Following Those Whom God Has Chosen to Preside
“Chapter 8: Following Those Whom God Has Chosen to Preside,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant, 71
We support the authorities of the Church by praying for them, following their inspired counsel, and sustaining them in their labors.
From the Life of Heber J. Grant
When Elder Heber J. Grant began his service in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he did so with unswerving loyalty to the President of the Church. Just after receiving his call, he wrote to his cousin Anthony W. Ivins, “I can truthfully say that never in my life have I seen the time that I was not willing to change my plan of action at the word of command from God’s servants.” 1
As a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Grant had many experiences that strengthened his testimony of the President of the Church as the Lord’s mouthpiece on the earth. Later, when he himself was President of the Church, he told of one such experience, in which he saw the inspiration of the Lord to President Wilford Woodruff. In 1890 President Woodruff announced that it was the will of the Lord that the Saints establish a business to manufacture beet sugar in Utah. Elder Grant served on a committee that was formed “to look into the matter.” After careful research, the committee unanimously recommended that the Church abandon the idea.
However, reported President Grant, “President Woodruff was not satisfied. Another committee was appointed. I was on the first committee and he appointed me on the second committee. I begged to be excused, because I had already formed my opinion, had already signed my name to a report, but he would not listen to my request to be excused. We went into the matter again, thoroughly and carefully, and the second committee reported adversely. President Woodruff said: ‘Never mind the report. The inspiration to me is to establish the sugar industry.’ ”
True to the instruction of the Lord’s prophet, President Grant and others made plans to build a factory for the manufacturing of beet sugar. However, a nationwide financial crisis in 1891 made it difficult to raise enough money to build the factory. Again a group of experienced businessmen suggested that it would be unwise for the Church to continue in the endeavor. President Grant recalled his leader’s response to the suggestion:
“When the recommendation was presented, Wilford Woodruff’s answer was this: ‘From the day I received a knowledge of the divinity of the gospel of Jesus Christ revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith, from the day that I went out as a humble priest to proclaim that gospel, although it looked like death in front of me, if the path of duty that the gospel required me to tread called me to face death, I have never turned to the right nor turned to the left; and now the inspiration of the Lord to me is to build this factory. Every time I think of abandoning it, there is darkness; and every time I think of building it, there is light. We will build the factory if it bursts the Church.’ ”
“We did build it,” President Grant said later, “and it did not burst the Church.” In fact, the Church later built other factories as well, establishing an industry that was profitable for the Church as a whole and for individual Latter-day Saints. 2
Years later, President Heber J. Grant offered this simple admonition to guide the lives of the Latter-day Saints: “I know of nothing that I feel is of so great value in life as to be obedient to the counsel and advice of the Lord, and of His servants in this our day.” 3
Teachings of Heber J. Grant
The Lord calls His prophets and guides them by inspiration.
I desire upon this occasion, and upon all occasions, to bear witness in all solemnity and in all humility to the divine mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and to the divine mission of each and every one of the men who have been chosen to succeed him. 4
You need have no fear, my dear brothers and sisters, that any man will ever stand at the head of the Church of Jesus Christ unless our Heavenly Father wants him to be there. 5
I can say that the blessings of the Lord have been poured out in rich abundance upon every man who has stood at the head of this Church, because they have all sought righteously for the inspiration of the Spirit of God to guide them in all they have undertaken to do. 6
I became acquainted with Brigham Young when I was a little child six years of age. … I can bear witness of his kindness, of his love to me as an individual, of his love of God and of the inspiration of the Lord that came to him as he stood where I am [now] standing, when I had the privilege of being in the audience and listening to his inspiring words.
I was called into the Council of the Twelve Apostles by a revelation of the Lord to President John Taylor, and from the time that I entered the Council of the Twelve, two years after John Taylor was made President of the Church, until the day of his death, I met with him, week after week. … I know that he was a servant of the living God; I know that the inspiration of the Lord came to him; and I know that upon all occasions, whenever he said: “This is what the Lord desires,” and his associates in the council of the apostles sustained his position, that upon every occasion he was vindicated and the inspiration of the Lord to him showed that his wisdom by the power of God, had been superior to the wisdom of other men.
Several times I have gone to meetings … , knowing that a certain matter was to be discussed and my mind was as perfectly set upon a certain position on that question as it is possible for a man to have his mind set. … While I have gone to meetings … determined in favor of a certain line of policy, I have willingly and freely voted for the exact opposite of that policy, because of the inspiration of the Lord that came to John Taylor. Upon every such occasion the servant of the Lord, President Taylor, was vindicated, and his superior judgment, by the inspiration of the Lord, asserted itself in favor of those things that were for the best good of the people.
I could relate circumstance after circumstance when the apostles have been sent out to accomplish certain labors under the inspiration of the Lord to John Taylor, when they thought they could not accomplish the labors. They have returned and been able to bear testimony that by and with the help of the Lord they had been able to accomplish the labor placed upon them by President Taylor, the Prophet of the Lord. …
I can bear witness that Wilford Woodruff was in very deed a servant of the living God and a true Prophet of God. Wilford Woodruff, a humble man, converted and baptized hundreds of people in a few months in Herefordshire, England. … I believe that no other man who ever walked the face of the earth was a greater converter of souls to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He was a man of the most wonderful and marvelous humility; a man who had never been engaged in any great business affairs; a man who had devoted himself to farming, who had been engaged in raising fruits and cultivating the soil; a humble man, of whom I had heard many people say that he lacked the ability to preside over the Church of Christ. But I want to bear witness to you that, under the inspiration of the Lord, and because of the humility of the man, because of his godlike life and because God loved him, he was blessed upon more than one occasion with wisdom that was superior to all the wisdom of the bright financial minds in the Church. …
I know that Lorenzo Snow was a Prophet of God. … Lorenzo Snow came to the presidency of the Church when he was eighty-five years of age, and what he accomplished during the next three years of his life is simply marvelous to contemplate. He lifted the Church … from almost financial bankruptcy. … In three short years this man, beyond the age of ability in the estimation of the world, this man who had not been engaged in financial affairs, who had been devoting his life for years to laboring in the Temple, took hold of the finances of the Church of Christ, under the inspiration of the living God, and in those three years changed everything, financially, from darkness to light. …
… I bear witness to you that from my early childhood days, when I could not thoroughly understand and comprehend the teachings of the gospel, that I have had my very being thrilled, and tears have rolled down my cheeks, under the inspiration of the living God, as I have listened to Joseph F. Smith when preaching the gospel. … He always filled my being and lifted me up as I listened to him proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. I bear witness that he was one of the greatest prophets of God that has ever lived; that God was with him from the day that he went forth as a little boy of fifteen years of age, to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in the Hawaiian Islands, until the day when, after giving sixty-five years of his life to the work of God, he closed his earthly career. 7
It has fallen to my lot, although a very weak, humble instrument in the hands of the Lord, to succeed the wonderful men who have presided over this Church—the Prophet Joseph Smith, than whom no greater man I believe has ever graced the earth; that marvelous pioneer, Brigham Young; that mighty champion of liberty, John Taylor; that exceptional converter of men to the gospel of Jesus Christ, Wilford Woodruff; Lorenzo Snow, an extraordinary man of eighty-five years of age, who in three years lifted the Church … to a place of financial standing; and that man, beloved by all who knew him, one of the outstanding men of all the world, Joseph F. Smith, the greatest preacher of righteousness I have ever known. 8
It has never ceased to be a wonder to me that I do represent the Lord here upon the earth. My association from childhood with the remarkable and wonderful men that have preceded me has made it almost overwhelming to think of being in the same class with them.
The last words uttered by President Joseph F. Smith were to the effect that, when he shook hands with me—he died that night—“The Lord bless you, my boy, the Lord bless you; you have got a great responsibility. Always remember this is the Lord’s work and not man’s. The Lord is greater than any man. He knows whom He wants to lead His Church, and never makes any mistake. The Lord bless you.” 9
Prophets receive inspiration for the benefit of the Church.
I thank the Lord for my intimate association, from a little child, with Presidents Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, and with President Joseph F. Smith. I thank the Lord that I have never known anything but good in all my associations for fifty years with these men. … I have never heard in public or in private anything fall from the lips of the servants of God, who have been chosen to stand at the head of this work, but what was for the uplift and the betterment of the people of God. 10
I have been very thankful indeed to know beyond the peradventure of a doubt through my association as one of the Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ that John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, and Joseph F. Smith had their hearts set absolutely and unalterably upon laboring for the advancement of the Latter-day Saints, for the spread of the gospel at home and abroad, and to know that the supreme desire of their lives was for the advancement and progress of the gospel of life, and for the salvation of the Latter-day Saints. I am thankful to know absolutely that … the hearts of these leaders were set absolutely on the welfare and the advancement of the people of God, and that they never spared themselves in their labors for the good of the people, that their daily thoughts, prayers, and desires were for the advancement of the people. I do know that those who sustained these men with their faith and with their prayers, and with their good works, were blessed of God, not only with an increase of faith and love of God and a testimony of the divinity of the Gospel work in which we are engaged, but they were blessed in their basket, in their store, that their lands were blessed, and that they were blessed with wisdom in their families, to train them in the nurture and admonitions of God. 11
I have never had any desire in my heart in standing before the Latter-day Saints other than that I might be able to say something that would be for their good, for their benefit; and that would be calculated in its nature to encourage them, and to fix in their hearts a desire and a determination to be more faithful, more diligent, more energetic in the discharge of the duties that devolve upon them in the future of their lives than they have been in the past. 12
We are blessed as we honor and follow those who preside over us.
Pray for the authorities of the Church, and then sustain them in every labor and in all that they undertake to do. 13
From my own experience, I know that in the homes of the Latter-day Saints, from the days of Presidents Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow and Joseph F. Smith, up to the present time, there has ascended, day after day, earnest and heartfelt prayers to God for the inspiration of the Lord to attend the men who stand as the presidency of this Church, the apostles and the other general authorities; that they may, one and all, be inspired of God to accomplish those things that will be for the best good of His children and for the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world. I do know, after … years of experience, that the men who occupy positions in our day as apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ have been endowed with the spirit of the living God. 14
Faith is a gift of God, and when people have faith to live the gospel, and to listen to the counsel of those who preside in the wards and stakes and of the General Authorities of the Church, it has been my experience that they have been abundantly blessed of the Lord, and that many of them have come out of great financial and other difficulties in a most miraculous and wonderful way. 15
Let us be ready and willing to follow our file leaders, and to sustain them. … You will always be blessed and benefitted in following the advice and counsel of those whom God has chosen to preside over the Church. By honoring the man God has chosen, God will honor and bless you; and as you individually do your duty, you will grow and increase in the light and inspiration of the Spirit of God. As we grow and increase individually, so will the Church grow and increase. … This is the work of God. Joseph Smith was a prophet of God; we must remember that. We must “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” and then shall all other things be added [see Matthew 6:33]. Life eternal is what we are working for. Do not allow the wisdom, the riches or the education of the world, or anything else, to blind our eyes to the fact that this is God’s work, and that the mouthpiece of God is on the earth; when he speaks, let us be ready and willing, with our time, our talents and all that has been given us, to labor to fulfill what God desires. I tell you, God will vindicate His mouthpiece. 16
I hope and pray that the saints will live the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I hope that they will listen to the teachings of the presidents of stakes and bishops of wards. I want to say that we expect every president of a stake and every bishop of a ward to teach the people the truth. We want them to tell the people that they are expected to obey the Word of Wisdom, to be honest tithe-payers, to remember the covenants that they make in the temples of God, … and that we expect them to do their duty as saints, and to preach the Gospel by living it. 17
There are many people who, if the servants of the Lord preach to them year after year, what is said has no particular effect upon them. But these same people, if they receive advice of some man of worldly wisdom, immediately follow it. I remember … preaching a sermon upon the Word of Wisdom. Subsequently I learned that a good sister who heard my sermon was taken sick and wired for a doctor to come from Salt Lake City, by special engine, and it cost her several hundred dollars to learn from this doctor that she was drinking too much tea, and unless she quit, would be sure to die. She accepted his advice and got well. Had she listened to my advice which would have cost her nothing, she would have saved several hundred dollars, to say nothing about being in perfect harmony with the teachings of the Lord, as revealed in the Word of Wisdom. 18
We sing and have done so constantly, “We thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet to guide us in these latter days.” [Hymns,no. 19.]
There are a great many who … put a postscript to that and say: “Provided he guides us to suit our own fancies and our own whims.”
The prophets of God, from Joseph Smith to the present day, have guided us and they have guided us aright, when we have listened to that guidance. The mistakes which have been made have been because of our failure to listen to the prophet whose right it is to guide the people of God. …
I know that the path of safety for the Latter-day Saints is not only to sing, “We thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet, to guide us in these latter days,” but to be ready and willing and anxious to be guided. 19
Suggestions for Study and Discussion
• What does it mean to sustain and follow those who have been called to preside over us?
• What can parents do to teach their children to sustain Church leaders?
• What blessings have you and your family members received as you have followed the counsel of Church leaders? In what ways have such experiences increased your faith and testimony?
• What counsel have we recently received from the living prophet? What are some specific things you can do to live according to the prophet’s teachings?
11. Address delivered at the dedication of the Cardston Alberta Temple, Family and Church History Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
14. “Spirit of the Lord Attends Elders of Church Who Strive to Obtain His Aid While Speaking in Public,” Deseret Evening News, 15 Mar. 1919, section 4, VII.