Cleanse Us from All Unrighteousness


Neal A. Maxwell
From an address given by Elder Maxwell at the Young Adult Fireside on Temple Square on June 23, 1985; printed in the February 1986 Ensign.

Cleanse Us from All Unrighteousness

May I express my appreciation for and confidence in the youth of the Church? As a special generation, placed here by Divine design at a special time, special chores await you. Collectively, you will be equal to your days in the unfolding history of the kingdom of God on the earth.

If you wonder why we sometimes speak to you with greater emphasis on certain commandments, it has to do with their relevancy to the various seasons of life. Hence the special emphasis on morality and on keeping the seventh commandment, “Thou shalt not … commit adultery … nor do anything like unto it” (D&C 59:6).

The experimentation and permissiveness of our age make those last five words—“nor anything like unto it”—ring with even more meaning, do they not?

The gospel and Church of Jesus Christ have a single standard of human conduct. There is but one strait and narrow path for all—men and women; old and young; married and single; black, brown, and white; rich and poor.

It must be so, for we worship a just Lord, and He has vowed to purify unto Himself a peculiar people (see Titus 2:14; D&C 43:14; D&C 100:16). Peculiar doesn’t mean odd or eccentric, but, instead, as when Moses wrote, a “special” or a “treasured” people (see Ex. 19:5; Deut. 7:6).

Those committed to the keeping of the stern but sweet seventh commandment in a time of increasing immorality will need to be special. Average won’t do now, anymore than average was adequate in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Civilizations as well as souls are at stake. One scholar who studied dozens of civilizations forecast that in “the struggle between nations, those who cling to chastity will, in all likelihood, keep the upper hand”—and a commentator added “[because] they try to keep intact the family which promiscuity and homosexuality tend to destroy” (The Human Life Review, Spring 1978, p. 71).

The seventh commandment is probably “Exhibit A” as to how much The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints differs from the world on basic behavioral issues. The world cares very little about the breaking of this commandment, so long as people appear to be contributive in any other respect.

So much will depend, Brothers and Sisters, upon your developing and using righteous reflexes. Reprocessing the same temptation, again and again, is unnecessary and unwise.

Of Jesus we read, “He suffered temptations but gave no heed unto them” (D&C 20:22). We cannot become like Jesus, attribute by attribute, if we display hesitancy as to our purity, or if we are undiscerning between joy and pleasure. Lust is no more like love than itching is to joy, or talkativeness to wisdom, or indulgence to compassion, or passivity to patience.

Henry Fairlie has written perceptively in his book The Seven Deadly Sins Today concerning how “the lustful person will usually be found to have a terrible hollowness at the center of his life” and about “the desert he has made of himself and his life” (Washington, D.C.: New Republic Books, 1978, p. 187). “Lust,” wrote Fairlie, “is not interested in its partners, but only in the gratification of its own craving. … Lust dies at the next dawn, and when it returns in the evening, to search where it may, it is with its own past erased” (Seven Sins, p. 175).

Those so drained by sensuality do, in fact, seek to compensate for their loneliness by sensations. However, in the arithmetic of appetite, anything multiplied by zero still totals zero! But the senseless search goes on, just as Samuel the Lamanite bemoaned, “for ye have sought all the days of your lives for that which ye could not obtain … for happiness in doing iniquity” (Hel. 13:38; see also Alma 41:10; Morm. 2:13).

So it is that sexual immorality finally causes the isolation of the individual from God, from others, and, yes, even from oneself!

So it is that the laughter of the world is merely loneliness pathetically trying to reassure itself. Immorality is not the verification of one’s existence; instead, it is the shrinking of one’s significance!

Hence, “Whoso committeth adultery … lacketh understanding: he that doeth it destroyeth his own soul” (Prov. 6:32; italics added). It may be highly fashionable, but it is dumb and detrimental.

Remember the pleading lines from the hymn, “more used would I be”? The key is “more holiness give me” (Hymns, 1985, no. 131). Diminished moral cleanliness means diminished service to mankind, because uncleanliness dulls the tastebuds of the soul and renders us less sensitive to others, to the beauties of life, and to the promptings of the Spirit.

God requires of us a capacity to feel. Yet those who wrongly celebrate their capacity to feel soon become “past feeling,” as we are thrice told by Nephi, Mormon, and Paul (1 Ne. 17:45; Moro. 9:20; Eph. 4:19).

Sexual immorality is not only wrong itself, but, as few things do, it nurtures the deadly virus of selfishness.

Appetites, however cleverly expressed or fashionably clothed, are still appetites. No wonder Alma said that we must bridle all our passions, so that we can be “filled with love” (Alma 38:12). If such passions were actually true love, they would not need to be bridled or replaced.

Furthermore, when we read of those whose hearts are set upon the things of this world, this includes sensual things. When hearts have become so set, they must first be broken in order for the new heart to be made: “Cast away from you all your transgressions … and make you a new heart and a new spirit” (Ezek. 18:31).

Knowing beforehand how we are determined to respond to temptation is vital. When Joseph resisted the entreaties of Potiphar’s predatory wife (Gen. 39:7–12), he was prepared, and he firmly declared his loyalty to Potiphar, but chiefly to God: “How … can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen. 39: 9). Joseph’s obedience was an act of many-splendored loyalty—to God, to himself, to his future family, to Potiphar, and, yes, even to Potiphar’s wife, perhaps sick from her sensual searchings.

The inconsistency of immorality with caring about other matters may be illustrated thusly. What if our increasing care and concern for the environment of nature around us were applied to human nature? Anyone about to commit adultery or fornication or a homosexual act would first be required to submit an environmental impact statement. The rippling consequences of what was about to be done would be assessed and set forth beforehand so the predatory and the misled could at least contemplate, in part, what they are about to inflict on themselves and others.

In one of those rare, sustained periods of human righteousness, there was an absence of sexual immorality “and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God” (4 Ne. 1:16).

Could those in that society, or in the city of Enoch, have had all their material goods in common if the virus of selfishness had been present?

When we breach the seventh commandment, can we really be said to love God with all our heart, if we love a moment of pleasure more? When we breach the seventh commandment, can we say that we truly love that “neighbor” as ourselves? Do we not also then bear false witness as to what really matters in this life? Is not the breaching of the seventh commandment an act which dishonors one’s father and mother?

Even a glimpse of the ecology of God shows this interrelatedness of the commandments. A steady gaze tells us even more!

Peter wrote about how the conversational filthiness of Sodom and Gomorrah actually vexed Lot (2 Pet. 2:7–8). Surely you, as today’s “children of light,” know what it is like to be so vexed, whether in conversation, music, film, or print. I even wonder if such an oppressive environment will not become another reason for the Saints of latter-days to pray, as we will, unceasingly, for the Lord to come!

Jesus prophesied of the last days, that because iniquity will abound, the love of many will wax cold; there will be less and less real love to go around (see Matt. 24:12). Because of increasing iniquity, there will also be, said Moroni, increasing human despair (see Moro. 10:22). Desensitized man is thus robbed of hope, and through immorality he loses faith and love. What then of faith, hope, and charity? (see D&C 42:23).

When we breach the seventh commandment, we thus hurt ourselves and others, too. When we are unhappy with ourselves, other people suffer. In this sense, there is no sin which is private! Furthermore, lust prevents the development of true love and thereby blocks us from keeping the first and second great commandments.

My friends, you cannot go where you must go and do what you are to do except you be increasingly pure. Purity becomes you and helps you to become!

If mistakes have been made in the past, hear these marvelous assurances for those who confess and desist.

“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isa. 1:18).

“All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live” (Ezek. 18:22).

Hear what Elder James E. Talmage wrote: “The ordinances of the [temple] endowment embody certain obligations on the part of the individual, such as a covenant and promise to observe the law of strict virtue and chastity” (The House of the Lord, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1968, p. 84).

It is significant that the covenants the Lord requires of us in the holy temple do not include, for instance, specific covenants to keep the Sabbath day holy or to honor our fathers and mothers, though these commandments are very important.

The stress on the seventh commandment is special!

My beloved friends, you are the vanguard of the righteous spirits to be infused into the Church in the last days. Back beyond time, it was so determined, and you were prepared—before the foundations of the world—to help save others in the latter-day world.

You cannot keep that resplendent rendezvous if you become like the world! Make your righteous marks on the world instead of being spotted by the world.

Be true, now, to your emotions of long ago when, as the Lord set in motion His plan of salvation and laid the foundation of this earth, “The morning stars sang together, and all the sons [and daughters] of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:7).

[photo] Photography by Longin Lonczyna Jr.

[photo] Photography by Floyd Holdman