As the prophet Enos concludes his brief record in the book of Mormon, he gives us a glimpse of the conditions among his people and points out that it was sometimes necessary to use “exceedingly great plainness of speech” to help the people keep from “going down speedily to destruction.” While I do not wish to suggest that we are in quite the same condition as were the people of Enos’ day, I have felt the inclination to speak to you today in rather plain terms about the conditions of our own time and the challenges they present to us.
As a preface to my remarks, I would like to emphasize that I am not at all pessimistic about our prospects today if we will do as the Lord directs. In fact, for those who are alert to the challenges of our time and who will follow the counsel of the Lord and his prophet leaders, I believe there will be opportunities and possibilities that few generations have enjoyed. The Lord has made that clear in the promises he has extended to those who would acknowledge him and follow the path of safety that he has marked out. It will not be easy; but that should not discourage us.
In my remarks today I would like to draw upon the Lord’s own words as well as upon those that have been spoken by his servants regarding the circumstances in our particular part of the earth’s mortal existence, and the things to which we must give attention if we are to qualify for the promised blessings and protective powers of the Lord.
As has been the case with earlier generations, we have not been left without an inspired forecast of coming events. In the days before the great flood of Noah’s time, the Lord called upon Enoch and others of his servants to tell the people what was about to befall them unless they changed their ways. To Noah he said, “The end of all flesh is come before me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” (Genesis 6:13)
He added, “And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and everything that is in the earth shall die.” (Genesis 6:17)
Even as late as one week before the floods came, the Lord was continuing to warn the people through his prophet. “For yet seven days,” he said, “and I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living substance that I have made will I destroy from off the face of the earth.” (Genesis 7:4)
But the people weren’t paying attention. The Lord had said to Enoch: “. . . Their hearts have waxes hard, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes cannot see afar off.” (Moses 6:27) In their complaisance they refused to see and understand what was before them. The consequences were cataclysmic. Noah recorded that after the seven-day warning given to his people: “And it came to pass after seven days, that the waters of the flood were upon the earth.”
And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man. (Genesis 7:10, 21)
There was a bright side to this episode. Along with Noah and his family, there were many who had listened to the Lord’s servants and who followed their counsel. With Enoch they were preserved from the devastation that was loosed upon the earth. In a dramatic and miraculous transfiguration, the Lord took these people up from the Earth. The record says simply, “. . . and lo, Zion, in process of time, was taken up into heaven.” (Moses 7:21)
Prior to the savior’s appearance among the Nephite and Lamanite people on the American continents, prophets had gone among the people warning of the events that were to come. Samuel, the Lamanite prophet, stoop upon the walls of the capitol city and predicted with great detail the direful impending destruction in the cleansing that would occur before the appearance of the glorified Lord. “Nevertheless,” the account says, “the people began to harden their hearts; all save it were the most believing part of them . . . and began to depend upon their own strength and their own wisdom, saying,
Some things they [the prophets] may have guessed right, among so many, but, behold, we know that all these great and marvelous works cannot come to pass, of which has been spoken. (Helaman 16: 15-17)
But it happened, just as had been predicted.
In our own dispensation the Lord has spoken again concerning forthcoming event. In his preface to the Doctrine and Covenants he declares: “Wherefore, fear and tremble o ye people, for what I the Lord have decreed . . . shall be fulfilled.” (D&C 1:7)
What I, the Lord, have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself, and though the heaven and earth pass away, my words shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by my own voice or the voice of my servants, it is the same.” (D&C 1:38)
In the meridian of times the apostle Paul wrote to his young missionary Timothy about conditions in the world during the last days before the savior’s return. “This know also,” he said, “that in the last days perilous times shall come.
For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, truce breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God. (2 Timothy 3:1-5)
In revelation Moroni looked ahead to our time. Speaking directly to us, he said, “behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But, behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.” (Mormon 8:35)
He then proceeds to describe conditions that will develop after the time when the record he has kept will come before the people.
“Yea, it shall come in a day when there shall be heard of fires, and tempests, and vapors of smoke in foreign lands; and there also shall be heard of wars, rumors of wars, and earthquakes in divers places. Yea, it shall come in a day when there shall be great pollutions upon the face of the earth; there shall be murders, and robbing, and lying, and deceiving, and whoredoms, and all manner of abominations; when there shall be many who will say, do this or do that, and it mattereth not, for the Lord will uphold such at the last day.” (Mormon 8:29-31)
There are numerous similar references to which we might turn, where the Lord or His servants have forecast the conditions among which we live our lives. I point to these simply to demonstrate that the Lord has been as forthright with us as he has been with earlier generations. It should not surprise us when we see the continuing decline in compliance with the moral laws, the increasing evidence of fraud and deceit, even occasionally among those who hold positions of trust. The wars and rumors of wars, murders, genocide affecting entire nation, have all been foreseen. They are made as clear to us in the revelations that have been given pertaining to our day as were the revelations concerning the great flood or the events surrounding the savior’s appearance to the Book of Mormon people.
While we should not despair over these conditions, it is vitally important that we recognize the increasing challenges that they present to us and the potential risks they hold for us. They unleash insidious forces that expert pressures upon us to turn aside from the right way.
Forewarning us of these things the Lord has said, “Behold, the world is ripening in iniquity, and it must needs be that the children of men are stirred up unto repentance. . .” (D&C 18:6)
For the hour is nigh and the day soon at hand when the earth is ripe, and all the proud and they that do wickedly shall be as stubble, and I will burn them up, saith the Lord. . .” (D&C 29:9)
Matched against His warnings to the disobedient are the promises the Lord makes to those who are faithful.
The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh. But that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world. That faith might also increase in the earth; that mine everlasting covenant might be established; that the fullness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world, and before kings and rulers.” (D&C 1:19-23)
Therefore, fear not, little flock; do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail.” (D&C 6:34)
Wherefore, I call upon the weak things of the world, those who are unlearned and despised, to thrash the nations by the power of my spirit. And their arm shall be my arm, and I will be their shield and their buckler; and I will gird up their loins, and they shall fight manfully for me; and their enemies shall be under their feet; and I will let fall the sword in their behalf, and by the fire of my indignation will I preserve them.” (D&C 35: 13-14)
For they that are wise and have received the truth, and have taken the holy spirit for their guide, and have not been deceived – verily I say unto you, they shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire, but shall abide the day. And the earth shall be given unto them for an inheritance; and they shall multiply and wax strong and their children shall grow up without sin unto salvation. For the Lord shall in their midst, and his glory shall be upon them, and he will be their king and their lawgiver.” (D&C 45:57-59)
And it shall come to pass among the wicked, that every man that will not take up his sword against his neighbor must needs flee unto Zion for safety. And it shall be said among the wicked; let us not go up to battles against Zion, for the inhabitants of Zion are terrible; wherefore we cannot stand.” (D&C 45:68, 70)
For behold, I say unto the people, and there shall come unto her out of every nation under heaven. And the day shall come when the nations of the earth shall tremble because of her, and shall fear because of her terrible ones.” (D&C 64: 41-43)
And the nations of the earth shall honor her, and shall say: surely Zion is the city of our God, and surely Zion cannot fall, neither be moved out of her place, for God is there, and the hand of the Lord is there; and he hath sworn by the power of His might to be her salvation and her high tower. Therefore, verily, thus saith the Lord, let Zion rejoice, for this is Zion – the pure in heart. . .” (D&C 97: 19-21)
How can we qualify for these unusual blessings in a world that continues to ripen in iniquity should be a matter of great concern for us. Elder Heber C. Kimball dealt with this concern on one occasion when he said,
The time is coming when we will be mixed up in these now peaceful valleys to the extent that it will be difficult to tell the face of a saint from the face of an enemy to the people of God. Then, Brethren, look out for the great sieve, for there will be a great sifting time, and many will fall; for I say unto you there is a test, a test, a test coming, and who will be able to stand?
This church has before it many close places through which it must pass before the work of God is crowned with victory. To meet the difficulties that are coming it will be necessary for you to have knowledge of the truth of this work for yourselves. The difficulties will be of such character that the man or woman who does not possess this personal knowledge or witness will fall. If you have not got the testimony, live right and call upon the Lord and cease not ‘till you obtain it. If you do not, you will not stand.” (Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, PP 446, 449-50)
It seems to me that there are several practical conclusions we must reach if we are to be prepared for the kinds of tests mentioned by Elder Kimball.
If we remain faithful to the covenants we make and follow the admonitions and example of Jesus Christ in a world ripening in iniquity, we will find ourselves becoming increasingly different from the general worldly conditions around us. This will not be easy, but it will be essential. It is one of the tests. We must be alert to the insidious, sometimes subtle, pressures exerted on us by the world, and we must have the strength and the wisdom to resist them. There is no safety for us if we move in the same direction as the world, but only at a slower pace. Much that is embraced by the world as acceptable cannot be embraced to any degree by us. This can apply to a wide range of things to which we may be exposed. It touches upon the music we sing and listen to, the books or magazines we read, the movies and TV programs we watch, the places we go, the things that occupy our thoughts, the honesty and fairness with which we deal with others, the capacity we develop to feel and manifest charity and concern for our fellows beings. The world’s standards cannot become our standards. It will require our constant vigilance.
President George Q. Cannon said on one occasion:
If the breach is daily widening between ourselves and the world . . . we may be assured that our progress is certain, however slow. On the opposite hand, if our feelings and affections, our appetites and desires, are in unison with the world around us and we freely fraternize with them . . . we should do well to examine ourselves.” (Millennial Star, Oct. 5, 1861, Vol. 23, PP. 645-646)
As an illustration of what can happen when we invite the world’s influence into our lives, let me share with you an experience I had several months ago. There was nothing dramatic or extraordinary about the experience. I suppose it is something that occurs with some regularity. It left an impression with me, however, that I have not forgotten. It reflects upon the need for our being willing to be different from the world.
I had received a stake conference assignment to a stake in southern Spain. The young single adults of that stake, learning that I was to visit their area, contacted me and asked if I would be able to come to their stake a day early so that I could speak at a special fireside they had planned for the Friday evening. I agreed to their invitation.
The fireside was well attended. There were perhaps 150 young adults present. It was an excellent meeting. Several of the young people spoke and shared their testimonies. A talented group provided a musical number, and then I made my remarks. There was an unusually fine spirit present.
At the conclusion of the meeting, several of those who were present came up to the stand to converse with me. We were all basking still in the special spirit we had enjoyed. As I visited with the young people, I noticed that a number of young men were folding the chairs and removing them from the meeting room. Others were bringing in some folding tables that were placed along the wall, and some light refreshments were placed on them. It was apparent that a social activity had been planned to follow our meeting.
Suddenly the room was filled with the throbbing beat of what was supposed to pass for dance music. The volume was high, and the walls of the place literally shook. Our conversation at the front of the room stopped abruptly. I suppose the thing that made such an impression on me was that the spirit of our meeting was immediately gone. A house of worship had become a discotheque. The sudden contrast was remarkable. I couldn’t help but wonder how quickly any spiritual good that had been accomplished in our meeting would be dissipated in the new environment that had been created.
We will need to give purposeful attention to those things that foster and nurture a spiritual influence on our lives: regular study of the scriptures, daily prayer, and participation with other faithful saints in church meetings and in the essential saving ordinances.
The Lord has promised, “If ye are prepared ye shall not fear.” (D&C 38:30)
There is an interesting episode recorded in the book of Genesis that underlines the importance of our keeping free from the enticements of the world. It has to do with Abraham and his nephew, Lot. The relationship between these two men had been like father and son. They had lived together, sharing their resourced and enjoying a sense of family harmony. But as their flocks and herds increased and some competition developed over the available pasture lands, contention began to develop between the herdsmen of Lot and Abraham. This led to a friendly consultation between the two men and the decision to go separate ways before further problems developed.
Abraham, in fatherly fashion, allowed lot to determine what part of the country he would occupy. “Is not the whole land before thee?” Abraham said, “Separate thyself, I pray, from me. If thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left.” (Genesis 13:9)
Faced with this choice, Lot peruses the prospects before him. Part of the territory that was available included the plains of Jordan. According to the account, at the time this area was well watered everywhere and had all the beauty and abundance of the Garden of Eden. It was on these plains that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah had grown and flourished. In this favorable environment these two cities had become so corrupt that today they are used as a synonym for evil.
The account tells us,
Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east; and they separated themselves the one from the other. Abraham dwelled in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom. (Genesis 13: 11-12)
There is something of great meaning in this last phrase, “Lot pitched his tent toward Sodom.” Apparently there was something that attracted Lot toward the life of those cities. Eventually he took up residence in Sodom. Lot himself was a good man, and when fire was rained upon these wicked cities to destroy them, Lot was warned to escape with his family, but only part of his family would listen. The unhappy events that followed brought tragedy to Lot and his loved ones.
It is vitally important that we, today, do not pitch our tents toward Sodom, to play upon in the symbolism of that phrase. The only safety for us is to keep ourselves free from the enticements of a ripening world, as powerful as those enticements may sometimes be.
I have attempted to speak with plainness about our time here on earth and what it will require of us. With all of the sadness, difficulty, and tragedy we see about us, we must continue to recognize what a blessed time it is for us to be here. The gospel and the Church of Jesus Christ have been restored in their fullness. We have living prophets to encourage and guide us. The priesthood authority is upon the earth, enabling us to receive all of the ordinances and covenants essential for eternal life. We have the spirit of truth to guide us, and we have the absolute assurance that in the end goodness will triumph over evil. The Lord will come in his glory, as he has promised, and we can look forward to an eternal association with him. These are realities that should give us hope and assurance, even in the midst of tests and challenges that will surely be with us.
The Lord has marked out the path for us to follow. If we hold to it we have every reason to be happy and to move forward with confidence and high expectations, even in a ripening world. To this I testify in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.