Teachings of Presidents
Chapter 18: Courage to Live Righteously

“Chapter 18: Courage to Live Righteously,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay (2011), 170–77

“Chapter 18,” Teachings: David O. McKay, 170–77

Chapter 18

Courage to Live Righteously

The greatest need in the world today is faith in God and courage to do his will.1


In a general conference address, President David O. McKay related a story told by a man named James L. Gordon:

“A young boy … decided to be an apprentice in one of the carpenters’ societies. He was a bright young boy in his teens, and the men were very glad to admit him. They said, ‘Come on, let’s drink to the entrance of this young man to our group!’ They poured out the beer [and] handed him the glass.

“He said, ‘No, thank you, I do not drink.’

“‘Well,’ said a gruff old member, ‘we’re not going to have any teetotalers [or nondrinkers] in our group.’

“‘Well,’ said the young boy, ‘you’ll have one if you have me.’

“Another seized him by the collar and said, ‘Young man, you’ll have this beer either inside or outside!’

“‘Very well, I came here with a clean jacket and a clear conscience. You may soil my jacket if you wish, but you shall not soil my character.’

Referring to the young man in the story, President McKay observed:

“He had been trained—I use that word properly—not only taught, but trained to avoid the use of tobacco and strong drink, intoxicating liquor. That is what I mean by moral courage. The greatest need in the world today is faith in God and courage to do his will.”2

Teachings of David O. McKay

The Savior is the supreme example of courage.

He who is or should be the guide of our lives was the most courageous of all men. “In Jesus we find bravery at the best; courage at its loftiest; heroism at its climax.” True heroism defends the right and faces disaster without cringing. In this regard the Savior was the personification of true courage and heroism. Illustrative of this I need only mention the cleansing of the temple [see Matthew 21:12–13]; or his fearlessly speaking the truth when his home folk turned him from Nazareth [see Luke 4:16–32, 43–44]; or when the five thousand in Capernaum … [were reduced in number and] he turned [to the Twelve] and said, “Will ye also go away?” [See John 6:66–67.] Never once, however, did the Master despair or turn from his destined course. This is the kind of courage we need in the world today.3

As soldiers went to lay hands upon Jesus, Peter … jumped to the rescue of his Master, “drew his sword, and smote a servant of the high priest and cut off his ear.” [See John 18:10.] … “Put up thy sword into the sheath,” commanded the Savior, “the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” [John 18:11.] What a lesson to Peter! Even though duty led to suffering and death, yet would the Lord not waver in His strength. …

Peter’s strength and loyalty were wavering; but he could not bring himself to flee with the others. Neither could he conclude that it was best to go with Jesus; so he did neither, but “followed Him afar off, even unto the palace of the high priest.” [Mark 14:54.] At first, he remained on the outside, but later ventured in where the servants were sitting. …

[After Peter had denied knowing the Lord three times], the Savior … “turned and looked upon Peter.” Then recalling the words of his Lord, “Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice,” Peter went out and wept bitterly. [See Luke 22:54–62.]

It is said when Peter “went out speechless from the face of all … and filled the silence, weeping bitterly,” that his grief was so heavy that he remained alone all day during Friday and Saturday following the Savior’s crucifixion. If so, his sorrow for what he had done was made all the more acute as he recalled the many kind words the Savior had spoken to him, and the many, many happy moments he had spent in the Lord’s company. Every word and act and look associated with his Master would flash upon his mind with a new meaning. … Through the mist of his bitter tears, he saw all the true attributes of manhood as they were personified in Jesus—Reverence, Brotherliness, Patience, Sincerity, Courage.4

The world’s hope and destiny are centered in the Man of Galilee, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In your moment when you are fighting out the battle of the day, will you look introspectively and see whether you really believe that? [A writer] once asked this question: “Is Jesus only a legendary figure in history, a Saint to be painted in the stained glass of church windows, … not to be approached and hardly to be mentioned by name, or is he still what he was when he was in the flesh, a reality, a man of like passions with ourselves, an elder brother, a guide, a counselor, a comforter, a great voice calling to us out of the past to live nobly, to guide bravely, and keep up our courage to the last.” What is he to you, my fellow laborer?5

Courage springs from faith and hope.

We have greater responsibility than ever to learn and to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We have greater tasks before us. The final work is not all done yet. … We need courage to enter into those new realms; we need courage to meet our present situations and conditions, and that is why I have chosen the text, “Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord.” [Psalm 31:24.]

In this promise are two principles that should be cherished by every truly religious man—faith and courage. What is implied in this text? We know with assurance that the Lord is keeping faith with his people; therefore, let none despair, but take courage and their hope shall not be in vain. Faith in God, trust, confidence in our fellowmen, the courage of our convictions, will enable us eventually to achieve any righteous cause.6

With faith in an over-ruling power, in the personal, intimate protection of our Father—and we like to consider him such, a loving Father—let us face our difficulties with courage.7

Young people must develop courage to maintain spiritual values.

[Maintaining] our ideals is another field in which we can manifest courage, and merit the approval of God in whom we trust. These are times when men should keep their heads, and not be swept from their moorings by every will-o’-the-wisp theory that is offered as a panacea [or cure-all] of our present ills. The times call for courageous youth to hold aloft the moral standard. In that field we can find the truest moral courage. It is said that heroism is concentrated courage. Well our greatest heroes are not always found on the battle field. I think we find them also among our youth. Young men and young women who, when put in social groups, will stand up fearlessly and denounce those things which we know sap the character, the very life energy of youth.

“Never was there a time in the history of the world,” says [one writer], “when moral heroes were more needed. The world waits for such. The providence of God has commanded science to labor and prepare the way for such. For them she is laying her iron tracks, and stretching her wires, and bridging the oceans. But where are they? Who shall breathe into our civil and political relations the breath of a higher life?” “The most important thing in the world,” says a great scientist, “is not the discovery of Galileo, Faraday, and others, but a belief in the reality of moral and spiritual values.” I appeal to youth to be courageous in maintaining the moral and spiritual values of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. After all, “What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” [Matthew 16:26.]8

The aim of education is to develop resources in the child that will contribute to his well-being as long as life endures; to develop power of self-mastery that he may never be a slave to indulgence or other weaknesses, to develop [strong] manhood, beautiful womanhood that in every child and every youth may be found at least the promise of a friend, a companion, one who later may be fit for husband or wife, an exemplary father or a loving intelligent mother, one who can face life with courage, meet disaster with fortitude, and face death without fear.9

I have read from the fifty-third chapter of Alma, which gives an account of young men who were exceedingly valiant for courage, for strength, and activity—men who were true at all times in whatsoever thing they were entrusted. Who were these young men? They were sons of parents who were equally true to every trust. Their parents were converted Lamanites who, when the Spirit of God came upon them, devoted their lives to the service of their fellow men, and in their ministry in the Church covenanted that they would never more take up arms against their brethren, never more go to war. Such was their oath; such was their covenant; and they were true to it even unto death.10

three thousand strippling warriors

Like Helaman’s young warriors, we should be “exceedingly valiant for courage, and also for strength and activity” and “true at all times” (Alma 53:20).

I appeal to the youth to be courageous in maintaining the moral and spiritual values of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The world needs moral heroes!11

In the words of [one writer]: … “Two ways lie open for you—one leading to an ever lower and lower plane, where are heard the cries of despair … ; and the other leading to the highlands of the morning where are heard the glad shouts of humanity and where honest effort is rewarded with immortality.” …

In making the choice, … God give you clear vision, clear seeing, strong wills, courageous hearts. Having chosen wisely, may you walk with heads erect, with countenance open indicating that you have wronged no one. Even though the tasks of life become heavy and sorrow weighs upon you, may the light of the Christ life beckon you on still undismayed.12

With moral courage, we can overcome life’s adversities.

Courage is that quality of the mind which meets danger or opposition with calmness and firmness, which enables a man to face difficulties that lie in his pathway to righteous achievement. … Courage implies facing difficulties and overcoming them.13

It is easy enough to do right when in good company, but it is not easy to defend the right when the majority of the crowd are opposing it; and yet, that is the time to show true courage. The Prophet Joseph, for example, was reviled and persecuted for saying that he had received a vision, but he always remained true to his testimony. Though he “was hated and persecuted yet he said it was true that God had spoken to him,” and “All the world could not make him think or believe otherwise.” [See Joseph Smith—History 1:24–25; italics added.]

Such is the courage and firmness everyone should have. When one knows what is right one should always have the courage to defend it even in the face of ridicule or punishment.14

Let us be courageous in defense of the right. Be not afraid to speak out for the right. Let us be true.15

May God give us courage to choose the right, ability to appreciate the good things of life, and power faithfully to serve Him and our fellow men.16

Truth is loyalty to the right as we see it; it is courageous living of our lives in harmony with our ideals; it is always power.17

Suggestions for Study and Discussion

  • What is courage? (See page 176.) Why is moral courage more important than physical courage? How can we increase or strengthen our moral courage? How might we live the gospel with quiet, daily courage?

  • What are some examples from the scriptures of the Savior and others showing perfect moral courage? (See pages 172–73.) How has their example strengthened you?

  • What is the relationship between faith and courage? (See page 173.) How does the Lord help us to face seemingly overwhelming opposition? What must we do to receive His help?

  • Discouragement is to lose one’s courage. Why is discouragement such a dangerous tool of the adversary? How can we guard against and overcome discouragement?

  • What kinds of social or other situations require extraordinary courage? How can Latter-day Saints show courage in these situations? How can we help and encourage the children and youth of the Church to be courageous in maintaining gospel standards? (See pages 174–76.) How can the publication For the Strength of Youth help in this effort?

Related Scriptures: Deuteronomy 31:6; 2 Kings 6:16; Romans 15:13; 1 Nephi 3:7; D&C 121:7–9


  1. In Conference Report, Apr. 1963, 95.

  2. In Conference Report, Apr. 1963, 95; story taken from James L. Gordon, The Young Man and His Problems.

  3. In Conference Report, Apr. 1936, 58.

  4. Ancient Apostles (1918), 63–66; paragraphing altered.

  5. In Conference Report, Oct. 1954, 84; paragraphing altered.

  6. In Conference Report, Apr. 1936, 57–58; paragraphing altered.

  7. In Conference Report, Apr. 1936, 61.

  8. In Conference Report, Apr. 1936, 60–61; paragraphing altered.

  9. Gospel Ideals (1953), 436.

  10. In Conference Report, Oct. 1927, 11–12.

  11. In Conference Report, Apr. 1969, 152.

  12. Whither Shall We Go? Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year, 10 May 1961, 7.

  13. In Conference Report, Apr. 1936, 58.

  14. Ancient Apostles, 185; paragraphing altered.

  15. In Conference Report, Oct. 1968, 145.

  16. In Conference Report, Apr. 1940, 118.

  17. In Conference Report, Apr. 1959, 73.