Chapter 11: Choosing to Walk in Obedience

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, (1997), 70–77


President Brigham Young directed the immigration of thousands of Saints to Zion, often giving instruction in such small details as not yoking tired animals with fresh ones. However, he also encouraged the Saints to show energetic self-reliance and to make intelligent choices. He counseled: “It is absolutely necessary for every man, woman, and child who embraces this work and gathers to Zion to do all that he or she can to forward the work of God to build up Zion, and to aid in the redemption thereof. … Our zeal in this labor … has a tendency to develop energy and self-reliance in the Saints that they could not otherwise have, were they not to be thrown on their resources” (LL, 220–21). President Young taught that “all the sacrifice that the Lord asks of his people is strict obedience to our own covenants” (DBY, 225).

Teachings of Brigham Young

We have agency to choose good or evil, but we cannot choose the consequences of our choices.

All rational beings have an agency of their own; and according to their own choice they will be saved or damned (DBY, 62).

Can the people understand that it is actually necessary for opposite principles to be placed before them, or this state of being would be no probation, and we should have no opportunity for exercising the agency given us? Can they understand that we cannot obtain eternal life unless we actually know and comprehend by our experience the principle of good and the principle of evil, the light and the darkness, truth, virtue, and holiness,—also vice, wickedness, and corruption? (DBY, 66).

Man can produce and control his own acts, but he has no control over their results (DBY, 63).

There is not an individual upon the earth but what has within himself ability to save or to destroy himself; and such is the case with nations (DBY, 67).

There are limits to agency, and to all things and to all beings, and our agency must not infringe upon that law. A man must choose life or death [see Helaman 14:31], and if he chooses death he will find himself abridged, and that the agency which is given to him is so bound up that he cannot exercise it in opposition to the law, without laying himself liable to be corrected and punished by the Almighty. (DBY, 63).

A man can dispose of his agency or of his birthright, as did Esau of old, but when disposed of, he cannot again obtain it; consequently, it behooves us to be careful, and not forfeit that agency that is given to us. The difference between the righteous and the sinner, eternal life or death, happiness or misery, is this, to those who are exalted there are no bounds or limits to their privileges, their blessings have a continuation, and to their kingdoms, thrones, and dominions, principalities, and powers there is no end, but they increase through all eternity; whereas, those who reject the offer, who despise the proffered mercies of the Lord, and prepare themselves to be banished from his presence, and to become companions of the devils, have their agency abridged immediately, and bounds and limits are put to their operations (DBY, 63–64).

The Lord does not compel any person to embrace the Gospel, and I do not think he will compel them to live it after they have embraced it (DBY, 64).

He has given them the privilege of choosing for themselves, whether it be good or evil; but the result of our choice is still in his hand (DBY, 62).

The eternal laws by which he and all others exist in the eternities of the Gods decree that the consent of the creature must be obtained before the Creator can rule perfectly (DBY, 65).

I am not going to drive a man or a woman to heaven. A great many think that they will be able to flog people into heaven, but this can never be done, for the intelligence in us is as independent as the Gods. People are not to be driven and you can put into a gnat’s eye all the souls of the children of men that are driven into heaven by preaching hell-fire (DBY, 64).

You may know whether you are led right or wrong, as well as you know the way home; for every principle God has revealed carries its own convictions of its truth to the human mind, and there is no calling of God to man on earth but what brings with it the evidence of its authenticity (DBY, 65).

Does it follow that a man is deprived of his rights, because he lists in his heart to do the will of God? Must a man swear to prove that he has an agency? I contend there is no necessity for that, nor for stealing nor for doing any wrong. I can manifest to the heavens and to the inhabitants of the earth that I am free-born, and have my liberty before God, angels and men, when I kneel down to pray, certainly as much as if I were to go out and swear. I have the right to call my family together at certain hours for prayer, and I believe that this course proves that I am a free agent, as much as if I were to steal, swear, lie, and get drunk (DBY, 65).

In rendering that strict obedience, are we made slaves? No, it is the only way on the face of the earth for you and me to become free. … Now to say that I do not enjoy the volition of my own will just as much when I pray as I would to swear, is a false principle. … The man who yields strict obedience to the requirements of Heaven, acts upon the volition of his own will and exercises his freedom just as much as when he was a slave to passion. … All that the Lord requires of us is strict obedience to the laws of life. All the sacrifice that the Lord asks of his people is strict obedience to our own covenants that we have made with our God, and that is to serve him with an undivided heart (DBY, 225).

pioneer wagon train

Photograph of early Saints demonstrating their obedience by answering a call from the prophet to settle the Big Horn Basin of Wyoming in 1900.

Obedience to truth will enable us to dwell in the presence of the Almighty.

Obedience is one of the plainest, most every-day and home principles that you ever thought or know anything about (DBY, 220).

Blessed are they who obey when the Lord gives a direct commandment, but more blessed are they who obey without a direct commandment (DBY, 220).

If we hearken to counsel, we shall be the best people in the world; we shall be as a bright light set upon a hill, that cannot be hid, or like a candle upon a candlestick (DBY, 219).

If you wish to receive and enjoy the favor of our Heavenly Father, do his will (DBY, 223).

If our hearts are filled with the Spirit of truth, with the Spirit of the Lord, no matter what the true words from heaven are, when God speaks, all his subjects should shout, “Hallelujah! praise God! We are ready to receive those words, for they are true” (DBY, 219).

How I long to see the brethren, when they hear the words of truth poured upon them, ready to receive those words because they are perfectly congenial to their feelings, and every soul exclaim, “Those words savor of the Spirit that is in me; they are my delight, my meat, and my drink; they are the streams of eternal life. How congenial they are, instead of their being contrary to my feelings” (DBY, 219).

If you would always pause and say, I have no counsel for you, I have no answer for you on this subject, because I have no manifestation of the Spirit, and be willing to let everybody in the world know that you are ignorant when you are, you would become wise a great deal quicker than to give counsel on your own judgment, without the Spirit of revelation (DBY, 219).

Every man in the Kingdom of God would give the same counsel upon each subject, if he would wait until he had the mind of Christ upon it. Then all would have one word and mind, and all men would see eye to eye (DBY, 219).

This people have got to become of one heart and one mind. They have to know the will of God and do it, for to know the will of God is one thing, and to bring our wills, our dispositions, into subjection to that which we do understand to be the will of God is another (DBY, 221).

The Latter-day Saints who hearken to the words of the Lord, given to them touching their political, social, and financial concerns, I say, and say it boldly, that they will have wisdom which is altogether superior to the wisdom of the children of darkness, or the children of this world. I know this by the revelations of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by the results of my own actions. They who have hearkened to the counsels given to them in temporal matters, have invariably bettered their condition temporally and spiritually (DBY, 219–20).

All who receive eternal life and salvation will receive it on no other conditions than believing in the Son of God and obeying the principles that he has laid down. Can we devise any other means and plan of salvation? We cannot (DBY, 223–24).

The most effectual way to establish the religion of Heaven is to live it, rather than to die for it: I think I am safe in saying that there are many of the Latter-day Saints who are more willing to die for their religion than to live it faithfully. There is no other proof can be adduced to God, angels, and men, that a people faithfully live their religion, than that they repent truly of their sins, obey the law of baptism for the remission of sins, and then continue to do the works of righteousness day by day (DBY, 221).

Do you think that people will obey the truth because it is true, unless they love it? No, they will not. Truth is obeyed when it is loved. Strict obedience to the truth will alone enable people to dwell in the presence of the Almighty (DBY, 220).

Is there any particular art in making this people obedient? There is just one. If you, Elders of Israel, can get the art of preaching the Holy Ghost into the hearts of the people, you will have an obedient people. This is the only art required. Teach the people truth, teach them correct principles; show them what is for their greatest good and don’t you think they will follow in that path? They will (DBY, 226).

We learn to obey willingly and bear chastisements when we accept the Spirit of Truth.

The Saints who live their religion will be exalted, for they never will deny any revelation which the Lord has given or may give, though, when there is a doctrine coming to them which they cannot comprehend fully, they may be found saying, “The Lord sendeth this unto me, and I pray that he will save and preserve me from denying anything which proceedeth from him, and give me patience to wait until I can understand it for myself” (DBY, 224).

Such persons will never deny, but will allow those subjects which they do not understand, to remain until the visions of their minds become open. This is the course which I have invariably pursued, and if anything came that I could not understand, I would pray until I could comprehend it (DBY, 224).

Do not reject anything because it is new or strange, and do not sneer nor jeer at what comes from the Lord, for if we do, we endanger our salvation (DBY, 224).

I believe that it is a hell intolerable for a people, a family or a single person, to strive to grasp truth with one hand, and error with the other, to profess to walk in obedience to the commandments of God, and, at the same time, mingle heart and hand with the wicked (DBY, 223).

The Lord has sent forth his laws, commandments, and ordinances to the children of men, and requires them to be strictly obeyed, and we do not wish to transgress those laws, but to keep them. We do not wish to change his ordinances, but to observe them; we do not wish to break the everlasting covenant, but to keep that with our fathers, with Jesus, with our Father in Heaven, with holy angels, and to live according to them (DBY, 220).

How shall we know that we obey him? There is but one method by which we can know it, and that is by the inspiration of the Spirit of the Lord witnessing unto our spirit that we are his, that we love him, and that he loves us. It is by the spirit of revelation we know this. We have no witness to ourselves internally, without the spirit of revelation. We have no witness outwardly, only by obedience to the ordinances (DBY, 224).

Anything that is impure must, sooner or later, perish; no matter whether it is in the faith and practice of an individual, town, nation, or government. That kingdom, principality, power or person that is not controlled by principles that are pure and holy must eventually pass away and perish (DBY, 227).

When salvation is sent to me, I can reject or receive it. In receiving it, I yield implicit obedience and submission to its great Author throughout my life, and to those whom he shall appoint to instruct me; in rejecting it, I follow the dictates of my own will in preference to the will of my Creator (DBY, 390).

God has placed within us a will, and we should be satisfied to have it controlled by the will of the Almighty (DBY, 264).

We as a people, will be chastened until we can wholly submit ourselves to the Lord and be Saints indeed (DBY, 226).

I know it is hard to receive chastisement, for no chastisement is joyous, but grievous at the time it is given [see Hebrews 12:11]; but if a person will receive chastisement and pray for the Holy Spirit to rest upon him, that he may have the Spirit of truth in his heart, and cleave to that which is pleasing to the Lord, the Lord will give him grace to bear the chastisement, and he will submit to and receive it, knowing that it is for his good (DBY, 227).

Suggestions for Study

We have agency to choose good or evil, but we cannot choose the consequences of our choices.

  • Why is it “actually necessary for opposite principles to be placed before” God’s children and for them to have “an agency of their own”?

  • President Young taught that “man can produce and control his own acts, but he has no control over their results.” (See also D&C 101:78.) In what ways do some people claim freedom of choice while trying to avoid the consequences of their choices?

  • How does President Young define the “difference between the righteous and the sinner”? How might we limit or abridge our agency? President Young taught that the “exalted” have “no bounds or limits to their privileges.” How does strict obedience actually increase our freedom?

  • Why will God not “compel any person to embrace the Gospel … [or] to live it after they have embraced it”? (See also D&C 88:22–25, 32.)

  • Why does President Young emphasize that obedience is just as much an exercise in agency as is disobedience? Why is “strict obedience … the only way on the face of the earth for you and me to become free”? (See also Mosiah 2:22–24.)

Obedience to truth will enable us to dwell in the presence of the Almighty.

  • Why is obedience “one of the plainest, most every-day and home principles”? Why does obedience enable us to “receive and enjoy the favor of our Heavenly Father”?

  • What does it mean to become “of one heart and one mind”? How does obedience help us do this?

We learn to obey willingly and bear chastisements when we accept the Spirit of Truth.

  • According to President Young, what is our obligation when we don’t understand a doctrine or revelation? (See also Ecclesiastes 12:13; John 7:17; Ether 12:6; D&C 11:20.)

  • How can we know when we are obedient to God’s will and how can we teach obedience?

  • How does a willingness to submit our will to the will of the Almighty help us become more like the Savior? What does it mean to “wholly submit ourselves to the Lord”?

  • To chasten is to correct and to purify. Why is chastisement often difficult to receive? (See also Hebrews 12:11.) What did President Young teach about how we can bear chastisement? Where can chastisement lead?