Chapter 4
Wilford Woodruff
Fourth President of the Church

Wilford Woodruff

HIGHLIGHTS IN THE LIFE OF WILFORD WOODRUFF

Age

Events

 

He was born 1 March 1807 in Farmington, Hartford County, Connecticut, to Aphek and Beulah Thompson Woodruff.

14

He learned the trade of a miller (1821).

26

He was baptized into the Church near Richmond, New York (31 Dec. 1833).

27

He participated in the march of Zion’s Camp (May–July 1834).

27–29

He served a mission to the southern United States (1834–36).

30

He married Phoebe Carter (13 Apr. 1837).

30–31

He served a mission to the eastern United States and the Fox Islands (off the coast of Maine; 1837–38).

32

He was ordained an Apostle by Brigham Young (26 Apr. 1839).

32–34

He served a mission to Great Britain (1839–41).

36

He served a money-raising mission to the eastern United States (1844).

36–39

He presided over the European Mission (1844–46).

40

He entered the Salt Lake Valley with Brigham Young (24 July 1847).

41

He presided over the Church in the Eastern States (1848–50).

44

He was appointed to the Territorial Legislature (1850).

49

He was appointed Church Historian (1856).

60

He participated in reestablishing the School of the Prophets (1867).

70

He was president of the St. George Temple; he was visited by the spirits of historically prominent people in the St. George Utah Temple (1877).

73

He became President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (10 Oct. 1880).

78

He went into exile because of persecution for practicing plural marriage (Feb. 1886).

80

He led the Church as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles after John Taylor’s death (25 July 1887).

81

He dedicated the Manti Utah Temple (17 May 1888).

82

He became President of the Church (7 Apr. 1889).

83

The Manifesto ending plural marriage (Official Declaration 1) was written (24 Sept. 1890) and accepted by the Church membership (6 Oct. 1890).

86

He dedicated the Salt Lake Temple (6 Apr. 1893).

87

He organized the Utah Genealogical Society (Nov. 1894).

91

He died in San Francisco, California (2 Sept. 1898).

Wilford Woodruff’s life extended through almost all of the nineteenth century. For most of his life, from his conversion in 1833 until his death in 1898, he participated in advancing the cause of the kingdom of God.

He Saw the Scope of the Restored Gospel

Wilford Woodruff

Engraving of Wilford Woodruff by Frederick Piercy

Though few grasped the significance of the little stone cut out of the mountain without hands (see Daniel 2:34–35), the Lord raised up seers who, in some measure, comprehended the purposes of the Almighty—not only for their time but for all times. Wilford Woodruff was one of them, and he taught about the importance of this last gospel dispensation:

“This is the only dispensation which God has ever established that was foreordained, before the world was made, not to be overcome by wicked men and devils. . . . The prophet [Enoch] asked the Lord whether there would ever be a time when the earth should rest; and the Lord answered that in the dispensation of the fulness of times the earth would fill the measure of its days, and then it would rest from wickedness and abominations, for in that day he would establish his kingdom upon it, to be thrown down no more for ever. Then a reign of righteousness would commence and the honest and meek of the earth would be gathered together to serve the Lord, and upon them would rest power to build up the great Zion of God in the latter days. . . .

“This dispensation is one that all the patriarchs and prophets had their eye upon, and the Lord has commenced it, and has carried it on. . . .

“The work that is to be so marvelous in the eyes of men has already commenced, and is assuming shape and proportions; but they cannot see it. It will consist in preaching the gospel to all the world, gathering the Saints from the midst of all those nations who reject it; building up the Zion of God; establishing permanently in the earth his kingdom; preparing for the work of the gathering of the Jews and the events that will follow their settlement in their own lands, and in preparing for ourselves holy places in which to stand when the judgments of God shall overtake the nations. This is truly a good work” (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, ed. G. Homer Durham [1946], 109–11).

He Was Foreordained to His Latter-day Mission

Wilford Woodruff

In his vision of the spirit world, President Joseph F. Smith observed that Wilford Woodruff was one of the noble and great ones chosen in the pre-earth life to lead in this dispensation:

“The Prophet Joseph Smith, and my father, Hyrum Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and other choice spirits who were reserved to come forth in the fulness of times to take part in laying the foundations of the great latter-day work, . . .

“. . . were also among the noble and great ones who were chosen in the beginning to be rulers in the Church of God.

“Even before they were born, they, with many others, received their first lessons in the world of spirits and were prepared to come forth in the due time of the Lord to labor in his vineyard for the salvation of the souls of men” (D&C 138:53, 55–56).

His Early Years Were Marred by Many Accidents

Wilford Woodruff was born 1 March 1807 in Farmington, Connecticut, to Aphek and Beulah Thompson Woodruff. His great-grandfather Josiah Woodruff lived almost one hundred years, performing manual labor up to his death. His grandfather Eldad Woodruff had a reputation of being the hardest worker in the county. Wilford learned in his youth the value of work and, with his father, he labored in the Farmington grist mills.

Wilford Woodruff’s early years were marked by many difficulties and accidents. He was often in peril but, through the grace of God, his life was preserved. He recorded in his journal:

“Evidently, . . . I have been numbered with those who are apparently the marked victims of misfortunes. It has seemed to me at times as though some invisible power were watching my footsteps in search of an opportunity to destroy my life. I, therefore, ascribe my preservation on earth to the watchcare of a merciful Providence, whose hand has been stretched out to rescue me from death when I was in the presence of the most threatening dangers. Some of these dangers from which I so narrowly escaped I shall here briefly describe:

“When three years of age, I fell into a caldron of scalding water and although instantly rescued, I was so badly burned that it was nine months before I was thought to be out of the danger of fatal consequences. My fifth and sixth years were interwoven with many accidents. On a certain day, in company with my elder brothers, I entered the barn, and chose the top of a haymow for a place of diversion. We had not been there long before I fell from the great beam upon my face on the bare floor. I was severely hurt, but recovered in a short time, and was again at play.

“One Saturday evening, with my brothers Azmon and Thompson, while playing in the chamber of my father’s house, contrary to his instructions, I made a misstep and fell to the bottom of the stairs, breaking one of my arms in the fall. So much for disobedience. I suffered intensely, but soon recovered, feeling that whatever I suffered in the future, it would not be for disobedience to parents. The Lord has commanded children to obey their parents; and Paul says, ‘This is the first commandment with promise.’

Wilford Woodruff

A broach Wilford Woodruff gave to his wife Phoebe, containing a picture of him at age 45

“It was only a short time after this that I narrowly escaped with my life. My father owned a number of horned cattle, among which was a surly bull. One evening I was feeding pumpkins to the cattle, and the bull leaving his own took the pumpkin I had given to a cow which I called mine. I was incensed at the selfishness of this male beast, and promptly picked up the pumpkin he had left, to give it to the cow. No sooner had I got it in my arms than the bull came plunging toward me with great fury. I ran down the hill with all my might, the bull at my heels. My father, seeing the danger I was in, called to me to throw down the pumpkin, but (forgetting to be obedient) I held on, and as the bull was approaching me with the fierceness of a tiger, I made a misstep and fell flat upon the ground. The pumpkin rolled out of my arms, the bull leaped over me, ran his horns into the pumpkin and tore it to pieces. Undoubtedly he would have done the same thing to me if I had not fallen to the ground. This escape, like all others, I attribute to the mercy and goodness of God.

“During the same year, while visiting at my Uncle Eldad Woodruff’s, I fell from a porch across some timber, and broke my other arm.

“Not many months passed by before I was called to endure a still greater misfortune. My father owned a sawmill in addition to his flour mill, and one morning, in company with several other boys, I went into the sawmill and got upon the headlock of the carriage to ride, not anticipating any danger; but before I was aware of it my leg was caught between the headlock and the fender post and broken in two. I was taken to the house, and lay nine hours before my bones were replaced. That time was spent in severe pain; but being young, my bones soon knitted together, and in a few weeks I was upon my feet as usual, attending to the sports of youth. During this confinement my brother Thompson was my companion. He was suffering from typhus fever.

“Shortly after this, upon a dark night, I was kicked in the abdomen by an ox; but being too close to the animal to receive the full force of the blow, I was more frightened than hurt.

“It was not long before I made my first effort at loading hay. I was very young, but thought I had loaded it all right. When on the way to the barn, the wheel of the wagon struck a rock, and off went the hay. I fell to the ground with the load on top of me; this was soon removed, and aside from a little smothering I was unhurt.

“When eight years of age, I accompanied my father, with several others in a one-horse wagon, about three miles from home, to attend to some work. On the way the horse became frightened, ran down a hill, and turned over the wagon, with us in it. We were in danger, but were again saved by the hand of Providence. None of us were injured.

“One day I climbed an elm tree to procure some bark; while about fifteen feet from the ground, the limb upon which I stood, being dry, broke, and I fell to the ground upon my back. The accident apparently knocked the breath out of my body. A cousin ran to the house and told my parents that I was dead, but before my friends reached me I revived, rose to my feet, and met them on the way.

“When twelve years old I was nearly drowned in Farmington River. I sank in thirty feet of water, and was miraculously saved by a young man named Bacon. The restoration to life caused me great suffering.

“At thirteen years of age, while passing through Farmington meadows, in the depths of winter, in a blinding snowstorm, I became so chilled and overcome with cold that I could not travel. I crawled into the hollow of a large apple tree. A man in the distance saw me, and, realizing the danger I was in, hastened to where I was. Before he arrived at the spot I had fallen asleep, and was almost unconscious. He had much difficulty in arousing me to a sense of my critical condition, and promptly had me conveyed to my father’s house, where, through a kind Providence, my life was again preserved.

“At fourteen years of age I split my left instep open with an ax which went almost through my foot. I suffered intensely from this injury, and my foot was nine months in getting well.

“When fifteen years old I was bitten in the hand by a mad dog in the last stages of hydrophobia. However, he did not draw blood, and through the mercy and power of God I was again preserved from an awful death.

“At the age of seventeen I met with an accident which caused me much suffering, and came nearly ending my life. I was riding a very ill-tempered horse, which, while going down a very steep, rocky hill, suddenly leaped from the road and ran down the steepest part of the hill, going at full speed amid the thickest of the rocks. At the same time, he commenced kicking, and was about to land me over his head among the rocks, but I lodged on the top of his head, and grabbed each of his ears with my hands, expecting every moment to be dashed to pieces against the rocks. While in this position, sitting astride the horse’s neck, with neither bridle nor other means of guiding him except his ears, he plunged down the hill among the rocks with great fury, until he struck a rock nearly breast high, which threw him to the earth. I went over his head, landing squarely upon my feet almost one rod in front of the horse. Alighting upon my feet was probably the means of saving my life; for if I had struck the ground upon any other part of my body, it would probably have killed me instantly. As it was, one of my legs was broken in two places, and both my ankles put out of place in a shocking manner. The horse almost rolled over me in his struggles to get up. My uncle saw me, and came to my assistance. I was carried to his house in an armchair. I lay from 2 o’clock in the afternoon until 10 o’clock at night without medical aid and in great pain, when my father arrived with Dr. Swift, of Farmington. The doctor set my bones, boxed up my limbs, and that night conveyed me eight miles in his carriage to my father’s house. I had good attention, and although my sufferings were great, in eight weeks I was out upon my crutches, and was soon restored to a sound condition” (quoted in Matthias F. Cowley, Wilford Woodruff, Fourth President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: History of His Life and Labors As Recorded in His Daily Journals [1964], 5–9).

He told of several other accidents and near accidents, and concluded this part of his journal by writing: “A summary of what is here given may be briefly stated thus: I have broken both legs, one of them in two places; both arms, both ankles, my breastbone, and three ribs; I have been scalded, frozen, and drowned; I have been in two water wheels while turning under a full head; I have passed through a score of other hairbreadth escapes. The repeated deliverances from all these remarkable dangers I ascribe to the mercies of my Heavenly Father. In recalling them to mind I always feel impressed to render the gratitude of my heart, with thanksgiving and joy, to the Lord. I pray that the remainder of my days may pass in His service, in the building up of His kingdom” (quoted in Cowley, Wilford Woodruff, 11–12).

He Was a Seeker of Truth

Wilford Woodruff hungered after righteousness in his youth. He was an avid student of the Bible and desired to know and do the will of the Lord. He wrote: “In my zeal to promote good, I got up prayer meetings in our village and prayed for light and knowledge. It was my desire to receive the ordinances of the gospel, as I could plainly see by reading the Bible that baptism by immersion was a sacred ordinance. In my eagerness, yet being ignorant of the holy priesthood and of the true authority to officiate in the ordinances of eternal life, I requested the Baptist minister to baptize me. At first he refused because I told him I would not join his church as it did not harmonize with the apostolic church which our Savior established. Finally after several conversations, he baptized me on the 5th of May, 1831. He also baptized my brother Asahel. This was the first and only gospel ordinance I sought for until I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (quoted in Cowley, Wilford Woodruff, 28–29).

“On one occasion, after praying most earnestly to know about the people of the Lord, if any such there were on earth, he [Wilford Woodruff] says: ‘The Spirit of the Lord said unto me: “Go to my Word and I will there show thee my will and answer thy prayer.” I opened the Bible promiscuously, praying the Lord to direct me to that portion of his Word which would answer my prayer. I opened to the 56th Chapter of Isaiah. I was satisfied it was in response to my prayer. I felt that the salvation of God was about to be revealed and His righteousness come forth. I was also satisfied that I should live to see the people of God gathered. From this time on until the gospel found me I was contented and felt that I should trouble myself no more about the churches and the ministers’” (Cowley, Wilford Woodruff, 29).

Robert Mason Told Him of a Vision He Had

Wilford Woodruff and Robert Mason

Painting by Kay Watson

One who had significant influence on Wilford Woodruff even before Wilford heard about the Restoration was Robert Mason, a godly man who yearned for the full gospel of Jesus Christ. The Lord had mercy upon him, and through a vision he was enlightened concerning that which would soon be accomplished on the earth. Wilford Woodruff wrote the following about the vision:

“Father Mason did not claim that he had any authority to officiate in the ordinances of the gospel, nor did he believe that such authority existed on the earth. He did believe, however, that it was the privilege of any man who had faith in God to fast and pray for the healing of the sick by the laying on of hands. He believed it his right and the right of every honest-hearted man or woman to receive light and knowledge, visions, and revelations by the prayer of faith. He told me that the day was near when the Lord would establish His Church and Kingdom upon the earth with all its ancient gifts and blessings. He said that such a work would commence upon the earth before he died, but that he would not live to partake of its blessings. He said that I should live to do so, and that I should become a conspicuous actor in that kingdom.

“The last time I ever saw him he related to me the following vision which he had in his field in open day: ‘I was carried away in a vision and found myself in the midst of a vast orchard of fruit trees. I became hungry and wandered through this vast orchard searching for fruit to eat, but I found none. While I stood in amazement finding no fruit in the midst of so many trees, they began to fall to the ground as if torn up by a whirlwind. They continued to fall until there was not a tree standing in the whole orchard. I immediately saw thereafter shoots springing up from the roots and forming themselves into young and beautiful trees. These budded, blossomed, and brought forth fruit which ripened and was the most beautiful to look upon of anything my eyes had ever beheld. I stretched forth my hand and plucked some of the fruit. I gazed upon it with delight; but when I was about to eat of it, the vision closed and I did not taste the fruit.’

“‘At the close of the vision I bowed down in humble prayer and asked the Lord to show me the meaning of the vision. Then the voice of the Lord came to me saying: “Son of man, thou hast sought me diligently to know the truth concerning my Church and Kingdom among men. This is to show you that my Church is not organized among men in the generation to which you belong; but in the days of your children the Church and Kingdom of God shall be made manifest with all the gifts and the blessings enjoyed by the Saints in past ages. You shall live to be made acquainted with it, but shall not partake of its blessings before you depart this life. You will be blest of the Lord after death because you have followed the dictation of my Spirit in this life.”’

“When Father Mason had finished relating the vision and its interpretation, he said, calling me by my Christian name: ‘Wilford, I shall never partake of this fruit in the flesh, but you will and you will become a conspicuous actor in the new kingdom.’ He then turned and left me. These were the last words he ever spoke to me upon the earth. To me this was a very striking circumstance. I had passed many days during a period of twenty years with this old Father Mason. He had never mentioned this vision to me before. On this occasion he said he felt impelled by the Spirit of the Lord to relate it to me.

“The vision was given to him about the year 1800. He related it to me in 1830, the spring in which the Church was organized. Three years later when I was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, almost the first person I thought of was this prophet, Robert Mason. Upon my arrival in Missouri with Zion’s Camp, I wrote him a long letter in which I informed him that I had found the true gospel with all its blessings; that the authority of the Church of Christ had been restored to the earth as he had told me it would be; that I had received the ordinances of baptism and the laying on of hands; that I knew for myself that God had established through Joseph Smith, the Prophet, the Church of Christ upon the earth.

“He received my letter with great joy and had it read over to him many times. He handled it as he had handled the fruit in the vision. He was very aged and soon died without having the privilege of receiving the ordinances of the gospel at the hands of an elder of the Church.

“The first opportunity I had after the truth of baptism for the dead was revealed, I went forth and was baptized for him in the temple font at Nauvoo” (quoted in Cowley, Wilford Woodruff, 16–18).

He Understood the Purpose of Life

A great part of Wilford Woodruff’s wisdom was his perception of the real purpose of his life. He wrote:

“I was twenty-three years of age; and in reflecting upon the past, I became sincerely convinced that there was no real peace of mind or true happiness except in the service of God and in doing those things which would meet His approval. As far as my imagination would enable me, I brought before my mind all the honor, glory, and happiness of the whole world. I thought of the gold and the wealth of the rich, of the glory, grandeur, and power of kings, presidents, princes, and rulers. I thought of the military renown of Alexander, Napoleon, and other great generals. I cast my mind over the innumerable paths through which the giddy world travels in search of pleasure and happiness. In summing up the whole matter in the vision of my mind, I had to exclaim with Solomon: ‘All is vanity of vanities sayeth the preacher.’

“I could see that within a few years all would end alike in the grave. I was convinced that no man could enjoy true happiness and obtain that which would feed the immortal soul, except God was his friend and Jesus Christ his advocate. I was convinced that man became their friend by doing the will of the Father, and by keeping His commandments. I made a firm resolution that from then I would seek the Lord to know His will, to keep His commandments, and to follow the dictates of His Holy Spirit. Upon this ground I was determined to stand and to spend my future life in the maintenance of these convictions” (quoted in Cowley, Wilford Woodruff, 26–27).

He Recognized Truth and Was Baptized

baptism in a pond

Painting by Harold I. Hopkinson

When he heard the witness of two Mormon missionaries on 29 December 1833, Wilford Woodruff quickly recognized the truth and was baptized just two days later. From that point on, there was no turning back. He wrote: “I felt that I could truly exclaim with the prophet of God, ‘I had rather be a door-keeper in the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.’ The fulness of the everlasting gospel had come at last. It filled my heart with great joy. It laid the foundation of a greater and more glorious work than I ever expected to see in this life. I pray God in the name of Jesus Christ to guide my future life, that I may live to His honor and glory, and be a blessing to my fellowmen, and in the end be saved in His celestial kingdom, even so, Amen” (quoted in Cowley, Wilford Woodruff, 36).

He Participated in Zion’s Camp

In 1833, the Lord called upon the faithful priesthood holders of His church to travel from Kirtland, Ohio, to Missouri to redeem and restore the land of Zion (see D&C 101; 103). The Prophet Joseph Smith led the group, and Wilford Woodruff was among the approximately two hundred who went. When they left, Wilford was twenty-seven and had been a member of the Church less than six months.

map

The journey of Zion’s Camp

[click for scalable version]

While marching with the Prophet Joseph Smith in Zion’s Camp, Wilford was further honed and sharpened—prepared for greater service in the cause of the Master.

Thirty-six years later, in Salt Lake City, he recounted: “When the members of Zion’s Camp were called, many of us had never beheld each others’ faces; we were strangers to each other and many had never seen the prophet. We had been scattered abroad, like corn sifted in a sieve, throughout the nation. We were young men, and were called upon in that early day to go up and redeem Zion, and what we had to do we had to do by faith. We assembled together from the various states at Kirtland and went up to redeem Zion, in fulfilment of the commandment of God unto us. God accepted our works as He did the works of Abraham. We accomplished a great deal, though apostates and unbelievers many times asked the question, ‘What have you done?’ We gained an experience that we never could have gained in any other way. We had the privilege of beholding the face of the prophet, and we had the privilege of traveling a thousand miles with him, and seeing the workings of the Spirit of God with him, and the revelations of Jesus Christ unto him and the fulfilment of those revelations. And he gathered some two hundred elders from throughout the nation in that early day and sent us broadcast into the world to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Had I not gone up with Zion’s Camp I should not have been here today, and I presume that would have been the case with many others in this Territory” (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, sel. G. Homer Durham [1946], 305).

covered wagons by cabins and log fence

Zion’s Camp
Painting by C. C. A. Christensen

He Was a Missionary and Experienced the Ministering of Angels

By mid 1834, Wilford Woodruff’s desire to be a missionary had become so intense that in many prayers he pleaded with the Lord for that privilege. He served his first mission in the southern United States. Without purse or scrip and walking as far as sixty miles in a single day, the young missionary went forth. He later testified that he had the ministration of angels on his mission and that he was never more blessed than as a priest in the Aaronic Priesthood fulfilling an honorable mission:

“I had the administration of angels while holding the office of a priest. I had visions and revelations. I traveled thousands of miles. I baptized men, though I could not confirm them because I had not the authority to do it.

“I speak of these things to show that a man should not be ashamed of any portion of the priesthood. Our young men, if they are deacons, should labor to fulfil that office. If they do that, they may then be called to the office of a teacher, whose duty it is to teach the people, visit the Saints and see that there is no evil or iniquity carried on. God has no respect for persons in this priesthood any further than as they magnify their callings and do their duty” (Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 298).

He Married Phoebe Carter

Phoebe Carter Woodruff

Phoebe Carter Woodruff, about 1840

Wilford Woodruff met Phoebe Carter in Kirtland, Ohio, in 1837. They knew each other for about two and a half months and decided to marry. They were married at the residence of the Prophet Joseph Smith on 13 April 1837. The ceremony was performed by President Frederick G. Williams, who was a counselor in the First Presidency, because the Prophet had to flee his enemies at the time. The newly married couple began their life together at the Prophet’s home, and they would remain together for forty-eight years, until Phoebe’s death on 19 November 1885.

He Taught His Family the Gospel

Kirtland Temple

Kirtland Temple

Many members of Wilford Woodruff’s family had been skeptical of or not interested in the teachings of the Church. Wilford wrote of an experience he had during a visit with them:

“On the 1st of July, 1838, there occurred one of the most interesting events of my whole life in the ministry. When Father Joseph Smith gave me my patriarchal blessing, among the many wonderful things he promised me was that I should bring my father’s household into the Kingdom of God; and I felt that if I ever obtained that blessing, the time therefor had come. By the help of God I preached the gospel faithfully to my father’s household and to all who were with him, as well as to my other relatives, and I appointed a meeting at my father’s home on Sunday, the 1st of July. My father was believing my testimony, as were all in his household; but upon this occasion it appeared as if the devil were determined to hinder the fulfillment of the promise of the patriarch to me. . . . Distress overwhelmed the whole household, and all were tempted to reject the work; and it seemed as if the same power would devour me. I had to take to my bed for an hour before the time of meeting. There I prayed to the Lord with my whole soul for deliverance; for I knew then that the power of the devil was exercised to hinder me from accomplishing what God had promised I should do. The Lord heard my prayer and answered my petition. When the hour of meeting came, I arose from my bed and could sing and shout for joy to think I had been delivered from the power of the evil one. Filled with the power of God, I stood in the midst of the congregation and preached unto the people in great plainness the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“At the close of the meeting we assembled on the banks of the Farmington River, ‘because there was much water there,’ and I led six of my friends into the river and baptized them for the remission of their sins. All of my father’s household were included in this number, as the patriarch had promised. . . . It was truly a day of joy to my soul. I had baptized my father, stepmother, and sister, and I afterwards added a number of other relatives. I felt that the work of this day alone amply repaid me for all my labors in the ministry” (Cowley, Wilford Woodruff, 91–92).

He Was Called to the Apostleship

Wilford Woodruff

Wilford Woodruff was ordained an Apostle by Brigham Young on 26 April 1839. Soon thereafter, Elder Woodruff began a momentous mission to England. Like Paul of old, being led by the Spirit, he brought thousands of souls unto Christ. President Heber J. Grant later said of him, “I believe that no other man who ever walked the face of the earth was a greater converter of souls to the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (in Conference Report, Jun. 1919, 8).

During the next few years, after returning from his mission, Elder Woodruff became a member of the Nauvoo City Council (1841), worked on the Nauvoo Temple (1842), and labored as business manager for the Times and Seasons.

certificate

Certificate of ordination when Wilford Woodruff was ordained an elder

The Keys of the Kingdom Were Given

Wilford Woodruff was present when the Prophet Joseph Smith conferred all of the keys of the kingdom of God upon the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. After the death of the Prophet, Elder Woodruff saw the mantle of leadership fall upon a transfigured Brigham Young. He had a personal witness that the keys of the kingdom in their fulness were held by the senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve. In 1889, he taught:

“When the Lord gave the keys of the kingdom of God, the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood, of the apostleship, and sealed them upon the head of Joseph Smith, he sealed them upon his head to stay here upon the earth until the coming of the Son of Man. Well might Brigham Young say, ‘The keys of the kingdom of God are here.’ They were with him to the day of his death. They then rested upon the head of another man—President John Taylor. He held those keys to the hour of his death. They then fell by turn, or in the providence of God, upon Wilford Woodruff.

red brick house

Wilford Woodruff’s home in Nauvoo

“I say to the Latter-day Saints, the keys of the kingdom of God are here, and they are going to stay here, too, until the coming of the Son of Man. Let all Israel understand that. They may not rest upon my head but a short time, but they will then rest on the head of another apostle, and another after him, and so continue until the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in the clouds of heaven to ‘reward every man according to the deeds done in the body” (Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 73).

He also said: “The God of heaven has put into our hands the Gospel, the Priesthood, the keys of his kingdom, and the power to redeem the earth from the dominion of sin and wickedness under which it has groaned for centuries, and under which it groans today. Let us lay these things to heart, and try to live our religion; so that when we get through we may look back on our lives, and feel that we have done what was required of us, individually and collectively. The Lord requires much at our hands—more than he has ever required of any generation that has preceded us; for no generation that has ever lived on the earth was called upon to establish the kingdom of God on the earth, knowing that it should be thrown down no more for ever” (in Journal of Discourses, 14:6).

old chapel

Thousands of people joined the Church through Wilford Woodruff’s missionary labors. Elder Woodruff preached in the Gadfield Elm Chapel. The Benbows owned the property and turned it over to the Church when they emigrated to the United States. It became the first chapel owned by the Church in England.
Photograph courtesy of James R. Moss

He Served a Mission to England

In 1880, Elder Wilford Woodruff talked about the great success he was led to during his missionary service in England:

Wilford Woodruff praying

Wilford Woodruff preparing for baptisms at pond on John Benbow’s farm
Painting by Richard Murray

“How many times have we been called by revelation to go to the right and left, here, there, and the other place, contrary to our expectation?

“I will here relate what took place in my own experience. I was in Staffordshire in the year 1840. I was in the town of Stanley and held a meeting in the City Hall. I had a week’s appointments out in that town. Before I rose to speak to the people, the Spirit of the Lord said to me, ‘This is the last meeting you will hold with this people for many days.’ I told the congregation when I arose what the Spirit of the Lord had manifested to me. They were as much surprised as I was. I did not know what the Lord wanted, but I saw the purpose of God afterwards. The Spirit of the Lord said to me, ‘Go south.’ I traveled eighty miles; went into the south of England. As soon as I arrived, I met John Benbow. It was clearly made manifest to me why I had been called thither. I had left a good field, where I was baptizing every night in the week. When I got to this place, I found a people—some 600 of them—who had . . . formed themselves into a sect called the United Brethren. I found that they were praying for light and truth and that they had gone about as far as they could go. I saw that the Lord had sent me to them. I went to work amongst them and ultimately baptized their superintendent, forty preachers and some 600 members. . . . Altogether some 1800 were baptized in that field of labor. . . . I name these things to show how we have to be governed and led by the revelations of God day by day. Without this we can do nothing” (Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 60).

He Chronicled Events

journal and memorabilia

Wilford Woodruff’s writings include nineteen journal volumes with more than 7,000 pages over sixty-two years.

Wilford Woodruff followed counsel of the Prophet Joseph Smith by faithfully keeping a journal. In the archives of the Church Historian’s Office there are some seven thousand pages of the journals of Wilford Woodruff. The record he kept was invaluable for himself, for his family, and now for the whole Church. Later in his life, in 1856, Elder Woodruff began his career as a Church historian, but from the beginning of his life in the Church, he felt that he had a special stewardship to record the important happenings, speeches, places, people, and events of the Restoration. His extensive journals are the basis of much of what we know about the early Church history.

Wilford Woodruff writing at desk

Painting by Harold I. Hopkinson

On 20 January 1872, he recorded the following in his journal, concerning what he had taught in a meeting in the School of the Prophets:

“There is one subject I wish to speak upon and that is the keeping of a journal with respect to the dealings of God with us. I have many times thought the Quorum of the Twelve and others considered me rather enthusiastic upon this subject; but when the Prophet Joseph organized the Quorum of the Twelve, he counseled them to keep a history of their lives, and gave his reasons why they should do so. I have had this spirit and calling upon me since I first entered this Church. I made a record from the first sermon I heard, and from that day until now I have kept a daily journal. Whenever I heard Joseph Smith preach, teach, or prophesy, I always felt it my duty to write it; I felt uneasy and could not eat, drink, or sleep until I did write; and my mind has been so exercised upon this subject that when I heard Joseph Smith teach and had no pencil or paper, I would go home and sit down and write the whole sermon, almost word for word and sentence by sentence as it was delivered, and when I had written it it was taken from me, I remembered it no more. This was the gift of God to me.

“The devil has sought to take away my life from the day I was born until now, more so even than the lives of other men. I seem to be a marked victim of the adversary. I can find but one reason for this: the devil knew if I got into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I would write the history of that Church and leave on record the works and teachings of the prophets, of the apostles and elders” (quoted in Cowley, Wilford Woodruff, 476–77).

He Testified about Journal Writing and Warned Future Historians

page of Wilford Woodruff's journal

Close-up of a page from Wilford Woodruff’s journal

In his 6 September 1856 journal entry, Wilford Woodruff wrote: “We are not apt to think of the importance of events as they transpire with us, but we feel the importance of them afterwards. We are living in one of the most important generations that man ever lived on earth, and we should write an account of those important transactions which are taking place before our eyes in fulfillment of the prophecies and the revelation of God. There is a great flood of revelations fulfilling in our day, and as they are transpiring before our eyes we want a record made of them” (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 4:444; punctuation, capitalization, and spelling standardized).

On 17 March 1857, he wrote: “I have never spent any of my time more profitably for the benefit of mankind than in my journal writing. . . . Some of the most glorious gospel sermons, truths, and revelations that were given from God to this people through the mouth of the Prophets Joseph, Brigham, Heber, and the Twelve could not be found upon the earth on record, only in my journals, and they are compiled in the Church history and transmitted to the Saints of God in all future generations. Does not this pay me for my trouble? It does” (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 5:37; punctuation, capitalization, and spelling standardized).

In his journal entry for 5 July 1877, he testified: “God has inspired me to keep a journal and history of this Church, and I warn the future historians to give credence to my history of this Church and kingdom, for my testimony is true, and the truth of its record will be manifest in the world to come” (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 7:359; punctuation, capitalization, and spelling standardized).

He Had a Great Love for Temple Work

To Wilford Woodruff, one of the most precious principles of the gospel was the work for the dead. He became the first president of the St. George Utah Temple. Later, he was instrumental in organizing the Genealogical Society of Utah, which facilitated the work of salvation for those beyond the veil. In 1877, Elder Woodruff spoke about the importance of temples and temple work:

St. George Temple

The St. George Utah Temple, 1876, where temple work was done for the Founding Fathers of the United States and other early leaders
Photograph by Jesse A. Tye

“It is our duty to rise up and build these Temples. I look upon this portion of our ministry as a mission of as much importance as preaching to the living; the dead will hear the voice of the servants of God in the spirit-world, and they cannot come forth in the morning of the resurrection, unless certain ordinances are performed, for and in their behalf, in Temples built to the name of God. It takes just as much to save a dead man as a living man. . . .

“I will here say, before closing, that two weeks before I left St. George, the spirits of the dead gathered around me, wanting to know why we did not redeem them. Said they, ‘You have had the use of the Endowment House for a number of years, and yet nothing has ever been done for us. We laid the foundation of the government you now enjoy, and we never apostatized from it, but we remained true to it and were faithful to God.’ These were the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and they waited on me for two days and two nights. I thought it very singular, that notwithstanding so much work had been done, and yet nothing had been done for them. The thought never entered my heart, from the fact, I suppose, that heretofore our minds were reaching after our more immediate friends and relatives. I straightway went into the baptismal font and called upon brother McCallister to baptize me for the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and fifty other eminent men, making one hundred in all, including John Wesley, Columbus, and others; I then baptized him for every President of the United States, except three; and when their cause is just, somebody will do the work for them” (in Journal of Discourses, 19:228–29).

Since then, the temple work of those three presidents has been completed.

founders of United States appearing to Wilford Woodruff

That We May Be Redeemed, the Founding Fathers and Wilford Woodruff
Painting by Harold I. Hopkinson

Satan Strove to Halt the Work of the Lord

After a short ten years of peace in the West (1847–57), the Church again faced persecution. Church leaders knew that once people colonized the West, Church members would once again face many of the persecutions and challenges they had previously faced when they were driven from Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois. The wicked could not leave the Church alone.

Manti Temple

The Manti Utah Temple was privately dedicated on 17 May 1888. Elder Lorenzo Snow offered the dedicatory prayer, which had been prepared by President Wilford Woodruff.

In a letter written to President John Taylor and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, dated 15 September 1879, Elder Wilford Woodruff stated: “The devil is making a hard struggle to stop the building of temples, and the work of God, and the wicked are helping him, but, brethren, God reigns and will stand by you to the end” (quoted in Cowley, Wilford Woodruff, 528).

1884 Was a Year of Crisis

By 1884, the Federal government of the United States mobilized its forces not only to confront the popular issue of polygamy, but to threaten the very lives of the Latter-day Saint people and the existence of the Church as an institution. The temper of the times is, in part, reflected by the following exchange between a Latter-day Saint newspaper editor, John Nicholson, and a federal judge when Brother Nicholson appeared in court for sentencing.

In his statement, Brother Nicholson said: “My purpose is fixed and, I hope, unalterable. It is, that I shall stand by my allegiance to God, fidelity to my family, and what I conceive to be my duty to the Constitution of the country, which guarantees the fullest religious liberty to the citizen.” The judge, in his reply, said, “If you do not submit to it of course you must take the consequences; but the will of the American people is expressed, . . . and this law will go on and grind you and your institution to powder” (Deseret News [Weekly], 21 Oct. 1885, 1).

He Is Called to Be President of the Church

President Woodruff and his Counselors

The First Presidency, April 1889: George Q. Cannon, Wilford Woodruff, and Joseph F. Smith

Wilford Woodruff presided over the Church as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from the time of President John Taylor’s death on 25 July 1887 until he was sustained as President of the Church on 7 April 1889. In general conference on that day he said: “This 7th day of April, 1889, is one of the most important days in my life, for I was made President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by the unanimous vote of ten thousand of them. The vote was first taken by quorums and then by the entire congregation as in the case of President John Taylor. This is the highest office ever conferred upon any man in the flesh. It came to me in the eighty-third year of my life. I pray God to protect me and give me power to magnify my calling to the end of my days. The Lord has watched over me until the present time” (quoted in Cowley, Wilford Woodruff, 564–65).

The President Is to Have Power and Fellowship with God

Concerning his responsibilities as President of the Church, President Wilford Woodruff taught: “It is my duty to have fellowship with God, as weak an instrument as I am in the hands of God. It is my duty to have power with God. And when I have this, then my counselors should stand by me and with me. We should be of one heart and mind in all matters, temporal and spiritual, that come before us in the labor of the Church and kingdom of God. And I am thankful to say that this has been the case since I have been called to this position, or since the organization of the Presidency of the Church” (Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 89).

He Presided During a Time of Grave Crisis

It was a time of grave crisis for the Church when President Wilford Woodruff began his administration as President of the Church. President John Taylor had died in exile, and most of the prominent Church leaders were in prison or were unable to lead effectively because of persecutions. Federal laws not only made it unlawful to practice plural marriage but also prohibited those who did so from voting or running for public office. Utah’s admission as a state seemed hopelessly deadlocked. There was legislation that sought to disenfranchise all members of the Church. The Church, as an institution, was disincorporated, tithing funds were seized, and Temple Square and other Church properties were transferred to the United States government. There was a serious attempt by many to actually destroy the entity of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Missionary work for the living and temple work for the dead were greatly threatened.

The Nation Turns Against the Saints

In his journal, President Wilford Woodruff summarized 1889 by writing: “Thus ends the year 1889, and the word of the Prophet Joseph Smith is beginning to be fulfilled that the whole nation would turn against Zion and make war upon the Saints. The nation has never been filled so full of lies against the Saints as today. 1890 will be an important year with the Latter-day Saints and [the] American nation” (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9:74; punctuation, capitalization, and spelling standardized).

President and Sister Woodruff

Wilford and Emma Smith Woodruff

The Manifesto Was Received by Revelation

The Manifesto on plural marriage (see Official Declaration 1) made clear the Lord’s will concerning the discontinuance of the practice of plural marriage. After years of sacrifice and abiding the Lord’s commandment on plural marriage, the Saints’ faith in living prophets would be tested.

newspaper article on Manifesto

Newspaper coverage of the Manifesto in the Salt Lake Herald, 7 October 1890

“These were precarious years (1880s) for President Woodruff, other Church leaders, and the members of the Church in general. Many arrests had taken place for the practice of plural marriage. The Church was losing property through unfair taxation and confiscation. President Woodruff humbly approached the Lord asking for help. For weeks President Woodruff wrestled mightily with the Lord. The Lord gave him a vision showing him the consequences of the continued practice of plural marriage and instructed President Woodruff in what he should do. On September 24, 1890, he issued what is now called The Manifesto which announced the end of the practice of plural marriage” (Brian Smith, “Wilford Woodruff: ‘Wilford the Faithful’ Became God’s Anointed,” Church News, 1 May 1993, 10).

On 1 November 1891, in an address at a stake conference in Logan, Utah, President Woodruff taught:

“‘And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be Scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation’ [D&C 68:4].

“It is by that power that we have led Israel. By that power President Young presided over and led the Church. By the same power President John Taylor presided over and led the Church. And that is the way I have acted, according to the best of my ability, in that capacity. I do not want the Latter-day Saints to understand that the Lord is not with us, and that He is not giving revelations to us; for He is giving us revelation, and will give us revelation until this scene is wound up.

“I have had some revelations of late, and very important ones to me, and I will tell you what the Lord has said to me. Let me bring your minds to what is termed the manifesto. The Lord has told me by revelation that there are many members of the Church throughout Zion who are sorely tried in their hearts because of that manifesto. . . .

“The Lord showed me by vision and revelation exactly what would take place if we did not stop this practice. . . . All [temple] ordinances would be stopped throughout the land of Zion. Confusion would reign throughout Israel, and many men would be made prisoners. This trouble would have come upon the whole Church, and we should have been compelled to stop the practice. Now, the question is, whether it should be stopped in this manner, or in the way the Lord has manifested to us, and leave our prophets and apostles and fathers free men, and the temples in the hands of the people, so that the dead may be redeemed. . . .

President Woodruff

“. . . I saw exactly what would come to pass if there was not something done. I have had this spirit upon me for a long time. But I want to say this: I should have let all the temples go out of our hands; I should have gone to prison myself, and let every other man go there, had not the God of heaven commanded me to do what I did do; and when the hour came that I was commanded to do that, it was all clear to me. I went before the Lord, and I wrote what the Lord told me to write. I laid it before my brethren—such strong men as Brother [George] Q. Cannon, Brother [Joseph] F. Smith, and the Twelve Apostles. I might as well undertake to turn an army with banners out of its course as to turn them out of a course that they considered to be right. These men agreed with me, and ten thousand Latter-day Saints also agreed with me. Why? Because they were moved upon by the Spirit of God and by the revelations of Jesus Christ to do it” (“Remarks Made by President Wilford Woodruff,” Deseret Evening News, 7 Nov. 1891, 4; see also Official Declaration 1, Excerpts from Three Addresses by President Wilford Woodruff Regarding the Manifesto).

God Is at the Helm

man on spire of Salt Lake Temple

Ephraim George Holding, Salt Lake Temple electrician, on top of one of the temple spires, 1893

The Lord’s purposes will be fulfilled, and we can have confidence that each prophet who presides over the Lord’s people has been empowered to pursue a steady course. President Wilford Woodruff declared: “I say to all Israel at this day, I say to the whole world, that the God of Israel, who organized this Church and kingdom, never ordained any President or Presidency to lead it astray. Hear it, ye Israel, no man who has ever breathed the breath of life can hold these keys of the kingdom of God and lead the people astray” (Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 74).

He Taught about Revelation

President Wilford Woodruff taught the following about revelation:

“What is revelation? The testimony of the Father and Son. How many of you have had revelation? How many of you have had the Spirit of God whisper unto you—the still small voice? I would have been in the spirit world a great many years ago if I had not followed the promptings of the still small voice. These were the revelations of Jesus Christ, the strongest testimony a man or a woman can have. I have had many testimonies since I have been connected with this Church and kingdom. I have been blessed at times with certain gifts and graces, certain revelations and ministrations; but with them all I have never found anything that I could place more dependency upon than the still small voice of the Holy Ghost” (Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 45).

“It is this preknowledge which God has given concerning his work . . . which is one of the chief causes of the strength possessed by the Latter-day Saints. It is the principle of revelation from the head of the church to the church itself—a principle which in its operation is not confined to one man, or to three men, or to twelve men; but is extended to every individual in the Church, in greater or less degree, as each one chooses to avail himself of it. There is an appointed way, however, in which revelation from the Lord for the government of his church is received. There is but one man on the earth, at a time, who holds this power. But every individual member has the privilege of receiving revelation from the Lord for his guidance in his own affairs” (Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 54).

“The Lord would not permit me to occupy this position one day of my life, unless I was susceptible to the Holy Spirit and to the revelations of God. It is too late in the day for this Church to stand without revelation” (Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 57).

He Had a Vision of God’s Purposes

In his journal entry for 26 January 1880, Wilford Woodruff wrote: “I went to bed filled with prayer and meditation. I fell asleep and slept until about midnight. I awoke. The Lord poured out His spirit upon me and opened the vision of my mind so I could comprehend in a good measure the mind and will of God and His purposes concerning our nation and the inhabitants of Zion. And when the vision of my mind was open to comprehend the situation of our nation, their wickedness, abominations, and corruptions and the judgments of God and the destruction that awaited them, and when I comprehended the great and mighty responsibility which rested upon the Quorum of the Apostles in the sight of God and the heavenly hosts, my head became a fountain of tears and my pillow was wet as with the dews of heaven. And sleep departed from me, and the Lord revealed unto me our duty, even the duty of the Twelve Apostles and all the faithful elders of Israel” (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 7:546; punctuation, capitalization, and spelling standardized).

Elder Woodruff, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, made a copy of the revelation he received and submitted it to the Presidency of the Church.

Salt Lake Temple with scaffolding

Photograph of the capstone laying ceremony of the Salt Lake Temple, 6 April 1892, with 50,000 people in attendance
Photograph by Charles R. Savage

 

ticket to Salt Lake Temple dedication

Ticket of invitation to the Salt Lake Temple dedication

The Genealogical Society Was Organized

President Wilford Woodruff was always very concerned with the work for the dead. In 1894 the Genealogical Society of Utah was organized under his direction. In that same year, President Woodruff announced important matters that the Lord had revealed relating to family sealings:

“We want the Latter-day Saints from this time to trace their genealogies as far as they can, and to be sealed to their fathers and mothers. Have children sealed to their parents, and run this chain through as far as you can get it. . . . This is the will of the Lord to this people, and I think when you come to reflect upon it you will find it to be true. . . .

“. . . The fathers of this people will embrace the gospel. It is my duty to honor my father who begot me in the flesh. It is your duty to do the same. When you do this, the Spirit of God will be with you. And we shall continue this work, the Lord adding light to that which we have already received. . . . There are men in this congregation who wish to be adopted [sealed] to me. I say to them today, if they can hear me, Go and be adopted [sealed] to your fathers, and save your fathers, and stand at the head of your father’s house, as saviors upon Mount Zion, and God will bless you in this. This is what I want to say, and what I want carried out in our temples. . . . I have had a great anxiety over this matter. I have had a great desire that I might live to deliver these principles to the Latter-day Saints, for they are true. They are one step forward in the work of the ministry and in the work of the endowments in these temples of our God. . . . I have gone to work with the assistance of my friends and redeemed my father’s and my mother’s house. When I inquired of the Lord how I could redeem my dead, while I was in St. George, not having any of my family there, the Lord told me to call upon the Saints in St. George and let them officiate for me in that temple, and it should be acceptable unto him. . . . This is a revelation to us. We can help one another in these matters” (Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 157–59).

The Law of the Fast Was Clarified

In 1896, under the direction of President Wilford Woodruff, the practice of having “fast day” on the first Thursday of the month was changed to the present observance of the first Sunday of the month. Along with this change, the First Presidency reiterated eternal principles: “In some places the custom has arisen to consider it a fast to omit eating breakfast. This is not in accordance with the views and practice of the past. When fasts were observed in the early days, it was the rule to not partake of food from the previous day until after the meeting in the afternoon of the fast day. In making donations to the poor also it has been the understanding that the food that would be necessary for the two meals should be donated to the poor, and as much more as those who are liberally inclined and have the means may feel disposed to give” (“An Address,” The Deseret Weekly, 14 Nov. 1896, 678).

Zion Moves Steadily Onward

President Woodruff

President Wilford Woodruff taught:

“So many things have occurred which are entirely different to preconceived notions as to the course that would be taken in building up Zion that each one needs to have a knowledge that God is leading us in the path which we are now pursuing. To some who are inclined to despond and to take a gloomy view of affairs, the ship Zion may, perhaps, appear to be drifting away from its old moorings because things are being done or movements consented to which, to their eyes, portend disaster to us and to the work of God.

parade

A statehood parade celebrating Utah statehood in 1896

“There has always been a few among us who have been filled with evil forebodings, and who have failed to see the wisdom of God in the steps which his people have been led to take. They have questioned and found fault with the counsel that has been given and the measures which have been adopted and have asserted that revelation had ceased and the Saints were no longer guided by men to whom God made known his will. . . . Experience has proved that in all such cases those who make these accusations are themselves in the dark.

“But the faithful people—those who have lived strictly in accordance with their profession as Saints and with the requirements of the gospel—have not been assailed by doubts of this character. There might be many things which they could not fully understand, the reasons for which might not be fully apparent to them at the time; but possessing the Spirit of God, and being led by it, they trusted in the Lord and felt satisfied to leave the management of his kingdom and its affairs to his supreme wisdom. Time developed to their minds the correctness of the course which the Church had been led to adopt. This has occurred so frequently in our career that the instances will readily suggest themselves to those familiar with our history. In this way, however, the faith of the people has been constantly tested” (Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 141–42).

hat, cane, and scarf

A cane, hat, and scarf used by President Woodruff during the last years of his life
Photograph by Don O. Thorpe

We Must Labor to Get the Spirit

Note the following from President Wilford Woodruff:

“Joseph Smith visited me a great deal after his death, and taught me many important principles. . . . Among other things, he told me to get the Spirit of God; that all of us needed it. . . .

“Brigham Young also visited me after his death. . . . And he told me what Joseph Smith had taught him in Winter Quarters, to teach the people to get the Spirit of God. He said, ‘I want you to teach the people to get the Spirit of God. You cannot build up the Kingdom of God without that.’

“That is what I want to say to the brethren and sisters here today. Every man and woman in this Church should labor to get that Spirit. We are surrounded by these evil spirits that are at war against God and against everything looking to the building up of the kingdom of God; and we need this Holy Spirit to enable us to overcome these influences. I have had the Holy Ghost in my travels. Every man has that has gone out into the vineyard and labored faithfully for the cause of God. I have referred to the administration of angels to myself. What did these angels do? One of them taught me some things relating to the signs that should precede the coming of the Son of Man. Others came and saved my life. What then? They turned and left me. But how is it with the Holy Ghost? The Holy Ghost does not leave me if I do my duty. It does not leave any man who does his duty. We have known this all the way through. Joseph Smith told Brother John Taylor on one occasion to labor to get the Spirit of God, and to follow its dictation, and it would become a principle of revelation within him. God has blessed me with that, and everything I have done since I have been in this Church has been done upon that principle. The Spirit of God has told me what to do, and I have had to follow that” (“Discourse,” The Deseret Weekly, 7 Nov. 1896, 642–43).

1847 pioneers at 1897 celebration

Photograph taken 24 July 1897 of those pioneers still living who entered the Salt Lake Valley fifty years earlier, in 1847
Photograph by George E. Anderson

Members Honored Him with a Birthday Tribute

bedspread

One of the gifts given to President Woodruff on his ninetieth birthday was this fine bedspread made with Utah silk.
Photograph by Don O. Thorpe

“One of the most important events of President Woodruff’s long life was the celebration of his ninetieth birthday on March 1, 1897. On that occasion thousands of Latter-day Saints gathered in the Salt Lake Tabernacle to do him honor. Appropriate remarks were made by his counselors and others of the General Authorities. A silver mounted cane was presented to him by temple workers. The vast congregation sang ‘We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet.’ On returning to his home President Woodruff recorded his impressions of the day in his journal. ‘The scene completely overpowered me. The events of my childhood and early manhood came to my mind. I remembered vividly how I prayed to the Lord that I might live to see a Prophet or an Apostle who would teach me the gospel of Christ. Here I stood in the great Tabernacle filled with ten thousand children, with Prophets, Apostles and Saints. My head was a fountain of tears. Still I addressed the mighty congregation’” (Preston Nibley, The Presidents of the Church [1974], 132–33).

He Was a Man of Prophetic Vision

Wilford Woodruff had a clear vision of life and was faithful to it. He once said: “What will it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Not much. What will a man give in exchange for his soul, when he gets on the other side of the veil? I marvel very much at the little interest manifested by the inhabitants of the earth generally in their future state. There is not a person here today but what is going to live on the other side of the veil as long as his Creator—to the endless ages of eternity, and the eternal destiny of every individual depends upon the manner in which the few short years of the life in the flesh are spent. I ask, in the name of the Lord, what is popularity to you or me? What is gold or silver, or this world’s goods to any of us, any further than to enable us to obtain what we need to eat, drink, and wear, and to build up the kingdom of God. And for us to stop praying, and to become crazy after the riches of the world, is the very height of foolishness and folly. To see the way that some people act, you might suppose that they are going to live here eternally, and that their eternal destiny depends upon the number of dollars they have. I sometimes ask the Latter-day Saints, how much we had when we came here? How much did we bring, and where did it come from? I do not think any one of us brought a wife or a brick house; I do not think that any of us were born on horseback or in a carriage, or that we brought railroad scrip and cattle and houses with us, but we were born naked as Job, and I think that we shall leave here as naked as he did” (Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 243–44).

He Was Known as “Wilford the Faithful”

President Woodruff

President Wilford Woodruff, August 1898

When President Wilford Woodruff’s great heart ceased to beat on 2 September 1898, the Saints of God had reason to mourn, for a noble life had left their midst. It was a noble life because it had been consecrated to further the cause of Zion. In his journal years earlier, President Woodruff had written: “Be it known that I, Wilford Woodruff, do freely covenant with my God, that I freely consecrate and dedicate myself, together with all my properties and effects, unto the Lord, for the purpose of assisting in the building up of His Kingdom and His Zion upon the earth, that I may keep His law. I lay all before the Bishop of His Church, that I may be a lawful heir to the celestial Kingdom of God” (quoted in Cowley, Wilford Woodruff, 45).

Wilford Woodruff was a man who in his early youth dreamed of some day seeing an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, and he lived to walk himself in the way of the prophets and even finally to preside among the Saints. It was President Woodruff’s wish that he remain faithful in all things to the end of his life. He was known by many as “Wilford the Faithful”; in an early revelation the Lord called him “my servant” (D&C 118:6). What a great epitaph for any son of God.

Chapter 5
Lorenzo Snow
Fifth President of the Church

Lorenzo Snow

HIGHLIGHTS IN THE LIFE OF LORENZO SNOW

Age

Events

 

He was born 3 April 1814 in Mantua, Portage County, Ohio, to Oliver and Rosetta Leonora Pettibone Snow.

22

He began attending Hebrew School in Kirtland (spring, 1836); he was baptized into the Church in Kirtland, Ohio (19 June 1836).

23

He served a mission to Ohio (spring, 1837).

24–25

He served a mission to southern Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, and Ohio (1838–39).

26–29

He served a mission to England (1840–43).

31

He married Charlotte Merril Squires, Mary Adaline Goddard, Sarah Prichard, and Harriet Amelia Squires (1845).

34

He was ordained an Apostle (12 Feb. 1849).

35

He helped organize the Perpetual Emigrating Fund (Oct. 1849).

35–38

He served a mission in Italy; he arranged for and supervised the translation of the Book of Mormon into Italian (Oct. 1849–July 1852).

38

He was elected to the Utah Legislature (1852); he served for 29 years.

39

He presided over the colonization of Brigham City, Utah (1853).

49–50

He served a special mission to Hawaii; he nearly drowned (1864).

58–68

He was president of the Utah Territorial Legislative Council (1872–82); he assisted in the second dedication of Palestine for the return of the Jews (1872–73).

59–63

He served as a counselor to President Brigham Young (Apr. 1873–Aug. 1877).

59

He began the United Order in Brigham City (1873–80).

71

He served a mission to Indians in northwestern United States (1885).

72–73

He was imprisoned eleven months for practicing plural marriage (1886–87).

74

He offered the dedicatory prayer at the Manti Utah Temple (21 May 1888).

75

He became President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (7 Apr. 1889).

76

The Manifesto ending plural marriage (Official Declaration 1) was issued (1890).

79

He became president of the Salt Lake Temple (1893).

84

He was visited by the Savior in the Salt Lake Temple (1898); he became President of the Church (13 Sept. 1898).

85

He promoted tithing, beginning in southern Utah (May 1899).

87

He died in Salt Lake City, Utah (10 Oct. 1901).

Lorenzo Snow was a farm boy, raised on the frontier of nineteenth century America, in Ohio. His daily tasks included felling trees, clearing fields, and overseeing the farm in his father’s frequent absence. He was the oldest son in a large family and did not know what it meant to be idle. His family developed bonds of love and trust and mutual help that were set to endure.

His Early Life Included Lessons in Responsibility

Oliver and Rosetta Snow were natives of New England. After the birth of two daughters, they moved from New England to Ohio, where they had five other children—two more girls and three boys. Lorenzo was their fifth child and the oldest boy. His parents established themselves as farmers in Portage County, Ohio. They were soon joined by relatives and former friends from New England. As the years passed, the Snow family became prosperous and influential.

house in Mantua, Ohio

Birthplace of Lorenzo Snow, Mantua, Ohio

Lorenzo Snow’s parents and relatives and many of the other townspeople were educated people. They encouraged their children in the pursuit of intellectual honor, culture, and social accomplishment. Lorenzo received this same encouragement and struggled determinedly to satisfy the expectations of his family and neighbors.

Lorenzo’s father was frequently away from home on private and public business. On many occasions Lorenzo was left in charge when he was only a child. The responsibilities of a large and prosperous farm seemed no serious obstacle to him. In carrying these early burdens, he was punctual, resolute and energetic. As he grew older he superintended the shipment of farm produce downriver to New Orleans. Though such excursions required months of work, he was ever responsible and equal to the task.

He Was Taught to Be Sympathetic, Broad-Minded, and Tolerant

Lorenzo Snow

Engraving of Lorenzo Snow by Frederick Piercy

In her biography of her brother, Lorenzo Snow’s older sister Eliza wrote: “In their religious faith our parents were by profession Baptists, but not of the rigid, iron-bedstead order; their house was a resort for the good and intelligent of all denominations, and their hospitality was proverbial” (Eliza R. Snow Smith, Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow [1975], 2). Discussions at home were never allowed to become bigoted or narrow, and Lorenzo, along with his brothers and sisters, were encouraged to form broad acquaintance with people and their views. His frequent shipping excursions to New Orleans gave him much practical opportunity to observe a variety of situations and people.

He Enjoyed Reading

Books were Lorenzo Snow’s constant companions. When his attention was not demanded by the responsibilities of the farm, he would take a book and go off where he would not be disturbed. He read widely and became acquainted with history, geography, and literature, both classic and contemporary.

He Wanted to Join the Military

It was perhaps due partly to his interest in history that Lorenzo Snow became interested in joining the military. Shortly after his twenty-first birthday, he completed his secondary studies and had won a lieutenant’s commission by appointment from the governor of Ohio. But, feeling that a college education would brighten his military prospects, he temporarily laid his military training aside, sold his share of his father’s estate, and moved to Oberlin, Ohio. There the Presbyterians had established a widely acclaimed college just a few years before.

His Mother and Two Sisters Were Converted

Lorenzo Snow studied a year at Oberlin College. Although by nature he had a tender regard for people, he had never been particularly attracted to institutionalized religion. He wrote to his sister Eliza near the end of his term, “If there is nothing better than is to be found here in Oberlin College, good bye to all religions” (Smith, Biography and Family Record, 5).

His mother and a sister were the first members of Lorenzo Snow’s family to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Later, his sister Eliza joined. Lorenzo had deep respect for Eliza’s opinions and judgment, and he wrote to her at Kirtland, Ohio, and asked many questions about the newly revealed religion. She responded to his questions and requested that he come to Kirtland and study with Professor Seixas, who had been engaged to teach Hebrew by the leaders of the Church. In the spring of 1836, Lorenzo left Oberlin and moved to Kirtland.

Eliza R. Snow

Eliza R. Snow

He Was Open and Receptive to the Church

Lorenzo Snow was anxious to meet the Prophet Joseph Smith. Not long after he arrived in Kirtland, Ohio, he was talking with his sister Eliza on the street when “Joseph passed by, seemingly in a big hurry. He paused just long enough to be introduced to Lorenzo and to say to Eliza: ‘Eliza, bring your brother over to the house to dinner.’ She was then boarding at the home of the Prophet and teaching his private school. Lorenzo watched the stranger as far as he could see him, and then remarked to his sister: ‘Joseph Smith is a most remarkable man. I want to get better acquainted with him. Perhaps, after all, there is something more to Joseph Smith and to Mormonism than I have ever dreamed’” (Thomas C. Romney, The Life of Lorenzo Snow [1955], 23).

Like his father, Lorenzo never approached religion in a narrow, dogmatic way. He regarded Mormonism as a healing solace to the injured. He studied the religion cautiously, listened to the Prophet Joseph Smith’s public discourses, and conversed with him privately. He befriended the Prophet’s father, who said to him, “You will soon be convinced of the truth of the latter-day work, and be baptized, and you will become as great as you can possibly wish—even as great as God, and you cannot wish to be greater” (quoted in LeRoi C. Snow, “Devotion to a Divine Inspiration,” Improvement Era, June 1919, 654).

church building

Where the Snows attended Church

He Observed the Members Carefully Before He Accepted Baptism

Lorenzo Snow observed the members of the Church and was astonished at the testimonies of the elders because they were so plain and positive about heavenly things. He was astonished at the divine power that was manifest through the administrations of Patriarch Joseph Smith Sr. “Being present at a ‘Blessing Meeting,’ in the [Kirtland] Temple, previous to his baptism into the Church; after listening to several patriarchal blessings pronounced upon the heads of different individuals with whose history he was acquainted, and of whom he knew the Patriarch was entirely ignorant; he was struck with astonishment to hear the peculiarities of those persons positively and plainly referred to in their blessings. And, as he afterwards expressed, he was convinced that an influence, superior to human prescience, dictated the words of the one who officiated” (Smith, Biography and Family Record, 9).

He Studied, Was Baptized, and Received a Witness of the Truth of the Restoration

Lorenzo Snow

Early photograph of Lorenzo Snow

Lorenzo Snow studied and diligently compared the claims of Mormonism with ancient Christianity. He recorded the following in his journal:

“Previous to accepting the ordinance of baptism, in my investigations of the principles taught by the Latter-day Saints, which I proved, by comparison, to be the same as those mentioned in the New Testament taught by Christ and His Apostles, I was thoroughly convinced that obedience to those principles would impart miraculous powers, manifestations and revelations. With sanguine expectation of this result, I received baptism and the ordinance of laying on of hands by one who professed to have divine authority; and, having thus yielded obedience to these ordinances, I was in constant expectation of the fulfilment of the promise of the reception of the Holy Ghost.

Chagrin River

The Chagrin River, where Lorenzo Snow was baptized
Photograph by Don O. Thorpe

“The manifestation did not immediately follow my baptism, as I had expected, but, although the time was deferred, when I did receive it, its realization was more perfect, tangible and miraculous than even my strongest hopes had led me to anticipate.

“Some two or three weeks after I was baptized, one day while engaged in my studies, I began to reflect upon the fact that I had not obtained a knowledge of the truth of the work—that I had not realized the fulfilment of the promise ‘he that doeth my will shall know of the doctrine,’ and I began to feel very uneasy. I laid aside my books, left the house, and wandered around through the fields under the oppressive influence of a gloomy, disconsolate spirit, while an indescribable cloud of darkness seemed to envelop me. I had been accustomed, at the close of the day, to retire for secret prayer, to a grove a short distance from my lodgings, but at this time I felt no inclination to do so. The spirit of prayer had departed and the heavens seemed like brass over my head. At length, realizing that the usual time had come for secret prayer, I concluded I would not forego my evening service, and, as a matter of formality, knelt as I was in the habit of doing, and in my accustomed retired place, but not feeling as I was wont to feel.

“I had no sooner opened my lips in an effort to pray, than I heard a sound, just above my head, like the rustling of silken robes, and immediately the Spirit of God descended upon me, completely enveloping my whole person, filling me, from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet, and O, the joy and happiness I felt! No language can describe the almost instantaneous transition from a dense cloud of mental and spiritual darkness into a refulgence of light and knowledge, as it was at that time imparted to my understanding. I then received a perfect knowledge that God lives, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and of the restoration of the holy Priesthood, and the fulness of the Gospel. It was a complete baptism—a tangible immersion in the heavenly principle or element, the Holy Ghost; and even more real and physical in its effects upon every part of my system than the immersion by water; dispelling forever, so long as reason and memory last, all possibility of doubt or fear in relation to the fact handed down to us historically, that the ‘Babe of Bethlehem’ is truly the Son of God; also the fact that He is now being revealed to the children of men, and communicating knowledge, the same as in the Apostolic times. I was perfectly satisfied, as well I might be, for my expectations were more than realized, I think I may safely say in an infinite degree.

“I cannot tell how long I remained in the full flow of the blissful enjoyment and divine enlightenment, but it was several minutes before the celestial element which filled and surrounded me began gradually to withdraw. On arising from my kneeling posture, with my heart swelling with gratitude to God, beyond the power of expression, I felt—I knew that He had conferred on me what only an omnipotent being can confer—that which is of greater value than all the wealth and honors worlds can bestow. That night, as I retired to rest, the same wonderful manifestations were repeated, and continued to be for several successive nights. The sweet remembrance of those glorious experiences, from that time to the present, bring them fresh before me, imparting an inspiring influence which pervades my whole being, and I trust will to the close of my earthly existence” (quoted in Smith, Biography and Family Record, 7–9).

He prayed, he pondered, he believed, and he was baptized. His life was changed as he embraced the gospel with all his heart.

He Wanted to Serve God

Lorenzo Snow

Throughout the fall of 1836 young Lorenzo Snow saw the elders returning from their missions and wanted to serve a mission himself. He said:

“The testimonies of young missionaries as they rehearsed their experiences as laborers in the vineyard, proclaiming the joyful news that God was again speaking to His children on the earth; that He had raised up a Prophet through whom He was communicating His will, and calling on all the inhabitants of the earth to ‘repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,’ stirred within me an irresistible desire to join in the glorious enterprise.

“About this time a proclamation of the First Presidency was given from the stand, inviting those who wished to become members of the Elders’ Quorum to present their names, and if accounted worthy by the Presidency, they should be ordained. With many others, I submitted my name for approval or otherwise, which is the only time in my life that I have offered my name for or solicited an office or calling” (quoted in Smith, Biography and Family Record, 14).

Within a few weeks of his ordination, Lorenzo started on the first of many missions that he would serve. He preached to his father’s family in Ohio, and later he preached in Missouri, Illinois, and Kentucky. He also taught the gospel in England, Italy, France, and Switzerland. Like Wilford Woodruff and John Taylor, Lorenzo Snow brought thousands into the Church and bore witness before queens and princes.

He wrote the following, describing his feelings as he left to serve his first mission:

“Early in the spring of 1837, I shouldered my valise and started out like the ancient missionaries, ‘without purse or scrip,’ on foot and alone, to proclaim the restoration of the fulness of the Gospel of the Son of God, and to bear witness of what I had seen and heard, and of the knowledge I had received by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.

“It was, however, a severe trial to my natural feelings of independence to go without purse or scrip—especially the purse; for, from the time I was old enough to work, the feeling that I ‘paid my way’ always seemed a necessary adjunct to self respect, and nothing but a positive knowledge that God required it now, as He did anciently of His servants, the Disciples of Jesus, could induce me to go forth dependent on my fellow creatures for the common necessaries of life. But my duty in this respect was clearly made known to me, and I determined to do it” (quoted in Smith, Biography and Family Record, 15).

He Faced His First Congregation in Ohio

Lorenzo Snow preached his first sermon in Medina County, Ohio, the neighborhood of his father’s family. He described that experience in his journal: “The people were notified and a respectable congregation assembled. It was a sore trial to face that audience in the capacity of a preacher, but I believed and felt an assurance that a Spirit of inspiration would prompt and give me utterance. I had sought by prayer and fasting—I had humbled myself before the Lord, calling on Him in mighty prayer to impart the power and inspiration of the holy Priesthood; and when I stood before that congregation, although I knew not one word I could say, as soon as I opened my mouth to speak, the Holy Ghost rested mightily upon me, filling my mind with light and communicating ideas and proper language by which to impart them. The people were astonished and requested another meeting” (quoted in Smith, Biography and Family Record, 16).

As a result of those meetings, Lorenzo baptized and confirmed into the Church his uncle, aunt, and several of his cousins. One of those cousins, Adaline, later became his wife. While on this mission, he traveled in various parts of the state of Ohio and baptized many persons who remained faithful to the truth. He recorded that he was greatly blessed in performing his labors (see Smith, Biography and Family Record, 16, 19).

Lorenzo Snow

He Preached in Missouri, Illinois, and Kentucky

Feeling the insistent desire to teach the gospel, in October 1838 Lorenzo Snow again left his home and, with Elder Abel Butterfield, departed for southern Missouri. They later decided to separate so that Elder Butterfield could labor in northern Illinois and Indiana while Elder Snow served in southern Illinois and Kentucky. Though there was very little interest in his message in Illinois, his time in Kentucky was met with varied success and treatment. He returned from his labors almost six months after he started. Sometimes he had been received with courtesy and listened to with interest, while other times he had suffered abuse and insults.

He Served a Mission to the British Isles

In the spring of 1840, Elder Lorenzo Snow was called to serve a mission in Great Britain, where he spent almost three years. There were many members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles also serving in the British Isles, including Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Wilford Woodruff, and John Taylor. During his mission, Elder Snow experienced great opposition. Yet, despite the difficulties, the missionary work progressed and the Church grew. During his time in Britain, Elder Snow presided over the London Branch and saw it more than double in membership. He also served as counselor to Thomas Ward, president of the British Mission. In addition, Elder Snow presented two specially bound copies of the Book of Mormon to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

He Married

Mary Adaline Goddard Snow

Lorenzo Snow married Mary Adaline Goddard in the Nauvoo Temple during the fall of 1845.

Returning from his first mission to Britain, Lorenzo Snow arrived in the growing new city of Nauvoo, Illinois. Soon after his arrival, he learned about the doctrine of plural marriage from the Prophet Joseph Smith. Almost two years later, after the Prophet’s martyrdom and as the work on the Nauvoo temple neared completion, Lorenzo illustrated his acceptance of the doctrine of plural marriage. “He was acutely aware that a principal ordinance to be performed in the temple was the sealing of husbands to wives in an eternal union. Given his total commitment to the Church and its doctrines, the counsel he had received from the Prophet Joseph Smith about polygamy, and his advancing age, we may be sure that as the temple neared completion Lorenzo became increasingly conscious of the need to marry. The depth of his feelings may be gauged by the fact that in 1845, at age thirty-one, he was sealed to four women in the Nauvoo temple: Mary Adaline Goddard (his cousin, who had three sons by a former marriage, Hyrum, Orville, and Jacob); Charlotte Squires; Sarah Ann Prichard; and Harriet Amelia Squires” (Francis M. Gibbons, Lorenzo Snow: Spiritual Giant, Prophet of God [1982], 48).

Snow home

Lorenzo Snow’s home on Brigham Street in Salt Lake City

A Call Came to Serve in Italy

In October 1849, Lorenzo Snow was called to serve a mission in Italy. This mission also included preaching and teaching in other European countries, including England, France, and Switzerland. He served until July 1852. In a letter to his sister Eliza, Elder Snow wrote of his experiences during the winter of 1849 while traveling with his companions across the American plains to the east coast, where they would depart for their mission. In his letter, he wrote:

“One day, as we were taking our noon-tide meal, and our horses were quietly grazing on the prairies, the following scene occurred: A startling shout resounded through our little camp—To arms! To arms! The Indians are upon us! We looked and beheld a spectacle, grand, imposing and fearful. Two hundred warriors upon their furious steeds, painted, armed and clothed with all the horrors of war, rushing towards us like a mighty torrent. In a moment we placed ourselves in an attitude of defence [sic]. But could we expect with thirty men to withstand this powerful host? Onward came the savage band with accelerated speed, as a mighty rock, loosed from the mountain’s brow, rushes impetuously downward, sweeping, overturning, and burying everything in its course. We saw it was their intention to crush us beneath the feet of their foaming chargers. Now they were within a few paces, and in another moment we should be overwhelmed, when, lo! an alarm like an electric shock struck through their ranks and stayed their career, as an avalanche, sweeping down the mountain side, stops in the midst of its course by the power of a hand unseen—the Lord had said, Touch not mine anointed and do my prophets no harm!

“Many incidents occurred which often called forth the remark, that in our past experience, the hand of the Lord had never been more visibly manifested. When we arrived on the banks of the great Missouri, her waters immediately congealed for the first time during the season, thus forming a bridge over which we passed to the other side: this was no sooner accomplished than the torrent ran as before” (quoted in “The Apostle Lorenzo Snow,” Tullidge’s Quarterly Magazine, Jan. 1883, 381).

He Faced Opposition in Italy

Italy was the fountainhead of Catholicism and the people there opposed any missionary activity of other churches. Laws against proselyting were extant throughout the nation and imposed the strictest penalties. Lorenzo Snow fully expected persecution and had seriously contemplated the thought that his life might be in danger.

In Rome, on 27 June 1851, he observed a feast day honoring Saint Peter. In a letter written to President Brigham Young, Elder Snow commented on the irony of the circumstances of that celebration. The ancient Romans had crucified Peter. Then, centuries later, a huge church was built in Rome as a monument to his name. Yet, they rejected and persecuted living Apostles in their midst. Elder Snow pondered what the ultimate outcome of such an attitude would mean for him and wrote to President Young: “The fathers beheaded John and crucified Peter: this week we have witnessed feastings and rejoicings in honor of their names. Pleasing reflections—starvation!—bonds! imprisonment!—and martyrdom! and subsequent generations paying us divine honors” (quoted in Tullidge’s Quarterly Magazine, Jan. 1883, 384).

Lorenzo Snow

Lorenzo Snow
Photograph by Savage and Ottinger

As difficult as the mission was, it laid the cornerstone for future Church growth in Italy. During the nearly three-year span of Elder Snow’s Italian mission, he formally organized the Church in the valleys of Italy’s Piedmont region, arranged for and supervised the translation and publication of the Book of Mormon and several missionary tracts into the Italian language, directed missionary work in Switzerland, sent missionaries to begin laboring in India, and instructed numerous congregations of Saints in Britain, France, and Switzerland through the written and spoken word.

Snow home in Box Elder County

Elder Snow led fifty families to Box Elder County, Utah, where he laid out a new city that is now called Brigham City. Elder Snow had two homes there. The large two-story home (shown below) was originally a hotel.

large house

He Established a Successful Cooperative

boot, shoe, and leather factory

The Brigham City Cooperative

In October 1853, President Brigham Young called Elder Lorenzo Snow, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, to move his family to Brigham City, Utah, and preside over the Saints there. Several years later, Elder Snow established a financial cooperative based on principles of the United Order, with the purpose of uniting the people both spiritually and temporally.

“His first step in the co-operative movement was in the mercantile line. In 1863–64 he commenced by establishing a co-operative store, with stock in shares of $5.00, thus making it possible for people of very moderate circumstances to become shareholders.

“Many difficulties occurred in the start, and the progress was slow, but it steadily gained in the confidence of the people, the stockholders realizing from twenty to twenty-five per cent per annum in merchandise, and in five years it was an acknowledged success. Then, aided by the profits from the mercantile department, an extensive tannery was erected at a cost of $10,000, the people having the privilege of putting in labor as capital; and soon after these departments were in successful operation, a woolen factory, at a cost of nearly forty thousand dollars, was brought into working order, again taking labor as stock.

“A co-operative sheep-herd, for supplying the factory, was soon added—then co-operative farms, and to these a cheese dairy. Thus one department of industry after another was established, until between thirty and forty departments were combined—all working harmoniously like the wheels of a grand piece of machinery” (Eliza R. Snow, quoted in “The Twelve Apostles,” Historical Record, Feb. 1887, 142–43).

Many who knew him attributed his success at Brigham City to his spiritual nature. It was later written that his “spirituality was highly developed. It was the predominating trait of his character. All other traits were simply adjuncts and accessories clustering around this one great dictator, obedience to its will and assisting to accomplish its aim. For years he preached about and labored in the affairs of this world, but things temporal were only the means to things spiritual. The financier was at all times subservient to the Apostle” (Leslie Woodruff Snow, “President Lorenzo Snow,” Young Woman’s Journal, Sept. 1903, 392).

Council House

The Council House, where the territorial legislature met

His Life Was Preserved in Hawaii

In November 1860 President Brigham Young called Walter Murray Gibson, a new convert, to serve a mission in Japan. On his way to Japan, in the summer of 1861, Gibson arrived in Hawaii and decided to stay there. Because the missionaries had been called home during the Utah War, Gibson was able to take over the leadership of the Church in Hawaii. He convinced many Hawaiian members to turn their property over to him and bow in his presence. He also sold the rights to various Church offices to naive members and wore robes while conducting church services with great pomp and ceremony. His plan was to take over the islands and become king.

The First Presidency learned of the situation in Hawaii and sent Ezra T. Benson and Lorenzo Snow, who were members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and former Hawaiian missionaries William W. Cluff, Alma Smith, and Joseph F. Smith to discipline Walter Gibson and address the related problems. While attempting to go ashore in turbulent water, they left their steamer and boarded a small boat. Joseph F. Smith stayed behind, saying that the waters were too dangerous, which proved to be correct.

As they crossed the offshore reef, huge waves capsized their boat. All the men were safely rescued except for Lorenzo, whose unconscious body was found in the water and partially under the overturned boat. His companions brought him to shore and worked to revive him for nearly an hour. William Cluff explained how Elder Snow was finally revived:

“We did not only what was customary in such cases, but also what the spirit seemed to whisper to us.

“After working over him for some time, without any indication of returning life, the by-standers said that nothing more could be done for him. But we did not feel like giving him up, and still prayed and worked over him, with an assurance that the Lord would hear and answer our prayers.

“Finally we were impressed to place our mouth over his and make an effort to inflate his lungs, alternately blowing in and drawing out the air, imitating, as far as possible, the natural process of breathing. . . . After a little, we perceived very faint indications of returning life. . . . These grew more and more distinct, until consciousness was fully restored” (quoted in Romney, Life of Lorenzo Snow, 203–4).

After an investigation and several meetings with the members, Walter Gibson was excommunicated and the Church and mission leadership in Hawaii was placed under the direction of Joseph F. Smith. Elder Snow returned home with Elder Benson.

Mount of Olives

Mount of Olives, near Jerusalem. In 1872, President Brigham Young called his First Counselor, George Albert Smith, to go to the Holy Land and dedicate the land to the Lord. Lorenzo Snow and his sister Eliza were among the seven traveling companions who went with President Smith.
Photograph by Don O. Thorpe

He Was a Dedicated Apostle and Defender of the Faith

The Morrill Bill of 1862, the Edmunds Act of 1882, and the Edmunds Tucker Bill of 1887 were enforced during three decades prior to the issuing of the Manifesto in 1890. During that time major properties of the Church were confiscated.

In 1886, Elder Lorenzo Snow was charged and convicted of violating the Edmunds law. Appeal of the plural marriage cases beyond territorial courts to the United States Supreme Court could not be scheduled unless the defendant was incarcerated. Elder Snow was taken to prison, as were scores of his brethren. He served a term of eleven months, during which time he organized a school.

Patient in bonds, Lorenzo Snow was like the Apostle Paul. Years before, he had testified:

“We are here that we may be educated in a school of suffering and fiery trials, which school was necessary for Jesus our elder brother, who, the scriptures tell us, was made perfect through suffering. It is necessary we suffer in all things, that we may be qualified and worthy to rule and govern all things, even as our Father in heaven and his eldest son Jesus. . . .

“And now, where is the man among you having once burst the veil and gazed upon this purity, the glory, the might, majesty, and dominion of a perfected man, in celestial glory, in eternity, will not cheerfully resign life, suffer the most excruciating tortures, let limb be torn from limb sooner than dishonor or resign his Priesthood?” (“Address to the Saints of Great Britain,” Millennial Star, 1 Dec. 1851, 363).

He Brought a Young Woman Back to Life

President Snow

Lorenzo Snow

Soon after Lorenzo Snow was baptized, he received a blessing from Patriarch Joseph Smith Sr. Among other blessings, Lorenzo was promised that “if expedient the dead shall rise and come forth at thy bidding” (quoted in Romney, Life of Lorenzo Snow, 406). This promised blessing was literally fulfilled many years later when President Snow, then President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, blessed his niece Ella Jensen, of Brigham City, Utah, and called her spirit back from the spirit world after she had been dead for three hours. Ella Jensen wrote the following about her experience:

“On the 1st of March, 1891, I was taken severely ill with the scarlet fever, and suffered very much for a week. It was on the morning of the 9th that I awoke with a feeling that I was going to die. As soon as I opened my eyes I could see some of my relatives from the other world. . . . I then asked my sister to assist me in getting ready to go into the spirit world. She combed my hair, washed me, and I brushed my teeth and cleaned my nails that I might be clean when going before my Maker. . . . I then bade my dear ones good by, and my spirit left my body.

“For some time I could hear my parents and relatives weeping and mourning, which troubled me greatly. As soon, however, as I had a glimpse of the other world my attention was drawn away from them to my relatives there, who all seemed pleased to see me. . . . I saw so many of my departed friends and relatives, all of whom I have mentioned many times afterwards, and with many of them I conversed. . . . After having stayed with my departed friends what seemed to me but a very short time, yet it lasted several hours, I heard Apostle Lorenzo Snow administer to me, telling me that I must come back, as I had some work to do on the earth yet. I was loath to leave the heavenly place, but told my friends that I must leave them. . . . For a long time afterwards I had a great desire to go back to the place of heavenly rest, where I dwelt so short a time” (quoted in “Remarkable Experience,” Young Woman’s Journal, Jan. 1893, 165).

The Savior Appeared to Him in the Salt Lake Temple

“For some time President Woodruff’s health had been failing. Nearly every evening President Lorenzo Snow visited him at his home. This particular evening the doctors said that President Woodruff could not live much longer, that he was becoming weaker every day. President Snow was greatly worried. We cannot realize today what a terrible financial condition the Church was in at that time—owing millions of dollars and not being able to pay even the interest on its indebtedness.

Alie Armeda Snow Young Pond

Alice Armeda Snow Young Pond (1876–43), heard her grandfather, President Lorenzo Snow, share his experience of the Lord’s visit in the Salt Lake Temple.

“My father went to his room in the Salt Lake Temple, dressed in his robes of the Priesthood, knelt at the sacred altar in the Holy of Holies in the House of the Lord and there plead to the Lord to spare President Woodruff’s life, that President Woodruff might outlive him and that the great responsibility of Church leadership would not fall upon his shoulders. Yet he promised the Lord that he would devotedly perform any duty required at his hands. . . .

“. . . [On 2 September 1898, after receiving word of the death of Wilford Woodruff, President Snow] went to his private room in the Salt Lake Temple.

“President Snow put on his holy temple robes, repaired again to the same sacred altar, offered up the signs of the Priesthood and poured out his heart to the Lord. He reminded the Lord how he plead for President Woodruff’s life to be spared, that President Woodruff’s days would be lengthened beyond his own; that he might never be called upon to bear the heavy burdens and responsibilities of the Church. ‘Nevertheless,’ he said, ‘Thy will be done. I have not sought this responsibility but if it be Thy will, I now present myself before Thee for Thy guidance and instruction. I ask that Thou show me what Thou wouldst have me do.’

“After finishing his prayer he expected a reply, some special manifestation from the Lord. So he waited,—and waited—and waited. There was no reply, no voice, no visitation, no manifestation. He left the altar and the room in great disappointment. Passing through the Celestial room and out into the large corridor a glorious manifestation was given President Snow which I relate in the words of his grand-daughter, Allie Young Pond. . . .

“‘One evening while I was visiting grandpa Snow in his room in the Salt Lake Temple, I remained until the door keepers had gone and the night-watchmen had not yet come in, so grand-pa said he would take me to the main front entrance and let me out that way. He got his bunch of keys from his dresser. After we left his room and while we were still in the large corridor leading into the celestial room, I was walking several steps ahead of grand-pa when he stopped me and said: “Wait a moment, Allie, I want to tell you something. It was right here that the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to me at the time of the death of President Woodruff. He instructed me to go right ahead and reorganize the First Presidency of the Church at once and not wait as had been done after the death of the previous presidents, and that I was to succeed President Woodruff.”

“‘Then grand-pa came a step nearer and held out his left hand and said: “He stood right here, about three feet above the floor. It looked as though He stood on a plate of solid gold.”

“‘Grand-pa told me what a glorious personage the Savior is and described His hands, feet, countenance and beautiful white robes, all of which were of such a glory of whiteness and brightness that he could hardly gaze upon Him.

“‘Then he came another step nearer and put his right hand on my head and said: “Now, grand-daughter, I want you to remember that this is the testimony of your grand-father, that he told you with his own lips that he actually saw the Savior, here in the Temple, and talked with Him face to face”’” (LeRoi C. Snow, “An Experience of My Father’s,” Improvement Era, Sept. 1933, 677).

He Was Called to Be President of the Church

President Snow

President Lorenzo Snow

Lorenzo Snow served for nine years as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and at the age of eighty-four years became President of the Church. Some people expressed fear that a man of his age would not be capable of standing up under the strains and challenges of the presidency. He was not a large man physically. He was slight of build and appeared deceptively frail and weak, weighing about 125 pounds. But he quickly dispelled such fears. He was erect, strong, active, and full of inspiration until the time of his last illness at the age of eighty-seven. His clarity of mind was demonstrated again and again as he spoke to the Saints, directed the Church, and moved the kingdom of God forward toward its destiny. His youngest daughter, born when he was eighty-two, recalled that he was accustomed to carrying her up the stairs on his back until the last year of his life. More importantly, however, the Lord was not concerned about President Snow’s advanced age, for it was He who called this eighty-four-year-old spiritual giant to be His prophet.

First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve

The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

He Received Revelation that Helped Solve the Church’s Financial Crisis

President Lorenzo Snow struggled mightily to wrest the Church from the financial difficulties caused by the decades of persecution. Because the federal government had seized so much property from the Church, it seemed to many members that to pay tithing and other offerings was simply to give their means away to be used by the enemies of the Church. The Saints were not wealthy, and many of them decided that they would not pay tithing. The resources of the Church were extremely strained.

In early May of 1899, the Lord revealed to President Snow that he and others of the leading brethren should go to St. George, Utah, and hold a conference. The Lord did not reveal at that time the purpose of their visit, but merely that they should go and conduct a series of special conferences. They traveled to St. George by carriage.

The first session of the conference in St. George was held on 17 May 1899. President Snow said to the Saints there: “My brethren and sisters, we are in your midst because the Lord directed me to come; but the purpose of our coming is not clearly known at the present, but this will be made known to me during our sojourn among you” (quoted in Romney, Life of Lorenzo Snow, 456).

St. George Tabernacle

The St. George Tabernacle, where the revelation President Snow received on tithing was first presented
Used by permission, Utah State Historical Society, all rights reserved

LeRoi C. Snow, son of the President, was reporting on the conference for the Deseret News and recalled what happened during a subsequent session when President Snow was speaking:

“All at once father paused in his discourse. Complete stillness filled the room. I shall never forget the thrill as long as I live. When he commenced to speak again his voice strengthened and the inspiration of God seemed to come over him, as well as over the entire assembly. His eyes seemed to brighten and his countenance to shine. He was filled with unusual power. Then he revealed to the Latter-day Saints the vision that was before him.

“God manifested to him there and then not only the purpose of the call to visit the Saints in the South, but also Lorenzo Snow’s special mission, the great work for which God had prepared and preserved him, and he unveiled the vision to the people. He told them that he could see, as he had never realized before, how the law of tithing had been neglected by the people, also that the Saints, themselves, were heavily in debt, as well as the Church, and now through strict obedience to this law—the paying of a full and honest tithing—not only would the Church be relieved of its great indebtedness, but through the blessings of the Lord this would also be the means of freeing the Latter-day Saints from their individual obligations, and they would become a prosperous people” (LeRoi C. Snow, “The Lord’s Way out of Bondage Was Not the Way of Men,” Improvement Era, July 1938, 439).

Interior of St. George Tabernacle

Interior of the St. George Tabernacle
Photograph courtesy of the Utah State Historical Society

In his discourse, President Snow told the Saints:

“The word of the Lord to you is not anything new; it is simply this: THE TIME HAS NOW COME FOR EVERY LATTER-DAY SAINT, WHO CALCULATES TO BE PREPARED FOR THE FUTURE AND TO HOLD HIS FEET STRONG UPON A PROPER FOUNDATION, TO DO THE WILL OF THE LORD AND TO PAY HIS TITHING IN FULL. That is the word of the Lord to you, and it will be the word of the Lord to every settlement throughout the land of Zion. After I leave you and you get to thinking about this, you will see yourselves that the time has come when every man should stand up and pay his tithing in full. The Lord has blessed us and has had mercy upon us in the past; but there are times coming when the Lord requires us to stand up and do that which He has commanded and not leave it any longer. What I say to you in this Stake of Zion I will say to every Stake of Zion that has been organized. There is no man or woman that now hears what I am saying who will feel satisfied if he or she fails to pay a full tithing” (“Discourse by President Lorenzo Snow,” Millennial Star, 24 Aug. 1899, 533).

“Before I die,” President Snow once said, “I hope to see the Church cleared of debt and in a commanding position financially” (“Characteristic Sayings of President Lorenzo Snow,” Improvement Era, June 1919, 651). By revelation, he called on the Saints to be obedient to the law of tithing. The Saints’ obedience to that call eventually brought the Church out of debt (during President Joseph F. Smith’s administration) and established a firm temporal foundation for the kingdom of God. Much of today’s growth in temples, chapels, and other buildings and Church programs around the world is the direct result of the temporal prosperity of the Church that came, and still comes, as the result of Saints living the law of tithing.

He Enjoyed a Carriage Race

After the conference in St. George, Utah, where the revelation on tithing had been received, President Lorenzo Snow and his party made their way by carriage from St. George through as many settlements as possible on their way back to Salt Lake City, preaching at every stop. As the party was traveling between Cove Fort and Fillmore, President Snow’s buggy led the procession. The day was clear, and everyone was in good spirits.

“As a rule the party had some difficulty in maintaining the pace, but upon this occasion the [eighty-five-year-old] President’s carriage was jogging along at a most comfortable rate. President Joseph F. Smith, who was second in line, drove along side the President and suggested, ‘Perhaps it would be as well to go a trifle faster over these good roads, President Snow.’

“‘Very well,’ was the answer, ‘just follow us.’ President Snow gave his teamster a knowing nudge and in another minute both teams were on a forty-mile gait, over sage brush and ditches, and those behind saw only a cloud of dust, with now and then a glimpse of something resembling a buggy top. On and on the horses dashed, and the excitement of the occupants increased with every leap. It was invigorating. The horses had traveled neck and neck for two miles or more. The eyes of the aged leader flashed like diamonds as he rose in his seat and watched the progress of the race.

“‘Go on, go on!’ he shouted, ‘never mind the ruts. We’ll get beat. Go!’ and the driver did so. President Smith’s team was slightly outclassed, and the other managed to maintain the lead. Clumps of sage brush and five-foot washouts were as pebbles to these venerable leaders, now thoroughly enshrouded in their boyhood days. Up in the air and down, touching only the high places here and there, the contest lasted for fifteen miles, and President Snow loves to relate how his team came out victorious, though the honors are disputed by President Smith” (quoted in Romney, Life of Lorenzo Snow, 453, 455).

President Snow and his Counselors

The First Presidency, 18 September 1898: George Q. Cannon, Lorenzo Snow, and Joseph F. Smith

He Received a Revelation about Man’s Divine Potential

“In the spring of 1840, just before leaving on his first mission to England, Lorenzo Snow spent an evening in the home of his friend, Elder H. G. Sherwood, in Nauvoo. Elder Sherwood was endeavoring to explain the parable of the Savior about the husbandman who sent forth servants at different hours of the day to labor in the vineyard. While thus engaged in thought this most important event occurred, as told by President Snow himself:

“‘While attentively listening to his (Elder Sherwood’s) explanation, the Spirit of the Lord rested mightily upon me—the eyes of my understanding were opened, and I saw as clear as the sun at noon-day, with wonder and astonishment, the pathway of God and man. I formed the following couplet which expresses the revelation, as it was shown to me . . . :

As man now is, God once was:
As God now is, man may be.

President Snow

President Lorenzo Snow

“‘I felt this to be a sacred communication which I related to no one except my sister Eliza, until I reached England, when in a confidential, private conversation with President Brigham Young, in Manchester, I related to him this extraordinary manifestation.’

“Soon after his return from England, in January, 1843, Lorenzo Snow related to the Prophet Joseph Smith his experience in Elder Sherwood’s home. This was in a confidential interview in Nauvoo. The Prophet’s reply was: ‘Brother Snow, that is true gospel doctrine, and it is a revelation from God to you’” (Snow, Improvement Era, June 1919, 656).

The principle of man’s divine potential had previously been revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith and Joseph Smith Sr. In fact, it was a statement made by that Patriarch to the Church four years earlier that first awakened the thought in Lorenzo Snow’s mind. When he was investigating the teachings of the Church, Joseph Smith Sr. had said to him, “You will soon be convinced of the truth of the latter-day work, and be baptized, and you will become as great as you can possibly wish—even as great as God, and you cannot wish to be greater” (quoted in Snow, Improvement Era, June 1919, 654). However, the doctrine was not publicly taught until 1844.

Lorenzo Snow was present when the Prophet Joseph Smith gave the funeral sermon for King Follet, an elder in the Church, during the April conference of the Church. In his discourse, the Prophet taught:

God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible,—I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with him, as one man talks and communes with another. . . .

“These are incomprehensible ideas to some, but they are simple. It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another, and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did; and I will show it from the Bible” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 345–46).

Referring to those teachings from the Prophet’s sermon, which were printed in the Times and Seasons and the Millennial Star, LeRoi C. Snow, President Snow’s son, wrote:

“In President Snow’s own copy of the Times and Seasons, which I now have, he drew more particular attention, with his own indelible pencil, to this part of the Prophet’s King Follett sermon than any other reference in all the six volumes. This great hope in man’s destiny, through strict obedience to the gospel, was in his mind so constantly that he frequently referred to it in the home circle, in his public discourses, both when addressing aged parents and when talking to little children, and many of his intimate friends know that it was a favorite theme in private and confidential conversations.

“Few comparisons were more frequently repeated by President Snow in his public speaking than the following:

“‘As an illustration, here is an infant upon its mother’s breast. It is without power or knowledge to feed and clothe itself. It is so helpless that it has to be fed by its mother. But see its possibilities! This infant has a father and a mother, though it knows scarcely anything about them. Who is its father? Who is its mother? Why, its father is an emperor, its mother is an empress, and they sit upon a throne, governing an empire. This little infant will some day, in all probability, sit upon his father’s throne, and govern and control the empire, just as King Edward of England now sits upon the throne of his mother. We should have this in mind; for we are the sons of God, as much so and more, if possible, than we are the sons of our earthly fathers.

“‘You sisters, I suppose, have read that poem which my sister, Eliza R. Snow Smith, composed, years ago, and which is sung quite frequently now in our meetings [see “O My Father,” Hymns, no. 292]. It tells us that we not only have a Father in “that high and glorious place.” but that we have a Mother, too; and you sisters will become as great as your Mother, if you are faithful’” (Improvement Era, June 1919, 658).

First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve

The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

They Shall Organize Worlds and Rule Over Them

“Only a short time before his death, President Snow visited the Brigham Young University [then Brigham Young Academy], at Provo. President Brimhall escorted the party through one of the buildings; he wanted to reach the assembly room as soon as possible, as the students had already gathered. They were going through one of the kindergarten rooms; President Brimhall had reached the door and was about to open it and go on when President Snow said: ‘Wait a moment, President Brimhall, I want to see these children at work; what are they doing?’ Brother Brimhall replied that they were making clay spheres. ‘That is very interesting,’ the President said. ‘I want to watch them.’ He quietly watched the children for several minutes and then lifted a little girl, perhaps six years of age, and stood her on a table. He then took the clay sphere from her hand, and, turning to Brother Brimhall, said:

“‘President Brimhall, these children are now at play, making mud worlds, the time will come when some of these boys, through their faithfulness to the gospel, will progress and develop in knowledge, intelligence and power, in future eternities, until they shall be able to go out into space where there is unorganized matter and call together the necessary elements, and through their knowledge of and control over the laws and powers of nature, to organize matter into worlds on which their posterity may dwell, and over which they shall rule as gods’” (Snow, Improvement Era, June 1919, 658–59).

The Trial of Mortality Is the School of Perfection

In 1851, Elder Lorenzo Snow, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, gave the following counsel:

“In all your acts and conduct ever have the consciousness that you are now preparing and making yourselves a life to be continued through eternities; act upon no principle that you would be ashamed or unwilling to act upon in heaven, employ no means in the attainment of an object that a celestial enlightened conscience would disapprove. Whilst feelings and passions excite you to action, let principles pure, honorable, holy, and virtuous, always rule and govern. Deity is within us, our spiritual organization is Deity—the child of God, begotten in his image. . . .

“We are here that we may be educated in a school of suffering and of fiery trials, which school was necessary for Jesus our elder brother, who, the scriptures tell us, was made perfect through suffering. It is necessary we suffer in all things, that we may be qualified and worthy to rule and govern all things, even as our Father in heaven and his eldest son Jesus” (“Address to the Saints of Great Britain,” Millennial Star, 1 Dec. 1851, 363).

We Should Work Earnestly to Be Obedient

President Snow

President Lorenzo Snow

President Lorenzo Snow taught:

“There is great enjoyment to be had in having done right in the past and meditating upon the fact, and feeling that we are doing right now, because it is the privilege of every Latter-day Saint to know when he is doing that which pertains to the things of the Lord. . . . There is this privilege that every Latter-day Saint should seek to enjoy, to know positively that his work is accepted of God. I am afraid Latter-day Saints are not much better and perhaps they are worse than other people if they do not have this knowledge and seek to do right. . . .

“. . . John says: ‘Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is, and every man that hath this hope in him purifies himself, even as He is pure’ [1 John 3:2–3].

“Every man having this hope in him purifies himself. There then naturally arises a determination to work for that high and noble position, to work for those wonderful promises made. There is an inducement to pursue a course of righteousness” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1898, 13).

We Should Strive for Daily Improvement

President Lorenzo Snow taught: “We ought to improve ourselves and move faster toward the point of perfection. It is said that we cannot be perfect. Jesus has commanded us to be perfect even as God, the Father, is perfect. It is our duty to try to be perfect, and it is our duty to improve each day, and look upon our course last week and do things better this week; do things better today than we did them yesterday, and go on and on from one degree of righteousness to another. Jesus will come by and by, and appear in our midst, as He appeared in the day when upon the earth among the Jews, and He will eat and drink with us and talk to us, and explain the mysteries of the Kingdom, and tell us things that are not lawful to talk about now” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1898, 13–14).

We Require Divine Assistance to Overcome the World

President Lorenzo Snow made the following statements about how we may receive help from God:

“I have read something that is very peculiar in regard to the promises that are made, and which I know will be fulfilled, if we on our part do our duty. I have not lived in this Church for about sixty-two years without finding out something. I devoted myself to be worthy to receive something that no mortal man can receive except through the spirit and power of the Holy Ghost, and the Lord has shown me things and made me to understand them as clearly as the sun at noonday in regard to what shall be the outcome of those Latter-day Saints that are faithful to their callings. . . . [He then quoted D&C 84:37–38 and Revelation 3:21.]

“There are many Scriptures bearing upon this point. I believe in this. I believe that we are the sons and daughters of God, and that He has bestowed upon us the capacity for infinite wisdom and knowledge, because He has given us a portion of Himself” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1898, 62–63).

“We are dependent upon the Spirit of the Lord to aid us and to manifest to us from time to time what is necessary for us to accomplish under the peculiar circumstances that may surround us. It is the privilege of Latter-day Saints, when they get into difficulties, to have supernatural power of God, and in faith, day by day; to secure from the circumstances which may surround us that which will be beneficial and advance us in the principles of holiness and sanctification, that we may as far as possible be like our Father” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1898, 2).

Do Not Be Discouraged While Seeking Improvement

President Lorenzo Snow explained:

“If we could read in detail the life of Abraham, or the lives of other great and holy men, we would doubtless find that their efforts to be righteous were not always crowned with success. Hence we should not be discouraged if we should be overcome in a weak moment; but, on the contrary, straightway repent of the error or the wrong we may have committed, and as far as possible repair it, and then seek to God for renewed strength to go on and do better. . . .

“If the Apostle Peter had become discouraged at his manifest failure to maintain the position that he had taken to stand by the Savior under all circumstances, he would have lost all; whereas, by repenting and persevering he lost nothing but gained all, leaving us too to profit by his experience. The Latter-day Saints should cultivate this ambition constantly which was so clearly set forth by the Apostles in former days. We should try to walk each day so that our conscience would be void of offense before everybody. . . . We must not allow ourselves to be discouraged whenever we discover our weakness” (The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, ed. Clyde J. Williams [1996], 34–35).

He Was a Builder of the Kingdom

Lorenzo Snow was a schoolmaster, campaigner, husband, father, temple builder, superintendent of schools, temple officiator, branch president, pioneer, and Apostle. As a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he sat in council and administered the business of the Church. Other responsibilities included managing the Perpetual Emigrating Fund, founding the Italian Mission, supervising the translation of the Book of Mormon into new languages, and preparing and publishing tracts. He served as regent of a university, territorial legislator, and founder of philosophical and scientific societies. Austere, devoted, and selfless—he was not laboring for himself but for the Master, whose servant he was. He was guided in his ministry by dreams and revelations.

President Snow

President Snow celebrated his eighty-seventh birthday on 3 April 1901.
Painting by Harris Weberg

Lorenzo Snow was called to preside among the Saints in Box Elder, Utah, which was later called Brigham City. He interrupted that assignment to serve in the Utah War and missions to Hawaii and the Holy Land. When he returned to Brigham City, the cooperative enterprise he established flowered. (The cooperative was dissolved under federal pressure against plural marriage in the late 1870s.)

Lorenzo Snow served as a counselor to the First Presidency under Brigham Young, served for nine years as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and at the great age of eighty-four years, assumed the office of President of the Church. For three years he struggled mightily to wrest the Church from the financial difficulties resulting from decades of persecution. He emphasized the law of tithing once again among the Saints. He succeeded in seeing the Church well on its way to complete solvency and then went on to contemplate again the vision of his first apostolic years—to establish missions throughout the earth. He sent missionaries to Japan and spoke of sending the gospel to all nations. He sought to purify Zion and was secure in the promise of his lifelong understanding that “the destiny of man is to be like his Father—a god in eternity.” He felt that this knowledge should be a bright, illuminating star before him at all times—in his heart, in his soul, and in his mind.

As man now is, God once was:
As God now is, man may be.

A son of God, like God to be,
Would not be robbing Deity.

[Lorenzo Snow, Improvement Era, June 1919, 651.]

President Lorenzo Snow was a prophet of God and should be ranked as one of the foremost social reformers of the age.

Chapter 6
Joseph F. Smith
Sixth President of the Church

Joseph F. Smith

HIGHLIGHTS IN THE LIFE OF JOSEPH F. SMITH

Age

Events

 

He was born 13 November 1838 in Far West, Caldwell County, Missouri, to Hyrum and Mary Fielding Smith.

5

His father, Hyrum Smith, was martyred (27 June 1844).

9

He drove an ox team across the plains from Winter Quarters to the Salt Lake Valley (1848)

13

His mother, Mary Fielding Smith, died (21 Sept. 1852).

15–19

He served a mission in Hawaii (1854–57).

19

He served in the Echo Canyon campaign of the Utah War (1857).

21

He married Levira A. Smith (5 Apr. 1859).

21–24

He served a mission to Great Britain (1860–63).

25

He served a special mission to Hawaii (1864).

27–35

He began serving as a member of the Territorial House of Representatives (1865–74).

27

He was ordained an Apostle and set apart as a counselor to President Brigham Young (1 July 1866; he also served as a counselor to Presidents John Taylor, 1880–87; Wilford Woodruff, 1889–98; and Lorenzo Snow, 1898–1901).

28

He was sustained as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (8 Oct. 1867).

35

He served as president of the European Mission (1874–75).

39

He served a mission to the eastern United States to obtain information on the history of the Church (1878).

46

He went into voluntary exile because of persecution for practicing plural marriage (1884–91).

51

The Manifesto ending plural marriage (Official Declaration 1) was issued (1890).

54

He served as a member of the Constitutional Convention for the state of Utah (1893).

62

He became President of the Church (17 Oct. 1901; he was sustained 10 Nov.).

65

He testified before Congress (2–9 Mar. 1904); he issued a second manifesto on plural marriage (6 Apr. 1904).

67

He was the first Church President to tour Europe during his administration (summer, 1906).

70

The First Presidency issued an official statement on the origin of man (Nov. 1909).

74

The family home evening program was introduced (1915).

75

The First Presidency issued a doctrinal exposition on the Father and the Son (1916).

79

He received a vision of the redemption of the dead (D&C 138; 3 Oct. 1918).

80

He died in Salt Lake City, Utah (19 Nov. 1918).

Joseph F. Smith was born on 13 November 1838 during a period of severe persecution of the Saints of God. His father, Hyrum Smith, along with his uncle, the Prophet Joseph Smith, were imprisoned in Liberty Jail. His mother, Mary Fielding Smith, ill from physical and emotional strain, needed help taking care of him and Hyrum’s five other children.

He Was Born During Turbulent Times

Mary Fielding Smith

Mary Fielding Smith, mother of Joseph F. Smith

Members of the mob-militia gathered outside the home of Hyrum Smith in Far West, Missouri. The voice of Samuel Bogart, a fiery preacher who had been a major force in inspiring mob hatred toward the Saints, could be heard inside the house where Mary Fielding Smith lay sick in bed. Her sister, Mercy Thompson, concerned that Mary might not recover from her illness, tried to quiet her own fears and reassure her sister.

Hyrum Smith

Hyrum Smith, father of Joseph F. Smith

Mary’s serious condition had been aggravated emotionally when her husband was yanked away from their home at bayonet point. A fiendish guard told Mary to say her last farewell to Hyrum, for she need not suppose she would see him alive again. She suffered under these circumstances while waiting for the birth of her first child (which occurred two weeks later). She named the new baby after her beloved brother, Joseph Fielding. She had been so taxed that she did not have sufficient strength to nurse her little son. Her sister Mercy (whose husband had been forced to flee to save his life) moved in to care for her and nurse the baby.

Members of the militia had forced their way into many homes on the pretext of searching for arms, but in reality had used the opportunity to plunder and abuse the Saints. Up to this hour the two sisters had not been molested, but in a moment the ruffians were within their home. Not caring for anyone’s condition, the mobbers forced all but the baby, Joseph F., into one area of the house and then began to loot and pillage. They broke into a trunk and helped themselves to its contents. In another room, some of the mob picked up a bed and threw it on top of another bed during their frantic search for loot. In their disregard for life they had buried the infant Joseph F. beneath the suffocating weight of the bedding.

Having taken what they wanted, the mob departed as swiftly as it had come. It took some moments for the household to recover from this invasion. Suddenly Joseph F. was remembered. With great anxiety the quilts and blankets were pulled from the bed and the small baby recovered. Though buried for some time and blue from lack of oxygen, he had been spared from death. Mary held the tiny infant in her arms, grateful that he had survived.

Elder Samuel O. Bennion, a member of the Seventy, testified: “I believe that the Lord knew him before he ever came here, and I believe that when Joseph F. Smith was born in Missouri that God knew him, and I believe that Lucifer, the ‘son of the morning,’ knew him, and that he, the adversary of all good, sought to destroy him. . . . I believe that he was recognized by Lucifer, that he was to become a great leader in Israel” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1917, 121).

He Was Mature Beyond His Years

woman and boy walking beside ox and wagon

Mary Fielding Smith and her son Joseph F. traveling to the Salt Lake Valley
Painting by Glen S. Hopkinson

Joseph F. Smith’s youth was unusually strenuous and served to mature him beyond his years. When he was five years old, his father and uncle were assassinated at Carthage, Illinois. At seven he drove an ox team from Montrose, Iowa, near Nauvoo, to Winter Quarters, more than two hundred miles.

“Mary Smith with her family remained in Nauvoo until the summer of 1846. It was only a day or two before the battle of Nauvoo, when, under threats, she hastily loaded her children in a flat boat with such household effects as could be carried, and crossed the Mississippi to a point near Montrose. There under the trees on the bank of the river the family pitched camp that night, and there they experienced the horror of listening to the bombardment of Nauvoo. . . . Although Joseph was not yet eight years of age, he was required to drive one of the ox teams most of the way from Montrose to Winter Quarters. At this place the family sojourned until the spring of 1848, endeavoring in the meantime, by help from friends who were not prepared to continue on the journey, and by constant toil, to gather sufficient teams and necessities to make the journey across the plains” (Joseph Fielding Smith, comp., Life of Joseph F. Smith [1938], 131).

When almost nine years old, Joseph F., along with several other boys, was assigned to watch the cattle as they were sent out to graze about two miles from the town of Winter Quarters. One morning as the cattle grazed, the boys mounted their horses and amused themselves by running short races and jumping ditches. Suddenly, they were attacked by Indians.

Joseph F. recalled: “My first impression, or impulse was to save the cattle from being driven off, for in a most incredible short time, I thought of going to the valley; of our dependence upon our cattle, and the horror of being compelled to remain at Winter Quarters. I suited the action to the thought, and at full speed dashed out to head the cattle and if possible turn them towards home” (quoted in Smith, comp. Life of Joseph F. Smith, 135).

While the others ran for help, Joseph F. tried to drive the cattle back toward the town as fast as he could, but he was unable to outrun the Indians. They soon overtook him. Even so, the boy continued to dodge and run until his horse became winded. He said: “One Indian rode upon the left side and one on the right side of me, and each took me by an arm and leg and lifted me from my horse; they then slackened their speed until my horse run from under me, then they chucked me down with great violence to the ground. Several horses from behind jumped over me, but did not hurt me. My horse was secured by the Indians and without slackening speed they rode on in the direction from whence they had come” (quoted in Smith, comp., Life of Joseph F. Smith, 136).

The chase, however, had taken enough time that men approaching from the fields prevented the Indians’ return. The cattle were saved, but the horse Joseph F. was riding was never found.

His Mother’s Faith Was Demonstrated

Mary Fielding Smith

Mary Fielding Smith
Painting by Sutcliffe Maudscey

While on a trip to procure provisions for the long journey from Winter Quarters to the Salt Lake Valley, young Joseph F. Smith witnessed his mother’s trust and faith in God in overcoming obstacles. Camping by a creek one night near some men with a herd of cattle, Joseph F. turned his family’s oxen out to graze.

The next morning their best yoke of oxen could not be found. Joseph F. and his uncle searched all morning until they were both disheartened. He recalled: “I was the first to return to our wagons, and as I approached I saw my mother kneeling down in prayer. I halted for a moment and then drew gently near enough to hear her pleading with the Lord not to suffer us to be left in this helpless condition, but to lead us to recover our lost team, that we might continue our travels in safety. When she arose from her knees I was standing nearby. The first expression I caught upon her precious face was a lovely smile, which discouraged as I was, gave me renewed hope and an assurance I had not felt before” (quoted in Smith, comp., Life of Joseph F. Smith, 132).

yoke of oxen

Through prayer, Mary Fielding Smith found her lost oxen.

After Joseph F. and his uncle had returned to camp, Joseph F.’s mother insisted that they eat while she went out to look for the oxen. Her brother tried to dissuade her, insisting that they had looked everywhere. But she was determined to go and walked some distance toward the river. There she was met by one of the men from the cowherd who told her he had seen the oxen headed in the opposite direction from the one in which she was walking. She ignored him and kept on walking. Upon reaching the river, she turned and beckoned her son and brother. They hurried to her side and, as Joseph F. wrote, “There I saw our oxen fastened to a clump of willows growing in the bottom of a deep gulch which had been washed out of the sandy bank of the river by the little spring creek, perfectly concealed from view. We were not long in releasing them from bondage and getting back to our camp, where the other cattle had been fastened to the wagon wheels all the morning, and we were soon on our way home rejoicing. The worthy herdsmen had suddenly departed when they saw mother would not heed them; I hope they went in search of estray [strayed or lost] honesty, which I trust they found” (quoted in Smith, comp., Life of Joseph F. Smith, 133).

Later, during the journey west, young Joseph F. once again saw the power of his mother’s faith demonstrated. Having traveled a good share of the way to Zion, one of their best oxen fell to the ground. “The ox stiffened out spasmodically evidently in the throes of death. The death of this faithful animal would have been fatal to the progress of Widow Smith on the journey to the valley. . . . Producing a bottle of consecrated oil, Widow Smith asked her brother and James Lawson if they would please administer to the ox just as they would do to a sick person, for it was vital to her interest that the ox be restored that she might pursue her journey. Her earnest plea was complied with. These brethren poured oil on the head of the ox and then laid their hands upon it and rebuked the power of the destroyer just as they would have done if the animal had been a human being. Immediately the ox got up and within a very few moments again pulled in the yoke as if nothing had ever happened. This was a great astonishment to the company. Before the company had proceeded very far another of her oxen fell down as the first, but with the same treatment he also got up, and this was repeated the third time; by administration the oxen were fully healed” (Smith, comp., Life of Joseph F. Smith, 150).

adobe house

The old adobe home. This home was dismantled and moved to the Pioneer Trails State Park, near the “This Is the Place” monument in Salt Lake City.
Photograph by Don O. Thorpe

As a Boy, He Was Dependable

Joseph F. Smith recorded: “My principal occupation from 1848 to 1854, was that of herd-boy, although I made a hand always in the harvest field and at threshings, and in the canyons cutting and hauling wood. Though I had the principal care of the family stock, as herd-boy from 1846 to 1854, I cannot recall the loss of a single ‘hoof’ by death, straying away, or otherwise, from neglect or carelessness on my part during that period” (quoted in Smith, comp., Life of Joseph F. Smith, 163).

At one time during the winter of 1848, “he saw a wolf chasing a sheep out in the open field. It was a rainy day and the ground was soft. The wool of the sheep was heavy with moisture which retarded its flight. As the wolf was about to seize the sheep Joseph F. arrived at the rescue and saved the sheep. Although wolves were numerous and bold, Joseph F. was often out on the range after dark, in cold weather, where he would hear the ferocious howls of the marauders. He had a dog to aid him in his work, but at times the dog would become terrified because of the great number of wolves and would crouch at his feet. This was the nature of the amusement accorded to this faithful boy at an age when most boys like to play and engage in athletic sports” (Smith, comp., Life of Joseph F. Smith, 164).

boy rescuing calf from wolf

Rescuing a calf from wolves
Painting by Harold I. Hopkinson

He Overcame Many Trials during His Missions

Soon after his fifteenth birthday, Joseph F. Smith was ordained an elder and called to serve a three-year mission in Hawaii. During his mission he overcame fatigue, severe illness, and material loss by flood and fire. He preached, healed the sick, cast out devils, and presided over numerous branches of the Church.

Elder Charles W. Nibley, then Presiding Bishop of the Church, talked about the challenges overcome by the fifteen-year-old elder: “On this mission to the Sandwich Island [present-day Hawaii], he encountered severe hardships. I remember on our first trip over to the Islands, and I was over there on four trips with him, that sailing among the different small islands, he would point out to me such and such a place: ‘There is where I lived so long in a little straw hut’—which burned down or which was destroyed by flood. Here was another place where he had lain sick and where the good Hawaiian people had ministered to him. This experience, and the other, he would tell as we journeyed along, all of which, if I had time to relate, are faith-promoting and inspiring, and would point out to you the manliness of the young boy—for he was then, as I told you, fifteen or sixteen years of age” (in Conference Report, June 1919, 62).

Shortly after arriving in the islands, Elder Smith became very ill. Kind treatment by friends helped him to recover. Undaunted, he used his convalescent time to study the Hawaiian language. He had been promised by Elder Parley P. Pratt that he would master the language by faith and study. He applied both of these, and within one hundred days he was speaking the language fluently.

Joseph F. Smith as young man

Joseph F. Smith, about 1857

Sometime later he was taken ill again and did not fully recover for three months. Nevertheless, he applied himself to gospel study and to perfecting his language skills. During this second illness he was cared for by a young native brother and his wife. On one occasion the power of the adversary seized the woman of the house, causing her to go through all manner of hideous contortions. Though fearful at first, the boy prayed and found the power by which he successfully rebuked the evil spirit.

grass house in Hawaii

Joseph F. Smith’s first mission was to the Hawaiian Islands when he was fifteen years old. This was the type of native Hawaiian grass hut in which he would have frequently stayed.

Many years later, Bishop Charles W. Nibley recounted how President Joseph F. Smith was received by the Saints when he returned to Hawaii years after his mission. The members gathered together to greet the prophet as his boat docked at a wharf in Honolulu. He was covered with wreaths of flowers and many tears. During the festivities, Bishop Nibley “noticed a poor, old blind woman tottering under the weight of about ninety years, being led in [to the place where the Saints were gathering]. She had a few choice bananas in her hand. It was her all—her offering. She was calling, ‘Iosepa, Iosepa!’ Instantly, when he saw her, he ran to her and clasped her in his arms, hugged her, and kissed her over and over again, patting her on the head saying, ‘Mama, Mama, my dear old Mama!’

“And with tears streaming down his cheeks he turned to me and said, ‘Charley, she nursed me when I was a boy, sick and without anyone to care for me. She took me in and was a mother to me!’” (quoted in Smith, comp., Life of Joseph F. Smith, 186).

A Dream Encouraged Him on His Mission

As a young missionary—humble, sick, and discouraged—he was strengthened by a dream of his father and mother and of the Prophet Joseph Smith and others. He later wrote:

“I did have a dream one time. To me it was a literal thing; it was a reality.

“I was very much oppressed, once, on a mission. I was almost naked and entirely friendless, except the friendship of a poor, benighted, degraded people. I felt as if I was so debased in my condition of poverty, lack of intelligence and knowledge, just a boy, that I hardly dared look a white man in the face.

“While in that condition I dreamed that I was on a journey, and I was impressed that I ought to hurry—hurry with all my might, for fear I might be too late. . . . Finally I came to a wonderful mansion. . . . I knew that was my destination. As I passed towards it, as fast as I could, I saw a notice, ‘Bath.’ I turned aside quickly and went into the bath and washed myself clean. I opened up this little bundle that I had, and there was a pair of white, clean garments, a thing I had not seen for a long time. . . . I put them on. Then I rushed to what appeared to be a great opening, or door. I knocked and the door opened, and the man who stood there was the Prophet Joseph Smith. He looked at me a little reprovingly, and the first words he said: ‘Joseph, you are late.’ Yet I took confidence and said:

“‘Yes, but I am clean—I am clean!’

“He clasped my hand and drew me in, then closed the door. . . . When I entered I saw my father, and Brigham and Heber, and Willard, and other good men that I had known, standing in a row. . . . My mother was there . . . ; and I could name over as many as I remember of their names who sat there, who seemed to be among the chosen, among the exalted. . . .

“When I awoke that morning I was a man, although only a boy. There was not anything in the world that I feared. . . . That vision, that manifestation and witness that I enjoyed at that time has made me what I am, if I am anything that is good, or clean, or upright before the Lord, if there is anything good in me. That has helped me out in every trial and through every difficulty” (Gospel Doctrine [1939], 541–43).

At age twenty-one he married Levira A. Smith; at twenty-two he served his second mission—this time to Great Britain, where he presided over a number of districts. After being home again for only five months, he was called back to the Hawaiian islands on a third mission, where he served as an assistant to two of the Apostles.

Joseph F. Smith

Joseph F. Smith

His Desire Was to Bear a Strong Testimony

In an 1854 letter from the mission field to his cousin, Elder George A. Smith, who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Joseph F. Smith wrote poignantly of his desires:

“I know that the work in which I am engaged is the work of the living and true God, and I am ready to bear my testimony of the same, at any time, or at any place, or in whatsoever circumstances I may be placed; and hope and pray that I ever may prove faithful in serving the Lord, my God. I am happy to say that I am ready to go through thick and thin for this cause in which I am engaged; and truly hope and pray that I may prove faithful to the end. . . .

“Give my love to all the folks; . . . and tell them that I desire an interest in their prayers, that I may hold out faithful, and bear off my calling with honor to myself and the cause in which I am engaged. I had rather die on this mission, than to disgrace myself or my calling. These are the sentiments of my heart. My prayer is that we may hold out faithful to the end, and eventually be crowned in the kingdom of God, with those that have gone before us” (quoted in Smith, comp., Life of Joseph F. Smith, 176–77).

Book of Mormon and boots

Book of Mormon in Hawaiian and mission boots

Under No Condition Would He Deny His Testimony

On his way home from his first mission to Hawaii, Joseph F. Smith and his companions ran into a group of extremists when they camped one evening. The leader of the group swore he would kill anyone who was a Mormon. Pointing his gun at Joseph F. he demanded, “Are you a ‘Mormon’?” Expecting fully for the gun to discharge, nonetheless he answered, “Yes, siree; dyed in the wool; true blue, through and through.” The answer, given boldly and without hesitation, completely disarmed the belligerent man, and in bewilderment all he could do was shake the young man’s hand and praise him for his courage. The men then rode off and did not harm them further (see Smith, comp., Life of Joseph F. Smith, 189).

Joseph F. Smith

Joseph F. Smith

Three years later, in 1860, Joseph F. again showed the strength of his conviction. This time he was traveling to serve a mission to England. As he and his companions approached Nauvoo, where they had decided to visit for a while, they found a particularly bitter mob spirit and threats of murder. Although Joseph F. and his companions had been evasive about revealing who they were, so as to avoid trouble, a Catholic priest asked them directly if they were Mormon elders. At that moment the temptation to deny the truth was very strong; but resisting, Joseph F. said they were. The reply satisfied the priest and did not incur the anger of the other people. When they arrived at Nauvoo, they found themselves in the same quarters as the priest. Joseph F. Smith later stated of this experience, “I had never felt happier . . . than when I saw the minister there, and knew that we had told him the truth about our mission” (Gospel Doctrine, 534).

He Was Called to Be an Apostle

“July 1, 1866, Joseph F. Smith met with President Brigham Young and a number of the Apostles in the upper room in the Historian’s Office, in a council and prayer meeting according to the custom of the presiding brethren; Joseph F. was the secretary of this council. After the close of the prayer circle, President Brigham Young suddenly turned to his brethren and said, ‘Hold on, shall I do as I feel [led]? I always feel well to do as the Spirit constrains me. It is my mind to ordain Brother Joseph F. Smith to the Apostleship, and to be one of my counselors.’ He then called upon each of the brethren present for an expression of their feelings, and each responded individually stating that such action met with their hearty approval. The brethren then laid their hands upon the head of Joseph F.” (Smith, comp., Life of Joseph F. Smith, 226–27).

Joseph F. Smith

Joseph F. Smith, about 1874

A little over a year after being ordained an Apostle, Elder Smith was set apart as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. While an Apostle, he served as a counselor in the First Presidency, president of the European Mission, a counselor in the MIA, a councilman on both the Salt Lake City and Provo city councils, and as a member of the territorial legislature. He also presided over the state constitutional convention of 1882.

The Home Is the Most Sacred Institution of Heaven

Called to practice plural marriage, Joseph F. Smith received five wives over the years. Thoughtful and kind, he deeply loved his wives and children. Following are some statements he made about the importance of home and family:

“The richest of all my earthly joys is in my precious children” (quoted in Smith, comp., Life of Joseph F. Smith, 449).

“There is no substitute for the home. Its foundation is as ancient as the world, and its mission has been ordained of God from the earliest times. . . . The home then is more than a habitation, it is an institution which stands for stability and love in individuals as well as in nations” (Gospel Doctrine, 300).

Joseph F. Smith

Joseph F. Smith in his forties

“The very foundation of the kingdom of God, of righteousness, of progress, of development, of eternal life and eternal increase in the kingdom of God, is laid in the divinely ordained home; and there should be no difficulty in holding in the highest reverence and exalted thought, the home, if it can be built upon the principles of purity, of true affection, of righteousness and justice. The man and his wife who have perfect confidence in each other, and who determine to follow the laws of God in their lives and fulfil the measure of their mission in the earth, would not be, and could never be, contented without the home. Their hearts, their feelings, their minds, their desires would naturally trend toward the building of a home and family and of a kingdom of their own; to the laying of the foundation of eternal increase and power, glory, exaltation and dominion, worlds without end” (Gospel Doctrine, 304).

He Taught about the Patriarchal Order

Joseph F. Smith

Joseph F. Smith

President Joseph F. Smith taught:

“There is no higher authority in matters relating to the family organization, and especially when that organization is presided over by one holding the higher Priesthood, than that of the father. The authority is time honored, and among the people of God in all dispensations it has been highly respected and often emphasized by the teachings of the prophets who were inspired of God. The patriarchal order is of divine origin and will continue throughout time and eternity. . . . Wives and children should be taught to feel that the patriarchal order in the kingdom of God has been established for a wise and beneficent purpose, and should sustain the head of the household and encourage him in the discharge of his duties, and do all in their power to aid him in the exercise of the rights and privileges which God has bestowed upon the head of the home. This patriarchal order has its divine spirit and purpose, and those who disregard it under one pretext or another are out of harmony with the spirit of God’s laws as they are ordained for recognition in the home. It is not merely a question of who is perhaps the best qualified. Neither is it wholly a question of who is living the most worthy life. It is a question largely of law and order, and its importance is seen often from the fact that the authority remains and is respected long after a man is really unworthy to exercise it.

“This authority carries with it a responsibility and a grave one, as well as its rights and privileges, and men can not be too exemplary in their lives, nor fit themselves too carefully to live in harmony with this important and God-ordained rule of conduct in the family organization. Upon this authority certain promises and blessings are predicated, and those who observe and respect this authority have certain claims on divine favor which they cannot have except they respect and observe the laws that God has established for the regulation and authority of the home. ‘Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee,’ was a fundamental law to ancient Israel, and is binding upon every member of the Church today, for the law is eternal” (Gospel Doctrine, 286–88).

Joseph F. Smith family

The Joseph F. Smith family in 1898

Family Home Evening Was Introduced

With the exception of war, perhaps no other factor characterizes the twentieth century better than the battle against the family. Many forces are at work tearing at the foundations of this God-ordained institution. Loud, strong voices full of seductive appeal cry from opposing sides. Abortion, alternate forms of marriage, homosexuality, the so-called women’s liberation movement, and the pressure to have no or few children are all loudly proclaimed with every other kind of selfishness. The proponents of these insidious ideas and movements express loud indignation when any defend the most noble God-given institution of the family.

Joseph F. Smith home

The Joseph F. Smith home on 200 North, Salt Lake City

Long before any of these were critical issues, the Lord inspired President Joseph F. Smith on the need to strengthen the homes of the Saints so that they might effectively combat those forces that would try to pull the home apart. An official announcement issued by the First Presidency in 1915 urged the Saints to begin a program that would be the basis of a strong and happy home. This announcement read, in part, as follows:

“We advise and urge the inauguration of a ‘Home Evening’ throughout the Church, at which time fathers and mothers may gather their boys and girls about them in the home and teach them the word of the Lord. They may thus learn more fully the needs and requirements of their families; at the same time familiarizing themselves and their children more thoroughly with the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This ‘Home Evening’ should be devoted to prayer, singing hymns, songs, instrumental music, scripture-reading, family topics and specific instruction on the principles of the Gospel, and on the ethical problems of life, as well as the duties and obligations of children to parents, the home, the Church, society and the Nation. For the smaller children appropriate recitations, songs, stories and games may be introduced. Light refreshments of such a nature as may be largely prepared in the home might be served.

“Formality and stiffness should be studiously avoided, and all the family should participate in the exercises.

“These gatherings will furnish opportunities for mutual confidence between parents and children, between brothers and sisters, as well as give opportunity for words of warning, counsel and advice by parents to their boys and girls. They will provide opportunity for the boys and girls to honor father and mother, and to show their appreciation of the blessings of home so that the promise of the Lord to them may be literally fulfilled and their lives be prolonged and made happy. . . .

“If the Saints obey this counsel, we promise that great blessings will result. Love at home and obedience to parents will increase. Faith will be developed in the hearts of the youth of Israel, and they will gain power to combat the evil influences and temptations which beset them” (“Home Evening,” Improvement Era, June 1915, 733–34).

Joseph F. Smith

Joseph F. Smith, about the time he was called to the apostleship

He Took Time and Put Effort into Caring for His Children

Bishop Charles W. Nibley, then Presiding Bishop of the Church, stated: “I have visited at his home when one of his little children was down sick. I have seen him come home from his work at night tired, as he naturally would be, and yet he would walk the floor for hours with that little one in his arms, petting it and loving it, encouraging it in every way with such tenderness and such a soul of pity and love as not one mother in a thousand would show” (“Reminiscences of President Joseph F. Smith,” Improvement Era, Jan. 1919, 197).

He Shared His Testimony with His Children and Taught Them

Joseph F. Smith and Joseph Fielding Smith

Joseph F. Smith and his son Joseph Fielding Smith

One of President Joseph F. Smith’s sons, Joseph Fielding Smith, remembering the power of his father’s teachings, said: “On such occasions [when he was home], frequent family meetings were held and he spent his time instructing his children in the principles of the gospel. They one and all rejoiced in his presence and were grateful for the wonderful words of counsel and instruction which he imparted on these occasions in the midst of anxiety. They have never forgotten what they were taught, and the impressions have remained with them and will likely to do so forever. . . . My father was the most tenderhearted man I ever knew. . . . Among my fondest memories are the hours I have spent by his side discussing principles of the gospel and receiving instruction as only he could give it. In this way the foundation for my own knowledge was laid in truth” (quoted in Joseph Fielding Smith Jr. and John J. Stewart, The Life of Joseph Fielding Smith [1972], 40).

Responsible Parents Teach Their Children Gospel Standards

Joseph F. Smith

Joseph F. Smith, about 1893

President Joseph F. Smith counseled the Saints:

“God forbid that there should be many of us so unwisely indulgent, so thoughtless and so shallow in our affection for our children that we dare not check them in a wayward course, in wrong-doing and in their foolish love for the things of the world more than for the things of righteousness, for fear of offending them. I want to say this: Some people have grown to possess such unlimited confidence in their children that they do not believe it possible for them to be led astray or to do wrong. . . . The result is, they turn them loose, morning, noon, and night, to attend all kinds of entertainments and amusements, often in company with those whom they know not and do not understand. Some of our children are so innocent that they do not suspect evil, and therefore, they are off their guard and are trapped into evil. . . .

“. . . I want to sound a note of warning to the Latter-day Saints. The time has come for them to look after their children. Every device possible to the understanding and ingenuity of cunning men, is being used for the purpose of diverting our children from the faith of the gospel and from the love of the truth. . . . Our children can be led away from their parents and from the faith of the Gospel, only when they are in a condition that they know not the truth for themselves, not having had a proper example before them to impress it upon their minds. . . .

“I may be pardoned, since it is pretty well known everywhere, I believe, that I speak my mind if I speak at all, if I say to you, . . . I would rather take one of my children to the grave than I would see him turn away from this gospel. I would rather follow their bodies to the cemetery, and see them buried in innocence, than I would see them corrupted by the ways of the world” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1909, 4–5).

He Loved His Family with a Pure and Holy Love

Joseph F. and Julina Smith

Joseph F. and Julina Smith on their fiftieth wedding anniversary, about 1916

“‘It would be difficult to find in any part of the world any family where the members manifested greater love and solicitude for each other than in the family of President Joseph F. Smith,’ wrote [his son] Joseph Fielding. ‘No father ever at any age of the world, we feel confident in saying, had a greater love for wife or wives and children, and was more earnestly concerned for their welfare. . . . Out in the world, where marriage is looked upon too frequently merely as a contract, which on the slightest provocation may be broken; where families are constantly racked by disunity, and where, through the action of the divorce courts, children are deprived of the most sacred right of loving parental affection, there is a general feeling that a family such as that of President Smith’s could only be a family of discord and jealous strife and hatred. To the contrary, there was and is no monogamist family which could be more united. To the astonishment of the unbelieving world, the wives loved each other dearly. In times of sickness they tenderly waited upon and nursed each other. When death invaded one of the homes and a child was taken, all wept and mourned together with sincere grief. . . .Two of the wives [Julina and Edna] were skilled and licensed practitioners in obstetrics, and brought many babies into the world. They waited upon each other and upon the other wives, and when babies came all rejoiced equally with the mother.

“‘The children recognized each other as brothers and sisters, full-fledged not as half, as they would be considered in the world. They defended each and stood by each other no matter which branch of the family was theirs. . . . Joseph F. Smith loved his wives and children with a holy love that is seldom seen, never surpassed. Like Job of old, he prayed for them night and day and asked the Lord to keep them pure and undefiled in the path of righteousness’” (Smith and Stewart, Life of Joseph Fielding Smith, 46–47).

He Was Separated from His Family

One of the greatest trials of Joseph F. Smith’s life was being exiled from his family for years; but, under the direction of President John Taylor, he did so to avoid arrest during the so-called “Mormon Crusade,” in which the Church was persecuted for plural marriage. Much of that time he spent in Hawaii directing the work there. Far away, powerless, indignant, and suffering from the most acute illness of his life, he would receive word about the harassment of the Saints, his family’s forced abandonment of their home, the death of a child. But determined, unfaltering, he wrote, “Trials are necessary to the perfection of mankind, as friction is necessary to separate the dross of human judgment from the pure gold of divine wisdom” (quoted in Smith, comp., Life of Joseph F. Smith, 280). The day of amnesty finally came, however, and the home found joy as its father returned.

Presidents Cannon, Woodruff, and Joseph F. Smith

The First Presidency at the time of the Salt Lake Temple dedication, about 1893: George Q. Cannon, Wilford Woodruff, and Joseph F. Smith

He Knew the Grief and Heartache of Losing a Child

Ten times Joseph F. Smith and his wives mourned the death of one of their children—children for whom he tenderly and earnestly prayed and helped raise. “In 1898, March 17th, at the passing of another of his precious babies—Ruth—he related how he had nursed the little one tenderly during her sickness and then prayed earnestly for her recovery. ‘But O, our prayers did not avail!’

“‘At last I took her in my arms and walked the floor with her and helplessly, powerless to aid my darling, dying child, I watched her feeble breath depart to come no more in time, and her glorious intelligence, her bright angelic spirit took her flight to God from whence she came. It was then about 20 minutes to 8 p.m. With her was swept away all our fond hope and love and joy of earth. Oh! how I loved that child! She was intelligent beyond her years; bright, loving, choice and joyous! But she is gone to join the beauteous and glorious spirits of her brothers and sisters, who have gone before! Sara Ella, M. Josephine, Alfred, Heber, Rhoda, Albert, Robert and John. O my soul! I see my own sweet mother’s arms extended welcoming to her embrace the ransomed glorious spirit of my own sweet babe! O my God! For this glorious vision, I thank Thee! And there too are gathered to my Father’s mansion all my darling lovely ones; not in infantile helplessness, but in all the power and glory and majesty of sanctified spirits! Full of intelligence, of joy and grace, and truth. My darling little petling in her own bright home with those of her brothers and sisters who had preceded her. How blessed, how happy is she! How sorrowful are we!’” (Smith, comp., Life of Joseph F. Smith, 463).

He Was Courageous and Undaunted in Defending Truth

books and articles

Publications of Joseph F. Smith: Gospel Doctrine and The Father and the Son

Fearless and articulate, Joseph F. Smith was a powerful preacher and writer. As a tool of the Holy Spirit, he could make tears well, joy distill, and men and women forget the fatigue of a long journey. Once, a veteran newsman became so enthralled with his talk that he forgot to take notes. Joseph F. Smith turned these gifts to the defense of the kingdom—denouncing its enemies, defending its truths—until he became known as the “Fighting Apostle.”

In a tribute to President Smith, John A. Widtsoe, who would later be a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, wrote:

“The Fighting Apostle they called him, as he hurled back the untruths about ‘Mormonism,’ and his relentless watchfulness became a deterrent power among those who planned evil for a good and peaceful people.

“A fighting apostle he has always been—fighting for the cause of truth” (quoted in Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 511). (See Church History in the Fulness of Times, 431–34, for more details concerning the persecutions of the Saints during the anti-polygamy years.)

He Was Called as President of the Church

President Joseph F. Smith

President Joseph F. Smith

At the death of President Lorenzo Snow in 1901, the office of President of the Church rested upon the shoulders of Joseph F. Smith. Several leading brethren had long before felt that Joseph F. would become president of the Church.

“Both Presidents Wilford Woodruff and Lorenzo Snow had prophesied that Joseph F. Smith would sometime become president of the Church. Thirty-seven years earlier in the Hawaiian Islands when President Snow, then a member of the Council of Twelve, nearly lost his life by drowning, he declared that the Lord made known to him ‘that this young man, Joseph F. Smith . . . would some day be the Prophet of God on the earth.’ President Woodruff was once relating to a group of children some incidents in the life of the Prophet Joseph Smith. ‘He turned to Elder Joseph F. Smith and asked him to arise to his feet. Elder Smith complied. “Look at him, children,” Wilford Woodruff said, “for he resembles the Prophet Joseph more than any man living. He will become the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I want everyone of you to remember what I have told you this morning.”’ After President Woodruff’s death, President Snow told Joseph F. Smith that the spirit of God whispered to him that he, Joseph, would succeed him, Lorenzo, as president of the Church” (Smith and Stewart, Life of Joseph Fielding Smith, 124).

President and Sister Smith in group

In 1906, President Smith and Charles W. Nibley of the Presiding Bishopric toured the European missions of the Church. It was the first time a President of the Church had visited Europe. President Smith returned to Europe in 1910 for a similar tour. He is shown in the lower left-hand corner of the photograph.
Photograph by George Edward Anderson; courtesy of James H. Smith, Ogden, Utah

President Heber J. Grant said: “Lorenzo Snow was drowned in the harbor of Honolulu, in the Hawaiian Islands, and it took some hours to bring him to life again. At that particular time the Lord revealed to him the fact that the young man Joseph F. Smith, who had refused to get off the vessel that had carried them from San Francisco to Honolulu, and get into a small boat, would some day be the Prophet of God. Answering Lorenzo Snow who was in charge of the company, he said: ‘If you by the authority of the Priesthood of God, which you hold, tell me to get into that boat and attempt to land, I will do so, but unless you command me in the authority of the Priesthood, I will not do so, because it is not safe to attempt to land in a small boat while this typhoon is raging.’ They laughed at the young man Joseph F. Smith, but he said, ‘The boat will capsize.’ The others got into the boat, and it did capsize; and but for the blessings of the Lord in resuscitating Lorenzo Snow he would not have lived, because he was drowned upon that occasion. It was revealed to him, then and there, that the boy, with the courage of his convictions, with the iron will to be laughed at and scorned as lacking courage to go in that boat, and who stayed on that vessel, would yet be the Prophet of God. Lorenzo Snow told me this upon more than one occasion, long years before Joseph F. Smith came to the presidency of the Church” (in Conference Report, June 1919, 10–11).

President Smith with missionaries

President Smith in the British Isles, 1906

Elder Melvin J. Ballard, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and closely associated with President Smith, said: “I recall my early recollections of President Smith with a good deal of pleasure—because I admired him, he was to me my ideal, I tried in my life, as I became acquainted with him, to be as he was. I knew as a child, for the Lord revealed it unto me, that President Smith would some day preside over this Church; and in connection with that I saw many things that President Smith would do; and when, last October, he stood before the congregations of the Saints, . . . I knew that all that the Lord had for President Smith to do had been done. That which I saw as a child was fulfilled, finished, completed” (in Conference Report, June 1919, 68).

As President of the Church, Joseph F. Smith continued the emphasis on tithing begun by President Lorenzo Snow and finally saw the Church free from debt. He issued doctrinal statements and was a great instrument in turning away hatred, bigotry, and persecution.

President Smith in Hawaii

President Smith in Hawaii, about 1909

As President of the Church, He Came Under Personal Attack

After the crusade against plural marriage lessened, many men applied for and received amnesty. Joseph F. Smith was one of those men. By the time he became President of the Church in 1901, the persecutions of the late nineteenth century were a thing of the past. But the trials he would face were not yet over. An anti-Mormon political party was organized in Utah. This party launched a massive verbal attack against the prophet and the Church. The chief organ of this attack was the Salt Lake Tribune.

Vilified and lampooned in newspapers, maliciously lied about, the “Fighting Apostle” would not so much as write a letter in his own defense. “During these years [1905 to 1911] this newspaper almost daily cartooned President Joseph F. Smith with a spirit of wicked and malicious villification [sic]. These papers were scattered all over the United States, and naturally, appearing day by day and month after month, the people of the nation and even beyond the borders of the United States, reached the conclusion that the President of the Church, Joseph F. Smith, was the lowest and most despicable character in all the world. Missionaries out in the world were made to suffer and were persecuted and insulted in all parts of the earth. Yet during it all the Church continued to grow” (Smith, comp., Life of Joseph F. Smith, 350).

President Smith and his Counselors

The First Presidency, 1901–10: John R. Winder, Joseph F. Smith, and John H. Smith

“Joseph F. Smith endured persecution, the revilings and ravings of the wicked, false accusations coming from the most contemptible and vilest creatures of the human family, and endured it all without a word of retaliation. . . . He took the stand that if Joseph Smith could endure the abuse and vilification which was heaped upon him; if the Son of God could endure it and not return in kind, then he, too, as the humble servant of the Master, could endure in silence, for his fear was not in the arm of flesh but in the Lord, and the time must come when truth would triumph and the falsifier would sink into oblivion and be forgotten” (Smith, comp., Life of Joseph F. Smith, 439).

He insisted all must be forgiven. Truth would eventually dominate. Indeed it did. Upon his death, many of those who had been bitter enemies, enlightened by the purity and strictness of his life, wrote words of sorrow and praise.

He Testified before Congress

President Smith and others

In Washington, D.C., lobbying for Utah’s statehood in the 1890s

A chilly wind tugged at President Joseph F. Smith’s overcoat as he mounted the steps to the senate chambers of the United States Capitol Building in March 1904. The responsibility he bore was ominous. Assembled in a large committeeroom were men of tremendous power and influence—United States senators. Their expressed purpose for meeting was to examine whether or not Reed Smoot, senator from Utah and an Apostle of the Church, would be allowed to retain his seat as a member of the Senate. But their real motive was far different.

Some of the senators making up the committee of investigation were bitterly hostile toward the Church. Only one of the fourteen senators who comprised this committee would initially show any sympathy or concern. Most of the others wanted to use their influence to embarrass and defame the Church, its president, and its members.

President Smith was called to testify as the first witness. As he climbed the long steps he was fully aware of the real issue and its magnitude. It was not Reed Smoot who was on trial, but the Church. Newspapers across the country would carry reports of the hearings as front-page news. Many of these would be anxious to print anything that would put the Church in a bad light. Yet President Smith was confident.

How different was this tall prophet from the boy who, years before as a missionary to the Hawaiian Islands, had felt “as if I was so debased in my condition of poverty, lack of intelligence and knowledge . . . that I hardly dared look a white man in the face” (Gospel Doctrine, 542).

President Smith in fur coat

President Smith in the Sacred Grove, 1905

For three days President Joseph F. Smith testified before the Senate committee in defense of Reed Smoot. His sincerity, his openness, and his candor greatly affected some of the members of the committee. Misunderstanding and bigotry began to melt. Though there were those of anti-Mormon sentiment who testified against the Church, many of those called to testify actually told the Church’s story. These testimonies were recorded by the press and many people, for the first time, read and understood the Church’s views and teachings. Everywhere attitudes began to change, and the Church gained acceptance. President Smith’s testimony would require more than two hundred pages in the official record.

Bishop Charles W. Nibley related a discussion he had with President Smith concerning his appearance before the Congress:

“I recall one night we were on shipboard returning from Europe, in 1906. It was a bright moonlight night, and we stood there leaning over the railing enjoying the smooth sea and balmy summer night air. The Smoot investigation, which had just occurred a little while before and which had stirred up so much controversy throughout the land was fresh in our minds, and we were talking of it. I took the position that it would be unwise for Reed Smoot to be re-elected to the United States Senate. I was conscientious in my objection, and I had marshaled all the facts, arguments, and logic, that I could; and I was well informed, I thought, on the subject, and had presented them to him in as clear and yet in as adroit a manner as I possibly could. It would take too much space here to go over the arguments, but it seemed to me that I had the best of it. I could see he began to listen with some little impatience, and yet he let me have my say, but he answered in tones and in a way that I shall never forget. Bringing his fist down with some force on the railing between us, he said, in the most forceful and positive manner:

President Smith and his Counselors

The First Presidency, 1910: Anthon H. Lund, Joseph F. Smith, and John H. Smith

“‘If ever the Spirit of the Lord has manifested to me anything clear and plain and positive, it is this, that Reed Smoot should remain in the United States Senate. He can do more good there than he can anywhere else.’

“Of course, I did not contend further with him, but accepted from that hour his view of the case and made it mine, too. Twelve years have passed since that time, and looking back on it now, I cannot help but think how marvelously and splendidly the inspiration of the Almighty has been vindicated, while my argument, facts and logic have all fallen to the ground” (Improvement Era, Jan. 1919, 195).

Reed Smoot served in the United States Senate for thirty years.

He Identified Three Dangers That the Church Faces

President Joseph F. Smith warned:

“There are at least three dangers that threaten the Church within, and the authorities need to awaken to the fact that the people should be warned unceasingly against them. As I see these, they are flattery of prominent men in the world, false educational ideas, and sexual impurity. . . .

“. . . The third subject mentioned—personal purity, is perhaps of greater importance than either of the other two. We believe in one standard of morality for men and women. If purity of life is neglected, all other dangers set in upon us like the rivers of waters when the flood gates are opened” (“Three Threatening Dangers, Improvement Era, Mar. 1914, 476–77).

He Stressed the Need for Moral Cleanliness

President Smith

Joseph F. Smith

In an article that President Joseph F. Smith wrote for and at the request of the Newspaper Enterprise Association of San Francisco, California, he declared:

“No more loathsome cancer disfigures the body and soul of society today than the frightful affliction of sexual sin. It vitiates the very fountains of life, and bequeaths its foul effects to the yet unborn as a legacy of death. It lurks in hamlet and city, in the mansion and in the hovel as a ravening beast in wait for prey; and it skulks through the land in blasphemous defiance of the laws of God and man.

meetinghouse on Hawaiian Temple site

Laie Hawaii Temple site. President Smith visited the Hawaiian Islands four times during his administration. While visiting in 1915, he selected and dedicated this site for the temple at Laie, Oahu. Pictured is a meetinghouse that was begun in 1882. The temple was dedicated in 1919, one year after President Smith’s death.

“The lawful association of the sexes is ordained of God, not only as the sole means of race perpetuation, but for the development of the higher faculties and nobler traits of human nature, which the love-inspired companionship of man and woman alone can insure. . . .

“Sexual union is lawful in wedlock, and, if participated in with the right intent is honorable and sanctifying. But without the bonds of marriage, sexual indulgence is a debasing sin, abominable in the sight of Deity. . . .

“Like many bodily diseases, sexual crime drags with itself a train of other ills. As the physical effects of drunkenness entail the deterioration of tissue, and disturbance of vital functions, and so render the body receptive to any distemper to which it may be exposed, and at the same time lower the powers of resistance even to fatal deficiency, so does unchastity expose the soul to divers spiritual maladies, and rob it of both resistance and recuperative ability. The adulterous generation of Christ’s day were deaf to the voice of truth, and through their diseased state of mind and heart, sought after signs and preferred empty fable to the message of salvation” (“Unchastity the Dominant Evil of the Age,” Improvement Era, June 1917, 739, 742–43).

He Lived in Close Communion with the Spirit of the Lord

Bishop Charles W. Nibley wrote:

“As we were returning from an eastern trip, some years ago, on the train just east of Green River, I saw him go out to the end of the car on the platform, and immediately return and hesitate a moment, and then sit down in the seat just ahead of me. He had just taken his seat when something went wrong with the train. A broken rail had been the means of ditching the engine and had thrown most of the cars off the track. In the sleeper we were shaken up pretty badly, but our car remained on the track.

President Smith

President Smith, about 1917

“The President immediately said to me that he had gone on the platform when he heard a voice saying, ‘Go in and sit down.’

“He came in, and I noticed him stand a moment, and he seemed to hesitate, but he sat down.

“He said further that as he came in and stood in the aisle he thought, ‘Oh, pshaw, perhaps it is only my imagination;’ when he heard the voice again, ‘Sit down,’ and he immediately took his seat, and the result was as I have stated.

“He, no doubt, would have been very seriously injured had he remained on the platform of that car, as the cars were all jammed up together pretty badly. He said, ‘I have heard that voice a good many times in my life, and I have always profited by obeying it.’ . . .

“He lived in close communion with the Spirit of the Lord, and his life was so exemplary and chaste that the Lord could easily manifest himself to his servant. Truly he could say ‘Speak Lord, for thy servant heareth.’ Not every servant can hear when He speaks. But the heart of President Smith was attuned to the Celestial melodies—he could hear, and did hear” (Improvement Era, Jan. 1919, 197–98).

He Had a Vision of the Redemption of the Dead

During the last months of his life, the veil was very thin and he was in continuous communication with the Spirit. On 4 October 1918, in the opening discourse to his last general conference, one month before he died, he declared: “I will not, I dare not, attempt to enter upon many things that are resting upon my mind this morning, and I shall postpone until some future time, the Lord being willing, my attempt to tell you some of the things that are in my mind, and that dwell in my heart. I have not lived alone these five months. I have dwelt in the spirit of prayer, of supplication, of faith and of determination; and I have had my communication with the Spirit of the Lord continuously” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1918, 2).

The day before, 3 October 1918, the heavens were opened and he beheld a vision of the redemption of the dead, wherein he saw the ministry of the Lord in the spirit world. This great revelation is now included in the Doctrine and Covenants as section 138.

He Triumphed Over His Trials and Tribulations

President Smith

President Joseph F. Smith

President Joseph F. Smith’s life drew to a close on 19 November 1918. His life had not been easy, yet his character, temperament, and faith were such that he was not overcome by the trials he faced. Those trials helped refine him so that he could behold and reveal those things of the Spirit that the Lord needed made known to His children.

Elder James E. Talmage, who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, declared: “I do bear witness to you that Joseph F. Smith was one of the real apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ. I have listened to his ringing words of testimony and warning before the assemblies of thousands, and I have sat with him, on very rare occasions, alone; and on occasions less rare, but still not common, with my brethren and associates, I have heard him preach in conversation, and I have never seen his face so enlightened nor his frame so thrilled with power as when he was bearing testimony of the Christ. He seemed to me to know Jesus Christ as a man knows his friend” (in Conference Report, June 1919, 59).

In greatness, Joseph F. Smith served and led the Church. He refused to let adversity canker his soul or diminish his love. With humble endurance came power; the veil drew thin, and he was permitted to see the Savior, the spirit world, and the things of God. To the end of his life he bore a fervent witness of Christ, whose servant he was.