In 1877, President John Taylor was elected to the office of territorial superintendent of district schools in Utah. In that position, he sought to appoint the most qualified teachers to teach the children and youth. He also continually monitored educational statistics—not only from Utah, but from all the states and territories in the United States—to help him better understand the level of education among the Latter-day Saints. For his administration of the school system, he received a letter of commendation from the acting commissioner of education of the United States.2 The letter was a fitting recognition for President Taylor, whose life reflected his love of learning and teaching.
From his childhood schooling in England to his service as President of the Church, John Taylor consistently studied and worked to magnify the intelligence the Lord had given him. His diligence in learning enabled him to help the growth of the Church in many ways. One such instance occurred while he was serving a mission in France. Although he had been in the country only a short time, he participated in the translation of the Book of Mormon into French and German and initiated the publication of two monthly Church periodicals in those languages.3
John Taylor’s many writings on gospel subjects included letters, tracts, hymns, pamphlets, newspaper articles, and books. One of his books, entitled The Government of God, was praised by a noted American historian, who wrote: “As a dissertation on a general and abstract subject, it probably has not its equal in point of ability within the whole range of Mormon literature. The style is lofty and clear, and every page betokens the great learning of the author. As a student of ancient and modern history, theologian, and moral philosopher, President Taylor is justly entitled to the front rank.”4
In addition to his many writings, President Taylor’s command of language, coupled with his testimony of the gospel, resulted in countless inspiring and instructive sermons. Elder B. H. Roberts wrote: “The Saints who listened to him for half a century will remember as long as they live his commanding presence, his personal magnetism, the vigor and power of his discourses and the grand principles of which they treated. … His eloquence was a majestic river full to the point of overflowing its banks, sweeping grandly through rich regions of thought.”5
We want … to be alive in the cause of education. We are commanded of the Lord to obtain knowledge, both by study and by faith, seeking it out of the best books [see D&C 88:118]. And it becomes us to teach our children, and afford them instruction in every branch of education calculated to promote their welfare.6
We are here, as a people, … not to imitate the world, unless it be in that which is good … but that we may put ourselves in possession of every truth, of every virtue, of every principle of intelligence known among men, together with those that God has revealed for our special guidance, and apply them to our everyday life, and thus educate ourselves and our children in everything that tends to exalt man. … We should seek to know more about ourselves and our bodies, about what is most conducive to health and how to preserve health and how to avoid disease; and to know what to eat and what to drink, and what to abstain from taking into our systems. We should become acquainted with the physiology of the human system, and live in accordance with the laws that govern our bodies, that our days may be long in the land which the Lord our God has given us. And in order to fully comprehend ourselves we must study from the best books, and also by faith. And then let education be fostered and encouraged in our midst.
Train your children to be intelligent and industrious. First teach them the value of healthful bodies, and how to preserve them in soundness and vigor; teach them to entertain the highest regard for virtue and chastity and likewise encourage them to develop the intellectual faculties with which they are endowed. They should also be taught regarding the earth on which they live, its properties, and the laws that govern it; and they ought to be instructed concerning God who made the earth, and His designs and purposes in its creation and the placing of man upon it. … And whatever labor they pursue they should be taught to do so intelligently; and every incentive, at the command of parents to induce children to labor intelligently and understandingly, should be held out to them. …
It is highly necessary that we should learn to read and write and speak our own language correctly; and where people are deficient themselves in education they should strive all the more to see that the deficiency be not perpetuated in their offspring. We ought to take more pains than we do in the training and education of our youth. All that we can possibly do by way of placing them in a position to become the equals, at least, of [mankind], we ought to take pleasure in doing; for in elevating them we bring honor to our own name, and glory to God the Father. To do this requires labor and means, and it also requires perseverance and determination on the part of all concerned.7
Whatever you do, be choice in your selection of teachers. We do not want infidels to mold the minds of our children. They are a precious charge bestowed upon us by the Lord, and we cannot be too careful in rearing and training them. I would rather have my children taught the simple rudiments of a common education by men of God, and have them under their influence, than have them taught in the most abstruse [or complex] sciences by men who have not the fear of God in their hearts. …
We need to pay more attention to educational matters, and do all we can to procure the services of competent teachers. Some people say, we cannot afford to pay them. You cannot afford not to employ them. We want our children to grow up intelligently, and to walk abreast with the peoples of any nation. God expects us to do it; and therefore I call attention to this matter. I have heard intelligent practical men say, it is quite as cheap to keep a good horse as a poor one, or to raise good stock as inferior animals. Is it not quite as cheap to raise good intelligent children as to rear children in ignorance?8
Man, by philosophy and the exercise of his natural intelligence, may gain an understanding, to some extent, of the laws of Nature. But to comprehend God, heavenly wisdom and intelligence are necessary.9
It is good for men to be taught in the history and laws of nations, to become acquainted with the principles of justice and equity, with the nature of disease and the medicinal properties of plants, etc. But there is no need of their being without the knowledge of God, for in fact every branch of true knowledge known to man has originated in God, and men have come in possession of it from his word or from his works. … All the intelligence which men possess on the earth, whether religious, scientific, or political—proceeds from God. Every good and perfect gift proceeds from him, the fountain of light and truth, wherein there is no variableness nor shadow of turning. The knowledge of the human system has proceeded from the human system itself, which God has organized.10
There is no man living, and there never was a man living, who was capable of teaching the things of God only as he was taught, instructed and directed by the spirit of revelation proceeding from the Almighty. And then there are no people competent to receive true intelligence and to form a correct judgment in relation to the sacred principles of eternal life, unless they are under the influence of the same spirit, and hence speakers and hearers are all in the hands of the Almighty.11
The principles of the gospel are calculated to expand the mind, enlarge the heart, unfold the capacity and make all men feel their relationship to God and to each other, that we may all be partakers of the same blessings; that we may all be intelligent, that we may all be learned in the things of the kingdom of God and all be prepared for the celestial inheritance in the eternal worlds. This is the difference between the system that we have embraced and the systems of the world—they are of men, this is of God. … The kingdom of God exalts the good, blesses all, enlightens all, expands the minds of all and puts within the reach of all the blessings of eternity. … I appreciate all true intelligence, whether moral, social, scientific, political or philosophical. …
Truth and intelligence [have] a tendency to enlarge the capacity, to expand the soul and to show man his real position, his relationship to himself and to his God, both in relation to the present and the future, that he may know how to live on the earth and be prepared to mingle with the Gods in the eternal worlds. …
It is the principles of truth which cement us together and make us act in union and strength; it is those principles that buoy up our feelings, animate our souls and make us feel joyous and jubilant under all circumstances; it is light, it is truth, it is intelligence, it comes from and leads to God, exaltation and celestial glory. We feel joyous because we have the principles of eternal life within us; it is because we have partaken at the fountain of life, and know our relationship to the Lord.12
We need teaching continually, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little. Hence we have our various organizations of the priesthood, … to teach, to instruct, and to enter into all the ramifications of life whether they pertain to this world or the world to come.13
We have here our Relief Societies. … I was in Nauvoo at the time the Relief Society was organized by the Prophet Joseph Smith, and I was present at the occasion. …
With regard to those Societies, I will say, they have done a good work and are a great assistance to our bishops, as well as being peculiarly adapted to console, bless, and encourage those of their sisters who need their care, and also to visit the sick, as well as to counsel and instruct the younger women in the things pertaining to their calling as children and saints of the Most High. I am happy to say that we have a great many honorable and noble women engaged in these labors of love, and the Lord blesses them in their labors, and I bless them in the name of the Lord. And I say to our sisters, continue to be diligent and faithful in seeking the well-being and happiness of your sex, instruct and train your own daughters in the fear of God, and teach your sisters to do likewise, that we may be the blessed of the Lord and our offspring with us.14
Then, we have our Sunday Schools, and many of our brethren and sisters in this direction are doing a good work. I would advise the [presidents] of Sunday Schools to endeavor to collect the best talent they can to teach and instruct our children. What greater or more honorable work can we be engaged in than in teaching the children the principles of salvation? You that are diligent and that give your hearts to these things, God will bless, and the day will come when the youth of Israel will rise up and call you blessed.15
It is good for the elders to become acquainted with the languages, for they may have to go abroad, and should be able to talk to the people, and not look like fools. … You may say, I thought the Lord would give us the gift of tongues. He won’t if we are too indolent to study them. I never ask the Lord to do a thing I could do for myself.
We should be acquainted with all things, should obtain intelligence both by faith and by study. We are instructed to gather it out of the best books, and become acquainted with governments, nations, and laws. The elders of this church have need to study these things, that when they go to the nations, they may not wish to return home before they have accomplished a good work.16
God expects Zion to become the praise and glory of the whole earth so that kings, hearing of her fame, will come and gaze upon her glory. … He wants us to observe his laws and fear him, and standing as messengers to go forth to the nations; clothed upon with the power of the priesthood which has been conferred upon us; seeking “first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness;” [Matthew 6:33] seeking first the welfare and happiness of our fellow-men. …
This being the case, we ought to foster education and intelligence of every kind; cultivate literary tastes, and men of literary and scientific talent should improve that talent, and all should magnify the gifts which God has given unto them. Educate your children, and seek for those to teach them who have faith in God and in his promises, as well as intelligence. … If there is anything good and praiseworthy in morals, religions, science, or anything calculated to exalt and ennoble man, we are after it. But with all our getting, we want to get understanding [see Proverbs 4:7]; and that understanding which flows from God.17
The great principle that we have to come to is the knowledge of God, of the relationship that we sustain to each other, of the various duties we have to attend to in the various spheres of life in which we are called to act as mortal and immortal, intelligent, eternal beings, in order that we may magnify our calling and approve ourselves before God and the holy angels, and if we obtain knowledge of this kind, we shall do well, for this is the greatest good of the whole, it embraces everything that we want.18
What does it mean to you to be “alive in the cause of education”? What experiences have shown you the importance of education?
What opportunities exist for you to expand your education? How can you better take advantage of these opportunities? Why is it important that we continue learning throughout our lives? How can our education and learning help build the kingdom of God?
Why is it important to educate ourselves and our children about good health? In what ways can we do this?
Why is it important that we have good teachers for our children? What can we do to help ensure that our children have qualified and moral teachers? What else can we do to participate in our children’s education?
What knowledge have you gained by participating in different organizations within the Church? Why do some people seem to gain so little from their Church instruction and others gain so much? How can we and our children receive the most out of our Church classes and programs?
What can you do to show your appreciation to those who labor to teach you and your children?
President Taylor taught that “the great principle that we have to come to is the knowledge of God.” Why should the Lord and His teachings be central to all of our study and learning? What does it mean to you to learn “by study and by faith”?