Teachings of Presidents
Chapter 4: The First Principles and Ordinances of the Gospel

“Chapter 4: The First Principles and Ordinances of the Gospel,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee (2011), 27–36

“Chapter 4,” Teachings: Harold B. Lee, 27–36

Chapter 4

The First Principles and Ordinances of the Gospel

How can we more faithfully live in obedience to the first principles and ordinances of the gospel and endure to the end?


To become pure and holy in life and character is the desire of all faithful Latter-day Saints. President Harold B. Lee taught that the way to purity and holiness is accepting the first four principles and ordinances of the gospel—faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost—and then enduring to the end in keeping all the commandments of God. He said:

“The laws of God given to mankind are embodied in the gospel plan, and the Church of Jesus Christ is made responsible for teaching these laws to the world. They are given by our Heavenly Father for only one purpose, that you who are governed by law might also be preserved by law and perfected and sanctified, or made holy by the same (see D&C 88:34). The greatest of all gifts of God to us is the gift of salvation in His kingdom.”1

He also taught, “Knowledge of God and Jesus, His Son, is essential to life eternal, but the keeping of God’s commandments must precede the acquisition of that knowledge or intelligence.”2

This chapter will discuss how the first four principles and ordinances of the gospel and enduring to the end in righteousness lead us toward eternal life.

Teachings of Harold B. Lee

What is faith, and how does it direct us in our efforts to receive eternal life?

Faith applied to religion is its foundation principle and indeed the source of all righteousness that directs man in his efforts to gain eternal life in the world to come. It centers in God who by faith is recognized as the source of all power and all wisdom in the universe and who is the directing Intelligence of “all things visible or invisible that demonstrate his wisdom.” By faith in God then, you too … can become attuned to the Infinite and by power and wisdom obtained from your Heavenly Father harness the powers of the universe and have them serve you in your hour of need in the solution of problems too great for your human strength or intelligence.

How may [we] develop this faith? The answer is by study, by work and by prayer. Paul the Apostle asked the question, “How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14.) We must answer, they cannot. So then faith can only come by hearing the word of God from preachers of truth. The preaching of the truth concerning God and his purposes has been compared to the sowing of a seed, which if a good seed will begin to sprout and grow in your hearts on these conditions: First, that it is planted in the rich, fertile soil of sincerity and real desire; second, that it is cultivated with diligent study and searching; and third, that it is watered by genial spiritual “dews” and warmed by rays of inspiration that come from humble prayer. The harvest from such planting comes only to that individual who acts upon the truths he has learned and reforms his life of sin and fills his days with purposeful conduct in keeping the commandments of God in whom he has faith, and in service toward his fellowmen.3

By faith the commandments of the decalogue from Mount Sinai are transformed from mere platitudes of a philosopher to the thundered voice of authority from on high, and the teachings of the prophets become the revealed word of God to guide us to our Celestial home. … By faith we would understand that whatever contributes in life to the standard of Jesus “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” [Matthew 5:48] is for our good and our eternal benefit even though into that molding may go the severe chastening of an all-wise God, “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” [Hebrews 12:6.]4

Every child must learn that faith sufficient to perfection can only be developed by sacrifice and except he learns to sacrifice of his appetites and [physical] desires in obedience to the laws of the Gospel he cannot be sanctified and made holy before the Lord.5

Why is daily repentance necessary?

In order for good to blossom it must be cultivated and exercised by constant practice, and to be truly righteous there is required a daily pruning of the evil growth of our characters by a daily repentance from sin. …

Now what are the steps to be taken on this climb up the road of repentance in order to be worthy of God’s forgiveness, through the redemption of the Master’s atoning sacrifice, and the privileges of eternal life in the world to come? An all-wise Father, foreseeing that some would fall in sin and all would have need to repent, has provided in the teachings of his gospel and through his Church the plan of salvation that defines the clear-cut way to repentance.

First, those in sin must confess them. “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.” (Doc. and Cov. D&C 58:43) That confession must be made first to him or her who has been most wronged by your acts. A sincere confession is not merely admitting guilt after the proof is already in evidence. If you have “offended many persons openly,” your acknowledgment is to be made openly and before those whom you have offended that you might show your shame and humility and willingness to receive a merited rebuke. If your act is secret and has resulted in injury to no one but yourself, your confession should be in secret, that your Heavenly Father who hears in secret may reward you openly. Acts that may affect your standing in the Church, or your right to privileges or advancement in the Church, are to be promptly confessed to the bishop whom the Lord has appointed as a shepherd over every flock and commissioned to be a common judge in Israel. He may hear such confession in secret and deal justly and mercifully, as each case warrants. … Following confession, one in sin must show forth the fruits of his repentance by good deeds that are weighed against the bad. He must make proper restitution to the limit of his power to restore that which he has taken away or to repair the damage he has done. He that repents thus of his sins and altogether turns away therefrom, to return no more to a repetition thereof, is entitled to the promise of a forgiveness of his sins, if he has not committed the unpardonable sin, as it was declared by the Prophet Isaiah, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18.)6

Let’s face it. All of us have done something that we ought not to have done, or we have neglected to do things we should have done. All of us then have made mistakes, and every one of us needs to repent. The old devil would have you believe that if you have made one mistake, why don’t you just keep on making mistakes? That is Satan trying to tell you that there is no chance to come back. But you must turn your face towards the rising sun, and through repentance turn from the thing you have done that is wrong and never go back again thereto. The Lord said, “Go [thy way] and sin no more; but unto that soul who sinneth [meaning again] shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God” (D&C 82:7).7

Now, if you have made mistakes, make today the beginning of a change of your lives. Turn from the thing that you have been doing that is wrong. The most important of all the commandments of God is that one that you are having the most difficulty keeping today. If it is one of dishonesty, if it is one of unchastity, if it is one of falsifying, not telling the truth, today is the day for you to work on that until you have been able to conquer that weakness. Put that aright and then you start on the next one that is most difficult for you to keep. That’s the way to sanctify yourself by keeping the commandments of God.8

Why is baptism a necessary preparation to meet God?

When we went into the waters of baptism we entered into a covenant with the Lord that we would do all within our power to keep God’s commandments, with the understanding that the Lord’s promises would be given to us and His glory would be added forever and ever, and that we would let our lives be so ordered that we would serve as witnesses of God in all places even until death. [See Mosiah 18:8–10.] It was that covenant we made when we were baptized members of this Church.9

Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins … is for those who have attained the age of accountability, a necessary preparation to meet our God. It is by this means that you become “the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ,” (Galatians 3:26–27) or in other words through baptism have received “the power to become the sons and daughters of God.” [See Mosiah 5:7.] It is through this medium that you may apply to yourselves the atoning blood of Christ, that you may receive forgiveness of your sins, and your hearts be purified. [See Mosiah 4:2.] To be worthy of such a forgiveness after having been baptized, you must humble yourselves and call on the Lord daily and walk steadfastly in the light of the teachings of the gospel. …

… Only those who repent and are baptized for the remission of their sins will lay full claim to the redeeming blood of his atonement.10

The Savior Himself was baptized by John the Baptist, as He said, “to fulfil all righteousness.” (Matthew 3:15.) If it be so with Him, what about ourselves? Nicodemus was told: “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5.) The Master left no doubt as to the why of the baptism which He taught.

“And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end.” (3 Nephi 27:19.)

That was why Peter admonished his hearers, “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.) For through baptism by one having authority, the recipient may indeed figuratively wash his garments in the blood of the Son of God, who atoned for the sins of all who receive Him and come in at the door of the sheepfold, by baptism. “But if they would not repent,” the Savior declared in plainness, “they must suffer even as I.” (D&C 19:17.)11

How does the Holy Ghost guide us to the presence of the Lord?

Every baptized member has hands laid upon his head or her head and the elders, after confirming him or her a member of the Church, said, “Receive the Holy Ghost.” Then they may have repeated the words that the Master spoke to His disciples when He told them about the Comforter or the Holy Ghost, which was to come: It will bring all things to your remembrance. It will teach you all things. It will show you things to come. [See John 14:26; 16:13.] And so if I were confirming you a member of the Church, I would confer upon you the gift of the Holy Ghost, which shall be a lamp to your feet and a guide to your path, which shall teach you all things and bring all things to your remembrance and show you things to come.12

The Lord says: “And this is my gospel—repentance and baptism by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which showeth all things, and teacheth the peaceable things of the kingdom.” (D&C 39:6.)

When a man has the gift of the Holy Ghost, he has that which is necessary to reveal to him every principle and ordinance of salvation that pertains unto man here on the earth.13

It is the ideal thing to say that when one is baptized of the water and receives the blessings of the Spirit by the laying on of hands, that this is a new birth. It is a new birth because he has been brought from that spiritual death into the presence of one of the Godhead, even the Holy Ghost. That is why we say unto you “Receive the Holy Ghost” when you are confirmed. That gift is given to the believer who is faithful and lives to claim that blessing, the right to the communion with one of the Godhead to overcome that spiritual death.14

Baptism by immersion symbolizes the death and burial of the man of sin; and the coming forth out of the water, the resurrection to a newness of spiritual life. After baptism, hands are laid upon the head of the baptized believer, and he is blessed to receive the Holy Ghost. Thus does the one baptized receive the promise or gift of the Holy Ghost, or the privilege of being brought back into the presence of one of the Godhead; by obedience and through his faithfulness, one so blessed might receive the guidance and direction of the Holy Ghost in his daily walks and talks, even as Adam walked and talked in the Garden of Eden with God, his Heavenly Father. To receive such guidance and such direction from the Holy Ghost is to be spiritually reborn.15

In the basic principles of the gospel—faith, repentance, baptism, and the receiving of the Holy Ghost, by which power all things can be revealed—we will begin to understand what the Prophet Joseph Smith possibly meant when he said on one occasion when asked why this church was different than all other churches—because we have the Holy Ghost. [See History of the Church, 4:42.] Having that power by which all things can be revealed, therein the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ can be established.16

How can we endure to the end?

What are the laws and the way by which we receive [the blessing of celestial glory]? Well, we have the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel—faith, repentance, baptism, and the Holy Ghost; and in the kingdom of God there are laws which teach us the way to perfection. Any member of the Church who is learning to live perfectly each of the laws that are in the kingdom is learning the way to become perfect. There is no member of this Church who cannot live the law, every law of the gospel perfectly. All of us can learn to talk with God in prayer. All of us can learn to live the Word of Wisdom perfectly. All of us can learn to keep the Sabbath day holy, perfectly. All of you can learn how to keep the law of fasting perfectly. We know how to keep the law of chastity perfectly. Now as we learn to keep one of these laws perfectly we ourselves are on the road to perfection.17

You may ask me, how does one sanctify himself, and make himself holy so that he is prepared to walk in the presence of the Lord? … The Lord says this, “And again, verily I say unto you, that which is governed by law is also preserved by law and perfected and sanctified by the same” (D&C 88:34). What law? The laws of the Lord as contained in the gospel of Jesus Christ, the keeping of which laws and ordinances are the ways by which we are purified and made holy. The keeping of every law that the Lord has given us is one step closer to receiving the right to enter one day into the presence of the Lord.

He has given us in another revelation the formula by which we can prepare ourselves as the years pass. “Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am” (D&C 93:1). Simple, isn’t it? But listen again. All you have to do is to forsake your sins, come unto Him, call on His name, obey His voice, and keep His commandments, and then you shall see His face and shall know that He is.18

This is the Lord’s work and when he gives a commandment to the children of men, he provides a way by which that commandment can be realized. If his children will do all that they can to help themselves, then the Lord will bless their efforts.

… The Lord expects us to do all we can to save ourselves, and … after we have done all we can to save ourselves, then we can lean upon the mercies of the grace of our Heavenly Father. He gave his Son that through obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel we might gain our salvation, but not until we have done all we can do for ourselves.19

The Lord gives us, each one, a lamp to carry, but whether or not we shall have oil in our lamps depends solely upon each one of us. Whether or not we keep the commandments and supply the needed oil to light our way and to guide us on our way depends upon each of us individually. We cannot borrow from our Church membership. We cannot borrow from an illustrious ancestry. Whether or not we have oil in our lamps, I repeat, depends solely upon each one of us; it is determined by our faithfulness in keeping the commandments of the Living God.20

All of the gospel principles and all of the gospel ordinances are but invitations to the learning of the gospel by the practice of its teachings. That’s all they are—invitations to come and practice in order that you can know. … It seems clear to me that we might well say, we never really know any of the teachings of the gospel until we have experienced them one by one by living them. We learn the gospel, in other words, by living it.21

The greatest message that one in this position could give to the membership of the Church is to keep the commandments of God, for therein lies the safety of the Church and the safety of the individual. Keep the commandments. There could be nothing that I could say that would be a more powerful or important message today.22

Suggestions for Study and Discussion

  • How can we develop greater faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? How does faith help us to live the commandments rather than treat them lightly? When has your faith in God enabled you to deal with “problems too great for your human strength or intelligence”?

  • Why is confession important to the process of repentance? Why should we begin today to repent of our sins and change our lives, instead of waiting for another day?

  • How do we “figuratively wash [our] garments in the blood of the Son of God”?

  • According to President Lee, how does receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost help us overcome spiritual death? What can we do to more fully have the guidance of the Holy Ghost in our “daily walks and talks”?

  • What does Doctrine and Covenants 93:1 teach about the importance of enduring to the end in keeping the commandments?

  • How has living a particular gospel teaching helped you know that it is true?


  1. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed. Clyde J. Williams (1996), 19.

  2. “‘And This Is Life Eternal,’” Relief Society Magazine, Apr. 1950, 225.

  3. Decisions for Successful Living (1973), 75–76.

  4. “‘Put on the Whole Armor of God,’” Church News, 30 May 1942, 8.

  5. “For Every Child, His Spiritual and Cultural Heritage,” Children’s Friend, Aug. 1943, 373.

  6. Decisions for Successful Living, 94, 98–99.

  7. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 115.

  8. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 82.

  9. Address to Mutual Improvement Association, 1948, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 5.

  10. Decisions for Successful Living, 116, 118.

  11. Stand Ye in Holy Places (1974), 316–17.

  12. Address to youth conference in Billings, Montana, 10 June 1973, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 4.

  13. Stand Ye in Holy Places, 51.

  14. Address to Jordan seminary convention, 26 Feb. 1947, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 5.

  15. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 95.

  16. Address to new mission presidents’ seminar, 29–30 June 1972, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 5.

  17. Address to district conference in Lima, Peru, 1 Nov. 1959, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6–7.

  18. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 166; paragraphing added.

  19. In Conference Report, Munich Germany Area Conference 1973, 7.

  20. In Conference Report, Oct. 1951, 30.

  21. “Learning the Gospel by Living It,” address to 52nd annual Primary conference, 3 Apr. 1958, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 3.

  22. Ensign, Aug. 1972, back cover.