The singing of the men’s choir this evening has lighted memory’s fire and brought to my mind the songs I sang when I was a boy. With fervor we would render:
We had a chorister who taught us boys how to sing. We had to sing. Sister Stella Waters would wave the baton within inches of our noses and beat time with a heavy foot that made the floor creak.
If we responded properly, Sister Waters let us choose a favorite hymn to sing. Inevitably, the selection was:
And then the assuring chorus:
As a boy, I could fathom somewhat the danger of a storm-tossed sea. However, I had but little understanding of other demons which can stalk our lives, destroy our dreams, smother our joys, and detour our journey toward the celestial kingdom of God.
A list of destructive demons is lengthy; and each man, young or old, knows the ones with which he must contend. I’ll name but a few: the Demon of Greed; the Demon of Dishonesty; the Demon of Debt; the Demon of Doubt; the Demon of Drugs; and those twin Demons of Immodesty and Immorality. Each of these demons can wreak havoc with our lives. A combination of them can spell utter destruction.
Concerning greed, the counsel from Ecclesiastes speaks caution: “He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase.” 3
Jesus counseled, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” 4
We must learn to separate need from greed.
When we speak of the demon of dishonesty, we can find it in a variety of locations. One such place is in school. Let us avoid cheating, falsifying, taking advantage of others, or anything like unto it. Let integrity be our standard.
In decision making, ask not “What will others think?” but rather “What will I think of myself?”
Enticements to embrace the demon of debt are thrust upon us many times each day. I quote the counsel from President Gordon B. Hinckley:
“I am troubled by the huge consumer installment debt which hangs over the people of the nation, including our own people. …
“We are beguiled by seductive advertising. Television carries the enticing invitation to borrow up to 125 percent of the value of one’s home. But no mention is made of interest. …
“I recognize that it may be necessary to borrow to get a home, of course. But let us buy a home that we can afford and thus ease the payments which will constantly hang over our heads without mercy or respite for as long as 30 years.” 5
I would add: We must not allow our yearnings to exceed our earnings.
In discussing the demon of drugs, I include, of course, alcohol. Drugs impair our ability to think, to reason, and to make prudent and wise choices. Often they result in violence, child and wife abuse, and they can provoke conduct which brings pain and suffering to those who are innocent. “Just say no to drugs” is an effective statement of one’s determination. And this can be buttressed by the scripture:
“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
“If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.” 6
When I consider the demons who are twins—even immodesty and immorality—I should make them triplets and include pornography. They all three go together.
In the interpretation of Lehi’s dream, we find a rather apt description of the destructiveness of pornography: “And the mists of darkness are the temptations of the devil, which blindeth the eyes, and hardeneth the hearts of the children of men, and leadeth them away into broad roads, that they perish and are lost.” 7
A modern-day Apostle, Hugh B. Brown, has declared, “Any immodesty inducing impure thoughts is a desecration of the body—that temple in which the Holy Spirit may dwell.” 8
I commend to you tonight a jewel from the Improvement Era. It was published in 1917 but is equally applicable here and now: “The current and common custom of indecency in dress, the flood of immoral fiction in printed literature, in the drama, and notably in [motion] picture[s] … , the toleration of immodesty in every-day conversation and demeanor, are doing deadly work in the fostering of soul-destroying vice.” 9
Alexander Pope, in his inspired “Essay on Man,” declared:
Perhaps a fitting summation pertaining to this demon can be found in the Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” 11
For each of us it is infinitely better to hear and heed the call of conscience, for conscience always warns us as a friend before punishing us as a judge.
The Lord Himself gives us the final word: “Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord.” 12
Brethren, there is one responsibility that no man can evade. That is the effect of personal influence.
Our influence is surely felt in our respective families. Sometimes we fathers forget that once we, too, were boys, and boys at times can be vexing to parents.
I recall how much, as a youngster, I liked dogs. One day I took my wagon and placed a wooden orange crate in it and went looking for dogs. At that time dogs were everywhere to be found: at school, walking along the sidewalks, or exploring vacant lots, of which there were many. As I would find a dog and capture it, I placed it in the crate, took it home, locked it in the coal shed, and turned the latch on the door. That day I think I brought home six dogs of varying sizes and made them my prisoners after this fashion. I had no idea what I would do with all those dogs, so I didn’t reveal my deed to anyone.
Dad came home from work and, as was his custom, took the coal bucket and went to the coal shed to fill it. Can you imagine his shock and utter consternation as he opened the door and immediately faced six dogs, all attempting to escape at once? As I recall, Dad flushed a little bit, and then he calmed down and quietly told me, “Tommy, coal sheds are for coal. Other people’s dogs rightfully belong to them.” By observing him, I learned a lesson in patience and calmness.
It is a good thing I did, for a similar event occurred in my life with our youngest son, Clark.
Clark has always liked animals, birds, reptiles—anything that is alive. Sometimes that resulted in a little chaos in our home. One day in his boyhood he came home from Provo Canyon with a water snake, which he named Herman.
Right off the bat Herman got lost. Sister Monson found him in the silverware drawer. Water snakes have a way of being where you least expect them. Well, Clark moved Herman to the bathtub, put a plug in the drain, put a little water in, and had a sign taped to the back of the tub which read, “Don’t use this tub. It belongs to Herman.” So we had to use the other bathroom while Herman occupied that sequestered place.
But then one day, to our amazement, Herman disappeared. His name should have been Houdini. He was gone! So the next day Sister Monson cleaned up the tub and prepared it for normal use. Several days went by.
One evening I decided it was time to take a leisurely bath; so I filled the tub with a lot of warm water, and then I peacefully lay down in the tub for a few moments of relaxation. I was lying there just pondering, when the soapy water reached the level of the overflow drain and began to flow through it. Can you imagine my surprise when, with my eyes focused on that drain, Herman came swimming out, right for my face? I yelled out to my wife, “Frances! Here comes Herman!”
Well, Herman was captured again, put in a foolproof box, and we made a little excursion to Vivian Park in Provo Canyon and there released Herman into the beautiful waters of the South Fork Creek. Herman was never again to be seen by us.
There appears in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 107, verse 99, a brief but direct admonition to each priesthood bearer: “Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence.” [D&C 107:99] I have always taken this charge seriously and have attempted to live up to its direction.
In the recesses of my mind, I hear over and over again the guiding direction which President John Taylor gave to the brethren of the priesthood: “If you do not magnify your callings, God will hold you responsible for those you might have saved, had you done your duty.” 13
In the performance of our responsibilities, I have learned that when we heed a silent prompting and act upon it without delay, our Heavenly Father will guide our footsteps and bless our lives and the lives of others. I know of no experience more sweet or feeling more precious than to heed a prompting only to discover that the Lord has answered another person’s prayer through you.
Perhaps just one example will suffice. One day just over a year ago, after taking care of matters at the office, I felt a strong impression to visit an aged widow who was a patient at St. Joseph Villa here in Salt Lake City. I drove there directly.
When I went to her room, I found it empty. I asked an attendant concerning her whereabouts and was directed to a lounge area. There I found this sweet widow visiting with her sister and another friend. We had a pleasant conversation together.
As we were talking, a man came to the door of the room to obtain a can of soda water from the vending machine. He glanced at me and said, “Why, you are Tom Monson.”
“Yes,” I replied. “And you look like a Hemingway.” He acknowledged that he was Stephen Hemingway, the son of Alfred Eugene Hemingway, who had served as my counselor when I was a bishop many years ago and whom I called Gene. Stephen told me that his father was there in the same facility and was near death. He had been calling my name, and the family had wanted to contact me but had been unable to find a telephone number for me.
I excused myself immediately and went with Stephen up to the room of my former counselor, where others of his children were also gathered, his wife having passed away some years previous. The family members regarded my meeting Stephen in the lounge area as a response by our Heavenly Father to their great desire that I would see their father before he died and answer his call. I, too, felt that this was the case, for if Stephen had not entered the room in which I was visiting at precisely the time he did, I would not have known that Gene was even in that facility.
We gave a blessing to him. A spirit of peace prevailed. We had a lovely visit, after which I left.
The following morning a phone call revealed that Gene Hemingway had passed away—just 20 minutes after he had received the blessing from his son and me.
I expressed a silent prayer of thanks to Heavenly Father for His guiding influence which prompted my visit to St. Joseph Villa and led me to my dear friend Alfred Eugene Hemingway.
I like to think that Gene Hemingway’s thoughts that evening, as we basked in the Spirit’s glow, participated in humble prayer, and pronounced a priesthood blessing, echoed the words mentioned in the hymn “Master, the Tempest Is Raging,” which I cited at the beginning of my message:
I still love that hymn and testify to you tonight as to the comfort it offers:
Will L. Thompson (1847–1909), “Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel,” Hymns, no. 252.
Mary Ann Baker (ca. 1874), “Master, the Tempest Is Raging,” Hymns, no. 105.
“To the Boys and to the Men,” Ensign, Nov. 1998, 53; Liahona, Jan. 1999, 65.
The Abundant Life (1965), 65.
Joseph F. Smith, “Unchastity the Dominant Evil of the Age,” Improvement Era, June 1917, 742.
In John Bartlett, Familiar Quotations, 14th ed. (1968), 409.
Quoted in Hugh B. Brown, The Abundant Life, 37.
Hymns, no. 105.