Govern Ourselves by Correct Principles

Byron Webster

 

Brigham Young University–Idaho Devotional

April 24, 2007

 

 

Brothers and sisters, before I begin I would like to teach you something.  The scriptures read in devotional are not assigned.  I asked President Clark what scripture Sister Depew was going to read and he said, “I don’t know.”  I thought everything was orchestrated so there were no mistakes.  Sister Depew was inspired to choose a scripture that fits perfectly with my message today.  I would like to read one part of the verse.  Doctrine and Covenants Section 88 verse 78: “…that you may be instructed more perfectly…in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel…” Listen to how often I use these terms today.

 

Thank you Brother Hayes for your prayer: I continue to pray and ask for your prayers in our behalf that the Holy Ghost may teach us.  I pray that what I say and what you understand is in agreement with Father in Heaven’s will.

 

Brothers and Sister I am happy to be here today; to speak of the gospel Jesus Christ, study the scriptures, and worship with you.  I want to explore some ideas about living gospel principles.

 

The context of my message is that of relationships.  Eternal Life is about relationships.  Jesus Christ prayed, “…this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”

 

Eternal life is getting to know Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and having a relationship with them.  There are other important relationships.

 

We talk about having the companionship of the Holy Ghost or having a relationship with the Spirit of God.  Most of the Savior’s teachings focus on how we relate to each others whether it be a man who falls among thieves; a prodigal son; or someone who is indebted to us.  And we know that family relationships are central to the gospel.

Keep the context of relationships in mind by thinking about how the ideas I discuss apply to how you relate to all people.

 

On November 15th, 1851 the Millennial Star printed this quote by President John Taylor: “Some years ago, in Nauvoo, a gentleman in my hearing, a member of the Legislature, asked Joseph Smith how it was that he was enabled to govern so many people, and to preserve such perfect order…Mr. Smith remarked that it was very easy to do...  “How?” responded the gentleman; “to us it is very difficult.”  Mr. Smith replied,

 “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.”  (“The Organization of the Church,” Millennial Star, Nov. 15, 1851,339)

I have chosen this statement by the Prophet Joseph Smith as the text for my sermon today.  First I will discuss principles.  Then I will look at teaching and learning correct principles and finally I will consider some examples of how we can govern our lives by applying correct principles.

 

Webster’s Dictionary defines a principle as: A rule of conduct; the scientific law explaining a natural action; the method of a thing’s operation.

 

Today when I refer to principles I mean a rule of conduct based on laws.

I will use this model to help in my discussion: a principle is a rule of conduct based on law that we can apply in our lives.

 

We apply principles in our lives everyday.  Many times we are not even aware that we are applying principles.  They are just part of what we do.

 

Before I talk about eternal, gospel principles I want to describe a principle of physical science and make a comparison between to two. I will describe the principle of the Inclined Plane or a ramp.  I apologize to my friends in the Physics Department for my simplistic explanation of this principle.

 

There are laws of physics that govern how much energy is required to lift an object to a specific height.  If we want to get a barrel of punch up on a table for the ward party, it is going to take a certain amount of energy.  There is no way to change that amount of energy.  However, there are laws of energy that can help us make the effort easier.

Energy has two aspects: one is the force we put into the effort and the other is the distance over which we exert that force.  By applying the principle of the inclined plane or using a ramp we do not change the amount of energy required to get the barrel up on the table.  We produce the same amount of energy but exert a smaller force over a longer distance.

Therefore we can either try to lift the barrel straight up, applying all of the energy at one time and at one place or we can apply the principle of the  inclined plane by rolling the barrel up a ramp, spreading the force over a greater distance and making the effort easier.

By the way, that is punch in those barrels.

 

The Egyptians applied the principle of the Inclined Plane when they built the pyramids.

We apply this principle when we take the gradual path up the mountain instead of scaling the face.  Scaling the face is the shorter distance but takes more force.  Taking the path is easier, scaling the face is harder.

 

This is a simple explanation of the relationship between a principle, the laws and the application. The principle of the inclined plane is based upon laws of energy, force, and distance we apply this principle by using a ramp or finding a natural ramp such as the gradual path up a mountain. Applying correct principles can make life easier.

 

Recall the definition of a principle: a rule of conduct based on law.

There are physical laws and there are spiritual laws.

 

Gospel principles are based on the spiritual laws, doctrines and commandments of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We apply gospel principles when we obey these laws, doctrines and commandments.

 

I would like you to recite with me the first principle of the gospel.

 

To prepare you to participate I want to do a warm up exercise.  I am going to spell some three letter syllables and I want you to pronounce these syllables quickly and loudly.  You don’t need to shout, just speak up so I can hear you.  Are you ready?

Here is the first syllable: TWA.  That wasn’t very loud or quick.  Ok everyone again, loudly and quickly: TWA, TWE, TWI, TWU, TWO.  I just wanted to see if you were paying attention.

 

Now let’s recite the first principle of the gospel. This is not a trick.  Think of the forth Article of Faith.  I will begin the statement and all of you will help me finish it.  Here is the statement: The first principle of the gospel is - faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Yes, the first, basic principle of the gospel is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  That principle, along with all other principle of the gospel is based upon laws and doctrines such as: Jesus Christ is the only begotten of the Father.  He is our Savior and Redeemer. He atoned for our sins, mistakes, and weaknesses.  He has all knowledge and power.  By His grace, mercy and power He can cleans us, forgive us, and help us.  By His power we can do all things.

 

When we seek to understand these laws and doctrines, gain a spiritual witness of His divinity, and obey His commandments we are able to exercise faith in Him.

When we apply the principle of faith, we can do all things in compliance with His will.

 

There is a difference between applying principles of physical science, like the inclined plane, and eternal, gospel principles, such as faith.  To apply a principle of physical science we do not necessarily need to know and understand the laws upon which it is based.

To apply the principle of the inclined plane we don’t need to know this formula –

Energy = force X the distance through which the force is applied.

We just know that it is easier to use a ramp.

 

The difference is that in order to receive the exalting, saving blessings of living gospel principles we must know something of the doctrines, laws and commandments of God.  To exercise faith in Jesus Christ we must have some idea that He is a being in whom we can exercise that faith.

Most people try to be polite and live principles of kindness, patience, and honesty and therefore be good citizens of society.  But if we only live these principles to be good citizens we are not keeping the covenants we have made to always remember the Savior.  Honesty is not just the best policy, it is a correct principle based on commandments.

To receive the miraculous power of the principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, charity and the other saving principles of the gospel we must know something of the god in whom that power resides.  We must come unto Christ and experience the power of His atonement in our lives.

 

To further explore the relationship between doctrine and principles please turn to the 30th chapter in the book of Alma.

The Prophet Joseph said he taught correct principles.  We also know that there are incorrect principles based on false doctrines.

In the 30th chapter of Alma we read just a little of the false doctrine taught by Korihor.

 

We will begin reading with the 12th verse.

12. And this Anti-Christ, whose name was Korihor…began to preach unto the people that there should be no Christ.  And after this manner did he preach, saying:

13. O ye that are bound down under a foolish and a vain hope, why do ye yoke yourselves with such foolish things?  Why do ye look for a Christ?

For no man can know of anything which is to come.

15. How do ye know of their surety?  Behold, ye cannot know of things which ye do not see; therefore ye cannot know that there shall be a Christ. (Alma 30:12-15)

The falseness of these doctrines is obvious to us.  When he said, “there should be no Christ” he was teaching that all of the laws, doctrines and commandments of Jesus Christ do not exist and that men are on their own with no divine help.  When he said “For no man can know of anything which is to come,” he taught that there is no revelation.

And when he said, “Ye cannot know of things which ye do not see,” he taught that there can be no faith.

 

 Now let’s read verse 17 and see what incorrect principles Korihor taught based on these false doctrines.

17. And many more such things did he say unto them, telling them that there could be no atonement made for the sins of men, but every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime.  (Alma 30:17)

 

Based on the false doctrines that there is no Christ and no atonement, no revelation and no faith; Korihor taught that men control their own destiny by living principles of management, genius, and strength.  What we become in this life depends upon how well we manage our lives; how smart we are, and how much strength we have.

 

You don’t have to imagine how the people in Korihor’s time applied these principles because we see the results of living these incorrect principles in our society all the time.  Today many people believe that if they have enough power, money, intellect, or strength they can do whatever they want.  They live incorrect principles based on false doctrines.

 

In order to live correct principles we must know and understand the true laws, doctrines, and commandments upon which those principles are based.  Remember the definition of a principle: a rule of conduct based on law.

Those laws must be true, eternal laws.

 

Therefore we need to talk about the Prophet Joseph’s statement that he taught correct principles.  We also need to consider our obligation to learn correct principles.

We are continually encouraged and, in fact, commanded to study the scriptures and teachings of the prophets, ancient and modern.  We make covenants to learn and live the laws and doctrines of the gospel as contained in the Holy Scriptures.  We learn the doctrine not only by study but also by faith.

 

We learn by study as we read and immerse our selves in the words of the prophets.  However, knowing the gospel is not enough.  President Spencer W. Kimball said, "Man cannot discover God or His ways by mere mental processes."  (Spencer W. Kimball, Absolute Truth, BYU devotional address, September 6, 1977)

We must also learn by faith.

Since faith is a principle of action, we learn by faith as we live the principles of the gospel and experience the evidence of their correctness.

 The Holy Ghost, the only true teacher, testifies to us that what we are doing is right.

The Savior said, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” (John 7:17) We learn by study and also by faith.

 

Elder Dallin H. Oaks has taught that it isn’t enough just to know the doctrine and obey the commandments.  It’s not just what we know and do that is important.  He taught that the reason we learn and live the principles of the gospel is so we can become different beings.  We learn and live the gospel so that our very nature can change and become like Jesus Christ.  That can only happen as we live in a way that our hearts can be changed.

(See Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “The Challenge to Become,” Ensign Nov. 2000, 32)

 

Are we every going to forget the graphic lesson taught by Elder Bendar in the parable of the pickle?  We become different beings as we immerse ourselves in learning and living gospel principles.

Brothers and sisters, we are obligated, commanded, and covenanted to know the laws, doctrines, and commandments of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We are then obligated, commanded, and covenanted to apply gospel principles in our lives, by faith, in a way that Christ can change our nature and help us become like Him.

 

I would now like to give some examples of how we govern ourselves by correctly applying correct principles.  Let me caution you not to miss the lesson I am teaching by focusing too much on the topics of the stories.

The topics of the stories are repentance, forgiveness, and conflict resolution but the lesson being taught is how to apply correct principles correctly.

 

First I will read an experience of a former bishop.

 

Bishop Robert Millet told this experience in the forward of a book he wrote entitled “By Grace Are Ye Saved.”  The topic is repentance.

I’m quoting:

 

Some years ago I sat in my office just before sacrament meeting was to start.  A young woman from my ward knocked on the door and said she would like to visit with me for a moment.  I told her we could chat for a bit but that sacrament meeting would be starting soon.  She assured me that this would only take a minute or two.

After we had been seated she said: “Bishop, I need to confess a sin.”

I was startled with the suddenness of the statement and offered the

following: “Well, that could take some time, couldn’t it?  Shall we meet after the block of meetings today?”

She quickly responded: “Oh no! This will just take a second.”

I asked her to go ahead and she proceeded to describe in some detail a very serious moral transgression in which she had been involved.  It was now about one minute before the meetings were to start, so I tried again:

“Why don’t we meet together after Priesthood and Relief Society meetings.”

She then staggered me by saying, “Well, I don’t know why we would need to, unless it would be helpful to you, or something.”

I indicated that such a meeting might prove beneficial to both of us and she agreed to return.

Three hours later we sat in my office and I asked her, “How do you feel about what has happened?”

She responded, “Just fine.” I must have shown my perplexity, because she

added: “For a number of hours I felt bad about what happened, but it’s okay now because I’ve repented.”

I couldn’t ask her the question fast enough, “What do you mean when you say that you have repented?”  (She had explained to me earlier that the transgression had taken place on Friday night, and it was now Sunday

afternoon.)

She reached into her purse and pulled out a yellow sheet of paper.

Pointing one by one to various headings that began with R, she said, “I’ve done this, and this, and this and this, and finally I’ve confessed to you.

 I’ve repented.”

“It seems to me that you’ve skipped an R, that your list is missing something,” I said.

A startled but persistent look was in her eyes, and I noted a slight impatience with me as she said, “No, that can’t be. I have everything listed here!”

The R you’re missing,” I responded “is Redeemer.  You have no place for Christ on your list.  I mean, what does Jesus Christ have to do with your transgression?  What does what happened in Gethsemane and on Calvary some two thousand years ago have to do with what happened to you two nights ago?”

She answered: “Jesus died for me.  He died for my sins.”

To almost every question I asked thereafter about the Atonement she gave a perfect answer – at least, a perfectly correct answer.  She had been well trained, and her answers reflected an awareness of the doctrines associated with repentance.  But the answers were all totally cerebral, straight from memory and mind –not from the heart.  She obviously saw not real tie between her own ungodly actions and the infinite actions of a God.  We spent several hours that day and many days thereafter – searching the scriptures, praying together, and counseling over the way back to the straight and narrow path.  She came, in time, to know the correct answers

-           this time by feeling, that is, from the heart.

(Robert L. Millet, By Grace Are Ye Saved, Bookcraft, Inc. SLC, 1989, introduction)

 

This young woman understood the doctrine by learning but not by faith.  I don’t want to be too hard on her.  She did have a sincere heart and was faithful in following the counsel of her bishop and did come to know the Savior and eventually repent.  However, even though she was sincere in her effort to repent it seems that she was ignorantly applying the incorrect principles taught by Korihor.  She acted as though she prospered according to her own genius and intellect.  She thought that if she did certain things she would be forgiven.  She believed that she could control the repentance process by her own actions not by faith in the Savior.

 

Here is experience by another bishop.  This story was reported in the LDS Church News in February of this year.  The topic is forgiveness.

I’m quoting the report:

 

Before the dust settled from the wreck that took the lives of his pregnant wife and two of his children on February 9th, Bishop Chris Williams knew that the first thing he had to do was forgive the driver who had crashed his vehicle into the Williams family’s sedan.

“As a disciple of Christ, I had no other choice,” said the bishop of the Crystal Heights Ward, Salt Lake Highland Stake.  Referring to the

scripture: “Of you it is required to forgive all men,” Bishop Williams said, “As I understand that statement, it is not an option whether or not I forgive somebody.  It is commandment.”

 

He said that in the moments after the accident, he looked around inside the car and he knew that his wife, Michelle, and two of their children, Ben, 11, and Anna, 9, had died in the crash.

He remembered the sealing ordinances of the temple and said, “I wanted to make sure that I would live in such a way that I’ll have the right to be with my family for eternity…The last thing that I wanted to do in that moment when I realized that my wife and children had passed was to break a commandment.  Really, as a disciple of Christ, I had no other choice but to forgive.”

At that moment he decided to unconditionally forgive the driver of the other vehicle.

 

Isn’t that a beautiful experience of someone who understands the very real, eternal, and practical application of gospel principles?

He knew the doctrine and applied correct principles.

 

This experience of Bishop Williams reminds me of two principles about living principles.

The first is that as we commit to live correct principles we receive the Lord’s grace, His enabling power, to live the principle.  I don’t believe that Bishop Williams had the ability on his own to forgive the driver of the other car.  The only way he could do that is through the grace and mercy of the Savior.  In the 12th chapter of Either the Lord told Moroni:

 “…my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” (Ether 12:27)

 

I bear testimony that as we live correct principles we will experience the hand of God in our lives.  He will help us do the right thing.

 

The other principle about living principles is that of “It Mattereth Not.”

By immediately forgiving the other driver Bishop Williams was saying, “It mattereth not what anyone else has done.  It doesn’t matter how I feel or what I think.  It doesn’t matter how absolutely devastated I am because of my loss.  What matters is that I live the principle of forgiveness right here, right now.”

 

The phrase “it mattereth not” is found throughout the scriptures and is an expression of faith.  I would like to read a scripture that helps us see how this principle applies to relationships.  The topic of this scripture is conflict resolution.

 

Before we read the scripture I would like to say something about our fallen nature.  As I have counseled with families over the years there is one characteristic that seems to be consistent with many of them.  This is not too profound, it’s not a secret we all know that most people want to have their own way.  They don’t know what to do if thing don’t go their way.  They don’t know how to handle disappointment.  They complain, argue, fight, criticize, whine, cry, and even kick and scream.  Some withdraw and leave the relationship.  They are so prideful and selfish that they won’t consider changing themselves to resolve conflict.

 

Now would you please turn to the 61st chapter of Alma.  You are familiar with this account.  The king-men had caused contention and war among the Nephites in Zarahemla while the armies of Moroni were away fighting the Laminites.  Moroni had written to the chief judge, Pahoran, asking for more soldiers and supplies.  When he didn’t receive the support he had asked for Moroni became angry and wrote to Pahoran again.  This time he chastised Pahoran, blamed him of neglect and even treason.  He said Pahoran was sitting upon his throne in a state of “thoughtless stupor.”  He blamed him for the deaths of the soldiers.  He threatened to come to Zarahimla and kill anyone who would not help defend the freedom of their country.  Moroni got very personal and nasty with Pahoran.

Pahoran’s response to Moroni was in the same spirit of faithful obedience as was Bishop Williams’.  In the 61st chapter of Alma look at verse 2. 

 “I, Pahoran, who am the chief governor of this land, do send these words unto Moroni, the chief captain over the army.  Behold, I say unto you, Moroni, that I do not joy in your great afflictions, yea, it grieves my soul.” (Alma 61:2)

He goes on to tell about how the king-men had rebelled and started a war against the government.

Now look at verse 5:

 

“And behold, they have driven me out before them and I have fled to the land of Gideon, with as many men as it were possible that I could get.”  (Alma 61:5)

 

Now for the verse that impresses me the most in this whole account verse 9:

“And now, in your epistle you have censured me, but it mattereth not; I am not angry, but do rejoice in the greatness of your heart.”  (Alma 61:9)

 

Brothers and sisters, if there was ever anyone who had a right to be offended, angry, and defensive it would be Pahoran at this time.  Moroni had made some serious accusations and threats toward him.  I would think that Pahoran would be justified in saying, “Moroni, you are such a jerk.

You don’t know what you’re talking about.  You are a judgmental, pious bully.  I’m doing everything I can to hold the government together so you can have any support at all and all you can do is carp, complain, and criticize.”

But that was not his response.  This great saint knew, as Bishop Williams knew, that he must continue to live the principles of the gospel, especially at this crucial time, no matter what.

 

I also find it interesting that Pahoran did not ignore Moroni’s verbal attack but recognized Moroni’s frustration and complemented him for his “greatness of heart.”

Remember Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s wonderful counsel at the last general conference when he commanded us to speak with the tongues of angles; to be positive and uplifting.  Maybe Pahoran had read a scripture similar to the one Elder Holland quoted:

“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but [only] that which is good… [and] edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.

“And grieve not the holy Spirit of God…

“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you… “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”  (Ephesians 4:29-32)

 

Or maybe he had been taught the lesson we have in the Doctrine and

Covenants:  Please turn to the 121st section of the Doctrine and Covenants.

We will begin reading in the last part of verse 36.

36 … the powers of heaven cannot be controlled or handled only upon the principles of righteousness. (D&C 121:36)

Now go to verse 41:

41. No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the Priesthood, (and I would add by virtue of power, money, management, genius, or strength) only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; 42. By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile. (D&C 121:41,42)

 

Pahoran spoke with the tongue of an angle.  And so should we.

 

President David O. McKay said, “Never must there be expressed in a Latter-day Saint home an oath, an expression of anger or jealousy or hatred.  Control it!  Do not express it!  You do what you can to express peace and harmony, no matter what you may suffer.”   (David O. McKay, General Conference, April 7, 1963)

 

The Proclamation on the Family states that, “Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.”  We should live these principles, along with all other gospel principles in our homes, no matter what.

 

Relationships are not about who has the most money, power, genius or strength.  We come to know God by how we treat one another, how we live the principles of the gospel.

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God and they neighbor as thyself.

 

Brothers and sisters how do you govern yourselves?  What principles do you apply in your life?   What beliefs and doctrines are those principles founded upon? 

 

I ask you a similar question that Bishop Millet asked the young woman in his office: what does Jesus Christ have to do with your life?  What does what happened in Gethsemane and on Calvary some two thousand years ago have to do with what you do today, here and now?

The answer is that He has everything to do with everything you do.  He has everything to do with how you treat your wife, your husband, your children, your roommates, and even the proverbial store clerk who waits on you.

 

I bear testimony that I know God is our Eternal Father.  Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer.  He has revealed unto us His gospel with true doctrines, laws, and commandments.  I pray that we all know His will for us and live the correct principles that will bring us to Him.  That we will do this here and now no matter what is my prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.