As I thought I was approaching death, I realized with stunning clarity that there are two things that will give you confidence to meet God and two things only: (1) charity for all and (2) virtue. “Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men … and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; THEN shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God.” (D&C 121:45.) This comes from a text recorded in 1839.
There are two things that will give you confidence to meet God and two things only: (1) charity for all and (2) virtue.
What did the word “virtue” mean at that time? While I am still trying to crystalize its meaning in my mind, one thing of which I am certain is that “virtue” did not have the primary meaning we assign to it today—the practice of moral duties and the abstaining from vice. That was only a tertiary meaning. “Virtue” meant something quite different. The 1828 Webster’s dictionary entry for virtue gives, as its primary meaning, “1. Strength; that substance or quality of physical bodies, by which they act and produce effects on other bodies.”
The Latin root from which the word derives—virtus—”was a specific virtue in Ancient Rome. It carries connotations of valor, manliness, excellence, courage, character, and worth ….” As I put these concepts together it seems that in 1839 “virtue” meant something more akin to the modern usage of the word “integrity.”
Your very consciousness is garnished or adorned with an abiding commitment to genuineness.
Under this view, the meaning of the text is that confidence comes from (1) feeling charity for others (to the extent that it fills our innermost parts) and (2) having integrity, which requires us to be genuine. Consequenlty, to let virtue garnish your thoughts unceasingly does not mean to endlessly think about ways to avoid vice. Rather it suggests that your very consciousness is garnished or adorned with an abiding commitment to genuineness.
That our confidence before God depends upon our ability to love and be genuine makes sense to me because God’s essence is love (1 John 4:8) and truth (John 14:6). Jesus detested phonies. He couldn’t stand being around pretentious and pious fakes. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” (Matthew 23:27-28.)
He was more comfortable around “the publican, standing afar off,” in the temple, who “would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner,” than the temple-attending, tithe-paying church member who “stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers ….” (Luke 18:10-14.)
The self-awareness, confessional honesty and raw unpretentiousness of the publican is much more righteous to God than stodgy observance. Piousness swells the head, shrinks the heart and fosters self-deception and alienation from God. We draw near to him with our actions, but our hearts are far from him. (Matthew 15:8.)
To reject yourself is to reject God.
Simply put, resist the temptation to measure your righteousness by conformity, orthodoxy and obedience to the observable and measurable. If you want to be confident in this life and comfortable around God, be a loving and genuine person. To do that, you must learn to love and accept yourself.
In order to love others, you must esteem and value yourself as much as you are told to esteem and value others. This “self”-esteem is not grounded in a false, grandiose or unrealistic self-concept. Instead, it is seeing yourself like God asks you to see others—as his child, of infinite worth and worth dying for. True self-esteem is not grounded in your own merits. After all, as Jesus Christ said, “without me ye can do nothing.” (John 15:5.) Instead, true self-esteem is grounded in God’s love and mercy toward you, his creation. God created you. You are worth loving. You are worthy of giving love. You were created in God’s image. To reject yourself is to reject God. You must first embrace your weakness before you can embrace God.
This may come as a surprise to you, but God already knows your faults and weaknesses. And chances are everyone around you is already aware of them, as well. There’s no use masking them. Be more like the publican and less like the Pharisee. Just be who you are, don’t be fake, acknowledge your faults, and do your best to love.
Letting virtue garnish your thoughts is a call to avoid self-deception. It’s an invitation to self-awareness, self-acceptance and complete honesty. Filter everything through that filter and you will become confident in the presence of God. You will see that God loves you no matter what. And then, when you are filled with that love and acceptance from God, you will be grounded enough to love as you ought.