What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
I gave the following talk in another ward today:
photo credit: ConstantineD
In a July 2005 First Presidency letter sent to every ward and branch around the world, President Gordon B. Hinckley invited every member of the Church to read the Book of Mormon by the end of that year—this in addition to a Sunday School curriculum that was already focusing on that book for the entire year. Following up on this invitation, President Hinckley authored an article in the August Ensign detailing the importance of the Book of Mormon. Part of that address reads as follows:
The Book of Mormon narrative is a chronicle of nations long since gone. But in its descriptions of the problems of today’s society, it is as current as the morning newspaper and much more definitive, inspired, and inspiring concerning the solutions of those problems.
I know of no other writing which sets forth with such clarity the tragic consequences to societies that follow courses contrary to the commandments of God. Its pages trace the stories of two distinct civilizations that flourished on the Western Hemisphere. Each began as a small nation, its people walking in the fear of the Lord. But with prosperity came growing evils. The people succumbed to the wiles of ambitious and scheming leaders who oppressed them with burdensome taxes, who lulled them with hollow promises, who countenanced and even encouraged loose and lascivious living. These evil schemers led the people into terrible wars that resulted in the death of millions and the final and total extinction of two great civilizations in two different eras.
No other written testament so clearly illustrates the fact that when men and nations walk in the fear of God and in obedience to His commandments, they prosper and grow, but when they disregard Him and His word, there comes a decay that, unless arrested by righteousness, leads to impotence and death. The Book of Mormon is an affirmation of the Old Testament proverb: “Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34).
The God of heaven spoke to these people of the Americas through prophets, telling them where true security could be found: “Behold, this is a choice land, and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall be free from bondage, and from captivity, and from all other nations under heaven, if they will but serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ” (Ether 2:12). (emphasis added)
While the Book of Mormon has several themes and lessons, President Hinckley highlighted for us here some of the more glaring and general applications to be found. Written for our day, this book exists not only to uplift and edify each of us in our spiritual journey down the straight and narrow path, but also to help us know what may soon lie at our doorstep. After making several observations that equally apply to our own day—widespread abandonment of God, prosperity leading people into pride, corrupt politicians, and ruthless military conflicts—President Hinckley made mention of what you and I need to do if we are to effect any change. He spoke of these things developing into a societal decay that needs to be “arrested by righteousness”. Let’s analyze this antidote together.
A Book of Mormon theme
Throughout the Book of Mormon, prophets of old invite us to come unto Christ and partake of the Atonement—an action in which the Holy Ghost is a central and necessary figure. Nephi taught that the Lord “inviteth  all to come unto him and partake of his goodness.” Jacob wrote that he and his brethren “labored diligently among our people, that we might persuade them to come unto Christ, and partake of the goodness of God.” Of God’s people living after His visit on this continent, we read that all were “partakers of the heavenly gift”.
These and other scriptures illustrate a key connection between coming to Christ and personally partaking of the spirit of the Lord. Over and over again in the scriptures we are encouraged to follow God by obeying His teachings and commandments in order to qualify for the Holy Ghost’s companionship and guidance.
President Hinckley noted that societal decay begins when individuals refuse to “walk in the fear of God and in obedience to His commandments”. It then follows that the counter-offensive in this battle is our own willingness to do just that. Collectively coming to Christ as a people is the “true security” President Hinckley mentioned, and our only opportunity for avoiding the fate that befell the two previous civilizations God raised up in this land.
Arresting decay with righteousness means proactively and productively spreading the gospel message, exemplifying Christ’s teachings in our lives, boldly proclaiming truth, and rejecting the various counterfeits promoted by the adversary to lure us away from our goal of coming unto Christ. To make such an arrest requires us to take action, and not passively or quietly live the gospel. Simply being a good person is not enough, for as President Hinckley also taught:
You must be good for something. You must contribute good to the world. The world must be a better place for your presence. And the good that is in you must be spread to others.
The Holy Ghost’s role
In Doctrine and Covenants, we read of the Lord commanding us to “be anxiously engaged in a good cause, …and bring to pass much righteousness.” Righteousness was defined by Noah Webster in 1828 as being “purity of heart and rectitude of life; conformity… to the divine law.” It is through the gift of the Holy Ghost that our hearts are purified, and that we are made known how we need to change our lives to be in better harmony with God’s will for us.
In perhaps one of the most poetic descriptions of the Holy Ghost, Parley P. Pratt wrote the following:
The gift of the Holy Ghost adapts itself [in many facets of our lives]. It quickens all the intellectual faculties, increases, enlarges, expands and purifies all the natural passions and affections and adapts them by the gift of wisdom to their lawful use. It inspires, develops, cultivates and matures all the fine-toned sympathies, joys, tastes, kindred feelings and affections of our nature. It inspires virtue, kindness, goodness, tenderness, gentleness and charity. It develops beauty of person, form and features. It tends to health, vigor, animation and social feeling. It invigorates all the faculties of the physical and intellectual man. It strengthens, and gives tone to the nerves. In short, it is, as it were, marrow to the bone, joy to the heart, light to the eyes, music to the ears, and life to the whole being.
The apostle Paul taught that we should take upon ourselves the armor of God to “stand against the wiles of the devil” and “spiritual wickedness in high places”. But Parley P. Pratt’s description makes clear that this armor is not an exo-skeletal layer that can be quickly discarded when not needed, but rather an internalized strength that fortifies our faculties and enhances our God-given gifts.
Being the internal feature that it is, we must incorporate it slowly and over time. This prolonged process of daily spiritual preparation stands in stark contrast to our world of quick fixes, instant gratification, and enticing distractions. We must resist the pull of the world and dedicate the time and energy necessary to allow the Spirit to adapt itself to our lives. Alma had this to say on the subject:
And now, my beloved brethren, I desire that ye should remember these things, and that ye should work out your salvation with fear before God, and that ye should no more deny the coming of Christ;
That ye contend no more against the Holy Ghost, but that ye receive it, and take upon you the name of Christ; that ye humble yourselves even to the dust, and worship God, in whatsoever place ye may be in, in spirit and in truth; and that ye live in thanksgiving daily, for the many mercies and blessings which he doth bestow upon you. (emphasis added)
Now, I doubt any of us are actively contending against the Holy Ghost by seeking out opportunities to engage in sinful behavior and cause the Spirit to leave our presence. But while we may not be contending through sins of commission, chances are high that various sins of omission are taking place that prevent us from receiving the Holy Ghost as often and as powerfully as we otherwise might. Whether we are quick to anger, constantly listen to loud music, are simply too busy, esteem spiritual things of low or no value, or are indifferent to the strength of our spiritual armor, you and I surely are contending against the Holy Ghost in some form or another. It is up to us to change this pattern, for as Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, “the Holy Ghost… is not an intruder!”
A personal touch
We need the guidance and strength of the Holy Ghost in our lives not just to arrest the decay of society as a whole, but first—and most importantly—to arrest our own. Captain Moroni reminded us that “God has said that the inward vessel shall be cleansed first, and then shall the outer vessel be cleansed also.” We are of little use in a battle if we have not taken the time to prepare, to build our armor, and to rid ourselves of habits and characteristics that would jeopardize our chance of success.
If you or I have a problem with lying, with greed, with pornography, with a drug addiction, or with any other number of issues, then we are of little use in helping society improve. Indeed, if we outwardly try and challenge something that we inwardly struggle with, then we should take a step back and work to fix that problem first. This is where it is important to receive the Holy Ghost—to let it work in our lives to help purify our hearts, our minds, our intentions, and our behavior. President Marion G. Romney taught:
[The Holy Ghost] converts [us] from carnality to spirituality. It cleanses, heals, and purifies the soul. … Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, and water baptism are all preliminary and prerequisite to it, but [the baptism of fire] is the consummation. To receive [this baptism of fire] is to have one’s garments washed in the atoning blood of Jesus Christ.
The Holy Ghost is not some abstract theological concept—it is a very real divine gift that can help you and I overcome our sins, our fears, our shortcomings, and our trials. As Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin taught, its principal mission “is to testify of our Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ.” As it does so, we will realize in what ways our lives have deviated from their divine path, and we will be persuaded to repent and align our actions with God’s will. We will be blessed with the capacity and desire to incorporate Christ’s teachings into our daily lives, and strive to do what He would have us do. As we then work to dutifully obey the commandments and follow God’s will, we will be more receptive to the guidance, comfort, and strength that the Holy Ghost can offer us as we continue to face new challenges.
Are we receiving it?
If we stop to consider how well we’re doing in proactively receiving the Holy Ghost, would we feel good about our efforts and spiritual strength? Consider the following assessment by President Joseph Fielding Smith:
…it is my judgment that there are many members of this Church who have been baptized for the remission of their sins, and who have had hands laid upon their heads for the gift of the Holy Ghost, but who have never received that gift—that is, the manifestations of it. Why? Because they have never put themselves in order to receive these manifestations. They have never humbled themselves. They have never taken the steps that would prepare them for the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Therefore, they go through life without that knowledge; they are lacking in understanding. When those who are cunning and crafty in their deceit come to them criticizing the authorities of the Church and the doctrines of the Church, these weak members do not have understanding enough, information enough, and enough of the guidance of the Spirit of the Lord to resist false doctrines and teachings.
On a similar note, Elder Wirthlin has said:
I fear that some members of the Lord’s Church “live far beneath our privileges” with regard to the gift of the Holy Ghost. Some are distracted by the things of the world that block out the influence of the Holy Ghost, preventing them from recognizing spiritual promptings. This is a noisy and busy world that we live in. Remember that being busy is not necessarily being spiritual. If we are not careful, the things of this world can crowd out the things of the Spirit.
Some are spiritually deadened and past feeling because of their choices to commit sin. Others simply hover in spiritual complacency with no desire to rise above themselves and commune with the Infinite.
If they would open their hearts to the refining influence of this unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost, a glorious new spiritual dimension would come to light. Their eyes would gaze upon a vista scarcely imaginable. They could know for themselves things of the Spirit that are choice, precious, and capable of enlarging the soul, expanding the mind, and filling the heart with inexpressible joy.
A warning against deception
Jesus Christ warned us of false prophets and that even the very elect would, in the last days, be deceived. President Hinckley, as we saw earlier, mentioned the Book of Mormon’s examples of entire societies falling prey to scheming leaders and conniving politicians. In the Word of Wisdom, found in section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants, we are told that it was given to the Saints “in consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days.” In Satan’s world of counterfeits, it is imperative that we have sufficient spiritual sensitivity to be able to discern things “as they really are”. Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught:
The Holy Ghost will protect us against being deceived, but to realize that wonderful blessing we must always do the things necessary to retain that Spirit. We must keep the commandments, pray for guidance, and attend church and partake of the sacrament each Sunday. And we must never do anything to drive away that Spirit. Specifically, we should avoid pornography, alcohol, tobacco and drugs, and always, always avoid violations of the law of chastity. We must never take things into our bodies or do things with our bodies that drive away the Spirit of the Lord and leave us without our spiritual protection against deception.
Surely for this as well as for other reasons, Alma warned us to not contend against the Holy Ghost. Whenever we refuse to humble ourselves and do what is required to receive the Spirit’s companionship, we are in fact contending against it. At all times, so long as we have been given the gift of the Holy Ghost after baptism, it is ready and willing to abide with us and influence our lives—to adapt our faculties, as Parley P. Pratt said. In addition to the Spirit’s companionship, each of us is given various “gifts of the Spirit”, as explained by Moroni, Paul, and the Lord. Prefacing His own list of such gifts, the Lord had this to say:
But ye are commanded in all things to ask of God, who giveth liberally; and that which the Spirit testifies unto you even so I would that ye should do in all holiness of heart, walking uprightly before me, considering the end of your salvation, doing all things with prayer and thanksgiving, that ye may not be seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men; for some are of men, and others of devils.
Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived; and that ye may not be deceived seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given; (emphasis added)
Living in the last days as we do, we need the Holy Ghost more than perhaps any of God’s children who have preceded us. Deception comes in many forms and applies to any subject matter. Whether it be the supposed relief of a drug-induced stupor, the lustful consumption of pornography, the quest for wealth through gambling or fraud, the desire for success through cheating, or any number of other sins, we must beware of the adversary’s lies and counterfeits; we need the Holy Ghost to help us in that effort. The Lord has declared:
And now, verily, verily, I say unto thee, put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy;
President Hinckley’s invitation to the Saints to read the Book of Mormon in the course of a few months could have been for any number of reasons. But one cannot escape the clear message sent by his emphasizing the course of two separate societies on this continent, both of which fell into pride, wickedness, war, immorality, and self-destruction. This book, written for our day, sends us a clear message: repent or suffer the same fate.
It has been suggested that you and I can arrest that slow decay through our righteousness, and indeed we can. First, however, we need to ensure that our lives are in order—that we enjoy the companionship and guidance of the Holy Ghost to such a degree that we can be “good for something”.
Nephi said that “if ye will… receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.” Brothers and Sisters, as I survey the conditions of the world in which we live, I am quite confident that we need that direction. We need the guidance, the strength, the comfort, the witness, and the enabling powers of the Holy Ghost. Let us each work to humble ourselves, to be perfectly obedient, and to earnestly seek to qualify for the constant companionship of this divine gift, so that we can arrest the decay in our lives and in society with our righteousness. I testify that the Holy Ghost is real, it is powerful, and it is accessible at any time we choose to invite it into our lives. That we may we each work to receive the Holy Ghost is my prayer.