The Strength of the Priesthood

Harold B. Lee


I feel impressed by something that has been said to repeat an experience. There are a number who are listening in tonight, and one particularly who will remember this very vividly—an incident that took place a number of years ago in Japan. I want you to pay particular attention to a part of this, to show how a mistake in your early life can blight the possibilities of your future opportunities for service in the kingdom of God.

It was just after the war; things were tense. We were at one of the upper camps where the planes could take off, and within half an hour they could be over on the Russian side. We were holding a noon meeting with our servicemen. They called on a young man to speak first. He announced his text from the prayer of the Master when he prayed for his disciples: “I pray not that thou shouldest take them [my disciples] out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.” (John 17:15.) Then this lad delivered one of the finest talks on chastity that I have ever heard. He closed by saying, “Rather than lose my virtue, I would die and have my body sent home in a pine box and my dog tags follow after.”

There was a hush over that audience of servicemen, and then he bore his testimony; and as he started to leave the pulpit, he stumbled and fell, draped over the pulpit. We lifted him off the pulpit and worked with him until he was revived, and then took him down in the audience.

As they carried him down, the mission president said to me, “I wonder if he has a bad heart.” And I said, “You know, I have had a feeling that there is something quarreling inside of him against what he has been saying to us.”

When it came my time to speak, I said to him, “Now, my boy, you have made a profound impression upon all of us. You have said you would rather die than lose your virtue. But remember, the devil heard you, as we heard you, and if I don’t miss my guess, he is going to make you prove that you would give your life before you would lose your virtue. You had better be on guard.”

The group leader took me aside when the meeting was over, and he said, “You were hitting close to the mark, because up at the Chitose Airbase there has grown up one of the most filthy, rotten cities filled with prostitutes to try to entrap our men, and we have tried to keep them out of their clutches. But this boy had made a date with one of these hussies, as they called them, patriotic hussies; and we found out before he kept the date and said, ‘Now look, we are not going to let you keep that date. Think of your mother; think of your sweetheart; think of your sisters. Now we will go down with you and help you break that date honorably.’”

This they did, and kept him under their surveillance for two weeks. They assigned him to do ward teaching, or home teaching, as they call it now; that meant, visit all the inactive boys in the camp. And two weeks later they assigned him to talk on the subject of chastity.

So the years passed. We were with President McKay at the dedication of the Los Angeles Temple. Between sessions I walked out to get some fresh air. As I walked up the west side of the building, I saw on the upper elevation a young man who seemed familiar to me, and I got closer to this young man that I had seen in Hokkaido, Japan. As he recognized me, he came running down the steps and threw his arms around my neck, and said, “Guess what! They have called me to be a worker in the Los Angeles Temple.”

There was a lump in my throat because I was there at the crossroads when he almost made a fatal step that probably would have forfeited him the right to be a worker in the Los Angeles Temple.

More years passed, and then I was out at a conference where he lived; and I saw a young couple walking down the aisle, the man holding in his arms a beautiful child, and a beautiful girl holding on to his arm, whom he introduced as his wife. As they uncovered the face of their new baby, I thought there was pride in the face of that young man because he knew as a young father that in the blood of his own child there was clean, pure blood. That is the reward that comes to one who passes the test.

One of the things we must do in teaching our young people is to condition them on how to meet a temptation that comes in an unguarded moment. When we teach our young boys going out into military service, we bring in those who have had experience to talk about some actual experiences they have gone through and say, “Now if you were faced with this or that temptation, what would you do? How would you react?” And there is a discussion as to just how he would react. How important that is in this day of wickedness!

The one who has the chief responsibility is the father of the boy. This doesn’t mean that the father should wake up some morning and call his boy to his bedside and in fifteen minutes tell him all the facts of life. That isn’t what the boy needs. He needs a father to answer when he wants to ask questions of a delicate nature. He is hungering to know; he is curious about things.

If his father will be frank and honest, and tell him up to the limit of his intelligence as he grows up, that father will be the one to whom the son will return for counsel in the years that follow. That father will be an anchor to that boy’s soul, as the father takes from his book of experience lessons that he can give to his son to help condition him against the possibility of falling into that fatal trap in an unguarded moment.

I want to talk about another thing. As we study the various activities like family home evening and the activities pertaining to temple marriage, home teaching, and what not, we have discovered that we never make any headway by mere exhortation and trying to pressure people into holding home evenings or home teaching. We are discovering that the only way to get home teaching over, or to get family home evening going, or attendance at sacrament meeting, or to have more temple marriages or temple attendance, is to make sure that the holder of the priesthood in the home magnifies his priesthood; and until he can realize the importance of the priesthood of God, which gives him the power of Almighty God to act through him, that home is not going to be secure.

We must impress upon every father that he will be held responsible for the eternal welfare of his family: that means coming into the Church with his family; that means going to sacrament meeting with his family; that means holding family home evenings to keep his family intact; it means preparing himself to take them to the temple, so that there can be prepared thereby the steps that will make for an eternal family home.

It is a high responsibility to impress upon priesthood holders how they magnify their priesthood by living and doing as the Lord has commanded.

We talk about Suicides Anonymous. I am convinced that there are many in the Church who are committing spiritual suicide, and they are calling for help, just like those who are going to commit suicide physically. They tell us that there is a cry of distress that if recognized in time could save a life.

There are many among us today who are giving the signal, the cry of distress, because they are in danger of spiritual suicide. And if we can only recognize the cry of distress in time, we will be the means of saving souls.

One thing more I should like to state. We are having come into the Church now many people of various nationalities. We in the Church must remember that we have a history of persecution, discrimination against our civil rights, and our constitutional privileges being withheld from us. These who are members of the Church, regardless of their color, their national origin, are members of the church and kingdom of God. Some of them have told us that they are being shunned. There are snide remarks. We are withdrawing ourselves from them in some cases.

Now we must extend the hand of fellowship to men everywhere, and to all who are truly converted and who wish to join the Church and partake of the many rewarding opportunities to be found therein. To those who may not now have the priesthood, we pray that the blessings of Jesus Christ may be given to them to the full extent that it is possible for us to give them. Meanwhile, we ask the Church members to strive to emulate the example of our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, who gave us the new commandment that we should love one another. I wish we could remember that.

Now finally, just one more thought. President Smith’s talk tonight has impressed something else. I heard someone say something that I have learned is an absolute fact. When I sat in as a younger member of the Council of the Twelve, the first Church reorganization I was permitted to participate in was when President Grant passed away. As we met in the temple for a long discussion, as is the usual custom before the votes are taken and the decisions reached as to the selecting of the president of the Church, I was thinking there had been some rumors as to who might be the counselors and who might not be the counselors, as is always the gossip that attends such reorganizations. But as the president named his counselors and they took their places at the head of the room, down inside me I had a witness that these were the men that the Lord wanted to be the presidency of the Church. It came to me with a conviction that was as though that truth was being trumpeted in my ears.

Now I want to impress this upon you. Someone has said it this way, and I believe it to be absolutely true: “That person is not truly converted until he sees the power of God resting upon the leaders of this church, and until it goes down into his heart like fire.” Until the members of this church have that conviction that they are being led in the right way, and they have a conviction that these men of God are men who are inspired and have been properly appointed by the hand of God, they are not truly converted.

So I bear you my witness that I know with all my soul, as I knew on that occasion, that those whom the Lord chooses are the ones he needs for a particular time. I heard Elder Orson F. Whitney, a member of the Twelve, say from this pulpit that he didn’t believe that these men are necessarily the best living men in the Church, but that there may be many others who live just as righteous lives, or maybe more so, but one thing he did know: that when there is a vacancy and the Lord has need for a person, he looks around and finds the person who is best qualified to fill the position at a given time.

I have lived long enough now in these thirty-one years as a member of the General Authorities to know that is true; and I bear witness that the Lord is guiding this church, and we see daily and constantly in the councils of this church that there is divine guidance. I bear that humble witness in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.