It has been most interesting on occasion to contemplate the learning of my school days. So much learned then has been so very good, has helped me over the years. Habits and disciplines and much else that has blessed my life have come from those experiences.
Yet at times I have been compelled to reevaluate the learning of those days. Some matters, somewhat dogmatically set forth, have become almost fiction. In medicine, physics, and chemistry, some of the criteria have changed. In political science and law, attitudes have changed. In literature and art, there has been a shift in standards. Across that educational landscape there have been change and modification—everywhere except in the eternal truths of God.
Many centuries ago, one of the great prophets of what we call the Old Testament, the volume of scripture we are studying this year, gave counsel that is inspiringly applicable to the scene I have described: “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever” (Isa. 40:8).
This condition has led me to consider pillars of eternal truth which can support and sustain us through all our years if we will heed them and conform our lives to their standards. I shall be brief in dealing with them. Each is worthy of a sermon.
God Lives, and the Door of Heaven Is Open. Of all the great and wonderful and inspiring promises I have read, the most reassuring to me are the words of the Savior: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matt. 7:7).
I recall a story of a Latter-day Saint boy in military service. He was the only Latter-day Saint in his barracks, and he soon wearied of the jibes of his associates. One day when the going was particularly rough, he finally agreed to go into town with the crowd. But as they entered the town, there came before his mind’s eye a picture. He saw the kitchen of his home. It was supper time. There was his family, kneeling at the kitchen chairs—his father, mother, two sisters, and a small brother. The little brother was praying, and he was asking our Heavenly Father to look after his brother in the military.
That mental picture did it. The young man turned away from the crowd. The prayer of that little brother, of that family, brought clarity of mind and courage to that Latter-day Saint youth.
Brothers and sisters, as we go forward in our lives, let us never forget to pray. God lives. He is near. He is real. He is our Father. He is accessible to us. He is the author of eternal truth, the Master of the universe. The handle is ready, and the door can be opened to His abundance. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God” (James 1:5).
Life Is Forever. Almost 70 years ago, on a night in July, while serving as a young missionary, I looked out at Lake Windermere in England. This was the country of Wordsworth. As my eyes went from the lake to the sky in that quiet, lovely place, there passed through my mind the words penned there much earlier:
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home.
(William Wordsworth, “Ode on Intimations of Immortality”)
We are not chance creations in a universe of disorder. We lived before we were born. We were God’s sons and daughters who shouted for joy (see Job 38:7). We knew our Father; He planned our future. We graduated from that life and matriculated in this. The statement is simple; the implications are profound. Life is a mission, not just the sputtering of a candle between a chance lighting and a gust of wind that blows it out forever.
Read again those marvelous accounts in Genesis, Moses, and the book of Abraham, and ponder the great order and planning that preceded our coming to earth for our mortal testing.
While here, we have learning to gain, work to do, service to give. We are here with a marvelous inheritance, a divine endowment. How different this world would be if every person realized that all of his or her actions have eternal consequences. How much more satisfying our years may be if in our accumulation of knowledge, in our relationships with others, in our business affairs, in our courtship and marriage, and in our family rearing, we recognize that we form each day the stuff of which eternity is made. Brothers and sisters, life is forever. Live each day as if you were going to live eternally, for you surely shall.
The Kingdom of God Is Here. We are citizens in the greatest kingdom on earth—a kingdom not directed by the wisdom of men but led by the Lord Jesus Christ. Its presence is real. Its destiny is certain. This is the kingdom of which the prophet Daniel spoke—a stone, as it were, that should be cut out of the mountain without hands and roll forth and fill the earth (see Dan. 2:34–35).
No mortal man created this kingdom. It came through revelation from its divine head. And since the 19th-century days of its inception, it has gone forth like a rolling snowball gathering mass.
I love the prophetic words from the dedicatory prayer of the Kirtland Temple, in which the Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–44) prayed to the Lord “that thy church may come forth out of the wilderness of darkness, and shine forth fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners; … that thy glory may fill the earth” (D&C 109:73–74).
Brethren, you who hold the priesthood in this great kingdom, I know of no better place to find fellowship and good friends than among the quorums of the Church. Where on earth should there be a better association than in a quorum, each of whose members is ordained to act in the name of the Lord, dedicated to help one another, and whose officers are set apart to this purpose under divine authority?
Brethren, the quorums of the Church need your talents, your loyalty, your devotion; and each man needs the fellowship and blessings that come of quorum activity in the kingdom of God.
Sisters, where will you find better association than in the Relief Society, whose motto is “Charity Never Faileth” and whose mission is to bless the poor and bind up the wounds of the sick and the lonely, to bring gladness into the hearts of the women of the Church, and to increase their skill as homemakers?
Active membership in the Church is an anchor in the storms of life we all face. The kingdom is here. Cling to this truth.
The Family Is Divine. I remember listening to a man tell of his becoming active in the Church after years of being less active. The week previous he had been to the temple. Now he was expressing his gratitude and said, “‘Until death do you part’ is a ceremony of marriage, but it is also a bill of divorcement.” The statement was not new with him, but it struck forcibly those who heard it and who knew the particulars of his story. It is true: a wedding ceremony under the law of the world unites in marriage and at the same time decrees its separation.
Yet the family is divine. It was instituted by our Heavenly Father. It encompasses the most sacred of all relationships. Only through its organization can the purposes of the Lord be fulfilled.
Thankfully, the Lord has given to His children the opportunity to be sealed in eternal marriage, in “a new and an everlasting covenant; … a blessing … instituted from before the foundation of the world” (D&C 132:4–5).
Once you have gained this blessing, go forward with the assurance that death cannot break it—that only two forces in all the world can weaken and destroy that binding: sin and neglect.
Most marriages result in children, and most parents seek earnestly to raise righteous progeny. I am satisfied that nothing will ensure greater success in the hazardous undertaking of parenthood than a program of family life that comes from the marvelous teaching of the gospel: that the father of the home may be clothed with the priesthood of God; that it is his privilege and obligation as a steward of our Heavenly Father’s children to provide for their needs; that he is to govern in the home in the spirit of the priesthood, “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned” (D&C 121:41); that the mother in the home is a daughter of God, a soul of intelligence, devotion, and love who may be clothed with the Spirit of God; that it is her privilege and obligation as a steward of our Heavenly Father’s children to nurture those children in their daily needs; that she, in companionship with her husband, is also to teach her children “to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands … [and] to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord” (D&C 68:25, 28).
In such a home, parents are loved and not dreaded; they are appreciated and not feared. And children are regarded as gifts of the Lord, to be cared for, nurtured, encouraged, and directed.
There may be an occasional disagreement; there may be small quarrels. But if there is prayer in the family and love and consideration, there will be a residue of affection that will bind forever and a loyalty that will always guide.
Obedience Is Better Than Sacrifice. You may recognize the source of that statement. It comes from the Old Testament prophet Samuel’s counsel to Saul: “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22). I am going to apply only one aspect of this great truth and will do so to the Lord’s counsel and promise in matters of health, the Word of Wisdom (see D&C 89).
I remember a report from the American Medical Association to the effect that heavy smokers die seven years before they would if they did not smoke. Seven years of life. That’s as long as many persons spend in high school and college. Seven years—time enough to become a doctor, an architect, an engineer, a lawyer. Seven years in which to enjoy the sunrise and the sunset, the hills and the valleys, the lakes and the seas, the love of our children, the friendship of wonderful people we may know. What a statistical promise confirming the word of the Lord that the destroying angel shall pass by those who walk in obedience and will not slay them (see D&C 89:21).
Then there is that other promise—that they shall have “great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures” (D&C 89:19). I think of an experience once told me by one of our Sunday School teachers. One Sunday while they were discussing the Word of Wisdom, someone asked what was meant by hidden treasures of knowledge.
The teacher stuttered and stammered and was saved by the bell. He told the class that they would consider the matter the following Sunday.
During the week he pondered the question but felt that he could not come up with an answer. Near the end of the week, he had lunch with a colleague. The man told him that at one time while traveling, he found himself passing a Latter-day Saint Church building. He concluded to go in to see how the Latter-day Saints worshiped.
The man reported that it was a peculiar kind of service—that one after another stood up in the congregation, told of their experiences, expressed their gratitude, and then almost without exception testified that they knew that God lives, that Jesus Christ is His Son, our living Redeemer. The man drove up the highway that afternoon, saying to himself, Surely these people have knowledge hidden from the world.
Ponder that thought for a moment.
The Lord has given us a key to health and happiness—and has given it with a promise. It is a pillar of eternal wisdom. It is better to obey than to rationalize and sacrifice.
The Lord Is Bound. As I see the picture, three great desires govern the thinking of most people: (1) to love and be loved; (2) to have appreciative and good friends; (3) to succeed—to secure and enjoy a measure of prosperity.
President Stephen L Richards (1879–1959) of the First Presidency told me once of a talk given by President Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918), he who was born in the dark days of Far West, who lost his father in the tragic days of Nauvoo, and who knew from firsthand experience the meaning of poverty. President Smith said, as I understand it, that the Lord did not intend that His people should live in poverty and misery and insecurity forever, that the Lord intended that they should appropriately enjoy the good things of the earth.
May I suggest that in my judgment, no person who is a member of this Church and has taken upon himself or herself the covenants incident to membership can reasonably expect the blessings of the Lord upon his or her efforts unless being willing to bear his or her share of the burden of the Lord’s kingdom.
Brothers and sisters, the Lord, speaking through the Old Testament prophet Malachi, said:
“Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.
“And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord” (Mal. 3:10–11).
Pay your tithes that you may be worthy of the Lord’s blessings. I will not promise that you will become wealthy. But I bear testimony that the Lord does reward generously in one way or another those who keep His commandments. And I assure you that no investment counselor to whom you may go can promise you as the Lord has promised, “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise” (D&C 82:10). The Lord honors His covenants.
He That Loseth His Life Shall Find It. In 1933 when I left for my mission, I traveled through Chicago. The Great Depression was on. As we passed what I think was the Chicago Board of Trade Building, a woman said to the bus driver, “What building is that?” He replied, “That’s the Board of Trade Building. Nearly every day, some man whose stock has gone down jumps out of one of those windows.”
The bus driver may have exaggerated, but some people were jumping from windows in those days as they saw their fortunes dwindle. Their lives were wrapped up in themselves and their money, and they felt there was nothing worth living for when their money was gone.
It was Wendell Phillips who said, “How prudently most men creep into nameless graves, while now and then one or two forget themselves into immortality!” (quoted in John Wesley Hill, Abraham Lincoln—Man of God , 146).
The Savior put it this way: “He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” (Matt. 10:39).
While riding on an airplane, I picked up a magazine and read a description of the moral bankruptcy into which the world is falling. The author gave as the dominant reason for this decay an attitude that is characterized by the question, What’s in it for me?
Brothers and sisters, you will never be happy if you go through life thinking only of yourself. Get lost in the best cause in the world, the cause of the Lord—the work of the quorums and of the auxiliary organizations, temple work, welfare service work, missionary work. You will bless your own life as you bless the lives of others.
And so I set before you these pillars of truth. Each is an eternal verity, proved out of the experience of generations, bearing the endorsement of the word of the Lord:
God lives, and the door of heaven is open.
Life is forever.
The kingdom of God is here.
The family is divine.
Obedience is better than sacrifice.
The Lord is bound.
He that loseth his life shall find it.
I bear testimony that in these truths lie peace that passeth understanding and joy unspeakable.
God is real, He is our Father, and He is accessible to all through prayer.
We are not chance creations in a universe of disorder, but we are God’s children. We knew our Father, and He planned our future.
We are citizens in the greatest kingdom on earth—God’s kingdom. Active Church membership steadies us in life’s difficulties.
The family was instituted by our Heavenly Father. Only through the family can the Lord’s purposes be fulfilled.
It is better to obey than to rationalize and sacrifice.
The Lord generously rewards—in one way or another—all those who keep His commandments.
By forgetting our own selfish interests as we do the Lord’s work, our own lives are blessed.