From the Life of Wilford Woodruff
At different times throughout the history of the world, the Lord has established gospel dispensations. In each dispensation He has revealed His gospel through one or more authorized servants. The Prophet Joseph Smith was the Lord’s instrument in establishing the current dispensation, which is referred to in the scriptures as “the dispensation of the fulness of times” (Ephesians 1:10; D&C 128:20).
In the spring of 1834, Wilford Woodruff attended a priesthood meeting in Kirtland, Ohio. At this meeting he began to understand the destiny of the Church in this dispensation. He later recounted:
“The Prophet called on all who held the Priesthood to gather into the little log school house they had there. It was a small house, perhaps 14 feet square. But it held the whole of the Priesthood of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who were then in the town of Kirtland. … That was the first time I ever saw Oliver Cowdery, or heard him speak; the first time I ever saw Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball, and the two Pratts [Orson and Parley], and Orson Hyde and many others. There were no Apostles in the Church then except Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. When we got together the Prophet called upon the Elders of Israel with him to bear testimony of this work. Those that I have named spoke, and a good many that I have not named, bore their testimonies. When they got through the Prophet said, ‘Brethren I have been very much edified and instructed in your testimonies here tonight, but I want to say to you before the Lord, that you know no more concerning the destinies of this Church and kingdom than a babe upon its mother’s lap. You don’t comprehend it.’ I was rather surprised. He said ‘it is only a little handfull of Priesthood you see here tonight, but this Church will fill North and South America—it will fill the world.’”1
Wilford Woodruff dedicated his life to building up the kingdom of God, and he continued to receive instruction from Joseph Smith, even after the Prophet’s death. He told of a vision he received in which he spoke with Joseph Smith: “I saw him at the door of the temple in heaven. He came to me and spoke to me. He said he could not stop to talk with me because he was in a hurry. The next man I met was Father Smith [Joseph Smith Sr.]; he could not talk with me because he was in a hurry. I met half a dozen brethren who had held high positions on earth, and none of them could stop to talk with me because they were in a hurry. I was much astonished. By and by I saw the Prophet again and I got the privilege of asking him a question.
“‘Now,’ said I, ‘I want to know why you are in a hurry. I have been in a hurry all my life; but I expected my hurry would be over when I got into the kingdom of heaven, if I ever did.’
“Joseph said: ‘I will tell you, Brother Woodruff. Every dispensation that has had the priesthood on the earth and has gone into the celestial kingdom has had a certain amount of work to do to prepare to go to the earth with the Savior when he goes to reign on the earth. Each dispensation has had ample time to do this work. We have not. We are the last dispensation, and so much work has to be done, and we need to be in a hurry in order to accomplish it.’”2
Teachings of Wilford Woodruff
The Lord and His prophets have looked to this dispensation from before the creation of the world.
All inspired men, from the days of father Adam to the days of Jesus, had a view, more or less, of the great and last dispensation of the fulness of times, when the Lord would set his hand to prepare the earth and a people for the coming of the Son of Man and a reign of righteousness.3
I consider that the work … which has been going on from the time this church was organized, is but carrying out the great plan of our Father in Heaven,—that plan which was ordained from before the foundation of the world. In fact there is no dispensation that has been looked upon with as much interest by all the prophets of God and inspired men. …
Isaiah, in looking by prophetic vision to this day, makes use of very strong language in endeavoring to express his feelings in relation to it. In one instance he says “Sing O heavens, and rejoice O earth! Break forth into singing O ye mountains, for the Lord has comforted His people, and will have mercy on His afflicted yet.” Zion says “The Lord has forsaken me, my God has forgotten me.” “Can a woman forget her sucking child that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb?” “Yea,” the Lord says, “a woman may do that,” but He will not forget Zion. Says He “Zion is engraven on the palms of my hands, her walls are continually before me.” [See Isaiah 49:13–16.]
Now this Zion of God has been before His face from before the foundation of the world.4
The Lord never created this world at random; he has never done any of his work at random. The earth was created for certain purposes; and one of these purposes was its final redemption and the establishment of his government and kingdom upon it in the latter days, to prepare it for the reign of the Lord Jesus Christ, whose right it is to reign. That set time has come, that dispensation is before us, we are living in the midst of it.5
Nothing can stop the Church from fulfilling its destiny.
This church has continued to rise. It is the only true church upon the face of the whole earth. Its history is before the world. It has continued to grow and increase from the day it was organized until the present time. … It is designed by the Most High God to stand on the earth in power and glory and dominion, as the prophets of God saw it in their day and generation. This is the kingdom that Daniel saw, and it will continue to roll forth until it fills the whole earth [see Daniel 2:34–35, 44–45; D&C 65:2].6
We believe this Church will prepare the way for the coming of Christ to reign as king, and that this Church will then develop into the kingdom of God, which all Christians pray will come; that the will of God may be done on earth as it is in heaven [see Matthew 6:10].7
There is no power on the face of this earth that can break this Church. Why? Because God holds it in His hands. He is the Author of it, and He has promised, through the mouths of scores and scores of prophets, that it shall stand.8
When they put to death Joseph and Hyrum they did not kill “Mormonism,” they did not kill faith in God, they did not kill hope and charity, they did not do away with the ordinances of the house of God, nor the power of the Holy Priesthood. The God of heaven had ordained these things.9
The kingdom of God is onward; it is not backward.10
Where is the Latter-day Saint or any other person who has ever seen this church or kingdom go backward? … No matter what our circumstances may have been this kingdom has been onward and upward all the day long until the present hour. Will it ever go backward? No, it will not. This Zion of the Lord, in all its beauty, power and glory is engraven upon the hands of Almighty God, and it is before his face continually; his decrees are set and no man can turn them aside.11
Though all the powers of darkness may war against us, the Lord is our Friend and He will sustain us and give us power to build up Zion and to carry out this work until the coming of the Son of Man. Therefore, let your hearts be comforted. … We all should be united in the cause in which we are engaged. Inasmuch as we do this we shall come off triumphant.12
We have not altogether traveled on beds of ease, we have had warfare and opposition from the commencement until this day; but we and the world may set our hearts at rest concerning “Mormonism,” for it will never cease until the Lord Jesus Christ comes in the clouds of heaven.13
Gold and silver may pass away; houses and lands may perish; all temporal matters will pass away; but the priesthood never, salvation never, the kingdom of God never, and prophecy will never fall unfulfilled.14
We were reserved in the spirit world to build up God’s kingdom in this dispensation.
We have been reserved in the spirit world for thousands of years, to stand in the flesh in the latter days, and to take God’s kingdom and build it up. Understanding these things then, what are we, as Latter-day Saints, thinking about? We have got a great warfare to fight. Lucifer, the son of the morning, and all his hosts, are united against us. We are but a little handful, compared with the inhabitants of the earth. There never were but few men and women, in any age of the world, who were independent enough to reject evil and to serve the Lord. But we have been counted worthy to be numbered as His people. It is time, therefore, that we arose, that we awoke, and that, clothed upon with the power of God and the Holy Priesthood, we should magnify this Priesthood and obtain the blessings belonging thereto.15
There has never been a people like this. There has never been a work like this since God made the world. True, there have been men who have preached the gospel; but in the fulness of times the Lord has set his hand to establish his kingdom. This is the last dispensation. He has raised up men and women to carry on his work, and as I have often said, many of us have been held in the spirit world from the organization of this world until the generation in which we live.16
The revelations of God in the Bible, Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants are being fulfilled. We are fulfilling them. And while we are here let us be faithful to God, the Great Elohim, the God of the Jews as well as the Gentiles. He looks to us and to nobody else. He looks to the Latter-day Saints. Why? Because nobody else has received the fulness of the everlasting Gospel; nobody else has taken hold to build up this kingdom. My faith and feeling about this matter is that we were appointed before the world was, as much as the ancient apostles were, to come forth in the flesh and take hold of this Kingdom, and we have it to do, or be damned. That is our position to-day. The eyes of the heavenly hosts are over us; the eyes of God himself and his son Jesus Christ and all those apostles and prophets who have sealed their testimony with their blood are watching this people. They visit you, they observe your works, for they know very well that your destiny is to build up this Kingdom, to build up Zion, sanctify it, sanctify the earth and prepare the world for the coming of the Son of Man.17
As Latter-day Saints, we have a great work to do.
Joseph Smith … came in fulfillment of prophecy, accomplished what was required of him, laid the foundation of the work, received the keys of the priesthood and apostleship, and every gift and grace in the organization of the church necessary to carry it on. We are called to build on the foundation he laid.18
If we could open the vision of our minds and let it extend into the future and see this kingdom and what it is bound to accomplish, and what we have to do, the warfare we have to pass through, we would certainly see that we have a great work on hand.19
Our special calling is to build up Zion, and prepare the people to stand in holy places while the judgments of the Lord are being poured out upon the wicked.20
It is the mind and will of God that the Latter-day Saints should thoroughly understand for themselves that they stand in the midst of the great and last dispensation of God unto men; and that they should also thoroughly understand the responsibilities devolving upon them as actors therein. And they should never lose sight of the fact that all the powers of darkness combined will never be able to frustrate the purposes of God with regard to the work which He has set His hand to perform, in the day and generation in which we live. The Latter-day Saints should live before the Lord in such a way as to understand the position we occupy, and the duties required at our hands; for the Lord requires certain things of us in our day and generation, as He has required of His people in every age, when He has given unto them the fulness of the everlasting Gospel, and the power and authority of the holy priesthood. …
It is the will of God also that we should pay our tithes and offerings; it is His will that we should obey the Word of Wisdom; it is His will that we should keep the commandments, and teach them to others. We shall be held responsible for all we fail to do which we ought to do, as well as that which we do. We should be of one heart and of one mind, and not permit anything of a temporal or spiritual nature to separate us from the love of God and man. …
… We ought to be united and we ought to seek each other’s welfare. We ought to teach the principles of the Gospel of Christ to our sons and to our daughters, as well as to the world, and prepare ourselves for the events to come which are spoken of in the revelations which the Lord has given unto us. He has already commenced His work, His marvellous work, and a wonder, among the inhabitants of the earth, referred to by Isaiah [see Isaiah 29:14]. He will never withdraw His hand until His purposes are accomplished.21
We have a great work before us, and it will require all our exertions and all our talents and ability to perform it. We must seek for the Spirit of God to assist us; for without this Spirit we can accomplish but very little.22
I tell you when you look around and see the state of the world on the one hand and what we have to perform on the other, and what the kingdom of God has got to arrive at in order to fulfill its destiny and the revelations of Jesus Christ, our chief object should be to build up the kingdom of God and roll it on. …
… We should look for the building up of the kingdom, and secure not only blessings for ourselves, but seek to become saviors of men on Mount Zion, and try to do all the good we can, laboring to promote the cause and interest of Zion in every department thereof where we are called to act.
By pursuing this course we shall be prospered, and have continual peace in our minds and as the Lord has said, nothing will be withheld from any man that seeks for the righteousness and blessings of the kingdom of God. …
… There [are] a great many things at our door, a great many changes to take place in the earth, and the kingdom is growing; and I would here exhort all the Latter-day Saints who hear me this day to study well the position you are in, and search your hearts and see if we are in favor of the Lord our God, and then let us increase continually in faith, in hope, in righteousness, and in every virtuous principle which is necessary for us to have to sustain us in every trial through which we may be called to pass in order to prove us as the friends of God, whether we will abide in the covenant or not; we will be tried from this time until the coming of the Messiah or while we live on the earth.23
There need be no fears if the Latter-day Saints will only be true to the covenants they have made with their God and strictly carry out the principles which He has told us must govern us in the building up of His Zion.
If, however, we forget our covenants, and depart from and disregard the teachings which He has given us, then be assured, Latter-day Saints, our position is full of peril to us. God’s purposes will not be thwarted; but we shall be scourged, and those who persist in this course will be rejected and be deprived of all share in the blessings promised to Zion.24
The Lord is with this people, but as Latter-day Saints, I do not think that we always prize our privileges. We are called upon to perform a work; the Lord has placed this work in our hands, and we are held responsible before the heavens and the earth to use the talents—the light and truth, which have been committed into our hands.25
Suggestions for Study and Teaching
Consider these ideas as you study the chapter or as you prepare to teach. For additional help, see pages v–ix.
Review pages 25–26. How is Joseph Smith’s prophecy being fulfilled? What can we learn from President Woodruff’s vision?
Why have prophets looked forward to this dispensation? Why is it important for us to understand that “we are living in the midst of” the last dispensation? (See pages 26–27.)
What do we mean when we testify that we belong to “the only true church upon the face of the whole earth”? (page 27; see also D&C 1:30). How can we humbly share this truth with others?
What impresses you as you study President Woodruff’s teachings about the destiny of the Church? (See pages 27–29.)
Scan pages 28–29, looking for things that will perish and things that will last forever. What are some differences between things that will perish and things that will last?
Read President Woodruff’s teachings about our being “reserved in the spirit world” to be born in this dispensation (pages 29–30). What are your feelings as you ponder these statements?
Look at the photograph on page 32. What does this picture have to do with building up the kingdom of God? According to President Woodruff, what are some of our duties as we help build up the kingdom of God? (See pages 30–33.)
Read the last paragraph on page 33. What privileges do we have in this dispensation? What do you think it means to “prize our privileges”?
In Conference Report, April 1898, 57.
The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, sel. G. Homer Durham (1946), 288–89.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, January 12, 1875, 1.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, September 20, 1870, 2.
The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 174.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, July 6, 1880, 1.
The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 193.
Deseret Weekly, August 6, 1892, 194.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, January 31, 1882, 1.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, December 21, 1880, 1.
Deseret News, April 24, 1872, 152.
“Discourse by President Wilford Woodruff,” Millennial Star, June 6, 1895, 354.
The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 110.
The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 131.
Deseret Weekly, June 22, 1889, 824.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, December 14, 1880, 1.
In Conference Report, April 1880, 84–85.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, January 10, 1871, 2.
Deseret News, March 4, 1857, 411.
Deseret Weekly, October 26, 1889, 562.
Salt Lake Herald Church and Farm, June 15, 1895, 385, 386.
Deseret Weekly, June 22, 1889, 823.
Deseret News, March 4, 1857, 411.
“Epistle,” Woman’s Exponent, April 15, 1888, 174.
Deseret News, December 23, 1874, 741.