Hugh Nibley Quotes from Approaching Zion

The following quotes are from Hugh Nibley’s Approaching Zion volume, and were compiled by Chad Merrill.  I am grateful that he shared them with me, and gave me permission to share them with you. They are great quotes from that singular book, one of my favorites of all time, and one which I am currently re-reading for the nth time.

In these quotes, Nibley is highly critical of his fellow Latter-day Saints, in our love of wealth and covetousness, lack of living the law of consecration (and our apparent confusion of it), our quibbling over free lunch, lack of faith in the Almighty, and our misunderstanding the purposes of life. “Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom; otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself” (D&C 105:5). Do we truly believe the Lord? What’s our progress report? Please share your thoughts in the comments.  

  • They should entertain no preoccupations with acquiring the goods of this world. Rather they should attend to their prayers, ask for forgiveness before the Lord, and seek the Lord’s protection from temptation; Guide your steps aright that you may do something. Don’t you try to fill your own dish; to attempt to do so is to partake of the spirit of Babylon. If the Lord wishes an individual to have more than a sufficiency for the basic needs, he will so provide “And having food and raiment let us be therewith content”; the sole justification for “seeking” any surplus is to bless the poor, whose presence among us is, as it were, a test of our commitment.
  • Nibley’s comments are not to be misconstrued as a call to reinstate formally the law of consecration. Nibley explains that it does remain the privilege of individuals to live the law in their personal lives, as they so covenant regularly in the temple- to seek first the kingdom of God, and to share freely one’s various resources with those who may have less.
  • When many of his audience and readers for years pressed him to explain what kind of “work” he was talking about (they had difficulty conceiving of work that did not produce material benefit), he simply rehearsed what Brigham Young had so often exhorted: repent, forgive, say your prayers, study the word of God, and in general do the work of the kingdom.
  • It is possible for a powerful mind to have joy amidst vile surroundings, but it can have greater joy in pleasant surroundings. There are degrees of joy, and God wants our joy to be full, that is, with every possible factor contributing.
  • If we all labor a few hours a day, we could then spend the remainder of our time in rest and the improvement of our minds. That is the real work we are called to do and the real wealth we are to accumulate individually. Work less, wear less, eat less, and we shall be a great deal wiser, healthier, and wealthier people than by taking the course we do now.
  • If we lust for the riches of the world, and spare no pains [hard work] to obtain and retain them, and feel ‘these are mine,’ then the spirit of the anti-Christ comes upon us. This is the danger we are in. Admirable and indispensable in themselves, hard work, ingenuity, and enterprise become an evil when they are misdirected, meaning directed to personal aggrandizement.
  • There are men in this community who, through the force of the education they have received from their parents and friends [i.e., this is an established ethic among us], would cheat a poor widow out of her last cow, and then go down upon their knees and thank God for the good fortune he had sent them and for his kind providences that enabled them to obtain a cow without becoming amenable to any law of the land, though the poor widow has been actually cheated. Here, please note, the defense of immorality is legality; if it is legal, all is well, even though the law has been contrived under pressure of interest groups.
  • Elders of Israel are greedy after the things of this world. If you ask them if they are ready to build up the kingdom of God, their answer is prompt—“Why, to be sure we are, with our whole souls; but we want first to get so much gold, speculate and get rich, and then we can help the church considerably. We will go to California and get gold, go and buy goods and get rich, trade with emigrants, build a mill, make a farm, get a large herd of cattle, and then we can do a great deal for Israel.” I have heard this many times from friends and relatives, but it is hokum. What they are saying is, “If God will give me a million dollars, I will let him have a generous cut of it.” And so they pray and speculate and expect the Lord to come through for them. He won’t do it: “And again, I command thee that thou shalt not covet thine own property” (D&C 19:26). “Let them repent of all their sins, and of all their covetous desires, before me, saith the Lord; for what is property unto me? Saith the Lord” (D&C 117:4). He does not need our property or our help.
  • Our search for knowledge should be ceaseless, which means that it is open-ended, never resting on laurels, degrees, or past achievements. If we get puffed up by thinking that we have much knowledge, we are apt to get a contentious spirit.
  • The Lord won’t let you starve. Satan puts that fear into us, which is the opposite of Faith.
  • The point is that we cannot choose both ways. They go in opposite directions – man simply cannot serve both God and mammon, the Lord said, and mammon is simply the Hebrew word (both ancient and modern) for dealing in money. So the first commandment given to the Church was “Seek not for riches but for wisdom” (D&C 6:7) – making it perfectly clear that they are mutually exclusive.
  • Another question we should never ask is “Should I seek after riches?” For if there is any point on which the Book of Mormon is fiercely emphatic, it is that no one should ever set his heart upon riches.
  • What good is all the wealth in the world if one must live in a sewer to get and keep it?
  • Tithing is merely a substitute – a very different thing; once we start making concessions and explanations, the whole thing becomes a farce. If business expenses and necessities are deducted from tithable income, nothing is left. God takes a serious view of any attempt to cut corners: he struck Ananias and his wife dead not for failure to pay anything, but for “holding back” part of what they should have paid (Acts 5:2, 5, 10).
  • From all of this it would appear that the one thing God will not tolerate in his children is that meanness of spirit which would take advantage of his other children and even of him. “Thou shalt not sacrifice unto the Lord any bullock, or sheep with any blemish of fault whatever or any evil-favoredness: for that is an abomination unto the Lord thy God” (Deuteronomy 17:1). Why? Because it is cheap, it is mean, the equivalent of shaving one’s tithing or underestimating one’s fast offering. As Isaiah reminds Israel, God does not need your offering, it is you he is testing. He does not ask us to get rich so that we can help him; as Brigham Young said so often, God has put these things into our hands so that we can show him and all the world and ourselves how we will handle them and what we will do with them. It is meanness of spirit that will disqualify us before everything else for a celestial assignment.
  • On the subject of dress and appearance the same rule holds as for lunch – sufficient covering is necessary, but don’t go beyond that. If you cannot add a cubit to your stature, don’t try to add other splendors to your person that it does not possess: forget the obsession with an impressive appearance that goes with aspiring to the executive lunch (“dressing for success”); simply appear as what you are, and don’t fuss so much about it (Matthew 6:27–30). “Therefore,” he says again, “take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? Or, what shall we drink? Or Wherewithal shall we be clothed?” (Matthew6:31). The Gentiles spend their time going after these things – but you are not Gentiles.
  • “Having food and raiment,” says Paul to Timothy, “let us be therewith content” (1 Timothy 6:8). We must have sufficient for our needs in life’s journey, but to go after more is forbidden, though you have your God-given free agency to do so. “Our real wants are very limited,” says Brigham; “When you have what you wish to eat and sufficient clothing to make you comfortable you have all that you need; I have all that I need.” How many people need to eat two lunches a day? We all eat too much, wear too much, and work too much. Brigham says if we all “work less, wear less, eat less, we shall be a great deal wiser, healthier, and wealthier people than by taking the course we now do.
  • The thing to note here especially is that no one can evade the law of consecration on the grounds that it is not clear; still less are we free to give it our own “clarification,” identifying consecration with tithing, gifts to the Church, and so on.


  1. Posted August 23, 2012 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

    Oh, I listen to Bro. Nibley almost every night on my ipod when I can’t sleep. I re-read his books as well, and am always learning something new. Thanks for the great quotes, often I hear some I want to capture on paper and then I have to search it out — these are a few of them — love this one:
    “The Lord won’t let you starve. Satan puts that fear into us, which is the opposite of Faith.”
    This one too stood out — “If the Lord wishes an individual to have more than a sufficiency for the basic needs, he will so provide”


  2. Alece
    Posted August 24, 2012 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    I do, remember, however, that every time the Nephites, etc., were righteous the Lord blessed them with riches; and so I don’t think he wants us to not have lovely things, and wealth, etc. (As earthly parents, we certainly want our children to be well taken care of.)

    Unfortunately, when the Nephites, etc., were so blessed, they usually then became selfish, hoarded what they were given, and refused to share, which brought calamity upon them.

    Thus, it obviously takes balance (and spiritual wisdom) to have just enough that you are satisfied and yet, still feel like you can share with others!

  3. Posted August 24, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Absolutely. I guess the question is if we are using our riches to provide for the poor and needy, to do missionary work and build up the kingdom, or if we are stockpiling them to puff ourselves up. The Lord blesses us with riches so that we can do good with them:

    “And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted” (Jacob 2:19).

    Remember Christ’s parable of the barns, and him who stockpiled his possessions – Luke 12:15–21.

    We only really need what is sufficient for our needs, and some wants. A significant part of the United Order, when it was in practice, was the consecration of all surpluses to the Church and bishop’s storehouse. President Marion G. Romney once taught:

    While we await the redemption of Zion and the earth and the establishment of the United Order, we … should live strictly by the principles of the United Order insofar as they are embraced in present church practices such as the fast offering, tithing and the welfare activities. Through these practices we could as individuals, if we wished to do so, implement in our own lives all the basic principles of the United Order…. What prohibits us from giving as much in fast offerings as we would have given in surpluses under the United Order? Nothing but our own limitations. (Improvement Era, June 1966, p. 537.)

    And so it falls back to us, as it always has, to voluntarily live the law of consecration, if we are of the mind and spirit to do so. Let’s remember that Zion is where the people are of one heart and one mind, and there is no poor among them (Moses 7:18). But we can only arrive at such by sanctifying ourselves and voluntarily consecrating.

  4. Posted August 25, 2012 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    I came across this quote today from President Benson that might apply to this subject:

    “We must respond by saying that all is not well in Zion. As Moroni counseled, we must cleanse the inner vessel (see Alma 60:23), beginning first with ourselves, then with our families, and finally with the Church.

    “A prophet of God stated, ‘Ye shall clear away the bad according as the good shall grow … until the good shall overcome the bad.’ (Jacob 5:66.) It takes a Zion people to make a Zion society, and we must prepare for that. . . . My beloved brethren and sisters, as we cleanse the inner vessel, there will have to be changes made in our own personal lives, in our families, and in the Church. The proud do not change to improve, but defend their position by rationalizing. Repentance means change, and it takes a humble person to change. But we can do it” (“Cleansing the Inner Vessel,” Ensign, May 1986, 4 -7 ).

  5. Chad Merrill
    Posted August 25, 2012 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Any thoughts on “saving for retirement?” Or would that be considered “stockpiling them to puff ourselves up?” The wisdom to not run faster than we have strength should always be in our heart and mind when considering these things, but I’m finding it is a delicate and sometimes difficult balance.

  6. Posted August 25, 2012 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    That’s an excellent question, Chad, and one that I’ve struggled to answer for myself. I think wherein living prophets have counseled us to save and live providently, we are safe. But it is certainly a delicate and difficult balance to determine how much to save. Some would save every penny of surplus for themselves; there are an endless number of socks to stuff these days, if we get right down to it – stocks, bonds, ETFs, real estate, time shares, 401k’s, IRAs, other retirement accounts, future vacations, emergency funds (how big?), food storage (how much?), bigger homes, better cars, better clothing (or apparel), the next best gadgets, etc. At the end of the day, is there anything left for consecration, for giving to the poor and needy, for helping the sick and afflicted? For being our brother’s keeper? For being a neighbor (Luke 10:25–37)? At what point does it turn into pride and hoarding? Does saving come before or after consecration? What constitutes a surplus? How does that work? I perceive that in these things each individual must study it out, pray, and determine the Lord’s will for themselves. I think if we are in tune with the Spirit, we will know in our heart what we should do. Some insights might be gleaned by how the Saints lived during the practice of the United Order.

    One recent example I might share. I know a person, let’s call him John, who was going through an extremely difficult time in his life, perhaps unsurpassed by previous experience. John was very needy, indeed completely broke, and going through tremendous spiritual and emotional trauma. Some of his family members, both siblings and parents, had spoken with John and ask him directly if there was “anything they could do for him.” John said he didn’t know, to which was replied, “Well please let us know if we can help.” I’m reminded of Elder Rasband’s perceptive teachings in this last April’s Conference, while perhaps hard for us to hear, I believe reflect what a genuine spirit of consecration might entail:

    If you come upon a person who is drowning, would you ask if they need help—or would it be better to just jump in and save them from the deepening waters? The offer, while well meaning and often given, “Let me know if I can help” is really no help at all. (Elder Ronald A. Rasband, “Special Lessons,” April 2012 General Conference.)

    A more thorough discussion of the many facets of this point is something I’ve considered writing about in a future post.

  7. Catherine
    Posted August 25, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    How do you juxtapose Nibley’s writings, and more importantly the prophecies in the Book of Mormon, with the Church building an ostentatiously extravagant mall, right next to Temple Square?

  8. Posted August 25, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    I see the Church’s building the mall as an effort to revitalize, reinvigorate, and beautify downtown Salt Lake City, which I think is an important mission considering the visibility of Salt Lake City and the worldwide image it gives of the Church which is so intricately tied to downtown. The Church spares no expense in these sorts of efforts, hence the very nice mall. But to be sure, the mall was built entirely from business investments and funds, and not a drop of tithing, welfare, or ecclesiastical funds.

  9. Posted August 25, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    That’s a good point Bryce, Brigham Young encouraged the saints to beautify their homes. I often reflect on how money means very little to the Lord. He sees all time at one time, yet he had Joseph build the Nauvoo Temple at great expense, only to see it burn and be destroyed. All that money and time up in smoke. It may be necessary for the church to accumulate wealth for God’s purposes here on earth. We really can’t see the whole picture.

    I like that one example when Nibley wanted the name of his book changed, because he didn’t like the title. (it’s in the Faith of an Observer video) Truman Madsen wanted to call it the Nibley Legacy, and thought Nibley would go along with that name since it was already on every page and it would cost money to change. Nibley said change it, and take it out of his royalty. Now you might think that was not a good choice of spending money, but the money didn’t matter –

  10. TrueBeliever
    Posted August 26, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    Actually, our temple endowment has replaced the original law of consecration.

    In the holy temple we promise all we have to the cause of Zion. This promise enables us to fulfill the law of Zion without actually having to give up our own personal income and resources.

    The problem with some of Nibley’s quotes is that they take the scriptures more literally than the current temple endowment and the current teachings of the brethren.

    All we need to do is follow the current brethren and put our trust in the current temple endowment and we are guaranteed exaltation without having to have a literal gathering or to literally consecrate our temporal substance.

  11. Posted August 26, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    @TrueBeliever, and that is precisely the myth that has been perpetuated for decades.

  12. Posted August 27, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    TrueBeliever, The Church’s responsibility is to teach entry level gospel principals. Faith, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the spirit, are seemingly entry level concepts; nevertheless, even within these initial gospel concepts, there are greater depths of knowledge available, especially with regard to water-baptism (that we perform–with authority) which is ostensibly followed at some future time by the Baptism of the Spirit, wherein the Lord says, “I Baptise you with Fire and the Holy Spirit.” Its our job, as individuals and families, to go beyond the basic instruction; its not up to the church to shout these doctrines from the housetops. Nothing is hidden; its all available to those who seriously seek greater light and knowledge (Adam, what are you doing?) The temple covenant requires that we live the law of consecration–as individuals, not as a collective organization. (It’s not the united order.) Granted, many people make the oath and covenant, but don’t personally hear the admonition; they also don’t hear that this is a telestial kingdom and grasp the consequences of that teaching. In any event, there’s nothing stoping members form living the higher law. There’s nothing stopping you. “We are free to go as far as we want,” to quote the Nib. Its a private thing; you really can’t say what level someone else is living. For example, a good Bishop certainly consecrates a lot of time…

  13. Posted August 27, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    I have a follow up post on this subject:

  14. DAS
    Posted June 6, 2014 at 12:42 am | Permalink

    My love for Hugh Nibley comes from my time working in the Dean’s office in the College of Religion at BYU. I adored him not only because he helped clarify the gospel and encouraged all to learn the complete gospel, but he was real and good and humorous and never took himself too seriously. He couldn’t find his class because his class schedule was three years old, entered speaking one language and left speaking another, make quips about the weight of holding the priesthood, etc. He was also so kind. Before my employment my sister was his personal secretary and many stories came from that relationship. I had all the time in the world to ask him salient questions but did I? Oh, the regrets. Thanks, post author–doing a great job here.

2 Trackbacks

  1. [...]  In fact just two days ago, I had someone ask me this very question after reading some of the quotes from Nibley in Approaching Zion:  ”So then are we required to live the law of concecration [...]

  2. [...] fit within the series very recent posts on the same subject of the law of consecration, including Hugh Nibley quotes from Approaching Zion, “Are we required to live the law of consecration, now?“, and Mormon Channel Episodes [...]

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