Firm in Principle, Gentle in Manner
When I was fourteen years old, my parents enrolled me in a private Christian school. Like many schools, this one had a Latin motto. It was Fortiter in Re, Suaviter in Modo, which in English means “Firm in Principle, Gentle in Manner.” The school did not always live up to this motto. Sometimes our teachers were not firm enough with us. In fact, sometimes they were downright gullible. One day a fellow student talked his way out of getting punished after he was caught red-handed trying to light a homemade explosive in the middle of the school quadrangle. He told the deputy principal that he had been walking past when he happened to see the explosive with a lighter next to it, so he had attempted to light it out of curiosity. To the amazement of everyone, the deputy principal, accepting my friend’s imaginative version of what had occurred, simply confiscated the explosive device and let my friend go.
At other times, I felt that the school staff were not gentle enough. I was not a member of the Church at this time, and I occasionally got into trouble at school. Sometimes the punishments were swift, harsh, and even unfair. Generally, though, our teachers were both firm and loving, and their Christlike attitude helped me to grow both academically and in character. I feel I am a better person because of attending the private Christian school. I never thought too much about the school motto at the time. However, since completing my schooling, I have thought about it often. In my opinion, the motto “Firm in Principle, Gentle in Manner” describes how we should all strive to be if we truly are going to be like the Savior when He comes again. You can be firm and unshakable in your faith in Jesus Christ and in the way you live gospel principles during these last days. At the same time, you can be gentle, loving, and kind to others. Like two sides of a coin, both of these qualities must be developed.
President Spencer W. Kimball taught:
"Jesus lived and taught the virtues of love and kindness and patience. He also taught the virtues of firmness and resolution and persistence and courageous indignation. These two sets of virtues seem to clash with each other . . . yet both are necessary. If there were but one, love without discipline, love without deep conviction of right and wrong, without courage to fight the wrong, such love becomes sentimentalism.
Conversely, the virtues of righteous indignation without love can be harsh and cruel."
This means that our love, without the guidance of right and wrong, will lack the power to bless people’s lives. On the other hand, if we are firm without love and gentleness, our firmness will often lead us to be spiteful and mean.
This is why the Church always teaches the pure and undiluted principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. His standards must be taught clearly, plainly, and without apology. This means Church leaders will be firm in principle in addressing the dangers we face in these times leading up to the Second Coming. I bet you have noticed how clear our prophets are when giving us counsel. Isn’t it nice not to wonder what they mean?
Conversely, firmness without gentleness and love is hollow. When we try to help others, we need to love them for who they are, rather than trying to make them fit into what we think they should be. We need to lead, but not drive. We need to be gentle in our persuasion while recognizing other people’s strengths and achievements.
Being firm does not mean being pushy. The classic missionary video Together Forever contains a song with the following words:
Do you listen with love when someone’s soul is aching,
Or do you simply choose which judgment you’ll be making?
Well, it’s time to turn around, and find out where your greatest joys are found.
As we read in modern scripture, “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:41–42).
Elder Marvin J. Ashton described our modern prophets as “humble men, soft-spoken, mild, kind, and gentle in leadership roles and relationships.” We can all learn from their examples. In fact, when we speak with gentleness, we are acting like God, for when He spoke to the Lamanites, his voice was “not a voice of thunder, neither was it a voice of a great tumultuous noise, but behold, it was a still voice of perfect mildness, as if it had been a whisper, and it did pierce even to the very soul” (Helaman 5:30; emphasis added).
Being gentle in manner means we recognize each person as an individual and as a child of God, and we tailor our approach to that person’s needs without tailoring the principles of the gospel. We love and appreciate each individual for who he or she is. Being gentle in manner means we recognize that God’s work is about people, and bringing people back to Him. If you strive to be firm in principle and gentle in manner as the Second Coming draws nearer, you will have joy beyond anything you have ever imagined. By doing so, you will find that when He does come again, you will truly be like Him.
I've shared this and other stories in my latest book Last Days: How You Can Prepare for the Lord's Second Coming - Deseret Book. This book will help you to be ready for the Second Coming of the Savior and to know your role in hastening God's work. You will be empowered with courage to pursue your goals and to influence the world for good as you witness prophecy being fulfilled. Instead of feeling fearful about the future, you can feel excited about the opportunity of living in the last days. You can buy a copy of my book here: Last Days: How You Can Prepare for the Lord's Second Coming - Deseret Book/