John Taylor, “The Government of God,” Ensign, Aug 1971, 18–19
On the Incompetency of the Means Made Use Of by Man to Regenerate the World
John Taylor, the third president of the Church, was born at Milnthorpe, England, November 1, 1808. In 1832 he immigrated to the United States, living in Brooklyn and Albany, New York, before taking up residence in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where he acted as class leader and itinerant Methodist preacher. There he was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on May 9, 1836. Called to the apostleship in 1838, he introduced the gospel into Ireland and the Isle of Man and extended his labors to Scotland in the early 1840s. He edited Times & Seasons and the Nauvoo Neighbor at Nauvoo, Illinois, and was severely wounded at Carthage Jail at the time of the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith. In 1851 he published the church papers Etoile du Deseret (French) and Zion’s Panier (German) in Europe. He was sustained as president of the Church October 10, 1880, and died July 25, 1887, at Kaysville, Utah.
President Taylor was a hymnist of note. One of his great books, The Government of God, was completed in 1851 and printed in 1852. The Ensign here reprints chapter three of that volume. It bears the title “On the Incompetency of the Means Made Use Of by Man to Regenerate the World.”
I purpose in this Chapter to shew the incompetency of the means made use of by man for the accomplishment of the purposes of God—the establishment of His Kingdom, or Millennial reign.
Now, if it is the kingdom of God that is to be established, it must be introduced by God. He must not only be the originator of it, but the controller also; and any means short of these must fail of the object designed.
The great evils that now exist in the world are the consequences of man’s departure from God. This has introduced this degeneracy and imbecility, and nothing but a retracing of his steps, and a return to God can bring about a restitution.
God gave to man a moral agency, as head of the world, under himself. Man has usurped the sole authority, and taken upon himself to reign and rule without God. The natural consequence is, that we have inherited all the evils of which I have spoken, and nothing but the wisdom, goodness, power, and compassion of God, can deliver us therefrom, restore the earth to its pristine excellence, and put man again in possession of those blessings which he has forfeited by his transgression. Emperors, kings, princes, potentates, statesmen, philosophers, and churches, have tried for ages to bring this state of things about; but they have all signally failed, not having derived their wisdom from the proper source. And all human means made use of at the present time to ameliorate the condition of the world must fail, as all human means have always done.
There are some who suppose that the influence of Christianity, as it is now preached and administered, will bring about a Millennial reign of peace. We will briefly examine the subject.
First, we will take the Greek and Catholic Churches as they have existed for ages—without an examination of their doctrines, whether right or wrong—for they form two of the largest branches of the Christian Church. They have, more or less, governed a great portion of Europe at different times; and what is the situation of the people and nations where they have held sway?
We have noticed the effects, and already briefly touched upon the evils that prevail in those countries; and if Greece and Russia, or any other country where the Greek Church has held sway, be a fair specimen of the influence of that church, we have very little prospect, if that religion were more widely diffused or extended, that the results would be more beneficial, for if it has failed in a few nations to ameliorate their condition, it would necessarily fail to benefit the earth if extended over it.
Nor do we turn with any better prospect to the Catholic religion. Of what benefit has it been to nations where it has prevailed the most? Has there been less war, less animosity, less butchery, less evil of any kind under its empire? It cannot be said that it has been crippled in its progress or its operations. It has held full sway in Spain, Rome, and a great portion of Italy, in France and Mexico for generations, not to mention many smaller states. Has it augmented the happiness of those nations of the world? I need not here refer to the history of the Waldenses, and Albigenses, and Huguenots, to that of the Crusades, wherein so many Christian kings engaged; nor to the unhappy differences, the wars and commotions, the bloodshed and carnage, that have existed among these people, for their history is well known. And the present position of both the Greek and Roman churches, presents a spectacle that is anything but encouraging to lead us to hope, that if the world were under their influence, a Millennial reign of peace and righteousness would ensue.
And let not any one say that these churches have not had a fair opportunity to develop themselves, for their religion prevailed and was cherished in those nations. They have held universal sway, at different times, for generations. The kings, councils, and legislatures, have been Catholic or Greek. In Rome, the Pope has ruled supreme, and also for some time in Lombardy, Ravenna, and other States. In Greece, the Patriarch of Constantinople was, and in Russia, the Emperor, is head of the church.
But, methinks I hear the Protestants say, we fully accord with you thus far, but we have placed Christianity on another footing. Let us examine this subject for a moment.
The question would naturally follow, What have the reformations of Calvin, Luther, and other reformers, done for the world? We may notice that Denmark, Sweden, Prussia, with a great part of Germany, Holland, and Switzerland, as also England and the United States, are Protestant. What can we say of them? That they are a part of the disorganized world, and have manifested the same unhappy dispositions as other portions. Reform has not altered their dispositions or circumstances. We see among them the same ambitious, grasping, reckless disposition manifested, and consequently the same wars, bloodshed, poverty, misery, and distress; and millions of human beings have been sacrificed to their pride, ambition, avarice, and thirst for national fame and glory.
The Reformation of the Church of England is anything but creditable to that church. I refer to Henry VIII, and the vacillating course taken by some of its early reformers; and its persecution of those who were opposed to it in religious faith.
I might here refer to the religious intolerance of Calvin of Geneva, and Knox of Scotland, and other reformers; but, as these are mere individual affairs, I pass over them. If we look at Christian nations as a whole, we see a picture that is truly lamentable; a miserable portrait of poor, degenerated, fallen humanity. We see Christian nations arrayed against Christian nations in battle, with the Christian ministers of each Christian nation calling upon the Christian’s God to give them each the victory over their enemies! Christians! and worshippers of the same God!!
Hence, Christian England has been arrayed against Christian France; Christian Russia against Christian Prussia; Christian Spain against Christian Holland; Christian Austria against Christian Hungary; Christian England against Christian United States; and Christian United States against Christian Mexico. Not to mention the innumerable aggressions and conquests of some of the larger nations, not only upon their Christian brethren, but against other nations of the earth.
Before those several nations have engaged in their wars, their ministers have presented their several prayers before the same God; and if He had been as infatuated as they, and listened to their prayers, they would long ago have been destroyed, and the Christian world depopulated. After their prayers they have met in deadly strife; foe has rushed against foe with mortal energy, and the clarion of war, the clang of arms, and the cannon’s roar have been followed by dying groans, shattered limbs, carnage, blood, and death; and unutterable misery and distress, desolate hearths, lonely widows, and fatherless children.
And yet these are all Christian nations, Christian brethren, worshippers of the same God. Christianity has prevailed more or less for eighteen hundred years. If it should still continue and overspread the world in its present form, what would it accomplish? The world’s redemption and regeneration? No, verily. Its most staunch supporters, and most strenuous advocates would say, No. For like causes always produce like effects: and if it has failed to regenerate the nations where it has had full sway for generations, it must necessarily fail to regenerate the world. If it has failed in a small thing, how can it accomplish a large one?
There are some of the Evangelical Churches, and modern reformers who will tell me that the above is not Christianity; only a form, not the spirit and life. But it is national Christianity; and it is the nations—the world and its redemption—that we are speaking of. But, lest they should think me unfair in making this application, I will briefly examine their position. Which of the sects or parties is it that is good, evangelical, and pure? The Church of England, Methodists, Presbyterians, Independents, Baptists, Universalists, or which of the hundreds of sects that flood Christendom? For they do not agree; there exists as much unhappy difference among them as there does among the nations. They have not power, of course, to act nationally; but, as individual sects, there is as much virulence, discord, division, and strife among them as among any other people.
There is sect against sect; party against party; polemical essay against polemical essay; discussion after discussion; and hard words, bitter feelings, angry disputes, wrangling, hatred, and malice, prevail to an alarming extent: and it is enough, in many instances, for a member even of a family to be of a different religious persuasion, no matter how honest, to cause his expulsion from the family.
In fact, if we look at Christianity, as exhibited among the evangelical societies of England, and the United States, where Protestantism bears rule unchecked, what do we see? Nothing but a game at hazard, where a thousand opinions distract the people, each clamoring for his own peculiar form of worship, and, like the Athenians, clinging with tenacity to their own favorite god, no matter how absurd or ridiculous his pretensions. I would remark, however, both to Catholic and Protestant, that there is much good associated with both their systems, in the teaching of morality, virtue, faith in God, and our Lord Jesus Christ; that there are thousands of sincere, honest, good, and virtuous people among them, as also among the nations; that these evils have been the growth of ages. “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth have been set on edge.”
It is unnecessary here to say anything of missionary societies, tract societies, and evangelical societies; for if the fountain is impure, the stream must be impure; if the tree is bad, the fruit will be bad also. It is certainly a praiseworthy object to spread the Bible … and to do good as far as we can; but to talk of this evangelizing the world, is folly.
We will now turn our attention for a short time to another society, which has been formed lately in Europe, called a “Peace Society,” and which has lately held several congresses in London, Berlin, and elsewhere, with representatives from many of the European nations, and the United States. Their object is, to ameliorate the condition of the world, and bring about universal peace; but, with all deference to their feelings, and fervent desires that such a happy event might be consummated, I must beg leave to differ from them in their views.
Peace is a desirable thing; it is the gift of God, and the greatest gift that God can bestow upon mortals. What is more desirable than peace? Peace in nations, peace in cities, peace in families. Like the soft murmuring zephyr, its soothing influence calms the brow of care, dries the eye of sorrow, and chases trouble from the bosom; and let it be universally experienced, and it would drive sorrow from the world, and make this earth a paradise. But peace is the gift of God. Jesus said to his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you, not as the world giveth give I unto you.” (John 14:27.) Moral suasion is always good, and the most happy that man can employ; but without the interposition of God, it will be useless.
The nations of the world have corrupted themselves before God, and we are not in a position to be governed by those principles without regeneration. If they were pure, and living in the fear of God, it would be another thing; but the world at the present time is not made of the proper materials to submit to a congressional interposition, of a kind similar to the one now established. The materials will not combine, and no power, short of the power of God, can accomplish it. We have got into the feet and toes of Daniel’s national image; they are composed of iron and clay, which will not mix; there is no chemical affinity between the bodies.
As it has been in generations past, the strong nations feel independent, and capable of taking care of their own affairs; and if the weak unite, it is to protect themselves against the strong. The principles of aggression and protection still rule as strong in the human bosom as ever they did. The world is as belligerent now as it ever was, and as full of commotion and uncertainty.
The dispositions of the nations, of kings, rulers, and people, are the same. The late revolutions in Europe, and present uncertain state of political affairs, are an evident proof of this. The political atmosphere of the European nations is full of combustion, and only needs igniting to set the whole in one common blaze. Talk of peace! there is war in the councils and cabinets; uncertainty and distrust with emperors, kings, presidents, and princes; war in the churches, clubs, cabals, and parties that now distract the world. It is whispered in the midnight caucus, and proclaimed in open day. The same spirit enters into the social circle, and breaks up families: father is arrayed against son, and son against father; mother against daughter, and daughter against mother; and brother against brother: it presides triumphant at the assemblies of the “Peace Society,” and spreads confusion, discord, and division there.
A moral, deadly evil has infused itself throughout the world, and it needs a more powerful restorative than the one proposed to ameliorate its condition. If the root of the evil be not eradicated, in vain we regulate the branches; if the fountain be impure, in vain we strive to purify the streams. The means used are not adequate to the end designed, and in spite of all those weak, puny efforts, the world will continue in its present sickly state, unless a more powerful antidote be applied.
Another principle has many advocates on the Continent of Europe at the present time; a principle of Socialism. Like everything else, it is possessed of different phases, and has been advocated in its various branches by Fourier, Robert Owen, Cabet, Pierre Leroux, and Proudhon, in Europe; and Fanny Wright in America. The leading object of many of these people is to have a community of goods and property. Some of them discard Christianity altogether, and others leave every one to do as they please; others attach a little importance to it.
I would briefly remark on the first of those, that if scepticism is to be the basis of the happiness of man, we shall be in a poor situation to improve the world. It is practical infidelity that has placed the world in its present position; how far the unblushing profession of it will lead to restoration and happiness, I must leave my readers to judge. It is our departure from God, that has brought upon us all our misery. It is not a very reasonable way to alleviate it by confirming mankind in scepticism. I am aware that there is much in the world to induce doubt, and uncertainty on religious affairs; and religious professors have much to answer for; but there is a very material difference between the religion of God, and our Lord Jesus Christ, and that of those who profess His name.
As regards Communism, in the abstract, or on the voluntary principle, we will examine that briefly. Pick out a number of men in Paris, London, Berlin, or any other city, associated with all the evils and corruptions of those cities, and organize them into a community. Will the mere removal of them from one place to another make them better? Certainly not. If they were corrupt before, they will be after their removal; and if they were unhappy before, they will be after. This temporary change will not make a difference; for men in possession of different religious, and political, and moral views, never can be united in harmony. The difficulties that exist in the world on a large scale, would exist there in miniature; and though prudence, forbearance, and policy, in smaller circles, might operate for a time, the evils would still exist; and though they might smoulder and be pent up, like a volcano, they would only rage with greater fury when they did burst out.
I have conversed with some who seem to think that all that is necessary to promote the happiness of man, is, that he have sufficient to eat and drink, and that through this means it would be obtained. I grant that the comforts and happiness of men are in a great measure augmented by these things; but to place them as the root and foundation, is wrong.
In the present situation of Europe, where so much squalid poverty, wretchedness, and distress abound, it is not to be wondered at that such feelings should obtain. But, if we cast our eyes abroad in the world, we shall find that unhappiness is not always associated with the poor: it revels in the church and state; among kings, potentates, princes, and rulers: it follows the haunts of the libertine and profligate, and gnaws in many instances the conscience of the minister: it rides with lords and ladies in their carriages and chariots, and revels in splendid saloons and in banquet halls. Many a pleasant countenance covers an aching heart, and many a gorgeous costume hides the deadly worm; jealousy, disappointed ambition, blasted hopes, cold neglect, and conjugal infidelity, produce many a miserable heart; and rage, envy, malice, and murder, lurk in many instances under the cover of pomp, splendor, competency, or magnificence; not to mention the care, anxiety, and trouble of officers of state in these troublous times. If the poor knew the situation of many of those in different circumstances, they would not envy them.
Again, if we notice the position of some of the southern and western States of America. They have abundance to eat and to drink, their lands bring forth bountifully. But does this make them happy? Verily, no. The same false state of society exists there; men are awfully under the influence of their depraved passions; men are frequently put to death by what is called “Lynch law,” without judge or jury. The pistol, the bowie knife, the rifle, and the dirk, are in frequent requisition, and misery and unhappiness prevail.
In Mexico, where they possess one of the richest countries in the world, a salubrious climate, a rich soil, abounding also with the most valuable mineral resources, yet the people are unhappy. Guerillas plunder the traveller, the streets are crowded with beggars; the men are without courage or energy, and the country is left a prey to any nation who has covetousness or power to oppress it. The Scriptures say, that “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God;” and as they do not exist in this way, another Scripture tells the story in plain terms, for it says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” (Prov. 29:18.)
There is also another political party, who desire, through the influence of legislation and coercion, to level the world. To say the least, it is a species of robbery; to some it may appear an honorable one, but, nevertheless, it is robbery. What right has any private man to take by force the property of another? The laws of all nations would punish such a man as a thief. Would thousands of men engaged in the same business make it more honorable? Certainly not. And if a nation were to do it, would a nation’s act sanctify a wrong deed? No; the Algerine pirates, or Arabian hordes, were never considered honorable, on account of their numbers; and a nation, or nations, engaging in this would only augment the banditti, but could never sanctify the deed.
I shall not, here, enter into the various manners of obtaining wealth; but would merely state, that any unjust acquisition of it ought to be punished by law. Wealth is generally the representation of labour, industry, and talent. If one man is industrious, enterprising, diligent, careful, and saves property, and his children follow in his steps, and accumulate wealth; and another man is careless, prodigal, and lazy, and his children inherit his poverty, I cannot conceive upon what principles of justice, the children of the idle and profligate have a right to put their hands into the pockets of those who are diligent and careful, and rob them of their purse. Let this principle exist, and all energy and enterprise would be crushed. Men would be afraid of again accumulating, lest they should again be robbed. Industry and talent would have no stimulant, and confusion and ruin would inevitably follow.
Again, if you took men’s property without their consent, the natural consequence would be that they would seek to retake it the first opportunity; and this state of things would only deluge the world in blood. So that let any of these measures be carried out, even according to the most sanguine hopes of the parties, they would not only bring distress upon others, but also upon themselves; certainly they would not bring about the peace of the world.
One thing more upon this subject, and I have done. In Europe, there has been of late years a great mania for revolutions—a strong desire to establish republican governments; but let me remark here that the form of government will not materially affect the position of the people, nor add to the resources of a country. If a country is rich and prosperous under a monarchy, it will be so under a republic, and vice versa. If poor under one, it will be under another. If nations think proper to change their form of government, they of course have a right to do so; but to think that this will ameliorate their condition, and produce happiness, is altogether a mistake. Happiness and peace are the gifts of God, and come from Him.
Every kind of government has its good and evil properties. Rome was unhappy under a kingly government, and also under a republican form. Carthage as a republic was no more happy than many of its monarchical contemporaries; nor was Corinth, Holland, or Venice; and republican Genoa has not manifested anything very much in favor of these principles. France was unhappy under her emperor, she was unhappy under her kings, and is unhappy as a republic.
America is perhaps some little exception to this; but the difference lies not so much in her government, as in the extent of her country, the richness of her soil, and abundance of her resources; for, as I have already mentioned, “Lynch law” prevails to an alarming extent in the south and west. In the state of New York, in the east, there are mobs painted as Indians resisting the officers of the law, and doing it with impunity; and it is a matter of doubt whether persons having paid for property, shall own it, or be dispossessed by their tenants, not in law, for the constitution and laws are good, but in practice defective, through popular clamor and violence. I refer to the estates of Van Ranseller [Rensselaer] and others; and, in the west, to Joseph and Hyrum Smith, who were murdered in Carthage jail, without any redress, although their murderers were known to the officers of state; and to the inhabitants of a city, ten thousand in number, together with twenty thousand others, principally farmers, labourers, and mechanics, occupying a country about ten miles wide, and thirty long, most of which was well cultivated, and owned by the occupants,—who were all forced by continual harassing by lawless mobs, to leave a country in which they could not be protected, and seek an asylum in a far off desert home, there being no power in the government to give redress.
It is altogether an infatuation to think that a change in government will mend the circumstances, or increase the resources, when the whole world is groaning under corruption. If there are twenty men who have twenty pounds of bread to divide amongst them, it matters but little whether it is divided by three, ten, or the whole, it will not increase the amount. I grant, however, that there are flagrant abuses, of which we have mentioned some, associated with all kinds of governments, and many things to be complained of justly; but they arise from the wickedness of man, and the corrupt and artificial state of society. Do away with one set of rulers, and you have only the same materials to make another of; and if ever so honestly disposed, they are surrounded with such a train of circumstances, over which they have no control, that they cannot mend them.
There is frequently much excitement on this subject; and many people, ignorant of these things, are led to suppose that their resources will be increased, and their circumstances bettered; but when they find, after much contention, struggling, and bloodshed, that it does not rain bread, cheese, and clothing; that it is only a change of men, papers, and parchment, chagrin and disappointment naturally follow.
There is much that is good, and much that is bad in all governments; and I am not seeking here to portray a perfect government, but to show some of the evils associated with them, and the utter incompetency of all the plans of men to restore a perfect government; and as all their plans have failed, so they will fail, for it is the work of God, and not of man. The moral agency of man without God, has had its full development man’s weakness, wickedness, and corruption, have placed the world where it is: he can see as in a glass his incompetency, and folly, and nothing but the power of God can restore it.
It is not to be wondered at, that those various plans should exist, for the world is in a horrible situation. Jesus prophesied of it, and said, there should be upon the earth “distress of nations, with perplexity; … men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming upon the earth.” (Luke 21:25, 26.) Men see these things, and their hearts fear; confusion, disorder, misery, blood, and ruin, seem to stare them in the face; and in the absence of something great, noble, and magnificent, suited to the exigency of the case, they try the foregoing remedies, as a sailor, in the absence of a boat, would cling with tenacity to any floating piece of wreck, to save him from a watery grave.
Neither can men be blamed for trying to do good; it is certainly a laudable object; and with all the selfishness, ambition, and pride, associated with the foregoing, it must be admitted that there is much uprightness, sincerity, and honest zeal.
There are very many philanthropists who would gladly ameliorate the condition of men, and of the world, if they knew how. But the means employed are not commensurate with the end; every grade of society is vitiated and corrupt. “The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.” Our systems, our policy, our legislation, our education, and philosophy, are all wrong, neither can we be particularly blamed, for these evils have been the growth of ages. Our fathers have left God, his guidance, control, and support, and we have been left to ourselves; and our present position is a manifest proof of our incompetency to govern; and our past failures make it evident, that any future effort, with the same means, would be as useless. The world is diseased, and requires a world’s remedy.
[photo] Hands of the bullet-scarred pocket watch that saved John Taylor’s life mark the time at which Joseph and Hyrum Smith were killed.
[photo] This photograph of John Taylor was taken during the period he served as president of the Church, from 1880 to 1887.
[photo] This is the home of John Taylor in Salt Lake City, with a two-story shop in the rear where the first nails in Utah were made. A cooper (barrel maker) by trade, President Taylor was also a talented editor and writer.^ Back to top