“October General Conference,” New Era, Jan. 1973, 16
Now, in conclusion, may I offer a humble prayer in behalf of the Church and the nation and the world. I realize that there is much more that might be said, but in this prayer may I indulge and ask that you might unite your faith with mine for a few moments:
“Our heavenly and eternal Father, hear our prayer this day, and sanctify to our good all that is being done by righteous men and women in the Church and throughout the world to bring to naught the evils that are rolling over the world like an avalanche. Increase within us the zeal to bring thy great plan of redemption to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, looking to that glorious day when thy prophecy will be realized when truth will cover the earth as waters cover the mighty deep.
“We appeal to the protection of thy almighty power to that end which accords with thy purpose concerning us and thy work. We put ourselves under the surveillance of thy watchful eye and pray that thou wilt never leave us alone, and continue to give the guidance necessary to the accomplishment of thy purposes.”
I add to that humble prayer my witness to the members of this church and to the world that through the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, “all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.” (A of F 1:3.)
This is indeed the Lord’s work in which we are engaged. He lives and is ever ready to draw near to us when we prepare ourselves to be worthy to draw close to him. From my own personal experience, I know this, which I declare in all soberness to be true, and in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
I come now to the closing moments of this session when I have time for some sobering reflections. Somehow I have had the feeling that during the expressions here, whenever my name has been mentioned, they were talking of somebody other than myself. And I really think that is so, because one cannot go through the experience that I have gone through these last three days and be the same as before. I am different than I was before Friday morning.
I cannot go back to where I was because of the love and faith and confidence that you, the people of the Lord, have reposed in me. So you have been talking of somebody else. You have been talking of somebody that you want me to become, which I hopefully pray God I may, with his help, become.
In plain language, then, the Saints were told that to avoid war with their enemies they must renounce war and proclaim peace and to see that this was to begin within the home where fathers and children would be at peace with each other.
The Lord gave a further promise, saying that when and if all wrath and indignation would be conquered within themselves, the evils of Satan’s powers could not successfully assail them.
He didn’t leave us with any question as to the prime place in his church and in the world where this preparation and the battle against evil—unless curbed in the beginning—would break out into armed conflict.
“When visions, dreams, tongues, prophecy, impressions or an extraordinary gift or inspiration convey something out of harmony with the accepted revelations of the Church or contrary to the decisions of its constituted authorities, Latter-day Saints may know that it is not of God, no matter how plausible it may appear. Also, they should understand that directions for the guidance of the Church will come, by revelation, through the head. All faithful members are entitled to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for themselves, their families, and for those over whom they are appointed and ordained to preside. But anything at discord with that which comes from God through the head of the Church is not to be received as authoritative or reliable.” (First Presidency, August 1913)
At the outset, I should like to say that I am convinced that we have never had a more dedicated or more capable generation of young men in the history of the Church. Some of you older brethren may dispute that, which brings to mind the story of the boy who came down to breakfast one morning and said, “Dad, I dreamed about you last night.”
“About me? What did you dream?”
“I dreamed I was climbing a ladder to heaven and on the way up I had to write one of my sins on each step of the ladder.”
“And where did I come into your dream?” the father asked.
Said the boy, “When I was going up, I met you coming down for more chalk.”
In various times, the Lord has chosen boys and trained them for the accomplishment of his marvelous purposes—such boys as Samuel, David, Joseph who was sold into Egypt, Nephi, Mormon, and Joseph Smith.
I believe that God has likewise chosen each of you for something of consequence in his grand design, perhaps not in the category of those I have named. But he loves you and he has a work for each of you to do.
In considering the purpose of life, the Prophet Joseph Smith said: “Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God.” (Documentary History of the Church, vol. 5, pp. 134–35.)
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, in his life, set the pattern for us to follow in our quest for this eternal joy and happiness. He admonished his disciples to be perfect, “even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48.)
There is tremendous power in focusing upon an ideal. People are inclined to become like those whom they admire. As we increase our knowledge and love of the Savior and indicate our willingness to do his will, we necessarily become more perfect and like him.
In my experience, I have found that it is very, very dangerous to fly just high enough to miss the treetops. I spent twenty-six years flying the navy’s airplanes. It was very exciting to see how close I could fly to the trees. This is called “flat hatting” in the navy, and it is extremely dangerous. When you are flying just high enough to miss the trees and your engine coughs once, you are in the trees.
Now let’s pretend that the navy had a commandment—“Thou shalt not fly thy airplane in the trees.” As a matter of fact, they did have such a commandment. In order to really be free of the commandment, it becomes necessary for me to add a commandment of my own to the navy’s commandment, such as, “Thou shalt not fly thy airplane closer than 5,000 feet to the trees.” When you do this, you make the navy’s commandment of not flying in the trees easy to live, and the safety factor is tremendously increased.
Admittedly, the latter commandment is your own addition, and care should be exercised that you do not get it mixed up with the law and expound it as the law. Rather, it is your own commandment, invented by you for your own self-preservation; and, if you are going to preach it, it should be expounded as such.
We should studiously avoid placing ourselves in positions where we could be overcome by temptation. Paul’s admonition that we avoid even the appearance of evil certainly represents an addition to the Lord’s commandment, which is, to “forsake all evil” and “entangle not yourselves in sin.” (See D&C 98:11; D&C 88:86.) But if we follow Paul’s admonition, we will find the Lord’s commandment much easier to live.
What if you decided to be cheerful tonight at the dinner table, and in spite of what others might do or say, hold to your course. See how long you can uplift your whole family. Take one day at a time. As a TV commercial says, “Try it—you’ll like it.”
True strength, true peace of mind, true purpose in life comes when the individual, aside from what others may know, puts himself in a position so that the Lord can reveal to him the absolute truth of these things. It is an experience that defies description, at least to one who has not yet paid the price to receive it. It is the awakening of the mind and spirit to absolute truth. It is a revelation from God. It goes beyond what we can know and understand with our mortal senses. It is a testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
It is interesting that things so basic are taken so for granted. For example, there is within us a coursing supply of blood delivering nourishment to sustain the body, carrying away waste materials, and armed with a protection against disease and infection. The blood supply is kept in motion by the incessant and dependable pumping of the heart. It is vital to life.
Ordinarily, however, a sliver in the finger gets more attention and is of more concern. No one pays much thought to the beating of the heart until there is the threat that it may be interrupted or stopped. It is then that we pay attention.
Home teaching, strangely enough, is so taken for granted that most members pay little attention to it, participating routinely, sometimes almost with annoyance. Through it, nevertheless, there come to members of the Church a protection and a watch-care not known elsewhere.
Picture a man calling for his companion, generally a younger man in his teens, to spend an evening calling on the homes of five or six families. They come to bring them encouragement, to search out their spiritual needs, and to be concerned with their welfare so that everybody knows that there is somebody to call upon in time of need.
If illness strikes, help can be forthcoming. The children can be cared for; visits can be arranged. Here we join the priesthood home teachers with the visiting teachers from the Relief Society. Often the problem is not illness. It is a teenager with problems or a little one not coming along the way he should.
Second, may we turn our attention to the hand of youth. This is the training period when busy hands learn to labor—and labor to learn. Honest effort and loving service become identifying features of the abundant life. Each was effectively taught the girls in the Mutual class when cookies were baked and taken by them to elderly women residing in a neighborhood rest home. The aged hand of a lonely grandmother clasped that of the thoughtful teenager. No word was spoken. Heart spoke to heart. The hand that baked the cookies was raised to wipe a tear. Such hands are clean hands. Such hearts are pure hearts.
Then comes that day when the hand of a boy takes the hand of a girl, and parents suddenly realize their children have grown. Never is the hand of a girl so delicately displayed as when there glistens on her finger a ring denoting a sacred pledge. Her step becomes quicker, her countenance brighter, and all is well with the world. Courtship has come. Marriage follows. And once again two hands are clasped, this time in a holy temple. Cares of the world are for a brief moment forgotten. Thoughts turn to eternal values. The clasped hands speak of promised hearts. Heaven is here.
Stated, then, in simple words, I say to every member of the Church that you have a personal, individual responsibility to become engaged in priesthood genealogical activity. The real impact of the priesthood genealogy program is one of individual responsibility. The actual work must be performed by individuals, not by organizations. What is everybody’s business is nobody’s business, so I must say that this work is your individual responsibility and each of you, as an individual, must become converted to this work as a personal responsibility. It is not my responsibility alone, nor that of your stake president, nor that of your bishop alone. It is not confined to the high priests. Neither is genealogy and temple work reserved for older people. It should not be put off until you retire or become too old and infirm to do anything else.
Priesthood genealogy is an exciting, living, vital program involving the whole family.
This Jesus is our exemplar and has commanded us to follow in his steps.
God the Father has given Jesus Christ a name above all others, so that eventually every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ. He is the way, the truth, and the light, and no one can come back into the presence of our Father in heaven except through him. Christ is God the Son and possesses every virtue in its perfection. Therefore, the only measure of true greatness is how close a man can become like Jesus. That man is greatest who is most like Christ, and those who love him most will be most like him.
How, then does a man imitate God, follow his steps, and walk as he walked, which we are commanded to do? We must study the life of Christ, learn his commandments, and do them. God has promised that to follow this course will lead a man to an abundant life and a fullness of joy and the peace and rest which those who are heavy-burdened long for. To learn of Christ necessitates the study of the scriptures and the testimonies of those who know him. We come to know him through prayer and the inspiration and revelation that God has promised to those who keep his commandments.
And how do you learn the commandments? You learn the commandments through the words of the Lord in the scriptures, through the revelations received by his authorized servants, the Light of Christ, like a conscience that comes to every man, and through personal revelation.
Are there any books or literature in your possession that would have no place in the personal library of President Harold B. Lee? Someone has said: “Which way to go, the leader will know.” Don’t you think we should follow his example? Do you allow material to enter your mind that would be incompatible with entrance into the celestial kingdom of God? …
As you invite unclean thoughts to become a part of your total being, be assured some of your faculties will become considerably sharpened. Your temper will be sharpened. Your tongue will be sharpened. Your desire for more trash will be sharpened. Your ability to shade the truth will be sharpened. Yes, just about every negative part of your character will be enhanced.
There will also be a noticeable diminishing effect in your life. Your personality will be diminished. Your family relationships will be impaired. Your ability to pray will be lessened. Your spirit will be affected adversely, and your testimony of the truth will start to slip away, probably so gradually at first that you won’t even realize it is happening until it is too late. The Lord has said: “… Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord.” (D&C 38:42.)
Of late I have found myself thanking God more fervently than ever before for the gospel and the Church. I thank him for people and for programs that reach out to support parents and to bless young men and women like my choice young friend who felt that he had no parents anyplace.
No young person who is truly involved in the warmth of the kingdom need ever feel that he has no place to go and no one who is genuinely concerned about him. No one of them should ever fall for the false proposition that a human being can have his mind unbraided from his heart, sinews, and spirit—the rest of him conveniently stored away while the mind is disciplined and filled like a silo with grains of knowledge—and then the whole braided together again, with the expectation that the individual will now function in the moral, ethical, spiritually strong way we would like in our teacher or doctor or carpenter or lawyer or banker or son-in-law.
None should be surrendered ever, unsupported, to circumstances that will certainly make much more difficult for them the enjoyment of those blessings that make life worthwhile—and I speak of good conscience, wholesome marriage and family and other human relationships and the confidence we are entitled to have in the presence of God. “Character is higher than intellect,” wrote Emerson. “Men must be fit to live as well as to think.”
Of course, every young person must make his own decisions and give his own answer. He must try to see the long view, and it is our responsibility to help him see the moral hazards in the course that starts out to be fun and turns out to be artfully camouflaged trouble. “The way in is easy, the way out is hard,” someone has said. The world is full of booby traps and pitfalls, with signs pointing to them which read “This way to the fun house.”
To meet the tests of the times, the young person must think, put down roots, establish wise loyalties, learn and actively appreciate his heritage, and know that he is ultimately responsible for his decisions.
It takes courage to be a real friend. Some of us endanger the valued classification of friend because of our unwillingness to be one under all circumstances. Fear can deprive us of friendship. Some of us identify our closest friends as those with the courage to remain and share themselves with us under all circumstances. A friend is a person who will suggest and render the best for us regardless of the immediate consequences. Winston Churchill became Great Britain’s greatest friend in his country’s darkest hour because he was courageous enough to call for “blood, toil, tears, and sweat” when some would have accepted him more readily as a friend had he advocated peaceful surrender.
President Abraham Lincoln was once criticized for his attitude toward his enemies. “Why do you try to make friends of them?” asked an associate. “You should try to destroy them.”
“Am I not destroying my enemies,” Lincoln gently replied, “when I make them my friends?”
The importance of caring for the poor and the needy is dramatically emphasized in the revelation received by the Prophet in Kirtland, June 7, 1831, in which the Lord paired off the brethren he was sending to Missouri. These brethren, all but destitute, were to make their way as best they could across four states. The Prophet himself walked almost the whole distance from St. Louis to Independence, a distance of about 300 miles. Nevertheless, and not withstanding the fact that they were facing these hardships, the Lord thus concluded his instructions to them:
“And remember in all things the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted, for he that doeth not these things, the same is not my disciple.” (D&C 52:40.)
Since these brethren, in their extremity, could not qualify as his disciples without remembering “the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted,” what will be our plight, brethren, if in our affluence we fail to remember them?
In this modern world plagued with counterfeits for the Lord’s plan, we must not be misled into supposing that we can discharge our obligations to the poor and the needy by shifting the responsibility to some governmental or other public agency. Only by voluntarily giving out of an abundant love for our neighbors can we develop that charity characterized by Mormon as “the pure love of Christ.” (Moro. 7:47.) This we must develop if we would obtain eternal life.
I think I speak for each one of you, I know I do for myself and my family, when I say that in this solemn assembly—with the outpouring of the Spirit of the Lord that has been present as we have sustained the authorities of the Church and as we have listened to President Lee as he spoke by the power of the Spirit—I think all of us desire to rededicate our lives to the principles of truth and righteousness for which these noble leaders, the Presidents of the Church named by President Lee, have lived and labored and died.
Let this then be our covenant—whatever the past has been—let this then be our covenant, that we will walk in all the ordinances of the Lord blameless. Let this be our covenant, that we will keep the commandments of God and be living witnesses of the truth and divinity of this glorious work, which is destined to sweep the earth as with a flood and which shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.
O God, grant that I and my family and all the faithful members of the house of Israel may walk in truth and light, and having enjoyed the fellowship and kinship and association that is found nowhere else on earth outside the Church, let us enjoy that same spirit, that same fellowship in its eternal fullness, in the mansions and realms which are ahead.
All of this I say humbly and gratefully, in the spirit of testimony and of thanksgiving, and in the sacred name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
He is a prophet of God and speaks the will of the Lord. President Joseph Fielding Smith made this astute observation at the solemn assembly where he was sustained as President of the Church:
“I desire to say that no man of himself can lead this church. It is the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ; he is at the head. The Church bears his name, has his priesthood, administers his gospel, preaches his doctrine, and does his work.
“He chooses men and calls them to be instruments in his hands to accomplish his purposes, and he guides and directs them in their labors. But men are only instruments in the Lord’s hands, and the honor and glory for all that his servants accomplish is and should be ascribed unto him forever.
“If this were the work of man, it would fail, but it is the work of the Lord, and he does not fail. And we have the assurance that if we keep the commandments and are valiant in the testimony of Jesus and are true to every trust, the Lord will guide and direct us and his church in the paths of righteousness, for the accomplishment of all his purposes.” (Improvement Era, June 1970, p. 26.)
He then said of his first counselor, who is now the President of the Church: “President Harold B. Lee is a pillar of truth and righteousness, a true seer who has great spiritual strength and insight and wisdom, and whose knowledge and understanding of the Church and its needs is not surpassed.” (Ibid., p. 27.)
Some years ago, President Lee, directed by inspiration and revelation, called Dewitt J. Paul to serve as patriarch in one of the eastern stakes of the Church. The call humbled beyond words both Brother and Sister Paul. They wondered. They worried. They prayed for assurance and heavenly confirmation. Such did not come suddenly.
The vote of the people demonstrated their supporting approval. Then came the time for ordination. In a basement room situated two floors beneath the meeting hall in which the conference was held, Dewitt Paul nervously sat on a chair and, with a silent prayer in his heart, awaited his ordination. President Harold B. Lee then placed his hands upon the head of the newly called patriarch and began to speak. Peace replaced turmoil. Faith overcame doubt. Seated next to Sister Paul was a lifelong friend to whom Sister Paul had confided her concern. During the pronouncement of the blessing and ordination, she opened her eyes. As she did so she saw a ray of light shining upon President Lee as he placed his hands upon the head of Brother Paul. At the conclusion of the blessing, she hastened to tell Brother Lee of this confirmation of a call. She recounted how she saw the sunshine form the ray of light and how it brought a bright glow to the hands of President Lee. “Indeed, this is to you a confirmation of a sacred call,” said President Lee, “for as you look about this basement room, there is no window through which the sun might beam its rays.” Precious are the hands of a prophet.
More than sixty years ago, a small boy on an Idaho farm went with his father to the field. While the father worked through the day, the boy amused himself with one thing and another. Over the fence were some old farm buildings, derelict and tumbled down. The boy with imagination saw in them castles to be entered. He climbed through the fence and approached the buildings to begin his exploration. As he drew near, a voice was heard to say, “Harold, don’t go over there.” He looked to see if his father was around. He was not. But the boy heeded the warning. He turned and ran. He never knew what danger might have been lurking there, nor did he question. Having listened and heard, he obeyed.
In this conference, with our hearts and our hands, we have formally sustained President Lee as our inspired leader for this day.
The mantle of the prophets now rests upon him. He holds the authority in the holy priesthood that they held.
All the keys and powers given by the angels to the Prophet Joseph Smith have been conferred upon President Lee. He is today’s authorized and divinely chosen successor in this long line of prophets.
The work now will go on, eventually leading into the millennium. A believing people is being prepared to receive the Savior. Christ will come again! His church has been restored in preparation for his coming.
On July 7, 1972, Harold B. Lee became the eleventh president of the church of Jesus Christ in this dispensation of our world’s history. And in a conference with some seventy-five members of the press and representatives of other news media, he was asked what was the most important counsel that he had to give to the people of the world. In a three-word answer, President Lee said, “Keep the commandments.”
President S. Dilworth Young recently said that in his opinion, Harold B. Lee is as strong a man as his great-granduncle, Brigham Young. And I would like to submit that these three words spoken by President Lee represent the most profitable direction that could possibly be given by anyone in any dispensation.
The religion of Christ is not just an idea; it is an activity. It is not just something for us to think about; it is something for us to do. These words also constitute the world’s most powerful success formula. The best way to be a good doctor or a good lawyer or a good teacher is to be a good man. These three words serve as the shortest, the most pleasant, the most direct, and the only road to the celestial kingdom.
Full provision has been made by our Lord for changes. Today there are fourteen apostles holding the keys in suspension, the twelve and the two counselors to the President, to be brought into use if and when circumstances allow, all ordained to leadership in their turn as they move forward in seniority.
There have been some eighty apostles so endowed since Joseph Smith, though only eleven have occupied the place of the President of the Church, death having intervened; and since the death of his servants is in the power and control of the Lord, he permits to come to the first place only the one who is destined to take that leadership. Death and life become the controlling factors. Each new apostle in turn is chosen by the Lord and revealed to the then living prophet who ordains him.
The matter of seniority is basic in the first quorums of the Church. All the apostles understand this perfectly, and all well-trained members of the Church are conversant with this perfect succession program.
Today, at the greatest moment of my life, I find myself without words to express my deep and innermost feelings. What I may say, therefore, must be actuated by the Spirit of the Lord, that you, my beloved Saints of the Most High God, may feel the depths of my soul-searching on this momentous and historic occasion.
As I have participated with you in this moving experience of a solemn assembly, there has been brought more forcibly than ever to my mind the significance of the great revelation of the Lord given to the Church in 1835. In this revelation the Lord gave specific instructions setting forth the order of the priesthood in the government of the church and kingdom of God.
In this revelation the Lord specified four requisites in the establishment of the First Presidency, or the presidency of the Melchizedek, or High, Priesthood of the Church, as the Lord speaks of it. (D&C 107:22.)
First, it was requisite that there be three presiding high priests.
Second, they were to be chosen by the body (which has been construed to be the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles).
Third, they must be appointed and ordained by the same body—the Quorum of the Twelve.
Fourth, they must be upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayers of the Church.
All of these steps were taken in order that the quorum of the First Presidency could be formed to preside over the Church.
Those first steps were taken by action of the Twelve and they were attended to in a sacred meeting convened in the temple on July 7, 1972, where the First Presidency were named.
Today, as never before, have I more fully realized the importance of that last requirement: that this presidency, in the Lord’s language, must be upheld by the confidence, the faith, and the prayers of the Church—which means, of course, the entire membership of the Church.