Fireside address given February 25, 1979 at the University of Utah Special Events Center.
The Savior—The Center of Our Lives03760_000_002
My young brothers and sisters, this July will be the thirty-sixth anniversary of my calling as a special witness of Jesus Christ in all the world. That heavy and special calling still rests upon me. It remains unchanged even though my duties now find me in the First Presidency of the Church. Because of that special assignment, which is unceasing, I desire to speak to you today about how central the Savior, Jesus Christ, should be in our lives.
Peter warned believers that there would come damnable heresies (2 Pet. 2:1). And then, as if to emphasize a particular heresy as being most extreme, he said there would arise even the heresy which would deny the Lord that bought us. This is, of course, the ultimate Christian heresy—to deny the divinity of the atoning Lord, Jesus Christ. There can be no real and true Christianity, even with good works, unless we are deeply and personally committed to the reality of Jesus Christ as the Only Begotten Son of the Father, who bought us, who purchased us in the great act of atonement.
Henry Sackman said that the center of history is in the stable at Bethlehem. It is inconsistent for some to speak of Christ as a great teacher of truth and yet reject his teachings about who he said he was. How could he be a great moral teacher if he lied about his identity? How could Jesus have been a great moral teacher if he had promised us the resurrection and yet his atonement accomplished in Gethsemane and on Calvary had not made immortality possible?
You, my young friends, are called upon to live in this time, which Peter foresaw, when that heresy is gaining fierce momentum. To assume, as increasing numbers of people wrongly choose to do, that Jesus was merely another moral teacher—and he was a great moral teacher, the greatest—is to suggest that Jesus merely gave us some helpful guidelines or useful but not particularly significant information for this life. All that Jesus taught is true, including his teachings about his identity, our mortality, and our individual accountability.
It was Paul who observed that “if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” (1 Cor. 15:19.) Part of the reason for widespread hopelessness and the alienation in the world today is that some have a hope which pertains to this life only. Jesus’ ministry gave us everything: life through his atonement, as well as the truths, standards, and commandments which are essential for happiness in this life. Jesus is the guarantor of our individual accountability. Only when we understand the ministry of Jesus Christ, in which he also had a preeminence in the premortal world, do we begin to get some sense of the extent of the Savior’s labors for and in behalf of all of us.
If you ever wondered if the Old Testament prophets had a specific awareness of Jesus Christ, read Paul’s words to the Hebrews—how Moses rejected the ease of life in Pharaoh’s court because he esteemed “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt” (See Heb. 11:26). Jacob assured us that all the holy prophets, including of course Old Testament prophets, believed in Christ and worshiped the Father in his name. “For, for this intent have we written these things, that they may know that we knew of Christ, and we had a hope of his glory many hundred years before his coming; and not only we ourselves had a hope of his glory, but also all the holy prophets which were before us.
“Behold, they believed in Christ and worshiped the Father in his name.” (Jacob 4:4, 5).
It is impossible to understand what happened on Calvary without some understanding concerning what went on in Gethsemane. Likewise, the birth at Bethlehem must be tied to the significance of the empty tomb which indicated the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The ministry of the Master cannot be understood fully either, unless we understand about his ministry on this hemisphere to the other sheep which were not of the fold in Jerusalem (see John 10:16; 3 Ne. 15:17, 21–24). The more one understands about the ministry of Jesus Christ, the more absurd it is to regard him as any less than the resurrected Son of God.
The message from and about Jesus Christ is so fundamental and so crucial to mankind that it was and is essential for that message to be kept exceedingly simple. It is equally important for all of us who are disciples and followers of the Savior, Jesus of Nazareth, to live in such a way that our very lives are a witness by our works and our words that we do indeed believe.
Paul, in writing to Titus, urged, “In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing incorruptness, gravity, sincerity.
“Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you.” (Titus 2:7, 8).
It is vital for you as young adults, to be a pattern of good works and to give to others no real cause to condemn you. However, it will be, and is, the lot of the followers of the Master to know the sting of misunderstanding and of false witness.
I mentioned earlier my coming to the ministry of the Twelve so many years ago. At that time, one of the Brethren I admired and loved in a very special way was President Stephen L. Richards. I still feel that way about him. One of the many significant things he said related to what it means to be a true follower of the Savior. President Richards said this: “In spite of the commonplace aspect on this subject, I have long been convinced, my brothers and sisters, that the most challenging, dramatic, and vital thing in our lives is this: keeping the commandments. It tests every fiber of our beings. It is at once the demonstration of our intelligence, our knowledge, our character and our wisdom.”
It may at times seem to you, my young brothers and sisters, commonplace to simply be told again and again to keep the Savior’s commandments. But that task is, as President Richards said, the most challenging, dramatic, and vital thing in our lives. I say to you that only true Christian behavior will bring about human happiness and real security.
Over half a century ago, Elder Joseph Fielding Smith observed that there was a tendency at times for some to say that the old members of the Church were faithful, but that the rising generation is departing from Church standards. Of this tendency, President Smith himself said in 1925, “I am here to testify to you that this is not true. There may be, of course, those among us who are not faithful, who do turn from the footsteps of their fathers. But so far as the Latter-day Saints are concerned, the majority of them will not turn from the faith of their fathers.”
I endorse and share President Smith’s feelings of confidence about the majority of our youth and young adults, even in this time of terrible temptation, when some men’s hearts fail them (see Luke 21:26) and when they lose their courage. Because of the confidence in you, may I give you some advice, briefly and lovingly.
You live in a time of wars and revolutions. And yet, as President Brigham Young said, the world will be revolutionized by the preaching of the gospel and the power of the Priesthood. And this work we are called to do. Women and men, our keeping the commandments is the most revolutionary development in the world, though it is often less noticed and less glamorous. Do not be discouraged, in the midst of all the events of our time, if your life sometimes seems so small. Phillips Brooks (1835–1893, U.S. Episcopalian bishop) observed, “Greatness appears to be not so much a certain size as a certain quality in human lives.” It may be present in the lives of people whose influence is limited. May I assure you of the everlasting significance of your personal life. And even though at times the extent of influence of your life may seem to be very small, there can be greatness in the quality of your life. I promise you further that where that quality exists, your opportunities for service and goodness will outnumber your fondest dreams. There is always more work to be done around us than we manage to get done. It is important in this time of preparation that you do all you can to gather in the truths, the information, and the skills which go with Christian living. Apply what you have come to know as you come to know it. The same Phillips Brooks said, “The hills are full of marble before the world is filled with statues.” (Literature and Life.) There must be an assembling in you of those basic qualities of goodness which will permit the Lord to do his own sculpturing on your soul. Use, therefore, the talents that you have. Use the opportunities for service around you. Use the chances for learning that are yours, sifting as always the wheat from the chaff. Learn to be effective first in the small human universe that is your own family if you want to prepare yourselves to be effective in contributing to the larger human family. Do not be surprised if Church leaders continue to emphasize the importance of the family institution when so many think otherwise.
Do not be surprised if all things are now immediately understandable to you and if some things must be accepted by faith, awaiting the day when that which is unclear becomes clear, when some duty which is now difficult will become a delight. Do not be puzzled if sometimes there are those in the world who mock how you live and what you believe, saying it is all false, but who, deep inside themselves are really afraid that what you believe is really true. If ever a generation of young people needed to believe in and understand the significance of these words of Paul’s, it is your generation. Paul counseled: “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;
“Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.” (2 Cor. 4:8–9.)
Remember also, students and friends, that we cannot be sufficient in and of ourselves. For, as Paul also said in that same epistle to the saints at Corinth, “Our sufficiency is of God” (2 Cor. 3: 5).
Many of you will come to know personally your equivalent of the choice Moses had to make when, as stated before, by Paul, “Moses … refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter;
“Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.” (Heb. 11:24–25.)
How easy it is to understand that the followers of the Savior were urged by Paul on occasion to be “wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil” (Rom 16:19). You will find that keeping free of entanglements of sin is made easier when we are uncomplicated and unyielding in our attitude towards sin including those “whose God is their belly,” and who have earthly things (see Philip. 3:18–19).
Because you live in the dispensation of the fulness of times (D&C 112:30) you will see many wonderful things and you will be tried very much. Those of us today who are sustained by you as prophets, seers, and revelators came to feel in the spring of 1978 much as the early brethren did when the revelation came to the effect “that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs … and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel” (Eph. 3:6). This was a thing, Paul said, “which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Eph. 3:5).
We had the glorious experience of having the Lord indicate clearly that the time had come when all worthy men and women everywhere can be fellow heirs and partakers of the full blessings of the gospel. I want you to know, as a special witness of the Savior, how close I have felt to Him and to our Heavenly Father as I have made numerous visits to the upper rooms in the temple, going on some days several times by myself. The Lord made it very clear to me what was to be done. We do not expect the people of the world to understand such things, for they will always be quick to assign their own reasons or to discount the divine process of revelation.
May I close now, my brothers and sisters, as I began, by fulfilling my role as a special witness of Christ and say to you solemnly and lovingly that this is my testimony, the first and last of all which I give of Him, that He lives. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.