“Well Nigh as Dangerous”:1
Latter-day Prophecy and Revelation;
Infallibility and Blind Obedience
by McKay V. Jones
Table of Contents
Revelation and Non-Mormons
What Do the Scriptures Say about Prophecy and Revelation?
Do Mormons Believe their Prophets Are Infallible?
Are Mormons Encouraged to Blindly Believe and Follow Leaders?
How Mormons Sometimes Unwittingly Provide Fodder for Critics
Can Prophets Potentially Lead Astray?
The Sacred Duty of Church Members Concerning Revelation
The Parameters of Authoritative and Binding Revelation
Loyalty and Trust of Church Leaders Is Expected
“Some Are of God, Some Are of Men…”
The Lesson of the “Toronto Incident”
The Value of How Revelation Really Works
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints boldly proclaims that God deals with mankind through prophets in modern days just as He did in ancient times. While atheists and agnostics2 reject this claim on grounds that the point is moot, because God does not exist, theists who reject this claim do so on very different grounds. They criticize what they perceive to be fatal flaws and weaknesses in Mormon prophets and revelation, flaws that they insist make it safe to reject them. Yet, these ostensible flaws actually point to the great strength of prophecy and revelation in Mormonism, and the great weakness of how sectarian Christianity regards it, when applied in real time and in the real world.
Revelation and Non-Mormons
Attempts to undermine faith and confidence in Mormon prophets actually underscore the absence of prophecy and revelation that has been the default setting of non-Mormon Christianity, and the conscious and subconscious effect this has on it. Critics set up impossible standards and expectations of prophets to maintain their comfortable status quo, as if the last thing in the world they want is for prophets to actually exist. In fact, this sectarian Christian attitude towards modern revelation and prophets goes far towards explaining sectarian Christianity’s negative views on extra-biblical scripture and latter-day prophets, prophecy, and gifts of the spirit as described in the Bible. President Daniel H. Wells, a counselor to Brigham Young in the First Presidency, declared:
They have shut up the door of immediate revelation between God and man, and it does not seem to occur to them that this is the only means upon which the world can ever attain to the knowledge of God. All their religion and piety for many generations past have not produced one word of Scripture for the guidance of mankind to salvation in this and in the next existence. While they hold up the Bible as the all-sufficient guide to the possession of life eternal, they at the same time inculcate a principle which would never have given them a Bible. They fasten their faith and hope for salvation upon revelations given to another people, in another age and under other circumstances.3
President George Q. Cannon, counselor in the First Presidency to John Taylor, intriguingly suggested that rejection of prophets stems from an innate desire for infallibility of one form or another:
The Bible was accepted after the reformation as infallible; it took the place of the infallibility of the Pope.4
Elder B. H. Roberts noted the apparent loss of spiritual gifts in the centuries after the death of the apostles, and attributed the resulting insistence on inferior forms of gifts of the Spirit as a replacement for the real thing, which was no longer there:
While pagan rites and ceremonies were increasing in the church, the gifts and graces characteristic of apostolic times, seemed to have gradually departed from it. Protestant writers insist that the age of miracles closed with the fourth or fifth century, and that after that the extra-ordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost must not be expected. Catholic writers, on the other hand, insist that miracles have always continued in the church; yet those spiritual manifestations which they describe after the fourth and fifth centuries savor of invention on the part of the priests and childish credulity on the part of the people; or else what is claimed to be miraculous falls far short of the power and dignity of those spiritual manifestations which the primitive church was wont to witness. The virtues and prodigies ascribed to the bones and other relics of the martyrs and saints are purile in comparison with the healings, by the anointing with oil and the laying on of hands, speaking in tongues, interpretations, prophecies, revelations, casting out devils in the name of Jesus Christ; to say nothing of the gifts of faith, wisdom, knowledge, discernment of spirits, etc., common in the church in the days of the apostles. (1 Corinthians 12: 8—10.) There is nothing in the scriptures or in reason that would lead one to believe that the miraculous gifts were to be discontinued. Still this plea is made by modern Christians—explaining the absence of these spiritual powers among them—that the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were only intended to accompany the proclamation of the gospel during the first few centuries until the church was able to make its way without them, and then they were to be done away. It is sufficient to remark upon this that it is assumption and stands without warrant either of scripture or right reason, and proves that men had so far changed the religion of Jesus Christ that it became a form of godliness without the power thereof. (2 Timothy 3:5; see also JSH 1:19)5
Along these same lines, Roberts commented:
I apprehend that this Christian belief respecting the discontinuance of revelation came into existence as an excuse offered for the absence of revelation. Ministers . . . found themselves without communication with God, either through the visitation of angels or direct revelation. Finding themselves without these powers so abundantly possessed by the servants of God in the early age of the church, they attempted a defense of their own powerless state by saying these things were no longer needed. They were extraordinary powers only to be employed at the commencement of the work of God, in order to establish it in the earth, and afterwards to be put aside as childish things.6
Many modern critics of the Church of Jesus Christ consider themselves to be Christ’s followers witnessing against Mormonism’s heresy and threat to orthodoxy. This is precisely the same position the Pharisees and other people in Jesus’ time saw themselves in. Like the Pharisees of old who rejected Jehovah in the flesh but were sure that they would have accepted His prophets, had they lived in their days, modern sectarian critics of His Church consider themselves to be the preservers of orthodoxy and believe that they would have accepted Him, had they lived in His time7. Sure that they would have accepted true prophets if they encountered them, their day-to-day familiarity with real prophets was a major factor in their rejection of them.8 Their expectations and assumptions about prophets contradicted the behavior and performance of them.9 With both former-day and latter-day Pharisees, current demonstrations of faith and acceptance prove what the attitudes would have been in the presence of Christ and past prophets. The sneering and derisive tone of latter-day Pharisees in criticizing what they mock as shortcomings and failings of modern-day prophets is reminiscent of the tone of former-day Pharisees, who likewise ridiculed Christ’s ability to prophesy:
Then did they spit in his face, and buffeted him; and others smote him with the palms of their hands, Saying, Prophesy unto us, thou Christ, Who is he that smote thee? (Matthew 26:67-68)
And some began to spit on him, and to cover his face, and to buffet him, and to say unto him, Prophesy: and the servants did strike him with the palms of their hands. (Mark 14:65)
And the men that held Jesus mocked him, and smote him. And when they had blindfolded him, they struck him on the face, and asked him, saying, Prophesy, who is it that smote thee? And many other things blasphemously spake they against him. (Luke 2:63-65)
Critics, who otherwise demonstrate class and professionalism in treating other groups and topics, have the tendency to assume an uncharacteristic manner in treating Mormonism:
I have already remarked upon the educational and intellectual abilities of Mr. [Alexander] Campbell as fitting him for the work of thorough analysis and criticism of the Book of Mormon; but when one compares his criticism of the book with his debate with Robert Owen, in which he makes a most masterful defense of historic Christianity; or with his debate with Archbishop Purcell which, at the time it took place, was called “The Battle of the Giants,” one can but feel that his performance with reference to the Book of Mormon was wholly unworthy of him. Unworthy both of his great intellect and high character. In his assault upon that book there is a bitterness, and even a vulgarity, entirely absent from his other works, and utterly unaccountable for, unless one can think that in the background of his consciousness there was a realization that the work he assailed was true, and hence his assault is tinged with a bitterness likely to result from such a circumstance.10
Critics also tend to employ arguments against Mormon scriptures and prophets that are equally or more harmful to the Bible and its prophets:
The arguments made against the Book of Mormon, especially those made by professed ministers of the Gospel, are wonderfully similar in spirit to those made by skeptics against the Hebrew scriptures, and in fact against all written revelation . . . Sectarian divines who would complain bitterly of such arguments if used against the Bible, do not hesitate to employ them and couple with them all the bitterness, ridicule, sarcasm, ribaldry, innuendo, and even misrepresentation that a certain class of skeptics have employed against the Bible. I do not mention these things in the way of complaint; I only want to point to the fact of them, that the reader, with me, may wonder at them and ask himself the question, why is this the case?11
What Do the Scriptures Say about Prophecy and Revelation?
Mormon scriptures are clear that the process of revelation is not an automatic “transmission” from God, requiring little or no effort on the part of the recipient. While God has said that He “will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost,” (Doctrine and Covenants 8:2), He also makes it clear that the process includes more than merely asking for revelation without “study[ing] it out in your mind” before inquiring:
Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong . . . (D&C 9:7-9)
Section 10 of the Doctrine and Covenants also teaches that we can receive answers we want when we persist in inquiring and don’t like the answers we’ve already been given. This means that there is always a possibility that we can “talk ourselves into” answers we want, which don’t come from God.
Doctrine and Covenants 68:3-4 sets the narrow instances when scripture can be considered as having been given:
And this is the ensample unto them, that 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.
Note that what comprises “scripture,” “the will of the Lord,” “the mind of the Lord,” “the word of the Lord,” and “the voice of the Lord” is whether or not something is spoken “when moved upon by the Holy Ghost.” This makes it clear that there are instances when things are not said “when moved upon by the Holy Ghost.”
Commenting on this, Elder B. H. Roberts explained:
Is there anything in the Mormon doctrine that makes it necessary to believe [infallibility] of men, even of high officials in the Church? No, there is not. We know that they do not always speak under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit . . . When you come to think of human weaknesses and imperfections, and how difficult it is for men living under the effects of the Fall, and borne down with inherited tendencies also—when you think how extremely difficult it is for even the best of men to rise above these things and walk in the sunlight of. God’s inspiration, in the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, I think it is expecting too much to claim that every utterance is a divine inspiration.12
He further explained:
Sometimes, the servants of God stand on planes infinitely lower than the one here described. Sometimes they speak merely from their human knowledge, influenced by passions; influenced by the interests of men, and by anger, and vexation, and all those things that surge in upon the minds of even servants of God. When they so speak, then that is not Scripture, that is not the word of God, nor the power of God unto salvation; but when they speak as moved upon by the Holy Ghost, their voice then becomes the voice of God. So that men, even some of high station in the Church, sometimes speak from merely human wisdom; or from prejudice or passion; and when they do so, that is not likely to be the word of God . . . In any event it must be allowed by us that many unwise things were said in times past, even by prominent elders of the Church; things that were not in harmony with the doctrines of the Church; and that did not possess the value of Scripture, or anything like it; and it was not revelation.13
This also means that people cannot simply rely on who made a statement or the setting the statement was made in (like General Conference, for instance) as a way of being reassured that everything said was spoken “when moved upon by the Holy Ghost.” Since the key to the whole matter is the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, revelation is very individualized. The responsibility for discerning and determining that what was said was said “when moved upon by the Holy Ghost” is shared by the speaker and the hearer. That the working of the Holy Ghost in revealing truth is a two-way process that requires effort, not a passive one-way transmission from God, is evident from Doctrine and Covenants 50:21-22
Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth? Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.
Do Mormons Believe Their Prophets Are Infallible?
This question figures as a major assumption behind many concerns with and criticisms against Mormon prophets. Joseph Smith’s statement that “a prophet [is] a prophet only when . . . acting as such”14 is well-known, and supports perfectly how revelation is defined in the Doctrine and Covenants. It should be clear to anyone who takes the time to read the Doctrine and Covenants that Joseph Smith was a mortal man, with infirmities and weaknesses, as Mormons have always claimed him to be. There, Joseph Smith himself is chastised and upbraided remarkably often for his lack of diligence and heed. These passages also make it clear that Joseph made mistakes, needed chastisement, and was warned on occasion that he would lose his calling and place if he did not repent:
For although a man may have many revelations, and have power to do many mighty works, yet if he boasts in his own strength, and sets at naught the counsels of God, and follows after the dictates of his own will and carnal desires, he must fall and incur the vengeance of a just God upon him. Behold, you have been entrusted with these things, but how strict were your commandments; and remember also the promises which were made to you, if you did not transgress them. And behold, how oft you have transgressed the commandments and the laws of God . . . For, behold, you should not have feared man more than God . . . you should have been faithful; and he would have extended his arm and supported you . . . Behold, thou . . . Joseph . . . wast chosen to do the work of the Lord, but because of transgression, if thou art not aware thou wilt fall. (D&C 3:4-9)
And now I command you, my servant Joseph, to repent and walk more uprightly before me, and to yield to the persuasions of men no more; And that you be firm in keeping the commandments wherewith I have commanded you; and if you do this, behold I grant unto you eternal life, even if you should be slain. (D&C 5:21-22)
Admonish him in his faults, and also receive admonition of him. (D&C 6:19)15
And you also lost your gift . . . and your mind became darkened. (D&C 10:2)
After it was truly manifested unto this first elder that he had received a remission of his sins, he was entangled again in the vanities of the world; But after repenting, and humbling himself sincerely, through faith, God ministered unto him by an holy angel. (D&C 20:5-6)
Nevertheless, thou art not excusable in thy transgressions; nevertheless, go thy way and sin no more. (D&C 24:2)
And I have sent forth the fulness of my gospel by the hand of my servant Joseph; and in weakness have I blessed him; And I have given unto him the keys of the mystery of those things which have been sealed . . . if he abide in me, and if not, another will I plant in his stead. Wherefore, watch over him that his faith fail not, and it shall be given by the Comforter, the Holy Ghost, that knoweth all things. (D&C 35:17-19)
And the keys of the mysteries of the kingdom shall not be taken from my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., through the means I have appointed, while he liveth, inasmuch as he obeyeth mine ordinances. (D&C 64:5)
And now, verily I say unto Joseph Smith, Jun.—You have not kept the commandments, and must needs stand rebuked before the Lord; Your family must needs repent and forsake some things, and give more earnest heed unto your sayings, or be removed out of their place. (D&C 93:47-48)
The charge that Mormons revere Joseph Smith and his successors in the presidency of the Church in a blasphemous manner, or that they worship their prophets, is patently false, and usually known to be false to those who make this charge. President George Q. Cannon noted that the important thing with Mormon prophets is that they hold keys of authority, not that they are infallible, because they certainly aren’t:
When Joseph Smith lived upon the earth . . . he stood as God’s ambassador—not clothed with the attributes of God, for he was a mortal man; but he stood as the representative of God upon the earth, holding the keys of the kingdom of God upon the earth, with the power to bind on earth and it should be bound in heaven. He occupied that position when he lived, and on his departure another took his place upon the earth and stood in precisely the same capacity to us as a people that Joseph Smith did. That was Brigham Young. When he passed away another stepped forward and took the same position, and holds the same keys and exercises the same authority and stands precisely in the same position to us that the Prophet Joseph did, or that the Prophet Brigham did, when he lived upon the earth. Now, was not Joseph Smith a mortal man? Yes. A fallible man? Yes. Had he not weaknesses? Yes, he acknowledged them himself, and did not fail to put the revelations on record in this book [the Book of Doctrine and Covenants] wherein God reproved him. His weaknesses were not concealed from the people. He was willing that people should know that he was mortal, and had failings. And so with Brigham Young. Was not he a mortal man, a man who had weaknesses? He was not a God. He was not an immortal being. He was not infallible. No, he was fallible. And yet when he spoke by the power of God, it was the word of God to this people.16
Thus, the teachings of scripture and Mormon leaders have clearly and consistently emphasized that it is crucial for Church members to have their own spiritual confirmation, and not to “trust in the arm of flesh” in blindly placing their faith in fallible leaders. Charles Penrose, an apostle and member of the First Presidency, taught:
Our testimony does not depend upon Joseph Smith; it does not depend upon Brigham Young; it does not depend upon John Taylor, or upon the council of the Twelve Apostles, which is now the presiding quorum in the Church. I pin my faith to no man’s sleeve; I am a believer in the Scripture which says, “Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm.”17
None of this diminishes Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, or any of their successors in the presidency from the true position they should hold in the Church; rather, it serves to put them properly in perspective as God’s representatives on earth, and it actually strengthens their effectiveness in the real world. The Church clearly teaches that its members are to trust in Jesus Christ and not “the arm of flesh.” The Church does not teach that its prophets, past and present, are to be “worshiped,” or anything resembling this. Nor does it teach that its prophets are infallible or that they are somehow exempt from the ability to make mistakes that the rest of mankind enjoys.
Are Mormons Encouraged to Blindly Believe and Follow Leaders?
Critics commonly claim that Mormons are encouraged by their leaders to blindly follow counsel and not question or investigate practices, doctrines, or historical items that trouble or concern them. While active Church members naturally vigorously deny this charge, one need only point out the consistent counsel from Church leaders to refute this. Interestingly, Church leaders have consistently counseled members to strive for truth, even if adjusting their view of flawed long-held traditions becomes necessary:
I believe it is good to investigate and prove all principles that come before me. Prove all things, hold fast that which is good, and reject that which is evil, no matter what guise it may come in. I think if we, as “Mormons,” hold principles that cannot be sustained by the Scriptures and by good sound reason and philosophy, the quicker we part with them the better, no matter who believes in them or who does not. In every principle presented to us, our first inquiry should be, “Is it true?” “Does it emanate from God?” If He is its Author it can be sustained just as much as any other truth in natural philosophy; if false it should be opposed and exposed just as much as any other error. Hence upon all such matters we wish to go back to first principles.18
Church leaders do not encourage members to avoid learning about troubling issues; rather, they have counseled that these should be studiedfrom a position of faith and confidence. Critics try to portray valid warnings from Church readers that the “indiscriminate reading” of unfriendly commentaries on troubling issues, without a balanced approach and all the information, can be dangerous to people’s faith and confidence. George Q. Cannon argued that preparing people spiritually and intellectually to engage troubling issues and questions and approaching them from a position of faith and confidence is the best means of inoculating them against their ill effects, but he did not teach that they should be avoided altogether:
Teach the children not to accept that which they read in a book as true, because it is printed; but . . . teach them to weigh for themselves, to examine for themselves, and test for themselves the statements which may be made upon any and every subject that may be brought to their attention through the medium of books, whether scientific or otherwise. The danger in indiscriminate reading on the part of young people lies in this: their impressions are vivid, and if what they read be incorrect; if, in point of fact, what they read is based on unsound premises and be entirely wrong, but it is presented in an agreeable taking and specious manner, they are apt to accept it as being true. Now, as we have heard this morning, God has revealed certain principles which we know to be true . . . We should teach them to our children . . . and endeavor, by the help of God, to implant them in their hearts, so that they afterwards in their search for knowledge, of any kind, may be able to bring what they may read to this standard and test the same thereby. And if our children are taught thus to read, the danger of infidelity, the danger arising from superficial reading, and the imbibing of incorrect ideas, sometimes set forth in a scientific way will be, to a great extent, obviated . . . Let us endeavor to cultivate this disposition in our children, to investigate carefully, to weigh properly the statements which may be presented to them.19
The goal, President Cannon insisted, is for Church members to develop a firm enough confidence for themselves about what they are taught, independent of Church leaders, that they could “go to the stake” if necessary, “and have no doubts on the subject:”
Many think that the people called Latter-day Saints are a deluded, ignorant set, led by cunning priestly leaders, who exercise power over them because of their shrewdness and ability, and that the people are a blind herd led at the will of these shrewd deceivers. We know that this is not the case. We know that the most frequent appeals that have been made to the Latter-day Saints have been to investigate for themselves and to know for themselves . . . every man and woman, boy and girl, ought to live so that they will have this testimony within them, that they may know concerning the doctrine and the counsel that is given; and when President Young speaks, we may know for ourselves whether it is from God or not, and when any other teacher among us speaks, we may know whether the doctrine he advances is from God or not; and so that, if necessary, we could go to the stake, and have no doubts on the subject.20
How Mormons Sometimes Unwittingly Provide Fodder for Critics
Mormons, too, can unwittingly buy into erroneous expectations and assumptions when they don’t recognize the implications of them. John Taylor, in particular, consistently addressed this problem in the Church, and recommended that Church members examine their assumptions and square them with the truth, as needed:
I think sometimes that we as a people are a good deal sectarian in our feelings, and it is necessary for us occasionally to look at the pit from whence we were dug, and the rock from whence we were hewn.21
President Taylor warned that erroneous expectations and assumptions among Church members holds back God and the prophets because God won’t force people to accept anything.
When Joseph Smith had anything from God to communicate to the children of men or to the Church, what was it he had to fight against all the day long? It was the prejudices of the people; and, in many instances, he could not and dared not reveal the word of God to the people, for fear they would rise up and reject it.22
This means that Church members will have to jettison false traditions and understandings from time to time, as they learn and grow in the gospel and as a people:
We get a faint glimpse, as it were, of certain truths, mixed up with many errors which we have previously entertained; but it is very difficult for us to understand correct principles; and if we would comprehend them at all, it must be by a life of devotion to God, and by complying with His laws.23
Henry Naisbitt, an elder in the Church whose sermons appear in Journal of Discourses, provides an intriguing example that flies in the face of the basic assumption that Mormons must accept every speculation or opinion of revered Church leaders, no matter how quaint or silly they seem to us now. Naisbitt discussed something he says Joseph Smith “is said” to have taught, but makes clear that, because it “may be mythical in its character,” it would be unwise to “assum[e] or bas[e] anything upon” it.
The Scriptures give an account simply of the woman Eve; declaring that this name was given her of Adam, because she was “the mother of all living;” but outside of biblical record there has been handed down from time immemorial the idea that Adam had two wives, the narrators go so far, or rather so near perfecting the tradition so as to give their names, Lilith being said to be the name of one as Eve was the name of the other, and while it may be difficult to harmonize all the Rabbinical and Talmudic versions of this matter, it is said that Joseph Smith the Prophet taught that Adam had two wives. Without however, assuming or basing anything upon this theory, or upon this tradition—which may be mythical in its character—it is nevertheless, very evident that marriage was ordained of God.24
Elder Naisbitt displays here a total lack of the hand-wringing critics insist Mormons should be doing upon finding that Joseph Smith believed some things that many today would find questionable or even nonsensical. Instead, he seems quite comfortable offering what Joseph may have said about Lilith and Eve for what it is worth, while not fretting about its ramifications for a different and more modern audience. Elder Naisbitt, at least, allows Joseph Smith the right to have opinions and views independent of his prophetic calling, and without damaging his faith in Joseph as a prophet.
Can Prophets Potentially Lead Astray?
If prophets can make mistakes and be wrong, how can people be sure that they aren’t wrong, even when they say they’re speaking for God? This is the single biggest issue that many non-Mormons have with Mormon prophets. If they aren’t infallible, as Mormons insist, then how can we ever be sure of anything?
And what about statements from Mormon prophets that God wouldn’t let them lead the Church astray? If prophets can be wrong and be mistaken, how can these statements be true? Hasn’t God said that He would remove prophets who led His people astray?
Canonized Mormon scripture (the Standard Works) contains a statement stating that God would remove leaders who “attempt to lead astray.” This is found in the excerpts from three talks Wilford Woodruff made after issuing the Manifesto, which discontinued the practice of plural marriage in the Church.
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.25
Church leaders have expressed thoughts similar to this:
If I were to reject [the privileges and blessings of his calling as President] and take a course to deprive myself of the spirit of revelation . . . I would be taken forthwith from this world, I would not remain here at all to darken the minds of, or to lead astray, any of the members of the kingdom of God. According to the revelations that I and others of my brethren and sisters have received . . . If I observe my duty, I shall have the privilege of living and enjoying the society of my brethren and sisters, and of instructing them; but let me neglect this and I shall be removed out of my place forthwith.26
God will not raise up another prophet and another people to do the work that we have been appointed to do . . . There is no question in my mind of [leaders] ever proving themselves unfaithful, as a body; for if any of them were to become unworthy in His sight, He would remove them out of their place and call others from the ranks to fill their positions. And thus His Priesthood will ever be found to be composed of the right men for the place, of men whose backs will be fitted for the burden, men through whom He can work and regulate the affairs of His Church according to the counsels of His own will. And the moment that individuals look to any other source, that moment they throw themselves open to the seductive influences of Satan . . . they lose sight of the true order through which the blessings of the Priesthood are to be enjoyed . . . and are on dangerous ground . . . So it was with President Brigham Young, he held it on condition of his faithfulness. If any man in that position should become unfaithful, God would remove him out of his place. I testify in the name of Israel’s God that He will not suffer the head of the Church . . . 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.27
However, while God certainly could physically remove a wayward leader by divine means, this is a theoretical, extreme contingency. Commenting on this, Elder B. H. Roberts said:
I know that some men . . . have advanced extravagant ideas . . . that the people must go on performing their daily duties without question, and then if the President should do wrong, God would look after him. Such teachings have now and then been heard; but I call your attention to the fact . . . that the Lord has provided means by which the Church can correct every man within it, and can dismiss the unworthy from power. That right is resident in the Church of Christ; and the Church don’t (sic) have to wait till God kills off unworthy servants before a wrong can be righted.28
There is a much more powerful safeguard against the possibility that a prominent man could lead the Lord’s Church astray. Inherent within the Church and the way it is organized are “principles of native strength that will enable it to weather every storm:”29 the fact that the Church is comprised of independent intelligences with freedom of choice and thought and a divine commandment to receive confirming revelation for themselves.30 With the emphasis on seeking revelation for oneself and discerning whether what one is taught is from God or from man, a wayward leader could never lead a significant enough number of people astray to harm the work. Those who follow the counsel to obtain their own spiritual confirmations of things, even what the prophets and apostles tell them, will not be able to be led astray, because they seek for their own confirming revelation. Instead of God needing to “kill off” unworthy servants, they would not be able to have an effect on an entire people who are commanded to seek for confirmation and light.
Given this, members of the Church who are confronted with truly unworthy leaders are counseled, not to try to “steady the ark” and contend with them while the Church deals with them, but rather, to “remove” them by faith:
I think when we have learned that lesson, we will be willing to take the counsel of those who are set to direct us, the officers who are over us; and if they are not just, true, holy, upright and men of God in every respect, just have faith enough so that the Lord Almighty will remove them out of the way, and do not undertake to remove them yourselves. This is the way we should live. There should be faith enough in the midst of this people that if your humble servants were to attempt to guide them in the ways of error, false doctrine, wickedness or corruption of any kind, he would be stopped in his career in twenty-four hours so that he would not be able to speak to them, and if he were not laid in the grave, he would have no power nor influence whatever. There ought to faith enough in a Ward, if the Bishop is wicked, if he is doing wrong and serving himself and the enemy instead of the Lord and his kingdom, to stop him in his career, so that the Lord would remove him out of the way. This has been the case in some few instances, and it ought to be every time and in every place.31
Interesting in this respect is the very real possibility that falsehood can potentially come out of the mouths of fallible, mortal leaders, no matter how righteous or well-intentioned they are. Church members are counseled to not receive error if it is taught by their leaders, which presupposes that such a thing can and has happened.
I do hope and pray my brethren and sisters to pay attention, that the Spirit of the Lord may be in your hearts, that you may see and understand things as they are. I would say, still further, if there be error advanced here, do not receive it, pass it by, and live so that you will know truth from error, light from darkness, the things that are of God from those not of God; and if an error should drop from the lips of one of our Elders, do not receive, believe, or practice it. Truth is what we want, and we ought to live so that we can understand and know it for ourselves. This is our privilege and duty; and we request of the Latter-day Saints, and of all people, to live so that they may know and understand the things of God, and receive and embrace them in their faith, and practice them in their lives.32
Church leaders have thus profoundly outlined an inherent and built-in defense against errant leaders leading the Church astray: if the members strive to follow the counsel to obtain personal confirmatory revelation, and enjoy the Spirit of the Lord, any falsehoods taught will “die on the vine” and not take root among the people. This is because the Church “is a living entity . . . composed of living entities,” all with freedom and independence of thought, ability to discern, and a mandate from God to know things for themselves:
How do you know that your humble servant is really, honestly, guiding and counseling you aright, and directing the affairs of the kingdom aright? . . . How do you know but I am teaching false doctrine? How do you know that I am not counseling you wrong? How do you know but I will lead you to destruction? . . . Live so that you can discern between the truth and error, between light and darkness, between the things of God and those not of God, for by the revelations of the Lord, and these alone, can you and I understand the things of God . . . But to return to my question to the Saints, “How are you going to know about the will and commands of heaven?” By the Spirit of revelation; that is the only way you can know. How do I know but what I am doing wrong? How do I know but what we will take a course for our utter ruin?. . . But how do you know that I may not yet do wrong? How do you know but I will bring in false doctrine and teach the people lies that they may be damned? . . . If I were to preach false doctrine here, it would not be an hour after the people got out, before it would begin to fly from one to another, and they would remark, “I do not quite like that! It does not look exactly right! What did Brother Brigham mean? That did not sound quite right, it was not exactly the thing!” All these observations would be made by the people, yes, even by the sisters. It would not sit well on the stomach, that is, on the spiritual stomach . . . It would not sit well on the mind . . . and I will defy any man to preach false doctrine without being detected; and we need not go to the Elders of Israel, the children who have been born in these mountains possess enough of the Spirit to detect it.33
Church leaders are obviously keenly aware of the responsibility they carry and the very real possibility, approximating certainty, that their mortality and fallibility will introduce ideas and views that are not of God. President George Q. Cannon emphasized the need for Church members to diligently detect uninspired items in their counsel and to cling to the good and discard the bad:
I hope what I have said may be blessed to your profit. If I have said any unwise thing, forget it. If I have said any improper thing, I hope it will pass from your minds, and that which is good, cling to you.34
The Sacred Duty of Church Members Concerning Revelation
George Q. Cannon described the duty of individual Church members to know for themselves and to receive spiritual confirmation of what they are taught as “the design of the Lord.” This, he explains, is because God is the only reliable source for truth, and His prophets “may disappoint us sometimes.” He emphasizes that the opposite of blindly believing or following is “understandingly” believing and obeying:
It is the design of the Lord to develop within every man and woman the principle of knowledge, that all may know for themselves. He has poured out His holy spirit upon all of us, and not upon President Young nor upon bro. Joseph alone. The Lord designs that the principle of knowledge shall be developed in every heart, that all may stand before Him . . . doing understandingly what He requires of them, not depending upon nor being blindly led by their priests or leaders, as is the universal custom, and one of the most fruitful sources of evil to the people on the face of the earth. God intends to break down this order of things, and to develop in the bosom of every human being who will be obedient to the gospel and the principles of truth and righteousness, that knowledge which will enable them to perform understandingly all the labors and duties he requires of them . . . We must all learn to depend upon God and upon Him alone. Why, the very man upon whom we think we can rely with unbounded confidence, and trust with all we possess, may disappoint us sometimes, but trust in God and He never fails.35
Brigham Young counseled the Saints “not [to] live another twenty-four hours without the Spirit of revelation” so that they would be able to distinguish between divine and mortal revelation from Church leaders:
I told the people in Nauvoo . . . that if they were not Saints at that critical juncture, they ought to repent of their sins, and get the Holy Ghost, and not live another twenty-four hours without the Spirit of revelation within themselves, for who knows but what you are the elect; and you know that false prophets were to arise in the last days, and, if possible, deceive the very elect, and that many false shepherds would come and pretend to be the true shepherds. Now, be sure to get the spirit of revelation, so that you can tell when you hear the true Shepherd’s voice, and know him from a false one; for if you are the elect, it would be a great pity to have you led astray to destruction.36
Elsewhere, Young cautioned that the people might place an inordinate amount of blind trust in the First Presidency, and he taught that individuals would have to have a witness for themselves independent of presiding authorities:
The First Presidency have of right a great influence over this people; and if we should get out of the way and lead this people to destruction, what a pity it would be! How can you know whether we lead you correctly or not? Can you know by any other power than that of the Holy Ghost? I have uniformly exhorted the people to obtain this living witness each for themselves; then no man on earth can lead them astray.37
In response to the common allegation (even back then) that Mormons are a blind herd who ignorantly and unthinkingly follow their leaders, Brigham Young emphasized that this would be dangerous and undesirable for Church members and would “thwart the purposes of God in their salvation.” He also taught that it would “weaken that influence they could give to their leaders” if members chose to blindly and unquestioningly believe and follow them:
I will say a few words in regard to your belief in being led, guided, and directed by one man . . . Thousands of times my soul has been lifted to God the Father . . . that we may be led by the man Jesus Christ, through Joseph Smith the Prophet. You may inquire how we are to know that we are so led. I refer you to the exhortation you have heard so frequently from me. Do not be deceived, any of you; if you are deceived, it is because you deceive yourselves. You may know whether you are led right or wrong, as well as you know the way home . . . What a pity it would be if we were led by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of 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 led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-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 to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually . . . Let all persons be fervent in prayer, until they know the things of God for themselves and become certain that they are walking in the path that leads to everlasting life.38
While continuing to emphasize the importance of independent spiritual witnesses for Church members, Brigham Young notes that it would be better if the members gave more heed to their leaders than they do. He challenged the Saints to “watch Brother Brigham, and see if he counsels you wrong:”
What is the cry against us? “Brigham Young has too much influence! All the people hearken to Brigham Young! All these poor deluded Latter-day Saints take his counsel!” I wish it was so. If this were the fact you would see Zion prosper upon the hills and upon the plains, in the valleys and in the kanyons, and upon the mountains. Go to with your might, seek unto the Lord your God until you have the revelations of the Lord Jesus Christ upon you, until your minds are open, and the visions of heaven are plain to you. Then follow the dictations of the spirit, and watch Brother Brigham, and see if he counsels you wrong.39
Brigham Young consistently warned the Saints that, because of mortality and the frailties of man, the possibility always exists that even high-ranking Church leaders could potentially lead astray; hence the importance of personal confirming revelation for the individual:
I have said to the Latter-day Saints, many and many a time, and I say to them now, live your religion, that the Spirit of God may be within you like a well of water springing up to everlasting life. Suppose I were to give way to the spirit of the enemy and leave the spirit of the Gospel, then, if you were not prepared to judge between the voice of the Good Shepherd and the voice of the stranger, I could lead you to ruin. Be prepared that you may know the voice when it comes through the servants of God, then you can declare for yourselves. “This is the word of the Lord.” My caution and counsel to the Latter-day Saints, and to all the inhabitants of the earth is—”Live so that you will know truth from error.40
In the same vein, Brigham Young taught:
I say to you . . . brethren and sisters, be faithful, live so that the Spirit of the Lord will abide within you, then you can judge for yourselves. I have often said to the Latter-day Saints—”Live so that you will know whether I teach you truth or not.” Suppose you are careless and unconcerned, and give way to the spirit of the world, and I am led, likewise, to preach the things of this world and to accept things that are not of God, how easy it would be for me to lead you astray! But I say to you, live so that you will know for yourselves whether I tell the truth or not.41
It is your privilege and duty to live so that you know when the word of the Lord is spoken to you and when the mind of the Lord is revealed to you. I say it is your duty to live so as to know and understand all these things. Suppose I were to teach you a false doctrine, how are you to know it if you do not possess the Spirit of God?42
The Parameters of Authoritative and Binding Revelation
President John Taylor, in consistent keeping with the thread of statements and clarifications discussed here, specified exactly when and how even members of the First Presidency may be regarded as meeting the high standard of speaking for God:
It requires the Presidency of the Church to seek after God in all of their administrations . . . Now we ought not to allow our feeling to have any place in these matters. No man has a right to use his priesthood to carry on his own peculiar ideas, or to set himself up as a standard, with the exception of the First Presidency, and they have no right to do it unless God be with them, and sustain them, and they are upheld by the people. (emphasis mine)43
Note that the role of being “set . . . up as a standard” and “using . . . priesthood to carry on [one's] own . . . ideas” is limited to the First Presidency. But this applies even to the First Presidency only when three conditions are met:
1) God is with them.
2) God sustains them.
3) They are upheld by the people.
This implies, of course, that there are times when God is not with them and doesn’t sustain them, which is not as shocking as it sounds, because it is certainly true of the rest of humanity. To argue otherwise would be to apply the assumption that God exempts prophets from the same trials that He allows the rest of his children to experience, that they have an “always on” high-speed connection to God. As mortal men with weaknesses, infirmities, the trials of mortality, etc., our prophets and apostles are also required to “work out [their] salvation with fear and trembling;” they are not exempt from the same challenges as we have in properly distinguishing between their own thoughts and inspiration through the Spirit. That is why the Brethren have consistently emphasized the responsibility and importance of members proving and weighing what they are taught, even by authorized Church authorities.
Loyalty and Trust of Church Leaders Is Expected
Many people, “not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God,” wonder how God could possibly hold a Church together and perform His work using fallible, imperfect people who have their own will and agency without imposing His will on them. To them, the understanding of how revelation works laid out in scripture and explained by his prophets and apostles would result in chaos and anarchy. Numberless people would go about, convinced that they had received spiritual confirmation, while others would knowingly and manipulatively use the principle of personal revelation to justify their own course. To these people, God would have to infallibly ramrod revelation through in perfect form to avoid the unavoidable “tainting” of it in the transmission, understanding, and articulation of it, as well as to ensure that designing people couldn’t use the concept of revelation as a justification or rationalization for “doing their own thing.”
Another question, and one that critics would likely emphasize once the weaknesses of their expectations and assumptions about prophecy and revelation is pointed out, is: What should or would members of the Church do if they received revelation that the presiding authorities of the Church are in error, or that the Church was drifting off course? How would God keep an epidemic of stubborn ark-steadying by misguided members from tearing the Church apart? After all, these members would be doing their best in good faith to deal with the revelation they believed they had received, and even though they could be wrong, don’t they need to be true to the revelation they believe they have received? In the absence of absolute certainty, what else can one do?
Scripture tells us that “no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jun.” (D&C 26:2). This applies, of course, to authorized successors in the presidency as well. Therefore, any revelations a person may receive that go beyond one’s stewardship or rightful sphere can immediately be detected as not being of God, if one is humble enough to accept this fundamental principle and has a testimony of it.
Anti-Mormonism’s purpose and intent is to undermine confidence and faith in the Restoration and the Restored Gospel. As such, its chief tactic is to barrage the ignorant with as much shocking and surprising-sounding material as possible, in order to evoke emotions of outrage, frustration, fear, doubt, and betrayal against the Church and its leaders. When someone is faced with this reaction to anti-Mormon literature or simply has concerns with things in the Church, God has counseled us through His scriptures to seek revelation from Him. When Nephi’s brothers had trouble understanding and disputed about the meaning of their father’s inspired dream, Nephi asked them, “Have ye inquired of the Lord?” (1 Nephi 15:8). This is the principal question in times of concern and doubt, and people who lose their faith in the Church or its leaders fail to inquire sincerely of Him, believing that He will answer them, and to discern His answer. Many claim that they did ask God, and insist that they desperately wanted not to believe the things that shook their faith, but when they are pinned down, at heart their attitude and belief is very similar to that of Laman and Lemuel:
“We have not, for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.” (1 Nephi 15:9)
Brigham Young related his initial reaction to “The Vision,” or section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants (which deals with the degrees and kingdoms of glory in the hereafter). This serves as excellent counsel for those who become troubled or concerned with things relating to the Church:
In the days of Joseph, when the revelation came to him and Sidney Rigdon, while translating that portion of the New Testament contained in the 29th verse of the third chapter of John in reference to the different degrees of glory, I was not prepared to say that I believe it, and I had to wait. What did I do? I handed this over to the Lord in my feelings, and said I, “I will wait until the Spirit of God manifests to me, for or against.” I did not judge the matter, I did not argue against it, not in the least. I never argued the least against anything Joseph proposed, but if I could not see or understand it, I handed it over to the Lord. This is my counsel to you, my brethren and sisters.44
There are faithful and solid answers to difficult questions about the Church, but sometimes these concerns need to be “put on the shelf,” pending confirmation and further light and knowledge, as President Young explained. Assuming that something is true, as Hugh Nibley pointed out, is actually the only fair and reliable way to truly investigate anything and get to the bottom of it, even if one wishes to prove it wrong. While this seems paradoxical, one must assume that something is true or valid as a starting point if one truly wants to subject it to an objective investigation. Nibley applied forgery expert Friedrich Blass’s principles for detecting forgeries to investigating the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. His analysis of the assumptions that unfriendly critics or doubters begin with in investigating it is applicable to the assumptions unfriendly critics or doubters begin with in “objectively investigating” the Church:
One can hear the screams of protest: “How unscientific! How naive! How hopelessly biased!” . . . It is equally biased to accept or reject [the Church] at first glance, but still one must assume at the outset that it is either spurious or genuine if one is to make any progress . . . An open mind is not a mind devoid of opinions, but one that is willing to change opinions in the face of new evidence. If we must assume something about the authenticity of the [Church] at the outset, why not assume that it is false, as its critics regularly do? Because, says Friedrich Blass, once you assume that [it] is a fake, no arguments and no evidence to the end of time can ever vindicate it, even if it is absolutely genuine. Why is that? Because “there can be no such thing as an absolutely positive proof.”45 The only possible certainty lies in the negative; for example, if we know for sure that a crime has been committed by a woman, the negative fact that a suspect is not a woman completely exonerates him; but on the other hand the fact that one is a woman proves neither guilt nor innocence. Thus, while we can never prove absolutely that the [Church] is what it claims to be, we are justified at the outset in assuming that it is what it claims to be. If one assumes that it is true, its features at least become testable.46
This principle forms the basis and rationale for the American legal doctrine of “innocent until proven guilty,” and logically applies to doubts or concerns people might have about Church doctrine, history, practices, etc. If one truly wants to find the truth about their concerns, they must begin by assuming that what they seek an answer for is true, or they aren’t really allowing it to be truly tested and investigated.47
The emphasis on receiving confirming revelation should not, however, be seen as an indication that we are to be “command[ed] in all things” (D&C 58:26), or that we should seek revelation for everything before taking action. Nor is it an invitation to question the authority of God’s prophets and apostles, who have been very clear that our first reaction and impulse, pending revelation if we haven’t received it, should be loyalty and “obeying with exactness.”
For example, we will say, here is a man on the right or the left, who declares that he cannot perform this or that duty unless he receives a witness to himself, direct from the Lord, that He requires the duty at his hands. Upon what principle has he the right to question any requirement made by the constituted authority of God on the earth? Is he entitled to any such right? He is not. He is not entitled to the right of bringing up any argument in his own mind, as to the right or wrong of it, or to in any way remonstrate against any requirement the Lord has made of him through His servants. He is under obligation to obey, whether the Spirit of the Lord gives him a manifestation or not . . . Our beloved brother did not speak as he meant. He will be understood to mean simply this: If a requirement is made of this people, it is their privilege to have a testimony that it is of God.48
Brigham Young also taught that perceived problems with leaders often expose underlying problems in those who struggle with the leaders. For all of the discussion about how God might remove wayward leaders, Young explains how righteous members of the Church, through their faith and diligence, would render any potential harm from errant leaders harmless to the Church and to them:
I do not hesitate in saying that, if the people will concentrate their faith and works to accomplish the great object of their existence, their troubles, sorrows, anxieties, difficulties, contentions, animosities, and strife would be at end. This idea I wish to apply more particularly to those who are called to act in the capacity of Presidents, Bishops, Counsellors, High Counsellors, and to every man holding office in this Church; but I also wish it to apply to every member, both male and female. I will say to my brethren and sisters, Were your faith concentrated upon the proper object, your confidence unshaken, your lives pure and holy, every one fulfilling the duties 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 lead you to destruction as for a feather to remain unconsumed in the midst of intense heat . . . If wives have wicked and unfaithful husbands, if children have wicked and unfaithful parents, if Wards have unfaithful Bishops, and if there are Presidents who are not capable of magnifying their Priesthood and calling, let wives, children, and people seek unto the Lord to be filled with that power of the Holy Ghost that will remove those unfaithful persons to other quarters. Let them remove them by the power of faith in such a way as not in the least to infringe upon the rights of a single person, giving them no just ground for complaint.49
Ezra T. Benson, an apostle, described a time in the Church when he witnessed members who feared that Church leaders were leading them astray. He emphasized that one can gain the firm personal assurance that Church leaders are leading the people according to God’s will:
In the days of Nauvoo there were fears—there was death. The people were afraid this thing and the other would be wrong—that brother Joseph would get wrong—that we should have to submit to principles and doctrines contrary to the doctrines of Jesus Christ, &c. From the experience we have already had in the kingdom of God, has any person a right now to such fears or such a thought for a moment? No. He knows that the principles that have been taught by the Prophet Joseph, brothers Brigham, Heber, and Willard, and by every good man in this Church, are correct principles; and that these men have been borne off triumphantly over every trial and difficulty they have been called to pass through. The Elders, therefore, can go to the nations with their consciences as clear as drifting snow, and with the satisfaction that all is right in Zion, and that we are lead by the best men upon the face of this earth.50
The correct way to deal with doubts or concerns with the Church, especially for Church members, is to “hand them over to the Lord,” to “put them on the shelf,” while one strives for and seeks further light and knowledge and peace through revelation. An automatic, “knee-jerk” tendency to assume the worst and lean to the negative, critical position on Church issues may indicate that a person, deep-down and no matter what they claim, actually wants the Church and its truth claims not to be true.
“Some Are of God, Some Are of Men . . .”
A favorite “false prophecy” of critics in particular provides a perfect background for examining the assumptions and mindset that are behind many claims critical of prophecy and revelation in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Several options for printing the Book of Mormon had been explored before deciding to publish it through the E. B Grandin printing establishment in Palmyra. These lesser-known options included future New York politician Thurlow Weed (who turned down the offer) and Rochester printer Elihu Marshall (who was willing, but whom it was ultimately decided not to publish through). While the question of whether Martin Harris would be able to provide the necessary security to print the Book of Mormon was still unresolved, Joseph’s brother Hyrum suggested that they “might go to Toronto, Canada, and sell the copyright of the book . . . that is, sell the right to publish the book in the Canadian provinces, not dispose of the copyright absolutely.” Joseph inquired of the Lord and “received a revelation that some of the brethren should go to Toronto, Canada, and they would sell the copyright.”
Accordingly, Oliver Cowdery and Hiram Page . . . went to Canada to sell the copyright, but failed. David Whitmer represents that this failure threw the little group of believers into great trouble, and they went to the Prophet and asked him to account for the failure. The Prophet frankly acknowledged his inability to understand the cause of the failure, and inquired of the Lord. He received for an answer . . . this: “Some revelations are of God; some revelations are of man; and some revelations are of the devil.”51
Critics of the Church use this incident and other similar ones in an effort to undermine the confidence and faith of those who believe Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God. They argue that if even a prophet might not be able to distinguish between true and false revelations, the value or usefulness of revelation as a means of showing us God’s will would always be hopelessly questionable. Those who are troubled by the lesson learned through the “Canadian copyright incident” (that even real prophets must distinguish between revelations of God, revelations of the devil, and revelations of the self; that even real prophets can be mistaken in making this distinction; that the manner of distinguishing between true and false revelations, even for prophets, is not an automatic, mechanical process) operate under the underlying assumption that true prophets of God receive revelation in a manner similar to how a fax machine receives a transmission over a phone line. This assumption, whether conscious or subconscious, also demands that a prophet be a mere vessel or conduit for divine communication, with pure revelation being transmitted perfectly through the prophet, but with the prophet’s mortality and infirmities (assumptions, background, experience, biases, prejudices, wishes, tendencies, etc.) playing no role in the reception and articulation of the revelation.
As both Joseph Smith’s explanation for the failure of the Toronto revelation and his statement that “a prophet is a prophet only when . . . acting as such” attest, true prophets can be wrong at times and yet still be true prophets, since they are only prophets when they are speaking with the authority of the Holy Ghost. There are therefore times when prophets speak as men, and not prophets, and the great responsibility to determine when they speak as prophets rests upon those who hear them. Authorized prophets and apostles have uniformly and consistently exhorted Church members to seek and strive for confirming revelation from God regarding what Church leaders teach them as security against the fallibility and mortality of Church leaders. In expounding on this topic, Church leaders are clear that even Church leaders could potentially lead people astray, and they explained how God would preserve and protect the Church from this possibility. The bottom line is that, despite what some individual Mormons may think, Church leaders have consistently rejected the assumption that true prophets are inerrant, infallible, and always completely, absolutely reliable, thus absolving individuals from the responsibility of proving their words.
The Lesson of the “Toronto Incident”
George Q. Cannon, apostle and counselor in the First Presidency, addressed the importance of individuals learning to distinguish between real revelations and their own thoughts and inclinations, which is a real concern and a valid complaint critics make in response to the threat of modern-day revelation. As President Cannon states, :
There is one thing that we have all got to be very careful about, and that is this: I have seen Elders in my experience that when they got their own spirit moved very much they imagined that it was the Spirit of God, and it was difficult in some instances to tell the difference between the suggestions of their own spirit and the voice of the spirit of God. This is a gift of itself, to be able to distinguish that which suggests itself to our own hearts and that which comes from God. And we are misled sometimes by our own feeling, because of our inability to distinguish between the voice of the Spirit of God and the suggestions of our own spirit.52
The difficulty is to get men and women to comprehend the truth, to recognize it, to understand it when they hear it, to be able to separate the truth from error, for the reason that in the human mind there are certain conceptions of truth. We entertain certain ideas as to what the truth should be, how it should come to us and also as to who its teachers should be, the kind of men they should be. And this is the difficulty that is all the time in the way of preaching the Gospel.53
As Joseph Smith taught in the statements discussed above, the notion that prophets are exempt from the challenges of mortality is mistaken. They, too, are prone to the weaknesses of mortality and must learn to distinguish between revelations from God and the self. They, too, can be wrong while feeling they are right, even respecting revelation.
Wilford Woodruff related an interesting example of an instance where he knew through revelation that an adamantly-held view of Brigham Young was wrong. President Young, although having seen the Salt Lake Temple in vision,54 insisted that the temple would be made of adobe instead of stone or “bastard marble” [granite]55 Elder Woodruff later noted that he knew by revelation that the temple would be made of the granite that it later was made out of:
When in the western country, many years ago, before we came to the Rocky Mountains, I had a dream. I dreamed of being in these mountains, and of seeing a large fine looking temple erected in one of these valleys which was built of cut granite stone, I saw that temple dedicated, and I attended the dedicatory services, and I saw a good many men that are living to-day in the midst of this people . . . When the foundation of that temple was laid I thought of my dream and a great many times since. And whenever President Young held a council of the brethren of the Twelve and talked of building the temple of adobe or brick, which was done I would say to myself, “No, you will never do it;” because I had seen it in my dream built of some other material. I mention these things to show you that things are manifested to the Latter-day Saints sometimes which we do not know anything about, only as they are given by the Spirit of God.56
This shows that in this instance, despite President Young’s insistence to the contrary, Wilford Woodruff knew through personal revelation that Young was wrong about what the temple would be made of. Instead of widely publicizing his knowledge, which critics would insist he was duty-bound to do, Woodruff is a good example of the proper course to follow if the Spirit shows an individual that a leader is not correct in something. Like Mary, he “kept all these things, and pondered them in [his] heart” (Luke 2:19).
The Value of How Revelation Really Works
The key doctrines and principles relating to prophecy and revelation outlined here emphasize the great advantage that Mormonism has over its rivals within Christianity. While critics insist that this is nothing more than self-delusion, auto-suggestion, wishful thinking, talking oneself into answers one wants to receive, etc. mistaken as revelation from God, putting this to a personal, objective test burns through all interference. Everybody has experienced self-delusion, auto-suggestion, wishful thinking, etc., and revelation from God is noticeably different from any of these. Critics can only conceive of revelation as a neat, clean, efficient, and foolproof automatic process, neither working through nor affected by man. They can’t see the immense capacity to grow and learn that exists when people have to struggle and learn through mistakes in seeking, receiving, interpreting, and sharing revelation. This aspect, the value for the spiritual growth and development of man in making revelatory mistakes, is a special inheritance for mankind that will only be realized and understood by those who pay the price to learn through experience.
In analyzing the “Toronto incident” (already briefly discussed above), B. H. Roberts gave an insightful explanation of the value of this “failed prophecy:”
The question presented by this state of facts is: May this Toronto incident and the Prophet’s explanation be accepted and faith still be maintained in him as an inspired man, a Prophet of God? I answer unhesitatingly in the affirmative. The revelation respecting the Toronto journey was not of God, surely; else it would not have failed; but the Prophet, overwrought in his deep anxiety for the progress of the work, saw reflected in the “Seer Stone” his own thought, or that suggested to him by his brother Hyrum, rather than the thought of God . . . Then there must be taken into account the probable purpose of God in permitting the Toronto misadventure, the lesson he would teach through it. How important for the Prophet’s disciples to know that not every voice heard by the spirit of man is the voice of God; that not every impression made upon the mind is an impression from a divine source. There are other influences in this God’s world than divine influences. There are men-originated influences, and even satanic influences, as well as divine influences. It was important that these disciples be made aware of these facts, that they may not stumble in matters of grave concerns. How impressive the object lesson in this Toronto journey incident! The matter of the journey itself, and its object, were of small importance, but the lesson that came out of the experience was of great moment. It concerned the Prophet as well as his followers to learn that lesson. It is to the Prophet’s credit that he submitted the matter to God for the solution. It is doubly to his credit that he boldly gave the answer received to his disciples, though it involved humiliation to him. But one will say, what becomes of certainty even in matters of revelation and divine inspiration if such views as these are to obtain? . . . What mere automatons men would become if they found truth machine-made, of cast-iron stiffness, and limited, that is to say, finite, instead of being as we now find it, infinite and elusive, and attainable only by the exertion of every power known to mind and heart of man, with constant alertness to ward off deception and mistake!57
Following a similar line of thought, President Spencer W. Kimball explained the value of trials, disappointment, and even failure in the spiritual development of man:
Should all prayers be immediately answered according to our selfish desires and our limited understanding, then there would be little or no suffering, sorrow, disappointment, or even death, and if these were not, there would also be no joy, success, resurrection, nor eternal life and godhood . . . Being human, we would expel from our lives physical pain and mental anguish and assure ourselves of continual ease and comfort, but if we were to close the doors upon sorrow and distress, we might be excluding our greatest friends and benefactors. Suffering can make saints of people as they learn patience, long-suffering, and self-mastery. The sufferings of our Savior were part of his education.58
The absolute certainty we mortals demand and crave (infallibility) would not really be a good thing, it would hinder our eternal progression and our reason for entering mortality:
As to the matter of attaining certainty in human affairs, that is not to be expected. Is it indeed desirable? “Know ye not that we walk by faith and not by sight?” is the language of Paul to the Saints in his day. By which token I infer that we are placed in this earth-probation to pass through just such experiences as those to which we seem born heirs. Is it not in part the meaning of life that we are here under just such-conditions as prevail in order that we may learn the value of better things? Is not this very doubt of ours concerning the finality of things—finality which ever seems to elude our grasp—-the means of our education?59
Some can’t conceive of the process of revelation requiring effort, disappointment, and uncertainty, even to the point of failure, but there is tremendous value in the struggle to learn, to know, and to feel that pays dividends later to those who pay the price to experience this. God does not give revelation on demand, and even withholds it from worthy and needy people in order for them to grow from the experience. This keeps man keenly aware that God is God, and man is man, and it helps man to recognize when revelation does come. But, this is only the case because revelation is not granted “on demand,” at our behest.
Brigham Young’s profound observation, quoted above, that if the Latter-day Saints “settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting . . . their leaders with a reckless confidence” it “would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders” is very meaningful to me personally. There is great value and wisdom in making His children struggle to receive revelation and to discern between revelation from God and their own thoughts and inclinations, because those who learn this are stronger and more discerning by virtue of their struggle. This is even true when we “fail,” when God does not give us revelation, even when we desperately need it and are worthy of it. On my mission, I interviewed a candidate who was worthy to be baptized, but who had a lot of animosity towards the members of his branch (which animosity was, in turn, also felt towards him by the members of the branch). In the interview, we discussed this problem, and he was adamant that he wanted to be baptized, but in a ward far away from his city so nobody from the branch would attend. I told him that this is a huge problem and didn’t bode well for his continued activity in the Church. I told him I would have to consult with the mission president. My mission president told me that he wouldn’t make the decision for me and that I would have to ask God what I should do. I fasted and prayed for guidance and received no answer. I continued fasting and praying through the course of a week, and asked my mission president again for guidance. Again, he told me that I would have to arrive at the decision myself, between me and the Lord.
I learned what it meant to wrestle with the Lord. I had received “yes” and “no” answers to prayers before, but in this case I received nothing. This was really stressful for me and I recorded in my journal that I felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders and that I felt like I had aged several years during that week. I was worried, because I wondered if I had received an answer, but didn’t recognize or correctly interpret it. I wondered if the fact that I didn’t feel strongly that going forward with the baptism was right was itself a “no” answer. On the other hand, the thought of not approving the baptism was troubling to me as well. I was stuck, and didn’t feel comfortable either way. I ultimately authorized the baptism, which was performed in the other city (and which I never was comfortable with).
I always wondered afterwards if I had done the right thing. I ran into a fellow missionary years later at BYU who had served in that city, and he informed me that the man (whose wife had been an active member for years) was still active in the Church, and that relations between him and the branch were good. In April, 2005 I came into contact with a former member of that branch, who informed me that this brother was now the elders quorum president in that branch! There is value and wisdom in God not always answering prayers we are worthy to receive and even entitled to, because I grew spiritually in my struggle to receive revelation and analyze my thoughts and feelings because of my uncertainty. It helped me be more aware of answers and how they might be made manifest; also, it gave me experience in discerning whether my answer was from God or from me.
I related very well to what Brigham Young taught concerning times when we are worthy to receive an answer and even entitled to one, but don’t receive one: we then do the best we can, and God will support us. I call this “the witness of results:”
If I do not know the will of my Father, and what He requires of me in a certain transaction, if I ask Him to give me wisdom concerning any requirement in life, or in regard to my own course, or that of my friends, my family, my children, or those that I preside over, and get no answer from Him, and then do the very best that my judgment will teach me, He is bound to own and honor that transaction, and He will do so to all intents and purposes.60
Regarding “the witness of results,” Elder B. H. Roberts commented:
It is vain for men to claim divine inspiration for every move that is made in Church affairs . . . the final result either of a single act or a series of acts [of God] is always his vindication. So that whatsoever of unwisdom appears in the policy of his Church; whatsoever of defect appears in the administration of her affairs, are not assignable to God, nor are they the result of the operation of his inspiration upon the minds of men . . . That there have been unwise things done in the Church by good men, men susceptible at times to the inspiration of the Spirit of God, we may not question.61
Given this fact, that God’s will often manifests itself in “the witness of results,” even if His servants struggle to discern because of their mortality and frailty, it is really a wonder that so little “unwisdom” has come out of the mouth of Mormon prophets:
It should not be matter of surprise to anyone that unwise things have been both said and done by some of the best men in the Church. On the contrary, it is matter of congratulation to the Church that so little unwisdom has been manifested by our brethren upon whom God has laid the heavy burdens of so great a work.62
Thus, the scriptural or authoritative value of statements and views of Church leaders may not be apparent until later generations. And, statements by Mormon prophets stand up very well to the test of time:
We have living oracles in the Church, thank God; and when they speak as moved upon by the Holy Ghost their utterances are the very word of God; and when the teachings and discourses of the elders of the Church shall have been sifted and tried in the fire of time, much that they have said will prove to be scripture, and thus the Church of Christ of this dispensation shall make scriptures, just as the Church of Christ of former dispensations has done.63
God also wants us to learn that some things don’t require revelation, that we don’t need to be “commanded in all things.” Brigham Young taught that “it is only where experience fails that revelation is needed,”64 while Orson Pratt noted that we should not seek revelation for “trifling subjects,” and that we sometimes inquire about things that God will not reveal at the present time:
It is not always wisdom to use the keys of knowledge and revelation upon trifling subjects. There may also be many subjects that it is not wisdom for us to understand and receive at present. There may be many items of knowledge in the bosom of God, in the eternal worlds, that He does not see proper to reveal to us, while in our mortal state; consequently, people may differ with regard to their views of those things not revealed, and which they do not understand.65
God’s economy in dealing with His children on earth, as detailed and explained by latter-day prophets and apostles, ultimately and inherently provides the best system for spiritual growth and maturity. While many people assume that absolute certainty and infallibility in religious things would be best, in actual practice and in reality, this would hinder spiritual growth because it would minimize the need for faith. Rather than being a great weakness, as critics portray it, prophecy and revelation in Mormonism is its greatest strength, and proves itself to be so whenever people humbly and faithfully test it according to the principles outlined here.
1 ”It is well nigh as dangerous to claim too much for the inspiration of God in the affairs of men as it is to claim too little. By the first men are led into superstition, and into blasphemously accrediting their own imperfect actions, their blunders, and possibly even their sins to God; and by the second they are apt to altogether eliminate the influence of God from human affairs. I pause in doubt as to which extreme would be the worse.” — B. H. Roberts, A Defense of the Faith and the Saints (Provo: Maasai, 2002), p. 346.
2 Some may find grouping atheists and agnostics together to be unfair, but there is functionally no difference between them as far as how they treat religion. “Then comes the agnostic. He prefers to suspend his judgment on the question of Deity; and with a modesty, not always free from affectation, says, ‘I don’t know. The evidence in the case is not quite clear; in fact it is sometimes quite conflicting.’ He questions; is debating; but you find his sympathies, at bottom, on the side of unbelief.” (B.H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God [Salt Lake City:1905] 1:23-24).
3 Daniel H. Wells, September 14, 1862, Journal of Discourses 9:362.
4 George Q. Cannon, September 18, 1881, Journal of Discourses 22:254.
5 B. H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God 1:99-101.
6 Ibid, 1:136-137.
7 Ye . . . say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers (Matthew 23:29-32).
8 ”Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us? . . . And they were offended in him . . . ” (Matthew 13:55-57)
9 ”But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented” (Matthew 11:16-17)
10 Roberts, New Witnesses for God 3:350-351.
11 Roberts, New Witnesses for God, 3:558.
12 B. H. Roberts, A Defense of the Faith and the Saints, (Provo: Maasai, 2002), p. 341.
13 Ibid, pp. 665-666.
14 ”Wednesday, February 8, 1843. — This morning, I read German, and visited with a brother and sister from Michigan, who thought that ‘a prophet is always a prophet;’ but I told them that a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such.” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 5:265).
15 Elder B. H. Roberts, commenting on early revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants, said: “We are told . . . that these men were liars, intemperate, idlers, money diggers; that they were utterly untrustworthy; and yet, get behind the scenes where the word of God comes to them, and lo! The purity of the fountain whence Mormonism comes! And this was not playing to the galleries of the world at that time; indeed, there was no idea that they would ever be published. As the secret thoughts of a man is to his actions, so were these [early] revelations to the Church” (B. H. Roberts, A Defense of the Faith and the Saints, [Provo: Maasai, 2002], pp. 644-645).
16 George Q. Cannon, August 12, 1883. Journal of Discourses 24:274.
17 Charles Penrose, August 17, 1879. Journal of Discourses 20:295.
18 John Taylor, March 14, 1869. Journal of Discourses 13:15.
19 George Q. Cannon, April 5, 1881. Journal of Discourses 22:274. This is a far cry from the usual charges that the Church sugar coats its history, represses embarrassing incidents, and discourages the reading of critical writings.
20 George Q. Cannon, March 28, 1875. Journal of Discourses 17:342.
21 John Taylor, April 8, 1883. Journal of Discourses 24:125. Although Latter-day Saints often castigate non-LDS critics for their assumptions and preconceptions, Mormons can exhibit these same tendencies, often without realizing it. Hugh Nibley commented on this in “The World of the Jaredites:”
“Six months before his death the Prophet Joseph Smith declared: ‘I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions’ (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 331). Of what traditions is he speaking? Not infant damnation, or baptism by sprinkling, or Neoplatonic ideas about God, for such things the Saints had left behind. The traditionalism to which he refers is clear from another address given by the Prophet at about the same time, when he said, ‘I suppose I am not allowed to go into an investigation of anything that is not contained in the Bible. If I do, I think there are so many over-wise men here, that they would cry ‘treason’ and put me to death. So I will go to the old Bible and turn commentator today’ (Ibid, p. 348). Notice that good members of the Church are charged with two follies: (1) taking the Bible as the only possible source of knowledge, and (2) interpreting the Bible strictly in the light of their own limited experience.
Turning to the Book of Mormon, is it not possible there also to fall into the old sectarian vice of oversimplifying? Are there not many Latter-day Saints who will insist that every American of pre-Columbian descent must be a Lamanite because, forsooth, there were once Nephites and Lamanites, and the Nephites were destroyed? Yet the Book of Mormon itself makes such an interpretation impossible” (Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert/The World of the Jaredites/There Were Jaredites, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1988], pp. 238-239).
22 John Taylor, January 17, 1858. Journal of Discourses 6:165.
23 John Taylor, October 20, 1881. Journal of Discourses 26:105.
24 Henry Naisbitt, March 8, 1885. Journal of Discourses 26:115.
25 Reported in Deseret Evening News, October 11, 1890, p. 2.
26 Brigham Young, August 31, 1875. Journal of Discourses 18:70.
27 Joseph F. Smith, June 21, 1883. Journal of Discourses 24: 189, 192.
28 B. H. Roberts, A Defense of the Faith and the Saints, (Provo: Maasai, 2002), p. 167.
29 Ibid, p. 13.
30 ”[The Church] is a living entity, and it is composed of living entities, men and women who know for themselves that this is the work of God, not depending upon Joseph Smith, not depending upon Brigham Young, not depending upon John Taylor, not depending upon Orson Pratt, or any other man . . . for their knowledge concerning this work. You might kill all these men off, if God would permit you, and still the knowledge remains until you extirpate the whole people; and in this respect it differs from every other work known among men. I have said it was phenomenal. It is phenomenal.” (George Q. Cannon, September 18, 1881. Journal of Discourses 22:258).
31 Brigham Young, August 18, 1872. Journal of Discourses 15:133-134.
32 Brigham Young, May 5, 1870. Journal of Discourses 13:345.
33 Brigham Young, August 13, 1871. Journal of Discourses 14:204.
34 George Q. Cannon, April 6, 1879. Journal of Discourses 20:205. Those who lack faith that something like this is within the realm of possibility may smirk at this, but an incident from one of Elder B. H. Roberts’s missions provides an interesting corollary to Elder Cannon’s statement here. In a high-profile debate with an imported “hired-gun” debater in Lebanon, Tennessee, Elder Roberts denied the existence of a passage in the Book of Mormon. Instantly, he remembered the existence of the passage and a rational explanation of it he had heard in Sunday School. The opposing side visibly recognized his mistake and were relishing the chance to exploit it in the afternoon session. Roberts stated:
“To concede then and there my mistake and withdraw it would lose my claims on what was gradually becoming the sympathetic attitude towards us in the debate. To let the passage stand against Mr. Alsup would be unfair to him. What to do I did not for the moment know.”
Roberts and his companion prayed fervently during the break between sessions that the blunder might be removed from the minds of the audience and the opposing side. Miraculously, those who had been so eager to throw his mistake back at him never brought it up. Roberts explained:
“There was one peculiarity that attached to the answering of the prayers of Elder Ford and me in relation to the taking out of the minds of my opponents my blunder. It was also taken out of my own mind, and neither then nor since then through all the years have I been able to recollect the particular passage, which I had so unfortunately contradicted the existence of. Neither can I remember the exposition of it as it had been given to me in Sunday School — it is a lost chord in that debate and also in the memory of the young elder who contradicted wrongfully its existence” (B. H. Roberts, The Autobiography of B. H. Roberts, ed. Gary James Bergerra, [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1990], pp. 123-126).
35 George Q. Cannon, April 21, 1867. Journal of Discourses 12:46.
36 Brigham Young, November 15, 1857. Journal of Discourses 6:45.
37 Brigham Young, November 29, 1857. Journal of Discourses 6:100.
38 Brigham Young, January 12, 1862. Journal of Discourses 9:150.
39 Brigham Young, April 28th, 1872. Journal of Discourses 15:6.
40 Brigham Young, May 25, 1873. Journal of Discourses 16:75.
41 Brigham Young, June 23, 1874. Journal of Discourses 18:248.
42 Brigham Young, August 31, 1875. Journal of Discourses 18:72.
43 John Taylor, July 18, 1880. Journal of Discourses 22:201-202
44 Brigham Young, June 23, 1874. Journal of Discourses 18:247.
45 Friedrich Blass, “Hermeneutik und Kritik,” Einleitende und Hilfs-Disziplinen, vol. 1 of Iwan von Müller’s Handbuch der klassichen Altertumswissenschaft (Munich: Beck, 1886), p. 268.
46 Hugh Nibley, “The Prophetic Book of Mormon,” (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989), pp. 55-56.
47 This was reinforced for me during my first (and thus far, only) experience with jury duty. The judge told the 48 potential jurors that, in his experience, potential jurors come to a trial with one of three mindsets, and he wanted us to indicate by a show of hands which of these three represented our personal attitude. The first was that the defendant was arrested and indicted by recognized authority, and was therefore probably guilty, pending evidence to the contrary (a few hands went up). The second was that we hadn’t heard anything yet, and would assume neither guilt nor innocence until we heard evidence (most hands, including mine, went up). The third was that the defendant was probably innocent (almost no hands went up). He then gently scolded us and told us that all of us should have raised our hands for the third mindset, and that the phrase “innocent until proven guilty” was not just a nice-sounding phrase, but represents the key to our legal system.
48 Brigham Young, November 3, 1867. Journal of Discourses 12:106-107.
49 Brigham Young, October 7, 1859. Journal of Discourses 7:278, 281.
50 Ezra T. Benson, August 28, 1852. Journal of Discourses 6:264.
51 B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 volumes, [Salt Lake City: Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1930], 1:162-163.
52 George Q. Cannon, July 25, 1880. Journal of Discourses 22:104.
53 George Q. Cannon, May 15, 1881. Journal of Discourses 22:369
54 Brigham Young, December 18, 1853. Journal of Discourses 2:133. Concerning the Salt Lake Temple, Young said: “Suffice it to say, five years ago last July I was here, and saw in the Spirit the Temple not ten feet from where we have laid the Chief Corner Stone. I have not inquired what kind of a Temple we should build. Why? Because it was represented before me. I have never looked upon that ground, but the vision of it was there. I see it as plainly as if it was in reality before my. Wait until it is done. I will say, however, that it will have six towers, to begin with, instead of one. Now do not any of you apostatize because it will have six towers, and Joseph only built one.”
55 Brigham Young, October 9, 1852. Journal of Discourses 1:219-220. President Young jokingly noted that if people wanted to build the temple out of gold or platinum, “they will have to put into the tithing stores something besides old half-dead stinking cows, and old broken-kneed horses.” On the superiority of adobe over stone as a building material, however, he was adamant.
56 Wilford Woodruff, August 1, 1880. Journal of Discourses 21:299-300.
57 B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 volumes, [Salt Lake City: Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1930], 1:165-166.
58 Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1972), pp. 97-98)
59 B. H. Roberts, A Defense of the Faith and the Saints, (Prove: Maasai, 2002), p. 347.
60 Brigham Young, February 17, 1856. Journal of Discourses 3:205.
61 B. H. Roberts, A Defense of the Faith and the Saints, p. 345.
62 Ibid, 347.
63 Ibid, 564.
64 Brigham Young, April 6, 1853. Journal of Discourses 2:32. Delivered on the southeast cornerstone of the temple at Salt Lake City, after the First Presidency and the Patriarch had laid the stone.
65 Orson Pratt, October 15, 1854. Journal of Discourses 2:247. Elder Pratt was speaking specifically about those who hold the priesthood keys of leadership (i.e., the president and apostles), but this applies to rank-and-file Church members as well. Elder Pratt’s sentiment also applies to differences of opinion among Church members.