"Watchman, Warn The Wicked": Elder Ezra Taft Benson
Friday Afternoon Session: April 1973
The prophet Ezekiel declared: "Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house
of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me.
"When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him
not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his
life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require
at thine hand.
"Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor
from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy
soul." (Ezek. 3:17-19.)
The inspired Book of Mormon prophets saw our day and warned us of the strategy of the
adversary. Hear their words:
"For behold, at that day shall he [the devil] rage in the hearts of the
children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good.
"And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security. . . .
". . . wo be unto him that hearkeneth unto the precepts of men, and denieth
the power of God. (2 Ne. 28:20-21, 26.)
Through a modern prophet, Joseph Smith, the Lord has given this further warning:
"Wherefore the voice of the Lord is unto the ends of the earth, that all that will hear may hear:
". . . and the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord,
neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets
and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people;
"For they have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine
"They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man
walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own God, whose image is
in the likeness of the world. . . .
"What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and
though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but
shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice, or by the voice of my
servants, it is the same." (D&C 1:11, 14-16, 38.)
These warnings were given 140 years ago. The fulfillment is now. We are living
witnesses, unless we are blinded by our own complacency and the craftiness of evil men.
As watchmen on the tower of Zion, it is our obligation and right as leaders to speak out
against current evils--evils that strike at the very foundation of all we hold dear as the true
church of Christ and as members of Christian nations.
As one of these watchmen, with a love for humanity, I accept humbly this obligation and
challenge and gratefully strive to do my duty without fear. In times as serious as these, we must
not permit fear of criticism to keep us from doing our duty, even at the risk of our counsel being
tabbed as political, as government becomes more and more entwined in our daily lives.
In the crisis through which we are now passing, we have been fully warned. This has
brought forth some criticism. There are some of us who do not want to hear the message. It
embarrasses us. The things which are threatening our lives, our welfare, our freedoms are the
very things some of us have been condoning. Many do not want to be disturbed as they continue
to enjoy their comfortable complacency.
The Church is founded on eternal truth. We do not compromise principle. We do not
surrender our standards regardless of current trends or pressures. Our allegiance to truth as a
church is unwavering. Speaking out against immoral or unjust actions has been the burden of
prophets and disciples of God from time immemorial. It was for this very reason that many of
them were persecuted. Nevertheless, it was their God-given task, as watchmen on the tower, to
warn the people.
We live in an age of appeasement--the sacrificing of principle. Appeasement is not the
answer. It is never the right answer.
One of these modern Church watchmen has given this sound warning:
"A milk-and-water allegiance kills; while a passionate devotion gives life
and soul to any cause and its adherents. The troubles of the world may largely
be laid at the doors of those who are neither hot nor cold; who always follow
the line of least resistance; whose timid hearts flutter at taking sides for [p. 39]
truth. As in the great Council in the heavens, so in the Church of Christ on
earth, there can be no neutrality. We are, or we are not, on the side of the Lord.
An unrelenting faith, contemptuous of all compromise, will lead the Church
and every member of it, to triumph and the achievement of our high destiny.
"The final conquerors of the world will be the men and women, few or many
matters not, who fearlessly and unflinchingly cling to truth, and who are able
to say no, as well as yes, on whose lofty banner is inscribed: No compromise
with error. . . .
"Tolerance is not conformity to the world's view and practices. We must not
surrender our beliefs to get along with people, however beloved or influential
they may be. Too high a price may be paid for social standing or even for
harmony. . . . The Gospel rests upon eternal truth; and truth can never be
deserted safely." (John A. Widtsoe, Conference Report, April 1941, pp. 117,
It has been well said that "our greatest national problem is erosion. Not erosion of the
soil, but erosion of the national morality."
The United States of America has been great because it has been bee. It has been free
because it has trusted in God and was founded upon the principles of freedom set forth in the
word of God. This nation has a spiritual foundation. To me, this land has a prophetic history.
In the year 1831 Alexis de Tocqueville, the famous French historian, came to our country
at the request of the French government to study our penal institutions. He also made a close
study of our political and social institutions. In less than ten years, de Tocqueville had become
world-famous, as the result of the four-volume work that he wrote, entitled Democracy in
America. Here is his own stirring explanation of the greatness of America:
"I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious
harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there; in her fertile fields and
boundless prairies, and it was not there; in her rich mines and her vast world
commerce, and it was not there. Not until I went to the churches of America
and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of
her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America
ever ceases to be good, America, will cease to be great." (Prophets, Principles
and National Survival, compiled by Jerreld L. Newquist [Salt Lake City,
Publishers Press, 1964], p. 60.)
How strong is our will to remain free--to be good? False thinking and false ideologies,
dressed in the most pleasing forms, quietly--almost without our knowing it--seek to reduce our
moral defenses and to captivate our minds. They entice with bright promises of security,
cradle-to-grave guarantees of many kinds. They masquerade under various names, but all may be
recognized by one thing one thing they all have in common: to erode away character and man's
freedom to think and act for himself.
Effort will be made to lull us away into a false security. Proposals will be and are being
offered and programs sponsored that have wide appeal. Attractive labels are usually attached to
the most dangerous programs, often in the name of public welfare and personal security. Again,
let us not be misled.
Freedom can be killed by neglect as well as by direct attack.
Too long have too many Americans, and people of the free world generally, stood by as
silent accessories to the crimes of assault against freedom assault against basic economic and
spiritual principles and traditions that have made nations strong.
Let us strive for progress down the road of goodness and freedom. With the help and
blessings of the Lord, the free people of the United States and the free world can and will face
tomorrow without fear, without doubt, and with full confidence. We do not fear the phony
population explosion, nor do we fear a shortage of food, if we can be free and good. The Lord
has declared, ". . . the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare. . . ." (D&C 104:17.) We can
accept this promise with confidence.
President Calvin Coolidge pinpointed the problem some years ago with these words:
"We do not need more material development, we need more spiritual
development. We do not need more intellectual power, we need more moral
power. We do not need more knowledge, we need more character. We do not
need more government, we need more culture. We do not need more law, we
need more religion. We do not need more of the things that are seen, we need
more of the things that are unseen. It is on that side of life that it is desirable to
put the emphasis at the present time. If that side is strengthened, the other side
will take care of itself. It is that side which is the foundation of all else. If the
foundation be firm, the superstructure will stand." (Prophets, Principles and
National Survival p. 35.)
As a free people, we are following very closely in many respects the pattern which led to
the downfall of the great Roman Empire. A group of well-known historians has summarized
those conditions leading to the downfall of Rome in these words:
". . . Rome had known a pioneer beginning not unlike our own pioneer
heritage, and then entered into two centuries of greatness, reaching its pinnacle
in the second of those centuries, going into the decline and collapse in the
third. Yet, the sins of decay were becoming apparent in the latter years of that
"It is written that there were vast increases in the number of the idle rich, and
the idle poor. The latter (the idle poor) were put on a permanent dole, a
welfare system not unlike our own. As this system became permanent, the
recipients of public largesse (welfare) increased in number. They organized
into a political block with sizable power. They were not hesitant about making
their demands known. Nor was the government hesitant about agreeing to
their demands and with ever-increasing frequency. Would-be emperors
catered to them. The great, solid middle class--Rome's strength then as ours Is
to day was taxed more and more to support a bureaucracy that kept growing
larger, and even more powerful. Surtaxes were imposed upon incomes to meet
emergencies. The government engaged in deficit spending. The denarius, a
silver coin similar to our half dollar, began to lose its silvery hue. It took on a
copper color as the government reduced the silver content.
"Even then, Gresham's law was at work, because the real silver coin soon
disappeared. It went into hiding.
"Military service was an obligation highly honored by the Romans. Indeed,
a foreigner could win Roman citizenship simply by volunteering for service in
the legions of Rome. But, with increasing affluence and opulence, the young
men of Rome began avoiding this service, finding excuses to remain in the
soft and sordid life of the city. They took to using cosmetics and wearing
feminine-like hairdos and garments, until it became difficult, the historians tell
us, to tell the sexes apart.
"Among the teachers and scholars was a group called the Cynics whose
number let their hair and beards grow, and who wore slovenly clothes, and
professed indifference to worldly goods as they heaped scorn on what they
called `middle class values.'
"The morals declined. It became unsafe to walk in the countryside or the city
streets. Rioting was commonplace and sometimes whole sections of towns and
cities were burned.
"And, all the time, the twin diseases of confiscatory taxation and creeping
inflation were waiting to deliver the death blow.
"Then finally, all these forces overcame the energy and ambition of the middle
"We are now approaching the end of our second century." (Address by
Governor Ronald Reagan of California at Eisenhower College, New York,
In 1787 Edward Gibbon completed his noble work The Decline and Fall of the Roman
Empire. Here is the way he accounted for the fall:
1. The undermining of the dignity and sanctity of the home, which is the basis of human
2. Higher and higher taxes and the spending of public monies for free bread and circuses
for the populace.
3. The mad craze for pleasure, sports becoming every year more and more exciting and
4. The building of gigantic armaments when the real enemy was within the decadence of
5. The decay of religion--faith fading into mere form, losing touch with life, and
becoming impotent to warn and guide the people.
Is there a parallel for us in America today? Could the same reasons that destroyed Rome
destroy America and possibly other countries of the free world?
For eight years in Washington I had this prayerful statement on my desk: "O God, give us
men with a mandate higher than the ballot box."
The lessons of history, many of them very sobering, ought to be turned to during this hour
of our great achievements, because during the hour of our success is our greatest danger. Even
during the hour of our great prosperity, a nation may sow the seeds of its own destruction.
History reveals that rarely is a great civilization conquered from without unless it has weakened
or destroyed itself within.
The lessons of history stand as guideposts to help us safely chart the course for the future.
As American citizens, as citizens of the nations of the free world, we need to rouse
ourselves to the problems which confront us as great Christian nations. We must recognize that
these fundamental, basic principles moral and spiritual lay at the very foundation of our past
achievements. To continue to enjoy present blessings, we must return to these basic and
fundamental principles. Economics and morals are both part of one inseparable body of truth.
They must be in harmony. We need to square our actions with these eternal verities.
The Church of Jesus Christ of [p. 41] Latter-day Saints stands firm in support of the great
spiritual and moral principles which have been the basic traditions of the free world. We oppose
every evil effort to downgrade or challenge the eternal verities which have undergirded
civilization from the beginning.
We will use every honorable means to strengthen the home and family; to encourage
obedience to the first and great commandment to multiply and replenish the earth through noble
parenthood; and to strengthen character through adherence to high spiritual and moral principles.
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints chastity will never be out of date. We
have one standard for men and women, and that standard is moral purity. We oppose and abhor
the damnable practice of wholesale abortion and every other unholy and impure act which strikes
at the very foundation of the home and family, our most basic institutions.
A continuation of these immoral practices will surely bring down the wrath and
judgments of the Almighty.
In our concentration upon materialism and material acquisitions, are we forgetting the
spiritual basis upon which our prosperity, security, and freedom rest? God help us to repent of
our evil ways and humble ourselves before the offended power.
There is great safety in a nation on its knees.
What assurance it would give of the much-needed blessings of the Lord if the American
people, and people everywhere, could all be found daily night and morning on their knees
expressing gratitude for blessings already received, acknowledging our dependence upon God,
and seeking his divine guidance.
The spectacle of a nation praying is more awe-inspiring, more powerful, than the
explosion of an atomic bomb. The force of prayer is greater than any possible combination of
man-controlled powers, because "prayer is man's greatest means of tapping the resources of
God." The Founding Fathers accept this eternal verity. Do we? Will we?
Yes, it is in our own enlightened self-interest to engage in this simple practice, this
powerful practice of prayer. Roger Babson said many years ago: "What this country needs more
than anything else is old-fashioned family prayer." Yes, our greatest need is a return to the
old-fashioned, time-tested verities.
God help us, as free men, to recognize the source of our blessings, the threat to our
freedom and our moral and spiritual standards, and the need for humble, yet courageous action to
preserve these priceless. time-tested blessings. I humbly pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.