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Follow the Brethren
by Elder Neal A. Maxwell
The basic doctrines call for real discipline of self; they are hard because wise self-discipline is hard. Among the requirements that God has laid upon us is to pay heed to His living prophets. In our dispensation this has been described as "following the Brethren." It is a dimension of obedience that has been difficult for some in every dispensation. It will be particularly hard in ours, the final dispensation. Secularly, every form of control, except self-control, seems to be increasing, and yet obedience rests on self-control.
The reasons for the hardness of this doctrine are quite simple: First, these are the winding-up times when there will be a dramatic convergence of the growth of the Church and an intensification of evil in the world all of which will make for some real wrenching. Second, the degree of deceit will be so great that even the very elect will almost be deceived. (Matthew 24:24.) Third, the tribulations will be such that, as the Savior said, they will exceed the tribulations of any other time. (Matthew 24:21; D&C 43:28; 45:67-68.)
To be obedient to prophets in such a setting will require, most of all, special faith and trust in the unfolding purposes of an omniscient and prevailing Lord.
When we speak of following the Brethren, we mean particularly the First Presidency and the Twelve. In 1951, President Kimball observed in a general conference that though some of those special individuals might falter, "there will never be a majority of the Council of the Twelve on the wrong side at any time." (Conference Report, April 1951, p. 104.)
We also have the precious promises concerning the President of the Church that he will never lead the people astray. President Wilford Woodruff announced, "I say to Israel, the Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as president of this Church to lead you astray." (Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, p. 212.)
It is exceedingly important for members of the Church to get experience following the prophets in little things, so that they can follow in large matters. By following the prophets in fair weather we become familiar with their cadence, so that we can follow them in stormy times too, for then both our reflexes and our experience will need to combine to help us; the stresses will be so very real.
It is obvious, for instance, that the prophet Elijah demonstrated his prophetic powers dramatically on several occasions; those who followed his instructions in little things (without even flickering in their devotion) also saw great things. At a time of severe drought and famine, for instance, Elijah announced against a backdrop of a clear sky "there is a sound of abundance of rain." (1 Kings 18:41.) Nobody else heard such sounds.
Elijah then went and prayed upon Mount Carmel and instructed a servant to go look toward the sea. The obedient servant looked and said, "There is nothing." Elijah then instructed him to "go again seven times." The faithful and trusting servant went, again and again. Finally, the seventh time, he reported to Elijah, "Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man's hand." That was enough for Elijah, who quickly warned the wicked, but temporarily humbled, Ahab to "prepare thy chariot, and get thee down, that the rain stop thee not." Soon, the scriptures tell us, the heavens grew "black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain." (1 Kings 18:43-45.)
One cannot help but wonder why there are such specific numerical dimensions to the instructions that sometimes come from prophets. It was the same Elijah who told Naaman to bathe himself in the Jordan River seven times. Nonetheless, whether bathing or scanning the horizon, the obedience stipulated was that which was required for the blessing. (2 Kings 5.) Is there some spiritual discipline at work that tests our obedience by requiring the tested to go, again and again, till we learn to trust and to follow the prophets fully? Apparently so, as Naaman, who resisted the required ritual, thinking it beneath him, soon found out.
Church members today are not a geographically or politically separate people; we are mingled among the people of the world and for the Lord's purposes. So the prophetic counsel given is often to be individually applied, but it still requires the same obedience.
Being in the world but not of it makes our having the Spirit even more vital. Life in ancient Israel was life in a complete community of believers. Having the Spirit was vital then, but it is equally essential when we are among so many disbelievers like Jonah in Nineveh.
Perhaps one of the reasons for this regimen of following is to acclimate us to going, as President Harold B. Lee counseled, to the very edge of the light before asking for more light, just as Elijah obediently went to the Mount Carmel well before the first little cloud appeared. So often we are helped only when we are forcefully reminded of our helplessness.
Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the Council of the Twelve warned of another consequence of not heeding: "Any Church member not obedient to the leaders of this Church will not have the opportunity to be obedient to the promptings of the Lord." (Munich Area Conference Report, August 1973, p. 24.) A lack of obedience to the leaders will, therefore, mean that we will not have the precious promptings of the Spirit, which we need personally so much and so often. This potential loss would be reason enough for us to be obedient to the prophets, for apparently we cannot have one without the other. Vital as the words of the prophets are, these come to us only periodically. We need the directions of the Spirit daily, even hourly.
President John Taylor said with typical boldness, "You cannot say that you submit to the law of God while you reject the word and counsel of his servants." (Journal of Discourses 7:325.)
Following the Brethren will mean, at times, that such differences or concerns as one might have with one of the Brethren are best put in the background, if these cannot be forgotten or dissolved. Such a cause can at least be held in abeyance rather than putting it out front and center where it may become a cause célèbre, deflecting the member from the path of duty.
The history of God's relationship with His leaders is a guide, and it clearly indicates that we can safely assume that the Brethren will be held responsible for any personal mistakes. To use the supposed errors of others, including those of the Brethren, as an excuse for our lessened devotion is a most grave error! All of us are in the process of becoming including prophets and General Authorities.
To know the voice of the Savior and His servants is very significant. Of course, some people come in and out of the Church as if it were a theological transit lounge where they stay only briefly and then move on. But as the Savior Himself said, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me." (John 10:27.)
President John Taylor said that there is even a rhythm in the relationships between the Lord and His people, for "the Lord teaches us by peace and by wars, by prosperity and by adversity. He teaches us by bringing our enemies upon us, and by taking them away from us." (Journal of Discourses 7:324.) How grateful we can be that an omniscient and omniloving God manages the rhythm, but notice the heavy requirements of followership in such a rhythm.
It is even dangerous to anticipate what the leaders may counsel us to do. President Wilford Woodruff warned, " . . . the very moment that men in this kingdom attempt to run ahead or cross the path of their leaders, no matter in what respect, the moment they do this they are in danger of being injured by the wolves." (Journal of Discourses 5:83.) Trying to run ahead of the leaders is, in effect, trying to preempt their role as shepherds of the flock. As with the shepherds in the Middle East, prophets are to lead the flock; they do not herd the flock, nor do they merely follow it.
There are times, however, when individuals or a whole people may be under quiet preparation by the Lord, by which means the Lord readies His people to receive new revelations and new policies. This is different, however, from attempting to cross or to run ahead of the leaders. To run ahead is to say in effect that we, and not the prophets, know best, especially if we try to take some of the flock with us.
Experience underscores how the Lord has given to us a very liberating theology, but also how He has given us a conserving Church organization. This permits the institutional anchor to be played against the doctrinal sail at times all in the interest of moving the Church forward but with stability rather than being tossed to and fro. Some chafe unduly at the carefulness in the Church. They think of themselves as being ready to go when it is being ready to follow that is the skill needed at the moment.
Murmuring against the Lord's anointed has been present in all dispensations. Sometimes that murmuring has been a virtual shout, while at other times it has consisted of murmurings of the heart. But even the latter are noticed. (See D&C 75:7.)
Nephi found favor with the Lord because he did not murmur as did his brothers, who murmured because they were sent back to Jerusalem for the plates, which was to them such "a hard thing." (1 Nephi 3:5.) Laman and Lemuel felt imposed upon by what they thought, apparently, was not such a good idea especially because of the personal risks involved. When prophets, like Nephi, are plain-speaking about such disobedience, some murmur the more at being found out and called down. (2 Nephi 1:26.) Nephi refused to join their fraternity of fault finding, for which Laman and Lemuel never forgave him.
Murmuring can block the learning process, but happily the time will come when "they that murmured shall learn doctrine." (2 Nephi 27:35.) We even murmur because of personal inconveniences.
Murmuring (and it is usually against the prophets) can be a mere gripe and complaint or it may reflect a deep difference. But whatever the degree of dissent, it ought to be clear that though a particular leader is the ostensible object of the murmuring, as Moses told his complaining people, your murmurings are not against us, but against the Lord." (Exodus 16:8.) However, rocks can reach prophets, for they are proximate. But few are seen hurling stones skyward; they may have a grievance with God, but they also have had some experience with gravity.
Just as the Jews murmured against Jesus because He told them who He was, so some murmur against His prophets today because of why they are. (John 6:41.) Even His disciples murmured on occasion at the strong doctrines of the Savior. (John 6:61.) Yet Jesus pointedly said, "My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me." (John 7:16.) Dissenters over doctrines today must face that same reality.
Mostly, our murmurings are gripes and grumpiness. However, Paul urged us to "do all things without murmurings and disputings," since such attitudes are the carriers of the virus of venality.
The failure to acknowledge God's omniscience is an enormous error that spreads through life and touches all our doings. For if we truly believe God to be what He says He is, then we can follow His prophets, His proctors in this mortal school, without resentment or murmuring. True, we will not always understand, nor will we find counsel easy to take but the challenges will be manageable, when we have been humbled by knowing how great God is. This then makes us more manageable! And even though it is true that there must be an "opposition in all things," none of us has the personal obligation to provide that opposition.
President Lee said on one occasion: "I want to bear you my testimony that the experience I have had has taught me that those who criticize the leaders of this Church are showing signs of a spiritual sickness which, unless curbed, will bring about eventually spiritual death." (Conference Report, October 1947, p. 67.)
The Prophet Joseph spoke of how apostates often bring severe persecutions upon their former friends and associates. "When once that light which was in them is taken from them they become as much darkened as they were previously enlightened, and then, no marvel, if all their power should be enlisted against the truth, and they, Judas like, seek the destruction of those who were their greatest benefactors." (HC 2:23.)
Strange, how often defectors leave the Church, but they cannot leave it alone!
One of the often unappreciated blessings of following the Brethren is that their counsel and direction will spare us the unnecessary disappointments and the anguish of trying to reconcile revealed religion with the ways of the world. Foolish as that attempt is, some try to do it anyway. As Elder James E. Talmage observed: "The reason that there is a lack of spirit and force in the religious teaching of the world is in part because they have tried to harmonize the Christian faith with the foolishness of men; and, of course, it will not harmonize with falsehood and with the doctrines of men." (Conference Report, October 1921, p. 187.)
Perhaps one of the reasons people try desperately at times to effect a "merger" is that they still want either the praise of the world or the ways of the world. They think, somehow, to have them both when, in fact, the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that we must clearly choose some things and reject others. Mortal philosophies can be mixed and merged with each other almost at will, because they are not totally dissimilar, but we can't weld the Lord's way to the world's ways.
Lest the casual observer mistake "following the Brethren" as producing only one-sided pressures, let him listen to the humble words of that great scholar, Elder Talmage: "Ofttimes I tremble, literally, as I consider what am doing when addressing the Latter-day Saints, for I know that what I say unto them is binding upon me, and that I shall be judged by the precepts that I impress upon them; and what I say under such conditions is likewise binding upon those who hear." (Ibid., p. 188.)
Such heavy responsibilities do not rest upon the Brethren without producing real anxieties.
As one examines the typical things that get in the way of following the Brethren, these are among them:
1. There are those who maintain they are wiser and better informed than the Brethren. Therefore, they reject the counsel of the Brethren.
2. There are those who feel the Brethren try to direct them too much in their personal affairs. These individuals may not feel the advice is wrong, but they resent the coaching, especially in what they see as temporal matters.
3. There are those who reject the counsel of the Brethren, not because they disbelieve it or see it as irrelevant, but rather because its timing is inconvenient. They are like one who said, "Give me chastity, but not yet."
4. There are those who reject the counsel of the Brethren in a rather indirect way. They are simply too caught up with the cares of the world even to notice the counsel; they do not, therefore, give place in their life for it. Theirs is the heedlessness of worldly preoccupation, but the consequences of this form of disobedience are just as severe as outright rejection.
5. There are those who reject following the Brethren because they wish to be the leaders. This is a mortal reflection of Lucifer's bid in the premortal world. His need for ascendancy was so great that he simply would not follow. Whether his desire to be chosen drove him to advance his "no-growth, no-loss" approach to mortality or whether he believed in his way so much that he sought ascendancy to further his convictions, we do not fully know. In any event, there are those whose need for ascendancy causes them to be disobedient even if, in their heart of hearts, they know the prophetic counsel given is correct. Ego crowds out all other considerations!
6. Finally, there are those few, like Cain, who, in effect, have gone so far as to have made a deal with the devil; they are on the other side. The passionate intensity with which they pursue their goals makes it, of course, impossible for them to hear the words of God short of some dramatic confrontation such as we read of with men like Korihor. (Alma 30.)
There are, of course, numerous variations of the above. Some have behavioral lapses and then seek to cover these by pretending to have reservations about a doctrine or a leader. Having misbehaved, they try to cover their sins. It is so fashionable nowadays to have a "noble grievance" with the Brethren. Remember, however, their gift of discernment. The Book of Mormon tells us flatly of one discerning prophet and his confrontation with Korihor:
"But, behold, I have all things as a testimony that these things are true; and ye also have all things as a testimony unto you that they are true; and will ye deny them? Believest thou that these things are true?
"Behold, I know that thou believest, but thou art possessed with a lying spirit, and yet have put off the Spirit of God that it may have no place in you; but the devil has power over you, and he doth carry you about, working devices that he may destroy the children of God." (Alma 30:41-42. Italics added.)
There are even those who refuse to follow the Brethren because these individuals have overidentified with a single doctrine, principle, or practice; sadly, they exclude all other counsel, which leads to a dangerous spiritual imbalance. The difficulty with such individuals is that they have a strange sense of justification about that which they are doing. In their intensity they lack, of course, the spiritual symmetry that comes from pursuing, in a balanced way, all the commandments of God. These individuals are so hardened in their devotion to one thing that they are unable to follow the Brethren in all things. It is as if the adversary, upon seeing someone get religious, skillfully deflects their devotion so that it becomes a damaging and not a developing thing.
We are responsible for our reactions when we see imperfections in others. Moroni said of the labors of the recording prophets some things that are very relevant with regard to how we should respond to imperfections in others: "Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father, because of his imperfection, neither them who have written before him; but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been." (Mormon 9:31. Italics added.)
A wise leader will be aware that his imperfections are noticed, but he will also humbly hope that when others see his imperfections, this will provide them with a chance to learn to be more wise than he has been. Good parents, as well as good prophets, always so hope, too.
Thomas B. Marsh was the president of the Twelve and ended up being excommunicated, in a story with which most members are familiar. His ego became involved in supporting the ego of his wife. Happily, in 1857 he came to Salt Lake City and asked for forgiveness, saying humbly to the congregation: "I became jealous of the Prophet, and then I saw double, and overlooked everything that was right, and spent all my time in looking for the evil. ... I thought I saw a beam in brother Joseph's eye, but it was nothing but a mote, and my own eye was filled with the beam." (Journal of Discourses 5:207.)
Marsh humbly admitted later to jealousy, which caused him to focus on the shortcomings in the Prophet Joseph Smith.
We may, therefore, see the imperfections in leaders in the Church. How we react to these manifestations of mortality is the key to our salvation not theirs!
Of course, the Lord corrects His prophets too, as He needs to. As Jonah found out, Tarshish won't do when Nineveh is the required destination!
Nephi rejoiced that God was able to use him notwithstanding his weakness. (2 Nephi 33:11.) Yet another prophet, Moroni, indicated that God will both show us our weaknesses and give unto us certain weaknesses in order to help us be humble and to accelerate our growth. (Ether 12:27.) Given these realities, it would be unwise and unfair for us to overreact to the weaknesses of others, especially as an excuse for not overcoming our own.
It is strange that when one is remodeling a portion of his house, he expects visitors to be tolerant of improvements that are so obviously underway. Yet while one is remodeling his character, we often feel obligated to call attention to the messy signs of remodeling, or feel called upon to remember aloud things as they were. Forgetting is such a necessary part of forgiving.
It shouldn't offend us either that the Brethren make their contributions to God in different ways: "Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men.
"Behold, he was a man like unto Ammon, the son of Mosiah, yea, and even the other sons of Mosiah, yea, and also Alma and his sons, for they were all men of God.
"Now behold, Helaman and his brethren were no less serviceable unto the people than was Moroni; for they did preach the word of God, and they did baptize unto repentance all men whosoever would hearken unto their words." (Alma 48:17-19. Italics added.)
President Joseph F. Smith counseled on one occasion: "I do not think it is my right or prerogative to point out the supposed defects of the Prophet Joseph Smith, or Brigham Young, or any other of the leaders of the Church. Let the Lord God Almighty judge them and speak for or against them as it may seem Him good but not I; it is not for me, my brethren, to do this. Our enemies may have taken advantage of us, in times gone by, because of unwise things that may have been said. Some of us, may now, give to the world the same opportunity to speak evil against us, because of that which we say which should not be spoken at all." (Conference Report, October 1909, pp. 124-25.)
On yet another occasion, prior to the sustaining of the General Authorities of the Church, President Smith extended an invitation to those in attendance at the general conference as follows: "We desire the brethren and sisters who come to the conference to come with their hearts full of the spirit of wisdom and of truth, and if you discern in us any lack of wisdom, or of judgment, any failure in the performance of our duty, we desire that those who have superior experience and knowledge, and greater intelligence, will do us the honor and favor of coming to us individually and letting us know wherein we come short. We will give a thousand errors, if we can find them or if they exist in us, any moment for one truth." (Conference Report, April 1908, p. 8.)
Following is not always only an accumulative thing. Sometimes the Lord will structure a confrontation in a way that the obedience of His prophets is tested simultaneously. Such was once the case with Elijah, who came through marvelously. In a day-long contest between himself and the pagan priests to see who could call down fire from heaven upon the altar, Elijah saturated his sacrifice and the altar with water three times. Then the people heard Elijah acknowledge, in the course of his prayer, "that I have done all these things" at the word of God. It was not Elijah's idea to soak the sacrifice and saturate the kindling, to structure the confrontation in such a dramatic manner. (1 Kings 18:30-38.) There will be times when we follow the prophets even as they are in the very act of obedience themselves; they will not, in fact, always be able to explain to us why they are doing what they are doing much as Adam offered sacrifices without a full understanding of what underlay that special ritual. (Moses 5:6.)
Following the Brethren is, of course, a different challenge in a society that is sinking rapidly, such as was the case in Sodom and Gomorrah, as compared with following the prophets in a society where there is reasonable righteousness and reasonable happiness. Obedience is required in both settings, to be sure, but there is an intensification of the challenge presented to members of the Church in the one setting compared with the other somewhat more tranquil time and circumstance.
There have been other happier times, such as when, among the Nephites, "surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God." (4 Nephi 1:16.) Revelations abounded, and it was a period such as Moses desired when he wished every man could be a prophet. (Numbers 11:29.) This appears to have been nearly the case in another period in the Book of Mormon when there were "many revelations" that came daily to the people. (Helaman 11:23.)
Following the Brethren can be more difficult when in some settings wolves are sent among the flock. False prophets will arise, enticing some to follow them, and by their evil works they deceive careless observers into discounting any and all who claim to be prophets. Satan's order of battle is such that if it is necessary to encourage a hundred false prophets in order to obscure the validity of one true prophet, he will gladly do so.
In such a setting, hopefully, governments will use the test of "by their fruits ye shall know them," and hopefully those officials who cannot thereby distinguish between a peach tree and a pyracantha will put away their pruning shears! First Amendment freedoms, tested before, will surely be tested again. Irreligion, protected by these same freedoms, will surely seek to snuff out real religion.
Prophets have a way of seeing more deeply and more distantly than the rest of us. They can, under the direction of the Spirit (to refer to an episode in the Old Testament), see a thundercloud when it is no larger than a man's hand. (1 Kings 18:44.) Their mortal sense of anticipation is sharpened by the divine, fully developed and perfected anticipation of God Himself of which much is written in an earlier chapter.
Prophets as well as those who follow them have sometimes even had to wrench free of a whole society. Enoch could tell us about this; so could Lehi tell how it was that Laman and Lemuel never did adjust.
Drawing people away from destruction and sadness is one of the great duties of prophets, and it calls for the cardinal virtue of followership. No wonder Jesus (in a sermon that most wrongly assume was given to people generally, when it was actually given to the Twelve) warned the Twelve about how they were the "salt," and must not lose their savor. (JST, Matthew 5.) If prophets overidentified with the ways and things of the world, they could not lead us out of Babylon, for they too would come to feel at home there.
Notice how often the prophets are themselves brought through a crucible of testing, such as Zion's Camp, the 1834 movement of the two hundred souls from Kirtland to Missouri. Of this effort it has been noted that "in some respects the mission appeared to be a failure. . . ." (Hyrum M. Smith and Janne M. Sjodahl, Doctrine and Covenants Commentary, p. 825.) What was really underway, of course, was the development of leaders. The Prophet Joseph said of this adventure, "We know that angels were our companions, for we saw them." (Ibid., p. 824.)
The roster of the participants included the names of such men as Jedediah M. Grant, Orson Hyde, David W. Patten, Heber C. Kimball, Orson Pratt, Parley P. Pratt, George A. Smith, Hyrum Smith, Joseph Smith, Nathan Tanner, Wilford Woodruff, and Brigham Young. The lessons learned and the yield for the future can scarcely be calculated by us, but out of this seeming "furnace of affliction" came the refined cadre who, because of their experience, could call the cadence for future treks and who could pass through even sterner tests.
"All these things" gave those men vital experiences that were for their good and for the later good of those who would follow these tempered leaders.
Disobedience to the counsel of prophets, of course, is often a cumulative thing a cumulative failure to listen to counsel. This failure may be spread over many years, rather than sudden disobedience to a single declaration. We cannot, offer so many opportunities to do so, get oil for our lamps at the last minute. Nor can most of us suddenly acquire a year's supply of food, nor can we break free of debt in a moment especially when it has taken us years to get so deeply in debt.
There are other times, of course, when people must make a determination of loyalty in a short space of time. In this setting, the words of one prophet, Elijah, echo through the corridors of the centuries. "How long halt ye between two opinions?" (1 Kings 18:21.) There are some circumstances when we must literally choose this day whom we will serve. (See Joshua 24:15.)
It is very significant to read of the great pains to which the prophet Joshua went at Shechem, the most ancient of the sacred towns of Palestine, in a great teaching episode there, an episode brought fully to the author's attention by Brother David Galbraith in Jerusalem.
We read in this episode (Deuteronomy 11:29; 27:11-26; 28:1-68; Joshua 8:33-35; 24:1-33) how Joshua, precisely as earlier instructed by Moses, placed some Israelites on one hill, Gerizim, facing Shechem, and some on another hill, Ebal. Those on Ebal were to give voice to and represent the penalties if the children of Israel were disobedient. Those on Gerizim were to give voice to and represent the blessings that would come if the commandments of God were kept. The people were even to covenant by saying "Amen."
It was in the context of this great visual and choral panoply of teaching that Joshua urged that which he is best remembered for having said: "Choose you this day whom ye will serve." (Joshua 24:15.) But the alternatives were made audiovisually very clear; a portrayal was so graphic that it was, no doubt, long remembered by those who were at Shechem on that occasion.
It even helps us to be pressed thusly by prophets to choose. John the Beloved, in writing to the Church at Laodicea, said, "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot." (Revelation 3:15.) Many naively assume that it is always better to be lukewarm than to be cold. But lukewarmness can reflect a stubborn spirit of self-sufficiency that keeps some people from following God's leaders. Worse, lukewarmness keeps some from feeling cold chills, which chills can induce a few to a search for warmth and truth!
Yet we must always realize that in a perfect church filled with imperfect people, there are bound to be some miscommunications at times. A noteworthy example occurred in ancient American Israel. Moroni wrote two times to Pahoran complaining of neglect because much-needed reinforcements did not arrive. Moroni used harsh language, accusing the governor of the land, Pahoran, of sitting on his throne in a state of "thoughtless stupor." (Alma 60:7.) Pahoran soon made a very patriotic reply, explaining why he could not do what Moroni wanted. Though censured, Pahoran was not angry; he even praised Moroni for "the greatness of your heart." (Alma 61:9.) Given the intense, mutual devotion of disciples, discussions as to how best to move the Lord's work along are bound to produce tactical differences on occasion. Just as in this episode, sometimes scolding occurs that is later shown to be unjustified.
Parley P. Pratt recalled an episode when President Brigham Young chastened him and others for their management of the westward migration. In this instance also, there were two letters of a scolding nature, even alleging insubordination. Of this Elder Pratt wrote, "I could not realize this at the time, and protested that in my own heart, so far as I was concerned, I had no such motive; that I had been actuated by the purest motives. . . ." Later it became clear to Elder Pratt that some of those scolded had motives that were not as pure as his. He commented further, ". . . yet I thank God for this timely chastisement; I profited by it, and it caused me to be more watchful and careful ever after." (Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt [Deseret Book, 1961], pp. 341-42))
It is worthy remembering that Elder Pratt protested in his heart, not publicly. He took it. Perhaps President Young, like Moroni, might have taken note of how Elder Pratt was even sick at the time but, like Moroni, President Young did not know of the full conditions.
The stuff out of which offense is made is all around us, if we wish to seize upon it. What we learn, however, from men like Pahoran and Elder Pratt should give us pause, especially when we may be inclined to take umbrage instead of following the Brethren.
Counsel comes to us from the Brethren in various ways. When Utah attained statehood, President Heber J. Grant, then of the Council of the Twelve, received a telegram from the Democratic state convention pledging to him majority support for that party's nomination for governor. He showed the telegram to President Wilford Woodruff, who commented reprovingly, "Why do you bother me with your telegram? Haven't you enough sense as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ to answer your own telegram, without bothering me as President of the Church?" President Grant said in response, "Thanks, thanks. If you wanted me to run for that position you would have said so. Good day." President Grant asked that his name not come before the convention, and it never did. (Conference Report, October 1934, pp. 125-26.)
With typical honesty, President Grant later wrote, "Do you think I would not like to have been the first governor of the state of Utah, where I was born? If you do, you are mistaken." Yet, President Grant observed from his early days as a stake president, he always wanted to do what "the leading officials of the Church wanted me to do." (Ibid.)
Another steady follower of the earliest Church leaders was President Wilford Woodruff. In an address given October 6, 1856, he observed, "Whatever counsel the Presidency of this Church have been led to give unto this people, it has been dictated by the Spirit and power of God, and our safety and salvation lies in obeying that counsel and putting it into practice."
President Woodruff then recalled how, when President Young had led them westward, some had "thought it was a wild speculation... dangerous...." It even looked to some that Brigham was "leading the people to destruction," yet "in all ages of the world, it is where the counsels of the Prophets of God are not fully carried out" that destruction is actually assured. (Journal of Discourses 4:94-95.)
Should we not relate to the prophets much as we do with the Lord? If we lack full faith now, let us give place for a portion" of their words and "experiment upon" their words. (Alma 32:27.) As we "try the experiment" of obedience, we will gather spiritual momentum as we gather confirming experiences!
Staying close to the prophets will be vital since, in some ways, the last days in this last dispensation may come to resemble the first days in this dispensation. The middle period through which the Church has recently passed has been essentially a pleasant period full of growth, understanding, and even some acclaim from the world. But the last days, although they will be characterized by much growth, will also be characterized by much tribulation and difficulty. There will be both wonderful and awful things.
While we can be forgiven for not thirsting after conditions of stress, each of us, according to our station, must play well our role in this most glorious of all dispensations.
We cannot fully respond to the divine invitation, "Come follow me," unless we are willing to follow the Brethren. And it will be most helpful to us all if we renew and reassure ourselves by noting how it has always been the case that the Lord has raised up men as His prophets who have just the cluster of talents needed for a particular time. It is no different in the culminating days of the dispensation of the fulness of time. The Lord measured and ordained these men before they came here. Knowing perfectly the conditions that would obtain, He has sent, and will send, men to match the mountains of challenges that are just ahead of us.
In like manner, the Lord has also measured the parents of the rising generations on whom so much will also depend all to the end that His work will triumph against odds that would stagger all but the true believers!
All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience, Chapter 7
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