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Resolve to Make Righteous Choices

Resolve to Make Righteous Choices | Elder Quentin L. Cook - Livestream


It is a great pleasure, President Tanner, for my wife, Mary, and me to join with you, your wife, Susan, and the students and faculty of BYU–Hawaii. I commend you wonderful students for what you are accomplishing. BYU–Hawaii is an outstanding university that maintains the highest standards of integrity and spirituality. Many have sacrificed to allow you to be here, we thank them as well.

I first visited this institution 59 years ago in the fall of 1959 when I was 19 years old. I was a student body officer at Utah State University and USU was playing the University of Hawaii in football. We student officers paid our own way but accompanied the football team on the same airplane. President David O. McKay, who was then the president and prophet of the Church, learned of our trip and invited us to meet with him at Church Headquarters. It was the first time I had met a prophet, and I was impressed with his countenance and his spirit. He was warm and gracious to us.

President McKay then told us about this institution with great enthusiasm. The school had only been in existence for 4 years, and he had dedicated the first permanent buildings the year before. He asked if we would meet with the students and administrators, give them his love and blessing and encourage them in every possible way.

I can remember to this day the feelings of awe that I experienced when I first saw this beautiful setting. The ocean, the mountains, the temple, the magnificent vistas are as inspiring today as they were then. As part of that trip, we also met with the new governor of Hawaii, William F. Quinn. Hawaii had been admitted as a new state in the United States August 21, 1959, just prior to our visit.

I love the diversity of students that attend this great institution. As a new General Authority, I served 2 years in the Philippines and 3 years in the Pacific Islands. As a member of the Twelve Apostles I had for several years first contact responsibility for those two areas and then Asia North. For you students from the Pacific Rim, I gained a love and appreciation for your part of the world. Previous to being called as a General Authority, I had been a counselor and then stake president of the California San Francisco Stake. We had language units that included Tongan, Samoan, Tagalog, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Spanish. One of our major themes during that period was unity amid diversity. Every time I have talked with any of you individually or visited this school, I have felt the unity that is such an eternally significant principle especially when there is diversity.

We live in a world that is emphasizing diversity over unity. Many assume that it is virtually impossible for people from different cultures and diverse backgrounds to be united in common goals. Some have asserted that, “We lack a unifying narrative to explain how a pluralistic people live…”[1] [together]. Some believe “the world is determined by your single tribal identity. They describe society as a battleground…that cultivate[s] mistrust, division and emotional frozenness.”[2]

A unifying answer to these assertions is the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Righteousness is the underlying principle that brings unity and happiness. I love 2 Nephi, chapter 9 which contains incredible instruction for young people about learning, wisdom, wealth, labor, refusing to see or hear the consequences of sin and contains profound doctrine that allows us to follow the paths of righteousness that lead to the Savior.

Your experience here at BYU–Hawaii and the education you are receiving prepares you for righteousness, unity and happiness. Some advice may help you accomplish this. I will share with you five principles that I believe will contribute to your successful quest for both faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, righteousness and knowledge. These objectives can be compatible and complimentary. At a practical level, you are preparing for family life and the means of supporting your family. Faith, righteousness, and knowledge will greatly assist you in both areas. Any honest labor is worthwhile and to be admired. Work that includes values, meaningfulness, new ideas, and blesses mankind is particularly significant.

The first principle that I will share is to enthusiastically and righteously continue your quest for knowledge. Two of my heroes in this category are Hans Sloane and Paul Cox. Many years ago, I was visiting London with my family. We stayed in a flat in Sloane Square. There is a statue of Sir Hans Sloane in the center of the square. As a young man in the mid-1600s, Hans Sloane became a physician and then developed a strong interest in botany. The 17th century physician used herbal remedies. Medications were primarily herbal and not based on chemistry as they are today.

In 1687 Sloane accompanied the Duke of Albemarle to Jamaica as his personal physician. He catalogued the flora and fauna of Jamaica and identified about 800 new species of plants.

In Jamaica Sloane noticed that the people drank cocoa, which he found “nauseous.” Sloane experimented with making medicines acceptable to children by mixing them with milk and honey. He mixed the cocoa with milk and sugar and found that it was delicious. Sloane became wealthy when he sold his recipe for milk chocolate.

What is most interesting to me is that Sloane used much of that money to collect botanical and other specimens with which he had become intrigued as a young physician. He bought people’s collected specimens from all over the world and he put together an enormous collection. When he died, he made provision for his collection to become the property of the British nation. That was the beginning of the British Museum.[3]

The second example is Paul Cox. He is still living and is an active member of the Church. He received a Bachelor of Science degree from Brigham Young University in Botany and achieved other post graduate degrees. He is a long-time friend of your president, John Tanner since they were both professors at BYU. He served a mission in Samoa and later lived with his family on Savai’i in Samoa for many years. One of his focuses was ethnomedicine where he studied some of the plants that had been used by generations of Samoan mothers to treat health issues. With a co-author, he wrote Plants, People, and Culture: The Science of Ethnobotany.[4] He has made several breakthroughs in treating diseases. While he has done many things in his exceptional career, the one I wish to mention occurred many years ago. Paul and a Samoan chief, Fuiono Senio, conducted ethnobotanical research in the village of Falealupo, Western Samoa. In an account by Julie Walker in BYU Magazine, she reports, “The village had reluctantly licensed its forest to a logging company to raise funds to build a school, because, says Cox, ‘They felt they had to choose between their children and their forest, which was a terrible, terrible decision for them.’ When he learned of the transaction with the logging company, Cox told the chiefs he would personally pay to build the school if they would stop the logging of the rain forest.”[5] He did build the school with the help of businessmen who had connections with Samoa.[6] Brother Cox has received many honors and awards including the Goldman Environmental Prize for grassroots environmental heroes.

Sloane and Cox represent a continuing quest for knowledge to bless mankind.

I relate these accounts because they exemplify the love of learning and the synergism of knowledge. President Russell M. Nelson, the president of the Church and our prophet, was a pioneer in the development of open-heart surgery which has significantly blessed those who live in our time. Some years ago, I asked him about the incredible history of open-heart surgery and his significant role in it. We discussed it for some time and then Elder Nelson, now President Nelson, humbly stated, “. . . how wonderful it is that the Lord who knows all, allows us the great joy of discovering certain pieces of knowledge.”

2 Nephi 9:29 reads, “But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.” Knowledge has always been important, and today we are at the threshold of so many new and exciting scientific and technological advancements. Certainly, much of this will have enormous benefits for the Church and for the entire human family. Knowledge, used righteously, whether old or new, is important.

The second principle is righteous choices matter.

Many years ago, my friend, Elder Bruce Hafen, shared a comical example of bad choices during a talk given in New Zealand. Some who heard it shared it with me since I was serving in New Zealand at the time. As I remember it, the Cookie Monster (a famous Sesame Street character) had won a quiz show, and he could choose between three choices for his prize. First, he could have a new house one month later. Second, he could have a new car one week later. Or, third, he could have a magnificent cookie, right now! What do you think he chose? You are right—he chose Coooookie!!![7] We laugh at this, but the choices we make are critical—they are the key to our future and happiness. Remember, we are the sum total of every decision we make. We live at a time when almost every choice is debated and dissected. Many people almost immediately oppose any righteous proposal or principle. Near the end of his life, the prophet Lehi taught, “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things….

Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.”[8]

Given the war in heaven over the Plan of Salvation,[9] it is not surprising that the religious principles taught in this, the last dispensation, are attacked with malignant ferocity. But lest we be discouraged, let us remember the outcome of the war in heaven, and the wonderful outcome that we know will be ushered in with the Second Coming of Christ.

A great enemy of good choices is rationalization. Many argue that we are not accountable for our choices. But because of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, we know that we are accountable.[10] We also know to whom we must account.[11] It is the Savior!

Sometimes important choices are quite simple. As young missionaries serving in England, my companion and I had the opportunity to go to the temple. As we crossed the temple grounds, the temple president, Selvoy J. Boyer, walked toward us. Seeing our missionary badges, he pointed at us and asked: “Matthew 5:48—do you know that scripture?” My companion stated, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your father which is in heaven is perfect.” President Boyer said, “That is correct. Elders, are you living that commandment?”

We started to stammer; we knew we were not perfect! He helped us. He asked questions about what we had done for the past three days. He asked about when we went to bed, when we got up, whether we had individual and companion scripture study, and whether we went proselytizing on time. He then said, “I am sure you are not perfect, but you have made perfect choices for the past three days, and that means you are moving in the right direction.” He left us thinking about the importance of what he had asked.

The prophet Lehi issued this cry about choice, which every righteous father and mother echoes to their sons and daughters: “I would that ye should look to the great Mediator and hearken unto his great commandments; and be faithful unto his words, and choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit.”[12]

We need to understand that there is opposition in all things, and the righteous choices we make are critical.

When I was young, I was introduced to a statement by Harry Emerson Fosdick, a renowned Protestant minister. In speaking of choices, he said it this way:

“The tragic evils of our life are so commonly unintentional. We did not start out for that poor, cheap goal. That aim was not in our minds at all. …That’s why the road to hell is always paved with good intentions and that is why I am not celebrating high ideals, lofty aims, fine purposes, grand resolutions, but am saying instead that one of the most dangerous things in the world is to accept them and think you believe in them, and then neglect the day-by-day means that lead to them. Ah, my soul, look to the road you are walking on! He who picks up one end of a stick picks up the other. HE WHO CHOOSES THE BEGINNING OF A ROAD CHOOSES THE PLACE IT LEAD TO. It is the means that determines the end.”

The third principle I will share is righteous day to day consecrated effort is better than occasional heroic actions.

A friend of mine, Jim Jardine, in a lecture at BYU, indicated that when he was a student, he thought “of consecrating [his] life in one grand, heroic gesture” but came to realize that “consecration is not a once in a lifetime event; it is a daily devotion.”4

When I was young, I too wanted to prove myself through some heroic gesture. My great-grandfather David Patten Kimball was one of the young men who rescued and helped carry the members of the Martin handcart company across the Sweetwater River. That sounded like the kind of consecration for which I was looking. Later, as I visited with my grandfather Crozier Kimball, he explained that when President Brigham Young sent the men on their rescue mission, he instructed them to do everything they possibly could to save the handcart company. Their consecration was specifically to “follow the prophet.” My grandfather told me that consistent, faithful, righteous dedication to one’s duty or to a principle is to be much admired. As heroic as it was for David Patten Kimball to help rescue the pioneers, it would be equally heroic today to follow the prophet by adhering to his counsel in reducing social media use, studying the Book of Mormon, and particularly helping to gather scattered Israel on both sides of the veil. If we help gather scattered Israel, we will be rescuing the souls of mankind. Just as my great grandfather helped to rescue the lives of the handcart company.

My mission president put all this into perspective for me and taught that, in some cases, seeking to perform a heroic effort can be a form of looking beyond the mark. He shared a wonderful poem that reads, in part:

O, one might reach heroic heights

By one strong burst of power.

He might endure the whitest lights

Of heaven for an hour.

But harder is the daily drag ...

To smile at trials… [SLIDE 11 DOWN]

[SLIDE 12 UP] And not to murmur—nor to lag.

The test of greatness is the way

One meets the eternal Everyday.5

Some members profess that they would commit themselves with enthusiasm if given some great calling, but they do not find ministering or gathering family history sufficiently heroic for their sustained effort.

The fourth principle is to be strong and immoveable in matters of righteousness.

A few years ago, Elder Neal A. Maxwell was speaking about some of his personal friends who were less active in the Church. He said he had observed the ebb and flow of their faith and what the underlying cause was. Elder Maxwell then stated: “…A verse in the Book of Mormon is the most satisfactory explanation. It is in Mosiah 5:13. ‘For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?’ This describes what usually happens otherwise basically decent people simply get caught up with the cares of the world. If instead of drawing closer to the Master we become a stranger to him, then we have lost our way. The decent people to whom this happens haven’t engaged in major transgressions, as a rule, but they have distanced themselves from the Savior, and He has become a stranger to them.”[13] (end of quote) It is essential that we place faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ at the center of our lives.

A wonderful mission president had each of us missionaries memorize a simple statement relating to faith and righteousness that has stayed with me all my life. I commend it to you:

There is no chance, no fate, no destiny

[that] can circumvent or hinder or control

the firm resolve of a determined soul.[14]

My dear young friends, you need to be determined souls when it comes to living righteously!

My fifth principle is that each of us must earn the heritage bestowed upon us as we make righteous choices.

One of the great accounts in the Book of Mormon is Alma’s counsel to his three sons – Helaman, Shiblon, and Corianton. Alma was the son of Alma, the prophet. He was the chief judge of the nation, and high priest and prophet. He experienced a miraculous conversion as a young man. Two of his sons had made good choices. But one son had made some very bad choices. To me the greatest significance of Alma’s counsel is that he was doing it as a father for his own children.

His first concern was that they have a testimony of God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost.

Alma starts out in chapter 36 by telling Helaman of his own miraculous conversion. An angel told him he would be destroyed if he continued to oppose the Church. He testifies that the knowledge he was sharing did not come from his own wisdom but was revealed to him from God. He wants Helaman to have a testimony.

Many of you, if not most, have a testimony. We each need a personal testimony. President Joseph F. Smith said, “one fault to be avoided by the saints, young and old, is the tendency to live on borrowed light [and]to permit...the light within them to be reflected, rather than original.”

Heber C. Kimball, who was a counselor to Brigham Young, said it this way, “The time will come when no man or woman will be able to endure on borrowed light. Each will have to be guided by the light within himself. If you do not have it, how can you stand?

If you do not have it you will not stand; therefore seek for the testimony of Jesus and cleave to it, that when the trying time comes you may not stumble and fall.”

The 76th section of the Doctrine and Covenants refers to the three degrees of glory and compares the Celestial Glory to the sun. It then compares the Terrestrial Kingdom to the moon, and the Telestial Kingdom to the stars.

It is interesting that the sun has its own light, but the moon is reflected light or “borrowed light.” Speaking of the Terrestrial Kingdom, verse 79 states, “These are they who are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus...” We cannot obtain the Celestial Kingdom and live with God the Father on borrowed light, we need our own testimony of Jesus.

Be grateful if you have had goodly parents who have testimonies and taught you the gospel. However, you need your own testimony. The philosopher Goethe said, “What from your father’s heritage is lent, earn it anew to really possess it.”

Each individual has the responsibility to make the right choices and to successfully achieve the five areas of advice and that I have set forth this morning:

First, enthusiastically and righteously continue your quest for knowledge.

Second, your righteous choices matter.

Third, righteous day to day consecrated effort is better than occasional heroic actions.

Fourth, be strong and immovable in matters of righteousness.

And fifth, each of us must earn the heritage that has been bestowed upon us as we make righteous choices.

Your principal goal is to build your personal faith. World conditions increasingly require deepening individual conversion to and strengthening faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and His Atonement. The Church has made an incredible effort to give you a road-map to assist you in making righteous choices. The Lord has prepared us, line upon line, for the perilous times that we now face. A short list of actions by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to provide this road-map include:

• Honoring the Sabbath day and the sacred ordinance of the sacrament has again been emphasized for the last three years.

• Under the bishop’s direction, strengthened elders quorums and Relief Societies are focused on the purpose and divinely appointed responsibilities of the Church and helping members make and keep sacred covenants.

• Ministering in a higher and holier way is being joyfully adopted.

• Beginning with the end in mind, temple covenants and family history service are becoming a purposeful part of the covenant path.

Additional adjustments to achieve a new balance between what happens at Church and in the home, were presented at the last General Conference. Adjustments were presented to achieve a home-centered, Church-supported Sabbath effort. In the address I delivered which was approved by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, we declared that the purposes and blessings associated with this adjustment and other recent changes include the following:

• Deepening conversion to Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ and strengthening faith in Them.

• Strengthening individuals and families through home-centered, Church-supported curriculum that contributes to joyful gospel living.

• Honoring the Sabbath day, with a focus on the ordinance of the sacrament.

• Helping all of Heavenly Father’s children on both sides of the veil through missionary work and receiving ordinances and covenants and blessings of the temple.

Righteously adhering to the counsel given will bless you now and throughout your life.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


[1] David Brooks, “The Rise of the Amphibians,” The New York Times OP-ED, Friday, February 16, 2018, A29.

[2] Ibid.

[3] See British Museum-Sir Hans Sloane, See also, Sloane, Sir Hans (1660-1735): his life and legacy, www.ncbi.nlm, See also, Sloane, Hans, The foundation collection of the Natural History part of the entire British Museum came because of the great desire for knowledge from this incredible man Hans Sloane.

[4] Michael J. Balick, Paul Alan Cox, “Plants, people and culture: the science of ethnobotany,” Scientific American Library, New York, NY. 1996.

[5] Julie Walker, “Professor and Samoan Chief Awarded for Saving Rain Forest,” Brigham Young Magazine, Summer 1997, 8. See: See also, Anne Billings, “You Can Make a Difference:” Ensign, November 1998.

[6] These included Brothers Rex Maughan, Ken Murdock, and others.

[7] See Bruce C. and Marie K. Hafen, “Bridle All Your Passions” Ensign, February 1994,14-18. (For the original version.)

[8] 2 Nephi 2:11, 27

[9] See Abraham 3

[10] See D&C 72:3

[11] See 2 Nephi 9:41

[12] 2 Nephi 2:28

[13] Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “Insights from My Life,” Ensign, August 2000.

[14] Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919), The mission president was Elder Marion D. Hanks.