All may not be well in Zion (which is what the prophets said would be the case), but the Church is still true. It’s not anemic; it doesn’t need supplements. It’s not true if, and it’s not true but, and it’s not true except. It’s just true! Moreover, the Church is not off course; it’s not going too slow, and it’s not going too fast. Its leaders are not asleep, and they don’t need any uninvited help from the passengers to steer the boat.
Some protection from the hazard of deception may be found in the principle of “more or less”: “And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come;
In the context of the gospel, truth is what God has actually said, what he actually directs, what he actually requires—no more and no less. On a strait and narrow path (see D&C 132:22), it doesn’t matter whether we fall off to the right or to the left, we are in trouble either way. It doesn’t matter whether we are “liberals” or “conservatives,” whether we believe “too little” or “too much”—that is, if Satan can’t get us to abandon the principles of the gospel, he is content that we should live them obsessively or as fanatics. One is less than the will of the Lord; the other adds human requirements to his will. Either puts us in the territory of the wicked one. There are those today who are embarrassed that God and his servants have said so much on some things and who go about trying to discredit the Brethren and neutralize the revelations and commandments. We have others who are embarrassed that God and his servants have not said more on other things and who go about preaching principles and programs the Lord has not revealed. One takes words out of God’s mouth; the other puts them in. Each preaches a “new, improved” gospel inspired by that wicked one who was a liar from the beginning, the very first alternate voice.
It requires discipline to embrace as gospel and to teach as gospel exactly what the Lord has revealed, no more and no less, and to avoid revising the gospel to suit ourselves. But those who can do it will know things as they really are (see Jacob 4:13) and will avoid deception.
The third hazard of which Jesus warned is iniquity: “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” (Matt. 24:12.) If Satan can’t shake us with affliction or trick us with other plans, sometimes he’ll just try to buy us. In the latter days, many will “take the money and run”—will take the cash, the flesh, or the fame and run from their covenant obligations. One test of our endurance is not to fall in love with this world’s pleasures. The faithful can’t be bought with these things. On Sundays they’re in church. They willingly pay tithes and offerings. They keep their physical appetites and desires within bounds. They are honest in their dealings. Their loyalty is not weakened by the possessions and powers God has placed in their care.
Happily, failing to endure is not a sin one commits once and for all time. While we remain in mortality, we always have the option of repentance. Not long ago, I met a former student who had lost his membership as a result of repeated, willful iniquity. He said that he wanted to straighten his life out. I asked him if he had a testimony, and he said no, he didn’t. Surprised, I asked him why he wanted to repent and regain his membership if he didn’t have a testimony. I will never forget his answer: “I don’t know right now that the Church is true, but I know that I once knew, and I know God knows I once knew. The Church didn’t change between then and now—I did. And now I want to know again what I knew before, and I am willing to repent to do it.”
Even when one’s endurance has failed before the end, repentance can bring about a new beginning.
Trials, deception, and iniquity—these are the enemies of endurance. Those who can bear the pain of trials, who can ignore alternate voices, whose loyalty can’t be bought with sin—these are they who will not betray their Master’s trust. They will faithfully maintain the charted course. They will endure.