Chapter 18: Virtue—a Cornerstone on Which to Build Our Lives

During 2017, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The quotes from Hinckley are in bold, with my comments following. If you would like to see the church manual online, go here. Latter-day Saints study this material on the second and third Sundays of each month (thus, chapters 1-2 are January, chapter 3-4 are February, etc.)

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley, 2016

Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley

Virtuous living brings marvelous and wonderful blessings.

There is nothing in all this world as magnificent as virtue. It glows without tarnish. It is precious and beautiful. It is above price. It cannot be bought or sold. It is the fruit of self-mastery.

Is there a valid case for virtue? It is the only way to freedom from regret. The peace of conscience which flows therefrom is the only personal peace that is not counterfeit.

And beyond all of this is the unfailing promise of God to those who walk in virtue. Declared Jesus of Nazareth, speaking on the mountain, “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). That is a covenant, made by Him who has the power to fulfill.

You should recognize, you must recognize, that both experience and divine wisdom dictate virtue and moral cleanliness as the way that leads to strength of character, peace in the heart, and happiness in life.

Let virtue be a cornerstone on which to build your lives.

The Bible teaches that virtue is a good thing. The key is integrity. When I was a high school teacher, a student came into my class and wanted to know if I wanted to hear her thesis statement for an essay she was planning to write for her English class. It went something like this: Integrity is what you do when nobody is looking. What a great way to think about it. After all, it’s easier to do the right thing when others are looking. But when they are not looking…

The apostle Paul writes in Romans 12:1-2,

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

As Christians, it is important to remember that it is impossible to “discern” God’s “perfect and pleasing will” (NIV) unless we are not conformed to the ways of the world. Throughout this chapter, you will not hear me disagree with the idea that God intends for us to do the right thing and obey His moral law.

When we rise above the filth and immorality of the world, we enjoy greater happiness, security, and peace of mind.

As we look out over the world, it seems that morality has been cast aside. The violation of old standards has become common. Studies, one after another, show that there has been an abandonment of time-tested principles. Self-discipline has been forgotten, and promiscuous indulgence has become widespread.

But, my dear friends, we cannot accept that which has become common in the world. Yours, as members of this Church, is a higher standard and more demanding. It declares as a voice from Sinai that thou shalt not indulge. You must keep control of your desires.

Paul’s words to the Corinthian Saints are as applicable to us today as they were to those to whom he wrote. Said he:

“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

“If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1 Corinthians 3:16–17).

Instead of 1 Corinthians 3, which is speaking about the plural body (the church) and is not a good supporting reference for Hinckley’s point, a better text is 1 Cor. 6:19. We can know this as well because the “ye” (translated “you yourselves” in the NIV) is plural, not singular. A minor point, but it does matter for he has taken 1 Cor. 3 out of context!

Again Paul’s counsel to Timothy, “Keep thyself pure” (1 Tim. 5:22).

Those are simple words. But they are ever so important. Paul is saying, in effect, stay away from those things which will tear you down and destroy you spiritually. Stay away from television shows which lead to unclean thoughts and unclean language. Stay away from videos which will lead to evil thoughts. They won’t help you. They will only hurt you. Stay away from books and magazines which are sleazy and filthy in what they say and portray. Keep thyself pure.

It’s a major problem for everyone (including Christians) and not just Mormons. We live in a very difficult and tempting world. Temptations are so much more “in your face” than they were at the time when Hinckley said this several decades ago. Instead of “television shows” or “videos”—and how many people today are reading books and magazines?—we have so much temptation available at our fingertips. It’s very easy to find new ways to sin.

Marriage is ordained of God, marriage between a man and a woman. It is the institution under which He designed that children should come into the world. Sexual relationships under any other circumstances become transgression and are totally at odds with the teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We believe in chastity before marriage and total fidelity after marriage. That sums it up. That is the way to happiness in living. That is the way to satisfaction. It brings peace to the heart and peace to the home.

I find this citation placed in a 2016 manual an interesting choice since the LDS Church has taken lumps for the homosexual issue. Ever since their support of Prop 8 in California, church leaders have gone out of their way to be as noncontroversial as possible. They even came up with a website that declares “God loves his children.” Perhaps they think nonmembers will never see this paragraph. But including this statement in the Hinckley manual is a bit risky, I would think. I would admire the church leadership for its stand, but then it seems to be contradicted by other church statements made in the last few years that seem to soften its stance on homosexuality.

We live in a day when some Protestant churches even sidle up to the culture and declare that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality, including homosexual marriage. Yet Hebrews 13:4 continues to declare, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” Someone might suggest that this verse is true as long as homosexual unions are included, but such an idea is a twist from what the original author meant. (Imagine, we wouldn’t be having this conversation even a decade ago, it’s changed that fast!) The only marriage union known by the writer and the Christian church for 2,000 was marriage between a man and a woman.

No family can have peace, no life can be free from the storms of adversity unless that family and that home are built on foundations of morality, fidelity, and mutual respect. There cannot be peace where there is not trust; there cannot be freedom where there is not loyalty. The warm sunlight of love will not rise out of a swamp of immorality.

I believe that it should be the blessing of every child to be born into a home where that child is welcomed, nurtured, loved, and blessed with parents, a father and a mother, who live with loyalty to one another and to their children. … Stand strong against the wiles of the world. The creators of our entertainment, the purveyors of much of our literature, would have you believe otherwise. The accumulated wisdom of centuries declares with clarity and certainty that the greater happiness, the greater security, the greater peace of mind, the deeper reservoirs of love are experienced only by those who walk according to time-tested standards of virtue before marriage and total fidelity within marriage.

We live in a world of filth and immorality and trouble. Rise above it, stand taller, leave the world behind you, and walk as the Lord would have you walk.

Again, I don’t disagree.

Pornography is addictive and destructive, but we can rise above it.

I rather reluctantly speak to a theme that I have dealt with before. I do it in the spirit of the words of Alma, who said: “This is my glory, that perhaps I may be an instrument in the hands of God to bring some soul to repentance” (Alma 29:9).

… I speak of pornography in all of its manifestations. … It is devilish. It is totally inconsistent with the spirit of the gospel, with personal testimony of the things of God. …

… All who are involved become victims. Children are exploited, and their lives are severely damaged. The minds of youth become warped with false concepts. Continued exposure leads to addiction that is almost impossible to break. … So very many … find they cannot leave it alone. Their energies and their interests are consumed in their dead-end pursuit of this raw and sleazy fare.

The excuse is given that it is hard to avoid, that it is right at our fingertips and there is no escape.

Suppose a storm is raging and the winds howl and the snow swirls about you. You find yourself unable to stop it. But you can dress properly and seek shelter, and the storm will have no effect upon you.

Likewise, even though the Internet is saturated with sleazy material, you do not have to watch it. You can retreat to the shelter of the gospel and its teaching of cleanliness and virtue and purity of life.

I know that I am speaking directly and plainly. I do so because the Internet has made pornography more widely accessible, adding to what is available on DVDs and videos, on television and magazine stands. It leads to fantasies that are destructive of self-respect. It leads to illicit relationships, often to disease, and to abusive criminal activity.

These quotes come toward the end of Hinckley’s life, so the Internet does get a prominent mention.

With discipline and effort, we can control our thoughts and actions.

Be clean in mind, and then you will have greater control over your bodies. It was said of old, “As [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7). Unclean thoughts lead to unclean acts.

When tempted we can substitute for thoughts of evil thoughts of [our Savior] and His teachings. He has said: “And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things.

“Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you” (D&C 88:67–68).

Jesus gave a commandment to control our thoughts as well as our deeds. He said, “Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). …

Mental control must be stronger than physical appetites or desires of the flesh. As thoughts are brought into complete harmony with revealed truth, actions will then become appropriate. … Each of us, with discipline and effort, has the capacity to control our thoughts and our actions. This is part of the process of developing spiritual, physical, and emotional maturity. …

We plead with people everywhere to live in accordance with the teachings of our Creator and rise above carnal attractions that often result in the tragedies that follow moral transgression.

We are in agreement.

Those who have been involved in immoral behavior can be forgiven and can rise above the past.

I do not wish to be negative. I am by nature optimistic. But in such matters as this [pornography and immorality] I am a realist. If we are involved in such behavior, now is the time to change. Let this be our hour of resolution. Let us turn about to a better way.

If you find yourself slipping under the pressure of circumstances, discipline yourselves. Stop before it is too late. You will be forever grateful that you did.

Be true to yourselves and the best you have within you.

Let me … assure you that if you have made a mistake, if you have become involved in any immoral behavior, all is not lost. Memory of that mistake will likely linger, but the deed can be forgiven, and you can rise above the past to live a life fully acceptable unto the Lord where there has been repentance. He has promised that He will forgive your sins and remember them no more against you (see D&C 58:42).

… Church leaders [can] assist you in your difficulty. You can put behind you any evil with which you have been involved. You can go forward with a renewal of hope and acceptability to a far better way of life.

Adultery is wrong. What are the consequences? And how does sexual sin get forgiven?  Let’s take a look at what certain LDS leaders have said. First, sixth President Joseph F. Smith made reference to “lust” in this citation:

“We hold that sexual sin is second only to the shedding of innocent blood in the category of personal crimes…. We proclaim as the word of the Lord: ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery.’ [Exodus 20:14.] ‘He that looketh on a woman to lust after her, or if any shall commit adultery in their hearts, they shall not have the Spirit, but shall deny the faith.’ [D&C 63:16.]” (Joseph F. Smith, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, 1998, p. 156. Ellipsis in original).

He is right. Adultery can be “nothing more” than lust, no matter how much a person might try to minimize lust (“everyone does it” or “it’s just so easy to do”).

Meanwhile, tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith explained:

“How severe is the judgment on the man who has committed adultery, even though he apparently is repentant? In the Doctrine and Covenants, 42:24-26, the Lord has given us a key to this situation. If a person commits adultery and then repents with all his heart, he may be forgiven. If he repeats the offense, he is not to be forgiven, but is to be cast out. As I read it, the Lord has not provided that, under those circumstances, he can come back again” (Doctrines of Salvation 2:93).

This sin is so serious that Apostle Delbert Stapley said,

“They also refer to the woman taken in adultery and ask: ‘Did not Jesus forgive the woman brought to him accused of adultery?’ When the accusers challenged by the Christ departed without condemning her, Jesus said unto her, ‘… Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.’ (John 8:11.) The Savior did not forgive neither did he condemn her, but in admonishing her to go and sin no more, he, in effect was asking her to show forth the fruits of repentance which would lead to forgiveness” (Conference Reports, April 1963, p. 36. Ellipsis in original).

And a church manual points out:

“All those who do not repent after committing adultery will not be able to live with our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ but will live in the telestial kingdom (see D&C 76:81-86, D&C 76:103-5; see also chapter 46, “The Last Judgment”)” (Gospel Principles, pp. 251-252).

So let’s put this altogether:

  1. Sexual sin is denying the faith.
  2. Lust is sexual sin.
  3. According to D&C 42, a person who repents of sexual sin can be forgiven, but if the person returns to this sin, he is not forgiven.
  4. The key in forgiveness is not sinning any more sexually (which certainly goes along with D&C 58:43)
  5. Therefore, unless the person stops this sexual sin (including lusting), the telestial kingdom is the final destination.

It seems pretty straightforward based on the teachings of these leaders. Someone may claim that I’m picking and choosing, but my point is sexual sin is high up the chart according to both LDS leaders and the Standard Works. Unless a Mormon is able to cease the sin, forgiveness is fleeting and nothing more than the telestial kingdom can be gained.

Am I suggesting that a person shouldn’t try to stop? Of course not. The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 6 to “flee sexual immorality.” After all, sexual sin is against your own body. At the same time, who can accomplish what Mormonism says must be done? What a terrible situation for the Latter-day Saint who fights sexual temptation!

To close, I end with the advice of Brigham Young who explains how he disciplines sexual sin:

“Suppose you found your brother in bed with your wife, and put a javelin through both of them, you would be justified, and they would atone for their sins, and be received into the kingdom of God. I would at once do so in such a case; and under such circumstances, I have no wife whom I love so well that I would not put a javelin through her heart, and I would do it with clean hands. But you who trifle with your covenants, be careful lest in judging you will be judged. Every man and women has got to have clean hands and pure heart, to execute judgment, else they had better let the matter alone” (March 16, 1856, Journal of Discourses 3:247).

And no, he wasn’t joking.

I want to conclude by pointing out the title of this chapter: “Virtue–A Cornerstone Upon Which to Build our Lives.” Really? While I am all for virtue, as my review shows, I hardly think it is the “cornerstone upon which to build our lives.” This is because we will fail in doing everything we’re supposed to do. And as I have pointed out, sexual sin–even the mere act of lust–is damnable. It can cause you to miss the celestial kIngdom! No, this is not the “cornerstone.” Rather, the cornerstone is Jesus! (Eph. 2:20). Only a full dependence upon Him can fix our sin problem. He forgives us of our sins not because we cease to sin but rather because he becomes our “propitiation” for our sins. As Romans 3:24-25 says that Christians

are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

It is only by faith, not our works (including virtue) that allows our sins to be forgiven. And that will be a discussion for another time.

To read other reviews of the Gordon B. Hinckley manual, click here.