(This article was adapted from my eight-book series on Zion. Meridian readers can receive a free PDF copy of the first book. (Click here to receive your FREE BOOK.)
In this series of five articles on the Constitution of the Priesthood, we have discussed:
- Why Many are Called But Not Chosen
- The Marriage of the King’s Son
- Called and Chosen for Eternal Life
- Distinctions Between Those Who Are Called and Chosen
- The Rights of the Priesthood
Repeatedly, the Lord warns the “many” who are called to eternal life that they risk becoming the “few” who actually achieve that reward. The distinctions between the “many” and the “few” are clearly set forth. It only remains for us to choose.
Elder Maxwell reminded us that premortal worthiness is simply the first of several tests of worthiness that we must pass in order to obtain eternal life: “Just because we were chosen ‘there and then,’ surely does not mean we can be indifferent ‘here and now.’ Whether foreordination for men, or fore-designation for women, those called and prepared must also prove ‘chosen and faithful.’”[i]
The differences, he said, between the “many called” to eternal life and the “few chosen” for eternal life are faithfulness and submission to the celestial laws that make the gospel and priesthood operative. He stated, “One reason for the distinction between being ‘called’ and being ‘chosen’ is that the latter can understand this next reality: the powers of heaven are accessed and controlled only upon the principles of righteousness (D&C 121:36).”[ii]
Among the principles of righteousness that the Lord calls to our attention in the Constitution of the Priesthood are these:
- No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—
- Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; that he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.
- Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly.[iii]
The inverse of these principles are those that retard or negate priesthood power: love of money, power, and popularity (attention, recognition, and influence). These things are highly destructive. Their common denominator is selfishness, one of Babylon’s hallmark attributes. Babylon would use money, power, and influence to compete, suppress, control, dominate, compel, gratify one’s pride, and build a personal empire on the shaky foundation of supposed security[iv]—all “vain ambitions,” according to the scripture.[v]
On the other hand, Zion would use money, power, and influence for building the kingdom of God, leveling up the poor, thus providing equal esteem to all people, caring for one another’s needs, blessing the sick, comforting the afflicted, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, and establishing peace.
The attitude of Babylon leads to pride, contention, hardened hearts, withdrawing from the core principles of the Church, and promoting behavior that is akin to persecuting the poor and afflicted. It is Satanic thinking and actions, idolatry, idleness and idle talk, envy, strife, self-indulgence, lying, dishonesty, robbery, inappropriate sexual dalliance, murder, and all manner of wickedness.
Conversely, the attitude of Zion leads to confidence to be able to stand in the presence of God, priesthood power, a growing knowledge of the doctrine of the priesthood, the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, and becoming unto God a king and priest, who wields an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth. The attitude of Zion leads to inheriting everlasting kingdoms, thrones, principalities, powers, and dominions, the blessings of which will flow to a Zion person forever and ever.[vi]
Building a Sure House
In a speech entitled “Beware Lest Ye Fall,” President George Q. Cannon exhorted us to become identified with the “few” who are “chosen.” Our effort will supersede any other individual attainment, he promised, and the benefits of the priesthood will extend to our children. How we fare in becoming one of the “few” will have a direct impact on our descendants and our ability to build for them a “sure house.” He said,
The Lord is weeding out His Church continually. The work of selection is going on. ‘Many are called,’ the Lord has said, ‘but few are chosen.’ The Lord is choosing the people now. The Lord is pulling up—in fact, they are pulling themselves up—the unfaithful, the transgressor. The work of cleansing the Church is going on perpetually, and it will continue until Christ comes. What an impressive lesson this ought to be to us! Do we desire to live and to be connected with the work of God? Do we desire our children to be numbered with the people of God? The great desire of some of the prophets and mighty men of old was that the Lord would build them a sure house.[vii]
Clearly, how we respond to the priesthood “call” distinguishes the “few” from the “many.” Of the latter group the Lord said, “When I called, ye did not answer.”[viii] Our response has everything to do with our eventually being “chosen” or elected.
Joseph Smith was an example. Janne M. Sjodahl and Hyrum M. Smith wrote: “The Prophet Joseph was ‘called and chosen’ to give to the world the Book of Mormon and to engage in the ministry. God called him, through the Angel, and when he manifested his willingness to obey the call, he was chosen for the work.” Then a significant observation, “The call always precedes the election: ‘Give diligence to make your calling and election sure’ (2 Peter 1:10). He who is called, is sure of his election if he obeys the call.”[ix]
Mortal Tests That Challenge Our Calling
“We believe in being true,” proclaims the thirteenth Article of Faith. To God, to family, to country, to our brethren, to our covenants, and to the cause of Zion, we believe in being true. The “true” are the “few” who are called to and chosen for eternal life.
The “true” are contrasted from the “many,” they who are also called but not chosen because they are distracted by money, power, and popularity; the “many” are they who receive God’s power and then misuse it by attempting to dominate and control. In the test of life, the “true” are the “few” who live their covenants despite all hazards; they flee Babylon, as they have been commanded, and they choose Zion over every other consideration.
How we choose between Babylon and Zion is a pivotal element in the test of life; that choice separates the true few from the untrue many. In an article published in the Improvement Era, James G. Duffin wrote:
God chooses his own way of testing men and preparing them for the work he designs them to do. “Many are called but few are chosen.” The chosen ones are those upon whom he can rely under the most trying conditions. Tests, in themselves apparently trifling, may determine the integrity of those thought of for more important work.
It is related of the Prophet Joseph that when he was making up his company to go West, to find a suitable location for his suffering people, where they could worship God without being molested by mob violence, one day he invited a number of brethren to take a horseback ride with him.
As the prophet led his little company along the road, he came to a large pool of water, around the edge of which the road made a curve. Without hesitating, the prophet plunged his horse through the water. A number of those with him followed without saying a word, while others followed the road around the pool. It is related that when he made up his company, Joseph selected every man who followed him through the pool of water, and not one of the others was chosen.
“Blind obedience,” says one. The key is this: intelligent beings moved by the same spirit act in unison.[x]
Such is the test and condition of Zion people. Tests bring us to the crucible of choosing. The early Saints reached such a crucible when, impoverished and persecuted, they were commanded to build the Kirtland Temple. The act was a kind one. The Lord knew that the key to their deliverance and the redemption of Zion lay in receiving priesthood ordinances and living the law of the celestial kingdom. The administration of these ordinances and the celestial law could be received only in a temple. Thus, the Saints understood from the outset that Zion must be their goal, and “Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom.”[xi]
A Day of Choosing
When this revelation (D&C 105) was received, “the Kirtland Temple was under construction. The faithful were to receive ‘their endowment from on high’ in this House of the Lord, for ‘the time [had] come for a day of choosing’ (D&C 105:12, 33, 35). Those ‘chosen’ for this blessing would be those whose works had manifested their worthiness.”[xii] The “few” priesthood holders who would be called and chosen would be those who lived the law of the celestial kingdom and thus become Zion people.
Likewise, our day of choosing and our deliverance center on the temple and the criterion of worthiness to attend the temple. How we choose—and there are only two choices—is our test: Will we or will we not choose to remain true to our covenants?
Elijah said it this way: “How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal [a god of Babylon], then follow him.”[xiii] We cannot have it both ways; we must choose. If we choose to keep our covenants and separate ourselves from Babylon, we are promised that we will be “endowed with power from on high,”[xiv] which endowment is the power of deliverance, the power of godliness, and the power to bring us back into the presence of God.[xv] If, on the other hand, we choose to neglect or reject our covenants, we will receive the pronouncement: “Amen to the priesthood or authority of that man!”
Clearly, our day of choosing is today, and how we choose places us in the camp of the wise or the camp of the foolish, for according to the scriptures, only the “wise virgins” will be ready when comes the day of choosing. “And until that hour there will be foolish virgins among the wise; and at that hour cometh an entire separation of the righteous and the wicked; and in that day will I send mine angels to pluck out the wicked and cast them into unquenchable fire.”[xvi] Thus, “there are many called, but few are chosen.”
The Daunting Test of Riches
Jesus sounded a warning against our tendency to step into the snare of the love of money: “For what is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”[xvii] Sadly, “many” priesthood holders are wont to rationalize their preoccupation with wealth, and thus they choose to remain in Babylon.
When Joseph Smith was incarcerated in Liberty Jail, he issued an epistle warning the Saints about this snare. Parts of that epistle became sections 121 and 122 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Joseph admonished those Saints who would “aspire after their own aggrandizement and seek their own opulence while their brethren are groping in poverty.” Care should be given, he wrote, that our hearts not be open to “such high mindedness.” Otherwise a condition would prevail wherein “there are many called but few are chosen.”[xviii]
As we have discussed, of the “many” who are called to eternal life, only a “few” will ultimately give diligent heed to their calling and move forward in faith toward Zion. The “few” will become the “chosen.” Part of the price of becoming one of the “chosen” is choosing God over mammon, one of the most difficult tests of mortality.
When a wealthy young man went away sorrowing after having received the Lord’s answer regarding the price for him to become perfect, Jesus turned to his disciples and said, “A rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.”[xix] Embedded in the Lord’s explanation is an introduction to the law of consecration. This law is our safety net from the preoccupation of wealth, and it is a key to our becoming perfect. To the rich young man, the Lord said, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor.”[xx]
Although the rich man was clearly a good man who had lived the commandments, he could not bring himself to accept the law of consecration, which would have covered him in safety and opened the door to perfection. Truly, it is hard for a rich man—or for that matter, a proud, selfish, power-hungry, recognition-seeking man—to lay aside the things of this world and still achieve heaven.
Walking in Darkness at Noon-day
Regarding the “many” who fail to live up to their premortal and mortal callings, who are unwilling to face and overcome the obstacles that cut off the blessings of the priesthood and hinder them from becoming Zion people, President Harold B. Lee, wrote,
The Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind; and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days.” (D&C 64:34.)
I fear there are many among us who because of their faithfulness in the spirit world were “called” to do a great work here, but like reckless spendthrifts they are exercising their free agency in riotous living and are losing their birthright and the blessings that were theirs had they proved faithful to their calling. Hence as the Lord has said, “there are many called but few are chosen,” and then he gives us two reasons as to why his chosen and ordained fail of their blessings: First, because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and second, they aspire so much to the honors of men that they do not learn that “the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.” (D&C 121:34–36.)
All these have sinned “a very grievous sin, in that they are walking in darkness at noon-day.” (D&C 95:5–6.)[xxi]
They have not sinned ignorantly. They have entered into the new and everlasting covenant and the covenant of consecration and they have set them aside. “They are walking in darkness at noonday.”
Quoting the scripture, “many are called, few are chosen,” President Wilford Woodruff grieved, “The Almighty has revealed in our day the reasons, but what a mighty host have wrecked their eternal hopes on those fatal reefs—love of the riches of this world, the honors and praises of men, and the exercises of unrighteous dominion.
”[xxii] That is, the “many” know the law and yet only a “few” embrace the law.
This is the day for choosing between Zion and Babylon. We cannot escape the fact that President Young’s prophecy is true: Many Latter-day Saints are rich by the world’s standard, and yet they, who long for and profess to be Zion people, are too much identified with Babylon. They are walking in darkness at noonday, according to President Lee, and their actions constitute a very grievous sin. They have agreed to follow the principles of obedience, sacrifice, and consecration, but they do not do so.
President Woodruff warned that their behavior carries severe eternal risks. Their pursuit and love of riches, their selfish attitude regarding their time and talents, their insistence upon gratifying their pride with praise and honor, and their demeaning and unequal treatment of others will have the eventual effect of dashing their eternal hopes on fatal reefs. The priesthood cannot function under such conditions; it becomes totally inoperative. Unless the “many” come to their senses and admit that all is not well in Zion, the devil will cheat their souls, as prophesied, and lead them carefully down to hell.[xxiii]
On the other hand, if we align ourselves with the principles of Zion and thus become the “few” who are both called and chosen, our destiny is abundance and eternal life.
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[i] Maxwell, The Neal A. Maxwell Quote Book, 127.
[ii] Maxwell, But for a Small Moment, 113.
[iii] D&C 121:41–45.
[iv] Alma 1:20–32.
[v] D&C 121:37.
[vi] D&C 121:45–46.
[vii] Cannon, “Beware Lest Ye Fall,” Feb. 16, 1896.
[viii] Isaiah 65:12.
[ix] Smith and Sjodahl, Doctrine and Covenants Commentary, 123; emphasis added.
[x] Duffin, “A Character Test,” Improvement Era, Feb. 1911.
[xi] D&C 105:5.
[xii] Brewster, Doctrine and Covenants Encyclopedia, 124.
[xiii] 1 Kings 18:21.
[xiv] D&C 105:11.
[xv] D&C 84:20–21.
[xvi] D&C 63:54; emphasis added.
[xvii] Matthew 16:26.
[xviii] Millet and Jackson, 1:471–72.
[xix] Matthew 19:23.
[xx] Matthew 19:21.
[xxi] Lee, Decisions for Successful Living, 169; emphasis added.
[xxii] Clark, Messages of the First Presidency, 3:131.
[xxiii] 2 Nephi 28:21.