“The Third Great Commandment and Other Thoughts”
Brigham Young University-Idaho Commencement
April 23, 2005
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
I am thrilled to be with you today for these commencement exercises. Due to my recent assignment in Latin America (any Chilean missionaries in the crowd? Bien hecho, compañeros. Felicitaciones. Le amo), it has been some time since anyone has even let me enter the Rexburg city limits, let alone actually mix and mingle with the students and faculty. I am grateful it was your graduating class that, after asking if there weren’t any other of the Brethren available, said, “Oh, what the heck. Let’s let Elder Holland come. Surely he can’t do much to ruin the fun of a commencement day.” I promise to be worthy of your trust.
Now, in that spirit and realizing I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer, I do remember something about college days and college students. One of the things I remember is that graduation day is not a time when students urgently demand, plead from the rooftops for, and absolutely insist upon long-winded speakers. On a day like this for some mysterious reason other things are on your minds. Furthermore, if my 30 years of coming to Rexburg serve me well, I vaguely remember that the wind blows pretty regularly here even without public speakers. So I will do my part and try to avoid adding unduly to that perennial breeze this glorious spring morning.
I would leave just three thoughts with you on this very happy occasion, all in the spirit of the love and commendation I feel for you and for your accomplishments today.
The first stems from something I have repeatedly run into in the scriptures lately. Perhaps I have seen this so often recently because I need it, but it strikes me perhaps you could benefit from it as well. The idea is summarized in several verses—a rather stern warning, actually—in the 59th section of the Doctrine and Covenants. Here the Lord is urging the people toward a Zion-like manner of living and He rehearses the importance of the very basic commandments He has always given His children down through the ages of time. That first commandment is to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, . . . might, mind, and strength; and in the name of Jesus Christ, . . . serve Him” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:5). This we have been told from the beginning of time is the supreme commandment. The second great commandment always follows—to “love thy neighbor as thyself” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:6). Then, here in the 59th section the Lord adds a third great commandment for a redeemed people for those who seek for the New Jerusalem.
This third great commandment is that “thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:7). And in this obligation we must be as faithful as in the first two:
The fulness of the earth is yours,
[All] good things . . . [are] for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart,
[Things] to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul.
And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; . . .
[But] 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 (Doctrine and Covenants 16-21).
So in all of the fun and friendship today, with all the happiness you have earned and so richly deserve, with accomplishment in all that has gone before and anticipation and excitement over all that lies ahead, please pause sometime in this glorious weekend (even right this moment if you choose) and thank your Father in Heaven for His goodness, His kindness, His blessings to you.
I can’t tell you how many times I have confronted this commandment in the scriptures the last few weeks. I don’t need to rehearse all of those incidents but in doing some work in the Book of Mormon, I was referencing one of my all-time favorite scriptures, Alma 7:23, and read again there that we could ask for anything, for “whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal;” but with the proviso that we “always [return] thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive.” Prior to that I had been reading in King Benjamin’s sermon where he said to his people:
If I, whom ye call your king, who has spent his days in your service, . . . do merit any thanks from you, O how you ought to thank your heavenly King!
I say unto you . . . if you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you, . . .
. . .Yet ye would be unprofitable servants (Mosiah 2:19-21).
Then I stumbled across Alma the Elder trying to establish the Church after a tragic era of apostasy. His efforts are summarized in one short verse—a very simple two-fold formula—that says his people were “commanded . . . to pray without ceasing, and to give thanks in all things” (Mosiah 26:39). And so it went with me for day after day of my scripture study. Gratitude. Thankfulness. Appreciation. Acknowledgement. It seemed to pop up everywhere. Then it struck me that that really is about all we can give back to God who already has every possession. He who is master of the universe doesn’t need the keys to your car or your Viking sweatshirt. There is nothing you have that He doesn’t already have a lot more of. The one thing he may not have—but certainly deserves!—is your gratitude and loyalty, your appreciation and devotion, in short-your love.
So my first request of you today is to show your gratitude to God for the blessings of a wonderful life, including a magnificent experience at BYU-Idaho. In the process take time to thank others who have been His agents in providing those blessings—thank your parents and thank your teachers. Thank your friends and thank your bishop. Thank President Hinckley and President Wilkes, and the tithe-payers of the Church. Thank the groundskeepers. Thank the cafeteria staff. Thank everyone. They have all blessed you and have made your BYU-Idaho experience the precious memory it now becomes. Gratitude is something that costs you nothing and means everything to those who receive it. Be thankful! If I could sing, I would offer this hymn for all of us:
Now thank we all our God/With hearts and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things that done,/In whom His earth rejoices;
Who, from our mothers’ arms,/Hath blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love,/ and still is ours today (Hymn #95, Now Thank We All Our God).
Secondly, may I ask you to have faith in your future. We live in sobering, even dangerous, times but actually life in this world has always been a little dangerous, so we cannot and must not be paralyzed by fear. We cannot stop living life. Indeed, we should live life more fully than we have ever lived it before. After all, this is the dispensation of the fulness of times.
I say this because in recent months I have heard very fearful and even dismal opinions coming from some in your age group. I have heard that you wonder whether there is any purpose in going on a mission or getting an education or planning for a career if the world we live in is going to be so uncertain. I have even heard sweethearts say, “We don’t know whether we should get married in such uncertain times.”
Worst of all, I have heard reports of some newlyweds questioning whether they should bring children into a terror-filled world on the brink of latter-day cataclysms.
I have just two things to say to any of you who are troubled about the future. I say it lovingly and from my heart.
First, we must never, in any age or circumstance, let fear and the father of fear (Satan himself) divert us from our faith and faithful living. There have always been questions about the future. Every young person or every young couple in every era has had to walk by faith into what has always been some uncertainty—starting with Adam and Eve in those first tremulous steps out of the Garden of Eden. But that is all right. This is the plan. It will be okay. Just be faithful. God is in charge. He knows your name and He knows your need.
Our Father in Heaven expects you to have enough faith and determination, and enough trust in Him, to keep moving, keep living, keep rejoicing. In fact, He expects you not simply to face the future (that sounds pretty grim and stoic); He expects you to embrace and shape the future—to love it and rejoice in it and delight in your opportunities. God is anxiously waiting for the chance to answer your prayers and fulfill your dreams, just as He always has. So pray on, dream on, and move ahead, “with faith in every footstep.”
Third and lastly, with all of your new freedom and the prospects for a bright future, may I ask you to remember one absolutely essential lesson from the past. The example I share with you is from English history and is memorialized by the pen of the greatest writer in the history of the English language. But it is a lesson as near to you as your own life or that of the friend sitting next to you or the events of next week and next month and next year.
I speak of the confusion and ultimate destruction of a very powerful man, who was on the stage of events in that pivotal Tudor period in England when the whole world was changed because Henry VIII wanted a divorce. My, upon what small hinges the doors of personal and world history swing! In Henry’s determination to be rid of Catherine of Aragon and gain the hand of Anne Boleyn, he turned to this counselor and confidant, the second most powerful man in the British realm, the masterful Thomas Wolsey. Son of an uneducated Suffolk butcher, Wolsey’s driving ambition and immense talent brought him rapid rise through Oxford University and into the Church where he quickly became chaplain to Henry VII. Then when young Henry VIII ascended to the throne, Wolsey’s fortunes prospered even more dramatically. In addition to high church positions, including Archbishop of York and finally cardinal, he became the most influential member of the king’s Privy Council. Quickly enough he was the controlling figure in all matters of state and every political move made by his monarch. He loved display and wealth. He lived in royal splendor and reveled in his power.
Then Anne Boleyn came onto the scene. Young Henry was determined to move heaven, earth, Catherine, and church doctrine to have her, but the obstacles were near insurmountable. He told Wolsey to surmount them. Wolsey could not and did not. The failure proved to be fatal.
In spite of such a remarkable and virtually unprecedented rise to political power, Wolsey’s fall was sudden and very complete. Stripped of every office he held and all property he possessed, he was accused of treason and ordered to appear in London. In great distress he set out for the capital to be tried. On the way he fell ill and died.
With the help of William Shakespeare (who sends his congratulations to you today and asked to
be remembered), I invite you to hear Cardinal Wolsey’s “farewell” lament before leaving for London and, as it turned out, death.
Farewell! A long farewell, to all my greatness!
This is the state of man; to-day he puts forth
The tender leaves of hope; to-morrow blossoms,
And bears his blushing honours thick upon him;
The third day comes a frost, a killing frost,
And, . . . nips his root,
And then he falls, as I do. I have ventured,
Like wanton boys that swim on bladders,
These many summers in a sea of glory,
But far beyond my depth. My high-blown pride
At length broke under me and now has left me,
Weary and old with service, to the mercy
Of a rude stream that must forever hide me.
Vain pomp and glory of this world, I hate ye.
. . . O, how wretched
Is that poor man that hangs on princes’ favors!
. . . when he falls, he falls like Lucifer,
Never to hope again.
At this point his protégé Cromwell enters the room. They speak quietly, with tears, and Wolsey commands:
Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away ambition;
By that sin fell the angels. How can man then,
The image of his Maker, hope to win by it?
Love thyself last; cherish those hearts that hate thee;
Corruption wins not more than honesty.
. . . O Cromwell, Cromwell!
Had I but serv’d my God with half the zeal
I serv’d my King, he would not in mine age
Have left me naked to mine enemies . . .
Farewell the hopes of court! My hopes in heaven do dwell.
On this commencement day a once-powerful British friend issues a caution to you against that maneuvering of the ladder of success which only too late lets you discover it was leaning against the wrong wall. “Blushing honors” as the world bestows them? They are inexorably nipped by a killing frost. “High blown pride?” It will always break under us and, like children swimming in a sea of glory, we will one day find ourselves beyond our depth. Weary, old with service, life closing in disappointment and disrepute, Wolsey “falls like Lucifer, never to hope again.”
What a tragic end to such a gifted beginning! What a pathetic farewell to a life that held such promise! And where did it go wrong? It went wrong when ambition became more important than conviction; when corruption transcended fidelity; when power and wealth created a thirst for material goods that honest living could not satisfy. Could there be sadder words than these from the lips of a BYU-Idaho graduate fifty or sixty or seventy years from today: “Vain pomp and glory of this world, I hate ye. Had I but serv’d my God with half the zeal I serv’d my King [or my company or my country club or my BMW], he would not in mine age have left me naked to mine enemies.”
For BYU-Idaho students it must be the kingdom of God first and forever. Eternal possessions. The restored gospel. Family and friends. Truth and industry and love. Humility and sacrifice and faith. As you stand on the threshold of your bright and beautiful future, may heaven strip from you this very hour, this very instant, any budding taste you may be acquiring for unseemly wealth or authoritarian power or worldly acclaim. I pray you will always have money sufficient for your needs and I pray you will exert a righteous influence wherever life’s journey takes you in the business and professional world, but I ask you not to be lured by the siren song of avarice and greed, or the quest for unrighteous dominion over your fellow men and women.
Student life and student wages should have already taught you that to be happy you do not need the most expensive car, the most fashionable clothing, nor the most elegant furnishings in your home. Furthermore, in the years ahead, neither your self-esteem nor your standing before God will hinge on being at the top of the corporate pyramid.
Don’t advance yourself through compromise. Don’t feather your nest with what you’ve plucked dishonorably from another. Remember that in the end, surely God will be looking only for clean hands, not full ones.
My young friends, congratulations on this special day. I love you and I leave an apostolic blessing upon each one of you for the good lives you have led, the accomplishments you have realized, and the wonderful world that lies ahead of you. In so doing I speak as one authorized to convey to you the love of your Father in Heaven and the merciful care, now and always, of the Lord Jesus Christ. I testify of Him and the glorious gospel promises and blessings He has restored to the earth. May the teachings of that gospel, so inextricably linked with the teachings of this wonderful institution, go with you and your loved ones always and everywhere I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.