By President N. Eldon Tanner
First Counselor in the First Presidency
General Conference – April, 1977
As I stand before you, I humbly pray that the Spirit of the Lord will attend us as it has as we have listened to the inspirational talks and this lovely choir.
As I was talking to a man the other day, one of his employees passed by. My friend said, “There goes a man full of integrity. He has worked for my company for thirty years, and never at any time have I observed any thought or action of dishonesty or disloyalty. It gives a man a good feeling of confidence to have such an employee.”
I have thought much about the word integrity since that day, as I often had before, and only wish that we and those with whom we deal would be completely honest and trustworthy, whether it be in matters pertaining to religion, science, economics, or local or national politics. Particularly in the home should integrity be taught and practiced as a basis for its extension into community life and all other phases of living.
Aware of the need for a revival of this “old-fashioned” virtue, I concluded to address my remarks to this subject. Integrity, or the lack of it, touches almost every facet of our lives—everything we say, every thought and desire.
From this very pulpit, and by some of the greatest religious leaders of modern time, we have heard sermons and exhortations upon honesty, trust, righteousness, dependability, truthfulness, kindness, justice, mercy, love, fidelity, and many other principles of right living.
When one has integrated all of these attributes within his being, when they become the moving force of all his thoughts, actions, and desires, then he may be said to possess integrity, which has been defined as “a state or quality of being complete, undivided, or unbroken; moral soundness, honesty and uprightness.”
Let us pursue this thought of a man being whole within himself, or undivided. Such a one would never find himself at war within himself as to which course to pursue or which decision to make. Constantly there would be a unity of purpose. There would not be, as someone has said, “one self for church, another self for business, another for recreation, home, travel, and so on.” This point is well expressed in the following verse by Edward Sanford Martin:
The exact opposite of such vacillating is the life and character of the one to whom we should hold fast as the very ideal of integrity—Jesus Christ, the Savior, who taught that man cannot live a divided life, that he cannot serve both God and mammon, and that he cannot serve two masters. Not only were Christ’s teachings directed to a oneness of purpose, but his own life was the personification of integrity. This virtue is one of our greatest needs today.
We need more integrity in government. We need to be governed by men and women who are undivided in honorable purpose, whose votes and decisions are not for sale to the highest bidder. We need as our elected and appointed officials those whose characters are unsullied, whose lives are morally clean and open, who are not devious, selfish, or weak. We need men and women of courage and honest convictions, who will stand always ready to be counted for their integrity and not compromise for expediency, lust for power, or greed; and we need a people who will appreciate and support representatives of this caliber.
A story is told of an English farmer at work one day in his fields when he saw a party of huntsmen riding about his farm. Concerned that they might ride into a field where the crop could be damaged by the tramp of horses, he sent one of his workmen to shut the gate and then keep watch over it and on no account to open it. He had scarcely arrived at his post when the hunters came up and ordered that the gate be opened. He declined to do so, stating the orders he had received, and steadfastly refused to open the gate in spite of the threats and bribes as one after another of the hunters came forward.
Then one of the riders came up and said in commanding tones, “My boy, do you know me? I am the Duke of Wellington, one not accustomed to being disobeyed, and I command you to open that gate, that I and my friends may pass through.”
The boy lifted his hat, and before the man whom all England delighted to honor, answered firmly, “I am sure the Duke of Wellington would not wish me to disobey orders. I must keep this gate shut, nor suffer anyone to pass but by my master’s express permission.”
Greatly pleased, the duke lifted his own hat and said, “I honor the man or boy who can be neither bribed or frightened into doing wrong. With an army of such soldiers, I could conquer not only the French, but the world.” (Adapted from “The Boy Who Kept Out Wellington,” in Moral Stories for Little Folks, Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1891, pp. 112–13.)
As the duke evidenced, there is respect for persons who have integrity, and I am certain that disagreements and contention between nations could be resolved to the blessing and satisfaction of all concerned if the leaders could respect one another and approach their problems with complete candor.
What of the business world and integrity? Business leaders and financiers should be the very epitome of integrity. Fortunately most of them are—but when we learn of wide-scale bribery, fraud, cheating, deceit, power plays to gain control of vast financial empires; when we have to legislate to make our dealings with one another honest and prevent one group from taking undue advantage of another, we know that integrity is lacking. If it were not, businesses could operate more successfully, employees would be more honest in their performance, and the products of their labor would not be inferior or shoddy. Even now the United States government is considering new ways to protect the consumer from fraudulent practices and inferior merchandise.
If integrity guided the decisions and negotiations of labor leaders and unions, they would never, as many are wont to do, exercise unrighteous dominion over industry. All would work for the blessing and benefit of everyone else, and we could thus eliminate greed, oppression, poverty, and the human suffering they incur.
Nor does our world of education escape the need of examining itself for integrity of purpose. Nowhere else, save in the home, is there greater opportunity to practice and to educate in the principles of integrity. There is an undeniable correlation between it and education. The famous English author, Samuel Johnson, understood it and expressed it in these few words: “Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.” (Rasselas, ch. 41.)
What a dreadful world we would live in, and how fearful we would be, if there were not an unusual amount of integrity in the areas of the sciences—physics and so on. Yet there still are some whose sole purpose should be, but is not, the blessing of mankind. Both instructors and students in these areas should be totally honest and aware.
Imagine living in a world where crime was not rampant! This could be so. We bring upon ourselves much of the distress, heartache, and suffering we endure because of moral unsoundness and dishonesty, which are creeping into every vocation and realm of activity. As long ago as 1666, Jean Baptiste Molière, a famous French dramatist, wrote, “If everyone were clothed with integrity, if every heart were just, frank, kindly, the other virtues would be well-nigh useless, since their chief purpose is to make us bear with patience the injustices of our fellows.” (Le Misanthrope, act 5, scene 1.)
As we have stated, there is much erosion in all facets of our living through failure to apply the principle of integrity. Besides those mentioned we must add the home and family life. The very foundation of this basic unit of society is being undermined by infidelity, divorce, and total disregard of the sacred marriage vows. With such erosion come heartaches, untold suffering and distress, through the sins of adultery, fornication, and promiscuity when husbands and wives are unfaithful. Broken homes are one of the nation’s great tragedies and are increasing in number every day.
Just imagine the reversal that would take place if full integrity were to rule in family life. There would be complete fidelity. Husbands would be faithful to wives, and wives to husbands. There would be no living in adulterous relationships in lieu of marriage. Homes would abound in love, children and parents would have respect for one another, and children would be reared in righteousness through parental example—the greatest teacher of all.
Our children should value honesty and integrity. They should know beforehand what their decisions will be when they are faced with crisis. They should know and understand that they are children of God, and that their eternal destiny is to so live that they will be worthy to return to his presence when they have completed their life’s mission. Adults should not hinder their progress, but help them always to be true to their ideals and principles.
Gerhardt, a little German shepherd boy, was such an example. He was very, very poor, and one day as he was watching his flock, a hunter came out of the woods and asked the way to the nearest village. When the boy told him, he said if he would show him the way he would be rewarded handsomely. When Gerhardt replied that he could not leave his sheep for fear they might be lost, the hunter said, “Well, what of that? They are not your sheep, and the loss of one or two would not matter to your master. I will give you more money than you have earned in a year.”
When the boy still declined, the hunter said, “Then will you trust me with your sheep while you go to the village and bring me food and drink and a guide?”
The boy shook his head, saying, “The sheep do not know your voice.”
Angrily the hunter retorted, “Can’t you trust me?”
Gerhardt reminded him that he had tried to get him to break faith with his master and asked, “How do I know that you would keep your word to me?”
Cornered, the hunter laughed and said, “I see you are a good faithful boy. I will not forget you. Show me the road and I will try to make it out by myself.”
The hunter turned out to be the grand duke, and he was so pleased with Gerhardt’s honesty that he later sent for him and had him educated. Though Gerhardt became a rich and powerful man, he remained honest and true. (Adapted from “A Faithful Shepherd Boy,” in Moral Stories for Little Folks, Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office. 1891, pp. 11–13.)
The integrity of which we speak is not impossible to attain. In fact, we should all be convinced that it is far easier to emulate the example of our Savior than it is to follow Satan, whose path leads us away from integrity and into darkness and misery. There is no happiness in sin, and when we depart from the path of righteousness we begin to do those things which will inevitably lead us to unhappiness and misery and loss of freedom.
Now, what can we do to improve the conditions we have been discussing? Let each of us begin with himself to find out how he stands on the principle of integrity. Let us make an honest assessment of our hearts, our lives, our desires and goals, involving a recognition of all our faults. Then we should make a serious effort to set them right, to change directions toward the ideal of integrity and its associate virtues.
Our eternal salvation and exaltation in the kingdom of God, our Heavenly Father, will be determined by how we live the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The early leaders of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, including the Prophet Joseph Smith and his associates, understood the importance of integrity in their lives. They would not and could not make any compromise with revealed truth. Though Joseph Smith was ridiculed and persecuted for stating that he had seen a vision of the Father and the Son, he reported that he felt much like Paul when he made his defense before King Agrippa. Some said Paul was dishonest, others that he was mad. He was ridiculed and reviled.
So it was with the Prophet Joseph. He said, “I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true; and while they were persecuting me, reviling me, and speaking all manner of evil against me falsely for so saying, I was led to say in my heart: Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation.” (JS—H 1:25.)
Joseph Smith also gave us another declaration incorporating integrity. In writing the Articles of Faith of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he gave us these words as the Thirteenth Article:
“We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” [A of F 1:13]
Let each and every one of us incorporate this admonition into our everyday living.
Among the Prophet’s close associates were those who led our pioneer forefathers across the wilderness to the Great Salt Lake Valley, to become a great and a mighty people according to divine prophecy. They could not have done so by compromising their principles.
One of those who made that first long trek across the plains from the Mississippi River to the Salt Lake Valley was Heber C. Kimball, grandfather of our present-day prophet and leader, President Spencer W. Kimball. On one occasion he said:
“God … is determined to save those who will take a course to secure their election and heirship to eternal life. All such people will prevail. If they fail in their integrity and firmness to the cause of righteousness, and repent not, they will lose all they have already gained, all they have expected, and all that has ever been promised to them that overcome.” (Journal of Discourses, 8:89.)
To win the approbation of our Eternal Father and Jesus Christ, his Son, should be the supreme reward for integrity; and let us never suppose that such righteousness will ever go unnoticed or unrewarded. This is evident in a revelation given to Joseph Smith in January 1841, which made reference to his faithful brother, Hyrum, whose devotion brought him a martyr’s death when the two were murdered in Carthage Jail in 1844. I quote:
“And again, verily I say unto you, blessed is my servant Hyrum Smith; for I, the Lord, love him because of the integrity of his heart, and because he loveth that which is right before me, saith the Lord.” (D&C 124:15.)
This applies equally to the multitudes of righteous people throughout the world who deal with their fellowmen with integrity.
The prophets of the Old and New Testaments, and those of the Book of Mormon, attained that integrity of heart that brought them the companionship of the Holy Spirit. Likewise, those who have presided and today preside over this restored kingdom of God do so with integrity, with complete devotion. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the world over can be eternally grateful to know of the unwavering faith of these devoted General Authorities who sit upon the rostrum of this great Tabernacle today. They, with thousands of other leaders throughout the Church, are upright, sincere, and devoted to the trust placed upon them. They are unselfish in their service, humble and submissive to the mind and will of our Lord and Savior. Their utmost desire is to seek salvation and exaltation for themselves and their fellowmen.
I bear witness that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, is the head of this church and directs its activities through his prophet, President Spencer W. Kimball.
I would this day, with all my soul, pray that the hearts of men everywhere will be touched by that divine spark which will cause them to understand, accept, and live the teachings of Jesus Christ, which will prepare them for eternal life with God, our Heavenly Father. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.