The Nature of Covenants
The first question of this section is “What is a covenant?” (p. 81) I like the following from Joseph Fielding Smith:
The Gospel covenant is the promise of God to grant to man, through man’s obedience and acceptance of the ordinances and principles of the Gospel, the glory and exaltation of eternal life. (Church News)
The next question is “Why are Latter-day Saints called a covenant people?” (p. 81). I also like what President Marion G. Romney had to say in a conference talk entitled “Gospel Covenants”:
In saying to William E. McLellin, “Blessed are you for receiving mine everlasting covenant, even the fulness of my gospel” (D&C 66:2), the Lord identified the gospel as the great and all-embracing covenant. (Ensign, May 1981, 43)
It is important that we realize that, as taught in this section, “God…sets the terms” (p. 81) of true covenants. In a strict sense, we can set the terms of any promise, a goal, a resolution, etc. with God, but these are not true covenants. As taught in the Bible Dictionary:
God in his good pleasure fixes the terms, which man accepts. (p. 651)
In a wonderful resource for a discussion of covenants, a conference talk entitled “The Power of Covenants,” Elder D. Todd Christofferson explained:
A covenant is an agreement between God and man, an accord whose terms are set by God (see Bible Dictionary, “Covenant,” 651). In these divine agreements, God binds Himself to sustain, sanctify, and exalt us in return for our commitment to serve Him and keep His commandments. (Ensign, May 2009, 19)
If you have not yet discovered Encyclopedia of Mormonism, do not delay. This wonderful work was published by the Church through Macmillan so that the world could have accurate information about the Church, written by many of the best in the Church, edited by the Church and even reviewed by general authorities. To find it, you can either Google “Encyclopedia of Mormonism” or go online at “lib.byu.edu/Macmillan.” This reference is a great one to add to your “Favorites” on your computer.
From this terrific resource, two great quotes:
The Lord’s covenants essentially cover the whole Plan of Salvation. (p. 332)
A covenant is fulfilled when people keep their promises and endure to the end in faith, with the Lord giving blessings during life, and salvation and exaltation upon completion. (p. 333)
Concerning covenant keeping, I really like this phrase from Jacob:
“…cleave unto God as he cleaveth unto you.” (Jacob 6:5)
God’s Covenant with Abraham and His Descendants
In the February 2006 Ensign was a wonderful article, along with some terrific artwork (not usually included online) entitled “Abraham: Father of the Faithful.” Here is a quote from that article:
In the Old Testament, Abraham is regarded as the head of the covenant line, which is personified in the house of Israel. He is often called the “father of the faithful.” Abraham received the gospel through baptism, or the covenant of salvation. The higher priesthood was conferred upon him, and he entered into celestial marriage, the covenant of exaltation, gaining assurance that he would have eternal increase. He received a promise that these same blessings would be offered to his mortal posterity. The divine promises to Abraham assured that Christ would come through his lineage and that Abraham’s posterity would receive certain lands as an eternal inheritance. These promises are called the Abrahamic covenant.
Heavenly Father’s children who are of non-Israelite lineage can be adopted into the house of Israel, becoming heirs of the covenant and the seed of Abraham through the ordinances of the gospel. (See Bible Dictionary, “Abraham,” 601; and “Abraham, Covenant of,” 602.) (p. 38)
As before stated in this blog, a terrific resource is the LDS Scripture Citation Index, where you can click on any scripture and pull up all times that scripture was used in a conference talk. Just Google that title and it is the first item that comes up. You can also put “scriptures.byu.edu” in your address bar to pull it up. The following great quote from a conference talk by Elder Dallin H. Oaks was found this way looking under “Galatians 3:29”:
The Bible tells us how God made a covenant with Abraham and promised him that through him all “families” or “nations” of the earth would be blessed (see Gen. 12:3 Gen. 22:18). What we call the Abrahamic covenant opens the door for God’s choicest blessings to all of His children everywhere. (Ensign, May 2006, 77)
If you want a good outline of the “blessings” promised to Abraham (discussed in the second paragraph of this section—after the beginning question), Paul K. Browning, did a good job in an Ensign article:
In brief, the covenant promises Abraham the following blessings if he is faithful:
1. Both his literal posterity and all those who accept the gospel will be counted as Abraham’s seed (see Abr. 2:10-11).
2. His seed will be as numerous as the stars of heaven (see Gen. 15:5).
3. His seed will be inheritors of a land that will be theirs as an everlasting possession (see Abr. 2:6; Gen. 17:7-8).
4. His seed will be the means of spreading the gospel and the priesthood to all the world (see Abr. 2:9). (Ensign, Jul 1998, 54)
The title “Father Abraham” is most appropriate, since Jesus Christ so declared him to be an important “Father” at least three times:
And I will bless them through thy name; for as many as receive this Gospel shall be called after thy name, and shall be accounted thy seed, and shall rise up and bless thee, as their father; (Abraham 2:10)
For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26 – 29)
And again, verily I say unto you, my servant Joseph, that whatsoever you give on earth, and to whomsoever you give any one on earth, by my word and according to my law, it shall be visited with blessings and not cursings, and with my power, saith the Lord, and shall be without condemnation on earth and in heaven.
For I am the Lord thy God, and will be with thee even unto the end of the world, and through all eternity; for verily I seal upon you your exaltation, and prepare a throne for you in the kingdom of my Father, with Abraham your father. (D&C 132:48-49)
As to why Abraham was chosen for such a wonderful covenant and his title, perhaps only God knows. But there are two interesting and very unique events in Abraham’s life. You may want to ask, “What were the two most traumatic events in Abraham’s life?” The answers may very well be:
ONE: Abraham’s near sacrifice on the altar (see Facsimile No. 1 and Abraham 1:7-16)
TWO: Abraham’s near sacrifice of his birthright son, Isaac (see Genesis 22:1-8)
Perhaps more than any man who has ever lived, Abraham came closest to understanding, if even only just slightly, in ONE, the feelings of Jesus Christ and his unjust sacrifice and TWO, the feelings of God the Father in allowing His Only Begotten Son’s sacrifice.
It may be important to understand that the Abrahamic Covenant was not unique with Abraham. Robert J. Matthews, in a wonderful article entitled, “Our Covenants with the Lord,” explains:
The covenant to Abraham and his seed is the most extensive of the covenants mentioned in the Bible, but thanks to the additional revelations given to the Prophet Joseph Smith we know that the Lord covenanted first with Adam and that the same covenant was then extended to Seth, Enoch, Methuselah, and Noah (see D&C 107:42-52).
Later, Melchizedek and Abraham received the same gospel with the same covenants that the Lord had made with Enoch. (See JST, Gen. 8:22–23; JST, Gen. 9:15–25; JST, Gen. 13:13; JST, Gen. 14:26–34.) Isaac and Jacob also received the gospel covenant and other special covenants; and “great were the covenants of the Lord … unto Joseph” (2 Ne. 3:4). Abraham, then, was not the first of the covenant people, though he is an indispensable link in a long succession of patriarchs before and after him who covenanted with the Lord not only for their individual salvation but also on behalf of their posterity. The promises made to the fathers extend all the way back to father Adam and all the way forward to his posterity, or all mankind. (Ensign, Dec 1980, 33)
That this lesson is so timely for us today and for our future was explained by Elder Russell M. Nelson:
Anciently, the Lord blessed Father Abraham with a promise to make his posterity a chosen people. References to this covenant occur throughout the scriptures. Included were promises that the Son of God would come through Abraham’s lineage, that certain lands would be inherited, that nations and kindreds of the earth would be blessed through his seed, and more. While some aspects of that covenant have already been fulfilled, the Book of Mormon teaches that this Abrahamic covenant will be fulfilled only in these latter days! It also emphasizes that we are among the covenant people of the Lord. Ours is the privilege to participate personally in the fulfillment of these promises. What an exciting time to live! (Ensign, Nov 2006, 79)
Members of the Church Are a Covenant People
I love this quote by President Gordon B. Hinckley about LDS being a covenant people. It also beautifully parallels the three covenants discussed in the first section of this lesson (pp. 81-82):
We are a covenant people. I have had the feeling that if we could just encourage our people to live by three or four covenants everything else would take care of itself. …
The first of these is the covenant of the sacrament, in which we take upon ourselves the name of the Savior and agree to keep His commandments with the promise in His covenant that He will bless us with His spirit. …
Second, the covenant of tithing. … The promise … is that He will stay the destroyer and open the windows of heaven and pour down blessings that there will not be room enough to receive them. …
Three, the covenants of the temple: Sacrifice, the willingness to sacrifice for this the Lord’s work—and inherent in that law of sacrifice is the very essence of the Atonement. … Consecration, which is associated with it, a willingness to give everything, if need be, to help in the on-rolling of this great work. And a covenant of love and loyalty one to another in the bonds of marriage, fidelity, chastity, morality.
If our people could only learn to live by these covenants, everything else would take care of itself, I am satisfied. (quoted by Bishop Keith B. McMullin, Ensign, May 2001, 61)
It may be important to understand that covenants did not begin in mortality, as discussed in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism:
Latter-day Saints hold that the first personal covenants were made in premortal life, later to be taken again on earth. (p. 333)
Concerning covenants made in premortality, Elder Dallin Oaks explained in conference: All of the myriads of mortals who have been born on this earth chose the Father’s plan and fought for it. Many of us also made covenants with the Father concerning what we would do in mortality. In ways that have not been revealed, our actions in the spirit world influence us in mortality. (Ensign, Nov 1993, 72)
In Conference, President Harold B. Lee also stated:
Now then, to make a summary of what I have just read, may I ask each of you again the question, “Who are you?” You are all the sons and daughters of God. Your spirits were created and lived as organized intelligences before the world was. You have been blessed to have a physical body because of your obedience to certain commandments in that premortal state. You are now born into a family to which you have come, into the nations through which you have come, as a reward for the kind of lives you lived before you came here and at a time in the world’s history, as the apostle Paul taught the men of Athens and as the Lord revealed to Moses, determined by the faithfulness of each of those who lived before this world was created.
All these rewards were seemingly promised, or foreordained, before the world was. Surely these matters must have been determined by the kind of lives we had lived in that premortal spirit world. Some may question these assumptions, but at the same time they will accept without any question the belief that each one of us will be judged when we leave this earth according to his or her deeds during our lives here in mortality. Isn’t it just as reasonable to believe that what we have received here in this earth life was given to each of us according to the merits of our conduct before we came here? (Ensign, Jan 1974, 2)
In this same conference talk, President Harold B. Lee also declared that although we have now in mortality renewed covenants we made in premortality, this life becomes crucial in the keeping of these covenants:
…even though we have our free agency here, there are many who were foreordained before the world was, to a greater state than they have prepared themselves for here. Even though they might have been among the noble and great, from among whom the Father declared he would make his chosen leaders, they may fail of that calling here in mortality. (Ensign, Jan 1974, 2)
The following is a quote from this section of the lesson:
Along with the blessings we receive as the Lord’s covenant people, we have great responsibilities. The Lord promised Abraham that through his descendants the gospel would be taken to all the earth. We are fulfilling this responsibility through the full-time missionary program of the Church and the missionary work done by the members. This opportunity to preach the gospel to all the world belongs only to the Lord’s Church and His covenant people. (p. 84)
Regarding missionary work as our responsibility as a covenant people, there is a concept introduced by the Lord about “salt.” In an Ensign article entitled, “I Have a Question,” What does it mean to be the “salt of the earth “? LeGrand L. Baker answered:
It is clear that under the new covenant the followers of Christ, as “salt,” are responsible for extending gospel blessings to the whole earth. “When men are called unto mine everlasting gospel, and covenant with an everlasting covenant,” the Lord explains, “they are accounted as the salt of the earth and the savor of men” (D&C 101:39). It is our privilege and blessing to lovingly lead our brothers and sisters to Christ, helping them receive their covenant blessings. As we do so, we become the figurative salt that makes it possible for them to offer the acceptable sacrifice of a broken heart and a contrite spirit. In addition, our own covenant sacrifice of time, talents, and means is pleasing to the Lord. (Ensign, Apr. 1999, 53)
In a conference talk entitled, “Salt of the Earth: Savor of Men and Saviors of Men,” Elder Carlos E. Asay elaborated:
A world-renowned chemist told me that salt will not lose its savor with age. Savor is lost through mixture and contamination. Similarly, priesthood power does not dissipate with age; it, too, is lost through mixture and contamination. (Ensign, May 1980, 42)
The first paragraph (after the question) of this section discusses a less-well-known principle of “adoption.” From the Bible Dictionary, under “Adoption” comes the following explanation:
There are two types of adoption spoken of in the scriptures. A person who is of non-Israelite lineage becomes a member of the house of Israel through faith in Jesus Christ when it is accompanied by baptism in water and the reception of the Holy Ghost.
Again, from that great resource, the Encyclopedia of Mormonism comes the following on adoption:
Today, members of the Church—latter-day Israel, largely Joseph’s descendants, either by blood or adoption—are to seek out the other descendants of Israel and those who would become Israelites through adoption by baptism. The Prophet Joseph Smith observed that “as the Holy Ghost falls upon one of the literal seed of Abraham, it is calm and serene;…while the effect of the Holy Ghost upon a Gentile, is to purge out the old blood, and make him actually of the seed of Abraham. That man that has none of the blood of Abraham (naturally) must have a new creation by the Holy Ghost. (p. 706)
The New and Everlasting Covenant
Also from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism comes the following:
The new and everlasting covenant is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The sum of all gospel covenants that God makes with mankind is called “the new and everlasting covenant” and consists of several individual covenants, each of which is called “a new and everlasting covenant.” It is “new” when given to a person or a people for the first time, and “everlasting” because the gospel of Jesus Christ and plan of salvation existed before the world was formed and will exist forever.
All covenants between God and mankind are part of the new and everlasting covenant (D&C 22; 132:6-7). (p. 1008)
As members of the Church, we have great need for this covenant. From his wonderful talk, “The Mediator,” Elder Boyd K. Packer declares:
The extension of mercy will not be automatic. It will be through covenant with Him. It will be on His terms, His generous terms… (Ensign, May 1977, 54)