03319_000_011Adapted from an address delivered on February 24, 1976, at BYU
I look around me and find some very definite signs of the decay that is beginning to occur. Corruption, crime, dishonesty, immorality, pollution, laziness, devotion only to special interests—these are signs that precede the fall of great civilizations. We see so much evidence of these signs before our eyes. Yet I realize the promise that has been given to us in this great land of America. I also remember the prophecies concerning our great responsibilities to preserve that which we have been blessed with by God. The Lord has promised to sustain the truth in this land.
Our commitment to America has been testified to by many, but I will point out to you special witnesses who have indicated our responsibilities to this land.
First from Brigham Young, second president of the Church: “Will the Constitution be destroyed? No: it will be held inviolate by this people; and, as Joseph Smith said, ‘The time will come when the destiny of this nation will hang upon a single thread. At that critical juncture, this people will step forth and save it from the threatened destruction.’ It will be so.” (Journal of Discourses, 7:15.)
Now another witness, John Taylor, third president of the Church: “When the people shall have torn to shreds the Constitution of the United States, the elders of Israel will be found holding it up to the nations of the earth, and proclaiming liberty and equal rights to all men, and extending the hand of fellowship to the oppressed of all nations.” (The Gospel Kingdom, Deseret Book Co., 1943, p. 219.) This is part of the program.
A final witness is from George Q. Cannon, former member of the First Presidency, who said that “the day will come when the Constitution and free government under it will be sustained and preserved by this people.” (JD, 23:104.)
Now, I declare to you that if we are not in the beginning stages of the fulfillment of this prophecy, we are at least in the stages where we are preparing for its fulfillment.
The Church’s Bicentennial Message
Now at this critical stage in our nation’s history we suddenly find ourselves with a great opportunity to reverse the trend and help chart the course of this country back toward righteousness. We have printed a document that will be available throughout the Church. It contains our message to our country during this Bicentennial year. The title is “God’s Hand in the Founding of America.” As a part of this effort we commissioned seven specific paintings that have been printed as posters to tell our message to the nation. It is anticipated that this poster series will be used in every Church building in the United States during 1976; those who visit our buildings who are not of our faith will have an opportunity to hear our message through this series. I would like you to become familiar with their message. I would like you to know this so that you can declare it to others.
The Bicentennial effort of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is communicated to America in three unique messages. First, America’s early history began more than 2,000 years ago and is contained in an ancient and sacred record called the Book of Mormon. Second, the discovery of America and the establishment of the United States was a part of God’s plan and was brought about by men who were inspired and guided by God. And finally, America’s future destiny is dependent on the righteousness and morality of her families.
Why is it so important to know and understand America’s past? We know that history provides important lessons and warnings for today—lessons about God and his interest in the affairs of men; and warnings in the form of destructions that came to early American civilizations when they lost their reverence for family, morality, or God. Why are these messages particularly important during the Bicentennial year? Because the only true way to celebrate the Bicentennial is in the same spirit that prevailed 200 years ago, in the spirit of humility and acknowledgment of God’s control over the earth and man’s dependency on Jesus the Christ.
Let me introduce you to these posters. The first one is entitled “Ancient America.” Archaeologists have confirmed the existence of a great pre-Aztec civilization on the American continent. The Book of Mormon is a record of this civilization, beginning some 600 years before Christ when a man named Lehi left Jerusalem and came by boat to the Americas. The book was preserved by these ancient people on sheets of gold. Lehi’s son Nephi was a great prophet who foresaw much of this new land’s future. He foresaw a time after Christ’s resurrection when the Son of God would appear in America.
“I saw the heavens open, and the Lamb of God descending out of heaven; and he came down and showed himself unto them.” (1 Ne. 12:6.) He foresaw an apostasy both here and in the Old World when others would have “taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious. …” (1 Ne. 13:26.)
Nephi also saw the destruction of this early American civilization and a later rediscovery of this land by an inspired explorer.
“And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land.” (1 Ne. 13:12.)
Finally he foresaw the restoration of the fullness of the gospel here on this land. “These last records … shall make known the plain and precious things which have been taken away from them. …” (1 Ne. 13:40.)
The Book of Mormon history concerning the children of Lehi extends back ten times farther than that which we celebrate in the Bicentennial, and 20 times farther concerning those who followed the brother of Jared, a record also contained in the Book of Mormon. We have overwhelming evidence of God’s hand in the establishment of this nation and his dealings with mankind both during times of righteousness and wickedness.
Christ in America
The second poster shows Christ in America. The greatest event recorded in the Book of Mormon was the visit of Jesus Christ to America shortly after his resurrection. The Book of Mormon thus becomes a second witness to the divinity of the Son of God. Mormons use both the Bible and the Book of Mormon, believing that they are both ancient and sacred writings, one from the Old World and one from the New World. The last part of the Book of Mormon recounts a great war that virtually destroyed ancient American civilization. In order to preserve their history, which had been recorded on plates of gold, they buried the record in the earth. The man who abridged these records prior to his people’s destruction was named Mormon—hence the name the Book Of Mormon. It was Mormon’s son, Moroni, who buried the plates. Before doing so, he made this prophecy to all who would read the book today:
“And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
“And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” (Moro. 10:4–5.)
The third poster is entitled “America Rediscovered.” Centuries passed before the Lord guided Christopher Columbus to the New World. On several occasions Columbus gave credit to the Almighty. In writing to the Spanish leaders, he said, “Our Lord unlocked my mind, sent me upon the sea, and gave me fire for the deed. Who heard of my enterprise, called it foolish, mocked me, and laughed. But who can doubt but that the Holy Ghost inspired me?” (Jacob Wassermann, Columbus, Don Quixote of the Seas, trans. Eric Sutton, Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1930, p. 20.) During the voyage, after weeks of sailing with no land in sight, mutiny raised its head. Finally Columbus promised the captains of the two other ships that they would turn back if land was not sighted in 48 hours. Then he went to his cabin and in his words “prayed mightily to the Lord.” The next day, October 12, they sighted land. We know a land of liberty and religious freedom was a necessary ingredient in the plan of God. Thus, Columbus and others, particularly those seeking religious freedom, were led to the shores of America.
Men Raised Up
Now the fourth in the poster series is entitled “Men Raised Up.” The success of the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War came about through men who were raised up by God for this special purpose. You must read the Declaration of Independence to feel its inspiration. You merely need to study history to recognize that a group of fledgling colonies defeating the world’s most powerful nation stemmed from a force greater than man. Where else in the world do we find a group of men together in one place at one time who possessed greater capacity and wisdom than the founding fathers—Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, and others? But it was not to their own abilities that they gave the credit. They acknowledged Almighty God and were certain of the impossibility of their success without his help. Benjamin Franklin made an appeal for daily prayers in the Constitutional Convention. In that appeal he said, “If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? I believe without His concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the building of Babel.” (Mark E. Petersen, The Great Prologue, Deseret Book Co., 1975, p. 88.)
Now the fifth poster. “Inspired Documents” is its title. No constitution on earth has endured longer than ours. We seek and usually find the answers to today’s hardest legal questions within this document of yesterday. The Constitution was and is a miracle. Both Washington and Madison referred to it as such. It was an inspired document, written under the divine guidance of the Lord. James Madison, commonly called the Father of the Constitution, recognized this inspiration and gave the credit to “the guardianship and guidance of the Almighty Being whose power regulates the destiny of nations whose blessings have been so conspicuously displayed to the rising of this republic.” (Prologue, p. 95.) We believe that the Constitution was brought about by God to insure a nation where liberty could abound, where his gospel could flourish. Joseph Smith said, “The Constitution of the United States is a glorious standard; it is founded in the wisdom of God. It is a heavenly banner.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 147.) Again from Brigham Young, “[The Constitution] was dictated by the invisible operations of the Almighty.” (John A. Widtsoe, ed., Discourses of Brigham Young, Deseret Book Co., 1966, p. 359.) From our current living prophet, Spencer W. Kimball, “One of the reasons America is great today is because those men who formulated the Constitution had vision. They looked ahead to today, and all of us here are recipients of their wisdom and foresight.” Among other things, the Constitution guarantees the religious freedom that allowed the Reformation to continue and flourish. The great religious reformers began to throw off the rituals and dogmas that had been attached to Christianity during the dark ages and sought to return to the pure and simple truths of the New Testament.
Now the sixth poster, one very interesting to us, entitled the “Gospel Restored.” Many of the great reformers stated that their efforts were to assert basic Christian teachings of the Bible, but at the same time they acknowledged that they had no authority to administer the ordinances of the Church or to reestablish the original church of Jesus Christ. Luther said, “Christianity has ceased to exist among those who should have preserved it.” Roger Williams said there is “no regularly-constituted Church on earth, nor any person authorized to administer any Church ordinance.” (William Cullen Bryant, ed., Picturesque America, New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1872, 1:502.) We believe that both America’s freedom and the continuing reformation that flourished here occurred in preparation for the restoration from heaven of the full gospel of Jesus Christ. That restoration took place in the 1820s through a man named Joseph Smith. We believe that God and his son Jesus Christ appeared to the Prophet, who described his vision in these words: “I saw two personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (JS—H 1:17.) An important part of the Restoration was the return of the priesthood or the power of God. This was restored to Joseph by Peter, James, and John, who appeared as heavenly messengers and ordained Joseph Smith by the laying on of hands.
Another part of this Restoration was the revealing and translating of the Book of Mormon. Joseph described the visit of Moroni, who also returned as a messenger, with these words: “He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent. … He also said that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants.” (JS—H 1:34.) We believe that through revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith the full and complete gospel of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has been restored to the earth.
Now let us go to the last poster, probably the most important to us, “America’s Future.” Today we are fortunate to live in a choice and promised land. It will remain free and blessed as long as its people remember the God who gave them life and this free land. We must remember that the family is the basic unit of a strong society. We are all part of God’s family; and as our Father, he expects us to build strong family units. It is in the family that the basic morality and righteousness should be taught that will keep America free. Each member of every family plays an important role in America. For several thousand years throughout this land the great fathers and mothers, the noble sons, the patriot sons, the choice daughters have forged America into what we have today.
It is America’s conscience that has preserved her. America is beautiful only when she is good, when children are laughing in her streets, and love abounds in her families. Without this conscience, civilization crumbles, as it has before on this continent. We are all part of America’s future. Our job is to remember the lessons of the past, to patch up the mistakes and the sins of everything that has gone before. The place to start is within our own families; and as we have been counseled, “No success can compensate for failure in the home.” That’s where we want to leave these people who come and have an opportunity of hearing our message, the most important message that will be taught during America’s Bicentennial year.
America’s Greatness Is Based on Righteousness
The source of America’s greatness is not a new doctrine to us. The Book of Mormon has declared over and over again that the blessings of heaven are contingent upon the righteousness of its people. In fact, this teaching has been proven in almost every age. Remember in 1831 when the famous French historian Alexis de Tocqueville said:
“I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there; in her fertile fields and boundless prairies, and it was not there; in her rich mines and her vast world of commerce, and it was not there. Not until I went to the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” (Jerreld L. Newquist, comp., Prophets, Principles and National Survival, Salt Lake City: Publishers Press, 1967, p. 60.)
I want to again remind you of your responsibility to preserve the righteousness of America. I have reviewed 4,000 years of history, declaring this to be a land of promise, chosen of the Lord for his special purposes. Now we must deal with America’s future. The land must continue to remain strong and great and good. It is destined to be the major supplier of human and financial resources, to build the kingdom of God here in the whole world, and to prepare the world for the return of the Lord and Savior. The adversary knows all too well that a weak America will literally stop this building process and thwart the work of God.
I hope I have painted a clear picture for you to see your role in this great eternal process. The Lord is making his major investment in you. In my dealings with the Lord, I have found him to be one who expects performance. Look at the very beginning; he supplied Adam and Eve with the potential for their needs. Remember his first command to them—multiply, replenish, have dominion over, and subdue. (See Gen. 1:28.) They were not placed in the Garden of Eden merely to have a comfortable life or to enjoy the benefits of the Lord’s labor, but to accomplish, to do. He is the supplier of resources and, in turn, expects performance out of us.
John Adams understood the potential of a righteous government when he wrote:
“Suppose a nation in some distant region should take the Bible as their only law book and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited. Every member would be obligated in conscience to temperance and frugality and industry, to justice and kindness and charity toward his fellowmen, and to piety, love, and reverence toward Almighty God. In this commonwealth no man would impair his health with gluttony, drunkenness or lust. No man would sacrifice his precious time to cards or trifling with other mean amusements. No man would steal or lie or in any way defraud his neighbor, but would live in peace and good will toward all men. No man would blaspheme his Maker or profane his worship, but a rational and manly, a sincere and unaffected devotion would reign in the hearts of all men. What a utopia, what a paradise this region would be.”
I want to issue you a challenge. I want you who are the best trained, the best educated, who have been given these great advantages here in America to literally become the conscience of America and the molders of its destiny and future. With your knowledge, your training, your understanding of how God works in the hearts of his children here on earth, let us obligate ourselves to temperance, to frugality, and to industry. Let us show justice, kindness, and charity toward our fellowmen. Let us demonstrate the love and reverence we should exhibit toward our Almighty God. Let us not trifle with the things that are holy to God.
Fifty-six men represented 2.5 million in 1776 to bring about a new nation that has literally blessed the whole world. That was one man to every 45,000. Today I’m calling on each of you to exert an influence over about 220 million people in this land. The odds are even better for you; the advantage is on your side. This is the time for you to be bold enough to stand up for what you believe, to let the world know that God still blesses this great land of America—if we will live righteously, according to that which he has commanded.
Will God bless us that we may have the courage to fulfill our responsibility here? I know by personal experience during these last two years that the heavens are still open, that he still does direct his work here. That message should ring from the hilltops of this nation during its Bicentennial. Will you have the courage to stand up with me and be counted with those who would preserve this land of the free through the righteousness of its people?