The Marriage Covenant

"The Marriage relation is ... without beginning of days or end in years; ... it lays the foundation for worlds, for angels, and for the Gods; for intelligent beings to be crowned with glory, immortality, and eternal lives.  In fact it is the thread which runs from the beginning to the end of the holy Gospel of Salvation...; it is from eternity to eternity." -Brigham Young


I come before you with a broken heart and a contrite spirit.  If I come with any other attitude, I will not be able to help you, and my whole desire today is to be a blessing to your life together as a married couple.

Several weeks ago the impression came to me strongly that I was to deliver to the members of the wards in the stake an explicit message about the meaning of the covenant we undertake in connection with temple marriage.  At one time, I proposed within myself to put it off until Fall Semester when I thought it would be more appropriate, as more members would likely be present.  However, it was made clear to me that no postponement was in order.  Thus, I have striven over these weeks to learn, from the Lord, the appropriate message to deliver.  Prayer has been a part of my preparation, as has fasting.

As I thought about my remarks, I was led to consider Jacob’s sermon as recorded in the Book of Mormon: He declared that “having first obtained my errand from the Lord,”[1] he would now “declare unto [the Nephites] the word of God.”[2]  He also affirmed that with the “help of the all powerful Creator of heaven and earth [he could] tell [them] concerning [their] thoughts.”[3]  My situation today is similar to Jacob’s.  And I do understand what I am saying with those words.  Further, Jacob was grieved in his heart because of the burden of part of his message which was to speak, “in the presence of the pure in heart,” of “wickedness and abominations,” by which he meant principally sexual sin.[4]

Although I do not know all of the reasons for the prompting of the Spirit regarding my message, I do know of several occurrences involving former or current stake members that make it pertinent.  For example, I remember an interview I had when I had been bishop (in the 139th ward of this stake) for less than a week.  A young man came to me and said, “Bishop, I don’t love my wife anymore.”  I waited expectantly.  Finally he announced that he thought it best that they get a divorce.  He offered as a kind of excuse that he had not had a “revelation” during the temple ceremony confirming the priesthood ordinance of sealing.

Just recently a young woman called me and said that she and her husband were probably going to “split,” as she put it, after a year or less of marriage.  They were “both agreed,” she told me, as if that were sufficient reason; besides, he had just been the subject of a church disciplinary council and she could see no reason to continue their union.

A third recent story: A young mother was at home tending a small child.  When her husband did not come home at the expected time, she went up on campus to find him.  She did.  He was wandering around holding hands with a married woman from another BYU stake.

A final story.  Within the last few days a former member of our stake sought me out in desperation.  She and her husband have been transient for some time as they prepare to move back east, and she had no one to turn to.  She was distraught as she told me with emotion that her husband was asking her to engage in sexual activity about which she felt extremely uncomfortable.  Apparently her refusal to do what he asked had provoked him over time to accuse her of not loving him with the ardor that she owed him.

What is going on here?  I believe these are good people who have been misled; they have been thoughtless; they have not actually considered nor pondered the meaning of the marriage covenant they made under the authority of the Holy Priesthood.  Rather, they have succumbed to the lure of a fairy-tale—a tale to the effect that the sole key to a happy LDS life is to be worthy of the temple and be married in it.  Then, the story goes, God, seemingly almost in gratitude for the couple’s willingness to be sealed in the temple and perhaps because of their singular worthiness, will bless the resulting union such that a kind of romantic haze will envelop them as they walk arm in arm through the years, parents to inevitably righteous children, finally to be whisked into the celestial kingdom.

Whether that tale is written about in silly fiction or spoken fervently in Relief Society or priesthood meetings, it is a false story.  It is false because it demeans the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The tale acknowledges a mighty effort and sacrifice from him, but does not require a like labor of us.  But, do you believe he performed his atoning works so that we could be ‘funneled’, as it were, into the highest existence without faith on our part, without our own sacrifices, without our own showing forth of love?  If we will just take a bit of thought regarding the story, we will see its fundamental error and not be misled.

Now, as this fiction demeans the Savior, it also diminishes the significance of our covenants with Deity.  It is as if there were a kind of “trick,” so to speak, to our eternal happiness: You merely have to be married in the temple, to have the ordinance performed; after that you coast into a celestial state.  Or, in an alternate version, if you do not get a revelation at the time of the marriage ordinance, you are not bound by the covenant.

Incidentally, I understand that not everyone in this congregation may have been married in the temple.  But undoubtedly you desire greatly that blessing; thus, you’ll have it eventually.  So my message is for you, too.

What is the truth about this marriage ordinance, then?  The truth is that you and I covenant with the Lord as part of the ceremony and are thereby bound to think, say and do certain things and to avoid thinking, saying, and doing others.  The key point is that you and I covenant individually, with the Lord.  The officiator does not say, “Do the two of you agree to this?”  He says, “Brother Smith, do you…?”  Then he says, “Sister Jones, do you…?”  Thus it is that the Lord can say in the 42nd section of the Doctrine and Covenants: “Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave [that is ‘join yourself’] to her and none else.”[5]  This covenantal reality also gives power to the Lord’s teaching in Matthew, chap. 19, vs. 5-6: “For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh.  What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.”[6]  (The Greek means “divide” or “separate.”)  Have you thought of that?  We are commanded to love our spouse.  It isn’t a matter of guaranteed righteousness through the mere performance of the ordinance, nor is it a case of our loving him or her as long as it is convenient; nor is it dependent on our “feeling” about it—rather, our temple marriage is a matter of obedience to commandments.  You chose to be married in the temple; now you are obligated to the commandments that follow.

That is why the foolishness of the men and women of whom I spoke at the beginning is so dramatic, so potentially destructive!

That covenant is not dormant in the absence of a personal revelation that the ceremony is efficacious.  The covenant comes into force when the ordinance is performed acceptably before the Lord.  The only questions are:

  1. Was the ordinance performed by one authorized to act in the name of Deity?
  2. Did he perform it precisely as it is to be performed?

If the answer is yes to each of those questions, you are obligated to fulfill it.  Is it conceivable that for some Latter-day Saints that comes as pretty shocking news?

Now, before I remind you of what the Lord requires of you, given the reality of that covenant, I remind us all of the promise of it: By it we are enabled to come forth in the first resurrection to “inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities and powers, dominions, all heights and depths;”[7] we inherit the blessings of Abraham, the ability to have progeny (not only in this life), the unlimited blessings of the priesthood (granted to both of you, of course, not just the man), and more.  Whereas baptism is the covenant of salvation, the new and everlasting covenant of marriage is the covenant of exaltation.  Think of it, brothers and sisters!

Well, those are the promised blessings.  Now, here is what honoring the covenant requires of us: “Cleaving” to your spouse means to hold him or her sacred—I’ll put it that strongly.  You can do nothing—no matter how trivial it may seem in the eyes of those who do not comprehend the greatness of the covenant—that causes your spouse to sorrow or mourn.  You cannot licitly even gaze longingly on another.  I don’t mean lustfully only.  I mean romantically, admiringly.  You cannot linger over a handshake with someone of the opposite sex.  You cannot fantasize about the possibility of a change in your circumstances—about how another would fulfill your needs more adequately.  You cannot seek for “missing” excitement in magazines or books or movies.  You cannot speak in a mocking or ridiculing manner to her or him.  And you certainly cannot walk around hand in hand with someone other than your spouse.

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