I asked the Church’s records department to tell me how many college-age youth we have in the Church. They responded, “1,974,001.”
“Good,” I thought. “I will speak to the one.”
My college life began just after World War II had ended. Most of the men in our class were recently returned from military service. We were, by and large, more mature than college students of today. We had been through the war and carried with us many memories. Some of them we held on to; others we were glad to have fade away. We were more serious and did not enter into fun and games as much as students do today. We wanted to get on with our lives and knew that education was the key.
The whole focus of our lives in the military had been on destruction. That is what war is about. We were inspired by the noble virtue of patriotism. To be devoted to destruction without being destroyed yourself spiritually or morally was the test of life.
You too live in a time of war, the spiritual war that will never end. War itself now dominates the affairs of mankind. Your world at war has lost its innocence. There is nothing, however crude or unworthy, that is not deemed acceptable for movies or plays or music or conversation. The world seems to be turned upside down. (See 2 Peter 2.)
Formality, dignity, nobility, and respect for authority are mocked. Modesty and neatness yield to slouchiness and shabbiness in dress and grooming. The rules of honesty and integrity and basic morality are now ignored. Conversation is laced with profanity. You see that in art and literature, in drama and entertainment. Instead of being refined, they have become coarse. (See 1 Timothy 4:1–3; 2 Timothy 3:1–9.)
You have decisions almost every day as to whether you will follow those trends. You have many tests ahead.
Hold to the Rod
You may think that Lehi’s dream or vision has no special meaning for you, but it does. You are in it; all of us are in it.
Nephi said, “[All scripture is likened] unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning” (1 Nephi 19:23).
Lehi’s dream or vision of the iron rod has in it everything a Latter-day Saint needs to understand the test of life.
A path following a river (see 1 Nephi 8:20–22).
A mist of darkness (see 1 Nephi 12:17).
An iron rod that led through the mist of darkness (see 1 Nephi 11:24–25).
Read the dream or vision carefully; then read it again.
If you hold to the rod, you can feel your way forward with the gift of the Holy Ghost, conferred upon you at the time you were confirmed a member of the Church. The Holy Ghost will comfort you. You will be able to feel the influence of angels, as Nephi did, and feel your way through life.
The Book of Mormon has been my iron rod.
Lehi saw great multitudes of people “pressing forward” toward the tree (1 Nephi 8:21).
The great and spacious building “was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit” (1 Nephi 8:27).
One word in this dream or vision should have special meaning to young Latter-day Saints. The word is after. It was after the people had found the tree that they became ashamed, and because of the mockery of the world they fell away.
“And after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost. …
“And great was the multitude that did enter into that strange building. And after they did enter into that building they did point the finger of scorn at me and those that were partaking of the fruit also.” That was the test; then Lehi said, “But we heeded them not” (1 Nephi 8:28, 33; emphasis added). And that was the answer.
Lehi’s son Nephi wrote:
“I, Nephi, was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God unto all those who diligently seek him. …
“For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come; wherefore, the course of the Lord is one eternal round” (1 Nephi 10:17, 19).
All of the symbolism in Lehi’s dream was explained to his son Nephi, and Nephi wrote about it.
At your baptism and confirmation, you took hold of the iron rod. But you are never safe. It is after you have partaken of that fruit that your test will come.
I think now and then of one of our classmates—very bright, good looking, faithful in the Church, and drenched with talent and ability. He married well and rose quickly to prominence. He began to compromise to please the world and those around him. They flattered him into following after their ways, which were the ways of the world.
Sometimes it is so simple a thing as how you groom yourself or what you wear, such as a young woman teasing her hair endlessly to give the impression that it has not been combed or a young man dressing in slouchy clothes, wanting to be in style.
Somewhere in little things, my classmate’s grasp on the iron rod loosened a bit. His wife held on to the rod with one hand and on to him with the other. Finally, he slipped away from her and let go of the rod. Just as Lehi’s dream or vision predicted, he fell away into forbidden paths and was lost.
Largely because of television, instead of looking over into that spacious building, we are, in effect, living inside of it. That is your fate in this generation. You are living in that great and spacious building.
Who wrote this incredible vision? There is nothing like it in the Bible. Did Joseph Smith compose it? Did he write the Book of Mormon? That is harder to believe than the account of angels and golden plates. Joseph Smith was only 24 years old when the Book of Mormon was published.
You will be safe if you look like and groom like and act like an ordinary Latter-day Saint: dress modestly, attend your meetings, pay tithes, take the sacrament, honor the priesthood, honor your parents, follow your leaders, read the scriptures, study the Book of Mormon, and pray—always pray. An unseen power will hold your hand as you hold to the iron rod.
Will this solve all your problems? Of course not! That would be contrary to the purpose of your coming into mortality. It will, however, give you a solid foundation on which to build your life (see Helaman 5:12).
The mist of darkness will cover you at times so much that you will not be able to see your way even a short distance ahead. You will not be able to see clearly. But with the gift of the Holy Ghost, you can feel your way ahead through life. Grasp the iron rod, and do not let go. (See 3 Nephi 18:25; D&C 9:8.)
A Time of Spiritual War
We live in a time of war, that spiritual war that will never end. Moroni warned us that the secret combinations begun by Gadianton “are had among all people. …
“Wherefore, O ye Gentiles [and the term Gentile in that place in the Book of Mormon refers to us in our generation], it is wisdom in God that these things should be shown unto you, that thereby ye may repent of your sins, and suffer not that these murderous combinations shall get above you. …
“Wherefore, the Lord commandeth you, when ye shall see these things come among you that ye shall awake to a sense of your awful situation, because of this secret combination which shall be among you” (Ether 8:20, 23–24).
Atheists and agnostics make nonbelief their religion and today organize in unprecedented ways to attack faith and belief. They are now organized, and they pursue political power. You will be hearing much about them and from them. Much of their attack is indirect in mocking the faithful, in mocking religion.
You who are young will see many things that will try your courage and test your faith. All of the mocking does not come from outside of the Church. Let me say that again: all of the mocking does not come from outside of the Church. Be careful that you do not fall into the category of mocking.
The Lord promised, “If ye are prepared ye shall not fear” (D&C 38:30).
Even Moroni faced the same challenge. He said, because of his weakness in writing:
“I fear … the Gentiles shall mock at our words.
“[And the Lord said to him:] Fools mock, but they shall mourn; and my grace is sufficient for the meek, that they shall take no advantage of your weakness;
“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:25–27).
We Rejoice in Christ
Embedded in that dream or vision is the “pearl of great price” (Matthew 13:46).
Lehi and Nephi saw:
A virgin bearing a child in her arms (see 1 Nephi 11:15–20).
One who should prepare the way—John the Baptist (see 1 Nephi 11:27).
The ministry of the Son of God (see 1 Nephi 11:28).
Twelve others following the Messiah (see 1 Nephi 11:29).
The heavens open and angels ministering to the children of men (see 1 Nephi 11:30).
The multitudes blessed and healed (see 1 Nephi 11:31).
The Crucifixion of the Christ (see 1 Nephi 11:32–33).
All of this they saw in dream or vision. And that is what we face now.
Now to you, the one of two million, I speak individually. Just as the prophets and apostles in times past did, “we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, … that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins” (2 Nephi 25:26).
“Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do” (2 Nephi 32:3).
And then Nephi added:
“Wherefore, now after I have spoken these words, if ye cannot understand them it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock; wherefore, ye are not brought into the light, but must perish in the dark.
“For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do” (2 Nephi 32:4–5).
The Promptings of the Holy Ghost
You live in an interesting generation, when trials will be constant in your life. Learn to follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost. It is to be a shield and a protection and a teacher for you. Never be ashamed or embarrassed about the doctrines of the gospel or about the standards that we teach in the Church. You always, if you are faithful in the Church, will be much different from the world at large.
You have the advantage of being assured that you can be inspired in all of your decisions. You have many decisions ahead of you—decisions that have to do with getting through school, finding a life’s companion, finding an occupation, settling in, raising children in a world that is turned upside down. Your children will be exposed to so much more than we were in our generation.
We notice, as we travel about the Church, that our young people are stronger than heretofore. When I hear them speak in conferences and in sacrament meeting, I hear them quote the scriptures, and I hear them protecting the standards. I do not hear the cynical mocking that is typical of those who are not faithful and not truly converted.
We preside over a church of 13 million-plus members and growing. The Church is out in the world. Much of it is international now. Many members of the Church do not have the opportunity of going to college, but they live the gospel. And it is a wonderful, powerful thing to see them and to be among them.
As we think of you young Latter-day Saints and think of the Book of Mormon and think of the dream or vision that Lehi had, we see that there are prophecies in there that can be specifically applied to your life. Read it again, beginning with 1 Nephi 8, and read on to the counsel that is given. The Book of Mormon talks about life after death: what happens to the spirit (see Alma 40:11–12) and what happens in the spirit world (see 2 Nephi 2:29; 9:10–13). All of the things that you need to know are there. Read it, and make it a part of your life. Then the criticism or mocking of the world, mocking those in the Church, will be of no concern to you as it is of no concern to us (see 1 Nephi 8:33). We just move forward doing the things that we are called to do and know that the Lord is guiding us.
I pray the blessings of the Lord upon you in your work. I pray the blessings of the Lord upon you in your life as you move forward from the morning of your life, where you are now, to the late evening of your life, where I am now, that you will know that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true. You will face many great and tumultuous and difficult things in your life, and you will enjoy great inspiration and joy in your life.
You are better than we were. I have the conviction that against what was surely coming and the prophecies that were given, the Lord has reserved special spirits to bring forth at this time to see that His Church and kingdom are protected and moved forward in the world. As a servant of the Lord, I invoke His blessings upon you and bear testimony to you that the gospel is true.
If you hold to the rod, you can feel your way forward with the gift of the Holy Ghost. Grasp the iron rod, and do not let go.
You may think that Lehi’s dream or vision has no special meaning for you, but it does. You are in it; all of us are in it.
Illustration by Robin Luch
Lehi’s Dream, by Greg Olsen, may not be copied; photo illustration by John Luke
Illustration by Daniel Lewis