Observing the Word of Wisdom
“Chapter 21: Observing the Word of Wisdom,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant, 189
The Lord gave us the Word of Wisdom for our temporal and spiritual salvation.
From the Life of Heber J. Grant
During President Heber J. Grant’s service as an Apostle and as President of the Church, he and other General Authorities often were inspired to address the Saints concerning the Word of Wisdom, a revelation found in Doctrine and Covenants 89. In this revelation, the Lord prohibits the consumption of alcohol, tobacco, and hot drinks, which latter-day prophets have defined to be tea and coffee (see D&C 89:5–9). The Lord also says that wholesome herbs, grains, and fruits are “ordained for the use of man,” along with meat, which is “to be used sparingly” (see D&C 89:10–17). In addition to exhorting the Saints to obey this specific counsel, President Grant and other Presidents of the Church have spoken out against the use of harmful or habit-forming substances such as illegal drugs. President Grant said, “The Lord does not want you to use any drug that creates an appetite for itself.” 1
Much of President Grant’s motivation for preaching the Word of Wisdom came because he had a friend whose life was ruined by cigarettes and liquor. This young man gave up smoking so he could serve a mission, but he started to smoke immediately after his release from full-time missionary service. Smoking led to liquor drinking, and liquor drinking led to a loss of virtue and to excommunication from the Church. He died at a young age, and Heber J. Grant went to visit his grave. “As I stood at his grave,” President Grant recalled, “I looked up to heaven and made a pledge to my God that liquor and tobacco would have in me an enemy who would fight with all the ability that God would give me until the day of my death.” 2
Some members of the Church in President Grant’s day complained about the numerous sermons they heard on the Word of Wisdom. President Grant commented: “There is seldom a conference when someone does not take it upon himself to tell us: ‘Please do not speak on the Word of Wisdom. We hear it so much, we are sick and tired of it.’ ” President Grant responded to such complaints by saying: “No mortal man who is a Latter-day Saint and is keeping the Word of Wisdom is ever sick and tired of hearing it. When a man leaves a meeting and says … ‘Can’t they find something else to talk about besides the Word of Wisdom; I am sick and tired of it’—of course he is, because he is full of stuff that the Word of Wisdom tells him to leave alone.” 3
From personal experience, President Grant knew that those who obey the Word of Wisdom will not be immune from all sickness and disease. He acknowledged that “being blessed does not mean that we shall always be spared all the disappointments and difficulties of life.” 4 However, he repeatedly testified that when Latter-day Saints keep the Word of Wisdom, they receive blessings of health, prosperity, and spiritual strength that they would not be able to receive if they did not obey this law.
In the April 1933 general conference, President Grant said that because he had kept the Word of Wisdom, the Lord had allowed him to live to accomplish his mission on the earth. “I leave my testimony with you,” he said, “that I believe as firmly as I believe anything in this world that I would not be standing here today talking to you if I had not obeyed the Word of Wisdom. When my appendix was removed it had broken, and blood poisoning, so they said, in the third and last stage, had set in. There were nine doctors present and eight said I had to die. The chief surgeon … turned to President Joseph F. Smith, and said: ‘Mr. Smith, you need not think of such a possibility or probability as that this man shall live. Why, if he should live it would be a miracle, and this is not the day of miracles.’
“That was the message delivered to me by Joseph F. Smith himself during his last sickness, and he said: ‘Our doctor friend who said it would be a miracle has passed away. I never saw you looking healthier in my life than you do today, Heber.’
“I said to the nurse who told me regarding these nine doctors that I did not want to meet any of them, except the one who said and believed that I would pull through. She said: ‘He is the house doctor; I will call him in.’
“I asked him why he disagreed with the others, and he smiled, … and he said: ‘Mister Grant, I just took a chance, sir. I have felt the pulse, sir, of thousands of patients, being a house doctor, in many many hospitals, but I never felt a pulse just like yours, sir. Why, do you know, sir, in all of the tests that I made during an hour and three quarters that you were under the knife your heart never missed one single, solitary beat, and I made up my mind that that heart would pull you through.’
“What kind of a heart did I have? I had a heart that had pure blood in it, that was not contaminated by tea, coffee or liquor. That is why the poison in my system was overcome.” 5
“May God help you and me and every Latter-day Saint to observe the Word of Wisdom,” President Grant once prayed, “that we may have health and hidden treasures of knowledge, and that God will allow us to live here upon the earth until we have filled out the measure of our creation.” 6
Teachings of Heber J. Grant
The Word of Wisdom is the law of life and health to the Latter-day Saints.
I find recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants a very short passage which reads:
“I the Lord am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” [D&C 82:10.]
I wish that every Latter-day Saint would remember these few words. How I wish that they were engraven upon our memories and upon our hearts, and that we would determine that God shall be bound to fulfill His promises unto us, because we will keep His commandments. There is a law irrevocably decreed in heaven—so we are told by the Prophet Joseph—before the foundations of the world, upon which all blessings are predicated, and when we receive any blessing, it is by obedience to the law upon which it is predicated [see D&C 130:20–21]. If you and I desire the blessings of life, of health, of vigor of body and mind; if we desire the destroying angel to pass us by, as he did in the days of the children of Israel, we must obey the Word of Wisdom; then God is bound, and the blessing shall come to us. 7
After telling us what is good for us [see D&C 89:10–17], the Lord makes a promise that is one of the most marvelous, one of the most uplifting and inspiring promises that could possibly be made to mortal man. He says:
“And all Saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones;
“And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures;
“And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint.
“And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them.” [D&C 89:18–21.] …
The Lord has told us through the Prophet Joseph Smith:
“If a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life, through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.” [D&C 130:19.]
No man who breaks the Word of Wisdom can gain the same amount of knowledge and intelligence in this world as the man who obeys that law. I don’t care who he is or where he comes from, his mind will not be as clear, and he cannot advance as far and as rapidly and retain his power as much as he would if he obeyed the Word of Wisdom. 8
Another reason for which I am so anxious that the Latter-day Saints should observe the Word of Wisdom is that the Lord says it was given to us for our temporal salvation [see D&C 89:2]. I would like it known that if we as a people never used a particle of tea or coffee or of tobacco or of liquor, we would become one of the most wealthy people in the world. Why? Because we would have increased vigor of body, increased vigor of mind; we would grow spiritually; we would have a more direct line of communication with God, our Heavenly Father; we would be able to accomplish more. …
Many a professed Latter-day Saint in hard times has lost the home that sheltered his wife and his children, who, if he had observed the Word of Wisdom, would have been able to save it. The violation of the Word of Wisdom has meant the difference between failure and success. By observing the Word of Wisdom, sufficient money to pay the interest on the mortgage would have been forthcoming, with additional help to take care of his family and farm. 9
I do not want to interfere with any man’s rights or privileges. I do not want to dictate to any man. But when the Lord gives a revelation and tells me what is for my financial benefit and the financial benefit of this people, because “of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days,” [D&C 89:4] I do think that at least the Latter-day Saints should listen to what the Lord has said. 10
No man or woman who is keeping the Word of Wisdom finds fault with it. Why? Because they know of the health they enjoy, they know of the peace, the joy, the comfort, the satisfaction that come to their hearts when they do what the Lord wants them to do. 11
There is absolutely no benefit to any human being derived from breaking the Word of Wisdom, but there is everything for his benefit, morally, intellectually, physically and spiritually in obeying it. 12
The law of life and health to the Latter-day Saints is to obey the Word of Wisdom. 13
Those who disobey the Word of Wisdom are weakened physically and spiritually.
Do we ever stop to think that the Creator of heaven and earth, the Maker of all that we see in this great universe, the Father of our spirits, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in the spirit and in the flesh, has communicated with us, that he has given us counsel and advice such as will lead us back into his presence, that will give us vigor of body and of mind?
And yet there are hundreds, there are thousands among the Latter-day Saints to whom the Lord God Almighty has given a testimony and a knowledge that he lives, a knowledge that Jesus is the Christ, a knowledge that Joseph Smith was a prophet of the true and living God, and who are able to bear that witness and to testify of it at home and abroad, who, when the Lord God Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, tells them what is good for them, physically and spiritually, and writes them a letter, neglect to pay any attention to it. I am sorry to say that today there are many of the sons and daughters of the Latter-day Saints—some of the sons and daughters of leading men and women in this Church, who are having social gatherings and who think that it shows a spirit of liberality and of broadness to drink wine and to have their tea and coffee and to play their cards, and to do those things that we have been taught are not good for us. I am going to read to you a letter from the Lord to the Latter-day Saints. [After making this statement, President Grant read Doctrine and Covenants 89.] 14
The crying evil of the age is lack of virtue. There is but one standard of morality in the Church of Christ. We have been taught, thousands of us who have been reared in this Church from our childhood days, that second only to murder is the sin of losing our virtue; and I want to say to the fathers and to the mothers, and to the sons and daughters, in our Primary, in our Mutual Improvement Associations, in our seminaries and institutes, in Sunday School, in the Relief Society and in all of our Priesthood quorums—I want it understood that the use of liquor and tobacco is one of the chief means in the hands of the adversary whereby he is enabled to lead boys and girls from virtue.
Nearly always those who lose their virtue first partake of those things that excite passions within them or lower their resistance and becloud their minds. … The young men and young women of today who think they are being smart by getting a little wine and a little liquor in their homes, and doing that which the Lord tells them not to do, are laying a foundation that will lead to their destruction eventually. They cannot go on breaking the commandments of the Lord without getting into the rapids. And what are the rapids? The rapids of moderate drinking [often] lead to excessive drinking, and excessive drinking leads to the destruction of body and of mind and of faith. 15
When disease attacks a man whose body is full of tobacco and full of liquor, or who has been guilty of excesses and abuses in any phase of living, then he has no claim on these promises [referring to D&C 89:18–21]. 16
With the Lord’s help, every Latter-day Saint can keep the Word of Wisdom.
The Lord has endowed me with no gift, with no power, with no ability, with no talent, but what he will ask me to give an account for it; and he has endowed every man, woman and child among the Latter-day Saints with the power and the ability to keep the Word of Wisdom. 17
“A Word of Wisdom, for the benefit of the council of high priests, assembled in Kirtland, and the Church, and also the Saints in Zion—
“To be sent greeting; not by commandment or constraint—”
Some say, “Oh, that is how I get around it. It is not given by commandment or constraint.” What is it? I will tell you what it is—
“but by revelation and the word of wisdom, showing forth the order and will of God.” [D&C 89:1–2.]
When the Lord shows forth his order and his will, do not try to sing lullabies to your conscience, any one of you who is breaking the Word of Wisdom. 18
One Sunday I attended a fast meeting in the morning, and another in the afternoon. One of the speakers at the latter meeting was Sister Anna Snow. …
She had come from Scandinavia and from her childhood had been addicted to the use of coffee, and thought she could hardly live without it. But finally, after reaching the age of eighty-two years, she was impressed that she had failed to do her duty in that regard and decided, on her eighty-third birthday, that she would keep the Word of Wisdom still more perfectly and stop drinking coffee. It nearly killed her, but she finally succeeded in overcoming the habit. And she stood up in humility before the people, confessing her failure at not having fully kept the Word of Wisdom and expressed her gratitude to the Lord for giving her the ability, even at this late date, to overcome her failing. And she testified to the benefit she had already received because of the improvement in her health by obeying this law of God.
I was profoundly impressed with her remarkable testimony. How I wish that every one of our good sisters, and our brethren as well, who, year after year, have gone on breaking this simple commandment of the Lord, could have been there and listened to her testimony.
I know a great many people have heard sermons on the Word of Wisdom for many years which have never made any impression upon them. I do not know how in the world we could make an impression upon some people. I know many individuals who have been labored with diligently in private, as well as by public teaching and admonition. But these labors have had no effect upon them. I feel in my heart that it is my duty to try to discover the weak points in my nature, and then pray to the Lord to help me overcome them. As I read the Word of Wisdom, I learn that it is adapted to the weakest of all the weak who are or can be called Saints [see D&C 89:3]. And I believe that it would be a wonderful aid in the advancement of the kingdom of God if all the Latter-day Saints would obey this simple commandment of the Lord. When I heard this aged sister testify that in her advanced years she had overcome, I wished that all Israel could have heard that testimony and been impressed by it. 19
There is not a man or a woman among all the Latter-day Saints but who could keep the Word of Wisdom if they got down on their knees … and pray[ed] to God for help. 20
Suggestions for Study and Discussion
• In what ways does our obedience or lack of obedience to the Word of Wisdom influence our quest for knowledge? our ability to receive personal revelation? our worthiness to enter the temple? our physical health?
• In what ways does obedience to the Word of Wisdom increase our prosperity, both temporally and spiritually? Why is it impossible for individuals to be truly prosperous if they disregard the truths in the Word of Wisdom?
• How can failure to observe the Word of Wisdom lead to loss of virtue?
• If a person is currently having difficulty obeying the Word of Wisdom, what can he or she do to gain the strength to keep this commandment?
17. In Brian H. Stuy, comp., Collected Discourses Delivered by President Wilford Woodruff, His Two Counselors, the Twelve Apostles, and Others, 5 vols. (1987–92), 5:60.