In the October 2019 session of conference M. Russel Ballard mentioned a sermon his grandfather, Melvin J. Ballard, gave in 1928. The words and visuals are as more alive and relevant to today than the 90 years ago when it was delivered. I highly recommend a detailed read and pondering of it. Full text can be found here, or below.
“I desire to continue, if I may, in the spirit of those instructions and for that purpose wish to read a few paragraphs from 2 Nephi 28:
“Yea, and there shall be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us.
“And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God” (2 Ne. 28:7–8).
I read starting from verse 19.
“For the kingdom of the devil must shake, and they which belong to it must needs be stirred up unto repentance, or the devil will grasp them with his everlasting chains, and they be stirred up to anger, and perish;
“For behold, at that day shall he rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good.
“And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.
“And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and this he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance” (2 Ne. 28:19–22).
Two years ago I was laboring with Elders Wells and Pratt in South America, opening a mission for the Church. I had during that period of time opportunity to reflect and to study. It is said that “distance lends enchantment to the view” and, I believe, sometimes clearer understanding. I was 11,000 miles away from the headquarters of the Church, far enough away to get a good view of things. I had passed out of the world I knew, into a new and different world. The language was different; the customs of the people, the heavens, and the earth—all appeared strange and different—so that I was as one who had left the earth and had many of the thoughts and reflections that I am sure I shall have when that time does come to me. I had the opportunity to read very much, not only in my study of the Spanish language, but indeed I read everything in English that I could obtain, including the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the six volumes of our own Church history. While in contemplation of the Church’s progress, its present position and the future that awaits it, there came to me very distinctly some impressions concerning a period that would come full of danger to many, and feeling an anxious desire for the well-being of the membership of the Church, and indeed for my fellowmen, I promised the Lord that if he would give me the wisdom and the strength, I would lift up my voice in warning to the children of men concerning a peril that was threatening them.
I see the evidence of approach of that period of danger. It was to come in the time of peace and prosperity—by the way, the most dangerous time that any man or any people can pass through. Many a man has stood firm and true to his principles in the time of his struggle, but when the time of his independence, his prosperity comes, how easy it is to forget these high standards and to feel the power that prosperity and success bring, to gratify one’s will and appetites. So it is with nations.
I have felt therefore very keenly that the whole world was approaching a period of its self-indulgence wherein a new order of things would arise, and I have seen most clearly that the Church itself would be affected by this new period through which we were to pass. I can see clearly, however, that it is not altogether the forces of men that are to be reckoned with, but there are powers influencing the hearts of men, moving them in the solution of these problems that are arising before us.
When the first of the Father’s faithful sons and daughters were about to come into earth life, they were undoubtedly warned and cautioned; for we were to have two new experiences. First, we were to come into possession of a mortal tabernacle. Never having had one before, it was all strange to us. We were charged that we were to take possession of that mortal tabernacle and make it our servant, and were to be master over it, to honor it and yet to subjugate it.
[Second,] we were to be in the presence of the enemy who was now a majority. If our eyes were only opened to see the powers that are about us, that seek to influence us, we could not have the courage to walk alone and unassisted. These powers are about us, using their influence for the accomplishment of certain well-defined ends to win the coveted place for their chief, the fallen son of God. When he fell the heavens wept over him, and he became Lucifer, the devil.
His purpose is clearly shown in his own activity. Take for instance the temptation of the Master. While no man knew where he had gone, following his baptism, this envious, covetous brother knew and met him in the moment of his physical weakness and tempted him. The great question, however, involved in that temptation was not so much the turning of stones into bread, nor casting himself down from the pinnacle of the temple—that was but a prelude to the great question at issue. There passed before the mind of Jesus Christ, like a panorama, the kingdoms of the world, and the tempter offered them. He knew that in part it was to gain the right to rule over them that Jesus Christ had come into the world, and that he proposed to die, to give his life to earn the right to be King of kings and Lord of lords.
But the tempter offered to Jesus all these honors and privileges on easy terms, merely to fall down and worship the evil one. And, said he, “I will give them all unto you. No need of dying on Calvary; just worship me. They are mine, and they shall then be yours.” If there was ever a moment in that temptation when Jesus was in ignorance concerning who it was that was laying snares for his feet, all doubt had now disappeared, for he said, “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” (Matt. 4:10). And Satan left him.
It is true that he who offered the kingdoms of this world was temporarily, at least, ruling over them, but his was a squatter’s right. His title was not valid. Jesus Christ, had he accepted such a title, would have been defrauded and presently would have found that the title was worthless. So to procure a genuine right and title to rule over the kingdoms of this world the Master gave his life. But the question was not settled, for it still is the purpose of the rejected one, who was defeated in the beginning and baffled by the Lord Jesus Christ while in his ministry, to gain that right to rule over the kingdoms of this world, and that is his business here.
So in the spring of 1820, when the time had come, known beforehand of the prophets, when the angel should fly through the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to them that dwell upon the earth, when the hour approached that Elijah should return to the earth before the great and dreadful day of the Lord, when the prophetic message contained in the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, interpreted by Daniel, was to find its glorious consummation in the establishment of that kingdom that should never be thrown down nor left to another people—when that hour had come it was not only known by God in heaven, but it was also known by the powers that rule in the earth. So before the Lord manifested himself, the devil was present and seized the youth who was to be the instrument in realizing those promises and sought to destroy him.
It was no imaginary ruin that seemed impending, but a real, tangible power had taken possession of him for Satan hoped to curtail God’s work, to postpone the evil day for himself by bringing to pass the death of the emissary whom God had sent into the world and who was about to be visited in connection with the inauguration of a gospel dispensation, even for the last time—a work which should roll forth until it should fill the earth. It was the beginning of the end. No wonder the powers of evil sought to check its progress, its growth and development.
But God also knew that the hour had come. He and his Son Jesus Christ visited this boy and inaugurated this great gospel dispensation that has as its ultimate end the winning of the world for Christ and his establishment to rule in the earth as King of kings and Lord of lords.
So the process of conflict has ever been around the Church from the day of the Prophet’s first struggles. We have fought our way through under all sorts of adverse circumstances. Realizing that it was not possible to destroy it by the means that had been employed to check it—through mob violence, murder, persecution, bonds and imprisonment, disfranchisement, various woes and troubles—Satan is about to employ new methods. That is the point that I wish to emphasize, because I saw most clearly that the enemy was not satisfied, nor had he quit the field, but by new methods he would seek to destroy this work. For I want to say to you that he is vain enough to think, and he believes it confidently, that in the end he will be victorious and become king of this world.
The prophets of old foretold the time to come when this question would be settled. Some of them called the conflict Armageddon. Whatever the name is, there is coming a time when the question as to who has the right to rule and reign will be settled. Every righteous man, living and dead, will be interested and engaged in that conflict, and so will every wicked man, living and dead.
What will the end of the matter be? How soon it will come I do not know, but this I know: that evidences of the approaching conflict are speeding on, and come it will, and the days are being employed in preparation for it by such activity on both sides that we would be astonished if we knew that we are going to be the center of great interest in the universe, because we are approaching great and important and critical days in the history of this world.
Mighty forces are being arrayed on the one side and on the other for this approaching conflict that will settle the question of who shall rule and reign. In the meantime—and I speak of the devil as a personality, as a reality—there are those who are denying his existence, even as Nephi said that the devil would inspire people to say, “There is no devil,” and he would whisper to them, “I am no devil.” So far as the Latter-day Saints are concerned, we never conceived that the devil was a monstrosity, that he had long horns and a tail and forked hoofs. No sir, he is a gentleman in outward appearance, and if you were to see him you would turn around to look at him. He is more knowledgeable than we are. He is a reality. I am as sure that he has a personality, I am as sure that he lives as I am that God lives. Although he may seek to deceive men and to persuade them that he does not exist, he does exist, and he never was so active as he is today. In the meantime what is his business today? I declare to you that he has his recruiting stations everywhere in the world and that they are armed. He has soldiers, and he has plenty of them. He is enlisting men and women on his side in preparation for the great conflict in the vain hope that when the struggle ensues he will have a majority and thereby be successful.
I am not prepared to say who will be on his side or how many he will have, but I am as sure as I live, by the inspiration of the Almighty, that the end of the conflict is as certain as the result at the beginning. That he fell in the beginning and was routed from heaven is a fact, and it also is a truth that no matter how many he shall gather on his side nor how bitter the conflict, he shall be defeated and banished from the earth and cast out of his own place. Christ will come to claim his own, to rule and reign.
But in the meantime, it is not the outcome of the conflict that I am concerned about but rather whether I shall be on his side or on the Lord’s side. It surely is a good time for every man and woman to examine themselves and discover whether we are on the Lord’s side or not. I should like to say to you, my brethren and sisters, that all the assaults that the enemy of our souls will make to capture us will be through the flesh, because it is made up of the unredeemed earth, and he has power over the elements of the earth. The approach he makes to us will be through the lusts, the appetites, the ambitions of the flesh. All the help that comes to us from the Lord to aid us in this struggle will come to us through the spirit that dwells within this mortal body. So these two mighty forces are operating upon us through these two channels.
How is the battle going with you? How is it going with men and women in the world? That is a very important question. The greatest conflict that any man or woman will ever have (I care not how numerous their enemies may be) will be the battle that is had with self.
I should like to speak of spirit and body as “me” and “it.” “Me” is the individual who dwells in this body, who lived before I had such a body, and who will live when I step out of the body. “It” is the house I live in, the tabernacle of flesh; and the great conflict is between “me” and “it.”
I used to tell missionaries with whom I was identified for many years that it was an excellent thing once a week to go by themselves and examine themselves, find out how the battle was going, who was winning—“me” or “it”; to pass judgment upon one’s self, correct one’s mistakes and weaknesses, set one’s house in order. You do not have to make that kind of an appointment. The Lord has made it for every member of this Church. It comes on the Sabbath day. It is at the sacrament meeting, when you see the emblems of the broken body and the spilt blood being prepared—that is the time for every man and woman to go into secret conference with himself or herself and discover whether or not they are in sin and transgression, whether they have yielded to the tempter, whether there are things that they need to repent of, and if so, to cleanse themselves and purify their souls and make peace with brethren and sisters and with the Lord, lest we should stretch forth our hands and eat and drink of these sacred emblems unworthily.
Another period which the Lord has appointed to members of this Church to determine who has gained the mastery of this struggle, “me” or “it,” is the first Sunday, wherein we are to abstain from food and drink for two meals. When that period approaches, “it,” the house I live in, is complaining that it will not be possible thus to deny oneself of food: “My head will ache; my knees will quake; I shall feel faint; I cannot fast so long; I must eat a little.” Are you yielding to it? If so, I can tell you who is being boss in your establishment, who is gaining the mastery. It is a splendid thing, at least once a month, for “me” and “it” to come into a real settlement of the question, and for “me” to say to “it,” the house I live in, my servant: “You can do without these two meals; it will not hurt you. Indeed it will benefit you. And though my head may ache and my body may feel faint, I will not die; I am bigger than you are, and once a month I will show you that I am master.” What strength that will give you to resist tomorrow when some other craving arrives! It may be for liquor, tobacco, or some other craving of the flesh—and I have gained strength to say to the house that I live in: “You cannot defile this tabernacle; I will have it clean; I will not have the windows darkened, I will not have this body defiled; it is my servant, and it must be kept clean.”
But you never can tell how the battle is going to go unless you are taking good care of the spirit. We know that unless one takes proper food and exercise, speaking physically, there is no growth. If you would have a strong spirit which has dominance over the body, you must see to it that your spirit receives spiritual food and spiritual exercise.
Where do you get spiritual food? I have just mentioned that once a week members of the Church are invited to go to the sacrament table where they eat and drink the emblems of the broken body and the spilt blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, blessed to their spirits—not to their physical bodies, for he who eats and drinks worthily, eats and drinks spiritual life. We are also charged to seek the Lord daily in prayer, secret prayer and family prayer. What happens then? We close our eyes and shut out the physical world, we open the windows of our souls and draw unto ourselves spiritual blessings, spiritual powers. And there flows into our spiritual life this strength. So these and other opportunities are offered for spiritual food, and spiritual exercise comes through service in behalf of our fellowmen.
The man or woman who is taking neither spiritual food nor spiritual exercise will presently become a spiritual weakling, and the flesh will be master. Whoever therefore is obtaining both spiritual food and exercise will be in control over this body and will keep it subject unto the will of God.
I said that the assault that the evil one will make upon us to capture us will be made through the body. That is the line of contact. You have all heard the adage that a chain is no stronger than its weakest link. It will break at its weak point. Generally we will observe that our weak link is in the flesh. The devil knows the weak link, and when he undertakes to capture a soul he will strike at the weak point. There may be strength elsewhere, but he never attacks us where we are strong. He attacks where we are weak.
On one occasion I was on a trip through the great forest of Oregon and saw a great giant lying low for no apparent cause, while all its companion trees were standing. On close examination I observed that for a long period of time a process had been going forward under the bark, out of sight. An insect was making a hole no larger than a pin, but cross sectioning through the great giant. A weak link had thus been created, and under some small pressure the giant went down and its weakness was exposed. I have been led to say how that is like human life. There are many men and women who seem fair above board, who seem from all outward appearances strong, but who are tolerating secret weaknesses and practices, thereby creating weak links that may be their undoing, leaving an open door for the enemy to assault them.
When Goethe wrote his Faust, I believe he was inspired to utter some truths about the method of attack by the enemy of our souls. You recall that the man Faust, an old man, was anxious to be made a youth again. He prayed for such a transformation. But the thing he sought for was unlawful, and the Lord had no answer for him. But he persisted in his prayers, and when we persist, not willing to say “Father, thy will, not mine, be done,” it is quite possible that the devil may answer us, as he did Faust. And so the devil said: “I will do this thing for you. I will make you a youth, and when you are a youth you will want a maiden.” And a vision of the beautiful Marguerite was shown. “But if I do this for you I want you to sign a contract that when you are done with this body your spirit belongs to me.”
It is not bodies, it is immortal spirits that the devil wants. And he tries to capture them through the body, for the body can enslave the spirit, but the spirit can keep the body a servant and be its master.
So the contract is entered into. Then as Faust is made a young man he remembers the promise of the virgin, the maiden, and the two go in search of her. They find her as she enters the church. Suddenly Faust rushes forward to seize her, but the devil holds him back and says: “Not so fast, not that way.”
Here is a truth. The devil cannot capture any man or woman that way. He cannot suddenly sweep them off their feet and bind them as his slaves against their wills. The power is given to every man and woman that lives to speak as Christ did: “Get thee hence, Satan;” and he will leave you as quickly as he left the Master. He cannot capture a single soul unless we are willing to go. He is limited. He must win men and women.
So with Marguerite. He must win her. They study her and find her weakness. She is a chaste, virtuous, wonderful girl, yet she has a weakness. It is vanity. So they play upon that weak link. Jewels are placed in the garden, and with them the mirror. She discovers these things. Vanity prompts her to put the jewels on and suggests she look in the mirror and see how beautiful she is. At the psychological moment the tempter appears and offers them as a gift from her would-be lover. She is prompted to keep them.
The lovers spend the afternoon together, and the mother’s voice is heard calling Marguerite to come in from the garden, but she is loath to leave her new-found lover. Again at the psychological moment the tempter, the devil, appears, placing a pill in the hand of Faust with the assurance that if this is placed in the mother’s evening drink the mother will soon be asleep and the lovers will be undisturbed. As I have listened to the sad stories of more than one girl who has stolen away from her mother’s influence and come to sorrow and distress, I wonder why the warning is not sufficient to give every girl the assurance that the safest place in the world for her is as close to her mother as she can get.
The mother takes the potion and goes to sleep. The lovers spend the night together. Early morning brings the brother Valentino upon the scene, and he finds his mother dead—for it is the sleep of death—and a stranger in the house with his sister Marguerite. A quarrel follows, and a duel is fought in which Valentino, the brother, is slain. Now Marguerite comes to an awakening sense of her full situation and the consequences of her own act. She has slain her mother, brought the death of her brother, and—worse than her own death—she has lost her virtue. She is next seen weeping and tearing her hair, and the devil comes laughing upon the scene. He has captured another soul. Strongly fortified as she was, she had one weakness, and through that the enemy entered her citadel and she fell.
That is the process by which secret weaknesses and vices leave an open door for the enemy of your soul to enter, and he may come in and take possession of you, and you will be his slave. After he has entered, he will lure away his victims into a sense of security, whispering to them that they can lie a little, steal a little, commit sin a little, and that they will be beaten with a few stripes and it will be all right.
It is one of the devil’s methods to keep the door open so that he may enter. I declare to you that this is the process by which he is seeking today to capture souls. While there is no particular mortal enemy or movement arrayed against this Church, the enemy of our souls is alert and awake. He is trying by new methods to corrupt men and women. There is not a man or woman who lives that shall not be tried, whose position shall not be assailed, and if Satan can make an entrance he will endeavor to capture that soul.
It is the individual testing time that I see approaching, so that it is well to know the forces and the powers that are arrayed against us, and their purposes, that we may close our ranks and fortify ourselves. Being forewarned we should be forearmed, and I declare to you that every gospel principle which the Church has received is calculated in its very nature to steel and armour [fortify] us against the assaults of the enemy of our souls. A man or woman who can keep the Word of Wisdom, for instance, will also be fortified in keeping himself clean and undefiled from the sins of this generation.
The most favorite method the enemy of our souls has employed in ages past and that he will employ today is to capture souls by leading them gently, step by step, towards the greatest and most destructive sin against spiritual life—immorality, the ultimate end of self-indulgence. No nation has ever survived or ever will survive the age of immorality. The tempter is today inducing men to wink at sin, and even individuals in high places are seen to discard the virility and the power and the strength of the Ten Commandments, and to look upon the illicit and improper association of the sexes as no sin at all. I declare to you that it is a deadly sin against spirituality, and it is a deadly sin against the life of men and nations. Someone will say: “Oh well, I may have my sins and weaknesses, but after a while I will overcome them, when I get to be an old man. I will eat and drink today and I will put it off until tomorrow, but before I die I may repent.”
I should like to say to you that there is no time, and there never will be a time, when men and women can conquer and master and overcome the flesh and the devil as now in mortality. I will say to you also that the best time is in youth. We speak of the power and influence of habits and often excuse sinners because they are the victims of bad habits. I would like to say to you that good habits are just as powerful to control the actions of men and women as are evil habits.
Oh, that men and women would learn in youth to serve the Lord and to establish good habits, virtuous thinking, righteous acting, honesty and integrity! If they did this, when they came to the time of their strength and power, instead of using the major part of their strength to correct the evils of youth, instead of battling to conquer that which ought never to have come into their lives, they would use that strength in going forward to “build more stately mansions, oh my soul!” Men and women do not go far wrong in an instant. It is by slow degrees, step by step. It is a blessing that it is not with rapidity that men can depart from the path of virtue to become immoral.