The Mission of Brigham Young University

An address given by President David O. McKay

at Brigham Young University

April 27, 1948

[1] President McDonald, fellow teachers, and students of the Brigham Young University, heretofore when you have been kind enough to invite me to address you I have tried to prepare a message which would be directly applicable to the students. Today I'm going to speak about the Brigham Young University as an institution. I have been somewhat in doubt as to the applicability of the theme, but I am now free from all doubts. I think I have chosen wisely.

Three things which have happened here in this assembly, these devotional exercises, have encouraged me to go forward with my theme. The first is the sincere prayer offered. Two things, did you note, particularly were invoked. One, that we should be able to develop honesty, nobility and other characteristics, other virtues, which would make us useful in society. And the second was that we should be willing and capable of rendering service to our fellowmen. I don't know how that prayer impressed you, but it impressed me as one of sincerity and reverence. I tried to picture in my mind other institutions in the world, similar institutions, in which such an appeal could be made with such fervor.

The second contribution is the inspiring singing to which we have just listened. I believe I am not exaggerating when I say that it is doubtful whether in any other university throughout the land, students could hear more beautiful music -- more impressively, more artistically rendered. I say that in all sincerity. I take occasion to repeat what I have said before, to congratulate Director Madsen upon the inspiring renditions, musical numbers, at our recent annual conference in Salt Lake City. I think, and I have heard others say, who know more about music than I, that we have had nothing better in the Salt Lake [2] tabernacle.

The third incident is the presence of our brother, Philo T. Farnsworth. I have been an admirer of him for many years. This is the first time I have ever met him, I think. I am glad of his presence because he illustrates, or he is a representative of the kind of men I like to picture as having gone out from this institution to influence the world.

So, with that encouragement I am going to say a word to you about the Brigham Young University. You will all agree with me when I say it is a great school, that it has been since its organization, since its founding, a great school. It may not be equal to other great universities in buildings and equipment, but great because of its paramount purpose to make men, because its paramount purpose is character, and a second, to make those great men great scientists, great leaders. Any institution which is prompted by those incentives or aims is great. You will agree with me also that the Brigham Young University is destined to become greater than it is now. You may not agree with me when I say that I look upon the Brigham Young University as having resting upon it the greatest responsibility of any university in the world. Critics may disagree, they have that right, but I would like to call your attention to a few things which prompt me to make that statement.

As all other universities, this university is made up of different schools and faculties that specialize in sciences, theology, law, medicine, philosophy, etc. And graduates from these various schools are given their respective degrees by the university, made up of these different colleges. Oxford University, Cambridge University in England, Harvard here in the United States, are each made up of a number of colleges, complete in their individual organizations, but united make up the university which confers the degrees. In this respect, this university is probably not even equal to the others. You have your schools and faculties, each charged with the responsibility or duty to give the best instruction possible to carry on as thorough a research in its respective field as can be found [3] in any other similar institution. But, in addition to the responsibility common to other universities, this university stands for something outstandingly distinctive. Each university has its peculiar feature, its distinctive feature.

Even in the middle ages, the beginning of the university, Bologna stood for law. Those who registered there knew that that was the special feature. The University of Paris, founded about the same time, was characterized by theology. Today there is Notre Dame. It was founded by the Rev. Edward Soren (?) and his brother, Catholics. While on the faculty there were many lay members, Notre Dame radiates Catholicism. Then there is the University of Jerusalem, a Jewish institution, built on Mt. Scopus (?), dedicated by the Earl Balfour in 1921. Its object is to, I quote, "teach especially in the departments of Jewish and Oriental studies." It was a sad calamity to the world when that great doctor, scientist, was killed the other day, associated with this great university. All the eyes of the world are focused on that historic little land. Even as we speak here, the armies are being massed to march in there to determine great international questions.

I mention these just as illustration to establish the fact that an institution as an individual radiates something which is distinctive. I have quoted often before, and shall again because I like it, in referring to the influence on an individual. There is one responsibility which no man can evade and that responsibility is personal influence. Man's unconscious influence, unconscious influence, the silent, subtle radiation of his personality. The effect of his words and acts. These are tremendous. Every moment of life he is changing to a degree the life of the whole world.

Every man has an atmosphere which is affecting every other. Man cannot escape for one moment from this radiation of his character. This constantly weakening of strengthening of others. He cannot evade the responsibility by saying it is an unconscious influence. He can select the qualities he would permit to be radiated. He can cultivate sweetness, calmness, trust, generosity, truth, justice, loyalty, nobility, and make them vitally active in his character. By these qualities he will constantly affect the world. This radiation to which I [4] refer comes from what a person really is, not from what he pretends to be. Every man by his mere living is radiating sympathy, sorrow, or morbidness, cynicism, or happiness or hope, or any other hundred qualities. Life is a state of radiation and absorption. To exist is to radiate. To exist is to be the recipient of radiation.

Fellow students, so it is with the university. What the spirit of the university is, that will be its radiation. Now we come to the answer or the contemplation of the thoughts that prompt that statement -- "Our Brigham Young University carries the greatest responsibility of any university in the world." The most sublime message that has come to mankind since the day when the Son of Man said, "I am the resurrection and the life. He that liveth and believeth in me shall never die." That is the message proclaimed in this dispensation, that God the Father, and his Son appeared to Joseph Smith. Can you think of any greater message? We are meeting today in the Joseph Smith building and it radiates that great truth, and with that comes another equally fundamental. And that is that there exists in this church, which supports this institution, divine authority, divine revelation. Students, just contemplate the significance of those two claims. Keep them in your mind. Think how far reaching, what those two declarations mean to the changing of the world. Then take another step, assuming or accepting the first, or the statement that divine authority by direct revelation is here. Divine authority. Or, before we contemplate that, just name in your mind the connotation of that first great claim, the divine appearance of two heavenly beings. That's better before we get to the other. What does that claim connote? Accepting it as fact, then you have established the relationship, the sonship [sic] of Jesus Christ to his Father. You biblical students consider what that means and let the theologians consider what it means.

I met a young student the other day who wanted to come to Brigham Young University. I say "the other day," but it was a couple of months ago. A young Jewish student, who said, "I have been reared in your church; I have been going to [5] your church many years." And he said, "I can accept it." But I said, " You haven't been baptized?" "No," he said. "I can understand your difficulty," I said, "You can't accept the revelation claimed by Joseph Smith, the prophet." "Oh, yes I can," he said, "Why, it is just as easy for me to believe that that revelation could come to this modern prophet as the revelation could come to Moses or to Abraham. That isn't it." And I said, "What is?" "The belief that there are two divine personages in the Godhead." Then I could see. The difficulty there was accepting Jesus Christ as God. But the declaration of the appearance of those two beings establishes that great truth. Think of the millions that would be influenced by it were they to accept it.

Then there is a third connotation to that first great revelation and that is that God is interested in human beings today. He is not a power way off beyond our reach infinity. There is another, besides others I could name, and that is that He alone, the Lord, has the right to give, designate the authority to those who represent Him. That is a tremendous thing and this institution stands for those truths, just as definitely as the university of Bologna stood in the middle ages for law, or the University of Paris at the same time for theology, or the University of Jerusalem on Mt. Scopus, for specifically the investigation of Jewish and Oriental studies. Or Notre Dame, or any other institution which specializes along those lines. Now, I ask you, is there anything greater than the claim made by the church that supports this institution? We take the step to that divine authority by direct revelation. If you radiated merely divine authority -- made that claim -- that would mean nothing, there would be no distinction in that. The two other great Christian churches claim divine authority.

The Romans, as you all know, you students of theology and you who aren't students of theology, know that the Romans claim divine authority by descent from Peter through the popes. You also know that the Greek church beyond the claim of the Romans, sets forth the better claim that it has divine authority direct from the apostles who survived Peter and that authority comes down through the five [6] patriarchs who are representing and officiating in the world today. You make the claim now that that authority from both lines was lost and that, who was it, Roger Williams, when he resigned his pastorate over the oldest Baptist church in America spoke the truth when he said in effect, (I don't presume to quote him exactly) "I resign my position as pastor over this church because I have not the authority to represent God in these spiritual matters, nor is there any other man living who has." (Now this is quoted --) "Nor can there be, until new apostles are sent for whose coming I am waiting." That being swept aside, what significance must we attach to the claim to divine authority by direct revelation? It is the only way it could be established and restored.

This good old school, too, must radiated something else and that is that here in this whole world, torn today as it has always been torn, by striving and efforts to seek some means, some economical organization impregnated with sufficient spirituality to eleviate [sic] or to give to humanity its essential needs for happiness and progress in this world. And that's fundamental now. And you who have studied the efficiency of this church organization will agree with economists and sociologists who declare -- agree with them? You accept their statements merely as confirming your knowledge, that herein lies an organization established in the world which can most effectively and efficiently gratify those needs. What are they? From the world's standpoint, ask any man who belongs to the secret orders what his need is. I remember I was wearing a pin, I related this once before here. I was wearing a pin presented by Sister McKay. The star and crescent. And I was surprised as I stood on the deck of a boat way in the Southern Pacific, to see a man coming towards me just radiant. Recognizing an old friend. For the life of me, I couldn't place him. You know how you feel when someone expects you to know him and I felt that ten times more than every before. He rushed up and shook hands and gave me a particular grip which I [7] couldn't return. He dropped my hand and said, "I beg your pardon, I was mistaken." He took that as a symbol of an order to which he belonged. It was taken once before for Mohammedanism. But a little Jew standing by in Jerusalem said, "No, those are the five points." That's the Jewish.

What does this all signify? That there is a fraternity, a brotherhood, which men feel is essential. A man on that same boat said that unless you have it you can't claim divinity. You can answer that we have it. Have it in more nearly a perfected state than any other organization in the world. I can't go into this because he would be another sermon, and then there are the auxiliaries.

Education is another need. Here in you mind you are repeating that no man can be saved in ignorance. We are saved only as fast as we can get knowledge. You read in the Doctrine and Covenants and study. The Heavens and Earth. Geology, Meteorology, Sociology, and International affairs and everything. Why, you are thrilled. At a glimpse you can see that all these quorums and organizations themselves are educational features offered to every child from four years to one hundred -- an opportunity to study and the 5,000 officers and teachers contributing their time. Nothing like it in the world. Nothing to excel it, that would be a more accurate statement. Judicial system with its arbitration, with its justice. From the Bishop's court to the court of last appeal, the first presidency.

The Brigham Young University radiates these sublime opportunities for men in this dispensation, in the present existing world, to accept a doctrine of peace and happiness.

I can't go further on that line, but I am going to conclude another thing which this school radiates. I am going to put that in the words of Wordsworth. It radiates "clean living and high thinking." That's why I was impressed with that opening prayer. In that connection we have certain standards to which we have to subscribe if we are going to let that radiation influence others beyond our limits. I am not going to speak about the Word of Wisdom, but it is a [8] sublime revelation. I am going to say that a student who indulges in the use of nicotine in secret or in public, is untrue to the ideals of this school. A teacher or student who advocates or justifies illicit sexual relations for any cause or under any circumstance, is a traitor to the standards of this institution. This morning at 8 o'clock I was in a meeting in which a report was made of the effect of sex teaching upon our youth and that's why I mention it. There is a general opinion throughout the world that a young man may sow his wild oats, but that a young woman should be chaperoned and guarded in her youth. Generally speaking, the young women are so protected out in the world. In Mexico, Argentina, Europe, among the better families. The young men, however, are given too free license, if statistics tell the truth. In the Church of Christ there is but one standard of morality. No young man has any more right to sow his wild oats in youth than has a young girl and she is taught that second only to the crime of taking human life is that of losing her virtue. That, too, is the ideal among men in the church. I plead that we may not lower that standard. I plead with all my soul because of the destiny of the human family and the definite part which this school and church must play. That young man who comes to his Bishop to ask for a recommend to take a pure girl to the Temple altar is expected to give just the same purity that he expects to find in her, who he has chosen for his life's companion. That is mere justice. That idea contributes to the happiness of the human family, the strength of the individual.

I like the implication of old Orlando's servant when he pleaded to go with Orlando out into the woods. You remember, Orlando felt he was too old. The old man said, "Though I look old, I am strong and lusty, for in my youth I never did apply hot and rebellious liquors in my blood, nor did not with [9] unbashful forehead woo the means of debility. Therefore, my age is as lusty winter, frosty but kindly.

My time is past. May I conclude with this prayer, that in the radiation of clean living, high thinking, and the promulgation of the principles of the restored Gospel, may this great institution cause not only that its students, but as far as possible that all men may realize that to grow higher, deeper, wiser, as the years go on, to conquer difficulties, and to acquire more and more power, to see all one's faculties unfolding and truth descending into the soul for what makes life worth living. Not only to radiate but to promulgate convincingly these and all other truths taught by the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ is the specific responsibility of the Brigham Young University. God help us to maintain it forever, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

McKay, David O. The Mission of Brigham Young University.@ Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, 27 April 1948. Photocopied.

(See BYU Special Collections, Index of Speeches of the Year)