Man makes his most important agreements with God.
If there is one word that describes the meaning of character, it is the word honor. Without honor, civilization would not long exist. Without honor, there could be no dependable contracts, no lasting marriages, no trust nor happiness.
What does the word honor mean to you? To me, honor is summarized in this expression by the poet Tennyson, “Man’s word [of honor] is God in man” (Idylls of the King, “The Coming of Arthur,” line 132). An honorable man or woman is one who is truthful; free from deceit; above cheating, lying, stealing, or any form of deception. An honorable man or woman is one who learns early that one cannot do wrong and feel right. A man’s character is judged on how he keeps his word and his agreements.
Today it is becoming more commonplace for men not to honor their agreements. We read about famous athletes who hire attorneys to help them get out of their contracts; about the breakup of marriage agreements; about unnecessary personal bankruptcies, fraud, and other deceptive practices. Honor has become so exceptional that when a man does an honorable thing, it becomes newsworthy.
As important as agreements are between individuals, more important are the agreements an individual makes with God. As members of the true church of Jesus Christ, you made agreements with Him at baptism. That is why you are called the children of the covenant.
As a part of that covenant, you agreed “to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death” (Mosiah 18:9; italics added).
At the time of baptism you agreed to keep all God’s commandments. He has not left you alone to flounder over what these are, or what is right or wrong. He is very specific and clear on how you should conduct your life as a member of His church. His laws are embodied in the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, and latter-day revelations.
The Ten Commandments, for example, describe our relationship to God, to family, and to our fellowman. Read again these basic laws:
Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Those four commandments demonstrate ways in which we honor God. The next commandment demonstrates how we honor our family relationships.
Honour thy father and thy mother.
There is no true greatness without honor to parents and progenitors. The last five demonstrate ways we respect our relationship with others.
Thou shalt not kill.
Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Thou shalt not steal.
Thou shalt not bear false witness.
Thou shalt not covet (Ex. 20:3–4, 7–8, 12–17).
You can readily see that if each individual honored these commandments, society—the sum of individuals—would scorn irreverence, uphold the Sabbath, honor parents and marital vows, and practice virtue.
Can you imagine what society would be like if we lived as God commanded?
I remember a number of years ago when Cecil B. DeMille, the great producer of the film The Ten Commandments was invited to accept an honorary degree from Brigham Young University. In his address to the student body, Mr. DeMille made an interesting observation. He said that men and nations cannot really break the Ten Commandments; they can only break themselves upon them. How true that is!
I have been very impressed by a small biography about George Washington called The Making of George Washington by William H. Wilbur (1973). In this book, Wilbur writes this about Washington’s youth:
“At a very early age George was required to memorize the Ten Commandments. His mother found time to see to this. …
“August [George’s father] did his part by explaining the meaning of the Ten Commandments. He made it crystal clear that a member of the Washington family does not lie, does not steal, does not cheat. The lesson was well learned; Washington’s whole life exemplified these precepts” (Wilbur, p. 71).
Additionally, the young Washington lived by basic rules of conduct from the New England Primer, which small children were required to memorize. Some of these rules were:
I will fear God and honour the King.
I will honour my Father and Mother.
I will obey my superiors.
I will submit to my elders.
I will love my friends.
I will hate no man.
I will forgive my enemies and pray to God for them.
I will, as much as in me lies, keep all God’s Holy commandments (Wilbur, p. 120).
A chapter entitled “Age Fifteen” has one of the finest statements on the relationship of young men with women to be found anywhere. It is worth many times the price of the book. Here is the substance of the counsel given to young George by his brother Lawrence.
“The Lord gave most of us a wonderful body, George. He gave you a particularly remarkable one. Every part of it was devised and created by the Lord for a particular purpose. He made you different from a woman so that later you could find a fine woman, make her your wife, and produce children. Real happiness can be found only in family life with a good woman. …
“If the woman you choose is not a person of high moral standards, is not true to you, your life will be a miserable one. I believe it is equally true that a woman cannot find happiness with a man who is not true to her.
“In the years just ahead, you will begin to have contacts with young women. By all means make some friends among your young women acquaintances. Learn to judge women. Have fun dancing with them, riding with them, talking with them; at first be careful to avoid centering your attention on just one young woman. …
“You may meet a woman who is very attractive, who flirts with you and does purposely those things which arouse your sexual feelings. Avoid her like the plague! She is poison! She has done the same thing with other boys; she would continue to act the same way after marriage, but then it would be with men other than her husband. A man who is married to that kind of woman is the laughing stock of the community. He lives in Hell. …
“For the present you should not concern yourself about marriage. You may fall in love, or think that you do. All right! It won’t do you any harm, as long as you place the girl on a pedestal of purity and do not allow your animal feelings to take control.
“… if any woman ever does anything to arouse your animal feelings, stay away from her. Don’t allow her or any other woman to dominate your life, or your thinking. Don’t allow any woman to deceive you by playing on your lowest instincts. Look, and keep on looking for a fine, honest, moral woman whom you will always be proud to have as your wife.
“If you find it hard to keep your thoughts in line, go out and run a mile, a longer distance if necessary. Or go out and do some strenuous physical work. …
“Be the master of your body; be the Captain of your ship!” (Wilbur, pp. 135–37).
It is improbable that the conversation actually took place as presented, but such counsel was consistent with the times and is sound counsel for any age.
The only time I remember having my honor questioned was during an examination in high school. I believe the examination was in economics. The teacher had a habit of standing at the back of the room watching the students during examinations. I was writing vigorously when the lead of my pencil broke. I asked my neighbor across the aisle to let me borrow his pocketknife. As he handed me the knife, the teacher came down the aisle and said, “Hand in your paper, and you’ll not be permitted to play in the basketball game tonight.” I was a forward on the team. I explained that I was asking for his knife so I could sharpen my pencil, but no explanation would satisfy him.
I went home after school by horseback rather discouraged that evening and told my father what had happened. He felt sure I was honest. I knew I was.
I was out milking the cows when a telephone call came from the coach saying that I should come over to the gymnasium that evening, that the teacher would see me and he hoped I would have an opportunity to play. I was reluctant to go, but with father’s encouragement, I went to the gym and met the teacher. He asked me if I would confess my dishonesty, to which I replied, “I have not been dishonest. There is nothing to confess.” He did reluctantly permit me to play. I went into the game with very little spirit and we lost. Though I bear no ill will toward my teacher (he was only doing what he thought was right), I did learn from the incident how important it was that I keep my name and my father’s name above reproach. I have tried to do that all my life.
We do stand as witnesses before God “at all times and in all things, and in all places” by our actions. When our actions are honorable, we bring credit to his church and kingdom; when they are not, it reflects on the entire Church.
May you live by your solemn agreements to God, thereby meriting the respect of God and your fellowman.