Obedience to the Commandments of the Lord
President Kim B. Clark
Brigham Young University–Idaho Devotional
August 20, 2005
Brothers and sisters, it is wonderful to be with you today. We welcome you to the beginning of a new semester at BYU–Idaho. Since this is our first semester here, the opportunity to speak to you at devotional is a special experience for us. We all stand at the beginning of an important season in the growth and development of the kingdom of God in this part of the Lord’s vineyard. There is a great work that lies just ahead for this university, and there is a great work ahead for you. The way forward will not be without challenge and difficulty. Yet, for the university and for us personally, the solution is the same: the solution is obedience to the commandments of the Lord. Obedience brings to each of us the great blessings of the Savior.
Down through the ages the prophets have sought to teach us about the importance of obedience in the great plan of salvation. One of the most powerful metaphors for obedience in all of scripture is the strait and narrow path. Let’s turn to 2 Nephi 31:18-20. Listen how Nephi describes the path and our journey. After we have entered in by the gate, which is faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, and baptism by water and by the Spirit, we are in the strait and narrow path. Here is Nephi:
And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay;
. . . . Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men (2 Nephi 31:19-20, emphasis added).
Pressing forward with steadfastness in Christ—to strive to do what the Lord wants you to do in all circumstances, to press forward no matter what happens, even when you slip or fall, to get back up and move forward, to never give up; to recognize that there is always hope; to put at the center of your life the only One who has all power over all things, the only One who can reach out and save you if you will follow Him with a perfect brightness of hope . . . that is what it means to be obedient.
Nephi’s language makes clear that the path and the way are not going to be easy. He knew whereof he spoke. He not only had known turmoil and hardship and opposition in his own life, but he also had seen in powerful vision the great panorama of Lehi’s dream, with its tree of life, the strait and narrow path, the iron rod, the mists of darkness, and the great and spacious building. Nephi had seen that the fruit of the tree “is the most desirable above all things. . . . Yea, and the most joyous to the soul” (1 Nephi 11:22-23). He saw that many “who had commenced in the path did lose their way” (1 Nephi 8:23) because the mists of darkness or “the temptations of the devil . . . leadeth them away into broad roads, that they perish and are lost” (1 Nephi 12:17, emphasis added). Nephi saw the compelling power of the great and spacious building that stood high above the earth. “It was filled with people . . . in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit” (1 Nephi 8:27). He saw that those who grasped the iron rod made it to the tree and tasted of the fruit. But even then some were ashamed “because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost” (1 Nephi 8:28, emphasis added). And, of course, many never started on the path and “were lost from his view, wandering in strange roads” (1 Nephi 8:32, emphasis added).
From these passages we learn three very important, even lifesaving, principles:
1. The tree of life and its precious fruit are part of our mortal journey.
The fruit of the tree, and all that it represents—salvation, joy, redemption, and the love of God that never faileth—comes in and through Jesus Christ. Partaking of the fruit is not ultimate salvation. We may partake of the fruit here and now while we are still on the journey. And we may experience all that the tree represents in this life, if we stay on the strait and narrow path.
2. The way is fraught with peril, and there are many competing paths.
The temptations of the devil obscure the path and draw confused travelers into strange roads that are broad, even after they have started on the straight and narrow path. One might imagine these broad roads crossing the strait and narrow path, creating many crossroads and many choices. At times, the broad roads may even run parallel to the strait and narrow path. (After all, the devil is the father of lies and a master of disguise and counterfeit.) The strait and narrow path does not exist in isolation. There are many travelers and many roads.
3. The iron rod, the word of God, is sure and true and leads to the tree of life.
In his dream Lehi sees that those who grasped the rod and held on could make it through the mists of darkness, avoid all of those other roads, and reach the tree of life. But even then the time of testing and probation is not finished. Even then, especially then, we must be diligent and vigilant in keeping the commandments of God. Even after we have journeyed on the strait and narrow path, even after we have partaken of the fruit of the tree, forbidden paths and strange roads beckon us. The pride of men and the vain things of the world in the great and spacious building loom over us and, to some, appear attractive. But the forbidden paths only lead to destruction. Like the broad roads, they are a counterfeit and their promises are hollow.
Let me share an experience I had when I was about your age that illustrates the choices we face, the broad roads that beckon, and the importance of choosing the strait and narrow path. When I was in high school in Spokane, Washington, I played in a rock band. My friends and I started the band when we were sophomores. By the time we were seniors, we had become pretty good. We started getting jobs to play at dances and began writing our own songs.
In January of my senior year, we were invited to play in a big battle of the bands sponsored by the most popular radio station in Spokane. The contest was held in a big teen club. We practiced really hard and played really well that night. And we won! It was amazing. All of those kids out there in the audience were screaming at us. We had visions of record contracts and big concerts. It was pretty exciting.
On the way home that night, one of my friends turned to me and said, “You know, you are becoming two people. You’re really different when you are around the band.” As we talked, I knew what she said was true. As I thought about it, I realized that I was becoming two people. One person was the young man my parents thought they were rearing: very active in the Church, a leader in my quorums, an Eagle Scout, preparing to serve a mission, a good student, and a varsity athlete in two sports. The other person was the aspiring rock star—sarcastic, cynical, and arrogant. And I was hanging around with a lot of people who were definitely not on the strait and narrow path. Actually, these people were way off the strait and narrow path, wandering in strange roads.
And so I faced a choice. The two people I was becoming were incompatible with each other. I could not be both for very long. I had to choose. I remember very clearly what it felt like to make that decision. I knew deep in my heart that I wanted to be what the Lord wanted me to be. I had tried to live in both worlds, but I knew I could not do that any longer. I needed to repent of pride and arrogance and of the way I had treated people. So I quit the band. At the very moment when all the hard work was paying off, when all the dreams and hopes were coming true, I up and quit. And I did not drag it out. I called up my friends and told them I was finished with the band. They were shocked. They thought I had lost my mind. But, in fact, I had found my heart and my soul. Looking back across these many years since that moment, I know I was guided by the Spirit and blessed to make that decision. I chose the strait and narrow path and turned my back on the lure of the great and spacious building. I said no to the broad roads and the forbidden paths that beckoned.
The strait and narrow path with the iron rod is a powerful metaphor. It teaches true principles and focuses our attention on that which matters most in obtaining salvation: faith in the Savior, hope in His Atonement, obedience to His commandments, pressing forward no matter what.
Without in any way diminishing its power and importance, I would like to marry Nephi’s metaphor of the iron rod and the strait and narrow path to another image given us by another prophet, seer, and revelator in our day. I think in so doing we may see new dimensions of the journey and gain deeper understanding of what we must do to obtain eternal life. The metaphor I have in mind was given to us by Elder Bruce R. McConkie in a talk he gave in general conference in the fall of 1984. Let’s listen to Elder McConkie:
The Church is like a great caravan—organized, prepared, following an appointed course, with its captains of ten and captains of hundreds in place.
What does it matter if a few barking dogs snap at the heels of the weary travelers? Or that predators claim those few who fall by the way? The caravan moves on.
Is there a ravine to cross, a miry mud hole to pull through, a steep grade to climb? So be it. The oxen are strong and the teamsters wise. The caravan moves on.
Are there storms that rage along the way, floods that wash away the bridges, deserts to cross, rivers to ford? Such is life in the fallen sphere. The caravan moves on.
Ahead is the celestial city, the eternal Zion of our God, where all who maintain their position in the caravan shall find food and drink and rest. Thank God that the caravan moves on! (Bruce R. McConkie, The Caravan Moves On, Ensign, November 1984, p. 82)
Consider that the “appointed course” in Elder McConkie’s metaphor is the strait and narrow path. When we enter the gate of that path we not only embark on the strait and narrow path but we become members of the Church. We grasp the iron rod and join the caravan of the Lord. In Elder McConkie’s world, the strait and narrow path is not smooth. To the mists of darkness and the many broad, strange, and forbidden paths, he has added ravines, and mud and rivers to cross. But the implication is the same: if we hold fast to the iron rod, if we obey the commandments of the Lord and stay with the caravan, we shall obtain salvation.
Combined in this way the metaphors of the iron rod, the strait and narrow path, and the caravan bring The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the heart of our journey. I think there are three aspects of the Church that help us in powerful ways to not only reach the tree of life, but also partake of the fruit forever.
1. Prophets of God lead the caravan.
It is the Lord’s caravan, and He speaks through the President of the Church to guide and direct its progress. Moreover, the Prophet, the counselors in the First Presidency, and the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles hold the priesthood keys, authority, and power required to move the caravan forward on the course the Lord has set. These great principles of revelation and priesthood authority establish an overriding fact about the caravan: it is always on the strait and narrow path. We have, then, a sure guide to salvation. If we come to points in our lives where the way ahead is not clear, where the mists of darkness obscure the path, where competing paths clamor for attention, where we feel weak or discouraged, we can pray and seek direction of the Spirit, we can hold fast to the iron rod, and we can look to the direction of the caravan and follow the Brethren. The caravan always moves forward on the strait and narrow path.
2. In the caravan of the Lord, we travel in the communities of Zion.
In the caravan we travel in families, in wards, in stakes, in the communities of Zion. Thus, in the Church we are bound together in mutual commitments to love and serve one another. These mutual commitments are crucial when someone we love encounters problems, or begins to waver in their faith, or succumbs to temptation or drifts away from the caravan. The Lord reaches out through us to support them, to sustain them, and to go after them. Family members are always the first line of love and support. But in the Lord’s church there are captains of tens and captains of hundreds (see Deuteronomy 1:15, Doctrine and Covenants 136:3, 15)—bishops, Relief Society presidents, quorum presidents, home teachers, visiting teachers, youth leaders—who reach out and love and support us and seek to bring back into the caravan those who have wandered. We also reach out to those who are not members of the caravan who are seeking the truth and long for the peace and joy and salvation to be found in the kingdom of God. This work of supporting one another and reaching out for one another is a sacred commitment that is organized and directed by the Lord through His chosen servants. That spirit of commitment and love and support is present on this campus. This university is a community of Zion, and the Spirit of Ricks makes BYU-Idaho a special place. For you and for me, living in the communities of Zion is one of the great blessings of the strait and narrow path and the caravan of the Lord.
3. Life in the caravan establishes an architecture of righteousness.
Daily life in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is highly structured. It begins with covenants made with God. Those covenants are commitments we make to live our lives in accordance with the commandments of God. These covenants and commandments create what I call an architecture of righteousness—a framework for our daily lives. The elements of this framework include personal and family prayer, study of the scriptures, adherence to the word of wisdom and to the law of chastity, the payment of tithes and offerings, keeping the Sabbath day holy, attending the temple, service in callings in the Church and participation in our appointed meetings. At this university, the Honor Code is based on gospel principles and provides another important element of the framework for daily life. As we organize our lives around these fundamental activities, we create a structure of righteousness that guides, protects, and supports us in our journey on the strait and narrow path in the caravan of the Lord.
I would like to apply these principles to your personal journey and your time at this university by focusing on one of the commandments that defines the architecture of righteousness in your lives: keeping the Sabbath day holy. To begin, let’s turn first to Exodus chapter 20, verses 8-11.
This is the commandment given to Moses:
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work . . .
For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
Sunday is the Sabbath day of the Lord. The commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy has been repeated and given a powerful statement in the revelations given to the Prophet Joseph Smith. Please turn with me to section 59 in the Doctrine and Covenants.
Now, my brothers and sisters, this revelation was given in 1831, many years ago. But today I would like you to see that the words here are meant for you. Let’s read verses 9 and 10 and verse 13:
And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day;
For verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High;
And on this day thou shalt do none other thing, only let thy food be prepared with singleness of heart that thy fasting may be perfect, or, in other words, that thy joy may be full.
May I come back to verse 9? Look at the phrase “that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world.” Keeping the Sabbath day holy will help us stand clean and pure before the Lord, and thus, be worthy of the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. Moreover, keeping this commandment will be a protection to us. There is much evil in the world and much that would take us away from the peace and joy Heavenly Father has prepared for us. If we keep the Sabbath day holy, we shall enjoy these blessings. Treat the Sabbath as a special day, the Lord’s day. Clean up your apartments on Saturday in preparation for the Lord’s day. Dress appropriately, all day long, in honor of the Lord. Fill the Sabbath day with those things that will bring the Spirit into your life: attending Church; visiting the sick; studying the scriptures; writing letters; writing in your journal; doing family history; home teaching; missionary work; reading; visiting with friends; listening to sacred music; singing sacred music; praying. There are so many wonderful things to do that will bring you closer to God and more fully keep you unspotted from the world.
It takes faith to keep the Sabbath day holy, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We keep this commandment because we have faith that it came from Him. We have faith that He was the Creator, that He gave the commandment to Moses, that He reaffirmed it to Joseph Smith, and that He is the one who gave us the promises. We keep it because we love Him, and trust Him, and have our hope in Him. Moreover, we have faith in the promises He has given us. When we see the Sabbath in this way, it is a cause to rejoice!
Please look at verse 15 in section 59:
And inasmuch as ye do these things with thanksgiving, with cheerful hearts and countenances, not with much laughter, for this is sin, but with a glad heart and a cheerful countenance—
When I was a boy, I knew Sundays were different and I knew they were special. I didn’t always like not being able to do the things my friends did. When I went to Boston in 1967 to go to school, I had a pretty difficult time. I was far away from home, living in a strange place, among people that were very different from me. But there was one place, and one day of the week, where I felt at home. And that was going to church and being with the Latter-day Saints on the Sabbath day. When I was 18 years old I learned to love Sundays. I truly rejoiced when it was Sunday and I could go to church; and I had a deep sense of gratitude for the Lord, the Church, and my brothers and sisters.
This is exactly what the Lord wants us to do. The Lord, in fact, wants us to keep the Sabbath as a day of rejoicing, and thanksgiving, and good cheer.
Again from section 59 of the Doctrine and Covenants, consider these words from verses 16-21. Speaking of keeping the Sabbath day holy, the Lord says:
Verily I say, that inasmuch as ye do this, the fullness of the earth is yours . . .
Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart;
. . . And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man . . . .
And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments.
The revelation is clear: keeping the Sabbath day holy means that we recognize and acknowledge the Lord’s hand in all things. We cannot confess his hand in all things unless we keep the Sabbath day holy. Keeping the Sabbath day holy is about giving thanks to God, it is about gratitude and our love for Him. It is about rejoicing in the marvelous blessings of the Savior and His Atonement. It is about deep, spiritual peace that comes from obedience.
Now I know some of you may feel pressure to work on Sundays, or to shop or participate in recreational activities. Our society makes these things attractive and even compelling. But the promises of the Lord are real. I bear testimony that they are true promises. And they are for you. If you keep the Sabbath day holy, you will feel the Spirit of the Lord more fully in your life. You will have more guidance, more support, and more peace. And the Lord will pour out blessings upon you. I do not say that all your problems will disappear. I only promise you that the Lord will pour out blessings upon you. Read the scripture; read it as a message to you; read what it says. The Lord means what He says.
And so, we return to where we started, to the blessings of the Savior. We have talked today about commandments and about obedience. I want you to know that behind and in and around those commandments there is the love and the mercy and the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. He stands with arms outstretched all the day long. I know He loves you with a love that never faileth. Brothers and sisters, the Atonement is real. I bear solemn witness that the Savior lives, that in Him and through Him we can receive forgiveness and peace and joy and salvation.
In closing, I would like to read a scripture from another day that is particularly important on this day in your life. It comes from Alma’s great final address to his son Helaman:
O, remember, my son, and learn wisdom in thy youth; yea, learn in thy youth to keep the commandments of God.
Yea, and cry unto God for all thy support; yea, let all thy doings be unto the Lord, and whithersoever thou goest let it be in the Lord; yea, let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord; yea, let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever.
Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day (Alma 37:35-37, emphasis added).
I pray that we may all take this scripture to heart and put the Lord at the center of our lives. I pray that we may all walk the strait and narrow path, in the caravan of the Lord. What a marvelous blessing it is, my brothers and sisters, to live in a day when the caravan of the Lord is here, moving forward in its strength and in its fullness. I thank God for Joseph Smith, the great Prophet of the Restoration; and for Gordon B. Hinckley, the Prophet of the Lord today; and for all the Prophets and Apostles who lead the Lord’s Church. I am grateful for the communities of Zion, for sacred covenants and commandments, for the architecture of righteousness in our daily lives.
Most of all, I am grateful for the Lord Jesus Christ, for His love, and for the matchless power of His Atonement. Let us be diligent in keeping His commandments. Let us create an architecture of righteousness by keeping the Sabbath day holy, and indeed, striving to keep all the commandments, and to live the gospel in its fullness. Let us all learn wisdom and make obedience the hallmark of our lives. I know that if we do so, God will bless us and keep us. I know that in obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ there is life and hope and salvation. The promises are sure. I bear witness that it is so, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.