On unity and equality*
August 17, 1856
The grand difficulty with this community is simply this, their interest is not one. When you will have your interests concentrated in one, then you will work jointly, and we shall not have to scold and find fault, as much as we are now required to.In order to understand our purpose and standing before God and thus to correctly "apply the principles of eternity and exaltation," Brigham taught we must know something of our origin. This understanding of our condition will inspire the proper motive for our choices in life.
We must learn that we have not one farthing's worth of anything in heaven, earth, or hell, not even our own being. We have been brought forth on this earth, organized for the purpose of giving us an opportunity of proving ourselves worthy to possess something by and by.President Henry B. Eyring explained this tendency toward entitlement.
We make farms, build fine houses, get possessions around us, and these we call ours, when not a dime's worth of them is either yours or mine. This is what we must learn. I have much property in my possession, and we use the terms, “my farm, my house, my cattle, my horses, my carriage,” &c., but the fact is we do not truly own anything; we never did and never will, until many long ages after this... Every man and woman has got to feel that not one farthing of anything in their possession is rightfully theirs, in the strict sense of ownership.
When we learn this lesson, where will be my interest and my effort? I do not own anything—it is my Father's.
How came I by my possessions? His providence has thrown them into my care; He has appointed me a steward over them, and I am His servant, His steward, His hired man, one with whom He has placed certain property in charge for the time being, that is, pertaining to the things of this world.
...we so easily forget that we came into life with nothing. Whatever we get soon seems our natural right, not a gift. And we forget the giver. Then our gaze shifts from what we have been given to what we don’t have yet.President Eyring felt this malady was caused by a lack of remembering God and what he has done to provide for His children:
[King Benjamin] taught [his people] that none of us is above another because we are all dust, to which God has given life and then sustained it. He described a fact which is true for every human being: unforgiven sin will bring us unending torment. And he described the gift we all have been offered: those whose faith in Jesus Christ leads them to repentance and forgiveness will live in never-ending happiness. King Benjamin’s teaching had a miraculous effect. Gratitude for what they had led to faith unto repentance. That led to forgiveness. That produced new gratitude. And then King Benjamin taught that, if we can remember and so remain grateful, we will retain a remission of our sins through all the losses and the gains of life.Brigham believed this understanding was vital to the Saints regarding how they distributed the means they had in blessing others. After all, Brigham might say, "are we all not beggars"(Mosiah 4:19) and "less than the dust of the earth" (Mosiah 4:2)? Brigham labored relatively unsuccessfully for years to accomplish an effective law of consecration, even a united order , among the Saints, knowing that "inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto [God]" (Matt. 25:40).
Even so, Brigham encouraged moderation and cleared up some incorrect sentiments regarding consecration, describing his view of the law. In his commonly used rhetorical question-and-answer style, Brigham encouraged wise distribution as dictated by God:
Says one, “It was preached thirty years ago, that nothing belongs to us, and, if I have a thousand dollars, to at once give it all to the poor.”Brigham felt chaotic distribution was more temporally harmful than good:
That is your enthusiasm and ignorance. Were you to make an equal distribution of property today, one year would not pass before there would be as great an inequality as now.
How could you ever get a people equal with regard to their possessions? They never can be, no more than they can be in the appearance of their faces.
Are we equal? Yes.
Wherein? We are equal in the interest of eternal things, in our God, not aside from Him. We behold Church property, and not one farthing of it is yours or mine. Of the possessions that are called mine, my individual property, not a dollar's worth is mine; and of all that you seem to possess, not a dollar's worth is yours.
Did you ever organize a tree, gold, silver, or any other kind of metal, or any other natural production? No, you have not yet attained to that power, and it will be ages before you do.
Who owns all the elements with which we are commanded and permitted to operate? The Lord, and we are stewards over them. It is not for me to take the Lord's property placed under my charge and wantonly distribute it; I must do with it as He tells me. In my stewardship I am not to be guided by the mere whims of human folly, by those who are more ignorant than I am, not by the lesser power, but by the superior and wiser.
Those who are in favor of an equality in property say that that is the doctrine taught in the New Testament. True, the Savior said to the young man, “Go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me,” in order to try him and prove whether he had faith or not. In the days of the Apostles, the brethren sold their possessions and laid them at the Apostles' feet.
And where did many of those brethren go to? To naught, to confusion and destruction.
Could those Apostles keep the Church together, on those principles? No.
Could they build up the kingdom on those principles? No, they never could. Many of those persons were good men, but they were filled with enthusiasm, insomuch that if they owned a little possession they would place it at the feet of the Apostles...
Such a policy would be the ruin of this people, and scatter them to the four winds. We are to be guided by superior knowledge, by a higher influence and power. The superior is not to be directed by the inferior, consequently you need not ask me to throw that which the Lord has put into my hands to the four winds.
If, by industrious habits and honorable dealings, you obtain thousands or millions, little or much, it is your duty to use all that is put in your possession, as judiciously as you have knowledge, to build up the kingdom of God on the earth. Let this people equalize their means, and it would be one of the greatest injuries that could be done to them.
During the past season, those who lived their religion acted upon the principles thereof by extending the hand of charity and benevolence to the poor, freely distributing their flour and other provisions; yet I am fearful that that mode was an injury instead of a real good, although it was designed for good.Or, to put it more succinctly, King Benjamin followed his counsel on beggars with this advice:
Many poor people who receive flour of the brethren, if they have a bushel of wheat will sell it in the stores for that which will do them no good. My object is to accomplish the greatest good to this people. If I can by my wisdom and the wisdom of my brethren, by the wisdom that the Lord gives unto us, get this people into a situation in which they can actually sustain themselves and help their neighbors, it will be one of the greatest temporal blessings that can be conferred upon them. If you wish to place persons in a backsliding condition, make them idle and dilatory in temporal things, even though they may be good Saints in other respects.
If the whole of this people can be put in a situation to take care of themselves, individually, and collectively, it will save a great many from apostatizing, and be productive of much good. I have got to wait for the Lord to dictate from day to day, and from time to time, as to what particular course to pursue for the accomplishment of so desirable a result.
And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order (Mosiah 4:27).Brigham believed that people could be foolhardy in expecting God to provide and admonished the Saints not to have confidence in God or others to their hindrance:
I do not like to have the Saints, those who profess to be Saints, get such extravagant confidence in our God that they will not do one thing to provide for the body, but omit securing provision enough to sustain themselves, and say, “O, I shall have as long as there is any means, or wheat, or flour; I know that brother Brigham will not see me suffer. Mr. Storekeeper, take the little I have and give me some ribbons for it, or a nice dress, for I want the best I can get, and I know that brother Brigham will not let me suffer.”While some may give too much and others take too much, Brigham emphasized the over-riding principle that the Saints have no interest apart from God. (Brigham apparently felt some seemed to be more liberal with the possessions of others, as well.):
Will this course produce good to the people, or are they ignorant that they do not know what course to pursue?
I again say that I do not wish any to take chastisement but those who need it, though most of the people are generally so righteous and liberal that they give over every part of it to their neighbors; they consider that none of it belongs to them. Some are so liberal that they will pick up my cattle on the range and butcher them, saying, “There is nothing here belonging to brother Brigham, nor to anybody else, it is the Lord's, and I will have a little beef.” I wish the people to understand that they have no interest apart from the Lord our God. The moment you have a divided interest, that moment you sever yourselves from eternal principles (JD 4:28-31).
*I've been troubled by this particular sermon for weeks because it is both expansive and remarkable; difficult to break into pieces to analyze without corrupting the whole or leaving something important out. (I have been attempting to make my posts smaller, as I feel the average blogger looks for a quick read.) I was half-tempted to just post the whole sermon and leave it be (you can read it here) but there is too much in it for me to not make some comments. So I'm covering the sermon in a series called "Implicit Confidence in God." See Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
Henry B. Eyring, “Remembrance and Gratitude,” Ensign, Nov. 1989, 11.
Ibid. Pres. Eyring then quoted King Benjamin:
“And again I say unto you as I have said before, that as ye have come to the knowledge of the glory of God, or if ye have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls, even so I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come, which was spoken by the mouth of the angel. “And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true.” (Mosiah 4:11–12.)
For example, Orderville was a community forged on the principles of the United Order. President Eyring describes the downfall of Orderville in “Remembrance and Gratitude,” Ensign, Nov. 1989, 11. See also Leonard Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-day Saints, 1830-1900; University of Illinois Press.
This hypothetical saying likely refers to the law of consecration, which was first mentioned in revelation to Joseph Smith in 1831 (see Doctrine and Covenants 42). His revelation was received after discovering a group of approximately fifty people near Kirtland, Ohio who had established a communitarian society where all things would be "held in common" as mentioned in Acts 2:44-45; 4: 32. One member of the group, Levi W. Hancock, described some of the problems they encountered in their experiment. He claimed a man named Heman Basset took a pocketwatch that belonged to him and sold it and later explained “Oh, I thought it was all in the family.” Levi said he did not like such “family doing.” (See “Levi Hancock Journal,” LDS Historical Department, Salt Lake City, p. 81; Church History in the Fulness of Times, Chapter Eight.)
On Brigham Young's financial condition and distribution of goods, see Leonard Arrington, Brigham Young: American Moses. A month after this sermon Brigham touched on the same principles, lamenting that though he had taught these things many times, "there is not a man or woman in this congregation that understands them in their fulness. These are simple principles that should be learned." Specifically:
Do you think the angels of the Lord lust after the things that are before them? All heaven is before us, and all this earth, the gold and the silver, all these are at our command, and shall we lust after them? They are all within our reach; they are for the Saints whom God loves, even all who fix their minds upon Him and the interests of His kingdom. Our Father possesses all the riches of eternity, and all those riches are vouchsafed unto us, and yet we lust after them...And notwithstanding all that has been taught, still the people are full of idolatry, the spirit of contention and the spirit of the world are in them, and they are full of the things of the world. (JD 4:44-45).