Thoughts on Lesson Twenty-Two

President Ezra Taft Benson

One hundred and fifty years ago the Prophet Joseph Smith organized the School of the Prophets. The purpose of this school was to prepare selected members of the priesthood to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to all the world.

In the absence of a temple, the first School of the Prophets was held in a small room in the home of Bishop Newel K. Whitney Brig-ham Young was one of the early participants in this school, and he described a scene which frequently presented itself during meetings:

The brethren came to that place for hundreds of miles to attend school in a little room probably no larger than eleven by fourteen. When they assembled together in this room after breakfast, the first they did was to light their pipes, and, while smoking, talk about the great things of the kingdom .... and as soon as the pipe was out of their mouths a large chew of tobacco would then be taken. Often when the Prophet entered the room to give the school instructions he would find himself in a cloud of tobacco smoke. This, and the complaints of his wife at having to clean [the] floor, made the Prophet think upon the matter, and he inquired of the Lord relating to the conduct of the Elders in using tobacco. 1

In response to this inquiry by the Prophet, the Lord gave him a revelation in the Whitney home. This revelation is known as the Word of Wisdom.

At first the revelation was not given as a commandment. It was given as "a principle with promise, adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints" (D&C 89:3). This allowed time for the Saints to adjust to the principles contained in the revelation.

While I was on my first mission in Great Britain in 1922, some of the sisters had difficulty giving up their tea. I read that passage to them, and most of them quit drinking tea because they did not want to be considered the "weakest" of those who are or can be called Saints.

In 1851, President Brigham Young proposed to the general conference of the Church that all Saints formally covenant to keep the Word of Wisdom. This proposal was unanimously upheld by the membership of the Church. Since that day, the revelation has been a binding commandment on all Church members.

The Word of Wisdom is one of the recognized and distinctive practices of members of the Church. Generally, others not of our faith acknowledge that members in good standing abstain from tobacco, coffee, tea, and all alcoholic beverages.

Scientific studies have confirmed that Latter-day Saints have less incidence of heart problems, all forms of cancer, and other diseases because of their adherence to the Word of Wisdom.

These studies have demonstrated that not only will one live a longer life, but also that the quality of one's life will be better.

The Word of Wisdom is one of the evidences of the inspiration of Joseph Smith's prophetic calling. Let me tell you why.

Several years ago an investigator gave this testimonial about Joseph Smith. He said that the Word of Wisdom was the revelation that most attracted him to investigate the Church. "There is no possible way," he said, "that Joseph Smith could have known what we now know in the medical world about the harmful effects of tobacco, alcohol, tea, and coffee. Yet this has all been substantiated by medical science."

He said that this was the beginning of his earnest investigation of the gospel, for he reasoned that if Joseph Smith could be so accurate on a matter that medical science validated over a hundred years later, the rest of the teachings of the Church deserved investigation. He did so and is now a member of the Church.

One principle of the gospel that all young people of the Church should understand is this: God, our Heavenly Father, governs His children by law. He has instituted laws for our perfection. If we obey His laws, we receive the blessings pertaining to those laws. If we do not obey, we receive the consequences.

The Word of Wisdom is a law-a principle with promise. If we obey the provisions of the law, we receive the promises. If we do not, there will be both temporal and spiritual consequences.

What are the provisions of the law known as the Word of Wisdom?

The revelation defines and admonishes abstinence from harmful substances and beverages in these words:

"Strong drinks [or, in other words, alcoholic or harmful beverages] are not for the belly" (D&C 89:7).

"Tobacco is not for the body... and is not good for man" (D&C 89:8).

"Hot drinks [defined as tea and coffee] are not for the body" (D&C 89:9).

Those foods which are good for man are described in these words: "All wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man-every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof;... Flesh... of beasts and of the fowls of the air... are to be used sparingly;... All grain is ordained for the use of man... to be the staff of life .... All grain is good for the food of man; as also the fruit of the vine." (D&C 89:10-12, 14, 16.)

In this revelation the Lord counsels us to use meat sparingly I have often felt that the Lord is further counseling us in this revelation against indiscriminately killing animals, for He has said elsewhere in scripture, "Wo be unto man that sheddeth blood or that wasteth flesh and hath no need" (D&C 49:21).

Wheat is particularly singled out as being good for man, as is the fruit of the vine-vegetables and all fruits. This is the wisdom of the Lord on the matter of sound nutrition and diet.

The Word of Wisdom allows us to know that the Lord is vitally concerned about the health of His Saints. He has graciously given us counsel for improving our health, endurance, and resistance to many diseases.

The temporal promise for obedience is: They "shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones;... [they] shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint" (D&C 89:18, 20).

I have always felt, however, that the greater blessing of obedience to the Word of Wisdom and all other commandments is spiritual.

Listen to the spiritual promise: "All saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments .... shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures" (D&C 89:18-19, italics added).

Some have thought this promise was contingent on just keeping the provisions of the Word of Wisdom. But you will notice we must walk in obedience to all the commandments. Then we shall receive specific spiritual promises. This means we must obey the law of tithing, keep the Sabbath day holy, keep morally clean and chaste, and obey all other commandments.

When we do all this, the promise is: They "shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures" (D&C 89:19).

What father and mother would not want the inspiration of the Lord in rearing their children? I testify these blessings can be yours. Surely parents would not want, through disobedience, to prevent their children from receiving the Lord's blessings. All fathers and mothers in Israel should qualify themselves for this promise.

Living the commandments of God is a condition of worthiness for entrance into the House of the Lord. There wisdom and "great treasures of knowledge" are given that relate to our happiness in this life and joy throughout eternity.

Brothers and sisters and friends, learn this principle. The Lord will increase our knowledge, wisdom, and capacity to obey when we obey His fundamental laws. This is what the Prophet Joseph Smith meant when he said we could have "sudden strokes of ideas" which come into our minds as "pure intelligence." 2 This is revelation. We must learn to rely on the Holy Ghost so we can use it to guide our lives and the lives of those for whom we have responsibility.--

I do not believe that a member of the Church can have an active, vibrant testimony of the gospel without keeping the commandments. A testimony is to have current inspiration to know the work is true, not something we receive only once. The Holy Ghost abides with those who honor, respect, and obey God's laws. And it is that Spirit which gives inspiration to the individual. Humbly I testify to the reality of this promise.

There is another part of this revelation that constitutes a pertinent warning to this modern generation: "In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation" (D&C 89:4).

The Lord foresaw the situation of today when motives for money would cause men to conspire to entice others to take noxious substances into their bodies. Advertisements which promote beer, Wine, liquors, coffee, tobacco, and other harmful substances are examples of what the Lord foresaw. But the most pernicious example of an evil conspiracy in our time is those who induce young people into the use of drugs.

My young brothers and sisters, in all love we give you warning that Satan and his emissaries will strive to entice you to use harmful substances, because they well know if you partake, your spiritual powers will be inhibited and you will be in their evil power. Stay away from those places or people which would unfluence you to break the commandments of God. Keep the commandments of God and you will have the wisdom to know and discern that which is evil.

May we as Saints of God keep all His commandments. May we be pure and holy so we can have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. Let us be distinctive as a people because of our obedience to God's laws.

1. Journal of Discourses 12:158. ~

2. See Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938), p. 151. ~


Russell M. Nelson, Perfection Pending, and Other Favorite Discourses


I am impressed to address a problem of deep concern—the worldwide epidemic of drug addiction. As a medical doctor, I began my study of drugs early in medical school. Each doctor spends months in specialized courses learning potential benefits and risks of medicinal agents. Proper prescription of drugs is the forte of skilled physicians. Generally, when their advice is carefully followed, results are remarkably successful. In addressing this topic, I specifically exclude such application of modern knowledge by educated professionals.

But I raise my voice with others throughout the world who warn against abuse of drugs beyond prescribed limits, and the recreational or social use of chemical substances so often begun naively by the ill-informed.

From an initial experiment thought to be trivial, a vicious cycle may follow. From trial comes a habit. From habit comes dependence. From dependence comes addiction. Its grasp is so gradual. Enslaving shackles of habit are too small to be sensed until they are too strong to be broken. Indeed, drugs are the modern "mess of pottage" for which souls are sold. No families are free from risk.

But this problem is broader than hard drugs. Their use most often begins with cigarette smoking.1 Tobacco and alcoholic beverages contain addicting drugs. They lead the list in incidence and cost to society.

As I speak with governmental and medical leaders of many nations, they voice grave concern over the consumption of alcohol and other substances by their citizens. Though the extent of the challenge is international, I will cite data from the United States of America solely to indicate the monstrous scope of this worldwide problem.

Consider the magnitude of tobacco's harm. Cigarette smoking is the most frequent preventable cause of heart disease, artery disease, lung disease, and cancer.2 In the United States in 1982, 16 percent of all deaths (314,000) were attributed to the smoking of tobacco.3

For the year 1985, the estimated cost of both smoking-related health care and lost productivity amounted to $65 billion. That calculates to an average of $2.17 per pack of cigarettes sold.4 Social consequences of smoking far exceed the price paid to purchase cigarettes.

An insurance company recently reported that one-fifth of all its claims were for afflictions that could have been prevented by simply not smoking.5 We all bear this financial burden of illness that need not be.

In 1988, Dr. C. Everett Koop—then surgeon general of the United States—and his team of more than fifty scientists published a landmark report. For the United States alone, they attributed 320,000 deaths annually to tobacco, 125,000 to alcohol, and lesser mortality to cocaine (2,000) and other opioids (4,000). They declared nicotine to be a powerfully addicting drug in the same sense as are drugs such as heroin and cocaine.6 Comparable views have been recorded by medical authorities in many other nations.7 Yet many of our good friends who use tobacco may not believe it to be addicting. Some are reluctant to admit that their behavior is substantially controlled by a drug. We understand those feelings.

There is mounting concern worldwide over the consumption of alcohol. The U.S. government estimates that 10.6 million adults are alcoholics and that one family in four is troubled by alcohol.8 It is a factor in half of all the nation's traffic deaths.9 In 1987, a tragic milestone was reached. More Americans had been killed from alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents (1,350,000) than had been killed in all the wars America has ever fought (1,156,000).10

Drugs such as LSD, marijuana, heroin, and cocaine are also endangering people throughout the earth. The noble attributes of reason, integrity, and dignity, which distinguish men and women from all other forms of life, are often the first to be attacked by these drugs and alcohol.

We reach out in love to family, friends, and neighbors, regardless of nationality or creed, who suffer addition. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continues to help relieve this international plague.

The solution to this problem ultimately is neither governmental nor institutional. Nor is it a question of legality. It is a matter of individual choice and commitment. Agency must be understood. The importance of the will in making crucial choices must be known. Then steps toward relief can follow.

Agency, or the power to choose, was ours as spirit children of our Creator before the world was.11 It is a gift from God, nearly as precious as life itself. Often, however, agency is misunderstood. While we are free to choose, once we have made those choices, we are tied to the consequences of those choices. We are free to take drugs or not. But once we choose to use a habit-forming drug, we are bound to the consequences of that choice. Addiction surrenders later freedom to choose. Through chemical means, one can literally become disconnected from his or her own will!

For relief of an ailment, as a doctor of medicine I might write a prescription. As an ordained Apostle, I would invoke the spiritual blessing of eternal perspective. Combined, my spiritual prescription would return the gift of agency to its rightful owner.

Each one who resolves to climb that steep road to recovery must gird up for the fight of a lifetime. But a lifetime is a prize well worth the price.

This challenge uniquely involves the will, and the will can prevail. Healing doesn't come after the first dose of any medicine. So the prescription must be followed firmly, bearing in mind that it often takes as long to recover as it did to become ill. But if made consistently and persistently, correct choices can cure.

My spiritual prescription includes six choices which I shall list alphabetically, A through F, and then comment about each:

  • Choose to be Alive
  • Choose to Believe
  • Choose to Change
  • Choose to be Different
  • Choose to Exercise
  • Choose to be Free

Choose to be Alive. Seek beloved family, friends, and physicians. Plead for their help. Your precious life is at stake. "Cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves—to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life."12

The choice for life brings an outlook of optimism. It breathes hope. It rekindles self-esteem—regarding one's body as a timeless trust. And it awakens a personal commitment to "see that ye take care of these sacred things, . . . that ye look to God and live."13

Choose to Believe. Believe in God. Accept yourself as His child, created in His image. He loves you and wants you to be happy. He wants you to grow through life's choices and become more like Him. He pleads that you will "reconcile [yourself] to the will of God, and not to the will of the . . . flesh."14

Reconciliation requires faith, repentance, and baptism. Be "born of God, changed from [your] carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness."15 Renew covenants made at baptism by worthily partaking of the sacrament regularly, "that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world."16

Then "be meek and lowly in heart. . . . Withstand every temptation of the devil, with . . . faith on the Lord Jesus Christ."17

Choose to believe in and be blessed by your Creator.

Choose to Change. "How long will ye suffer [yourself] to be led by foolish and blind guides? Yea, how long will ye choose darkness rather than light?"18 Choose to change—today!

"The spirit and the body are the soul of man."19 Both spirit and body have appetites. One of life's great challenges is to develop dominance of spiritual appetites over those that are physical. Your willpower becomes strong when joined with the will of the Lord.

Addiction to any substance enslaves not only the physical body but the spirit as well. Therefore, repentance is best achieved while one still has a body to help attain spiritual supremacy:

"This life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; . . . this life is the day for men to perform their labors. . . .

"Do not procrastinate the day of your repentance; . . . if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed. . . .

"That same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life . . . will have power to possess your body in that eternal world."20

To be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life eternal.21 That blessing will come to those with the will to change.

Choose to be Different. Distinguish yourself from worldly crowds. Defenders do not resemble offenders. Among them are clever merchandisers who plot to link beer with sports, tobacco with charm, and drugs with fun. Scripture warns of those who so deceive:

"Thus saith the Lord unto you: In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation."22

His Word of Wisdom includes sound nutritional guidance and simple instructions. We are not to drink alcoholic beverages.23 We are not to use tobacco.24 We are not to drink tea or coffee.25 And in this same spirit, we are not to use addicting drugs.26

So to modern Israel, God has given modern counsel, similar to ancient commandments recorded in the Old Testament:

"It is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink:

"Lest they drink, and forget the law."27

"Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken."28

Certainly modern medical research validates the physical benefits of obedience to the Word of Wisdom. The evidence is so great that many will be taught the right things for only half of the right reasons. With that limited understanding, could they then try a smoke, a drink, or a drug, rationalizing that "just one won't hurt"? Could the prospect of only future physical rewards even be bait for foolish dares of defiance now? Or to phrase these questions another way, how many would be determined to obey the will of the Lord even if physical benefits were not assured? When God asked Abraham to offer Isaac in sacrifice, did they first seek scientific confirmation that their choice to obey was medically advisable?

The Word of Wisdom is a spiritual law. To the obedient He proclaimed: "I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them."29

At the first passover, the destroying angel did pass over houses that were marked with blood on the doorposts. In our day, the faithful keep the Word of Wisdom. It is one of our signs unto God that we are His covenant people.

Choose to be different; you will be blessed both physically and spiritually.

Choose to Exercise. Exercising the body and the spirit will aid in the climb toward recovery. Appropriate physical activity helps to combat depression, which so often accompanies addiction.

But spiritual exercise is even more crucial. This battle will be more easily won with fervent prayer. If we truly "counsel with the Lord in all [our] doings, . . . he will direct [us] for good."30

Strength comes from uplifting music, good books, and feasting from the scriptures. Since the Book of Mormon was to come forth "when there shall be great pollutions upon the face of the earth,"31 study of that book in particular will fortify us.

Exercise the body and the spirit and choose to exercise faith in God.

Choose to be Free. Break "bands of iniquity."32 Leave behind "an iron yoke, . . . handcuffs, and chains, and shackles, and fetters of hell."33

Choose to be free from feigned friends who first flatter yet later despise.34 Drug abuse may have started with them, but you pay the price.

"Remember, my brethren [and sisters], that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free."35

The Lord has revealed His sacred standard to guide people in a troubled world. You and I were born free to follow His divine guidance. We may choose for ourselves. Those choices may bring addiction or freedom. For freedom and joy, choose to "be faithful in Christ." He will lift you up. May "the hope of his glory and of eternal life, rest in your mind forever."36


1. The Health Consequences of Smoking: Nicotine Addiction, Public Health Service, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1988, 262-63.

2. Cigarette Smoking and Cardiovascular Disease 1985: Special Report to the Public, American Heart Association (50-075-A).

3. Office of Technology Assessment, U.S. Congress Staff Memorandum, September 1985, 2.

4. Ibid., 5.

5. Utah Hospital Leaders Digest, 15 July 1988, 2.

6. The Health Consequences of Smoking: Nicotine Addiction, Public Health Service, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1988, 14, 334.

7. Among them are Nigel Gray, director, Anti-Cancer Council, Victoria, Australia; David Simpson, director, Action on Smoking and Health, U.K.; Pamela Taylor, spokesperson, British Medical Association, U.K.; Andrew Pipe, University of Ottawa Heart Institute, Canada; Roberta Ferrence, Addiction Research Foundation, Canada; Bernie McKay, secretary, Commonwealth Department of Health, Australia. Times and Seasons, Documentary on Tobacco, July 1988.

8. "Coming to Grips with Alcoholism," U.S. News and World Report, 30 November 1987, 56-57.

9. Healthy People: The Surgeon General's Report on Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, Public Health Service, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1979, 125.

10. Accident Facts, Annual Report of the National Safety Council, 1975, confirmed by telephone conversation 20 July 1988.

11. See Alma 13:3; Moses 4:4.

12. 2 Ne. 10:23.

13. Alma 37:47.

14. 2 Ne. 10:24.

15. Mosiah 27:25.

16. D&C 59:9.

17. Alma 37:33.

18. Hel. 13:29.

19. D&C 88:15.

20. Alma 34:32-34.

21. See 2 Ne. 9:39; Rom. 8:6.

22. D&C 89:4.

23. See D&C 89:5-7.

24. See D&C 89:8.

25. D&C 89:9.

26. Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, May 1983, 54-55; Spencer W. Kimball, Ensign, May 1974, 7; Joseph Fielding Smith, Ensign, June 1971, 49; Heber J. Grant, J. Reuben Clark, Jr., David O. McKay, "Message of the First Presidency," in Conference Report, October 1942, 4-17.

27. Prov. 31:4-5.

28. Hab. 2:15; see also Prov. 20:1.

29. D&C 89:21.

30. Alma 37:37.

31. Morm. 8:31.

32. Mosiah 23:12; see also 1 Ne. 13:5.

33. D&C 123:8.

34. D&C 121:20.

35. Hel. 14:30.

36. Moro. 9:25.

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