I would like to discuss with you the three R’s of free agency: the right of choice, the responsibility of choice, and the results of choice. How grateful I am that a wise and loving Heavenly Father gave us free agency! In the very beginning, after He had pointed out to Adam the trees in the Garden from which he might freely eat, He then directed Adam’s attention to one tree and advised him that he should not partake of the fruit thereof. He then added, “… nevertheless, thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee. …” (Moses 3:17.)
We have been given the right to choose. William C. Gregg illustrated this beautifully in the words of his poem:
“Know this, that every soul is free
To choose his life and what he’ll be,
For this eternal truth is given
That God will force no man to heav’n.
“He’ll call, persuade, direct aright,
And bless with wisdom, love, and light,
In nameless ways be good and kind,
But never force the human mind.”
(Hymns, No. 90.)
We also have the responsibility to choose. We cannot be neutral. There is no middle ground. The Lord knows this; Lucifer knows this. There is a great contest being waged for the souls of men. On the one hand Lucifer has attractively painted his road signs. Have you seen them? They are bright and most enticing. They read like this: “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” “It’s the popular thing to do.” Another one may read: “Just this once won’t matter.”
On the other hand the Lord has prepared his road signs for our guidance. They read: “As ye sow, so shall ye reap.” (See Gal. 6:7.)
“There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—
“And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” (D&C 130:20–21.)
Thus we have one of two roads to follow. To us has been given the responsibility of choice.
Intelligent men have invented certain safeguards to warn us against danger. When I served in the United States Navy, sonar was in its infant stages. Those of you who have been in the service know that sonar is the device that warns of an impending vehicle, ship, or other obstacle. Sound waves are monitored. The operator becomes accustomed to listening for a repetitive beep. When it follows other than the normal pattern, he knows danger is at hand and can warn the ship’s officers so that the course can be altered.
When I was in school, many young men had white sidewall tires on their automobiles. These automobiles were equipped with what we called whiskers—a little metal device attached to the fender of the car. As the car pulled in against the curb, those whiskers would hit the curb and vibrate, echoing inside the car; and they warned the driver he could not go any closer to the curb without damaging his tires.
If man can invent sonar to warn against disaster, and if he can invent whiskers to put on automobile fenders for the protection of white sidewall tires, doesn’t it seem reasonable that the Lord would place a warning device within his precious children, to warn them when they are on a detour from his pathway? I bear you my testimony today that we have such a guiding light. It is foolproof, if we will but use it. I refer to the still, small voice, the Holy Ghost.
“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” (John 14:26.)
In addition to the right of choice and the responsibility of choice, we must consider the results of our choices.
My mind goes back to a day when I was approaching my eighteenth birthday. We were all very fearful. World War II was still being fought, and every young man knew that he had to make a choice. There was not much latitude to the choice: he could choose to go into the army, or he could choose to go into the navy. I enlisted in the navy.
Forty-four of us young men stood there in the recruiting office. I shall never forget the chief petty officers coming up to us and presenting a choice. They said, “Now, you young men must make an important choice. On one hand, you can be wise and choose to join the regular navy. You can enlist for four years. You will receive the finest schooling. You will be given every opportunity because the navy looks upon you as its own. If you choose not to follow this direction, you can go into the naval reserves. The navy does not have much interest in the naval reserves at this stage of the game. You will receive no schooling. You will be sent out to sea duty. No one knows what your future might be.”
Then they asked us to sign on the dotted line. I turned to my father and said, “What should I do, Dad?”
In a voice choked with emotion, he replied, “I don’t know anything about the navy.” That was the position of every father who was there that day.
Forty-two of the forty-four enlisted in the regular navy for four years. The forty-third one could not pass the regular navy physical, so he had to enlist in the reserves.
Then they came to me; and I confess to you that I sent a prayer heavenward, earnestly hoping that the Lord would answer it. And he did. The thought came to me just as clearly as though I had heard a voice, “Ask those chief petty officers which they chose.”
I asked each of those veteran petty officers: “Did you choose the regular navy, or did you choose the reserves?”
Each of them had chosen the reserves.
I turned and said, “With all the wisdom and experience that you have, I want to be on your side.”
I chose the reserves, which meant that I enlisted for the duration of the war, plus six months. The war ended, and within a year I was honorably discharged from the service. I was able to continue my schooling. I had the privilege of serving in many Church capacities. Who knows how the course of my life might have been changed had I not taken that moment to call upon my Heavenly Father for guidance and direction in what might appear to some to have been a minor decision!
Would you like to hear about a missionary who was prompted to make a wise choice? He was new in the work and was assigned to labor in the city of Oshawa, Ontario, Canada, with a veteran missionary as a companion. They called at the home of a family by the name of Pollard. They knocked, and Mr. Pollard let them in. He invited them to present their material. After he had heard their message, and after he had prayed with them, it seemed as though the spirit of the adversary came over him, and he became angry with the elders and told them to leave and never come back again. As he showed them to the door, he said, “You can’t tell me that you really believe Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, anyway.” The door slammed shut. The two dejected missionaries walked away.
This young missionary turned to his senior companion and said, “We didn’t answer Mr. Pollard’s question.”
The senior companion explained the futility of attempting to return. But the young elder said, “I’m going back. I won’t feel right until I do.”
They returned to Mr. Pollard’s door and knocked on it. He opened the door and said, “I thought I told you fellows to leave.”
The next decision took all the strength of character and all the fortitude that this young man could muster, for his senior companion did not give him much help. I heard Mr. Pollard himself describe the experience. He said, “That missionary looked me in the eye. He hesitated for a moment, and then said, ‘Mr. Pollard, as we left your home, you made a statement that we really didn’t believe Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. Mr. Pollard, I want you to know that I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and that this work is true.’”
After this declaration, the missionaries departed. Mr. Pollard later told me that all the rest of the day and that evening he kept hearing those words echoing through his ears: “I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. I know it. I know it. I know it.”
The next morning he telephoned the missionaries and asked them to come back. They returned to his home and taught him the gospel. They taught his wife the gospel. They taught his children the gospel. All became members of the Church. If you could have accompanied me to the district conference I attended a few years back and heard this man stand on his feet and thank his Heavenly Father for the choice that a young missionary made to return and to bear his witness, you, my brothers and sisters, would be forever anxious to “choose the right when a choice is placed before you.”
We need not feel that we must be without fault in order to receive the blessings of God. He will take us from where we now stand if we will come to him. He will build us up, spiritually, and he will build us up with confidence in ourselves.
I testify that when we choose to do that which is right, the results of our choices will bring joy and happiness to our souls, for the Lord has told us,
“… I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end.” (D&C 76:5.)