In a general conference address in 1949, President McKay related the following story:
“There is an old story … which told of the experience of a great artist who was engaged to paint a mural for the cathedral in a Sicilian town. The subject was the life of Christ. For many years the artist labored diligently, and finally the painting was finished except for the two most important figures, the Christ Child and Judas Iscariot. He searched far and wide for models for those two figures.
“‘One day while walking in an old part of the city he came upon some children playing in the street. Among them was a twelve-year-old boy whose face stirred the painter’s heart. It was the face of an angel—a very dirty one, perhaps, but the face he needed.
“‘The artist took the child home with him, and day after day the boy sat patiently until the face of the Christ Child was finished.
“‘But the painter failed to find a model for Judas. For years, haunted by the fear that his masterpiece would remain unfinished, he continued his search.
“‘One afternoon, in a tavern, the painter saw a gaunt and tattered figure stagger across the threshold and fall to the floor, begging for a glass of wine. The painter lifted him up and looked into a face that startled him. It seemed to bear the marks of every sin of mankind.
“‘“Come with me,” the painter said, “I will give you wine, food, and clothing.”
“‘Here at last was his model for Judas. For many days and parts of many nights the painter worked feverishly to complete his masterpiece.
“‘As the work went on, a change came over the model. A strange tension replaced the stuporous languor, and his bloodshot eyes were fixed with horror on the painted likeness of himself. One day, perceiving his subject’s agitation, the painter paused in his work, saying, “My son, I’d like to help you. What troubles you so?”
“‘The model sobbed and buried his face in his hands. After a long moment he lifted pleading eyes to the old painter’s face.
“‘“Do you not then remember me? Years ago I was your model for the Christ Child!”’”
After relating the story, President McKay said, “Well, the story may be fact or fiction, but the lesson it teaches is true to life. The dissipated man made a wrong choice in his youth, and in seeking gratification in indulgence sank ever lower and lower until he wallowed in the gutter.”2
Teachings of David O. McKay
Each of us has two contrasting natures: the physical and the spiritual.
Man is a dual being, and his life a plan of God. That is the first fundamental fact to keep in mind. Man has a natural body and a spiritual body. In declaring this fact the scriptures are very explicit:
“And the Gods formed man from the dust of the ground, and took his spirit (that is, the man’s spirit), and put it into him; and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” [Abraham 5:7.]
Man’s body, therefore, is but the tabernacle in which his spirit dwells. Too many, far too many, are prone to regard the body as the man, and consequently to direct their efforts to the gratifying of the body’s pleasures, its appetites, its desires, its passions. Too few recognize that the real man is an immortal spirit, which [is] “intelligence or the light of truth,” [see D&C 93:29] animated as an individual entity before the body was begotten, and that this spiritual entity with all its distinguishing traits will continue after the body ceases to respond to its earthly environment. Said the Savior:
“I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father.” (John 16:28.)
As Christ’s pre-existent Spirit animated a body of flesh and bones, so does the pre-existent spirit of every human being born into this world. Will you keep that in mind as the first basic truth of life?
The question, then, is: Which will give the more abundant life—pampering our physical nature or developing our spiritual selves? Is not that the real problem?3
Indulgence in appetites and desires of the physical man satisfy but for the moment and may lead to unhappiness, misery, and possible degradation; spiritual achievements give “joy not to be repented of.”
In his epistle to the Galatians, Paul specifically enumerates the “works of the flesh,” as he calls them, and the “fruits of the Spirit.” Note this classification: The works of the flesh are manifest as these:
“… Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,
“Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,
“Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
“Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
“And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.
“If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” (Gal. 5:19–25.)4
There is something higher than the animal life; namely, the spiritual realm where there is love, the divinest attribute of the human soul. There are also sympathy, kindness and other attributes.5
There is something within [man] which urges him to rise above himself, to control his environment, to master the body and all things physical and live in a higher and more beautiful world.6
Man has a greater destiny than just a mere animal life. That is a touch of the spirit! Every man who has sensed that has a testimony himself and every woman also has a testimony herself, that man is a dual being. He has a body, just as all other animals have. But he has something that comes only from his Father in heaven, and he is entitled, is susceptible to whisperings, susceptible to influences from his Divine Parent, through the Holy Ghost, the medium between us and God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ.7
Life is a test to see which of our two natures we will follow and develop.
Man’s earthly existence is but a test as to whether he will concentrate his efforts, his mind, his soul, upon things which contribute to the comfort and gratification of his physical nature, or whether he will make as his life’s pursuit the acquisition of spiritual qualities.
“Every noble impulse, every unselfish expression of love; every brave suffering for the right; every surrender of self to something higher than self; every loyalty to an ideal; every unselfish devotion to principle; every helpfulness to humanity; every act of self-control; every fine courage of the soul, undefeated by pretense or policy, but by being, doing, and living of good for the very good’s sake—that is spirituality.”8
Generally there is in man a divinity which strives to push him onward and upward. We believe that this power within him is the spirit that comes from God. Man lived before he came to this earth, and he is here now to strive to perfect the spirit within. At sometime in his life, every man is conscious of a desire to come in touch with the Infinite. His spirit reaches out for God. This sense of feeling is universal, and all men ought to be, in deepest truth, engaged in the same great work—the search for and the development of spiritual peace and freedom.9
The choice is given, whether we live in the physical world as animals, or whether we use what earth offers us as a means of living in the spiritual world that will lead us back into the presence of God.
This means specifically:
Whether we choose selfishness or whether we will deny ourselves for the good of others;
Whether we will cherish indulgence of appetite [and] passion, or whether we will develop restraint and self-control.
Whether we choose licentiousness or chastity;
Whether we will encourage hate or develop love;
Whether [we] practice cruelty or kindness;
Whether [we] be cynical or sanguine—hopeful;
Whether we be traitorous—disloyal to those who love us, to our country, to the Church or to God—or whether we will be loyal;
Whether we be deceitful, or honest, our word our bond;
Whether [we have] a slanderous or a controlled tongue.10
Whether a man remains satisfied within what we designate the animal world, satisfied with what the animal world will give him, yielding without effort to the whim of his appetites and passions and slipping farther and farther into the realm of indulgence, or whether, through self-mastery, he rises toward intellectual, moral, and spiritual enjoyments depends upon the kind of choice he makes every day, nay, every hour of his life.11
What a travesty on human nature when a person or a group of persons, though endowed with a consciousness of being able to rise in human dignity to realms indiscernible by lower creatures, yet will still be content to obey animal instincts, without putting forth efforts to experience the joy of goodness, purity, self-mastery, and faith that spring from compliance to moral rules! How tragic it is when man, made a “little lower than the angels and crowned with glory and honour” (Psalm 8:5), will content himself to grovel on the animal plane.12
Earth in all its majesty and wonder is not the end and purpose of creation. “… [My] glory,” says the Lord himself, “(is) to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39.) And man in exercising the divine gift of free agency should feel in duty bound, should sense the obligation to assist the Creator in the accomplishment of this divine purpose.
The true end of life is not mere existence, not pleasure, not fame, not wealth. The true purpose of life is the perfection of humanity through individual effort, under the guidance of God’s inspiration.
Real life is response to the best within us. To be alive only to appetite, pleasure, pride, money-making, and not to goodness and kindness, purity and love, poetry, music, flowers, stars, God and eternal hopes, is to deprive one’s self of the real joy of living.13
Spirituality requires self-mastery and communion with God.
Spirituality, our true aim, is the consciousness of victory over self and of communion with the Infinite.14
Spirituality impels one to conquer difficulties and acquire more and more strength. To feel one’s faculties unfolding and truth expanding the soul is one of life’s sublimest experiences. Being true to self and being loyal to high ideals develops spirituality. The real test of any religion is the kind of man it makes. Being “honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men” [see Articles of Faith 1:13] are virtues which contribute to the highest acquisition of the soul. It is the “divine in man, the supreme, crowning gift that makes him king of all created things.”15
The man who … [has] in mind making better the world in which he lives, desiring to contribute to the happiness of his family and his fellows, and who does all things for the glory of God, will, to the extent that he denies himself for these ideals, develop his spirituality. Indeed, only to the extent that he does this will he rise above the plane of the animal world.16
Spirituality and morality as taught by the Latter-day Saints are firmly anchored in fundamental principles, principles from which the world can never escape even if it would, and the first fundamental is a belief—with Latter-day Saints a knowledge—in the existence of a personal God. Latter-day Saint children have been taught to recognize him, and to pray to him as one who can listen and hear and feel just as an earthly father can listen, hear and feel, and they have absorbed into their very beings, from their mothers and their fathers, the real testimony that this personal God has spoken in this dispensation. There is a reality about it.17
I bear testimony that the channel of communication is open, and the Lord is ready to guide and does guide his people. Isn’t that worth resisting a temptation, to seek an opportunity to gratify your appetite or your vanity as some others do, and when they do, merit excommunication from the church, just for the gratification of a whim or a passion? It’s open to you—two ways are open. One leading to the spirit, the testimony of the spirit that is in harmony with the spirit of creation, the Holy Ghost. The spirit of the Lord animates and enlivens every spirit, in the church or out of it. By Him we live and move and have our being, but the testimony of the Holy Ghost is a special privilege. It’s like tuning in your radio and hearing a voice on the other side of the world. Men who are not within that radiation can’t hear it, but you hear it, you hear that voice and you are entitled to that voice and the guidance of it and it will come to you if you do your part. But if you yield to your own instincts, your own desires, your own passions, and pride yourself into thinking and planning and scheming, and think you are getting away with it, things will become dark. You have accomplished your gratification and passion and appetite, but you deny the spirit; you cut off the communication between your spirit and the spirit of the Holy Ghost.18
I cannot think of any higher and more blessed ideal than so to live in the Spirit that we might commune with the Eternal.19
When God becomes the center of our being, we become conscious of a new aim in life—spiritual attainment. Physical possessions are no longer the chief goal in life. To indulge, nourish, and delight the body as any animal may do is no longer the chief end of mortal existence. God is not viewed from the standpoint of what we may get from him, but rather from what we may give him.
Only in the complete surrender of our inner life may we rise above the selfish, sordid pull of nature. What the spirit is to the body, God is to the spirit. When the spirit leaves the body, it is lifeless, and when we eliminate God from our lives, spirituality languishes. …
… Let us resolve that from now on we are going to be men and women of higher and more sterling character, more conscious of our weaknesses, more kind and charitable toward the failings of others. Let us resolve that we shall practice more self-control in our homes; that we shall control our tempers, our feelings, and our tongues that they may not wander beyond the bounds of right and purity; that we shall do more seeking to develop the spiritual side of our lives, and realize how dependent we are upon God for success in this life.20
The reality of God the Father, the reality of Jesus Christ, the risen Lord, is a truth which should possess every human soul. God is the center of the human mind as surely as the sun is the center of this universe, and once we feel his Fatherhood, once we feel his nearness, sense the divinity of the deity of the Savior, the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ follow as naturally as the day the night, and as night the day.21
Suggestions for Study and Discussion
Why is it necessary that we have both a physical and a spiritual nature? How can our appetites and passions be used for good or evil?
President McKay taught that life is a test to see which nature we will follow (see pages 14–16). In what ways do we experience conflict between our physical and spiritual natures? What choices can we make each day to enjoy such great spiritual gifts as love, joy, and peace? (See pages 13–18.)
What is the “natural man”? (Mosiah 3:19). Why is the natural man an enemy to God? What must be done to “put off” the natural man? (See pages 16–18.)
What influences cause many people to focus their lives on gratifying only their physical nature? Why is it sometimes difficult to focus on spiritual things?
What are some seemingly minor faults that can hamper our spirituality? How can developing self-mastery help us increase our spirituality? (See pages 16–18.)
How does your relationship with God influence your spirituality? (See pages 16–18.) What can you do to center your life in God the Father and Jesus Christ?
Gospel Ideals (1953), 395.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1949, 12–13; paragraphing altered.
Gospel Ideals, 395.
Gospel Ideals, 395–96.
Pathways to Happiness, comp. Llewelyn R. McKay (1957), 288.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1928, 37.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1960, 122.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1963, 89–90.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1963, 7.
Gospel Ideals, 346.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1949, 13.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1963, 5.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1963, 7.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1969, 8.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1963, 8–9.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1958, 7.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1934, 22–23.
“Talk by President David O. McKay Given to the North British Mission 1 March 1961,” Family and Church History Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6–7.
Gospel Ideals, 393–94.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1967, 134.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1925, 106–7.