A Country Cannot Get Ahead of Its Religion

Called Unto Liberty, Joseph Fielding Smith, 20th Century Sermons

President Calvin Coolidge once said:

Our government rests upon religion. It is from that source that we derive our reverence for truth and justice, for equality and liberality and for the rights of mankind. Unless the people believe in these principles they cannot believe in our government. There are only two main theories of government in the world. One rests on righteousness and the other on force. One appeals to reason, the other appeals to the sword. One is exemplified in a republic, the other is represented by a despotism.

The government of a country never gets ahead of the religion of a country. There is no way by which we can substitute the authority of law for the virtue of men. Of course we can help to restrain the vicious and furnish a fair degree of security and protection by legislation and police control, but the real reform which society in these days is seeking will come as a result of religious convictions, or they will not come at all. Peace, justice, charity—these cannot be legislated into being. They are the result of Divine Grace.

It is true that a country cannot get ahead of its religion. The higher our ideals, the nearer we observe divine law, and the stronger are our spiritual forces. No Christian country can forsake the divinity of Jesus Christ and not suffer. In those lands in Europe where paganism has superseded the Christian ideals, there is bound to come decay and eventually, if there is no repentance, their former greatness will be forgotten. Jesus said: “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46)

Here is another inspiring thought. It was copied from a panel on the wall in the chapel at Stanford University:

There is no narrowing so deadly as the narrowing of man’s horizon of spiritual things. No worse evil could befall him in his course on earth than to lose sight of heaven; and it is not civilization that can prevent this; it is not civilization that can compensate for it. No widening of science, no possession of abstract truth, can indemnify for an enfeebled hold on the highest and eternal truth of humanity.

What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

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Source: Excerpt from Joseph Fielding Smith’s General Conference address, see Conference Report: April 1943, p. 15. At the time of this address, Joseph Fielding Smith (1876-1972) was serving as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 1970 he was ordained at the 10th President of the Church. Before being called to full time Church service he worked in the office of Church Historian and Recorder, and as Secretary and Treasurer of the Genealogical Society of Utah.