June 20, 2008

Brigham's Testimony: Receive and Retain

Brigham Young August 31, 1856

I appear before you to bear my testimony to the truth of “Mormonism,” that Joseph Smith, Jun., was a Prophet called of God, and that he did translate the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of the Holy Ghost. This same testimony all can bear, who have received and continue to retain the Spirit of the Gospel (JD 4:33).

June 18, 2008

"They forget they are in Zion's ship": Circumstances and Character

Brigham Young  
August 31, 1856

After two returning missionaries addressed the Saints in the Bowery at Temple Square, Brigham explained how happy he was to hear their testimonies and see their joy in returning from the field. Coming home and beholding the saints was like a "feast to overflowing" to Brigham.

The first elder, a brother Clinton, rejoiced exceedingly, Brigham said, "because the lightning and thunder are in him." Brother Robbins, on the other hand, had a different mission "of such a nature that the lightning and thunder in him have lain dormant, to a certain degree, and he has not enjoyed himself so well as he would, had he been sent solely to preach and build up churches." As of yet I have not found conclusive evidence as to what the exact nature of "brother Robbins'" mission was, but it seems to have been political in nature.1 Perhaps his mission was more mundane than that of his counterpart who returned with "thunder and lightning in him."

Both men had different missions and reacted differently to their situations. Still, Brigham assured them both, and the congregation, he was "perfectly satisfied with the labors of the brethren who have returned from their missions this season, and have come on the stand today, and at other times; I am highly gratified with the doings and labors of those Elders." Brigham was something of a frontier sociologist, he enjoyed talking about the various reactions, temperaments, and faith of Mormon immigrants. He felt it could be difficult to sustain a fervent faith in a community completely dominated by Latter-day Saints; the tendency may be to "glide along" and slowly lose interest.

Right here, in our midst, many who gather from foreign lands, who have undergone all the toil, labor, and hardship that it is possible for their nature to sustain on their journey, after they arrive in these valleys begin to sink in their spirits, neglect their duties, and in a little time do not know whether “Mormonism” is true or not. Take the same persons and keep them among the wicked, and they will preserve their armor bright, but it has become dull and rusty here; this is the cause of so many leaving these valleys. The seas are so calm and the vessel is wafted over them so smoothly, and in a manner so congenial to the feelings of the people, that they forget that they are in Zion's ship.2
This is the main reason of so many leaving for the States, California, and other places. Send those persons among their enemies, among those who will oppose “Mormonism,” among those who will oppose the truth, and let them be continually persecuted, and they will know very quickly whether they are “Mormons” or not, for they must go to the one side or the other. But the condition of society here, and the feelings of the people, are so different from those of the wicked, that many glide smoothly along, forget their religion and their God, and finally think that this is not the place for them and go away (JD 4:33-34).

Clearly there were Latter-day Saints who didn't fall away in such a manner. In addition to the point that opposition can lead to stronger convictions, Brigham taught the principle that circumstances in general help shape us, but are not the sole determinant of who we become. Agency plays a part.

This idea was expressed by the Book of Mormon prophet Lehi in the patriarchal blessing he bestowed upon his son Jacob in 2 Nephi 2. Jacob was born in the wilderness after Lehi and the others left Jerusalem, and thus had no knowledge of the family's circumstances before their exodus.3 Just before his teaching the principle of opposition in all things, Lehi told Jacob that though he had "suffered afflictions and much sorrow" the Lord would "consecrate [his] afflictions for [his] gain" (2 Nephi 2:1-24. Lehi indicated the inevitability of the bitterness in opposition to the sweet, but used Jacob as an example that bitterness wouldn't make someone bitter.

Whether it be trials of hardship, loss, and sorrow, or trials of complacency, the mundane, or narrow experience, both Brigham and Lehi emphasized how people are shaped by experiences, but that ultimately, agency makes the difference.  


[1]Later in the sermon Brigham refers to specific things Robbins mentioned in his talk, including criticizing the US government regarding opposition to plural marriage (Brigham: "Brother Robbins, in his remarks, said that the Constitution of the United States forbids making an ex post facto law.") He also mentioned the "slave question," which will be discussed in a forthcoming post. 

"Zion's ship," or "the Old Ship Zion" was a metaphor commonly employed by Brigham Young. For example, on May 15, 1865 he stated "We are in the midst of the ocean. A storm comes on, and, as sailors say, she labors very hard. "I am not going to stay here," says one; "I don't believe this is the Ship Zion." "But we are in the midst of the ocean." "I don't care, I am not going to stay here." Off goes the coat, and he jumps overboard. Will he not be drowned? Yes. So with those who leave this Church. It is the old Ship Zion, let us stay in it." (JD 11:107). For more examples, see Davis Bitton, "Down to the Sea in Ships," Meridian Magazine, no date. 

Other general authorities also applied the metaphor, as Brigham did, usually in reference to apostasy. George Albert Smith:  
"Some men in their hours of darkness may feel—I have heard of men feeling so—that the work is about done, that the enemies of the Saints have become so powerful, and bring such vast wealth and energy to bear against them that we are all going to be crushed out pretty soon. I will say to such brethren, it is very bad policy for you, because you think the old ship Zion is going to sink, to jump overboard, for if you jump overboard you are gone anyhow, and the old ship Zion will ride triumphantly through all the storms, and everybody who proves unworthy to remain on board of her and jumps overboard will repent of it when it is too late, as many have done already" (October 16, 1874, JD 17:199-200, ).  
[3] Was Lehi wealthy? Apparently the family had enough goods to offer to Laban in exchange for the brass plates as well as a "land of inheritance"(1 Ne. 3:22-25). Hugh Nibley posited that Lehi was a caravaneer, or traveling merchant (see Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, The World of the Jaredites, There Were Jaredites, 34–42). John A. Tvedtnes, in "Was Lehi a Caravaneer?" argued that Lehi was involved in metallurgy (see (Tvedtnes, The Most Correct Book: Insights From a Book of Mormon Scholar, 76-98).  

cf. D&C 121:7-8 

Photograph by Charles Savage, "Middle-aged Brigham Young bust portrait," ca. 1847-1860, MSS P 24 Item 550, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, cropped.