Our Covenants Are Our Protection
Paul V. Johnson
Brigham Young University–Idaho Devotional
November 20, 2001
It is great to be with you here today at BYU–Idaho. My first exposure to this campus was when I was a missionary over twenty-eight years ago. In those days they had part of the Missionary Training Center here--then called the LTM, or Language Training Mission. Some of the missionaries lived in the dorms, and we had our classes in classrooms on campus. After returning from the mission field I attended school here and graduated. Three of our children have graduated from Ricks College, and they loved their time here.
Over time, this campus has experienced some changes. The campus is more beautiful now and is home to some wonderful new buildings. Since I graduated from Ricks, the student body has grown; even the name has changed! Despite the changes, some things remain constant--the low temperatures, for example, and the strong Rexburg wind. The personal attention of the faculty and staff and what we used to call "the spirit of Ricks" haven't changed, and it's good that those things remain.
It has been exciting to be a spectator and watch the transformation to BYU–Idaho. These changes are prompted by a prophetic view of this school and the needs of the kingdom. The Lord has a way to have the right people in place when He needs to make changes. President David A. Bednar has been raised up and is the right person in place "for such a time as this" (Esther 4:14). It isn't just President Bednar, though. The administrators and the faculty are the right people that can make these bold changes work and create this "new" university.
In one of his books, President Spencer W. Kimball quoted F. M. Bareham. At the beginning of the twentieth century Bareham wrote:
"A century ago [in 1809] men were following with bated breath the march of Napoleon and waiting with feverish impatience for news of the wars. And all the while in their homes babies were being born. But who could think about babies? Everybody was thinking about battles.
"In one year between Trafalgar and Waterloo there stole into the world a host of heroes: Gladstone was born in Liverpool; Tennyson at the Somersby Rectory; and Oliver Wendell Holmes in Massachusetts. Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky, and music was enriched by the advent of Felix Mendelssohn in Hamburg. . . .
"But nobody thought of babies, everybody was thinking of battles. Yet which of the battles of 1809 mattered more than the babies of 1809? We fancy God can manage His world only with great battalions, when all the time he is doing it with beautiful babies.
"When a wrong wants righting, or a truth wants preaching, or a continent wants discovering, God sends a baby into the world to do it" (in Faith Precedes the Miracle , 323).
Not many years ago you were the babies of the world. You are now on your way to making a difference on the earth and in the kingdom. Some of you will be well known. Many won't be well known, but will be just as important in the work of the Lord. As you face your future, I'd like to discuss the impact that making and keeping covenants has on you and the path you will follow through life.
We've heard the definition of a covenant as a two-way promise or an agreement between two parties. That is true, but the Bible Dictionary clarifies an important point about covenants between God and man. It says that ". . . in this . . . case it is important to notice that the two parties to the agreement do not stand in the relation of independent and equal contractors. God in his good pleasure fixes the terms, which man accepts" ("covenant," 651). We don't set the terms or "bargain" with the Lord when it comes to His covenants with us.
You might have heard of missionaries who promise the Lord to do increasingly difficult things if the Lord will positively provide people for them to baptize. This is sometimes even referred to as "covenanting." This seems to be an improper approach to missionary work. In the first place we are in no position to tell the Lord what blessings we should get from a covenant we have set the terms for, and in the second place we can't control other peoples' agency. We can't "force" people to be baptized on our time line, and the Lord won't. They have their agency. It can be proper to make covenants of what we will do, but it doesn't seem proper to try to extract a certain blessing from the Lord by setting the terms of a covenant.
The Anti-Nephi-Lehis made a solemn covenant not to take up their weapons of war because of their concern for the welfare of their own souls. Their covenant came as a result of their conversion, and yet, the covenant they made was focused on what they would do, not on what they expected from the Lord. It would have been improper for them to covenant to lay down their weapons and even bury them if, for example, they expected the Lord would promise to always protect them from their enemies.
The Bible Dictionary further notes, "The gospel is so arranged that principles and ordinances are received by covenant placing the recipient under strong obligation and responsibility to honor the commitment." This is a pattern. There are covenants connected with principles and ordinances of the gospel.
The Lord honors His covenants. In Psalm 89:34 we read, "My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips."
Think of how many billions of people have lived on the earth. The Lord has never broken His covenants with one of them. He has never withheld the promised blessings from one person who has been true to his covenants. What are the chances that you or I would be the first He withheld promises from? It will never happen. If we keep our covenants then the promises are sure. He is the same "yesterday, today, and forever" (Mormon 9:9).
He tells us in the Doctrine and Covenants 82:10, "I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise."
Let's look at the covenants associated with the sacrament for an example. We covenant to be willing to take upon us the name of the Son, to always remember Him, and to keep His commandments. We are promised that we may always have His Spirit to be with us (see D&C 20:77). If the Lord always keeps His covenants, then those who do take upon them the name of the Son, always remember Him, and keep His commandments will have the blessings of the Spirit in their lives. We can count on it. Each of us has this blessing as we keep this covenant.
There are promises associated with each covenant the Lord has given to us. We can listen carefully for the promises. If you have been through the temple you can participate again in the different ordinances performed there and listen carefully to the promises given as part of the covenants. Thinking of those marvelous blessings is almost overwhelming. They can be ours. They will be ours if we keep our covenants. There is no gamble here; it is sure.
Listening or pondering on the promises associated with the covenants of the Lord can help us realize that the blessings far outweigh any efforts we make to keep our covenants. This is only possible because of the Savior's Atonement. Pondering those promises helps us understand more fully the tender mercies of God. We can never earn the blessings that are so richly poured out on us when we are obedient. When we experience the great blessings that are ours, it is natural to "stand all amazed" (see Hymns, no. 193).
Keeping covenants helps us be more like the Savior. His life was the perfect example of covenant keeping as he carried out His Father's will. The Savior said in John 6:38, "For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me." When we are making and keeping sacred covenants, we are doing the will of the Father and the Son.
If we make the covenants in our lives that lead to eternal life, and then keep them, we will receive eternal life. We will also have the joy that accompanies righteous living.
How can the adversary stop us from obtaining these blessings? He can't. But he will use every effort to get us to forfeit these blessings. First, he will try to convince us not to make the essential covenants with the Lord. Many missionaries have experienced the heartache of investigators who have testimonies but decide not to be baptized, depriving themselves of promised blessings.
Next, Satan tempts us to enter into our covenants unworthily. Elder Russell M. Nelson taught: "To enter the temple is a tremendous blessing. But first we must be worthy. We should not be rushed. We cannot cut corners of preparation and risk the breaking of covenants we were not prepared to make. That would be worse than not making them at all" (in Conference Report, Mar.-Apr. 2001, 40; or Ensign, May 2001, 32).
And finally, if we have made covenants worthily, the adversary tries to convince us to break those covenants. We can be comforted that he can't force us to break our covenants. He can't force us to enter covenants unworthily, and he can't prevent us from making eternal covenants when we have been taught and know they are right. Because of our agency, we make the decisions in these areas. The Lord will help us keep our covenants.
When we break covenants, we choose to do so. The adversary will try any method he can to get us to break our covenants. He will tempt us. He will promote subtle and not so subtle false doctrines, which, if we believe, will lead us to commit sins or, in other words, break our covenants. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: "The devil has no power over us only as we permit him. The moment we revolt at anything which comes from God, the devil takes power" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith , 181).
The teachings of the different anti-Christs in the Book of Mormon produced interesting results among their followers. Those who believed the teachings ended up in sin.
Korihor taught in Alma 30:23-24: "Because I do not teach the foolish traditions of your fathers, and because I do not teach this people to bind themselves down under the foolish ordinances and performances which are laid down by ancient priests, to usurp power and authority over them, to keep them in ignorance, that they may not lift up their heads, but be brought down according to thy words.
"Ye say that this people is a free people. Behold, I say they are in bondage. Ye say that those ancient prophecies are true. Behold, I say that ye do not know that they are true." Can you sense that these teachings, if believed, might turn a person to think that covenants are a burden? What a dangerous and false thought!
Elder Russell M. Nelson taught further: "With each ordinance is a covenant--a promise. A covenant made with God is not restrictive, but protective. . . . When we choose to deny ourselves of all ungodliness, we lose nothing of value and gain the glory of eternal life. Covenants do not hold us down; they elevate us beyond the limits of our own power and perspective" (in Conference Report, Mar.-Apr. 2001, 42; or Ensign, May 2001, 34).
Korihor also taught other false doctrines, like "whatsoever a man did was no crime" and "when a man was dead, that was the end thereof" (Alma 30:17-18).
Not only did the people who believed him sin, but they lifted up "their heads in their wickedness, yea, leading away many women, and also men, to commit whoredoms" (Alma 30:18). Does that sound like anything in our world today? Can you think of serious sins that people are actually flaunting in the media today and even in parades?
Our safety lies in making sure we don't do anything to break our covenants. If something is taught and accepted by the world but is contrary to the promises we have made, we must resist it with all our might. If we can keep our mind and heart focused on what we have covenanted and then be true to that, we will find great joy. Our standard of behavior becomes the promises we've made and the commandments the Lord has given, not the world's degenerating definition of propriety.
One of Satan's subtle messages is that the promised blessings won't actually come. We can't control the timing of the blessings, but they will come. Part of the test is to see if we will remain strong when the promises haven't yet been fulfilled. The promises extend into the eternities; even though we don't see the total fulfillment in this life, the faithful will experience all the blessings promised.
Think of Abraham and Sarah. They had been given the promise of a vast posterity. They were very old, and the promise seemed impossible to fulfill. They remained true, and the Lord blessed them miraculously with a son. What would have happened if their faith had wavered and they had broken their covenants? What a tragedy that would have been.
I wonder how many members of the Church have wavered and broken their covenants because the promised blessings weren't on the time line they had envisioned. How many tragedies could have been averted if they had just held on!
Elder Neal M. Maxwell said: "Since faith in the timing of the Lord may be tried, let us learn to say not only, 'Thy will be done,' but patiently also, 'Thy timing be done.'" (in Conference Report, Mar.-Apr. 2001, 76; or Ensign, May 2001, 59).
I think of faithful women in the Church who have not had the chance to be married to a worthy man in the temple. They are so careful not to break their covenants because they know that if they are faithful to their covenants they will receive all the promised blessings. Nothing will be withheld from them. But if they give up and break their covenants and cease living the gospel, then those great promises are no longer theirs.
We shouldn't make decisions about being faithful based on the immediate consequences.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego kept their covenants and refused to worship the idol Nebuchadnezzar had set up. He confronted them and told them what would happen if they refused to worship the image: "If ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?" (Daniel 3:15).
Listen to their answer: "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.
"If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.
"But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up" (vv. 16-18).
"But if not." Think of what those three words represent. These three young men were not basing their obedience on the hope of deliverance. Even if they were not to be delivered, their behavior would be the same. They would not break their covenants!
Each of us will be tested thoroughly to determine if we will keep the covenants we have made in the face of pressure, persecution, and temptation. We can be like these three young men and keep our covenants no matter what we face. Our situations may not be as dramatic but will also test us to the limit. The great news is that the Lord will help us keep those covenants if we are committed and willing.
The covenants we make are between us and the Lord. No one else can keep us from being exalted. I repeat: No one else can keep us from being exalted. It may seem comfortable to put the responsibility on someone else, but ultimately only we will be accountable for our choices. Even those with spouses who break their covenants will receive all the promised blessings if they themselves remain true and faithful.
You may have met someone who isn't involved in the Church anymore because they have been offended or feel they haven't been treated right there. Remember, our covenants are between us and the Lord. When we covenanted to "serve him and keep his commandments" (Mosiah 18:10) at our baptism, I don't know of any provisos such as, "As long as everyone is nice to me" or "If the bishop doesn't tell me to do something I don't want to do" or "If it doesn't put me out too much." We made a serious covenant to keep His commandments. We will be judged on how well we keep our covenants.
Keeping our covenants is independent of our situation. It doesn't matter if we are in a group, together with another person on a date, or all alone. We will keep our covenants and then reap the blessings. Pressure from others or the enticings of the world won't be the determining factor in our choices because we know what we have promised to do and what we have promised not to do, and we will live up to those promises.
What we want most can only be obtained by making and keeping covenants with the Lord. We all want peace in our lives. We all want to be happy. We want love and acceptance. We want a family. We want the riches of eternity. We want to be with loved ones forever.
One of the great ironies in life is that so many people try to obtain happiness and peace and these other blessings in ways that can't work. The only way to truly obtain these desires is by making and keeping the Lord's covenants. In fact, if we are willing to do that, there are no limits to our promises. We are even promised all that the Father hath (see D&C 84:38).
Elder Boyd K. Packer taught: "Ordinances and covenants become our credentials for admission into His presence. To worthily receive them is the quest of a lifetime; to keep them thereafter is the challenge of mortality" (in Conference Report, Apr. 1987, 27; or Ensign, May 1987, 24).
All the promises associated with our covenants are made possible by the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I testify that He lives. The kingdom has been restored in latter-days with the priesthood on the earth to officiate in the ordinances and covenants that are necessary for our exaltation. I know that we are led by prophets, seers, and revelators.
In Doctrine and Covenants 35:24 there is a powerful promise: "Keep all the commandments and covenants by which ye are bound; and I will cause the heavens to shake for your good, and Satan shall tremble and Zion shall rejoice upon the hills and flourish." May this be our lot as we diligently keep our covenants. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.