Teachings of Presidents
Chapter 20: Living the Law of Chastity

“Chapter 20: Living the Law of Chastity,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee (2011), 185–94

“Chapter 20,” Teachings: Harold B. Lee, 185–94

Chapter 20

Living the Law of Chastity

What can we do to safeguard the chastity of ourselves and our families?


“If you want to have the blessings of the Spirit of the Lord to be with you, you must keep your body, the temple of God, clean and pure,” said President Harold B. Lee.1

He used a sorrowful letter from a man who had violated the law of chastity to illustrate the importance of this counsel: “When I was enjoying the Spirit of the Lord and was living the gospel, the pages of scripture would stand open to me with new understanding and the meaning of the pages of scripture would just leap into my soul. Now since the sentence of excommunication, I no longer read with understanding; I read with doubt the passages that before I thought I understood clearly. I formerly enjoyed performing the ordinances of the gospel for my children, to bless my babes, to baptize them, to confirm them, to administer to them when they were sick. Now I must stand by and witness some other man performing those ordinances. I used to enjoy going to the temple, but today the doors of the temple are closed against me. I used to complain a bit about the contributions the Church asks, paying tithing, paying fast offerings, contributing to this and contributing to that, and now as an excommunicant, I am not permitted to pay tithing; the heavens are closed to me now because I can’t pay tithing. I shall never in all my life complain again of the requests of the Church to make sacrifice of my means. My children are very kind to me, but I know that deep down in their souls, they are ashamed of the father whose name they bear.”2

Said President Lee, “That man or that woman who has his eye ever fixed upon that eternal goal of eternal life, is rich indeed, because his whole soul is charged with a fire that comes to him who has kept his life worthy.”3

Teachings of Harold B. Lee

Why is it essential to obey the law of chastity?

To the end that man and woman might be brought together in this sacred marriage relationship, whereby earthly bodies are prepared as tabernacles for heavenly spirits, the Lord has placed within the breast of every young man and every young woman a desire for association with each other. These are sacred and holy impulses but tremendously powerful. Lest life be valued too cheaply or these life processes be prostituted to the mere gratification of human passions, God has placed foremost in the category of serious crimes against which we are warned in the Ten Commandments, first, murder, and second only to that, sexual impurity. “Thou shalt not kill! Thou shalt not commit adultery!” (See Exodus 20:13–14.) … The Church counsels you to be modest in your dress and manner and to forbid the evil thoughts that would prompt your lips to obscenity and your conduct to be base and unseemly. To gain the highest bliss in holy wedlock, the fountains of life must be kept pure.4

Be virtuous. This is one of the greatest of the commandments.

“Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.

“The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.” (D&C 121:45–46.)

But never in the world will we have that dominion, that power, that companionship of the Holy Ghost unless we have learned to be virtuous in thought, in habit, and in our actions.5

Clothe yourself with the armor of righteousness. Don’t give way in a moment of weakness. Safeguard that citadel of purity. Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, if you will keep it clean and pure.6

Live the law of chastity more perfectly than you have ever done it before, by thinking pure thoughts. Remember what the Master stated, “It was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: but I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matthew 5:27–28). Now, our thoughts must be pure. Overcome any habits that you may have that have a tendency to immoral acts, and forbid the immorality that otherwise would blight your lives.7

What are the consequences of violation of the law of chastity?

Never before has there been such a challenge to the doctrine of righteousness and purity and chastity. The moral standards are being eroded by powers of evil. There is nothing more important for us to do than to teach as powerfully, led by the Spirit of the Lord, as we can in order to persuade our people in the world to live close to the Lord in this hour of great temptation.8

Satan’s greatest threat today is to destroy the family, and to make a mockery of the law of chastity and the sanctity of the marriage covenant.9

One of our stake conferences closed on an interesting note some while ago. … As the stake president got up to close the conference, he looked up to the balcony filled with youngsters and said, “There is something I want to say to you young people up in that balcony. Perhaps while I am your stake president, every one of you will come to me for an interview—advancement in the priesthood, or for some position to which you are to be called, or for temple recommends—and among other things I am going to ask you one soul-searching question. Are you morally clean? If you can answer honestly, ‘Yes, President, I am morally clean,’ you will be happy. If you have to answer, ‘No, I’m not,’ you will be sad; and if you lie to me, bitterness will fill your soul as long as you live.” …

One day [we] will have to meet our Maker and as Moroni put it—and this is pretty strong language—he said, “Do you think that you could be happy in the presence of the Holy One of Israel with a sense of guilt of your own uncleanness?” He said, “You would be happier to live with the damned souls in hell than in the presence of the Holy One of Israel with your uncleanness and your filthiness still upon you.” [See Mormon 9:3–4.]10

When we break commandments, we hurt ourselves and others too. The error usually results in sadness, depression, hostility, or withdrawal, if we do not repent. We, in effect, diminish our self-esteem; we downgrade our roles as sons and daughters of God; we may even try to run away from the ultimate reality of who we really are!

When we sin we become less effective members of the human family. … We may damage others; we may even strike back at the human family in a twisted way for our own failures, and thus human suffering is multiplied. The unchastity of parents can send forth a chain reaction that can span the generations, even though the resentment and rebellion of disappointed children may take a different form. The absence of love at home causes ripples of reaction that roll across all of us; mankind pays an awful price for this kind of failure. What could be more relevant to the needs of the human family than for us to be chaste, to develop love at home—in fact, to keep every commandment?11

There is never a man or a woman of station in this church who falls below the standards he is expected to live without dragging down with him many who have had faith in him. He has wounded their conscience; he has dragged down those of weaker faith, and many count the day of their disaffection in this church when someone in whom they had faith fell below that standard they expected him to maintain.12

I have pointed out the awfulness of sin; that the wages of sin is death and that through the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, you who have sinned may by true repentance find forgiveness and the way to joy in this life and a fulness in the life to come.13

What is the responsibility of priesthood bearers in connection with the law of chastity?

Brethren, we must ourselves resolve anew that we are going to keep the law of chastity: and if we have made mistakes, let’s begin now to rectify these mistakes. Let’s walk towards the light; and for goodness sake, brethren, don’t prostitute the wonderful opportunity you have as men, as those who may link hands with the Creator in the procreation of human souls, by engaging in a kind of unlawful relationship that will only go down to disgrace and break the hearts of your wives and your children. Brethren, we plead with you to keep yourselves morally clean, and walk the path of truth and righteousness, and thereby gain the plaudits of a Heavenly Father whose sons you are.14

I want to warn this great body of priesthood against that great sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, which has been labeled as a sin second only in seriousness to the sin of murder. I speak of the sin of adultery, which, as you know, was the name used by the Master as He referred to unlicensed sexual sins of fornication as well as adultery; and besides this, the equally grievous sin of homosexuality, which seems to be gaining momentum with social acceptance in the Babylon of the world, of which Church members must not be a part.

While we are in the world, we must not be of the world. Any attempts being made by the schools or places of entertainment to flaunt sexual perversions, which can do nothing but excite to experimentation, must find among the priesthood in this church a vigorous and unrelenting [opposition] through every lawful means that can be employed.15

For a child of God, and particularly one bearing the priesthood and having been active in the Church, to consider his God-given gift of creative powers as a mere plaything or that his association with his sweetheart is primarily for the satisfying of his lustful appetite is to play the game of Satan, who knows that such conduct is the sure way to destroy in one the refinement necessary to receive the companionship of the Spirit of the Lord.16

How can parents teach their children to understand and live the law of chastity?

Now the most effective teaching in the church is done in the family where the responsibility upon the father and the mother in the home is to teach their children while they’re yet small the basic principles of faith, repentance, belief in the Savior, those early principles of chastity, virtue, honor, and so on. The greatest strength that children can have in holding away from these things of the world will be the fear of losing their place in the eternal family circle. If they’ve been taught in their childhood and youth to love the family and revere the home, they would think twice before they’d ever want to do something that would forever bar them from belonging to that eternal family home. To us, marriage, bearing of children, chastity, virtue are some of the most precious truths we have—the most vital things.17

Have we made sure that in the development of that little soul entrusted to our care, that we never left her without the benefit of our maturity of years to teach her the “how” of all we know? Did we, in her growing-up years, lay the foundation and framework for a strong, successful, and happy life, or did we leave it all to the hit and miss of trial and error, and hope somehow that Providence would protect our darling while she gained experience?

Perhaps a true-to-life incident will impress the thought I am trying to introduce. … A young pilot in a solo flight high above the airport in a training routine … suddenly shouted over the radio communicating system to the officer in the control tower: “I can’t see! I have gone blind.” Should panic have prevailed in the control tower as well, disaster to the young pilot and to the valuable plane would have been certain; but, fortunately, he was a seasoned officer who, from experience, knew that under certain circumstances temporary blindness could come to a young novice under great tension. Calmly the officer talked to the youth up there, directing him in the process of circling to lose altitude slowly while at the same time ordering emergency equipment to be brought, at once, should there be a crash. After breath-taking minutes which seemed interminable to all who watched, the blinded pilot touched the wheels of his plane to the runway and rolled to a stop on the landing field. The ambulance attendants hastily rushed the boy to the base hospital for treatment.

What would have happened if the officer in the control tower had become excited or had been shirking his duty, or hadn’t known how to deal with this kind of an emergency? The answer is that the same thing would have happened which could happen to [a youth] were she bereft of the wise counselor of experience when she is faced with a shocking crisis with which she is unaccustomed. In both instances, a life would be maimed, if not destroyed, and the opportunity for highest attainment blighted. …

I wish all mothers could have heard the heart-cries and the questions of a dear, sweet girl who, when it seemed that her girlhood dream of a temple marriage was almost within her grasp, had broken the law of chastity and now … lived in the torture chamber of an accusing conscience. Her questions were: “How was I to know that I was in danger? Why didn’t I have the strength to resist?” Like the blinded pilot, she had been flying blind, but, unfortunately for her, there was no control tower attendant to guide her to a safe landing in her crisis. Oh, that she could have talked out her problem with a wise mother!

Had mother been too busy with Church work or her housework or with socials or clubs to have cultivated the comradeship which would have invited from her daughter the most intimate confidences on such sacred matters? Perhaps here was a mother who was content to have her daughter instructed in academic courses on these delicate subjects which, all too often, but encourage the students to experiment. Maybe she didn’t realize that into her very living room, daily, by radio, magazines, and television were coming the distorted, and yet cleverly disguised ideas of love and life, and marriage that, all too often, are mistaken by youth as the path to happiness.18

You mothers, stay close to your daughters. When they’re little children, don’t let someone else tell them about the so-called facts of life. As soon as your little children begin to ask you questions, little tots about little intimate things, sit down and talk to them about the things to the limit of their intelligence. They will then say, “All right, Mother, that’s fine.” And then a little later when they get in their teenage, they’ll come again a second time, this time a little more sophisticated. Then they begin to date, and where will they come for counsel? If you’ve done your job, they’ll come to ask Mother about her counsel on this and that, and on the night of her marriage, she’ll seek counsel from her mother, not from the women on the street.

And you fathers, be companionable with your boys. Never turn your boy aside when he wants to have your counsel about the things that he wants a father to talk to him about. Therein is the safety in the home. There’s the safety of your young people. Don’t deny them that safety, you fathers and you mothers.19

One of the things we must do in teaching our young people is to condition them on how to meet a temptation that comes in an unguarded moment. …

The one who has the chief responsibility is the father of the boy. This doesn’t mean that the father should wake up some morning and call his boy to his bedside and in fifteen minutes tell him all the facts of life. That isn’t what the boy needs. He needs a father to answer when he wants to ask questions of a delicate nature. He is hungering to know; he is curious about things.

If his father will be frank and honest, and tell him up to the limit of his intelligence as he grows up, that father will be the one to whom the son will return for counsel in the years that follow. That father will be an anchor to that boy’s soul, as the father takes from his book of experience lessons that he can give to his son to help condition him against the possibility of falling into that fatal trap in an unguarded moment.20

How I wish I could impress you today, who must daily walk out on the swaying bridge [over the] worldliness and sin which flows as a turbulent stream below you, how I wish that when you have twinges of doubt and fear that cause you to lose the rhythm of prayer and faith and love, may you hear my voice as one calling to you from further along on life’s bridge, “Have faith—this is the way—for I can see further ahead than you.” I would to God that you today could feel the love flowing from my soul to yours, and know of my deep compassion toward each of you as you face your problems of the day. The time is here when every one of you must stand on your own feet. The time is here when no man and woman will endure on borrowed light. Each will have to be guided by the light within himself. If you do not have it, you will not stand.21

Suggestions for Study and Discussion

  • Why must we think pure thoughts if we are to live the law of chastity?

  • What blessings come to those who are chaste and virtuous?

  • Why is unchastity the path to destruction both physically and spiritually? How does being unchaste represent running away “from the ultimate reality of who we really are”?

  • What is the responsibility of priesthood holders in safeguarding themselves and their loved ones from the dangers of unchastity?

  • What should fathers and mothers teach their children about sexual purity? What can parents do to ensure that their children feel confident enough to share intimate matters with them?

  • What influences in the world today can lessen our ability to resist temptations to be immoral? Why is the counsel that “no man and woman will endure on borrowed light” particularly applicable to keeping the law of chastity in today’s world?


  1. In Conference Report, Mexico and Central America Area Conference 1972, 103.

  2. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed. Clyde J. Williams (1996), 105.

  3. By Their Fruits Shall Ye Know Them, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year (12 Oct. 1954), 8.

  4. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 213–14.

  5. Stand Ye in Holy Places (1974), 215.

  6. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 215.

  7. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 608.

  8. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 85.

  9. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 227.

  10. Address to Ricks College student body and student leaders, 3 Mar. 1962, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 19–20.

  11. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 226–27.

  12. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 504.

  13. Decisions for Successful Living (1973), 219.

  14. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 218.

  15. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 232.

  16. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 224.

  17. Interview with Tom Pettit for NBC, 4 May 1973, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 22–23.

  18. “My Daughter Prepares for Marriage,” Relief Society Magazine, June 1955, 348–49.

  19. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 227–28.

  20. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 228.

  21. “Fortifying Oneself against the Vices of the World,” baccalaureate address given at Ricks College, 6 May 1970, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 18–19.