In a discourse given before thousands in Nauvoo in April 1844, the Prophet Joseph Smith spoke about the importance of starting out with a correct understanding of the character and designs of God. He stated, “If we start right, it is easy to go right all the time; but if we start wrong we may go wrong, and it will be a hard matter to get right” (History of the Church, 6:303). As we consider what is ahead for ourselves, our families, and for the kingdom of God, do we fully comprehend the designs of God for our lives?
In 1920, Brother Marion G. Romney attended a Fremont Stake conference in the Rexburg Tabernacle. My grandfather, Elder Melvin J. Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was the presiding authority. Because Brother Romney was twenty-three years of age and the financial circumstances of his family were very difficult, he had not contemplated serving a full-time mission. Years later, on 15 October 1963, Elder Romney explained his experience:
“At the time I graduated, I planned to go in the fall to the University of Idaho. It was my intention to play basketball and football and prepare to be a coach. In late August, I attended a stake conference [and] sat on the front row at the east end of the choir seats directly north of the pulpit. As I listened intently with my eyes fixed on [Elder Ballard’s] profile, there came to me by the power of the Spirit an irresistible urgency to go on a mission. There and then I abandoned my plans for a coaching career. In November I left for a mission to Australia” (address given at a Ricks College devotional, 15 Oct. 1963).
Elder Romney, en route to Australia, came to Salt Lake City, where my grandfather set him apart as a missionary. Grandfather gave Elder Romney counsel and said, among other things, “One never gives a crust to the Lord without receiving a loaf in return” (quoted in F. Burton Howard, Marion G. Romney: His Life and Faith, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988, p. 66). Marion G. Romney never forgot that phrase.
As we seek to understand the work the Lord has for us to accomplish, we may consider the current situation of some countries. Unlike past years when many adults could count on continued progress within a particular occupation until retirement, career changes and setbacks are now increasingly the rule rather than the exception. On the one hand, we see the growth of a world economy and the accelerating pace of scientific and technological advances. We also see the spread of terrorism, the explosion of gangs and crime, and ethnic hatred causing entire nations to disintegrate. Powerful forces in society are attacking gospel values, demolishing families, and corroding the principles and integrity of some leaders in business and government.
We can certainly anticipate some exciting and wonderful opportunities in the years ahead. But it will be more and more difficult to remain a committed follower of Jesus Christ. I believe future followers of Christ will face adversity and persecution that is much more intense than anything we see today.
What course will we set in the future? What will be our compass in the midst of the storms of life? What will be our anchor to keep us from drifting off the course that will lead us to eternal life?
I turn for answers to these questions to the lives of the Prophet Joseph Smith; his mother, Lucy Mack Smith; and other valiant men and women who laid the foundation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Joseph Smith’s name is very dear to all faithful Latter-day Saints. His name is especially dear to me and my family because we are blessed to claim his older brother Hyrum as our forefather.
We often think of that day in 1805, just two days before Christmas, when the Prophet Joseph Smith was born in a humble home in the rolling hills of Vermont. More than 189 years have passed since his birth. Last June 27 we acknowledged the sesquicentennial day of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum in Carthage Jail. As we face our own trials in future years, we must always remember Joseph Smith’s perseverance in the face of incredible hardships and opposition to bring forth the restored Church of Jesus Christ.
I love the experience Wilford Woodruff tells of the Prophet’s message to the elders who met in preparation for the 1834 Zion’s Camp march:
“On Sunday night 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, and who had gathered together to go off in Zion’s Camp. 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, 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 handful of Priesthood you see here tonight, but this Church will fill North and South America—it will fill the world’” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1898, p. 57).
The Articles of Faith first appeared in a letter that Joseph Smith wrote to Mr. John Wentworth, the editor of a Chicago newspaper. In the Wentworth letter, which was dated 1 March 1842, Joseph Smith wrote a vision of the destiny of the Church in a profound prophecy.
“The Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done” (History of the Church, 4:540).
Since the organization of the Church in 1830, more than sixteen decades have passed. We have had nearly 165 years to observe what has happened in fulfillment of this prophecy. The truth of God has gone to the nations despite persecution and opposition. Persecutions have raged, mobs have combined, armies have assembled, and calumny has defamed.
Although the Church began its first decade with only six members, “unhallowed hands” made every effort to stop the spread of the gospel and destroy the Church in its infancy. Joseph Smith soon learned how mobs may combine. From Church history we read:
“Certain residents of Hiram, Ohio, vented their personal feelings with mob action directed against the Prophet and Sidney Rigdon. Stimulated by whiskey and hidden behind blackened faces, a gang of more than two dozen men dragged Joseph from his bed during the night of March 24, 1832. Choking him into submission, they stripped him naked, scratched his skin with their fingernails, tore his hair, then smeared his body with tar and feathers. A vial of nitric acid forced against his teeth splashed on his face; a front tooth was broken. Meanwhile other members of the mob dragged Rigdon by the heels from his home, bumping his head on the frozen ground, which left him delirious for days. The Prophet’s friends spent the night removing the tar to help him keep a Sunday morning preaching appointment. He addressed a congregation that included Simonds Ryder, organizer of the mob” (James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1992, p. 81).
Ryder was a convert who turned away because the Prophet Joseph had misspelled his name, apparently concluding that a prophet was one who had to be a perfect speller.
Later, the Saints in Missouri found out in a tragic manner how the armies of the enemy may assemble. In 1838 Governor Lilburn W. Boggs of Missouri issued his infamous “Order of Extermination” (see History of the Church, 3:175). From history we learn of the horrifying story of Haun’s Mill (see ibid., pp. 182–87).
In the midst of all these trials, Joseph said: “Hell may pour forth its rage like the burning lava of Mount Vesuvius, or of Etna, or of the most terrible of the burning mountains; and yet shall ‘Mormonism’ stand. Water, fire, truth and God are all realities. Truth is ‘Mormonism.’ God is the author of it. He is our shield. It is by Him we received our birth. It was by His voice that we were called to a dispensation of His Gospel in the beginning of the fullness of times. It was by Him we received the Book of Mormon; and it is by Him that we remain unto this day; and by Him we shall remain, if it shall be for our glory; and in his Almighty name we are determined to endure tribulation as good soldiers unto the end” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 139).
Despite intense opposition against all efforts to erect the standard of truth, 597 missionaries were set apart during the 1830s, and nearly twenty thousand converts joined the restored Church during that first decade. Missionaries taught and baptized people in most of the states then in the Union, and both Canada and Great Britain were opened to the preaching of the gospel. The gospel message penetrated two continents and began to sweep across three nations.
Lorenzo Snow was a great early missionary. He had been a member of the Church for less than a year when he set out on his first mission in 1837. He tells about his first experiences preaching the gospel in the following words:
“I … traveled about thirty miles, and just as the sun was setting I made my first call for a night’s lodging, as a ‘Mormon’ Elder, and was refused; then another, and so on, until the eighth call, when I was admitted to a night’s lodging—going to bed supperless, and leaving in the morning, minus a breakfast.
“The first meeting I held was in the neighborhood of my uncle, by the name of Goddard, near the county seat of Medina County, Ohio. The people were notified and a respectable congregation assembled. It was a sore trial to face that audience in the capacity of a preacher, but I believed and felt an assurance that a Spirit of inspiration would prompt and give me utterance … [it did, for he] baptized and confirmed into the Church my uncle, aunt and several of my cousins” (quoted in Eliza R. Snow Smith, Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1884, p. 16).
Brothers and sisters, we need to learn that early members of the Church succeeded in the face of all opposition because they had the unwavering faith to open their mouths and declare the truth and because they took with them the mighty sword of the Lord’s Spirit (see D&C 27:16–18). They remembered their baptismal covenant to “stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places … even until death” (Mosiah 18:9).
In 1839 some members of the Quorum of the Twelve left for missions in England under very trying circumstances:
“Wilford Woodruff and John Taylor were the first to start out. Wilford, in Montrose, had been suffering for days from chills and fever. His infant daughter, Sarah Emma, also seriously ill, was being cared for by friends with more suitable accommodations. On August 8 he finally bade [his wife] Phoebe a tender farewell and walked to the banks of the Mississippi. Brigham Young paddled him across the river in a canoe. When Joseph Smith found him resting by the post office, Wilford told the Prophet that he felt and looked more like a subject for the dissecting room than a missionary. …
“It took Elders Woodruff and Taylor, traveling together, the rest of the month to make it as far as Germantown, Indiana. …
“By the time they arrived in Germantown John Taylor was so desperately ill that it was impossible for him to continue. …
“[He] remained ill, sometimes near death, for about three weeks. His optimism was tenacious, however, as suggested in a tender letter to [his wife] Leonora, dated September 19 :
“‘You may ask me how I am going to prosecute my journey. … I do not know but one thing, I do know, that there is a being who clothes the lilies of the valley & feeds the ravens & he has given me to understand that all these things shall be added & that is all I want to know. He laid me on a bed of sickness & I was satisfied, he has raised me from it again & I am thankful. He stopped me on my road & I am content. … If he took me I felt that it would be well. He has spared me, & it is better’” (James B. Allen, Ronald K. Esplin, and David J. Whittaker, Men with a Mission, 1837–1841: The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the British Isles, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1992, pp. 67–69).
Yet it was not just the Lord’s Apostles in those early years who were anchored by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Many other men and women pursued a similar course of dedication and service because they had firm testimonies of the restored gospel and a vision of the destiny of the Church.
Ten years after John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff arrived in England, my own great-grandfather, Henry Ballard, was introduced to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by a faithful member:
“Henry was only seventeen years old at the time he joined the Church [in 1849]. … Sometime during the winter months of 1849, Henry traveled to London News, a community a few miles north of London, to live with his married brother George [who] … had established a fairly successful carriage business in the area. They had much to offer Henry—especially material things. George was always kind to Henry, and being eleven years older, felt the need to protect and watch after his welfare. The following incident bears this out.
“It was Sunday evening and Henry had just returned from church. George, curious about Henry’s whereabouts, inquired as to where he had been.
‘To church,’ Henry replied. George, having already attended church, and not seeing Henry there asked, ‘What church?’ ‘The Mormon church,’ Henry said truthfully. Amazed and astonished, George vocally wondered why, in heaven’s name, would he attend the ‘detestable’ Mormon church. ‘Because I am a member of it,’ replied Henry. Henry then bore his testimony of the truthfulness of what he believed to be the only true church. George, unconverted, became angry.
“George reprimanded Henry severely and told him he had just made the biggest mistake of his life. Henry remained firm, but feared what his older brother might do.
“When George could see he was getting nowhere, he enlisted the support of his minister. Three days passed as they tried to persuade Henry to change his mind. First one would pray, then the other, in an effort to save Henry. Henry held steadfastly to his convictions, never wavering nor doubting. The Holy Ghost had told him the church was true. He dared not deny it. Convinced no argument of reason would ever change Henry’s mind, George took another approach.
“As Satan tempted Christ, George tempted Henry—or tried to. He offered to give him the best carriage in all of London. He would give him a coachman to drive him around and cater to all of his whims. Henry would be a ‘gentleman’ as he presented himself in his fine clothes, kid skin gloves, and silk hat.
“How could Henry refuse the hospitality of George’s fine home? Henry would never have to work, unless it became his desire. A part of the business would be his, and he would never again live in poverty, as his father and mother had all their lives. No religion would be worth losing all this. George only asked for Henry to give up the ‘foolish notion’ of Mormonism.
“Like the Prophet Joseph Smith, Henry kept the faith. His testimony and strength of character prevailed.
“George was explosive. He expelled Henry from his home—forever. Henry left, heavy of heart, over being such a disappointment to the brother he loved, a brother who had been so kind and giving. Henry was never to set eyes on him again in this life” (Douglas O. Crookston, ed., Henry Ballard: The Story of a Courageous Pioneer, 1832–1908, n.p.: Douglas O. Crookston, pp. 5–6).
Three years later, in an impoverished condition with virtually no material possessions, Henry Ballard set sail on a sixty-three-day trip from Liverpool to New Orleans, took a riverboat to Winter Quarters in Omaha, Nebraska, and then walked all the way to Utah. He drove a herd of sheep across the plains to pay his way. Later in life, Henry recalled his entrance into the Salt Lake Valley:
“In October as I drove the sheep down little mountain and through the mouth of Emigration Canyon, I first beheld the Salt Lake Valley. While I rejoiced in viewing the ‘Promised Land,’ I lived in fear that some one might see me. I hid myself behind bushes all day until after dark for the rags I had on did not cover my body and I was ashamed to be thus exposed. After dark I crossed over the field to a house where a light was shining, near the mouth of the canyon, and timidly knocked on the door. Fortunately, a man answered the door and the candle light did not expose me to the view of the other members of his household. I begged for clothes to cover my naked body so that I might continue my journey and locate my parents. I was given some clothing and the next day continued my journey and arrived in Salt Lake City 16th October 1852, feeling very thankful to God that I had reached my future home in safety” (ibid., pp. 10–15).
Incidentally, Henry’s history discloses that one of the first proxy endowments in the Logan Temple that he performed was for his older brother George.
The mother of the Prophet Joseph, Lucy Mack Smith, is a great example of unwavering faith and commitment. On one occasion, she was traveling from New York to Kirtland, Ohio. Her account of an incident in Buffalo, New York, illustrates her faith in the prophets of the Lord and the restored gospel:
“[In Buffalo] we found the brethren from Colesville, who informed us that they had been detained one week at this place, waiting for the navigation to open [the waterway that had been blocked by ice]. Also, [we learned that Joseph] and Hyrum had gone through to Kirtland by land, in order to be there by the first of April.
“I asked [the Colesville brethren] if they had confessed to the people that they were ‘Mormons.’ ‘No, indeed,’ they replied, ‘neither must you mention a word about your religion, for if you do you will never be able to get a house, or a boat either.’
“I told them I should tell the people precisely who I was; ‘and,’ continued I, ‘if you are ashamed of Christ, you must not expect to be prospered; and I shall wonder if we do not get to Kirtland before you’” (Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, ed. Preston Nibley, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1979, p. 199).
Lucy Mack Smith then searched for and found a Captain Blake, who was willing to take her group on his boat: “On arriving there [on the boat], Captain Blake requested the passengers to remain on board, as he wished, from that time, to be ready to start at a moment’s warning; at the same time he sent out a man to measure the depth of the ice, who, when he returned, reported that it was piled up to the height of twenty feet, and that it was his opinion that we would remain in the harbor at least two weeks longer” (ibid., p. 202).
Most of the Saints traveling on the boat with Lucy Mack Smith assumed that they would be there for a long stay, and many of them murmured and grumbled. Hearing and seeing their reaction, the Prophet’s mother responded: “‘Where is your faith? Where is your confidence in God? Can you not realize that all things were made by him, and that he rules over the works of his own hands? And suppose that all the Saints here should lift their hearts in prayer to God, that the way might be opened before us, how easy it would be for him to cause the ice to break away, so that in a moment we could be on our journey!’ …
“‘Now, brethren and sisters, if you will all of you raise your desires to heaven, that the ice may be broken up, and we be set at liberty, as sure as the Lord lives, it will be done.’ At that instant a noise was heard, like bursting thunder. The captain cried, ‘Every man his post.’ The ice parted, leaving barely a passage for the boat, … the noise of the ice, and the cries and confusion of the spectators, presented a scene truly terrible. We had barely passed through the avenue when the ice closed together again, and the Colesville brethren were left in Buffalo, unable to follow us.
“As we were leaving the harbor, one of the bystanders exclaimed, ‘There goes the “Mormon” company! That boat is sunk in the water nine inches deeper than ever it was before, and, mark it, she will sink—there is nothing surer.’ In fact, they were so sure of it that they went straight to the office and had it published that we were sunk, so that when we arrived at Fairport we read in the papers the news of our own death.
“After our miraculous escape from the wharf at Buffalo, we called our company together and had a prayer meeting in which we offered up our thanks to God for his mercy” (ibid., pp. 203–5).
We need sisters today with the same unwavering faith as that of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s mother.
Why have I lifted from the pages of history these few examples of unwavering testimonies of the early members of the Church? I have done it for this reason: We must always remember what a great blessing it is to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We must never take lightly nor ever forget the price that our forefathers willingly paid for the establishment of the only true church upon the earth.
We live in a world that needs the gospel. An unwavering testimony and a lifetime of willing service to build the kingdom of God upon the earth will save us eternally.
How can we as Latter-day Saints be sure that we make a significant contribution to strengthening the Lord’s church? If our testimonies and service can equal that of the founders of the Church, tomorrow will be secure and strong. May their examples give us courage so that we will always be trustworthy and steadfast in our stewardships as we serve God our Eternal Father. Remember the statement of the Prophet Joseph Smith: “If we start right, it is easy to go right all the time” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 343). We must live by this legacy of faith and must pass this legacy on to our children so the Church will always have faithful men and women who can continue to prepare for the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.