The scriptural and doctrinal meaning of the word virtue has always alluded me. When the woman with an issue of blood touched the hem of Christ’s garment and He felt virtue go out of Him, that tells me that virtue must mean something more than just not having inappropriate sex. So what does it mean to have virtue or to be virtuous?
English, as any language, is always changing and evolving. For this reason I have taken to looking up certain words both in the current dictionary as well as in Webster’s 1828 edition. The 1828 edition tells us the meaning of words as Joseph Smith probably would have understood them.
The word “virtue” is closely related to the word “worth” in the 1828 dictionary. The following three definitions give us some food for thought in defining and working with the word virtue.
1. The practice of moral duties from sincere love to God and his laws.
2. The radical sense is strength, from straining, stretching, extending.
3. That quality of a thing which renders it useful, or which will produce an equivalent good in some other thing.
The last two definitions are new to me and open new avenues of thinking when it comes to why virtue is valuable in a physical and spiritual sense. As you read the lesson think about how virtue is attained through our straining, stretching, or extending ourselves, and how the quality of our obedience to God’s moral code creates within us qualities that are able to produce good.
The power of virtue to transform
President Hinckley says of virtue that “it is precious and beautiful. It is above price.” He then quotes Doctrine and Covenants 121:45-46 that says virtue needs to garnish out thoughts unceasingly. But what does that entail?
Think of substituting the word virtue with the word purity. If we are able to master our thoughts so that all of our thoughts become thoughts of purity, and are wholesome and clean, what might happen in our lives as a result?
According to the aforementioned verses, our confidence will wax strong when we go before the Lord in thought and in prayer. The Holy Ghost will become our constant companion, and that means more revelation and guidance, and greater progress towards perfection.
With all the distractions and perversions rampant in the world today, the act of keeping our thoughts pure of any taint really will embody that definition of “straining, stretching, extending.” But it will help create within us a holier atmosphere for the Spirit of the Lord to dwell.
It is the purity of our thoughts that renders virtue as a good description for that third of the three definitions. “That quality of a thing which renders it useful, or which will produce an equivalent good in some other thing.” Cleaning up our thoughts creates an environment where sin is more easily resisted, and where false notions and doctrines are more readily recognized. What is more useful in keeping commandments and obeying the word of the Lord than a mind that thinks no evil?
It is this very source of purity that gives God his power in the universe. Power and glory cannot be taken, it must be given. Glory is only given to someone who can be implicitly trusted in all things. Only the pure of thought and pure of heart can be completely trusted. This makes our need to learn to be pure of heart and mind very great indeed.
Is there a valid case for virtue? It is the only way to freedom from regret. The peace of conscience which flows therefrom is the only personal peace that is not counterfeit.
In this age of the world, perhaps the single greatest corrupter of thought is the universal availability of pornography. In its milder forms it is available in our commercials and print ads. In stronger forms it is in our television programs and movies. In its raw form we have it all over the Internet, print form, and even in social media.
Pornography is an equal-opportunity sin. It creates victims out of the one participating in it as well as out of all the family members and close friends of the one who participates in it. Pornography has a way of destroying relationships.
You live in a world of terrible temptations. Pornography, with its sleazy filth, sweeps over the earth like a horrible, engulfing tide. It is poison. Do not watch it or read it. It will destroy you if you do. It will take from you your self-respect. It will rob you of a sense of the beauties of life. It will tear you down and pull you into a slough of evil thoughts and possibly of evil actions. Stay away from it. Shun it as you would a foul disease, for it is just as deadly. Be virtuous in thought and in deed.
The lengths we are willing to go to keep ourselves away from temptation says a lot about our desire to be and stay clean.
Controlling our thoughts and actions
No action is free of a preceding thought. We never do anything without having had thoughts that lead to that action when the time comes to act. Even the actions performed by one in a fit of rage are preceded by thoughts that are given life by the actions they create.
Mental control must be stronger than physical appetites or desires of the flesh. As thoughts are brought into complete harmony with revealed truth, actions will then become appropriate. … Each of us, with discipline and effort, has the capacity to control our thoughts and our actions. This is part of the process of developing spiritual, physical, and emotional maturity. …
The Lord talks about the blessings that come when people act with an eye single to his glory. But what does that mean? Basically, it means that our focus, our purpose, is centered around one thing, and one thing only. That thought which should consume us more than any other should be, “What would the Lord have me do?”
When our aim in life becomes a search to please our Father in Heaven then we have only His glory in mind. Our good works are what glorifies God, for we are perpetuating His good works in all that we think and all that we do. This is the very essence of virtue. Virtue is the embodiment of the power of good. Virtue is all about goodness, cleanliness, purity, and charity.
It is our devotion to the pursuit of virtue in our lives that creates the power we need to resist temptation and learn all the godly attributes. To do so requires that we subjugate our baser desires and seek to think and act as our Savior does. There is power in a life lived in this way. And the closer we come to being absolutely pure in our thoughts, the more power we will be given through the Holy Ghost to do good and be good.
There is nothing wrong with physically running away from a situation where temptations become strong. There is no shame in fleeing the sight of evil, especially if we are particularly weak in that area. There is honor and nobility in recognizing our weaknesses and doing all in our power to overcome them and become strong in our obedience.