D&C 98: Principles of government

D&C 98

Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you. – attributed to Pericles, ca. 430 BC

Our young people will vote soon and will be active in understanding government.  D&C 98 and 134 are two sections that discuss true principles on governing men.  In the Book of Mormon, Mosiah 29 teaches principles on government as well.

Principles of government in section 98

Principle #1 –The Constitutional is a justifiable document before God and is for all people.  “And that law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me.” (D&C 98:5 italics added)

The closer any government follows the Constitution of the United States, the better off they will be.  The Constitution is not just for America, but is a document for all mankind.

Principle #2 – “And as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this, cometh of evil.” (D&C 98:7 italics added) This refers to the Constitution- we need to be extremely careful of more or less than constitutional law.  Problems arise from the more or less situations that elected leaders place their country in.

We can look in Mosiah 29 to see if we can identify this “more or less” situation.  There is a delicate balance which needs to be struck when examining the rights and priviledges of man with his responsibilities.  As an aside, we made note that the Book of Mormon teaches that the best form of government is a monarchy with a righteous king (see Mosiah 29:13).  It seems reasonable to suppose that if Joseph Smith were the author of the Book of Mormon, he never would have written a chapter in the book identifying the best form of government as a monarchy.  The spirit of time in which he came did not embrace this form of government.  This is just one of many subtle points in the book demonstrating the fact that Joseph Smith did not write the Book of Mormon.

Mosiah 29:32 has the same phrase as 98:5 – “rights and priviledges”… On one side of the scale we have “rights & priviledges”, and on the other side of the scale is “responsibility”


These things ought not to be (Mosiah 29:34).  Murmurings and travails among the people “ought not to be”, if only every man might bear his part, in other words, accept his responsibility in a proper and free society, things would work out to the benefit of man.

Mosiah 29:38 – every man should have an equal chance, and every man expressed a willingness to answer for his own sins.  In this context, what does more or less mean?

Which side is more and which side is less?  It seems to be that we are clamoring for more and more rights & priviledges and less and less responsibility.  This is the issue with our country today.  People are demanding rights and privileges and ignoring the fact that a free society must be a moral people in order to be free.  We want more health care, the government should fix all natural disaster situations, I should not bear the responsibility to be prepared, to save for a future time, etc. all preparation and relief should come from the government.  This governmental dependence without personal responsibility makes us weak and results in a loss of personal freedom and willpower.

One of the messages of Mosiah 29 is that when the majority of a people choose wickedness, they will lose their freedom.  The Constitution was set up so that “every man might have an equal chance and answer for his own sins” (Mosiah 29:38)

So the second principle of government is that anything “more or less” than that which is the spirit of the Constitution is dangerous.  In Mosiah 29 there seems to be a hint that the Constitution was designed so that every man might bear his part and answer for his own sins (see Mosiah 29:38).  Verse 31 indicates that in a society where an evil dictator runs the nation, people cannot truly be accountable for their sins.  This is because in a nation where I am forced to do evil by an evil monarch, I am not really free, and without this, I am, at least in part, not accountable for the sins I commit in following the dictates of an evil ruler.  The students identified with this and gave many examples from history.

The Constitution was established by God to assure moral agency.  It was designed to make man accountable for his sins in the day of judgment (D&C 101:78). 

Unfortunately today the Constitution is being used to make men not accountable for their sins… therefore, what is the thread the Constitution is going to hang by?  To me it means that more and more Americans will interpret and use the Constitution to excuse or justify the committing of sin.

More and more in the future the Constitution will be used as an instrument to make men not accountable for their sins.  More and more men will use American government as justification for sin and use it to promote sin.  But there will always be a group of people who will hold the Constitution up to make individuals accountable for their sins.

Way back in the time of Joseph Smith the Lord is warning the Saints of the idea of more or less… it was dangerous then as it is today.  Rights and responsibilities must be balanced if we are to remain free.

The more or less we are faced with in 2011 is more rights and less responsibility.  If we push it all the way to all rights and no responsibility we have total anarchy, no government whatsoever.  Satan does not care which side he pushes us, so long as we are unbalanced.  Either too much or too little laws & government, he doesn’t care which we go, so long as we are off the narrow path.  He doesn’t care if we have total slavery or total anarchy… he just wants us off the path.


William Faulkner 1897-1962

William Faulkner on the rights & responsibilities of man: Years ago our fathers founded this country, this nation, on the premise of the rights of man. As they expressed it, “the inalienable right of man to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” In those days, they knew what those words meant, not only the ones who expressed them, but the ones who heard and believed and accepted and subscribed to them. Because until that time, men did not always have those rights. At least, until that time, no nation had ever been founded on the idea that those rights were possible, let alone inalienable.

So not only the ones who said the words, but the ones who merely heard them, knew what they meant…because we didn’t have these things. And, since we didn’t have them, we knew their worth. We knew that they were worth suffering and enduring and, if necessary, even dying to gain and preserve. We were willing to accept even the risk of death for them, since even if we lost them ourselves in relinquishing life to preserve them, we would still be able to bequeath them intact and inalienable to our children. Which is exactly what we did, in those old days. We left our homes, the land and graves of our fathers and all familiar things. We voluntarily gave up, turned our backs on, a security which we already had and which we could have continued to have, as long as we were willing to pay the price for it, which price was our freedom and liberty of thought and independence of action, and the right of responsibility. That is, by remaining in the old world, we could have been not only secure, but even free of the need to be responsible. Instead, we chose the freedom, the liberty, the independence and the inalienable right to responsibility; almost without charts, in frail wooden ships with nothing but sails and our desire and will to be free to move them, we crossed an ocean which did not even match the charts we did have; we conquered a wilderness in order to establish a place, not to be secure in because we did not want that, we had just repudiated that, just crossed three thousand miles of dark and unknown sea to get away from that; but a place to be free in, to be independent in, to be responsible in. And we did it. Even while we were still battling the wilderness with one hand, with the other we fended and beat off the power which would have followed us even into the wilderness we had conquered, to compel and hold us to the old way. But we did it. We founded a land, and founded in it not just our right to be free and independent and responsible, but the inalienable duty of man to be free and independent and responsible.

That’s what I am talking about: responsibility. Not just the right, but the duty of man to be responsible, the necessity of man to be responsible if he wishes to remain free; not just responsible to and for his fellow man, but to himself; the duty of a man, the individual, each individual, every individual, to be responsible for the consequences of his own acts, to pay his own score, owing nothing to any man. We knew it once, had it once. Because why? Because we wanted it above all else, we fought for it, endured, suffered, died when necessary, but gained it, established it, to endure for us and then to be bequeathed to our children. Only, something happened to us…A new generation came along, a new era, a new age, a new century. The times were easier; the life and future of our nation as a nation no longer hung in balance; another generation, and we no longer had enemies…But we still remembered responsibility, even though, with easier times, we didn’t need to keep the responsibility quite so active, or at least not so constantly so. Besides, it was not only our heritage, it was too recent yet for us to forget it, the graves were still green of them who had bequeathed it to us, and even of them who had died in order that it might be bequeathed. So we still remembered it, even if a good deal of the remembering was just lip-service. Then more generations; we covered at last the whole face of the western earth…we were the whole world’s golden envy; never had the amazed sun itself seen such a land of opportunity, in which all a man needed were two legs to move to a new place on, and two hands to grasp and hold with, in order to amass to himself enough material substance to last him the rest of his days…And still he paid lip-service to the old words “freedom” and “liberty” and “independence.” …[But] somewhere, at some moment, something had happened to him, to us, to all the descendants of the old tough, durable, uncompromising men…Somewhere, at some point, we…lost or forgot or voluntarily rid ourselves of that one other thing, lacking which, freedom and liberty and independence cannot even exist. That thing is the responsibility, not only the desire and the will to be responsible, but the remembrance from the old fathers of the need to be responsible. Either we lost it, forgot it, or we deliberately discarded it. Either we decided that freedom was not worth the responsibility of being free, or we forgot that, to be free, a man must assume and maintain and defend his right to be responsible for his freedom. Maybe we were even robbed of responsibility, since for years now the very air itself-radio, newspapers, pamphlets, tracts, the voices of politicians-has been loud with talk about the rights of man, not the duties and obligations and responsibilities of man, but only the “rights” of man; so loud and so constant that apparently we have come to… believe…that man has nothing else but rights (William Faulkner, Address to the Delta Council, Cleveland, Mississippi, 15 May 1952).

One of the purposes of this quote is to help us understand where the pendulum has swung and where our focus should be.  We need to understand the balance between rights and responsibilities and where we stand in relation to the two.

Many individuals are frustrated with the national debt but at the same time may not have their financial house in order.  It is good to remember that we need to be responsible, doing our part (see Mosiah 29:34).  The greatest thing we can declare is the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We need to speak clearly and with conviction, but with the right spirit, the Spirit of Christ.  Our words need to be clear yet Christlike.

Understand what the phrase “more or less” means.  In our own lives, let us remember to balance these things.  A good application of this principle is in the family- you have some rights, but you also have tremendous responsibilities in your home.  A parent who doesn’t give you responsibility is doing you a disservice.

The spirit of the nation is focused on rights… This is a very human tendency, to focus on a right or a privilege that we do not have.  A great illustration of this occured in the Garden of Eden.  The Lord said to Adam, “of every tree in the garden thou mayest freely eat, but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it, nevertheless, thou mayst choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee; but, remember that I forbid it, for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”  Later Satan approached Eve and pointed out the one thing she could not do.  The Lord helps us focus on what we can do, but we do have a natural inclination to focus on things or situations where we are restricted.  We see this in our own attitudes.  We see this all over the place.

Some examples of this include: curfews young people have, chores at home, abortion “rights” in America, entitlement programs, educational expectations, and the list goes on.

The third principle: We should choose good people to be our elected leaders

8 I, the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed; and the law also maketh you free.  9 Nevertheless, when the wicked rule the people mourn.  10 Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil. (D&C 98:8-10)

The third principle is that we should elect and uphold good and wise men.  Wise men will make you free and responsible – honest men, wise men should represent us.  More or less than this will get us into trouble.

What do I look for?  Is he honest, is he wise, is he good?

This is critical- this is what we should look for.

The fourth principle: once you find one of these great leaders, uphold him.  Support those who are doing good in government.  If you can get a good, wise, honest person in a position of trust, you would want them in that position for as long as they will serve.  The balancing idea to this is that power corrupts.  When a good person becomes corrupt by the position, it is expedient that they be replaced.

Alma 50:39 – a good leader will judge righteously, keep the peace and the freedom.  There is a balance here – sometimes we lose some freedom to keep the peace and sometimes we lose some peace to assure the freedom.  But we must do all we can to maintain a proper balance of these two.  Our class came up with several examples of this in their homes, schools, and at the airport!

The fifth principle: D&C 98:11 – what is my responsibility?  Forsake all evil and cleave unto all good.  Every citizen, I myself, must forsake all evil and cleave unto all good, and

5 principles recap:

1.  The Constitution is ordained of God for all people.

2.  More or less than the Constitution is going to bring problems.  We are always balancing this “more or less” idea.  If I make it say that I have more rights than I do, I run into problems… does the Constitution really say that I have the right to carry assault rifles?  Is that the spirit of the Constitution?

3.  Seek for honest, wise and good men (98:10)

4.  When you find them, support and uphold them. (98:10)

5.  Forsake all evil and cleave unto all good.

6.  There is a sixth principle: D&C 98:14-16 – Latter-day Saints: you renounce war and you proclaim peace- that means that we need to strengthen the home and family and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In our next class we will address the second point of section 98.  What do we do when we are attacked?  If someone is bullying me, or is spreading gossip about me at school, what is the proper response?

About LDS Scripture Teachings

I write about ways scripture applies in our lives: LDSScriptureTeachings.org
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1 Response to D&C 98: Principles of government

  1. Natalie Clyde says:

    I love this post! The Constitution IS God’s scripture. I study a lot of W. Cleon Skousen’s work and your post has the same feel. I’m glad this is taught to our teenagers who are going to be the nations’s leaders.

    The Thomas Jefferson Center is starting Skousen/Kimber seminars called Healing of America. Let me know if your interested.

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