In a State of Happiness (Mormon 7:7)
Elder David A. Bednar
Brigham Young University–Idaho Devotional
January 6, 2004
Good afternoon, brothers and sisters. And welcome to Rexburg in January!! I am grateful for this chance to worship with you as we begin another new semester at Brigham Young University-Idaho. I pray for and invite the Holy Ghost to be with me and with you as together we “. . . seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118).
Today I want to discuss with you basic components of “the great plan of happiness” (Alma 42:8,16), the meaning and role of happiness in the plan, and the relationship between happiness and obedience. We also will discuss the implications of what we learn about happiness and obedience for you as young women and young men who live on the earth at this time.
In this the dispensation of the fulness of times, many plain and precious truths have again been restored to the earth concerning the divine plan of happiness and our eternal destiny as sons and daughters of the Eternal Father. The great plan of happiness is designed to bring about man’s immortality and eternal life. The plan includes the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement, along with all God-given laws, ordinances, and doctrines. The plan makes it possible for all people to be exalted and live forever with God (2 Nephi 2, 9). The scriptures also refer to this plan as “the plan of salvation” (Alma 24:14; Alma 42:5; Moses 6:62), “the plan of redemption” (Alma 12:25; Alma 22:13; Alma 34:16), and “the plan of mercy” (Alma 42:15, 31).
In particular, the restoration scriptures—the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price—contain a wealth of knowledge about the plan of happiness. Please turn with me in the Pearl of Great Price to Abraham 3:24-26.
And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;
And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;
And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.
In these three verses we are introduced to the fundamental and essential elements of the great plan of happiness. The primary purpose for the creation of the earth was to prepare a place whereon the Father’s children would be proved to see if they (meaning you and me) would do all things whatsoever “the Lord their God shall command them.” We further learn that those who kept their first estate, meaning those spirits who were faithful in the premortal existence, would have the opportunity to be added upon by obtaining a physical body and through their experiences in mortality—and that those who kept their second estate, meaning those who were faithful in mortality, could have glory added upon their heads throughout eternity.
I find verse 25 especially interesting. The very purpose of the creation and of our mortal existence is to see if you and I will do and become whatever the Lord instructs and commands us to do and to become. We have been endowed with agency—the capacity of independent action—for the precise purpose of obeying God and seeking righteousness. We have not been blessed with agency to do whatever we want whenever we will. Rather, according to the plan, we are to exercise our agency in doing and becoming whatever God commands. For that purpose the earth was created. For that purpose you and I are here in the second estate.
The Role of Happiness in the Plan
Please now consider the relationship between the great plan of happiness and the law of obedience. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that:
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. But we cannot keep all the commandments without first knowing them, and we cannot expect to know all, or more than we now know unless we comply with or keep those we have already received (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Section Five, 1842–43, p. 255).
Note the connection between happiness, which is the very object of the plan of happiness and of our mortal existence, and obedience to the commandments of God. Obedience is central to becoming and being and remaining happy.
The Prophet further explained:
But in obedience there is joy and peace unspotted, unalloyed; and as God has designed our happiness—and the happiness of all His creatures, he never has—He never will institute an ordinance or give a commandment to His people that is not calculated in its nature to promote that happiness which He has designed, and which will not end in the greatest amount of good and glory to those who become the recipients of his law and ordinances (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Section Five, 1842–43, p. 256).
All that our Father gives to us and all that He requires of us is designed to promote the very happiness that is the object of the plan and of our existence. Obedience is neither a chore nor a burden; rather, it is the source of true happiness in both mortality and eternity. We do not yield or give up our happiness when we obey. Obeying causes happiness. Obedience frequently is referred to as the first law of heaven; it is also the key which opens the door to the happiness intended for God’s children in the great plan of happiness.
Please now turn with me in the Book of Mormon to Mosiah 2:41:
And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it (emphasis added).
I want to draw our attention to three key elements in this scripture. First, the words blessed and happy in this verse essentially are synonymous. In other words, to be blessed is to be happy and to be happy is to be blessed. We often correctly refer to happiness as a mood or an attitude or an emotion. But this verse helps us understand that happiness also is a state of being blessed as a result of keeping the commandments of God.
Brothers and sisters, the essence of what I hope to communicate this afternoon is built upon this one basic principle: to be blessed is to be happy and to be happy is to be blessed. Consider this relationship among obedience and blessings and happiness as we read together Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21:
There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings [and happiness] are predicated—
And when we obtain any blessing [and happiness] from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated (emphasis added).
This relationship also is highlighted in Doctrine and Covenants 132:5:
For all who will have a blessing [and happiness] at my hands shall abide the law which was appointed for that blessing [and happiness], and the conditions thereof, as were instituted from before the foundation of the world. (emphasis added)
Second, notice in Mosiah 2:41 how the verse emphasizes that those who keep the commandments “. . . are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual . . . .” Let me suggest that this phrase points to the second estate or “here and now” blessings that flow from obedience. And third, the anticipated or third estate and eternal blessings associated with keeping the commandments are featured in the line “. . . if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness . . . .” Simply stated, brothers and sisters, keeping the commandments invites both proximate and future blessings and happiness into our lives.
In our study of the scriptures, we quickly recognize that the Book of Mormon is the handbook for happiness. The word happiness is used 28 times in the standard works, and 26 of the 28 verses that contain the word happiness are found in the Book of Mormon. One reference to happiness is found in the Doctrine and Covenants, and one reference is found in the Pearl of Great Price. Thus, all scriptural references to happiness are found in the restoration scriptures.
Please consider and reflect upon these remarkable teachings from the Book of Mormon:
And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness (2 Nephi 2:13, emphasis added).
And it came to pass that we lived after the manner of happiness (2 Nephi 5:27, emphasis added).
Now was not this exceeding joy? Behold, this is joy which none receiveth save it be the truly penitent and humble seeker of happiness (Alma 27:18, emphasis added).
Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness (Alma 41:10, emphasis added).
Clearly, in the restoration scriptures in general and the Book of Mormon in particular, we find many plain and precious truths that have been restored about the great plan of happiness and the spiritual state of happiness to which we all should aspire.
Happiness and Obedience and the Youth of the Church
In October of 1997 Elder Neal A. Maxwell visited our campus to speak in a devotional. Sister Bednar and I provided transportation to and from the Idaho Falls airport for Elder and Sister Maxwell, and we hosted them for lunch in our home. The time we spent with this mighty Apostle and his lovely wife before and after the devotional was invaluable, and the lessons we learned were priceless. As we talked together about a variety of gospel topics in general and the youth of the Church in particular, Elder Maxwell made a statement that greatly impressed me. He said, “The youth of this generation have a greater capacity for obedience than any previous generation.” He then indicated that his statement was based upon a principle taught by Elder George Q. Cannon in the early days of the Restoration. Please listen carefully to the following statement by Elder Cannon:
God has reserved spirits for this dispensation who have the courage and determination to face the world, and all the powers of the evil one, visible and invisible, to proclaim the Gospel, and maintain the truth, and establish and build up the Zion of our God, fearless of all consequences. He has sent these spirits in this generation to lay the foundation of Zion never more to be overthrown, and to raise up a seed that will be righteous, and that will honor God, and honor him supremely, and be obedient to him under all circumstances (Journal of Discourses, 11:230 [May 6, 1866], emphasis added).
We frequently are reminded by our church leaders that the young men and women of this generation have been reserved for this day and are some of the most valiant of Heavenly Father’s children. But these additional insights by Elders Cannon and Maxwell help us further to understand that today’s young people have a greater capacity for obedience and are to be valiant and “. . . obedient to him under all circumstances.” And an additional and important implication of these teachings is clear: those blessed with the greatest capacity to obey also have the greatest opportunity for true and lasting happiness.
Obedience Operates at Different Levels
Brothers and sisters, obedience operates at a number of different levels. Elder Bruce R. McConkie has taught:
Obedience is the first law of heaven, the cornerstone upon which all righteousness and progression rest. It consists in compliance with divine law, in conformity to the mind and will of Deity, in complete subjection to God and his commands. To obey gospel law is to yield obedience to the Lord, to execute the commands of and be ruled by him whose we are (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 539, emphasis added).
Note how Elder McConkie includes the elements of compliance, conformity, and subjection or submission in his description of obedience. Let me suggest that each of these three elements can be considered as a progressive level of obedience. And each level of obedience leads to an ever-increasing state of happiness. Thus, happiness and obedience are not simply passive steady states; rather, they must grow and develop and deepen and increase and expand. Our experience with and understanding of happiness and obedience should change as we develop spiritually and as we gain additional light and knowledge—line upon line and precept upon precept.
Let me now present a series of comparisons that illustrate how obedience operates at different levels. It is one thing to obey in order to quality for and receive blessings for ourselves; it is quite another thing to obey as a preparation to give and to serve others more effectively. And obedience motivated by a desire to give and to serve more effectively yields a happiness far greater than that produced by obedience intended to benefit self. It is one thing to merely and perhaps mechanically comply with God’s commandments; it is quite another thing to obey and thereby fully submit and subject oneself to the will and timetable of the Lord—and to experience happiness in Him. It is a good thing to obey out of a sense of duty; but it is an even greater thing, a more spiritually demanding thing, to obey through love. It is one thing to reluctantly or grudgingly conform to commandments; it is a different thing to joyfully “. . . obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness . . .” (Alma 57:21, emphasis added) and cheerfully “. . . observe strictly to keep the commandments of God . . .” (Helaman 13:1, emphasis added). It is one thing to perform the outward actions of obedience; it is quite a different thing to become inwardly what the commandments are intended to help us become. It is one thing to obey the institutional, public, and shared commandments associated with the Lord’s kingdom on earth—commandments such as the law of chastity, the law of tithing, and the Word of Wisdom; it is an even greater thing to receive and respond to the individual, private, and personally revealed commandments that result from continual and faithful obedience.
Commandments Not a Few
Please turn with me to Doctrine and Covenants, section 59, verses 3 and 4:
Yea, blessed are they whose feet stand upon the land of Zion, who have obeyed my gospel; for they shall receive for their reward the good things of the earth, and it shall bring forth in its strength.
And they shall also be crowned with blessings from above, yea, and with commandments not a few, and with revelations in their time—they that are faithful and diligent before me (emphasis added).
We learn in these verses that those who have obeyed the gospel shall receive the good things of the earth, blessings from above, commandments not a few, and revelations in their time. In particular I now want to draw our attention to the phrase “and with commandments not a few.”
Brothers and sisters, for the past few minutes I have attempted to differentiate between obedience that is predominately complying and conforming in nature and a higher level of obedience that includes spiritual submission and enables us to receive “commandments not a few.” Obedience that is primarily complying and conforming is good and is truly obedience. But the higher level of obedience I am trying to describe—an obedience that stretches beyond the letter of the law to the spirit of the law—is both heartfelt and willing. And it brings an individualized gospel insight and a perspective and a power and a state of happiness that are precious beyond measure. As we read in section 64 of the Doctrine and Covenants, verse 34:
Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind; and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days (emphasis added).
Progressing from the level of complying obedience to the level and happiness associated with heartfelt and willing obedience does not occur quickly or all at once. Nor is it merely a matter of greater personal discipline; it is a change of disposition, a change of heart. And this gradual change of heart is one that the Lord accomplishes within us, through the power of his Spirit, in a line-upon-line fashion. For example, in Philippians 2:12, Paul encourages the Saints to “. . . work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” But how are we to do that? Note the answer that follows in verse 13: “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” That is, we give ourselves to the Lord and choose to be changed. He is working on us and in us.
Brothers and sisters, it is vitally important for all of us to remember that progressing to higher and more spiritually demanding levels of obedience is not simply a matter of more personal determination, more grit, and more willpower; rather, it is accomplished through the enabling power of the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, true and lasting happiness is a function of progressing to and through “letter of the law” obedience to public and institutional commandments and toward the spirit of devoted discipleship and a private, personal, and individual change of heart.
I find it fascinating that one of the greatest blessings related to keeping God’s commandments is additional commandments. Now, individuals who find commandments restrictive and constraining clearly will not regard more commandments as a blessing and as a source of happiness. But the Apostle John taught that for one who has come unto Christ and been born again, God’s “commandments are not grievous” (1 John 5:3). Thus, individuals who have eyes to see and ears to hear will readily recognize the consummate spiritual benefit and happiness that come from additional direction from heaven.
What are these “commandments not a few” and how do we receive them? The individual and personal “commandments not a few” we receive frequently tend to focus upon the good things we can and should do to develop and deepen our discipleship—as opposed to focusing primarily upon the bad things we must avoid or overcome. Such instructions typically are proactive and anticipatory in nature. For example, many of us remember the teachings of President Spencer W. Kimball concerning fast offerings. He stated:
I think that when we are affluent, as many of us are, that we ought to be very, very generous . . . . I think we should be very generous and give, instead of the amount we saved by our two meals of fasting, perhaps much, much more—ten times more where we are in a position to do it (Conference Report, April 1974, p. 184).
Thus, an individual or a family may be prompted to freely and willingly and cheerfully contribute to the fast offering fund at a level far beyond the routine and basic “letter of the law” standards with which most of us are familiar. The “commandments not a few” in this example are gladly obeyed in order to bless and strengthen others with serious challenges and insufficient resources.
A few additional examples may be helpful. As I proceed, however, please keep in mind that I am not attempting to provide a comprehensive list of what “commandments not a few” are or should be. Such commandments are individual and quite personal; nonetheless, a further illustration or two can help us to better comprehend this concept.
To an obedient young man or woman striving to live a morally pure life may come individualized “commandments not a few” about properly controlling personal thoughts. Such tutoring by the Holy Ghost can help a young woman or man to “. . . let virtue garnish [his or her] thoughts unceasingly . . .” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:45) and to “. . . let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord; yea, let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever” (Alma:37:36).
“Commandments not a few” may come to concerned and committed parents in Zion about discerning seemingly ordinary and simple gospel teaching opportunities within the walls of their own home. To be sure, such parents faithfully attend Church meetings with their children and consistently hold home evening and family council as instructed by our leaders. But these parents will also be urged by the Holy Ghost to teach and testify daily at the dinner table or in the car or while performing routine household chores or playing together as a family. Children reared in such a gospel and Christ-centered home may also one day proclaim, “. . . We do not doubt our mothers [and fathers] knew it” (Alma 56:48).
To an honest Latter-day Saint may come “commandments not a few” concerning personal honesty and integrity and trustworthiness. Obviously, such an individual would never deceive an employer or cheat on a test or research paper at school or betray a confidence at home or at Church or at work. But individualized instruction by the Holy Ghost may assist this person to give the full measure in his or her work and to be more honest with himself or herself—and to see things “. . . as they [really] are . . .” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:24). The Holy Ghost also can help such an individual communicate with others in an increasingly honest and appropriate way.
God’s Work and Our Work
Among the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, one of the most well-known and frequently quoted passages of scripture is found in Moses 1:39. This verse clearly and concisely describes the Eternal Father’s work and glory, and I am confident most of us can recite it perfectly from memory: “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (emphasis added).
A companion scripture found in the Doctrine and Covenants describes with equal clarity and conciseness our primary work as the sons and daughters of the Eternal Father. Interestingly, this verse does not seem to be as well-known and is not quoted with great frequency. Please turn with me to Doctrine and Covenants, section 11, verse 20: “Behold, this is your work, to keep my commandments, yea, with all your might, mind and strength” (emphasis added).
Thus, the plan and the work of the Father are to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of His children. Our work is to keep His commandments with all of our might, mind, and strength—that thereby we might receive the happiness which is the object and design of our existence. May each of us learn and understand that being blessed and being happy are the result of obedience, and may we have a greater desire and determination to obey God’s commandments with all of our hearts and with willing minds. May we be blessed to qualify for and to receive and to recognize “commandments not a few.” May each of us also discern that obedience is the key that opens the door to the supernal blessings of the great plan of happiness.
Brothers and sisters, I testify that God the Eternal Father lives. Jesus Christ is His Only Begotten Son. And I witness that the Father’s eternal plan enables us to be happy and blessed as we obey. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.
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