Covenants and Ordinances

Eternal Marriage Student Manual, (2003), 38–50

Keep your covenants and you will be safe. Break them and you will not.

—Elder Boyd K. Packer

Selected Teachings

Keeping Our Covenants

President Joseph Fielding Smith

“The Holy Spirit of Promise is the Holy Ghost who places the stamp of approval upon every ordinance: baptism, confirmation, ordination, marriage. The promise is that the blessings will be received through faithfulness.

“If a person violates a covenant, whether it be of baptism, ordination, marriage or anything else, the Spirit withdraws the stamp of approval, and the blessings will not be received.

“Every ordinance is sealed with a promise of a reward based upon faithfulness. The Holy Spirit withdraws the stamp of approval where covenants are broken” (Doctrines of Salvation, 1:45).

Divorce Not Part of Gospel Plan. If all mankind would live in strict obedience to the gospel, and in that love which is begotten by the Spirit of the Lord, all marriages would be eternal, divorce would be unknown. …

Lord’s Penalty for Divorce. …

“Marriage according to the law of the Church is the most holy and sacred ordinance. It will bring to the husband and the wife, if they abide in their covenants, the fulness of exaltation in the kingdom of God. When that covenant is broken, it will bring eternal misery to the guilty party, for we will all have to answer for our deeds done while in the flesh. It is an ordinance that cannot be trifled with, and the covenants made in the temple cannot be broken without dire punishment to the one who is guilty. …

Man Commanded to Be Fruitful and Multiply. The obligations which married couples take upon themselves should conform in every particular to the commandments given by the Lord.

“In the beginning, the Lord said when he gave Eve to Adam, ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it.’ [Genesis 1:28; Moses 2:28.] This earth was created for the very purpose that the spirit children of our Father might have the privilege of the temporal existence, receiving bodies of flesh and bones as tabernacles for the spirits which occupy them, and then, through the atonement of Jesus Christ, receive the resurrection in which the spirit and the body become inseparably connected so that man may live again. …

“The covenant given to Adam to multiply was renewed after the flood with Noah and his children after him. The Lord said to Noah: ‘And you, be ye fruitful, and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply therein. And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying, And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you.’ [Genesis 9:7–9.]

“This covenant is still binding, although mankind has departed from the way of eternal life and has rejected the covenant of marriage which the Lord revealed. …

Enormity of Sex Sin. …

“Is there any wonder, then, that the Lord places the violation of this covenant of marriage and the loss of virtue as second only to the shedding of innocent blood? [see Alma 39:5–9.] Is there not, then, sufficient reason for the severity of the punishment which has been promised to those who violate this eternal law? Moreover, have we not forgotten in large measure the enormity of the crime of unchastity and breaking of marriage vows? Do those who are guilty think the enormity of the offense of maliciously or wickedly tampering with the laws of life will be overlooked by a just God? Do they think that only a few stripes, if any punishment at all, will amend this broken law?” (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:80, 83–84, 86–87, 92).

Elder Marion G. Romney

“These fruits of the gospel—assurance that we shall obtain eternal life, peace in this world sustained by such an assurance, and finally eternal life in the world to come—are within the reach of us all. Sometimes, however, because of our lack of understanding and appreciation of them, I am persuaded that we take too much for granted. We assume that because we are members of the Church, we shall receive as a matter of course all the blessings of the gospel. I have heard people contend that they have a claim upon them because they have been through the temple, even though they are not careful to keep the covenants they there made. I do not think this will be the case.

“We might take a lesson from an account given by the Prophet of a vision of the resurrection, in which he records that one of the saddest things he had ever witnessed was the sorrow of members of the Church who came forth to a resurrection below that which they had taken for granted they would receive” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1949, 43; italics added).

Elder Boyd K. Packer

“My message is to you who are tempted either to promote, to enter, or to remain in a life-style which violates your covenants and will one day bring sorrow to you and to those who love you.

“Growing numbers of people now campaign to make spiritually dangerous life-styles legal and socially acceptable. Among them are abortion, the gay-lesbian movement, and drug addiction. They are debated in forums and seminars, in classes, in conversations, in conventions, and in courts all over the world. The social and political aspects of them are in the press every day.

“The point I make is simply this: there is a moral and spiritual side to these issues which is universally ignored. For Latter-day Saints, morality is one component which must not be missing when these issues are considered—otherwise sacred covenants are at risk! Keep your covenants and you will be safe. Break them and you will not. …

“The laws of God are ordained to make us happy. Happiness cannot coexist with immorality: the prophet Alma told us in profound simplicity that ‘wickedness never was happiness’ (Alma 41:10)” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1990, 107–8; or Ensign, Nov. 1990, 84).

Elder Robert D. Hales

“As taught in this scripture [D&C 132:19], an eternal bond doesn’t just happen as a result of sealing covenants we make in the temple. How we conduct ourselves in this life will determine what we will be in all the eternities to come. To receive the blessings of the sealing that our Heavenly Father has given to us, we have to keep the commandments and conduct ourselves in such a way that our families will want to live with us in the eternities. The family relationships we have here on this earth are important, but they are much more important for their effect on our families for generations in mortality and throughout all eternity.

“By divine commandment, spouses are required to love each other above all others. The Lord clearly declares, ‘Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else’ (D&C 42:22)” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1996, 87; or Ensign, Nov. 1996, 65).

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and Patricia T. Holland

JRH: That is why we can make covenants with such confidence, knowing with certainty God’s power over darkness and danger and troubles of every kind. We should give gratitude from the depths of our soul for a plan of happiness that provides for escape from every personal mistake we have ever made and every dumb thing we have ever done. We should express eternal thanks for the pure, single-minded, divine goodness that can cover every concern, heal every wound, make up for every defect, and eventually dry every tear. That’s the God and Christ and plan King Lamoni saw, and that is what stunned him so. It will stun us, too—by its strength and by its splendor—when our need is great enough, our faith strong enough, and our view clear enough to see it. In our hour of extremity, we will, if we keep our covenants, see the clouds of darkness lift, the veil of unbelief cast away by the hand of a Father who is eternally committed to our happiness.

PTH: … Covenants not only commit us to being unshakable in our devotion to God, they remind us God will always be unshakable in his devotion toward us. And though we may falter and make mistakes, he never falters. He never makes a mistake. He is ever faithful to us. That is the beauty and majesty inherent in the covenants we make with God.

JRH: Covenants are binding, supernal, consummate contracts between God and his children. They are the solemn promises of Deity—a God who always keeps his word—that heaven will pour out unmeasured blessings upon all who are faithful and honor the conditions of their pledge. An individual can swear an oath, but only when God reciprocates in kind is a covenant established.

“We know that oaths are never to be spoken lightly, and covenantal language is of a higher order yet. By definition, covenants invoke the most sacred language we can utter in this world. This language establishes a bond and a relationship unique in the human experience. It is the means by which individuals in a fallen family make their way back to eternal splendor. It is the means by which each one of us can be, in the Lord’s own words, ‘a peculiar treasure unto me above all people’ (Exodus 19:5). That is why keeping our covenants will, as the scripture says, add ‘glory … upon their heads for ever and ever’ (Abraham 3:26)” (in Green and Anderson, To Rejoice as Women, 99–100).

Elder J. Ballard Washburn

“Thus we see that in marriage, a husband and wife enter into an order of the priesthood called the new and everlasting covenant of marriage. This covenant includes a willingness to have children and to teach them the gospel. Many problems of the world today are brought about when parents do not accept the responsibilities of this covenant. It is contradictory to this covenant to prevent the birth of children if the parents are in good health.

“Thirty-five years ago when I first started practicing medicine, it was a rare thing for a married woman to seek advice about how she could keep from having babies. When I finished practicing medicine, it was a rare thing, except for some faithful Latter-day Saint women, for a married woman to want to have more than one or two children, and some did not want any children. We in the Church must not be caught up in the false doctrines of the world that would cause us to break sacred temple covenants.

“We go to the temple to make covenants, but we go home to keep the covenants that we have made. The home is the testing ground. The home is the place where we learn to be more Christlike. The home is the place where we learn to overcome selfishness and give ourselves in service to others” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1995, 13; or Ensign, May 1995, 12).

Our Covenant-Based Relationship with the Lord

Concerning the importance of reviewing our gospel covenants, Elder M. Russell Ballard stated:

“A periodic review of the covenants we have made with the Lord will help us with our priorities and with balance in our lives. This review will help us see where we need to repent and change our lives to ensure that we are worthy of the promises that accompany our covenants and sacred ordinances. Working out our own salvation requires good planning and a deliberate, valiant effort” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1987, 15; or Ensign, May 1987, 14).

From the following charts, review the promises we make and the blessings offered for obedience to each gospel covenant. Do you sense a need to improve? What can you do to be more faithful in keeping the covenants that prepare us for eternal marriage? What can you do to be more faithful in keeping the covenants associated with the new and everlasting covenant of marriage?



Covenants We Make with God

Blessings Promised

A priest in the Aaronic Priesthood (or any Melchizedek Priesthood holder) may perform the ordinance upon approval of the local priesthood leader. He offers the scripturally prescribed baptismal prayer and then completely immerses the baptism recipient in the water.

We covenant to:

  • Come into the fold of God.

  • Take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ.

  • Stand as a witness for Jesus Christ.

  • Always keep the commandments.

  • Bear one another’s burdens.

  • Manifest a determination to serve God unto the end.

  • Manifest by works that we have repented of our sins.

  • Prepare to receive the Holy Ghost for the complete remission of sins.

See 2 Nephi 31:17–21; Mosiah 18:8–10; D&C 20:37; Articles of Faith 1:4.

  1. 1.

    We qualify for membership in Christ’s Church.

  2. 2.

    If we are worthy, the Lord promises to:

    • Pour out His Spirit upon us.

    • Redeem us from our sins.

    • Raise us up in the First Resurrection.

    • Give us eternal life.

Gift of the Holy Ghost


Covenants We Make with God

Blessings Promised

A Melchizedek Priesthood holder, authorized by the local priesthood leader, may confer the gift of the Holy Ghost by prayer and the laying on of hands.

In order to qualify for the gift of the Holy Ghost we must fulfill the covenants of baptism, continue in humility and faith, and otherwise be worthy of the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost (see Articles of Faith 1:4).

  1. 1.

    We are confirmed as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

  2. 2.

    We receive the right or privilege to enjoy the continual companionship of the Holy Ghost. We can receive inspiration, divine manifestations, spiritual gifts, and direction from the Holy Ghost continually. We also receive blessings by receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost as the Holy Ghost bears witness of Jesus Christ and of divine truths, provides spiritual guidance and warnings, and enables us to discern right and wrong.

  3. 3.

    We are sanctified or cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost and are born of God as we continue faithfully. Through this baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost, individual hearts and desires are cleansed and spirits are made pure. Receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost is the culmination of the process of repentance and baptism (see 2 Nephi 31:13, 17; 3 Nephi 27:20).

  4. 4.

    We know the gift of the Holy Ghost is the key to all of the spiritual gifts found in the Church, including the gifts of prophecy and revelation, healing, speaking in tongues, and translating and interpreting tongues.



Covenants We Make with God

Blessings Promised

A priest in the Aaronic Priesthood (or any Melchizedek Priesthood holder) may administer the sacrament upon approval of the local priesthood leader. Sacramental prayers are revealed in the scriptures.

We covenant to:

  • Renew our baptismal covenants.

  • Recommit to take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ, always remember Him, and keep His commandments. Partaking of the sacrament is a time for personal introspection, repentance, and rededication.

See 3 Nephi 18:28–29; Moroni 4–5; D&C 20:75–79; 27:2; 46:4.

  1. 1.

    The Lord forgives sins we repent of.

  2. 2.

    The Lord promises that we may always have His Spirit to be with us.

Receive the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood


Covenants We Make with God

Blessings Promised

A Melchizedek Priesthood holder with the authority to do so may ordain worthy male members to the Melchizedek Priesthood by prayer and the laying on of hands.

Priesthood holders covenant to:

  • Receive in good faith and with honest intent both the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods (see D&C 84:33).

  • Magnify callings by fulfilling all responsibilities associated with the priesthood offices they are called to.

  • Teach the word of God and labor with all their might to advance the Lord’s purposes (see Jacob 1:19).

  • Obtain a knowledge of the gospel (see D&C 107:31).

  • Give service by comforting and strengthening the Saints of God (see Mosiah 18:8–9).

  • Be obedient and “give diligent heed to the words of eternal life” (D&C 84:43).

  • Listen to and follow revelation from the Lord. “Live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God” (v. 44).

See also Elder Carlos E. Asay, in Conference Report, Oct. 1985, 56–58; or Ensign, Nov. 1985, 43–44.

Worthy priesthood holders receive these promises:

  1. 1.

    Be “sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies” (D&C 84:33).

  2. 2.

    “Become the sons of Moses and of Aaron and the seed of Abraham” (v. 34).

  3. 3.

    Become members of “the church and kingdom, and the elect of God” (v. 34).

  4. 4.

    Receive the Father’s kingdom and “all that my Father hath shall be given unto him” (v. 38).

  5. 5.

    Receive of the Father’s fulness and glory and become “gods, even the sons of God” (D&C 76:58).

  6. 6.

    Are warned that anyone who rejects this covenant and “altogether turneth therefrom, shall not have forgiveness of sins in this world nor in the world to come” (D&C 84:41).

    President Marion G. Romney of the First Presidency made the following comment about D&C 84:41: “I don’t think he is talking here necessarily about the unpardonable sin, but I am saying that those of us who receive this priesthood and understand what it is about and fail to magnify our callings will lose something we cannot recover hereafter” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1974, 116; or Ensign, May 1974, 80).

Temple Endowment


Covenants We Make with God

Blessings Promised

The temple endowment is a gift of spiritual power and blessing from above. It consists of a course of instruction, receiving saving ordinances, and making covenants administered by authorized officiators only in dedicated temples (see D&C 95:8; 97:14; 109:13–15).

The temple endowment is seen as the continuation and culmination of the covenants made at baptism. Temple covenants include “tests by which our willingness and fitness for righteousness may be known” (John A. Widtsoe, Program of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 178).

We covenant to:

“Observe the law of strict virtue and chastity, to be charitable, benevolent, tolerant and pure; to devote both talent and material means to the spread of truth and the uplifting of the race; to maintain devotion to the cause of truth; and to seek in every way to contribute to the great preparation that the earth may be made ready to receive her King,—the Lord Jesus Christ” (James E. Talmage, House of the Lord, 84).

  1. 1.

    “With the taking of each covenant and the assuming of each obligation a promised blessing is pronounced, contingent upon the faithful observance of the conditions” (Talmage, House of the Lord, 84).

  2. 2.

    The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that the endowment was designed to give us “a comprehensive view of our condition and true relation to God” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 324), “to prepare the disciples for their missions unto the world” (p. 274), to prevent us from being “overcome by these evils” (p. 259), and to enable us “to secure the fullness of those blessings which have been prepared for the Church of the Firstborn” (p. 237).

  3. 3.

    President Gordon B. Hinckley in the dedicatory prayer of the Vernal Utah Temple said, “We pray that Thou wilt visit it, and may Thy Holy Spirit dwell here to sanctify it and make it holy unto all who enter its portals” (“We Thank Thee for This Sacred Structure,” Church News, 8 Nov. 1997, 4). Through the temple endowment, we may seek “a fulness of the Holy Ghost” (D&C 109:15). Temple ordinances are seen as a means for receiving inspiration and instruction through the Holy Spirit and for preparing to return to God’s presence.

Celestial Marriage


Covenants We Make with God

Blessings Promised

A temple officiator who has the sealing power of the priesthood invokes covenants intended to be efficacious for time and for all eternity. Celestial marriage involves a ceremony performed in a holy temple (see D&C 131:1–3; 132:18–19).

Couples who promise to abide the law of celestial marriage:

  • Covenant in pure love to remain faithful to each other and to God through all eternity.

  • Covenant to confine their intimate affections and sexual relations to each other.

  • Commit to live in ways that contribute to happy and successful family life.

  • Covenant “to ‘be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth’ (Gen. 1:28). A primary purpose of temple marriage in this life is to grow and mature in sharing God’s creative work in raising a family in righteousness. Parents enter into a partnership with God by participating in the procreation of mortal bodies, which house the spirit children of God” (in Ludlow, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 2:859).

  1. 1.

    Husbands and wives will receive eternal life in the world to come, the glory of the celestial kingdom (see D&C 88:4; Moses 6:59).

  2. 2.

    They shall become gods with all power and “shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers” (D&C 132:19).

  3. 3.

    They shall obtain exaltation in the highest degree of the celestial glory (see D&C 131:1–4).

  4. 4.

    They will come to know God the Father and Jesus Christ (see D&C 132:48–50).

Wayward Children Born under the Covenant

The Prophet Joseph Smith

“When a seal is put upon the father and mother, it secures their posterity, so that they cannot be lost, but will be saved by virtue of the covenant of their father and mother” (in History of the Church, 5:530).

President Brigham Young

“Let the father and mother, who are members of this Church and Kingdom, take a righteous course, and strive with all their might never to do a wrong, but to do good all their lives; if they have one child or one hundred children, if they conduct themselves towards them as they should, binding them to the Lord by their faith and prayers, I care not where those children go, they are bound up to their parents by an everlasting tie, and no power of earth or hell can separate them from their parents in eternity; they will return again to the fountain from whence they sprang” (in Discourses of Brigham Young, 208).

First Presidency—Spencer W. Kimball, N. Eldon Tanner, Marion G. Romney

“In a day when the sanctity of the home is being invaded and where the care of children has been regarded lightly, we, by means of the family home evening manual, have endeavored to impress upon the parents the importance of developing a love in the home so that in the future, should those children thus taught stray away, they would eventually return again, lest they lose their place in the eternal family circle” (Family Home Evening: Love Makes Our House a Home, 2).

Elder Boyd K. Packer

“It is not uncommon for responsible parents to lose one of their children, for a time, to influences over which they have no control. They agonize over rebellious sons or daughters. They are puzzled over why they are so helpless when they have tried so hard to do what they should.

“It is my conviction that those wicked influences one day will be overruled.

“‘The Prophet Joseph Smith declared—and he never taught a more comforting doctrine—that the eternal sealings of faithful parents and the divine promises made to them for valiant service in the Cause of Truth, would save not only themselves, but likewise their posterity. … Pray for your careless and disobedient children; hold on to them with your faith. Hope on, trust on, till you see the salvation of God’ (Orson F. Whitney, in Conference Report, Apr. 1929, p. 110).

“We cannot overemphasize the value of temple marriage, the binding ties of the sealing ordinance, and the standards of worthiness required of them. When parents keep the covenants they have made at the altar of the temple, their children will be forever bound to them” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1992, 94–95; or Ensign, May 1992, 68).

Elder James E. Faust

“There are some great spiritual promises which may help faithful parents in this church. Children of eternal sealings may have visited upon them the divine promises made to their valiant forebears who nobly kept their covenants. Covenants remembered by parents will be remembered by God. The children may thus become the beneficiaries and inheritors of these great covenants and promises. This is because they are the children of the covenant” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1990, 43; or Ensign, Nov. 1990, 35).

Covenant Marriage

Elder Bruce C. Hafen

Elder Bruce C. Hafen

Of the Seventy

In Conference Report, Oct. 1996, 33–36; or Ensign, Nov. 1996, 26–28

Three summers ago I watched a new bride and groom, Tracy and Tom, emerge from a sacred temple. They laughed and held hands as family and friends gathered to take pictures. I saw happiness and promise in their faces as they greeted their reception guests, who celebrated publicly the creation of a new family. I wondered that night how long it would be until these two faced the opposition that tests every marriage. Only then would they discover whether their marriage was based on a contract or a covenant.

Another bride sighed blissfully on her wedding day, “Mom, I’m at the end of all my troubles!” “Yes,” replied her mother, “but at which end?” When troubles come, the parties to a contractual marriage seek happiness by walking away. They marry to obtain benefits and will stay only as long as they’re receiving what they bargained for. But when troubles come to a covenant marriage, the husband and wife work them through. They marry to give and to grow, bound by covenants to each other, to the community, and to God. Contract companions each give 50 percent; covenant companions each give 100 percent.

Marriage is by nature a covenant, not just a private contract one may cancel at will. Jesus taught about contractual attitudes when he described the “hireling,” who performs his conditional promise of care only when he receives something in return. When the hireling “seeth the wolf coming,” he “leaveth the sheep, and fleeth … because he … careth not for the sheep.” By contrast, the Savior said, “I am the good shepherd, … and I lay down my life for the sheep.”1 Many people today marry as hirelings. And when the wolf comes, they flee. This idea is wrong. It curses the earth, turning parents’ hearts away from their children and from each other.2

Marriage is by nature a covenant, not just a private contract one may cancel at will.

An Eternal Perspective of Marriage

Before their marriage, Tom and Tracy received an eternal perspective on covenants and wolves. They learned through the story of Adam and Eve about life’s purpose and how to return to God’s presence through obedience and the Atonement. Christ’s life is the story of giving the Atonement. The life of Adam and Eve is the story of receiving the Atonement, which empowered them to overcome their separation from God and all opposition until they were eternally “at one” with the Lord and with each other.

Without the Fall, Lehi taught, Adam and Eve would never have known opposition. And “they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery.”3 Astute parents will see a little connection here—no children, no misery! But left in the garden, Adam and Eve could never know joy. So the Lord taught them they would live and bear children in sorrow, sweat, and thorns.

Still, the ground was cursed for their sake:4 their path of affliction also led to the joy of both redemption and comprehension.5 That is why the husband and wife in a covenant marriage sustain and lift each other when the wolf comes. If Tom and Tracy had understood all this, perhaps they would have walked more slowly from the gardenlike temple grounds, like Adam and Eve, arm in arm, into a harsh and lonely world.

And yet—marrying and raising children can yield the most valuable religious experiences of a couple’s lives. Covenant marriage requires a total leap of faith: they must keep their covenants without knowing what risks that may require of them. They must surrender unconditionally, obeying God and sacrificing for each other. Then they will discover what Alma called “incomprehensible joy.”6

Of course, some have no opportunity to marry. And some divorces are unavoidable. But the Lord will ultimately compensate those faithful ones who are denied mortal fulfillment.

The “Wolf” of Natural Adversity

Every marriage is tested repeatedly by three kinds of wolves. The first wolf is natural adversity. After asking God for years to give them a first child, David and Fran had a baby with a serious heart defect. Following a three-week struggle, they buried their newborn son. Like Adam and Eve before them, they mourned together, brokenhearted, in faith before the Lord.7

The “Wolf” of Personal Imperfections

Second, the wolf of their own imperfections will test them. One woman told me through her tears how her husband’s constant criticism finally destroyed not only their marriage but her entire sense of self-worth. He first complained about her cooking and housecleaning, and then about how she used her time, how she talked, looked, and reasoned. Eventually she felt utterly inept and dysfunctional. My heart ached for her, and for him.

Contrast her with a young woman who had little self-confidence when she first married. Then her husband found so much to praise in her that she gradually began to believe she was a good person and that her opinions mattered. His belief in her rekindled her innate self-worth.

The “Wolf” of Excessive Individualism

The third wolf is the excessive individualism that has spawned today’s contractual attitudes. A seven-year-old girl came home from school crying, “Mom, don’t I belong to you? Our teacher said today that nobody belongs to anybody—children don’t belong to parents, husbands don’t belong to wives. I am yours, aren’t I, Mom?” Her mother held her close and whispered, “Of course you’re mine—and I’m yours too.” Surely marriage partners must respect one another’s individual identity, and family members are neither slaves nor inanimate objects. But this teacher’s fear, shared today by many, is that the bonds of kinship and marriage are not valuable ties that bind, but are, instead, sheer bondage. Ours is the age of the waning of belonging.

The adversary has long cultivated this overemphasis on personal autonomy, and now he feverishly exploits it. Our deepest God-given instinct is to run to the arms of those who need us and sustain us. But he drives us away from each other today with wedges of distrust and suspicion. He exaggerates the need for having space, getting out, and being left alone. Some people believe him—and then they wonder why they feel left alone. And despite admirable exceptions, children in America’s growing number of single-parent families are far more at risk than children in two-parent families.8 The primary cause of today’s general decline in child well-being is a remarkable “collapse of marriage.”9

Modern Questions about Marriage

Many people even wonder these days what marriage is. Should we prohibit same-sex marriage? Should we make divorce more difficult to obtain? Some say these questions are not society’s business because marriage is a private contract.10 But as the modern prophets recently proclaimed, “marriage … is ordained of God.”11 Even secular marriage was historically a three-party covenant among a man, a woman, and the state. Society has a huge interest in the outcome and the offspring of every marriage. So the public nature of marriage distinguishes it from all other relationships. Guests come to weddings, wrote Wendell Berry, because sweethearts “say their vows to the community as much as to one another,” giving themselves not only to each other, but also to the common good “as no contract could ever join them.”12

Observing Covenants Brings Strength

When we observe the covenants we make at the altar of sacrifice, we discover hidden reservoirs of strength. I once said in exasperation to my wife, Marie, “The Lord placed Adam and Eve on the earth as full-grown people. Why couldn’t he have done that with this boy of ours, the one with the freckles and the unruly hair?” She replied, “The Lord gave us that child to make Christians out of us.”

One night Marie exhausted herself for hours encouraging that child to finish a school assignment to build his own diorama of a Native American village on a cookie sheet. It was a test no hireling would have endured. At first he fought her efforts, but by bedtime, I saw him lay “his” diorama proudly on a counter. He started for his bed, then turned around, raced back across the room, and hugged his mother, grinning with his fourth-grade teeth. Later I asked Marie in complete awe, “How did you do it?” She said, “I just made up my mind that I couldn’t leave him, no matter what.” Then she added, “I didn’t know I had it in me.” She discovered deep, internal wellsprings of compassion because the bonds of her covenants gave her strength to lay down her life for her sheep, even an hour at a time.

Be As Shepherds, Not Hirelings

Now I return to Tom and Tracy, who this year discovered wellsprings of their own. Their second baby threatened to come too early to live. They might have made a hireling’s convenient choice and gone on with their lives, letting a miscarriage occur. But because they tried to observe their covenants by sacrifice,13 active, energetic Tracy lay almost motionless at home for five weeks, then in a hospital bed for another five. Tom was with her virtually every hour when he was not working or sleeping. They prayed their child to earth. Then the baby required 11 more weeks in the hospital. But she is here, and she is theirs.

One night as Tracy waited patiently upon the Lord in the hospital, she sensed that perhaps her willingness to sacrifice herself for her baby was in some small way like the Good Shepherd’s sacrifice for her. She said, “I had expected that trying to give so much would be really difficult, but somehow this felt more like a privilege.” As many other parents in Zion have done, she and Tom gave their hearts to God by giving them to their child. In the process they learned that theirs is a covenant marriage, one that binds them to each other and to the Lord.

May we restore the concept of marriage as a covenant, even the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.14 And when the wolf comes, may we be as shepherds, not hirelings, willing to lay down our lives, a day at a time, for the sheep of our covenant. Then, like Adam and Eve, we will have joy.15 In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


  •   1.

    John 10:12–15.

  •   2.

    See Doctrine and Covenants 2.

  •   3.

    2 Nephi 2:23.

  •   4.

    See Moses 4:23.

  •   5.

    See Moses 5:11.

  •   6.

    Alma 28:8.

  •   7.

    See Moses 5:27.

  •   8.

    See Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, “Dan Quayle Was Right,” Atlantic Monthly, Apr. 1993, 47.

  •   9.

    Maggie Gallagher, The Abolition of Marriage (1996), 4.

  •   10.

    See Bruce Dunford, “Governor: Take State Out of Marriage Role,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 9 Jan. 1996, p. A5; “Family Cannot Be Forced,” Salt Lake Tribune, 17 Jan. 1996, p. A10.

  •   11.

    The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 102.

  •   12.

    Wendell Berry, Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community (1993), 125, 137–39; italics added.

  •   13.

    See Doctrine and Covenants 97:8.

  •   14.

    See Doctrine and Covenants 131:2.

  •   15.

    See 2 Nephi 2:25.