Teachings of Presidents
Chapter 18: Chastity and Purity

“Chapter 18: Chastity and Purity,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith (2011), 155–62

“Chapter 18,” Teachings: Joseph F. Smith, 155–62

Chapter 18

Chastity and Purity

The Lord commands us to be pure and to honor the sanctity of the marriage covenant.

From the Life of Joseph F. Smith

President Joseph F. Smith was saddened when in 1875, as president of the European Mission, he had to release a missionary who had broken the law of chastity. As he contemplated the regret and heartache that faced the young man, he wrote, “Thus a man may almost fill a mission or live a lifetime honorably and faithfully, and at the last moment, as it were by a single act or crime, or folly, or error, overturn and destroy it all in a moment, turning all the sweetness in the cup of life into gall and bitterness.”

President Smith then went on to reflect on his gratitude for the protecting hand of the Lord in helping him to remain true to his covenants. “O, how I thank my God for His protecting, watchful care, … preserving me from the deadly sins of the world, and many thousand times from my own weaknesses and proneness to err.” He was determined to be the kind of person who could “look his fellows in the face, and with a clean conscience before God stand erect in honest pride of truth, morally and sexually pure.” He rejoiced that he lived “in the pure unsullied love” of his family and said, “I would not abuse their love and confidence for all I have or am.”1

Teachings of Joseph F. Smith

Chastity brings strength and power to the peoples of the earth.

We believe that God lives, and that he is a judge of the quick and the dead. We believe that his eye is upon the world, and that he beholds his groveling, erring and weak children upon this earth. We believe that we are here by his design … ; that we are here to fulfil a destiny, and not to fulfil a whim, or for the gratification of mortal lusts.2

Personal purity and proper thoughts … are the bases of all proper action. I wish that all young [people] could appreciate the value there is in this practice, and in giving their youthful days to the service of the Lord. Growth, development, progress, self-respect, the esteem and admiration of men naturally follow such a course in youth. The Savior set a striking example in this matter, and was early about his Father’s business. … Samuel, the prophet, had so prepared himself by a pure, self-respecting childhood that he was perfectly attuned to the whisperings of God.3

There appears to be a something beyond and above the reasons apparent to the human mind why chastity brings strength and power to the peoples of the earth, but it is so.4

We believe in one standard of morality for men and women. If purity of life is neglected, all other dangers set in upon us like the rivers of waters when the flood gates are opened.5

We desire with holy zeal to emphasize the enormity of sexual sins. Though often regarded as insignificant by those not knowing the will of God, they are, in his eyes an abomination, and if we are to remain his favored people they must be shunned as the gates of hell. The evil results of these sins are so patent in vice, crime, misery and disease that it would appear that all, young and old, must perceive and sense them. They are destroying the world. If we are to be preserved we must abhor them, shun them, not practice the least of them, for they weaken and enervate, they kill man spiritually, they make him unfit for the company of the righteous and the presence of God.6

We hold that sexual sin is second only to the shedding of innocent blood in the category of personal crimes. … We proclaim as the word of the Lord: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” [Exodus 20:14.] “He that looketh on a woman to lust after her, or if any shall commit adultery in their hearts, they shall not have the Spirit, but shall deny the faith.” [D&C 63:16.]7

Like many bodily diseases, sexual crime drags with itself a train of other ills. As the physical effects of drunkenness entail the deterioration of tissue, and disturbance of vital functions, and so render the body receptive to any distemper to which it may be exposed, and at the same time lower the powers of resistance even to fatal deficiency, so does unchastity expose the soul to divers spiritual maladies, and rob it of both resistance and recuperative ability. The adulterous generation of Christ’s day were deaf to the voice of truth, and through their diseased state of mind and heart, sought after signs and preferred empty fable to the message of salvation [see Matthew 16:4].8

Unchastity, furthermore, not only fixes its penalty on the one who transgresses, but reaches out unerring punishment to the third and fourth generation, making not only the transgressor a wreck, but mayhap involving scores of people in his direct line of relationship, disrupting family ties, breaking the hearts of parents, and causing a black stream of sorrow to overwhelm their lives.9

The law of chastity is vitally important to men, women, and children.

The law of chastity is one of the most vital importance, both to children, and to men and to women. It is a vitally important principle to the children of God in all their lives, from the cradle to the grave. God has fixed dreadful penalties against the transgression of his law of chastity, of virtue, of purity. When the law of God shall be in force among men, they will be cut off who are not absolutely pure and unsoiled and spotless—both men and women. We expect the women to be pure, we expect them to be spotless and without blemish, and it is as necessary and important for man to be pure and virtuous as for woman.10

Waiting to serve the Lord until the wild oats of youth are sown, is reprehensible. … It is better far that a man should late turn from evil, than to continue in sin all his days, but … there are regrets and heartburnings in repenting late in life from the follies and sins of youth.11

It is a deplorable fact that society persists in holding women to stricter account than men in the matter of sexual offense. What shadow of excuse, not to speak of justification, can be found for this outrageous and cowardly discrimination? …

So far as woman sins it is inevitable that she shall suffer, for retribution is sure, whether it be immediate or deferred. But in so far as man’s injustice inflicts upon her the consequence of his offenses, he stands convicted of multiple guilt. And man is largely responsible for the sins against decency and virtue, the burden of which is too often fastened upon the weaker participant in the crime. …

We accept without reservation or qualification the affirmation of Deity, through an ancient Nephite prophet: “For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts.” (Jacob 2:28.)12

We raise our voices against prostitution, and against all forms of immorality. We are not here to practice immorality of any kind. Above all things, sexual immorality is most heinous in the sight of God. … Therefore, we raise our voices against sexual immorality, and against all manner of obscenity.13

Our marriage vows are most sacred.

The lawful association of the sexes is ordained of God, not only as the sole means of race perpetuation, but for the development of the higher faculties and nobler traits of human nature, which the love-inspired companionship of man and woman alone can insure. The word of Scripture is explicit as to the Divine intent and command with respect to the sexes. It is not good for man to be alone; and therefore hath it been ordained that “a man leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh.” [See Genesis 2:18, 24.]

The precept that marriage is honorable is as true today as when uttered by the Apostle of old [see Hebrews 13:4]. …

Sexual union is lawful in wedlock, and, if participated in with right intent is honorable and sanctifying. But without the bonds of marriage, sexual indulgence is a debasing sin, abominable in the sight of Deity.14

Today a flood of iniquity is overwhelming the civilized world. One great reason therefor is the neglect of marriage; it has lost its sanctity in the eyes of the great majority. It is at best a civil contract, but more often an accident or a whim, or a means of gratifying the passions. And when the sacredness of the covenant is ignored or lost sight of, then a disregard of the marriage vows, under the present moral training of the masses, is a mere triviality, a trifling indiscretion.15

Infidelity to marriage vows is a fruitful source of divorce, with its long train of attendant evils, not the least of which are the shame and dishonor inflicted on unfortunate though innocent children. The dreadful effects of adultery cannot be confined to the erring participants. Whether openly known or partly concealed under the cloak of guilty secrecy, the results are potent in evil influence. The immortal spirits that come to earth to tabernacle in bodies of flesh have the right to be well born, through parents who are free from the contamination of sexual vice.16

The sin against chastity is intensified by the breaking of sacred covenants.

The law as given, we believe to be general, applying to all the Saints. But undoubtedly when, in addition to the actual offense against the laws of chastity, covenants are broken, then the punishment for the double offense will, either in this life or that which is to come, be correspondingly greater and more severe.17

There are said to be more shades of green than of any other color, so also we are of the opinion there are more grades or degrees of sin associated with the improper relationship of the sexes than of any other wrongdoing of which we have knowledge. They all involve a grave offense—the sin against chastity, but in numerous instances this sin is intensified by the breaking of sacred covenants, to which is sometimes added deceit, intimidation or actual violence.

Much as all these sins are to be denounced and deplored, we can ourselves see a difference both in intent and consequence between the offense of a young couple who, being betrothed, in an unguarded moment, without premeditation fall into sin, and that of the man, who having entered into holy places and made sacred covenants, plots to rob the wife of his neighbor of her virtue either by cunning or force and accomplish his vile intent.

Not only is there a difference in these wrongs, judging from the standpoint of intent, but also from that of the consequences. … In the [case of the man who has made covenants], others are most disastrously involved, families are broken up, misery is forced upon innocent parties, society is affected … ; altogether, wrongs are committed both to the living and the dead, as well as to the yet unborn, which it is out of the power of the offenders to repair or make right.18

The gospel offers hope to those determined to be pure.

It is only the vicious and the truly wicked who do not desire purity; they do not love purity and truth. I do not know whether it is possible for any soul to become so debased as to lose all regard for that which is pure and chaste, good and true and godlike. I believe that there still lingers in the heart of the most vicious and wicked, at times at least, a spark of that divinity that has been planted in the souls of all the sons of God. Men may become so corrupt that they do not have more than mere glimpses of that divine inspiration that strives to lead them toward and to love good; but I do not believe there is a soul in the world that has absolutely lost all conception and admiration of that which is good and pure, when he sees it. It is hard to believe that a human being may become so depraved that he has lost all desire that he might also be good and pure, if it were possible; but many people have abandoned themselves to evil and have come to the conclusion that there is no chance for them. While there is life there is hope, and while there is repentance there is a chance for forgiveness.19

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the Divinely ordained panacea for the ills that afflict humanity, and preeminently so for the dread affliction of sexual sin.20

Then, we say to you who have repented of your sins, who have been buried with Christ in baptism, who have been raised from the liquid grave to newness of life, born of the water and of the Spirit, and who have been made the children of the Father, heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ—we say to you, if you will observe the laws of God, and cease to do evil, cease to be obscene, cease to be immoral, sexually or otherwise, cease to be profane, cease to be infidel, and have faith in God, believe in the truth and receive it, and be honest before God and man, that you will be set up on high, and God will put you at the head, just as sure as you observe these commandments. Whoso will keep the commandments of God, no matter whether it be you or any other people, they will rise and not fall, they will lead and not follow, they will go upward and not downward. God will exalt them and magnify them before the nations of the earth, and he will set the seal of his approval upon them, will name them as his own. This is my testimony to you.21

Suggestions for Study

  • What is the Lord’s law of chastity? In what ways does chastity bring “strength and power” to people?

  • How can we nurture “personal purity and proper thoughts” in ourselves? How can personal purity be a blessing to ourselves, our families, and the world?

  • Why do you think that violation of the law of chastity is “second only to the shedding of innocent blood”? (See also Alma 39:5.)

  • What things are included in the “train of other ills” that accompanies violations of the law of chastity? How do violations of the law of chastity affect many more people than just the transgressors?

  • What can we do to “raise our voices against sexual immorality, and against all manner of obscenity”?

  • For what purposes is the “lawful association of the sexes … ordained of God”?

  • Why is the neglect of the sanctity of marriage a “great reason” for the “flood of iniquity … overwhelming the civilized world”?

  • How does breaking the law of chastity constitute a “double offense” for those who have made sacred covenants with God? What are the consequences of this double offense?

  • What hope is in the gospel of Jesus Christ for those who are determined to purify themselves and observe the law of chastity?


  1. Life of Joseph F. Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith (1938), 450–51.

  2. Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. (1939), 312.

  3. Gospel Doctrine, 334.

  4. Gospel Doctrine, 274.

  5. Gospel Doctrine, 313.

  6. Gospel Doctrine, 275–76.

  7. Gospel Doctrine, 310; paragraphing altered.

  8. Gospel Doctrine, 309–10.

  9. Gospel Doctrine, 335.

  10. Gospel Doctrine, 273–74.

  11. Gospel Doctrine, 335.

  12. Gospel Doctrine, 309–10.

  13. Gospel Doctrine, 312.

  14. “Unchastity the Dominant Evil of the Age,” Improvement Era, June 1917, 739.

  15. Gospel Doctrine, 274.

  16. Gospel Doctrine, 309.

  17. Gospel Doctrine, 311.

  18. Gospel Doctrine, 310–11.

  19. Gospel Doctrine, 27–28.

  20. “Unchastity the Dominant Evil of the Age,” 743.

  21. Gospel Doctrine, 312.