The title of my message is the scriptural phrase “children of the covenant.”1 In introducing this topic I will reflect on recent events as a colleague of President Howard W. Hunter and as a father and upon earlier experiences as a doctor of medicine.
These past weeks have been challenging for Sister Nelson and me. Not only have we bid farewell to our beloved President Hunter, but thirty-three days earlier, we suffered the demise of our precious daughter Emily. A mother of five young children, Emily had just celebrated her thirty-seventh birthday when called to the other side.
President Hunter influenced Emily’s life in a real way. She welcomed his invitation for all adult members of the Church to hold a temple recommend. She and her husband, Bradley Wittwer, regarded their regular time in the temple as a sacred privilege. They viewed “the temple of the Lord as the great symbol of their membership and the supernal setting for their most sacred covenants.” She strived to emulate the “example of the Lord Jesus Christ.”2
Even though illness brought intense suffering to President Hunter and Emily, an angry word never fell from their lips. Instead, they chose to endure with loving faith. When well-meaning friends and family expressed concern for Emily, she cheerfully replied, “Don’t worry, I’ll be OK!” Even when she concluded a telephone call, she did not close with the customary “good-bye.” She would say, “I love you!”
When President Boyd K. Packer and I last visited President Hunter, he beckoned for Sister Hunter, reached for her hand, and said with a smile, “I feel better when you are near me.”
My tears of sorrow have flowed along with wishes that I could have done more for our daughter and for our President. If I had the power of resurrection, I would have been tempted to bring them back. Though one of the ordained Apostles, each of whom is entrusted with all the keys of the kingdom of God, I do not hold keys of the Resurrection. Jesus Christ holds those keys and will use them for Emily, for President Hunter, and for all people in the Lord’s own time.3
Emily and President Hunter had no fear of death. They had made and honored sacred covenants with the Lord, and they knew that his covenants to them will be kept with equal fidelity.4 They lived nobly as “children of the covenant.”
Years ago as a young medical student I saw many patients afflicted with diseases that are now preventable. Today it is possible to immunize individuals against conditions that once were disabling—even deadly. One medical method by which acquired immunity is conferred is inoculation. The term inoculate is fascinating. It comes from two Latin roots: in, meaning “within”; and oculus, meaning “an eye.” The verb to inoculate, therefore, literally means “to put an eye within”—to monitor against harm.
An affliction like polio can cripple or destroy the body. An affliction like sin can cripple or destroy the spirit. The ravages of polio can now be prevented by immunization, but the ravages of sin require other means of prevention. Doctors cannot immunize against iniquity. Spiritual protection comes only from the Lord5—and in his own way. Jesus chooses not to inoculate, but to indoctrinate. His method employs no vaccine; it utilizes the teaching of divine doctrine—a governing “eye within”—to protect the eternal spirits of his children.
“All the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after … have testified of me.
“And behold, ye are the children of the prophets; and ye are of the house of Israel; and ye are of the covenant which the Father made with your fathers, saying unto Abraham: And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.
“The Father having raised me up unto you first, and sent me to bless you in turning away every one of you from his iniquities; and this because ye are the children of the covenant.”8
A giant step toward spiritual immunity is taken when we understand the expression “children of the covenant.” To what covenant did the Savior refer? “The covenant which he made with Abraham.”9 The Lord added, “I will remember the covenant which I have made with my people; and I have covenanted with them that I would gather them together in mine own due time.”10
Abraham’s posterity would be numerous, entitled to eternal increase and to bear the priesthood;
He would become a father of many nations;
Christ and kings would come through Abraham’s lineage;
Certain lands would be inherited;
All nations of the earth would be blessed by his seed;
That covenant would be everlasting—even through “a thousand generations.”14
Some of these promises have been accomplished; others have yet to be. I quote from a prophecy given nearly 600 years B.C.: “Our father hath not spoken of our seed alone, but also of all the house of Israel, pointing to the covenant which should be fulfilled in the latter days; which covenant the Lord made to our father Abraham.”15
Precisely as promised, the Master appeared in these latter days to renew the Abrahamic covenant. To the Prophet Joseph Smith the Lord declared: “Abraham received promises concerning his seed, and of the fruit of his loins—from whose loins ye are, … my servant Joseph. … This promise is yours also, because ye are of Abraham.”16
We are also children of the covenant. We have received, as did they of old, the holy priesthood and the everlasting gospel. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are our ancestors. We are of Israel. We have the right to receive the gospel, blessings of the priesthood, and eternal life. Nations of the earth will be blessed by our efforts and by the labors of our posterity. The literal seed of Abraham and those who are gathered into his family by adoption receive these promised blessings—predicated upon acceptance of the Lord and obedience to his commandments.
Elijah the prophet came to plant a knowledge of these promises made to the fathers.17 Later the Book of Mormon came forth as a sign that the Lord had commenced to gather children of the covenant.18 This book, written for our day, states: “Then ye may know that the covenant which the Father hath made with the children of Israel … is already beginning to be fulfilled. …
“For behold, the Lord will remember his covenant which he hath made unto his people of the house of Israel.”19
Indeed, the Lord has not forgotten us. And to ensure that we do not forget him, children of the covenant receive his doctrine and claim it by covenant. Brigham Young said: “All Latter-day Saints enter the new and everlasting covenant when they enter this Church. … They enter the new and everlasting covenant to sustain the Kingdom of God and no other kingdom.”20
At baptism, we covenant to serve the Lord and keep his commandments. When we partake of the sacrament, we renew those covenants. We may receive covenants of the priesthood21 and the crowning blessings of the endowment, the doctrine, and the covenants unique to the holy temple.
The new and everlasting covenant of the gospel allows us to qualify for marriage in the temple and be blessed to “come forth in the first resurrection” and “inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, … to [our] exaltation and glory in all things.”22
Children born to parents thus married are natural heirs to the blessings of the priesthood. They are born in the covenant. Hence, “they require no rite of adoption or sealing to insure them place in the posterity of promise.”23
Rewards for obedience to the commandments are almost beyond mortal comprehension. Here, children of the covenant become a strain of sin-resistant souls. And hereafter, President Hunter, Emily, other children of the covenant, and “each generation would be linked to the one which went on before … [in] the divine family of God.”24 Great comfort comes from the knowledge that our loved ones are secured to us through the covenants.
Latter-day Saints understand the word of the Lord, who declared, “I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.”25
“This great unity is the hallmark of the true church of Christ,” said President Gordon B. Hinckley. “It is felt among our people throughout the world.” President Hinckley continued, “We pray for one another that we may go on in unity and strength.”26
Throughout the world, however, strident voices are engaged in divisive disputation and name-calling. Often demeaning nicknames are added to—or even substituted for—given names. Unfortunately, terms of derision obscure the true identity of children of the covenant.
In contrast, God employs names that unify and sanctify. When we embrace the gospel and are baptized, we are born again and take upon ourselves the sacred name of Jesus Christ.27 We are adopted as his sons and daughters and are known as brothers and sisters. He is the Father of our new life. We become joint heirs to promises given by the Lord to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their posterity.28
Peter used uplifting terms in a prophecy regarding our day. He identified members of the Church as “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people.”29 The adjectives chosen, royal, and holy we recognize as elevating. But what about peculiar? A modern dictionary defines peculiar as “unusual,” “eccentric,” or “strange.”30 What kind of compliment is that?
But the term peculiar as used in the scriptures is quite different. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew term from which peculiar was translated is segullah, which means “valued property,” or “treasure.”31 In the New Testament, the Greek term from which peculiar was translated is peripoiesis, which means “possession,” or “an obtaining.”32
Thus, we see that the scriptural term peculiar signifies “valued treasure,” “made” or “selected by God.”33 For us to be identified by servants of the Lord as his peculiar people is a compliment of the highest order.
When we know who we are and what God expects of us—when his “law [is] written in [our] hearts”34—we are spiritually protected. We become better people. When the Nephites were truly righteous, they avoided divisive nicknames and “there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.”35
“There were no … Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.”36
That lesson from history suggests that we also delete from our personal vocabularies names that segregate and hyphens that separate. Paul taught that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”37
He invites us “to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; … all are alike unto God.”38
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been restored in these latter days to fulfill ancient promises of the Lord. It is part of the “restitution of all things.”39 Committed children of the covenant remain steadfast, even in the midst of adversity. We shall “be chastened and tried, even as Abraham, who was commanded to offer up his only son.”40 Yet we are strengthened by this promise of the Lord:
“Ye are lawful heirs, according to the flesh, and have been hid from the world with Christ in God—
“Therefore your life and the priesthood have remained, and must needs remain through you and your lineage until the restoration of all things. …
“Therefore, blessed are ye if ye continue in my goodness, a light unto the Gentiles, and through this priesthood, a savior unto my people Israel.”41
With that doctrine implanted deeply within our souls, the sting of death is soothed and spiritual protection is provided. Children of the covenant will be blessed—here and hereafter—I testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.