We cannot “come off conqueror,” except we first “put off” the selfish, natural man!
—Elder Neal A. Maxwell
President Brigham Young
“Many think that the Devil has rule and power over both body and spirit. Now, I want to tell you that he does not hold any power over man, only so far as the body overcomes the spirit that is in a man, through yielding to the spirit of evil. The spirit that the Lord puts into a tabernacle of flesh, is under the dictation of the Lord Almighty; but the spirit and body are united in order that the spirit may have a tabernacle, and be exalted; and the spirit is influenced by the body, and the body by the spirit.
“In the first place the spirit is pure, and under the special control and influence of the Lord, but the body is of the earth, and is subject to the power of the Devil, and is under the mighty influence of that fallen nature that is of the earth. If the spirit yields to the body, the Devil then has power to overcome the body and spirit of that man, and he loses both” (in Discourses of Brigham Young, 69–70).
“We are the natural sons and daughters of our natural parents, and spiritually we are the natural children of the Father of light and natural heirs to his kingdom; and when we do an evil, we do it in opposition to the promptings of the Spirit of Truth that is within us. Man, the noblest work of God, was in his creation designed for an endless duration, for which the love of all good was incorporated in his nature. It was never designed that he should naturally do and love evil” (in Journal of Discourses, 9:305).
Elder Spencer W. Kimball
“Satan is very much a personal, individual spirit being, but without a mortal body. His desires to seal each of us his are no less ardent in wickedness than our Father’s are in righteousness to attract us to his own eternal kingdom” (Miracle of Forgiveness, 21).
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
“Many things happened in the process of the Fall, including changes that came to the physical bodies of Adam and Eve. For one thing, they fell into ‘nature.’ …
“Part of the natural world Adam and Eve entered included the addition to their bodies of blood—a corruptible ingredient—in what had been to that point an uncorrupted body of bloodless flesh and bone. But even more important than such physical changes were the temptations of and threats to the spirit. Spiritual as well as physical separation from God came with the Fall. Humankind was cut off from the immediate personal companionship with God that Adam and Eve had enjoyed in the garden of Eden. As a result, they were distanced from the Holy Spirit and became less responsive to many of the things of righteousness. …
“Because this doctrine [of the natural man] is so basic to the plan of salvation and also because it is so susceptible to misunderstanding, we must note that these references to ‘natural’ evil emphatically do not mean that men and women are ‘inherently’ evil. There is a crucial difference. As spiritual sons and daughters of God, all mortal men and women are divine in origin and divine in their potential destiny. As Doctrine and Covenants 93:38–39 teaches, the spirit of every man, woman, and child ‘was innocent in the beginning.’ But it is also true that as a result of the Fall they are now in a ‘natural’ (fallen) world where the devil ‘taketh away light’ and where some elements of nature—including temporal human nature—need discipline, restraint, and refinement. It is as if men and women are given, as part of their next step in development along the path to godhood, raw physical and spiritual ingredients—‘natural’ resources, if you will. Those resources are not to run rampant but are to be harnessed and focused so that their power and potential (as is sometimes done with a ‘natural’ river or a ‘natural’ waterfall) can be channeled and thereby made even more productive and beneficial.
“Natural man, with all of his new and wonderful but as yet unbridled and unregenerated potential, must be made ‘submissive’ to the Holy Spirit, a spirit that still entices and lifts us upward. … Our deepest desires, our premortal yearnings, are still divine in their origins, and they are still deep in our souls. The echoes of our earlier innocence still reverberate, and the light that forsakes the evil one still shines. Our hearts can—and in their purity, do—desire that which is spiritual and holy rather than that which is ‘carnal, sensual, and devilish.’ If that were not so, we would be in a hopeless condition indeed, and the idea of real choice would be jeopardized forever. We praise God our Father that our true heritage is of him and that by yielding and submitting to his eternal influence we can overcome the enmity which separated us from him and turn those gifts from nature to our blessing rather than our cursing” (Christ and the New Covenant, 205–7).
Elder Merrill J. Bateman
“The scriptures state that men and women are created in the image of God (see Genesis 1:26–27, Abraham 4:27–28). Both women and men have within them the attributes of divinity, and both are blessed as they fulfill their divine callings. The apostle Peter and King Benjamin indicate that we partake of the divine nature through Christ’s atonement aided by the Holy Ghost (see 2 Peter 1:3–8, Mosiah 3:19). It is interesting to observe the similarity of the fruits of the Spirit to the divine seeds inherited from Heavenly Parents (see Galatians 5:21–22, 2 Peter 1:3–8). Since ‘light cleaveth unto light’ and Spirit to spirit, the Holy Ghost is able to quicken us by a portion of light that causes the divine seeds within to bud and to flower (D&C 88:29, 40). The degree of light and the extent to which the attributes flourish is a function of how well women and men bridle their passions and are obedient to divine principles” (“The Eternal Family,” 112–13).
Elder J. Richard Clarke
“Throughout the ages, evil forces have attacked the family. Why do you suppose Satan is so obsessed with its dissolution? Because it stands for everything he wants and cannot have. He cannot be a husband, a father, or a grandfather. He cannot have posterity now or ever. Satan cannot even keep those he has led away from God. He has no eternal kingdom or inheritance” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1989, 74; or Ensign, May 1989, 60).
Our Fading Civility
President Gordon B. Hinckley
President of the Church
Brigham Young University commencement and inauguration ceremony, 25 Apr. 1996
Your secular education is designed to give you an improved opportunity in the great marketplace of the world. You, in most cases, will be compensated according to the value society places upon your skills.
But, as you have been told before, there should be, there must be, another side to the coin you carry with you from BYU. President David O. McKay, who for many years served as chairman of the Board of Trustees, once said:
“True education does not consist merely in the acquiring of a few facts of science, history, literature or art, but in the development of character. True education awakens a desire to conserve health by keeping the body clean and undefiled. True education trains in self denial and self mastery. True education regulates the temper, subdues passion and makes obedience to social laws and moral order a guiding principle of life. It develops reason and inculcates faith in the living God as the Eternal Father of all” (Conference Report, April 1928, 102). …
In your studies many of you have chronicled the march of civilization. It has been a truly remarkable odyssey as through the centuries society has made progress as people have lived together in communities with respect and concern one for another. This is the hallmark of civilization. And yet at times we wonder how much progress we have really made. This century which now draws to a close has witnessed more wars and more death and suffering than any other century in human history. … Civility and mutual respect seem to have disappeared as people kill one another over ethnic differences.
But civility also appears to be fading much closer to home. Civility covers a host of matters in the relationships among human beings. Its presence is described in such terms as “good manners” and “good breeding.” But everywhere about us we see the opposite. …
It is appalling. It is alarming. And when all is said and done the cost can be attributed almost entirely to human greed, to uncontrolled passion, to a total disregard for the rights of others. In other words to a lack of civility. As one writer has said, “People might think of a civilized community as one in which there is a refined culture. Not necessarily; first and foremost it is one in which the mass of people subdue their selfish instincts in favor of the common well being” (Royal Bank Letter, May–June 1995). He continues: “In recent years the media have raised boorishness to an art form. The hip heroes of movies today deliver gratuitous put downs to ridicule and belittle anyone who gets in their way. Bad manners, apparently, make a saleable commodity. Television situation comedies wallow in vulgarity, stand up comedians base their acts on insults to their audiences, and talk show hosts become rich and famous by snarling at callers and heckling guests” (Ibid).
All of this speaks of anything but refinement. It speaks of anything but courtesy. It speaks of anything but civility. Rather, it speaks of crudeness and rudeness, and an utter insensitivity to the feelings and rights of others.
It is so with much of the language of the day. In schools and in the workplace there is so much of sleazy, evil, filthy language. I hope that every one of you will rise above it. You are now graduates of this great institution. You cannot afford the image of those whose vocabularies are so impoverished that they must reach into the gutter for words with which to express themselves. Along with such uncouth talk is so much of profanity. It too marks a lack of civility. The finger of the Lord wrote on the tablets of stone, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain” (Ex. 20:7).
Sloppy language and sloppy ways go together. I hope that you have learned more than the sciences, the humanities, law, engineering and the arts, while you have been here. I hope that you will carry with you from this hallowed place a certain polish that will mark you as one in love with the better qualities of life, the culture which adds luster to the mundane world of which we are a part, a patina which puts a quiet glow on what otherwise might be base metal.
Said the Savior to the multitude: “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men” (Matt. 5:13).
Civility is what gives savor to our lives. It is the salt that speaks of good taste, good manners, good breeding.
It becomes an expression of the Golden Rule: “Therefore, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matthew 7:12).
Civility is what gives savor to our lives. It is the salt that speaks of good taste, good manners, good breeding.
Discipline a Violent Temper
President Gordon B. Hinckley
First Counselor in the First Presidency
In Conference Report, Oct. 1991, 70–71, 73; or Ensign, Nov. 1991, 50–52
Permit me to read from another letter. Said the writer: “My husband is a good man with many outstanding qualities and character traits, but underneath it all there is a strong streak of authoritarianism. … His volatile temper flares up often enough to remind me of all the potential ugliness of which he is capable.
“President Hinckley, … please remind the brethren that the physical and verbal abuse of women is inexcusable, never acceptable, and a cowardly way of dealing with differences, especially and particularly despicable if the abuser is a priesthood holder.”
Now, I believe that most marriages in the Church are happy, that both husbands and wives in those marriages experience a sense of security and love, of mutual dependence, and an equal sharing of burdens. I am confident that the children in those homes, at least in the vast majority of them, are growing up with a sense of peace and security, knowing that they are appreciated and loved by both of their parents, who, they feel, love one another. But I am confident, my brethren, that there is enough of the opposite to justify what I am saying.
Who can calculate the wounds inflicted, their depth and pain, by harsh and mean words spoken in anger? How pitiful a sight is a man who is strong in many ways but who loses all control of himself when some little thing, usually of no significant consequence, disturbs his equanimity. In every marriage there are, of course, occasional differences. But I find no justification for tempers that explode on the slightest provocation.
Said the writer of Proverbs, “Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous” (Proverbs 27:4).
A violent temper is such a terrible, corrosive thing. And the tragedy is that it accomplishes no good; it only feeds evil with resentment and rebellion and pain. To any man or boy within the sound of my voice who has trouble controlling his tongue, may I suggest that you plead with the Lord for the strength to overcome your weakness, that you apologize to those you have offended, and that you marshal within yourselves the power to discipline your tongue.
To the boys who are here, may I suggest that you watch your temper now, in these formative years of your life. As Brother [David B.] Haight has reminded you, this is the season to develop the power and capacity to discipline yourselves. You may think it is the macho thing to flare up in anger and swear and profane the name of the Lord. It is not the macho thing. It is an indication of weakness. Anger is not an expression of strength. It is an indication of one’s inability to control his thoughts, words, his emotions. Of course it is easy to get angry. When the weakness of anger takes over, the strength of reason leaves. Cultivate within yourselves the mighty power of self-discipline. …
Who can calculate the wounds inflicted, their depth and pain, by harsh and mean words spoken in anger?
Beauty of Happy Marriage
How beautiful is the marriage of a young man and a young woman who begin their lives together kneeling at the altar in the house of the Lord, pledging their love and loyalty one to another for time and all eternity. When children come into that home, they are nurtured and cared for, loved and blessed with the feeling that their father loves their mother. In that environment they find peace and strength and security. Watching their father, they develop respect for women. They are taught self-control and self-discipline, which bring the strength to avoid later tragedy.
The years pass. The children eventually leave the home, one by one. And the father and the mother are again alone. But they have each other to talk with, to depend on, to nurture, to encourage, and to bless. There comes the autumn of life and a looking back with satisfaction and gladness. Through all of the years there has been loyalty, one to the other. There has been deference and courtesy. Now there is a certain mellowness, a softening, an effect that partakes of a hallowed relationship. They realize that death may come anytime, usually to one first with a separation of a season brief or lengthy. But they know also that because their companionship was sealed under the authority of the eternal priesthood and they have lived worthy of the blessings, there will be a reunion sweet and certain.
Brethren, this is the way our Father in Heaven would have it. This is the Lord’s way. He has so indicated. His prophets have spoken of it.
It takes effort. It takes self-control. It takes unselfishness. It requires the true essence of love, which is an anxious concern for the well-being and happiness of one’s companion. I could wish nothing better for all of you than this, and I pray that this may be your individual blessing, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Put Off the Natural Man, and Come Off Conqueror
Elder Neal A. Maxwell
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
In Conference Report, Oct. 1990, 15–19; or Ensign, Nov. 1990, 14–16
The Dangers of Selfishness
So many times prophets warn about the dangers of selfishness—the inordinate and excessive concern with self. The distance between constant self-pleasing and self-worship is shorter than we think. Stubborn selfishness is actually rebellion against God, because, warned Samuel, “stubbornness is as … idolatry” (1 Samuel 15:23).
Selfishness is much more than an ordinary problem because it activates all the cardinal sins! It is the detonator in the breaking of the Ten Commandments.
By focusing on oneself, it is naturally easier to bear false witness if it serves one’s purpose. It is easier to ignore one’s parents instead of honoring them. It is easier to steal, because what one wants prevails. It is easier to covet, since the selfish conclude that nothing should be denied them.
It is easier to commit sexual sins, because to please oneself is the name of that deadly game in which others are often cruelly used. The Sabbath day is easily neglected, since one day soon becomes just like another. If selfish, it is easier to lie, because the truth is conveniently subordinated.
The selfish individual thus seeks to please not God, but himself. He will even break a covenant in order to fix an appetite.
The last days will be rampant with the cardinal sins, just “as in the days of Noah.” Society in the days of Noah, scriptures advise, “was corrupt before God” and “filled with violence” (Genesis 6:11; Moses 8:28). Corruption and violence—sound familiar? Both of these awful conditions crest because of surging individual selfishness. When thus engulfed, no wonder men’s hearts in our day will fail them because of fear (see Luke 21:26; D&C 45:26). Even the faithful can expect a few fibrillations.
Some selfishness exists even in good people. Jane Austen’s character Elizabeth mused, “I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle” (Pride and Prejudice [New York: Airmont Books, 1962], p. 58). The selfish individual has a passion for the vertical pronoun I. Significantly, the vertical pronoun I has no knees to bend, while the first letter in the pronoun we does.
Selfishness, in its preoccupation with self, withholds from others deserved, needed praise, causing a deprivation instead of giving a commendation.
We see in ourselves other familiar forms of selfishness: accepting or claiming undeserved credit; puffing deserved credit; being glad when others go wrong; resenting the genuine successes of others; preferring public vindication to private reconciliation; and taking “advantage of one because of his words” (2 Nephi 28:8). All things are thus viewed selfishly—what are their implications for “me,” much like the mattress on the highway which delayed traffic. When frustrated motorists finally got around the mattress, none stopped to remove it because now there was nothing in it for him.
The Prophet Joseph Smith declared, “Mankind [is] naturally selfish, ambitious, and striving to excel one above another” (The Words of Joseph Smith, comp. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook [Provo: Brigham Young University Religious Studies Center, 1980], p. 201).
Saul, swollen with selfishness, was reminded about an earlier time “when thou wast little in thine own sight” (1 Samuel 15:17).
Jesus’ Example of Meekness
Selfishness is often expressed in stubbornness of mind. Having a “mind hardened in pride” often afflicts the brightest who could also be the best (Daniel 5:20). “One thing” the brightest often lack: meekness! Instead of having “a willing mind” which seeks to emulate the “mind of Christ,” a “mind hardened in pride” is impervious to counsel and often seeks ascendancy (1 Chronicles 28:9; 1 Corinthians 2:16; D&C 64:34). Jesus, who was and is “more intelligent than they all,” is also more meek than they all (Abraham 3:19).
Jesus put everything on the altar without fanfare or bargaining. Both before and after His astonishing atonement, He declared, “Glory be to the Father” (D&C 19:19; see also Moses 4:2). Jesus, stunningly brilliant, nevertheless allowed His will to be “swallowed up in the will of the Father” (Mosiah 15:7; see also John 6:38). Those with pride-hardened minds are simply unable to do this.
Put off the Natural Man
Stubborn selfishness leads otherwise good people to fight over herds, patches of sand, and strippings of milk. All this results from what the Lord calls coveting “the drop,” while neglecting “the more weighty matters” (D&C 117:8). Myopic selfishness magnifies a mess of pottage and makes thirty pieces of silver look like a treasure trove. In our intense acquisitiveness, we forget Him who once said, “What is property unto me?” (D&C 117:4).
Such is the scope of putting off the burdensome natural man, who is naturally selfish (see Mosiah 3:19). So much of our fatigue, brothers and sisters, in fact, comes from carrying that needless load. This heaviness of the natural man prevents us from doing our Christian calisthenics; so we end up too swollen with selfishness to pass through the narrow needle’s eye.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote of the need to “shed my Martha-like anxiety about many things, … shedding pride, … shedding hypocrisy in human relationships. What a rest that will be! The most exhausting thing in life, I have discovered,” she said, “is being insincere. That is why so much of social life is exhausting” (Gift from the Sea [New York: Vintage Books, 1978], p. 32).
Unchecked selfishness thus stubbornly blocks the way for developing all of the divine qualities: love, mercy, patience, long-suffering, kindness, graciousness, goodness, and gentleness. Any tender sprouts from these virtues are sheared off by sharp selfishness. Contrariwise, brothers and sisters, I cannot think of a single gospel covenant the keeping of which does not shear off selfishness from us!
But what a battle for some of us! We are all afflicted in different degrees. The question is, How goes the battle? Is our selfishness being put off—even if only gradually? Or is the natural man like “the man who came to dinner”? Divine tutoring is given largely in order to help us shed our selfishness, “for what son [or daughter] is [there] whom the father chasteneth not?” (Hebrews 12:7).
Divine tutoring is given largely in order to help us shed our selfishness.
Important Spiritual Perspectives
Restoration scriptures tell us much more about how we can really be forgiven through the atonement of Christ by means of which, finally, “mercy … overpowereth justice” (Alma 34:15). We can have real and justified hope for the future—enough hope to develop the faith necessary both to put off the natural man and to strive to become more saintly.
Furthermore, because the centerpiece of the Atonement is already in place, we know that everything else in God’s plan will likewise finally succeed. God is surely able to do His own work! (see 2 Nephi 27:20–21.) In His plans for the human family, long ago God made ample provision for all mortal mistakes. His purposes will all triumph and without abrogating man’s moral agency. Moreover, all His purposes will come to pass in their time (see D&C 64:32).
However, without these later and other spiritual perspectives, see how differently we behave. Take away an acknowledgment of divine design, and then watch the selfish scurrying to redesign political and economic systems to make life pain-free and pleasure-filled. Misguided governments mean to live, even if they live beyond their means, thereby mortgaging future generations.
Take away regard for the divinity in one’s neighbor, and watch the decline in our regard for his property.
Take away basic moral standards, and observe how quickly tolerance changes into permissiveness.
Take away the sacred sense of belonging to a family or community, and observe how quickly citizens cease to care for big cities.
Take away regard for the seventh commandment, and behold the current celebration of sex, the secular religion with its own liturgy of lust and supporting music. Its theology focuses on “self.” Its hereafter is “now.” Its chief ritual is “sensation”—though, ironically, it finally desensitizes its obsessed adherents, who become “past feeling” (Ephesians 4:19; Moroni 9:20).
Thus, in all its various expressions, selfishness is really self-destruction in slow motion!
Each spasm of selfishness narrows the universe that much more by shutting down our awareness of others and by making us more and more alone. Sensations are then desperately sought precisely in order to verify that one really exists. A variation occurs when one is full of self-pity over affectional deprivation. He ends up in transgression.
Surging selfishness presents us with a sobering scene as the natural man acts out his wants. Many assert their needs—but where have we lodged the corresponding obligations? So many have become demanders, but where are all the providers? There are many more people with things to say than there are listeners. There are more neglected and aging parents than there are attentive sons and daughters—though, numerically, clearly it should not be so!
Come off Conqueror
Just as Jesus warned that some evil spirits would come out only with “prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21), the “natural man” does not come off without difficulty either.
Of this personal battle, the Lord has urged us to so live that we would “come off conqueror” (D&C 10:5). But we cannot “come off conqueror,” except we first “put off” the selfish, natural man!
The natural man is truly God’s enemy, because the natural man will keep God’s precious children from true and everlasting happiness. Our full happiness requires our becoming the men and women of Christ.
Men and Women of Christ
The meek men and women of Christ are quick to praise, but are also able to restrain themselves. They understand that on occasion the biting of the tongue can be as important as the gift of tongues.
The man and woman of Christ are easily entreated, but the selfish person is not. Christ never brushed aside those in need because He had bigger things to do! Furthermore, the men and women of Christ are constant, being the same in private as in public. We cannot keep two sets of books while heaven has but one.
The men and women of Christ magnify their callings without magnifying themselves. Whereas the natural man says “Worship me” and “Give me thine power,” the men and women of Christ seek to exercise power by long-suffering and unfeigned love (see Moses 1:12; 4:3; D&C 121:41).
Whereas the natural man vents his anger, the men and women of Christ are “not easily provoked” (1 Corinthians 13:5). Whereas the natural man is filled with greed, the men and women of Christ “seeketh not [their] own” (1 Corinthians 13:5). Whereas the natural man seldom denies himself worldly pleasures, the men and women of Christ seek to bridle all their passions (see Alma 38:12).
Whereas the natural man covets praise and riches, the men and women of Christ know such things are but the “drop” (D&C 117:8). Human history’s happiest irony will be that the covenant-keeping, unselfish individuals will finally receive “all that [the] Father hath”! (D&C 84:38).
We Do Not Own Ourselves
One of the last, subtle strongholds of selfishness is the natural feeling that we “own” ourselves. Of course we are free to choose and are personally accountable. Yes, we have individuality. But those who have chosen to “come unto Christ” soon realize that they do not “own” themselves. Instead, they belong to Him. We are to become consecrated along with our gifts, our appointed days, and our very selves. Hence, there is a stark difference between stubbornly “owning” oneself and submissively belonging to God. Clinging to the old self is not a mark of independence, but of indulgence!
Blessings of Shedding Selfishness
The Prophet Joseph promised that when selfishness is annihilated, we “may comprehend all things, present, past, and future” (The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, comp. Dean C. Jessee [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1984], p. 485). Even now, however, in gospel glimpses we can see “things as they really are” (Jacob 4:13).
Indeed, the gospel brings glorious illumination as to our possibilities. Scales fall from our eyes with the shedding of selfishness. Then we see our luminous and true identity:
[Alan Jay Lerner, “On a Clear Day” (Chappell and Co., 1965)]
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Further reading on the “natural man”:
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