As a boy, I had the opportunity with my family to frequently go rappelling – descending a cliff on a rope. When I first started out, these “cliffs” were no more than 15 to 20 feet tall, offering the opportunity to learn without inducing much vertigo. As skills progressed, the cliffs we descended became taller. It might not seem particularly safe to walk, bounce, or run down the face of a cliff but with secure anchors and strong equipment, rappelling is a relatively safe activity with the greatest risk being scrapes or increased anxiety caused by a fear of heights. If safety procedures are not followed, however, rappelling can be fatal. This is true for many activities in life, including driving a car. In order for rappelling to be safe one must be securely anchored. My father, always conscious of safety, would, whenever possible, tie a rope to one anchor and then tie that anchor to a second anchor – a strong tree for example – in case the first anchor failed. In this manner, we always knew we had a sure foundation when we bounded down the cliffs. As an additional safety precaution, someone would remain at the bottom the cliff acting as belayer. The belayer is able to provide friction on the rope by pulling it away from the cliff face should the person rappelling slip. The belayer can stop the person on the rope should she need to regain her footing. One other safety principle was to never use faulty equipment. Once climbing ropes showed signs of significant wear, they were replaced. Before and during each rappelling outing, we inspected our ropes, harnesses, ascenders, carabiners, slings, gloves, and descenders to make sure all were in working order. If we had a question about any piece of equipment, it wasn’t used. New equipment is always cheaper than a person’s life.
Safety while rappelling has three main principles:
- Proper preparation
- Having secure anchors and strong equipment
- Having someone act as belayer and guide
These same principles can be applied to the gospel. I’d like to talk about one important principle that provides safety for us in this adventure of life – the making and keeping of covenants, which covenants were restored unto the earth through the prophet Joseph Smith.
These restored covenants were first given to Adam and Eve and then given down the generations. Abram made the covenant with The Lord, who told him: “But as for thee, behold, I will make my covenant with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. And this covenant I make, that thy children may be known among all nations. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be called Abraham; for, a father of many nations have I made thee.” (JST, Genesis 17:8-9).
Abraham truly is the father of many nations. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all are tied to Abraham. This Abrahamic covenant, which includes the blessing of numberless posterity, blessed and still blesses the children of Abraham.
Part of this covenant Abraham made is found in the Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis: “And thou [Abraham] shalt observe to keep all my covenants wherein I covenanted with thy fathers; and thou shalt keep the commandments which I have given thee with mine own mouth, and I will be a God unto thee and thy seed after thee.” (JST, Genesis 17:12)
Through the covenant, Abraham and his posterity, promise to keep the commandments of the Lord. In return, the Lord promises to be “a God unto [him] and [his posterity].” This is a promise that we can be part of God’s family; we are His children but through the Abrahamic Covenant we can become worthy to inherit all the He has. By doing the simple task of keeping the commandments – the covenants – of the Lord, He promises us everything. We give the Lord a seed, He gives us a mighty tree. We give Him our stony hearts of flint, He replaces them with fleshy hearts of charity. We consecrate unto Him our lives through covenant, He blesses us with Eternal Lives. God truly is our Father and desires to bless us as much as we are willing to receive.
We find a record of God’s covenants with His children in the scriptures. The Old Testament contains covenants given to God’s children before the coming of Christ, prominently through Abraham and Moses. The New Testament contains covenants offered by Christ and His apostles. The Old and New Testaments are rightly called the Old and New Covenants.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Saints in the Roman province of Galatia: “Wherefore then, the law [of Moses] was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made in the law given to Moses, who was ordained by the hand of angels to be a mediator of this first [or old] covenant…. Now [Moses is] not a mediator of the new covenant; but there is one mediator of the new covenant, who is Christ, as it is written in the law concerning the promises made to Abraham and his seed. Now Christ is the mediator of life; for this is the promise which God made unto Abraham.” (JST, Galatians:19-20)
The new covenant given by Christ, the mediator of life, was lost from the earth not long after the Savior’s death, resurrection, and ascension into Heaven. His apostles were killed and the purity of the gospel polluted by philosophies of men. Over the next 1700 years, people wandered about in mists of darkness with varying degrees of light. This old world apostasy was paralleled, although off-set by a few hundred years, by an apostasy in the new world among the descendants of Lehi. During the time of apostasy many were true to the light and knowledge they had and sought to follow Christ but the covenants of the Lord were not available upon the earth.
After the falling away – the great apostasy – to the young Joseph Smith, the Lord re-introduced covenants given in days of old. These covenants are contained in the Doctrine and Covenants. The Book of Mormon is another record of covenants. This record contains the covenants given to small groups of people in the Americas. The covenants in Book of Mormon also apply to the children of Israel in our day, particularly those who are descended from Lehi. Mormon wrote The Book of Mormon specifically for our day. It is a compilation of teachings spanning more than one thousand years. The prophet Mormon compiled and edited the book, passing it on to his son Moroni, who finished the editing and writing. Moroni then buried the plates, sealing them up unto the Lord, so that they might come forth by the power of God at an appointed date. That appointed time was in the early 1800s through the work and righteousness of the prophet Joseph Smith. God called Joseph Smith to bring new light to the world; through Joseph, the Lord reestablished the sacred covenants that had been taken from the earth because of wickedness.
Over the years, the Lord gave numerous prophesies concerning the breaking of the covenants and the falling away in apostasy that would occur before the final redemption and the second coming of the Savior.
Isaiah prophesied: “The earth mourneth and fadeth away, the world languisheth and fadeth away, the haughty people of the earth do languish. The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore hath the curse devoured the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate.” (Isaiah 24:4-6)
Around the time that Lehi left Jerusalem, Jeremiah prophesied of the apostasy and subsequent restoration of the gospel: “In [the last] days, and in that time, saith the Lord, the children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together, going and weeping: they shall go, and seek the Lord their God. They shall ask the way to Zion with their faces thitherward, saying, Come, and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual [in other words - eternal or everlasting] covenant that shall not be forgotten. My people hath been lost sheep: their shepherds have caused them to go astray, they have turned them away on the mountains: they have gone from mountain to hill, they have forgotten their restingplace.” (Jeremiah 50:4-6)
The wandering sheep, led astray by unfaithful shepherds, would turn and seek the Lord, their Good Shepherd. After a time of wandering there would be a time of restoration.
In the Doctrine and Covenants we read of apostasy before and after the restoration of the gospel: “And the arm of the Lord shall be revealed; 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 everlasting covenant; 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, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall.” (D&C 1:14-16; emphasis added).
After the falling away came the restoration, starting with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ visiting Joseph Smith in 1820. This great restoration is still occurring, as Pres. Uchtdorf eloquently taught during the Priesthood Session of this past General Conference. We have a description in Doctrine and Covenants Section 1 of why the gospel was restored.
“Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments; And also gave commandments to others, that they should proclaim these things unto the world; and all this that it might be fulfilled, which was written by the prophets—The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh—But that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world; That faith also might increase in the earth; That mine everlasting covenant might be established; That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world, and before kings and rulers. (D&C 1:17-23; emphasis added).
Let me repeat verse 22; the gospel was restored: “That mine [the Lord’s] everlasting covenant might be established.”
Later in the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord states: “And even so I have sent mine everlasting covenant into the world, to be a light to the world, and to be a standard for my people, and for the Gentiles to seek to it, and to be a messenger before my face to prepare the way before me.” (D&C 45:9) Thus, we can be guided by the light of the new covenant; we can rally around it as armies would rally around a standard.
We read in the Book of Mormon concerning the restoration of this everlasting covenant. Mormon wrote: “And as surely as the Lord liveth, will he gather in from the four quarters of the earth all the remnant of the seed of Jacob, who are scattered abroad upon all the face of the earth. And as he hath covenanted with all the house of Jacob, even so shall the covenant wherewith he hath covenanted with the house of Jacob be fulfilled in his own due time, unto the restoring all the house of Jacob unto the knowledge of the covenant that he hath covenanted with them. And then shall they know their Redeemer, who is Jesus Christ, the Son of God; and then shall they be gathered in from the four quarters of the earth unto their own lands, from whence they have been dispersed; yea, as the Lord liveth so shall it be.” (3 Nephi 5:24-26)
This restored covenant prepares the way before the coming of the Lord. This covenant allows us to know our Redeemer, who is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Through this covenant, we are prepared and gathered in from the four quarters of the earth to the stakes of Zion. Malachi prophesied, speaking for the Lord: “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 3:1)
Christ is the messenger of the covenant. He is the author and finisher of our faith. He is the giver and maker of this everlasting covenant. We can understand what the everlasting covenant pertains to from the writings of Ezekiel: “Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them: and I will place them, and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them: yea, I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And the heathen shall know that I the Lord do sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore.” (Ezekiel 37:26-28; emphasis added)
The everlasting covenant is a covenant of peace. To fulfill it, the Lord sets His sanctuary in the midst of His people. The Lord’s sanctuary is His temple. In addition to be gathered in to the stakes of Zion, we are gathered in to holy places of consecration and covenant, even the temples of the Most High God. Isn’t it wonderful to see these prophecies of Ezekiel and Malachi fulfilled around us? Temples are beginning to dot the earth. Most members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints live within relatively easy access to a temple. In the temple, we make sacred covenants that prepare us to return to live with God and become His eternal children. In order to access those temples, we need to first make covenants through baptism and confirmation, which covenants come from faith.
This principle is taught in simplicity in the manual Preach My Gospel. “Faith in Jesus Christ and repentance prepare us for the ordinances of baptism and confirmation. An ordinance is a sacred ceremony or rite that shows that we have entered into a covenant with God.
“God has always required His children to make covenants. A covenant is a binding and solemn agreement between God and man. God promises to bless us, and we promise to obey Him. God sets the terms of gospel covenants, which we either accept or reject. Keeping covenants brings blessings in this life and exaltation in the life to come.
“Covenants place us under a strong obligation to honor our commitments to God. To keep our covenants, we must give up activities or interests that prevent us from honoring those covenants…. We should desire to receive worthily the covenants that God offers us and then strive to keep them. Our covenants remind us to repent every day of our lives. By keeping the commandments and serving others we receive and retain a remission of our sins.
“Covenants are usually made by means of sacred ordinances, such as baptism. These ordinances are administered by priesthood authority. Through the ordinance of baptism…we covenant to take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ, always remember Him, and keep His commandments. As we keep our part of the covenant, God promises the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, a remission of our sins, and being born again.” (Preach My Gospel, Lesson 3).
We receive the priesthood of the Lord and the ordinances of the gospel so that we might make these sacred covenants with God.
What is a covenant? It is, as defined in Preach My Gospel, “a binding and solemn agreement between God and [His children].” There is a lovely example of a covenant in the book of Ruth. Ruth’s pleading to Naomi expresses a covenant: “And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.” (Ruth 1:16-17)
The restoration of the gospel restored the covenants of The Lord. The covenants bind us to God and us to our fathers, mothers, and children. In this manner is the restored gospel about welding families together and to God. This welding occurs in the temple.
Sis. Wixom stated at this past General Women’s Meeting in March, “We are covenant-making [men and] women of all ages walking the path of mortality back to His presence. Keeping covenants protects us, prepares us, and empowers us…. Each week as we partake of the emblems of the sacrament, we renew our baptismal covenant. Elder David A. Bednar said: ‘As we stand in the waters of baptism, we look to the temple. As we partake of the sacrament, we look to the temple. We pledge to always remember the Savior and to keep His commandments as preparation to participate in the sacred ordinances of the temple.'” (Keeping Covenants Protects Us, Prepares Us, and Empowers Us; Sis. Wixom, March 2014)
All that we do in the church should help us look to the temple – not just look but prepare and enter for therein is found the New and Everlasting Covenant of God. The temple provides the sealing of families. The sealing of families is the culmination of covenants; it is the new and everlasting covenant of marriage and the creation of eternal family units.
In order to keep these covenants, we should work towards making our homes into sanctuaries of consecration and covenant. Are our homes sacred places like the temples? Do our actions invite the Spirit of God into our homes or do we drive it away. Are our homes places that foster conversion to the Lord? Do we follow the example of the people of King Benjamin, who after hearing his powerful sermon rejoiced by covenanting to keep the commandments of God? They said: “We are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days, that we may not bring upon ourselves a never-ending torment, as has been spoken by the angel, that we may not drink out of the cup of the wrath of God.” King Benjamin heard their covenant and was pleased: “[King Benjamin] said unto them: Ye have spoken the words that I desired; and the covenant which ye have made is a righteous covenant. And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters. And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives.” (Mosiah 5:5-8)
The covenants we make through the ordinances of the gospel ultimately tie us directly to Christ. They bind us together as eternal families and bind us to Christ. Ironically, it is through these bonds that we are made free. We “become His sons and His daughters.” We are blessed both with root and branch eternally. These sacred covenants require obedience on our part but in return we can be sealed to the Savior, we become eternally His. Covenanting gives us access to His blessings.
Three and one half years ago my extended family experienced a tragedy. One of my nieces was riding her bike with her father and a sister when she was struck by an automobile. She died instantly. Allison was just 11 years old. Since then, our feelings have been tender; at the time our hearts were broken. My sister, brother in law, and their family were trying to put the pieces of their shattered lives back together. In the midst of crashing waves of sorrow, we cried with the poet:
It darkens. I have lost the ford.
There is a change on all things made.
The rocks have evil faces, Lord,
And I am [sore] afraid. (Source).
The loss of a child under such tragic circumstances is devastating. It is a hellish darkness of separation – poignant and painful; a pain one might expect would never end. But with the inexorable march of time comes a deadening of the pain. The storm passes, the numbness fades, but still gray skies remain. There is room for laughter and joy but at times the grief can be overwhelming. So would go life, the only solace in the numbness of time, without knowledge of God’s plan for His children. However, there is more solace available; it comes through faith in Christ’s Atonement and the knowledge and power of eternal families. These are like radiant rays of the sun bursting through the dark clouds and burning away the dreary mists of life.
Jesus is like a song in the night. He is a pillar of fire. He restores breaches in our hearts and families. He stabilizes the rudderless and calms the stormy seas. The Lord blesses us with His tender mercies – friends, family, and other loved ones who provide meals and support. There are the mercies of the promptings and love provided by the Comforter – the Holy Ghost. Most importantly, we are blessed to know that because of the sealing power of the Priesthood – through the covenants of the temple – Allison will be forever part of her family. That knowledge is almost unbelievably comforting. I phrased it that way because at this time when we think we might be completely devastated, we feel some measure of peace even though peace seems so out of place.
We have received promises of peace and comfort forevermore. Some day, we will all live in a promised paradise like the millennial earth of which the Lord said:
“For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying. There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old.” (Isaiah 65:17-20).
There are a lot of hopeful promises made unto those who mourn. For now we mourn, but this life is just a blip in eternity. Some day the voice of weeping will be heard no more among the people of the Lord. Those who mourn for lost loved ones will be reunited. There won’t be the premature loss of children to death. Christ shall wipe away their tears and anoint them with the oil of joy.
My family shall see Allison again. All those who have lost loved ones will see them again! Through the sealing power of the Priesthood and through the eternal covenants of the Lord, families can be together forever. Allison is sealed to her parents and family by this same power. I know that we will all be resurrected some day because of Christ’s death and resurrection. As we remain faithful to these covenants we made in the Holy Temple of God we can return to live with our loved ones and our Father in Heaven.
And now another story illustrative of the blessings of covenant making.
My cousin Mike and his wife Marinda were pregnant with their first child in the fall of 2004. At the first ultrasound appointment in the spring of 2005 they found out that their daughter was 2 weeks behind in development. Additionally, their daughter had abnormal “heart ventricles, irregular blood flow through the umbilical cord, and a large cyst on the brain.” The signs pointed to a rare genetic condition where one of the baby’s genes had three copies instead of just two. This genetic disorder is considered “incompatible with life” meaning that if the baby made it to term, she would live a short time at best. Tears of joy became tears of sorrow at the news. My cousin and his wife quickly turned to family, friends, and their Heavenly Father for counsel and comfort. They attended the temple, read scriptures, and prayed. They decided on the name Hope for their baby as a reminder of the joys of life and blessings of the gospel even through sore trials.
Hope arrived 5 weeks early at just 3 pounds; she was born with difficulty but she was alive. Knowing her mortal life would be short, Hope’s parents held her and enjoyed her presence. They both felt filled with a “warm and peaceful spirit” that provided strength and comfort. Through the sacred power of the priesthood, Hope received a blessing from her father. After a short 52 minutes of life, Hope’s spirit left her body.
Hope’s mother Marinda wrote of the experience immediately after her passing: “While Mike and I were alone with Hope [after her death], we felt her sweet presence with us. I know that she wasn’t far. Hope’s experience on earth was short, but I can say without any reservation that every one of those 52 minutes was filled with love. She was surrounded by people who will always love her so dearly. Just the same, she was able, in such a short time and with such a small body, to impart such a pure and simple love to those who would mourn her passing.” (Source)
1) Proper preparation; 2) having secure anchors and strong equipment; and 3) having someone act as belayer and guide provide safety while rappelling. We can find safety in life by preparing for sacred covenants, especially those made in the temple, by expressing and building faith in Christ. We can find safety by securely anchoring ourselves to Christ through covenants. We can find safety by binding ourselves to our families and following the guidance of the prophet. Covenants bring us safety and great blessings – both here in this life and in the life to come.