The Constitution: A Glorious Standard
I feel the Spirit of the Lord here. I’m honored to be invited to come to LDS Business College. I feel at home here because, over the many years that I’ve worked as a lawyer, I’ve represented many students from LDS Business College from around the world. I’m not here trying to recruit business, but it’s been a wonderful opportunity to do so. I’m very grateful to be with my good friend, your president, President Larry Richards. As he mentions, we go way back, and we went to East High School together. I’m going to tell you a story about this on your president. I had the gall to run against him for student body president. And he had the gall to beat me. But at East High, they had kind of a consolation prize for the loser. You could be what they called Business Vice President. So I had the opportunity to serve with your president, Larry Richards, and I was amazed at his administrative skills and his people skills way back in 1970, when we were seniors at East High School. So it doesn’t surprise me that he is your president and he is a very dear friend.
He comes from a great family. The Richards family is amazing. From the early days with the Prophet Joseph down to the present day, it is one of the great, faithful families in the Church, and President Larry Richards is walking in the footsteps of his great ancestors. I’m grateful to be here with my law partner, Charles Dahlquist. We’re both goofing off, or skipping practicing law right now. He’s a great man, and as has been mentioned, he was the Young Men’s president of the Church for the past several years.
I’m grateful to have my wife and my daughter here. It was mentioned that we went on a mission to the California San Jose Mission. My wife and daughter were with me and that made it a very pleasurable experience. As I sat here, and three of the missionaries that were under us came up and shook my hand, it just made me remember what a blessing that was to serve in the California San Jose Mission for three years.
I’ve got a talk that I’m going to give on the Constitution and on law, but before I do, I have to tell one great missionary story. I’ve only been home a year, so I’m still transitioning, as many of you know. We had been out for some time, and it was transfer day, and we had 11 missionaries come that day. We would go out to the airport and pick them up, and we’d go into the mission office and have a little orientation, then we’d go into the mission home and have a dinner, and then we’d come back and I’d interview each missionary. Then we’d put him with a trainer and then we’d get him out to work. One of these missionaries was from Rexburg, Idaho, and his name was Elder Brown. Elder Brown was so enthusiastic. He was so full of the Spirit, and as I interviewed him, he started bearing witness to me. I thought, “This is a great elder. I’m really excited to have this young man.”
And then he said this: “President, I know that I was called to serve in the California San Jose Mission”—which made me happy, because sometimes I had to try to convince some of these missionaries who had siblings go to Germany, where President Dahlquist served, or Japan or some exciting place, I had to kind of buoy them up and tell them that the California San Jose Mission really was the true mission in the Church, because they weren’t believing it yet. But it was so exciting to have a missionary who was so full of the Spirit and believed it. And then he said this: “President, my mother prayed me here.”
When he said that, my heart was touched, and I said, “What do you mean by that, Elder Brown?”
He told me this story. He said that he had an uncle, his mother’s brother, who had left the Church and had estranged himself from the family and had not had contact with the family for many years. But his mother, Elder Brown’s mother, loved her brother and constantly prayed for him, and prayed that he would come back to the family and come back to the true church. As Elder Brown turned 18, her prayers changed a little, and she started praying that her son might be an instrument in bringing her brother, his uncle, back into the Church and into the family. So when he opened his call letter and it said the California San Jose Mission, both he and his mother felt confirmed that his uncle lived in our mission. The last word they had from him was that he was in California somewhere. Now, there are 17 missions in California. When I heard that story, my heart was so touched, and I said, “I believe that we’re going to see a miracle here, and I pray that you will find your uncle.”
Sure enough, five days later, that quickly—five days later, I was in the mission home. We put him out in the Aptos Ward. I don’t know if any of you elders served in the Aptos Ward—it’s in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and Aptos is between Santa Cruz and Monterey. We had a very tough mission—kind of down there by Carmel by the Sea and Pebble Beach. Anyway, five days later I get a telephone call, and the telephone call is from Elder Brown, who is so excited. He says, “There has been a miracle. I have found my uncle.”
I said, “Tell me about it.”
He said, “We met with the bishop. We got a list of all the names in the ward. I recognized the name, and I said to the bishop, ‘Bishop Lewis, do you know this man?” He said, ‘No. I’ve been bishop for seven years, and that’s the one person I do not know, because he was excommunicated and he told the prior bishop he didn’t want to have any contact with anyone. So I’ve respected that. That’s the only home in this ward I have not been in.’”
Elder Brown said, “Do we have permission to go there?” And he said, “Absolutely.”
So Elder Brown and his companion went and knocked on the door, and this man opened the door. In Elder Brown’s words, he looked like one of the singers in ZZ Tops. He had grey hair down to here and a long grey beard, and the apartment reeked of tobacco and drugs and alcohol. This man opened the door and Elder Brown looked at him, and he said, “We are missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’m Elder Brown, and this is my companion, Elder Smith from Canada.” And he said, “We are here to teach you. My mother prayed me here.”
This man looked at Elder Brown and said, “What is the name of your mother?”
And he said the name. The man got tears in his eyes and said, “That is my sister.”
Elder Brown said, “That’s right, and I’m your nephew, and my mother prayed me here.”
His heart was softened. He took the lessons. He’s back with the family—there’s no more estrangement, and he’s on the long road to repentance. It’s an amazing story, and I tell it because it’s indicative of what is going on all over the world.
I pray that the Spirit will be here today as I speak to you. There’s a great scripture in the Doctrine and Covenants that says: “Wherefore, I the Lord ask you this question—unto what were ye ordained? To preach my gospel by the Spirit, even the Comforter which was sent forth to teach the truth” (D&C 50:13-14). And, “If it be by some other way it is not of God” (D&C 50:20).
And there’s another great scripture that says “And the spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if you receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach” (D&C 42:14). It’s my prayer that in the next 22 minutes, that I will teach by the Spirit, and that you will listen by the Spirit, that we may all be edified.
Now, as President Richards mentioned, this is a recognition event of Constitution Day, and I’ve been asked to make some comments on the U.S. Constitution, which was a good thing. It’s a good assignment for me to do this, because I couldn’t just come and tell missionary stories, which is an easy thing to do. I had to go back and do some research. And my testimony has been increased about the United States Constitution, and I think yours will be after we read a few statements from the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Last Thursday, September 17th, we celebrated the 222nd anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution, which was signed on September 17, 1787. This inspired document, our federal constitution, is the supreme law of the land. It is a written document which embodies the fundamental principles that govern our nation, and I want to very briefly talk about six basic characteristics of the U.S. Constitution. My uncle, the late Bruce R. McConkie, addresses these characteristics in his book, “Mormon Doctrine.”
First, it was established by the people. It was not established by the States. It was not established by some autocratic group of individuals who seized power. It was not established by any other source or power. Indeed, the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution says, “We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do hereby ordain and establish this constitution of the United States.”
Our founding fathers who signed this magnificent document, capitalized some of these words, to give emphasis to them, and these are the words that they capitalized: Order, Union, Justice, Tranquility, Welfare, Blessings of Liberty, and Posterity.
So the basic purpose of our constitutional government is that all power rests with the people.
The second point: it is an actual written document. It is not an accumulation of traditions. It is not an accumulation of customs or legal interpretation. It is a written document of 4,400 words. This gives it stability. It is the oldest and shortest written constitution of any major government in the world.
Third: It establishes our framework of government. Specifically, it establishes the three branches of government—the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judicial branch. And it creates a “checks and balances” system, so that none of these branches can be too powerful over the others. So we, the people, are protected from abuses. They check and balance each other so that there’s these three branches of government.
Four: It lists the specific powers and authorities given to the government. The government doesn’t have any rights. It has duties only. Again, it is to serve the people. The Constitution contains the written instructions from the people to their elected and chosen public servants. It is the means by which the people of the United States transmit their powers to their government.
Five, and this one I think is so important: It specifically preserves our natural or inalienable rights. These natural, or inalienable, rights are also mentioned in the Declaration of Independence. They are listed in the Declaration as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The first ten amendments to our Constitution are known as the Bill of Rights. Their purpose is to protect our inalienable and natural rights. They guarantee our civil rights. Therefore, the Constitution of the United States protects our freedom of religion, our freedom of assembly, and our freedom to petition the government for a redress of grievances. The reason we can meet here today and have this discussion in this wonderful land of ours is because of the U.S. Constitution. It gives us the right to bear arms. It protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures. It gives us the right to trial by a jury of our peers, and it protects us from self-incrimination. It is a wonderful document.
In the 101st section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord approves of the Constitution, and it approves of any government that will protect our natural or inalienable rights. (See verse 77). And in the 98th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, there are some wonderful words where the Lord says that He approves of the U.S. Constitution, and that we should constantly seek wise and good men and women to defend and uphold the constitution of the United States. (See verses 4-10)
Finally, in the sixth point, it specifies means or ways to change the document itself. In other words, it is a living document. We have had, since 1787, many amendments added to the U.S. Constitution, and so it can change with the times. It is a marvelous, marvelous document.
As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we know that the Constitution of the United States is much more than just a great document that creates a government. It’s much more than a wonderful instrument that protects our rights, so that as Americans, we are a free people. We know that it is actually part of the restoration of the gospel. The gospel could not have been restored had it not been for the Constitution of the United States. It’s part of the restoration.
There are so many scriptures that we could read. In 2 Nephi 10:11-14, it talks about America being a land of liberty, a land where there would be no kings to rule, and that in the last days, the gospel would come forth from such a land. In Ether, we read about being free from bondage and captivity, if we serve Jesus Christ. (See Ether 2:12) In 3 Nephi there’s a wonderful scripture from the Lord Himself. In 3rd Nephi 21:4 it says that we will be a free people, and that the Book of Mormon will go forth throughout the world. This was all brought about, partially because of the Constitution of the United States.
Then in the 101st section of the Doctrine and Covenants, there are some verses that say God raised up wise men to write the Constitution of the United States. (v. 80) Think about that. Think about our Founding Fathers. They were preserved to come at the time that they did come, which was just a few years before the Restoration of the gospel, to prepare the way, to write the U.S. Constitution. They were great men and women who lived at that time. And then there were great men and women a few years later, who were preserved to come in the early days of the Church, like Joseph Smith and Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball and Willard Richards, and all of these great, wonderful leaders. It’s all part of the plan and the restoration of the gospel.
In the dedicatory prayer of the Kirtland Temple, Joseph Smith prayed that the principals of the Constitution of the United States would last forever and ever. And then I just want to read what the Prophet Joseph Smith says about the Constitution of the United States, because it’s so beautiful: “The Constitution of the United States is a glorious standard. It is founded in the wisdom of God. It is a heavenly banner. It is to all those who are privileged with the sweets of liberty, like the cooling shades and refreshing waters of a great rock in a thirsty and weary land. It is like a great tree, under whose branches men from every clime can be shielded from the burning rays of the sun.”
Now, listen to this. This is the Prophet Joseph Smith. I love this, and that’s why I’m glad I was assigned to do this, because I had forgotten he said this. He said, “We say that God is true, that the Constitution of the United States is true, that the Bible is true, that the Book of Mormon is true, that the ministering angels sent forth from God are true, and that we know that we have an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, whose builder and maker is God.” The Prophet Joseph is including the U.S. Constitution with the Bible and the Book of Mormon and all of its testimony, that it’s all true.
So on this day, as we commemorate what happened last Thursday, the 222nd anniversary, I hope we are appreciative and grateful for the United States Constitution.
Now the second part of my assignment, which was also quite difficult—I couldn’t just get up and talk, I had to do some research on this—I was asked to tie in the laws in the Lord’s church, specifically from the 88th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, verses 34 and 35. So, I’m going to do it. I’m going to try to do it.
Verse 34: “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.” Let’s talk about that. I believe that every law that God gives us is of such a nature that, if we obey it, we are, in these words, preserved, perfected and sanctified.
Now, let me give an illustration. This is a simple one. We have, in the 89th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Word of Wisdom. It is also known as the Law of Health. We know that if we obey that law, we will be blessed with stronger bodies. If we abstain from smoking tobacco and, nowadays, other things, and if we abstain from alcohol, and if we abstain from hot drinks—which have been interpreted as coffee and tea—we know that we’ll be healthier. If we eat right, if we eat proper foods, as is explained in the 89th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, we’ll just be stronger, healthier people.
But the promises even go beyond that. If you turn to the 89th section of the Doctrine and Covenants and read the promises, this is what it says: “And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones”—so there’s the health—“And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures.” Now that’s interesting to me. The Lord says, “If you live my law of health, not only am I going to bless you physically to be healthier and purer and stronger, I’m going to bless you so that you’ll be smarter, so that you’ll have knowledge, so that you’ll have wisdom.” I think it all ties in, but it’s amazing to me. The blessing goes way beyond just being healthy.
And then He says, “And shall run and not be weary and shall walk and not faint.” So again, that’s health. And then listen to this: “And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them” (verses 18-21). So there’s an additional promise. That’s an example how, if we obey a law of God, as we just read in the 34th verse of section 88, if we obey a law of God, we are going to be preserved, protected, and sanctified. Because the whole purpose of God giving us laws is so that we’ll become like Him, and He is perfect. So we will become perfect if we obey the laws that He gives us.
Let’s take another example. Let’s take the law of tithing. Tithing is another law that if we pay one-tenth of all of our increase, or all of our interest, back to the Lord, we will be blessed. We will be blessed to learn how to be more unselfish, we will learn how to be more honest—there are wonderful blessings associated with living this law. But it goes way beyond that. If we turn to Malachi in the Old Testament, talking about if we pay our tithes, the Lord gives us this promise: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of Hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Malachi 3:10).
If we pay a tithing, not only will we be blessed temporally—and there are other scriptures here that tell us He will bless us temporally—but He will open up the windows of heaven and pour out so many blessings upon us that we won’t even be able to contain them all. This is what verse 34 in section 88 is talking about. When we take any law—and I’ve only just taken two here—I just took the Word of Wisdom and tithing—but we can do this with any law that God has given us—if we obey it, we will be blessed. We will, in the words of verse 34, be preserved, perfected and sanctified.
On the other hand, we read verse 35: “That which breaketh a law, and abideth not by law, but seeketh to become a law unto itself, and willeth to abide in sin, and altogether abideth in sin, cannot be sanctified by law, neither by mercy, justice, nor judgment. Therefore, they must remain filthy still.”
Wow. If we use our agency to disobey God’s law, then we have no blessing. Then we’re going in the opposite direction. Then we are dammed. And when I use that word, I mean it in the sense that you think about a dam of water, how the river is stopped. It can’t pursue forward. It can’t progress forward. It is stopped; it’s dammed. And that’s what happens when we don’t obey a law of God. We are stopped in our progression. We can’t be perfected. We can’t be sanctified. We can’t be preserved, because we stopped. When we choose to disobey a law of God, we just kill ourselves. I don’t know how else to say it. I just have to be blunt. It is so important that we obey these laws. These two examples that I’ve given of tithing and the Word of Wisdom are so important. I’ve had many church positions in my life where I’ve been able to interview people for temple recommends, and usually the reason a person is not worthy to go to the temple is because they don’t live either the law of the Word of Wisdom or the law of tithing. And they have stopped themselves—they dam themselves, in a sense—of being able to go to the temple and have these great, added blessings given to us through the sacred ordinances that occur in the temples.
Well, we could go on, but obedience is the first law of heaven. We know that great scripture in the 130th section of the Doctrine and Covenants. It is worth talking about. “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” (verse 20). So that is what we’re here to do, is to obey God’s laws so that we can be perfected, so that we can become like God.
Obedience and disobedience was from the very beginning. We can read in Abraham, the great verses where Abraham saw the “noble and great” spirits, (see Abraham 3:22) and there were those who rebelled against God in the first estate, the pre-existence. So therefore, they were denied the opportunity and blessing of coming here in the second estate and obtaining a body and having life and going forward in the plan of salvation. They were denied that because they were disobedient there. We—everyone here—we were obedient in the pre-existence, and so we were able to progress, because we obeyed God’s law in the pre-existence. And so we’re here, and we have bodies, and we’re going forward. And then it says, in Abraham 3, that “those who keep their second estate”—in other words, us, if we keep the commandments, if we keep God’s laws—then we will progress and we will have glory and honor added upon us forever. (verse 26) That is the promise.
We have the great example of the first man, Adam, who was offering sacrifices. And the angel came and said, “Why are you doing this?’ And Adam didn’t know. That’s just amazing to me. Adam was the mighty Michael in the pre-existence. He was a great, great man. And he didn’t know, but he was so good. He just made the determination, “I’m going to obey the law of God, no matter what. If I don’t understand it, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m just going to obey it.” And then he got the great revelation that “this thing is in similitude of the sacrifice of the only begotten of the Father.” And then he got it, and then the Holy Ghost came upon him, and then he had the spirit, and then he started to prophesy, because he had the Spirit. And why? Because he was obedient to the law, the law of God (see Moses 5:5-8).
The law of the Lord is perfect, and if we live it, we will be perfect. I conclude by saying Jesus Christ taught, “Behold, I am the law” (3 Nephi 15:9). Now, isn’t that amazing? I think what Jesus was saying is that He lived so perfectly all of the laws that His Father had given Him that He then, at that point, personified and embodied the law.
I bear you my witness, you young brothers and sisters here at LDS Business College. God our Father lives and He loves us, and He gives us laws because He loves us. If we use our agency and are obedient to His laws, we will be like Him. We will have eternal life, which “is the greatest of all the gifts of God” (D&C 14:7). And it’s all up to us, whether we’re going to be obedient or not, to His laws. I bear you my witness that Jesus Christ is the law, because of what we have said, that He did the will of the Father, and He did all things that the Father asked Him to do. He is our Savior. He is our Redeemer. His atoning sacrifice is real. Repentance is real. I saw that so much in the mission field, where people repented and came into the Church, and they were clean and pure. So if we make a mistake, if we violate one of God’s laws, He is so good. He says, “Okay, you messed up. Now you can repent.” And if we truly repent, then we’re clean and pure again, and we’re back on track living God’s laws. I bear you my witness that Joseph Smith is the mighty prophet of the Restoration. He saw the Father. He saw the Son. And he restored the true church, and we are blessed to live in a day when we have a living prophet on the earth today—President Thomas S. Monson. He is a prophet of God.
I promise you that if you prepare yourselves for general conference, that when he speaks, you will hear the word of the Lord through him. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the kingdom of God on the earth. Of this I bear witness in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.