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.
We, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Lattery-day Saints, are a covenant-making people. In the October 2006 Ensign, Elder Holland stated “This way we each have chosen, the way along which our Savior assists us, is the way of the covenant.
The Oxford Dictionary defines “covenant” as “an agreement that brings about a relationship of commitment between God and his people”. The Bible Dictionary defines it thusly:
Sometimes denotes an agreement between persons (1 Sam. 23: 18) or nations (1 Sam. 11: 1); more often between God and man; but in this latter case it is important to notice that the two parties to the agreement do not stand in the relation of independent and equal contractors. God in his good pleasure fixes the terms, which man accepts.
I like that. It’s a commitment. A promise. A binding declaration that we will do what God asks, and in return, He will do as He has promised. However, this contract with the Lord is not like most. Both parties do not determine its stipulations and statements. President Joseph Fielding Smith explains:
When a covenant is made between two men or parties, it is usual for each party or man to have a voice in the contract and its various stipulations. This is not the case with a covenant coming to man from the Lord. It is the duty of man to accept all the provisions of such a sacred covenant established for his eternal benefit.
Man does not have the right to change in any sense whatever, or reject in the slightest degree any part of a covenant which the Lord presents for his benefit and salvation. (Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 1, p. 154)
This is demonstrated in the Book of Mormon when King Benjamin’s people proclaimed “And we are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us…” (Mosiah 5:5-8). They didn’t specify terms—they simply promised to do what God required of them.
Only upon obedience to our covenants do we realize the power vested within them. We see blessings fulfilled and lives changed. Elder Maxwell once said that “if we will keep our covenants, our covenants will keep us spiritually safe” (Ensign, May 1987, p. 71). How will they keep us safe? Elder Holland answered that “…the power of [our] covenants is greater than the power of temptation” (Ensign, October 2006, p. 14).
President Hinckley clarified the promises and power associated with making covenants:
I remind all of us that we are Latter-day Saints. We have made covenants with our Heavenly Father, sacred and binding. Those covenants, if we keep them, will make us better fathers and mothers, better sons and daughters. I believe that others will rally around us if we will do so. We can stand for truth and goodness, and we will not stand alone. Moreover, we shall have the unseen forces of heaven to assist us. (Discourses of President Gordon B. Hinckley, Vol. 2, p. 214)
In “the way of the covenant”, we become one with God as we are commanded to do in the scriptures. In his book Believing Christ, Stephen E. Robinson clarifies how this happens:
As husband and wife become one with each other through the covenant of marriagae, so the Savior and the saved become one with each other through the covenant of the gospel. (c.f. 1 Cor. 6:15-17.) Just as a bride renounces all competing claims upon her loyalties and normally takes her husband’s last name, so those who enter this covenant with Christ renounce all competing loyalties, put him first, and take his name upon them.
We progress here in our mortal probation by making and keeping these covenants. The path is an upward one, with each step representing a new and higher covenant. As we make and fulfill one covenant, we qualify and prepare ourselves to make a higher one.
And so it goes, the more faithful and devoted a person is, the more of the covenants of the Lord he is enabled to receive, until he receives them in full and his caling and election is made sure. (Mormon Doctrine, p. 167)
Covenants allow us to measure ourselves. We don’t measure ourselves against others, but against our own progress. Am I doing better than I did last week? Have I fulfilled my covenanted responsibility to do X or Y?
A periodic review of the covenants we have made with the Lord will help us with our priorities and with balance in our lives. This review will help us see where we need to repent and change our lives to ensure that we are worthy of the promises that accompany our covenants and sacred ordinances. (Ensign, May 1987, p. 14)
The way of the covenant. It is unique, challenging, enlightening, and miraculous. God will prepare a way for each of us to obey His commandments and keep our covenants. And as we draw closer to God through making and keeping our covenants, He will draw closer to us. That, I think, is a great blessing.