“For Zion must increase in beauty, and in holiness; her borders must be enlarged; her stakes must be strengthened; yea, verily I say unto you, Zion must arise and put on her beautiful garments.” (D&C 82:14.)
Zion, as used here, undoubtedly had reference to the Church. At that time there was but a small body of Church members just beginning to emerge as an organization, after having experienced harsh treatment from enemies outside the Church, who had then been directed to gather together in Jackson County, Missouri, which the Lord had designated as the “land of Zion.”
As though to impress upon these early struggling members their destiny in the world, the Lord in another revelation told them this:
“Therefore, verily, thus saith the Lord, let Zion rejoice, for this is Zion—THE PURE IN HEART; therefore, let Zion rejoice, while all the wicked shall mourn.” (D&C 97:21.)
To be worthy of such a sacred designation as Zion, the Church must think of itself as a bride adorned for her husband, as John the Revelator recorded when he saw in vision the Holy City where the righteous dwelled, adorned as a bride for the Lamb of God as her husband. Here is portrayed the relationship the Lord desires in his people in order to be acceptable to our Lord and Master even as a wife would adorn herself in beautiful garments for her husband.
A certain man, well up on the ladder of success, had great prospects for a very bright future. Then one day at a businessmen’s luncheon he decided that social drinking would make him more popular and successful. He soon began looking forward to the cocktail hours, and then found they didn’t come often enough. Finally he became an alcoholic, lost his job, his wife, and his friends. Because of the wrong choice at a moment of decision, he had lost everything he once so hopefully and diligently set out to accomplish.
On the other hand, we have the examples of Joseph, who was sold into Egypt; of Moses, who led the Israelites from bondage; of Daniel, through whom the Lord gave marvelous prophecies and predictions and of whom it was said, as he was taken from the lion’s den: “… no manner of hurt was found upon him, because he believed in his God.” (Dan. 6:23.) They, with many others, had the courage to say no to temptation and to choose the right, and thereby save themselves and their people from destruction.
Self-discipline is essential in helping us make proper choices. It is much easier to drift than to row, to slide downhill than to climb up. Satan is constantly at work to drag us down by placing temptations in our way in the form of alcohol, tobacco, drugs, pornography, deceit, dishonesty, and flattery, always waiting to catch us in our misdeeds.
I remember one occasion in the mission field when I was trying to stir an interest in a discouraged missionary. I finally asked him, “Isn’t there anything that you desire?” He said, “Yes, Brother Romney, I desire to be an apostle.”
No one should seek to be appointed to any particular office in the Church. Such an aspiration is not a righteous desire; it is a self-serving ambition. We should have a motivating desire to magnify our callings in the priesthood, whatever they may be. We should demonstrate that desire by living the gospel and diligently performing whatever service we are called upon to render. Holding a particular office in the Church will never save a person. One’s salvation depends upon how well he discharges the duties of the service to which he is called. The Prophet Joseph said:
“From a retrospect of the requirements of the servants of God to preach the Gospel, we find few qualified even to be Priests, and if a Priest understands his duty, his calling, and ministry, and preaches by the Holy Ghost, his enjoyment is as great as if he were one of the Presidency; and his services are necessary in the body, as are also those of Teachers and Deacons.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith [Deseret Book Co., 1961], p. 112).
I was in Idaho Falls and was the guest in a home of a typical Church family. There were a dedicated set of parents and many children. The oldest was in military duty in the dreaded South Pacific, and the hearts of the family followed him from place to place. They handed me his latest letter from the war zone. I read this:
“There have been times when we were so scared, we would tremble, but the fear went out of our minds with prayer and the knowledge that we were being guided by the Lord.
“Dad, I love my religion and I am proud that I had someone like you and Mother to teach me to pray. Then I also know that you are praying for me each morning and night. …”
Spirituality is born in the home and is nurtured in the home evenings, in the twice-a-day and oftener daily prayers, in the weekly meetings when the family goes en masse. That spirituality as the foundation of one’s life comes to his rescue when emergency strikes.
Security is not born of inexhaustible wealth but of unquenchable faith. And generally that kind of faith is born and nurtured in the home and in childhood.
Prayer is the passport to spiritual power.
The only joy that is comparable with the joy of the one receiving the help is the glow that seems to emanate from the one who has given so unselfishly of his time and strength to quietly help someone in need.
The Savior did not seem to be so much involved in giving money. You will remember that his gifts were in the form of personal attention, in performing an administration, and in sharing the gifts of the Spirit. In fact, it was the Savior who said: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. …” (John 14:27.) We could add to peace the gift of love, the gift of immortality, the gift of eternal life, the gift of understanding, the gift of compassion, the gift of eternal justice. All of these gifts are beyond monetary consideration and could well be our gift to someone sometime, if we weren’t “too busy.”
President Brigham Young was very expressive in describing the fate of apostates when he said:
“Why do people apostatize? You know we are in the ‘Old Ship Zion.’ We are in the midst of the ocean. A storm comes on, and, as sailors say, she labors very hard. ‘I am not going to stay here,’ says one; ‘I don’t believe this is the “ship Zion.”’ ‘But we are in the midst of the ocean.’ ‘I don’t care, I am not going to stay here.’ Off goes the coat, and he jumps overboard. Will he not be drowned? Yes. So with those who leave this Church. It is the ‘Old Ship Zion.’ Let us stay in it.”
And then he added: “If the candle of the Almighty does not shine from this place, you need not seek for its light anywhere else.”
And then this mighty man in Israel declared:
“Whenever there is a disposition manifested in any of the members of the Church to question the right of the President of the whole Church to direct in all things, you see manifested evidences of apostasy—of a spirit which, if encouraged, will lead to a separation from the Church and to final destruction; wherever there is a disposition to operate against any legally appointed officer of this Kingdom, no matter in what capacity he is called to act, if persisted in, it will be followed by the same results.” So spoke President Brigham Young. (Discourses of Brigham Young [Deseret Book Co., 1943], pp. 82–83, 85.)
Somehow we must reach the one—every single one—for they are “chosen vessels” unto the Lord.
Speaking to the single members, President Lee recently said, “In your ranks are some of the noblest members of the Church—faithful, valiant, striving to live the Lord’s commandments, to help build up the kingdom on earth, and to serve your fellowmen.”
As we undertake to reach the one, we should remember the counsel of the Lord to Samuel, as he was sent to the house of Jesse to find the one who should reign over Israel. The Lord said to Samuel, “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature … , for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” (1 Sam. 16:7.)
There is great safety in a nation on its knees.
What assurance it would give of the much-needed blessings of the Lord if the American people, and people everywhere, could all be found daily—night and morning—on their knees expressing gratitude for blessings already received, acknowledging our dependence upon God, and seeking his divine guidance.
The spectacle of a nation praying is more awe-inspiring, more powerful, than the explosion of an atomic bomb. The force of prayer is greater than any possible combination of man-controlled powers, because “prayer is man’s greatest means of tapping the resources of God.” The Founding Fathers accept this eternal verity. Do we? Will we?
Yes, it is in our own enlightened self-interest to engage in this simple practice, this powerful practice of prayer. Roger Babson said many years ago: “What this country needs more than anything else is old-fashioned family prayer.” Yes, our greatest need is a return to the old-fashioned, time-tested verities.
May I remind all of us that Joseph Smith referred to himself as “an obscure boy” but never as a “nobody.” Joseph Smith was sustained all the days of his perilous life by the knowledge that in God’s strength he could accomplish all things.
God help us to realize that one of our greatest responsibilities and privileges is to lift a self-labeled “nobody” to a “somebody,” who is wanted, needed, and desirable. Our first obligation in this area of stewardship is to begin with self. “I am nobody” is a destructive philosophy. It is a tool of the deceiver.
Now salvation is in Christ. He is our Savior and Redeemer. He came into the world to redeem men from the temporal and spiritual death brought into the world by the fall of Adam, and he gave to us a plan and system of salvation that is called the gospel of Jesus Christ. This plan of salvation is that all men everywhere should have faith in Christ; should repent of their sins; should covenant in the waters of baptism to keep the commandments and serve God with all their heart, might, mind, and strength; that they should then receive the gift and companionship of the Holy Spirit and thereafter live in righteousness and devotion all their days, with the assurance and promise that by so doing they shall gain peace in this life and eternal glory in the life to come.
A brilliant and highly educated young woman spoke in Berchtesgaden, Germany, to a conference of American military personnel who were members of the Church. I was there and heard her. She was a major in the army, a medical doctor, a highly respected specialist in her field. She said:
“More than anything else in the world, I wanted to serve God. But try as I might, I could not find him. The miracle of it all is that he found me. One Saturday afternoon in September 1969 I was at home in Berkeley, California, and heard my doorbell ring. There were two young men there, dressed in suits, with white shirts and ties. Their hair was neatly combed. I was so impressed with them that I said: ‘I don’t know what you’re selling, but I’ll buy it.’ One of the young men said: ‘We aren’t selling anything. We’re missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and we would like to talk with you.’ I invited them to come in, and they spoke about their faith.
“This was the beginning of my testimony. I am thankful beyond words for the privilege and honor of being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The joy and peace this glad gospel has brought to my heart is heaven on earth. My testimony of this work is the most precious thing in my life, a gift from my Heavenly Father, for which I will be eternally thankful.”
The gospel is often referred to as the good news, or glad tidings of salvation. The plan of salvation, therefore, is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Master explained to the Nephites that he had fulfilled his mission on earth by complying with the will of the Father, thereby becoming the Redeemer of all mankind. The further statement to “repent … and be baptized in my name” defines the gateway to the narrow path leading to eternal life. This gives rise to the fundamental statement expressed in the Articles of Faith of the Church:
“We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.
“We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (A of F 1:3; A of F 1:4.)
These four are only the first of all the principles and ordinances of the gospel. Returning to the words of the Savior to the Nephites, we learn that after complying with these four, there must be a lifetime of compliance with the laws and commandments of the Lord, for he said, “… and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world.” (3 Ne. 27:16.)
A young man came to see me recently who had been called by the Lord to fill a mission. He was a fine young man—handsome, strong, sharp—but he said he didn’t want to go on his mission because there were other things that he would rather do. As we visited he told me that one thing he would rather do was drive a dune buggy. We talked about the relative merits of trading eternal life for a dune buggy; and he decided, perhaps, that was not exactly a fair exchange. I suggested to him that if he still wanted to drive a dune buggy after he had filled his mission, the Lord would probably let him do so, since the Lord always grants unto men “according to their desire.” (Alma 29:4.)
We must not be misled. The only real joy and happiness we can know here upon this earth, as well as in the eternities, will come through obedience to the Lord’s commandments. Alma’s statement that “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10) is still valid. Again He has said, “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” (John 13:17.) He did not say, but could have said, “Unhappy are ye if you don’t.”
Recently our family visited with a dear friend, Sister Louise Lake, who has lived her gracious, sharing life in a wheelchair for more than a quarter of a century.
Perhaps because our 12-year-old son was with us, Sister Lake told us of another 12-year-old with whom she became acquainted in a rehabilitation center in New York where she was working. The boy had been blind and for most of his 12 years had lived a sad existence, thought to be uneducable, incapable of learning. Then he was given a chance, thank the Lord, and a marvelous spirit and fine mind were discovered. He told his friend that he had thought all his life that being blind was the worst thing that could happen to one—until he met Campy. Campy was Roy Campanella, great athlete, who at the height of his career was rendered physically helpless in an automobile accident. The blind boy said he had decided after meeting Campy that his condition was worse than not being able to see. “But there is something even worse than that,” he said. He talked of feeling his way down the hall at the hospital, hearing the scuff of feet as people passed him by. “There is something worse than being blind or crippled, and that is to have people not understand you,” he said. “I guess they think that because I am blind I can’t hear or speak either.”
There is one who always understands, and those who seek to become the manner of person he is must seek to understand. We are never really alone when we love God and accept the friendship of his loving Son. I think of the mother of 14 children who was asked if she had a favorite. “Well,” she said, “if I do, it’s the one who is ill until she gets well, or the one who is away until he gets home.” So it seems to be with the Lord.
Can we not appreciate that our very business in life is not to get ahead of others, but to get ahead of ourselves? To break our own records, to outstrip our yesterdays by our todays, to bear our trials more beautifully than we ever dreamed we could, to give as we have never given, to do our work with more force and a finer finish than ever—this is the true idea: to get ahead of ourselves.
To live greatly, we must develop the capacity to face trouble with courage, disappointment with cheerfulness, and triumph with humility. You ask, “How might we achieve these goals?” I answer, “By getting a true perspective of who we really are!” We are sons and daughters of a living God, in whose image we have been created. Think of that truth: “Created in the image of God.” We cannot sincerely hold this conviction without experiencing a profound new sense of strength and power, even the strength to live the commandments of God, the power to resist the temptations of Satan.
It is my purpose to speak of the Lord Jesus Christ.
From the depths of my soul I know that he has established the Church in these last days so that I may partake of the blessings of his kingdom on earth, to the end that I may inherit the eternal joy of dwelling in his presence when I have completed my work here, if I can prove faithful. He did not intend this to be my privilege alone. In his infinite love he reaches out to all of my family, all of my kin, to all of your families and kin, and to all of the people on the earth.
I know that I cannot know him as he is unless he reveals himself to me. That is the great hope—to penetrate the veil and see and know him as he is. Yet I do know some things because he has told holy men, who are prophets, about himself and has commanded that they bear record of what they saw and heard. I know that by reading about him in the scriptures I can hear his voice by the power of the Holy Ghost; that is, to read his word is to hear his voice.
God has revealed that he desires all of his people to grow together in the unity of faith, understanding, and devotion. The apostle Paul so encouraged the Corinthian saints: “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” (1 Cor. 1:10.)
We are here to help each other progress, to inspire one another unto love and good works, and not just to sit in judgment. Our responsibility is to give encouragement to those who are inactive and erring. We have a duty to “see that there is no iniquity in the church, neither hardness with each other, neither lying, backbiting, nor evil speaking.” (D&C 20:54.)
Every time I think of the priesthood, I think of the great honor and privilege we have of speaking and acting in the name of our Heavenly Father, and the responsibility it places upon us. I often say, “What are we going to do about it? Are we going to realize who we are, what we have, and what our responsibilities are?”
I would like to say to you young men: Have a good time; play basketball; play football; play tennis; play anything you want to play, and do anything you want to do as long as it is right, but honor your priesthood wherever you are, that you might be an example to the world.
I understand from what the Lord has revealed to us through the prophets that people are his greatest concern. We are his children. We are somebody, as Elder Ashton so wonderfully stated this morning. We are his children, and he continually reveals himself through the prophets so that one day we can be like him.
Programs, then, wonderfully inspired programs, like the Sabbath, exist to help people. If we are not careful, it is very easy to put the mechanics of the program ahead of the person. Jesus was constantly trying to put the spirit back into the letter of the law. Our first priority, I feel, as parents, leaders, and teachers should be the individual within the home or Church program.
The Lord has placed in our hands the responsibility for working out our eternal exaltation in fear and trembling before him. When we are sick we have hands placed upon our heads and we are given a blessing for the restoration of our health. By the laying on of hands we confirm people members of the Church. We confer the Holy Ghost. We ordain people to the priesthood, and we set them apart for that portion of the work of the Lord that they are called to perform. We raise our hands in salute. We hold them over our hearts as we take our pledge of allegiance to the flag. We clasp hands in friendship and fellowship. We lay them upon the shoulders of our friends to give commendation and encouragement. With a pair of willing, ambitious, capable, clean hands, we can move mountains and we can save souls.
If the time comes when you have done all that you can to repent of your sins, whoever you are, wherever you are, and have made amends and restitution to the best of your ability; if it be something that will affect your standing in the Church and you have gone to the proper authorities, then you will want that confirming answer as to whether or not the Lord has accepted of you. In your soul-searching, if you seek for and you find that peace of conscience, by that token you may know that the Lord has accepted of your repentance. Satan would have you think otherwise and sometimes persuade you that now having made one mistake, you might go on and on with no turning back. That is one of the great falsehoods. The miracle of forgiveness is available to all of those who turn from their evil doings and return no more.