Our Greatest Obligation
October 1972

“Our Greatest Obligation,” Ensign, Oct. 1972, 30

Classics in Mormon Thought

Our Greatest Obligation

David O. McKay, ninth President of the Church, was born September 8, 1873, at Huntsville, Utah. At the age of 32, in April 1906, he was sustained as a member of the Council of the Twelve. He served as second counselor in the First Presidency to both Presidents Heber J. Grant and George Albert Smith. Forty-five years to the day after he was ordained an apostle, he was sustained as President of the Church, on April 6, 1951. President McKay died on January 18, 1970, at age 96, having lived longer than any other General Authority in this dispensation.
“Our Greatest Obligation” is taken from President McKay’s address in general conference in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on April 4, 1953.

“For what is a man profited,” said the Savior, “if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26.)

The first recorded question of the Savior after his baptism in the River Jordan was, “What seekest thou?” In Matthew 16:29, he again refers to the dominant incentive prompting man’s actions in daily life. If a man seek wealth, worldly honors, pleasures, and all that riches and honor can bestow, but neglects and leaves undeveloped the eternal riches of his soul, what is he profited?

Thus does the Lord make a simple though majestic comparison of material and spiritual possessions.

On another occasion, in the Sermon on the Mount, he admonished his hearers to seek “first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matt. 6:33.) Seeking to establish the kingdom of God and to foster his righteousness should be the paramount purpose of life.

Leading statesmen and clear-thinking educators, in public addresses and in magazine articles, frequently refer to what they declare is an apparent spiritual poverty of the present age, and they cite the need for higher moral and ethical standards.

And so we have the call of men of clear vision and sound judgment for a rededication of schools and homes to moral and spiritual values.

Our most precious possession is the youth of the land, and to instruct them to walk uprightly and to become worthy citizens in the kingdom of God is our greatest obligation.

Religious freedom and the separation of church and state are clearly set forth in the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and no governmental agency can have any supervision, control, or jurisdiction over religion. Though public schools may emphasize moral, ethical, and spiritual values as essential elements in the public school program, they cannot favor any particular religion or religious system. The teaching of religion is therefore definitely a responsibility of the home and the church.

In discharging this responsibility, Latter-day Saints should ever keep in mind two paramount obligations: (1) to put and to keep their homes in order; and (2) to proclaim the divinity of Jesus Christ and the essentiality of his teachings to the salvation of the human family.

If, upon examination, you were to find that termites were undermining the foundation of your house, you would lose no time to have experts make thorough examination and have the destructive insects exterminated. You would have the weakened materials removed and the foundation strengthened and, if necessary, rebuilt.

More important than the building of your house is the rebuilding and purifying of your home.

“Our home joys,” says Pestalozzi, “are the most delightful earth affords, and the joy of parents in their children is the most holy joy of humanity. It makes their hearts pure and good; it lifts them up to their Father in heaven.”

Such joys are within the reach of most men and women if high ideals of marriage and home are properly fostered and cherished.

But there are destructive termites of homes, as well as of houses, and some of these are backbiting, evil-speaking, and faultfinding on the part either of parents or of children. Slander is poison to the soul. In the ideal home, there is no slanderous gossip about schoolteachers, about public officials, or about Church officials. I am more grateful now, as years have come and gone, to my father, who with hands lifted said, “Now, no faultfinding about your teacher or anybody else.”

Quarreling and swearing also are evils that lower the standards of the ideal home. I cannot imagine a father or mother swearing in the presence of children or even letting it pass their lips.

George Washington set us a good example in this regard. When he learned that some of his officers were given to profanity, he sent a letter to them on July 1, 1776, from which I quote:

“The general is sorry to be informed that the foolish and wicked practice of profane cursing and swearing, a vice heretofore little known in an American army, is growing into fashion. He hopes the officers will, by example, as well as influence, endeavor to check it, and that both they and the men will reflect that we can have little hope of the blessing of heaven on our arms if we insult it by our impiety and folly. Added to this, it is a vice so mean and low, without any temptation, that every man of sense and character detests and despises it.”

Another deterrent to happiness in the home is the refusal to bear the full responsibility of motherhood and fatherhood. Members of the Church who are healthy and normal should not be guilty of restricting the number of children in the home, especially when such action is prompted by a desire for a good time, or for personal gain, or to keep up with the neighbors, or by a false impression that one or two children in a family can be better educated. These are excuses that no one should harbor, for they are unjustified.

With the high ideal of marriage as revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith, members of the Church should have but one goal, and that is to keep in mind the fact that marriage, the foundation of society, is ordained of God for the building of permanent homes in which children may be properly reared and taught the principles of the gospel.

The following, I am sure, will strike a responsive chord in the hearts of the majority of parents in the Church:

“Every period of human life is wonderful; the irresponsible age of childhood, the thrilling years of adolescence and courtship, the productive, fighting, burden-bearing era of parenthood; but the most wonderful time of life comes when the father and mother become chums of their grown-up, successful sons and daughters, and can begin to enjoy their children’s children. …

“Youth is confined with restrictions, limitations, schedules, and dominations; adolescence is full of mysteries, longings, and defeats; early fatherhood is absorbed in struggles and in the solution of problems; extreme old age is shadowed by eternal mysteries; but middle age and normal old age, if life has been rightly and fully lived, are filled with the thrills, not merely of success, but of companionship with children and grandchildren.

“Every normal individual should complete the full cycle of human life with all its joys and satisfactions in natural order: childhood, adolescence, youth, parenthood, middle age, and the age of grandchildren. Each age has satisfactions which can be known only by experience. You must be born again and again in order to know the full course of human happiness. When the first baby is born, a mother is born, a father is born, and grandparents are born; only by birth can any of these come into being. Only by the natural cycle of life can the great progressive joys of mankind be reached.

“Any social system which prevents the individual from pursuing the normal cycle of life, from marrying young, from rearing a family before the age of fifty or so, and from obtaining the deep, peculiar joys of middle life and grandparenthood defeats the divine order of the universe and lays the basis of all sorts of social problems.

“When a young man and woman of the right biological type marry in the early twenties and are prepared to earn a living and support and rear a family, they have started in the normal cycle of life. They are likely to give society far fewer problems of crime, immorality, divorce, or poverty than are their unmarried companions. They will have children and rear them while they are strong, enjoy them when they are grown up and successful, depend upon them in weakness, and profit by the finest type of old-age insurance ever invented by man or God, an insurance which pays its annuities in material goods when necessary, but which mainly pays in the rich joys of love and fellowship. … The crowning joys of human experience will come in middle age and onward, through the companionship, love, and honor of children and grandchildren.” (R. J. Sprague.)

We appeal to all members of the Church to set their homes in order and to enjoy the true happiness of harmonious family life.

As already stated, the second paramount obligation is to proclaim the divine mission of Jesus Christ. Nineteen hundred years ago, a valiant defender of that cause said:

“This is the stone which was set at nought of your builders, which is become the head of the corner.

“Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:11–12.)

The man who thus declared Jesus to be the one and only safe leader and guide in the world was an ordinary fisherman who lived nearly two thousand years ago. He grew to manhood, experiencing life among common folk such as you and me. He was not a dreamer. He was thoroughly a man of action. He was fairly prosperous, possessed qualities of leadership, and, above all, he was honest.

Circumstances drew Peter into close relationship with Jesus of Nazareth. For nearly three years he accompanied Jesus almost constantly. He became intimately acquainted with the Master. Jesus’ philosophy of life became Peter’s philosophy. Not suddenly, but gradually, through careful, critical observation and inward experience, Peter arrived at a firm and sublime conviction, expressed clearly and unhesitatingly when he declared before his accusers, the leaders of the Jewish Sanhedrin, “… there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”

Furthermore, members of the Church declare that the Church of Jesus Christ stands with Peter, with Paul, with James, and with all other apostles who accepted the resurrection not only as being literally true, but as being also the consummation of Christ’s divine mission upon the earth. Religious leaders since history began have taught virtue, temperance, self-control, service, obedience to righteousness, and duty; some have taught a belief in one supreme ruler and in a hereafter; but only Christ broke the seal of the grave and revealed death as the door to immortality and eternal life. To the unimpeachable evidence the ancient apostles gave of the resurrection of our Lord we add the sublime declaration of the Prophet Joseph Smith:

“And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!” (D&C 76:22.)

As Christ lived after death, so shall the human family, each one taking that place in the next world which he or she merits through action during earthly life. Since love is as eternal as life, the message of the resurrection is the most comforting, the most glorious ever given to man; for when death takes a loved one from us, we can look into the open grave and say, He is not here; he is alive.

Happy homes give to their inhabitants a taste of heaven on earth; acceptance of the divinity of Christ’s mission and compliance with the principles of his gospel give assurance of immortality and eternal life.

I testify that a knowledge of his existence and of the truth of his gospel is the source of the greatest comfort and happiness to man.

May the day speedily come when honest, sincere men and women throughout the world may have in their souls this assurance.

Above, left: Elder David O. McKay as a missionary. Above, right: At age 17. Left: Young David O. McKay on his father’s knee. His father, David McKay, served for many years as bishop of the Huntsville Ward and was later ordained a patriarch.

Above: In the 1920s, President and Sister McKay are photographed in a tree-lined park. [Below:] President McKay walks across his pasture land at the family home in Huntsville, Utah, to care for a favorite riding horse.