Enduring Well

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Devotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii

January 22, 2004
Cecil O. Samuelson
President of BYU-Provo

It is a special privilege and blessing to be back here at BYU-Hawaii.  Sister Samuelson and I appreciate both the invitation to come and also the special courtesies and thoughtfulness extended in our behalf.  We are especially grateful to President and Sister Shumway for their friendship and support.  President Shumway is now the senior BYU president and I appreciate his thoughtful leadership and association in our regular Executive Committee and Board meetings.  We also bring you the greetings of your friends, families and associates in Provo.  We are pleased with the opportunities we have to share in many ways the important work of our two universities.

For those of you privileged to live on or near this spectacular and beautiful campus, you might wonder about the topic I have chosen to discuss with you.  In spite of the splendor of your surroundings and the most favorable circumstances associated with your attendance at BYU Hawaii, you continue to live in the world.  It is a wonderful world, created for us under the direction of the Father and the Son, but it is also a world with problems, difficulties, temptations and even traps set by Lucifer to distract and destroy Heavenly Father's children.

Because our earth life has real meaning and purpose, it is the intent and effort of the adversary to interfere with our successful completion of the work and growth we have come here to accomplish.  Our lives are no small matters in the eyes of the Lord and what we do and what we become mean more than any of us can fully appreciate at this time.

President Hinckley regularly reminds us that it is a great privilege to attend BYU.  Growing from the blessings that derive from a BYU education are also very significant responsibilities.  I know you are aware that only a small fraction of young Church members ever have the opportunity to attend one of the Church universities.  I also know you understand that much of the expense and support for your education is provided by the faithful members of the Church all around the world.  Many of these wonderful and generous members have no real hope that they or even their family members will ever have the opportunity to study on a BYU campus.  And yet, they continue to pay their tithes and offerings and sustain our leaders who have made the decision to use so much of the Lord's purse in supporting our educational endeavors.  I hope you remember these wonderful and generous people in your prayers.  I also hope you reflect and ponder often on what is expected of you while you are here and what is needed from you for the rest of your lives.

In addition to the magnificent blessings you will experience, you will surely have problems, difficulties, disappointments, illnesses and frustrations, for this is part of the plan and purpose for our lives.  It is not just a question of avoiding these unpleasant surprises because we often cannot.  We certainly must avoid the obvious and silly mistakes made by too many.  But it is a question of how we will respond when we are faced with the "curve balls" of life that sometimes sneak up on us.  You will remember the words of the Savior to His Twelve Apostles whom He obviously loved very much.  He made wonderful promises to them but also some predictions about their futures that would give any sane person considerable reason for pause.  Listen to this summary statement: "And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved" (Matthew 10:22).  Clearly, enduring to the end is very important!

I must confess that when I was the age of most of you, I thought I understood this concept or doctrine of "enduring to the end."  I thought that it meant simply keeping the commandments and living happily ever after.  It seemed to me that the concept of enduring to the end was straightforward, and the execution or living of it was relatively easy.  I still believe the doctrine is clear and uncomplicated.  I have come to learn that the applications are not always easy and it is not rare for even good people who know better to trip and fall.  I am more grateful than ever before for the wonderful principle of repentance and the unspeakable assurances that come from the Savior's Atonement because without them, even the best and strongest would be lost.

 I can remember in my youth listening to distinguished senior Church leaders and lifelong devoted members pray or exclaim their wishes to be able to endure to the end.  I confess I thought as a young adult that surely it was no longer necessary for these exemplary folks to even be worried about enduring to the end.  From my perspective then, they had endured.   I have since repented of this serious misunderstanding.

You might appropriately ask exactly what is enduring to the end and what does it really mean?  While I think you know already, there are some important dimensions of this doctrine and concept worth thinking about, particularly as you consider implications for your own lives.  Before I address some of these, let me share an experience that has profoundly and increasingly influenced me as I have grown older.  Some of the most important lessons in life are not fully appreciated until a long time has elapsed.  This personal experience was one of them.

While serving as a young missionary in Scotland, I was visiting with my mission president, Bernard P. Brockbank, who later became a general authority.  Like almost all mission presidents, he had a tremendous, positive influence and impact on his missionaries.  I tried always to listen carefully to his counsel and teaching, even when I did not understand or appreciate fully what he was trying to share and why.

I was serving as a District Leader and had come to discuss with the president one of the missionaries for whom I had responsibility and a particular problem this elder faced.  I wanted to be more helpful to my associate than I had been and the president made some practical and positive suggestions.  He then grew pensive and looked at the "board" on his office wall where all of the missionaries in the mission had their pictures posted and segregated into companionships, districts and zones.  I'll never forget that President Brockbank, without identifying any specific individual, said sadly that some of the missionaries whose pictures we could see on his wall would be lost to Church activity in the years ahead.

I don't remember if I said anything.  I hope I didn't, but I do remember being absolutely sure at the time that he was wrong.  I knew virtually all of these missionaries at least a little and could not conceive of a single one, even those with problems or special challenges, who would not remain true and faithful.  Over the years, sadly, there have not been many, but there have been a few who did not remain faithful to their covenants, enough to demonstrate that the president's prophecy was true.  Happily, some have put their lives back in order but others have yet to do so.

I had the special opportunity two or three years ago, at the instruction of the First Presidency, to restore the priesthood and temple blessings of a man, somewhat older than I, who had been a respected and effective young missionary and leader in his mission.  After his honorable mission, he lost his way and fell into serious transgression.  He is now back and faithful, but he has lost so much and paid such a heavy price.  I won't detail the carnage his carelessness created or the scars that remain.  I pray that all of you can avoid this tragic path, even though we are thrilled when any prodigal son or daughter is able to make the necessary changes to come home.

As I have reflected on my experience with my mission president and observed firsthand the truth of his sad predictions, I have recently understood more clearly that his observation of the missionary board that day may have been meant as a direct warning to me and not just a casual lament about others as I had assumed at the time.

I now fully believe that we are all at risk, whatever our age and our circumstances, until we arrive at that time described by one of the Brethren when "we are safely dead" or have completed our mortal probations.   Hence, my concern that we do not neglect, misunderstand or under emphasize the need for our own personal attention to enduring to the end.  We have great confidence in you young people and your capacities but we also know how hard Satan works to derail your eternal progression.

The dictionary describes enduring as "continuing in the same state" or "to remain firm under suffering or misfortune without yielding" (Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary).  You can think of other synonyms or almost synonyms that might include words like constancy, persistence, or perseverance.

The Prophet Joseph Smith endured much personally but also taught the principle clearly.  Think of the wonderful Articles of Faith, particularly the thirteenth which might be viewed as a summary statement that describes the attitudes and behaviors of those who really believe the first twelve Articles of Faith.

"We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul " We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things.  If there is anything virtuous, lovely or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things."

You might honorably ask these questions:  Why should I make the effort to endure to the end?  Does it really matter?   The Savior's own words give the best and most direct answer:  "[He] that endureth to the end shall be saved" (Matthew 10:22).  This is a very straightforward promise but Nephi adds additional clarity and understanding when he emphasizes that "unless [you] shall endure to the end, in following the example of the Son of the living God, [you] cannot be saved" (2 Nephi 31:16).  Enduring to the end is more than just waiting patiently to die!

Thus, as we aspire to endure to the end in a gospel sense, we must realize that what we do and how we do it is inescapably wrapped up in our individual relationship with Jesus Christ.  Enduring well means that we strive to live to endure in the way that the mortal Savior did but especially to follow His pattern in the ways that He would have us face our own unique and personal challenges.  Having said this, for most of us, it is far easier to conceive of what enduring to the end is and why we should do it than it is to answer the basic question, exactly how should we do it?

In teaching His disciples about the last days, which incidentally are our days, Jesus gave some clear signs of the times, together with appropriate warnings and then the promise that He made before.  "He that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved" (Matthew 24:13).  Professor Jo Ann H. Seely who has served as a member of the BYU Provo Religion faculty points out that the Savior gave his associates three parables to help them understand both the specifics and the processes that constitute enduring to the end.  (See: Seely in From the Last Supper Through the Resurrection: The Savior's Final Hours, p. 54-45.)  Since we are also His disciples, or aspire to be such, let us consider them.

First, the parable of the 10 virgins (Matthew 25:1-13).  

"Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.

            "And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.

"They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them;

            "But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. . . .

"And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.

            "Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.

"And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.

"But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.

"And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.

"Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.

"But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.

"Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh."

I don't know about you, but I have dreamed about this parable several times just before the beginning of my final exams!

Second, the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30).  

"For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.

"And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.

"Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.

"And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.

"But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money.

            "After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.

"And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.

"His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

"He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.

"His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

"Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou has not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed;

"And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.

"His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:

"Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.

"Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.

"For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.

"And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

We may not literally bury our talents in the ground, but do we strive for regular opportunities to expand them?  Some of you do double or magnify your talents at the PCC and here on campus, but some also may be far too careful not to wear out their scriptures by over using them or overdo their Christian service to others.

Third, the parable of the judgment (Matthew 25:31-46).  This parable is also long and familiar to you but we must not miss its vital message.

"When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory.

"And before him shall be gathered all nations: and shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:

"And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

"Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

"For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

"Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

"Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee?  Or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

"When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in?  Or naked, and clothed thee?

            "Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

"And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of he least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

 "Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:

"For I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:

"I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

"Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

"Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

 "And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal."

The Lord's words and parables speak for themselves.  That may seem like a long chapter for me to have read to you.  It is, but it is so packed with insight and instruction that each of us must understand all that the Savior is teaching if we desire to endure to the end.

We might summarize for simplicity and our own planning the following notions and counsel which Jesus provides for us.  To endure to the end well, we must:

First, always be prepared.  Intentions are not enough.  We need to "have oil in our lamps" now and forever.

Second, always do the best you can with the talents and circumstances you have.  We do not need to be compared with anyone else, but we will be evaluated on the basis of what we have done with our own opportunities and individually unique resources.

Third, always remember that you are "on stage."  That means, in the Savior's analysis, we won't have selective or public responses that we save for special audiences but rather will be known (and all of us will be very well known!)  for what we are and what we do all of the time, privately as well as publicly.

Happily, the absolute absence of mistakes, even serious ones, is not an essential criterion for successfully enduring to the end, but it is true that the clear emergence of constancy and appropriateness in all of our patterns of living and behavior are  keys of qualification for the eventual reward called eternal life.  It is these patterns of consistently following the Savior's precepts and examples that constitute enduring to the end.

I like Nephi's counsel on these matters.  He said, "[My] soul delighteth in plainness . . ."  (2 Nephi 31:3) and the clarity and simplicity of his teaching certainly supports his assertion.   His consistent message was what he described as the "doctrine of Christ" (2 Nephi 31:2) and he explained the basics in a way difficult to be misunderstood.  In all that he did, he was careful to give credit to the Lord and explained that his pleasure in plainness or clarity was because the Savior Himself taught with such plainness and directness.  I will leave it to you to study continually the words of Nephi and the other prophets of the Book of Mormon to verify the correctness of what I have said.  Let me use Nephi's words to help us as we try to understand more fully the principle of enduring to the end.

Like Alma and other prophets, Nephi taught by asking simple, yet penetrating, questions.

"And now, if the Lamb of God, he being holy, should have need to be baptized by water, to fulfill all righteousness, O then, how much more need have we, being unholy, to be baptized, yea, even by water!

"And now, I would ask of you, my beloved brethren, wherein the Lamb of God did fulfill all righteousness in being baptized by water?

            "Know ye not that he was holy? . . ."  (2 Nephi 31:5-7)

Those are very significant questions.  While we think we know the answers, do we really think about them and fully understand them?  Listen to Nephi's response to his own questions and see if they square with what you might say when you are required to answer the same inquiries.

". . . But notwithstanding he being holy, (meaning Jesus) he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments.

"And again, it showeth unto the children of men the straitness of the path, and the narrowness of the gate, by which they should enter, he having set the example before them.

"And he said unto the children of men: Follow thou me.  Wherefore my beloved brethren, can we follow Jesus save we shall be willing to keep the commandments of the Father?" (2 Nephi 31:7, 9-10)

That is a very clear answer to Nephi's questions.  The Savior demonstrates His humility, His testimony, His obedience and His example.  Note that Nephi teaches with this vital question: "Can we follow Jesus save we shall be willing to keep the commandments of the Father?"  While the obvious answer is no, we must ask ourselves how that standard really compares to how we actually are living?  You see, Nephi even has me asking questions!  I believe that is his intent for all of us. That is, we should continue to ask ourselves what we need to be doing better to endure to the end.  In that spirit, let me continue with more of Nephi's splendid discourse.

". . . the voice of the Son came unto me, saying: . . . follow me, and do the things which ye have seen me do" (2 Nephi 31:12).

Nephi is testifying that Jesus instructed him to follow and do the things that Nephi had seen the Savior do.  Clearly, Nephi did not believe that this direction was for him only or just for leaders or Book of Mormon people.  Listen to what he then said:

"Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism, yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, . . ."  (2 Nephi 31:13)

The promises of special blessings continue but also rather specific warnings.  I'll leave for you the study of the entire text of 2 Nephi chapter 31, but want to have you hear this testimony and report from Nephi's own words.

"And I heard a voice from the Father, saying: Yea, the words of my Beloved are true and faithful.   He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.

"And now, my beloved brethren, I know by this that unless a man shall endure to the end, in following the example of the Son of the Living God, he cannot be saved" (2 Nephi 31:15).

Enduring to the end, then, means simply that we must follow the example of Jesus Christ all throughout our lives.  I have tried to read the relevant scriptures that refer to enduring to the end and I find no evidence in them, or in the teachings of the living prophets, that we can be selective in following the Savior.  This means that we keep the commandments all of them!  This means that we qualify for and receive all of the essential gospel ordinances all of them!  This means that in our daily lives, we constantly remember and apply the lessons from the parables of Jesus that we have reviewed today.  This means that ultimately we must do what Jesus did in having our lives literally "swallowed up" in the work and mission of the Savior, just as Abinadi described "the will of the Son being swallowed up in the will of the Father" (Mosiah 15:7).

If we are really serious about enduring to the end, we must think of Jesus but must also include ourselves when we read the oft quoted words of the Lord God in the Book of Moses: "For behold, this is my work and my glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39).   We need to endure so that we can help others endure to the end.

As I return to an initial assertion I made about the tremendous privilege it is to be associated with BYU and Church education, I think you might better understand the scope of responsibility we all have in the face of these blessings.  Let me also assure you that I believe it is no mistake or chance occurrence that you are here.  The Lord's hand is in the work of His universities and some of you, at least, are the evidence of His efforts in your behalf.  Please understand that this is true not because you are better than others or that God loves you more.  I am quite sure that you are not more loved or more important than those not granted these special and unique opportunities.  But I am equally sure that the Lord and His servants have seen and see in you the potential for greatness in service and in advancing His work and His glory.

May we understand the uniqueness of our situation and with humility and meekness, but also with clarity of purpose and courage, determine to endure to the end and help those within our sphere of influence do likewise.  I know that God will bless us and assist us in this quest for we are part of His work and are His literal spirit Children.  May we do our parts as a testimony to Him and to all who see us, I pray.  In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.