Preachers of other dispensations, not unlike the preachers of our day, saw and spoke of life as a continuing conflict between opposing forces. The prophet Isaiah tells of a "grievous" vision that came to him in which the Lord directed him to set a watchman to report what he could see from his watchtower. As the watchman in the vision obediently reported hour after hour the coming of horsemen, chariots, lions, etc., the voice of the Lord came again to Isaiah, saying, "Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night"? (Isaiah 21:11.) Thus, the suggestion that even more to be feared than the enemies we can see are the "enemies of the night" not perceived by physical sight.
In full accord with the prophet Isaiah's vision was the declaration of the Master Himself.
. . . fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28.)
That there is a force of evil in the world is as certain as that there is being directed a work of righteousness, and that between these two forces there is an eternal conflict with the price of the human soul as the stake. The scriptures declare it to be so. And there was war in heaven. . . . And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. (Revelation 12:7-9.)
Likewise the scriptures explain the reason.
Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power . . . I caused that he should be cast down; And he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice. (Moses 4:3-4.)
Now you are able to see clearly the analogy of our earthly existence as "the battle of life."
Satan commands a mighty force comprising one-third of all God's spirit children who were cast out with himtangible and real although not always discernible by sight, and under whose masterful direction there goes forward constantly propaganda of lying and deceit. One of the most potent of his lies is described by a prophet:
And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is noneand thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance. (2 Nephi 28:22.)
Jesus Christ is the captain of Israel's host and employs even mightier forces, both visible and invisible. His mightiest propaganda is truth, the complete embodiment of which is found in the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
So the poet wrote:
Once to every man and nation comes a moment to decide,
In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God's new Messiah, offering each the bloom or blight,
Parts the goats upon the left hand and the sheep upon the right;
And the choice goes by forever twixt that darkness and that light.
JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL
The great missionary to the gentiles, Paul the apostle, declares the reality of this individual spiritual warfare and urges us to arm for the conflict. Here are his words:
. . . be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. (Ephesians 6:10-13.)
Note carefully that the Apostle Paul's declaration implies that our most deadly contest in life is not with human enemies which may come with guns, with army tanks, or bombing planes to destroy us, but that our eternal struggle is with enemies which strike out of darkness and may not be perceived by human senses.
The Apostle Paul demonstrates his great ability as an inspired teacher as he pictures each of us as a warrior being clothed with the essential armor to protect the four parts of the human body which apparently Satan and his hosts, by their vigilant spy system, have found to be the most vulnerable parts through which the enemies of righteousness might make their "landing," as it were, and invade the human soul. Here are his inspired teachings:
Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. And take the helmet of salvation. . . . (Ephesians 6:14-15, 17.)
Did you note carefully the four main parts of your bodies to be guarded:
1. A girdle about your loins.
2. A breastplate over your heart.
3. Your feet shod.
4. A helmet on your head.
These instructions take on full significance when it is remembered the loins are those portions of the body between the lower ribs and the hips in which are located the vital generative organs, and also that in the scriptures and other inspired writings the loins symbolize virtue or moral purity and vital strength. The heart suggests our daily conduct in life, for as the Master taught:
. . . out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man . . . bringeth forth good things: and an evil man . . . bringeth forth evil things. (Matthew 12:34-35.)
The feet typify the course you chart in the journey of life. The head, of course, represents your intellect.
But now pay careful heed to the fabric from which the various parts of your armor are to be fashioned.
Truth is to be the substance of which the girdle about your loins is to be formed if your virtue and vital strength are to be safeguarded. How can truth protect you from one of the deadliest of all evils, unchastity? First, for a definition of truth: Truth is knowledge, so the Lord tells us, "knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come." (D&C 93:24.) Now consider for a few moments the essential knowledge which will put to flight immorality, the ever-present enemy of youth:
Man and woman are the offspring of God and created after His own image and likeness as mortal beings. One of the first commandments given to our first mortal parents, "to multiply and to replenish the earth," has been repeated as a sacred instruction to every faithful and true Latter-day Saint young man and young woman married in holy wedlock. To the end that this sacred purpose of parenthood be realized, our Creator has placed within the breast of every true man and woman a strong mutual attraction for each other, which acquaintance ripens in friendship, thence through the romance of courtship, and finally matures into happy marriage. But now mark you, never once has God issued such a command to unmarried persons! Indeed, to the contrary; he has written high on the decalogue of crime and second only to murder the divine injunction, "Thou shalt not commit adultery" (which is unquestionably interpreted to mean all unlawful sexual association, inasmuch as the Master used interchangeably the words adultery and fornication in defining sexual impurity, and it has been severely condemned in every dispensation by authorized church leaders).
Those who make themselves worthy and enter into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage in the temple for time and all eternity will be laying the first cornerstone for an eternal family home in the celestial kingdom that will last forever. Their reward is to have "glory added upon their heads forever and forever." These eternal truths, if you believe them with all your soul, will be as a girdle of armor about your loins to safeguard your virtue as you would protect your life.
But now again may I put you on guard as to Satan's methods used in an attempt to destroy you. The Lord, after giving us the definition of truth quoted above, said this: "And whatsoever is more or less than this is the spirit of that wicked one who was a liar from the beginning." (D&C 93:25.)
When you are prompted to immodesty in dress or to unclean or obscene speech or brazen conduct in your courtship, you are playing Satan's game and are becoming the victim of his lying tongue. Just so, if you allow the vain theories of men to cause you to doubt your relationship to God, the divine purpose of marriage, and your future prospects for eternity, you are being victimized by the master of lies, because all such is contrary to truth, which saves you from these perils.
Now, what about the breastplate which will safeguard your heart or your conduct in life? The Apostle Paul says that breastplate shall be made of a stuff called righteousness. The righteous man, although far superior to his fellows who are not, is humble and does not parade his righteousness to be seen of men but conceals his virtues as he would modestly conceal his nudity. The righteous man strives for self-improvement knowing that he has daily need of repentance for his misdeeds or his neglect. He is not so much concerned about what he can get but more about how much he can give to others, knowing that along that course only can he find true happiness. He endeavors to make each day his masterpiece so that at night's close he can witness in his soul and to his God that whatever has come to his hand that day, he has done to the best of his ability. His body is not dissipated and weakened by the burdens imposed by the demands of riotous living; his judgment is not rendered faulty by the follies of youth; he is clear of vision, keen of intellect, and strong of body. The breastplate of righteousness has given him "the strength of tenbecause his heart is clean."
But to continue with your coat of armor. Your feet, which are to represent your goals or objectives in life, are to be shod. Shod with what? "With the preparation of the gospel of peace." The apostle who wrote that phrase certainly knew life from actual experience"preparation of the gospel of peace"! He knew that preparedness is the way to victory and that "eternal vigilance is the price of safety." Fear is the penalty of unpreparedness and aimless dawdling with opportunity. Whether in speech or in song, whether in physical or moral combat, the tide of victory rests with him who is prepared
The old philosophers understood the importance of having this preparation begin in the formative period of life, for we are admonished to "train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6.) To point out this same truth, one old adage declared: "If you follow the river you will reach the sea," and another suggests a warning: "Following the course of least resistance makes men and rivers crooked."
Embodied in the gospel of Jesus Christ are the straightforward negative injunctions divinely given to the great lawgiver of Israel, Moses"Thou shalt not . . . !"to be followed later by the positive declarations in the Sermon on the Mount, which outline a veritable blueprint for your course through life. The gospel plan enjoins us to the observance of prayer, to walk uprightly, to honor our parentage, to keep the Sabbath Day holy, and to refrain from idleness. Happy is that one whose feet are shod with the preparation of these teachings from his youth to withstand the evil day. He has found the way to peace by "over-coming the world." He has built his house upon a rock, and when the storms come, the winds blow, and the rains do beat upon the house, it will not fall because it is founded upon a rock. (See Matthew 7:24-25.) Such a one is not afraid; he will not be overcome by a surprise attack, for he is ready for any emergency: he is prepared!
And now finally to the last piece of the prophet-teacher's armored dress. We will put a helmet upon the head. Our head or our intellect is the controlling member of our body. It must be well protected against the enemy, for "as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." (Proverbs 23:7.) But now in order for this helmet to be effective, it must be of an exquisite design. It must be of a supermaterial to be effective in our eternal conflict with the invisible enemy of all righteousness. Our is to be the "helmet of salvation." Salvation means the attainment of the eternal right to live in the presence of God the Father and the Son as a reward for a good life in mortality.
With the goal of salvation ever in our mind's eye as the ultimate to be achieved, our thinking and our decisions which determine action will always challenge all that would jeopardize that glorious future state. Lost indeed is that soul who is intellectually without the "helmet of salvation" which tells him that death is the end and that the grave is a victory over life, and brings to defeat the hopes, the aspirations, and the accomplishments of life. Such a one might well conclude that he may as well "eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die."
The conclusion reached by a committee of eminent divines appointed to investigate the cause of the wave of "student suicides" which swept over the country a few years ago was very significant. The summary of their findings declared: "The philosophy of the students who took their lives was such that they had never given religion serious thought, and when a test came they had nothing to hold fast to."
In contrast to the tragic picture, the one who confidently looks forward to an eternal reward for his efforts in mortality is constantly sustained through his deepest trials; when his bank fails, he does not commit suicide; when his loved ones die, he does not despair; when war and destruction dissipate his fortune, he does not falter. He lives above his world and never loses sight of the goal of his salvation.
Our intellects, so protected, must always measure learning by the gospel criteria: Is it true? Is it uplifting? Will it benefit mankind? In the choices of lifeour friends, our education, our vocation, our companion in marriageall these and more must be made with an eye single to eternal life. Our thoughts must "smell of the sunshine" if our association would be inspiring and uplifting. If we would refrain from murder, we must learn not to become angry; if we would free ourselves from sexual sin, we must control immoral thought; if we would avoid the penalty of imprisonment for theft, we must learn not to covet. So taught Jesus, the Master Teacher and our Savior. (See Matthew 5:21-28.)
O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. (2 Nephi 9:28.)
Children of the covenant who have upon their heads the helmet of salvation are not as these. The thrill of victory is within their grasp.
But now may I call your attention to one significant fact concerning the armor with which you now have been clothed. You have no armor whatsoever to protect you from the rear. Does this suggest yet another quality essential to this eternal conflict with "spiritual wickedness in high places"? Evidently no one can win this battle running from the enemy. The contest must be face to face. There must be no retreat. So came the clear-ringing counsel of the First Presidency to our boys during the last World War: "Boys, keep yourselves clean! Better die clean than to come home unclean." Courage and determination and continual aggressiveness to the right are the essential qualities for the battle of life, else all the armor in the world suggested for our protection would be of no avail. Thus equipped within and without, we are now ready.
But wait a moment! Are we to have no weapons with which to fight? Are we to be mere targets for the enemy to attack? Let's read now what Paul, the great apostle-teacher, said about our weapons:
Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take . . . the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:16-17.)
May I attempt to describe briefly that shield of faith? Faith is a gift from God, and blessed is the man who possesses it. "He who carries the lamp will not despair," wrote one of the great industrial leaders with reference to a business crisis, "no matter how dark the night. That lamp I call faith." Suppose we examine a few of life's problems to see just how effective the shield of faith can be.
In what we might liken unto a great "pincer movement" of enemy forces to encircle us, we are being surfeited with the doctrine that we can get "something for nothing." When the smoke of the present frenzied social conflict has cleared away and the carnage resulting therefrom carefully counted, we shall have had proved again that we cannot get something for nothing and continue to prosper, and that the habit of giving instead of getting is the way to happiness. Then our faith in those tried and trusted virtues of thrift, self-sacrifice, and frugality will have triumphed over the vices of reckless spending, selfishness, and a disregard for decent standards of common civic virtue and morality.
It was the faith of our pioneer fathers that prompted them, as they pitched camp to begin a new settlement, to devoutly invoke the blessings of Almighty God upon their efforts. They prayed for the rains to come, for the fertility of the soil, for protection against destructive forces to the end that their crops would grow and that a harvest would be gathered. When a bounteous harvest came, they thanked God; for the protection of loved ones, they gave recognition to an Omnipotent Power; in death and sorrow, in floods and in storm, they saw the workings of a Divine Will. Out of such faith there was born in them, and can be likewise in you, a conviction that "a man and the Lord are a big majority in any test."
If we have faith in our kinship to a Great Creator, we recognize by that same token our relationship to man. Such faith banishes hate in time of war and supplants therefore a sympathy for our enemy; the envies and jealousies of human society become, in the white light of faith, merely the growing pains of a family of children growing up to maturity and to a better understanding of how, as grownups, they should act. By faith we surmount daily obstacles and disappointments, and our defeats we thus interpret as necessary for our experience and development; we realize that to be thrown upon one's own resources is to be cast into the lap of fortune where our faculties undergo an unexpected development. With faith we become pioneers for the generations yet unborn and find ourselves becoming joyous in the contemplation of service we may render to our fellowmen even though the reward be but a martyr's crown.
Note now how the "shield of faith" and the "sword of the spirit which is the word of God" work together, perfectly coordinated as weapons in the hands of one who has upon him the "armor of righteousness." The scriptures declare, "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17.) Just as one in hand-to-hand combat with only a shield and without a sword would soon be overcome, just so without the word of God from the scriptures and by revelation, our faith becomes weak in the face of modern destructionists who call themselves "liberals." Shielded by faith, the commandments known as the Decalogue from Mount Sinai are transformed from mere platitudes of a philosopher to the thundering voice of authority from on high, and the teachings of the scriptures become the revealed word of God to guide us to our celestial home. Obedience to civil law would become a moral and a religious obligation, as well as a civic duty, if we believed that "the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God. . . ." (Romans 13:1-2.)
Armed with the word of God, the shattered dreams of youth and the frustrations which result from the stresses of war and the vigors of life do not embitter us or stifle our ambitions or prompt us in our despondency to cry out in despair, "Oh, what's the use?" Guided by faith taught by the word of God, we view life as a great process of soultraining. Under the ever-watchful eye of a loving Father, we learn by "the things which we suffer," we gain strength by overcoming obstacles, and we conquer fear by triumphant victory in places where danger lurks. By faith, as the word of God teaches, we understand that whatever contributes in life to the lofty standard of Jesus"Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48)is for our good and for our eternal benefit even though into that molding may go the severe chastening of an all-wise God, "For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth." (Hebrews 12:6.)
Thus schooled and drilled for the contest with the powers of darkness and with spiritual wickedness, we may be "troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed." (2 Corinthians 4:8-9.)
The night is far spent, the day is at hand; let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. (Romans 13:12-13.)
Youth of Zion, put on the whole armor of God!