“Chapter 17: Keeping the Law of Chastity,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson (2014), 217–28
“Chapter 17,” Teachings: Ezra Taft Benson, 217–28
Traveling widely as a religious and political leader, President Ezra Taft Benson was keenly aware of the steady moral decline throughout the world, especially with regard to the law of chastity. He took a strong stand against this decline, teaching that “the law of chastity is a principle of eternal significance.”1 He declared that “in the Church and kingdom of God, chastity will never be out-of-date, regardless of what the world may do or say.”2 He further taught: “We must be in the amoral and immoral world, … but not of it. We must be able to drop off to sleep at night without having to first sing lullabies to our conscience.”3
To illustrate the importance of staying clean from the immoral influences of the world, President Benson shared the following story:
“I am reminded of a story of a young girl who, with her date, was going to a place of questionable reputation, against the wise counsel of her parents. Her question was, ‘What harm is there in just going in to see what goes on there?’ Her parents apparently gave in to her and suggested that she wear her lovely white dress for the occasion. Before her young man arrived, her father said, ‘Would you do me a favor before you go and go out to the smokehouse and bring in a side of bacon?’
“The girl was aghast at this request and said, ‘In my best dress? I would never get rid of that awful smell.’ Her mother said, ‘That is right, you can’t go into the smokehouse without absorbing some of the influence there. We think you are smart enough not to go into a place where you would come out any less beautiful and clean than when you went in.’ With that wise counsel, this young girl made the right decision to keep herself unspotted and clean from evil influences in the world.”4
In this dispensation the Lord reiterated the commandment given at Sinai when He said, “Thou shalt not … commit adultery, … nor do anything like unto it” (D&C 59:6, emphasis added). From the beginning of time, the Lord has set a clear and unmistakable standard of sexual purity. It always has been, it is now, and it always will be the same. That standard is the law of chastity. It is the same for all—for men and women, for old and young, for rich and poor.5
The Church has no double standard of morality. The moral code of heaven for both men and women is complete chastity before marriage and full fidelity after marriage.6
In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Jacob tells us that the Lord delights in the chastity of His children (see Jacob 2:28). Do you hear that, my brothers and sisters? The Lord is not just pleased when we are chaste; He delights in chastity. Mormon taught the same thing to his son Moroni when he wrote that chastity and virtue are “most dear and precious above all things” (Moroni 9:9).7
The natural desire for men and women to be together is from God. But such association is bounded by his laws. Those things properly reserved for marriage, when taken within the bonds of marriage, are right and pleasing before God and fulfil the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth. But those same things when taken outside the bonds of marriage are a curse.8
Go to the marriage altar pure and clean. Reserve for the marriage relationship those sweet and intimate associations which the God of Heaven intended should be a part of marriage and not be indulged in outside of the marriage covenant. I care not what the world says, but these are the standards of the kingdom of God.9
The plaguing sin of this generation is sexual immorality. This, the Prophet Joseph said, would be the source of more temptations, more buffetings, and more difficulties for the elders of Israel than any other.10
Sexual immorality is a viper that is striking not only in the world, but in the Church today. Not to admit it is to be dangerously complacent or is like putting one’s head in the sand. In the category of crimes, only murder and denying the Holy Ghost come ahead of illicit sexual relations, which we call fornication when it involves an unmarried person, or the graver sin of adultery when it involves one who is married. I know the laws of the land do not consider unchastity as serious as God does, nor punish as severely as God does, but that does not change its abominableness. In the eyes of God there is but one moral standard for men and women. In the eyes of God chastity will never be out of date. …
No sin is causing the loss of the Spirit of the Lord among our people more today than sexual promiscuity. It is causing our people to stumble, damning their growth, darkening their spiritual powers, and making them subject to other sins.11
There is a grave danger in building your premarital associations on a physical basis. … The harmful effects of such unlawful associations are carried over into married life, bringing disappointment, heartache, and the weakening of the structure of the home.12
Moral purity is an eternal principle. The Spirit of God “cannot dwell in an unclean tabernacle” [see Helaman 4:24]. Purity is life-giving; impurity is deadly. God’s holy laws cannot be broken with impunity. Great nations have fallen when they became morally corrupt, because the sins of immorality left their people scarred and misshapen creatures who were unable to face the challenge of their times.13
Unchastity is the most damning of all evils, while moral purity is one of the greatest bulwarks of successful homemaking. Happy and successful homes cannot be built on immorality.14
Some would justify their immorality with the argument that restrictions against it are merely religious rules, rules that are meaningless because in reality there is no God. This you will recognize is merely an untruthful rationalization designed to justify one’s carnal appetite, lust, and passion. God’s law is irrevocable. It applies to all, whether they believe in God or not. Everyone is subject to its penalties, no matter how one tries to rationalize or ignore them.
Immorality … always brings with it attendant remorse. A person cannot indulge in promiscuous relations without suffering ill effects from it. He cannot do wrong and feel right—it is impossible. Anytime one breaks a law of God, he pays a penalty in heartache, in sadness, in remorse, in lack of self-respect, and he removes himself from contact with the Spirit of God.15
Most people fall into sexual sin in a misguided attempt to fulfill basic human needs. We all have a need to feel loved and worthwhile. We all seek to have joy and happiness in our lives. Knowing this, Satan often lures people into immorality by playing on their basic needs. He promises pleasure, happiness, and fulfillment.
But this is, of course, a deception. As the writer of Proverbs says: “Whoso committeth adultery with a woman lacketh understanding: he that doeth it destroyeth his own soul” (Proverbs 6:32). Samuel the Lamanite taught the same thing when he said, “Ye have sought for happiness in doing iniquity, which thing is contrary to the nature of … righteousness” (Helaman 13:38). Alma said it more simply: “Wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10).16
There is an old saying that states: It is better to prepare and prevent than it is to repair and repent. How true that is of the law of chastity. The first line of defense in keeping ourselves morally clean is to prepare ourselves to resist temptation and prevent ourselves from falling into sin.17
Control your thoughts. No one steps into immorality in an instant. The first seeds of immorality are always sown in the mind. When we allow our thoughts to linger on lewd or immoral things, the first step on the road to immorality has been taken. I especially warn you against the evils of pornography. Again and again we hear from those caught in deep sin that often the first step on their road to transgression began with pornographic materials. The Savior taught that even when a man looks upon a woman to lust after her, or in other words, when he lets his thoughts begin to get out of control, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart (see Matt. 5:28; D&C 63:16).18
Those who think clean thoughts do not do dirty deeds. You are not only responsible before God for your acts but also for controlling your thoughts. So live that you would not blush with shame if your thoughts and acts could be flashed on a screen in your church. The old adage is still true that you sow thoughts and you reap acts, you sow acts and you reap habits, you sow habits and you reap a character, and your character determines your eternal destiny. “As a man thinketh, so is he.” (See Prov. 23:7.)19
Consider carefully the words of the prophet Alma to his errant son, Corianton, “Forsake your sins, and go no more after the lusts of your eyes.” (Alma 39:9.)
“The lusts of your eyes.” In our day, what does that expression mean?
Movies, television programs, and video recordings that are both suggestive and lewd.
Magazines and books that are obscene and pornographic.
We counsel you … not to pollute your minds with such degrading matter, for the mind through which this filth passes is never the same afterwards.20
Be clean. Be virtuous in your thoughts and actions. Read good books. Never let your minds be subjected to pornography. … In the words of the Lord, “Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God. The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion.” (D&C 121:45–46.)21
Always pray for the power to resist temptation. Temptation will come to all of us. It will take many forms and appear in many disguises, but the Lord has given us the key for resisting it. He said to the Prophet Joseph Smith: “Pray always, that you may come off conqueror; yea, that you may conquer Satan, and that you may escape the hands of the servants of Satan that do uphold his work” (D&C 10:5). It should be part of our daily prayers to ask the Lord for constant strength to resist temptation, especially temptations that involve the law of chastity.22
There is no temptation placed before you which you cannot shun. Do not allow yourself to get in positions where it is easy to fall. Listen to the promptings of the Spirit. If you are engaged in things where you do not feel you can pray and ask the Lord’s blessings on what you are doing, then you are engaged in the wrong kind of activity.23
Men and women who are married sometimes flirt and tease with members of the opposite sex. So-called harmless meetings are arranged, or inordinate amounts of time are spent together. In all of these cases, people rationalize by saying that these are natural expressions of friendship. But what may appear to be harmless teasing or simply having a little fun with someone of the opposite sex can easily lead to more serious involvement and eventual infidelity.
A good question to ask ourselves is this: Would my spouse be pleased if he or she knew I was doing this?24
If you are married, avoid being alone with members of the opposite sex wherever possible. Many of the tragedies of immorality begin when a man and woman are alone in the office, or at church, or driving in a car. At first there may be no intent or even thought of sin. But the circumstances provide a fertile seedbed for temptation. One thing leads to another, and very quickly tragedy may result. It is so much easier to avoid such circumstances from the start so that temptation gets no chance for nourishment.25
Be modest. Modesty in dress and language and deportment is a true mark of refinement and a hallmark of a virtuous Latter-day Saint. … Shun the low and the vulgar and the suggestive.26
Overcome evil with good. You can overcome many evil inclinations through good physical exertion and healthful activities. A healthy soul, free of the body-and-spirit-dulling influences of alcohol and tobacco, is in better condition to overthrow the devil.27
For those who are single and dating, carefully plan positive and constructive activities so that you are not left to yourselves with nothing to do but share physical affection. … This is the principle of filling one’s life with positive activities so that the negative has no chance to thrive.28
Fill your lives with positive sources of power. It is not enough simply to try to resist evil or empty our lives of sin. We must also fill our lives with righteousness. We must engage in activities that bring spiritual power.
I speak of such activities as immersing ourselves in the scriptures. There is a power that flows into our lives when we read and study the scriptures on a daily basis that cannot be found in any other way. Daily prayer is another source of great power. Fasting for specific strength or special blessings can strengthen us beyond our normal ability. Christian service, church attendance, service in the kingdom—all can add to our storehouse of strength and power.
We must do more than simply remove the negative influences from our lives. We must replace them with righteous activities that fill us with the strength and determination to live as we should.29
There may be some for whom the counsel to prepare and prevent is too late. You may already be deeply entangled in serious sin. If this is the case, there is no choice now but to repair your lives and repent of your sins. To you I would suggest five important things you can do to come back to a state of moral purity. Flee immediately from any situation you are in that is either causing you to sin or that may cause you to sin. Plead with the Lord for the power to overcome. Let your priesthood leaders help you resolve the transgression and come back into full fellowship with the Lord. Drink from the divine fountain and fill your lives with positive sources of power. Remember that through proper repentance, you can become clean again.
For those who pay the price required by true repentance, the promise is sure. You can be clean again. The despair can be lifted. The sweet peace of forgiveness will flow into your lives. In this dispensation the Lord spoke with clarity when he said, “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more” (D&C 58:42).30
Parents should give their children specific instructions on chastity at an early age, both for their physical and moral protection.31
If parents love and respect each other, and if in their sacred partnership there are full support and unquestioned fidelity, these essentials will be translated into the homes of tomorrow. Conversely, if there are bickering, quarreling, and lack of harmony at home, and participation in the dangerous practice of flirtations with others when away, then the homes of tomorrow will be weakened thereby. …
… Our homes must become bulwarks of strength through enthroning righteousness and bringing into them the peace, unity, and unselfishness engendered by personal purity, unquestioned fidelity, and simple family devotion. Parents must accept marriage as a divine institution, and honor parenthood. Children must be inspired by precept and example in preparation for marriage, to guard against unchastity as against a loathsome disease, and to practice the other fundamental Christian virtues.32
Our Heavenly Father desires nothing for us but to be happy. He tells us only those things that will bring us joy. And one of the surest principles given by God to help us find that joy is the law of chastity. I pray with all my heart that you will consider most solemnly the joyful consequences of keeping this law, and the tragic consequences of violating it.33
A reason for virtue—which includes personal chastity, clean thoughts and practices, and integrity—is that we must have the Spirit and the power of God in our lives to do God’s work. Without that power and influence we are no better off than individuals in other organizations. That virtue shines through and will influence others toward a better life and cause nonmembers to inquire of our faith.34
Be true to God’s holy laws. Remember, they cannot be broken with impunity. If you would be happy and successful in your earthly association, courtship, and home building, conform your lives to the eternal laws of heaven. There is no other way.35
There is no lasting happiness in immorality. There is no joy to be found in breaking the law of chastity. Just the opposite is true. There may be momentary pleasure. For a time it may seem like everything is wonderful. But quickly the relationship will sour. Guilt and shame set in. We become fearful that our sins will be discovered. We must sneak and hide, lie and cheat. Love begins to die. Bitterness, jealousy, anger, and even hate begin to grow. All of these are the natural results of sin and transgression.
On the other hand, when we obey the law of chastity and keep ourselves morally clean, we will experience the blessings of increased love and peace, greater trust and respect for our marital partners, deeper commitment to each other, and therefore a deep and significant sense of joy and happiness.36
President Benson said that the Lord’s standard of sexual purity is “clear and unmistakable” (section 1). How does this standard differ from the messages of the world?
What are some of the consequences of violating the law of chastity? (For some examples, see section 2.)
What are some specific things we can do to guard ourselves and our families from sexual temptation? (For some examples, see section 3.)
Review President Benson’s counsel to those “in serious sin” (section 4). What are your thoughts and feelings as you ponder the Lord’s promise to welcome the repentant “back into full fellowship”?
Why do you think it is important for parents to “give their children specific instructions on chastity at an early age”? How do parents’ faithfulness to each other influence their children’s feelings about marriage and the law of chastity? (See section 5.)
What are some of the “joyful consequences” of keeping the law of chastity? (For some examples, see section 6.)
“Encourage those you teach to come to class prepared to learn and participate. When they are striving individually to learn the gospel, they are more likely to contribute to the learning atmosphere during lessons” (Teaching, No Greater Call , 80).