Every so often I notice something in the scriptures that just rocks me simply by analyzing the wording and promises carefully enough.
Probably four or five years ago, it was Jacob 4:12 where he says “. . . for why not speak of the atonement of Christ, and attain to a perfect knowledge of him, as to attain to the knowledge of a resurrection and the world to come?” This was after the first time I had read The Infinite Atonement by Tad R. Callister. Never before had I felt more weight from this one little verse than I did at that point.
Last year, it was 2 Nephi 9:51, which is now the license plate on my Hyundai Elantra (well, it actually says “2NE9 51”), especially the part where it says, “Wherefore, do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy. Hearken diligently unto me, and remember the words which I have spoken; and come unto the Holy One of Israel, and feast upon that which perisheth not, neither can be corrupted…” (That one hit me so hard that I actually also used it for the URL of my website, www.thatwhichperishethnot.com.)
Well, another one hit me super hard today. It was part of an answer to prayer for me about having confidence in myself and my ability to receive revelation properly. It is Doctrine and Covenants 121:45:
“Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.”
Let’s dissect why this verse is one that every missionary… heck, every member… no, every person on earth should memorize this scripture. What the Lord promises us in this verse is of eternally pivotal and of monumental importance.
What We Need to Do
First, the Lord gives us a few instructions. All of them are pretty loaded if you think about them carefully enough. As charity is the pure love of Christ (and seeing that we mortals have a pretty hard time loving absolutely everyone) the command to be “full of charity towards all men” feels like a tall order as it is. Yet when you know how wonderful it is to feel absolute, unquestionable love for someone right to the core of your soul and then realize that everyone deserves that kind of love, it becomes a constant struggle to match what you know with what you feel. Nonetheless, the promises given if we achieve that level of feeling and action for others is monumental — and I’ll get to that here in a bit.
The next little phrase, “and to the household of faith,” to me, speaks volumes. What is “the household of faith”? This phrase appears in the verse we are dissecting as well as in Galatians 6:10. Both uses seem to imply a respect for sacred things, for the truth, for God’s glory and His plan for His children. To me, this is a reminder of the ever-present conundrum of being in the world but not of the world. Learning to love all men like Christ does and yet also unflinchingly loving the Lord and His plan in a world where so many don’t is a balance that takes most of us a lifetime to achieve.
Then the Lord adds on one more assignment before getting to the promises associated with these instructions: “Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly.” This reminds me of what President Nelson said in April 2017 about “reach[ing] up for the Lord’s power in your life with the same intensity that a drowning person has when grasping and gasping for air.” In the same talk, he said, “It is mentally rigorous to strive to look unto Him in every thought. But when we do, our doubts and fears flee.” He’s got the mentally rigorous part absolutely right! When I asked Siri to define “garnish,” she gave the food version and the legal version. The legal definition is to “seize (money, especially part of a person’s salary) to settle a debt or claim.” In my mind, the “seizing” definition seems to fit more given the “unceasingly” part of this instruction. To have virtue seize our every thought every second of every day is something mortal weakness makes so difficult! BUT — and it’s a big but — let’s now consider the ramifications and results of continuously shooting for this lofty goal.
In Truman Madsen’s first lecture on Joseph Smith, “The First Vision and Its Aftermath,” he described Joseph’s and Sydney Rigdon’s responses to having visions:
“In 1832, emerging from the vision on the three degrees of glory (Doctrine and Covenants 76) with his companion in the vision, Sidney Rigdon, the Prophet looked strong, while Sidney looked like he’d been through the war. To this the Prophet, with a certain humility as also perhaps with a little condescension, said, “Sidney is not as used to it as I am.” But after the First Vision, he was feeble. It was difficult for him to go home. Similarly, in his 1823 encounter with Moroni, the repetitive encounter, he was left weak, and his father sent him home. He couldn’t even climb the fence, though he was usually a strong and vigorous boy.”
The Book of Mormon also says that Lehi was exhausted from the vision he had at the beginning of the book. So when the Lord gives as a promise to us if we meet the above conditions, “. . . then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God,” think about that for a minute. Who among mortals, even including prophets, has testified of standing in the presence of God without feeling utterly inadequate and unequal to the task, constantly needing to plead with God and realizing that without Him we are nothing? And yet He promises us that if we are full of charity for all men and for the household of faith and virtue garnishes our thoughts unceasingly, our confidence shall wax strong in the presence of God. I can hardly imagine standing in His presence and feeling utterly confident in my standing before Him. I mean, I know that one day if I keep my covenants that will happen, but thinking about that now? Take a few moments to allow the gravity of that statement to sink in. That’s what He promises us!
And then the last promise, which is equally amazing! “. . . the doctrine of the priesthood shall distill upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.” The two definitions I found for distill are:
“Purify (a liquid) by vaporizing it, then condensing it by cooling the vapor, and collecting the resulting liquid.”
“Extract the essential meaning or most important aspects of.”
Both create pretty strong imagery when applying them to that last promise. It’s like the quintessence of everything good and holy seeping into our bones and sinews. I’m picturing one of those scenes in a Disney movie where someone is transformed with beams of light coming out of them from everywhere. Almost gives me the shivers with how awesome that would be! And it’s real!
There certainly are many aspects of living the gospel that are, dang it, just plain hard! But for me, when I consider the rewards God promises us for striving for those ideals, the sheer power of those possibilities is vastly more than enough to make me want to “reach up for the Lord’s power in [my] life with the same intensity that a drowning person has when grasping and gasping for air” to be filled with such charity and have my thoughts garnished with such virtue.
It’s a tall order, but an order worth working to fill every minute of every day.
About Paul Pulsipher
Paul served a mission in the then Canada Toronto West Mission and moved to Utah after living for ten years with his late wife, Lorraine, in Hamilton Ontario before her passing in 2019 and recently remarried in the Payson temple to his beloved Collette. He loves missionary work, piano, blogging (you can find his personal blog here!), deep spiritual conversations with friends, and hosting his podcast, Stepping Into Freedom. He can solve a 5x5x5 Rubik's cube, and puts a lot of time into gospel scholarship.