Thank you for the privilege of speaking with you tonight. I realize you come from a wide swath of the Bay Area, and I am genuinely touched that some of you have traveled as far as you have to be in attendance. I welcome you and pray earnestly that your time and your travel will not have been in vain.
Some few of the senior citizens in the audience will know that I started my abortive teaching career in the Church Educational System here 54 years ago! With that memory, I am particularly grateful to be on the Stanford campus again. I am grateful for the wards and stakes that function so beautifully here, and tonight we are particularly grateful to be in the Stanford Memorial Church, standing as it does at the center of the campus and universally considered to be the university’s “architectural crown jewel.” Little did Pat and I know more than half a century ago, when we regularly made our milk run to various institutes of religion in the region, that our son David, his wife, Jeanne, and the first two of their children would come here for his PhD. Their days living in Escondido Village are a cherished piece of Holland family lore, and they absolutely loved their joyful time serving in the Church here.
Whatever your background and reason for attending tonight, I praise heaven and earth that you have, in ways that are uniquely yours, found the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is commissioned to declare and defend it. And whether you are a longtime member or a new friend making a first visit, I wish to suggest that the gospel and the Church, this devotional, and everything else we do as a function of our faith is explained by one of the Apostle Paul’s phrases in the scriptures. He said that the role of prophets, apostles, and teachers—in effect, the purpose of meetings and temples and missions, and the institute program—in short, the significance of the activities of the Church—is for the purpose of “perfecting the saints,” of bringing the world to “the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man [or woman], unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”1 That is a longish, run-on sentence, but it describes a longish, run-on duty to which we are committed. We are here together in the ongoing task of embracing the life and teachings of the Holy One of Israel, of having the image of Christ permanently stamped upon our countenance and His gospel fixed firmly in our hearts. We are here in the ongoing task of making His love, His godliness, His mercy, and His manner ours, and to have those characterize the way we live, the way we talk, the way we think, and the way we act. We are here tonight seeking to be true disciples of Him who is “the bright and morning star.”2
The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; the gospel and the Church that administers it; those experiences that constitute the Restoration of the gospel; the sealing of my wife and children; latter-day prophets from Joseph Smith to Russell Nelson; and the privileges and promises I have had in serving the God of the holy sanctuary. These mean everything to me—everything. Every blessing I have and everything of value by which I measure my life have come from these latter-day gifts. You need to know that is who I am and that is where I begin tonight. It is also where I will end tonight, and I pray it is where I will still firmly be when my life is over.
With that declaration of identity and intent, may I offer a few thoughts from the personal quest for Christ’s stature that I have been on for a long time. I hope they will be of some value to you at this time in your life and in the circumstances in which you find yourselves. I know it will stun you, shock you, perhaps even offend you that I was your age once and can remember some of the challenges I faced, some of the angst I felt as a young adult. That is ancient history now because I am very old—Wilford Woodruff was my first senior companion—but the “big” issues don’t change much over the generations, and perhaps something from my experience can be of value to you in yours.
First of all I would like to say a word about this collective title under which you gather tonight. You are called affectionately “young adults.” Sometimes we focus on those not yet married and call you young single adults, but my point (whether you are married or single) is that I would like you to emphasize the “adult” part of that designation and minimize the “young” appellation. There is nothing wrong with being young, but I for one am particularly anxious for better and more helpful adult strength in the Church. We need youth, too, but we dearly need you who are a little more mature—now, today, tonight. We regularly sing, “As children of Zion, / Good tidings for us. / The tokens already appear.”3 Well, the tokens are appearing and the work is increasing. We need you. We need help in order to keep up. We sing on with you: “Fear not, and be just, / For the kingdom is ours. / The hour of redemption is near.”4
I have already acknowledged how old I am. I have one foot in the grave and another on a banana peel. In another blink of an eye I will be out of here. You in this audience are going to have to do what I am doing, what a host of other “adults” are doing, and you will have to do it sooner than you think. We need strong backs and broad shoulders among women and men of this Church who constitute a “great … cloud of witnesses” as it says in the epistle to the Hebrews, who will “run with patience the race that is set before [them].”5 So, tonight and in these young adult years, I would just ask you to make a little assessment of how really mature—how “adult”—your young adult approach to the gospel of Jesus Christ is. Many of you are endowed. Many have been on missions. Some of you are married. All of you are wonderful. I needn’t say anything more than that in appealing for a mature sense of the gospel in the years you are now in. No one old enough to vote and old enough to go to war ought to act like Larry, Curly, and Moe, when it comes to things spiritual. No, with temples and missions and brains and maturity, you are not too young to pursue seriously “the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”6
“With temples and missions and brains and maturity, you are not too young to pursue seriously ‘the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.’” —Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
In that regard, I suppose I am thinking of something expressed to Adam and Eve at the very beginning of this telestial journey they started us on. After they had yielded to temptation and had partaken of the forbidden fruit, it says in the third chapter of Genesis:
“They heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God. …
“And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?”7
Interestingly enough, this story is told somewhat differently in the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price. There it reads:
“And they heard the voice of the Lord God, as they were walking in the garden, in the cool of the day; and Adam and his wife went to hide themselves from the presence of the Lord God. …
“And I, the Lord God, called unto Adam, and said unto him: Where goest thou?”8
A couple of observations. First of all, the account in Moses makes it clear that one does not hide from the Lord. “Adam and his wife went to hide themselves,”9 the latter-day scripture says. Trying to hide is about as far as our fruitless effort will take us in escaping divine observation, considering the all-seeing eye of Jehovah.
You know, if we thought about the implications of that more than we do, we might behave differently than we do. Maybe we need a rousing rendition from the local Primary children singing, “If the Savior stood beside me, would I do the things I do?”10 I have thought long and hard about this introduction to section 38 of the Doctrine and Covenants:
“Thus saith the Lord your God, even Jesus Christ, the Great I AM ...
“The same which knoweth all things, for all things are present before mine eyes; …
“Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you that mine eyes are upon you. I am in your midst and ye cannot see me;
“But the day soon cometh that ye shall see me, and know that I am; …
“Wherefore, gird up your loins and be prepared.”11
Well, some days that chills the marrow in my bones. “Mine eyes are upon you. I am in your midst.”12
Perhaps we can try harder to behave in ways that are consistent with the divinity of the company we keep.
One other insight in that Garden of Eden exchange is that rather than “Adam, … Where art thou?,”13 the more accurate question is “Adam, … Where goest thou?”14 Where Adam is, everybody in the story knows, including God—even though it is He who asks the question. But where Adam is going—that is still up in the air, that is still to be determined. And God is very interested in his answer.
I think the question is an important one for young adults to ask, because you are all going somewhere, and unless you or life or the forces of nature alter that path, you are going to arrive at the destination toward which you are now moving.
Maybe that is good. For most of you I suspect it is good. Good direction. Good momentum. Good destinations coming up.
But perhaps for some few others of you, you are not in a particularly good place, and the destination toward which you are moving is not an attractive one, not a safe or faithful one, not one you can be proud of nor one that is worthy of you. In short, you may not be moving toward “the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”15
So, why not take what athletes call a “gut check” and ask yourself the divine inquiry: “Where goest thou?” When you do—and if a virtue or two is found wanting—remember what Peter Drucker once said. “Strategic planning does not deal with future decisions,” he said. “Strategic planning deals with the [future] of present decisions.”16 The gospel word for that kind of strategic planning is called repentance. That is not an ominous or oppressive word. It simply means making present adjustments that will bring the desired future results—it is “strategic planning.” Simple as that. Perhaps you will feel you need a little course correction, a little repentance, in response to the assessment, “Where goest thou?” We all do.
Henry David Thoreau said of this kind of mature—perhaps I should say “strategic”—adjustment of our lives: “I know of no more encouraging fact,” he said, “than the unquestionable ability of man [or woman] to elevate [one’s] life by … conscious endeavor.”17
Continuing that thought, Mr. Thoreau writes: “It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To [affect] the quality of [our life], that is the highest of arts.”18 And you are invited every day of your life, and certainly every week at the sacrament table of the Lord’s Supper, to do just that—to affect the quality of your life by drawing nearer to “the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”19 To have the “unquestionable ability” to elevate your life by “conscious endeavor” is indeed a most “encouraging fact.”20
Wherever you live, whatever your joys or sorrows, however young or old you may be, at whatever point you may find yourself in this mortal drama, I am asking that your ongoing journey follow in the footsteps of the Master. Some of you are where you want to be, or you at least know where you want to go with your lives. Some of you don’t. Some of you seem to have so many blessings and so many wonderful choices ahead of you. Others of you feel, for a time and for whatever reason, less fortunate and with fewer attractive paths lying immediately ahead.
But wherever you are going and however you work through your challenges in getting there, I ask you to “come unto Him”21 as the imperative first step in getting to your personal destination, in finding your individual happiness and strength, in achieving your ultimate destiny and success. All of that can be yours if the answer to the question “Where goest thou?” is “Wherever you are, Lord.”
“I ask you to ‘come unto Him’ as the imperative first step in getting to your personal destination, in finding your individual happiness and strength, in achieving your ultimate destiny and success. All of that can be yours if the answer to the question ‘Where goest thou?’ is ‘Wherever you are, Lord.’” —Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
Let me editorialize here for a minute about. Yes, life can be challenging. Yes, we have pain and regrets and real problems to work through. Yes, we have disappointments and sorrow, all kinds of highs and lows. But the Lord and the prophets have spoken enough encouraging words about how to face those problems to fill a cosmic journal. The Savior’s benediction upon His disciples even as He moved toward the pain and agony of Gethsemane and Calvary is the most famous of these. On that night, the night of the greatest suffering that has ever taken place in the world or that ever will take place, the Savior said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you. … Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”22 What a stunning view of life in the most agonizing of hours! How can He possibly say that facing what He knows He is facing? Because this is the Church of the happy endings! This victory is already won. Yet I see unhappy Latter-day Saints, cheerless Latter-day Saints, gloomy Latter-day Saints with a crisis of faith here, a skeptical heart there, and more than enough guilt or depression to go around. I think some of us must have that remnant of Puritan heritage still in us that says it is somehow wrong to be comforted or helped, that we are supposed to be miserable about something.
I submit to you, that to “be of good cheer”23 in the quest for “the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ”24 may be the commandment that is, even in the hearts of otherwise faithful Latter-day Saints, almost universally disobeyed; and yet surely nothing could be more grievous to the Lord’s merciful heart. I can tell you this as a parent: as concerned as I would be if somewhere in their lives one of my children were seriously troubled or unhappy or disobedient, nevertheless I would be infinitely more devastated if I felt that at such a time that child could not trust me to help or thought his or her interest was unimportant to me or unsafe in my care. In that same spirit, I am convinced that none of us can appreciate how deeply it wounds the loving heart of God the Father or His Son, the Savior of the World, when They find that people do not feel confident in Their care or secure in Their hands or trust in Their commandments. My young friends, we have a duty to be cheerful! End of editorial!
One last piece of counsel about seeking Christ and the measure of His fulness; it comes from an unusual incident in the life of the Savior that holds a lesson for us all. It was after Jesus had performed the miracle of feeding the 5,000 from five loaves of bread and two fishes.25 (By the way, let me pause here to say, Don’t worry about Christ running out of ability to help you. His “grace is sufficient.”26 That is the spiritual, eternal lesson of the feeding of the 5,000. Don’t worry about whether His miracles have run out before helping little old you. Don’t panic. He has plenty of blessings to go around with several baskets full left over! Be believing and enjoy His offer of the “bread of life”!27)
After Jesus had fed the multitude, He sent them away and put His disciples into a fishing boat to cross over to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.28 He then “went up into a mountain apart to pray.”29 We aren’t told all the circumstances of the disciples as they set out in their boat, but it was toward evening, and certainly it was a stormy night. The winds must have been ferocious from the start. Because of the winds, these men probably never even raised the sails but labored only with the oars—and labor it would have been. We know this because by the time of “the fourth watch of the night”30—that is somewhere between three and six in the morning—they had gone only a few miles. By then the ship was caught up in a truly violent storm, a storm like those that can still sweep down on the Sea of Galilee to this day.
But, as always, Christ was watching over them. He always does. Seeing their difficulty, the Savior simply took the most direct approach to their boat, striding out across the waves to help them, walking on the water as surely as He had walked upon the land. In their moment of great extremity, the disciples looked and saw in the darkness this wonder in a fluttering robe coming toward them on the ridges of the sea. They cried out in terror at the sight, thinking that it was a phantom upon the waves.31 Then, through the storm and darkness—when the sea seemed so great and little boats seemed so small—there came the ultimate and reassuring voice of peace from their Master. “It is I,” He said; “be not afraid.”32
This scriptural account reminds us that in coming to Christ, seeking His fulness, or in His coming to us to bring us that fulness, the first step may fill us with something very much like sheer terror. It shouldn’t, but it sometimes does. One of the grand ironies of the gospel is that the very source of help and safety being offered us is the thing from which we may, in our mortal shortsightedness, flee. For whatever the reason, I have seen investigators run from baptism, I have seen elders run from a mission call, I have seen sweethearts run from marriage, I have seen members run from challenging callings, and I have seen people run from their Church membership. Too often we run from the very things that will save us and soothe us. Too often we see gospel commitments as something to be feared and then forsaken.The marvelous Elder James E. Talmage says of this incident: “Into every human adult life come experiences like unto the battling of the storm-tossed voyagers with contrary winds and threatening seas; ofttimes the night of struggle and danger is far advanced before succor appears; and then, too frequently the saving aid is mistaken for a greater terror. [But,] as came unto [these disciples] in the midst of the turbulent waters, so comes to all who toil in faith, the voice of the Deliverer—‘It is I; be not afraid.’”33
And the wonderful thing about this invitation to receive Him, to come to Him and pursue the fulness of His stature, is that anybody can do it; everybody can do it. It doesn’t mean everyone you know wants to keep the commandments, nor that everyone you bump into will be keeping the commandments, but it is, nevertheless, possible to keep them without any special gift or inheritance to do so. Reverend Billy Graham’s daughter and daughter-in-law wrote a delightful little Christian book in which they said, among other things: “Not everyone possesses boundless energy or a conspicuous talent. We are not equally blessed with great intellect or physical beauty or emotional strength. But we have all been given the same ability to be faithful.”34
Consider this comment by the remarkable Dietrich Bonhoeffer, he who died in a prison camp while opposing the Nazi regime in his beloved Germany. Said he: “[We must follow] Christ with every ounce of [our] being in every moment, in every part of [our] life. … Christ must be brought into every square inch of the world and [our] culture. … One’s faith must be shining and bright and pure and robust.”35 I would be proud to have said that and, in my own way, I guess that is what I am saying. I dearly plead for faith that is “shining and bright and pure and robust,” for Christ to “be brought into every square inch of [our] culture,”36 for the stature of Christ to be at “full measure”37 in our lives.
My young friends, life will challenge you. Difficulties will come. Heartbreaks will strike. So wherever you are going, make your way to Christ first. Make your covenants with Him and keep them as you journey on. And if anyone asks you who sent you on your newly sanctified mortal course, take a page out of Moses’s book and tell them, “I AM”38 hath sent you.
“Life will challenge you. Difficulties will come. Heartbreaks will strike. So wherever you are going, make your way to Christ first. Make your covenants with Him and keep them as you journey on.” —Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
Let me close with a special witness of what first brought me to yearn for “the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”39 In my lifetime I have had a thousand spiritual witnesses—ten thousand of them, I suppose—that Jesus is the Christ, the Everlasting Son of the Everlasting God, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is His true Church, imperfect as all of us who are in it may be.
But the first of these witnesses came to me as a 19-year-old when for the first time I read the Book of Mormon with “real intent.”40 It was while reading this sacred record so hungrily, even ravenously, that I felt—again and again—the undeniable whispering of the Holy Ghost declaring to my soul the truthfulness of its message. To those first convictions have been added all the other quickening moments and sanctifying manifestations that now give meaning to my days and purpose to my years. But the Book of Mormon was the first.
No other book has so affected my view of God and man, my view of mortality and eternity. No other book has stirred within me so many emotions. No other book has had such an impact upon my personal, family, educational, professional, and now apostolic life. Because I know that the Book of Mormon is a true witness—another testament and a new covenant—that Jesus is the Christ, I know that Joseph Smith was and is a prophet of God. As my great-great-great-grandfather said of his own conversion in the earliest days of the Restoration, “No wicked man could write such a book as this; and no good man would write it, unless it were true and he were commanded of God to do so.”41 That is emphatically my own assertion nearly two centuries later. And this magnificent book was translated when Joseph Smith was your age, a boy still coming to maturity. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, “Some boy. Some book.”
The Prophet Joseph’s expression that the Book of Mormon is “the keystone of our religion”42 is a profound and crucial observation. A keystone is positioned at the uppermost center of an arch in such a way as to hold all the other stones in place. That key piece, if removed, will bring all of the other blocks crashing down with it. The truthfulness of the Book of Mormon—its origins, its doctrines, and the circumstances of its coming forth—is central to the truthfulness of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The integrity of this Church and nearly 200 years of its Restoration experience stand or fall with the veracity or falsity of the Book of Mormon.
To consider that everything of saving significance in the Church stands or falls on the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and, by implication, the Prophet Joseph Smith’s account of how it came forth is as sobering as it is true. It is a “sudden death” proposition. Either the Book of Mormon is what the Prophet Joseph said it is, or this Church and its founder are false, a deception from the first instance onward.
I am suggesting that one has to take something of a do-or-die stand regarding the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the divine origins of the Book of Mormon. Reason and righteousness require it. Joseph Smith must be accepted either as a prophet of God or else as a charlatan of the first order, but no one should tolerate any ludicrous, even laughable middle ground about the wonderful contours of a young boy’s imagination or his remarkable facility for turning a literary phrase. That is an unacceptable position to take—morally, literarily, historically, or theologically.
I have read a reasonable number of books in my life, and I hope to read many more. I am not a scholar, though I once thought I would be. Nevertheless, I can recognize profundity in print, especially when I see it page after page. In a lifetime of reading, the Book of Mormon stands preeminent in my intellectual and spiritual life, the classic of all classics, a reaffirmation of the Holy Bible, a voice from the dust, a witness for Christ, the word of the Lord unto salvation. I testify of that as surely as if I had, with the Three Witnesses, seen the angel Moroni or, with the Three and the Eight Witnesses, seen and handled the plates of gold.
Consider the withering examination the Book of Mormon and its admittedly extraordinary claims have withstood. Has anyone in this audience ever tried to write anything of spiritual, redeeming, genuinely inspiring substance? With university degrees and libraries and computers and research assistants and decades of time, have you ever tried to write anything that anyone could read without tedium or apathy? And if one could produce even a few such inspiring pages, would that slim volume be anything anyone would want to read more than once, to say nothing of scores of times—marking it and pondering it, cross-referencing and quoting it, taking thousands of public sermons and a heart full of personal solace from it? Would it be good enough for people to weep over, to say it changed their lives, or saved their lives, or became something they were willing to give up fortune and future for—and then did just that?
What if your literary piece created enemies for you? What if it were left in the public arena, open to the criticism of your most hostile and learned opponents, for some 190 years? What if it were pulled apart and minutely examined and held up to the light of history, literature, anthropology, and religion with no other purpose than to discredit it and denounce you? Could what you have written be that good? Would you still be willing to say that it was an inspired piece of work, let alone hold to your assertion that it was divinely revealed and that its contents were eternally important—that in a very real sense the whole future of the world was linked to your little volume? By this time would either you or your piece still be standing? Would anyone still be reading it? I think not.
I testify that the Book of Mormon is the sacred expression of Christ’s great last covenant with mankind. It is a new covenant, a new testament from the New World to the entire world. Reading it was the beginning of my light. It led me to love the Holy Bible and the rest of the standard works of the Church. It led me to believe in an open canon energized with continuing revelation. It led me to and taught me to love the Lord Jesus Christ, to glimpse His merciful compassion, and to consider the grace and grandeur of His atoning sacrifice for my sins and the sins of all men, women, and children from Adam to the end of time. The light I walk by is His light. His mercy and magnificence lead me in my witness of Him to the world.
In all my weakness, which I readily acknowledge, I stand before you tonight yearning for us to achieve the “measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”43 I want to come unto Him. I want Him, if possible, to come unto me, and I truly want that for all of you. I want then, when my day soon comes, to see His face with pleasure, the same kind of pleasure it has been to be with you. Thank you for letting me walk with you for a brief hour of your young adult journey. Thank you for seeking your rightful place in the Lamb’s Book of Life, written by Him who is the author of our salvation, even Jesus of Nazareth. I testify of Him, of His Father, of His gospel, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
10 Sally DeFord, “If the Savior Stood Beside Me,” in Sacred Music app, Additional Songs for Children.
16 Peter F. Drucker, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1973; reprint, New York: First Harper Colophon, 1993), 125.
18 Thoreau, Walden, 117, emphasis added.
20 Thoreau, Walden, 117, emphasis added.
33 James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1915), 313.
34 Ruth Bell Graham and Gigi Graham Tchividjian, Coffee and Conversation with Ruth Bell Graham and Gigi Graham Tchividjian (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Publications, 1997), 106, Google Books, accessed Feb. 7, 2020.
36 Bonhoeffer, in Metaxas, Bonhoeffer, 248.
41 George Q. Cannon, quoted in “The Twelve Apostles,” in Andrew Jenson, Historical Record 6:175.
42 Joseph Smith, in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (2007), 64; see also introduction to the Book of Mormon.