Chapter 12: Preventing Personal Apostasy

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, (1997), 78–84


While in Kirtland, President Brigham Young encountered a group of apostates who were plotting against the Prophet Joseph Smith within the very walls of the temple. He declared, “I rose up, and in a plain and forcible manner told them that Joseph was a Prophet, and I knew it, and they might rail and slander him as much as they pleased, they could not destroy the appointment of the Prophet of God, they could only destroy their own authority, cut the thread that bound them to the Prophet and to God and sink themselves to hell” (“History of Brigham Young,” DNW, 10 Feb. 1858, 386). In Kirtland, Missouri, Nauvoo, and Utah, President Young witnessed the devastation that visits the personal lives of those who succumb to apostasy. Many of the apostates had been among his closest associates. He recognized that often “trifling affairs” were the commencement of their separation from the truth, and he emphatically warned each member to guard carefully against any degree of wrongdoing.

Teachings of Brigham Young

Apostasy is turning away from the Church and ultimately denying the faith.

What is that which turns people away from this Church? Very trifling affairs are generally the commencement of their divergence from the right path. If we follow a compass, the needle of which does not point correctly, a very slight deviation in the beginning will lead us, when we have traveled some distance, far to one side of the true point for which we are aiming (DBY, 83).

If the Saints neglect to pray, and violate the day that is set apart for the worship of God, they will lose his Spirit. If a man shall suffer himself to be overcome with anger, and curse and swear, taking the name of the Deity in vain, he cannot retain the Holy Spirit. In short, if a man shall do anything which he knows to be wrong, and repenteth not, he cannot enjoy the Holy Spirit, but will walk in darkness and ultimately deny the faith (DBY, 85).

It is most astonishing to every principle of intelligence that any man or woman will close their eyes upon eternal things after they have been made acquainted with them, and let the … things of this world, the lusts of the eye, and the lusts of the flesh, entangle their minds and draw them one hair’s breadth from the principles of life (DBY, 82).

It was said here this morning that no person ever apostatized, without actual transgression. Omission of duty leads to commission (DBY, 82).

You hear many say, “I am a Latter-day Saint, and I never will apostatize;” “I am a Latter-day Saint, and shall be to the day of my death.” I never make such declarations, and never shall. I think I have learned that of myself I have no power, but my system is organized to increase in wisdom, knowledge, and power, getting a little here and a little there. But when I am left to myself, I have no power, and my wisdom is foolishness; then I cling close to the Lord, and I have power in his name. I think I have learned the Gospel so as to know, that in and of myself I am nothing [see Alma 26:12] (DBY, 84).

Let a man or woman who has received much of the power of God, visions and revelations, turn away from the holy commandments of the Lord, and it seems that their senses are taken from them, their understanding and judgment in righteousness are taken away, they go into darkness, and become like a blind person who gropes by the wall [see Isaiah 59:9–10; Deuteronomy 28:29] (DBY, 82–83).

Many receive the Gospel because they know it is true; they are convinced in their judgment that it is true; strong argument overpowers them, and they are rationally compelled to admit the Gospel to be true upon fair reasoning. They yield to it, and obey its first principles, but never seek to be enlightened by the power of the Holy Ghost; such ones frequently step out of the way (DBY, 86).

Judas kissing the Savior’s cheek

Judas betraying the Savior in the Garden of Gethsemane. President Young warned that “when a man begins to find fault” with Church leaders and teachings, “you may know that that person has more or less of the spirit of apostasy” (DBY, 83).

When we find fault with Church leaders, we begin to separate ourselves from the Church.

Whenever there is a disposition manifested in any of the members of this Church to question the right of the President of the whole Church to direct in all things, you see manifested evidences of apostasy—of a spirit which, if encouraged, will lead to a separation from the Church and to final destruction; wherever there is a disposition to operate against any legally appointed officer of this Kingdom, no matter in what capacity he is called to act, if persisted in, it will be followed by the same results; they will “walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, self-willed; they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities” [see 2 Peter 2:10] (DBY, 83).

When a man begins to find fault, inquiring in regard to this, that, and the other, saying, “Does this or that look as though the Lord dictated it?” you may know that that person has more or less of the spirit of apostasy. Every man in this Kingdom, or upon the face of the earth, who is seeking with all his heart to save himself, has as much to do as he can conveniently attend to, without calling in question that which does not belong to him. If he succeeds in saving himself, it has well occupied his time and attention. See to it that you are right yourselves; see that sins and folly do not manifest themselves with the rising sun (DBY, 83).

Many imbibe [conceive] the idea that they are capable of leading out in teaching principles that never have been taught. They are not aware that the moment they give way to this hallucination the Devil has power over them to lead them onto unholy ground; though this is a lesson which they ought to have learned long ago, yet it is one that was learned by but few in the days of Joseph (DBY, 77–78).

[Such a person] will make false prophecies, yet he will do it by the spirit of prophecy; he will feel that he is a prophet and can prophesy, but he does it by another spirit and power than that which was given him of the Lord. He uses the gift as much as you and I use ours (DBY, 82).

One of the first steps to apostasy is to find fault with your Bishop; and when that is done, unless repented of a second step is soon taken, and by and by the person is cut off from the Church, and that is the end of it. Will you allow yourselves to find fault with your Bishop? (DBY, 86).

No man gets power from God to raise disturbance in any Branch of the Church. Such power is obtained from an evil source (DBY, 72).

People do, however, leave this Church, but they leave it because they get into darkness, and the very day they conclude that there should be a democratic vote, or in other words, that we should have two candidates for the presiding Priesthood in the midst of the Latter-day Saints, they conclude to be apostates. There is no such thing as confusion, division, strife, animosity, hatred, malice, or two sides to the question in the house of God; there is but one side to the question there (DBY, 85).

Those who lose the Spirit are filled with darkness and confusion.

When men lose the spirit of the work in which we are engaged, they become infidel in their feelings. They say that they do not know whether the Bible is true, whether the Book of Mormon is true, nor about new revelations, nor whether there is a God or not. When they lose the spirit of this work, they lose the knowledge of the things of God in time and in eternity; all is lost to them (DBY, 83–84).

Men begin to apostatize by taking to themselves strength, by hearkening to the whisperings of the enemy who leads them astray little by little, until they gather to themselves that which they call the wisdom of man; then they begin to depart from God, and their minds become confused (DBY, 84).

What have the Latter-day Saints got to apostatize from? Everything that there is good, pure, holy, God-like, exalting, ennobling, extending the ideas, the capacities of the intelligent beings that our Heavenly Father has brought forth upon this earth. What will they receive in exchange? I can comprehend it in a very few words. These would be the words that I should use: death, hell and the grave. That is what they will get in exchange. We may go into the particulars of that which they experience. They experience darkness, ignorance, doubt, pain, sorrow, grief, mourning, unhappiness; no person to condole [lament] with in the hour of trouble, no arm to lean upon in the day of calamity, no eye to pity when they are forlorn and cast down; and I comprehend it by saying death, hell and the grave. This is what they will get in exchange for their apostasy from the Gospel of the Son of God (DBY, 85).

You have known men who, while in the Church, were active, quick and full of intelligence; but after they have left the Church, they have become contracted in their understandings, they have become darkened in their minds and everything has become a mystery to them, and in regard to the things of God, they have become like the rest of the world, who think, hope and pray that such and such things may be so, but they do not know the least about it. This is precisely the position of those who leave this Church; they go into the dark, they are not able to judge, conceive or comprehend things as they are. They are like the drunken man—he thinks that everybody is the worse for liquor but himself, and he is the only sober man in the neighborhood. The apostates think that everybody is wrong but themselves (DBY, 84).

Those who leave the Church are like a feather blown to and fro in the air. They know not whither they are going; they do not understand anything about their own existence; their faith, judgment and the operation of their minds are as unstable as the movements of the feather floating in the air. We have not anything to cling to, only faith in the Gospel (DBY, 84).

We can stand firm by living our religion and seeking the Holy Spirit.

Will there still be apostasy? Yes, brethren and sisters, you may expect that people will come into the Church and then apostatize. You may expect that some people will run well for a season, and then fall out by the way (DBY, 85–86).

Why do people apostatize? You know we are on the “Old Ship Zion.” We are in the midst of the ocean. A storm comes on, and, as sailors say, she labors very hard. “I am not going to stay here,” says one; “I don’t believe this is the ‘Ship Zion.’” “But we are in the midst of the ocean.” “I don’t care, I am not going to stay here.” Off goes the coat, and he jumps overboard. Will he not be drowned? Yes. So with those who leave this Church. It is the “Old Ship Zion,” let us stay in it (DBY, 85).

God is at the helm of this great ship, and that makes me feel good. … Let those apostatize who wish to, but God will save all who are determined to be saved (DBY, 86).

If the people would live their religion, there would be no apostasy and we would hear no complaining or fault-finding. If the people were hungry for the words of eternal life, and their whole souls even centered on the building up of the Kingdom of God, every heart and hand would be ready and willing and the work would move forward mightily and we would advance as we should do (DBY, 84).

We want to live so as to have the Spirit every day, every hour of the day, every minute of the day, and every Latter-day Saint is entitled to the Spirit of God, to the power of the Holy Ghost, to lead him in his individual duties (DBY, 82).

Suggestions for Study

Apostasy is turning away from the Church and ultimately denying the faith.

  • President Young identified some of the departures from the truth which seem common or “trifling.” He used the image of “a compass, the needle of which does not point correctly.” How is the gospel like a true and accurate compass? What are some of the slight deviations in our lives that might over time lead us astray? What course corrections should we make?

  • What cautions did President Young extend to the person who boasts, “I am a Latter-day Saint, and I never will apostatize”? (See also 2 Nephi 28:25; D&C 20:31–34.)

  • What prophetic warning did President Young sound for those Saints who received the “power of God” and then turned “away from the commandments”?

  • Why is intellectual reasoning not enough to keep us on the path to eternal life?

When we find fault with Church leaders, we begin to separate ourselves from the Church.

  • In what ways will attending to our own callings rather than questioning the inspiration of current leaders strengthen us as individuals, families, wards, and Church members collectively?

  • What was President Young’s warning to those who criticize their ward or branch leadership? What can we do at church and at home to sustain the bishop of our ward, president of our branch, or other Church leaders? When honest differences arise, what course should we follow in order to become united? (See also Matthew 18:15; Luke 11:34.)

  • According to President Young, there cannot be a “democratic vote” between “two candidates for the presiding Priesthood” in the Church. (See also D&C 28:2, 6–7.) How is sustaining by “common consent” different from a “democratic vote”? (See also D&C 20:65; 26:2.)

  • We are invited to give our sustaining vote to Church leaders. How does our willingness to sustain those leaders strengthen the whole Church? How does our unwillingness to sustain them weaken the Church?

Those who lose the Spirit are filled with darkness and confusion.

  • What did President Young mean when he said that apostates take to themselves strength? What is the danger in relying on our own strength? (See also Helaman 4:13.) Why do some choose the “wisdom of men” rather than the wisdom of God as revealed by the Spirit? (See also Isaiah 29:13–14; 1 Corinthians 2:12–14.)

  • Read President Young’s answers to these questions: “What have Latter-day Saints got to apostatize from?” “What will they receive in exchange?”

  • How can we exercise our faith to help those who are “like a feather blown to and fro in the air”?

We can stand firm by living our religion and seeking the Holy Spirit.

  • Why will apostasy continue to exist in the Church? How can we keep the beginnings of apostasy from entering our lives? How have other Church members and the influence of the Spirit helped to keep you faithful when you might have been tempted to “run well [only] for a season”?

  • If we stay with the “Old Ship Zion,” what are we promised?