Throughout his ministry, Harold B. Lee emphasized this teaching: “The thing for which we are striving is to so keep ourselves and to so live that one day we can go back home to that God who gave us life—back into the presence of that eternal Heavenly Father.”1
He recalled: “Some time ago I read an article written by a famous newspaper journalist who explained how he went about arranging for a meaningful conversation with some person whom he wished to interview. He would ask a question similar to this: ‘Would you mind telling me the inscription you would have written on your tombstone?’ He reported that many would give answers like ‘have fun,’ ‘gone to another meeting,’ and so on. Then the journalist was asked what he himself would have written on his tombstone. He replied very quietly and sincerely, ‘Safely home, at last.’
“When the full significance of this statement is impressed upon us, we might well ask ourselves, ‘After all, what is life all about, and what is our hope beyond this life, believing, as we do, in a life after this one?’ Almost everyone, no matter what his religious faith may be, looks forth to an existence that may be defined in various ways. If my assumption is correct, then, we would all wish to have written on our tombstones, as an epitaph to our life’s work, that we were ‘safe at home, at last.’”2
Teachings of Harold B. Lee
What is the purpose of our mortal life?
What is the purpose of life … ? The only answer can be found in one scripture which reveals the purpose of God in giving life at all, and that purpose was explained in a revelation to the prophet Moses: “This is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” [Moses 1:39.] If one were to breathe but a moment in mortal life and then were to be taken away, or should he live to the age of a tree, the purpose of our Father would have been accomplished so far as having gained immortality. And this thing called eternal life is to have so lived that one would, by his living, have been counted worthy of eternal life in the presence of God the Father and the Son.3
Man in the spirit world was the offspring of Deity. The earth was created and organized as the dwelling place of heaven-born spirits in mortal bodies to “prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.” [See Abraham 3:25.] God’s purpose in so doing was “to bring to pass immortality and eternal life” or, in other words, as a result of a successful mortal life, to bring each soul back into the presence of “that God who gave him life” and with a resurrected body not subject to death and thus perfected, to live eternally in the presence of the Lord our Master and the Father of us all.4
[President George F. Richards] related this story, a story of a young man who was very desirous of getting an education. His parents were unable to send him to college, so he walked to the college city, and after diligent inquiry he succeeded in finding a place [where] he could pay his board and lodging. Later one of the college professors gave him a job cutting wood to pay for his tuition. Others, learning of his success as a woodchopper, employed him to chop wood for them. He soon found that he had no time to go to college, and he became content with his success as a woodchopper.
This represents a condition which obtains with many of us. We came to earth for a specific purpose—that of working out our own salvation, or in other words, to prepare for the life which is to come, which is everlasting. Some of us seem to have forgotten the purpose we had in view, and have become content with our search for the wealth and fame which life affords, in other words, content with merely “chopping wood.”5
May we who have the testimony [of Jesus] … from our hearts cry out to our Father: “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” [Acts 9:6.]
And if we pray in real sincerity and faith, there will come back to us from out of the scriptures the answer to that prayerful inquiry. The answer has come oft repeated, time and time again, that all that we do should be done “with an eye single to the glory of God.” [D&C 82:19.] What is the glory of God? The Lord told Moses that:
“… this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Pearl of Great Price, Moses 1:39.)
With that goal always before us, seeing every act of our lives, every decision we make as patterned toward the development of a life that shall permit us to enter into the presence of the Lord our Heavenly Father, to gain which is to obtain eternal life, how much more wisdom there would be in the many things of life.6
From the scriptures, from the writings of inspired Church leaders, and from secular commentaries, eternal life may be defined as life in the presence of those eternal Beings, God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. To shorten that definition, we might then say that eternal life is God’s life. …
To eventually attain to this celestial excellence should be the never-ending quest of all mortal beings.7
Are we ready to stand before the judgment seat of God?
Every one of you … must stand before “the judgment-seat of the Holy One of Israel … and then must … be judged according to the holy judgment of God.” (2 Nephi 9:15.) And according to the vision of John, “The books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.” (Revelation 20:12.) The “books” spoken of refer to the “records [of your works] which are kept on the earth. … The book of life is the record which is kept in heaven.” (Doc. and Cov. D&C 128:7.) Those of you who have lived a righteous life and die without having become the servants of sin, or who have truly repented of your sins, will enter into the “rest of the Lord,” which rest “is the fulness of the glory of the Lord.” [See D&C 84:24.]8
We are told from inspired writings that “our words will condemn us (or exalt us), our works will condemn us (or uplift us) … [see Alma 12:14], as we are brought face to face with the Great Judge of us all, hopefully to receive the Master’s plaudits: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” [Matthew 25:21.] Contrary to the usual concept of religionists, that the Apostle Peter is the keeper of the gateway to the life beyond this, we are told that “the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there.” (2 Nephi 9:41.)9
The greatest hell that one can suffer is the burning of one’s conscience. The scriptures say his thoughts will condemn him, he’ll have a bright recollection of all his life (see Alma 12:14; 11:43). You’ll remember that in the scriptures they speak of the Lamb’s book of life, which is a record kept of man’s life which is kept in heaven. … Men will be judged according to the records that have been kept of our lives. (See D&C 128:6–7.) Now, when we fail of that highest degree of glory and realize what we’ve lost, there will be a burning of the conscience that will be worse than any physical kind of fire that I assume one could suffer.10
When we pass through the portals of death … He’s going to say to us, “Now you took upon yourselves my name. What have you done with my name? Have you ever brought disgrace to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, as a member of my church?” Imagine a frown, imagine He shakes His head and turns and walks away. … But imagine when we meet Him that a smile lights up His face. He puts out His beckoning arms to us, and says to us, “My son, my daughter, you’ve been faithful on earth. You’ve kept the faith. You’ve finished your work. There’s now a crown prepared for such as you in my kingdom.” [See 2 Timothy 4:7–8.] I can’t think of any ecstasy in all the world that will transcend that kind of a reception into the presence of the Almighty, in that world to come.11
How do we prepare to meet the Lord?
The Lord has granted us a few more days or a few more weeks or a few more years as the time goes—it matters not how long—for in the accounting of the Almighty, every day of preparation is precious. One prophet has put it, “This life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors. … For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, … the devil … doth seal you his.” (Alma 34:32, 35.)12
We need to remember that it doesn’t make so much difference whether we die early in life or in middle age, the all-important thing is not when we die, but how prepared are we when we do die. This is a day of preparation for men to prepare to meet their God. How great and merciful He was in allowing us a period of probation during which time man should be perfecting himself.13
Today is the day for us to begin to search our souls. Have you discovered which is the most important of all the commandments to you today? … Are you going to begin working on it today? Or are you going to wait until it is too late? The little boy says, “Well, when I get to be a big boy, then I’m going to do so and so.” And what is that? When he gets to be a big boy, … then he says, “When I get married, then I’ll do so and so.” And then after he gets married, it all changes, and “Well, when I retire.” And then after he is retired, a cold wind sweeps down over him and suddenly he realizes too late that he has lost everything. And it is too late. And yet all his life he has had all the time that there was. He just hasn’t taken advantage of it. Now, today, this is the day for us to begin to do something about it, before it is too late.14
[I am reminded] of a story that I was told over in the Hawaiian Islands last summer about a little girl who had taken her friend to her home. They were playing about, and the elderly grandmother in the home spent much of her time while they were there reading the Bible. Every time this little neighbor girl came, the grandmother was reading the Bible, and she said finally, to the little granddaughter, “Why does your grandma spend so much time reading the Bible?” And the little granddaughter replied, “Oh, Grandma’s cramming for the final examination.”
Well, she wasn’t so far wrong. And I think it would be well if all of us would be a little more mindful of the importance of cramming for the final examination.15
How long have you postponed the day of a repentance from your own misdeeds? The judgment we shall face will be before the Righteous Judge who will take into account our capacities and our limitations, our opportunities and our handicaps. One who sins and repents and thereafter fills his life with purposeful effort may not lose as much in that day of righteous judgment as one who, though not committing serious sin, falls down miserably by omitting to do that which he had capacity and opportunity to do but would not.16
As we sit here today, contemplating our lives, suppose that something should happen as we leave this congregation, and our lives are stopped in their course. Is there any unfinished business that you have to do yet before that time comes to you? … Do you have some wrongs that need to be righted before that time comes? Do you have any folks on the other side that are waiting for you that you will be proud to meet if you do certain unfinished things that you have to do today? Are you ready to meet the folks over there, having done all you can for the happiness of their future prospects? Have you any sins that need to be repented of before you go home to Him who gave you life?17
Here and now in mortality, each one of us is having the opportunity of choosing the kind of laws we elect to obey. We are now living and obeying celestial laws that will make us candidates for celestial glory, or we are living terrestrial laws that will make us candidates for … terrestrial glory, or telestial law. The place we shall occupy in the eternal worlds will be determined by the obedience we yield to the laws of these various kingdoms during the time we have here in mortality upon the earth.18
How do you prepare to meet the Lord? … The Lord said, “Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; … and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will.” (D&C 88:68.) Here was the formula that he gave us in a revelation … , “Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am.” [D&C 93:1.]19
What is the reward for one who lives “worthy of a testimony that God lives and that Jesus is the Christ”?
Heaven, as we have usually conceived it, is the dwelling place of the righteous, after they have left this earth life, and the place where God and Christ dwell. Of this happy state the Apostle Paul said, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).20
Success is many things to many people, but to every child of God it ultimately will be to inherit his presence and there be comfortable with him.21
There is only one objective so far as our Father’s work is concerned, and that is that in the end when we shall have finished our work here on earth, whether after a short space of time or a long, we too shall have overcome the world and have earned the right to that place called the Celestial Kingdom.22
One who lives … worthy of a testimony that God lives and that Jesus is the Christ, and who is willing to reach out to Him in constant inquiry to know if his course is approved, is the one who is living life to its full abundance here and is preparing for the celestial world, which is to live eternally with his Heavenly Father.23
May I remind you to ponder the marvelous promise of the Lord to all who are faithful:
“And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things.” (D&C 88:67.)
That each one who seeks thus may earnestly gain for himself that unshakable testimony which will place his feet firmly on the pathway which leads surely toward the glorious goal of immortality and eternal life is my humble prayer.24
Suggestions for Study and Discussion
In what ways are we sometimes like the young man who chopped wood?
What can help us keep focused each day on the goal of returning safely to our Father in Heaven?
In what ways are you now choosing the place you will occupy in the eternal worlds? What are the consequences of procrastinating your preparation to stand before the judgment seat of God?
What can we do with one more day from God?
What does it mean to live with an eye single to the glory of God? (See D&C 88:67–68.)
What has it meant to you to take upon yourself the name of the Lord Jesus Christ? What can we do to honor His name?
What has your study of the teachings of President Harold B. Lee taught you about how to return safely home to God?
Be Loyal to the Royal within You, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year (20 Oct. 1957), 10–11.
Ye Are the Light of the World (1974), 261–62.
Address given at the funeral of Aldridge N. Evans, 7 Jan. 1950, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 4.
“The Sixth Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Kill,” in The Ten Commandments Today (1955), 87.
“Elder Lee Recalls Counsel Given by Pres. Richards to Family, Associates,” Deseret News, 16 Aug. 1950, Church section, 2, 4.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1946, 145.
“Eternal Life,” Instructor, Oct. 1966, 378.
Decisions for Successful Living (1973), 186–87.
“The Greatest Need in the World Today,” Utah State University baccalaureate address, 5 June 1970, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed. Clyde J. Williams (1996), 67.
Address given at the Detroit Stake conference, Aug. 1958, Harold B. Lee Library Archives, Brigham Young University, 6–7.
Address given at the funeral of Irene Tolman Hammond, 18 Mar. 1968, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 5.
Address given at the funeral of William G. Sears, 13 Mar. 1943, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 14.
Address given to Ricks College student body and leaders, 3 Mar. 1962, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 20–21.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 65–66.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 67–68.
Address given at the Detroit Stake conference, 4–5.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1947, 46.
“Preparing to Meet the Lord,” Improvement Era, Feb. 1965, 124.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 77.
Decisions for Successful Living, 2.
Address given at the funeral of Aldridge N. Evans, 8.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 614.
Stand Ye in Holy Places (1974), 319.