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Gordon B. Hinckley October 26, 1965

Caesar, Circus, or Christ?


Copyright 1965 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints



Member of the Council of the Twelve Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

with an introduction by President Ernest L. Wilkinson

Gordon B. Hinckley, BYU Speeches, October 26, 1965, p.1-8




I am not going to give you much of an historical background about our speaker this morning. Most of you know him. I merely want to tell you of his illustrious ancestry.


His grandfather and family lived at Cove Fort, south of Fillmore, one of the historic places in Utah. When his sons were growing up, the grandfather, realizing that they needed an education, outfitted an old white-topped old wagon, hitched the horses to it, put his entire family in the wagon, and with a cow tied on behind to provide milk for the family, began the trek to Provo where his sons could attend the Brigham Young University.




I understand that five of eight sons attended this institution. In time they became some of the great leaders of the Church—one of them a member of the Council of the Twelve, and another a member of the Presidency of the Brigham Young University (because in those days we had a presidency comparable to a stake presidency).


Our speaker's father was president of a stake in Salt Lake and president of many missions. So our speaker this morning, at least for three generations, comes naturally by his activity and his great leadership in the Church.


We are grateful to have him as our speaker. He is a member of the executive committee of the Board of Trustees of this institution, intensely interested in you as students. I am happy to present to you Elder Gordon B. Hinckley.




I am grateful to be here this morning. I have had the opportunity of speaking in many places, but I am sure that there is no other congregation on earth quite like this one. I seek the direction of the Lord. As I look into your faces I know that I need it. You have paused from the grind of your classes to gain some measure of inspiration, and I pray for the power to give it.


Brigham Young stated on one occasion that our people came willingly to these valleys because they had to. I feel a little that way about the subject of my talk. It was given to me and I shall work at it willingly because I feel I have to. I was present at the meeting of the board when we agreed to an assignment of subjects so that we wouldn't all talk about morality.


The Case


The title given me was "Caesar, Circus, or Christ?" I was given a case from which to build a talk. It appeared in the Daily Universe yesterday. It reads in part as follows:


Mark thought of Sunday night's sacrament meeting and the resolutions and promises he'd made to himself after being so inspired.


"How many times have I made promises to myself and broken them time after time?" he thought, now thoroughly disgusted with himself.


Boisterous, loud laughter suddenly made Mark aware of the "friends" he was with. The swells of laughter increased. Off-colored jokes had been gaily passed back and forth . . .


He reflected now on a similar experience last Friday. He and two friends were taking their girls to a movie. The choices available were poor. He had read enough of the advertisements and reviews to know they portrayed the slick and slimy. But again he held back, not revealing his real thoughts about wasting his time in a trashy movie.


"I'm not an angel, but I've got to stand for something. Why do I sit here and listen to this garbage?" He wanted to get up and walk out—to change the subject—to tell them all off. But he just sat there, not having the courage to do anything.


That is the case as it was presented to me. My first reaction on reading it was simply, "Are we mice or are we men?" I wondered whether it was worthy of discussion before this large body. It appeared superficial. But the more I thought of it, the more serious it became as representative of the decisions each of us constantly face.


It reminded me of the two college boys who were discussing what they should do tonight. One suggested they flip a coin—"Heads we go to the movie; tails we go to the dance; if it stands on edge, we study."


Simple Daily Decisions


Seriously, there is involved in such simple decisions the entire question of what we do with our lives. It is not so much the major events as the small day-to-day decisions that map the course of our living.


At one time I worked for the railroad. I had responsibility for what is called dead end traffic—mail, baggage and express cars that are carried on passenger trains. I received one day in my office in Denver a telephone call from my counterpart in one of the eastern railroads. A train, he reported, had arrived at Newark, New Jersey, without its baggage car.


We began to check and learned that the car had been properly loaded and properly trained in Oakland and had been delivered by the Western Pacific in Salt Lake City to the Rio Grande. The D. and R.G. had carried it to Denver and delivered it to the Missouri Pacific, which carried it to St. Louis for delivery to the Baltimore and Ohio. But a thoughtless switchman in the St. Louis yard, careless of his instruction, had moved a small piece of steel, a switch point, about three inches, with the result that a car that should have been in Newark, New Jersey, was in New Orleans.


On such seemingly small hinges turn our lives. Our lives are, in reality, the sum total of our seemingly unimportant decisions and of our capacity to live by those decisions.


And by what standards shall we make those decisions? By the standards of CAESAR, meaning the standards of the state as politicians have established those standards? By the standards of the CIRCUS, meaning the standards of the self-seeking masses? Unfortunately human nature has improved little during the nineteen centuries since Juvenal observed that "Two things only the people anxiously desire—bread and circuses." (Satire X, Line 80.)


Or shall we make our decisions by the standards of CHRIST, the Son of God, who came in the meridian of time, as the one true lawgiver?


What are the standards by which you will govern your life?


We hear much in America these days of consensus. It simply means agreement, a meeting of the minds. The doctrine is abroad that whatever bears the brand of consensus is right and good. There never was a more serious fallacy. Fifty thousand Frenchmen can be wrong, as can 50 million Americans, or 500 million Chinese. I think it was Bertrand Russell who observed that "The curse of America is conformity."


Consensus in matters of public and private morality is largely fruitless and often detrimental unless its roots are anchored in eternal, God-given truth.


Now specifically with reference to you young people who are here today and the decisions you constantly face, your teachers pretty well determine the use of your class and study time, and there is little spare time in a busy student's life; but the use to which you put that spare time will in large measure determine the quality of your life and the contribution you make to the world of which you are a part.


Three Standards


And so I should like to suggest three standards by which to judge each of the decisions that determine the behavior patterns of your lives. These standards are so simple as to appear elementary, but I believe their faithful observance will provide a set of moral imperatives by which to govern without argument or equivocation each of our actions and which will bring unmatched rewards. They are:


Does it enrich the mind?


Does it discipline and strengthen the body?


Does it nourish the spirit?


Now to the first—DOES IT ENRICH THE MIND? I was tremendously impressed with President McKay's closing remarks at the last general conference. He said, among other things:


Wisdom comes through effort. All good things require effort. That which is worth having will cost part of your physical being, your intellectual power, and your soul power. "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." (Matthew 7:7.) But you have to seek, you have to knock. On the other hand, sin thrusts itself upon you. It walks beside you, it tempts you, it entices, it allures...


Evil seeks you, and it requires effort and fortitude to combat it. But truth and wisdom are gained only by seeking, by prayer, and by effort.


I once made an appeal to President McKay in behalf of a young man who was about to be excommunicated from the Church because of transgression. I ventured the opinion that the young man had been trapped in a moment of weakness, to which President McKay responded that the thought had been father to the act, and that what the young man had done had not occurred only in a moment of weakness, but over an extended period of thinking about it.


There is something tragic in the case presented as the basis for our discussion today. There is something terribly disappointing when two young men waste their precious money and their yet more precious time and that of their girl friends at a movie described as "slick and slimy."


We have so much of that kind of entertainment because the consensus tolerates and even demands it.


It is so likewise with the things we read. I recently observed a group of young men poring over magazines and paperbacks at a drugstore newsstand. Judged by the titles and the art on the covers, these publications were at best worthless and at their worst pornographic. Who can doubt the corrosive effect of the reading of salacious literature and the watching of salacious pictures?


I would not have you find your relaxation only in reading the classics or the scriptures. These deserve a wider reading. They will bring an incomparable enrichment. But there is much else. Among our current periodicals there are still a few whose reading will enrich your minds and broaden your understanding, and among current book publications there may be found so much that is interesting, provocative, and inspirational. These may require in their reading a greater measure of concentration, but they will also bring a greater reward.


I looked the other day with wonder and affection on a 1916 Model T Ford. It brought back a thousand memories of my childhood, for this was the first automobile we ever owned in our family. It was a thing of wonder when we were children. You today know little of these cars. They had no battery, and the source of electricity was a magneto. At night the intensity of the light depended on the speed of the motor. If the motor were kept running at high speed, the lights were bright. If the motor slowed down, the lights became a sickly yellow.


It is so with our minds. If we keep them sharpened on good literature and uplifting entertainment, development is inevitable. If we starve them with the drivel of miserable shows, cheap literature, beatnik entertainment, they become poor indeed.


I guess you have all heard the latest definition of a beatnik. He is described as one who is on the bottom looking down.


It was Ruskin who observed: "The greatest reward is not what we receive for our labor, but what we become by it."


I move now to my second standard of judgment—DOES IT DISCIPLINE AND STRENGTHEN THE BODY?


I indicated previously that at one time I worked for the railroad. I had as my superintendent an extremely capable man, a graduate in engineering from one of our great universities. He distinguished himself as chief engineer of that railroad, and then moved on to become an officer of one of the two or three largest railroad systems in the nation. He was a man of tremendous ability and tremendous promise. But something went wrong. He began to tipple. He thought he could be temperate and take a nip only now and again. His last days were spent on skid row in Chicago where he died in a flophouse, not many miles from the doors of the institution from which he had walked not many years earlier as a cum laude graduate. Can there be a greater tragedy in life than this?


It was said of old that "he that governeth himself is greater than he that taketh a city."


Shakespeare noted that "there is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to victory." There is likewise an ebb in the affairs of men, which, ridden with the drifting wave, leads to destruction.


Two missionaries who were teaching an older couple were told by the man at the end of the lesson not to come back. Before leaving one of them turned and said, "May I ask just one question? Why?" To which the man replied, "I guess we love the jug more than we love God." At which the wife broke down and wept, saying, "Why can't we be good people, too?"


I am not suggesting that any of you are headed for the slough of alcoholism. But I am suggesting that no young man or woman in this institution can afford to make a decision that involves the drinking of beer or the taking into his or her body of any other substance that will fail to strengthen.


It has been said that "the North wind made the Vikings."


It becomes a shocking footnote on our society when more than 40 per cent of the young men of this nation are disqualified for military service on the basis of physical, mental, or moral deficiencies. How we need to shape up and tighten our self-discipline.


Marvelous is the promise of the Lord that those who walk "in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their naval and marrow to their bones; And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures; And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint." (D&C 89:18-20.)


Let this, then, become a standard by which to make decisions regarding your action: "Does it discipline and strengthen the body?"


I move now to my concluding standard—DOES IT NOURISH THE SPIRIT?


It was Elihu, Job's comforter, who declared, "There is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding." (Job 32:8.)


How shall we determine that which will nourish the spirit? Moroni gives the answer:


For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth

by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God. (Moroni 7:16.)


Here is the kernel of the whole matter. We need not worry about consensus, or reason, or opinion in matters of right and wrong. "The Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil." Most of us know better than we do. As we discipline ourselves in line with our knowledge, in line with the inner convictions of our hearts, rather than the inclination to follow the crowd, we grow.


A student asked me the other day whether I believe in evolution. I replied that I know little about organic evolution, but I am very much concerned with the evolution of man, the child of God. And I quoted to him these marvelous words from revelation which I feel are of the very essence of that of which I have tried to speak today:


And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness.


That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.


(D&C 50:23-24.)


This is the evolution that comes of decisions that nourish the spirit—decisions made according to the great everlasting standards which, regardless of the reasonings of moralists and philosophers, regardless of the consensus of those who establish public policy and mold public opinion, are eternal in their application and eternal in their benefits, for they come from the God of Heaven, our Eternal Father, who has implanted in each of His children something of His divine nature.


Our Divine Right—to Choose


And so in conclusion I feel inclined to change the title of my remarks from "Caesar, Circus, or Christ?" to something more positive. I might choose the words in Hamlet, of Polonius to his son:


This above all: to thine own self be true, And it shall follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man. (Hamlet, I, iii.)


Or the words of Joshua, who, old in years and wise in experience, gathered together a new generation who were forgetful of the trials of the past, while living in the luxury of the present. To them Joshua said in the name of the Lord:


And I have given you a land for which ye did not labour, and cities which ye built not, and ye dwell in them; of the vineyards and oliveyards which ye planted not do ye eat.


Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: . . .


. . . choose you this day whom ye will serve; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:13-15.)


This, my brethren and sisters, is our divine right—to choose. This is our divine obligation—to choose the right. God give us the strength, the courage, the faith in all our choices to choose that which will enrich the mind, strengthen and discipline the body, nourish the spirit, and thus give us growth and joy in this life and eternal life in the world to come, is my humble prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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