Prepared by the Church Educational System
Published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
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© 1982 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
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Printed in the United States of America
We live in a very complex world where we constantly face critical questions and problems. What about abortion? Are there any absolute moral values? What is the proper role of women? How can we hold the family together? Is the earth in danger of extinction?
These and similar questions press upon us constantly. Most of mankind feel and fumble their way in the dark, oblivious to their own blindness. President N. Eldon Tanner has written:
“Men are stumbling and groping for answers to their own and world problems, and finding their attempts at solution to be totally inadequate, and indeed they are only getting more and more deeply into situations from which they are unable to extricate themselves” (“‘We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet, to Guide Us in These Latter Days,’” Ensign, Mar. 1975, p. 2).
Paul prophesied to Timothy, saying: “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be . . . ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:1–2, 7.) This is the condition of those who are of the world today. President Marion G. Romney said:
“Our affluent society is filled with much anxiety because the inhabitants of the world ‘. . . seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, . . .’ (D&C 1:16.) I ask you candidly, how could current attitudes of men and nations throughout the world be more accurately described?” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1965, p. 105.)
Earthly wisdom is not always enough to solve the problems confronting mankind. No sooner does one problem seem solved than a worse one surfaces elsewhere. Wisdom greater than man’s is needed to solve the problems of our times.
The scriptures affirm that God does have the solutions. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (1 Corinthians 3:19). God knows all things (see 2 Nephi 9:20). He “has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; . . . man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend” (Mosiah 4:9). “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8–9.)
The Lord knows where this world’s choices are taking us, and he knows the perils which lie ahead. He alone has the solution for the problems we face. Our need to hear his voice has never been greater. That need is illustrated by the following conversation Elder Hugh B. Brown reported having with a noted British jurist. The latter felt that the idea of a modern prophet was incredible, and he asked Elder Brown to defend his assertion that God speaks to man in our day:
“‘May I proceed, sir, on the assumption that you are a Christian?’
“‘I assume you believe in the Bible—the Old and New Testaments?’
“‘Do you believe in prayer?’
“‘You say that my belief that God spoke to man in this age is fantastic and absurd?’
“‘To me, it is.’
“‘Do you believe that God ever did speak to anyone?’
“‘Certainly, all through the Bible we have evidence of that.’
“‘Did he speak to Adam?’
“‘To Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jacob, Joseph, and on through the prophets?’
“‘I believe he spoke to each of them.’
“‘Do you believe that contact between God and man ceased when Jesus appeared on the earth?’
“‘No, such communication reached its climax, its apex, at that time.’
“‘Do you believe that Jesus was the Son of God?’
“‘Do you believe, sir, that after Jesus was resurrected a certain lawyer, who was also a tentmaker, by the name of Saul of Tarsus, when on his way to Damascus, talked with Jesus of Nazareth, who had been crucified, resurrected and had ascended into heaven?’
“‘Whose voice did Saul hear?’
“‘It was the voice of Jesus Christ, for he so introduced himself.’
“‘Then, my Lord, (That is the way we address judges in the British Commonwealth.) my Lord, I am submitting to you in all seriousness that it was standard procedure in Bible times for God to talk to man.’
“‘I think I will admit that, but it stopped shortly after the first century of the Christian era.’
“‘Why do you think it stopped?’
“‘I can’t say.’
“‘You think that God hasn’t spoken since then?’
“‘I am sure He hasn’t.’
“‘There must be a reason; can you give me a reason?’
“‘I do not know.’
“‘May I suggest some possible reasons: Perhaps God does not speak to man anymore because he cannot. He has lost the power.’
“He said, ‘Of course that would be blasphemous.’
“‘Well, then, if you don’t accept that, perhaps He doesn’t speak to men because He doesn’t love us anymore; He is no longer interested in the affairs of men.”
“‘No,’ he said, ‘God loves all men, and He is no respecter of persons.’
“‘Well, then, if He could speak, and if He loves us, then the only other possible answer, as I see it, is that we don’t need Him. We have made such rapid strides in science; we are so well educated, that we don’t need God anymore.’
“And then he said, and his voice trembled as he thought of impending war, ‘Mr. Brown, there never was a time in the history of the world when the voice of God was needed as it is needed now.’” (The Profile of a Prophet, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year, pp. 3–5.)
The need for revelation from God is great, yet many reject the possibility that God would communicate with mankind. Elder John Taylor said that it was absurd for anyone to hold such a position.
“A good many people, and those professing Christians, will sneer a good deal at the idea of present revelation. Whoever heard of true religion without communication with God? To me the thing is the most absurd that the human mind could conceive. I do not wonder, when the people generally reject the principle of present revelation, that skepticism and infidelity prevail to such an alarming extent. I do not wonder that so many men treat religion with contempt, and regard it as something not worth the attention of intelligent beings, for without revelation religion is a mockery and a farce. If I can not have a religion that will lead me to God, and place me en rapport with him, and unfold to my mind the principles of immortality and eternal life, I want nothing to do with it.” (In Journal of Discourses, 16:371.)
The Lord has always been willing to reveal his will to his children on earth whenever they have been willing to receive it.
“For thousands of years there have been constant broadcasts from heaven of vital messages of guidance and timely warnings, and there has been a certain constancy in the broadcasts from the most powerful station. Throughout all those centuries there have been times when there were prophets who tuned in and rebroadcasted to the people. The messages have never ceased.” (Spencer W. Kimball, in Conference Report, Apr. 1970, p. 121.)
Elder Mark E. Petersen taught that the Lord raises up prophets in every age to meet the challenges of the times:
“Did not Moses minister to the particular needs of his people? Did not Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel do likewise? Did not Peter and Paul give answers to the immediate problems of their day, tailored to fit the conditions that faced their own neighbors and friends? . . .
“He [God] certainly revealed himself anciently. If he is unchangeable, as the scriptures say, should he not do as much for modern people as he did for the ancients?
“Throughout Bible times he made himself known. Especially when his people began to drift astray did he manifest himself in power to bring them back to the fold.
“This he did through new prophets whom he raised up from time to time, and to whom he gave new revelations, which revitalized and gave added meaning to the divine word previously given.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1972, pp. 15–16; or Ensign, July 1972, pp. 40–41.)
Knowing that calamities would come to those who rejected his commandments, the Lord called prophets in our time to warn the world. In a revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord said:
“The anger of the Lord is kindled, and his sword is bathed in heaven, and it shall fall upon the inhabitants of the earth.
“And the arm of the Lord shall be revealed; and the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people;
“For they have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant;
“They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall.
“Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments;
“And also gave commandments to others, that they should proclaim these things unto the world.” (D&C 1:13–18.)
Marion G. Romney stated that our society is going in the wrong direction and declared that the Lord has in our own day given the remedy for the deepening problems of mankind:
“Like the rest of the world, informed Latter-day Saints are fully aware that our civilization is going forward backwards and that our affluent society is filled with much anxiety. But, unlike the rest of the world, we are not ‘still searching for . . . the answers.’ We know what they are. The Almighty himself has revealed them. He has made known the cause of the downward drift, and he has revealed the one and only remedy therefor. We not only know these things; but, as already said, we are under a divine charge to declare them to the world.
“And so, pursuant to this charge, we do declare that more than a century ago God our Eternal Father, knowing where the course of men was leading, opened the heavens and gave warning. He not only confirmed the drift; he pointed out the reason for it. He revealed also the remedy for it.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1965, p. 104.)
God indeed speaks through prophets today. Through them he provides teachings which are essential for our welfare and will solve all the problems of the world. A modern prophet has explained how that word is revealed to the world and what its effect can be:
“In the seven two-hour sessions [of general conference] and in the several satellite meetings, truths were taught, doctrines expounded, exhortations given, enough to save the whole world from all its ills—and I mean from ALL its ills.” (Spencer W. Kimball, In the World But Not of It, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year [Provo, 14 May 1968], p. 2.)
This will always be the case. Through his prophets the Lord will continue to give guidance and counsel which, if heeded, will solve all of the world’s problems and heal all the world’s ills.
God has clearly told us which way this world is moving and how we can be saved from the consequences of continuing on that course. Our greatest need is to heed the counsel God gives through his prophets, as we were told by President J. Reuben Clark, Jr.:
“Sometime ago a pamphlet came across my desk which unfortunately I threw away. On the outside page it was stated, ‘We need a prophet,’ and as I read it then, and as I think of it now, I think how blind the world is. We have a prophet, an American prophet, one who spoke our language, one who was imbued with Christian ideals, and that prophet gave us the great righteous principles of which we know and of which the world partly knows; he gave them in our own language over a hundred years ago. . . .
“Now our Prophet, Joseph Smith, and the prophets since his time—and there has always been a prophet in this Church, and prophets, and you sustain the brethren here, conference after conference, as prophets, seers, and revelators—the Prophet himself, through the Lord by revelation, gave certain great principles that would save the world if the world would but listen. We do not lack a prophet; what we lack is a listening ear by the people and a determination to live as God has commanded. That is all we need. The way has been made perfectly clear.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1948, pp. 79–80.)
This manual will help you learn the role of God’s living prophets and become more receptive to their words. Those who profess to follow God’s prophets must listen to them and follow their direction. Those who fail to do this will be no better off than those who rejected the counsel of the ancient prophets and perished. Deciding to follow God’s prophets is a challenge to this generation.
In a revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith, shortly after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized, the Lord referred to the Church as “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth” (D&C 1:30). It is led by living prophets, seers, and revelators, the oracles of God. These terms will be defined in this chapter. The significance of these prophets, seers, and revelators and their relationship to other Church leaders will also be discussed.
As used in scripture, the term oracle has at least three different meanings. Elder Bruce R. McConkie gave the following explanation:
“1. Revelations given by God through his prophets are oracles. (Acts 7:38; Rom. 3:2; Heb. 5:12.) The First Presidency are appointed ‘to receive the oracles for the whole church.’ (D. & C. 124:126.) When these revelations or oracles are given to the people, the recipients are under solemn obligation to walk in the light thus manifest. ‘And all they who receive the oracles of God, let them beware how they hold them lest they are accounted as a light thing, and are brought under condemnation thereby, and stumble and fall when the storms descend, and the winds blow, and the rains descend, and beat upon their house.’ (D. & C. 90:5.)
“2. Men who receive revelations or oracles for the people are themselves called oracles. (2 Sam. 16:23.) Members of the First Presidency, [and] Council of the Twelve . . . —because they are appointed and sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators to the Church—are known as the living oracles. All those who preach the gospel have the obligation to do it by revelation so that they themselves, as they teach, are acting as oracles to their hearers. ‘If any man speak,’ Peter said, ‘let him speak as the oracles of God.’ (1 Pet. 4:11.)
“3. In a general sense, any sacred place where oracles are received is called an oracle. A temple is an oracle in this sense, with the holy of holies therein being specifically so designated. (1 Kings 6:16; 8:6; 2 Chron. 4:20; Ps. 28:2.) Sacred revelations or oracles given in such places warrant designating the place itself as an oracle, that is, as a house where revelation is received. (D. & C. 124:39.)” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 547.)
Men who represent the Lord as living oracles are sustained by Church members as prophets, seers, and revelators.
Elder Harold B. Lee taught that “in a broad sense, a prophet is one who speaks, who is inspired of God to speak in his name.” (“The Place of the Living Prophet, Seer, and Revelator,” in Charge to Religious Educators, p. 107.) Of Jesus Christ, the greatest of all prophets, the Lord said to Moses, “I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him” (Deuteronomy 18:18). That is the role given to every prophet called by God.
To John on the Isle of Patmos, a messenger from God declared, “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10). The Prophet Joseph Smith explained that one who has a testimony of Jesus “possess[es] the spirit of prophecy, and that constitutes a prophet” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 269). Thus, a prophet is one who knows by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ.
“Paul spoke of it [the spirit of prophecy] to the Corinthians, ‘Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say [and the Prophet Joseph Smith said that should have been translated no man can know] that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost’ (1 Corinthians 12:3). In other words, anyone who enjoys the gift by which he may have God revealed, has the spirit of prophecy, the power of revelation, and in a sense is a prophet within the sphere of responsibility and authority given to him.” (Harold B. Lee, “The Place of the Living Prophet, Seer, and Revelator,” in Charge, p. 107.)
Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught that although all may possess the gift of prophecy, there is only one who is prophet to the whole Church:
“There are, of course, ranks and grades of prophetic responsibility and authority. Every member of the Church should be a prophet as pertaining to his own affairs. ‘Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!’ was the prayer of Moses. (Num. 11:29.) Prophecy is one of the gifts of the Spirit to which all the saints are entitled (1 Cor. 12:10), and faithful members of the Church are exhorted to ‘covet to prophesy.’ (1 Cor. 14:39.)
“Those who hold offices in the Church, however, should be prophets both as pertaining to their own affairs and the affairs of the organization over which they preside. . . . Members of the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve . . . are all sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators to the Church. Any new revelation for the Church would, of course, be presented to the people by the President of the Church, he being the mouthpiece of God on earth. (D. & C. 21:1–7.)” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 606.)
Defining the calling of the prophets the Lord sends to lead the Church, Elder Bruce R. McConkie said:
“A true prophet is one who has the testimony of Jesus; one who knows by personal revelation that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God, and that he was to be—or has been—crucified for the sins of the world; one to whom God speaks and who recognizes the still small voice of the Spirit. A true prophet is one who holds the holy priesthood; who is a legal administrator; who has power and authority from God to represent him on earth. A true prophet is a teacher of righteousness to whom the truths of the gospel have been revealed and who presents them to his fellowmen so they can become heirs of salvation in the highest heaven. A true prophet is a witness, a living witness, one who knows, and one who testifies. Such a one, if need be, foretells the future and reveals to men what the Lord reveals to him.” (The Mortal Messiah, 2:169.)
A seer is one who sees “things which [are] not visible to the natural eye” (Moses 6:36). By seeing through his “spiritual eyes” (Moses 1:11), a seer obtains knowledge of truths beyond the vision of other mortals. By seeing in vision that to which God opens to the “eyes of [his] understanding” (D&C 110:1; 76:12), a seer is able to see whatever is expedient in the past, present, or future and is able to interpret and clarify eternal truths. Enoch and Moses are scriptural examples of seers (see Moses 1:8–11, 27–29; 6:35–36; 7:21–67.) The following account from the Book of Mormon teaches several significant concepts about the role of a seer:
“Now Ammon said unto him: I can assuredly tell thee, O king, of a man that can translate the records; for he has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date; and it is a gift from God. And the things are called interpreters, and no man can look in them except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish. And whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer.
“And behold, the king of the people who are in the land of Zarahemla is the man that is commanded to do these things, and who has this high gift from God.
“And the king said that a seer is greater than a prophet.
“And Ammon said that a seer is a revelator and a prophet also; and a gift which is greater can no man have, except he should possess the power of God, which no man can; yet a man may have great power given him from God.
“But a seer can know of things which are past, and also of things which are to come, and by them shall all things be revealed, or, rather, shall secret things be made manifest, and hidden things shall come to light, and things which are not known shall be made known by them, and also things shall be made known by them which otherwise could not be known.” (Mosiah 8:13–17.)
Elder Orson F. Whitney explained the role of a seer in this way:
“A seer is greater than a prophet [see Mosiah 8:15]. One may be a prophet without being a seer; but a seer is essentially a prophet—if by ‘prophet’ is meant not only a spokesman, but likewise a foreteller. Joseph Smith was both prophet and seer.
“A seer is one who sees. But it is not the ordinary sight that is meant. The seeric gift is a supernatural endowment. Joseph was ‘like unto Moses;’ and Moses, who saw God face to face, explains how he saw him in these words: ‘Now mine own eyes have beheld God; yet not my natural, but my spiritual eyes; for my natural eyes could not have beheld; for I should have withered and died in his presence; but his glory was upon me; and I beheld his face, for I was transfigured before him.’ [Moses 1:11.] Such is the testimony of the ancient Seer, as brought to light by the Seer of Latter-days [Joseph Smith].” (Saturday Night Thoughts, pp. 39–40.)
King Nebuchadnezzar of ancient Babylon had a dream which he was not able to interpret (see Daniel 2:1–13). “The secret [of the dream was] revealed unto Daniel in a night vision” (Daniel 2:19), and Daniel told the king that it was “God in heaven that revealeth secrets and maketh [them] known” (Daniel 2:28). God reveals his secrets to a human revelator, who in turn may reveal those truths to others. Elder John A. Widtsoe explained the function of a revelator:
“A revelator makes known, with the Lord’s help, something before unknown. It may be new or forgotten truth, or a new or forgotten application of known truth to man’s need. Always, the revelator deals with truth, certain truth (D. & C. 100:11) and always it comes with the divine stamp of approval. Revelation may be received in various ways, but it always presupposes that the revelator has so lived and conducted himself as to be in tune or harmony with the divine spirit of revelation, the spirit of truth, and therefore capable of receiving divine messages.” (Evidences and Reconciliations, p. 258.)
Joseph who was sold into Egypt acted as a revelator when he interpreted the dreams of the butler and baker (see Genesis 40) and when he revealed to the pharaoh the interpretation of his dream (see Genesis 41:1–36).
The kingdom of God is a theocracy, meaning that all authority in the kingdom centers in Almighty God, the Father of our spirits. God delegates to men the power and authority to act in his name, and we call this power and authority priesthood. Living prophets, seers, and revelators possess this priesthood, having received it from God. The Prophet Joseph Smith wrote, “That Priesthood [the Melchizedek Priesthood] is a perfect law of theocracy, and stands as God to give laws to the people, administering endless lives to the sons and daughters of Adam” (Teachings, p. 322). The priesthood, then, is the government of God. The law-giving, administrating, and adjudicating power is vested in him alone. He chooses and ordains his living prophets, seers, and revelators (see Exodus 3:10; Moses 6:26–27; Jeremiah 1:5; John 15:16). No man may assume these roles for himself (see Hebrews 5:4; Exodus 28:1).
Elder Parley P. Pratt explained that “the legislative, judicial, and executive power is vested in Him. He reveals the laws, and he elects, chooses, or appoints the officers; and holds the right to reprove, to correct, or even to remove them at pleasure. Hence the necessity of a constant intercourse by direct revelation between him and his church. As a precedent for the foregoing facts, we refer to the examples of all ages as recorded in the Scriptures.
“This order of government began in Eden. God appointed Adam to govern the earth, and gave him laws.
“It was perpetuated in a regular succession from Adam to Noah; from Noah to Melchesideck, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Samuel, the prophets, John, Jesus, and his apostles. All, and each of which were chosen by the Lord, and not by the people.” (“Proclamation: To the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Greeting,” Millennial Star, Mar. 1845, p. 150.)
The Lord gives his prophets, seers, and revelators both the priesthood authority and the keys they need to act in his name. The keys are the right of presidency. President Joseph F. Smith wrote:
“It is necessary that every act performed under this authority shall be done at the proper time and place, in the proper way, and after the proper order. The power of directing these labors constitutes the keys of the Priesthood. In their fullness, the keys are held by only one person at a time, the prophet and president of the Church. He may delegate any portion of this power to another, in which case that person holds the keys of that particular labor.” (Gospel Doctrine, p. 136.)
The people, of course, do have the right of common consent (see D&C 20:65–66; 26:2); that is, they signify their willingness or unwillingness to be governed by those chosen to lead them, but they neither nominate nor release. That is done by higher authority. Elder Parley P. Pratt gave the following explanation of this principle:
“They [the people] do not confer the authority in the first place, nor can they take it away; for instance, the people did not elect the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, nor could they by popular vote deprive them of their apostleship.
“As the government of the kingdom anciently existed; so it is now restored. The people did not choose that great modern apostle and prophet, Joseph Smith, but God chose him in the usual way that he has chosen others before him, viz., by open vision, and by his own voice from the heavens.” (“Proclamation: To the Church,” p. 150.)
Through the principle of common consent, Church members also signify their acceptance of canonized revelations. They cannot, however, invalidate the revelations given to a prophet.
Although the Church has many men who serve as “General Authorities,” only the First Presidency and the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators. The following diagram illustrates that distinction:
The First Presidency
|}||Prophets, Seers, and Revelators|
The First Quorum of the Seventy
Since there must be order in the Church, only one man at a time serves as the prophet, seer, and revelator to the whole Church. He is given a unique role and a “special spiritual endowment.” President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., discussed the gifts given to the various General Authorities of the Church:
“It should be in mind that some of the General Authorities have had assigned to them a special calling; they possess a special gift; they are sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators, which gives them a special spiritual endowment in connection with their teaching of the people. They have the right, the power, and authority to declare the mind and will of God to his people, subject to the over-all power and authority of the President of the Church. Others of the General Authorities are not given this special spiritual endowment and authority covering their teaching; they have a resulting limitation, and the resulting limitation upon their power and authority in teaching applies to every other officer and member of the Church, for none of them is spiritually endowed as a prophet, seer, and revelator. Furthermore . . . the President of the Church has a further and special spiritual endowment in this respect, for he is the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator for the whole Church.” (“When Are Church Leaders’ Words Entitled to Claim of Scripture?” Church News, 31 July 1954, pp. 9–10.)
In the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord specifically designated the President of the Church as a prophet, seer, and revelator: “And again, the duty of the President of the office of the High Priesthood is to preside over the whole church, and to be like unto Moses—Behold, here is wisdom; yea, to be a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet, having all the gifts of God, which he bestows upon the head of the Church” (D&C 107:91–92).
1. Write a paragraph expressing your feelings about the need for prophets, seers, and revelators.
2. Read and mark or cross-reference the following scriptures which show that God has always chosen and called his prophets: Genesis 6:13–22; 12:1; 17:1; 26:1–5; Exodus 3:1–10; Joshua 1:1–2; Isaiah 6:1, 8–9; Jeremiah 1:4–10; Ezekiel 1:26–2:5; Jonah 1:1–2; Luke 6:13; John 15:16; Acts 13:1–3.
3. Learn the names of all of those who are prophets, seers, and revelators in the Church today.
4. Answer the following questions: (a) Why should we look to the prophets, seers, and revelators and follow their counsel rather than that of any others? (b) What does Mosiah 8:13–17 teach about the relationship between the functions of a seer and those of a prophet or a revelator? (c) What does a seer have the privilege of using? (see JS—H 1:35; Mosiah 8:13; 28:13–16). (d) What do the following scriptures teach about the relationship between the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve, the First Quorum of the Seventy, and the Presiding Bishopric: D&C 68:14–20; 107:22–26, 33–34; 120:1; 124:138–39?
The following quotation from President Joseph Fielding Smith clarifies Doctrine and Covenants 107:24–26:
“When the First Presidency is disorganized, the Twelve Apostles become the presiding quorum of the Church until the Presidency is again organized, and during that time they are virtually the Presidency of the Church—the presiding quorum. If through some cause both these quorums should be destroyed, it would devolve on the Seventy to set in order the Church and they would become the presiding quorum.
“I think it must be said that the Apostles could not be equal in authority with the Presidency when the First Presidency is fully and properly organized. There could not be two heads—or three heads—of equal authority at the same time, for such a thing would lead to confusion.” (“The First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve,” Improvement Era, Nov. 1966, p. 979.)
The Lord gives to one of the prophets, seers, and revelators on the earth a calling superior to that of all others. He presides over the whole church and is the “President of the High Priesthood of the Church” (D&C 107:65). He is the Lord’s spokesman to the Church and to the whole world.
“People who are not members of this church may not sense the great significance attached to his ministry. Even some Latter-day Saints have not yet discovered it. But the president of the Church is in fact a prophet raised up in these last days to give inspired guidance, not only to Latter-day Saints, but to all mankind everywhere.” (Mark E. Petersen, in Conference Report, Apr. 1972, p. 15; or Ensign, July 1972, p. 40.)
Because of the greatness of his calling, it is important to understand the role of the living prophet and our need to follow his guidance. What has the Lord said about his prophets? How often do living prophets receive revelations, and how are these revelations made known to others? What is the relationship between the living prophet and the Lord’s church? Would the Lord ever allow his church to be guided by a prophet who would lead us astray? The answers to these questions give us knowledge which we can use in attaining eternal life in the kingdom of God.
President John Taylor wrote that “the principle of present revelation . . . is the very foundation of our religion” (in Journal of Discourses, p. 371). From the prophet Amos came the declaration that “surely the Lord God will do nothing but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). This statement was explained by Elder LeGrand Richards who said, “The Lord has never done a work that he has recognized without a prophet at its head” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1975, p. 75; or Ensign, Nov. 1975, p. 50).
“God simply does not work except through prophets. There has never been a period in the history of the Church from Adam down through all the dispensations when he has labored with the people that he did not so labor through prophets. That is one of the fundamental principles of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ: God will work only through prophets.” (Mark E. Petersen, “A Man Must Be Called of God,” in Speeches of the Year, 1979, p. 180.)
President Spencer W. Kimball testified that the Lord guides his church from day to day by revelation to his living prophet. He warned the Saints that they must not reject living prophets, as the ancients did because their messages did not come in a dramatic way:
“I bear witness to the world today that more than a century and a half ago . . . the heavens were once again opened, and since that time revelations have been continuous. . . .
“Since that momentous day in 1820, additional scripture has continued to come, including the numerous and vital revelations flowing in a never-ending stream from God to his prophets on the earth. . . .
“. . . we testify to the world that revelation continues and that the vaults and files of the Church contain these revelations which come month to month and day to day. We testify also that there is, since 1830 when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized, and will continue to be, so long as time shall last, a prophet, recognized of God and his people, who will continue to interpret the mind and will of the Lord.
“Now, a word of warning: Let us not make the error of the ancients. Numerous modern sectarians believe in the Abrahams, the Moses, and the Pauls, but resist believing in today’s prophets. The ancients also could accept the prophets of an earlier day, but denounced and cursed the ones who were their contemporaries.
“In our day, as in times past, many people expect that if there be revelation it will come with awe-inspiring, earth-shaking display. For many it is hard to accept as revelation those numerous ones in Moses’ time, in Joseph’s time, and in our own year—those revelations which come to prophets as deep, unassailable impressions settling down on the prophet’s mind and heart as dew from heaven or as the dawn dissipates the darkness of night.
“Expecting the spectacular, one may not be fully alerted to the constant flow of revealed communication. I say, in the deepest of humility, but also by the power and force of a burning testimony in my soul, that from the prophet of the Restoration to the prophet of our own year, the communication line is unbroken, the authority is continuous, a light, brilliant and penetrating, continues to shine. The sound of the voice of the Lord is a continuous melody and a thunderous appeal. For nearly a century and a half there has been no interruption.
“Man never needs to stand alone. Every faithful person may have the inspiration for his own limited kingdom. But the Lord definitely calls prophets today and reveals his secrets unto them as he did yesterday, he does today, and will do tomorrow: that is the way it is.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1977, pp. 114–15; or Ensign, May 1977, p. 78.)
Those who desire to follow the Savior and to be saved from the deceits and sophistries of the adversary will follow the Lord’s prophets, for “the Savior is reigning in the midst of the Saints today through continuous revelation” (Howard W. Hunter, in Conference Report, Apr. 1981, p. 88; or Ensign, May 1981, p. 65).
Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and several other ancient prophets were rejected by most of the people among whom they ministered. The same thing happened to many Book of Mormon prophets. The prophet Samuel told the Nephites:
“Wo unto this people, because of this time which has arrived, that ye do cast out the prophets, and do mock them, and cast stones at them, and do slay them, and do all manner of iniquity unto them, even as they did of old time.
“And now when ye talk, ye say: If our days had been in the days of our fathers of old, we would not have slain the prophets; we would not have stoned them, and cast them out.
“Behold ye are worse than they; for as the Lord liveth, if a prophet come among you and declareth unto you the word of the Lord, which testifieth of your sins and iniquities, ye are angry with him, and cast him out and seek all manner of ways to destroy him; yea, you will say that he is a false prophet, and that he is a sinner, and of the devil, because he testifieth that your deeds are evil.” (Helaman 13:24–26.)
Many people in our own time also revere prophets of the past but refuse to accept the prophet the Lord has sent to guide them today. President Harold B. Lee related two incidents which illustrate this tendency:
“I have a banker friend in New York. Years ago when I met him in company with President Jacobson, who was then presiding over the Eastern States Mission, we had had quite a discussion. President Jacobson had given him a copy of the Book of Mormon which he had read, and he spoke very glowingly of what he called its ‘tremendous philosophies.’ Near the close of the business hour he invited us to ride to the mission home in his limousine, and we accepted. On the way, as he talked about the Book of Mormon and his reverence for its teachings, I said, ‘Well, why don’t you do something about it? If you accept the Book of Mormon, what is holding you back? Why don’t you join the Church? Why don’t you accept Joseph Smith, then, as a prophet?’
“And he said, very thoughtfully and carefully, ‘Well, I suppose the whole reason is that Joseph Smith is too close to me. If he had lived two thousand years ago, I suppose I would believe. But because he is so close, I guess that is the reason I can’t accept him as a prophet.’
“Here was a young man saying, ‘I believe in the dead prophets that lived a thousand-plus years ago, but I have great difficulty believing in a living prophet.’ That attitude is also taken toward God. To say that the heavens are sealed and there is no revelation today is saying that we do not believe in a living Christ today, or a living God today—we believe in one long-since dead and gone. So this term living prophet has real significance. . . .
“Years ago as a young missionary, I was visiting Nauvoo and Carthage with my mission president, and we were holding a missionary meeting in the jail room where Joseph and Hyrum met their deaths. The mission president had related the historical events that led up to the martyrdom, and then he closed with this very significant statement. He said, ‘When the Prophet Joseph Smith was martyred, there were many Saints who died spiritually with Joseph.’ So it was with Brigham Young, so it was with John Taylor. And you have people today who are still quoting from what is alleged to have been a revelation of John Taylor. Suppose he did have revelations. Did they have any more authority than something that comes from President McKay today? Do you see? Some Church members died spiritually with Wilford Woodruff, with Lorenzo Snow, with Joseph F. Smith, with Heber J. Grant, with George Albert Smith. We have the same affliction today—some are willing to believe someone who is dead and gone and accept his as more authoritative than the words of a living authority today.” (“The Place of the Living Prophet, Seer, and Revelator,” in Charge to Religious Educators, pp. 105, 107.)
Elder Spencer W. Kimball said that “even in the Church many are prone to garnish the sepulchres of yesterday’s prophets and mentally stone the living ones” (“. . . To His Servants the Prophets,” Instructor, Aug. 1960, p. 257; see also Matthew 23:29–30, 34). We would do well to ask ourselves the same question Elder Kimball asked when he said, “Do you also build sepulchres for the dead prophets and tombs for those who have passed away long ago and disregard the living ones?” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1949, p. 123.)
President Ezra Taft Benson taught the important principle that we must look first to the living prophet. He said, “The most important prophet, so far as you and I are concerned, is the one living in our day and age to whom the Lord is currently revealing His will for us” (“Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet,” in Speeches of the Year, 1980, p. 27).
As God’s presiding high priest upon the earth, the living prophet holds the keys to direct the Lord’s work.
“These keys are the right of presidency; they are the power and authority to govern and direct all of the Lord’s affairs on earth. Those who hold them have power to govern and control the manner in which all others may serve in the priesthood.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, in Conference Report, Apr. 1972, p. 98; or Ensign, July 1972, p. 87.)
The prophet has the powers, gifts, and blessings which enable him to officiate in any office or function pertaining to the Church (see D&C 46:29; 107:91–92).
“Upon the President of the Church the Almighty bestows the highest office and the greatest gifts that mortal man is capable of receiving. He is the earthly head of the kingdom of God, the supreme officer of the Church, the President of the High Priesthood of the Church; Or, in other words, the Presiding High Priest over the High Priesthood of the Church.’ (D. & C. 107:65–66.) His duty is ‘to preside over the whole church, and to be like unto Moses—Behold, here is wisdom; yea, to be a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet, having all the gifts of God which he bestows upon the head of the church.’ (D. & C. 107:91–92; 21:1.)
“He is the one man on earth at a time who can both hold and exercise the keys of the kingdom in their fulness. (D. & C. 132:7.) By the authority vested in him, all ordinances of the gospel are performed, all teaching of the truths of salvation is authorized, and through the keys which he holds, salvation itself is made available to men of his day.” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, pp. 591–92.)
The keys of the priesthood have come down to modern prophets from ancient prophets. Adam, our great progenitor and the first father here on earth, was the first to hold the keys of the holy priesthood. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “the Priesthood was first given to Adam; he obtained the First Presidency, and held the keys of it from generation to generation” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 157). Adam in turn passed his authority to his posterity (see Wilford Woodruff, in Journal of Discourses, 16:264), and as a result “there has been a chain of authority and power from Adam down to the present time” (Teachings, p. 191).
The priesthood and its keys have come down to us today in proper order. Joseph Smith received keys from Jesus’ Apostles, Peter, James, and John, who received them directly from Jesus (see Matthew 16:19; 18:1, 18; D&C 27:12–13). Other ancient holders of priesthood keys also came to Joseph Smith and bestowed their authority (see D&C 110:11–16; 128:20–21).
The same keys and authority given to Joseph Smith have been passed to each succeeding President of the Church.
“That same authority which Joseph held, those same keys and powers which were the very essence of his divinely given right to preside, were by him conferred upon the Twelve Apostles with Brigham Young at their head. Every president of the Church since then has come to that most high and sacred office out of the Council of the Twelve. Each of these men has been blessed with the spirit and power of revelation from on high. There has been an unbroken chain from Joseph Smith, Jr., to Spencer W. Kimball. Of that I bear solemn witness and testimony before you this day. This Church is built upon the sure word of prophecy and revelation—built, as Paul wrote to the Ephesians, ‘upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.’ (Eph. 2:20.)” (Gordon B. Hinckley, in Conference Report, Apr. 1981, pp. 27–28; or Ensign, May 1981, p. 22.)
Elder Mark E. Petersen pointed out that possession of the keys of the priesthood is an infallible sign of a true prophet: “Joseph Smith made it clear that the KEYS of the priesthood are essential to any man who serves as a prophet of God. Such an individual must have divine authority or his words are not valid. He must have been divinely called and given a legal commission, for otherwise he could not qualify.
“False prophets have appeared over the ages, and do so even now. None has possessed the KEYS of divine authority, and lacking those keys such individuals are as sounding brass and tinkling cymbals. . . .
“True prophets of God have divine keys and the right to use them. . . .
“. . . an infallible sign of the true prophet is that he holds divine KEYS of appointment, given to him in the way the scripture stipulates.” (For Righteousness Sake, pp. 59–60.)
“God said, defining the relationship that he, Moses, would have to God, and that Aaron would have to Moses: ‘And thou shalt speak unto him, and put words in his [Aaron’s] mouth: and I will be with thy mouth, . . . and will teach you what ye shall do. . . . and he shall be to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God.’ (Exodus 4:15–16.)
“I think that is as clear a relationship as you can find anywhere—the relationship of the prophet of the Lord and the President of the Church, the prophet, seer, and revelator, to others of us to whom he may delegate authority.” (Harold B. Lee, “The Place of the Living Prophet, Seer, and Revelator,” in Charge, p. 108.)
To Oliver Cowdery, the Second Elder of the Church, the Lord said:
“Behold, I say unto thee, Oliver, that it shall be given unto thee that thou shalt be heard by the church in all things whatsoever thou shalt teach them by the Comforter, concerning the revelations and commandments which I have given.
“But behold, verily, verily I say unto thee, no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., for he receiveth them even as Moses.
“And thou shalt be obedient unto the things which I shall give unto him, even as Aaron, to declare faithfully the commandments and the revelations, with power and authority unto the church.
“And if thou art led at any time by the Comforter to speak or teach, or at all times by the way of commandment unto the church, thou mayest do it.
“But thou shalt not write by way of commandment, but by wisdom;
“And thou shalt not command him who is at thy head, and at the head of the church;
“For I have given him the keys of the mysteries, and the revelations which are sealed, until I shall appoint unto them another in his stead.” (D&C 28:1–7.)
And to Sidney Rigdon, a counselor in the First Presidency, the Lord said:
“And it is expedient in me that you, my servant Sidney, should be a spokesman unto this people; yea, verily, I will ordain you unto this calling, even to be a spokesman unto my servant Joseph.
“And I will give unto him power to be mighty in testimony.
“And I will give unto thee power to be mighty in expounding all scriptures, that thou mayest be a spokesman unto him, and he shall be a revelator unto thee, that thou mayest know the certainty of all things pertaining to the things of my kingdom on the earth.” (D&C 100:9–11.)
Similarly, General Authorities today have the responsibility and privilege to be spokesmen, “to declare faithfully the commandments and the revelations, with power and authority unto the church” (D&C 28:3). These commandments and revelations are given by the Lord to the prophet. The General Authorities are to speak as sent and directed by the prophet, and they are to speak and teach “by the Comforter” (D&C 28:4). The Lord has declared of his servants who thus speak that “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).
Just as the Lord’s prophet is the only person on the earth who holds all of the keys of the priesthood (see D&C 132:7), he also is the only one who is empowered to receive revelation for the whole Church. Neither his counselors nor members of the Quorum of the Twelve nor any person in any position in the Church may declare official doctrine, change policies, or speak as the Lord’s representative for the entire Church, without the prophet’s authorization. Of this principle President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., said:
“Here we must have in mind—must know—that only the President of the Church, the Presiding High Priest, is sustained as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator for the Church, and he alone has the right to receive revelations for the Church, either new or amendatory, or to give authoritative interpretations of scriptures that shall be binding on the Church, or change in any way the existing doctrines of the Church. He is God’s sole mouthpiece on earth for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the only true Church. He alone may declare the mind and will of God to his people. No officer of any other Church in the world has this high right and lofty prerogative.
“So when any other person, irrespective of who he is, undertakes to do any of these things, you may know he is not ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost,’ in so speaking, unless he has special authorization from the President of the Church. . . .
“I repeat here some of the elemental rules that, as to certain matters, will enable us always to know when others than the Presiding High Priest, the Prophet, Seer and Revelator, the President of the Church, will not be speaking as ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost.’
“When any one except the President of the Church undertakes to proclaim a revelation from God for the guidance of the Church, we may know he is not ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost.’
“When any one except the President of the Church undertakes to proclaim that any scripture of the Church has been modified, changed, or abrogated, we may know he is not ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost,’ unless he is acting under the direct authority and direction of the President. . . .
“When any one except the President of the Church undertakes to proclaim that any doctrine of the Church has been modified, changed, or abrogated, we may know that he is not ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost,’ unless he is acting under the direction and by the authority of the President.
“When any man, except the President of the Church, undertakes to proclaim one unsettled doctrine, as among two or more doctrines in dispute, as the settled doctrine of the Church, we may know that he is not ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost,’ unless he is acting under the direction and by the authority of the President.
“Of these things we may have a confident assurance without chance for doubt or quibbling.” (“When Are Church Leaders’ Words Entitled to Claim of Scripture?” Church News, 31 July 1954, pp. 10–11.)
These principles are in harmony with the following statement from the Lord:
“O hearken, ye elders of my church, and give ear to the words which I shall speak unto you.
“For behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, that ye have received a commandment for a law unto my church, through him whom I have appointed unto you to receive commandments and revelations from my hand.
“And this ye shall know assuredly—that there is none other appointed unto you to receive commandments and revelations until he be taken, if he abide in me.
“But verily, verily, I say unto you, that none else shall be appointed unto this gift except it be through him; for if it be taken from him he shall not have power except to appoint another in his stead.” (D&C 43:1–4.)
As sole spokesman for the Lord on the earth, the prophet is empowered to keep the Church on a straight course, as Elder Delbert L. Stapley testified:
“I bear witness to you, my brothers and sisters, that God sustains him, and no one else in the world today but him, because he has the holy calling of prophet, seer, and revelator, representing the Lord upon the earth in our time. He only has the right to revelation for the people of the Church, and if all people would understand that, they would not be tossed about by those who would seek to divert their minds from the Church and its glorious principles. . . .
“. . . they will be fortified against false teachers and anti-Christs, and we do have them among us.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1953, p. 70.)
The Saints need never be deceived, for the Lord has established an unmistakable means of instruction. Referring to the prophet, the Lord told the Church, “Thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, . . . for his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith” (D&C 21:4–5).
“When there is to be anything different from that which the Lord has told us already, he will give it to his prophet, not to some Tom, Dick, or Harry that is thumbing his way across the country, as we have had people tell the story, and not through someone, as another story relates, who swooned and came up and gave a revelation. I have said, ‘Do you suppose that while the Lord has his prophet on the earth, he is going to take some round-about means of revealing things to his children? That is what he has a prophet for, and when he has something to give to this Church, he will give it to the President, and the President will see that the presidents of stakes and missions get it, along with the General Authorities; and they in turn will see that the people are advised of any change.” (Harold B. Lee, “The Place of the Living Prophet, Seer, and Revelator,” in Charge, p. 109.)
“To be a prophet of the Lord, one does not need to ‘be everything to all men.’ He does not need to be youthful and athletic, an industrialist, a financier, nor an agriculturist; he does not need to be a musician, a poet, an entertainer, nor a banker, a physician, nor a college president, a military general, nor a scientist.
“He does not need to be a linguist to speak French and Japanese, German and Spanish, but he must understand the divine language and be able to receive messages from heaven.
“He need not be an orator, for God can make his own. The Lord can present his divine messages through weak men made strong. He substituted a strong voice for the quiet, timid one of Moses, and gave to the young man Enoch power which made men tremble in his presence, for Enoch walked with God as Moses walked with God.
“The Lord said: ‘. . . whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.’ (D&C 1:38.)
“What the world needs is a prophet-leader who gives example—clean, full of faith, godlike in his attitudes with an untarnished name, a beloved husband, a true father.
“A prophet needs to be more than a priest or a minister or an elder. His voice becomes the voice of God to reveal new programs, new truths, new solutions. I make no claim of infallibility for him, but he does need to be recognized of God, an authoritative person. He is no pretender as numerous are who presumptuously assume position without appointment and authority that is not given. He must speak like his Lord: ‘. . . as one having authority, and not as the scribes.’ (Matt. 7:29.)
“He must be bold enough to speak truth even against popular clamor for lessening restrictions. He must be certain of his divine appointment, of his celestial ordination, and his authority to call to service, to ordain, to pass keys which fit eternal locks.
“He must have commanding power like prophets of old: ‘. . . to seal both on earth and in heaven, the unbelieving and rebellious . . . unto the day when the wrath of God shall be poured out upon the wicked without measure’ (D&C 1:8–9), and rare powers: ‘. . . that whatsoever you seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever you bind on earth, in my name and by my word, saith the Lord, it shall be eternally bound in the heavens; and whosesoever sins you remit on earth shall be remitted eternally in the heavens; and whosesoever sins you retain on earth shall be retained in heaven’ (D&C 132:46).
“What is needed is more a Moses than a Pharaoh; an Elijah than a Belshazzar; a Paul than a Pontius Pilate.
“He needs not be an architect to construct houses and schools and high-rise buildings, but he will be one who builds structures to span time and eternity and to bridge the gap between man and his Maker.
“When the world has followed prophets, it has moved forward; when it has ignored them, the results have been stagnation, servitude, death.” (Spencer W. Kimball, in Conference Report, Apr. 1970, pp. 120–21.)
The following are three testimonies which show clearly that the Lord will never allow his prophet to lead the Church out of the path of truth:
“I bear you my solemn witness that we have a living prophet, seer, and revelator. We are not dependent only upon the revelations given in the past . . . we have a mouthpiece to whom God is revealing his mind and will. God will never permit him to lead us astray. As has been said, God would remove us out of our place if we should attempt to do it. You have not concern. Let the management and government of God, then, be with the Lord. Do not try to find fault with the management and affairs that pertain to him alone and by revelation through his prophet.” (Harold B. Lee, “The Place of the Living Prophet, Seer, and Revelator,” in Charge, p. 112.)
“I remember years ago when I was a bishop I had President [Heber J.] Grant talk to our ward. After the meeting, I drove him home. . . . When we got to his home I got out of the car and went up on the porch with him. Standing by me, he put his arm over my shoulder and said: ‘My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church, and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.’ Then with a twinkle in his eye, he said, ‘But you don’t need to worry. The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray.’” (Marion G. Romney, in Conference Report, Oct. 1960, p. 78.)
“I say to Israel, the Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as president of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty.” (Wilford Woodruff, in “General Conference,” Millennial Star, 24 Nov. 1890 [52:741]; or The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, pp. 212–13.)
A man who is out of harmony with the Lord will never lead the Lord’s church. God will not permit it. The following quotations make that clear:
“Safety is in following divinely appointed leadership and counsel. . . .
“The keys of this power and authority center in the president of the High Priesthood of the Church. It is not given to any other man to so represent God here upon the earth. . . .
“God will not suffer his Church, established for the last time in this the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times when a restitution of all things is to be accomplished, to be led by a fallen prophet, or by someone whom he does not want.” (Delbert L. Stapley, in Conference Report, Apr. 1952, pp. 49–50.)
“I testify in the name of Israel’s God that He will not suffer the head of the Church, him whom He has chosen to stand at the head, to transgress His laws and apostatize; the moment he should take a course that would in time lead to it, God would take him away. Why? Because to suffer a wicked man to occupy that position would be to allow, as it were, the fountain to become corrupted, which is something He will never permit.” (Joseph F. Smith, in Journal of Discourses, 24:192.)
“In conclusion, let us summarize this grand key, these ‘Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet,’ for our salvation hangs on them.
“First: The prophet is the only man who speaks for the Lord in everything.
“Second: The living prophet is more vital to us than the standard works.
“Third: The living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet.
“Fourth: The prophet will never lead the Church astray.
“Fifth: The prophet is not required to have any particular earthly training or credentials to speak on any subject or act on any matter at any time.
“Sixth: The prophet does not have to say “Thus saith the Lord” to give us scripture.
“Seventh: The prophet tells us what we need to know, not always what we want to know.
“Eighth: The prophet is not limited by men’s reasoning.
“Ninth: The prophet can receive revelation on any matter, temporal or spiritual.
“Tenth: The prophet may be involved in civic matters.
“Eleventh: The two groups who have the greatest difficulty in following the prophet are the proud who are learned and the proud who are rich.
“Twelfth: The prophet will not necessarily be popular with the world or the worldly.
“Thirteenth: The prophet and his counselors make up the First Presidency—the highest quorum in the Church.
“Fourteenth: The prophet and the presidency—the living prophet and the First Presidency—follow them and be blessed; reject them and suffer.
“I testify that these fourteen fundamentals in following the living prophet are true.” (Benson, “Fourteen Fundamentals,” p. 30.)
1. Answer the following questions: (a) Why is revelation through a living prophet the heart and foundation of our religion? (b) Why has the Lord never done anything on earth without a living prophet as his representative? (c) What do we learn in Doctrine and Covenants 1:38 of the importance the Lord attaches to the teachings of his prophets? (d) Why is it necessary that there be only one person on the earth at a time who holds all the priesthood keys? (e) Why are the words of the ancient prophets not sufficient for our time? (f) Why will the living prophet never lead God’s church astray?
2. Write a paragraph to explain your feelings about this statement: “We either have a prophet or we have nothing; and having a prophet, we have everything” (Gordon B. Hinckley, in Conference Report, Oct. 1973, p. 161; or Ensign, Jan. 1974, p. 122).
3. After reading the following scriptures and quotations, explain how the living prophet is like Moses: Moses 1:3, 6; D&C 28:2; 107:91–92.
“How many are there who think that if we had a man like Moses among us, the people would be led differently and with greater manifestations of power than they are? How many are there who are dissatisfied with what God is doing at present, and are looking for some one to appear in the future who shall exhibit convincing and overwhelming manifestations of power? How many are there at the present time who are neglecting the precious and inestimable gift of revelation which God has bestowed upon his people, because it does not come to them in the way to suit their preconceived notions and ideas—or who are not suited with the way the Church has been and is led, because there is not that wonderful degree of power exhibited which they imagine should be? . . .
“The same spirit of revelation that Moses had, . . . has rested upon men that have held the keys of this kingdom, whether it was during President [Brigham] Young’s life or at the present time—that same spirit of revelation rests upon him who holds the presidency as senior apostle in the midst of the people of God. . . .
“But it is the truth, that the same spirit of revelation that rested upon Moses, and which enabled him to lead the children of Israel through the Red Sea [Exodus 14:26–31; Hebrews 11:29], rests upon the servants of God in the midst of this people, and you will find it so to your entire satisfaction if you will listen to their counsels and be guided by them.” (George Q. Cannon, in Journal of Discourses, 21:268, 270–71.)
“. . . In modern revelation the President of the Church is frequently compared to Moses. . . .
“The discussion of this question among the Saints, led to the following statement in the Times and Seasons (6:922) by John Taylor, then the editor: ‘The President [of the Church] stands in the Church as Moses did to the children of Israel, according to the revelations.’
“The man like unto Moses in the Church is the President of the Church.” (John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, p. 248.)
What is scripture? Why are the standard works called the standard works? What is the relationship between the living prophet and the standard works? Are all of the words of living prophets to be considered as valid as those in the written scriptures? Must a prophet preface his remarks with “thus saith the Lord” to make them binding upon the Saints? These and many other questions are often raised by those who are uncertain about how the role of the living prophet relates to the role of the scriptures. The principles found in this chapter will enable you to answer these questions and to know how to regard the teachings and counsel of the Lord’s prophet.
For members of many religious denominations, the word scripture refers only to the Bible. For Latter-day Saints the term has a much broader meaning. The ninth article of faith declares: “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”
While Latter-day Saints revere the Bible as the word of God, they also have other scriptures. In addition to the Bible, any message given by God’s prophets through the power of the Holy Ghost is scripture.
In a revelation to early priesthood holders who later became members of the Quorum of the Twelve, the Lord defined scripture in the following manner:
“Behold, and lo, this is an ensample unto all those who were ordained unto this priesthood, whose mission is appointed unto them to go forth—
“. . . they shall speak as they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost.
“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 68:2–4.)
Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained that “any message, whether written or spoken, that comes from God to man by the power of the Holy Ghost is scripture” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 682). Scripture is contained in ancient records and is received continually through revelation to living prophets. Elder Mark E. Petersen discussed this process:
“Having been taught that the Bible contains all the word of God, some ask us why we have these other scriptures. They do not realize that the Bible provides for more scripture and that it points to a pattern established anciently by the Lord in which He placed prophets on earth to provide that scripture.
“Their revelations were recorded, together with some of the history of the times, and became scripture. As each new prophet wrote, his records were added to the existing scripture. In this way there was a constantly growing volume of the sacred word. Eventually many of these writings were compiled into a book which we know as the Bible.
“This process continued as long as the Lord had prophets on earth, both in Old and New Testament times. Never was it thought that this accumulated record contained all of the word of God because, over the years, the Lord continued to send new prophets who received new revelations which in turn became new and additional scripture. It was a set pattern of the Lord from the days of the patriarchs to the time of John the Revelator.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1978, pp. 94–95; or Ensign, May 1978, p. 61.)
Four volumes of scripture are accepted by Latter-day Saints as constituting the standard works: the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. While the revelations recorded in these volumes have always been true, they have been recognized as part of the canon, the accepted body of scripture, by being formally accepted by the Church. When the Saints formally accept scripture as part of the canon, they covenant to receive those scriptures as a standard by which they will live and measure truth.
Once a volume of scripture is included among the standard works, it takes on added significance. It becomes a binding document which is part of the standard by which the truthfulness of all other statements can be measured.
“The Lord has given us in the standard works the means by which we should measure truth and untruth. May we all heed his word: ‘Thou shalt take the things which thou hast received, which have been given unto thee in my scriptures for a law, to be my law to govern my church.’ (D&C 42:59.)” (Harold B. Lee, “Find the Answers in the Scriptures,” Ensign, Dec. 1972, p. 3.)
Elder Harold B. Lee taught that if something a person says contradicts the scriptures, we may know that it is false (see “The Place of the Living Prophet, Seer, and Revelator,” in Charge to Religious Educators, p. 111). President Joseph Fielding Smith also taught that principle:
“It makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside. My words, and the teachings of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them. Let us have this matter clear. We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man’s doctrine.” (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:203.)
Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught that the works of men must be measured against the standard works and that those who speak or write under the influence of the Holy Ghost will be in harmony with the scriptures.
“The books, writings, explanations, expositions, views, and theories of even the wisest and greatest men, either in or out of the Church, do not rank with the standard works. Even the writings, teachings, and opinions of the prophets of God are acceptable only to the extent they are in harmony with what God has revealed and what is recorded in the standard works. When the living oracles speak in the name of the Lord or as moved upon by the Holy Ghost, however, their utterances are then binding upon all who hear, and whatever is said will without any exception be found to be in harmony with the standard works. The Lord’s house is a house of order, and one truth never contradicts another.” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 765.)
The scriptures contain eternal, unchanging principles; the circumstances and needs of people, however, may vary in different dispensations. Prophets are sent to help the people of any given dispensation understand and apply the eternal principles found in the scriptures. It is the living prophet’s prerogative to interpret the scriptures. Elder Marion G. Romney explained that the Lord “has not left us unguided to jangle over the interpretations of those revelations, nor does he leave us ignorant of his will on current issues. He has given us living prophets to interpret those revelations.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1945, p. 89.)
That which a living prophet tells us will always be in harmony with the standard works, but this is not to say he is limited by them. Although a prophet speaking under the influence of the Holy Ghost will never contradict principles found in the standard works, he will expand, or even go beyond them. A prophet may also give or take away principles or programs, according to the spiritual readiness of the people. The following examples illustrate this fact: (1) The law of Moses was given to Israel as a “schoolmaster” to bring them to Christ, but was taken away when the law of the gospel was given (see Galatians 3:13–25; Mosiah 13:27–35; 3 Nephi 9:15–20). (2) When Jesus was upon the earth, the gospel was offered only to the house of Israel (except in a few isolated cases). Later the Apostles were commanded to take the gospel to everyone (see Matthew 10:5–6; 15:24; Mark 7:25–27; 16:15; Acts 10). (3) In Moses’ time the Melchizedek Priesthood was taken from Israel, and the Aaronic Priesthood was given only to the Levites (see D&C 84:24–26; Numbers 8:10–22; Hebrews 7:5). In the time of Christ and the Apostles, the Melchizedek Priesthood was again made available and, with the Aaronic Priesthood, was offered to men who were not Levites (see Luke 6:13–16; Hebrews 7:11–12; Philippians 1:1). Today the priesthood is extended to all worthy males (see Official Declaration—2). (4) The law of consecration was given to people of this dispensation and then rescinded because of transgression (see D&C 42:30–36; 51; 105:2–6, 34).
The world is not static. New and different problems (or variations of old problems) continually challenge us. That is why the Lord continues to send living prophets. In addition to interpreting existing scripture, a prophet acts as the agent through whom the Lord can give new scriptures, according to the needs of the people. When prophets, who are inspired by the Holy Ghost, speak, their words take precedence over other statements on the same issue. Their inspired counsel will be in harmony with the eternal truths in the standard works and will be keyed to the needs and conditions of their day.
The President of the Church is the only man on earth authorized by God to go beyond or add to the scriptures. “It is not to be thought that every word spoken by the General Authorities is inspired, or that they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost in everything they speak and write. Now you keep that in mind. I don’t care what his position is, if he writes something or speaks something that goes beyond anything that you can find in the standard Church works, unless that one be the prophet, seer, and revelator—please note that one exception—you may immediately say, Well, that is his own idea.” (Harold B. Lee, “The Place of the Living Prophet, Seer, and Revelator,” in Charge, p. 111.)
Elder Mark E. Petersen also affirmed that every generation needs the direction of living prophets and observed that one indication of God’s true church will be that it is guided by living prophets who convey new and needed scripture to mankind.
“The Church of Jesus Christ, then, should always be led by living apostles and prophets who would receive the constant guidance of heaven. They would continue always in the Church as seers and revelators for the people.
“But as they so ministered they would be providing also new and additional scripture appropriate to the times in which they lived, according to the Lord’s pattern.
“The prophets of the early Christian church ministered in their day just as the Old Testament prophets did during the preceding centuries. And why? Because they followed this same divine pattern, for as Amos explained, the Lord works only through prophets. (Amos 3:7.)
“When there are no prophets, there is no divine direction, and without such guidance the people walk in darkness.
“It is an infallible sign of the true church that it has in it divinely chosen, living prophets to guide it, men who receive current revelation from God and whose recorded works become new scripture.
“It is an infallible sign of the true church also that it will produce new and additional scripture arising out of the ministrations of those prophets. This unfailing pattern of God is clearly made manifest through his dealings with his people from the beginning.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1978, pp. 95–96; or Ensign, May 1978, p. 62.)
The Lord has made it clear that we are to receive the words of the living prophet as if from the Lord’s own mouth (see D&C 21:5).
President Ezra Taft Benson said that the “living prophet is more vital to us than the standard works” (“Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet,” in Speeches of the Year, 1980 [Provo: Brigham Young University, 1981], p. 26). That is because he is alive in our day and speaks for the Lord on the problems we face.
“The most important prophet, so far as we are concerned, is the one who is living in our day and age. This is the prophet who has today’s instructions from God to us today. God’s revelation to Adam did not instruct Noah how to build the ark. Every generation has need of the ancient scripture plus the current scripture from the living prophet. Therefore, the most crucial reading and pondering which you should do is of the latest inspired words from the Lord’s mouthpiece. That is why it is essential that you have access to and carefully read his words in current Church publications.” (Ezra Taft Benson, in Conference Report, Seoul Korea Area Conference 1975, p. 52.)
This statement is in harmony with the words of President Henry D. Moyle, who said:
“The older I get and the closer the contact I have with the President of the Church, the more I realize that the greatest of all scriptures which we have in the world today is current scripture. What the mouthpiece of God says to His children is scripture. It is intended for all the children of God upon the earth. It is His word and His will and His law made manifest through His ordained and anointed servant to the world. What the President says is scripture, and I love it more than all other. It applies to me today specifically, and to you all.” (“Beware of Temptation,” Brigham Young University tri-stake fireside address, [Provo, January 1963], pp. 7–8.)
President Harold B. Lee gave the following explanation of the relationship between the written scriptures of the past and the words of living prophets:
“Sometimes we get the notion that if it is written in a book, it makes it more true than if it is spoken in the last General Conference. Just because it is written in a book does not make it more of an authority to guide us. President Taylor goes on with this same idea and explains why the scriptures of the past are not sufficient for us today:
“‘The Bible is good; and Paul told Timothy to study it, that he might be a workman that need not be ashamed, and that he might be able to conduct himself aright before the living church [there is that word living again], the pillar and ground of truth. The church-mark, with Paul, was the foundation, the pillar, the ground of truth, the living church, not the dead letter. The Book of Mormon is good and the Doctrine and Covenants, as landmarks. But a mariner who launches into the ocean requires a more certain criterion. He must be acquainted with heavenly bodies, and take his observations from them, in order to steer his barque aright. Those books are good for example, precedent, and investigation, and for developing certain laws and principles. But they do not, they cannot, touch every case required to be adjudicated and set in order.
“‘We require a living tree—a living fountain—living intelligence, proceeding from the living priesthood in heaven, through the living priesthood on earth. . . . And from the time that Adam first received a communication from God, to the time that John, on the Isle of Patmos, received his communication, or Joseph Smith had the heavens opened to him, it always required new revelations, adapted to the peculiar circumstances in which the churches or individuals were placed. Adam’s revelations did not instruct Noah to build his ark; nor did Noah’s revelation tell Lot to forsake Sodom: nor did either of these speak of the departure of the children of Israel from Egypt. These all have revelations for themselves, and so had Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Jesus, Peter, Paul, John and Joseph. And so must we, or we shall make a shipwreck.’ (The Gospel Kingdom, p. 34.)
“I do not know a stronger statement. I might have said the same thing myself in the same language; and you, because you have more faith and are better grounded in believing in a living oracle today, perhaps, would have believed. But I have gone back enough generations (to President Taylor) so that probably the statement has more ‘epical’ authority than if I had said it in my own language today. But you see the point that he makes.” (“The Place of the Living Prophet, Seer, and Revelator,” in Charge, p. 109.)
President Ezra Taft Benson counseled the Saints to “beware of those who would pit the dead prophets against the living prophets, for the living prophets always take precedence” (“Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet,” p. 27). The relationship of the living prophet and current revelation to the scriptures and revelations of the past was explained by Elder Orson F. Whitney in the following way:
“Many years ago there came to Utah a learned prelate of the Greek Catholic church. . . . He had been to a ‘Mormon’ sacrament meeting, and had much to say in criticism of our method of administering the Lord’s Supper, particularly our use of water instead of wine on such occasions. He said it made him shudder when he saw the people sipping the water; and he pointed out the fact, for it is a fact, that according to the Bible the Savior, when he instituted the sacrament among the Jews used wine, declaring that it was his blood, or that it represented his blood. . . .
“My Greek Catholic friend, whether he knew it or not, had hit upon the great distinguishing feature that differentiates God’s Church from all other churches under the sun—in this, that while they are founded upon books and traditions and the precepts of men, this Church is built upon the rock of Christ, upon the principle of immediate and continuous revelation. The Latter-day Saints do not do things because they happen to be printed in a book. They do not do things because God told the Jews to do them; nor do they do or leave undone anything because of instructions that Christ gave to the Nephites. Whatever is done by this Church is because God, speaking from heaven in our day, has commanded this Church to do it. No book presides over this Church, and no book lies at its foundation. You cannot pile up books enough to take the place of God’s priesthood, inspired by the power of the Holy Ghost. That is the constitution of the Church of Christ. If we use water instead of wine in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, it is because Christ has so commanded. Divine revelation adapts itself to the circumstances and conditions of men, and change upon change ensues as God’s progressive work goes on to its destiny. There is no book big enough or good enough to preside over this Church.
“In saying this, I speak with all due reverence of the written word of God, that which is printed in the books, part of which may be obsolete, having fulfilled its purpose and been laid upon the shelf, while the other part is virile, full of life, and applicable to our present state—our present degree of development. But even this part must be interpreted aright. No man ought to contend for what is in the books, in the face of God’s mouthpiece, who speaks for him and interprets his word. To so contend is to defer to the dead letter in preference to the living oracle, which is always a false position. What the Lord said to the Jews and Nephites, two thousand years ago, or what he said to the Latter-day Saints fifty or sixty years ago, has no force whatever at this time, unless it agrees with present-day revelation, with the Lord’s most recent instructions to his people through his chosen or appointed servants or servant; and they who ignore this fact are liable to get into trouble. It is the latest word from God that must be heeded, in preference to any former revelation, however true. The same God who says do thus and so today, can repeal that commandment tomorrow, without being changeable or inconsistent. . . . He commanded Abraham to slay his son, and Abraham was about to do so, when the same God said: ‘Lay not thy hand upon the lad.’ Abraham was under obligation to carry out the first command, until the second one was given, and then he was under obligation to obey the second command instead of the first; and he would have been a transgressor had he failed.
“. . . God’s work is progressive. It changes its appearance, but never its principles. The truths upon which it is founded are eternal, unalterable, but there are many regulations that change and change and change, as the work of God goes on.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1916, pp. 55–56.)
We should regard both the standard works and inspired declarations of living prophets as valid and necessary sources of truth. Occasionally misinformed members of the Church will maintain that, although they accept the standard works as divinely inspired, they are reluctant to give equal credence to pronouncements of the living prophet. Such individuals are pursuing an inconsistent course and “err, not knowing the scriptures” (Matthew 22:29), for the scriptures themselves plainly testify of the fact that we must give heed to the living prophets (see D&C 1:14, 38; 21:1, 4–5). Of this, Elder Orson Pratt also testified:
“The very moment that we set aside the living oracles we set aside the revelations of God. Why? Because the revelations of God command us plainly that we shall hearken to the living oracles. Hence, if we undertake to follow the written word, and at the same time do not give heed to the living oracles of God, the written word will condemn us.” (In Journal of Discourses, 7:373.)
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 278). Prophets have the right to personal opinions. Not every word they speak should be thought of as an official interpretation or pronouncement. However, their discourses to the Saints and their official writings should be considered products of their prophetic calling and should be heeded.
As members of the Church we are responsible for keeping our own lives in harmony with the Spirit of the Lord so that we can know by our own personal witness when someone is acting under the influence of the Holy Ghost. President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., said of this responsibility:
“The question is, how shall we know when the things they [the Brethren] have spoken were said as they were ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost?’
“I have been giving some thought to this question, and the answer thereto so far as I can determine, is: We can tell when the speakers are ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost’ only when we, ourselves, are ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost.’
“In a way, this completely shifts the responsibility from them to us to determine when they so speak.” (“When Are Church Leaders’ Words Entitled to Claim of Scripture?” Church News, 31 July 1954, p. 9.)
Elder Bruce R. McConkie also emphasized this point:
“Now, there isn’t any way in heaven or on earth for anyone to know of the truth and validity of a revelation except to have the same Spirit rest upon him that rested upon the revelator who received it” (“This Generation Shall Have My Word through You,” Ensign, June 1980, p. 58).
Church members must be worthy to receive that confirmation from the Spirit. President Harold B. Lee once said:
“We can know that they [the living prophets] are speaking under inspiration if we so live that we can have a witness that what they are speaking is the word of the Lord. There is only one safety, and that is that we shall live to have the witness to know.” (“The Place of the Living Prophet, Seer, and Revelator,” in Charge, p. 111.)
Unfortunately, some Church members place limitations on prophetic statements. Some will not accept anything as a genuine prophetic declaration unless it is prefaced by the phrase “thus saith the Lord.” President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., demonstrated the fallacy of such a position:
“There are those who insist that unless the Prophet of the Lord declares, ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ the message may not be taken as a revelation. This is a false testing standard. For while many of our modern revelations as contained in the Doctrine and Covenants do contain these words, there are many that do not.” (“When Are Church Leaders’ Words Entitled to Claim of Scripture?” p. 10.)
“The prophet does not have to say ‘Thus saith the Lord’ to give us scripture.
“Sometimes there are those who haggle over words. They might say the prophet gave us counsel but that we are not obligated to follow it unless he says it is a commandment. But the Lord says of the Prophet Joseph, ‘Thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you’ (D&C 21:4; italics added).” (Benson, “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Living Prophet,” pp. 27–28.)
A revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 108, to Lyman Wight illustrates the value the Lord places on the counsels of his prophet. “Verily thus saith the Lord unto you, my servant Lyman: Your sins are forgiven you, because you have obeyed my voice in coming up hither this morning to receive counsel of him whom I have appointed” (D&C 108:1).
It may be that too many are preoccupied with the question of when a prophet is speaking for the Lord. It is important to obtain a personal witness that a prophet’s words are inspired of God. However, even someone who has not yet received that witness must remember that a prophet’s counsel will always be timely and beneficial. Concerning the value of counsel from the prophet, President Wilford Woodruff said:
“We, as a people, should not treat lightly this counsel, for I will tell you in the name of the Lord—and I have watched it from the time I became a member of this Church—there is no man who undertakes to run counter to the counsel of the legally authorized leader of this people that ever prospers. . . . You will find that all persons who take a stand against this counsel will never prosper. . . .
“When counsel comes we should not treat it lightly, no matter to what subject it pertains, for if we do it will work evil unto us. . . .
“We have been governed by counsel instead of commandment in many things, which has been a blessing to the Saints.” (In Journal of Discourses, 14:33, 36.)
Elder John A. Widtsoe also taught that it is wise to follow counsel from a prophet on all occasions:
“Though the prophet may step out of his official role in dealing with the daily affairs of life, he can never divest himself of the spirit and influence which belong to the sacred office which the Lord has placed upon him. The faith and readiness to do the work of the Lord which fitted him for his high office, shape his life in harmony with the eternal principles and purposes of the gospel. Though often humble by the world’s measure, in gifts and ability, he lives under inspired guidance, which makes him great among men, and therefore, his unofficial expressions carry greater weight than the opinions of other men of equal or greater gifts and experience but without the power of the prophetic office. It would be wisdom on all occasions and with respect to all subjects in any field of human activity, to hearken to the prophet’s voice. There is safety and ultimate happiness in following the counsel that may be received from the prophet.” (“When Does a Prophet Speak as a Prophet,” Evidences and Reconciliations, p. 237.)
1. Read and cross-reference the following scriptures which teach that we should give heed to the living oracles of God: John 13:20; 3 Nephi 12:1; 28:34–35; D&C 1:14, 38; 84:36; 112:20; 124:45.
2. Explain how scripture is obtained and why the standard works are valuable.
3. Give several scriptural examples to show that the Lord does not give people in every age the same instructions but that he gives instructions and commandments suited to the needs and spiritual level of the people involved.
4. Who has the right to interpret scriptures for the entire Church?
5. Write a paragraph explaining how the Lord expects you to respond to counsel or direction from the President of the Church if that counsel goes beyond that found in the scriptures.
6. What must each of us do to be able to tell when someone is speaking or writing under the influence of the Holy Ghost?
The highest governing body in the Church of Jesus Christ consists of three presiding high priests called the Quorum of the First Presidency (see D&C 107:22). Upon them rests the responsibility of directing the kingdom of God on the earth (see D&C 81:2). It is their privilege and duty as “the Presidency of the High Priesthood, after the order of Melchizedek . . . to officiate in all the offices in the church” (D&C 107:9).
What are some of the many responsibilities the First Presidency has in directing the kingdom of God? What are some of their day-to-day functions? How important is it that we be in harmony with the First Presidency? What promise is given to the members of the Church who follow the First Presidency? This chapter will answer these questions and will help you to appreciate the great authority and the tremendous burden the Lord has given to the First Presidency.
“As President of the Church the presiding officer presides over all the membership of the Church. As president of the high priesthood he presides over all the priesthood of the Church and has authority to regulate it, for he holds the keys of that priesthood.
“By revelation the president of the Church has been provided with counselors. . . .
“The supreme governing power of the Church is vested in the President with his counselors. The First Presidency preside over all councils, all quorums, and all organizations of the Church, with supreme appointing power and power of nomination. [See D&C 107:9] These powers of appointment, nomination, and presiding may be delegated by the First Presidency to others whom they may choose and whom the people sustain to represent the presidency in the government of the Church.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, “The First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve,” Improvement Era, Nov. 1966, pp. 977–78.)
As the Presiding High Priests over the entire membership of the Church, the First Presidency form the highest council of the Church and are the final authority on all matters. The Lord indicated the extent of their authority when he said: “Again, verily, I say unto you, the most important business of the church, and the most difficult cases of the church, inasmuch as there is not satisfaction upon the decision of the bishop or judges, it shall be handed over and carried up unto the council of the church, before the Presidency of the High Priesthood.
“And the Presidency of the council of the High Priesthood shall have power to call other high priests, even twelve, to assist as counselors; and thus the Presidency of the High Priesthood and its counselors shall have power to decide upon testimony according to the laws of the church.
“And after this decision it shall be had in remembrance no more before the Lord; for this is the highest council of the church of God, and a final decision upon controversies in spiritual matters.” (D&C 107:78–80.)
President Joseph Fielding Smith gave the following explanation about the jurisdiction of the First Presidency:
“The First Presidency are the living oracles of God and the supreme adjudicators and interpreters of the law of the Church. They supervise the work of the entire Church in all matters of policy, organization, and administration. No part of the work of the Church is beyond their authority.” (“First Presidency,” p. 978.)
As President of the Church, and in behalf of the First Presidency, Joseph Fielding Smith also stated:
“We hold the holy Melchizedek Priesthood, which is the power and authority of God delegated to man on earth to act in all things for the salvation of men.
“We also hold the keys of the kingdom of God on earth, which kingdom is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“These keys are the right of presidency; they are the power and authority to govern and direct all of the Lord’s affairs on earth. Those who hold them have power to govern and control the manner in which all others may serve in the priesthood. All of us may hold the priesthood, but we can only use it as authorized and directed so to do by those who hold the keys.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1972, p. 98; or Ensign, July 1972, p. 87.)
In October conference of 1981, Elder Mark E. Petersen explained the relationship of the counselors in the First Presidency to the President as follows:
“The First Presidency is a quorum of the Church and operates as such in beautiful harmony under the influence of the Holy Spirit, thus giving inspired guidance to the Saints.
“The First Presidency is the presiding council of the Church. These Brethren preside over all things. They hold all the keys, powers, gifts, and blessings of this dispensation.
“The President is the presiding high priest. His counselors preside with him by delegation from him in carrying on the labors of this highest divinely organized quorum on earth. All four in the presidency are Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ; all are prophets, seers, and revelators.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1981, p. 88; or Ensign, Nov. 1981, p. 64.)
From time to time, as needed, the President of the Church has called additional counselors in the Presidency. This was the case when Elder Petersen made the statement just quoted. (For other examples see History of the Church, 2:509; and Conference Report, Sept./Oct., 1961, pp. 39–40.)
President N. Eldon Tanner, counselor to four Presidents of the Church, described the day-to-day functioning of the First Presidency as follows:
“All matters pertaining to the administration of the Church come under the direction of the First Presidency, . . .
“Let me list some of the things administered directly by the First Presidency: budgeting, educational, historical, and personnel departments; temples; auditing; and the welfare services. . . .
“In general, all these matters are under the direction of the First Presidency. Specifically, in regularly scheduled meetings, the First Presidency meet every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday at 8 A.M. with a secretary who makes a complete record of all procedures. These discussions include the correspondence which has been addressed to the First Presidency—which contains almost everything from questions about pierced ears to appeals from decisions of excommunication by the stake presidency and high council. There are questions about dress and grooming standards, hypnotism, Sabbath observance, scripture interpretation, sensitivity training, sealings, complaints against the local officers, reincarnation, donation of body parts to science or to others, cremation, transplants, legal matters, ad infinitum.
“Their decisions also involve the selection of new temple presidencies, when and where new temples should be built, and other matters to be discussed when meeting with the Council of the Twelve Apostles and with the Presiding Bishopric. . . .
“Tuesday morning at 10 A.M. they meet with the Expenditures Committee, [see D&C 120] which is made up of the First Presidency, four members of the Twelve, and the Presiding Bishopric. This is where heads of different departments present their expenditure requirements for consideration, and allocations are made. Examples include requests by the Physical Facilities Department for acquisition of lands and of buildings such as stake or ward houses, mission homes, visitors centers, and so on, and discussions of the costs of maintenance. Also, the Presiding Bishopric presents requests for expenditures involving welfare projects.
“Wednesday First Presidency meetings are used for hearing reports from heads of different departments that come directly under the First Presidency, such as the Historical, Personnel, and Public Communications departments. Appointments for important visitors are also scheduled for Wednesday mornings where possible. I am always impressed by the influence the President of the Church has on these visitors as we receive direct and indirect feedback through correspondence or verbal reports.
“Once a month on Wednesdays the First Presidency meets with the Combined Church Board of Education and Board of Trustees to deal with all matters affecting universities and colleges, institutes and seminaries, and other Church schools. Also, on one Wednesday each month they meet with . . . the Welfare Services Committee, as mentioned previously.
“On Thursday mornings at 10 A.M. they join with the Council of the Twelve in the upper room of the temple, where the Twelve have been convened since 8 A.M. It is in this room that the leadership of the Church has been directed by the Lord since the temple was completed. Here one experiences a special spiritual feeling, and at times senses the presence of some of these great leaders who have gone on before. Portraits of the twelve Presidents of the Church, and also of Hyrum, the Patriarch, hang on the walls. There are also paintings of the Savior at the Sea of Galilee where he called some of his apostles, and others portraying his crucifixion and his ascension. Here we are reminded of the many great leaders who have sat in this council room, and under the direction of the Lord great decisions were made.
“As the First Presidency enters this room at ten o’clock on Thursday mornings, we shake hands with all members of the Twelve, then change to our temple robes. We sing, kneel in prayer, and then join in a prayer circle at the altar, after which we change to our street clothes.
“After discussing the minutes of the previous meeting, we consider such matters as the following: approval of changes in bishoprics as recommended by stake presidents—previously discussed in the meeting of the Twelve (you might be interested in knowing that during 1977 we approved an average of twenty-five to thirty new bishops every week); changes in stake, ward, mission, and temple organizations throughout the Church, including boundaries and officers; officers and administration of auxiliary organizations; matters brought in by the heads of different departments; and our reports of stake conferences and other activities during the week, such as funerals, speaking engagements, and so forth. It is in this body that any change in administration or policy is considered and approved, and it then becomes the official policy of the Church. . . .
“On the first Thursday of every month the First presidency meets with all the General Authorities—the members of the Twelve, the Seventy, and the Presiding Bishopric. In this meeting all are advised of any changes in programs or procedures and instructed in their duties or responsibilities. The President calls on members to bear their testimonies, after which we all dress in our temple clothes, partake of the sacrament, and have a prayer circle with all members present participating. At the conclusion of the prayer all, other than the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, are dismissed, and those remaining change to their street clothes and carry on with the regular business of the Thursday meetings. A recording secretary makes a report of all that is said and done.
“Following each Thursday meeting the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve have lunch in a room assigned for that purpose. In this room we have a lovely picture of the Last Supper. This is a period of relaxation, and in conversation we exchange experiences and discuss matters of common interest. I could tell you some interesting discussions if I had time. Friday at 9 A.M. the Presiding Bishopric meets with the First Presidency to give reports and discuss matters affecting the administration.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1979, pp. 64, 67–69; or Ensign, Nov. 1979, pp. 45–48.)
“Today the Lord is revealing his will to all the inhabitants of the earth, and to members of the Church in particular, on the issues of this our day through the living prophets, with the First Presidency at the head. What they say as a presidency is what the Lord would say if he were here in person. This is the rock foundation of Mormonism. . . . So I repeat again, what the presidency say as a presidency is what the Lord would say if he were here, and it is scripture. It should be studied, understood, and followed, even as the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants and other scriptures. Those who follow this course will not interpret what they say as being inspired by political bias or selfishness; neither will they say that the brethren are uninformed as to the circumstances of those affected by their counsel; or that their counsels cannot be accepted because they are not prefaced by the quotation, ‘Thus saith the Lord.’” (Marion G. Romney, in Conference Report, Apr. 1945, p. 90.)
“Doctrinal interpretation is the province of the First Presidency. The Lord has given that stewardship to them by revelation. No teacher has the right to interpret doctrine for the members of the Church.” (Ezra Taft Benson, “The Gospel Teacher and His Message,” in Charge to Religious Educators, pp. 51–52.)
The Prophet Joseph Smith explained the order of heaven relative to revelations from God to his people:
“The Presidents or Presidency are over the Church; and revelations of the mind and will of God to the Church, are to come through the Presidency. This is the order of heaven, and the power and privilege of this Priesthood. . . .
“You must make yourselves acquainted with those men who like Daniel pray three times a day toward the House of the Lord. Look to the Presidency and receive instruction.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 111, 161.)
As a member of the Quorum of Twelve, Elder Boyd K. Packer gave the following testimony concerning the First Presidency:
“Thank God for the presidency. Like [lofty mountain peaks], they stand with nothing above them but the heavens. They need our sustaining vote. It is sometimes lonely in those lofty callings of leadership—for their calling is not to please man, but to please the Lord. God bless these three great and good men.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1971, p. 123; or Ensign, June 1971, p. 87.)
Joseph Fielding Smith, as President of the Church, made the following significant promise:
“I think there is one thing which we should have exceedingly clear in our minds. Neither the President of the Church, nor the First Presidency, nor the united voice of the First Presidency and the Twelve will ever lead the Saints astray or send forth counsel to the world that is contrary to the mind and will of the Lord.
“An individual may fall by the wayside, or have views, or give counsel which falls short of what the Lord intends. But the voice of the First Presidency and the united voice of those others who hold with them the keys of the kingdom shall always guide the Saints and the world in those paths where the Lord wants them to be. . . .
“I testify that if we shall look to the First Presidency and follow their counsel and direction, no power on earth can stay or change our course as a church, and as individuals we shall gain peace in this life and be inheritors of eternal glory in the world to come.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1972, p. 99; or Ensign, July 1972, p. 88.)
Elder Mark E. Petersen, commenting on this inspired declaration by President Smith, stated that “other presidents before him also have said that if we follow the leadership of the First Presidency we shall never go astray nor apostatize from the truth” (The Salt and the Savor, p. 29).
1. Be sure you are able to identify each member of the current First Presidency.
2. List some of the responsibilities of the First Presidency.
3. The following two paragraphs represent two positions on statements from the First Presidency which might be taken by members of the Church. Decide which position best represents the way members of the Church should receive counsel from the First Presidency, and why.
a. If the First Presidency of the Church makes a statement of the Church’s position, it seems to me that that clearly indicates the will of the Lord. If I have a problem accepting any counsel, the proper course of action is to seek confirmation from the Lord concerning the truthfulness of statements made by the Brethren.
b. I believe that the statements of the First Presidency are a definite source of inspiration, even though many of them are just personal opinions. I make it a practice to weigh the statements of our leaders carefully. But I also bring to bear upon the issue that which man has learned. For me, the course to truth must involve personal discovery. Unfortunately, some of our Church leaders have made some statements that run against everything that rational investigation can verify. Under such circumstances, I believe that we have the right to be selective about our beliefs.
In light of the following statement by Elder Marion G. Romney, decide which of the two positions provides the greatest safety for you as you seek eternal life:
“I assure you, however, that the spirit of the Lord will never direct a person to take a position in opposition to the counsel of the Presidency of His Church. Such could not be, and I’ll tell you why. The Spirit of the Lord is ‘truth.’ The Prophet Joseph Smith says that ‘The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.’
“The Presidency, in directing the Church and its affairs and in counseling the people, do so under the directing power of this ‘light and truth.’ When a man and the Presidency are both directed on the same subject by ‘light and truth,’ there can be no conflict. And so, my brethren, all who are out of harmony in any degree with the Presidency have need to repent and to seek the Lord for forgiveness and to put themselves in full harmony.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1942, pp. 19–20.)
4. Review what the Lord said about accepting the First Presidency (see D&C 112:20; 124:84).
On 14 February 1835, at Kirtland, Ohio, the first Quorum of the Twelve in this dispensation was organized under the direction of the Prophet Joseph Smith. The Quorum of the Twelve have always been men of great spiritual stature who have been called to act under the direction of the First Presidency as special witnesses of the resurrected Lord unto all nations.
This chapter will help you understand more clearly the roles and responsibilities of the Twelve Apostles and how these roles and responsibilities relate to those of the First Presidency. As you study the chapter you will learn what it means for an Apostle to be a special witness for Christ. You will also learn the nature and importance of the keys of the priesthood given to the Apostles and the reason they are given the keys they hold.
As early as June 1829, Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer were instructed to search out the Twelve (see D&C 18:37–39). Six years later the names of twelve men were presented to be ordained Apostles. At the time the Quorum of the Twelve were called, President Oliver Cowdery gave them a charge, part of which is quoted below:
“He . . . said: Have you desired this ministry with all your hearts? If you have desired it, you are called of God, not of man, to go into the world.
“He then read again, from the revelation, what the Lord said unto the Twelve. Brethren, you have your duty presented in this revelation. You have been ordained to the holy Priesthood; you have received it from those who have the power and authority from an angel; you are to preach the Gospel to every nation. Should you in the least degree come short of your duty, great will be your condemnation; for the greater the calling the greater the transgression. I therefore warn you to cultivate great humility; for I know the pride of the human heart. Beware, lest the flatterers of the world lift you up; beware, lest your affections be captivated by worldly objects. Let your ministry be first. Remember, the souls of men are committed to your charge; and if you mind your calling, you shall always prosper.
“You have been indebted to other men in the first instance for evidence; on that you have acted; but it is necessary that you receive a testimony from heaven for yourselves. . . .
“‘. . . Strengthen your faith; cast off your doubts, your sins, and all your unbelief; and nothing can prevent you from coming to God. Your ordination is not full and complete till God has laid His hand upon you. We require as much to qualify us as did those who have gone before us; God is the same. If the Saviour in former days laid his hands on His disciples, why not in latter days? . . .
“‘. . . You are as one; you are equal in bearing the keys of the Kingdom to all nations. You are called to preach the gospel of the Son of God to the nations of the earth; it is the will of your heavenly Father, that you proclaim His gospel to the ends of the earth and the islands of the sea.
“‘Be zealous to save souls. The soul of one man is as precious as the soul of another. You are to bear this message to those who consider themselves wise; and such may persecute you—they may seek your life. The adversary has always sought the life of the servants of God; you are therefore to be prepared at all times to make a sacrifice of your lives, should God require them in the advancement and building up of His cause. Murmur not at God. Be always prayerful; be always watchful. . . .
“The greatness of your commission consists in this: You are to hold the keys of this ministry; you are to go to the nations afar off—nations that sit in darkness. The day is coming when the work of God must be done. Israel shall be gathered: the seed of Jacob shall be gathered from their long dispersion. There will be a feast to Israel, the elect of God. It is a sorrowful tale, but the Gospel must be preached, and God’s ministers rejected: but where can Israel be found and receive your testimony, and not rejoice? Nowhere! The prophecies are full of great things that are to take place in the last days. After the elect are gathered out, destructions shall come on the inhabitants of the earth; all nations shall feel the wrath of God, after they have been warned by the Saints of the Most High. If you will not warn them, others will, and you will lose your crowns. . . .
“‘. . . We now exhort you to be faithful to fulfil your calling; there must be no lack here; you must fulfil in all things; and permit us to repeat, all nations have a claim on you; you are bound together as the Three Witnesses were; notwithstanding you can part and meet, and meet and part again, till your heads are silvered over with age.
“He then took them separately by the hand, and said, ‘Do you with full purpose of heart take part in this ministry, to proclaim the gospel with all diligence, with these your brethren, according to the tenor and intent of the charge you have received?’ Each of them answered in the affirmative.” (In History of the Church, pp. 195–98.)
Concerning the calling of an Apostle as a special witness, President Joseph Fielding Smith taught the following:
“All men may, by virtue of the priesthood and the gift of the Holy Ghost, become witnesses for Christ. In fact that is just what every elder in the Church should be, but there is a special calling which is given to the Twelve special witnesses that separates them from other elders of the Church in the nature of their calling as witnesses. These twelve men hold the fulness of authority, keys, and priesthood, to open up the way for the preaching of the gospel to every nation, kindred, and tongue. Others who go forth go under their direction and are subject unto them. This work of proselyting is in their hands, and under the counsel of the First Presidency they are called upon to conduct all the affairs of the Church and the preaching of the gospel to every creature.” (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:146.)
“The word apostle means ‘one sent forth.’ This was the name our Lord gave to the twelve whom he chose to be his companions during his ministry on earth and whom he sent forth to represent him after his ascension into heaven. . . .
“They are special witnesses for Jesus Christ. It is their right to know the truth and to have an abiding witness. This is an exacting duty upon them, to know that Jesus Christ is in very deed the Only Begotten Son of God, the Redeemer of the world, and the Savior of all those who will confess their sins, repent, and keep his commandments.” (“The First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve,” Improvement Era, Nov. 1966, pp. 978–79.)
The knowledge the Apostles have of Christ is no casual thing. They must know for certain by personal revelation that Jesus is the Christ and that he lives as a resurrected, exalted being. President Joseph F. Smith made clear the sacredness of their calling:
“These twelve disciples of Christ are supposed to be eye and ear witnesses of the divine mission of Jesus Christ. It is not permissible for them to say, I believe, simply; I have accepted it simply because I believe it. Read the revelation, the Lord informs us they must know, they must get the knowledge for themselves. It must be with them as though they had seen with their eyes and heard with their ears and they know the truth. That is their mission, to testify of Jesus Christ and Him crucified and risen from the dead and clothed now with almighty power at the right hand of God, the Savior of the world. That is their mission, and their duty, and that is the doctrine and the truth that it is their duty to preach to the world and see that it is preached to the world.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1916, p. 6; or Gospel Doctrine, p. 178.)
One question often asked about the qualifications of an Apostle was answered by Elder Boyd K. Packer:
“Occasionally . . . I have been asked a question. Usually it comes as a curious, almost an idle, question about the qualifications to stand as a witness for Christ. The question they ask is, ‘Have you seen Him?’
“That is a question that I have never asked of another. I have not asked that question of my brethren in the Quorum, thinking that it would be so sacred and so personal that one would have to have some special inspiration, indeed, some authorization, even to ask it.
“There are some things just too sacred to discuss. . . .
“I said there was a question that could not be taken lightly nor answered at all without the prompting of the Spirit. I have not asked that question of others, but I have heard them answer it—but not when they were asked. They have answered it under the prompting of the Spirit, on sacred occasions, when ‘the Spirit beareth record.’ (D&C 1:39.)
“I have heard one of my brethren declare: ‘I know from experiences, too sacred to relate, that Jesus is the Christ.’
“I have heard another testify: ‘I know that God lives; I know that the Lord lives. And more than that, I know the Lord.’
“It was not their words that held the meaning or the power. It was the Spirit. ‘. . . for when a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men.’ (2 Ne. 33:1.)
“I speak upon this subject in humility, with the constant feeling that I am the least in every way of those who are called to this holy office.
“I have come to know that the witness does not come by seeking after signs. It comes through fasting and prayer, through activity and testing and obedience. It comes through sustaining the servants of the Lord and following them.
“Karl G. Maeser was taking a group of missionaries across the Alps. As they reached a summit, he stopped. Gesturing back down the trail to some poles set in the snow to mark the way across the glacier, he said, ‘Brethren, there stands the Priesthood. They are just common sticks like the rest of us . . . but the position they hold makes them what they are to us. If we step aside from the path they mark, we are lost.’ [Alma P. Burton, Karl G. Maeser, Mormon Educator (Deseret Book Co., 1953), p. 22.]
“The witness depends upon sustaining his servants as we have done here in sign and as we should do in action.
“Now, I wonder with you why one such as I should be called to the holy apostleship. There are so many qualifications that I lack. There is so much in my effort to serve that is wanting. As I have pondered on it, I have come to only one single thing, one qualification in which there may be cause, and that is, I have that witness.
“I declare to you that I know that Jesus is the Christ. I know that he lives. He was born in the meridian of time. He taught his gospel, was tried, was crucified. He rose on the third day. He was the first fruits of the resurrection. He has a body of flesh and bone. Of this I bear testimony. Of him I am a witness.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1971, pp. 122–25; or Ensign, June 1971, pp. 87–88.)
The witness of Jesus Christ which is given to the Apostles is more powerful than that which can be obtained by sight:
“They [the Twelve Apostles] are special witnesses for Jesus Christ. It is their right to know the truth and to have an abiding witness. This is an exacting duty upon them, to know that Jesus Christ is in very deed the Only Begotten Son of God, the Redeemer of the world, and the Savior of all those who will confess their sins, repent, and keep his commandments.
“The question frequently arises: ‘Is it necessary for a member of the Council of the Twelve to see the Savior in order to be an apostle?’ It is their privilege to see him if occasion requires, but the Lord has taught that there is a stronger witness than seeing a personage, even of seeing the Son of God in a vision. Impressions on the soul that come from the Holy Ghost are far more significant than a vision. When Spirit speaks to spirit, the imprint upon the soul is far more difficult to erase. Every member of the Church should have impressions that Jesus is the Son of God indelibly pictured on his soul through the witness of the Holy Ghost.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, “The First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve,” Improvement Era, Nov. 1966, p. 979.)
“The Twelve are a Traveling Presiding High Council, to officiate in the name of the Lord, under the direction of the Presidency of the Church, agreeable to the institution of heaven; to build up the church, and regulate all the affairs of the same in all nations, first unto the Gentiles and secondly unto the Jews.” (D&C 107:33.)
President Joseph Fielding Smith explained the role of the Apostles:
“Apostles are traveling councilors or special witnesses who go into all the world to preach. By this is meant that the Twelve should not go forth without the counsel and direction of the First Presidency.” (“The First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve,” p. 979.)
The business of the Twelve Apostles is whatever the President of the Church delegates to them. Elder Mark E. Petersen taught that the Twelve “hold the divine keys, but only the President of the Church may exercise all of these keys in their fulness, for this privilege is given to but one man on earth at a time. The Twelve also work by delegation from the President of the Church. They receive assignments from him, and fulfill them with complete devotion.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1981, p. 88; or Ensign, Nov. 1981, p. 64.)
Speaking as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Harold B. Lee said:
“It [any item under consideration] becomes our business when the President of the Church delegates to us some of the keys which he holds in fulness. Until he gives us the authority, it is not our business and we do not have the right to take his place.” (“The Place of the Living Prophet, Seer, and Revelator,” in Charge to Religious Educators, p. 108.)
In performing the duties given them by the President of the Church, the Twelve, as prophets, seers, and revelators, are entitled to receive revelation and guidance from the Holy Ghost as needed for the proper completion of their assignments. President Joseph Fielding Smith explained:
“There is only one man at a time who holds the keys of revelation for the Church [see D&C 43:3–7]. The Twelve Apostles may receive revelation to guide them in their labors and to assist them in setting in order the priesthood and organizations of the Church. When they are sent out into a stake by authority they have all the power to receive revelation, to make changes, and to conduct the affairs according to the will of the Lord. But they do not receive revelations for the guidance of the whole Church, only wherein one of them may succeed to the Presidency.” (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:156–57.)
“Each of the apostles when he is ordained has conferred upon him all the keys and authorities which were given by Joseph Smith to the apostles before his death. These brethren, however, cannot exercise these authorities except when the occasion arises that they come to the presidency. Before that time the powers lie dormant. This is one reason why they are sustained as prophets, seers and revelators in the Church, but there can be but one revelator for the Church at a time [the president of the Church].” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:389 [Lesson 72, Note 2].)
“Could he [Joseph Smith] have built the kingdom of God without first being an Apostle? No, he never could. The keys of the eternal Priesthood, which is after the order of the Son of God is comprehended by being an Apostle. All the Priesthood, all the keys, all the gifts, all the endowments, and everything preparatory to entering back into the presence of the Father and of the Son, is in, composed of, circumscribed by, or I might say incorporated within the circumference of the apostleship.” (Brigham Young, [report of conference] Millennial Star, 23 July 1853, p. 489.)
It is important to realize that when each Apostle in the Quorum of the Twelve is ordained, he is given the same keys of the kingdom held by the President of the Church. His authority to use those keys lies dormant and is subject to the authority of the President of the Church. Only when a man becomes the President of the Church does he have the right, as the senior Apostle on the earth, to use all of those keys.
The following quotation from History of the Church defines the authority of the Twelve in relation to that of the First Presidency:
“President Smith next proceeded to explain the duty of the Twelve, and their authority, which is next to the present Presidency . . . also the Twelve are not subject to any other than the First Presidency, . . . ‘and where I am not [meaning the President of the Church], there is no First Presidency over the Twelve’” (2:373–74).
President Joseph Fielding Smith explained further:
“Whenever the First Presidency should be disorganized, it would devolve upon the Council of the Twelve Apostles to set in order and direct the affairs of the Church.
“‘And they [the Twelve] form a quorum, equal in authority and power to the three presidents previously mentioned. . . . (D&C 107:24. . . .)
“That is to say, when the First Presidency is disorganized, the Twelve Apostles become the presiding quorum of the Church until the Presidency is again organized, and during that time they are virtually the Presidency of the Church—the presiding quorum. . . .
“I think it must be said that the Apostles could not be equal in authority with the Presidency when the First Presidency is fully and properly organized. There could not be two heads—or three heads—of equal authority at the same time, for such a thing would lead to confusion.” (“The First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve,” p. 979.)
The Apostle Paul taught that Apostles and prophets were set in the Church “that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Ephesians 4:14). In commenting on this stabilizing function of prophets, Elder Mark E. Petersen said:
“These apostles and prophets, the revelators of God, were to act as a protection for the people against false prophets and false teachings. Therefore, if somebody secretly comes to you claiming to have had a secret revelation and trying to lead you astray, all you have to do is remember that this person is not an apostle. If you want to know what the word of God is, go to the Council of the Twelve or the First Presidency. They are the foundation of the Church; they will keep you on the right track so that you will not need to worry.” (“A Man Must Be Called of God,” in Speeches of the Year, 1979, p. 184.)
Following the counsel of the Apostles is a safe path for the Saints, for the Apostles devotedly follow the President of the Church and, like the President or the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve will never lead the Church astray.
“The authorities which the Lord has placed in his Church constitute for the people of the Church a harbor, a place of refuge, a hitching post, as it were. No one in this Church will ever go far astray who ties himself securely to the Church Authorities whom the Lord has placed in his Church. This Church will never go astray; the Quorum of the Twelve will never lead you into bypaths; it never has and never will. There could be individuals who would falter; there will never be a majority of the Council of the Twelve on the wrong side at any time. The Lord has chosen them; he has given them specific responsibilities. And those people who stand close to them will be safe. And, conversely, whenever one begins to go his own way in opposition to authority, he is in grave danger. I would not say that those leaders whom the Lord chooses are necessarily the most brilliant, nor the most highly trained, but they are the chosen, and when chosen of the Lord they are his recognized authority, and the people who stay close to them have safety.” (Spencer W. Kimball, in Conference Report, Apr. 1951, p. 104.)
1. List the current members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in order of their seniority.
2. Briefly outline the calling and responsibilities of the Quorum of the Twelve as taught in this lesson and in Doctrine and Covenants 107:23–24, 33–35, 58; 112:1, 14, 21.
3. Read the following statement by Elder Marion G. Romney: “We who are his present witnesses are but discharging our responsibility when we bring these testimonies of the prophets and our own testimonies . . . to your attention.
“To the extent we do bring them to your attention, the responsibility passes from us to you to determine the credibility of the witnesses and their testimonies. Let no man underestimate the importance of his decision concerning this matter. . . .
“Now this testimony, my brethren and sisters, I bear unto you in the name of the Lord, Jesus Christ, and in the authority of the holy apostleship which I hold, and I tell you it will be binding upon you.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1967, pp. 136–37.)
Write a short statement of what your responsibilities are after you have received the testimonies of Apostles.
4. Write a brief paragraph explaining what is meant by the statement that ordained Apostles are “special witnesses of the name of Christ” (D&C 107:23).
5. Describe the relationship between the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the First Presidency.
6. Explain why the Apostles are sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators.
“I wonder who the new President of the Church will be.”
“I have it on good authority that the Twelve Apostles meet together and select the new President by secret ballot.”
“It seems logical to me that the first counselor in the First Presidency should be the new President.”
Comments like these, sometimes heard among Church members, reveal a misunderstanding of the principle of succession to the Presidency of the Church.
The principle of succession has been established and clearly explained to the Saints. There should be no speculation or controversy over who will become the next President of the Church.
The Lord knows who he wants to lead his Church. Concerning those who have succeeded the Prophet Joseph Smith, Elder Gordon B. Hinckley stated: “Through long years of dedicated service, they have been refined and winnowed and chastened and molded for the purposes of the Almighty. . . . The Lord subdued their hearts and refined their natures to prepare them for the great and sacred responsibility later thrust upon them.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1973, p. 164; or Ensign, Jan. 1974, p. 124.)
Succession in the prophetic office is automatic and proceeds according to apostolic seniority in the Quorum of the Twelve. President Spencer W. Kimball stated:
“Full provision has been made by our Lord for changes. Today there are fourteen apostles holding the keys in suspension, the twelve and the two counselors to the President, to be brought into use if and when circumstances allow, all ordained to leadership in their turn as they move forward in seniority.
“There have been some eighty apostles so endowed since Joseph Smith, though only eleven have occupied the place of the President of the Church, death having intervened; and since the death of his servants is in the power and control of the Lord, he permits to come to the first place only the one who is destined to take that leadership. Death and life become the controlling factors. Each new apostle in turn is chosen by the Lord and revealed to the then living prophet who ordains him.
“The matter of seniority is basic in the first quorums of the Church. All the apostles understand this perfectly, and all well-trained members of the Church are conversant with this perfect succession program.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1972, p. 29; or Ensign, Jan. 1973, p. 34.)
The leadership change is automatic and instantaneous. A special revelation is not necessary.
“Now, this is the pattern; this is the system. Succession in the presidency happens in an orderly and systematized way, because the Lord has conferred upon the members of the Council of the Twelve all of the keys and powers and authorities that have ever been held in any dispensation or any age of the past. Every key is given to each apostle who is set apart a member of the Council of the Twelve. But because keys are the right of presidency, they lie dormant, as it were, in each man unless and until he becomes the senior apostle and is thus in a position of presidency to direct the labors and the work of all others. Therefore succession occurs, as it were, automatically. (Bruce R. McConkie, “Succession in the Presidency,” in Speeches of the Year, 1974, p. 25.)
That the senior Apostle of God has outlived all the other Apostles is a clear indication of the Lord’s choice in the matter. Of President Spencer W. Kimball’s succession to the Presidency, Elder Bruce R. McConkie said:
“As the last heartbeat of President Lee ceased, the mantle of leadership passed to President Kimball, whose next heartbeat was that of the living oracle and presiding authority of God on earth. From that moment the Church continued under the direction of President Kimball.
“It was not required, nor was it requisite or needed, that the Lord give any revelation, that any special direction be given. The law was already ordained and established. God does not look down each morning and say, ‘The sun shall rise.’ He has already established the law, he has set the sun in the firmament, and the sun operates in harmony with established law in its rising. And so it was with the transfer of leadership from President Lee to President Kimball.
“When the President of the Church passes on, the First Presidency is disorganized, and the mantle of leadership—the reins of presidency—go to the senior man left and to the Council of the Twelve as a body; in effect the Council of the Twelve then becomes the First Presidency of the Church and so continues unless and until a formal reorganization takes place.” (“Succession in the Presidency,” pp. 19–20.)
“God knows all things, the end from the beginning, and no man becomes President of the Church of Jesus Christ by accident, nor remains there by chance, nor is called home by happenstance” (Ezra Taft Benson, in Conference Report, Seoul Korea Area Conference 1975, p. 52).
Before a man is ever called to be an Apostle, the Lord knows whether he will eventually be the President of the Church, and if so, when. As it was with Jeremiah (see Jeremiah 1:5), so it is with all of the Lord’s prophets. “The Lord has his own way of calling prophets. He knew them before they were ever born here in mortality” (LeGrand Richards, in Conference Report, Apr. 1981, p. 41; or Ensign, May 1981, p. 31). Because of the Lord’s infinite knowledge and his power over life and death, “there is no untimely passing of a prophet of God” (Ezra Taft Benson, in Conference Report, Apr. 1974, p. 151; or Ensign, May 1974, p. 104). Therefore there is no untimely ascendancy of any man to the presidency of the Lord’s church.
“The simple faith, to accept that which comes from the inspired utterances of those whom God has set to preside over his Church, is indicated in the simple pure faith of the late President Heber J. Grant who had been stricken, and in his advanced years it was thought that he would not be long upon the earth. As is frequently the case among the Saints there is a lot of supposing; supposing that the president should die, supposing that the next in the line of authority were not physically or mentally able to carry on his work. Some of you may live through such periods and you might be one to suppose. One of his own family approached him on such occasion and said, ‘Grandfather, suppose that the president of the Church should die, and suppose that the next in line of authority was not prepared to carry on after his death.’ The President impatiently said, ‘Stop that supposing; there is no supposing with the Lord; he knows who he wants to preside over his Church.’” (Harold B. Lee, Be Secure in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, p. 6.)
“To those who ask the question: How is the President of the Church chosen or elected? the correct and simple answer should be a quotation of the fifth Article of Faith: ‘We believe that a man must be called of God by prophecy and by the laying on of hands, by those who are in authority to preach the gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.’
“The beginning of the call of one to be President of the Church actually begins when he is called, ordained, and set apart to become a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Such a call by prophecy, or in other words, by the inspiration of the Lord to the one holding the keys of presidency, and the subsequent ordination and setting apart by the laying on of hands by that same authority, places each apostle in a priesthood quorum of twelve men holding the apostleship.
“Each apostle so ordained under the hands of the President of the Church, who holds the keys of the kingdom of God in concert with all other ordained apostles, has given to him the priesthood authority necessary to hold every position in the Church, even to a position of presidency over the Church if he were called by the presiding authority and sustained by a vote of a constituent assembly of the membership of the Church.
“The Prophet Joseph Smith declared that ‘where the president is not, there is no First Presidency.’ [See Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 106.] Immediately following the death of a President, the next ranking body, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, becomes the presiding authority, with the president of the Twelve automatically becoming the acting President of the Church until a President of the Church is officially ordained and sustained in his office.
“Early in this dispensation, because of certain conditions, the Council of Twelve continued to preside as a body for as long as three years before the reorganization was effected. As conditions in the Church became more stabilized, the reorganization was effected promptly following the passing of the President of the Church.
“All members of the First Presidency and the Twelve are regularly sustained as ‘prophets, seers, and revelators,’ as you have done today. This means that any one of the apostles, so chosen and ordained, could preside over the Church if he were ‘chosen by the body [which has been interpreted to mean, the entire Quorum of the Twelve], appointed and ordained to that office, and upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church,’ to quote from a revelation on this subject, on one condition, and that being that he was the senior member, or the president, of that body. (See D&C 107:22.)
“Occasionally the question is asked as to whether or not one other than the senior member of the Twelve could become President. Some thought on this matter would suggest that any other than the senior member could become President of the Church only if the Lord reveals to that President of the Twelve that someone other than himself could be selected.
“The Lord revealed to the first prophet of this dispensation the orderly plan for the Church leadership by a predetermined organization of the earthly kingdom of God. He gave these specific guidelines, as we might speak of them:
“‘Of the Melchizedek Priesthood, three Presiding High Priests, chosen by the body, appointed and ordained to that office, and upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church, form a quorum of the [First] Presidency of the Church.
“‘The twelve traveling councilors are called to be the Twelve Apostles, or special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the Church in the duties of their calling.
“‘And they form a quorum, equal in authority and power to the three presidents previously mentioned.’ (D&C 107:22–24.)
“With reference to this subject, the fourth President of the Church, Wilford Woodruff, made a few observations in a letter to President Heber J. Grant, then a member of the Twelve, under date of March 28, 1887. I quote from that letter: ‘. . . when the President of the Church dies, who then is the Presiding Authority of the Church? It is the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (ordained and organized by the revelations of God and none else). Then while these Twelve Apostles preside over the Church, who is the President of the Church[?] It is the President of the Twelve Apostles. And he is virtually as much the President of the Church while presiding over Twelve men as he is when organized as the Presidency of the Church, and presiding over two men.’ And this principle has been carried out now for 140 years—ever since the organization of the Church.” (Harold B. Lee, in Conference Report, Apr. 1970, pp. 123–24.)
“I would like to explain to you exactly what took place following the unexpected death of President Harold B. Lee on 26 December 1973. I was in Phoenix, Arizona, to spend Christmas with my daughter and her family, when a call came to me from Arthur Haycock, secretary to President Lee. He said that President Lee was seriously ill, and he thought that I should plan to return home as soon as possible. A half-hour later he called and said: ‘The Lord has spoken. President Lee has been called home.’
“President Romney, Second Counselor, in my absence was directing the affairs of the Church, and was at the hospital with Spencer W. Kimball, President of the Council of the Twelve. Immediately upon the death of President Lee, President Romney turned to President Kimball and said, ‘You are in charge.’ Remember, the Prophet Joseph Smith had said that without the President there was no First Presidency over the Twelve.
“Not one minute passed between the time President Lee died and the Twelve took over as the presiding authority of the Church.
“Following President Lee’s funeral, President Kimball called a meeting of all the Apostles for Sunday, December 30, at 3 P.M. in the Salt Lake Temple Council Room. President Romney and I had taken our respective places of seniority in the council, so there were fourteen of us present.
“Following a song, and prayer by President Romney, President Kimball, in deep humility, expressed his feelings to us. He said that he had spent Friday in the temple talking to the Lord, and had shed many tears as he prayed for guidance in assuming his new responsibilities and in choosing his counselors.
“Dressed in the robes of the holy priesthood, we held a prayer circle; President Kimball asked me to conduct it and Elder Thomas S. Monson to offer the prayer. Following this, President Kimball explained the purpose of the meeting and called on each member of the quorum in order of seniority, starting with Elder Ezra Taft Benson, to express his feelings as to whether the First Presidency should be organized that day or whether we should carry on as the Council of the Twelve. Each said, ‘We should organize now,’ and many complimentary things were spoken about President Kimball and his work with the Twelve.
“Then Elder Ezra Taft Benson nominated Spencer W. Kimball to be the President of the Church. This was seconded by Elder Mark E. Petersen and unanimously approved. President Kimball then nominated N. Eldon Tanner as First Counselor and Marion G. Romney as Second Counselor, each of whom expressed a willingness to accept the position and devote his whole time and energy in serving in that capacity.
“They were unanimously approved. Then Elder Mark E. Petersen, second in seniority in the Twelve, nominated Ezra Taft Benson, the senior member of the Twelve, as President of the Quorum of the Twelve. This was unanimously approved.
“At this point all the members present laid their hands upon the head of Spencer W. Kimball, and President Ezra Taft Benson was voice in blessing, ordaining, and setting apart Spencer W. Kimball as the twelfth President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Then, with President Kimball as voice, N. Eldon Tanner was set apart as First Counselor and Marion G. Romney as Second Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church. Following the same procedure, he pronounced the blessing and setting apart of Ezra Taft Benson as President of the Quorum of the Twelve.” (N. Eldon Tanner, in Conference Report, October 1979, pp. 62–63; or Ensign, Nov. 1979, pp. 43–44.)
On 6 April 1974, a solemn assembly was convened in the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah, to sustain a new First Presidency of the Church. President N. Eldon Tanner presented the names of the new First Presidency as well as those of all the General Authorities of the Church for a sustaining vote. President Tanner followed the procedure which had been established in the days of John Taylor. That procedure is as follows:
“This, brothers and sisters, is a very solemn occasion. We so approach it and should so conduct it. It will take quite a time; but if we are in the frame of mind and spirit which we should be in, I am sure it will not be tedious.
“We are met in the Tabernacle on Temple Square, Salt Lake City, in a formal Solemn Assembly of the body of the Church to express the voice of the Church in a first sustaining vote for a new president of the Church. This proceeding is in accordance with the practice of the Church from the first sustaining vote cast by a general conference for President John Taylor, until the present time.
“The priesthood of the Church, insofar as the Tabernacle can accommodate them, is seated here by priesthood quorums.
“The First Presidency, the Council of the Twelve, with their Assistants, the Patriarch to the Church, the Presidents of the First Council of the Seventy, and the Presiding Bishopric occupy their usual seats on the Tabernacle stand.
“The Regional Representatives of the Twelve and the Mission Representatives of the Twelve and the First Council of the Seventy occupy the seats to the north and south of the stand, both lower seats within the railing and those on the stand level, and the front seats in the body of the hall.
“The patriarchs occupy the seats near the front in the body of the hall.
“The high priests of the Church, including presidents of stakes and their counselors, the high councilors, the presidencies and members of quorums, and ward bishoprics, occupy the center of the building on the main floor, as far to the eastward as the galleries.
“The seventies occupy the north part of the building on the main floor under the north gallery.
“The elders occupy the south part of the building on the main floor under the galleries.
“The Aaronic Priesthood (priests, teachers, and deacons) occupy the seats on the main floor, just back of the high priests, under the gallery on the east.
“The general membership of the Church occupy the rest of the building.
“Many are gathered in the Assembly Hall, the Salt Palace, and in their homes, and wherever you are, members of the Church may participate in the voting.
“The voting will be by priesthood quorums first, and then by the conference assembly.
“The quorums and groups of quorums will vote in the following order:
1. The First Presidency
2. The Quorum of the Twelve
3. The patriarchs
4. The high priests, including the Assistants to the Twelve, Regional Representatives and Mission Representatives, the presidents of stakes and their counselors, the high councilors, presidencies of quorums, quorum members, the Presiding Bishopric, and ward bishoprics.
5. The seventies
6. The elders
7. The Aaronic Priesthood (priests, teachers, and deacons)
8. The whole congregation here assembled, including the priesthood.
“The voting will be in the following manner:
“As each quorum or group is called, they will be asked to vote to sustain the officer proposed. Those voting will when called upon arise to their feet. When the affirmative vote is called for, those so voting will bring their right arms to the square to manifest to the Lord that they sustain the officer for whom they are voting. They will then drop their hands. Then those opposing will be asked to bring their right arms to the square to bear witness to the Lord that they are not willing to sustain the officer whom they are called upon to sustain.
“When both affirmative and negative votes are cast, the members of the quorum will resume their seats.
“All of the quorums will vote in this manner.
“Everyone is perfectly free to vote as he wishes. There is no compulsion whatsoever in this voting. When you vote affirmatively you make a solemn covenant with the Lord that you will sustain, that is, give your full loyalty and support, without equivocation or reservation, to the officer for whom you vote.
“After all the quorums have so voted, a vote will then be called of the whole congregation, those bearing the priesthood and those not bearing it. All will arise. Those voting to sustain will raise their right arms to the square, to witness that they sustain the officers for whom they vote. After they lower their hands the opposing vote will be called for and will be manifested by raising the right arm to the square.
“The officers so to be voted for by quorums are the following.
The president of the Church;
The first counselor to the president of the Church;
The second counselor to the president of the Church;
The president of the Quorum of the Twelve;
The Council of the Twelve;
The Patriarch to the Church;
“The sustaining of the counselors in the presidency, the Council of the Twelve, and the Patriarch, as prophets, seers, and revelators to the Church.
“After the vote by quorums to sustain these officers, the rest of the General Authorities, the general officers of the Church, and the general auxiliary officers of the Church will be sustained by voting as in the ordinary general conference. This is in accordance with the procedure set by President John Taylor.
“Please be ready to begin voting. Only Church members are entitled to vote.
“Only one quorum, or group of quorums, as the case may be, will stand at a time in voting by quorums. Each quorum, or group of quorums, will please arise when requested and remain standing until requested to be seated.
“May the Lord guide us and may his Spirit attend us as we go forward in this solemn service, established by the Lord so that each member of his Church may have a voice in sustaining those whom he has called to preside over it and to direct its work, to the salvation and exaltation of mankind.
“We shall first vote by quorums to sustain the President of the Church and his Counselors.” (N. Eldon Tanner, in Conference Report, Apr. 1974, pp. 54–55; or Ensign, May 1974, pp. 38–39.)
1. Using this chapter as a guide, outline the steps the Lord has established in selecting a new President of the Church. How does this process begin at the selection of a new Apostle?
2. Concerning the principle of succession in the Church, Elder Bruce R. McConkie has stated: “There is no chance in the call of these brethren to direct the Lord’s work on earth. His hand is in it. He knows the end from the beginning.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1974, p. 101; or Ensign, May 1974, p. 72.)
Briefly explain why chance plays no part in the call of a President of the Church.
3. Explain what Joseph Smith meant by the statement “where I [the President of the Church] am not, there is no First Presidency over the Twelve” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 106).
4. Explain the message and importance of Doctrine and Covenants 107:24.
The conclusions we come to in any given situation, and which form the basis for our actions, are determined largely by our assumptions, our previously held notions or beliefs. Two people who observe the same phenomenon may come to very different conclusions about it because they evaluate it from completely different perspectives. Because of this, their actions and the reasons for their actions may also be very different.
Most people in the world see things only in terms of what they can observe. Those who have faith in God and his prophets, however, see things from an eternal perspective. They recognize that this life is only part of an eternal existence and that events in this life must be evaluated in relation to a premortal past and an eternal future. They seek to see things from God’s perspective which is not limited by the bounds of this earthly existence. The accompanying diagram illustrates the relationship between the Lord’s perspective and human perspective.
Those who see only from mortal perspective do not recognize the eternal realm. They obtain and evaluate information only by reason and the scientific method. Those who seek to see from the eternal perspective use reasoning and the scientific method where proper, but they also are guided by revelation from God. As an example of the fact that people may come to different conclusions about a given problem, even though they have the same evidence, consider how a current social issue, population control, is analyzed using two perspectives:
Earth life came by chance.
There is no purpose or overall design to be fulfilled.
Survival and well-being are the objectives of human life.
Resources are rapidly being used up by the constantly increasing population.
Population growth must be curbed.
There is a divine plan and timetable ordained and directed by God.
Spirits are awaiting the opportunity to obtain bodies.
The Lord prepared the earth with more than sufficient resources for mankind.
Resources are rapidly being used up by the constantly increasing population.
We should continue to obey the Lord’s commandment to multiply and replenish the earth.
We should seek to both conserve and properly use the earth’s resources to sustain its population.
Because of our different perspectives, differences like these will be found in our conclusions about many other social, political, and religious issues.
Those who see the world only from a mortal perspective rely on human reasoning and do not claim to know that which cannot be observed, evaluated, or proven by tangible evidence. Their conclusions are only as reliable as the information available to them and their ability to evaluate it. People using only their own reasoning may reach completely different conclusions, since their assumptions or their information may be correct, distorted, or false.
Because mankind has made such marvelous advances using only the methods of the mortal perspective (logical reasoning and experimentation), some have come to rely on them exclusively. These people reject the eternal perspective because spiritual things (revelation, resurrection, atonement, etc.) cannot be evaluated from a mortal perspective.
Although we should use our God-given powers of reason and inquiry, we should also recognize that there is a difference between knowledge acquired through mortal means and knowledge given by God. Of the importance of maintaining the proper relationship between the learning of the world and the counsels of God, the prophet Jacob testified:
“O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.” (2 Nephi 9:28–29.)
There is no conflict between truths, for truth is “things as they really are” (Jacob 4:13). Truth is truth, whether discovered through human reasoning or received through revelation from God.
There are many who are able to see worldly learning and faith in God in the proper perspective. They have learned well how to use the methods acceptable to scientists and scholars to search for truths. They also realize, however, that some truths cannot be discovered using reason and scientific method, but can only be discovered through revelation.
“Behold, great and marvelous are the works of the Lord. How unsearchable are the depths of the mysteries of him; and it is impossible that man should find out all his ways. And no man knoweth of his ways save it be revealed unto him; wherefore, brethren, despise not the revelations of God.” (Jacob 4:8.)
“For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. . . .
“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:11, 14.)
Truths revealed from heaven do not change. If they seem to conflict with the tentative conclusions arrived at through logic or science, we must be patient and exercise faith because time will vindicate revealed truth. However, we must be careful to avoid accepting personal interpretation as revealed truth or drawing unwarranted conclusions from revealed truth.
Because a prophet’s perspective is sharpened by an understanding of eternal principles and his knowledge is deepened by personal revelation, his conclusions are more accurate and reliable than those of others who lack these endowments. “When we are instructed by the President of the Church, we believe he tells us what the Lord would have us do. To us it is something more than just the advice of man.” (George Albert Smith, in Conference Report, Oct. 1930, p. 66.) “Revelation, the clear and uncluttered channel of truth, is still open. Our Heavenly Father continues to inspire his prophets. This inspiration can serve as a sure guide in making life’s decisions. It will lead us to truth.” (Thomas S. Monson, Pathways to Perfection, p. 34.)
President Ezra Taft Benson wisely counseled:
“Of all mortal men, we should keep our eyes most firmly fixed on the captain, the prophet, seer, and revelator, and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. . . . This is the man who stands closest to the fountain of living waters.” (In Conference Report, Seoul Korea Area Conference 1975, p. 52.)
The ancient prophet Nephi taught of the foolishness of placing trust in human reasoning and denying revelations from God:
“Wo be unto him that hearkeneth unto the precepts of men, and denieth the power of God, and the gift of the Holy Ghost! . . .
“Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost.” (2 Nephi 28:26, 31.)
A guiding principle to all truth was stated by President Joseph Fielding Smith:
“So far as the philosophy and wisdom of the world are concerned, they mean nothing unless they conform to the revealed word of God. Any doctrine, whether it comes in the name of religion, science, philosophy, or whatever it may be, if it is in conflict with the revealed word of the Lord, will fail. It may appear plausible. It may be put before you in language that appeals and which you may not be able to answer. It may appear to be established by evidence that you cannot controvert, but all you need to do is to abide your time. Time will level all things. You will find that every doctrine, every principle, no matter how universally believed, if it is not in accord with the divine word of the Lord to his servants, will perish. Nor is it necessary for us to try to stretch the word of the Lord in a vain attempt to make it conform to these theories and teachings. The word of the Lord shall not pass away unfulfilled, but these false doctrines and theories will all fail. Truth, and only truth, will remain when all else has perished. The Lord has said, ‘And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come.’ (D&C 93:24.)” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1952, p. 60.)
Elder Boyd K. Packer counseled the Saints to set the Church and its program as the rule by which the things of the world are evaluated:
“There is almost a universal tendency for men and women who are specialists in an academic discipline to judge the Church against the principles of their profession. There is a great need in my mind for us, as students and as teachers, to consciously and continually subjugate this tendency and relegate our professional training to a position secondary to the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“In other words, rather than to judge the Church and its program against the principles of our profession, we would do well to set the Church and its accepted program as the rule, then judge our academic training against this rule. This posture is remarkably difficult to achieve and sometimes even more difficult to maintain.” (A Dedication—To Faith, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year, p. 6.)
We must not only set the Church and its program as the rule by which we judge everything else, we must also remember that the path of safety lies well within the guidelines and standards set forth by the prophets. Elder Bruce R. McConkie admonished the Saints “not to put too much stock in some of the current views and vagaries that are afloat, but rather, turn to the revealed word, get a sound understanding of the doctrines, and keep yourselves in the mainstream of the Church.” (“Our Relationship with the Lord,” in Speeches, 1981 [Provo: Brigham Young University Publications, 1982], p. 97.) President Stephen L Richards warned the Church about an idea which sometimes is accepted by Church members and which must be avoided:
“A part of the propaganda is that there is no warrant for official interpretation of the doctrines and standards of the Church, that everyone may read and interpret for himself, and adopt only so much of the doctrine as he chooses, and that he may classify the revelations as essential or non-essential. These propagandists are either ignorant of or ignore the Lord’s declaration that ‘no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.’ (II Peter 1:20.) They disparage orthodoxy as such and pride themselves on liberal thinking. Many of them maintain their loyalty to the Church, and some may honestly believe they are doing the Church a favor and a service in advocating their so-called broad-minded concepts.
“Unfortunately, some people within the Church subscribing to these views do not realize that they are falling into a trap themselves. They are giving aid and comfort to the foe; they are undermining their own testimonies and those of others. I warn the Church against them, and I warn them against themselves; and I plead with them to desist, to abandon their agnostic discussions, and to join with the faithful in promoting the cause which in their hearts they once loved, and I think they still love.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1951, pp. 116–17.)
Because of the enticements and persuasive power of those who see and teach only from the perspective of the world, there are many who have been deceived and led away by falsehood. Elder Ezra Taft Benson declared that this can be avoided and gave counsel to help the Saints lay hold upon the truth and avoid being deceived:
“May I suggest three short tests to avoid being deceived, . . .
“1. What do the standard works have to say about it? ‘To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them,’ said Isaiah. (Isa. 8:20.) . . .
“We must diligently study the scriptures. Of special importance to us are the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants. . . .
“2. The second guide is: what do the latter-day Presidents of the Church have to say on the subject—particularly the living President? . . .
“. . . There is only one man on the earth today who speaks for the Church. (See D&C 132:7, 21:4.) That man is [the] President [of the Church]. Because he gives the word of the Lord for us today, his words have an even more immediate importance than those of the dead prophets. When speaking under the influence of the Holy Ghost his words are scripture. (See D&C 68:4.) . . .
“3. The third and final test is the Holy Ghost—the test of the Spirit. By that Spirit we ‘. . . may know the truth of all things.’ (Moroni 10:5.) This test can only be fully effective if one’s channels of communication with God are clean and virtuous and uncluttered with sin.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1963, pp. 16–18.)
Elder Marion G. Romney also gave some valuable counsel about how to avoid being deceived in matters which pertain to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“I would like now to suggest some tests which can safely be used to distinguish the genuine from the counterfeit. I have already indicated that many organizations, causes, and measures may be tried by applying the test of free agency.
“Anything purporting to pertain to the Gospel of Jesus Christ may be put to the following four simple tests:
“1. Does it purport to originate in the wisdom of men, or was it revealed from heaven? If it originated in the wisdom of men, it is not of God. Remember what the Savior said to Nicodemus, ‘Except a man be born again, he cannot see . . . (nor) enter . . . the kingdom of God.’ (John 3:3, 5) He also said, ‘My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.’ (John 7:16) Even Jesus himself did not purport to originate gospel doctrine. One cannot arrive at truth by reason alone. . . .
“In the Book of Mormon the Prophet Jacob said: ‘O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.’ Then he adds this lovely sentence: ‘But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.’ (2 Nephi 9:28–29)
“You are all acquainted with Paul’s great doctrine that the things of God are understood by the power of God, and that the things of men are understood by the wisdom of men. ‘But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: For they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.’ (I Corinthians 2:14)
“We never need to be deceived by the learning of the world. We can always with safety reject those doctrines which are founded in the wisdom of men.
“2. Does the teaching bear the proper label? You will remember that when his Nephite disciples inquired of Jesus what they should call the church, he ‘said unto them: Verily, verily, I say unto you, why is it that the people should murmur and dispute because of this thing?
“‘Have they not read the scriptures, which say ye must take upon you the name of Christ, which is my name? For by this name shall ye be called at the last day;
“‘And whoso taketh upon him my name, and endureth to the end, the same shall be saved at the last day.
“‘Therefore, whatsoever ye shall do, ye shall do it in my name; therefore ye shall call the church in my name; and ye shall call upon the Father in my name that he will bless the church for my sake.
“‘And how be it my church save it be called in my name? For if a church be called in Moses’ name then it be Moses’ church; or if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church of a man; but if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel.’ (3 Nephi 27:4–8)
“From the foregoing it is perfectly plain that if any teaching purporting to be from Christ comes under any label other than that of Jesus Christ, we can know it is not of God.
“3. The last phrase of the above quotation gives us the third test. ‘But if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel.’ The teaching must not only come under the proper label, but it must also conform to the other teaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“4. Now the fourth and last test I shall mention is: Does it come through the proper Church channel? We read in the 42nd Section of the Doctrine and Covenants: ‘Again I say unto you, that it shall not be given to any one to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by some one who has authority, and it is known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church.’ (D. & C. 42:11.) In the light of this divinely established order, how can any man accept the doctrine of authority from some secret source unknown to the Church? The Lord could not have made it any plainer that one’s authority must come through the established order of the Church, and the President of the Church stands at the head of that order. The Lord has placed him there.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1960, pp. 76–77.)
President Joseph F. Smith also gave some valuable counsel about avoiding deception. He was concerned that certain untrue teachings had seemed to some to have a ring of gospel truth, and he advised Church members that false doctrine with the appearance of gospel truth will usually come from two specific classes of people.
“Among the Latter-day Saints, the preaching of false doctrines disguised as truths of the Gospel, may be expected from people of two classes, and practically from these only; they are:
“First—The hopelessly ignorant, whose lack of intelligence is due to their indolence and sloth, who make but feeble effort, if indeed any at all, to better themselves by reading and study; those who are afflicted with a dread disease that may develop into an incurable malady—laziness.
“Second—The proud and self-vaunting ones, who read by the lamp of their own conceit; who interpret by rules of their own contriving; who have become a law unto themselves, and so pose as the sole judges of their own doings. More dangerously ignorant than the first.
“Beware of the lazy and the proud; their infection in each case is contagious; better for them and for all when they are compelled to display the yellow flag of warning, that the clean and uninfected may be protected.” (Juvenile Instructor, vol. 41, p. 178; or Gospel Doctrine, p. 373.)
The Saints can avoid the pitfalls, deceptions, and false philosophies of the world if they will simply look to the Lord’s chosen leaders and follow the counsel which the Lord gives through them.
1. Review and remember the following summary of the guidelines to be used in comparing the things of God and the things of man:
a. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned and are real, though they may be considered foolishness by the natural man.
b. Science and other disciplines based on human reasoning are legitimate and important enterprises from which great knowledge and blessings have come.
c. Neither science nor the wisdom of man provides a means of salvation.
d. To argue about conclusions with someone who views things from a very different perspective is fruitless. The discussion should focus on the validity of the assumptions.
e. We must understand how people come to their diverse conclusions, but we can proceed with quiet confidence in the eternal perspective. As we do so, we should be tolerant of the views of others and avoid a spirit of contention. On many subjects the Lord has given clear guidance and answers to questions. We should seek a testimony of these truths and hold fast to them in faith. On other subjects the Lord has not given conclusive answers. In these things we should continue to seek for understanding but avoid drawing absolute conclusions.
f. We should beware of teachings, from whatever source, that favor the wisdom of man above the revealed word of the Lord.
g. We can avoid being deceived by measuring ideas against the standards of the scriptures, the prophets, and the promptings of the Holy Ghost.
2. Make sure that you know and understand the following principles, which will help you recognize when someone is teaching under the influence of the Holy Ghost and will help you avoid being deceived:
a. The scriptures are the standard by which the truth of all things can be judged.
b. Only the President of the Church is authorized to give the official interpretation of the scriptures or to go beyond, add to, or modify the scriptures in any way.
c. Only the President of the Church is authorized to proclaim a revelation from God for the guidance of the Church.
d. Neither the President of the Church, nor the First Presidency, nor the united voice of the Quorum of the Twelve will ever be on the wrong side of an issue or give counsel to the Church which is contrary to the will of the Lord.
e. To know whether someone else is speaking or writing under the influence of the Holy Ghost we must also be led by the Holy Ghost.
f. Ideas based on the wisdom of man should not be accepted if they do not harmonize with the word of God.
g. The teachings which come from Christ will bear his name and will always be found in his Church.
h. Any teaching from God will be in harmony with all his other teachings.
i. God gives different portions of his word to people according to their spiritual preparedness to receive and live them. Church programs or policies may change, but principles will not (see reading blocks 3-4; 3-5; 3-7; 4-2 through 4-7; 5-3 through 5-6; 6-6 for supporting statements).
3. Select an issue which interests or concerns you and study what the living prophets have said about it.
Do we surrender our free agency when we follow living prophets? Do we sacrifice our integrity by obeying a living prophet when his direction runs counter to our own opinion? Should we as Church members follow the prophet, even when we have not yet received a spiritual witness of the truthfulness of his prophetic utterance? For loyal Latter-day Saints the answers to these questions are obvious. To those who understand that divine laws exist, that good and evil are realities, that we reap rewards or pay consequences for decisions and actions, and that there are living prophets, the choices are clear. Following the counsel of living prophets does not limit our free agency; it increases our freedom.
“In response to a contention that to follow such a course, [i.e., to follow the First Presidency] is tantamount to surrendering one’s ‘moral agency,’ suppose a person were in a forest with his vision limited by the denseness of the growth about him. Would he be surrendering his agency in following the directions of one who stands on a lookout tower, commanding an unobstructed view? To me, our leaders are true watchmen on the towers of Zion, and those who follow their counsel are exercising their agency just as freely as would be the man in the forest. For I accept as fact, without any reservation, that this Church is headed by the Lord Jesus Christ, and that He, through the men whom He chooses and appoints to lead His people, gives it active direction. I believe that He communicates to them His will, and that they, enjoying His spirit, counsel us.
“The Savior Himself gave us the great example on this point. As He labored and suffered under the weight of the sins of this world in the accomplishment of the great atonement, He cried out in the agony of His soul, ‘O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.’ (Matt. 26:39.) And so saying, He subjected Himself to the will of His Father in the consummation of His supreme mission. Who will say that in so doing He surrendered His free agency?” (Marion G. Romney, in Conference Report, Apr. 1942, p. 20.)
Elder Boyd K. Packer explained how obedience, authority, and agency can blend and how we increase our freedom by using our agency to obey those in authority.
“You do not talk about obedience unless you talk about authority, and you do not talk about obedience and authority unless you talk about agency.
“The finest statement that I have ever read on the balance of authority and individual freedom in the Church comes, interestingly enough, from the preface of the General Handbook of Instructions, which is signed by the First Presidency of the Church. I would like to read a quote from that preface:
“‘A distinguishing characteristic of the Church organization lies in its balance of authority and individual rights. Priesthood is a brotherhood, and in its operation the highest capacities of man—his capacity to act as a free agent and his capacity to be spiritual—must be respected and enlarged. Leaders invite, persuade, encourage, and recommend in a spirit of gentleness and meekness. Members respond freely as the Spirit guides. Only this kind of response has moral value. An act is moral only if it expresses the character and disposition of the person, that is, if it arises out of knowledge, faith, love, or religious intent. Fear and force have no place in the kingdom because they do not produce moral actions, and are contrary to God’s gift of free agency.’ (General Handbook of Instructions, 1963.)
“That statement explains how authority and individual freedom ought to be, and are, managed in the Church. . . .
“If you feel pressed in and pressured and not free, it may be for one of two reasons. One, if you have lost freedom, possibly it has been through some irresponsible act of your own. Now you must regain it. You may be indentured—indentured to some habits of laziness or indolence; some even become slaves to addiction. The other reason is that maybe if you are not free you have not earned it. Freedom is not a self-preserving gift. It has to be earned, and it has to be protected. . . .
“I am free, and I am very jealous of my independence. I am quick to declare my independence and my freedom. Choice among my freedoms is my freedom to be obedient. I obey because I want to; I choose to.
“Some people are always suspicious that one is only obedient because he is compelled to be. They indict themselves with the very thought that one is only obedient because he is compelled to be. They feel that one would obey only through compulsion. They speak for themselves. I am free to be obedient, and I decided that—all by myself. I pondered on it; I reasoned it; I even experimented a little. I learned some sad lessons from disobedience. Then I tested it in the great laboratory of spiritual inquiry—the most sophisticated, accurate, and refined test that we can make of any principle. So I am not hesitant to say that I want to be obedient to the principles of the gospel. I want to. I have decided that. My volition, my agency, has been turned in that direction. The Lord knows that.
“Some say that obedience nullifies agency. I would like to point out that obedience is a righteous principle. . . .
“Obedience to God can be the very highest expression of independence. Just think of giving to him the one thing, the one gift, that he would never take. Think of giving him that one thing that he would never wrest from you. You know these lines of the poet:
‘Know this, that every soul is free
To choose his life and what he’ll be,
For this eternal truth is given
That God will force no man to heav’n.
He’ll call, persuade, direct aright,
And bless with wisdom, love, and light,
In nameless ways be good and kind,
But never force the human mind.’
(LDS Hymn “Know This, That Every Soul Is Free” by William C. Gregg) . . .
“Obedience—that which God will never take by force—he will accept when freely given. And he will then return to you freedom that you can hardly dream of—the freedom to feel and to know, the freedom to do, and the freedom to be, at least a thousandfold more than we offer him. Strangely enough, the key to freedom is obedience. . . .
“I know that I am free to do as I will. If the First Presidency or the president of the Twelve were to assign me to attend a conference north in the winter or south in the summer, I could have my way concerning that. I could settle that with two words. I could just say, ‘I won’t.’ In fact, I could say it in one word, ‘No.’ I could have my way every single time.
“But I will it to be the other way. I want to do what they want me to do. Why? Because I have the witness, the conviction, that they are the servants of the Lord. They are placed as my leaders. I feel remorse when I disappoint them by failure to measure to their high expectations or by some clumsy action.
“Why do I feel that way? They are just men, you might argue. No, they are not just men. They are chosen above all other men, and they are the servants of the Lord. . . .
“. . . May you somehow know that obedience is a key to agency, that obedience is the doorway to freedom. God grant that you can come to know that Jesus is the Christ, that he lives. I know that he lives! I pray that you will know that he has a body of flesh and bones, that this is his Church, that he presides over the Church. May you know that there stands at his direction a prophet of God, a First Presidency, and others called to associate with them in the ministry. May you know that across the Church are his servants—bishops, stake presidents, quorum leaders—who have the spirit of persuasion, long-suffering, meekness, and love unfeigned. They desire to invoke that outward discipline as the beginning of self-discipline. Self-discipline, obedience, opens the portals of life eternal.” (Obedience, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year, pp. 1–4, 6–7.)
“There are those among us who say they will not let the Church ‘tell them what to do,’ nor how to live, nor will they let it ‘take away their free agency.’ And they are quite right. They will not let the Church tell them what to do, because they close their ears in insubordination and rebellion, and ‘will not hear’ as the scriptures say.
“And, of course, the Church cannot and will not tell anyone what to do either, because it believes in free agency and will not force anyone. It will:
‘Call, persuade, direct aright,
Bless him with wisdom, love, and light,
In every way be good and kind
But never force the human mind.’
“So the Church and the disobedient agree at least on this one point: the Church cannot and will not ‘tell’ (in the sense of force) anyone what to do.
“But what is the Lord’s way?
“The Lord says we are to follow the President of the Church and ‘accept his word as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.’
“One of the worst kinds of insubordination is where an individual promises cooperation with his file leaders and later withholds it. Not only is this insubordination, it is hypocrisy, and can anyone forget what the Lord said about hypocrites?
“Many schemes and ideologies are circulated among the people in these days. It seems that some would rather take advice from transient sensationalists, even upon subjects which the Church emphasizes, than to obey when Church officials speak. This is a peculiar quirk which is hard to understand. . . .
“Church members should know by this time that they should not follow ‘every wind of doctrine’ but that they should listen to the voice of their authorized leaders.” (Mark E. Petersen, For Righteousness Sake, pp. 154–55.)
The following statement from Elder Spencer W. Kimball makes it very clear that following the counsels of God is not blind obedience:
“To obey! To hearken! What a difficult requirement! Often we hear: ‘Nobody can tell me what clothes to wear, what I shall eat or drink. No one can outline my Sabbaths, appropriate my earnings, nor in any way limit my personal freedoms! I do as I please! I give no blind obedience!’
“Blind obedience! How little they understand! The Lord said through Joseph Smith:
“‘Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof until long after the events transpire.’ (Scrapbook of Mormon Literature, vol. 2, p. 173.)
“When men obey commands of a creator, it is not blind obedience. How different is the cowering of a subject to his totalitarian monarch and the dignified, willing obedience one gives to his God. The dictator is ambitious, selfish, and has ulterior motives. God’s every command is righteous, every directive purposeful, and all for the good of the governed. The first may be blind obedience, but the latter is certainly faith obedience. . . .
“Perhaps the criminal in the penitentiary obeys blindly, for here is compulsion. Most of his decisions are made for him. Somewhat comparable are dictator’s subjects whose work, recreation, religion, and other activity are controlled and regimented. Here is blind obedience. . . .
“When men speak of all faith and all obedience as blind, are they not covering their own weaknesses? Are they not seeking an alibi to justify their own failure to hearken?
“A man obeys strictly the income tax law and pays fully and before due date his property taxes but justifies himself in disregarding the law of the Sabbath or the payment of tithes on time, if at all. In the one case he may suffer only deprivation of freedom or resources or lose his home or personal property, but in the other he opens doors to the loss of a soul. The spiritual as truly brings penalties as the temporal, the principal difference is the swiftness of punishment, the Lord being so long-suffering.
“One would hardly call the first blind obedience, yet he sometimes regards the spiritual commands as such.
“Is it blind obedience when the student pays his tuition, reads his text assignments, attends classes, and thus qualifies for his eventual degrees? . . .
“Is it blind obedience when the little child gleefully jumps from the table into the strong arms of its smiling father, or is this implicit trust in a loving parent who feels sure of his catch and who loves the child better than life itself?
“Is it blind obedience when an afflicted one takes vile-tasting medicine prescribed by his physician or yields his own precious body to the scalpel of the surgeon or is this the obedience of faith in one in whom confidence may safely be imposed?
“Is it blind obedience when the pilot guides his ship between the buoys which mark the reefs and thus keeps his vessel in deep water or is it confidence in the integrity of those who have set up protective devices?
“Is it then blind obedience when we, with our limited vision, elementary knowledge, selfish desires, ulterior motives, and carnal urges, accept and follow the guidance and obey the commands of our loving Father who begot us, created a world for us, loves us, and has planned a constructive program for us, wholly without ulterior motive, whose greatest joy and glory is to ‘bring to pass the immortality and eternal life’ of all his children?
“Blind obedience it might be when no agency exists, when there is regimentation, but in all of the commands of the Lord given through his servants, there is total agency free of compulsion. Some remonstrate that agency is lacking where penalties are imposed and condemnations threatened—to be damned for rejecting the gospel seems harsh to some and to take away free agency. This is not true, for the decision is ours—we may accept or reject, comply or ignore.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1954, pp. 51–53.)
If we are true Saints of God, we will be willing to follow the Lord’s prophets at all times, but we should still obtain a personal witness from the Spirit that what we are doing is right. When we have gained such a witness, we can stand as more powerful and effective advocates of the Lord’s work, sustain the Lord’s chosen leaders with greater confidence, and hold firm when faced with pressure and opposition.
“This is what has been said, in effect, in this conference: Unless every member of this Church gains for himself an unshakable testimony of the divinity of this Church, he will be among those who will be deceived in this day when the ‘elect according to the covenant’ are going to be tried and tested. Only those will survive who have gained for themselves that testimony.
“. . . I remembered the words of Brigham Young:
“‘Were your faith concentrated upon the proper object, your confidence unshaken, your lives pure and holy, every one fulfilling the duty of his or her calling according to the priesthood and capacity bestowed upon you, you would be filled with the Holy Ghost, and it would be as impossible for any man to deceive and to lead you to destruction as for a feather to remain unconsumed in the midst of intense heat.’
“And then this:
“‘I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are being led by him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give their leaders if they know for themselves by the revelations of Jesus Christ that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know by the whisperings of the Spirit of God to themselves whether their leaders are walking in the way the Lord dictates or not.’
“To me, there is a tremendous truth. It is not alone sufficient for us as Latter-day Saints to follow our leaders and to accept their counsel, but we have the greater obligation to gain for ourselves the unshakable testimony of the divine appointment of these men and the witness that what they have told us is the will of our Heavenly Father.” (Harold B. Lee, in Conference Report, Oct. 1950, pp. 129–30.)
The following story from the life of Marion G. Romney illustrates the principle taught by both Brigham Young and Harold B. Lee:
“In the political field where so much pressure is exerted on men to compromise ideals and principles for expediency, party workers early learned to admire Marion G. Romney’s intense loyalty to his own conscience as well as to the advice of his Church leaders whose pronouncements on vital issues affecting the welfare of the nation he accepted as divinely inspired even though it frequently brought him into sharp conflict with leaders of his own political party. On one such occasion when Church leaders in a tersely-worded editorial had denounced the trends of the political administration then in power, he confided in me something which it might be well if all loyal Church members in public life could emulate: ‘When I read that editorial,’ he told me, ‘I knew what I should do—but that wasn’t enough. I knew that I must feel right about following the counsel of the Church leaders and know that they were right. That took a whole night on my knees to accomplish.’ I submit in that statement the difference between ‘intelligent’ and ‘blind’ obedience. Marion G. Romney while never disloyal to authority over him, could never be rightfully accused of being ‘blindly obedient.’” (Harold B. Lee, “Marion G. Romney of the Quorum of the Twelve,” Improvement Era, Oct. 1962, p. 742.)
If we are willing to earnestly seek confirmation from the Lord about the words of the prophets and are willing to follow their words, the Lord will confirm our faith. President Marion G. Romney testified of this on the basis of personal experience:
“Those, and I testify to this out of my own experience, who will through mighty prayer and earnest study inform themselves as to what these living prophets say, and act upon it, will be visited by the spirit of the Lord and know by the spirit of revelation that they speak the mind and will of the Father.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1945, p. 90.)
1. Study and mark the following scriptures, which attest that God has given us the agency to choose for ourselves the path we will follow in this life: Moses 7:32; 2 Nephi 2:25–29; 10:23; Helaman 14:30; D&C 58:27–28.
2. Members of the Church respond in many ways to the counsels of the prophets. In the story in reading block 9-5, President Lee referred to “intelligent obedience.” Its distinguishing characteristic is that the individual seeks the answers from the Lord for himself, as did President Marion G. Romney. The degree to which we are able to sustain the Lord’s chosen leaders and to help them build the kingdom of God is largely determined by the degree to which we have based our actions on a witness from the Spirit that they are led by God. We should recognize the underlying reasons for our own obedience or disobedience and should seek to progress to the point where all of our actions are based on intelligent obedience to the counsels of the prophets.
Analyze the following statements and mark on the continuum where you feel each statement fits.
A. At times I’ve had questions, but I’ve sought the Lord’s guidance and have altered my views as a result of his promptings.
B. We have a responsibility to question all statements until we can reconcile them with known data.
C. When I find myself in conflict with the counsel of the Brethren, I usually dismiss their counsel.
D. I follow the Brethren because I know they are prophets.
E. I have never seriously disagreed with a statement of the Brethren. If I did, I would seek the guidance of the Lord on the matter.
F. I don’t believe in prophets or revelation.
G. I’m active in the Church because my parents are.
H. I’m going to be married in the temple, because if I’m not people at church will talk about me.
I. Yes, I heard the President of the Church say I should go on a mission, but I’m not going to. I’ve got too many other things I want to do.
After you have completed this exercise, study the continuum and assess the quality of your own obedience.
Latter-day Saints have the opportunity regularly at Church conferences to vote to sustain the Lord’s prophets, seers, and revelators. Some members of the Church may not give much thought to the significance of their sustaining vote. But it is important that all Church members understand the answers to the following questions: Why do we sustain our leaders? Does the practice have any basis in scripture? What covenant do we make with the Lord when we raise our hands to sustain someone? How do we know whether or not we are sustaining a Church leader?
In this dispensation the process of sustaining leaders dates back to the early days of the Restoration. In a revelation given in July of 1830, the Lord affirmed that “all things shall be done by common consent in the church” (D&C 26:2). Any officer who serves in a position in the Church must receive the formal sustaining vote of the people he or she will serve. The Lord has said that “no person is to be ordained to any office in this church where there is a regularly organized branch of the same, without the vote of that church” (D&C 20:65). This rule is true on both the local and the general levels of the Church. In 1841, after designating certain general authorities of the Church, the Lord said: “And a commandment I give unto you, that you should fill all these offices and approve of those names which I have mentioned, or else disapprove of them at my general conference” (D&C 124:144). This principle has been applied in the Church throughout this dispensation.
In the following statement, made when sustaining General Authorities of the Church in general conference, President J. Reuben Clark Jr., defined the limits and powers associated with the sustaining process and explained that the sustaining of officers is an important prerogative of the Saints:
“We shall now sustain the General Authorities of the Church.
“For the benefit of those in the audience and those listening on the air, who may not understand this proceeding, I will make the following brief statement.
“In this Church all the General Authorities and other Church-wide officers are ‘sustained’,—in a certain sense, ‘elected’—by the body of the Church in a General Conference; which is, speaking politically, a constituent assembly.
“In this Church, the power of ‘nominating’ or calling to office, is not in the body of the Church. This power is vested in the General Authorities of the Church, and in final analysis in the President of the Church who comes to his place under the guidance of inspired revelation. As a matter of fact, as our Articles of Faith—more or less the equivalent of the creeds of other Churches—declare:
“‘We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands, by those who are in authority to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.’
“When the presiding authority has so ‘nominated’ or chosen, or called any man to office, that man is then presented to the body of the Church to be sustained, in political language ‘elected.’
“Thus the body of the Church has no calling or ‘nominating’ power, but only the sustaining, or politically speaking, the ‘electing’ power.
“When the presiding authority presents any man to the body of the Church to be sustained, the only power which the assembly has is to vote, by uplifted hand, either to sustain or not to sustain.
“Obviously, neither the body of the Church, nor any of its members, can propose that other men be called to office, for the calling of men is the sole power and function of the presiding authority.
“Therefore all debate, all proposals of other names, all discussions of merit and worthiness, are wholly out of order in such an assemblage. Any person attempting so to interrupt the proceedings would be a disturber of the public peace, amenable to the ordinary peace officers of the law and would of course be so dealt with.
“I ought to say that any person having any charge to make against any officer of the Church can do so before the regular Church tribunals established for that very purpose of affording means of carrying out the discipline of the Church. But this sustaining, constituent assemblage of the Church is not such a tribunal.
“We shall now proceed to propose the General Authorities of the Church for the sustaining vote of this great body of Priesthood and Church membership.
“This is a solemn ceremony. You members of the Priesthood are exercising one of your greatest privileges and highest prerogatives.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1940, pp. 28–29.)
Church members should understand the commitment or agreement they are entering into when they sustain a man as an Apostle or prophet. President Harold B. Lee made it clear that when we sustain a prophet we agree to abide by his counsel and direction. In a statement made in the solemn assembly called to sustain President Joseph Fielding Smith, President Lee said:
“Everyone is perfectly free to vote as he wishes. There is no compulsion whatsoever in this voting. When you vote affirmatively you make a solemn covenant with the Lord that you will sustain, that is, give your full loyalty and support, without equivocation or reservation to the officer for whom you vote.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1970, p. 103.)
Having made such a covenant with the Lord, Church members must be willing to follow those they have sustained.
“Do you ever think of the inconsistency of raising your right hand in solemn witness before God that you will sustain certain men who have been called and ordained, in the manner appointed of God, as your leaders, as prophets unto the people, verily as revelators, and then, though perchance you come together and hear their words, going away and pay no attention to them? . . .
“You cannot, we cannot, pass by lightly the words that come by way of counsel and instruction from the ordained servants of God, and escape the inevitable penalty of that neglect. Nevertheless, we have our agency; we may choose to disobey, but we must take the consequences of that choice.” (James E. Talmage, in Conference Report, Oct. 1921, pp. 187–88.)
Though the formal sustaining vote is given in a Church meeting, to sustain means much more than to raise one’s hand in favor of an appointment. To sustain a leader is both to vote in favor of his appointment and to support, uphold, and follow him. With reference to the living prophet, Elder Gordon B. Hinckley said: “If we fail to observe his counsel, we repudiate his sacred calling. If we abide his counsel, we shall be blessed of God. (In Conference Report, Oct. 1973, p. 165; or Ensign, Jan. 1974, p. 125.)
President Ezra Taft Benson taught that “a good way to measure your standing with the Lord is to see how you feel about and act upon the inspired words of his earthly representative, the prophet-President” (in Conference Report, Seoul Korea Area Conference 1975, p. 52). On another occasion he said that “how we respond to the words of a living prophet when he tells us what we need to know, but would rather not hear, is a test of our faithfulness” (“Fourteen Fundamentals in Following a Living Prophet,” in Speeches of the Year, 1980, p. 28).
“Following the living prophets is something that must be done in all seasons and circumstances. We must be like President Marion G. Romney, who humbly said, ‘. . . I have never hesitated to follow the counsel of the Authorities of the Church even though it crossed my social, professional, and political life.’ (In Conference Report, April 1941, p. 123.) There are, or will be, moments when prophetic declarations collide with our pride or our seeming personal interests. It can happen in many ways: businessmen caught in Sunday-closing efforts who must decide how they really feel about the fourth commandment; theater owners showing near-pornographic films who must decide between prophets and profits; politicians involved in an erring movement that calls forth a First Presidency statement, forcing them to decide which flag to follow; academicians whose discipline gives rise to moral issues on which the Brethren speak out, who must choose between peers and prophets; laborers who are caught in union-shop and free-agency situations. For the participants, such painful episodes tend to force home the question: Do I believe in the living prophet even when he speaks on matters affecting me and my specialty directly? Or do I stop sustaining the prophet when his words fall in my territory? If the latter, the prophet is without honor in our country!” (Neal A. Maxwell, Things As They Really Are, p. 73.)
The following incident related by Elder Marion G. Romney illustrates the principle referred to by President Benson and Elder Maxwell:
“One day when President Grant was living, I sat in my office across the street following a general conference. A man came over to see me, an elderly man. He was very upset about what had been said in this conference by some of the Brethren, including myself. I could tell from his speech that he came from a foreign land. After I had quieted him enough so he would listen, I said, ‘Why did you come to America?’
“‘I am here because a prophet of God told me to come.’
“‘Who was the prophet;’ I continued.
“‘Do you believe Wilford Woodruff was a prophet of God?’
“‘Yes,’ said he.
“‘Do you believe that his successor, President Lorenzo Snow, was a prophet of God?’
“‘Yes, I do.’
“‘Do you believe that President Joseph F. Smith was a prophet of God?’
“Then came the ‘sixty-four dollar question.’ ‘Do you believe that Heber J. Grant is a prophet of God?’
His answer: ‘I think he ought to keep his mouth shut about old age assistance.’
“Now I tell you that a man in his position is on the way to apostasy. He is forfeiting his chances for eternal life. So is everyone who cannot follow the living prophet of God.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1953, p. 125.)
Those who follow the living prophet only when it is convenient become false prophets unto themselves:
“The Prophet spoke out clearly on Friday morning, telling us what our responsibilities are. . . . A man said to me after that, ‘You know, there are people in our state who believe in following the Prophet in everything they think is right, but when it is something they think isn’t right, and it doesn’t appeal to them, then that’s different.’ He said, ‘Then they become their own prophet. They decide what the Lord wants and what the Lord doesn’t want.’
“I thought how true, and how serious when we begin to choose which of the covenants, which of the commandments we will keep and follow. When we decide that there are some of them that we will not keep or follow, we are taking the law of the Lord into our own hands and become our own prophets, and believe me, we will be led astray, because we are false prophets to ourselves when we do not follow the Prophet of God. No, we should never discriminate between these commandments, as to those we should and should not keep.” (N. Eldon Tanner, in Conference Report, Oct. 1966, p. 98.)
Elder Mark E. Petersen reminded the Saints that the prophets are not ordinary men. They are men who have been chosen, anointed, and given a sacred mantle by Almighty God. Our allegiance to the Lord’s prophets, then, indicates our allegiance to God.
“Is not our attitude toward these prophets an unerring reflection of our innermost feeling toward God? I mean our real, basic allegiance when it is divested of all outward show and stripped of all pretentions.
“Can we truly love the Lord and at the same time reject his servants?
“If we really do love God, then indeed we must and we will love and revere his anointed ones.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1981, pp. 90–91.)
Elder Bruce R. McConkie also emphasized this fact when he wrote: “The Lord and his prophets are one, and no one can believe in Christ and reject his prophets” (The Mortal Messiah, 2:79).
“Next unto God and Christ, in the earth is placed one unto whom the keys of power and the authority of the Holy Priesthood are conferred, and unto whom the right of presidency is given. He is God’s mouthpiece to His people, in all things pertaining to the building up of Zion and to the spiritual and temporal salvation of the people. He is as God’s viceregent; I do not hesitate to announce this truth; for it is His word, and therefore it is true. The people who have entered into covenant to keep the commandments of the Lord must hearken unto the voice of him who is placed to preside over them.” (Joseph F. Smith, in Conference Report, Apr. 1898, p. 68.)
The Church member who earnestly strives to live the Gospel has no difficulty sustaining the prophets and accepting their counsel. Truly converted Saints recognize that prophets are bound to reveal God’s will to them and that they are bound by covenant to follow.
“If we are living the gospel, we will feel in our hearts that the First Presidency of the Church not only have the right, but are also duty bound under heaven to give counsel on any subject which affects the temporal or spiritual welfare of the Latter-day Saints, regardless of whether or not some men may think such counsel may have political implications.
“We must stand firm for that which we know to be right, my brothers and sisters, and uphold these men who have been sustained as our leaders in modern Israel.” (Ezra Taft Benson, in Conference Report, Oct. 1950, p. 148.)
President Harold B. Lee spoke of what it means to be converted:
“Now I want to impress this upon you. Someone has said it this way, and I believe it to be absolutely true: ‘That person is not truly converted until he sees the power of God resting upon the leaders of this church, and until it goes down into his heart like fire.’ Until the members of this church have that conviction that they are being led in the right way, and they have a conviction that these men of God are men who are inspired and have been properly appointed by the hand of God, they are not truly converted.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1972, p. 118; or Ensign, July 1972, p. 103.)
Some Latter-day Saints mistakenly think they can sustain the prophet while refusing to sustain a local ecclesiastical leader. Elder Boyd K. Packer stated unequivocally that an individual who does not sustain his local leaders will not sustain the President of the Church.
“You can put it down in your little black book that if you will not be loyal in the small things you will not be loyal in the large things. If you will not respond to the so-called insignificant or menial tasks which need to be performed in the Church and kingdom, there will be no opportunity for service in the so-called greater challenges.
“A man who says he will sustain the President of the Church or the General Authorities, but cannot sustain his own bishop is deceiving himself. The man who will not sustain the bishop of his ward and the president of his stake will not sustain the President of the Church.” (Follow the Brethren, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year, pp. 4–5.)
“What is meant by sustaining a person? Do we understand it? It is a very simple thing to me; I do not know how it is with you. For instance, if a man be a teacher, and I vote that I will sustain him in his position, when he visits me in an official capacity I will welcome him and treat him with consideration, kindness and respect and if I need counsel will ask it at his hand, and I will do everything I can to sustain him. That would be proper and a principle of righteousness, and I would not say anything derogatory to his character. If that is not correct I have it yet to learn. And then if anybody in my presence were to whisper something about him disparaging to his reputation, I would say, Look here! are you a Saint? Yes. Did you not hold up your hand to sustain him? Yes. Then why do you not do it? Now, I would call an action of that kind sustaining him. If any man make an attack upon his reputation—for all men’s reputations are of importance to them—I would defend him in some such way. When we vote for men in the solemn way in which we do, shall we abide by our covenants? or shall we violate them? If we violate them we become covenant-breakers. We break our faith before God and our brethren, in regard to the acts of men whom we have covenanted to sustain. But supposing he should do something wrong, supposing he should be found lying or cheating, or defrauding somebody; or stealing or anything else, or even become impure in his habits, would you still sustain him? It would be my duty then to talk with him as I would with anybody else, and tell him that I had understood that things were thus and so, and that under these circumstances I could not sustain him; and if I found that I had been misinformed I would withdraw the charge; but if not it would then be my duty to see that justice was administered to him, that he was brought before the proper tribunal to answer for the things he had done; and in the absence of that I would have no business to talk about him.” (John Taylor, in Journal of Discourses, 21:207–8.)
In essence we as Church members sustain a prophet in the fullest sense only when we sustain all ecclesiastical authorities, both general and local, and refrain from speaking disparagingly of any authority we have covenanted to sustain.
“A friend . . . wished to know whether we had said that we considered an honest difference of opinion between a member of the Church and the authorities of the Church apostasy. . . . We replied that we had not stated that an honest difference of opinion between a member of the Church and the authorities constituted apostasy; for we could conceive of a man honestly differing in opinion from the authorities of the Church and yet not be an apostate; but we could not conceive of a man publishing those differences of opinion, and seeking by arguments, sophistry and special pleading to enforce them upon the people to produce division and strife, and to place the acts and counsels of the authorities of the Church, if possible, in a wrong light, and not be an apostate, for such conduct was apostasy as we understood the term. We further said that while a man might honestly differ in opinion from the authorities through a want of understanding, he had to be exceedingly careful how he acted in relation to such differences, or the adversary would take advantage of him and he would soon become imbued with the spirit of apostasy, and be found fighting against God and the authority which He had placed here to govern His Church.” (George Q. Cannon, “What Is Apostasy?” editorial in Deseret News, 3 Nov. 1869, p. 457.)
President Joseph Fielding Smith pointed out that disagreement is permissible only if the divergency does not deal with the basic standards and doctrines of the Church.
“Men frequently speak and express their own opinions. The Lord has not deprived men of individual opinions. Good men, men of faith, have divergent views on many things. There is no particular harm in this if these views are not in relation to the fundamentals. Some men are Democrats, some Republicans. Some believe in a particular political philosophy and some are bitterly opposed to it, and yet they are faithful men with a testimony of the gospel.” (Doctrines of Salvation, 1:187.)
1. Explain what it means to sustain the Brethren.
2. Explain how one may have a differing point of view and still sustain the Brethren.
3. President Harold B. Lee discussed some of the tests the members of this Church have been given and identified the nature of the test we now face: having the courage to sustain the Lord’s prophets in a day of “sophistication.”
“During the early days of the Church we passed through a period of slander and misrepresentation, and we came through. It drove us together because of enemies from the outside. And we survived it. We passed through a period of mobbing and driving, when lives were taken and blood was shed, and somehow the place of the martyr gave us strength. We passed through poverty, and we gained strength from the test of it. Then we passed through an age of what we might call apostasy, or betrayal from the inside—one of the severest tests through which we have passed. We are now going through another test—a period of what we might call sophistication. This is a time when there are many clever people who are not willing to listen to the humble prophets of the Lord. And we have suffered from that. It is rather a severe test.” (Harold B. Lee, “Sweet Are the Uses of Adversity,” Instructor, June 1965, p. 217.)
What can you do to ensure that you do not fail that test? (see also 1 Nephi 8:24–28).
4. Read the following quotation from Elder Harold B. Lee and write a statement indicating why we may with confidence sustain the Lord’s leaders:
“As I have labored among the brethren here and have studied the history of past dispensations, I have become aware that the Lord has given tests all down through time as to this matter of loyalty to the leadership of the Church. I go back into the scriptures and follow along in such stories as David’s loyalty when the king was trying to take his life. He wouldn’t defile the anointed of the Lord even when he could have taken his life. I have listened to the classic stories in this dispensation about how Brigham Young was tested, how Heber C. Kimball was tested, John Taylor and Willard Richards in Carthage Jail, Zion’s Camp that received a great test, and from that number were chosen the first General Authorities in this dispensation. There were others who didn’t pass the test of loyalty, and they fell from their places.
“I have been in a position since I came into the Council of the Twelve to observe some things among my brethren, and I want to say to you: Every man my junior in the Council of the Twelve, I have seen submitted as though by Providence, to these same tests of loyalty, and I wondered sometimes whether they were going to pass the tests. The reason they are here today is because they did, and our Father has honored them.
“I have that same witness about at least two members of the Assistants to the Twelve, Brother Marion G. Romney and Brother Alma Sonne, for I saw it, and I know the nature of the test, and I know how they proved themselves to be the sterling men that they are. And so God has honored them, and it is my conviction that every man who will be called to a high place in this Church will have to pass these tests not devised by human hands, by which our Father numbers them as a united group of leaders willing to follow the prophets of the Living God and be loyal and true as witnesses and exemplars of the truths they teach.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1950, p. 101.)
Both in ancient and in modern times, the Lord has spoken to mankind through prophets, but most have not listened to the inspired messages. Instead they have followed the alluring voices of the world. Of what value is following prophets? Are the blessings we will obtain worth the sacrifices? What will happen to those who reject the counsel of prophets? How serious is it to neglect this counsel? Ponder these questions while you read this chapter. Remember that we all have free agency—we can accept or reject what prophets say—but we cannot determine the consequences of our choices. Those consequences have been made very clear. If we follow the direction of prophets, we will find happiness and eventually obtain our exaltation. If we reject the counsel of prophets, we will find unhappiness and lose the blessings of eternal life.
The Book of Mormon prophet Samuel rebuked the wicked Nephites of his day, saying:
“Wo unto this people, because of this time which has arrived, that ye do cast out the prophets, and do mock them, and cast stones at them, and do slay them, and do all manner of iniquity unto them, even as they did of old time. . . .
“If a prophet come among you and declareth unto you the word of the Lord, which testifieth of your sins and iniquities, ye are angry with him, and cast him out and seek all manner of ways to destroy him; yea, you will say that he is a false prophet, and that he is a sinner, and of the devil, because he testifieth that your deeds are evil.
“But behold, if a man shall come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say: Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth—and if a man shall come among you and say this, ye will receive him, and say that he is a prophet.
“Yea, ye will lift him up, and ye will give unto him of your substance; ye will give unto him of your gold, and of your silver, and ye will clothe him with costly apparel; and because he speaketh flattering words unto you, and he saith that all is well, then ye will not find fault with him.” (Helaman 13:24, 26–28.)
From the beginning many have rejected the Lord’s humble servants. President Spencer W. Kimball reviewed some of the unsound reasons the unrighteous have had for turning away from the Lord’s prophets:
“Various excuses have been used over the centuries to dismiss these divine messengers. There has been denial because the prophet came from an obscure place. ‘Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?’ (John 1:46.) Jesus was also met with the question, ‘Is not this the carpenter’s son?’ (Matt. 13:55.) By one means or another, the swiftest method of rejection of the holy prophets has been to find a pretext, however false or absurd, to dismiss the man so that his message could also be dismissed. Prophets who were not glib, but slow of speech, were esteemed as naught. Instead of responding to Paul’s message, some saw his bodily presence as weak and regarded his speech as contemptible. Perhaps they judged Paul by the timbre of his voice or by his style of speech, not the truths uttered by him.
“We wonder how often hearers first rejected the prophets because they despised them, and finally despised the prophets even more because they had rejected them. Even so, why else is the record of rejection so complete? The cares of the world are so many and so entangling, even very good people are diverted from following the truth because they care too much for the things of the world. . . .
“Sometimes people let their hearts get so set upon things and the honors of this world that they cannot learn the lessons they most need to learn. Simple truths are often rejected in favor of the much less-demanding philosophies of men, and this is another cause for the rejection of the prophets.
“But while there are various excuses for rejection, there’s a certain cause for this sad record. It must not be passed over: the cares of the world, the honors of the world, and looking beyond the mark are all determined by a persuasive few who presume to speak for all. . . .
“The holy prophets have not only refused to follow erroneous human trends, but have pointed out these errors. No wonder the response to the prophets has not always been one of indifference. So often the prophets have been rejected because they first rejected the wrong ways of their own society.
“These excuses for rejection of the prophets are poor excuses. The trouble with using obscurity as a test of validity is that God has so often chosen to bring forth his work out of obscurity. He has even said it would be so. (See D&C 1:30.) . . .
“The trouble with rejection because of personal familiarity with the prophets is that the prophets are always somebody’s son or somebody’s neighbor. They are chosen from among the people, not transported from another planet, dramatic as that would be!
“. . . The trouble with rejecting the prophets because they lack prestige is that Paul, who knew something of rejection, forewarned us when he said, speaking of the work of God, ‘For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called.’ (1 Cor. 1:26.)
“In multiple scriptures the Lord has indicated that he will perform his work through those whom the world regards as weak and despised. Of course, rejection of the holy prophets comes because the hearts of people are hardened, as people are shaped by their society. . . .
“Prophets have a way of jarring the carnal mind. Too often the holy prophets are wrongly perceived as harsh and as anxious to make a record in order to say, ‘I told you so.’ Those prophets I have known are the most loving of men. It is because of their love and integrity that they cannot modify the Lord’s message merely to make people feel comfortable. . . .
“. . . They help us to see the end from the beginning. The prophets have always been free from the evil of their times, free to be divine auditors who will still call fraud, fraud; embezzlement, embezzlement; and adultery, adultery.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1978, pp. 115–17; or Ensign, May 1978, pp. 76–77.)
Unfortunately, even some members of the Church are unwilling to accept and follow the counsel of the prophets and other Church leaders. President N. Eldon Tanner observed that “almost invariably, we find that the greatest criticism of Church leaders and doctrine comes from those who are not doing their full duty, following the leaders, or living according to the teachings of the gospel” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1972, p. 56; or Ensign, July 1972, p. 35).
We cannot oppose the Lord’s prophets without bringing upon ourselves the Lord’s displeasure. Rejecting the prophets causes the Lord to withdraw his Spirit. When that takes place, the spirit of the adversary has greater influence over us, as the following statements attest:
“When you hear a man talk against the authorities of this Church and kingdom, you may know he is sliding down hill. He does not know what spirit influences him; he is ignorant that he is in the dark; and, unless he retraces his steps quickly, he will go overboard. You may set that down as a fact all the time. Why? Because, if this is the Church and kingdom of God, and [the President] is the elect of God, and his Council and the Twelve and others are the elect of God, and you seek to injure them, you run a great risk, and will be found fighting against God; for Jesus says, ‘He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me; and he that rejecteth you rejecteth me, and he that rejecteth me rejecteth him that sent me.’
“You cannot say that you love God while you hate your brethren. You cannot say that you submit to the law of God while you reject the word and counsel of his servants.” (John Taylor, in Journal of Discourses, 7:325.)
“God has chosen His servants. He claims it as His prerogative to condemn them, if they need condemnation. He has not given it to us individually to censure and condemn them. No man, however strong he may be in the faith, however high in the priesthood, can speak evil of the Lord’s anointed and find fault with God’s authority on the earth without incurring His displeasure. The Holy Spirit will withdraw itself from such a man, and he will go into darkness. This being the case, do you not see how important it is that we should be careful? However difficult it may be for us to understand the reason for any action of the authorities of the Church, we should not too hastily call their acts in question and pronounce them wrong.” (George Q. Cannon, “Discourse” [report of conference address], Deseret News Weekly, 31 Oct. 1896 [53:609]; or Gospel Truth, p. 278.)
We cannot be in harmony with the spirit of the gospel and at the same time be out of harmony with the leaders of the Church.
“I desire to call your attention to the principle of loyalty, loyalty to the truth and loyalty to the men whom God has chosen to lead the cause of truth. I speak of ‘the truth’ and these ‘men’ jointly, because it is impossible fully to accept the one and partly reject the other.
“I raise my voice on this matter to warn and counsel you to be on your guard against criticism. . . . It comes, in part, from those who hold, or have held, prominent positions. Ostensibly, they are in good standing in the Church. In expressing their feelings, they frequently say, ‘We are members of the Church, too, you know, and our feelings should be considered.’
“They assume that one can be in full harmony with the spirit of the gospel, enjoy full fellowship in the Church, and at the same time be out of harmony with the leaders of the Church and the counsel and directions they give. Such a position is wholly inconsistent, because the guidance of this Church comes, not alone from the written word, but also from continuous revelation, and the Lord gives that revelation to the Church through His chosen leaders and none else. It follows, therefore, that those who profess to accept the gospel and who at the same time criticize and refuse to follow the counsel of the leaders, are assuming an indefensible position.” (Marion G. Romney, in Conference Report, Apr. 1942, pp. 17–18.)
Those who speak evil of the Lord’s anointed are in great jeopardy because they are sowing in themselves seeds of spiritual death. President Harold B. Lee gave the following testimony and warning:
“There are some who look upon the leaders of this Church and God’s anointed as men who are possessed of selfish motives. By them the words of our leaders are always twisted to try to bring a snare to the work of the Lord. Mark well those who speak evil of the Lord’s anointed for they speak from impure hearts. Only the ‘pure in heart’ see the ‘God’ or the divine in man and accept our leaders and accept them as prophets of the Living God. . . .
“I want to bear you my testimony that the experience I have had has taught me that those who criticize the leaders of this Church are showing signs of a spiritual sickness which, unless curbed, will bring about eventually spiritual death. I want to bear my testimony as well that those who in public seek by their criticism, to belittle our leaders or bring them into disrepute, will bring upon themselves more hurt than upon those whom they seek thus to malign. I have watched over the years, and I have read of the history of many of those who fell away from this Church, and I want to bear testimony that no apostate who ever left this Church ever prospered as an influence in his community thereafter.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1947, p. 67.)
President Ezra Taft Benson used a story from the life of President Brigham Young to point out the danger of being critical of Church leaders or of harboring a lack of confidence in them.
“One who rationalizes that he or she has a testimony of Jesus Christ but cannot accept direction and counsel from the leadership of His church is in a fundamentally unsound position and is in jeopardy of losing exaltation.
“There are some who want to expose the weaknesses of Church leaders in an effort to show that they, too, are subject to human frailties and error like unto themselves. Let me illustrate the danger of this questionable philosophy.
“President Brigham Young revealed that on one occasion he was tempted to be critical of the Prophet Joseph Smith regarding a certain financial matter. He said that the feeling did not last for more than perhaps thirty seconds. That feeling, he said, caused him great sorrow in his heart. The lesson he gave to members of the Church in his day may well be increased in significance today because the devil continues more active:
“‘I clearly saw and understood, by the spirit of revelation manifested to me, that if I was to harbor a thought in my heart that Joseph could be wrong in anything, I would begin to lose confidence in him, and that feeling would grow from step to step, and from one degree to another, until at last I would have the same lack of confidence in his being the mouthpiece for the Almighty. . . .
“‘I repented of my unbelief, and that too, very suddenly; I repented about as quickly as I committed the error. It was not for me to question whether Joseph was dictated by the Lord at all times and under all circumstances. . . .
“‘It was not my prerogative to call him in question with regard to any act of his life. He was God’s servant, and not mine. He did not belong to the people but to the Lord, and was doing the work of the Lord.’ (In Journal of Discourses, 4:297.)” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1982, pp. 90–91; or Ensign, May 1982, p. 64.)
From the earliest days of the Restoration, members have been told of the consequences of rejecting Church leaders. On one occasion the Prophet Joseph Smith warned the Saints that criticism would eventually lead to apostasy.
“I will give you one of the Keys of the mysteries of the Kingdom. It is an eternal principle, that has existed with God from all eternity: That man who rises up to condemn others, finding fault with the Church, saying that they are out of the way, while he himself is righteous, then know assuredly, that that man is in the high road to apostasy; and if he does not repent, will apostatize, as God lives.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 156–57.)
President Spencer W. Kimball observed that those who criticize the Brethren usually follow a pattern. Their criticism begins with an inflated idea of their own intellect. The following example illustrates that pattern and shows how the one who criticizes loses more than those against whom the criticism is directed:
“There is the man who, to satisfy his own egotism, took a stand against the Authorities of the Church. He followed the usual pattern, not apostasy at first, only superiority of knowledge and mild criticism. He loved the brethren, he said, but they failed to see and interpret as he would like. He would still love the Church, he maintained, but his criticism grew and developed into everwidening circles. He was right, he assured himself; he could not yield in good conscience; he had his pride. His children did not accept his philosophy wholly, but their confidence was shaken. In their frustration, they married out of the Church, and he lost them. He later realized his folly and returned to humbleness, but so very late. He had lost his children. ‘It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.’” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1955, pp. 94–95.)
Elder Harold B. Lee related the following incident from Church history which makes clear the consequences of opposing the prophet:
“The story is told in the early days of the Church—particularly, I think, at Kirtland—where some of the leading brethren in the presiding councils of the Church met secretly and tried to scheme as to how they could get rid of the Prophet Joseph’s leadership. They made the mistake of inviting Brigham Young to one of these secret meetings. He rebuked them, after he had heard the purpose of their meeting. This is part of what he said: ‘You cannot destroy the appointment of a prophet of God, but you can cut the thread that binds you to the prophet of God and sink yourselves to hell.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1963, p. 81.)
The Apostle Paul taught that Apostles, prophets, and other Church leaders were set in the Church “that we henceforth be no more children tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Ephesians 4:14). Those who follow the prophets will avoid being led astray by false doctrines. President N. Eldon Tanner said, “Follow him [the prophet] and you cannot go astray” (“Things We Should Do,” in Speeches of the Year, 1976 [Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1977], p. 458).
This advice is true for individuals and for the Church. Elder Delbert L. Stapley said, “We will never go wrong as a people if we follow the Lord’s prophet, who is also our prophet, and heed his teachings, counsel, and personal example” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1975, p. 73; or Ensign, Nov. 1975, p. 49).
“Now the only safety we have as members of this church is to do exactly what the Lord said to the Church in that day when the Church was organized. We must learn to give heed to the words and commandments that the Lord shall give through his prophet, ‘as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; . . . as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.’ (D&C 21:4–5.) . . .
“. . . Your safety and ours depends upon whether or not we follow the ones whom the Lord has placed to preside over his church. He knows whom he wants to preside over this church, and he will make no mistake. The Lord doesn’t do things by accident. . . .
“Let’s keep our eye on the President of the Church.” (Harold B. Lee, in Conference Report, Oct. 1970, pp. 152–53.)
The only real safety in this world lies in following those whom the Lord has chosen to lead us.
“Where else can you go for guidance? Where is there safety in the world today? Safety can’t be won by tanks and guns and the airplanes and atomic bombs. There is only one place of safety and that is within the realm of the power of Almighty God that he gives to those who keep his commandments and listen to his voice, as he speaks through the channels that he has ordained for that purpose.” (Harold B. Lee, in Conference Report, Oct. 1973, p. 169; or Ensign, Jan. 1974, p. 128.)
“On the day the Church was organized the Lord said this: ‘Wherefore, meaning the church’—and that was addressed not just to the few on that day, but to all who have been or who will be members of this church—‘thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me;
“‘For his word [meaning the president of the Church] ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.’
“Now note the promise if we will be thus obedient to seek counsel and to accept counsel from the proper channels: ‘For by doing these things the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and in his name’s glory.’ (D&C 21:4–6.)
“To you Latter-day Saints everywhere, that promise will be yours if you will follow the leadership the Lord has placed within the Church, giving heed to their counsel in patience and faith; this promise to you and yours is that the gates of hell will not prevail against you, that the Lord will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and will cause the heavens to shake for your good and his name’s glory.” (Harold B. Lee, in Conference Report, Manchester England Area Conference 1971, pp. 134–35; or Ensign, Nov. 1971, pp. 11–12.)
The Lord is mindful of those who sustain and love his prophets. He will also sustain, bless, and care for them. Though it sometimes takes courage, those who are on the side of the Lord’s prophets can be sure they are on the Lord’s side. Of this the Prophet Joseph Smith said:
“Resist evil, and there is no danger; God, men, and angels will not condemn those that resist everything that is evil, and devils cannot; as well might the devil seek to dethrone Jehovah, as overthrow an innocent soul that resists everything which is evil.” (Teachings, p. 226.)
President N. Eldon Tanner taught that “there is no other way to return to him from whence we came than through obedience to his word which comes to us through his prophets” (“‘We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet to Guide Us in These Latter Days,’” Ensign, Mar. 1975, p. 2). The scriptures make known the promises God has made to those who follow his prophets. King Benjamin, of the Book of Mormon, taught of the prosperity and happiness which comes to those who follow the commandments the Lord has given through his prophets. He said:
“And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it.” (Mosiah 2:41.)
Abinadi also taught of those promises and said that “whosoever has heard the words of the prophets . . . who have hearkened unto their words . . . are the heirs of the kingdom of God” (Mosiah 15:11; see also D&C 20:25–26). To those who receive his servants the Lord has said in this dispensation:
“For he that receiveth my servants receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth my Father; and he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him.” (D&C 84:36–38.)
This same promise was given by the Lord to his disciples in the meridian of time (see Matthew 10:40–41).
“Let us, then—and let all men who desire righteousness—accept the Lord and his prophets, hearken to their teachings, and strive to be like them, for it is written: ‘He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward.’ (Matt. 10:41.) And a prophet’s reward is eternal life in the kingdom of God.” (Bruce R. McConkie, The Promised Messiah, p. 41.)
1. President David O. McKay observed that “murmuring against priesthood and auxiliary leadership is one of the most poisonous things that can be introduced into the home of a Latter-day Saint” (“Four Guideposts,” Improvement Era, Mar. 1969, p. 3). Analyze yourself. Do you ever murmur against Church authorities? Do you ever do so in the presence of your loved ones?
2. What serious consequences can come to those who do not follow the counsel of the prophets?
3. What blessings will come to those who do follow the prophets?
4. The results of our accepting or rejecting the prophets were summarized by President Ezra Taft Benson:
“The prophet and the presidency—the living prophet and the First Presidency—follow them and be blessed; reject them and suffer.
“. . . If we want to know how well we stand with the Lord, then let us ask ourselves how well we stand with His mortal captain. How closely do our lives harmonize with the words of the Lord’s anointed—the living prophet, the President of the Church, and with the Quorum of the First Presidency?” (“Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet,” in Speeches of the Year, 1980, p. 30.)
Using this statement as a gauge, how do you stand with the Lord?
In April 1830, the Lord said:
“The several elders composing this Church of Christ are to meet in conference once in three months, or from time to time as said conferences shall direct or appoint;
“And said conferences are to do whatever Church business is necessary to be done at the time.” (D&C 20:61–62.)
Since 1830, various Church conferences have been held to help the Saints in perfecting their lives. Conferences are held on ward, stake, and general Church levels. President Spencer W. Kimball explained, “We meet together often in the Church in conferences to worship the Lord, to feast upon the word of Christ, and to be built up in faith and testimony” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1978, p. 67; or Ensign, May 1978, p. 45). How can you prepare yourself for general conference? What benefits can you gain from the conference?
Twice each year (April and October) members of the Church have the opportunity to hear the words of the prophets in general conferences of the Church. Elder David O. McKay reviewed the main objectives of Church conferences:
“Reference to the Doctrine and Covenants will disclose the fact that there are four principal purposes of holding conferences of the Church:
“First, to transact current Church business,
“Second, to hear reports and general Church statistics,
“Third, to ‘approve of those names which I (the Lord) have appointed, or to disapprove of them [See D&C 124:144].’
“Fourth, to worship the Lord in sincerity and reverence, and to give and to receive encouragement, exhortation, and instruction.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1938, pp. 130–31.)
In a later conference, President McKay commented further on the basic objectives of general conferences of the Church:
“Among the purposes of these general conferences are, in summary, as follows:
“(1) To inform the membership of general conditions—whether the Church is progressing or retrogressing, economically, ecclesiastically, or spiritually. (2) To commend true merit. (3) To express gratitude for divine guidance. (4) To give instruction ‘in principles, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel.’ (5) To proclaim the restoration, with divine authority to administer in all the ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and to declare, quoting the Apostle Peter, that ‘there is none other name under heaven given among men’ than Jesus Christ ‘whereby we must be saved.’ (Acts 4:12.) (6) To admonish and inspire to continue in greater activity.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1954, p. 7.)
Elder Marion G. Romney also stated clearly the purpose for which Church leaders from throughout the world gather to attend general conferences:
“We have come to this conference from many nations of the world—not, however, as representatives of the governments of these nations. We are here representing the leadership of the kingdom of God. This Church is the literal kingdom of God in the earth. We did not come to argue, to jockey for position, to compromise differences and establish policies. We came here to hear and learn the word of God as he has and does now reveal it through his appointed servants, and to take it back and teach it to our people.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1961, p. 117.)
“In a few days there opens another general conference of the Church. The servants of the Lord will counsel us. You may listen with anxious ears and hearts, or you may turn that counsel aside. As in these devotionals, what you shall gain will depend not so much upon their preparation of the messages as upon your preparation for them.” (Boyd K. Packer, Follow the Brethren, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year, p. 10.)
The importance of Church members’ preparation to receive the instruction of the Lord’s servants was taught by Elder Marion G. Romney who, after attending a stake conference in an outlying stake, reported:
“A number of the speakers had just attended for the first time a general conference. Their reports were soul stirring. One bishop wished that every member of his ward might attend just one conference in the tabernacle. Another, when he stood with the vast congregation for the first time, was so moved that tears ran down his cheeks, and his voice so choked that he could not join in the singing. A third was impressed with President Grant’s closing remarks. He said as he finished his talk: ‘Three times the President said, “I bless you, I bless you, I bless you.”’
“In another outlying stake, an ex-bishop said to me that the conference was nothing but a political convention. In another a man said that whether he would follow the counsel of the leaders depended upon what subject they discussed.
“How are these different responses accounted for? I will tell you. The members of one group were observing and keeping the commandments of God, and the others were not; one group was walking in the light of truth, and the other was in the dark; one group enjoyed the Spirit of the Lord, and the others did not.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1942, p. 19.)
Elder Howard W. Hunter conveyed some of the spirit and influence of general conference when he said:
“Conference time is a season of spiritual revival when knowledge and testimony are increased and solidified that God lives and blesses those who are faithful. It is a time when an understanding that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, is burned into the hearts of those who have the determination to serve him and keep his commandments. Conference is the time when our leaders give us inspired direction in the conduct of our lives—a time when souls are stirred and resolutions are made to be better husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, more obedient sons and daughters, better friends and neighbors.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1981, p. 15; or Ensign, Nov. 1981, p. 12.)
Conferences are vital to both the temporal and spiritual welfare of the Saints. Through inspired counsel from the Lord’s chosen leaders, members are edified and uplifted and are taught the practical application of gospel principles.
“My dear brothers and sisters, we came together to wait upon the Lord, to be cleansed and edified by his Spirit, and to know in our hearts the spirit of true worship.
“We have not been disappointed. The Lord has been with us by the power of his Spirit, and it has been good for us to be here.
“I hope we will go forth now, believing the doctrines that have been preached, taking the counsels of the Brethren, and basking in the same spirit that has uplifted and edified us while here. . . .
“Now this system of revealed religion which has come to us by revelation is a very practical religion. It deals with flocks and herds and properties; it teaches us how to get along with each other here and now; it is a way of life that turns a dreary and drab mortal existence into a glorious and exhilarating experience.” (Spencer W. Kimball, in Conference Report, Oct. 1978, pp. 107–8; or Ensign, Nov. 1978, p. 71.)
In the October 1975 conference President Spencer W. Kimball emphasized the importance of taking notes on the many items of helpful counsel given at the conference. He also expressed his determination to apply the principles that had been taught and counseled all of the Saints to do the same:
“We hope you have made copious notes of the thoughts that have come to your mind as the Brethren have addressed you. Many suggestions have been given that will help you as leaders in the perfection of your work. Many helpful thoughts have been given for the perfection of our own lives, and that, of course, is the basic reason for our coming.
“While sitting here, I have made up my mind that when I go home from this conference this night there are many, many areas in my life that I can perfect. I have made a mental list of them, and I expect to go to work as soon as we get through with conference. . . . [President Kimball then reviewed several of the sermons given in that conference.]
“I wish there were time to mention some of the other wonderful sermons, because it helps me to summarize these things and decide what I have heard, what I want to retain, what I want to do something about. . . .
“Well, now, brothers and sisters, this is the gospel of Jesus Christ, and to all who are listening in, we haven’t been fooling. What we have said to you in these three days is truth, downright truth, and it has a definite bearing upon the salvation and exaltation of every soul that could listen and hear.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1975, pp. 164, 166; or Ensign, Nov. 1975, pp. 111–12.)
At the last general conference over which President Harold B. Lee presided, he stated:
“We have never had a conference where there has been so much direct instruction, so much admonition; when the problems have been defined and also the solution to the problem has been suggested.
“Let us not turn a deaf ear now, but listen to these as the words that have come from the Lord, inspired of him, and we will be safe on Zion’s hill, until all that the Lord has for his children shall have been accomplished.
“And so, in the closing moments of this conference, I have been moved as I think I have never been moved before in all my life. If it were not for the assurance that I have that the Lord is near to us, guiding, directing, the burden would be almost beyond my strength, but because I know that he is there, and that he can be appealed to, and if we have ears to hear attuned to him, we will never be left alone.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1973, p. 170; or Ensign, Jan. 1974, p. 129.)
The Apostle Paul testified:
“For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?
“So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air.” (1 Corinthians 14:8–9.)
The gospel message is the same in all ages of the earth. The prophets who speak at conference “preach and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ as he himself defined it” (Marion G. Romney, in Conference Report, Apr. 1955, p. 31). President Spencer W. Kimball stated:
“Some may wonder why General Authorities speak of the same things from conference to conference. As I study the utterances of the prophets through the centuries, their pattern is very clear. We seek, in the words of Alma, to teach people ‘an everlasting hatred against sin and iniquity.’ We preach ‘repentance, and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ.’ (Al. 37:32, 33.) We praise humility. We seek to teach people ‘to withstand every temptation of the devil, with their faith on the Lord Jesus Christ.’ (Al. 37:33.) We teach our people ‘to never be weary of good works.’ (Al. 37:34.)
“Prophets say the same things because we face basically the same problems. Brothers and sisters, the solutions to these problems have not changed. It would be a poor lighthouse that gave off a different signal to guide every ship entering a harbor. It would be a poor mountain guide who, knowing the safe route up a mountainside, took his trusting charges up unpredictable and perilous paths from which no traveler returns.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1976, p. 7; or Ensign, May 1976, p. 6.)
On 1 November 1831, the Lord stated the following in his preface to the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants:
“And the arm of the Lord shall be revealed; and the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people” (D&C 1:14).
President Joseph Fielding Smith testified:
“It is my humble opinion that we are receiving counsel by inspiration, or revelation, at every general conference of the Church. Would it not be wise for the members of the Church to pay more heed to these counsels and prepare ourselves for more to come?” (Answers to Gospel Questions, 2:205.)
Since his call to the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Spencer W. Kimball’s voice has been heard in the various conferences of the Church warning the nations and preparing the Saints for the coming of the Savior. He made this statement concerning the great power for good that comes from general conference:
“Sunday night, April 7, the great Tabernacle was closed, the lights turned out, and the record machines stopped, the doors locked, and another historic conference became history. It will have been lost motion—a waste of time, energy, and money—if its messages are not heeded. In the seven two-hour sessions and in the several satellite meetings, truths were taught, doctrines expounded, exhortations given, enough to save the whole world from all its ills—and I mean from ALL its ills. . . .
“. . . all the conferences and conventions combined of all the years could not possibly be as important as that recent three-day conference of the Lord’s Church. . . .
“Let no arrogant, self-assured, self-styled intellectual discard the truths there taught and the testimonies there borne, nor argue with the messages and instructions there given.” (“In the World But Not of It,” Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year [Provo: 14 May 1968], pp. 2–3.)
The importance of a general conference should not be underrated. Elder Mark E. Petersen, after pointing this out, said:
“A general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is far more significant than most people realize . . .
“. . . it is one of the most important events of the present day. Many do not so regard it, even among the Latter-day Saints. But for those who appreciate its true significance, it is of transcending importance, for in it PROPHETS OF GOD SPEAK, living prophets.
“When God gives a message to mankind, it is not something to be lightly cast aside. Whether He speaks personally, or through His prophets, He himself said, it is the same.
“And in this conference HIS PROPHETS SPEAK!” (Why the Religious Life, pp. 203–4.)
At the close of the October 1976 conference President Kimball entreated the Saints not only to call upon the Lord but to live according to the inspired counsels that had been given on a multitude of pertinent subjects:
“The sermons from the Brethren have developed almost every theme and subject, and they have been rich and full of meat. We have been greatly pleased with all of their contributions. . . .
“And we wonder why we fail with all of the exhortation and explanation given us by the numerous Brethren who have pled with us! We can understand why the Savior must have been disappointed, and why he said, ‘Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father.’ (Matt. 7:21.)
“And then he said again, ‘Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?’ (Luke 6:46.) I hope that theme will follow us to our homes and to our future lives.
“As we close this great conference, I again implore the hearer of these messages to do the things which the Lord says and which have been so clearly outlined during this conference.
“. . . the Lord is not playing games, but rather has a serious program for man and for his glory. The Lord knows what He is doing, and all His moves are appropriate and right. . . .
“I know that the Lord has contact with his prophets, and that he reveals the truth today to his servants as he did in the days of Adam and Abraham and Moses and Peter and Joseph and the numerous others throughout time. God’s messages of light and truth are as surely given to man today as in any other dispensation.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1976, pp. 163–64; or Ensign, Nov. 1976, pp. 110–11.)
“The main purpose of general conferences, the main purpose of this conference, is to sound the voice of warning. You who hear and are warned must warn your neighbors. If we fail to heed the warnings given, or fail to warn our neighbors, we all may be lost.” (N. Eldon Tanner, in Conference Report, Oct. 1976, p. 124; or Ensign, Nov. 1976, p. 83.)
See also Ezekiel 3:17–19; 33:1–20; Jacob 1:19; Doctrine and Covenants 88:81.
1. Mark and cross-reference to each other the following scriptures which teach of the purpose and importance of conferences: Doctrine and Covenants 1:14; 20:61–66; 43:8; 58:56; 124:144.
2. Briefly explain the significance of each of the above references as it relates to the conferences of the Church.
3. Make a list of the purposes for the conferences of the Church.
4. Write a paragraph answering the following questions: What are some of the ways in which I can prepare myself more fully to receive the messages given at conference? How much do I profit from conference? What can I do so that general conferences will make a real difference in my life?
As you read the following hypothetical dialogue between a young person and a leader, ask yourself what answers you would give. Is the young person answering these questions really a faithful member of the Church?
“Do you believe that the Church is truly led by living prophets?”
“Yes, I sustain our leaders as prophets, seers, and revelators, and I believe they are guided by the Lord in leading the Church.”
“How often do you feel these inspired leaders actually receive revelation from God?”
“I believe they receive direction constantly. This is what sustains the Church from day to day.”
“How are these revelations made known to the Church?”
“Our leaders teach them to us at general conference. The chief means by which current guidance comes to the Church is the inspired counsel we get from our leaders at each general conference.
“What about those who do not attend the conferences?”
“There’s a report of the conference proceedings published for all members to read.”
“Do you suppose that most members of the Church read these reports?”
“Certainly not all the members.”
“Do you read the reports regularly?”
“Not really. My time is quite limited.”
“Are you aware of what was said in the last general conference?”
“But you really believe that the Church is led by living prophets?”
“How can you have true faith in the living prophets if you don’t know what they say?”
“That’s a good question.”
“Aren’t you afraid you might be missing some important counsel or revelation necessary for your personal success and happiness?”
“I never thought of it that way.”
President Harold B. Lee told of a very similar incident:
“A man came in to see me and said that he had heard that some man appeared mysteriously to a group of temple workers and told them, ‘You had better hurry up and store for a year, or two, or three, because there will come a season when there won’t be any production.’ He asked me what I thought about it, and I said, ‘Well, were you in the April conference of 1936?’
“He replied, ‘No, I couldn’t be there.’
“And I said, ‘Well surely you read the report of what was said by the Brethren in that conference?’
“No, he hadn’t.
“‘Well,’ I said, ‘at that conference the Lord did give a revelation about the storage of food. How in the world is the Lord going to get over to you what he wants you to do if you’re not there when he says it, and you do not take the time to read it after it had been said?’
“We live in a changing world. The Lord is going to keep his people informed, if they will listen. As President Clark said in a classic talk that he gave, ‘We do not need a prophet; we need a listening ear’ (see Conference Report, Oct. 1948, p. 82). That is the great need of our generation.” (“The Place of the Living Prophet, Seer, and Revelator,” in Charge to Religious Educators, p. 109.)
Where possible, every member of the Church should listen to the words of the prophets as they are given in the general conferences of the Church (see D&C 1:14). Because there are many who are unable to hear the words of the prophets at the time they are given, or who would like to remember and to study these messages, the Conference Reports and the conference issues of the Ensign are published.
“If we talk about the living oracles and want to pay respect to them, how shall we do this? Shall we do it by never reading their words—by paying no attention to that which they say? That is a very poor way of doing. We ought to listen to their words. When we cannot hear their words, we should read them; for they are the words of the authorized servants of God. I feel that there is a great neglect among us in this respect.” (George Q. Cannon, in Conference Report, Oct. 1897, p. 38.)
Elder Spencer W. Kimball gave the following challenge to a group of BYU students, but it applies to all members of the Church:
“I hope you young people all heard the messages of the ages delivered last month. There will be other conferences every six months. I hope you will get your copy of the Improvement Era [containing the conference talks] and underline the pertinent thoughts and keep it with you for continual reference. No text or volume outside the standard works of the Church should have such a prominent place on your personal library shelves.” (In the World But Not of It, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year [Provo, 14 May 1968], p. 3.)
Ten years later Spencer W. Kimball, then President of the Church, gave the following counsel:
“Now as we conclude this general conference, let us all give heed to what was said to us. Let us assume the counsel given applies to us, to me. Let us hearken to those we sustain as prophets and seers, as well as the other brethren, as if our eternal life depended upon it, because it does!
“. . . May I stress again the value of reading the addresses given at our general conferences in the Ensign magazine.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1978, p. 117; or Ensign, May 1978, p. 77.)
Similarly, Elder Howard W. Hunter counseled all to study and ponder the messages given in general conference. He promised that prayerfully seeking would bring a personal conviction by the Holy Ghost of the truthfulness of the counsel.
“We would say to the world: ‘Listen to and weigh the words of this conference; consider the direction and counsel that come from those who speak. Then, after prayerful pondering, that sweet warm conviction that comes from the Holy Spirit will testify to you of its truthfulness.’” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1981, p. 16; or Ensign, Nov. 1981, p. 13.)
As President of the Church, Harold B. Lee said: “If you want to know what the Lord would have the Saints know and to have his guidance and direction for the next six months, get a copy of the proceedings of this conference, and you will have the latest word of the Lord as far as the Saints are concerned” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1973, p. 168; or Ensign, Jan. 1974, p. 128).
Hearing the word of God is not sufficient in and of itself. We must study and ponder the message. Elder Marion G. Romney emphasized the importance of the messages of general conference when, in the April Conference of 1954, he said, “We have heard enough truth and direction in this conference to bring us into the presence of God if we would follow it” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1954, pp. 132–33).
“This has been a great conference and as each one of these wonderful sermons has been rendered I’ve listened with great attention, and I have made up my mind that I shall go home and be a greater man than I have ever been before. I have listened to all the instructions and the suggestions, and I am hoping that every person who has heard them has done likewise. We have heard many things, all in harmony with the teachings of Jesus Christ. They have been beautifully given by men who are dedicated to the service of the Lord. I urge you to take much thought in your return home from this conference and think again of the things that have been brought to your attention; and so far as they approach your life in any way, see if you can use them to bring you back—all of us—toward the perfection which the Lord has asked of us.” (Spencer W. Kimball, in Conference Report, Oct. 1977, p. 113; or Ensign, Nov. 1977, p. 75.)
“As we return to our homes, brothers and sisters, I hope we will not close the door on the conference. Take it with us. Take it home with us. Tell our families about it, . . . give them the benefit of any inspiration that might have come to you, any determinations to change your lives, and make them more acceptable to your Heavenly Father.
“. . . I know that this is the work of the Lord. You haven’t come these long distances for nothing. It is to feed your souls.” (Spencer W. Kimball, in Conference Report, Oct. 1974, p. 162; or Ensign, Nov. 1974, p. 113.)
“As you return to your wards and stakes, your missions, and to your individual homes around the world, I pray our Heavenly Father to bless you and your families. Let the messages and spirit of this conference radiate and find expression in all that you do henceforth—in your homes, in your work, in your meetings, and in all your comings and goings. Let us be better Latter-day Saints now than we have ever been before.” (Spencer W. Kimball, in Conference Report, Oct. 1978, pp. 110–11; or Ensign, Nov. 1978, p. 73.)
Inspired addresses are delivered at every general conference. Listeners often make such exclamations as “It was such a wonderful conference. The Spirit was so much in evidence. I only wish I could remember all that was said so I could apply it in my life.”
What can we do so that we will remember and apply the messages given at conferences?
Written copies of the conference addresses are provided in the May and November issues of the Ensign and in the official report of the conference, which can be obtained from Church headquarters. Carefully, prayerfully reading the conference addresses, noting, summarizing, and cross-referencing important points will help us remember and apply the messages.
An effective way to study the Conference Reports is to analyze the contents of each address using the following categories:
Doctrinal interpretations or clarifications
Commandments or counsels
Inspirational sayings, stories, or incidents which illustrate principles
Personal insights gained
Each of these categories is briefly discussed below and examples are given of ways you might study.
Official announcements include important decisions made by church leaders, or changes in organization, policy, or personnel. Examples of such items are: the reorganization of the First Quorum of the Seventy, announcements of new temples, and the addition of sections 137 and 138 to the Doctrine and Covenants. Mark these items for future reference.
An important part of each general conference is the interpretations the Brethren, particularly the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, give of the standard works and the prophetic statements they include in their addresses. You could make these materials more accessible and useful by noting, underlining, or filing them.
In your copy of the Ensign or Conference Report, underline or block out the doctrinal interpretations or explanations of passages in the standard works. Then cross-reference these explanations to the standard works and create a file of the quotations you might want to use in study and teaching. For example, you might take an index card and put a quotation on it.
“‘And also the Lord shall have power over his saints, and shall reign in their midst, and shall come down in judgment upon Idumea, or the world.’ (D&C 1:36.)
“How does he reign in our midst? How shall he have power over his saints? If you had been in the meeting of the priesthood last night, you would have seen the great power that was in evidence there, where there were 2,000 holders of the priesthood—the power of God by which he works through men to the accomplishment of his purposes. He is reigning in our midst through them.” (Harold B. Lee, in Conference Report, Manchester England Area Conference 1971, p. 135; or Ensign, Nov. 1971, p. 12.)
“‘And thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.’ (Gen. 3:16.) I have a question about the word rule. It gives the wrong impression. I would prefer to use the word preside because that’s what he does. A righteous husband presides over his wife and family.” (Spencer W. Kimball, “The Blessings and Responsibilities of Women” [Relief Society Conference address], Ensign, Mar. 1976, p. 72.)
When making cards like these, be sure to include the scripture reference, the quotation from the Conference Report in which the explanation of the scripture is given, and the source in the Conference Report.
After you have put the information on an index card, you might cross-reference your scriptures and the Conference Report (or Ensign) by noting the source of the conference statement like this:
Even though this process takes time and effort, you will find that if you are willing to make the effort you will benefit greatly. Remember that the greatest resource for understanding the prophets is other prophets (see 2 Peter 1:20–21). What prophets explain about the scriptures is especially valuable to our understanding of them. You should have some personal system which helps you remember these explanations and allows you to find them again easily.
Underline and keep notes on the prophecies in the messages of the Brethren. For example, in 1967 President Hugh B. Brown, then a member of the First Presidency, told the young men in the priesthood meeting:
himself to be tempted to do anything that would cause him to blush if it were known by those he loves the most.
I hope that every young man under the sound of my voice will resolve tonight, “I am going to keep myself clean. I am going to serve the Lord. I am going to prepare every way I can for future service, because I want to be prepared when the final battle shall come.”
And some of you young men are going to engage in that battle. Some of you are going to engage in the final testing time, which is coming and which is closer to us than we know.
I want to leave with you my blessing, the blessing of the First Presidency and the Twelve. We are greatly
A command or counsel is an entreaty or exhortation to do some specific thing. Conference messages contain many of these statements. By studying these you will learn the specific things you should be doing to be in harmony with the Lord’s will. Underline these statements in your Conference Report and then make a list of them to refer to so you will remember the things you should be doing. Entries such as the following would probably appear on your list:
Plant and use a garden
It would be good to head your list with all of the imperative statements made by the President of the Church, since his counsel is the most important. But remember that the counsel of other General Authorities will be in harmony with that of the President of the Church and will give you valuable guidance in your life.
It is useful to save inspirational sayings. For example, “the time to listen is when someone needs to be heard” (Marvin J. Ashton, in Conference Report, Apr. 1976, p. 80; or Ensign, May 1976, p. 53.)
Stories and incidents are valuable to have for lessons, talks, or your own inspiration. For example, the principle “inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40) can be illustrated by the experience of Bishop Monson and his ward members in helping a German brother and his family. (See Conference Report, Oct. 1980, pp. 133–34; or Ensign, Nov. 1980, p. 91.)
As you ponder the counsel given by the Brethren in general conference, you can receive from the Holy Ghost insights and promptings tailored to your needs and your level of spiritual maturity. Writing down such insights can help to cement them in your mind and heart so they will have greater influence on your behavior.
1. How can you make the conference addresses “the guide to [your] walk and talk during the next six months”? (Harold B. Lee, in Conference Report, Apr. 1946, p. 68). Devise a system for doing this. For example, you might make a list of challenges given in the conference that you feel you need to work on, including such things as studying the scriptures daily, avoiding contention in the home, and paying a more generous fast offering. Now formulate a plan to accomplish the things you have listed.
2. Select from the suggestions given in this lesson some ideas for your personal study. Begin an individual study of the last general conference using the methods you select.
Benson, Ezra Taft. “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet.” In Speeches of the Year, 1980. Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1981.
Brown, Hugh B. The Profile of a Prophet. Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year. Provo, 4 Oct. 1955.
Cannon, George Q. Gospel Truth, 2 vols. Edited by Jerreld L. Newquist. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1974.
Charge to Religious Educators. 2d edition. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1982.
Clark, J. Reuben, Jr. “When Are Church Leaders’ Words Entitled to Claim of Scripture?” Church News. 31 July 1954, pp. 2, 9–11.
Journal of Discourses. 26 vols. London: Latter-day Saint’s Book Depot, 1854–86.
Kimball, Spencer W. In the World, But Not of It. Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year. Provo, 14 May 1968.
Lee, Harold B. Be Secure in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year. Provo, 11 Feb. 1958.
———. The Profile of a Prophet. Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year. Provo, 4 Oct. 1955.
McConkie, Bruce R. Mormon Doctrine. 2d ed. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966.
———. The Mortal Messiah. 4 vols. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1979.
———. The Promised Messiah. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978.
———. “Succession in the Presidency.” In Speeches of the Year, 1974. Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1975.
Maxwell, Neal A. Things as They Really Are. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1966.
Monson, Thomas S. Pathways to Perfection. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1973.
Packer, Boyd K. A Dedication—to Faith. Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year. Provo, 29 Apr. 1969.
———. Follow the Brethren. Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year. Provo, 23 Mar. 1965.
———. Obedience. Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year. Provo, 7 Dec. 1971.
Petersen, Mark E. “A Man Must Be Called of God.” In 1979 Devotional Speeches of the Year. Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1980.
———. For Righteousness Sake. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1972.
———. The Salt and the Savor. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1976.
———. Why the Religious Life. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1966.
Pratt, Parley P. “Proclamation: To The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Greeting.” Millennial Star, Mar. 1845 (p. 150).
Smith, Joseph. History of the Church. 7 vols. 2d ed. rev. Edited by B. H. Roberts. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1932–51.
———. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Selected by Joseph Fielding Smith. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938.
Smith, Joseph F. Gospel Doctrine. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1939.
Smith, Joseph Fielding. Answers to Gospel Questions. 5 vols. Compiled by Joseph Fielding Smith, Jr. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1957–66.
———. Church History and Modern Revelation. 2 vols. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1953.
———. Doctrines of Salvation. 3 vols. Compiled by Bruce R. McConkie. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56.
Taylor, John. The Gospel Kingdom. Selected by G. Homer Durham. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1943.
Whitney, Orson F. Saturday Night Thoughts. Rev. ed. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1921.
Widtsoe, John A. Evidences and Reconciliations. 3 vols in 1. Arranged by G. Homer Durham. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960.
Woodruff, Wilford. Discourses of Wilford Woodruff. Selected by G. Homer Durham. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1946.
ASHTON, MARVIN J.
Listening when someone needs hearing, 13-4
BENSON, EZRA TAFT
Attitude toward prophet a test of faithfulness, 10-2
Brigham Young on criticism of prophet, 11-2
Converted Saints follow prophet, 10-3
Deceived, tests to avoid being, 8-5
Doctrinal interpretation province of First Presidency, 5-4
Following prophet brings blessings, 11-7
Living prophet takes precedence over dead, 4-4
Prerogatives of the living prophet, 3-8
Prophet closest to revelation, 8-3
Prophet more vital than standard works, 4-4
Prophet today most important, 3-2, 4-4
Prophet’s passing not untimely, 7-2
Succession in Presidency controlled by God, 7-2
“Thus saith the Lord” not needed, 4-7
BROWN, HUGH B.
Living prophet defended to British jurist, 1-1
Young men to prepare for future service, 13-4
CANNON, GEORGE Q.
Conference messages should be studied, 13-1
Difference of opinion and sustaining of prophet, 10-5
Moses and living prophet similar, 3-9
Rejecting prophets means losing Spirit, 11-2
CLARK, J. REUBEN, JR.
Greatest need is to hear prophets, 1-3
Holy Ghost confirms prophets’ words, 4-6
Revelation for Church received only by prophet, 3-5
Spiritual gifts of General Authorities, 2-6
Sustaining Authorities, method of, 10-1
“Thus saith the Lord” not needed, 4-7
Charge to Quorum of Twelve, 6-1
HINCKLEY, GORDON B.
Having prophet is everything, 3-9
Keys and authority passed from Joseph Smith, 3-3
Successors to Joseph Smith, attributes of, 7-intro
Sustaining prophet brings blessings, 10-2
HUNTER, HOWARD W.
Conference messages should be studied, 13-1
Conference is time of spiritual revival, 12-3
Savior guides Church, 3-1
KIMBALL, SPENCER W.
Apostles keep Church from going astray, 6-6
Blind obedience not willing obedience, 9-4
Church guided through prophet, 3-1
Conference counsel should be followed, 12-6
Conference messages, constancy of, 12-5
Conference messages should be studied, 13-1
Conference messages to be heeded, 12-6
Conference, notes should be taken in, 12-3
Conference should inspire improvement, 13-3
Conferences, purposes of, 12-intro
Conferences time of spiritual revival, 12-3
Criticism of Church leaders brings apostasy, 11-3
Dead prophets reverenced over living, 3-2
Husband presides over wife, 13-4
Information given in conference could solve world’s ills, 1-2
Prophecy as heavenly broadcasts, 1-2
Prophet, qualifications of, 3-6
Rejecting prophets, reasons for, 11-1
Succession in the Presidency, 7-1
LEE, HAROLD B.
Apostles under direction of Church President, 6-3
Brigham Young condemns critics of Joseph Smith, 11-3
Conference is time and place for revelations, 13-intro
Conference reports give latest guidance and direction, 13-2
Conference is time to define and solve problems, 12-4
Conference to guide walk and talk, 13-5
Converted Saints follow prophet, 10-3
Courage to sustain prophet, 10-6
Evil speaking of Lord’s anointed from impure hearts, 11-2
Followers of prophets are in safe path, 11-4
God reigns in midst through priesthood holders, 13-4
Holy Ghost confirms prophets’ words, 4-6
Lord helps those who follow prophets, 11-5
Obedience of Marion G. Romney, 9-5
Prophet, definition of, 2-2
Prophet not permitted to lead Church astray, 3-7
Prophets of past reverenced; present ones rejected, 3-2
Prophet only can go beyond scriptures, 4-3
Prophet, only one of, for whole Church, 2-2
Prophet today most important, 4-4
Prophet’s relationship to God, 3-4
Revelation for Church only to Prophet, 3-5
Standard works measure of truth, 4-2
Succession in Presidency, method of, 7-4
Supposing about succession wrong, 7-3
Sustaining is covenanting, 10-2
Test of followers’ loyalty, 10-6
Testimony should be gained by individual, 9-5
MCKAY, DAVID O.
Conferences, purposes of, 12-1
Murmuring against priesthood poisonous, 11-7
MCCONKIE, BRUCE R.
Eternal life through following prophets, 11-6
Holy Ghost confirms prophets’ words, 4-6
Keys of kingdom held by prophet, 3-3
Lord and prophets one, 10-2
Mainstream of Church, stay in, 8-4
Oracles, definition of, 2-1
Prophet, definition of, 2-2
Scripture, definition of, 4-1
Standard works as measure of truth, 4-2
Succession in Presidency, 7-1
Succession in Presidency directed by Lord, 7-7
Succession of President Kimball, 7-1
True prophet, definition of, 2-2
MAXWELL, NEAL A.
Following prophets our constant duty, 10-2
MONSON, THOMAS S.
Experience of ward members cited, 13-4
Prophet will lead to truth, 8-3
MOYLE, HENRY D.
Prophet today most important, 4-4
PACKER, BOYD K.
Apostles having seen Christ, 6-2
Church as standard of judgment, 8-4
Conferences, preparation for, 12-2
Obedience increases freedom, 9-2
Saints to look to First Presidency for instruction, 5-5
Sustaining prophet includes sustaining local leaders, 10-4
PETERSEN, MARK E.
Apostles keep Church from going astray, 6-6
Church will not “tell” what to do, 9-3
Conference, significance of, 12-6
Counselor and First Presidency, relationship of, 5-1
First Presidency will not lead Church astray, 5-6
God works only through prophets, 3-1
Keys of priesthood sign of true prophet, 3-3
President only one to exercise all keys, 6-3
Prophet provides needed scripture to every generation, 4-3
Prophet speaks to mankind, 3-intro
Prophets not ordinary men, 10-2
Prophets raised for every age, 1-2
Scriptures in addition to Bible, 4-1
Standard works and living prophet must be accepted together, 4-5
PRATT, PARLEY P.
Church governed through revelation, 2-5
Prophets chosen by God, 2-5
ROMNEY, MARION G.
Agency in following leaders, 9-1
Conference messages, constancy of, 12-5
Conference reports should guide our walk and talk, 13-2
Conferences, preparation for, 12-2
Conferences, purposes of, 12-1
Confirmation of prophets’ words, 9-5
Deceived, tests to avoid being, 8-5
First Presidency, statements of, are scripture, 5-3
God has solution for world problems, 1-2
Harmony with First Presidency is harmony with Lord, 5-7
Men today walk in own ways, 1-intro
Never hesitated to follow prophet, 10-2
Prophet to be followed in all things, 10-2
Prophet will not lead Church astray, 3-7
Rejecting prophets means losing Spirit, 11-2
Revelations interpreted by prophets, 4-2
Testimony of Apostles binding, 6-7
ROBERTS, B. H.
Twelve preside after death of President, 6-5
Lord’s work headed by prophet, 3-1
Prophets called in Lord’s way, 7-2
RICHARDS, STEPHEN L
Private interpretation of scripture not doctrine, 8-4
SMITH, GEORGE ALBERT
President gives Lord’s advice, 8-3
Adam, keys of priesthood passed from, 3-3
Condemnation of Church is road to apostasy, 11-3
Lord helps those who follow prophets, 11-5
Presidency only with President, 7-7
Priesthood is government of God, 2-5
Prophet, definition of, 2-2
Prophet only prophet when acting as, 4-6
Saints to look to First Presidency for instruction, 5-5
SMITH, JOSEPH F.
Deception, how to avoid, 8-5
Priesthood keys and authority right of Presidency, 2-5
Prophet mouthpiece of God, 10-2
Prophet not permitted to lead Church astray, 3-7
Twelve preside after death of President, 6-5
SMITH, JOSEPH FIELDING
Apostles having seen Christ, 6-2
Apostles special witnesses of Christ, 6-2
Apostles under direction of First Presidency, 6-3
Conference messages to be heeded, 12-6
D&C 107:24–26 clarified, 2-7
Difference of opinion and sustaining of prophet, 10-5
First Presidency, jurisdiction of, 5-1
First Presidency presides over Church, 5-1
First Presidency will not lead Church astray, 5-6
God’s word better than worldly wisdom, 8-4
Keys of kingdom given to Apostles, 6-4
Keys of Presidency held by prophet, 3-3
Standard works as measure of truth, 4-2
STAPLEY, DELBERT L.
Followers of prophets are in safe path, 11-4
Prophet not permitted to lead Church astray, 3-7
Revelation for Church received only by prophet, 3-5
TALMAGE, JAMES E.
Sustaining is covenanting, 10-2
TANNER, NATHAN ELDON
Conference to sound voice of warning, 12-7
Criticism of Church leaders, 11-1
Eternal life through following prophets, 11-6
First Presidency, daily activities of, 5-2
Follow prophet in all things, 10-2
Followers of prophets are in safe path, 11-4
Formal sustaining of Church President, 7-6
Human solutions inadequate to world problems, 1-intro
Succession, manner of, shown at President Lee’s death, 7-5
Rejecting prophets means losing Spirit, 11-2
Rejection of modern revelation absurd, 1-1
Revelation foundation of religion, 3-1
Scriptures of past not sufficient, 4-4
Sustaining prophet includes sustaining local leaders, 10-4
WHITNEY, ORSON F.
Living prophet takes precedence over dead, 4-4
Seer, definition of, 2-3
WIDTSOE, JOHN A.
Counsel of prophets to be valued, 4-8
Moses and living prophet similar, 3-9
Revelator, role of defined, 2-4
Adam passed authority on, 3-3
Counsel of prophets to be valued, 4-8
Prophet not permitted to lead Church astray, 3-7
Criticism of Prophet resisted by, 11-2
Keys of kingdom given to Apostles, 6-4