Elder Joseph L. Wirthlin
First Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric
To me, my brethren and sisters, this great conference has been a spiritual feast. The Spirit of the Lord has been here in rich abundance, and I am sure all of us have partaken of that fine sweet spirit of assurance, and I trust that the moment or two that I occupy, I might enjoy the Spirit of the Lord.
We are facing a disintegrating world. These are dark days. Some of the great nations of the past, such as Great Britain, France, Japan, and others, find themselves in spiritual and temporal bankruptcy. We look to the south and what do we see, nations in the throes of revolution. In the Orient, communism and famine are stalking over the land; and in our great nation there are certain trends which give us deep concern.
In contemplating conditions in the world, we wonder why this world-wide disorder. I think there is an answer and the answer is in the fact that men have forgotten God and many of the divine principles which would have brought peace, prosperity, and good will among the nations.
Virtue of Honesty
I am thinking particularly of one virtue that has been cast aside: namely, the virtue of honesty, that of which Richard C. Cabot of Harvard University declared: "The continued existence of any grouptribe, nation, or industryimplies the dominance of honesty as a cohesive force between them."
The first murder in the history of the human family was a result of a dishonest act. Two young men took their offerings to the Lord. Abel presented the Lord with the firstlings of the flock. Cain presented to the Lord the products of the field, but they were not the best. Abel's offering was received by the Lord. Cain was rebuked for his offering because in it there was the element of deceit. Cain became angry, and in a jealous rage slew his brother, Abel.
Dishonesty Brings War
In every great war that has been fought, the cause can usually be traced to some dishonest act on the part of one leader on one side or the leaders on both sides. In World War I, it was declared by some of the leaders of the great nations involved in that terrible struggle that the written solemn word given by them for the maintenance of peace in the form of treaties was but scraps of paper.
Before World War II, the leaders of Europe got together, and finally Chamberlain of Great Britain returned to his people indicating that there would be peace in his time. But he had hardly returned to his countrymen when the guarantees, the promises and the words of honor that were given by the leaders of men, were cast aside, and one of the greatest and one of the bloodiest wars in all history was fought.
Salvation of the world depends upon a revival of the cardinal principles of honesty. It must become the foundation for all negotiations between nations wherein diplomatic trickery and double-talk are to be eliminated and cast aside. Other than this, World War III will become a holocaust involving the destruction of civilian populations as well as armed forces.
Honesty cannot become a national, a world-wide virtue, unless it becomes a primal part of the thinking, the actions, and the character of the individual. We have some shining examples of individual honesty. I think of one pioneer grandmother who was upon her deathbed. She seemed to be reflecting over the events of her life, and finally she called her son to her side and said: "I am still in debt. I owe the dairyman up the street five cents."
Of course the dairyman was immediately paid, but in the thinking of this pioneer grandmother, an obligation of five cents was just as important as if it had been an obligation of several thousand dollars.
I think of Jacob of old who had sent his sons to the land of Egypt to purchase grain. The sacks of grain were returned and in the mouth of each sack the money was found. Jacob wanted to impress upon the ruler of Egypt that he was an honest man, and so his sons returned with double the amount of the cost of the grain.
We think of Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, emancipator and liberator, titles that will go down on the pages of history till the end of time. The title that we love best to think of, as far as Abraham Lincoln is concerned, is that of "Honest Abe." And I am sure that of all the titles this great man carries, "Honest Abe" would please him the most.
Mark Twain was in the despair of financial distress. His advisers suggested that he work out some sort of a compromise with his creditors but he declared to them: "There is but one compromise, one hundred cents on the dollar."
That is a far cry from bankruptcy. Whatever might be said of Mark Twain, he was an honest man.
After all, honesty or dishonesty can become an integral part of our characters. Honesty can be taught in the schoolroom. In the schoolroom there can be put forth honest efforts or there can be cheating. In the schoolroom great truths can be taught to the students, or false doctrine.
I say that any teacher, whether it be in the schoolroom, or whether it be in a Sunday School class, who fails to teach the truth, and particularly in Church organizations, the truth as revealed to the world through the Prophet Joseph Smith, is not honest with his students, himself, nor his God.
Honesty in Government
In business there can be dependable, honest merchandising or there can be false advertising, or poor quality of merchandise sold. In the great field of politics there can be forthright, honest leadership, or there can be double-talk, unfulfilled promises, which eventually lead to the destruction of American fundamentals. In administration of government affairs, if the administrators are honest in handling the public fundswhich after all, belong to the peoplethey will administer them in such a way that there will be frugality and savings and not extravagant expenditures.
As we think of present-day conditions, there come to mind the words of one of the founders of this great Republic, Thomas Jeffersonand I should like to say that had he been alive today the words that I am about to quote to you could not be more fitting. He said:
I place economy among the first and most important virtues, and public debt as the greatest of dangers to be feared. To preserve our independence we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our choice between economy and liberty, or profusion and servitude. If we run into such debts, we must be taxed in our meat and drink, in our necessities and our comforts, in our labors and in our amusements. If we can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of caring for them, they will be happy.
Over the years we have been singing, "God Bless America," and I want to say to you that God has blessed America and her people more abundantly than any other people or nation in all the world. But that time has come, my brethren and sisters when we should pray, "God save America," on a basis of applying the principle of honesty and integrity in all of our dealings, individually, collectively, nationally, and internationally; thereby we can save the Constitution of the United States and preserve for ourselves and unborn generations the blessings that come from a government that was given to us by Almighty God.
Honesty in Work
There can be honesty or dishonesty in the field of labor, an honest day's work and also an honest day's pay. If management and labor could but come to this simple solution, there would be an elimination of strife and difficulty. Idleness, too, breeds dishonesty, for idleness anticipates getting something for nothing, and the darkest hour in any man's life is when he sits down and plans to get something for nothing.
I submit the question to you as to whether or not a member of this Church who affiliates himself with any organization that destroys the principle of free agency and freedom of action is honest with himself and God. I do not believe that there is any compromise between truth and that which is false. No man can maintain his standing in the Church of Jesus Christ and compromise with error, for as the Savior said:
No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. (Matt. 6:24.)
Heritage of Honesty
Now, my brethren and sisters, what does this mean to you, and what does this mean to me? It means that you and I have a heritage from our pioneer forefathers in the form of a banner of honesty untarnished, and there rests upon each and everyone of us the obligation to see that that banner is as brilliant, sweet, and clean as the day it was handed to us.
Joseph Smith, in writing the Articles of Faith, said this: We believe in being honest, we believe in being true.
One of the evidences of an honest man is one who first is honest with God in paying back to the Lord that tenth which belongs to him. An honest tithepayer is an honest man. He is dependable. He is one who will keep his word. He is one that we can depend upon to keep and fulfil his contracts.
I have heard President Grant relate many times the story of a great farm implement manufacturer who said this:
I would rather have the word of a Mormon farmer than I would his written contract or note.
Brigham Young declared:
Woe to those who profess to be Saints and are not honest. Only be honest with yourselves, and you will be honest to the brethren. Men must be honest. They must live faithfully before God and honor their calling; and being on the earth.
And again he declared:
It is much better to be honest, to live here uprightly, and forsake and shun evil, than it is to be dishonest. It is the easiest path in the world to be honest, to be upright before God; and when people learn this, they will practice it.
It is as one unknown writer declared:
Honesty is the will and the effort to keep one's agreements, explicit and tacit. It can be expressed in words (veracity), or in actions such as fulfilment of contracts and habits such as fidelity, loyalty and punctuality. Newman Smart declared:
Inward truthfulness is essential to moral growth and personal vigor. What a flaw is in steel, or a foreign body in our tissues, a falsehood is to the charactera source of weaknesses, a front where it may break under strain.
Honesty, then, after all, is the king of all virtues because the good life presupposes itself. Dishonesty cuts the arteries by which social life is nourished. Mutual deceit is social murder. Self-deceit cuts the blood vessels of one's own existence. It is suicide.
And as Mark of old declared to the early-day Saints:
Thou knowest the commandments. Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. (Mark 10:19.)
As I have read this verse of scripture I wondered why Mark had included in it "Honour thy father and mother," and the thought came to me that any honest son and any honest daughter will honor father and mother not so much from the point of view of lip service but from the standpoint of being prepared to help father and mother in any way possible. That is honesty in honoring father and mother.
Example of Honesty
Now, as Latter-day Saints, we have a great destiny and a great future. The old Prophet Isaiah declared to the world thousands of years ago that the house of the Lord would be established in the top of the mountains. He went on to say that all nations should flow unto it, and men should be heard to say,
. . . Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths. (Isaiah 2:3.)
I am sure because of the fact that the house of God is established in the top of these mountains where the prophets of God are found, where the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is being preached to the world, that the first great virtue we must hold out to the world, if we are to set them the proper example, is that of honesty, square dealing among ourselves, and with the world as a whole.
May God bless us and sustain us, that we will be honest with the Lord, honest with one another, honest with those who are not of our faith, and I am sure out of this that the world will come to know us as the Lord's people and men will be heard to say, Come, let us go up to the house of Jacob's God and learn of his ways and walk in his paths.
I leave you my testimony that this is the work of the Lord, that a boy fourteen years of age saw the Father and the Son in the wilderness: they actually spoke to him and used him as the instrument through whom the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ was restored to the earth in the last days for the salvation of all the Lord's children. I bear you this testimony in his holy name. Amen.