On 4 December 1920, Elder David O. McKay and his traveling companion, Hugh J. Cannon, a stake president and editor of the Church magazine the Improvement Era, began an assignment from the First Presidency to visit and strengthen Church members throughout the world. Their trip lasted one year and took them approximately 60,000 miles, over half that distance traveled on water. On the evening of 10 May 1921, as they sailed toward what is now Western Samoa, Elder McKay had the following experience:
“Toward evening, the reflection of the afterglow of a beautiful sunset was most splendid! … Pondering still upon this beautiful scene, I lay in my [bed] at ten o’clock that night. … I then fell asleep, and beheld in vision something infinitely sublime. In the distance I beheld a beautiful white city. Though it was far away, yet I seemed to realize that trees with luscious fruit, shrubbery with gorgeously tinted leaves, and flowers in perfect bloom abounded everywhere. The clear sky above seemed to reflect these beautiful shades of color. I then saw a great concourse of people approaching the city. Each one wore a white flowing robe and a white headdress. Instantly my attention seemed centered upon their leader, and though I could see only the profile of his features and his body, I recognized him at once as my Savior! The tint and radiance of his countenance were glorious to behold. There was a peace about him which seemed sublime—it was divine!
“The city, I understood, was his. It was the City Eternal; and the people following him were to abide there in peace and eternal happiness.
“But who were they?
“As if the Savior read my thoughts, he answered by pointing to a semicircle that then appeared above them, and on which were written in gold the words:
In his first general conference address as President of the Church, President McKay reaffirmed his testimony of the Savior and of the blessings that come to those who follow Him:
“No one can preside over this Church without first being in tune with the head of the Church, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He is our head. This is his Church. Without his divine guidance and constant inspiration, we cannot succeed. With his guidance, with his inspiration, we cannot fail. …
“… I know the reality of his existence, of his willingness to guide and direct all who serve him.”3
Teachings of David O. McKay
Christ is the Light to humanity.
Christ is the light to humanity. In that light man sees his way clearly; when it is rejected, the soul of man stumbles in darkness. No person, no group, no nation can achieve true success without following him who said:
“I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” (John 8:12.)
It is a sad thing when individuals and nations extinguish that light—when Christ and his gospel are supplanted by the law of the jungle and the strength of the sword. The chief tragedy in the world at the present time is its disbelief in God’s goodness and its lack of faith in the teachings and doctrines of the gospel.4
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes that in his life and teachings Jesus Christ reveals a standard of personal living and of social relations that, if fully embodied in individual lives and in human institutions, would not only ameliorate the present ills of society, but would also bring happiness and peace to mankind.
If it be said that … so-called Christian nations have failed to achieve such a goal, we answer that all failure to do so may be found in the fact that they have failed to apply the principles and teachings of true Christianity. …
… The human family has suffered from unrestrained expressions and manifestations of selfishness, hatred, envy, greed—animal passions that have led to war, devastation, pestilence, and death. If even the simplest principles of the Savior’s teachings had been observed, history would have been changed.5
When Christians throughout the world have this faith [in Christ] coursing in their blood, when they feel a loyalty in their hearts to the resurrected Christ, and to the principles connoted thereby, mankind will have taken the first great step toward the perpetual peace for which we daily are praying: Reject Him and the world will be filled with hatred, and drenched in blood by recurring wars.6
The gospel of Jesus Christ is the crucible in which hate, envy, and greed are consumed, and good will, kindness, and love remain as inner aspirations by which man truly lives and builds.
Let men and women everywhere keep their eyes upon him who ever shines as a Light to all the world—for Christ is the Way, the Truth, the Life, the only safe Guide to that haven of peace for which people the wide world over are earnestly praying.7
Christ taught and exemplified the way to the ideal life among our fellowmen.
“How can we know the way?” asked Thomas, as he sat with his fellow apostles and their Lord at the table after the supper on the memorable night of the betrayal; and Christ’s divine answer was: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. …” (John 14:5–6.) And so he is! He is the source of our comfort, the inspiration of our life, the author of our salvation. If we want to know our relationship to God, we go to Jesus Christ. If we would know the truth of the immortality of the soul, we have it exemplified in the Savior’s resurrection.
If we desire to learn the ideal life to lead among our fellowmen, we can find a perfect example in the life of Jesus. Whatsoever our noble desires, our lofty aspirations, our ideals in any phase of life, we can look to Christ and find perfection. So, in seeking a standard for moral manhood, we need only to go to the Man of Nazareth and in him find embodied all virtues that go to make the perfect man.
The virtues that combined to make this perfect character are truth, justice, wisdom, benevolence, and self-control. His every thought, word, and deed were in harmony with divine law and, therefore, true. The channel of communication between him and the Father was constantly open, so that truth, which rests upon revelation, was always known to him.8
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints accepts as literally true the words of Jesus: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10.) We believe, however, that this abundant life is obtained not only from spiritual exaltation, but also by the application to daily life of the principles that Jesus taught.
These principles are few and simple and may, if desired, be applied by every normal person. The first of these, and the foundation upon which a true Christian society is built, is: “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. …” (Mark 12:30.) A belief in a Supreme Being who lives and loves his children—a belief that gives power and vigor to the soul. An assurance that he can be approached for guidance, and that he will manifest himself to those who seek him.
Another is the acceptance of the truth that life is a gift of God and therefore divine. The proper use of this gift impels man to become the master, not the slave, of nature. His appetites are to be controlled and used for the benefit of his health and the prolongation of life. His passions are to be mastered and controlled for the happiness and blessings of others and the perpetuity of the race.
A third principle is personal integrity. By this I mean plain, everyday honesty, sobriety, and respect for others’ rights, such as will win the confidence of one’s fellows. This recognition applies to nations as well as to individuals. It is as wrong for a nation, because it is powerful, to steal from another and oppress it as it is for an individual to rob and kill his neighbor.
A fourth essential is social consciousness that awakens in each individual the realization that it is his duty to make the world better for his having been in it.9
The Savior’s life was guided principally by … Individual Purity and Service. He kept himself wholly unspotted from the sins of the world, and devoted his life to the consideration of others, to salvation for the human family. He was always looking out for the oppressed, comforting the sick, healing the maimed and disabled, giving his life for the world.10
There is imperative need of a drastic change in men’s dealings with one another. Never has there been a time in the history of the world when a change for the better was more imperative. And since rejection of Christ’s teachings has resulted in repeated disaster, with only intermittent periods of respite and peace and progress, why in the name of reason should people not be willing to substitute for selfish aggrandizement Christ’s principle of brotherly consideration, of fair dealing, of the value and sacredness of human life, of the virtue of forgiveness, of the condemnation of the sin of hypocrisy and of covetousness, of the saving power of love.11
Members of the Church of Christ are under obligation to make the sinless Son of Man their ideal. He is the one Perfect Being who ever walked the earth; the sublimest example of nobility; Godlike in nature; perfect in his love; our Redeemer; our Savior; the immaculate Son of our Eternal Father; the Light, the Life, the Way.12
I accept Jesus Christ as the personification of human perfection.13
Christ’s teachings are applicable to everyday life.
I believe in every word that Jesus spoke, and to me the teaching is applicable in my life and yours. Keeping in mind the fact that we are the children of our Father in heaven, when we seek the kingdom of God, first, we become conscious of a new aim in life. … Only in the complete surrender of our inner life may we rise above the selfish, sordid pull of nature. …
For two thousand years, practically, men have considered [Christ’s teachings] as impractical—too ideal, they say, but if we sincerely believe in Christ’s divinity, that he is “the way, the truth, and the life” (see John 14:6), we cannot consistently doubt the applicability of his teachings to everyday life.
True, there are weighty problems to solve—evils of the slums, the ever-recurring conflicts between labor and capital, drunkenness, prostitution, international hatreds, and a hundred other current questions. But if heeded, Christ’s appeal for personal integrity, honor, fair-dealing, and love is basic in the proper solution of all these social and economic difficulties.
Most certainly before the world even approaches these ideals, men’s hearts must be changed. Christ came into the world for that very purpose. The principal reason for preaching the gospel is to change men’s hearts and lives. … Those who have been converted … can testify how the conversion has changed their lives. … By such conversion they bring peace and good will to the world instead of strife [and] suffering.14
As a first step, … make truly applicable the simple injunction of putting one’s self in the other fellow’s place, the surest of all means of eliminating the bitterness that characterizes misunderstandings.
No thinking person can say truthfully that the application of this one simple act if practiced among individuals and nations would not bring about a better world!
Equally effective and applicable are His teachings regarding the value and sacredness of human life, the virtue of forgiveness, the necessity of fair dealing, His condemnation of the sin of hypocrisy, and of covetousness, His teachings regarding the saving power of love, and of the immortality of the soul.15
Living the teachings of Christ leads to true greatness and happiness.
No man can sincerely resolve to apply in his daily life the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth without sensing a change in his nature. The phrase “born again” has a deeper significance than what many people attach to it. This changed feeling may be indescribable, but it is real.
Happy the person who has truly sensed the uplifting, transforming power that comes from this nearness to the Savior, this kinship to the living Christ. I am thankful that I know that Christ is my Redeemer.16
The highest of all ideals are the teachings and particularly the life of Jesus of Nazareth, and that man is most truly great who is most Christlike.
What you sincerely in your heart think of Christ will determine what you are, will largely determine what your acts will be. No person can study this divine personality, can accept his teachings without becoming conscious of an uplifting and refining influence within himself.17
By choosing him as our ideal, we create within ourselves a desire to be like him, to have fellowship with him. We perceive life as it should be and as it may be.18
He promised no material rewards, but he did promise perfected, divine manhood. … “Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” [See Matthew 5:48.] And with that divine manhood comes the resultant happiness, true happiness.19
The gospel, the glad tidings of great joy, is the true guide to mankind; and that man or woman is happiest and most content who lives nearest to its teachings, which are the antitheses of hatred, persecution, tyranny, domination, injustice—things which foster tribulation, destruction, and death throughout the world. What the sun in the heavenly blue is to the earth struggling to get free from winter’s grip, so the gospel of Jesus Christ is to the sorrowing souls yearning for something higher and better than mankind has yet found on earth.
What a glorious condition will be in this old world when it can truthfully be said to Christ, the Redeemer of mankind, “All men seek for thee.” (Mark 1:37.) Selfishness, envy, hatred, lying, stealing, cheating, disobedience, quarreling, and fighting among nations will then be no more!20
We celebrate his birth in whose mission on earth (1) God is glorified; (2) earth is promised peace; (3) all men [are] given the assurance of God’s good will toward them!
If every man born into the world would have as the beacon of his life these three glorious ideals—how much sweeter and happier life would be! With such an aim, everyone would seek all that is pure, just, honorable, virtuous, and true—all that leads to perfection. … He would eschew that which is impure, dishonorable, or vile. If every man desired to show good will toward his fellow men and strove to express that desire in a thousand kind sayings and little deeds that would reflect unselfishness and self-sacrifice, what a contribution each would make toward universal peace on earth and the happiness of mankind!21
What a more delightful world this would be if, for example, man earnestly strove to apply Christ’s advice: “If ye have aught against a brother, go to him.” [See Matthew 5:23–24.] Or, again, His admonition: “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” [see Matthew 6:33], which means, simply, be not so anxious about worldly things as to make them of superior worth to spiritual attainment.22
I feel, and know, that through him and through him only, and by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ, can we find happiness and salvation in this world and eternal life in the world to come.23
Suggestions for Study and Discussion
What are some of the major problems facing mankind today? What specific principles taught by Jesus Christ would help resolve these problems? How would they help resolve them?
Why is faith in Jesus Christ essential to improve conditions in the world today? What does it mean to you that Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life”?
What prevents people today from applying the Savior’s teachings in their lives? In what ways can we as a Church and as individuals promote His standards in the world?
Jesus Christ said that He came into the world that we “might have life, and that [we] might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10; see page 4). In what ways has the Savior helped you have a more abundant life?
President McKay testified of Jesus Christ as the “personification of human perfection” (page 5). What are some of the characteristics of Jesus Christ that make Him the example of perfection? (See pages 4–5.) To what extent are these characteristics realistically attainable in our lives? What can we do to make our individual lives more Christlike?
President McKay taught that those who apply the Savior’s teachings will sense a change in themselves (see page 7). How have you seen this to be true in your life or the lives of others? What is the significance of President McKay’s use of the words “born again”? (See pages 7–8.)
In Conference Report, Oct. 1969, 8.
Cherished Experiences from the Writings of President David O. McKay, comp. Clare Middlemiss, rev. ed. (1976), 59–60; paragraphing altered.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1951, 157, 159.
Treasures of Life, comp. Clare Middlemiss (1962), 203–4.
“What Doth It Profit?” Improvement Era, Jan. 1970, 2.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1944, 124–25.
“Walk in the Light,” Improvement Era, Apr. 1954, 222.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1968, 6–7.
“What Doth It Profit?” Improvement Era, Jan. 1970, 3.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1918, 81.
“Walk in the Light,” Improvement Era, Apr. 1954, 221–22.
Treasures of Life, 210.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1965, 144.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1953, 10–11; paragraphing altered.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1942, 69–70.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1944, 124.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1951, 93.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1951, 98.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1953, 137–38.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1968, 9.
Gospel Ideals (1953), 36–37.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1944, 124.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1953, 9.