The Marriage Covenant

All of these and a thousand other “small” actions can initiate a chain of events that ends in your forfeiting the marvelous blessings I remarked earlier.  The chain of events can become a chain, indeed: iron fetters that impede or even halt your eternal progress.

The Parable of the Dandelion

Near a table on the south edge of campus where I go often to read and eat my lunch, a large weed, a dandelion, has broken through the surface of the asphalt with which the area is paved.  It is unsightly and even destructive, as it has actually displaced a large piece or two of asphalt.  I looked at the weed several weeks ago and wondered how it came to be there, in the middle of the pavement.  I realized that earlier a tiny seed must have become lodged in a minute fissure within the asphalt and, against all odds, had received a bit of moisture and enough sunlight to enable it to send down roots and send up stalks and leaves.  I asked our high councilor, Brother Bill Hess, chairman of the Botany and Range Science Department, to estimate the size differential between the seed and the full-grown plant.  He actually weighed a seed and a plant and found the following: The whole plant weighed over 5 and 1/2 ounces; the seed weighed a mere two one-hundred thousandths of an ounce.  That almost microscopically small seed, completely unnoticed, we might say, by the asphalt initially, was now approximately 300,000 times as large as when it first insinuated itself into the mostly inorganic material.

One way to speak of this occurrence is to say that the seed had introduced itself into an entity that did not have integrity; that is, the asphalt was not whole, not complete.

Well, I know you have captured the meaning of my metaphor: Only the smallest fissure in our character is necessary for the seed of sin; the tiniest amount of nutrients will suffice to produce growth.  Thus, I plead with you to assure your personal integrity so that you admit not even a “small” violation of the marriage covenant to begin its work of destruction.

Do not look for reasons to claim that the covenant is not in force.

I talked with President Anderson of the Provo Temple as I prepared this talk.  He reminded me that psychologically and spiritually we marry another in order to complement (not c-o-m-p-l-i-m-e-n-t) ourselves in some way, to complete (that’s what complement means) some element missing or partial in us—some talent, capability, character attribute, or similar component.  Then he enlightened my mind with a significant truth: In order to succeed in our “completing” work, we are obligated to spend our life fulfilling the needs of our companion, selflessly acting as a savior for our spouse.  Have you ever thought of it that way?

Contrary to this idea, our friends whom I mentioned at the beginning of this talk, who talk and act foolishly with regard to their marriage covenant, are in the grip of selfishness, not selflessness.  Instead of asking, What can I do to bless the life of my spouse?  they are asking, Why am I not being satisfied by this partner of mine in all my needs?  Where is the bliss that I expected from temple marriage?  They are waiting for someone to give them happiness.  But you already know—intellectually, at least—that happiness is not something served to you by others, but a by-product of your service to them!

One thing I have worried about from the time I was first prompted to prepare this talk is the possibility that many of you would settle back as you heard my theme and say, in effect, “Hmmm… This is pretty strong stuff.  I’ll bet some couples right in this congregation need to hear him.”  Of course, the truth is that not one person in this hall—including the bishop and me—is exempt from temptation to unilaterally void the marriage covenant.  I am speaking to every one of us.

On Being Aggrieved

Now, I want to address those of you who believe yourselves to be an aggrieved person in just the kind of situation I have been describing.  You may be saying to yourselves, “President Webb is exactly right.  I’ve been wronged by the language, the behavior, even the thoughts, of my spouse, yet I have not retaliated in any way.  I have borne this awful injustice done to me.  Thus, I am an aggrieved partner with all of the rights associated with that position.”

Brothers and Sisters, the only right you incur as an aggrieved spouse is the right to take even more seriously the Law of Love—charity, the pure love of Christ.  The selfishness that you are tempted to indulge in when you talk of your “rights” is no different than the selfishness that you lament in your spouse!  The love that Christ has for us, on the other hand—no matter what thoughtless or awful things we do—requires that he “bear all things, believe all things, hope all things and endure all things.”[8]  That is scripture—Moroni 7:45, specifically.  Neither you nor I have the right to interpret those phrases so that they come to mean something like, “bears many things, believes many things, hopes quite often, and endures a lot.”  I testify to you that it means what it says, as difficult as it may be to follow its direction.  I do understand, nevertheless, that when another mortal is involved, we are expected to be humbly compliant only insofar as the other hearkens to the voice of Deity.

So, I have said to you that covenants and romantic love are not identical concepts; that we are commanded, not merely urged, to love our spouse and cleave to him or to her and none else; that you individually cannot abrogate the covenant you entered into when you were sealed to your spouse in the temple without serious and painful consequences—because your covenant is with Deity; that sin, like the minute dandelion seed, will enter into our soul on the slightest provocation and that its eradication is more difficult than we might wish.

Further, I have addressed those of you who suffer injustice at the hands of your spouse—I know that it does happen, we all know it.  We are all human.  I have said to you that your obligation according to the Law of Love, called the “greatest of all,” is to endure and bear all things, believing and having hope that through your patience, your lack of envy, your refusal to be provoked and your rejoicing in the truth, you will help to effect a reconciliation between the two of you, thus becoming an instrument for salvation, acting in the stead of the Savior himself.  Could you do anything of greater significance in this life?

My testimony, based on personal revelation (as are all true testimonies), is that the church that teaches us these truths is the only religious institution on the earth recognized by Jesus Christ as “distinctively his own,” in the words of James E. Talmage.  I pray that we may all be moved to take seriously our responsibilities in connection with the great sealing ordinance.  In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


[1] Jac. 1:17
[2] Jac. 2:2
[3] Jac. 2:25
[4] Jac. 2:10
[5] D&C 42:22
[6] Matt. 19:5-6
[7] D&C 132:19
[8] Moro. 7:45

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