The journey to Zion requires a return to virtue.
Let me begin with the story of a pioneer girl named Agnes Caldwell, who was in the Willie Handcart Company in 1856. At the time, she was only 9 years of age. She related:
Although only tender years of age, I can yet close my eyes and see everything in panoramic precision before me—the ceaseless walking, walking, ever to remain in my memory. Many times I would become so tired and, childlike, would hang on the cart, only to be gently pushed away. Then I would throw myself by the side of the road and cry. Then realizing they were all passing me by, I would jump to my feet and make an extra run to catch up.
She goes on to share:
Just before we crossed the mountains, relief wagons reached us, and it certainly was a relief. The infirm and aged were allowed to ride, all able-bodied continuing to walk. When the wagons started out, a number of us children decided to see how long we could keep up with the wagons, in hopes of being asked to ride. At least that is what my great hope was. One by one they all fell out, until I was the last one remaining, so determined was I that I should get a ride. After what seemed the longest run I ever made before or since, the driver . . . called to me, “Say, sissy, would you like a ride?” I answered in my very best manner, “Yes sir.” At this he reached over, taking my hand, clucking to his horses to make me run, with legs that seemed to me could run no farther. On we went, to what to me seemed miles. What went through my head at that time was that he was the meanest man that ever lived. . . . Just at what seemed the breaking point, he stopped. Taking a blanket, he wrapped me up and lay me in the bottom of the wagon, warm and comfortable. Here I had time to change my mind, as I surely did, knowing full well by doing this he saved me from freezing when taken into the wagon.1
Agnes Caldwell arrived safely in Salt Lake City on Nov. 9, 1856. She later married Chester Southworth and became a mother to 13 children. Had the driver of that wagon taken Agnes into the wagon without making her run, she would have surely succumbed to the bitter cold. And had Agnes chosen to give up and fall behind, her story may have ended much differently. However, for Agnes this became her defining moment, and though the decision to run did not make perfect sense at the time, she ran anyway. She ran toward Zion—heeding the voice of the Lord, who said, “Let them awake, and arise, and come forth, and not tarry, for I, the Lord, command it” (D&C 117:2).
Each of you is on a journey to Zion. You may not have to give up all of your earthly possessions, but the journey to Zion requires that you give up all of your sins so that you may come to know Him—the true and living Christ. You may even be asked to run to the point of exhaustion, but by doing so, the warmth of the Lord’s love will preserve you for the great work yet to come.
What the Lord has said applies: “Awake, and arise, . . . come forth, and [do] not tarry” (D&C 117:2), for Zion is not only a place—Zion is “the pure in heart” (D&C 97:21). And purity of heart must be your goal in order to reach that final destination. Never before has there been a generation quite like yours. You are better prepared and better equipped. You have what it takes, and now is the time for the run of your life—your run to Zion! Now is the time to return to virtue!
A Return to Virtue Could Save a Nation
We live in a world that is concerned about cleanliness and purity—the cleanliness of our air and the cleanliness of our environment, our water, and our food. In some places we legislate against pollution and even have government-funded environmental protection agencies to ensure that we are not made ill by contaminants that get into our air, our water, or our food supply. Yet society tolerates moral pollution in the form of pornography on billboards, television, and the Internet and in entertainment and other media. We tolerate filth that invades our minds through suggestive lyrics, music, and language.
I believe that the lack of virtue in our society is directly responsible for many of our social, financial, and governmental ills. I believe that the disintegration of faith and families and the financial unrest are directly related to a lack of virtue in our society. And I believe that a return to virtue could save an entire nation.
We call for a social reform, but what is really needed is a moral reform—a call for a return to virtue. Virtue means purity, and it begins in the heart and in the mind. “It is a pattern of thought and behavior based on high moral standards.”2 The Latin root word for virtue is virtus,which means “strength.” One contemporary meaning states that virtue is an “effective power or force; [especially], the ability to heal or strengthen.”3
This power is not the kind of power we see in the world. It has nothing to do with fame, position, good looks, celebrity, or wealth. The power and strength of which I am speaking has everything to do with virtue, which is chastity and sexual purity. There is no strength that is greater than the strength of virtue nor any confidence that is more sure than the confidence of a virtuous life.
Virtue is also the golden key that unlocks temple doors. We must be worthy to enter the Lord’s holy temple and make and keep sacred covenants and to do the work we have been prepared and foreordained to do. Just as the driver of that rescue wagon saved Agnes Caldwell from freezing to death, we too have been given the opportunity and privilege to become saviors on Mount Zion—to do for others something they cannot do for themselves. This can happen only when we are worthy to make and keep sacred covenants and receive the ordinances of the temple.
During the critical days of World War II, Winston Churchill aroused an entire nation when he said: “You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: victory. Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.”4
I echo that call for the war in which we are engaged today by paraphrasing the words of Winston Churchill for you: You ask, what is our aim? I can answer with one word: virtue. Virtue at all costs, virtue in spite of all opposition, virtue, however long and hard the road to repentance may be; for without virtue, there can be no victory.
What will your generation be known for? Will you be known as the tolerant generation, the consumer generation, Generation X or Y? Will you be known as the generation that was seduced into living your lives virtually instead of virtuously? Or will you, could you, be known for your purity and virtue and for your courage and strength in leading the rest of the world in a return to virtue—a return so stunning that the very purity of your lives and the strength of your conviction change the course of society and change the world?
You are preparing for the Savior’s return. You must abhor sin. You must position and prepare yourselves now to be “more fit for the kingdom.”5
Each of you has a great work to do. What you do and what you decide matter because you matter. You are “choice spirits who were reserved to come forth in the fulness of times to take part in laying the foundations of the great latter-day work, including the building of the temples and the performance of ordinances therein” (D&C 138:53–54).
No wonder Satan has increased the intensity of his attacks. If you can be distracted, delayed, or disqualified from entering into the temples and doing the very work you have been prepared and reserved to do, he wins.
All the sacrifice and work of all the prior generations have led to this moment. Pioneers sacrificed everything, even their lives, in order that we might see this day because, you see, your advent on the earth is not random. This was all part of the plan you embraced in the premortal realm. You are positioned in a remarkable place in the history of the world.
It has been said of you that you are “a pivotal generation.”6 Never before has so much been expected. Never before has so much been given: prophets, scriptures, priesthood, ordinances and covenants, temples, the Book of Mormon, and the gospel in its fulness. You have been prepared, called, and chosen. This is your time.
In the premortal realms you exhibited not just faith but “exceeding faith and good works” (Alma 13:3). As Alma said, each of you were “called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God” (Alma 13:3). You fought with your faith and testimony to accept and sustain the plan that was presented by God the Father. You knew it was right, and you knew that the Savior would do what He said He would do because you knew Him!
There were no neutral spirits in the War in Heaven, and there can be no neutral positions now. The Lord Himself said, “He that is not with me is against me” (Matt. 12:30). You stood with Him! You knew how difficult it would be, and yet you were confident you could not only accomplish your divine mission but also make a difference.
Remain Virtuous in a Toxic World
I truly believe that one virtuous woman or man, led by the Spirit, can change the world! But before we can change the world, we must change ourselves. President Boyd K. Packer (EdD ’62) said we live in an environment that “is becoming toxic, poisonous to the spirit.”7 So what are some of the things that we can do right now in order to remain virtuous in a toxic world?
First, repent. For many who have made a moral mistake, a little voice keeps saying: “You blew it. You can’t change. No one will ever know anyway.” To you I would say, Don’t believe it. “Satan wants you to think that you cannot repent, but that is absolutely not true.”8 A return is always possible because of the Savior’s Atonement. President Thomas S. Monson (MBA ’74) has said to each of us who have made mistakes:
If any of you has slipped along the way, there are those who will help you to once again become clean and worthy. Your bishop or branch president is anxious and willing to help and will, with understanding and compassion, do all within his power to assist you in the repentance process, that you may once again stand in righteousness before the Lord.9
Some of you are victims of the sinful acts of others. As Mormon said, you have been deprived “of that which [is] most dear and precious above all things, . . . chastity and virtue” (Moro. 9:9). Please know that because of the Savior’s Atonement, healing is possible. You are not to blame, for you have not sinned, and repentance is not required. The Savior not only suffered for our sins and imperfections, but He also took upon Himself our sorrows. Through His infinite Atonement He will heal you and give you peace.
The restoration of priesthood power on the earth in these latter days enables us to receive the help we need to return to virtue. This power also enables us to remain “unspotted from the world” (D&C 59:9) as we partake of the sacrament worthily. Each week as we renew our covenants, the Lord, in turn, promises that we can always have His Spirit to be with us.
In a world that is so enticing and so appealing, it is imperative for each of us to receive, recognize, and rely on the guidance of the Holy Ghost. This precious gift also purifies and sanctifies. We can be purified “by fire and by the Holy Ghost” (2 Ne. 31:17). When this occurs, “we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2).
Second, seek the companionship of virtuous friends, not virtual friends. In today’s technological society, we may spend more time with nonhuman companions than we do with our peers. While we may be very careful about our human companions, sometimes we give little thought to the other companions that we allow to influence us. Media of any kind can be a very powerful social influencer.
We have all been given three precious gifts for our mortal experience. These include our body, our agency, and our time. If Satan can entice us to use our time in unfocused or unproductive or, even worse, nonvirtuous pursuits and then deceive us into believing that if we do this in private our actions don’t affect anyone, he is victorious. “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we [must] seek after these things” (A of F 1:13).
Third, enter a program of strict training. When training for a marathon, one has to follow a strict training plan in order to be prepared to go the distance. In the run of our life, we must also follow a strict training plan. There are things we must do every single day, without fail, in order to invite the Spirit’s companionship into our lives. They will be different for each of us but will always include daily prayer. Our Heavenly Father hears our prayers, and He will answer them. I testify that that is true. Our challenge is to be in a place where we can hear and recognize the answers.
Strict training will also include daily reading of the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith said that “a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”10 Reading the Book of Mormon will increase your faith in Jesus Christ, and it is through your faith that you will be able to withstand temptation. This record is for you. Reading just five minutes every single day will change your life.
Unfurl Your Banner of Virtue
In another time and another place, a banner was unfurled by one courageous man, Moroni, who was committed to the cause of righteousness. The society in which he lived was in turmoil. The desire for power and wealth and status had led many to turn from rightousness and liberty to follow a wicked man.
It was in this climate that Moroni unfurled his banner—the title of liberty—calling for a defense of families, of women and children, and of religion and God. He was not neutral. He was not passive. He was not tolerant. He was right! He went forth boldly.
You are the banner! Your lives of purity and virtue are the banner that will cause the nations of the earth to look up—to come to the temple. As you remain virtuous, you will be led by the Holy Ghost, and your personal virtue will qualify you to go to the temple often. If you don’t have a recommend, now is the time to become worthy to receive one. This is your work. The temple will be a strength and a protection to you in an ever-darkening world, and it will become an ensign not only to you but to the nations.
A return to virtue is a return to the temple, and a return to the temple is a return to the Savior. Don’t allow anything to disqualify you from the blessings that await you in the Lord’s holy temple.
I feel prompted to share the words in Doctrine and Covenants 121:45–46. They are for those who are called and chosen and who endure valiantly. They are for you in these trying days: “Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God [and] the Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion.”
When we are virtuous, we are promised we shall confidently stand in His presence—holy and like Him. We are promised priesthood power, the very power of godliness, because we are virtuous! We are promised the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, who testifies, directs, warns, comforts, and sanctifies. And finally, we are promised that we shall have eternal life, the greatest of all God’s gifts (see D&C 14:7). We will be gods, living a godlike life, when we are virtuous. We will be like Him—pure even as He is pure.
The journey to Zion—the pure in heart—will take everything you and I have. I pray that each one of us will have the desire and strength in the run of our lives to, like Agnes Caldwell, reach up and take the Master’s hand. I testify that our Father in Heaven and His Son, Jesus Christ, live and They will prepare us for the great work to be done in the holy temples of our Lord in preparation not only for the Savior’s Second Coming but also for our eternal exaltation.
1. Agnes Caldwell Southworth, in Susan Arrington Madsen, I Walked to Zion: True Stories of Young Pioneers on the Mormon Trail (1994), pp. 57–59.
2. Preach My Gospel (2004), p. 118.
3. Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 4th ed. (2002), “virtue,” p. 1597.
4. Winston Churchill (address to the British House of Commons, May 13, 1940),www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/winstonchurchillbloodtoiltearssweat.htm.
5. “More Holiness Give Me,” Hymns, no. 131.
6. See Sheri L. Dew, “You Are a Pivotal Generation” (BYU–Hawaii devotional address, Feb. 17, 2009).
7. Boyd K. Packer, “Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His Atonement” (address at seminar for new mission presidents, June 27, 2009), p. 5.
8. For the Strength of Youth (pamphlet, 2001), p. 30.
9. Thomas S. Monson, “Examples of Righteousness,” Ensign, May 2008, pp. 65–66.
10. Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1932–51), vol. 4, p. 461.
Elaine S. Dalton is general president of the Young Women for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This article is adapted from a fireside address given Sept. 13, 2009, in the Marriott Center. The full text is available at speeches.byu.edu.
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