Equivocation’s Cost

Actions today can affect generations to come. Photo by Josh Willink.

Conversion is needed in each generation;
For if Grandpa is filled with sure consecration
But Son vacillates with equivocation,
It can lead to Grandson’s full deviation.

And thus we see equivocation’s cost
Can lead to entire generations lost—
The sorrowful effect of one single man
Who wavered in commitment to his mortal plan.

Hence millions unborn are looking to you
To stand for what’s right and stand for what’s true.
With baited emotion these souls look to see
What kind of man their father will be.


I love Elder Neal A. Maxwell’s unique style.  I regret that I was just beginning to catch the power of his teaching when he passed away.  This poem came after recently listening to a recording of one of his conference talks.  I think the discourse speaks for itself:

Eighteen years ago from this same pulpit, I pled with those who stood indecisively on the “porch” of the Church to come fully inside. (See Ensign, Nov. 1974, pp. 12–13.) Today my plea is to those members already inside but whose discipleship is casual, individuals whom we love, whose gifts and talents are much needed in building the kingdom!

Any call for greater consecration is, of course, really a call to all of us. But these remarks are not primarily for those who are steadily striving and who genuinely seek to keep God’s commandments and yet sometimes fall short. (See D&C 46:9.) Nor is this primarily for those few in deliberate noncompliance, including some who cast off on intellectual and behavioral bungee cords in search of new sensations, only to be jerked about by the old heresies and the old sins.

Instead, these comments are for the essentially “honorable” members who are skimming over the surface instead of deepening their discipleship and who are casually engaged rather than “anxiously engaged.” (D&C 76:75; D&C 58:27.) Though nominal in their participation, their reservations and hesitations inevitably show through. They may even pass through our holy temples, but, alas, they do not let the holy temples pass through them.

Such members accept callings but not all of the accompanying responsibilities; hence, their Church chores must often be done by those already “anxiously engaged.” Some regard themselves as merely “resting” in between Church callings….

All are free to choose, of course, and we would not have it otherwise. Unfortunately, however, when some choose slackness, they are choosing not only for themselves, but for the next generation and the next. Small equivocations in parents can produce large deviations in their children! Earlier generations in a family may have reflected dedication, while some in the current generation evidence equivocation. Sadly, in the next, some may choose dissension as erosion takes its toll….

One common characteristic of the honorable but slack is their disdain for the seemingly unexciting duties of discipleship, such as daily prayer, regular reading of the scriptures, attendance at sacrament meeting, paying a full tithe, and participating in the holy temples. Such disdain is especially dangerous in today’s world of raging relativism and of belching sensualism, a world in which, if many utter the name of Deity at all, it is only as verbal punctuation or as an expression of exclamation, not adoration!…

Likewise it is only fair to warn that any determination to seek greater consecration will soon expose what we yet lack, a painful but necessary thing. Remember the rich, righteous young man who was told by Jesus, “One thing thou lackest”? (Mark 10:21.) Ananias and Sapphira, otherwise good members of the Church, “kept back” a portion instead of consecrating their all. (Acts 5:1–11.) Some would never sell Jesus for thirty pieces, but they would not give Him their all either!…

Still others find it easier to bend their knees than their minds. Exciting exploration is preferred to plodding implementation; speculation seems more fun than consecration, and so is trying to soften the hard doctrines instead of submitting to them. Worse still, by not obeying, these few members lack real knowing. (See John 7:17.) Lacking real knowing, they cannot defend their faith and may become critics instead of defenders!…

Only greater consecration will cure ambivalence and casualness in any of us! As already noted, the tutoring challenges arising from increased consecration may be severe but reflect the divine mercy necessary to induce further consecration. (See Hel. 12:3.) If we have grown soft, hard times may be necessary. Deprivation may prepare us for further consecration, though we shudder at the thought. If we are too easily contented, God may administer a dose of divine discontent. His long-suffering thus becomes very necessary to maximize our agency and development. But He is not an indulgent Father.

We “cannot bear all things now,” but the Lord “will lead [us] along,” as we “give place” in our thoughts and schedules and “give away” our sins, which are the only ways we can begin to make room to receive all that God can give us. (D&C 78:18; D&C 50:4; Alma 32:27, 28; Alma 22:18.) Each of us is an innkeeper who decides if there is room for Jesus!…

Increased consecration is not so much a demand for more hours of Church work as it is for more awareness of Whose work this really is! For now, consecration may not require giving up worldly possessions so much as being less possessed by them….

True orthodoxy thus brings safety and felicity! It is not only correctness but happiness. Strange, isn’t it, even the very word orthodoxy has fallen into disfavor with some? As society gets more and more flaky, a few rush forward to warn shrilly against orthodoxy!

Remember how, with Pharaoh’s angry army in hot pursuit, ancient Israel aligned themselves with the Lord’s instructions? Moses stretched forth his hand and the Red Sea parted. With towering walls of water on each side, Israel walked through the narrow passage obediently, and no doubt quickly! There were no warnings about conforming on that day!

There are passages ahead which will require similar obedience, as prophets lead the “men [and women] of Christ” in a straight and narrow course.

Becoming more like Jesus in thought and behavior is not grinding and repressing, but emancipating and discovering! Unorthodoxy in behavior and intellect is just the opposite. A little pornography may lead not only to child and spouse abuse, but it slowly sucks out the marrow of self-esteem. A little tendency to gossip can lead not only to bearing serious false witness, but more often to malicious whispers which, unfortunately, “memory will warehouse as a shout.” (C. S. Lewis, The Quotable Lewis, ed. Owen Barfield and Jerry Root, Wheaton, Ill.: Tindale Publications, 1989, p. 425.) A little criticism of the Brethren, which seems harmless enough, may not only damage other members but can even lead to one’s setting himself up as a substitute “light unto the world.” (2 Ne. 26:29.) Yes, happily, some such prodigals do come back, but they usually walk alone, unaccompanied by those they once led astray!…

There is another special reason to become settled: we will live in a time in which “all things shall be in commotion.” (D&C 88:91; D&C 45:26.) The uncertainties, upheavals, and topsy-turviness of today’s world will be such that those who vacillate and equivocate will be tossed about by severe turbulence….  Being settled keeps us from responding to every little ripple of dissent as if it were a tidal wave. We are to be disciples, not oscillators, like a “reed shaken with the wind.” (Matt. 11:7.)… [Two paragraphs rearranged for brevity.]

Finally, if we shrink from deeper consecration, then we are not worthy of Him who, for our sake, refused to “shrink” in the midst of His deepening agony during the Atonement! (D&C 19:18.) Instead, Jesus pressed forward, giving His all and completing His marvelous “preparations unto the children of men.” (D&C 19:19.)

Consider, what if Jesus’ Mortal Messiahship had consisted only of remarkable sermons? Or was further enhanced with healings and other miracles—but without Gethsemane’s and Calvary’s awful but consecrated hours of the Atonement? How then would we regard Jesus’ ministry? Where would mankind be?

Brothers and sisters, whatever we embrace instead of Jesus and His work will keep us from qualifying to enter His kingdom and therefore from being embraced by Him. (See Morm. 6:17.)

Settle This in Your Hearts,” Neal A. Maxwell, General Conference, October 1992

Written: February 23, 2019

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