My dear young friends, this is a wonderful opportunity and a great challenge to speak to you. You are bright and able young men and women. You are the kind of people who think, who want answers to questions, who have gathered here tonight seeking solutions to your problems and inspiration to guide you. I pray for the direction of the Holy Spirit.
I am honored by your presence. You represent a great generation in the history of the world and in the history of this Church. In terms of the Church, I feel that you are part of the greatest generation we have ever had. You are better educated. You have gone through seminary and are now participating in the institute of religion program. At a time when most young people do not pray, you do pray. You pray for understanding and enlightenment. You pray about your studies and the course of your lives. You pray about marriage, about finding a good companion, and about going to the house of the Lord to have your marriage sealed under the authority of the holy priesthood. You pray for success in your studies and in other interests that you have.
Nearly every one of you desires to do the right thing. And in most instances you are doing it. You are trying to keep yourselves free from the corrosive stains of the world. It is not easy. It is a constant challenge.
Every one of you is a story of success. But for some of you there are chapters in that story that speak of failure which you wish to rise above and which you can rise above. Regardless of what may have happened in the past, there is a way to make a new start, and you are encouraged to discuss this with your bishop.
You are a very important part of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. How much stronger it is because of you. And how much better are your lives because of it.
I feel a tremendous enthusiasm for this work. It is growing in a marvelous and wonderful way. It is spreading over the earth in a miraculous manner. Fifty years ago approximately half of the membership of the Church lived in Utah. Today only 17 percent live in Utah, and yet we have more Latter-day Saints in Utah than we have ever had. The work has taken root in more than 150 nations, territories, and political entities. Some of you here tonight have served missions in lands that only a few years ago were closed to us. The Lord is opening the way. Things are happening. We are being recognized for our standards. A million new members are added to the rolls of the Church each three and a half years.
The picture never looked brighter. The opportunities were never greater. This is a marvelous season in the history of the Lord’s work. We are on stage, you and I, at this glorious season. We have so much to do, so very, very much to do to move forward the work of the Lord toward the marvelous destiny which He has outlined for it.
I have a responsibility in this great undertaking. So does each of my associates among the General Authorities of the Church. Every stake president, every bishop, every quorum president, every district or branch president has a responsibility. Every member of the Church has a responsibility to do his or her part in advancing the work and building the kingdom.
None has a more compelling responsibility than do you. You are young. You have energy. You have convictions in your hearts. You have associates with whom you can work and associates you can work upon.
As some of you may know, Mike Wallace, senior correspondent of the 60 Minutes CBS program, recently interviewed me. I consented to this interview only with the hope that good would come to the Church because of it. He asked me many questions over several hours; it seemed to me like hundreds of questions. Among his questions was something to this effect: “Your church is growing in many parts of the world. How do you explain this?”
I replied to this effect: “This work stands as an anchor of stability, an anchor of values, in a world whose values are shifting. We stand for something. Our values find their roots in the teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ. These are unchanging. They are today as they were when Jesus walked the earth. They are as applicable now as they were then. They have been tested in the cauldron of human history, and they have not been found wanting. We expect great things of our people. This religion is demanding. It requires self-discipline. It requires study and courage and faith. People are responding to this as they feel the ground under them shake with uncertainties in a world of crumbling values.”
Now, this evening, my dear young friends, I present to you an invitation and a challenge. I invite you to walk the path of faith with me. I challenge you to stand for that which is right and true and good.
The Church needs every one of you. It needs your strength. It needs your energy. It needs your enthusiasm. It needs your loyalty and devotion and faith.
Regardless of your way of doing things in the past, I offer you a challenge this night to square your lives with the teachings of the gospel, to look upon this Church with love and respect and appreciation as the mother of your faith, to live your lives as an example of what the gospel of Jesus Christ will do in bringing happiness to an individual.
I need not remind you that it will not be easy. There are storms blowing around you. There is the clever exploitation of sex and violence to be seen on television and through videotapes, salacious magazines, long distance telephone services, and even the Internet.
My plea to you, my dear associates in this work, is to distance yourselves from these things. You can turn the dial on the TV set. You can shun like a plague the renting or acquisition of videotapes designed to titillate and lead you into regrettable paths. Only the producer profits from such things. The buyer or the renter never does. You don’t have to read sleazy literature of any kind. It will not help you. It will only injure you.
Years ago I had responsibility for our work in Asia. I visited Okinawa many times when there were American servicemen stationed there in large numbers. Some of them had cars, and I noted that most of those cars were badly rusted. There were holes in the fenders. There were holes in the side panels. Whatever paint was left was dull. All of this was the result of corrosive ocean salt which was carried by the wind and which ate through the metal.
That is the way pornography is. This sleazy filth is like corrosive salt. It will eat through your armor if you expose yourselves to it.
I cannot emphasize this too strongly. The makers and marketers of this slimy stuff grow wealthy while the character of their customers decays. Stay away from it. Stand above it. It becomes addictive. It will destroy those who become its slaves.
I do not ask that you be prudes. I ask only that you choose the right. Members of the Mike Wallace team spoke with a few students like you when they were here. These were both young men and young women. The reporters told me that the students said that it was easy to turn down a cigarette. There was no problem in refusing beer. The lines were clearly drawn on these things. But sex was a different matter. It was harder to tell where to draw the line.
I replied, “Those students know where to draw the line. They do not have to have that defined in clinical detail. They know when they are on slippery ground.”
My dear young friends, it is all a matter of self-discipline. Of course you know what is right and what is wrong. You have been trained from your childhood in these matters. When you find yourselves slipping in the direction of that which you know is wrong, it may be difficult to stop and turn around. But it can be done. It has been done by hundreds of thousands, millions just like you who experience the same emotional appeals that you experience.
The Lord has said, “Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly” (D&C 121:45).
That is a commandment. He has repeated it in numerous ways. We cannot violate that commandment without paying a price, sometimes a terrible price. Likewise if we exercise self-discipline, calling into play the mighty power of individual will, accompanied by an invitation of the Spirit of the Lord, happiness will be the result.
I heard Elder John A. Widtsoe, who at one time presided over the University of Utah, say, “It is my observation that a young man and a young woman who violate the principles of morality soon end up hating one another.” I have observed the same thing. There may be words of love to begin with, but there will be words of anger and bitterness later.
Some young women think that it would be a wonderful thing to have a child out of wedlock. Let me tell you that that is a false perception. You have no idea of the unending and eternal consequences of such a thing. The bringing of a new life into the world is a serious matter, and it entails constant and unremitting responsibility.
Marriage is ordained of God, marriage between a man and a woman. It is the institution under which He designed that children should come into the world. Sexual relationships under any other circumstances become transgression and are totally at odds with the teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
While speaking of these matters, let me say that any young man who asks for sexual favors from a young woman whom he may be dating on the basis that he loves her is saying in the strongest terms that he does not love her. Such an expression is one of lust and not of love.
Now, of course, we encourage you to date. We want you to socialize. It is important that you carry on the process that leads to wholesome marriage in the house of the Lord. But in the process, you must draw a line in the sand beyond which you will not go.
It was Sir Galahad who said, “My strength is as the strength of ten, / Because my heart is pure” (Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Sir Galahad”).
And that strength, which comes of virtue, is the strength which is needed if you are to be a part of the great army of those who love the Lord and wish to move forward His glorious work.
I touch on a similar matter. It is the use of coarse, uncouth, and filthy language. There is so much of it. The finger of the Lord wrote on the tablets of stone, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain” (Ex. 20:7).
Those who resort to swearing and the use of filthy language only advertise the poverty of their vocabularies and a glaring paucity in their powers of expression. I plead with you, my dear friends, to hold sacred the name of our Eternal Father and of His Beloved Son, the Redeemer of the world. How can anyone who is a member of this Church, who has been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and who has partaken of the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, stoop to profane those sacred names? How can anyone who regards himself or herself as a child of God stoop to the use of foul and filthy language concerning the body which is made in the image of God and which, as He has declared, is the temple of the spirit?
Cultivate the art of conversation. It is a tremendous asset. For me there is nothing more delightful than to listen in on the conversation of a group of bright and happy young people such as you. Their dialogue is witty. It is scintillating. It sparkles and is punctuated by laughing even when dealing with serious subjects. But, I repeat, it is not necessary in conversation to profane the name of Deity or to use salty and salacious language of any kind. And let me add that there is plenty of humor in the world without resorting to what we speak of as dirty jokes. I challenge each of you to avoid all such. During the coming week, as you talk with friends and associates see if you can do so without speaking any words that you might regret having said.
Now, while I am speaking of things that impede our progress as Latter-day Saints, let me mention one other. It is an attitude of being critical about the Church. You are bright, able, and educated young men and women. You have been taught to think critically, to explore, to consider various sides of every question. This is all good. But you can do so without looking for flaws in the Church or its leaders. Keep balance in your studies. I do not say this defensively. So very many people are so very gracious and generous and kind in what they say and write to me. On the other hand there are a few who evidently thoroughly dislike the Church and seem to thoroughly dislike me. That is their prerogative. I feel no bitterness toward them. I feel only sorrow for them, because I know what the eventual outcome will be.
I have held various offices in this Church since I was called to serve in a deacons quorum presidency at the age of 12. During the past 60 years I have been in the Administration Building of the Church. Long before I was a General Authority I knew the Presidents of the Church in those days as well as the other General Authorities. I came to know early that they were men, imperfect in some small ways. But I wish to say that I felt they were the best men to be found in this world. They too had critics who spoke evil concerning them. They too had to deal with the writings and talks of malcontents and apostates. But the names of those men are remembered with appreciation and gratitude and respect, while the names of their critics have gone down to oblivion.
As a young man working in the Administration Building, I was asked on one occasion by the President of the Council of the Twelve to take a companion and serve notice of a Church court on a man who had written various books critical of the Church and strongly apostate in their nature. His membership was in a California stake, but the stake president had sent the papers to Salt Lake City, where the man was residing at the moment.
My associate and I, both of us elders, went to his place of residence. I announced the purpose of our coming. He invited us in and motioned us to seats at the far side of the room away from the door. He stood by the front door so we could not get out until he had time to breathe out his fulminations against us. He was mean and vicious in what he said. He spoke threatening language. Fortunately he did not lay a hand on us. Neither of us was very big. Having completed our mission, we moved toward the door, opened it, and left.
At the time he was alive, his writings were read by many who shared his apostate doctrinal views. They were read by many who accepted his charges against certain of the General Authorities. He was false on both counts, but there were those who accepted his writings as true.
He was subsequently excommunicated from the Church, and that only increased his anger. Instead of acknowledging his errors, he lashed out with greater ferocity. And then he suddenly faded. People seemed to have no more interest in him. He has long since passed away. I know of no one who remembers him. Even the associate I took with me to serve the papers has passed on. I think I am the only one of those whom I know who even remembers the man’s name.
We have a few of the same kind now. We have had them in the past and will have them in the future. They are wearing out their lives trying to find fault with this Church. They mine its history for every little negative tidbit. They examine the words of the General Authorities to find fault. They may even accord me the dubious honor of examining what I am saying to you tonight. I regret the manner in which they are wasting their time. My heart reaches out to them, and I wish I could persuade them to change their ways, to alter their outlook, and to come back to the Church and apply their talents to the building of the kingdom. But I see little disposition to do so.
I suppose they are enjoying their day in the sun, but their sun will set and they will not be remembered for good.
I remind you that this work has not been moved forward to its present wonderful level by critics. It has been moved forward by men and women of faith, who have done their part, large or small, in expanding it.
Now, I want you to be thoughtful. I urge that you be thoughtful, however, in a positive and affirmative way concerning this the work of the Lord. This is not any ordinary cause of which you are a part. It is in very deed the Church and kingdom of God in the earth. It is the stone which was cut out of the mountain without hands, as Daniel saw it in vision, which should roll forth and fill the whole earth (see Dan. 2:44–45; D&C 65:2). It is the thing of which John the Revelator spoke when he said, “And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people” (Rev. 14:6).
All of these negative things of which I have spoken are as barnacles on our hulls to slow us down in the voyage of life. Let us stand on a higher plane. Let us learn the gospel. Let us live the gospel. Let us share the gospel.
“If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things” (A of F 1:13).
The Church is the great reservoir of eternal truth from which we can constantly and freely drink. It is the preserver of standards, the teacher of values. Latch onto those values. Bind them to your hearts; let them become the lodestar of your lives to guide you as you move forward in the world of which you will become an important part.
I congratulate you most warmly on the pursuit of your educational programs. I urge you to get all of the education you can. You are moving into a terribly competitive society. The Lord would have you learn things both secular and spiritual. He has placed upon you through modern revelation a compelling mandate. Said He: “And I give unto you a commandment that you shall teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom … [and] of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms” (D&C 88:77, 79).
As you read those words with which you are familiar, they seem to encompass the whole body of knowledge to which you are exposed. I know of no other people or any other system of theology which includes a God-given mandate to acquire secular knowledge as well as spiritual knowledge. I urge you to be diligent in your studies. This is the season of your great opportunity. I hope you do the very best you can to prepare yourselves to make a significant contribution to the society of which you will become a part.
Your knowledge, your integrity, your standards of workmanship and honesty as you live your future lives will reflect honor to the good name of this the Lord’s church.
People sometimes ask me, “What is your favorite verse of scripture?” I tell them that I have many, but among these is one for which I feel a particular love. It is found in the 50th section of the Doctrine and Covenants and reads as follows:
“And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness.
“That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (D&C 50:23–24).
I ask you to ponder those words: “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.”
For me, in those few words there is encompassed the marvelous concept of the eternal plan of God in behalf of His sons and daughters whom He loves. That statement speaks of learning. It speaks of the now and the forever. It speaks of growth and development. It is positive and affirmative and wonderful.
Long ago I memorized those words of scripture. To me they are wonderfully challenging and filled with magnificent promise made by Him who is our Father and our God.
Never kid yourselves that happiness can come of darkness or evil or sin. Know that happiness comes of following the way the Lord has marked for us. And so I say again, walk with me the path of faith.
In conclusion I leave you my witness of this work. By the standards of the world, I am an old man. I have now worked a full 20 years beyond what has been considered the normal retirement age. But I do not feel old! I feel enthusiastic about this great cause of which we are a part. Why? Because I know it is the work of the Almighty and that it transcends every other work under the heavens.
In terms of time and eternity, nothing is more important. Said the Master: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).
This is eternal life; it is our Father’s plan of happiness for each of us. God our Eternal Father lives. I know that. Jesus is His Beloved Son, the Firstborn of the Father, His Only Begotten in the flesh, the Savior and the Redeemer of the world, who through His Atonement has made it possible for us to go on to eternal exaltation. Joseph Smith was and is a prophet. The Book of Mormon is true. Ever since it came forth from the press in Palmyra, New York, in 1830, there have been critics trying to explain its origin. Their efforts have been in vain. It is more widely read every year and touches for good an ever increasing number of people. Think of it—in 1994 there were 3,742,629 copies of the book distributed. It or sections of it are now available in 88 languages.
The priesthood is among us. It is real. It is powerful. It is true. The spirit of revelation is among us. I want to give you my testimony that the Lord will not permit any man to lead His church astray. His are the powers of life and death. It is His church, not the church of any man. He will see to it that it is cared for, that it moves forward, that its members are nurtured with the good word of God, and that it will go on to its destined mission.
At this moment, as I said earlier, we are on stage, you and I. Ours is the great opportunity to assist in this the cause of the Eternal Father. Let us be “true to the faith that our parents have cherished, true to the truth for which martyrs have perished” (“True to the Faith,” Hymns, 1985, number 254).
My dear young friends, please know of my love for you. May the heavens be opened and blessings be poured out upon you as you live lives of virtue and righteousness, of enthusiasm and learning, of love and respect. That you will be blessed with that peace which comes of doing that which you know the Lord would have you do is my humble prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Latter-day Saints should distance themselves from the exploitation of sex and violence so widely available today. Be virtuous.
Latter-day Saints should avoid the use of coarse, uncouth, and filthy language so prevalent in the world today. Cultivate the art of clean conversation.
Latter-day Saints should avoid being critical about the Church and its leaders. Be thoughtful in positive and affirming ways about the work of the Lord.
As a people, we have many reasons to rejoice. The priesthood is among us. The spirit of revelation is among us. The Lord will not permit any man to lead His church astray.