In the Church we sing a stirring hymn, “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet.” It is distinctive with us. As a people we sing some hymns that have come from other churches, and others sing some of ours. But only we can properly sing, “We thank thee, O God, for a prophet to guide us in these latter days.”
It was written more than a century ago by a man of humble circumstances who lived in Sheffield, England. He worked in the steel mills and was discharged because he joined the Mormon Church. But there burned in his heart a great and fervent testimony; and out of an overflowing spirit of gratitude, he penned these moving lines. They have become a grateful expression of appreciation for millions over the earth. I have heard them sung in many different languages as a reverent prayer of thanksgiving for divine revelation.
How thankful we ought to be, how thankful we are, for a prophet to counsel us in words of divine wisdom as we walk our paths in these complex and difficult times. The solid assurance we carry in our hearts, the conviction that God will make His will known to His children through His recognized servants, is the real basis of our faith and activity. We either have a prophet or we have nothing; and having a prophet, we have everything.
Many years ago, in company with the mission president from Hong Kong, it was my opportunity to initiate formally the work in the Philippines. On 28 April 1961, we held a meeting that will never be forgotten by those of us who were present. We had no hall then in which to meet. We made a request of the United States Embassy for permission to meet on the beautiful porch of the marble memorial in the American military cemetery at what was then known as Fort McKinley, on the outskirts of Manila. We convened at 6:30 in the morning. In that hallowed and sacred place, where are remembered the tragedies of war, we commenced the work of teaching the gospel of peace.
We called upon the only native Filipino member we had been able to locate. He recounted a story which I remember as follows:
When he was a boy he found in a garbage can an old, tattered copy of the Reader’s Digest. It contained a condensation of a book giving the story of the Mormon people. It spoke of Joseph Smith and described him as a prophet. The word prophet did something to that boy. Could there actually be a prophet upon the earth? he wondered. The magazine was lost, but concern over the presence of a living prophet never left him during the long, dark years of war and oppression when the Philippines were occupied. Finally the forces of liberation came, and with them the reopening of Clark Air Base. David Lagman found employment there. His supervisor, he learned, was a Mormon, an Air Force officer. He wanted to ask him if he believed in a prophet, but was afraid to do so. Finally, after much inner turmoil, he mustered the courage to inquire.
“Are you a Mormon, sir?” the young man asked.
“Yes, I am,” was the forthright reply.
“Do you believe in a prophet? Do you have a prophet in your church?” came the anxious question.
“We do have a prophet, a living prophet, who presides in this church and who teaches the will of the Lord.”
David asked the officer to tell him more, and out of that teaching came his baptism. He was the first native elder ordained in the Philippines.
Could any people have a greater blessing than to have standing at their head one who receives and teaches the will of God concerning them? We need not look far in the world to know that the wisdom of the wise has perished and that the understanding of the prudent has come to naught. (See D&C 76:9.) That wisdom for which the world should seek is the wisdom which comes from God. The only understanding that will save the world is divine understanding.
“Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7).
It was so in the days of Amos and in all the years when men of God spake as they were moved upon by the Holy Ghost. (See 2 Pet. 1:21.) Those ancient prophets not only warned of things to come but, more important, became the revealers of truth to people. It was they who pointed the way men should live if they were to be happy and find peace in their lives.
I think of a young man I know who, as a Christian, trying one church after another, could find none that taught of a modern prophet. Among the Jewish people he found reverent mention of prophets, and so he accepted and embraced the Jewish religion.
In the summer of 1964, he went to New York City and visited the World’s Fair. He entered the Mormon Pavilion and saw pictures of the prophets of the Old Testament. His heart warmed within him as he heard the missionaries speak with appreciation of these great men of ages past through whom Jehovah revealed his will. Then, as he progressed through the pavilion, he heard of modern prophets—of Joseph Smith, who was called a prophet, a seer, and a revelator. Something stirred within him. His spirit responded to the testimony of the missionaries. He was baptized. He served a mission in South America. He returned home and has since become the means of bringing his family and others into the Church. It is heartwarming to hear him testify that Joseph Smith was indeed a prophet of God and that all who have succeeded him have been legal successors in this high and sacred calling.
Could anyone, willing to read without bias the story of Joseph Smith, doubt that he was a great foreteller of events to come? Nearly thirty years before a shot was fired, he foretold the tragic American Civil War and stated that following that, war would be poured out upon all nations. You and I of this generation are witnesses to the fulfillment of those remarkable words.
It has been so with his successors. On a cold winter day in 1849, when our forebears in the Salt Lake Valley were hungry and were living on sego roots and thistle tops, while gold was being found in California, Brigham Young stood in the old bowery on Temple Square and spoke prophetic words to those who felt they might leave the hardships of life here to go to greener pastures in California. Among other things, he said:
“We have been kicked out of the frying-pan into the fire, out of the fire into the middle of the floor, and here we are and here we will stay. … We shall build a city and a temple to the Most High God in this place. We will extend our settlements to the east and west, to the north and to the south, and we will build towns and cities by the hundreds, and thousands of the Saints will gather in from the nations of the earth. This will become the great highway of the nations. Kings and emperors and the noble and wise of the earth will visit us here.” (Quoted in James S. Brown, Life of a Pioneer: Being the Autobiography of James S. Brown, Salt Lake City: Geo. Q. Cannon & Sons Co., 1900, pages 121–22.)
How could anyone stand on Temple Square today and witness the millions who come each year to visit us, and have any doubt that Brigham Young spoke as a prophet? Over the years there has been a veritable parade of notables who have found their way to the office of the First Presidency, there to meet particularly the man whom we sustain as the President of the Church and as the prophet of our day. They include leaders in the governments of the earth, in business and commerce, in education, in the professions. These are among “the noble and the wise of the earth” of whom Brigham Young spoke when we were an outcast people, isolated in a mountain wilderness.
I recall flying from San Francisco to Sydney, Australia. I noted a young man in a nearby seat reading the book Joseph Smith, an American Prophet. When opportunity presented itself, I spoke to him. I told him that I had read the book, that I had known the author, and asked him what his interest was. He said, among other things, that he had an interest in prophets and that this matter of a possible modern prophet had intrigued him. He had picked up the book at the library. We had a lengthy conversation in which I bore my witness that Joseph Smith was indeed a prophet. Not only did he speak of things to come, but more important, he was a revealer of eternal truth and a testifier of the divine mission of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I am profoundly grateful not only for Joseph Smith as the prophet who served as an instrument in the hands of the Almighty in restoring this work, but also for all of those who have followed him. A study of their lives will reveal the manner in which the Lord has chosen them, has refined them, and has molded them to his eternal purposes. Joseph Smith declared on one occasion: “I am like a huge, rough stone rolling down from a high mountain; … knocking off a corner here and a corner there. Thus I will become a smooth and polished shaft in the quiver of the Almighty” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938, page 304).
He was hated and persecuted. He was driven and imprisoned. He was abused and beaten. And as you read his history, you see the evolution of which he spoke. There developed a power in his life. There came a refinement. There grew a love for others which even overcame his own love for life. The corners of that rough stone were knocked off, and he became a polished shaft in the hand of the Almighty.
It has been so with those who have succeeded him. Through long years of dedicated service, they have been refined and winnowed and chastened and molded for the purposes of the Almighty. Could anyone doubt this after reading of the lives of such men as Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, and Joseph F. Smith? The Lord subdued their hearts and refined their natures to prepare them for the great and sacred responsibility later thrust upon them. It has been so with him who stands as President of the Church today, our beloved leader, President Ezra Taft Benson.
As one to whom the Spirit has borne witness, I testify of President Benson’s prophetic calling and add my voice to the voices of our people over the earth: “We thank thee, O God, for a prophet to guide us in these latter days.” I am satisfied that the peace and the progress and the prosperity of this people lie in doing the will of the Lord as that will is articulated by him who is the servant of the Lord—the President of the Church. If we fail to observe his counsel, we repudiate his sacred calling. If we abide his counsel, we shall be blessed of God.
And what has been the counsel of President Ezra Taft Benson to us as a people? Have we not been counseled to search out and lovingly welcome back into fuller activity any of our number who have strayed?
Have we not been counseled to cleanse our inner vessels of any unworthiness that we may have before the Lord? Have we not been counseled to consistently bring the power and spirit and teachings of the Book of Mormon into our lives and to personally realize that the Book of Mormon was prepared under the direction of the Lord specifically for his latter-day work? Have we not been counseled to seek the Spirit of the Lord in all we do? Have we not been counseled to avoid despair and to trust in the Lord? Have we not been counseled against the great stumbling block of pride, of pitting our will against God’s? Has he not counseled us time and again to come unto Christ, to think on Christ, to make a mighty change in our hearts, if needed, in order to follow Christ, and to make Christ our model for our entire lives?
We would do well today to heed the words spoken anciently by Jehoshaphat: “Believe in the Lord your God, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper” (2 Chr. 20:20).
God lives and is a revealer of eternal truth. Jesus Christ is our Savior and stands at the head of this Church. We have a prophet upon the earth, a seer and a revelator to teach us. God give us the faith and the discipline within ourselves to follow those teachings.
We need not look far to know that the wisdom of the wise has perished, the understanding of the prudent has come to naught.
The basis of our faith and our activity in the Church is the solid assurance we carry that God makes his will known to his children through his prophets.
We are profoundly grateful not only for Joseph Smith, who was the Lord’s instrument in restoring this work, but for all who have followed him, including our beloved President Ezra Taft Benson.
The peace and progress of this people lie in doing the will of the Lord as that will is articulated by the President of the Church.