The Constitution for a Perfect Life

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“The Constitution for a Perfect Life,” Eternal Marriage Student Manual (2003)

“The Constitution for a Perfect Life,” Eternal Marriage Student Manual

The Constitution for a Perfect Life

Lee, Harold B. 197?

President Harold B. Lee

President of the Church

Stand Ye in Holy Places: Selected Sermons and Writings of President Harold B. Lee, 341–48

You want to know the “steps” by which one can have his life patterned to that fulness which makes him a worthy citizen or “saint” in God’s kingdom. The best answer may be found by a study of the life of Jesus in the scriptures, for it has been said that “our gospels are not merely the record of oral teachings; they are the portraits of a living man.” (Dean Inge.) Christ came not only into the world to make an atonement for the sins of mankind, but to set an example before the world of the standard of perfection of God’s law and of obedience to the Father. In His Sermon on the Mount the Master has given us somewhat of a revelation of His own character, which was perfect, or what might be said to be “an autobiography, every syllable of which He had written down in deeds,” and in so doing has given us a blueprint for our own lives. Anyone clearly understanding the true import of His words comes to the realization that an unworthy member of the Church, although he might be in the kingdom of God, yet would not be of the kingdom because of his unworthiness.

You may know you are living a full, rich life when you have the real joy of living, for “men are, that they might have joy.” (2 Nephi 2:25.) What is it, then, that gives you that high emotional ecstasy called joy? Does it come from the unusual or does it come from common things? He who is moved thus only by the unusual is as one who must flag a failing appetite with strong spices and flavorings that destroy the true sense of taste. You are making a serious error if you mistake an emotional thrill that passes with the moment for the upsurge of deep feelings that is the joy of living. If one feels strong surges of happiness and desire from the quiet of a happy home, from the unfolding of a beautiful life, from the revelation of divine wisdom, or from a love for the beautiful, the true and good, he is having a taste of the fulness of the joy that the living of a rich, full life only can bring.

In that matchless Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has given us eight distinct ways by which we might receive this kind of joy. Each of His declarations is begun by the word “blessed.” Blessedness is defined as being higher than happiness. “Happiness comes from without and is dependent on circumstances; blessedness is an inward fountain of joy in the soul itself, which no outward circumstances can seriously affect.” (Dummelow’s Commentary.) These declarations of the Master are known in the literature of the Christian world as the Beatitudes and have been referred to by Bible commentators as the preparation necessary for entrance into the kingdom of heaven. For the purposes of this discussion may I speak of them as something more than that as they are applied to you and me. They embody, in fact, the constitution for a perfect life.

Let us consider them for a few moments. Four of them have to do with our individual selves, the living of our own inner, personal lives, if we would be perfect and find the blessedness of that inward joy.

Blessed are the poor in spirit.

Blessed are they that mourn.

Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness.

Blessed are the pure in heart.

To be poor in spirit is to feel yourselves as the spiritually needy, even dependent upon the Lord for your clothes, your food, the air you breathe, your health, your life; realizing that no day should pass without fervent prayer of thanksgiving, for guidance and forgiveness and strength sufficient for each day’s need. If a youth realizes his spiritual need, when in dangerous places where his very life is at stake, he may be drawn close to the fountain of truth and be prompted by the Spirit of the Lord in his hour of greatest trial. It is indeed a sad thing for one, because of his wealth or learning or worldly position, to think himself independent of this spiritual need. It is the opposite of pride or self-conceit. To the worldly rich it is that “he must possess his wealth as if he possessed it not” and be willing to say without regret, if he were suddenly to meet financial disaster, as did Job, “the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21.) Thus, if in your humility you sense your spiritual need, you are made ready for adoption into the “church of the Firstborn,” and to become “the elect of God.”

To mourn, as the Master’s lesson here would teach, one must show that “godly sorrow that worketh repentance” (2 Corinthians 7:10) and wins for the penitent a forgiveness of sins and forbids a return to the deeds of which he mourns. It is to see, as did the Apostle Paul, “glory in tribulations … knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope.” (Romans 5:3–4.) You must be willing “to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light.” (Mosiah 18:8.) You must be willing to mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort. (Mosiah 18:9.) When a mother mourns in her loneliness for the return of a wayward daughter, you with compassion must forbid the casting of the first stone. It is the kind of mourning portrayed in the deep feelings of the marine on Saipan who wrote to us during World War II when his buddy was killed, “As I lay in my foxhole that night I wept bitterly.” Your mourning with the aged, the widow, and the orphan should lead you to bring the succor they require. In a word, you must be as the publican and not as the Pharisee. “God be merciful to me a sinner.” (Luke 18:13.) Your reward for so doing is the blessedness of comfort for your own soul through a forgiveness of your own sins.

Did you ever hunger for food or thirst for water when just a crust of stale bread or a sip of tepid water to ease the pangs that distressed you would seem to be the most prized of all possessions? If you have so hungered, then you may begin to understand how the Master meant we should hunger and thirst after righteousness. It’s that hungering and thirsting that leads Latter-day Saints away from home to seek the fellowship with Saints in sacrament services and that induces worship on the Lord’s day. It is that which prompts fervent prayers and leads our feet to holy temples and bids us be reverent therein. One who keeps the Sabbath Day will be filled with a lasting joy far more to be desired than the fleeting pleasures derived from activities indulged in contrary to God’s commandments. If you ask with “a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest … truth … unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost,” and by its power you “may know the truth of all things.” (Moroni 10:4–5.) Build “each new temple nobler than the last … till thou at length are free,” then “your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you. …” (D&C 88:67.)

If you would see God, you must be pure. There is in Jewish writings the story of a man who saw an object in the distance, an object that he thought was a beast. As it drew nearer he could perceive it was a man; as it came still closer he saw it was his friend. You can see only that which you have eyes to see. Some of the associates of Jesus saw Him only as a son of Joseph the carpenter. Others thought Him to be a winebibber or a drunkard because of His words. Still others thought He was possessed of devils. Only the righteous saw Him as the Son of God. Only if you are the pure in heart will you see God, and also in a lesser degree will you be able to see the “God” or good in man and love him because of the goodness you see in him. Mark well that person who criticizes and maligns the man of God or the Lord’s anointed leaders in His Church. Such a one speaks from an impure heart.

But in order to gain entrance into the kingdom of heaven we must not only be good, but we are also required to do good and be good for something. So if you would walk daily toward that goal of perfection and fulness of life, you must be schooled by the remaining four articles in the Master’s constitution for a perfect life. These beatitudes have to do with man’s social relations with others:

Blessed are the meek.

Blessed are the merciful.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

Blessed are they which are persecuted.

A meek man is defined as one who is not easily provoked or irritated and is forbearing under injury or annoyance. The meek man is the strong, the mighty, the man of complete self-mastery. He is the one who has the courage of his moral convictions, despite the pressure of the gang or the club. In controversy his judgment is the court of last resort and his sobered counsel quells the rashness of the mob. He is humble-minded; he does not bluster. “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty. …” (Proverbs 16:32.) He is a natural leader and is the chosen of army and navy, business and church, to lead where other men follow. He is the “salt” of the earth and shall inherit it.

Our salvation rests upon the mercy we show to others. Unkind and cruel words, or wanton acts of cruelty toward man or beast, even though in seeming retaliation, disqualify the perpetrator in his claims for mercy when he has need of mercy in the day of judgment before earthly or heavenly tribunals. Is there one who has never been wounded by the slander of another whom he thought to be his friend? Do you remember the struggle you had to refrain from retribution? Blessed are all you who are merciful, for you shall obtain mercy!

Peacemakers shall be called the children of God. The trouble-maker, the striker against law and order, the leader of the mob, the law-breaker are prompted by motives of evil; and unless they desist, they will be known as the children of Satan rather than God. Withhold yourselves from him who would cause disquieting doubts by making light of sacred things, for he seeks not for peace but to spread confusion. That one who is quarrelsome or contentious, and whose arguments are for other purposes than to resolve the truth, is violating a fundamental principle laid down by the Master as an essential in the building of a full rich life. “Peace and goodwill to men on earth” was the angel song that heralded the birth of the Prince of Peace.

To be persecuted for righteousness’ sake in a great cause where truth and virtue and honor are at stake is God-like. Always there have been martyrs to every great cause. The great harm that may come from persecution is not from the persecution itself but from the possible effect it may have upon the persecuted who may thereby be deterred in their zeal for the righteousness of their cause. Much of that persecution comes from lack of understanding, for men are prone to oppose that which they do not comprehend. Some of it comes from men intent upon evil. But from whatever cause, persecution seems to be so universal against those engaged in a righteous cause that the Master warns us, “Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26.)

May youth everywhere remember that warning when you are hissed and scoffed at because you refuse to compromise your standards of abstinence, honesty, and morality in order to win the applause of the crowd. If you stand firmly for the right, despite the jeers of the crowd or even physical violence, you shall be crowned with the blessedness of eternal joy. Who knows but that again in our day some of the saints or even apostles, as in former days, may be required to give their lives in defense of the truth. If that time should come, God grant they will not fail.

Gradually as we ponder prayerfully all these teachings, we will make what may be to some the startling discovery that after all, God’s measure of our worth in His kingdom will not be the high positions we have held here among man, nor in His church, nor the honors we have won, but rather the lives we have led and the good we have done, according to the “constitution for a perfect life” revealed in the life of the Son of God.

May you make the Beatitudes the constitution of your own lives and thus receive the blessedness promised therein.