According to LDS topics1, virtue:
- Is a prerequisite to entering the Lord’s holy temples and to receiving the Spirit’s guidance.
- Is a pattern of thought and behavior based on high moral standards
- Encompasses chastity and moral purity
- Begins in the heart and in the mind
- Is nurtured in the home
- Is the accumulation of thousands of small decisions and actions
To coincide with those definitions, the dictionary2 defines virtue as follows:
- Moral excellence; goodness; righteousness
- Conformity of one’s life and conduct to moral and ethical principles
- A good or admirable quality or property
- Effective force; power or potency
Interestingly, when we hear the word virtue we think of ideals, morals, thoughts, chastity or purity, and it is often included anytime we make a list of good or desirable character traits3 but how often do we think of virtue as an “effective force or power”? Yet, that is exactly what virtue is – effective, potent, and forceful power. I don’t intend those consecutive words to be thought of as synonyms, but as a single and continuous sentence. Virtue is an effective and potent and forceful power. Let’s not limit it to an ideal.
Elaine S. Dalton indicated that “the Latin root word virtus means strength.” She continued “Virtuous women and men possess a quiet dignity and inner strength. They are confident because they are worthy to receive and be guided by the Holy Ghost.”4 But, in case we think that our inner strength or virtue is something that is limited to our own use, let’s remember that virtue is an “effective” force. Or in other words, it is a goodness and a forceful and motivating power that can be – and should be – given away.
Recall with me, the “certain woman, which had an issue of blood twelve years, and had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse”. When she heard of Jesus, she “came in the press behind and touched his garment.” She had faith to be healed just by touching his clothes, yet Mark records the following: “And Jesus, immediately knowing in himself that virtue had gone out of him, tuned him about in the press, and said, who touched my clothes”?5 If that’s not clear enough, in Luke’s record he actually quoted the Savior (after the same event) saying “somebody hath touched me: for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me.”6
On another occasion, “a great multitude of people” came (from Judaea and Jersualem) to hear him, and to be healed of their diseases (which they were), and Luke recorded that “the whole multitude sought to touch him; for there went virtue out of him, and healed them all.”7
Now, before we limit this fine tuned ability – the ability to perceive that some or much virtue has gone out of you – to Christ himself or to only the amazing prophets, we should evaluate or ponder if maybe once or twice (or many times), we have ourselves been able to perceive that virtue has gone out of us. For example; how many times after going to church, which is only a 3-hour block, have we returned home absolutely famished and completely exhausted? Sometimes we get to the point where you just need to eat the first thing that you see when you walk in the door for fear of actual starvation. I think some of us feel like we just completed an Ironman after sitting still for 3 hours. How about after an especially intense spiritual experience and you find your physical frame a bit “weaker”? Ask Nephi or Lehi or Alma or Ammon or king Lamoni about that. In Ammon’s particular case the record states that he “sunk” with joy8. We usually think of joy as uplifting and strictly energizing, but in many cases we feel the spirit so strongly that we can’t help but cry (and we may start to feel less physical strength) and start to ‘sink down’ in order to just let the spirit envelop us. This is perhaps a time when spiritual ‘virtue’ is being shared or transferred and the mortal frame is just not quite on the same level (yet).
I think that if we are honest with ourselves, we can all point to a time or two when we’ve felt virtue go out of us (whether we identified it then or not). These times are most likely special times when we are purposefully trying to lift someone else’s burdens (seen or unseen), or to help and serve with completely pure intentions, and the spirit can “sink us down” with joy as it goes out of us. No doubt we all recognize the dual benefit of giving away this virtue to others9 since when we act like the savior, we can feel like the savior and when we serve others, we are in fact serving him.10
Joseph Smith was once asked by Jedediah M. Grant about an incident in which he turned pale and lost strength after administering to (blessing) some children. He referred to the same scripture passage quoted above (Luke 8) and indicated that “the virtue referred to is the spirit of life11; and a man who exercises great faith in administering to the sick, blessing little children, or confirming, is liable to become weakened.”12
This idea has been on my mind recently, as I have identified the use of ‘virtue’ in various places that help me understand it’s effective power more than its lofty character traits. One is found in the very first sentence of The Living Christ.13 I quote fifteen of the most amazing men to ever live by saying “we offer our testimony of the reality of His matchless life and the infinite virtue of his great atoning sacrifice”. Of all the words in the English language that could have been used in that sentence, they used “virtue”.
Another reference is found in Alma 31:5 (a classic reference) which reads “And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God. Of all the words that could have been used in that sentence, he used “virtue”.
The last reference (for this post) is found in the absolutely timeless passage of D&C 121. This section can be “likened” unto parenting, fatherhood, motherhood14, general leadership, or any other worthy cause since it is worth studying over and over and over again. The verse that I’d like to include is verse 41 “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned.” We could spend years understanding that one verse and all that it means for us.
I have read the advice that “to be a good leader, we need to be a good follower,”15 and “to be a righteous father, we need to be a righteous son.”16 This (and logic) leads me to think that for us to be able to have “virtue go out from us” we need to have virtue “within us”. This means we need to “receive” virtue in abundance. Lucky for us, the apostles and prophets have testified (as quoted above) of the “infinite virtue” that is available through Christ and his “great atoning sacrifice.” That means that it won’t run out – no matter what. As often as we want to receive it, and qualify for it, and ask for it, and search for it, and seek it, and plead for it, and cry for it – it will be given. In the amount that “is expedient for us”17 to have and in the dosage that “we are willing to receive.”18
Therefore, let virtue begin in our hearts and in our minds. Let that “virtue garnish [our] thoughts unceasingly”19 so that it can become a consistent pattern of thought and behavior, while being nurtured in our homes. Then, by the accumulation of thousands of small decisions and actions, our lives can become an effective and strong and powerful force for good in the world.
I will end with a question, but not one that I ask. One that someone much smarter than me asked exactly 35 years ago. It’s a long question (since it’s more than one), but it’s a question that deserves much reflection.
“Parents are ‘called,’ but are they ‘chosen’ by their children to be an influence in their lives? How can parents convey the kind of love our Heavenly Father offers? Are parents prepared to rely entirely on their increasing virtue and righteousness to elicit loyalty, cooperation, and harmony among their children? What a challenge, to qualify to influence only through relationship! Yet only then can parents establish an ‘everlasting dominion’ or eternal family that can function and will endure ‘without compulsory means,’ as our Eternal Father has done. What we find so very difficult to do within our own homes, God has brought to full fruition among the innumerable hosts of heaven.20
1 lds.org/topics=virtue. These are given verbatim by Elaine S. Dalton (in paragraph form) in her talk “A Return to Virtue” given in the October 2008 Conference. She also references “Preach My Gospel (2004) pg. 118 in her explanation of number 2.
3 See the Articles of Faith 1:13, and many scripture lists (for a few see Philip 4:8, 2 Pet. 1:5-8, D&C 4:6, D&C 88:40, and D&C 121:41-45) not to mention it is an element (value) in the Young Women personal progress program. See also D&C 107:30 for an awesome list and use of virtue in a context not often thought of.
4 “A Return to Virtue” – October 2008 Conference
5 This account is found in Mark 5:25-30.
6 This account is found in Luke 8:41-48
7 Luke 6:17-19
8 See Alma 19:6-14
9 This idea seems especially true in the context of the scripture stories previously shared. For example, when the Lord helped the woman with the issue of blood (by his virtue), he wanted to know who it was so that he could help her even further. He recognized her faith to be healed physically, and wanted to heal her spiritually – and thus both were joyful. See Mark 5:31-34
10 Mosiah 2:17
11 Somehow a note for (a) seemed better than another number. This reference “the spirit of life” is also very interesting and worth addressing during a topical study. Because I haven’t done this, my note will be brief. I did find it intriguing (today) that after a search for that exact phrase – I was only able to find 2 scriptural references in which it is used. Each reference is rather powerful and it would be worth your time to discover those two passages and what doctrines they address. Especially if the virtue referred to [in Luke 8, and by extension this blog post] is ‘the spirit of life’” as the prophet said.
12 Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Compiled by Joseph Fielding Smith, pg. 280-281
13 The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a document prepared and signed by the first presidency and the quorum of the twelve apostles dated January 1, 2000.
14 See “Women and the Priesthood” by Sheri Dew, particularly chapter 7. Her quote (see note 5 of that chapter) as it pertains to this post is “It is an interesting exercise to read D&C 121:40-46 and contemplate how those verses might apply to women with respect to the doctrine of motherhood.” See also “Righteous Influence” by Lee Tom Perry, who indicates “the lessons of leadership (not specific to groups, classes, genders, or types) found in D&C 121 apply to everyone who is attempting to lead in righteousness.”
15 See “Righteous Influence” by Lee Tom Perry
16 I couldn’t find the specific reference for this, so I cannot be certain where I read it, but I did read it somewhere.
17 See 2 Ne. 2:27
18 See D&C 88:32-33
19 D&C 121:45
20 This question came from an article in the September 1980 issue of the Ensign titled “The Name ‘Melchizedek’ some thoughts on its meaning and the priesthood it represents”. The entire article is fantastic and I encourage all to read it.