Confirmed in Faith
by Aileen H. Clyde
Second Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency
Now let us rejoice since, as the hymn declares, we are no more strangers. We sing as an expression of our faith in God (particularly tonight it is his daughters who sing), of our knowledge that Christ and His people shall ever be one. “And righteousness will I send down out of heaven; and truth will I send forth out of the earth, to bear testimony of mine Only Begotten; . .. and righteousness and truth will I cause to sweep the earth…, to gather out mine elect from the four quarters of the earth, unto a place which I shall prepare …. and it shall be called Zion” (Moses 7:62). While the Zion where all walk with God is not before us yet, the way to Zion through faith on Jesus Christ is before us. We live among evidence of the promise of the scripture that righteousness and truth are in the earth and
that Christ has come to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Relief Society women gathered here tonight and organized in many places in the four quarters of the earth are part of the evidence that righteousness and truth are sweeping forward in the world, because of their faith in Jesus Christ. Our Savior goes before us and invites us to a covenant relationship with Him to help us find our way. In John 15, verse 10, we read, “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in His love.” The reciprocal nature of our relationship to God is a basic truth of that relationship. Christ does not withhold His part; and we are here to learn better the ways to give our part. As our Savior knew and returned His Father’s love, He gained the strength to do all that He was commanded. And then came the promise that is ours when we abide in Christ and allow His words to abide in us. “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:11-12). Our Heavenly Father and His Son expect us to rely on each other in relationships of love and trust by following the pattern they have shown. Every provision is made to help us find the necessary spiritual strength. In the Doctrine and Covenants we read: “To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world. “To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful” (D&C 46:13-14). We are promised, then, that we grow spiritually as we believe in the words of those who know, those whose faith has produced the capacity to endure and to move forward. Faith is power in us and gives us the ability to do. Many of us have seen examples of such faith in our lives, but often they slip by us quickly. In 1839 Mary Fielding Smith, wife of Hyrum Smith wrote a letter to her brother Joseph Fielding, and we have it in the record. It frames with clarity the reciprocal nature of our relationships with one another and with God in the ways we are taught in the scriptures.
“… You have, I suppose, heard of the imprisonment of my dear husband, with his brother Joseph, Elder Rigdon, and others, who were kept from us nearly six months; and I suppose no one felt the painful effects of their confinement more than myself. I was left in a way that called for the exercise of all the courage and grace I possessed. My husband was taken from me by an armed force, at a time when I needed, in a particular manner, the kindest care and attention of such a friend, instead of which, the care of a large family was suddenly and unexpectedly left upon myself, and, in a few days after, my dear little Joseph F. was added to the number. Shortly after his birth I took a severe cold, which brought on chills and fever; this, together with the anxiety of mind I had to endure, threatened to bring me to the gates of death. I was at least four months entirely unable to take any care either of myself or child; but the Lord was merciful in so ordering things that my dear sister could be with me. Her child was five months old when mine was born; so she had strength given her to nurse them both. “You will also have heard of our being driven, as a people, from the State, [Missouri] and from our homes; this happened during my sickness, and I had to be removed more than two hundred miles, chiefly on my bed. I suffered much on my journey; but in three or four weeks after we arrived in Illinois, I
began to amend, and my health is now as good as ever …. We are now living in Commerce, on the bank of the great Mississippi river. The situation is very pleasant; you would be much pleased to see it. How long we may be permitted to enjoy it I know not; but the Lord knows what is best for us. I feel but little concerned about where I am, if I can keep my mind staid upon God; for, you know in this there is perfect peace. I believe the Lord is overruling all things for our good. I suppose our enemies look upon us with astonishment and disappointment” (quoted in Carol Cornwall Madsen, In Their Own Words: Women and the Story of Nauvoo , 98-99).
Mary Fielding Smith collected every resource available to her to manage the searing events that filled her daily life. While her moving and articulate letter may be rare, her experience with God isn’t. Today, everywhere I go in the Church I see similar dignity exemplified by women and by men whose trials differ in circumstance but are similar in the courage and grace they require. God’s care for us has caused Him, by revelation, to provide not only the means for our salvation, but he provides for ways we can help each other meet the challenges to that salvation. The Lord’s organization for women is here so we may bring relief to those who need us. Such important work demands our understanding that to God all things are spiritual (see D&C 29:34). As women in the Church, we have knowledge many others lack; consequently we remind ourselves our work is not dedicated to triviality or entertainment. We have all been blessed with the truths we feel when we sing “I Am a Child of God” (Hymns, no. 301), but we need to remember in our hearts that our experiences here require us also to be adults of God. Again, the scripture verifies the maturing required of us: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became [an adult], I put away childish things” (1 Cor. 13:11). We do not seek to lose the fresh teachableness of children; we seek to claim steadfastness and the courage to act on our hard-won convictions. We have the opportunity to serve in a time when many among us are lonely
or addicted, abused or abandoned, sincerely seeking or full of faith. The ways Relief Society can teach and build are long established, but they have no momentum without the gifts and offerings of individual women day by day. Our external persecutors may be very different from Mary Fielding Smith’s, but they are real. Many feel they are trying, too often in isolation, to survive an avalanche of pressing duties. Some lament their loss of kinship with others or their sense of direction to the future. These feelings, indeed
all tribulations, are common to our humanity; but we find there are antidotes as we develop our personal and shared faith and demonstrate our faith by action.
Earlier this year I was greatly moved as I participated in a meeting in Lagos, Nigeria, in a building with spare concrete walls and a heavy, flat tin roof. Relief Society leaders with their priesthood advisers had been counseling together there for more than two hours. We had worked together to better understand the ways that could be employed to give strength to their important callings, to build their faith, and to help conquer the
tribulation that surrounded them in that sprawling city. As we finished the closing hymn and said an amen to a heartfelt prayer, a thunderous roar filled the room. It was rain. The deluge on the tin roof made any parting conversation impossible. Water was already coursing through the streets and splashing immediately against the door. Our meetings had been scheduled in the afternoon so that most could be home by dark. Now, as we
sat waiting and wordless because of the din, it was obvious they not only faced the heightened dangers of darkness, but they would be thoroughly drenched as they returned to their homes. I thought of Alma as he waded through tribulation (see Alma 8:14-15), and then I remembered the blessing that came to him. I was struck for the moment with the somewhat similar conditions in Ammonihah for Alma and for our Saints in Lagos, Nigeria. An angel had said to Alma, “Lift up thy head and rejoice …. for thou hast been faithful in keeping the commandments of God from the time which thou receivedst thy
first message from him” (Alma 8:15). There were those in that clattering room who were going forth, as Alma did, to teach and help save others through the power of their faith. When the rain did not yield, they rose, one by one, two or three at a time. We embraced
or shook hands solemnly, and they went forth. They were confirmed in their new knowledge that God’s matchless power, His mercy and longsuffering, prevented their being cut off and consigned to endless misery and woe (see Hel. 5:12). They had new courage to face, with hope, their immediate journey and their eternal future. They gave me courage too. I testify that we belong to God as He is our creator. His Son’s Atonement
vouchsafes our eternal life at great cost because of great love. I know these things are true. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
A Faith That Preserves and Strengthens
MERRILL J. BATEMAN
Merrill J. Bateman is the president of Brigham Young University.
This devotional address was given on 7 January 1997 in the Marriott Center.
The first principle of the gospel is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This principle is fundamental to the way we think and act. It defines the set of beliefs and motivations not only for members of the Church but for us as a university community. It explains why most of us have chosen to be here. It is the basis for the university code by which we try to live. Our faith pushes us to do our best not only for ourselves but to make this institution better. It provides the cohesiveness that makes the whole greater than the
sum of the parts.
Faith is both a principle and a process. It defines the path by which we build a relationship of trust with the Savior. In order for faith to develop, we must begin with a humble heart and contrite spirit, have a strong desire to know the Lord, and then be obedient to gospel principles. In return, the Savior rewards the obedient with spiritual confirmations of their actions (see Alma 32:16, 27-32). As faith grows, our vision of eternity expands, which increases our capacity to meet life’s challenges. As we become more familiar with the Lord’s plan of happiness, we understand that trials and adversity occur for many reasons and are a part of the testing and growth process. Both ancient and modern-day prophets have taught that mortality is a probationary state-a time of testing-and that the Lord gives us experiences to enable us to grow (see Abraham 3:25-26; Proverbs 3:11-12; Alma 42:4).
Some events cause heartache and pain. If our faith in the Lord is weak, the probability is high that we will not learn the lessons intended. Elder Richard G. Scott spoke about the relationship between faith and adversity in the October 1995 general conference (“Trust in the Lord,” Ensign, November 1995, pp. 16-18). He suggested that when adversity strikes, there is a natural tendency to feel sorry for ourselves and to waste energy wondering why such adversity came upon us. In contrast, if our faith in the Lord and
his plan is strong, we will accept the adversity and try to learn from it. This opens the door for the Holy Spirit to work within us, increasing our faith and bestowing upon us divine gifts. Elder Scott further stated: This life is an experience in profound trust-trust in Jesus Christ, trust in His teachings, trust in our capacity as led by the Holy Spirit to obey those teachings. . . . To produce fruit, your trust in the Lord must be more powerful and enduring than your confidence in your own personal feelings and experience. [“Trust in the Lord,” p. 17]
As our faith in the Lord grows, we can put aside our own desires and feelings and submit to the Lord’s will. There are many accounts of faithful souls who have faced adversity and through faith in Christ have met the challenges and emerged victors. Today I wish to explore the meaning of the term faith as defined by the apostle Paul and the Prophet Joseph Smith and then illustrate the preserving and strengthening power of faith with three examples-the first two from the life of an ancient patriarch and the third from a modern-day story of a young girl and her family.
Paul’s Definition of Faith
Chapter 11 of Paul’s epistle to the Hebrews is devoted to the principle of faith. After defining the term in the first verse, the apostle cites a number of events from the lives of Old Testament prophets that exemplify faith. In particular, Paul uses these stories to teach the Jewish members of the Church about faith and how the faith of the ancient prophets was centered in Jesus Christ. Paul’s definition of faith is as follows: “Now faith is the
substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Although I used this scripture as a missionary to explain to investigators the concept of faith, I did not grasp fully the meaning of Paul’s succinct statement, and I suspect that many of my investigators wondered as well. Further, I did not appreciate the lessons of faith taught by the illustrations that followed his definition.
A few years ago I discovered that the Prophet Joseph Smith made a simple change in Paul’s statement when he translated the Bible. In the Joseph Smith Translation, the Prophet changed the word substance to assurance. Thus the JST definition reads: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (JST, Hebrews 11:1). The word assurance provides insight as to the foundation upon which faith is built. It suggests that the underpinning of our faith or belief is an internal, spiritual witness. The
word substance suggests something tangible. The word assurance indicates a spiritual affirmation of the “things hoped for.” As Moroni promised, belief and works will be followed by a witness of the Spirit (see Moroni 10:3-5).
In my early years I was confused by the fact that some individuals read the Book of Mormon, prayed about it, and received the witness promised, but others seemed to follow the same course but never received the witness. I have since learned that it is not God who is random but we mortals. Some individuals don’t believe they will receive a spiritual prompting even though they may pray. Others are not diligent in applying the truths they have been taught. An important lesson of life is to learn that the Father and the Son deliver on their promises. We should remember, however, that the Holy Ghost’s witness comes after the trial of faith and not necessarily on our time schedule (see Galatians 3:14; 2 Corinthians 1:22, 5:5; Ephesians 1:13-14; Ether 12:6). In Alma’s
explanation of the process, the experiment of faith begins with a humble heart combined with a desire to believe. This is followed by the planting and nurturing of the seed, and then come the “swelling motions” and enlightened understanding (Alma 32:27-32). Alma does not specify how long the planting and nurturing process takes. For some it may be short. For others more time may be required for the lessons to be learned. Because of the internal nature of the witness, the evidence is not seen or seeable by others except when
they follow the same process.
When a witness is received, is that the end? No! There are still many lessons to be learned and fruits of the Spirit to be received. An investigator who has felt the first promptings of the Holy Ghost does not know all there is to know about the gospel. But a foundation has been laid for his or her spiritual growth. Spiritual confirmation becomes an integral part of a person’s faith; it becomes an anchor for a more sure hope (see Ether 12:4) and leads men and women to higher and deeper levels of faith as they continue to “nourish the word . . . with great diligence” (Alma 32:41). When we understand that faith matures over time through belief, obedience, and witness, Joseph’s substitution of assurance for substance is meaningful.
Paul’s Examples of Faith
In Hebrews 11, Paul cites many examples of faith from the lives of ancient prophets and patriarchs. The events taken from the lives of these great leaders illustrate the preserving and strengthening power of faith. Paul begins with Abel’s sacrifice, followed by other examples from the lives of Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and others. Paul shows how each prophet’s faith is rooted in Christ. In order to understand the centrality of Christ and the
Atonement in the faith of the ancient prophets, it is instructive to ask two questions. First, what are the things hoped for by the prophet? Second, what is the evidence not seen? I have selected two events that illustrate Abraham’s hopes, the evidence not seen, the importance of Christ in Abraham’s life, and the power of his faith.
A Promised Land
The first event is described in Hebrews 11:8-10. In these passages Paul discusses the Lord’s instructions to Abraham to leave his homeland and journey to a new land that would be given to him as an everlasting possession. The Lord called it a “strange” land, one unfamiliar to Abraham. Although not familiar with the route or with his destination, Abraham took Sarah and other family members and departed. Not only did Abraham’s faith sustain him on the journey, but Paul states that it took faith for Abraham to stay in the strange country. Paul also states that Abraham’s faith caused him to look beyond Canaan “for a city . . . whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10). What were Abraham’s hopes? The first was for a land of promise, or Canaan. The second was to be worthy of “the land of promise,” or the heavenly city (see Hebrews 11:9). What was the evidence not seen? First, Abraham had never seen Canaan. Second, to enter the city whose builder and maker is God requires the Savior’s atonement. Abraham lived 2,000 years before Christ. The Atonement had not yet occurred. He could only behold the Lord’s sacrifice through eyes of faith.
This year is the 150th anniversary of the pioneer exodus from Winter Quarters to Utah. How similar Brigham Young’s hopes were to those of Abraham. He, too, wanted a promised land in which the Saints could worship God and be safe from their enemies. He had never seen the Great Salt Lake Valley except through an eye of faith. When he finally reached the summit and looked down into the valley, however, he knew that it was the right place. However, the Saints’ hopes included more than a safe haven. They, like Abraham, were looking for “the land of promise”-the heavenly city. Living almost 2,000 years after Christ, they also had to accept the Atonement through eyes of faith.
A Promised Son
The second event concerns the Lord’s promise to Abraham and Sarah that they would have a covenant son even though he was 99 and she was 90. Hebrews 11:11-12 indicate that Sarah and Abraham received strength through faith to conceive Isaac-their son of promise. Again, what were the things hoped for? Abraham and Sarah desired a son of promise so that their posterity might be as numerous as the sands of the seashore and the nations of the earth might be blessed through their seed. They also hoped for The Son of Promise, and Isaac was a type for Christ. Paul states in verse 13 that Abraham, Sarah,
Isaac, and others “died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off.” Through eyes of faith they knew Jehovah would come to earth, take up a physical body, suffer in the Garden, die on the cross, and be lifted up the third day. The fulfillment of the blessings promised to Abraham were dependent on The Son of Promise as well as on a son of promise.
What was the evidence not seen? First, no woman past bearing age had ever conceived. Even Abraham’s body appeared dead as to procreative power (see Genesis 18:11-12, Romans 4:19). Only through faith in Christ could the promise of a son be realized. Second, with respect to The Son of Promise, a virgin would conceive. Again, Christ’s miraculous birth could only be seen through spiritual eyes. How Abraham’s and Sarah’s faith must have been strengthened by Isaac’s birth! This was the son who would preserve the Lord’s promises to the ancient patriarch. Isaac’s birth must also have deepened his parents’ faith in the future birth of God’s Only Begotten Son. After all, the most important
promise to all of us was given in the Grand Council before the creation of the earth when our Father promised to send his Firstborn Son, who would sacrifice his life that we might live forever (see Abraham 3:22-27).
A Faith Centered in Christ
Paul’s discussion of the events in Abraham’s life poignantly reflects the ancient patriarch’s belief in Christ. The Lord’s command to Abraham to sacrifice “his only begotten son” as a type for the Savior’s sacrifice highlights the focus of Abraham’s faith (see Hebrews 11:17). Paul states that Abraham believed that Isaac would be raised from the dead just as Christ would rise from his grave (see Hebrews 11:19). Abraham’s knowledge of the
gospel and the Savior’s mission was profound. His and Isaac’s trust in the Savior and the events that would transpire almost two millennia in the future carried them from Hebron to Mount Moriah believing that Isaac would be sacrificed. What sweeping joy and relief they must have felt when the angel stopped them.
We Can Trust Him
In closing, I wish to illustrate with a modern-day story the trust that we may place in the Savior. I know that faith in Christ and obedience to the principles of the restored gospel bring answers to prayers and divine help when the hour is darkest. The story that follows concerns a young girl, the fourth child in a family of six children. Her name is Heather. Three of the children, including Heather, suffer from a rare disease called glutaric acidemia. In each case, the onset of the disease occurred during the first year of life when an enzyme attacked the brain, causing paralysis. The disease results in acid forming in the muscles, similar to that which occurs following a period of intense physical activity. The problem faced by the children is that the acid never leaves and causes great pain. Cindy, the first child with the disease, died just over one year ago at the age of 23. She was one of the oldest living persons known with the disease. At death she weighed about 40 pounds. Soon after Heather’s birth, the parents realized that she would be physically
handicapped and that her spirit would be housed in a body with great restrictions. As she grew, she was confined to a wheelchair, unable to speak, and could only send messages with her eyes. A direct gaze and a smile meant yes. A blink meant no. Despite the handicaps, one could feel the vibrant spirit inside. As Heather progressed, it became obvious to the parents that she was extraordinarily bright. She would play guessing games with the family using her limited means to communicate. When she was old enough, the parents enrolled Heather in a special school to see if she could learn to speak. The teacher was a gifted therapist. One morning as Heather and the teacher visited about the prior weekend, the teacher learned that Heather had attended Primary. The teacher then sang for Heather “When He Comes Again” (Songbook, p. 82). The expression on Heather’s face revealed the delight within her. When the teacher asked Heather if she had a favorite song, the young girl’s wide eyes and engaging smile left little doubt. But what was the song? Through a series of questions, the teacher learned that Heather’s song was one she had heard in Primary. She wasn’t sure which songbook it was in, but it was about Jesus. The teacher sang all the songs she could think of, but to no avail. However, Heather was not about to quit-she wanted to share her favorite song. At the end of the day, the two were still searching. The teacher agreed to bring her Primary songbooks to school the next day. On the following morning, Heather and her teacher continued the quest. From the first hymn to the last, the little girl blinked her eyes indicating no. They were still unsuccessful. But Heather was not about to give up. She wanted to share her favorite song. Finally, the teacher told Heather that her mother would have to help her find the song and then they would sing it. The next day Heather arrived with the green Church hymnal tucked in her chair, but there was no marker. So they began with the first hymn. The teacher would sing the first part of each song and Heather would give her answer. After the first 100 hymns, there were 100 no’s. After 200 hymns there had been 200 no’s. Finally, the teacher began to sing “There is sunshine in my soul today. . .” (Hymns, 1985, no. 227). Heather’s body jumped, and a big smile crossed her face. Her eyes gazed directly into the teacher’s, indicating success after three days of searching. Both teacher and student rejoiced. As the teacher sang the first verse and began the chorus, Heather mustered all her strength and joined in with a few sounds. After finishing the first verse and chorus, the teacher asked if she wanted to hear the rest of the verses, and Heather’s eyes opened wide with a firm yes. The teacher began to sing:
There is music in my soul today,
A carol to my King,
And Jesus listening can hear
The songs I cannot sing.
Heather’s reaction to these lines was so strong that the teacher stopped. As the reality and significance of the words pressed on the teacher’s mind, she wondered if those lines were the reason Heather liked the song? The teacher asked: “Heather, is that what you like about the song? Is that what you want me to know? Does Jesus listen? Does he hear the songs you cannot sing?” The direct, penetrating gaze was a clear answer. Feeling guided by the Spirit, the teacher asked, “Heather, does Jesus talk to you in your mind and in your heart?” Again, the child’s look was penetrating. The teacher then asked, “Heather, what does he say?” The teacher’s heart pounded as she saw the clear look in Heather’s eyes as
the little girl awaited the questions that would allow her to share her insights. “Does Jesus say, ‘Heather, I love you’?” Heather’s radiant eyes widened and she smiled. After a pause, the teacher asked next, “Does he say, ‘Heather, you’re special’?” The answer again was yes. Finally, the teacher asked, “Does he say, ‘Heather, be patient; I have great things in store for you’?” With all her strength, Heather’s head became erect and her eyes penetrated the teacher’s soul. She knew she was loved, she was special, and she only
needed to be patient. (Story adapted from Jean Ernstrom, “Jesus, Listening, Can Hear,” Ensign, June 1988, pp. 46-47.)
Two years later, Heather died because of the ravages of the disease. Her younger brother, Mark, also suffers from the disease but not to the extent of his older sisters. He can talk, although it is not easy. As the parents discussed Heather’s passing and the funeral that would take place, Mark exclaimed, “No go Heather’s funeral!” Heather was his best friend. As the parents tried to explain death to him, he would not be consoled. He was
crushed and did not want to attend the service. For two days he could not be persuaded.
On the morning of the funeral, the father went to Mark’s room to get him up. As he entered the room, Mark was sitting up in bed with a big smile on his face. His first words were: “Dad, go Heather’s funeral!” The father responded: “Mark, what has changed your mind?” “Dad, had dream.” “What did you dream about, Mark?” “Dad, dreamed about Heather.” “Mark, what was Heather doing?” “Oh, Dad, Heather running and jumping and singing ‘There is sunshine in my soul today.’ Dad, go Heather’s funeral.” (Mark’s part of the story was obtained through conversations with the parents and also from the book
written by the family: Bruce and Joyce Erickson, When Life Doesn’t Seem Fair [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1995]; see pp. 65-66.)
I ask each of you: Would the God of this earth who learned about Heather’s pains and sufferings in the Garden listen to a little girl sing songs to him even though she could not speak? Would he tell her he loves her? Would he tell her to be patient, that he has great things in store for her? If a little boy did not understand death, would he give him a dream to help him understand that life does not end with death? As Alma teaches us, Christ experienced our pains and sufferings so that he would know how to succor us
(see Alma 7:11-12). We can trust him. He earned our trust in the Garden and on the cross. If we exercise faith in him, he will respond. He will strengthen and preserve us in our time of need. May the Lord bless each of us as we develop faith in him, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.