Cleave Unto the Covenants Which Thou Hast Made
I’m excited to be with you today. I love this college and its mission. I’m grateful to be with President Kusch and your administration and instructors, and to be with my friends who serve as your institute teachers. They are all wonderful people and disciples of Jesus Christ. You will learn a lot in your classes, but you can also learn a lot from watching the great people who work here so don’t miss that part of your education.
With the limited time we have I want to jump right in. We’re going to be in the scriptures so will you have them ready? I want to start in section 25 of the Doctrine and Covenants which is a revelation given through the prophet Joseph Smith for his wife Emma.
I don’t know if we fully understand or appreciate the contribution and the sacrifices Emma made in the Restoration and founding of the Church. She married Joseph at the age of 23, despite objections from her parents. She was 26 when the Church was officially organized and was beginning to see glimpses of what her husband’s calling would mean for her and her family. She had a testimony of her husband’s calling. She had gone with him to Cumorah to obtain the gold plates and had worked as a scribe and was a witness to the miracle of the the translation of the Book of Mormon. But along with the miracles and the witness of the Spirit, also came trials. Circumstances required her to move at least 4 times in the early years of her marriage. In 1828 she gave birth to a son who died almost immediately after birth. Her early married life was filled with poverty requiring the help of friends just to survive. They were constantly threatened with violence. Even at Emma’s baptism, about fifty men harassed and threatened the Saints who had gathered. At the meeting where she was to be confirmed a member of the Church, Joseph was arrested and taken away. This not only postponed her confirmation but left her with great anxiety as she waited to hear what would happen to her husband. Time and time again she would be called to endure her suffering alone as Joseph would be gone, either fulfilling his prophetic calling or answering to false legal claims that constantly separated them. Whatever her hopes had been for herself and her family, she could hardly have anticipated the degree to which enemies of the Church would physically intimidate, legally harass, and financially cripple them for most of her married life with Joseph.
As you can imagine, she must have suffered greatly and had many questions about how best to respond to what she was experiencing. It is also reasonable to think that, as she watched Joseph, she may have wondered about her own role in work of the Lord. In this context, during a time of great uncertainty, anxiety and disappointment, Joseph sought and received revelation on her behalf. A portion of what the Lord revealed to Emma is recorded in section 25 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Will you look that up? Knowing the context of this revelation, consider for a minute why the Lord would say what he did. The Lord’s instruction to Emma includes 2 verses that I would like to read. First, Verse 10. “Verily I say unto thee that thou shalt lay aside the things of this world & seek for the things of a better.” And Secondly, verse 13. “Wherefore, lift up thy heart and rejoice, and cleave unto the covenants which thou hast made.”
I don’t know that we can fully appreciate what Emma was going through and we can’t know for sure what she was thinking, but on some level each of us can relate to her situation when we ask questions like, “What do I do when life is hard and things aren’t going the way I planned?” or “Where do I fit in and what is my role and purpose in the work of the Lord?”
I’d like for us to consider today, why the Lord gave the direction He did to Emma, and why it is important for us in our circumstances to learn “lay aside the things of this world and seek for the things of a better”, “to rejoice” and to “cleave unto the covenants” we have made.
One incredibly important thing our covenants do for us is to bind us to the Lord. I love the example of this principle found in the story of Shadrach Meshach, and Abed-nego, - three men who laid aside the things of this world and cleaved to their covenants. If you like to follow along, their story is found in Daniel chapter 3. Because they sought to please their Heavenly King rather than their earthy king, they would not bow down to a golden image and were condemned to death. The scriptures teach that before they were thrown into a fiery furnace, King Nebuchadnezzar, “in his rage and fury” commanded that they be brought before him and asked, (you’ll see this in verse 14)“is it true… do not ye serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up?” I love the way they replied (starting in verse 16), “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”. We can learn a lot from the fact that their faith was in Jesus Christ and not in the outcomes they hoped for. But as a result of obeying and honoring the one true God, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were cast into the fire. Keeping their covenants did not keep them from this terrifying experience. So if keeping covenants does not always eliminate every trial in our lives, what blessings can we count on for keeping our covenants? You might remember that when Nebuchadnezzar looked into the furnace, he saw a fourth person with them, who he said was “like the Son of God”. When we keep our covenants, the Lord does not remove all our challenges, but what He does promise is He will be with us.
Two years ago, I read a news article that touched me deeply. I think it symbolizes the idea that the Lord will be with us in our trials. Even if those trials are of our own making, when we turn to Him for help, He will be there with “outstretched arms”.
The story was about a retired Green Beret, named Joe Serna. After returning home he struggled from the memory of some very traumatic experiences. One of his most difficult experiences was when he and his fellow soldiers were trapped overnight inside an overturned vehicle that was submerged in water. Everyone in that vehicle died, except for Joe. Can you imagine what that night must have been like for him? Haunted by his memories he turned to alcohol. After coming home from his military service, he was guilty of driving under the influence and of breaking his probation. Finally, he found himself before a judge in a North Carolina courtroom. The judge, Lou Olivera had also served in the military. He had great empathy and understood the trauma of having served in combat. But he also knew that he had to hold Joe accountable for breaking the law.
Joe pleaded with the judge to not be incarcerated, knowing that being locked up in a windowless steel box would trigger painful memories of the night he was trapped. Despite this, the judge explained that he had no choice but to uphold the law and that Joe would have to stay one night in jail. Joe entered the cell and when the door closed, he felt like the walls were caving in. As he began to panic, the door opened, and he looked up to see the judge. The judge explained that while Joe would have to stay the night incarcerated, the law did not say he had to stay alone. Judge Olivera stayed with Joe, the entire night. He had a mat placed on the floor for him to sleep on, but they didn’t sleep. The whole night they talked of military experiences, of family, and of plans for the future. Joe said that his panic completely left him and instead he was filled with peace and hope.
I love that story. I think it’s a great illustration of how our Father in Heaven deals with each of us. He loves us and wants to be close to us. He is kind and patient and quick to forgive. The person you and I have been blessed to make covenants with wants more than anything for us to succeed and to return to Him. Because of His great love, He has bound himself to us by covenant. He has sent His only begotten Son as the messenger and fulfillment of that covenant. There are eternal laws and we are accountable for our choices. But, because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we do not have to be condemned by our mistakes. We can learn from them, we can repent, we can change. We do not need to go through life alone. If we will but turn to Him and ask, He has promised to be with us.
Not only do our covenants bind us to the Lord, they also give us access to His power. Will you look next at section 84 of the Doctrine and Covenants, verses 19 – 20?
“And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God. Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.” Those two words, ordinances and power, are significant. Through ordinances, God’s power is manifest.
Will you think for a minute about the covenants you have made? What power of godliness is manifest in each of those covenants and ordinances? When we were baptized we made covenants to keep the commandments, to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ, and to always remember Him. When we keep our part of the covenant, He promises to forgive us of our sins. To be forgiven is a blessing available to all of God’s children. That godly power, to forgive and to cleanse, is manifest through the ordinance of baptism and is renewed each week as we worthily partake of the sacrament.
What power of godliness is manifest through your confirmation? The power to have the constant companionship of a member of the godhead, the Holy Ghost. The power to receive comfort, healing, direction, and all the other blessings associated with the Holy Ghost are available and manifest through that sacred ordinance. With Brigham Young, I wonder if maybe we too often live beneath our privileges as members of the Church who have been given this remarkable gift.
What power of godliness is manifest in temple ordinances? You could go through each of those in your mind and think about the powers of God that are available to you through the temple. For example, if you want the power to seal your family together for eternity, Heavenly Father holds that power. He makes it available to you through sealing ordinances in holy temples through sacred covenants. That power is real and available to every person who keeps their covenants with God.
We should never underestimate the blessings that are available to us through the temple. I recently heard about some young adults discussing whether being sealed was required for two people to be together in the next life. The Lord is clear in the revelations that in order to enter into the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom, we must abide by the new and everlasting covenant of marriage. But what struck me about the conversation was that the blessings of being sealed was reduced to whether two people could simply be together in the next life. I suppose I don’t actually know that two people who want to hang out, can’t get together over lunch in the next life (if there is such a thing there). What I do know is that the promises of the Lord are so much greater than the ability to hang out. Section 132 promises that when we keep our sealing covenants, we will come forth in the first resurrection and inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, powers, and dominions. We are promised to pass by the angels and the gods which are set there to our exaltation and glory in all things… which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.
That seems to me to be so much more than just being together. Do we really understand what the Lord wants for us? It is so much more than we sometimes aspire to. If you want a fulness of joy, don’t commit to any relationship that is less than what Heavenly Father wants for you in the eternities. He has said, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”
His promises are sure and what is waiting for the faithful is more than we can comprehend. But sometimes I worry that when we don’t see immediate blessings for our obedience we might begin to falter. We get impatient and want, what we want, when we want it. And when there is no obvious blessing for our sacrifices, our faith might begin to weaken.
I love the help we get with this in 3rd Nephi 24, starting in verse 13? The Lord says, “Your words have been stout against me... Yet ye say: What have we spoken against thee? Ye have said: It is vain to serve God, and what doth it profit that we have kept his ordinances (there is that word again) and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of Hosts? And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt god are even delivered.”
Have you ever thought this way? Does it seem sometimes like those not keeping the commandments are having more fun. I remember Elder Glen L. Pace sharing a story about when his children were young. He said, they “would be on their way to Sunday church meetings, when occasionally they would pass a car pulling a boat. [His] children would become silent and press their noses against the windows and ask, “Dad, why can’t we go waterskiing today instead of to church?”
Sometimes, [he] would take the easy but cowardly way out and answer, “It’s simple; we don’t have a boat.” However, on [his] more conscientious days, [he] would…try to explain how much happier [their] family was because of our Church activity.
Then he shared this, “I first realized I wasn’t getting through when on a subsequent Sunday we saw a family laughing and excited as they loaded their snow skis onto their car. One of my teenage sons said with a sly grin, “They’re not really happy, huh, Dad?”
Does that sound familiar? I know it can sometimes feel that way. But finish the verse (we are on verse 16).
“Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another, and the Lord hearkened and heard; and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name. And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of Hosts in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them as a man spareth his own son that serveth him. Then shall ye return and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.”
Sometimes in real life, it seems like we are trying to keep the commandments and others who are not, are prospering. But part of having faith in the Lord is having faith in His timing and in His promises. In those times, the Lord says to us, “hold on, rejoice, and cleave unto thy covenants”. His promise is that the day will come that those who have kept their covenants will qualify for His richest blessings.
Another blessing that comes because of covenants is that they help us to do the Lord’s will even in a changing world. I’m sure you have noticed there are countless voices in the world. Many of them are helpful and encouraging. Some are well intentioned but a little misguided. Others are blatantly false and strive to lead us away from the Lord and His Church. Sometimes I think we underestimate the influences these voices can have on us.
A friend shared with me an experience he had as a young boy. One day his father was very upset after reading the newspaper. He had read an article about a body that was found near where they lived in southern California. Certainly, the death upset everyone. But another thing that troubled his father was that the report said that although the body had not been identified, they knew for sure that the person had lived his entire life in southern California. They knew this because of the condition of his lungs as a result of air pollution. My friend’s father was upset, that while he was trying to live the word of wisdom and keep his lungs healthy, the environment he lived in was making that all but impossible.
Apparently, experts can do an autopsy on a person’s lungs and tell you where they’re from. It has made me wonder if it were possible to do a spiritual autopsy, if someone could say, “I can tell from your attitudes about certain ideas and issues, that you must have lived on earth in 2019”. We may believe we are thinking for ourselves, but it is more difficult than we realize not to breathe the air of the beliefs, attitudes and culture we live in. In a changing world with so many influences and voices, cleaving to our covenants is vital in helping us stay on the covenant path. Our covenants help us to keep an eternal perspective, remember the Lord’s teachings, and can be a shield against the temptations and influences of the world.
Do you remember the story of the Anti-Nephi-Lehites? They made a covenant to Heavenly Father that they would never again take up their weapons of war against their brethren. That promise made sense in a time of peace. They wanted so much to be forgiven of their many sins and they felt this was a good way to demonstrate to Heavenly Father that they had changed. But then, their circumstances changed. When they were threatened by advancing armies, it would have been easy to say something like, “we made that promise under different circumstances”. “Things have changed.” “Certainly, Heavenly Father will understand.” But because they had made covenants that they refused to break, they knew what they must do.
As we are true to our covenants, we will continue to do the Lord’s will, even when our circumstances change, and our choices become confusing – and even when our hope and faith ebb and flow because of the trials of life. When we are unsure how to act because of the various voices and influences around us, our covenants can be like an anchor, securing us to the Savior, to His commandments, and His promises.
The last reason that I would briefly emphasize as to why we want so much to keep our covenants is that it helps us become more like Jesus Christ. Of all the attributes and divine characteristics of the Savior, one that I am especially grateful for is that he is a keeper of promises. I marvel as I read the accounts in the Gospels that tell us that in Gethsemane, Jesus “fell on his face, and prayed saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt”. In this most important moment in all human history, the Savior of the world, despite His agony, despite even pleading to find another way, kept His promise. We should be unspeakably grateful that He did. And if we are to be like Him, we must follow His perfect example and learn to keep our covenants.
Before I close, I want to remind you of two covenants we made when we were baptized. One is (as the Book of Mormon teaches) that we will be “willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light… mourn with those that mourn…and comfort those that stand in need of comfort”. I hope that as you go through your day at this wonderful college, you will look for opportunities to lift one another. We all face difficult challenges, we all need friends we can depend on. Will you look each day for a chance to keep your covenant to make each other’s burdens light and to give comfort when it is needed? If you are observant, you will not have to look very far.
The second covenant I would like to remind you of comes from the sacrament prayer where we are reminded of our covenant to always remember Jesus Christ. Can I invite you to think about what that means and what that will look like each day? There are so many ways to do that. Understanding the covenant to always remember Jesus Christ will change the way you pray, it will change the way you study, it will change the way you live and share the gospel, the way you treat others and the way you worship. What will it look like in your life to keep your covenant to remember Him and to bear His name? Will you please think about what that will mean for you personally?
Now I would like to close with my testimony that Jesus Christ is the Savior, Deliverer, and Redeemer of the world. He is the Author and Finisher of our faith, the Holy One of Israel, and the Prince of Peace. He is a keeper of every promise He has ever made to all of God’s children, including you. I bear testimony that He lives and that He and our Father in Heaven know you and love you.
I bear testimony that our covenants bind us to the Lord and give us access to His power. They help us to remain faithful in a changing world, they give us hope, and they help us in our most important goal, to become more like our Father in Heaven and His perfect Son, Jesus Christ. You can have complete faith in them. May we learn to love them, trust them, and to follow them. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Administrator—Seminaries and Institutes of Religion
Brother Webb was born and raised in Southeastern Idaho and served a mission in Veracruz, Mexico. He and his wife, Kristi, are the parents of six daughters. He has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from Brigham Young University.
He has taught released – time seminary in Salt Lake City and institute in Virginia, Ogden and Salt Lake. Since 2008 he has served as Administrator of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion for the Church.
Brother Webb is currently serving as the Stake President in his stake.