From the Life of Joseph F. Smith
President Joseph F. Smith sustained his priesthood leaders in his heart and in his actions. Repeatedly his labors echoed the faithful words of Nephi: “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded” (1 Nephi 3:7).
In October 1873, President Brigham Young again called him to serve a mission. Joseph F. Smith said of this time: “I was called on a mission after I had served four years on a homestead and it was only necessary for me to remain one year more to prove up and get my title to the land; but President Young said he wanted me to go to Europe on a mission, to take charge of the mission there. I did not say to him, ‘Brother Brigham, I cannot go; I have got a homestead on my hands, and if I go I will forfeit it.’ I said to Brother Brigham, ‘All right, President Young; whenever you want me to go I will go; I am on hand to obey the call of my file leader.’ And I went. I lost the homestead, and yet I never complained about it; I never charged Brother Brigham with having robbed me because of this. I felt that I was engaged in a bigger work than securing 160 acres of land. I was sent to declare the message of salvation to the nations of the earth. I was called by the authority of God on the earth, and I did not stop to consider myself and my little personal rights and privileges; I went as I was called, and God sustained and blessed me in it.”1
Teachings of Joseph F. Smith
We raise our hands in token of a covenant to uphold and sustain our leaders.
In my judgment, one of the most important acts performed at the conferences of the Church is that in which we hold up our hands before the Lord to sustain the authorities of the Church and the organization thereof as it exists. But it is one of the important things that we do which rests with little weight upon some people. In other words, some people go away after holding up their hands to sustain the authorities of the Church and think no more about it, and act in many respects as though they had merely gone through a form to which they did not attach any importance whatever. I conceive this to be a wrong principle. … Those who covenant to keep the commandments of the Lord, and then violate that covenant by failing to observe those commandments, do no more than they do who raise their hands in token of a covenant to uphold and sustain the authorities of the Church and then fail to do it. The principle is the same in both cases: it is a violation of the covenant we make.2
It is a serious wrong in the presence of the Almighty for one to vote to sustain the authorities of the Church and then to go away and oppose them and trample under foot the counsels that they give; and we will be judged of the Lord for it.3
It is an important duty resting upon the Saints who vote to sustain the authorities of the Church, to do so not only by the lifting of the hand, the mere form, but in deed and in truth. There never should be a day pass but all the people composing the Church should lift up their voices in prayer to the Lord to sustain His servants who are placed to preside over them. … These men should have the faith of the people to sustain them in the discharge of their duties, in order that they may be strong in the Lord. …
… It is the command of the Lord that we shall meet together to … sustain the authorities of the Church, thus renewing our covenant to uphold God’s authority which He has instituted in the earth for the government of His Church. And I cannot emphasize too strongly the importance of Latter-day Saints honoring and sustaining in truth and in deed the authority of the Holy Priesthood which is called to preside. The moment a spirit enters into the heart of a member to refrain from sustaining the constituted authorities of the Church, that moment he becomes possessed of a spirit which inclines to rebellion or dissension; and if he permit that spirit to take a firm root in his mind, it will eventually lead him into darkness and apostasy.4
It is well understood that we meet together in general conference twice a year for the purpose of presenting the names of those who have been chosen as presiding officers in the Church, and it is understood that those who occupy these positions are dependent upon the voice of the people for the continuance of the authority, the rights and privileges they exercise. The female members of this Church have the same privilege of voting to sustain their presiding officers as the male members of the Church, and the vote of a sister in good standing counts in every way equal with the vote of a brother.5
As Latter-day Saints, we sustain and honor the General Authorities who are called to preside.
Now, while the commandments of God are to all the world, there are some special commandments that are applicable to the Latter-day Saints only. What are they? One of these commandments is, that we shall honor those who preside over us; in other words, we shall honor the Priesthood. I ask no man to honor me, unless I do that which is strictly in accord with the spirit of my calling and the priesthood which I hold. No member of the Church is bound to honor me if I step beyond that priesthood and authority which has been conferred upon me by the choice of God and the voice of the Church. But when I do speak by the Spirit of the Lord in accordance with the duties of my office, it is proper for every member of the Church to hearken to that which I say. For if it is said by the Spirit of God and in accordance with my duty, it is the word and will of the Almighty.
“And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost, shall be Scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.
“Behold this is the promise of the Lord unto you; O ye my servants” [D&C 68:4–5].
It is the privilege of all to know whether I speak the truth by the Spirit of God or not. To the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints it is given as a commandment that we shall hearken to the voice of the Spirit made manifest through those channels that God has appointed for the guidance of His people. … If I counsel in unrighteousness, I will be brought to judgment. No man can teach wickedness to this people and continue in it long; for God will detect him and will reveal the secrets of his heart; his purpose and intent will be made manifest to the Saints, and he will stand judged of the Spirit of God before the Saints. If you acknowledge … the President of the Church and he and his counselors as the presiding authority, then the member who does not give heed to their counsel deserves pity, for he is in transgression. These men will not counsel you wrong. …
… I never want to see the day come when these men, to whom you have entrusted the right and power to preside, shall have their mouths closed so that they dare not reprove sin or rebuke iniquity. … It is our duty to do it. We are here for that purpose. We are watchmen upon the towers of Zion [see Ezekiel 3:17–19]. It is our business and duty to point out errors and follies among men; and if men will not receive it, they must go their own way and abide the consequences. Those who will not obey righteous counsels will be the sufferers, and not those who rebuke iniquity.6
We propose to do our duty according to the light we possess, by the help of the loving Father. I propose to do nothing that I have not the most positive assurance is right, through the unanimity of my counselors, our seeing eye to eye, and our understanding alike together. … I do not propose to do anything, or suffer anything to be done or sanctioned which will affect the kingdom of God in the earth, except by common consent, or unless we can see eye to eye upon it, then I know we shall have strength behind us, that the power of God will be with us, and the Saints will uphold and sustain our hands.7
Men may become dissatisfied one with another, they may become dissatisfied towards the Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve, or others, and may say in their hearts, “I do not like such an one; I do not believe he is as good as he should be, he has too many faults and weaknesses and, therefore, I cannot and will not acknowledge his authority, as I have not faith in the man.” Doubtless there are those, too many perhaps, who feel that way, but the trouble is, … just because they have become dissatisfied with the individual and harbored feelings of bitterness in their hearts against their brethren, they lose sight of the designs of the Almighty; they turn against the authority of the Holy Priesthood; and through their blindness allow themselves to be led astray, and at last turn away from the Church.
Now how should it be? I will tell you. In the first place every person should know that the Gospel is true, as this is every one’s privilege who is baptized and receives the Holy Ghost. A man may be grieved in his feelings because of some personality between him and [the President of the Church and his Counselors]; he may have feelings in his heart which lead him to think that he could not sustain us in his faith and prayers; but if this should be the case, what is the course for him to pursue? He should say in his heart, “God has established His Kingdom, and His Priesthood is upon the earth; and notwithstanding my dislike for certain men, I know that the Gospel is true and that God is with His people; and that if I will do my duty and keep His commandments, the clouds will roll by and the mists will disappear, the spirit of the Lord will come more fully to my relief and by and by I will be able to see,—if I am in error, wherein I erred, and then I will repent of it, for I know that every wrong thing will yet be made right.” I think all men should feel that way.8
Let us sustain our local authorities and listen to their counsel.
As the Presidency of the Church preside over the whole Church—over all the stakes, all the wards, and all the missionary fields in the world—so these men [the stake presidency] preside over this Stake of Zion, and all the wards and branches therein; and when they call upon the people to sustain them in that which is right, if the people fail to sustain them the consequences shall be upon the heads of the people and not upon the heads of these men. It is their duty to rebuke iniquity and to reprove unrighteousness. It is their duty to counsel and exhort the people to be faithful and diligent throughout all their Stake. … I want you to distinctly understand this. … [The stake president has the] right to preside, to counsel, to direct, and to watch over the interests of the people here. …
… We have the written word for example, for instruction, for admonition, for reproof, for counsel and for exhortation. Every man should read and understand them, and then all will know that the oracles of God are in their midst. But when they do not read the word of God nor understand it, when the oracles speak they may not listen to them. The Stake Presidency are your oracles here. They are chosen of the Lord. … You ought to sustain and uphold them, and listen to their counsels. They will not guide you wrong; they will not direct you in wickedness; they will make no mistake in their counsel to you; for they stand as a beacon light to the people—not the only beacon light, but they stand in their place as the presidents of the Church in this Stake of Zion, and God will make Himself manifest through them to the people. Furthermore, it is the right of every man and woman to have revelation and wisdom from the Almighty, to know these men are good men, and are doing their duty.9
A bishop is the presiding officer of his ward, and where the bishop is in the ward, his counselors and those who are members of his ward are subject to his presidency. He cannot yield it up. He cannot give it to another; or, if he does, he violates one of the sacred principles of the government of the priesthood.10
Here is a man who says: “I do not have any faith in the bishop. I do not like the bishop. I do not believe in him, he is incompetent; he is partial; he is unjust; and I will not sustain him in his position in the Church.” … Don’t you forget it; [the bishop and his counselors] are there, not because we of our own will put them there. They are there because the Lord has designated that as the order of presidency in a ward, by divine authority, and the bishop holds authority there from God, not from man. …
… When a man says: “I am a Latter-day Saint; I am a member of the Church, in good standing, because I know what the principles of the gospel are, and I know what the principles of government are in the Church,” for that man to say, “I oppose the bishop because I don’t like him” or “because I haven’t faith in him,” is proof by that very act that he does not understand the principle of government and submission to divine authority. He therefore becomes obstreperous, unyielding, ungovernable, undesirable, and worthy to be dealt with according to his merits or demerits.11
A man may not have confidence in his Bishop or in one or both of his Counselors; … but because he may feel so, would it be right or consistent in him as an Elder in Israel, to set himself up as the judge of the Bishop or his Counselors and the whole Church? If one were to get in a position of this kind he would be like some [men who had apostatized from the Church]. … Do you think you could convince those of this class that they had apostatized from the Church? No; these men are firmly convinced in their own minds that they never apostatized. They stoutly and indignantly deny that they ever apostatized or turned away from the Church. … If I were to raise my hand against my Bishop, against the Twelve or the First Presidency, because I did not like them, that moment I should place myself in the position that these men now occupy, and that scores of others who have passed away have occupied, and say: “The Church has apostatized, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, and John Taylor, have apostatized, but I am firm in the faith; all the people have gone astray because they will not acknowledge me.” There is where the man is who rebels against the authority of the Priesthood, and at the same time endeavors to hold on to the faith. Never is there but one appointed at a time to hold the keys of the kingdom of God pertaining to the earth.12
Therefore, I say to you, honor the Presidency of the Stake and your Bishops, and all who are placed to preside in your midst. Sustain them in their positions by your faith and your prayers, and show them that you will help them in every good word and work, and God will bless you for it.13
Sustaining our leaders is an evidence of goodwill, faith, and fellowship on our part.
I believe it to be the duty of the Church to recognize and acknowledge every man who holds an official position in it, in his sphere and in his calling. I hold to the doctrine that the duty of a teacher is as sacred as the duty of an apostle, in the sphere in which he is called to act, and that every member of the Church is as much in duty bound to honor the teacher who visits him in his home, as he is to honor the office and counsel of the presiding quorum of the Church. They all have the Priesthood; they are all acting in their callings, and they are all essential in their places, because the Lord has appointed them and set them in his Church. We cannot ignore them; or, if we do, the sin will be upon our heads.14
We should not permit ourselves to go about from day to day with a spirit of murmuring and fault-finding in our hearts against those who are presented before us to be sustained in responsible positions. If we have anything in our hearts against any of these brethren, it is our duty, as conscientious members of the Church, first, as the Scriptures direct, to go to them alone and make known to them our feeling toward them and show them the cause of such feeling; not with a desire in our hearts to widen or increase the difficulty, but we should go to them in the spirit of reconciliation and brotherly love, in a true Christian spirit, so that if any feeling of bitterness exists within us it may be absolutely removed; and if we have cause against our brother, that he may be in a position to remedy the evil. We should seek to love one another and to sustain each other as children of God and as brothers and sisters in the cause of Zion.15
My brethren and sisters, I want to thank you … for the unanimity that has been manifested here by the uplifted hands of this vast congregation. I understand this as an evidence of good will, of faith and of fellowship on the part of this vast congregation to all the authorities, both general and local, or auxiliary, that have been presented before you, and that you will all abide the pledge you have given to the Lord and to one another by the uplifted hand, that you all mean to uphold and sustain these officers in all these various organizations, from first to last, that you will not backbite them, that you will not find fault with them without a cause, that you will not try to injure their influence or hinder their progress, or interfere with their legitimate work but that on the contrary you will do everything you can to help them, to benefit them, bless them, and encourage them in the good work in which they are engaged.16
Suggestions for Study
Why is sustaining our leaders “one of the most important acts performed at the conferences of the Church”? Why is it helpful to realize that sustaining our leaders is a “covenant we make”?
How can we sustain our leaders, not in “mere form, but in deed and in truth”? How have you seen your faith and prayers help your leaders?
What can happen to those who “refrain from sustaining the constituted authorities of the Church”?
How are the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve “watchmen upon the towers of Zion”? As such, what is their duty? How can we sustain and honor them in this duty? (See also D&C 107:22.)
What are some of the responsibilities of a stake presidency? In what ways can we better sustain and uphold them?
Why is it important to know that the bishop holds authority in the ward “from God, not from man”? How can we better sustain the bishopric in their responsibilities?
How is the duty of a home teacher “as sacred as the duty of an apostle, in the sphere in which he is called to act”? How can we sustain and honor home teachers and visiting teachers?
How is sustaining and honoring our leaders an evidence of our faith in the Lord?
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 28 Apr. 1896, 1.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 14 May 1895, 1.
In Brian H. Stuy, comp, Collected Discourses Delivered by President Wilford Woodruff, His Two Counselors, the Twelve Apostles, and Others, 5 vols. (1987–92), 4:298.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 28 June 1898, 1.
Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. (1939), 158.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 21 Jan. 1896, 1.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1902, 86–87.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 26 June 1883, 1.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 21 Jan. 1896, 1.
Gospel Doctrine, 185.
In James R. Clark, comp, Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. (1965–75), 5:83–85.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 26 June 1883, 1.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 31 Mar. 1896, 1.
Gospel Doctrine, 163–64.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 21 June 1898, 1.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1911, 130–31.
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