Classic Discourses from the General Authorities: The Sacramental Covenant


Delivered at a June Conference; printed in Bryant S. Hinckley, Sermons and Missionary Services of Melvin Joseph Ballard, Deseret Book Co., 1949, pp. 147–57.

“We stand for spiritual growth through attendance at sacrament meetings.” The sacred covenant of the sacrament with its attendant blessings, which we repeat as we consecrate the emblems of the broken body and the spilt blood of the Lord, has been especially revealed to the Latter-day Saints by the Lord himself, so that we have the very words of the covenant as they were formulated by our Redeemer, with its promised blessings. I appreciate, I believe, to some extent, the sacredness of the covenant which we, as members of the Church, enter into when we partake of the sacred emblems. I realize that each time we partake of these emblems, we manifest before the Father that we do remember his Son; and by the act of partaking of the bread and the water, we make a solemn covenant that we do, further, make a pledge and an agreement by the act that we will keep his commandments.

Taking the oath of allegiance to the government of the United States, we make a pledge and an agreement that we honor, uphold, and sustain the laws of the land and will be faithful in defending the rights of our country. We expect to receive blessings in return for keeping that covenant, blessings of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We make our pledge to the United States government when we are admitted as citizens and when we take office in the government, local or national. We do have, therefore, occasions when each citizen, whether he enters the service of his country as a soldier or engages in any other official duty, renews the covenant and pledge that he made when he became a citizen of the country. So our Father in heaven has provided that, not only once but frequently, we shall meet together to renew our pledge, our covenant, and our agreement to keep his commandments and to take upon us his name again. I have always looked upon this blessed privilege as the means of spiritual growth, and there is none other quite so fruitful in the achievement of that end as the partaking, worthily, of the sacrament of the Lord’s supper. We eat food to stimulate our physical bodies. Without the partaking of food we would become weak and sickly, and fail physically. It is just as necessary, for our spiritual body that we should partake of this sacrament and by it obtain spiritual food for our souls. If we were given our physical food only on stated occasions and at specified places, we would all be on hand. We heard how, during the war, many communities had to feed the inhabitants by distribution of bread tickets or rations of various kinds which were given only by application at certain places. We have seen in our country that the people stood in line to get their sugar rations and other provisions, such as were curtailed and limited during the war, and they were always present, at the appointed time and place. If we really realized and felt the need of spiritual food for growth, we would be present at the appointed place where this may be, and is, administered.

We must come, however, to the sacrament table hungry. If we should repair to a banquet where the finest of earth’s providing may be had, without hunger, without appetite, the food would not be tempting, nor do us any good. If we repair to the sacrament table, we must come hungering and thirsting for righteousness, for spiritual growth.

How can we have spiritual hunger? Who is there among us that does not wound his spirit by word, thought, or deed, from Sabbath to Sabbath? We do things for which we are sorry and desire to be forgiven, or we have erred against someone and given injury. If there is a feeling in our hearts that we are sorry for what we have done, if there is a feeling in our souls that we would like to be forgiven, then the method to obtain forgiveness is not through rebaptism; it is not to make confession to man, but it is to repent of our sins, to go to those against whom we have sinned or transgressed and obtain their forgiveness and then repair to the sacrament table where, if we have sincerely repented and put ourselves in proper condition, we shall be forgiven, and spiritual healing will come to our souls. It will really enter into our being. You have felt it. I am a witness that there is a spirit attending the administration of the sacrament that warms the soul from head to foot; you feel the wounds of the spirit being healed, and the load being lifted. Comfort and happiness come to the soul that is worthy and truly desirous of partaking of this spiritual food. Why do we not all come? Why do we not come regularly to the sacrament service and partake of these emblems and perform this highest worship we can give to our Father in the name of his Beloved Son? It is because we do not appreciate it. It is because we do not feel the necessity for this blessing, or it is because, perhaps, we feel ourselves unworthy to partake of these emblems.

There is a feature of this pledge to which I should like to call your attention. Let me quote some Scripture, because we not only desire our boys and girls, our brothers and sisters, to come to the sacrament table and eat of these emblems, but we want them to eat worthily, for you have already heard quoted the Scripture that if we eat and drink unworthily, we eat and drink damnation to our own souls. Here is what the Lord said:

“Previous to their partaking of the sacrament … the members shall manifest before the church, and also before the elders, by a godly walk and conversation, that they are worthy of it, that there may be works and faith agreeable to the holy scriptures—walking in holiness before the Lord.” [D&C 20:68–69]

Again, I read from Paul’s teachings: “Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: Ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils.” (1 Cor. 10:21.)

And still, from another sacred scripture: “Ye shall not suffer any one knowingly, to partake of my flesh and blood unworthily, when ye shall minister it;

“For whoso eateth and drinketh my flesh and blood unworthily eateth and drinketh damnation to his soul; therefore if ye know that a man is unworthy to eat and drink of my flesh and blood ye shall forbid him.” (3 Ne. 18:28, 29.)

And still another, to the prophet of these latter-days: “If any have trespassed, let him not partake until he makes reconciliation.” (D&C 46:4.)

I suggest that perhaps some of us are ashamed to come to the sacrament table because we feel unworthy and are afraid lest we eat and drink of these sacred emblems to our own condemnation. And so we want every Latter-day Saint to come to the sacrament table because it is the place for self-investigation, for self-inspection, where we may learn to rectify our course and to make right our own lives, bringing ourselves into harmony with the teachings of the Church and with our brethren and sisters. It is the place where we become our own judges.

There may be some instances where the elders of the Church could say, properly, to one who, in transgression, stretches forth his hands to partake of the emblems: “You should not do this until you have made restitution;” but ordinarily we will be our own judges. If we are properly instructed, we know that it is not our privilege to partake of the emblems of the flesh and blood of the Lord in sin, in transgression, or having injured and holding feelings against our brethren and sisters. No man goes away from this Church and becomes an apostate in a week or in a month. It is a slow process. The one thing that would make for the safety of every man and woman would be to appear at the sacrament table every Sabbath day. We would not get very far away in one week—not so far away that, by the process of self-investigation, we could not rectify the wrongs we may have done. If we should refrain from partaking of the sacrament, condemned by ourselves as unworthy to receive these emblems, we could not endure that long, and we would soon, I am sure, have the spirit of repentance. The road to the sacrament table is the path of safety for Latter-day Saints.

I have said that I think we stay away, perhaps because we do not appreciate what a blessing the sacrament is. I wonder if we ever will, in this mortal life, understand the value of the sacred and blessed things the Lord has instituted in this Church for its spiritual growth and welfare, and particularly this one ordinance which is attended by certain promised blessings that no man can give, and that the Lord alone can manifest to his children!

It is written in the scriptures that God so loved the world that he gave his Only Begotten Son to die for the world, that whosoever believes on him, yes, and keeps his commandments, shall be saved. But this sacrament did not cost us very much—freely given are all these glorious privileges, and I am reminded of a statement by one of our great writers, running something like this: “At the devil’s booth are all things sold. Each ounce of dross costs its ounce of gold.” (J. R. Lowell, “Vision of Sir Launfal.”)

It is heaven alone that is given away. It is only God that may be had for the asking. While we give nothing, perhaps, for this atonement and this sacrifice, nevertheless, it has cost someone something, and I love to contemplate what it cost our Father in heaven to give us the gift of his Beloved Son, that worthy Son of our Father, who so loved the world that he laid his life down to redeem the world, to save us and to feed us spiritually while we walk in this life, and prepare us to go and dwell with him in the eternal worlds.

I think as I read the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac that our Father is trying to tell us what it cost him to give his Son as a gift to the world. You remember the story of how Abraham’s son came after long years of waiting and was looked upon by his worthy sire, Abraham, as more precious than all his other possessions; yet, in the midst of his rejoicing, Abraham was told to take this only son and offer him as a sacrifice to the Lord. He responded. Can you feel what was in the heart of Abraham on that occasion? You love your son just as Abraham did; perhaps not quite so much, because of the peculiar circumstances, but what do you think was in his heart when he started away from Mother Sarah, and they bade her goodbye? What do you think was in his heart when he saw Isaac bidding farewell to his mother to take that three days’ journey to the appointed place where the sacrifice was to be made? I imagine it was about all Father Abraham could do to keep from showing his great grief and sorrow at that parting, but he and his son trudged along three days toward the appointed place, Isaac carrying the fagots that were to consume the sacrifice. The two travelers rested, finally, at the mountainside, and the men who had accompanied them were told to remain while Abraham and his son started up the hill.

The boy then said to his father: “Why, Father, we have the fagots; we have the fire to burn the sacrifice; but where is the sacrifice?”

It must have pierced the heart of Father Abraham to hear the trusting and confiding son say: “You have forgotten the sacrifice.” Looking at the youth, his son of promise, the poor father could only say: “The Lord will provide.”

They ascended the mountain, gathered the stones together, and placed the fagots upon them. Then Isaac was bound, hand and foot, kneeling upon the altar. I presume Abraham, like a true father, must have given his son his farewell kiss, his blessing, his love, and his soul must have been drawn out in that hour of agony toward his son who was to die by the hand of his own father. Every step proceeded until the cold steel was drawn, and the hand raised that was to strike the blow to let out the life’s blood when the angel of the Lord said: “It is enough.”

Our Father in Heaven went through all that and more, for in his case the hand was not stayed. He loved his Son, Jesus Christ, better than Abraham ever loved Isaac, for our Father had with him his Son, our Redeemer, in the eternal worlds, faithful and true for ages, standing in a place of trust and honor, and the Father loved him dearly, and yet he allowed this well-beloved Son to descend from his place of glory and honor, where millions did him homage, down to the earth, a condescension that is not within the power of man to conceive. He came to receive the insult, the abuse, and the crown of thorns. God heard the cry of his Son in that moment of great grief and agony, in the garden when, it is said, the pores of his body opened and drops of blood stood upon him, and he cried out: “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me.”

I ask you, what father and mother could stand by and listen to the cry of their children in distress, in this world, and not render aid and assistance? I have heard of mothers throwing themselves into raging streams when they could not swim a stroke to save their drowning children, rushing into burning buildings, to rescue those whom they loved.

We cannot stand by and listen to those cries without its touching our hearts. The Lord has not given us the power to save our own. He has given us faith, and we submit to the inevitable, but he had the power to save, and he loved his Son, and he could have saved him. He might have rescued him from the insult of the crowds. He might have rescued him when the crown of thorns was placed upon his head. He might have rescued him when the Son, hanging between the two thieves, was mocked with, “Save thyself, and come down from the cross. He saved others; himself he cannot save.” He listened to all this. He saw that Son condemned; he saw him drag the cross through the streets of Jerusalem and faint under its load. He saw that Son finally upon Calvary; he saw his body stretched out upon the wooden cross; he saw the cruel nails driven through hands and feet, and the blows that broke the skin, tore the flesh, and let out the life’s blood of his Son. He looked upon that.

In the case of our Father, the knife was not stayed, but it fell, and the life’s blood of his Beloved Son went out. His Father looked on with great grief and agony over his Beloved Son, until there seems to have come a moment when even our Savior cried out in despair: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

In that hour I think I can see our dear Father behind the veil looking upon these dying struggles until even he could not endure it any longer; and, like the mother who bids farewell to her dying child, has to be taken out of the room, so as not to look upon the last struggles, so he bowed his head, and hid in some part of his universe, his great heart almost breaking for the love that he had for his Son. Oh, in that moment when he might have saved his Son, I thank him and praise him that he did not fail us, for he had not only the love of his Son in mind, but he also had love for us. I rejoice that he did not interfere, and that his love for us made it possible for him to endure to look upon the sufferings of his Son and give him finally to us, our Savior and our Redeemer. Without him, without his sacrifice, we would have remained, and we would never have come glorified into his presence. And so this is what it cost, in part, for our Father in Heaven to give the gift of his Son unto men.

How do I appreciate the gift? If I only knew what it cost our Father to give his Son, if I only knew how essential it was that I should have that Son and that I should receive the spiritual life that comes from that Son, I am sure I would always be present at the sacrament table to do honor to the gift that has come unto us, for I realize that the Father has said that he, the Lord, our God, is a jealous God—jealous lest we should ignore and forget and slight his greatest gift unto us.

I know that no man or woman shall ever come to stand in the presence of our Father in Heaven, or be associated with the Lord Jesus Christ, who does not grow spiritually. Without spiritual growth we shall not be prepared to enter into the divine presence. I need the sacrament. I need to renew my covenant every week. I need the blessing that comes with and through it. I know that what I am talking about is true. I bear witness to you that I know that the Lord lives. I know that he has made this sacrifice and this atonement. He has given me a foretaste of these things.

I recall an experience which I had two years ago, bearing witness to my soul of the reality of his death, of his crucifixion, and his resurrection, that I shall never forget. I bear it to you tonight, to you, young boys and girls; not with a spirit to glory over it, but with a grateful heart and with thanksgiving in my soul. I know that he lives, and I know that through him men must find their salvation, and that we cannot ignore this blessed offering that he has given us as the means of our spiritual growth to prepare us to come to him and be justified.

Away on the Fort Peck Reservation where I was doing missionary work with some of our brethren, laboring among the Indians, seeking the Lord for light to decide certain matters pertaining to our work there, and receiving a witness from him that we were doing things according to his will, I found myself one evening in the dreams of the night in that sacred building, the temple. After a season of prayer and rejoicing I was informed that I should have the privilege of entering into one of those rooms, to meet a glorious Personage, and, as I entered the door, I saw, seated on a raised platform, the most glorious Being my eyes have ever beheld or that I ever conceived existed in all the eternal worlds. As I approached to be introduced, he arose and stepped towards me with extended arms, and he smiled as he softly spoke my name. If I shall live to be a million years old, I shall never forget that smile. He took me into his arms and kissed me, pressed me to his bosom, and blessed me, until the marrow of my bones seemed to melt! When he had finished, I fell at his feet, and, as I bathed them with my tears and kisses, I saw the prints of the nails in the feet of the Redeemer of the world. The feeling that I had in the presence of him who hath all things in his hands, to have his love, his affection, and his blessing was such that if I can receive that of which I had but a foretaste, I would give all that I am, all that I ever hope to be, to feel what I then felt!

Go to the sacrament table. Ah, that is a blessed privilege that I now rejoice in, and I would be ashamed, I know, as I felt then, to stand in his presence and try to offer any apology or any excuse for not having kept his commandments and honored him by bearing witness, before the Father and before men, that I believe in him, and that I take upon me his blessed Name, and that I live by and through him spiritually.

If we can bring our boys and girls to feel the need of this thing, they will be at sacrament meeting, and we will be there. I see Jesus not now upon the cross. I do not see his brow pierced with thorns nor his hands torn with the nails, but I see him smiling, with extended arms, saying to us all: “Come unto me!”

Let us go unto him in his appointed hour. Let us take our children with us, and through our faithfulness find all the blessings attendant upon this sacred observance of this holy ordinance—ours in time and in eternity.

[illustration] Illustrated by Jerry Thompson