“Pursue the Steady Course,” Ensign, Jan. 2005, 2–7
The days of which our forebears spoke are upon those of us who live in this, the beginning of the 21st century. These are days of prophecy fulfilled; and I, with you, am grateful to be a part of this vibrant, marvelous work which is affecting for good so many people in so many parts of the world.
This growth is not a victory of men; it is a manifestation of the power of God. I hope we shall never be proud or boastful concerning it. I pray that we shall ever be humble and grateful.
This work began with a most remarkable manifestation when the Father and the Son appeared to the boy Joseph Smith on a spring morning in the year 1820. All of the good we see in the Church today is the fruit of that remarkable visitation, a testimony of which has touched the hearts of millions in many lands. I add my own witness, given me by the Spirit, that the Prophet’s description of that marvelous event is true, that God the Eternal Father and the risen Lord Jesus Christ spoke with him on that occasion in a conversation as real and personal and intimate as he described. I raise my voice in testimony that Joseph was a prophet and that the work brought forth through his instrumentality is the work of God.
I have grown to appreciate a summary by one of the Prophet’s associates of Joseph Smith’s work and a statement of our obligation to advance it. These words, poetic in their beauty, were written by Elder Parley P. Pratt of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1845, less than a year following Joseph’s death:
“He has organized the kingdom of God.—We will extend its dominion.
“He has restored the fulness of the Gospel.—We will spread it abroad. …
“He has kindled up the dawn of a day of glory.—We will bring it to its meridian splendour.
“He was a ‘little one,’ and became a thousand. We are a small one, and will become a strong nation.
“In short, he quarried the stone … ; we will cause it to become a great mountain and fill the whole earth.”1
We are seeing the unfolding of that dream. I hope we shall be true and faithful to the sacred trust given us to build this kingdom. Our effort will not be without sorrow and setbacks. We may expect opposition, both determined and sophisticated.
As the work grows, we may expect a strengthening of the efforts of the adversary against it. Our best defense is the quiet offense of allegiance to the teachings which have come to us from those whom we have sustained as prophets of God.
The Prophet Joseph Smith gave us instruction pertinent to the situation in which we find ourselves. Said he: “Go in all meekness, in sobriety, and preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified; not to contend with others on account of their faith, or systems of religion, but pursue a steady course. This I delivered by way of commandment; and all who observe it not, will pull down persecution upon their heads, while those who do, shall always be filled with the Holy Ghost; this I pronounced as a prophecy.”2
I should like to take a few of the words of that statement as a theme for us as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today.
I pray that the Lord will inspire us to understand the wisdom of this counsel from the Prophet: Contend not with others, but pursue a steady course.
We live in a day of shifting values, of changing standards, of will-o’-the-wisp programs that blossom in the morning and die in the evening. We see this in government, we see it in public and private morality, we see it in the homes of the people, we see it in the churches, and we even see it among some of our own members who are led away by the sophistry of men.
Men everywhere seem to be groping as in darkness, casting aside the traditions that were the strength of our society yet unable to find a new star to guide them.
I recall the moral strength espoused by a Japanese government official who spoke during the dedication of the Church pavilion at the Expo ’70 world’s fair in Japan. He warmly complimented the Church on its participation in that exposition and deplored the waning influence of religion in the lives of the people of his own nation, with a consequent deterioration of standards and ideals.
It appears to be so everywhere. Some time ago I read a provocative article by Barbara W. Tuchman, a Pulitzer Prize–winning historian. Said she: “When it comes to leaders we have, if anything, a superabundance—hundreds of Pied Pipers … —ready and anxious to lead the population. They are scurrying around, collecting consensus, gathering as wide an acceptance as possible. But what they are not doing, very notably, is standing still and saying, ‘This is what I believe. This I will do and that I will not do. This is my code of behavior and that is outside it. This is excellent and that is trash.’ There is an abdication of moral leadership in the sense of a general unwillingness to state standards.”
She continued: “Of all the ills that our poor … society is heir to, the focal one, it seems to me, from which so much of our uneasiness and confusion derive, is the absence of standards. We are too unsure of ourselves to assert them, to stick by them, if necessary in the case of persons who occupy positions of authority, to impose them. We seem to be afflicted by a widespread and eroding reluctance to take any stand on any values, moral, behavioral or esthetic.”3
While standards generally may totter, we of the Church are without excuse if we drift in the same manner. We have standards—sure, tested, and effective. To the extent that we observe them, we shall go forward. To the extent that we neglect them, we shall hinder our own progress and bring embarrassment to the work of the Lord. These standards have come from Him. Some of them may appear a little out-of-date in our society, but this does not detract from their validity nor diminish the virtue of their application. The subtle reasoning of men, no matter how clever, no matter how plausible it may sound, cannot abridge the declared wisdom of God.
I once heard Hans Kindt, the wise stake patriarch of the Milwaukee Wisconsin North Stake, say: “God is not a celestial politician seeking our vote. Rather, God is to be found, and God is to be obeyed.”
The satisfying thing is that obedience brings happiness. It brings peace; it brings growth—all of these to the individual—and his or her good example brings respect for the institution of which he or she is a part.
Our adherence to these divinely given standards need never be an offensive thing to those about us. We need not contend with them. But if we will pursue a steady course, our very example will become the most effective argument we could ever advance for the virtues of the cause with which we are associated.
The Lord has given us counsel and commandment on so many things that no member of this Church need ever equivocate. He has established our guidelines concerning personal virtue, neighborliness, obedience to law, loyalty to government, observance of the Sabbath day, sobriety and abstinence from liquor and tobacco, the payment of tithes and offerings, the care of the poor, the cultivation of home and family, the sharing of the gospel—to mention only a few.
There need be nothing of argument or contention in any of them. If we will pursue a steady course in the implementation of our religion in our own lives, we shall advance the cause more effectively than by any other means.
There may be those who will seek to tempt us away. There may be those who will try to bait us. We may be disparaged. We may be belittled. We may be inveighed against. We may be caricatured before the world.
There are those, both in the Church and out, who would compel us to change our position on some matters, as if it were our prerogative to usurp authority which belongs alone to God.
We have no desire to quarrel with others. We teach the gospel of peace. But we cannot forsake the word of the Lord as it has come to us through men whom we have sustained as prophets. We must stand and say, to quote again the words of affirmation recommended by Barbara Tuchman: “This is what I believe. This I will do and that I will not do. This is my code of behavior and that is outside it.”
There may be times of discouragement and deep concern. There certainly will be days of decision in the lives of each of us. It was ever thus.
Every man and woman in this Church knows something of the price paid by our forebears for their faith. I have been reminded of this whenever I read the narrative of Mary Goble Pay, my wife’s grandmother. I think I would like to share a few words from that story of a 13-year-old girl. She tells of her childhood in Brighton, that delightful city on the south coast of England, where the soft, green hills of Sussex roll down to the sea.
It was there that her family was baptized. Their conversion came naturally because the Spirit whispered in their hearts that it was true. But there were critical relatives and neighbors and even mobs to deride and inflame others against them. It took courage, that rare quality described as moral courage, to stand up and be counted, to be baptized and recognized as a Mormon.
The family traveled to Liverpool, where with some 900 others they boarded the sailing vessel Horizon.
As the wind caught the sails, they sang, “Farewell, My Native Land, Farewell.” After six weeks at sea—to cover the distance covered today by a jet plane in six hours—they landed at Boston and then traveled by steam train to Iowa City for fitting out.
There they purchased two yoke of oxen, one yoke of cows, a wagon, and a tent. They were assigned to travel with and assist one of the handcart companies.
Here in Iowa City also occurred their first tragedy. Their youngest child, less than two years of age, suffering from exposure, died and was buried in a grave never again visited by a member of the family.
Now let me give you the very words of this 13-year-old girl as I share a few lines from her story:
“We traveled from 15 to 25 miles [25 to 40 km] a day … until we got to the Platte River. … We caught up with the hand cart companies that day. We watched them cross the river. There were great lumps of ice floating down the river. It was bitter cold. … We went back to the camp and went to prayers, [and] … sang ‘Come, Come, Ye Saints No Toil Nor Labor Fear.’ I wondered what made my mother cry [that night]. … The next morning my little sister was born. It was the 23rd of September. We named her Edith. She lived six weeks and died. … [She] was buried at the last crossing of [the] Sweetwater.
“[We ran into heavy snow. I became lost in the snow.] My feet and legs were frozen. [The men] rubbed me with snow. They put my feet in a bucket of water. The pain was terrible. …
“When we arrived at Devils Gate it was bitter cold. We left lots of our things there. … My brother James … was as well as he ever was when he went to bed [that night]. In the morning he was dead. …
“My feet were frozen[;] also my brother Edwin and my sister Caroline had their feet frozen. It was nothing but snow [snow everywhere and the bitter Wyoming wind]. We could not drive the pegs in our tents. … We did not know what would become of us. [Then] one night a man came to our camp and told us … Brigham Young had sent men and teams to help us. … We sang songs, some danced and some cried. …
“My mother had never got well. … She died between the little and big mountains. … She was 43 years old. …
“We arrived in Salt Lake City nine o’clock at night the 11th of December 1856. Three out of four that were living were frozen. My mother was dead in the wagon. …
“Early next morning … Brigham Young … came. … When he saw our condition, our feet frozen and our mother dead, tears rolled down his cheeks. …
“The doctor amputated my toes … [while] the sisters were dressing my mother for her grave. … When my feet were fixed they [carried] … us in to see our mother for the last time. Oh how did we stand it. That afternoon she was buried. …
“[I have thought often of my mother’s words before we left England.] ‘Polly, I want to go to Zion while my children are small, so they can be raised in the Gospel of Christ for I know this is the true church.’”4
I conclude with this question: Should we be surprised if we are called upon to endure a little criticism, to make some small sacrifice for our faith when our forebears paid so great a price for theirs?
Without contention, without argument, without offense, let us pursue a steady course, moving forward to build the kingdom of God. If there is trouble, let us face it calmly. Let us overcome evil with good. This is God’s work. It will continue to strengthen over the earth, touching for good the lives of countless thousands whose hearts will respond to the message of truth. No power under heaven can stop it.
This is my faith and this is my testimony.
After prayerfully studying this message, share it using a teaching method that will encourage participation by family members. Following are some examples.
Help family members memorize the first sentence of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s prophecy (see the second paragraph under the heading “Our Best Defense”). You could praise them or offer some small reward when they can say it from memory. List and discuss ideas mentioned by President Hinckley about what it means to pursue a steady course.
What does President Hinckley say about moral strength when quoting Barbara W. Tuchman (see the fourth paragraph under the heading “Pursuing a Steady Course”)? Invite family members to act out a situation that would require having moral strength. You may need to explain to younger children that this means not being afraid to do what we know is right. Discuss ways family members can be meek yet display moral courage.
How do you think the promise made to the righteous in the Prophet Joseph’s prophecy was fulfilled in the life of Mary Goble Pay? Discuss President Hinckley’s concluding question. How can we live more faithfully according to the Prophet Joseph’s counsel?