As a small boy in grammar school, I had a teacher who made King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table come alive. She caused me to become so obsessed with stories of knights that I played and dreamed that I was one.
One evening I dreamed that I was a white knight on a white horse riding over the greens of England. Suddenly, without warning, a knight dressed in black armor and mounted on a black horse appeared at the edge of the forest. We measured each other carefully, lowered our lances, and charged at full gallop. The lances struck target and both of us were knocked off our steeds.
I scrambled to my feet knowing that swords would be drawn and that hand-to-hand combat was imminent. Fear gripped my heart as I saw my opponent rushing toward me flashing a long, gleaming sword. Instinctively, I reached to my side and drew forth from the scabbard my weapon. That is when the dream turned into a nightmare! For in my hand was a small, dinky dagger—not a long, gleaming sword. I woke up in a cold sweat screaming for help.
Many times since that nightmarish experience, I have wondered about the serviceability of the Saints, particularly the young Latter-day Saints. When God calls you to serve, are you positioned in the scabbard and ready to be drawn? When the Lord draws you forth as his instrument in combating evil forces, what does he have in his hand—a long, gleaming sword or a dinky dagger?
There was a time when I wondered why God did not take matters into his own hands and guarantee the salvation of mankind. For I knew that God was omnipotent and could, if he so willed, thunder his word over the earth and blaze his message across the skies with such convincing power that all men and women would join the Church. I also knew that he could build all the temples needed, perform all the genealogical research required, and do all else, single-handedly, letter perfect, and without any wasted motion. Yes, I knew that God could do it all by simple command without the help or intrusion of weak mortals.
As my understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ expanded, I saw the folly of a “one-man show.” I realized that if my Heavenly Father took matters into his own hands and performed all the missionary, temple, and other priesthood services, he would (1) offend my previous agency in a manner similar to what Lucifer proposed before the world was formed (see Moses 4:1–3) and (2) deprive me of sanctifying experiences, just as an impatient, perfectionist father deprives a son of growth when he pushes him aside and does all the work by himself. These and other gospel insights led me to the conclusion that an all-wise and loving father involves his children in his work so that they may grow, learn, and become like him.
From the very beginning, our Heavenly Father has worked through his children in fulfilling his holy purposes. It was through his Only Begotten Son that the Atonement was wrought. Another son, Adam, became the father of the whole human family. Moses led the Children of Israel out of bondage. A modern Joseph became the prophet of the Restoration. All of these men served as agents or instruments in the hands of God in helping to fulfill his avowed purpose of bringing “to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). Each was sanctified and assumed attributes of the Father in the process.
Other sons of God listened to another voice, a dissident voice, and made themselves instruments of that outcast Satan. This was done in fulfillment of Lucifer’s pledge “to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will” (Moses 4:4). For he had warned that he would fight his battles and extend his rule through those who loved darkness more than light.
Satan used the hands of Cain in committing murder (see Moses 5:17–35); he used Korihor as his voice in preaching anti-Christ doctrine (see Alma 30:6–21); and he abused Sherem’s learned nature and perfect knowledge of language by having him sow seeds of doubt among the Nephites (see Jacob 7:1–20). In each of these instances, Cain, Korihor, or Sherem yielded himself to Satan and became an instrument of unrighteousness. Each was abandoned in the end by his tempter and allowed to go down in bitter defeat (see Alma 30:60).
The Apostle Paul understood clearly the life and death struggle for the souls of men. He was aware of the enlistment programs of both sides—the Savior and his Saints, and Lucifer and his legions. Therefore, he issued this warning to the Romans:
“Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God” (Rom. 6:13; emphasis added).
He added: “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” (Rom. 6:16).
Yield means to give or to submit oneself. So the first issue is: Are you positioned in the scabbard of righteousness and ready to be drawn by the hand of God? Alma and the sons of Mosiah, through disobedience, allowed themselves to slip into the wrong sheath. An evil hand drew them forth and caused them to become an impediment to the church of God. This period of subjection to Satan was later referred to by Alma as the “gall of bitterness,” “bonds of iniquity,” and “the darkest abyss” (Mosiah 27:29).
After a miraculous conversion, Alma and his friends changed scabbards. They confessed their sins, tried to repair the injuries made, and published peace. And, according to the record, “they were instruments in the hands of God in bringing many to the knowledge of the truth, yea, to the knowledge of their Redeemer” (Mosiah 27:36).
The slide into Satan’s scabbard begins with little and seemingly harmless transgressions. It may start with a cigarette, a suggestive thought, an off-color story, one alcoholic drink, a so-called white lie, or even one X-rated movie. Gradually, however, the sins mount in number and seriousness until one finds himself Satan-ward. Each wrongdoing molds the transgressor’s hilt to fit the hand of Lucifer.
In contrast, properly directed faith, repentance, and well-doing guides one into the scabbard strapped to the side of Deity. The young person who cultivates a love for the scriptures, attends church, becomes involved in service projects, prays daily and honestly, and who honors loving parents is positioning himself or herself for righteous service. A state of useful readiness is achieved virtue-by-virtue as the hilt of the instrument and the hand of God become molded as one.
Now, the second issue: When the Lord draws you forth to wage his battles, does he have in his hand a long, gleaming sword? If I were a knight and I was preparing for combat, I would select carefully the tools of my trade. Tops on the list of tools would be a strong, sharp, and gleaming sword. I would want one that was perfectly balanced and honed to a fine cutting edge. It would be of the finest steel and fitted so perfectly to my hand that it felt like an extension of my arm. I would not want to be hindered by a small, useless weapon that I could have little confidence in. A long, gleaming sword, however, would reflect light and power; it would stir confidence in the heart of its user and strike fear in the heart of its intended target.
To observers in Jerusalem of a former day, Peter may have appeared to be a small, useless weapon as he denied Christ thrice near the high priest’s palace (see Matt. 26:69–75). But when the converted Peter stood before the Jews on the day of Pentecost, he testified with conviction and the power of a gleaming sword, placing himself in the hands of God and winning the souls of 3,000 people (see Acts 2).
The mettle of the man Peter did not come automatically and without effort. Peter was subjected to trials and temptations and all else referred to as the “refiner’s fire.” The heat of opposition did not consume him; it served only to burn out the impurities and weaknesses and to leave the refined and pure metal. He emerged from the furnace of affliction as a polished, strong sword of righteousness. His steellike strength of character carried him through to the end of his mission.
Peter, after the day of Pentecost, was a man with a cutting edge. He exhibited a sharpness of mind which enabled him to bear witness of the risen Christ. It is recorded that on one occasion his words “cut to the heart” those who sought to slay him (see Acts 5:33). Undoubtedly, such sharpness of mind was the result of much study, fasting, and prayer.
We are taught that miracles are performed and revelation received through clean vessels of the Lord (see 3 Ne. 8:1). Peter’s cleanliness of soul gained him deliverance from prison at the hands of angels. It provided him power to heal the sick and raise Dorcas from death (see Acts 9:36–43). And his purity made it possible for him to see a vision which led to the extension of the gospel to the Gentiles.
The saving virtue of a sword is related to its strength, sharpness, cleanliness, and the hand which guides it. Is it not the same with people?
I thrill when I hear of young people who keep themselves clean, pure, and pointed for full-time missions and temple marriages. Their “obedience unto righteousness” is an inspiration to all. Surely these valiant ones will receive wages of the one “they list to obey,” which is all that the Father hath (see D&C 29:45; D&C 84:38).
I would pray that the youth of the Church would understand the necessity of becoming active participants and not simply spectators in the cause of truth. I would pray that you would keep yourselves God-ward, positioned in his scabbard, and ready to be drawn into action. Moreover, I would pray that you would seek strength of character, sharpness of mind, and cleanliness of soul so as to become gleaming swords of righteousness. By doing this, there will be no embarrassment, no disappointment, and no nightmare when he draws you out in battling the powers of darkness.