Chapter 29: Living the Word of Wisdom

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, (1997), 210–15


For President Brigham Young the gospel of Jesus Christ was a practical religion. In an 1867 letter to two of his sons serving missions, President Young praised the Saints in Salt Lake City for observing the Word of Wisdom: “The merchants on Whiskey St. can scarcely get enough day by day to pay their rents. The people manifest the strongest disposition we have ever witnessed to carry into effect the counsels which have been given respecting the Word of Wisdom and obedience in temporal as well as spiritual matters. There has been no coercion used, no covenants required. The principle has been set forth and the people seemed prepared to receive and carry it out willingly. Peace and good health prevail throughout the Territory” (LBY, 88). He taught that the Lord revealed the Word of Wisdom to improve the quality of our mortal lives, to make us more effective workers in God’s earthly kingdom, and to help us to fill the full measure of our creation.

Teachings of Brigham Young

We believe the Word of Wisdom is a commandment from God.

When the school of the prophets was inaugurated, one of the first revelations given by the Lord to His servant Joseph was the Word of Wisdom. The members of that school were but a few at first, and the prophet commenced to teach them in doctrine to prepare them to go out into the world to preach the gospel unto all people. … The prophet began to instruct them how to live, that they might be the better prepared to perform the great work they were called to accomplish (DNSW, 25 Feb. 1868, 2).

Bishops, Elders of Israel, High Priests, Seventies, the Twelve Apostles, the First Presidency, and all the House of Israel, hearken ye, O my people! keep the word of the Lord, observe the Word of Wisdom, sustain one another, sustain the household of faith (DBY, 183).

I know that some say the revelations upon these points are not given by way of commandment. Very well, but we are commanded to observe every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (DBY, 182–83).

The Spirit whispers to me to call upon the Latter-day Saints to observe the Word of Wisdom, to let tea, coffee, and tobacco alone, and to abstain from drinking spirituous drinks. This is what the Spirit signifies through me. If the Spirit of God whispers this to his people through their leader, and they will not listen nor obey, what will be the consequences of their disobedience? Darkness and blindness of mind with regard to the things of God will be their lot; they will cease to have the spirit of prayer, and the spirit of the world will increase in them in proportion to their disobedience until they apostatize entirely from God and his ways (DBY, 183).

The constitution that a person has should be nourished and cherished; and whenever we take anything into the system to force and stimulate it beyond its natural capacity, it shortens life. I am physician enough to know that. … If you will follow this counsel, you will be full of life and health, and you will increase your intelligence, your joy, and comfort (DBY, 183).

This Word of Wisdom which has been supposed to have become stale, and not in force, is like all the counsels of God, in force as much today as it ever was. There is life, everlasting life in it—the life which now is and the life which is to come (DBY, 184).

farmers harvesting field

The Word of Wisdom teaches that grains are among the healthy foods that are good for our bodies.

The Word of Wisdom is an inspired health code.

This Word of Wisdom prohibits the use of hot drinks and tobacco. I have heard it argued that tea and coffee are not mentioned therein; that is very true; but what were the people in the habit of taking as hot drinks when that revelation was given? Tea and coffee. We were not in the habit of drinking water very hot, but tea and coffee—the beverages in common use (DBY, 182).

Instead of doing two days’ work in one day, wisdom would dictate to [the Saints], that if they desire long life and good health, they must, after sufficient exertion, allow the body to rest before it is entirely exhausted. When exhausted, some argue that they need stimulants in the shape of tea, coffee, spirituous liquors, tobacco, or some of those narcotic substances which are often taken to goad on the lagging powers to greater exertions. But instead of these kind of stimulants they should recruit by rest. Work less, wear less, eat less, and we shall be a great deal wiser, healthier, and wealthier people than by taking the course we now do. It is difficult to find anything more healthy to drink than good cold water, such as flows down to us from springs and snows of our mountains. This is the beverage we should drink. It should be our drink at all times. … It may be remarked that some men who use spirituous liquors and tobacco are healthy, but I argue that they would be much more healthy if they did not use it, and then they are entitled to the blessings promised to those who observe the advice given in the “Word of Wisdom” (DBY, 187).

When we go on a trip to the settlements and stop at the brethren’s houses, it is, “Brother Brigham, let us manifest our feelings towards you and your company.” I tell them to do so, but give me a piece of Johnny-cake [cornbread]; I would rather have it than their pies and tarts and sweet meats. Let me have something that will sustain nature and leave my stomach and whole system clear to receive the Spirit of the Lord and be free from headache and pains of every kind (DBY, 189).

The Americans, as a nation, are killing themselves with their vices and high living. As much as a man ought to eat in half an hour they swallow in three minutes, gulping down their food like the [dog] under the table, which, when a chunk of meat is thrown down to it, swallows it before you can say “twice.” If you want a reform, carry out the advice I have just given you. Dispense with your multitudinous dishes, and, depend upon it, you will do much towards preserving your families from sickness, disease and death (DBY, 189).

Do you know that it is your privilege so to live that your minds may all the time be perfectly within your control? Study to preserve your bodies in life and health, and you will be able to control your minds (DBY, 190).

The thinking part is the immortal or invisible portion, and it is that which performs the mental labor; then the tabernacle, which is formed and organized for that express purpose, brings about or effects the result of that mental labor. Let the body work with the mind, and let them both labor fairly together, and, with but few exceptions, you will have a strong-minded, athletic individual, powerful both physically and mentally (DBY, 191).

Be careful of your bodies; be prudent in laying out your energies, for when you are old you will need the strength and power you are now wasting. Preserve your lives. Until you know and practice this, you are not thoroughly good soldiers nor wise stewards (DBY, 193).

Then let us not trifle with our mission, by indulging in the use of injurious substances. These lay the foundation of disease and death in the systems of men, and the same are committed to their children, and another generation of feeble human beings is introduced into the world. Such children have insufficient bone, sinew, muscle, and constitution, and are of little use to themselves, or to their fellow creatures; they are not prepared for life (DBY, 185–86).

Observing the Word of Wisdom can help us better fill our life’s purpose.

It is a piece of good counsel which the Lord desires his people to observe, that they may live on the earth until the measure of their creation is full. This is the object the Lord had in view in giving that Word of Wisdom. To those who observe it he will give great wisdom and understanding, increasing their health, giving strength and endurance to the faculties of their bodies and minds until they shall be full of years upon the earth. This will be their blessing if they will observe his word with a good and willing heart and in faithfulness before the Lord (DBY, 184).

So we see that almost the very first teachings the first Elders of this Church received were as to what to eat, what to drink, and how to order their natural lives that they might be united temporally as well as spiritually. This is the great purpose which God has in view in sending to the world, by his servants, the Gospel of life and salvation (DBY, 186).

A man who indulges in any habit that is pernicious to the general good in its example and influence, is not only an enemy to himself but to the community so far as the influence of that habit goes. A man who would not sacrifice a pernicious habit for the good it would do the community is, to say the least of it, lukewarm in his desires and wishes for public and general improvement (DBY, 186).

Prepare to die is not the exhortation in this Church and Kingdom; but prepare to live is the word with us, and improve all we can in the life hereafter, wherein we may enjoy a more exalted condition of intelligence, wisdom, light, knowledge, power, glory, and exaltation. Then let us seek to extend the present life to the uttermost, by observing every law of health, and by properly balancing labor, study, rest, and recreation, and thus prepare for a better life. Let us teach these principles to our children, that, in the morning of their days, they may be taught to lay the foundation of health and strength and constitution and power of life in their bodies (DBY, 186).

Suggestions for Study

We believe the Word of Wisdom is a commandment from God.

  • How does living the Word of Wisdom better prepare us to do the Lord’s work?

  • President Young said that “we are commanded to observe every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” including the Word of Wisdom. (See also D&C 89:2.) How has knowing that the Word of Wisdom is a commandment and not just good advice helped you to live according to its principles? What did President Young say would be the consequences of disobeying the Word of Wisdom?

  • What do you think President Young meant when he said, “There is life, everlasting life in” the Word of Wisdom?

The Word of Wisdom is an inspired health code.

  • According to President Young, what is the purpose of the Word of Wisdom? (See also 1 Corinthians 3:16–17; D&C 89; 93:35.)

  • What was President Young’s counsel for avoiding exhaustion? How can you apply the principles governing his counsel in your life?

  • How does obedience to the Word of Wisdom “let the body work with the mind”? How can you benefit from doing this? How can the Word of Wisdom prepare us to receive the Spirit?

  • President Young said, “Let us not trifle with our mission, by indulging in the use of injurious substances.” How do such substances impede our mission?

Observing the Word of Wisdom can help us better fill our life’s purpose.

  • How does living according to the Word of Wisdom help to fulfill our creation, individually and as a Church?

  • How does living the Word of Wisdom improve our spirituality? How does disobeying the Word of Wisdom damage the soul?

  • Why are we able to serve more effectively when we observe the Word of Wisdom?

  • How can you follow President Young’s counsel to “extend the present life to the uttermost, by observing every law of health, and by properly balancing labor, study, rest, and recreation”? How does obeying the Word of Wisdom help us live more fully?