Teachings of Presidents
Chapter 21: The First Principles and Ordinances of the Gospel

“Chapter 21: The First Principles and Ordinances of the Gospel,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay (2011), 195–203

“Chapter 21,” Teachings: David O. McKay, 195–203

Chapter 21

The First Principles and Ordinances of the Gospel

I know the gospel is divine, and the world needs it.1


President David O. McKay was always kind and respectful to people of other faiths, and he praised the good work of all churches. However, he was firm in his testimony that the fulness of the gospel is found only in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To teach the importance of obeying the principles and ordinances of the restored gospel, he spoke of membership in the Church as citizenship in a great kingdom:

“All churches and all creeds contain some good which lead toward the kingdom of our Father; but to become a citizen of that kingdom everyone must conform to the requirements made by the King. Indeed, there is only one way in which entrance into the Church of Jesus Christ may be obtained, and that is the way marked out by Jesus Christ, the Lord. ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.’ (John 14:6.)

“The means of obtaining citizenship in the Church of Jesus Christ are very explicit; so clear, indeed, that it is surprising that so many seemingly intelligent and well-read people … [assume] that they can gain entrance by other and various means.

“There is only one who has the right to prescribe the means of human salvation. Surely he spoke not meaninglessly when he said what is necessary to citizenship in his kingdom.

“Note how explicit are his words: ‘Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ [John 3:3; italics added.] In explanation of this seemingly enigmatical saying to Nicodemus, the Master continued:

“‘Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.’ [John 3:5; italics added.]

“Evidently Peter, the chief Apostle, attached significance to this requirement as an essential means of gaining not only citizenship in the Church, but also salvation in the kingdom of God, for, when the multitude pricked in their hearts cried out, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ [Acts 2:37] he answered and said:

“‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.’ (Acts 2:38.) Thus are given the four requirements, the four essential principles and ordinances, obedience to which are essential to membership in Christ’s Church: [namely,] faith, repentance, baptism, and the reception of the Holy Ghost. …

“There are many roads being pointed out as leading to the kingdom of God, but there is only one gate through which entrance and citizenship therein may be obtained. Christ plainly pointed this out when he was among men; and he has again revealed it through the Prophet Joseph Smith. The way is simple and easy to find, and as infinitely sublime as it is eternal.

“There are many roads … leading sincere people toward the church and kingdom of God, but those who would participate in the privileges and blessings of citizenship therein must obey the principles and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”2

Teachings of David O. McKay

Faith in Jesus Christ is the most fundamental principle of the Church.

An unwavering faith in Christ is the most important need of the world today.3

What does it mean to keep the faith? It means first, that we accept Jesus Christ, not merely as a great teacher, a powerful leader, but as the Savior, the Redeemer of the world. … He who keeps the faith will accept Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world. I would have all men keep that faith. I think it is fundamental to man’s happiness, fundamental to his peace of mind. I think it is the cardinal principle of the Church of Jesus Christ.4

It is such faith as must have sustained the eleven Apostles and at least seventy disciples who met Christ after the resurrection. In their minds there was absolutely no doubt of his personality. They were witnesses of the fact. They knew because their eyes beheld, their ears heard, their hands felt the corporeal [bodily] presence of the risen Redeemer.

It is that unwavering faith which brought forth this glorious vision given to 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!

“For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—

“That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.” (D&C 76:22–24.)

Those who have such assurance in their hearts accept him as “The Way, the Truth, and the Life,” as the one safe guide in this perplexing universe.5

Faith in the Gospel is the first step toward true knowledge, and leads thru sacrifice, to wisdom and happiness.6

Faith in God cannot of course be other than personal. It must be yours; it must be mine; and, to be effective, must spring from the mind and heart.7

What we need today is faith in the living Christ, which is more than a mere feeling, but a power that moves us to action—a faith that will put purpose into life and courage into the heart. We need the gospel of application.8

The Church does not accept the doctrine that a mere murmured belief in Jesus Christ is all that is essential to salvation. A man may say he believes but if he does nothing to make that belief or faith a moving power to do, to accomplish, to produce soul growth, his protestation will avail him nothing. “Work out your own salvation” is an exhortation to demonstrate by activity, by thoughtful obedient effort the reality of faith.9

Repentance involves a change of life, thought, and action.

It is inconceivable to think that anyone can even question the essentiality of repentance. Every principle of the gospel when studied carefully reveals a harmony with truth that is simply sublime. Each seems to be all comprehensive, either leading into or embracing other principles. Thus, faith in a perfect being, inspiring one to live righteously, seems to include repentance.10

The message of [the Church] is to help men recognize their weaknesses and to help man overcome those sins and weaknesses. Here we have not time to discuss what sin is, but John Wesley’s mother [John Wesley was a noted theologian] reputedly has given us this:

“Would you judge of the lawfulness or unlawfulness of pleasure? Take this rule: Now note—whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, takes off your relish for spiritual things, whatever increases the authority of the body over the mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may seem in itself.”

The message of [missionaries] who are going in all parts of the world, the message of the Church to all the world is: Repent of those things which contribute to the superiority of the physical senses over our love for spirituality. That is why they cry repentance! What does repentance mean? A change of life, a change of thought, a change of action. If you have been angry and hateful, change that hatred and enmity to love and consideration. If you have cheated a brother, let your conscience smite you and change that, and ask his forgiveness, and never do it again. In thus changing your life from those things which are on the animal plane, you repent of your sins. If you profane Deity, never do it again! Instead of profaning his name, worship him! And once that feeling of change comes to the soul, you desire to be born again, to have a new life. …

This changing of life, this repenting is what the world needs. It is a change of heart. Men must change their way of thinking! Change their way of feeling! Instead of hating and fighting and crushing one another, they should learn to love!11

girl holding scriptures

“Repentance is the turning away from that which is low and the striving for that which is higher.”

Repentance is the turning away from that which is low and the striving for that which is higher. As a principle of salvation, it involves not only a desire for that which is better, but also a sorrow—not merely remorse—but true sorrow for having become contaminated in any degree with things sinful, vile, or contemptible.

It is not uncommon for people to have remorse for mistakes made, for follies and sins committed, but to have no turning away from such frailties and evils. They may even feel penitent; but “penitence,” we are told, “is transient, and may involve no change of character or conduct.” Repentance, on the other hand, “is sorrow for sin with self-condemnation, and complete turning away from the sin.” It is, therefore, more than mere remorse; “it comprehends a change of nature befitting heaven.”12

True faith and repentance lead to baptism.

When an applicant for baptism stood at the water’s edge, before being buried with Christ in baptism, he possessed an implicit faith that the Church of Jesus Christ is established upon the earth, and that this organization is the best in the world today for the fostering of spiritual life, for the attaining of true religious development, for the salvation of the soul.

I repeat that this implicit faith was within him; and with that, there was a true repentance, and that repentance carried with it a desire to leave off everything in the past life that was contrary to the teachings of the gospel or the Church. His old life, and the sins, if there were any connected with it, he truly repented of. He looked forward to the time when he would be born anew in the kingdom of God. He was about to go through the ordinance of baptism, typical of the burial of his old life, and with it all the imperfections, the frailties, the evils, the sins that accompanied that old living. He was to be buried by baptism, that as Christ was raised from the dead by the power and the glory of the Father, so he might come forth in newness of life, a member of the Church of God, a child of the Father, a citizen in the kingdom of Christ. By baptism he was born again, and became a fit recipient of the Holy Spirit. His body came forth anew, and the Holy Ghost was bestowed upon him; he was confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ. That is where we all stood at one time. Those were our feelings, our faith, our hope.13

To Nicodemus Jesus said, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5.)

To the members of the Church, Paul and Peter wrote, “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Gal. 3:26–27.) “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us … by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 3:21.)

In these three instances we have set forth clearly the threefold purpose of the ordinance of baptism, [namely]:

  1. A rite established by God himself and associated with the eternal principle of righteousness, compliance with the law, therefore, being established to man’s salvation.

  2. An initiatory ordinance—the gateway leading to membership in the fold of Christ.

  3. A beautiful and sublime symbol typifying the burial of the “former” man with all his weaknesses and impurities, and the coming forth into a newness of life.

The ordinance of baptism is a law of God, obedience to which, in sincerity, in purity, in simplicity, brings inevitably the promised blessing of the Comforter, a divine Guide. … Though men may scoff at it, ridicule it, and doubt its efficacy, baptism remains ever, even in its simplicity, not only one of the most beautiful symbols known, but also one of the most effective laws operating for the salvation of man.14

God help us all to proclaim to the world the necessity of repentance, the importance of baptism, first to fulfil all righteousness, second as the entrance into the kingdom of God, the doorway into his Church, and third to bury our old life and be guided by his holy spirit.15

After we sincerely exercise faith, repent, and are baptized, we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Only those who sincerely believe in Jesus Christ as the Redeemer of the World and who repent of their sins receive the Holy Ghost. Those who are baptized without faith and repentance are mere pretenders.16

The channel of communication is open, and the Lord is ready to guide, and does guide, his people. … The testimony of the Holy Ghost is a special privilege. It is like tuning in the radio and hearing a voice on the other side of the world. Men who are not within that radiation cannot hear it, but we hear it, and we are entitled to that voice and the guidance of it. It will come to us if we do our part.17

God help us all to keep our consciences clear, our characters sound, responsive to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit, which is real, if we shall but put our ears and listen to it.18

I testify to you that divine inspiration is a reality. Men and women who obey the principles of life and salvation, sincerely repent of their sins, and as sincerely strive to live in accordance with the principles of the gospel, are guided and inspired by the Holy Ghost, and are shown things to come. I testify that that guidance is with this Church and has been since the Prophet Joseph Smith established it.19

The Latter-day Saints have learned the truth that the everlasting Gospel has been restored. And what does this knowledge bring to them? It brings to all, who have honestly and sincerely obeyed the principles of repentance and baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, which enlightens their minds, quickens their understandings, and imparts unto them a knowledge of Christ.

The Latter-day Saints have a guide, a help, a means to assist in their acquisition of truth, in their desire to know what their duty is, that the world does not possess. And this guide is necessary; man cannot find out truth; he cannot find out God by intellect alone. It has been said that no man can find out God by a microscope. Reason alone is not a sufficient guide in searching for truth. There is another, higher, more sure guide than reason. …

[Faith is] that principle which draws our spirit into communion with the Higher Spirit which will bring all things to our remembrance, show us things to come, and teach us all things. To acquire that Spirit is the responsibility of the Latter-day Saint who would know truth.20

Suggestions for Study and Discussion

  • What is faith in Jesus Christ? (See pages 196–98.) Why is faith in Jesus Christ the fundamental principle of the gospel? (See pages 196–98.) What must we do to develop and strengthen our faith in Him?

  • In what ways can we put our faith in Jesus Christ into action? How have you been blessed as you have exercised such faith in Jesus Christ?

  • Why does true faith in Jesus Christ lead to repentance? How is repentance more than simply stopping a certain behavior? (See pages 198–200.) What must we do to completely repent of our sins? What are the risks of failing to repent?

  • What is the symbolism of the ordinance of baptism? (See pages 200–201.) What covenant or promise do we make at baptism? What does the Lord promise in return? How can we remember our baptismal covenant and continue to enjoy the blessings associated with it?

  • What is the mission of the Holy Ghost? (See pages 201–2.) What is required of us to be in tune with the promptings of the Holy Ghost? (See pages 201–2.) Why is receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost necessary to return to our Father in Heaven?

  • How can we recognize when we are being guided by the Holy Ghost? What experiences have you had in which you were guided by inspiration from the Holy Ghost?

Related Scriptures: John 14:26; James 2:14–20; 2 Nephi 2:21; 2 Nephi 32:5; Mosiah 18:8–10; Alma 32:21; Moroni 10:5; D&C 11:13–14; 58:43; 121:26


  1. Gospel Ideals (1953), 329.

  2. Gospel Ideals, 117–18.

  3. In Conference Report, Apr. 1966, 58.

  4. In Conference Report, Oct. 1928, 36–37.

  5. Gospel Ideals, 42.

  6. Ancient Apostles (1918), 258.

  7. Gospel Ideals, 11.

  8. In Conference Report, Apr. 1968, 144–45.

  9. In Conference Report, Apr. 1938, 17.

  10. Gospel Ideals, 12.

  11. Gospel Ideals, 327–28.

  12. Gospel Ideals, 13.

  13. In Conference Report, Apr. 1960, 26–27; paragraphing altered.

  14. Gospel Ideals, 16–17.

  15. Gospel Ideals, 329.

  16. Ancient Apostles, 92.

  17. Cherished Experiences from the Writings of President David O. McKay, comp. Clare Middlemiss, rev. ed. (1976), 128; paragraphing altered.

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

  19. In Conference Report, Oct. 1929, 15.

  20. In Conference Report, Oct. 1906, 112–13; paragraphing altered.