Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were encouraged to be valiant in their testimony of Jesus during the final session of the 160th Semiannual General Conference, held in the Tabernacle on Temple Square.
President Thomas S. Monson, second counselor in the First Presidency, quoted President Ezra Taft Benson, saying the scriptures are "one of the most valuable gifts he (Christ) has given to us. I urge you to recommit yourselves to a study of the scriptures. Immerse yourselves in them daily so you will have the Spirit to attend you. Read them in your families and teach your children to love and to treasure them."The church president traditionally closes the final session of conference, but President Benson remained in the intensive care unit at LDS Hospital, where he has been recovering from surgery last month to remove blood clots from his brain and from gastrointestinal bleeding discovered last week.
A nursing supervisor said the leader of the 7.5 million member church remained in serious but stable condition.
President Monson told members during the morning session that President Benson was watching conference on television, along with thousands of other LDS faithful, who listened to the proceedings via television, radio and satellite. Many of the speakers during the two-day conference expressed love to President Benson.
President Monson quoted him, saying, "It is soul-satisfying to know that God is mindful of us and ready to respond when we place our trust in him and do that which is right. There is no place for fear among men and women who place their trust in the Almighty and do not hesitate to humble themselves in seeking divine guidance through prayer.
"Though persecutions arise, though reverses come, in prayer we can find reassurance, for God will speak peace to the soul. That peace, that spirit of serenity islife's greatest blessing.
"I'm getting older and less vigorous, and I'm so grateful for your prayers and for the support of my younger bretheren. I thank the Lord for renewing my body from time to time so that I can still help build his kingdom. God willing, I intend to spend all my remaining days in this glorious effort."
President Monson said he would like to take each member "to President Benson's hospital room, which we visited a few days ago. I think the picture of tranquility of love which was there would be beneficial for all members of the church to see."
With all of the medical apparatus surrounding the hospital bed, President Benson's son was holding his left hand while his daughter held his right hand "and read to him from what book? The Book of Mormon. And playing for him to enjoy was a recording of our own Tabernacle Choir. It was just a little bit of heaven for him," he said.
"We regret sincerely that President Benson has been unable to be with us here at the Tabernacle. Nonetheless, we have felt his spirit throughout the proceedings," President Monson said. "His love of the Lord, for the membership of the church and for God's children everywhere is legendary. His many acts of kindness have blessed the lives of those with whom he has met everywhere he has gone."
Relating one of President Benson's recent experiences with his wife at the Jordan River Temple, President Monson said the church leader was approached by a young man who was preparing to leave on a mission. "President Benson took the newlycalled missionary by the hand and with a smile on his lips declared: `Take me with you, take me with you.' That missionary testified to me that in a way he took President Benson with him on his mission."
Elder Perry: Attitude of reverence must be cultivated by church members. Goodness must be centered in the heart.
Elder L. Tom Perry spoke of serving God with reverence, which he described as an attitude of deepest respect and veneration toward deity.
"Reverent behaviors follow reverent attitudes, but it is the attitude of reverence that we need to cultivate first among our members," said Elder Perry.
The scriptures teach that goodness is centered in the heart. "Those who put on an appearance only to receive the honors of men but have unclean hearts are called hypocrites," he said. "Those who are truly reverent are those who have paid the price to know the glory of the Father and his Son."
Elder Perry said he noticed distinct differences in the attitudes reflected at area conferences in different parts of the world. The first was in a large auditorium where he said there was a general lack of reverence. "Giving the members the benefit of the doubt, we attributed the general lack of reverence to the nature of the facility," he said.
In another country a few days later, Elder Perry and other church authorities were attending a similar conference. "When we entered the arena, however, an immediate hush came over the congregation. As we sat through the two-hour general session, there was very little movement among the people. Everyone listened intently. Great attention and respect was shown all the speakers, and when the prophet spoke, you could hear a pin drop."
Church leaders from the area told Elder Perry after the conference that leaders had been asked to explain to the member families that they would be hearing from God's servants at the meeting, which encouraged the reverent behavior at the conference.
As a young child, Elder Perry said he remembered his bishop taking all of the young children around their newly dedicated church building to show them the chapel, the sacrament table and other important fixtures and decorations in the building. "He concluded with an appeal to each of us to always be reverent in this house, which had been dedicated to the Lord," he said. "I realized that every time I entered the chapel I was entering a holy place. It was not difficult for me to be reverent at church because all around me there were reminders of the Lord, his servants and his eternal plan for me."
Children should begin cultivating a reverent attitude in the home under the direction of their parents, Elder Perry said. "Behavior learned at home determines behavior in church meetings. A child who has learned to pray at home understands that he must be quiet and still during prayers in worship services."
Elder Packer: Abortion, homosexuality and drugs lead to sorrow and violate sacred covenants made by members.
Elder Boyd K. Packer said abortion, homosexuality and drug addiction are elements of "spiritually dangerous" lifestyles that violate covenants church members make with the Lord.
"My message is to you who are tempted to enter, to promote or to remain in a lifestyle which violates your covenants and will one day bring sorrow to you and those who love you," Elder Packer told church members.
Elder Packer said there are moral and spiritual sides to the "spiritually dangerous" lifestyles that are universally ignored, and that there is a spirit in addition to the letter of the law in the "shalt nots" found in the commandments.
Not all that is forbidden is mentioned specifically in the scriptures, Elder Packer said. To illustrate the point, he said the scriptures do not include a commandment against taking arsenic. "Surely we don't need a revelation for that."
"The Lord said, `It is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant.' " The scriptures teach men sufficiently for them to know good from evil, he said. "We are free to obey or ignore both the spirit and the letter of the law. But the agency granted to man is a moral agency. We are not free to break our covenants and escape the consequences," he said.
An individual's right of choice is invoked as a sovereign virtue when the lifestyles Elder Packer identified as destructive are debated. "That could only be true if there were but one of us. The rights of any individual bump up against the rights of another. And the simple truth is that we cannot be happy, nor saved, nor exalted, without one another."
Abortion is an issue where the right of choice is defended with the most vigor. But whether or not a marriage is involved, a minimum of three lives are involved in an abortion decision. "Except where the wicked crime of incest or rape was involved, or where competent medical authorities certify that the life of the mother is in jeopardy, or that a severely defective fetus cannot survive birth, abortion is clearly a `thou shalt not.' Even in these very exceptional cases, much sober prayer is required to make the right choice."
Gay and lesbian conduct is perversion, Elder Packer said, and the same logic that would justify the behavior would justify incest or the molesting of little children. "Neither the letter nor the spirit of moral law condones any such conduct."
"Nobody is free from temptations of one kind or another. That is the test of life. That is part of our mortal probation. Temptation of some kind goes with the territory."
Elder Rector: Repentance follows faith and helps us become better prepared for the Resurrection.
Elder Hartman Rector Jr. spoke of the Resurrection, stressing the importance of "going home in a clean condition."
Repentance, he said, seems to be the most important experience we can have on this earth to prepare for the Resurrection.
"Surely there is not much known by the living about the Resurrection, because neither prophets nor resurrected persons have explained the process to mortals. Only this much: that the Atonement of Jesus Christ bringeth to pass the Resurrection of the dead, death being the separation of the spirit from the body."
The good news, Elder Rector said, is that all people will live again after they die - everyone will be resurrected, and all those who have been righteous will still be righteous. The bad news is that those who have not repented "shall be filthy still."
"Then looking forward to what condition we will be in when we are resurrected, probably the most important commandment is, in the words of the Father, `Repent ye, repent ye and be baptized in the name of my Beloved Son' and then `endure to the end.' In fact, the Master has indicated we should say nothing but repentance to this generation."
Repentance follows a person's having enough faith in the Atonement of Jesus Christ to believe that Christ has paid for all sins on conditions of repentance. "It seems that very few, if any, will repent until they believe this truth. Therefore, it is vital to teach the truth about Jesus Christ as the literal son of God and our Lord and Savior and Redeemer in order to bring souls to repentance.
"When the Lord invites us to return to him, he means in essence to repent and return unto his commandments, for they are calculated to make us happy and prepare us for the Resurrection," Elder Rector said. Those commandments include the Ten Commandments, tithing and the Word of Wisdom code of health.
"Therefore, if you are not paying tithing, repent and start paying it. If you are not living the Word of Wisdom, repent and start living it. If you are not morally clean, repent and become clean."
Elder Call: Follow church leaders' direction. `Do not look for proof' on church doctrines. Keep the commandments.
Elder Waldo P. Call encouraged church members to follow the direction of the scriptures and President Ezra Taft Benson.
Following church leaders' direction without questioning is not blind faith or blind obedience, he said. "Sometimes you may want proof of this doctrine or that saying of the prophet. Do not look for proof. Keep the commandments. Walk in righteousness, and through the Holy Spirit you can know by that sweet calm feeling that it is true," said Elder Call. "Moroni said, `By the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.' "
Elder Call, who was released Saturday after serving 51/2 years in the Second Quorum of the Seventy, related a warning from the Doctrine and Covenants that the day would come when people would not follow the words of the prophets.
"President Benson, the prophet of God, has counseled us on so many important things. Are we doing them? Or do we say: `Oh, yes, he is the Lord's prophet, but I don't want to go on a mission. I don't want to get married. I don't have time to read the Book of Mormon every day. I'm too busy with my work or studies. We don't have time for family prayer or home evening. But I need to sleep in on Sunday after the big activity. I cannot go to church.'
"My dear brothers and sisters and family, can't you see what we need to do? Be submissive, do not murmur, endure to the end. If we will do this he will show us the way if we will but follow his prophets and apostles."
Elder Camargo: Gratitude should be a product of many of life's experiences, even the unexpected experiences.
Elder Helio da Rocha Camargo expressed his gratitude for being raised in a Christian family where he came to know and appreciate the Bible.
"I am grateful to have been taught the principles of honesty, hard work and thrift even more by the daily example of my parents and relatives than by their words and counsel," said Elder Camargo, who was released Saturday after 5 1/2 years as a member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy.
Gratitude should be a product of many of life's experiences, even unexpected experiences like an accident Elder Camargo said cut short his military career. "I have come to recognize that accident as a blessing in disguise, destined to propel my life in other paths that have led to higher levels of understanding and self-realization."
Elder Camargo also expressed gratitude for those who preserved the Bible for future generations; for Joseph Smith, a faithful prophet through whom modern scriptures were revealed; and for the Book of Mormon, which "casts so much light on the obscure passages of the Bible, confirming the word of God and filling in that marvelous portion of the plan of salvation created by our Father in Heaven."
Good families - beginning with the pioneers who populated Utah's desert valleys - were also remembered with appreciation for their service to the church as Elder Camargo gave his thanks for the restoration of the priesthood and the organization of the church.
"Considering again the admonition of the Apostle Paul, `In everything give thanks.' We should be grateful for the blessings which we seek and receive as well as for those blessings that come to us that are beyond our current capacity to comprehend."
Sister Wright: Prayerfully reading and pondering the Book of Mormon can provide strength to face the future.
Sister Ruth B. Wright testified that strength comes from the messages of the Book of Mormon. "The scriptures have the power to speak to our particular situations wherever we are in life. The insights you gain may be entirely different from the ones that I gain, but they all can strengthen us personally."
Sister Wright said the walls of her office are covered with pictures young children have drawn depicting Book of Mormon events. She described several of the scenes and the examples of strength they portray.
One picture shows the Book of Mormon prophet Lehi, who left the security of his home in Jerusalem in about 600 B.C. to flee into the desert at God's command. "When the unknown looms ahead of me, I gain strength by remembering Lehi and exercising faith that the Lord will guide me," Sister Wright said.
"I love to look at the picture of King Benjamin standing on the mighty tower with his loving arms outstretched to all his people. This beloved king, who spent his life in service to others, showed great humility when he willingly admitted his weaknesses and shortcomings and yet stated with conviction that he recognized his calling was from God."
Other examples from the Book of Mormon provide strength at times when it is particularly needed in our modern lives, she said. "I testify that by prayerfully reading and pondering the Book of Mormon each of us can gain strength to meet our daily challenges."