The Beatitudes—Pathway to the Savior


These teachings from the Sermon on the Mount testify of the Savior’s divinity—and show us how to become like him.

The Beatitudes—

When the resurrected Christ spoke to the Nephites through mists of darkness, his message was, “Come unto me.” (See 3 Ne. 9:13–14, 20, 22.) Then, when he appeared to them, the first command he gave was, “Arise and come forth unto me, … that ye may know that I am the God of Israel.” (3 Ne. 11:14.) One by one, the multitude came to the Savior of the world.

Although you and I were not present for that wonderful privilege, the invitation to come unto Christ is as real for us as it was for those ancient Nephite Saints. In a sermon similar to the one he gave on the Mount of Beatitudes in the Old World (see Matt. 5–7), Jesus told the ancient Nephites—and us—how to come unto him. The principles he gave—commonly called the Beatitudes—can lead us to a powerful witness of the Savior’s divinity.

Following the Brethren

The first principle that the resurrected Savior taught the Nephites as he introduced the Beatitudes to them was to follow His chosen servants: “Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants.” (3 Ne. 12:1.)

When I was a deacon, Elder William J. Critchlow, Jr., an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve, came to speak in our stake conference. Our family arrived late and had to sit in the back, far from the podium—and when Elder Critchlow stood to speak, I couldn’t see him. Mother told me to carry a folding chair up the aisle and place it in front of the podium. It must have looked rather strange to Elder Critchlow to see a twelve-year-old boy in the middle of the aisle, staring straight up at him.

I don’t remember much of what he said. But as he talked, a spirit settled over me, whispering, “This is a man of God. You may believe him.” At the end of the session, he came up to me and laid his hand on my shoulder. A deep peace and happiness came over me, and I learned in that moment what it means to be blessed. That early experience taught me that by hearkening to the words of the Brethren, we are on the path to becoming truly blessed in the presence of Christ. Oh, how happy we will be if we come unto Christ by trusting and following his servants.

Humility and Baptism

The next beatitude the Savior described for the Nephites was, “Blessed are they who shall … come down into the depths of humility and be baptized, for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins.” (3 Ne. 12:2.)

We come unto Christ when we covenant with him—as we are baptized and as we partake of the sacrament—to take his name upon us.

Once when President George Albert Smith was seriously ill, he lost consciousness and thought he had died. He found himself standing near a beautiful lake. Soon he began following a trail through the woods, and after a time he saw a man, whom he recognized as his grandfather, coming toward him.

“I remember how happy I was to see him coming,” President Smith said. “I had been given his name and had always been proud of it.

“When Grandfather came within a few feet of me, … he looked at me very earnestly and said:

“‘I would like to know what you have done with my name.’

“Everything I had ever done passed before me as though it were a flying picture on a screen—everything I had done. … I smiled and looked at my grandfather and said:

“‘I have never done anything with your name of which you need be ashamed.’

“He stepped forward and took me in his arms.” (Improvement Era, Mar. 1947, p. 139.)

One day each of us may stand before the Savior and long to embrace him. I can picture him saying: “When you were baptized, you took upon yourself my name. What have you done with my name?” We should strive to live in such a way that we can answer, “I have never done anything with your name of which you need be ashamed.”

The Poor in Spirit

After teaching these two primary beatitudes, explaining that we come unto him by being baptized and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, Christ described the blessed state of those who receive the Spirit. He also reiterated the importance of humility in receiving his Spirit.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit who come unto me,” he said, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (3 Ne. 12:3.) Not until we recognize that we are poor in spirit will we “come down in the depths of humility and be baptized.” We are blessed thereafter by being filled with the Lord’s Spirit. (See 3 Ne. 12:2.)

President Ezra Taft Benson has said that “humility is an acknowledged recognition of our dependence on a higher power.” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988, p. 369.) The Savior and his prophets are great exemplars of this principle. “I can of mine own self do nothing,” Jesus said: “As I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.” (John 5:30.)

Brigham Young said, “We are nothing only what the Lord makes us.” (In Journal of Discourses, 5:343.) And Moses said, “Now … I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.” (Moses 1:10.) In comparison with the Father’s richness of spirit, we are “poor” indeed.

In my own life I feel the greatest humility when, as King Benjamin taught, I recognize that a lifetime of praise and service to God would leave me still an unprofitable servant. (See Mosiah 2:20–21.) Every faculty I possess—my ability to think and move, even the very air I breathe—is a gift to me from God. If I were to devote every moment of my life exclusively to his service, I would not be giving to God anything that was not already his.

One Christmas, my Cub Scout son needed two dollars to make me a present. On Christmas morning, he was so excited about it that in spite of the many brightly wrapped packages with his name on them, he insisted I open his present first. It was a pencil holder for my office—made from a jar covered with brightly colored macaroni. The two dollars bought pencils and erasers. I was pleased with his innocence and love. He then eagerly turned to his own presents.

In comparison with the bounteous gifts the Father bestows upon us—life, the Atonement, the gospel, prophets, scriptures, temples—our gifts to him are like jars covered with macaroni. It’s the best we can do, and he accepts our efforts with pleasure. The realization of the difference between us and Him produces deep humility and blessedness.

They That Mourn

“And again, blessed are all they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (3 Ne. 12:4.) I believe I have gained a greater insight into this Beatitude since becoming a bishop. Bishops see a lot of tears—tears of guilt shed in confession, tears of grief over the death of a loved one, tears of part-member families longing for temple blessings, tears of parents crying for wayward children, tears of pain caused by old and weary bodies. I have discovered that a handkerchief is an indispensable item for a bishop. But although we can wipe tears from cheeks, it is another matter to wipe them from souls.

I have found comfort in a promise made in John’s revelation: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.” (Rev. 21:4.)

Jesus said, “I am … the beginning and the ending.” (Rev. 1:8.) He is the end of sorrow and the end of guilt. He is the end of pain, death, suffering, sin, and tears. He is the beginning of joy, life, and peace. He is the beginning of healing, truth, and fulfillment. He is the end of mourning, the beginning of comfort.

The Meek

“Blessed are the meek,” said Jesus, “for they shall inherit the earth.” (3 Ne. 12:5.) Moses was described as “very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3)—and yet he had great power. Jesus said of himself, “I am meek and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:29)—but no man ever lived who possessed more power.

A Church leader once toured a facility that housed a huge hydraulic crushing machine that could reduce old cars into small cubes. For a demonstration, the guide asked the man to remove his watch. The operator then placed it in the machine and adjusted the controls, and the top blade came crashing down, stopping just a millimeter above the watch. Next the sides slammed together, but once again they stopped just shy of the crystal. Then the operator removed the watch and returned it unscratched.

Much pleased with the demonstration, this good man turned to those with him and said, “We have just witnessed the greatest demonstration of meekness I have ever seen. Meekness is great power under complete control.”

They Who Hunger and Thirst after Righteousness

“Blessed are all they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost.” (3 Ne. 12:6.) What is the righteousness for which man hungers and thirsts, and which, in its fulfillment, produces happiness?

Lehi and Nephi saw in vision the tree of life, “whose fruit was desirable to make one happy.” (1 Ne. 8:10.) Each word describing the fruit—sweet, white, desirable, beautiful, precious, and joyous—is used in terms of comparison: The fruit is not just sweet, but “most sweet, above all.” Its whiteness exceeds “all … whiteness.” It is “desirable above all other fruit.” Its beauty is “far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty.” It is “precious above all,” and “most joyous to the soul.” (1 Ne. 8:11–12; 1 Ne. 11:8–9, 23.)

When some disciples left him, Jesus asked the Twelve, “Will ye also go away?”

Peter answered: “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.” (John 6:67–68.)

We come to Christ when we realize, as did Peter, that nothing can satisfy or bring happiness like the Savior’s tree of life and stream of living water.

The Merciful

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (3 Ne. 12:7.) Mercy is the quality of soul necessary for forgiveness; those who forgive others will be forgiven of their own offenses. Recognizing our own shortcomings makes it easier to extend mercy to others.

Jesse W. Crosby related an experience he had one day in Nauvoo when he took a woman to see the Prophet Joseph Smith. When she complained that someone was telling untruths about her, the Prophet “offered her his method of dealing with such cases for himself. When an enemy had told a scandalous story about him, which had often been done, before he rendered judgment he paused and let his mind run back to the time and place and setting of the story to see if he had not by some unguarded word or act laid the block on which the story was built. If he found that he had done so, he said that then in his heart he then forgave his enemy, and felt thankful that he had received warning of a weakness that he had not known he possessed. Then he said to the sister that he would have her to do the same: search her memory thoroughly and see if she had not herself all unconsciously laid the foundation for the scandal that annoyed her.”

The sister “thought deeply for a few moments and then confessed that she believed that she had. Then the Prophet told her that in her heart she could forgive that brother who had risked his own good name and her friendship to give her this clearer view of herself. The sister … thanked her advisor and went away in peace.” (In “Stories from Notebook of Martha Cox, Grandmother of Fern Cox Anderson,” typescript, Church Archives.)

If we can learn to turn our eye inward—even when we feel that the major offense lies elsewhere—we will find ourselves more able to forgive and to extend mercy. We will become more like Christ.

The Pure in Heart

“Blessed are all the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (3 Ne. 12:8.) Several verses in scripture speak of seeing God: Moses “sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God.” (D&C 84:23.) The Savior promised that “every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am.” (D&C 93:1.) Likewise we are told to have an eye “single to [God’s] glory” and to “sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him.” (D&C 88:67–68.) The purity needed to see God involves obedience, sanctification, and having an eye single to God’s glory.

The scriptures contain numerous examples of people who reached the necessary purity of heart and were able to see God or his messengers and converse with them. The attitude they exhibited as they did so gives a beautiful picture of purity:

On the road to Damascus, Paul said, “What wilt thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6.) The boy Samuel, as instructed by Eli, said, “Speak; for thy servant heareth.” (1 Sam. 3:10.) Nephi said, “I will go and do” (1 Ne. 3:7) and “I must obey” (2 Ne. 33:15). And Mary said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:38.)

A common thread runs through each of these statements—an attitude of obedience, a purity of motive, and desire to do the will of the Lord. The eye is single to the Lord’s will and glory.

The Peacemakers

“Blessed are all the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” (3 Ne. 12:9.) To understand how to be a peacemaker, it is necessary to know what brings peace. Paul explained that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith.” (Gal. 5:22.) Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is peace. A peacemaker is one who invites the Spirit; then the Spirit grants the peace.

President Heber J. Grant told the story of two men who had quarreled about business dealings. They came to President John Taylor and asked him to settle the matter. President Taylor consented, but said: “‘Brethren, before I hear your case, I would like very much to sing one of the songs of Zion for you.’

“Now President Taylor was a very capable singer, and interpreted sweetly and with spirit, our sacred hymns. He sang one of our hymns to the two brethren. Seeing its effect, he remarked that he never heard one of the songs of Zion but that he wanted to listen to one more, and so asked them to listen while he sang another. Of course, they consented. They both seemed to enjoy it.”

Then President Taylor sang a third and a fourth hymn. When he finished, the two men “were melted to tears, got up, shook hands, and asked President Taylor to excuse them … for taking up his time. They then departed without his even knowing what their difficulties were.” (Improvement Era, Sept. 1940, p. 522.)

This principle can work in our marriages, families, and other relationships. The ultimate source of peace is the Father and the Son. Those who invite the Spirit of the Lord into their lives and homes are peacemakers. And when we teach one another and the world the Lord’s plan of salvation, we become peacemakers and children of “the founder of peace, yea, even the Lord, who has redeemed his people.” (Mosiah 15:18.)

They Who Are Persecuted

“Blessed are all they who are persecuted for my name’s sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (3 Ne. 12:10.) It is difficult to understand how undergoing persecution can make us happy. Perhaps the blessedness comes in facing the persecution as the prophets did. Joseph Smith, for example, described what he felt persecution had done for him:

“I am like a huge, rough stone rolling down from a high mountain; and the only polishing I get is when some corner gets rubbed off by coming in contact with something else, striking with accelerated force against religious bigotry, priestcraft, lawyer-craft, doctor-craft, lying editors, suborned judges and jurors, and the authority of perjured executives, backed by mobs, blasphemers, licentious and corrupt men and women—all hell knocking off a corner here and a corner there. Thus I will become a smooth and polished shaft in the quiver of the Almighty.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938, p. 304.)

Joseph Smith realized that opposition and persecution can refine and polish. James said, “The trying of your faith worketh patience.” (James 1:3.) Patience is the realization that all things give us experience (see D&C 122:7) and can turn our hearts to Christ.

A Light to All the World

By living the life the Savior described, we have the potential to be a light to others. “I give unto you to be the light of this people,” Jesus said. (3 Ne. 12:14.) The world must see the blessedness that such a life brings—not just our good works, but also the joy those works produce. They should see that if they come unto Christ, they, too, can receive such happiness.

A Broken Heart

Jesus concluded this portion of his Nephite sermon by repeating his invitation to come unto him: “I have given you the law and the commandments of my Father, that ye shall believe in me, and that ye shall repent of your sins, and come unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” (3 Ne. 12:19.)

I have often pondered what it means to have a “broken” heart. When I was a boy, my uncle allowed me to help him break wild horses. We roped them, placed a strong leather halter on their heads, and attached a heavy rope to it. Then we cinched the rope around a solid cedar post sunk deep in the earth. The young colts hated the rope and would fight it for days, setting their legs defiantly in the ground and straining with all their might against it. But they hurt only themselves. In time they learned to accept the rope, and then gradually we could approach them and teach them to be led. When my uncle could lay the rope loosely over his open palm, turn his back, and walk away with the horse following him, he would say, “This horse is broken.”

A broken heart is a submissive heart, an obedient heart, a heart open to the Savior. Why would any of us ever hesitate to go where the Lord would lead us, knowing what price he has paid for us because of his love for us? Why would we ever want to pull the rope of our life away from Him?

Elder Boyd K. Packer once said, “I went before [the Lord] and in essence said, ‘I’m not neutral, and You can do with me what You want. If You need my vote, it’s there. I don’t care what You do with me, and You don’t have to take anything from me because I give it to You—everything, all I own, all I am.’” (“That All May be Edified,” Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982, p. 272).

Coming unto Christ

The first time we took our three-year-old daughter to Temple Square, she showed me what it means to come unto Christ. As we were going up the ramp in the North Visitors’ Center, she looked up and saw the statue of Jesus. She let go of my hand, looked into my face, and with an expression of unutterable love and eagerness said, “Oh, Daddy! It’s Jesus!” She then ran as fast as she could to meet him.

The Savior himself said, “Whoso repenteth and cometh unto me as a little child, him will I receive, for of such is the kingdom of God. Behold, for such I have laid down my life, and have taken it up again; therefore repent, and come unto me ye ends of the earth, and be saved.” (3 Ne. 9:22.)

[illustration] The Lord Jesus Christ, by Del Parson

[illustration] The Sermon on the Mount, by James J. Tissot

[illustrations] Illustrated by Lynn Farrar

S. Michael Wilcox, bishop of the Draper Tenth Ward, Draper Utah North Stake, is an instructor at the LDS Institute of Religion adjacent to the University of Utah.