Out of curiosity, I went back in the records of the Church to look in on the April general conference of 1876 to see what kind of attention the centennial of the nation would receive at that conference. Not much was said, but I did come across what would have to be considered the most spectacular unscheduled centennial event of the year.
It seems that on April 5, 1876, just one day before the general conference started, four powder magazines located on Arsenal Hill exploded. The hill was located one mile north and east of the temple block and the explosion of an estimated forty tons of powder scattered bits of stone and concrete all over the city and could be heard for miles around. It was reported that some thought the “day of judgment” had come. And I suspect this had some impact on the number of people who attended the opening session of general conference the following day.
The conference itself was very interesting. I think the theme more than anything was the payment of tithing, temple work, and sacrifice. You see, a hundred years ago the Church was only forty-six years old and the Salt Lake Temple had not yet been finished and the St. George Temple was nearing completion. So the Brethren were urging the efforts of the Saints in this direction.
President Brigham Young, of course, was President of the Church, and four members of the Twelve who were in attendance at that conference were to be future presidents of the Church.
Among the teachings that caught my eye at that April 1876 conference were these words from Wilford Woodruff, and I quote, “It may be asked—What are the commandments of the Lord? Many of them are contained in these records, the Bible, Book of Mormon and the Book of Doctrine and Covenants; and we have the living oracles with us, and have had from the commencement. The Lord will never leave his kingdom without a lawgiver, leader, president … to direct the affairs of his Church on the earth, for the reason that it is the dispensation of the fullness of times, in which God has set up a kingdom which is to be an everlasting kingdom, and to whose dominion there will be no end.” (Journal of Discourses, 18:189).
That caused me to reflect on the absolute importance of a living oracle, and also on the words of Elder Orson F. Whitney of the Council of the Twelve, who said: “The Latter-day Saints do not do things because they happen to be printed in a book. They do not do things because God told the Jews to do them; nor do they do or leave undone anything because of instructions that Christ gave to the Nephites. Whatever is done by this Church is because God speaking from heaven in our day has commanded this Church to do it. No book presides over this Church and no books lie at its foundation. You cannot pile up books enough to take the place of God’s priesthood inspired by the power of the Holy Ghost.” (Conference Reports, Oct. 1916.)
Elder Whitney was not taking away from the power and majesty of the scriptures—he was just putting them into perspective. He also said, “No man ought to contend for what is in the books in the face of God’s mouthpiece who speaks for him and interprets his word. To so contend is to defer to the dead letter in preference to the living oracles, which is always a false position.”
What is the Lord’s oracle saying to us today? The general theme, of course, is to lengthen our stride in a variety of areas. A few weeks ago Sister Dunn and I had the opportunity to accompany President and Sister Kimball, President and Sister Tanner, and some other of the General Authorities and their wives to the area conferences in the South Pacific. May I share with you some of what I recorded President Kimball saying at these gatherings regarding missionary work?
In Apia, Samoa, he promised that if the Saints would hold family home evening, and see that baptisms and ordinations to the priesthood, and missions, and temple marriages were carried out, the Lord would truly bless the people and that very few would be lost.
In Hamilton, New Zealand, he said, let us start a new effort to reach the sons of men all over the world. We are all called to our neighbors, and we should not go back to our maker without having properly warned our neighbors.
In Tonga, President Kimball asked that we pray to the Lord to open up the nations of the world so that we can teach the gospel everywhere. He said that he was of the belief that if we as a Church petitioned the Lord, night and morning, to change the hearts of men and open the nations of the world, the Lord would intervene and open the way whereby we can teach the gospel to all nations.
In Sydney, Australia, he told of the operation on his throat and how they left a portion of the vocal cords, which allowed him to preach the gospel all over the world. He said he wants to continue and work very hard at doing this, but he does not want to do it alone. He then invited all the members of the Church to stand with him, and preach the gospel just as the Lord has commanded us to do.
Concerning missionary work, he said many young men who thought they didn’t have to go, or couldn’t go, are now finding that they can go if they plan and prepare; and then he said, certainly they should go.
In Brisbane, Australia, President Kimball said that as a Church we must go forward, month in and month out, until we have brought the gospel to everyone.
In the Tahiti area conference he urged us to do missionary work and to send our boys on missions. He said that we must be serious about the missionaries going out.
I think we all recognize these messages for he has repeated them from this pulpit many times. The only thing left to be done is to follow the prophet.
President Kimball’s visit to Australia was the second official visit of a president of the Church. The first was President David O. McKay in 1955. When President McKay was in Brisbane, Australia, the mission president one day took him out to see the city. During the course of the day they were looking across the Brisbane River into a new suburb which was known as Chermside. President McKay said to the mission president, “Do we have any missionaries in that area?” The mission president said, “No.” President McKay said, “Send the missionaries in, for the people are ready.” Missionaries were sent into the area and they enjoyed tremendous success. Today Chermside is part of the Brisbane Fourth Ward of the Brisbane Australia Stake.
These are the kinds of blessings that come when people not only listen to the living oracle, but do what he says. The blessings are found in doing the word and not just in hearing the word. The Church today is also responding to a prophet. President Kimball has asked every young man who is worthy and able to go into the mission field, and because of this we now have more missionaries in the field than ever before in the history of this dispensation. But many more are still needed.
Because he has asked every family in the Church to prayerfully friendship a nonmember family and to otherwise help the missionary effort, there is a noticeable increase in the number of converts coming into the Church, but still President Kimball says we are just scratching the surface and much more needs to be done.
Thank God for the scriptures which help us to grow in the gospel of Jesus Christ and to understand the nature of the Lord and the will of the Lord. But most of all, thank God for a living oracle, a legal administrator, so that we can know what the Lord wants us to do today. Under his direction we have the legal right to act in the name of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ is a living, viable influence built on current revelation.
Oh, truly we thank thee, oh God, for a prophet, to lead us in these latter days.
I bear you my witness that that prophet today is Spencer W. Kimball. I know that God our Father lives, and that Jesus the Christ is his son. I know this. I bear you that witness. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.