Covenant Renewal: Seeking A Greater Portion of the Spirit Through the Sacrament

Matthew Clayton, “Covenant Renewal: Seeking a Greater Portion of the Spirit through the Sacrament,” in BYU Religious Education 2010 Student Symposium (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2010), 51–74.

Covenant Renewal: Seeking a Greater Portion of the Spirit through the Sacrament

Matthew Clayton

Covenant renewal is a vital Latter-day Saint doctrine. Church members sometimes refer to the idea that through the sacrament we renew whatever covenants we have entered into up to that point. For example, Robert Daines explained that “at the sacrament table we renew not only our baptismal covenants but all of our covenants, including those of the temple.”[1] This type of assertion has just one problem: it is not scriptural. The idea that we renew all of our covenants at the sacrament table is a puzzling Mormon myth. And yet hidden behind the confusion around this concept is a salient truth that can be very meaningful to modern-day, covenant-keeping Israel. Sincere participation in the ordinance of the sacrament renews our baptismal covenant and brings with it attendant blessings, including the companionship of the Spirit. A proper understanding of this core doctrine ought to bring increased hope to the lives of the Saints.

The scriptures draw a clear link between baptism and the sacrament, and the Brethren have consistently taught that the sacrament is a renewal of baptismal covenants. Despite the prevalence of rebaptism in the early part of Church history, the sacrament, then and now, appears to be specifically designated as a renewal of baptismal covenants. The resulting blessing of the Holy Ghost’s companionship allows the confirming, ratifying power of the Holy Ghost to seal us. The sacrament renews our covenant relationship with the Lord and points our minds toward the temple. In the temple we are ultimately offered the full gospel covenant. The purpose of this paper is not to examine the validity of the idea of sacrament as covenant renewal. That is not in question. Instead, this paper investigates the mechanism and scope of such renewal, ultimately emphasizing the absolute necessity of obtaining the Holy Ghost as our guide in mortality.

What do the restoration texts teach us about the breadth of the sacrament’s role in covenant renewal? Certainly all gospel covenants are closely associated. For example, according to the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) of the Bible, the Jews circumcised boys at eight days of age to point to the baptismal covenant that would come when they were eight years old (JST, Genesis 17:11). With that seemingly simple example, the JST demonstrates that all ordinances and covenants are bound together, with one pointing to the next. Gospel covenants and ordinances are designed to be sequential, like stepping stones.

Baptism, the Prophet Joseph Smith taught, has two parts: baptism by water and baptism by fire. In Moses 6:51–52, Enoch learns that Adam knew these details very early on. Adam knew that salvation was only available through Jesus Christ. He also knew that after water baptism, “ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Moses 6:52). Adam was told to teach it to his children and then was told that “it is given to abide in you; the record of heaven; the Comforter; the peaceable things of immortal glory; the truth of all things; that which quickeneth all things, which maketh alive all things” (Moses 6:61). The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “being born again, comes by the Spirit of God through ordinances.”[2] The careful synthesis of these two pieces of the equation marks a clear distinction between Latter-day Saint theology and that of other Christian faiths.

The Renewal Process

The Book of Mormon offers a fascinating perspective on covenant renewal. The Book of Mormon is a very intentional book and is perhaps more self-conscious than other ancient books, no doubt because of its brilliant editor, Mormon. Mormon guides his readers through the text so that we cannot miss the point and frequently draws our attention to the lesson he wants us to learn. Besides the Words of Mormon, the first time we see the impact of Mormon’s editing comes in the book of Mosiah, which begins with two remarkable stories of covenant renewal, strategically placed practically back-to-back. The stories take place at almost the same historical moment, but in reality are gleaned from two separate records. In the first, Mormon records with uncommon detail the baptism of “about two hundred and four souls” at the Waters of Mormon (Mosiah 18:16). These souls for some reason had not been convinced by Abinadi’s message but were touched by Alma’s preaching. Mormon must have felt a special link to this place, which shared his name. He tells us that at the waters of Mormon “a goodly number” covenanted with God (Mosiah 18:7). It is apparent in the text that some of these people possibly already had the gospel in their lives. The text tells us that Zeniff’s people, despite being “slow to remember the Lord [their] God” (Mosiah 9:3), went to battle “in the strength of the Lord” (Mosiah 9:17) and put their “trust in the Lord” (Mosiah 10:19). For some of the descendents of Zeniff’s people, the Waters of Mormon became a place of recommitment, repentance, and renewal of covenants instead of initial conversion.

At nearly the same time, some distance away, King Benjamin’s people were also undergoing a remarkable moment of recommitment in the second account edited by Mormon. King Benjamin, who had been visited the previous night by an angel, taught about Christ’s sacrifice with startling detail, even revealing the name of the Savior hundreds of years prior to his birth. After being taught a remarkable sermon outlining the way to obtain and retain a remission of their sins, the people “cried with one voice saying: Yea, we believe . . . and we are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days” (Mosiah 5:2–5). As a result of their “righteous covenant” (Mosiah 5:6), the people were “spiritually begotten . . . becom[ing] his sons and his daughters” (Mosiah 5:7) and were promised that if they were obedient until the end of their days they would be “found at the right hand of God” (Mosiah 5:9). Then in a word of parting counsel, King Benjamin instructed the people: “Remember to retain the name written always in your hearts . . . that ye hear and know the voice by which ye shall be called, and also, the name by which he shall call you” (Mosiah 5:12).

Several lessons from these two covenant renewal scenes will be helpful in this study of covenant renewal in the current dispensation. The scene in the first story powerfully invokes the desire Alma has to become clean again, to renew his own commitments and covenants. Mormon records that when Alma takes Helam down into the water, Alma immerses himself as well as Helam. Yes, Alma had been preaching already for some time, but this moment of obvious humility officially marks his life’s change and the beginning of a very mighty ministry.

Alma is not alone in his desire to go back and do things over again. Regret and remorse have led many sinners to their knees and ultimately to the sacrament table. As indicated earlier, Alma’s converts certainly included some, if not many, in their ranks who had already entered into covenants with God. This particular group of people had the gospel at one time, although because of King Noah, who “placed his heart upon his riches, and . . . spent his time in riotous living” (Mosiah 11:14), these people fell into the same types of problems as their ruler (see Mosiah 11:20, 12:29). Alma taught them privately for some time (see Mosiah 18:3), “preach[ing] unto them repentance and redemption and faith on the Lord” (Mosiah 18:7). Then Alma laid out the terms and conditions of the covenant in what Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has called “the most complete scriptural statement on record as to what the newly baptized commit to do and be.”[3] It would be difficult not to notice the similarity of the language between the baptismal covenant as described in Mosiah 18 and the sacrament prayers in the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants.

But being baptized is only one part of keeping and making covenants. Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught that, “When we partake of the sacrament, we renew the covenants made in the waters of baptism. We agree to take upon ourselves the name of the Son and to keep his commandments so we shall always have his Spirit to be with us. Baptism and the sacrament are the ordinances which open the door so that as a people . . . we have power to become the sons and daughters of God.”[4] Elder Bruce R. McConkie also stated that “by partaking of the sacrament, worthy saints renew the covenant previously made by them in the waters of baptism (Mosiah 18:7–10).”[5] It has been estimated that in a normal lifespan, a Church member will probably renew the sacrament covenant more than three thousand times.[6] “That covenant must be highly important to the Lord or he would not ask us to repeat it so often.”[7]

In both the baptismal covenantal language as well as the sacramental language, Saints promise several things and in return, the Lord promises some supremely significant things to them.

Elder McConkie summarized these promises by teaching that

when we are baptized, we covenant to come into the fold of Christ and be members of his church; to be called his people and take upon ourselves his name; to bear the burdens, both temporal and spiritual, of our fellow saints; to mourn with those who mourn; to comfort those who stand in need of comfort; to offer the message of salvation to our Father’s other children, and to keep the commandments of God. The Lord on his part promises us that he will “pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon” us; that we will be numbered with those of the first resurrection; and that we shall have eternal life. This is the identical covenant made in the sacramental ordinance. That is to say, it becomes our privilege every time we partake of the sacrament to receive anew the promises and blessings first offered to us in baptism.[8]

The promises made in the sacrament covenant are similar to those outlined in Mosiah 18, but seem to take into account the reality of mortal imperfection. The sacrament is clearly intended to be repeated again and again throughout our mortal journey. Stephen E. Robinson explained that “those who have been justified by faith are obliged to serve Christ and to make him their Lord by imitating him in their behavior and keeping his commandments (John 14:15, 21; 15:8, 10; Romans 6:16; 1 Corinthians 6:9–10). As reflected in the Latter-day Saint prayers, the obligation of believers is that we are in principle willing to keep his commandments, willing to always remember him and willing to keep his commandments. This willingness to remember and to serve him and not serve sin—a commitment of faith—in turn guarantees that we will have his Spirit with us.”[9] This is a crucial observation. Grammatically, the word willing could refer solely to the promise to take upon us his name, or it could be that “willingness” is meant to extend to all three promises. If that is the case, and I contend that it is, then the sacrament is an opportunity for the Saints to promise each week to try again with all their hearts. Taking the sacrament is one way to show a sincere willingness to recommit.

The link between baptism and the sacrament is very clear specifically because of their common language and their scriptural explanations. Nephi was taught by the Lord that in baptism we “witness unto the Father that ye are willing to keep my commandments” (2 Nephi 31:14; emphasis added). Elder John A. Widtsoe elaborated on the similarities between the two covenants by stating:

To remember the sacrifice of Jesus, to accept Jesus as the Leader; to keep His commandments—these are the covenants made; and the reward is the guiding companionship of the Holy Spirit. This makes of the partaking of the sacrament a renewal of the covenants we made at the time of baptism into The Church. Thus, by the sacrament we declare repeatedly, ordinarily weekly, our allegiance to the plan of salvation and its obligations. Thus we keep ourselves as one with Christ our Elder Brother in seeking to consummate the purposes of the Father with respect to the children of men . . . . The Sacrament is intended for the members of the Church. The covenants in the prayer of blessing are those made when entrance into the Church is consummated.[10]

Comparing the Book of Mormon description of the covenant with Paul’s teachings on the subject, Richard Lloyd Anderson summarized the covenant in this way: “The Book of Mormon stresses baptism as a ‘covenant’ with God to serve him and keep his commandments, so that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon the baptized disciple (Mosiah 18:10). Joseph Smith taught baptism only for those ‘willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end’ (D&C 20:37). The purpose of baptism in Romans 6 and modern revelation is the same—it is a solemn promise not to sin.”[11] This is a wonderful way to view the promises we make in the baptismal font and at the sacrament table.

Born of the Spirit

Robert L. Millet has taught that “the Holy Ghost is the midwife of salvation. He is the agent of the new birth, the sacred channel and power by which men and women are changed and renewed, made into new creatures.”[12] The Doctrine and Covenants elaborates on the role of the Holy Ghost: He “giveth utterance” (D&C 14:8), or, as Nephi terms it, he “will show unto you all things what ye should do” (2 Nephi 32:5). Not only does the Holy Ghost purify the Saints, but He teaches and directs them. One of the primary functions of the Holy Ghost is to lead people to higher truth and light. Nephi explains that the Holy Ghost witnesses of the Father and the Son, “thus fulfilling of the promise which he hath made” (2 Nephi 31:18). This promise is as central to our mortal journey as the Liahona was for Lehi’s family. How important is it that we have the Holy Ghost? President Brigham Young declared, “I say that the living oracles of God, or the spirit of revelation, must be in each and every individual, to know the plan of salvation and keep in the path that leads them to the presence of God.”[13]

Those who keep their baptismal covenant and are obedient unto the end of their lives are promised that they will be found at the right hand of God, “for they shall know the name by which he is called; for he shall be called by the name of Christ” (Mosiah 5:9). This idea of being on the right hand of God is very important. There are obvious esoteric covenant implications. In antiquity the left hand was considered the “sinister” hand and the right hand the “dexter.” For example, in Matthew 25, Jesus describes the day of judgment, when he will come and “separate [the nations] as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats; and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left” (Matthew 25:32–33). The Lord does not arbitrarily determine who is on his right and who is on his left. Each of us makes that decision.[14] Doctrine and Covenants 29:27–29 describes this apocalyptic scene powerfully: “And the righteous shall be gathered on my right hand unto eternal life, and the wicked on my left hand will I be ashamed to own before the Father; wherefore I will say unto them—Depart, . . . for where I am they cannot come, for they have no power.” The Lord then adds that the power in question is “the power of my Spirit” (D&C 29:30).

Elder McConkie made an important doctrinal clarification when he taught, “Sins are remitted not in the waters of baptism, as we say in speaking figuratively, but when we receive the Holy Ghost. It is the Holy Spirit of God that erases carnality and brings us into a state of righteousness. We become clean when we actually receive the fellowship and companionship of the Holy Ghost.”[15]

To this end, Brother Millet wrote that

when a person is confirmed a member of the church, he or she is directed to ‘receive the Holy Ghost.’ This is an imperative statement, a command. There is no salvation save the command be heeded. Through the new member’s living worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost, the second part of the baptismal ordinance—the rebirth of the Spirit—begins. Scripturally this process is called the ‘baptism of fire’; the Holy Ghost is a sanctifier who burns dross and iniquity out of the soul as if by fire. Thus the remission of sins comes only after the reception and cleansing influence of the Holy Ghost.[16]

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul uses a unique Greek word (see 2 Corinthians 1:22) to describe our state in Christ. He says that we have been “given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.” The word translated as “earnest” comes from the Greek word arrabon, which in modern Greek means “engagement ring.” When a young man places a ring on his sweetheart’s hand, their relationship changes. She is now promised to him. Likewise, when a follower of Christ is baptized, confirmed, and then receives the Holy Ghost, he or she is the Lord’s. The Spirit is a sign in the present of what is sure to come in the future. Explaining this very same Pauline concept, Brother Millet taught that

the same Holy Spirit of Promise that searches the hearts of men and women, that ratifies and approves and seals ordinances and lives, that same Holy Spirit serves, as Paul indicates, as the “earnest of our inheritance” (Ephesians 1:14). The Lord’s “earnest money” on us, his down payment, his indication to us that he fully intends to save us, is the Holy Spirit. We know that we are on course when the Spirit is with us. We know that our lives are approved of God when the Spirit is with us. We know that we are in Christ, in covenant, when the Spirit is with us. And we know that we are saved when the Spirit is with us. If we live in such a way that we can partake of the sacrament worthily, hold and use a current temple recommend, and maintain the gift and gifts of the Spirit, then we are in the line of our duty; we are approved of [in] the heavens, and if we were to die suddenly, we would go into paradise and eventually into the celestial kingdom.[17]

Paul is teaching that God has invested in us. He has put earnest money down for us as a goodwill gesture to show that he is serious about making the purchase (i.e., saving us). If we worthily partake of the sacrament, we can have the Spirit with us. If we feel that Spirit comforting, directing, and enlightening our lives, we can know with surety that we are receiving God’s seal, his affirmation that we are on track.

Sacrament Symbolism

Provo, Utah, is famous for its Fourth of July festivities—especially the parade. Usually at the beginning of the parade there is a patriotic moment where the American flag is marched along the parade route. Most people stand and place their hand over their hearts. But there are others who choose to disrespect the flag. Perhaps they do not care, or perhaps they do not understand the symbolism. It is possible that the same type of disrespect is present among Church members toward the sacrament and ultimately the Lord’s sacrifice. Certainly, some are focused on other things during the sacrament: work, sports, dates, and so forth. When the Saints fail to pay sufficient respect or attention to the ordinance, they are disrespecting the Lord.

Historically, the priests of Aaron wore white robes as they sacrificed bulls, lambs, and birds. Imagine the stark symbolic imagery that must have resulted as the animal’s throats were cut and as the priests sprinkled the blood over the altar and laid the animal upon it. The people waited to take a portion of the meat home, depending on the type of sacrifice. Imagine how seeing the sacrificial symbolism would impact the way they ate the meal. Latter-day Aaronic priests wear white too. The sacrament table is very symbolic. In fact, it functions as an altar of sorts. We all come and lay our sins on the altar. In exchange, we each take away the emblems of bread and water. We partake of Christ’s righteousness via these emblems. In this way the sacrament table is a good symbolic representation of the great exchange.

It is interesting that from Adam to Christ, sacrifice pointed toward the Atonement. When Jesus prepared the Last Supper for his disciples, the bread, representing his flesh, was blessed and then broken (see Matthew 26:26) to symbolize the fact that for millennia people had looked forward to this time. But since that time the sacrament replaced sacrifice, and people have looked back to remember his sacrifice. This is evidenced in the Book of Mormon: in a setting after Christ’s Atonement had been made, Jesus broke the bread first and then blessed it (see 3 Nephi 18:3). That sequence, which continues today, indicates that although the sacrifice was already offered, it is made holy for us again.

According to Brother Millet, “Latter-day Saints teach that in the same way the ancient Israelites presented their offering to the Levitical priests so that through that sacrifice their sins might be remitted, men and women in our day who have been baptized and received the Holy Ghost may, through their own offering—a broken heart and a contrite spirit (see Psalms 51:17; Book of Mormon, 3 Nephi 9:20; D&C 59:8)—be forgiven, have sins remitted, and be at peace through partaking of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.”[18] Elder Tad R. Callister indicated that these sacrifices in the Old Testament era were not a “singular sacrifice that lasted for a lifetime—instead, [they] sacrificed repeatedly throughout [their] live[s]. Why? The Apostle Paul gave the answer: ‘In those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year’ (Hebrews 10:3; emphasis added).”[19]

Water and fire are cleansing agents, but neither really purifies us (Moses 6:59)—we are cleansed by the blood of Christ. Brother Millet wrote,

It is not the bread and water that save us but rather what the bread and water represent. If we can attend sacrament meeting with a broken heart and a contrite spirit (meaning that we are repentant and eager to rid ourselves of our sins), focus our thoughts and our feelings on the atoning offering of Christ our Savior, and covenant once again to keep the Lord’s commandments and plead for his strength and goodness to enable us to do so, then healing and cleansing take place. It is as though we can enjoy a rebaptism every Sabbath.[20]

The idea that every Sunday God offers his children the ability to feel once again as they did when they were first baptized is very encouraging. A lovely Primary song teaches this beautifully:

I like to look for rainbows whenever there is rain

And ponder on the beauty of an earth made clean again.

I know when I am baptized my wrongs are washed away.

And I can be forgiven and improve myself each day.

I want my life to be as clean as earth right after rain.

I want to be the best I can and live with God again.[21]

“Baptism is for the remission of sins, and sacrament is a renewal of the covenants and blessings of baptism. Both should be preceded by repentance. When we keep the covenants made in these ordinances, we are promised that we will always have His Spirit to be with us. . . . When we renew our baptismal covenants in this way, the Lord renews the cleansing effect of our baptism. In this way we are made clean and can always have His Spirit to be with us.”[22] The Lord wants us to come to the sacrament meeting so we can have the blessings we enjoyed originally through baptism. God knows that “none of us, of course, is perfectly obedient, and thus we rely on our baptismal covenant to bring a remission of sins after baptism just as it has done for our lives before baptism. We rely on repentance to reinvigorate [or renew] that covenant, to bring the Holy Spirit and, with it, atoning grace. The process of cleansing and sanctifying through the baptism of water and of the Holy Ghost can be continued weekly as we worthily partake of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.”[23]

Pay particular attention to this significant statement from Elder James E. Talmage: “The sacrament has not been established as a specific means of securing remission of sins; nor for any other special blessing aside from that of a continuing endowment of the Holy Spirit, which, however, comprises all needful blessings.”[24] Doctrine and Covenants 59:23 speaks of both peace and eternal life. The interplay between the two is quite profound.

We get the greatest blessings that it is possible for men to get here in this life by living the gospel. The world may be in turmoil, torn and disheveled; there may be blood and carnage on every hand, but if we keep the commandments of God, we will get the Holy Ghost for our companion and guide (D&C 45:57). Those who have the Holy Ghost get the peace which passeth understanding (Philip. 4:7). Now, that is the greatest gift that a person can get while he dwells in mortality. And then by having kept those same commandments and having walked in that same path, having kept those same covenants, we get the sure promise that we will be inheritors of a celestial exaltation in the mansions that are prepared.[25]

Having the Spirit in this life is the best indicator of our eternal destination. Seeking to keep the companionship of the Holy Spirit is the most important thing we do, thus we meet each week to remember him (see 3 Nephi 18:7). The repetition of this ordinance weekly is vital for us. As we return faithfully each week to humbly take the sacrament we will have the peace borne of the Spirit. The grand secret is that if we have the Spirit, all of our covenants and their blessings are in force. We must be careful not to skip over that vital step in the process. I believe we as a people habitually neglect the Spirit. We neglect not only his influence, but we downplay his role in the process of salvation. In John 6:54 Jesus specifically included eternal life as one of the blessings made available via the sacrament. If this is true, and it is, then why would anyone ever miss a sacrament meeting? This is why it is so crucial for us to seek and retain the Spirit in our life.

Remember the visit Brigham Young had from the Prophet Joseph Smith after the Prophet’s death? President Young recorded:

While sick, and asleep on my pillow, at noon day of the 17th of February 1847. I dreamed that I went to see Joseph. He looked perfectly natural, sitting with his feet on the lower round of his chair, leaning back, in a large Window, in a South West direction. I took him by the right hand and kissed him many times, and said to him, “Why is it that we cannot be together as we used to be?”. . .

Joseph [said,] “It is all right; We cannot be together yet; We shall be by & by; but you will have to do without me a while, and then we shall be together again.” . . .

Joseph stepped towards me, and looking very earnestly, yet pleasantly said, “Tell the people to be humble & faithful, and be sure to keep the Spirit of the Lord & it will lead them right. Be careful & not turn away the still small voice, it will teach you how to do & where to go, & it will yield the fruits of the Kingdom. Tell the Brethren to keep their hearts open to conviction, so that when the Holy Ghost comes to them, their hearts will be ready to receive it. . . . Tell the Brethren if they will follow the Spirit of the Lord they will go right. Be sure to tell the people to keep the Spirit of the Lord; and if they will, they will find themselves just as they were organized by our Father in Heaven before they came into the world.”[26]

The importance of the Spirit is evident from Joseph’s counsel. Consider that this was his message above all other things he could have said to Brigham Young.

Elder Gerald Lund has taught that “the role of the Holy Ghost in applying the blood of Christ in our lives is direct and specific. It is His power and influence that actually purges out the dross, cleanses us from sin, and makes us holy. This is called the baptism of fire. Also it is under his direction and promptings that one derives the power and knowledge to live righteously. So we can legitimately say that one is both sanctified and justified by the Spirit.”[27]

The Holy Spirit of Promise

The Book of Mormon describes how King Benjamin’s people had fallen to the earth after viewing their own carnal state. Then, in what must have been a remarkable shout, they cry in unison, “O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness” (Mosiah 4:2). The response to their plea is that the “Spirit of the Lord [comes] upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins and having peace of conscience, because of their exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come” (Mosiah 4:3). Thus the Book of Mormon teaches that one fruit of the Spirit is peace.

This same Spirit that brings peace acts as the Holy Spirit of Promise. Section 76 describes those who believed and were “buried in the water in his name” (D&C 76:51). These Saints then receive the Holy Spirit, overcome by faith, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise. The Prophet Joseph explains that because they are sealed they are members of the Church of the Firstborn (see D&C 76:54). In the New Testament Paul expands on this same imagery as he urged the Saints in Ephesus to “grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). Of this sealing, specifically describing the Holy Spirit of Promise, President Joseph Fielding Smith taught that it is “the Holy Ghost who places the stamp of approval upon every ordinance: baptism, confirmation, ordination, marriage. The promise is that the blessings will be received through faithfulness. If a person violates a covenant, whether it be of baptism, ordination, marriage or anything else, the Spirit withdraws the stamp of approval, and the blessings will not be received.”[28] The stamp is remade as we worthily take the sacrament and thus renew our baptismal covenants and receive the promised blessing of the Spirit.

When the Savior visited the Nephites after his resurrection he talked a lot about both baptism and the sacrament. In 3 Nephi 11, the Lord mentions the need to become as a child. It is interesting to note that he mentions it twice. The text indicates that we are to become childlike and submissive both before and after baptism (see 3 Nephi 11:37–38). The humility necessary to be made clean is an essential element in both covenants. Joseph Smith taught that “a man may be saved, after the judgment, in the terrestrial kingdom, or in the telestial kingdom, but he can never see the celestial kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit . . . unless he becomes as a little child, and is taught by the Spirit of God.”[29] Another great Book of Mormon verse deals with this same topic. Mosiah 3:19 carefully shows how when natural men “yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and . . . [become] . . . saints,” they also become childlike, “submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit . . . even as a child doth submit to his father.” Note how the Holy Ghost brings about these childlike attributes. This same pattern is seen in the Savior’s visit to the temple at Bountiful. Third Nephi chapter 8, which deals with the sacrament in some detail, comes right after the special experience with the little children in chapter 17.

President Joseph Fielding Smith, put the relationship between the sacrament and the Spirit into proper context when he taught,

No member of the Church who refuses to observe this sacred ordinance can retain the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Ghost. . . . When we eat the bread and drink the water, we covenant that we will eat and drink in remembrance of the sacrifice which he made for us in the breaking of his body and the shedding of his blood; that we are willing to take upon us the name of the Son; that we will always remember him; that we will always keep his commandments which he has given us. In this act we witness to the Father, by solemn covenant in the name of the Son, that we will do all of these things. Through our faithfulness to these covenants, we are promised that we will always have the Spirit of the Lord to be with us in all truth and righteousness . . . . This covenant we are called upon to renew each week, and we cannot retain the Spirit of the Lord if we do not consistently comply with this commandment.[30]

The Name of the Lord

Elder McConkie taught, “We have taken upon ourselves his name in the waters of baptism. We renew the covenant therein made when we partake of the sacrament.”[31] Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained: “We do not witness that we take upon us the name of Jesus Christ. [Rather], we witness that we are willing to do so. (See D&C 20:77.) The fact that we only witness to our willingness suggests that something else must happen before we actually take that sacred name upon us in the [ultimate and] most important sense.”[32]

Elder David A. Bednar added:

The baptismal covenant clearly contemplates a future event or events and directs us to the temple.

In modern revelations the Lord refers to temples as houses “built unto my name” (D&C 105:33; see also D&C 109:2–5; 124:39). These scriptures help us understand that the process of taking upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ that is commenced in the waters of baptism is continued and enlarged in the house of the Lord. As we stand in the waters of baptism, we look to the temple. As we partake of the sacrament, we look to the temple. We pledge to always remember the Savior and to keep His commandments as preparation to participate in the sacred ordinances of the temple and receive the highest blessings available through the name and by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, in the ordinances of the holy temple we more completely and fully take upon us the name of Jesus Christ.[33]

Note how Elder Bednar carefully connected the ordinances of the temple with both the sacrament and baptism. I believe this is what Elder Ballard was teaching when he explained, “As you know, the sacrament is a renewal and a reminder of our covenants with the Lord. What a great time for introspection and reflection on our life during the past week! Make the sacrament a time to review your personal gospel chain and see if each link is equal to the task of anchoring you securely to the Church.”[34] It is not that we specifically renew our temple covenants at the sacrament table but that the sacrament allows us to review and evaluate how well we are keeping those promises.

One seminary teacher explained the relationship between these covenants by comparing it to a football player’s uniform. At baptism, he explained, we wear the Lord’s jersey. When we take the sacrament that jersey is made clean once again, with all of the grass stains, blood, mud, and grime completely removed. Then, as we prepare to go out into the mission field or to get married, we must enter the temple. He explained that we could view the endowment as the process of putting on our pads and cleats. The jersey, bearing the Lord’s name and number, is the same throughout the process.[35] “We think of baptism as a one-time event, which it is in the sense that it normally takes place only once in a lifetime. But the covenant is lifelong, meant to be remembered and lived every day to the end of our lives. Our Father in Heaven has given us the sacrament as an ordinance to help us remember His Son’s sacrifice and to renew our covenant of baptism. . . . As we grow to understand this, our weekly partaking of the sacrament will come to have great spiritual meaning.”[36]

President Henry B. Eyring taught, “You could show the value you place on the baptismal covenant by how regularly and carefully you renew it. . . . The sacramental prayers were dictated by the Lord himself to keep us reminded of the gospel covenants we have made.”[37] It is painfully evident that “it only takes about one week to forget some of the things we should remember. The Lord has asked us to come back weekly and participate.”[38] Like repentance, which is an all-or-nothing proposition (see Isaiah 5:18), if in the sacrament we renew our baptismal covenants, the implication is that being worthy of the Spirit, we can lay claim on the promises for all of our covenants. We cannot compartmentalize our spiritual state. We are either justified or we are not. Either the Holy Spirit of Promise has sealed our ordinances or they are unsealed.

As we partake of the sacrament each week, we ponder the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ and we reaffirm and renew the covenants we made when we were baptized. . . . We renew our qualification for the promise “that [we] may always have his Spirit to be with [us]” (D&C 20:77). We cannot overstate the importance of that promise. . . . In partaking of the sacrament, we can renew the effects of our baptism. . . . Let us qualify ourselves for our Savior’s promise that by partaking of the sacrament we will “be filled” (3 Ne. 20:8; see also 3 Ne. 18:9), which means that we will be “filled with the Spirit” (3 Ne. 20:9). That Spirit—the Holy Ghost—is our comforter, our direction finder, our communicator, our interpreter, our witness, and our purifier—our infallible guide and sanctifier for our mortal journey toward eternal life.[39]

Mosiah 4:13 emphasizes the importance of our mindset in this process. We ought to come to the sacrament meeting repentant and ready to recommit. As President Gordon B. Hinckley taught, sacrament meeting

ought to be a time of spiritual refreshment for our people, when, on Sunday, they gather to partake of the sacrament and renew their covenants with the Lord. They should rethink the contract which exists between them and the Lord, under which we take upon ourselves His name and agree to keep His commandments and He, in turn, promises that His Spirit will be with us. If we could bring about the consummation of that covenant in the lives of our people with a renewal each week, what a marvelous thing it would be.[40]

In conclusion, it is clear that the Latter-day Saints are blessed with the opportunity to renew their precious baptismal covenants each week as they worthily partake of the sacrament. The Lord’s infinite Atonement makes possible rebirth through this mighty ordinance and its covenants. If the saints approach it in humility they can come away renewed and refreshed and filled with the peace bourne of the Spirit. That renewed Spirit also reinforces the validity of the other covenants we have made. Let us hold fast to our covenants. Let us seek to always remember, for, as President Spencer W. Kimball taught us, “Remembering covenants prevents apostasy. That is the real purpose of the sacrament, to keep us from forgetting [what we have] . . . covenanted at the water’s edge or at the sacrament table and in the temple.”[41] In fact, President David O. McKay taught that “no more sacred ordinance is administered in The Church of Jesus Christ than the administration of the sacrament.”[42] May this meeting play a more central role in gauging our worthiness and willingness to follow the gospel plan. May we ever seek to live so that “while of these emblems we partake . . . [we can] remember and be sure, our hearts and hands are clean and pure.”[43]

Notes



[1] Robert Daines, “The Doctrines of Christ,” devotional address, Brigham Young University, June 20, 2000.

[2] Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), 162.

[3] Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997), 106.

[4] Bruce R. McConkie, “The Ten Commandments of a Peculiar People,” devotional address, Brigham Young University, January 28, 1975.

[5] Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1966), 660.

[6] H. Verlan Anderson, “Always Remember,” New Era, April 1989, 6.

[7] Anderson, “Always Remember,” 6.

[8] Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1983), 296.

[9] Stephen E. Robinson, How Wide the Divide (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 146; emphasis added.

[10] John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1987), 81–82.

[11] Richard Lloyd Anderson, Understanding Paul (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1983), 185.

[12] Robert L. Millet, The Power of the Word (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1994), 112.

[13] Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 9:279.

[14] Steven Harper, Doctrine and Covenants lecture, Brigham Young University, 2008.

[15] McConkie, New Witness for the Articles of Faith, 290.

[16] Millet, Power of the Word, 102.

[17] Robert L. Millet, Life After Death (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1999), 116–17.

[18] Robert L. Millet, The Mormon Faith (Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 1998), 86.

[19] Tad R. Callister, The Infinite Atonement (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book), 286.

[20] Robert L. Millet, Alive in Christ: The Miracle of Spiritual Rebirth (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997), 142.

[21] “When I Am Baptized,” Children’s Songbook (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1989), 103.

[22] Dallin H. Oaks, “Your Sacred Duty,” New Era, May 1999, 4; emphasis added.

[23] D. Todd Christofferson, “Justification and Sanctification,” Ensign, June 2001, 24.

[24] James E. Talmage, Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1913), 159.

[25] Bruce R. McConkie, in Conference Report, October 1950, 17.

[26] Brigham Young, vision, February 17, 1847, in Brigham Young Office Files, 1832–1878, Church History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City.

[27] Gerald N. Lund, “Sanctification and Justification Are Just and True,” in Sperry Symposium Classics: The New Testament, ed. Frank F. Judd Jr. and Gaye Strathearn (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book), 56.

[28] Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1954), 1:45.

[29] Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 12.

[30] Doctrines of Salvation, 1:339, 341.

[31] Bruce R. McConkie, “Jesus Christ and Him Crucified,” fireside address, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT, September 5, 1976.

[32] Dallin H. Oaks, “Taking upon Us the Name of Jesus Christ,” Ensign, May 1985, 81.

[33] David A. Bednar, “Honorably Hold a Name and Standing,” Ensign, May 2009, 98.

[34] M. Russell Ballard, “Anchor to the Soul,” New Era, March 1993, 4; emphasis added.

[35] Jared Halverson, Book of Mormon Lecture, 2001, American Fork, UT.

[36] Bruce D. Porter, “The First Principles and Ordinances of the Gospel,” Ensign, October 2000, 14.

[37] Henry B. Eyring, “Blessed Are the Peacemakers,” devotional address, Brigham Young University, February 6, 1994.

[38] Bernard Brockbank, “The Sacred Way to Eternal Life Is to Love God First,” fireside address, Brigham Young University, June 3, 1979. See also Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 6:195: “Because we are so liable to forget.”

[39] Dallin H. Oaks, “Always Have His Spirit,” Ensign, November 1996, 59.

[40] Gordon B. Hinckley, address, regional conference, Pittsburgh, Regional Conference, April 27, 1996.

[41] The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982), 112.

[42] David O. McKay, in Conference Report, April 1946, 112.

[43] John Nicholson, “While of These Emblems We Partake,” Hymns (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1985), no. 173.