Standards And Principles
A departure from principle in one instance becomes a precedent for a second; that second for a third; and so on, till the bulk of the society is reduced to mere automatons of misery, to have no sensibilities left but for sin and suffering.(1)
Thomas Jefferson, Works 7:14
God Gives the True Standard. The only way for us is to have a true standard, which must be from heavena standard ordained of God, which we can follow with the utmost confidencea standard we can have faith ina standard to which all human wisdom and human judgment must give way. Such a standard only will be eternal, and will prevail when all other standards will fail. (Orson Pratt, 1860, JD-7:376)
We cannot safely substitute anything for the Gospel. We have no right to take the theories of men, however scholarly, however learned, and set them up as a standard, and try to make the Gospel bow down to them; making of them an iron bedstead upon which Gods truth, if not long enough, must be stretched out, or if too long, must be chopped offanything to make it fit into the system of mens thoughts and theories! On the contrary, we should hold up the Gospel as the standard of truth, and measure thereby the theories and opinions of men. What God has revealed, what the prophets have spoken, what the servants of the Lord proclaim when inspired by the Holy Ghost, can be depended upon, for these are the utterances of a spirit that cannot lie and that does not make mistakes; while the teachings of men are often based upon sophistry and founded upon false reasoning. Uninspired men are prone to judge by outward appearances, and to allow prejudice and plausibilities to usurp the place of divine truth as God has made it known. Orson F. Whitney, CR-4/15:100)
The Test of Right or Wrong. Are there not, in reality, underlying, universal principles with reference to which all issues must be resolved whether the society be simple or complex in its mechanical organization? It seems to me we could relieve [p. 22] ourselves of most of the bewilderment which so unsettles and distracts us by subjecting each situation to the simple test of right and wrong. Right and wrong as moral principles do not change. They are applicable and reliable determinants whether the situations with which we deal are simple or complicated. There is always a right and a wrong to every question which requires our solution . . . .
We cannot well lay claim to being a grown-up, mature, civilized people until we have come to the point where morality is the determinant, and we ask simply what is, in good conscience, right. The conclusion seems inescapable that the confusion and distraction and conflicts and antagonisms and uncertainties and bewilderment which plague the world today present mankind with what is at bottom a purely moral issuethe issue between right and wrong. That, then, should be the final test of the propriety of all courses of action.
But there are difficulties thrown in the way of getting that simple test adopted. One is that there is current in the world today a school of thought which assert that there is no such thing as universal principles of right as opposed to wrong. They say that for the individual, growth is a continuing ongoing process without direction. That is, that we are continually changing, growing but not toward any ultimate purpose. There are accordingly no fixed principles by reference to which we may determine what we ought to do. If confronted with a situation, all we can do is to experimenttry out the course we want to take, and if it works out to the advantage of the experimenter, then for him it is right. Each one finds out for himself according to his own interest. Of course this must inevitably result in confusion, and ultimate chaos.
This is a deadly paralyzing notion to plant in the minds of people and particularly the youthful and immature. It strikes down belief that man is a moral being with a purpose and a destiny and commensurate responsibilities. It releases one who accepts it from all restraint of conscience. It provides him with an allegedly scientific but basely false assurance that he is in no wise responsible for his actions however vile they may be since they are after all but in the course of nature. Let such a notion as that gain general currency and you have dealt a devastating blow to all organized society. A free government could no longer exist, for its perpetuity must depend upon the moral integrity of its citizens. Only an absolute, iron-bound despotism could deal with a creation like that. [p. 23]
. . . When foundation principles are discarded, then shifting, vagrant, opportunistic substitutes for principles take control and precisely because they are opportunistic they must shift with the vagaries of changing popular moods. Stabilitya steady march forward toward a fixed goalno longer is found.
It is for us to stand by the tried and proved principles of religion and the tried and proved governmental principles which have so blessed our land. (Albert E. Bowen, CR- 10/44:153-8)
Principles of Right and Wrong Do Not Change. Those courses of behavior which harmonize with and conform to absolute spiritual values must be eternally right just as their opposites must be eternally wrong. Between the two there is undying conflict. They cannot accommodate themselves one to the other. If it were attempted to make adjustments between them by having each yield something to the other you might succeed in tempering the wrong but what you had left would not be the right. It could at best be right debased by an admixture of wrong, a counterfeit.
The Church as the teacher and interpreter of the Gospel message cannot countenance any dilution. There may be new techniques of exposition, improved approaches, expanding understanding of interpretation and application and even a weeding out of extraneous accretions which have fastened themselves upon the basic principles, but in the fundamentals of the message itself there can be no alterations. Wherever the majority opinion may for the moment lie, or however the conflict may swirl and lash about it the eternal right must still stand unshaken and unmoved as the fixed base to which men may with assurance and safety anchor their lives. That which is right does not become wrong merely because it may be deserted by the majority, neither does that which is wrong today become right tomorrow by the chance circumstance that it has won the approval or been adopted by overwhelmingly predominant numbers. Principles cannot be changed by nor accommodate themselves to the vagaries of popular sentiment. (Albert E. Bowen, CR-4/41:85)
It is recognized that times and conditions change. But principles governing character building and spiritual growth do not change.(2) They persist eternally and are as valid now as [p. 24] they were in the infancy of the Church and as they have been since the day when God finished the work of Creation. As Dr. Widtsoe stated it:
There is much idle talk about a new day that requires new ways of living. True, our age has marvelous possessions for human comfort, never known before. However, the laws under which these inventions and discoveries may be used are identical with those recognized as vital in ages past. The telephone does not abrogate the law of honesty; the radio does not transcend love. In the new days there is but one daythe day of justice and righteousness. Thus, for example, work has been, is, and always will be the only means of producing true wealth; and thrift and economy are as necessary today as in any other age.
New tasks do confront us, but they are accomplished with the old tools. There will always be new frontiers to pass. Now that the desert has been tamed, the problem is to live happily in the desert with our new-found knowledge. Now that we no longer travel with covered wagons, we must learn how to live well with automobiles at our command. In every such changing aspect of life, we shall and must be directed by unchanging timeless guides of conduct.
(Albert E. Bowen, 1946, CWP-21)
Enduring Standards of the Pioneers. Were these indomitable pioneers to express in words their fundamental beliefs, so manifest in their acts, surely they would counsel us to believe:
In the dignity of work; that the world owes no man a living, that it owes every man an opportunity to make a living.
They would counsel us to believe: in the supreme worth of the individual and in his right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happinessthat these are inalienable rights, guaranteed by our Constitution and sacredly upheld by the Church whose basic purpose is to build men and women to become Godlike in their attributes and powers.
That we cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
That truth and justice are fundamental to an enduring social order.
They would counsel us to believe: in the sacredness of a promise; that a mans word should be as good as his bond; that characternot wealth, power, or positionis of supreme worth to individuals and nations.
That every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity an obligation; every possession a duty. [p. 25]
That the law was made for man and not man for the law; that government is the servant of the people, not their master.
They would advise us, that we cannot produce prosperity by discouraging thrift; that thrift is essential to well-ordered living and that economy is a prime requisite of a sound financial structure, whether in government, business, or personal affairs.
That we cannot establish sound security on borrowed money.
That we cannot build character and courage by taking away mans initiative and independence.
They would counsel: that you cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could do and should do for themselves; that the rendering of useful service is the common duty of mankind, and that only in the purifying fire of sacrifice is the dross of selfishness consumed and the greatness of the human soul set free.
Yes, they would urge us to believe: That love is the greatest force in the world; that in love there is no fear; that love alone can overcome hate; that right can and will triumph over might; that there is an all-wise and all-loving God, and that the individuals highest fulfilment, greatest happiness, and widest usefulness are to be found in living in harmony with his divine will.
However outmoded some of these standards may be considered today, they are nonetheless enduring truths without which no character worthy of the name, can be built. When we face the argument that times are different, may we have the wisdom to recognize that truth never changes. May we possess courage to direct our lives in accordance with these enduring values! (Ezra Taft Benson, 1956, So Shall Ye Reap, p. 313-5)
What Will It Do to the Man? Whenever policies or products or principles, or actions or attitudes were under consideration, a certain thoughtful observer often asked this challenging, this compelling question: What will it do to the man? not what is politic or popular or profitable only, not what is comfortable or convenient only, but what will it do to people? It is a question of first concern in all the personal and impersonal relationships of life: What will it do to the man? It is a question always to be asked and answered, for there is no way to live understandingly, effectively, comfortably or safelywithout giving due consideration to the importance of people . . . This question is inherent in every commandment, in every principle, in every product, in every policyWhat does it do to people, personally? That which makes men free and happy, compassionate and considerate, reverent and respectful; that preserves dignity and justice, virtue and honor, character and [p. 26] integrity; that brings mankind closer in understanding, and makes them more mindful of the everlasting things of life must, in all decisions, be a major cause of concern. Never safely can any society, any organization, any individual, lose sight primarily of the importance of people, of each individual person. The great planning, the great purpose of the Creator pertains to the importance of people. What will it do to the man? (Richard L. Evans, 1959, E-62:370)
This then is the standard: If a principles promotes well-being and initiative and strengthens the morale and character of a person, it is good for man. If it increases self- reliance, moral courage, service, and integrity, it is a principle of truth which will contribute to inward strength and true security. If the course tends toward perfection, as charted by Jesus the Christ, it is indeed desirable and will ultimately free mankind.
Ye shall know the TRUTH and the TRUTH shall make you FREE. In these words the Master pointed out that the fundamental characteristic of TRUTH is FREEDOM. Every principle of truth, properly applied, will free man from doubts, from fears, suspicions, prejudices, and those qualities which make for misunderstanding, pride, lust, and selfishness. Every principle of truth in its own domain can free man to achieve the greatest good, the most majestic nobility of which he is capable. Each new truth challenges man to greater achievement and service.
Using this simple standard you may examine each issue with confidence. It matters not whether the inquiry at hand be a consideration of politics, science, ethics, or religion. If it is a true principle it will stimulate man to greater achievement of the kind which builds true character and lasting inward security. (Ezra Taft Benson, CN-6/13/53)
Ten Commandments Basic to Laws of Civilized World. But what enabled us [America] to reach all this achievement?
It has been the power that has come to us from God, because, by and large, we have been a God-fearing, Christ-worshipping people; it has been a power we hope we have not yet lost, not yet having transgressed to the point of being ripe in iniquity,that point where, as some of us believe, we shall no longer have claim upon the divine favor promised us till that time comes. For some of us believe that this land is a land choice above all other lands to our Lord, and that He will hold it and us in the hollow of His hand if we will but permit it.
But, what are the principles behind our conduct, the observance of which has enabled us so to build? I am not thinking [p. 27] of our constitutional Bill of Rights and the free institutions of our political system. I am thinking of the principles that underlie these, the foundation upon which they rest.
Well, these principles are three and a half thousands of years old. They came from God Himself to Moses, who brought them down from the fastnesses of Sinai upon tablets of stone, where they had been traced by the finger of God Himself.
It has been said for generation upon generation that the Ten Commandments are basic to the laws of the civilized world. Clear it is beyond reasoned denial, that the principles they announce are basic to the international and political life of nations, and to the civic and religious life of each individual. No man and no nation, strictly keeping the Commandments, will stray far from the path of usefulness, service, and righteousness, which are the ends that should be reached after by men and nations. No nation has ever perished that kept the Commandments . . . .(3)
As a political constitution, the Ten Commandments could be analyzed as: [See P. 515 for full text.]
1. The setting up of a personal sovereign, God, the providing for allegiance to Him, and the declaring of treason against Him and stipulating its punishment, even to the doctrine of corruption of blood to the third and fourth generation.
2. The promulgation of the law governing family relationships, parent and child, master and servant, and in this connection, stipulating the periods of work and of rest,the relationship of capital and labor.
3. The announcement of the basic principles governing civic relations, and social order,the thou shalt nots of the Commandments. (J. Reuben Clark, CN-3/8/47)
Religious and Political Truths Related. Today, however, men are not building for durability either in their structures, their lives, their religious faiths, or their institutions. The result is a troubled world. Everywhere is anxiety and the dread arising from uncertainty which halts or stays all the normal processes of life. It all arises out of one causelack of fidelity to right principlesprinciples which are known and are not mysteriously hidden. Men have failed in allegiance to their religious [p. 28] principles and nations have not been true to their political principles. The two infidelities go together. When there is a breakdown of religious constancy, there inescapably follows deterioration in the political morality.(4) Both have the same root cause, namely, the breaking away from or the compromising of sound principles. It amounts to a running away from reality and giving way to the urge for avoiding the hard and rigorous disciplines incident to meeting the issues of life, trying to reach goals without traveling the thorny road that lead to them.
We want to avoid all the disagreeable things. We are trying to live under a pleasure economy in a pleasure world. So we live, really, in nothing: for no God, for no piety towards the past, for no pride of race or personality. Once we lived for freedom, pledging our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor. The very expression implies sacrifice and suffering, discipline of the soul to meet reality. Now we want to be spared suffering of any kindphysical, emotional, or mental. We seek security, a six-hour day, a car, and a pension. But all the time life eludes us, peace of mind eludes us, and we have dissatisfaction, turmoil, uncertainty, and dread. (Albert E. Bowen, CR-10/48:87)
Economics and Morals Must Harmonize. We should also keep in mind, in my humble judgment, that economics and morals are both parts of one inseparable body of truth and these must be in harmony. We must square our actions and our policies with these eternal principles if this nation is to be preserved and not go the way of Rome and other dead civilizations. In no other way may we enjoy a fulfillment of the promises which have been made by the prophets, ancient and modem, regarding this great land.
There is, my fellow Americans, a Force in the universe which no mortal can alter. We must make certain that our policies and our program conform with those eternal principles which have been set forth by that Force, by the God of Heaven. In other words, we need to raise our sights beyond the dollar sign, beyond material things. We need to recognize that America has become a great nation because she has adhered whole heartedly to certain basic Christian principles that are eternal. We must have an adherence to these high moral principles, [p. 29] these spiritual principles, if this nation is to endure.(5) God grant that it may endure! (Ezra Taft Benson, BYU, 10/22/54)
FreedomA Gospel Standard. Latter-day Saints should find no difficulty in distinguishing between truth and error, right and wrong, even under our changing physical life, in the midst of the flood of new knowledge and invention. The Gospel is a guide to conduct, a chart for lifes voyage, a set of ideals by which every proposition may be measured. Latter-day Saints should test every new offering by Gospel standards. That is one of the high opportunities within the Church of Jesus Christ.
For example, the right of free agency is fundamental in the Gospel structure. Man should always be left free to accept or to reject. There should be no interference with the human will . . . .
This principle may be used in evaluating the merit of many social, economic, and political offerings of the day. Communism, Facism, and Naziism may be judged by this principle: whatever endangers to the least degree mans right to act for himself is not of God and must be resisted by Latter-day Saints . . . .
Every present-day offering and our every decision, must be tested by Gospel standards. That is the urgent need of the day. (John A. Widtsoe, 1939, E-42:488-9)
A Standard for Political Matters. Today I would like to propose four questions which every Latter-day Saint might well ask as he attempts to appraise any program, policy, or idea promoted by any would-be political leader. I mention these because I think they will provide a safeguard in electing to office men who will meet the requirements which the Lord has set forth in the revelations.
First, is the proposal, the policy, or the idea being promoted right as measured by the gospel of Jesus Christ? I assure you it is much easier for one to measure a proposed policy by the gospel of Jesus Christ if he has accepted the gospel and is living it.
Secondly, is it right as measured by the Constitution of this land and the glorious principles embodied in that Constitution? [p. 30] Now that suggests that we must read and study the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights, that we might know what principles are embodied therein.
Thirdly, we might well ask the question: Is it right as measured by the counsel of the living oracles of God? It is my conviction, my brethren and sisters, that these living oracles are not only authorized, but are obligated to give counsel to this people on any subject which is vital to the welfare of this people and the upbuilding of the kingdom of God. So, that measure should be applied. Is it right as measured by the counsel of the living oracles of God?
Fourthly, what will be the effect on the morale and the character of the people ii this or that policy is adopted? After all, as a Church we are interested in building men and women, building character, because character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next. It must never be sacrificed for expediency. (Ezra Taft Benson, CR-10/54:121-2)
Three Tests to Avoid Being Deceived. May I suggest three short tests to avoid being deceived, both pertaining to this freedom struggle and all other matters.
First, what do the standard works have to say about it? To the law and to the testimony: If they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them said Isaiah. (Isaiah 8:20) (2 Nephi 18:20) And Hosea said, My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge . . . (Hosea 4:6)
We must diligently study the scriptures. Of special importance to us are the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants . . . .
The second guide is, what do the Latter-day Presidents of the Church have to say on the subjectparticularly the living President? . . . There is only one man on the earth today who speaks for the Church. (D. & C. 132:7; 21:4) That man is President David O. McKay. Because he gives the word of the Lord for us today his words have an even more immediate importance than those of the dead prophets. When speaking under the influence of the Holy Ghost his words are scripture. (D. & C. 68:4) . . .
The President can speak on any subject he feels is needful for the Saints. As Brigham Young has stated: I defy any man on earth to point out the path a Prophet of God should walk in, or point out his duty, and just how far he must go, in dictating temporal or spiritual things. Temporal and spiritual things are inseparably connected, and ever will be. (JD-10:364) Other officers in the Kingdom have fallen but never the Presidents. [p. 31] Keep your eye on the Captain is still good counsel. The words of a living prophet must and ever will take precedence.
President McKay has said a lot about our tragic trends towards socialism and communism and the responsibilities liberty-loving people have in defending and preserving our Constitution. (See CR-4/63:112-113) Have we read these words from Gods mouthpiece and pondered on them?
The third and final test is the Holy Ghostthe test of the spirit. By the spirit we may know the truth of all things. (Moroni 10:5) This test can only be fully effective if ones channels of communication with God are clean and virtuous and uncluttered with sin. Said Brigham Young:
You may know whether you are led right or wrong, as well as you know the way home; for every principle God has revealed carries its own convictions of its truth to the human mind . . . .
What a pity it would be if we were led by one man to utter destruction. Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually. (JD-9:149-150)
Elder Heber C. Kimball stated: The time will come when no man or woman will be able to endure on borrowed light. (CR-10/30:60)
How then can we know if a man is speaking by the spirit? The Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants give us the key. (D. & C. 50:17-23; 100:5-8; 2 Nephi 33:1; 1 Corinthians 2:10–11) President Clark summarized them well when he said:
We can tell when the speakers are moved upon by the Holy Ghost only when we, ourselves, are moved upon by the Holy Ghost. In a way, this completely shifts the responsibility from them to us to determine when they so speak . . . . the Church will know by the testimony of the Holy Ghost in the body of the members, whether the brethren in voicing their [p. 32] views are moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and in due time that knowledge will be made manifest. (CN-7/31/54)
Will this Spirit be needed to check actions in other situations? Yes, and it could be used as a guide and a protector for the faithful in a situation described by Elder Lee at the last general Priesthood session of the Church when he said:
In the history of the Church there have been times or instances where Counselors in the First Presidency and others in high station have sought to overturn the decision or to persuade the President contrary to his inspired judgment, and always, if you will read carefully the history of the Church, such oppositions brought not only disastrous results to those who resisted the decision of the President, but almost always such temporary persuasions were called back for reconsideration, or a reversal of hasty action not in accordance with the feelings, the inspired feelings, of the President of the Church. And that, I submit, is one of the fundamental things that we must never lose sight of in the building of the kingdom of God. (CR-4/63:81)
These then, are the three tests: The Standard Works, the inspired words of the Presidents of the Church, particularly the living President; and the promptings of the Holy Ghost.
Now, Brothers and Sisters, in this great struggle for free agency just think what a power for good we could be in this world if we were united . . . .
Let us not be deceived in the sifting days ahead. Let us rally together on principle behind the prophet as guided by the prompting of the Spirit.
We should continue to speak out for freedom and against socialism and communism as President McKay has consistently admonished us. We should continue to come to the aid of patriots, programs and organizations which are trying to save our Constitution through every legal and moral means possible.
God has not left us in darkness regarding these matters. We have the scripturesancient and modern. We have a living prophet and we may obtain the Spirit. (Ezra Taft Benson, CR-10/63:16-19)
Support Weighty Principles. The time is fast approaching when it will require great courage for Latter-day Saints to stand up for their peculiar standards and doctrineall of their doctrine, including the more weighty principles such as the principle of freedom. Opposition to this weighty principle of freedom caused many of our brothers and sisters in the pre-existence to lose their first estate in the War in Heaven. (Ezra Taft Benson, CR 10/64)
1. Nothing is more common than for a free people, in times of heat and violence, to gratify momentary passions, by letting into the government, principles and precedents which afterwards prove fatal to themselves. (Alexander Hamilton and the Founding of the Nation, p. 462)
2. We know that we have made no discoveries; and we think that no discoveries are to be made, in morality; nor many in the great principles of government, nor in the idea of liberty, which were understood long before we were born, altogether as well as they will be after the grave has heaped its mould upon our presumption, and the silent tomb shall have imposed its law on our pert loquacity. (Edmund Burke, quoted in BYU Speech, 4/4/60)
3. Known as the Ten Commandments, it stands today as the first and greatest document of individual freedom in the recorded history of man. Each of the Ten Commandments is addressed to the individual as a self-controlling person responsible for his own thoughts, words, and acts. And each of them recognizes liberty and freedom as inherent in the nature of man. (Henry Grady Weaver, The Mainspring of Human Progress, P. 66.
4. The general government . . . can never be in danger of degenerating into a monarchy, an oligarchy, an aristocracy, or any other despotic or oppressive form, so long as there shall remain any virtue in the body of the people. (George Washington, Writings 12:219)
5. Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks, no form of government can render us secure. To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea. If there be sufficient virtue and intelligence in the community, it will be exercised in the selection of these men; so that we do not depend on their virtue, or put confidence in our rulers, but in the people who are to choose them. (James Madison, Elliots Debates 3:536-7) [p. 33]