My beloved brothers and sisters, I am overwhelmed at this magnificent audience of over 23,000, according to President Oaks’s estimate. The background screen has been raised so that those sitting behind the screen could have a place in sight of all of us. Thank you, you wonderful brothers and sisters—my friends, in the same sense that the Master called his disciples friends; not servants, but friends.
I am delighted to be with you. While my schedule does not permit me to have this wonderful experience very often, I said to the brethren, “I think it has been so long since I was here last that you probably have recovered from my last visit.” I would like you to know, however, that my thoughts have often been with you, when I have not been on the campus. You have never been absent from my mind, as one of the greatest student bodies of the world, and, I think, with no exception.
I am more grateful than I have words to express for this award that I have received. No one who seeks to serve our exemplary Master, as I desire to do, can take lightly the honor that you have accorded me, for I realize that He alone is the perfect model. The Master said, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Some people scoff at that, saying, “How can we be made perfect, even as He is perfect?” But the Prophet-Leader of this Church declared “that it is like a ladder in this Church: you climb step by step, until you arrive at the top. But it will be a long while after we go through the veil until we have reached the fullness of the glories of the Celestial Kingdom.”
In a revelation, the Lord has declared that those who live the laws of the celestial kingdom here, when they pass through the veil and are resurrected, will be quickened by a portion of celestial glory and then will continue onward until they receive the perfectness (D&C 88:28–29). Only then can I be satisfied that I could be the model, when I shall have arrived at that place where the Lord wants us all to arrive. Nevertheless, I want to express appreciation to those who have made this presentation to me and for this opportunity to speak to so many of you in this special setting—so many of you that I am overwhelmed, that I confess that I am very nervous as I stand before you, wondering if I have enough of what it takes to address such an audience.
When I was a stake president, I called to serve as the junior member of the high council a man who had at one time been in the stake presidency. I asked him if he had any diffidence in accepting this junior position, and he replied, “The only honor there is in any position in this church is the honor that we, ourselves, bring to it. It doesn’t make any difference where I serve, or when.”
I echo that same sentiment here today. The only honor there is in any position, in that one sense, means that no matter where we are or what we may be called, it is the honor that we, ourselves, bring to it that makes all the difference in the world.
Some who have had an illustrious heritage seem at times to be boastful. Someone has said, “Humility is a rare virtue. When most people become humble, they soon become proud they are humble.” I was in the New England Mission when there were some high-named missionaries there. They had the names of Grant, and Madsen, and Kimball, and Smith, and so on; and some of them had only names like Lee and Jones. And those with high-sounding names, so the mission president said, felt themselves very superior. I shall never forget when our good friend, President S. Dilworth Young, stood before a group of those who were shrinking back, thinking that they were not so popular, and said, “Let me tell you folks something. You may not have illustrious ancestors, but each of you can become a great ancestor.” And it is that which I say to you folks here today.
Blessings Contingent upon Obedience
I heard President Howard Bennion, who was a scribe for his father, a patriarch, tell about listening to many of the blessings of his father. He noticed in these patriarchal blessings that they were contingent upon “if you do this,” or “if you do that.” He said, “I began to call them ‘iffy blessings.’” He said, “As I watched and had in mind those men to whom those ‘iffy’ blessings had been given, . . . I noticed that those who did not heed the warnings fell by the wayside.”
As you know, that started me to thinking. I looked back through the revelations in the early rise of this church, and I found that the Lord had given ‘iffy’ revelations to many of the early leaders. If you want an interesting exercise, read what the Lord said about William E. McLellin, or what he said and what he warned about Thomas B. Marsh; and because they did not heed that warning, as others did, they failed. They lost their testimony and fell by the wayside.
I repeat to you here this morning something President Grant once said that rather startled me. He said he had heard of men who declared that they had had a personal visitation from the Lord. And then President Grant added, “Some of those who had that experience lost their testimonies. It seemed that they became puffed up in the pride of their hearts, perhaps thinking that they were more special to the Lord than others who had not received the same experience.” And I say when one receives that kind of a visitation, it must be that he has had a vision; for, as Moses said, one couldn’t stand in the presence of the Lord except he had been quickened by the Spirit of the Lord (Moses 1:13–15). As the Lord said in a revelation to the Prophet:
For no man has seen God at any time in the flesh except quickened by the Spirit of God.
Neither can any natural man abide the presence of God, neither after the carnal mind.
Ye are not able to abide the presence of God now, neither the ministering of angels; wherefore, continue in patience until ye are perfected. [D&C 67:11–13]
As I have thought of that, I am sobered by it. As I pray for the guidance of the Spirit, and seek to rise to the responsibility which has been given me, I don’t ask for any special endowment. I ask only to go where the Lord would have me go, and only to receive what the Lord would have me receive, knowing that more important than sight is the witness that one may have by the witness of the Holy Ghost to his soul that things are so and that Jesus is the Christ, a living personage. It is that which guides me through many of the experiences of life.
A Balanced Education
Because I cannot come to this campus very often, there are several things I wish to say that may be preliminary, in a sense, to my basic remarks to you; there are many things I would like to say that I may not have the time to say.
The men and women who are admitted to Brigham Young University are encouraged to pursue an education that is concerned with the spiritual, the intellectual, the cultural, and the physical aspects of their nature. The Board of Trustees expects our students to be diligent in using the resources of this great institution in acquiring this kind of education. One of the most important skills that you can learn at this university is the ability to budget your time carefully. You should certainly provide sufficient time for Church service, time for attention to your family responsibilities, and time for adequate but not excessive social activity. All these things are important, but you should devote most of your time to the acquiring of an education. This is the central objective of your university years, and in many cases your parents’ sacrifices make it possible for you to come here. Education is also the major reason for the Church’s enormous commitment, financially speaking, to this and its other institutions of higher education.
“Why has the Church been concerned over the years about the maintaining of schools for learning in secular subjects?” we are often asked. And our answer is, “To develop the whole person and not just the intellectual—that we want those who graduate from this university to be not just intellectually but spiritually, and culturally, and physically developed.” I am reminded of the story told of the boy who went to college and obtained a part-time job chopping wood, to work his way through school. Others, seeing his proficiency in chopping wood, asked for his services, and he accepted. He soon had so many of these offers that he began to neglect his studies and became a woodchopper and never completed his education. Now I have no quarrel with being a woodchopper, but that wasn’t the purpose of his going to that institution. You can get that kind of an education elsewhere. So, keep in mind that the prime purpose of coming here is to get the kind of basic education that balances and prepares you for the battle of life.
I listened some years ago to a startling confession of a man who stood in a high place. I shall speak carefulIy of this, lest you try to identify him. He said he had gone to a midwest university, where he received his Ph.D. in education. His father, who was in the Presidency of the Church, went to his graduation exercises and, after the exercises were over, took him to lunch and said to him, “My boy, for eight years now you have done very little in the Church. You have gone through your college years, and now you have gone through your Ph.D. years, and you haven’t been very active in the Church. I want you to promise me that when you get back home you will get active in the Church.”
But the son said, “When I returned home, to my shocking surprise, the boys with whom I had graduated from high school had grown spiritually until they were Ph.D.’s in religion, but I was still in the high school age. I had laid aside my religion for eight years.”
As I listened to that rather sad confession, and being closely associated with that man, I watched him go through the rest of his life. He never did have his spiritual self catch up with that intellectual side. The result was that he failed to take the counsel of his father. He went through life making decisions by his own measure of what was right and wrong, and finally he lost his place in the Church and was excommunicated because of his conduct. I say, as you think of that, it should be a warning to all of us that we must keep our spiritual selves as alive and growing as our intellectual selves.
I listened to an excerpt of a testimony of a man who was a member of the Twelve and of whom President Grant had said that he never knew a man who had a greater gift of prophecy than did this man. There was put in my hands a quotation from a sermon that he had delivered some fifty years before, which proved to be the last sermon he had ever delivered as a member of the Twelve. Before another conference, he was dropped from the Council of the Twelve and subsequently left the Church. This is what he said, in that last sermon: “That person is not truly converted unless he sees the power of God resting upon the leaders of this Church and it goes down into his heart like fire.” And I repeat that to you here today. The measure of your true conversion and whether or not you hold fast to those ideals is whether or not you are so living that you see the power of God resting upon the leaders of this Church and that testimony goes down into your heart like fire.
With these illustrations, perhaps I can impress upon you again what I have said to you before, especially some things that I said at the inauguration of President Dallin Oaks in 1971. The First Presidency had previously declared that because of its unique combination of revealed and secular learning, Brigham Young University is destined to become a leader among the great universities of the world. If that lofty goal is to be obtained, it must be based upon the extraordinary efforts of the students of Brigham Young University, as well as the dedicated and skillful instruction and research of faculty and staff of the university. And I added at that inaugural exercise, “The acquiring of knowledge by faith is no easy road to learning. It will demand strenuous effort and continual striving by faith. In short, learning by faith is no task for a lazy man.” Someone has said, in effect, that, “such a process requires the bending of the whole soul, the calling up from the depths of the human mind and linking the person with God. The right connection must be formed; then only comes knowledge by faith, a kind of knowledge that goes beyond secular learning, that reaches into the realms of the unknown and makes those who follow that course great in the sight of the Lord” (President Brigham H. Roberts).
In seeking this balance between things academic and spiritual, we, of course, hope that you will conduct your lives in a way that will reflect credit upon you, upon your parents, upon the Church, and upon this university. Now, one word of caution about overstressing your religious opportunities to the neglect of your college studies or your family responsibilities.
We have had shocking examples of Church leaders in some stakes and wards who have seemingly used their business and Church assignments as excuses for neglecting their families. In one case I heard a wife say, “Because he was so much away in his business and his Church responsibilities, I was just little more than a hired woman in his house.” I have frequently counseled, and I repeat it to you again, to all of you here: “The most important of the Lord’s work you will ever do will be within the walls of your own homes.” We must never forget that.
Standards of Conduct and Appearance
Your code of honor, which has been spoken of, contains important principles of conduct that the First Presidency and the Board of Trustees expect all students and employees of this university to maintain. I was greatly pleased with the address of President Oaks on this subject at your opening assembly, as reported in the press. Now, I only had a brief report, and I’m anxious to get a copy of the complete text. May I merely say, however, that I heartily endorse all that I did read, and because of my confidence in President Oaks, I endorse all that he said that I didn’t read.
Without belaboring this subject, may I merely say: do not underestimate the important symbolic and actual effect of appearance. Persons who are well groomed and modestly dressed invite the companionship of the Spirit of our Father in heaven and are able to exercise a wholesome influence upon those around them. Persons who are unkempt and careless about their appearance, or adopt the visual symbols of those who often oppose our ideals, expose themselves and persons around them to influences that are degrading and dissonant.
Outward appearance is often a reflection of inward tendencies. Someone has said that a shoddy housekeeper is more often than not the evidence of an unsuccessful manager of her household. And may I add, so often is it the reflection of the kind of treatment she gets from her husband. An author once said, “The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.” And I would add to that, “A woman happy with her husband is better for her children than a hundred books on child welfare.”
It was Samuel Smiles, a philosopher, who once said, “It is a common saying that manners make the man. There is another saying that mind makes the man. But truer than either, the third, the home makes the man, for the home training includes not only manners and mind but character as well. It is mainly in the home that the heart is touched, habits are formed, the intellect is awakened, and character is molded.”
Recently in one of our wards a young girl in her late teens said in her talk something that was very meaningful. She was out with her father in the country where they lived, helping him with the chores. They made their living milking cows. At four o’clock in the morning, as they began their work, the father said to her, “My girl, you are the product of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and you are also the product of a Latter-day Saint home. If you fail, your church and your home have failed also.” And then this girl added, “That was impressed upon my mind, that I had a responsibility to the church to which I belonged and the home from which I had come.”
President Oaks and I were talking at our last board meeting, and I commented upon the high standards of BYU conduct as I had observed it then and had learned of them from others. He remarked that most importantly the reason for that kind of conduct was that most of the students have come from true Latter-day Saint homes. That, you students must realize, is the fundamental basis of what we are trying to impress here, right conduct.
We had a visit here from Mr. Eugene R. Black, former president of the World Bank. I became associated with him when I was a fellow director of the Equitable Life Assurance Society. He had come here to participate in a businessmen’s seminar at the Y. After he returned to New York, and at our next board meeting, I was anxious to get his appraisal of what he had seen and heard here. His comment was to this effect: “John W. Gardner [and many of you know who John W. Gardner is] must see this as a model for college campuses, because of its superb high standards. I have never seen the equal anywhere in all the world.” Now here is a man of world learning and world experience.
The Role of the Wife
Now, just a word to women students, in this day, when so much is being said about the prime role of the woman. We say the prime role in life for a woman is to become a wife and a mother. It is wise for young women also to receive a proper education. You might think of your education as an insurance against the uncertainties of life. As Mark Twain said of his daughter, Susan, who died when she was twenty-five years of age—he was on a lecture tour in Europe and couldn’t be home, but when he wrote about her he said, “Susie died at the best time of life. She had lived her golden years, for after this, there come the risks and the responsibilities and the inevitable tragedies of life.” No one knows what those inevitable tragedies may be. And it is well that we educate our women as well as our brethren as an insurance against the inevitable tragedies that come—disabled husbands, widows. I would caution, however, that a husband, when his wife works, not thereafter expect perpetual care and aid from his wife, but rather he should assume his own responsibilities in his family. I think careless husbands may often expect more than a wife should be expected to give.
One of our daughters graduated from this school. She received a minor in childhood education, and afterwards she, with the wife of one of the students down at Stanford, in order to help their husbands, obtained a license to conduct a small nursery. They were getting along very well, until both of them began to prepare for new motherhood. So the public nursery had to give way to their own private nurseries. Our other daughter didn’t quite graduate from the University of Utah—she’s here on the stand—because she found a higher education for herself. She has been just as successful as a mother because she never lost her desire for education beyond the college education. Educational opportunities for learning shouldn’t end with marriage; a mother should keep herself aware of what is going on in the world so that she can keep pace with the learning of her growing-up family. If her husband has been a college student, the more she can make herself come to understand the problems in his life, and he in her life, the more likelihood there is that there will be a successful marriage relationship.
The Husband’s Responsibility
Now I’d like to say a word to the men and their responsibilities to women. I had a very revealing letter from a cultured, college-trained wife and mother of four children, from up near Ogden. She was writing in answer to the question why so many women are leaving their home and family responsibilities. I suppose thinking of the so-called women’s liberation, she wrote, “It may not be her fault, nor her husband’s alone, if there be a fault-finder for each situation in our lives, yet I feel strongly that the religionists of today must take partial credit for the loss of a woman from her home, because in the system of secular teaching, the marriage is only till death do them part. Well, in this sophisticated society,” she argued, “with a husband engaged furiously in building his career without the need of his wife’s educational help or confidence—and highway deaths occurring at a rapidly alarming rate during the last twenty years—if she doesn’t ‘fit’ into one’s world, she might say, ‘Why wait for death? Why not leave now? Why not, while I still have youth and brains and can find companionship on my own level?’” Then she added, “When religion teaches only a temporary binding, why adhere to such a counterfeit binding? Especially where the husband takes his wife for granted.” And then continuing her comments:
“And don’t be startled, you husbands, when I say many, many men, I’m afraid, do just that. Men are sadly neglected in today’s world in not being taught high appreciation for their wives, throughout life. There is always the courting-flavor of appreciation from the men until the marriage-bed has been accomplished, and also, until the first child appears on the scene. How many men are literally prepared for the advent of a son or daughter in the home immediately? Some men actually seem to resent the ‘intrusion’ of their own children into the world, because these seemingly take the affections of their wives away from them. In view of this attitude on the part of the males in marriage, where has the educational aspect of marriage gone astray for men in this last generation? If the religious world teaches that marriage is only till death do them part, that kind of temporary binding is not the kind that endures.” But I say to you today, thank heaven that in this church, by the power of the priesthood, marriages are performed not only for time but for all eternity.
On These Three Things . . .
And then this cultured mother went on to give some “old-fashioned words that have meaning for successful living: There are a few words that have real meaning, so let’s try a few of them. How about honesty? How about charity? How about faith, morality, character, intelligence? You might say we know that everyone has intelligence, especially if he’s been to a university and been educated, but I beg to differ. Being given an education does not mean that a man is educated, any more than having knowledge makes a man have intelligence. Intelligence is using knowledge with wisdom. How many of our actions in the world require wisdom, real wisdom, that which is beneficial for other men, and not to build self, except in a worthwhile way? For that is the place of each of these old-fashioned qualities. Yes, to build other men and women and children, to teach them to rise up and sing in their glory at being alive, and to be able to help other men and women and children find the joy in this life.” And then she concluded her letter with something rather significant: “I married my husband for better or worse. My marriage may not be perfect, but I will work as hard as I can to make it better. I love America. I love my husband. I love my children. I love my God. And why is this possible? Because I truly love myself also.”
These are certainly some sobering thoughts for you men: I agree with the wife who said, “You men must put ‘for adults only’ movies out of your life. You men must put ‘adults only’ magazines out of your life. You must put ‘adult humor only’ out of your life. These three things alone will destroy you.” Remember what the Lord said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself” (Luke 10:27). Brethren, if you truly believe what the Master said, to love your neighbor as yourself, then turn it about and get the inference of the Master’s further injunction, to love yourself as well as to love your neighbor, as this wife has said.
On these three things hang all the burden of the law and the gospel: the love of God, the love of neighbor, and the love of yourself. In this day when so many seem to have lost the desire for decency, the desire for perfection, may we teach them to pray, as did the old English weaver, “O God, help me to hold a high opinion of myself.”
Follow Those Who Preside
Now, you have given me a most prized award of exemplary manhood. By this token, you apparently have accepted me as someone who has all that exemplary manhood should have. I shall try to be worthy of the honor that you have conferred.
Now may I make a personal reference, which I’ll try to treat in such a way as to preserve the confidentiality. It involved a beautiful, young wife and mother from a prominent family. She had gone away from her home and was now in the East. She had gone out into an area where she and her husband had taken up with those in the ghetto, and she wrote me a rather interesting letter, and I quote only a paragraph: “Tomorrow my husband will shave off his long, full beard. Because of the request of the stake president and your direction in the Priesthood Bulletin, he must not have the appearance of evil or rebellion if he is to get a recommend to go to the temple. I have wept anguished tears; the faces of Moses and Jacob were bearded, and to me the wisdom and spirituality of the old prophets reflected from the face of my own spiritual husband. It was like cutting out for me a symbol of the good things my generation has learned.” Then the letter concluded with a challenge to me: “We are prepared for clear, specific, hard-line direction as youth. Wishy-washy implications are not heard very well here. We look to you to tell it straight.”
I don’t know whether she knew just what she was asking for when she asked me to tell it straight, but these are some things I wrote to her: “In your letter you address me as ‘Dear President Lee,’ and in your first sentence you refer to me as the Lord’s prophet. Now, in your letter you tell me that you are saddened because with the shaving off of the beard and the cutting of the hair, which, to you, made your husband appear as the prophets Moses and Jacob, he would no longer bear that resemblance. I wonder if you might not be wiser to think of following the appearance of the prophets of today. President David O. McKay had no beard or long hair; neither did President Joseph Fielding Smith; and neither does your humble servant whom you have acknowledged as the Lord’s prophet.
“The inconsistency in your letter has made me reflect upon an experience that I had in the mission field when, in company with some missionaries and the mission president, we were at Carthage Jail, where the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph and his brother, Hyrum, took place. In that meeting there were recounted the events that led up to their martyrdom. Then the mission president made some significant comments. He said, ‘When the Prophet Joseph Smith died there were many who died spiritually with Joseph.’ Likewise there were many who died spiritually with Brigham Young, and so with others of the presidents of the Church, because they chose to follow the man who had passed on, rather than giving allegiance to his successor upon whom the mantle of leadership had been given by the Lord’s appointment.” And then I asked her, “Are you following, in looks, prophets who lived hundreds of years ago? Are you really true to your faith as a member of the Church in failing to look to those who preside in the Church today? Why is it that you want your husband to look like Moses and Jacob, rather than to look like the modern prophets to whom you are expressing allegiance? If you will give this sober thought, your tears will dry, and you’ll begin to have some new thoughts.”
My final advice to you lovely girls who are present, perhaps likewise struggling for answers to difficult questions: Accept this word of counsel and apply it to yourselves, you girls, and you young men. Keep your eye upon those who preside in the Church today, or tomorrow, and pattern your life after them rather than to dwell upon how ancient prophets may have looked or thought or spoken, because if you really believe what you say, you will honor the one who presides today as a prophet, seer, and revelator. For the Lord gives to his leaders in their own dispensation and their own time the things that he would have given to his church for the guidance of his people in this present day. This is the thing that makes this church strong. God isn’t an absentee father. Jesus is the head of this church. This church is founded upon apostles and prophets, but Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, is the chief cornerstone. He reveals his mind and will by the power of the Holy Ghost to those who preside, as each President of the Church can testify. Today we see the evidence of His direction as we are seeing His work going forward day by day in our time. Well, that letter seemed to bear fruit, because I had another letter from this sweet sister. She said something that pleased me: “I recall the trials of last week basically being a challenge to my sense of individuality. I have a finer understanding of others now. I also see that, like the Council of the Twelve, we may have individual viewpoints, but each is necessary in the deliberation. Yet by our decision through the mediating and truthful power of the Holy Ghost, we will become of one mind without force. Again I feel refreshed in the blessings which always follow difficulties. I’ve pondered on these experiences and wonder why I felt pressed to share them only with you. I trust you will know. We all long to counsel with a wise man and take comfort in the Lord. Perhaps I wrote my prayer.”
And then she said something that thrilled me, “God bless you, President Lee, that your voice may be heard above the chaos of these days.” That is my plea to you today. With chaos in the world, unless the voice of those who preside today can be heard above the voices of chaos in these days, where are you going to look? Where are you going to go?
Remember Your Heritage
Now, a final injunction to womanhood. I think President McKay has left us with one of the most beautiful messages to point out how valuable you are to a young man if you keep yourself a sweet, pure girl. And I wish that everyone of you could remember this and perhaps get a copy of it, to write it somewhere where you could read it every day of your life. And this is what he said:
But there is a beauty every girl has, a gift from God as pure as sunlight and sacred as life. It is a beauty that all men love, a virtue that wins all men’s souls. That beauty is chastity. Chastity without skin beauty may enkindle the soul. Skin beauty without chastity may enkindle only the eyes. Chastity enshrined in the mold of true womanhood will hold true love eternally.
Now note this, as he closed his statement:
The flower by the roadside that catches the dust of every traveler is not the one to be admired and seldom is ever plucked. But the one blooming way up on the hillside, protected by the perpendicular cliff, is the flower with the virgin perfume, the one that the boy will almost risk his life to possess.
Do you girls get the meaning of that last statement? Don’t be a flower by the roadside that catches the dust by becoming a plaything for a young man who doesn’t appreciate your womanhood. But be like a flower blooming up on the hillside, protected by a high cliff, with your virgin perfume, so that you will be the one whom a fine handsome young man will almost risk his life to possess.
I say to you girls—and you men, I hope you listen to this—beware of the man who comes to you professing that he loves you and then seeks to destroy and rob you of the most precious thing you have in life. No man loves the girl that he wants to harm, and don’t you forget it.
May I just offer one or two more thoughts. One of our Latter-day Saint men during World War II was over in England. He had gone to an officer’s club where they were holding a riotous kind of celebration. He noticed off to the side a young British officer who didn’t seem to be enjoying himself at all. So he walked over to him and said, “You don’t seem to be enjoying this kind of a party.” And this young British officer straightened himself a few inches taller than he was before and replied, “No, sir, I can’t engage in this kind of a party, because, you see, I belong to the royal household of England.”
As our Latter-day Saint boy walked away he said to himself, “Neither can I, because I belong to the royal household of the kingdom of God.” Do you realize that, you young people? There are things that you cannot and must not do if you remember your heritage.
I am reminded of the old court jester who was supposed to entertain his king with interesting stories and antics. He looked at the king who was lolling on his throne, a drunken, filthy rascal, doffed his cap and bells, and said with a mock gesture of obeisance, “O king, be loyal to the royal within you.” And so I say to you young people today, remember your heritage, and be loyal to that royal lineage that you have as members of the church and kingdom of God on the earth.
The Lord’s in His Heaven
A young missionary spoke to me in the temple yesterday, after we had had an hour or so of questions, and said, “I represent these missionaries in telling you we have respect for you, but will you tell us something that will strengthen our testimonies and make us better prepared to go out as missionaries?”
I responded by saying, “Well, let me share with you an experience I had with one of our business executives. His wife and children are members, but he is not. His twin sons are attending Brigham Young University, and one of them is planning to be married in the temple next year. But he said to me, ‘I can’t join the Church until I get a testimony.’ I said to him, ‘The next time you are in Salt Lake, come in and visit with me.’ As we talked following our business meeting a few weeks later I said to him, ‘I don’t know if you realize whether you have a testimony or not; or if you know what a testimony is.’ And so he wanted to know what a testimony is. I answered him by saying, ‘When the time comes that your heart tells you things your mind doesn’t know, that is the Spirit of the Lord dictating to you.’ And then I said, ‘As I’ve come to know you, there are things that you know in your heart are true. No angel is going to tap you on the shoulder and tell you this is true.’” The Spirit of the Lord is as the Master said:
The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth; so is everyone that is born of the Spirit. [John 3:8]
So I said to my friend, the business executive: “Now, remember that your testimony won’t come in a dramatic way, but when it comes, the tears of gladness will water your pillow by night. You’ll know, my beloved friend, when that testimony comes.”
This morning my lovely Joan handed me something that gave me strength—because I knew throughout the night she was troubled and worrying about me, I suppose more than I was worrying about myself in preparation for this morning. She handed me something that had been written by one of our great teachers, the late Elder Adam S. Bennion. It was this: “Whenever we live to the best that is in us, we live up to the ideals He gave us.” Did you get that? “When we live to the best that is in us, we live up to the ideals that the Master gave us. To follow Him brings peace to the soul.” Then he had a quote from a writer who said something significant:
It isn’t the wreaths in the windows,
It isn’t the shining tree,
Or the children, rapt and waiting,
Brings Christmas to you and me.
It’s the marvelous self-forgetting,
It’s the thoughts we are sending far,
It’s our hearts aglow, uplifted,
It’s a wonderful guiding star.
[By Alex Thorn]
Yes, you young people, He is there. The Lord is in his heaven, and all is right with your world if you keep his commandments. He spoke to the weeping Martha, who was mourning the death of her brother Lazarus. He looked at her as she wept, kneeling there at his feet, and declared, “I am the resurrection, and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” Then he asked the question, “Believest thou this?” Tears now were gone, and she replied, “Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world” (John 11:25–27).
You Latter-day Saints, the youth of the noble birthright, if you can say, as Martha said, “Yea, Lord, I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world”—if you can say that and know that he is in his heaven, and you believe that with all your soul, you will not be trapped in the pitfalls of life. I can say to you young people that I know—as did Martha in that flash of testimony—I know that he is up there. He is there, and he is closer to this church than you have any idea that he is. He is the resurrection and the life. And though you were dead, yet shall you live. As he lives, you shall live. If you believe in him, you shall live in everlasting life, as one who has won the fight and has kinship to him who gave his life that men might be.
With all the conviction of my soul, I leave my blessing with you wonderful people. I am thrilled with the spirit that you bring here to such a vast audience. I want you to know that in my heart I have a love, a special love, for folks like you.
We witnessed something wonderful in the great Munich conference where we had those from at least eight different countries, including France, Holland, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Switzerland, and Austria, as well as those of us from America. Here they were members from countries whose political differences had caused war and bloodshed. And yet we brought them all together into one congregation with a peaceful, sweet spirit!
I was moved to repeat what the apostle Paul said to the Galatians: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither, bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus… and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:28–29). And then I paraphrased to them, “You are neither German nor Austrian, nor French nor Italian, nor Dutch, nor Spanish, nor English, but you and I are all one in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and in the hearts of all of us here there must be no war.” And so when we believe, and know that the Savior loves us all, regardless of nationality or color or creed, then we have gained something that the world does not know.
I bear you that sacred testimony, that I know with a witness that is more powerful than sight. Sometime, if the spirit prompts me, I may feel free to tell you more, but may I say to you that I know as though I had seen, that He lives, that He is real, that God the Father and his Son are living realities, personalities with bodies, parts, and passions—glorified beings. If you believe that, then you are safe. If you don’t believe it, then struggle for that witness, and all will be well with you. And so I bless you, and commend you, and thank you again for the honor that you have conferred upon me this day. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Harold B. Lee was President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when this devotional address was given at Brigham Young University on 11 September 1973.
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