The Price of Religious Freedom

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Devotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii

November 2, 2001 
Elder M. Russell Ballard
Member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Aloha. I pray this morning that the Lord will bless me. It is an interesting thing what the Lord does to you. I had prepared a talk, written it, and had it prepared to give to you by the teleprompter. I don't know if it's because I am not sure whether I am in Chile, Argentina, or Hawaii, because I've been on a rather fast track lately, but in the middle of the night I had the impression that I was to set that aside and speak to you from my heart, as a father would speak to his children, on a matter that the Lord apparently wants someone here to hear and to understand.

I'd like to take you, for just a moment, to a scripture that many of you have undoubtedly read but perhaps you have not understood.

"And he began to speak unto them by parables. A certain man planted a vineyard, and set an hedge about it, and digged a place for the winefat, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country.

"And at the season he sent to the husbandmen a servant, that he might receive from the husbandmen of the fruit of the vineyard.

"And they caught him, and beat him, and sent him away empty.

"And again he sent unto them another servant; and at him they cast stones, and wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully handled.

"And again he sent another; and him they killed, and many others; beating some, and killing some.

"Having yet therefore one son, his well beloved, he sent him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence my son.

"But those husbandmen said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours.

"And they took him, and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard.

"What shall therefore the lord of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others." (Mark12:1-9)

I believe the Savior, in this parable, is teaching us how many times our Heavenly Father has tried to send His prophets among His people to establish His gospel and to bless the lives of His children.

Adam had the gospel. He tried to teach it, but there were those among his family who chose not to follow what Adam taught. And the gospel fell into apostasy and into darkness.

The Lord, not giving up, tried again with Noah. You all know the story of the Prophet Noah. He taught with all of the power he had, trying to get Heavenly Father's children to listen to the message of the Lord Jesus Christ. The world laughed, and became so wicked. It must have broken our Father's heart when He determined He had to cleanse the earth with water, and only eight of Noah's family chose to follow Noah into the ark.

Then, again, the Lord tried. This time He tried with Abraham, as you know. Abraham did all he could as a mighty prophet. People chose not to follow. They chose to be under the influence of the evil one and to go the ways of the world, go the easy way, do the easy things. Soon the family of God fell into bondage.

Then at age 75, that's two years older than I am, the Lord called Moses. I can't imagine what Moses must have thought when the Lord said, "I have a little assignment for you. I want you to free the Children of Israel and lead them out of bondage." Well we know that Moses had great power; he had the capacity to do that. He was making some impact on their lives. But, as you know, when he went up on Mt. Sinai it wasn't long before they fell back into their old ways. How disappointed Moses must have been when he came back off the mountain and saw that his brother Aaron, whom he loved, had been caught up in the ways of the world, even to the involvement with the Golden Calf. The gospel was again lost to apostasy.

And then remember that Jesus taught, "having yet therefore one son, his well beloved, he sent him also, last unto them saying, they will reverence my son. But those husbandmen said among themselves, this is the heir, come let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours." (Mark 12:6-7)

I suppose that maybe even those that were listening to the parable did not understand that Jesus was talking about Himself.

The Savior called His apostles. He did all He could to establish the gospel, to give the precious teachings of life and life eternal to our Father's children. And the world fell into darkness, and again apostasy reigned upon the earth.

Now, I want to talk to you about something we must never, ever, forget. As we walk through this process of mortality as members of the Church, we must appreciate that there has been a terrible price paid for the privilege you and I have to be members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I pray with all the power that I have, as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, that there would not be one of you students that would ever take this privilege casually or lightly. I would pray that you would focus some of your study on what price has been paid, by those who have gone before us, to give us the privilege of walking in the light and knowledge of the gospel.

For example, when we study the Apostasy and Restoration, after the resurrection of Christ, we must never lose sight of those heroic reformers of Christendom. You need to study the life of John Wickliff. You need to know how much courage it took, in the 1300's, for him to take the position he did about religious freedom and religious thought. He died and was so hated that in the name of the church he was declared a heretic. They dug his body up 41 years later and burned the bones.

You need to know about John Huss, the Czechoslovakian reformer who was a convert of John Wickliff. The price he paid was giving his life at the stake. But before being burned at the stake for his desire to bring about religious freedom and religious thought, he said this, "I trust in my Lord, Jesus, that He will so comfort and strengthen me that I shall desire much rather to die for His glory's sake than to deny the verity which I have learned by His holy scriptures." (Foxe's Book of Martyrs, p 103)

We need to never lose sight of William Tindale and the price he paid to translate from Latin into English the Holy Bible. Ultimately he was declared a heretic and lost his life for the cause of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Martin Luther is one that all of you are familiar with. He was a courageous reformer of Christendom. He paid a mighty price in order to say and to teach those things that he felt were absolutely essential for people to understand, as it relates to God and His Christ and the truth.

It was not just men that did this. There were many women. One was Ann Askew. She was a daughter of Sir William Askew who was a Knight of Lincolnshire. She made this statement, "I had rather to read five lines in the Bible, than to hear five masses in the temple." Said she, "I confessed that I said no less because the one did greatly edify me and the other, nothing at all." (Foxe's Book of Martyrs, p. 329)

The Lord Chancellor offered her forgiveness, but she would not recant. She answered that she would not come this far and then deny her Lord and her Master. She was burned at the stake in 1546. (Foxe's Book of Martyrs, p. 334)

Master Hugh Latimer is another one that you need to know about. He was well educated and fought the battle for religious freedom along with Bishop Nicholas Ridley.

These are just a few. There are hundreds more. We would call them protestors of Christendom. They were martyrs who gave their lives that you and I would be able to have the light of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, in the year 2001.

These words are pretty tender to me. As Master Latimer and Bishop Ridley were tied at the stake, ready to have the flames ignited, Hugh Latimer turned to Bishop Ridley and said, "Be of good comfort Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall, this day, light such a candle, by God's grace, in England as I trust shall never be put out." And they were burned at the stake. (Foxe's Book of Martyrs, p. 309)

Thomas Cranmer has an interesting background, and I don't have time to give you all of it but simply say to you that he was another reformer. He was involved though in the politics of the day and, weakened in the process, even signed a document authorizing the divorce of King Henry from Catherine after 18 years of marriage. He authorized the marriage of the King to Anne Boleyn, if you know that history of the Church of England.

Then King Henry died and Mary took over the throne. She had Cranmer arrested and tried for heresy. Here's the dialogue from this great reformer of Christendom. "I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. And I believe every word and sentence taught by our Saviour Jesus Christ, His apostles and prophets in the New and the Old Testament. And forasmuch as my hand offended writing contrary to my heart, my hand shall first be punished therefore; for, may I come to the fire, it shall be first burned."

And when the wood was kindled and the fire began to burn near him, stretching out his arm, he put his right hand into the flame, which he held so steadfast and immovable (saving that once with the same hand he wiped his face) that all men might see his hand burned before his body was touched. (See Foxe's Book of Martyrs, p. 372-376)

Why? Because of desire for religious freedom and the capacity of people to have the truth. All of this had to happen in order for the Lord in 1820 to take a boy in Palmyra into a grove of trees where he communicated with God the Father and His Beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

We must never forget the hand of the Lord in moving the gospel forward and preparing the way for the Smith family to move from England. The first Smith to sail to the New World came into Boston Harbor in the 1600's. His name was Robert Smith. He had a son Samuel Smith. Then came Samuel Smith Jr. who was a captain in George Washington's army. His son, Aseal Smith, fought with his father's regiment in those days. Aseal was the grandfather of Joseph Smith, the prophet of God.

You need to know something about the life of Joseph Smith, Sr, the Prophet's father. You need to know the sacrifice, you need to know the difficulties faced by Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith. The Lord had a purpose in it. He moved them. He allowed them to fail time after time, until they put their roots down in Palmyra where God could then open the heavens to His chosen prophet who was ordained before the foundation of the world. The price paid for you and me continued in the lives of the Smith family.

I am overwhelmed with the privilege that is mine to be here this weekend and to participate in the launching of the marvelous canoe Iosepa that has been named after my great grandfather, Joseph F. Smith. Iosepa will be a wonderful addition to the culture of this great university.

As I was pondering over what I might say to you today, the thought came to my mind: "Tell the students about Joseph F. Smith?" Even though he was my great grandfather, we all need to know of his mission and his life. We need to be reminded of what happened to him and what his contribution was.

I think one of the most tender moments we know of in Church history, is told by Joseph F. Smith who describes being picked up off the ground, a boy of five years of age, by his father Hyrum. He was held briefly in his father's strong arms, kissed, and then placed gently back on the ground. That little boy watched his father, and his uncle, whom he loved, ride off to Carthage. The next time he saw his father and his uncle, their bodies were lying in state in the mansion house.

He was nine years of age when his mother chose to follow Brigham Young. This marvelous mother, Mary Fielding, a convert of Parly P Pratt, from Toronto, Ontario, Canada, came to Kirtland shortly after Hyrum's first wife Jerusa passed away, bearing his sixth child. Hyrum was on a mission when all this occurred. He came back to Kirtland to his motherless children. Shortly after Mary Fielding arrived in Kirtland, the Prophet introduced her to Hyrum. They married, and she cared for his family. They had two additional children, a boy and a girl.

The boy they named Joseph Fielding Smith. This boy, brothers and sisters, was a tie in our church history from Nauvoo clear up to 1918. This boy, at nine years of age, walked across the plains. You have read his story, and so you know of the sacrifices he and his mother made.

At 13 years of age his mother passed away, leaving him an orphan. She was only 52. At age 15, The First Presidency called him on a mission and sent him to these islands. What a remarkable thing to be called as a missionary at 15 years of age about the same age as his Uncle Joseph was when he went into the grove to pray.

He had to work his way over here. There was no missionary fund like we have today. It wasn't easy. He didn't have parents to pay his way; they were both gone. So he worked and raised the money necessary to finally come here to these islands. His mission president, President Hammond, gave him a remarkable blessing and sent him off to Maui. Here in these islands, he served faithfully for three years.

One of the experiences that Joseph F. Smith had here was almost losing his life through becoming so very, very sick. How appreciative are those connected to the Smith family for the loving tender care of an Hawaiian mother who took Joseph F. Smith in and cared for him. Ma Manuhii, known as his Hawaiian mother, took care of him and nursed him back to health. In these islands he gained a deep and abiding and powerful testimony. I think he knew from his childhood that his uncle was a prophet. I think when he heard Joseph teach the gospel, even as a five year old, it penetrated his soul. I also believe that his service on these islands crystallized his testimony in his mind and in the very core of his heart.

The love he felt from the people of these islands made a profound impact in his life. Everybody that I have ever talked to, or read about, including my own mother who loved her grandfather, tells how the children loved him and would sit on his lap, even when some were afraid of his beard. His loving, tender, thoughtful care for his family, he learned here. I think the Polynesians find it easy to love one another, and this kind of love needs to spread through the whole world.

Some of you students are going to be returning to different parts of the world. May God bless you that you may return with the spirit of love, that you can love and teach and testify with the same kind of power and strength that Joseph F. Smith did in his ministry.

We've been studying his life and teachings for the last two years. They have helped us to strengthen our testimonies and to gain a sense of the reality of the restoration of the gospel for the last time in this the dispensation of the fullness of times. That's what we're living in. This is it. We must generate in our lives, somehow, the same type of commitment, the same kind of love and testimony and affection for the gospel that the Prophet Joseph F. Smith was able to generate.

At age 27, he was ordained an apostle and served as a counselor to Brigham Young, to John Taylor, to Wilford Woodruff, and finally to Lorenzo Snow. He visited these islands many times, both as an apostle and as President of the Church. One of the tender and beautiful scenes that we have that further illustrates the price that has been paid for us to sit here, is this one from the life of Joseph F. Smith.

On his first visit back to Hawaii after many years, his Hawaiian mama was nearly 90 years-of-age. She was blind. As the brethren were standing where the people were gathering, he heard her calling (I hope I can tell this and not lose my composure) "Iosepa, Iosepa." Then he saw his blind Hawaiian mama with a few bananas in her hand, coming to pay tribute to him. Just think of it. Here's an Apostle of God, soon to become the Prophet, who walks through the crowd of people, reaches down and embraces his Hawaiian mama, kisses her, pats her on the head and then confides to his friend, "This is my Hawaiian mother, who nursed me when I was but a boy." [See Nibley, Charles W. 1919, "Reminiscences of President Joseph F. Smith," Improvement Era 193-194]

On one of the other occasions when he was here, he dedicated the temple sight. He said the impression came to him in the night. I'm starting to understand that. The Lord gives me impressions in the middle of the night. I sometimes wonder why He can't talk to me early in the morning or later in the evening, but it seems to be in the middle of the night, probably because that's when we can listen and can clear away all the clutter of the day and He can speak to us.

That's what happened to President Joseph F. Smith, when he was here in Laie. He said, "I've had the impression that the temple of the Lord ought to be built here. The Council of the Twelve don't know anything about this, neither do my counselors, but I think they will go along." [See Warner, Marian N. Laie of Divine Destiny, 1966, Photocopy, 14-15] Well I can tell you this, I've sat in the Council of the Twelve now for 16 years; and when a prophet of God says that the Lord has spoken to him, during the night, there is no one that's going to raise any objection. And so the temple site here was dedicated. These kinds of impressions have been repeated over and over in my own ministry, serving at the feet of four presidents of the Church.

I would like to conclude with a tender thought or two about my relationship to the prophet Joseph F. Smith. My mother's father was Hyrum Mack Smith. Had he lived, he would have been president of the Church right after Heber J. Grant. Joseph F., his father, appointed him to the Twelve when he was 29. He presided over the European missions. My mother was in her teens when she lived with him in Liverpool, England. My grandfather had responsibility for all of Europe. At age 44, he died very unexpectedly, in the spring of 1918. There was great and tremendous heartache in the life of President Joseph F. Smith over the loss of his oldest son.

I've had a chance to read the correspondence between those two mighty men, neither of whom do I know in person, yet. But as I read their writings and see the love that they express to one another, it was no wonder that the death of his oldest son was such a heartbreak to President Smith. And it is no wonder to me that in October of 1918, while Joseph F. Smith was sitting quietly in his room, studying his scriptures, the heavens parted and the great revelation, known as the 138th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, came to that mighty prophet of God, just a few weeks before he, too, passed to the other side of the veil. Great was the price paid by the Smith family, and how special the price paid by Joseph F. Smith for all we enjoy today.

Brothers and sisters, my message to you this morning is that here we have the opportunity to study, to learn, to commit, to receive with seriousness the gospel of Jesus Christ. Here, if you will, under the tutelage of President Shumway and other leaders and this faculty, if you will open up your hearts, the power of the Spirit can touch you, as it touched Joseph F. Smith as he was here in these islands. You will leave this place, and you will never ever be the same. Where ever you go, if you will allow the power of the Spirit to touch your lives while you are here, I want to promise you that you will ever be grateful for these days. You will express gratitude all the days of your lives for the privilege of going to school here, of being on this island, under this influence, among these people of great faith and love of God.

Continue to learn about the price that's been paid, from the days of Adam, through to the present days with Gordon B. Hinckley, which allows you and me the privilege of knowing that the gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullness is here upon the earth. God has, literally, spoken from His heavens. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. He did appear to the Prophet Joseph Smith. He did restore all things to the blessing of all those who will believe and those who will commit and those who will give very careful attention to the marvels of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I count it a great privilege to be asked by President Shumway to be here this weekend. I've just come from Chile and Argentina. The thought of having to get on an airplane and fly from Salt Lake City over here almost wilted me; but I am honored by the opportunity to pay tribute to one of the great leaders of the Church and to participate in the launching of the canoe that will carry his name, along with that of all the great Joseph's of the gospel.

I'm honored to bear my testimony to you this morning. I know without reservation or question that this great message of the restoration is true. I know that we owe a great debt to those who have paid the tremendous price for all of us to walk in the light and truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The best way you and I can acknowledge that debt, the best way we can demonstrate to those who have paid the price in paving the way, is for us to embrace, live, and be committed to the saving principles of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Live the gospel and teach to others its truths.

The world is in turmoil. It's economic turmoil. It's terrorist turmoil. There are challenges all around us. From the time of Adam until now there have always been challenges, especially for those who love and follow the Lord Jesus Christ. However, we have had a great blessing pronounced upon us and the Church by the prophet of God, which comforts us all. I want to bear my witness to you that the one thing that will give each one of us the power and strength to stand in the future, for whatever the future may bring, will be our individual testimonies. We need to have the gospel so deeply centered in our hearts that we know, as the faithful Saints since Adam have known, that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true.

I bring to you the love of The First Presidency and extend to you the love of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. We love this institution. We are proud of you and pray the Lords blessings to be with you. I invoke a blessing through the Holy apostleship upon you students, faculty, and parents who are here, that you may have the peace of the Lord with you all the days of your life. When you have those moments of discouragement or moments when you wonder, "Can I do this? Can I handle whatever the future may bring?" you will be able to smile and say, "Yes, yes I can. I can do whatever I'm asked to do because I know, not only in my mind, but in my heart also, that the Church is true."

Please know that it is the greatest honor that ever could come to a man to be called as a special witness of the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to all of the world. It is an honor to testify that Jesus is the Christ and that this is His Church here upon the earth. May the Lord bless all of you is my prayer and blessing in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.