Being Perfected through Trials
“Chapter 22: Being Perfected through Trials,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: John Taylor, 201
If we have to pass through a few trials, a few difficulties, and a few afflictions and to meet with a few privations, they have a tendency to purify the metal, purge it from the dross, and prepare it for the Master’s use. 1
From the Life of John Taylor
John Taylor passed through many trials in his life. Perhaps one of the greatest trials was his experience in Carthage Jail. During the attack in which the Prophet Joseph and his brother Hyrum were martyred, Elder Taylor was shot several times. Severely wounded and unable to travel to Nauvoo, he remained in Carthage for a few days. During this time a local doctor came to remove a bullet from his leg. Elder Taylor’s wounds were of such a serious nature that his wife, who had just arrived, “retired to another room to pray for him that he might have strength to endure it and be restored to her and her family.” When the doctor asked Elder Taylor if he wanted to be tied during the operation, Elder Taylor said no. The surgery took place without any restraints on him and without anesthesia. 2
When several members of the Church arrived in Carthage to return Elder Taylor to Nauvoo, he was so weak from the loss of blood that he could barely whisper. Being unable to ride in a wagon, he was carried on a stretcher toward Nauvoo. However, “the tramping of those who carried him at last produced violent pain. A sleigh was therefore obtained and hitched to the back of [a] wagon. A bed was made on the sleigh, and with Sister Taylor by his side to bathe his wounds with ice-water,” the sleigh slid gently over the thick prairie grass to Nauvoo. 3
Tribulations continued in Nauvoo as Elder Taylor and hundreds of the Saints began leaving the city during February 1846 to escape increasing persecution. A historical account describes their suffering as they camped across the river from Nauvoo: “There they lay, exposed to the inclement season, while only a short distance away—almost in view—were their comfortable houses, their beautiful city and magnificent temple! These homes which they had left, and that city were still theirs, for so hurried had been their departure that they had no time to dispose of property.” 4
Many years later, in 1885, when the Saints were well established in the Salt Lake Valley, President Taylor faced the trial of loneliness and isolation. While in hiding to help ease the persecution of the Church by federal authorities, he was unable to see his loved ones, who were themselves under surveillance. His seclusion became especially difficult during the illness and eventual death of his wife Sophia. Because of safety concerns, he was not able to visit her or even attend her funeral. Though heartbroken, President Taylor “bowed to the hard conditions with that Christian fortitude which had been characteristic of him all his life.” 5 His attitude toward trials was perhaps best expressed in an excerpt of a letter he wrote to his family while he was in hiding: “Some people suppose that persecutions and trials are afflictions; but sometimes, and generally, if we are doing the will of the Lord and keeping His commandments, they may be truly said to be blessings in disguise.” 6
In spite of a life marked with trials, John Taylor remained a valiant servant of the Lord and leader among the Saints, always an example of faith and endurance amid affliction.
Teachings of John Taylor
Trials are necessary for our perfection.
It is necessary men should be tried and purged and purified and made perfect through suffering. And hence we find men in the different ages that have passed through trials and afflictions of every kind, and they had to learn to put their faith in God, and in God alone. 7
We have learned many things through suffering. We call it suffering. I call it a school of experience. I never did bother my head much about these things. I do not today. What are these things for? Why is it that good men should be tried? … I have never looked at these things in any other light than trials for the purpose of purifying the Saints of God that they may be, as the scriptures say, as gold that has been seven times purified by the fire. 8
We complain sometimes about our trials. We need not do that. These are things that are necessary for our perfection. We think sometimes that we are not rightly treated, and I think we think correctly about some of these things. We think there are plots set on foot to entrap us; and I think we think so very correctly. At the same time we need not be astonished at these things. We need not be amazed at a feeling of hatred and animosity. Why? Because we are living in a peculiar day and age of the world; which is distinctively called the latter days. 9
I know that as other men we have our trials, afflictions, sorrows, and privations. We meet with difficulties; we have to contend with the world, with the powers of darkness, with the corruptions of men, and a variety of evils; yet at the same time through these things we have to be made perfect. It is necessary that we should have a knowledge of ourselves, of our true position and standing before God, and comprehend our strength and weakness; our ignorance and intelligence, our wisdom and our folly, that we may know how to appreciate true principles, and comprehend and put a proper value upon all things as they present themselves before our minds.
It is necessary that we should know our own weaknesses, and the weaknesses of our fellow men; our own strength as well as the strength of others; and comprehend our true position before God, angels, and men; that we may be inclined to treat all with due respect, and not to over value our own wisdom or strength, nor depreciate it, nor that of others; but put our trust in the living God, and follow after him, and realise that we are his children, and that he is our Father, and that our dependence is upon him, and that every blessing we receive flows from his beneficent hand. 10
Peter in speaking of [trials], said: “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.” [1 Peter 4:12–13.] He might just as well have told them that it would be so, so long as there was a God in heaven, and a devil in hell; and it is absolutely necessary that it should be so. Concerning these matters I do not have any trouble. What if we have to suffer affliction! We came here for that purpose; we came in order that we might be purified; and this is intended to give us a knowledge of God, of our weakness and strength; of our corruptions, … to give us a knowledge of eternal life, that we may be enabled to overcome all evil and be exalted to thrones of power and glory. 11
The Savior fully comprehends our trials.
It was necessary that he [Christ] should have a body like ours, and be made subject to all the weaknesses of the flesh, that the devil should be let loose upon him, and that he should be tried like other men. Then again, in Gethsemane, he was left alone, and so great was the struggle that, we are told, he sweat, as it were, great drops of blood [see Luke 22:44]. In the great day when he was about to sacrifice his life, he said, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” [Matthew 27:46.] He has passed through all this, and when he sees you passing through these trials and afflictions, he knows how to feel towards you—how to sympathize with you. 12
It was necessary when the Savior was upon the earth, that he “should be tempted in all points like unto us,” and “be touched with the feelings of our infirmities,” [see Hebrews 4:15] to comprehend the weaknesses and strength; the perfections and imperfections of poor fallen human nature; and having accomplished the thing he came into the world to do, having had to grapple with the hypocrisy, corruption, weakness, and imbecility of man—having met with temptation and trial in all its various forms, and overcome, he has become “A faithful high priest” [see Hebrews 2:17] to intercede for us in the everlasting kingdom of his Father. He knows how to estimate, and put a proper value upon human nature, for he, having been placed in the same position as we were, knows how to bear with our weaknesses and infirmities, and can fully comprehend the depth, power, and strength of the afflictions and trials that men have to cope with in this world, and thus understandingly and by experience, he can bear with them as a father and an elder brother. 13
We will be blessed if we endure our trials with patience and obedience.
In all these events which are now taking place we recognize and acknowledge the hand of God. There is a wise purpose in it all, which He will yet more fully make plain to us. One thing is clear, the Saints are being tried in a manner never before known among us. The faithful rejoice and are steadfast; the unfaithful fear and tremble. Those who have oil in their lamps and have kept them trimmed and burning now have a light for their feet and they do not stumble or fall; those who have neither light nor oil are in perplexity and doubt; they know not what to do. Is not this the fulfillment of the word of God and the teachings of His servants? Have not the Latter-day Saints been taught all the day long that, if they would remain faithful and endure to the end, they must live their religion by keeping every commandment of God? Have they not been continually warned of the fate which awaited them if they committed sin? Can adulterers, fornicators, liars, thieves, drunkards, Sabbath breakers, blasphemers, or sinners of any kind endure the trials, which Saints must pass through and expect to stand? …
If all who call themselves Latter-day Saints were true and faithful to their God, to His holy covenants and laws, and were living as Saints should, persecution would roll off from us without disturbing us in the least. But it is painful to know that this is not their condition. … He has also said that if His people will obey His laws and keep His commandments, to do them, not in name only, but in reality, He will be their shield and protector and strong tower, and no man will be able to hurt them, for He will be their defense. These trials of our faith and constancy which we are now passing through will be overruled for our good and future prosperity. In days to come we shall be able to look back and perceive with clearness how visibly God’s providence is in all that we now witness. Let us do all in our power to so live before the Lord that if we are persecuted, it shall not be for wrong-doing, but for righteousness. 14
Do you not see the necessity of these trials and afflictions and scenes we have to pass through? It is the Lord who puts us in positions that are the most calculated to promote the best interest of his people. My opinion is that, far from these things that now surround us being an injury to us and the kingdom of God, they will give it one of the greatest hoists [or lifts] that it has ever had yet, and all is right and all will be right if we keep the commandments of God. What is the position, then, that we ought to occupy—every man, woman and child? Do our duty before God, honor him, and all is right. And concerning events yet to transpire, we must trust them in the hands of God and feel that whatever is, is right, and that God will control all things for our best good and the interest of his church and kingdom on the earth. …
If we have to pass through affliction, all right. By and bye, when we come to gaze on the fitness of things that are now obscure to us, we shall find that God, although he has moved in a mysterious way to accomplish his purposes on the earth and his purposes relative to us as individuals and as families, all things are governed by that wisdom which flows from God and all things are right and calculated to promote every person’s eternal welfare before God. 15
We say to all the Latter-day Saints, these trials through which we are now passing will have the effect to prove the Saints and those who are only Saints in name. Those who have been careful to keep oil in their lamps, now have the needed light to guide them; and those who have been living in borrowed light, or in that furnished by others, may find themselves in perplexity and uncertain as to the path to pursue. For all these circumstances the Saints should be prepared. They have been faithfully taught and warned to not depend upon man or upon his strength to enable them to stand the trying day. They have been told, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” [1 John 2:15.] They have been told that no man can serve two masters; that we cannot serve God and mammon [see Luke 16:13]. Those who have observed these teachings, and have diligently kept the other commandments of the Lord, will find themselves in the possession of the needed strength and faith to enable them to bear every trial. 16
I rejoice in afflictions, for they are necessary to humble and prove us, that we may comprehend ourselves, become acquainted with our weakness and infirmities; and I rejoice when I triumph over them, because God answers my prayers; therefore I feel to rejoice all the day long. 17
Suggestions for Study and Discussion
• What are some of the purposes of trials? Why is adversity not withheld from the righteous?
• How would your life be different if you had no trials or hardships? What have you learned about yourself and about God from the things that you have suffered?
• Reflect on your current trials. How can your attitude about your trials change the way you endure or overcome them? How might you improve the way you face your trials?
• What can we do to more fully partake of the comfort and strength that Jesus offers? (See also Hebrews 4:16; 1 Peter 5:6–11.) How have you been strengthened by the Savior’s comfort during times of trial?
• Why is it sometimes difficult to remain patient and obedient when we experience adversity? How can we come to see adversity from the Lord’s eternal perspective?
• What have others done to help you through your trials? How can you help others during their trials? What have you learned from President Taylor’s teachings that you could share with someone who is experiencing trials?
14. In James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. [1965–75], 3:36–37; paragraphing altered.