From the Life of Joseph F. Smith
Joseph F. Smith had been home from a mission to Great Britain just five months when President Brigham Young called him to serve his third mission—his second to the Hawaiian Islands. Because of his fluency with the Hawaiian language, President Young asked him to serve as an interpreter for Elders Ezra T. Benson and Lorenzo Snow, members of the Quorum of the Twelve. When they left for Hawaii in the spring of 1864, Joseph F. Smith was 24 years of age.
Joseph F. Smith said of this mission: “The special object of our errand [was] to put a stop to the fraudulent operations of [an] imposter … who was deceiving the … native members of the Church, not only in matters of doctrine, but with grotesquely false representations of his own power and authority. He had re-organized the Church according to his own fancies, ordained Twelve Apostles and other officers, selling them their ordinations, and imposing himself upon the people as a priestly and kingly ruler, to whom they must pay abject homage. We confronted him, charged him with his misdeeds, and labored faithfully to reclaim him, but he proved obdurate and impenitent and was therefore cut off from the Church. We then directed our energies towards reclaiming those whom he had misled, and in this work, under the blessing of God, we were very successful.”1 After Elders Benson and Snow left the islands, Joseph F. Smith remained until the following winter to continue to put the affairs of the Church in order. During this time he counseled with members of the Church who had been led into error by this apostate and wanted to repent. For the rest of his life President Smith taught the Saints the importance of recognizing and resisting false teachings.
Teachings of Joseph F. Smith
Latter-day Saints must stand by the truth, no matter what may come.
We should have gained sufficient experience by this time to realize that no man, no individual, no clique, and no secret organization can combine with force and power sufficient to overturn the purposes of the Almighty, or to change the course of His work. Many and many an individual has arisen in times past, and these individuals have been falsely impressed with the idea that they were going to work a wonderful reformation in the Church; they anticipated that in a very short time the whole people would desert their standard, the standard of truth to which they had gathered and around which they had rallied from the beginning of the Church until then. These persons thought the people would follow the “new shepherds,” but the people of God know the voice of the true shepherd, and the stranger’s voice they will not heed, nor the counsels of him who assumes authority that does not belong to him. None such will they ever follow. The Latter-day Saints know the spirit of the Gospel; they understand the spirit of truth. They have learned their duty, and they will stand by the truth, no matter what may come.
From the beginning until now, we have had to face the entire world; and the whole world, comparatively, is or has been arrayed against the work of the Lord, not all on account of hatred, not solely with the intent or desire in their hearts to do evil or to fight the truth, but because they were ignorant of the truth, and because they knew not what they were doing. Many are deceived by the voice of false shepherds, and are misled by false influences. They are deceived; they know not the truth; they understand not what they do and, therefore, they are arrayed, as it were, against the truth, against the work of the Lord; so it has been from the beginning. From the day that the Prophet Joseph Smith first declared his vision until now, the enemy of all righteousness, the enemy of truth, of virtue, of honor, uprightness, and purity of life; the enemy to the only true God, the enemy to direct revelation from God and to the inspirations that come from the heavens to man, has been arrayed against this work.
You have never found the friend to righteousness, the friend to revelation, the friend to God, the friend to truth, the friend to righteous living and purity of life, or he who is devoted to righteousness and is broad enough to comprehend truth from error and light from darkness—I say you have never found such as these arrayed against the cause of Zion. To be arrayed against the cause of Zion is to be arrayed against God, against revelation from God, against that spirit that leads men into all truth that cometh from the source of light and intelligence, against that principle that brings men together and causes them to forsake their sins, to seek righteousness, to love God with all their hearts, mind and strength, and to love their neighbors as themselves.2
Beware of false teachings.
Some men there will be who would limit the power of God to the power of men, and we have some of these among us and they have been among our school teachers. They would have you disbelieve the inspired accounts of the Scriptures, that the winds and the waves are subject to the power of God; and believe the claim of the Savior to cast out devils, raise the dead, or perform miraculous things, such as cleansing the leper, is only a myth. They would make you believe that God and his Son Jesus Christ did not appear in person to Joseph Smith, that this was simply a myth, but we know better; the testimony of the Spirit has testified that this is the truth. And I say, beware of men who come to you with heresies that things come by laws of nature of themselves, and that God is without power.3
Among the Latter-day Saints, the preaching of false doctrines disguised as truths of the gospel, may be expected from people of two classes, and practically from these only; they are:
First—The hopelessly ignorant, whose lack of intelligence is due to their indolence and sloth, who make but feeble effort, if indeed any at all, to better themselves by reading and study; those who are afflicted with a dread disease that may develop into an incurable malady—laziness.
Second—The proud and self-vaunting ones, who read by the lamp of their own conceit; who interpret by rules of their own contriving; who have become a law unto themselves, and so pose as the sole judges of their own doings. More dangerously ignorant than the first.
Beware of the lazy and the proud.4
The Latter-day Saints by this time should be so well settled in the conviction that God has established his Church in the earth for the last time, to remain, and no more to be thrown down or destroyed; and that God’s house is a house of order, of law, of regularity, that erratic disturbers of that order of men of restless temperament, who, through ignorance and egotism, become vain babblers, yet make great pretensions to prophetic powers and other spiritual graces and gifts, ought not to have any influence with them, nor ought the Saints to be disturbed in their spirit by such characters and their theories. The Church of Christ is with the Saints. It has committed to it the law of God for its own government and perpetuation. It possesses every means for the correction of every wrong or abuse or error which may from time to time arise, and that without anarchy, or even revolution; it can do it by process of evolution—by development, by an increase of knowledge, wisdom, patience and charity.
The presiding quorums of the Church will always be composed of such men, they will be chosen in such manner, that the Saints can be assured that solid wisdom, righteousness, and conscientious adherence to duty, will characterize the policy of those who are entrusted with the administration of the affairs of the Church.5
From the days of Hiram Page (Doc. and Cov, Sec. D&C 28), at different periods there have been manifestations from delusive spirits to members of the Church. Sometimes these have come to men and women who because of transgression became easy prey to the Arch-Deceiver. At other times people who pride themselves on their strict observance of the rules and ordinances and ceremonies of the Church are led astray by false spirits, who exercise an influence so imitative of that which proceeds from a Divine source that even these persons, who think they are “the very elect,” find it difficult to discern the essential difference [Matthew 24:24]. Satan himself has transformed himself to be apparently “an angel of light” [2 Corinthians 11:14; 2 Nephi 9:9].
When visions, dreams, tongues, prophecy, impressions or any extraordinary gift or inspiration conveys something out of harmony with the accepted revelations of the Church or contrary to the decisions of its constituted authorities, Latter-day Saints may know that it is not of God, no matter how plausible it may appear. Also they should understand that directions for the guidance of the Church will come, by revelation, through the head. All faithful members are entitled to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for themselves, their families, and for those over whom they are appointed and ordained to preside. But anything at discord with that which comes from God through the head of the Church is not to be received as authoritative or reliable.6
The gifts of the Spirit and the powers of the holy Priesthood are of God, they are given for the blessing of the people, for their encouragement, and for the strengthening of their faith. This Satan knows full well, therefore he seeks by imitation-miracles to blind and deceive the children of God. Remember what the magicians of Egypt accomplished in their efforts to deceive Pharaoh as to the divinity of the mission of Moses and Aaron. …
That the power to work wonders may come from an evil source is declared by Christ in his prophecy regarding the great judgment: “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matt. 7:22–23.)
The danger and power for evil in witchcraft is not so much in the witchcraft itself as in the foolish credulence that superstitious people give to the claims made in its behalf. It is outrageous to believe that the devil can hurt or injure an innocent man or woman, especially if they are members of the Church of Christ—[unless] that man or woman has faith that he or she can be harmed by such an influence and by such means. If they entertain such an idea, then they are liable to succumb to their own superstitions. There is no power in witchcraft itself, only as it is believed in and accepted.7
Avoid religious hobbies.
Brethren and sisters, don’t have [religious] hobbies. Hobbies are dangerous in the Church of Christ. They are dangerous because they give undue prominence to certain principles or ideas to the detriment and dwarfing of others just as important, just as binding, just as saving as the favored doctrines or commandments.
[Religious] hobbies give to those who encourage them a false aspect of the gospel of the Redeemer; they distort and place out of harmony its principles and teachings. The point of view is unnatural. Every principle and practice revealed from God is essential to man’s salvation, and to place any one of them unduly in front, hiding and dimming all others is unwise and dangerous; it jeopardizes our salvation, for it darkens our minds and beclouds our understandings. Such a view, no matter to what point directed, narrows the vision, weakens the spiritual perception, and darkens the mind, the result of which is that the person thus afflicted with this perversity and contraction of mental vision places himself in a position to be tempted of the evil one, or, through dimness of sight or distortion of vision, to misjudge his brethren and give way to the spirit of apostasy. He is not square before the Lord.
We have noticed this difficulty: that Saints with hobbies are prone to judge and condemn their brethren and sisters who are not so zealous in the one particular direction of their pet theory as they are. The man with the Word of Wisdom only in his brain, is apt to find unmeasured fault with every other member of the Church who entertains liberal ideas as to the importance of other doctrines of the gospel.
There is another phase of this difficulty—the man with a hobby is apt to assume an “I am holier than thou” position, to feel puffed up and conceited, and to look with distrust, if with no severer feeling, on his brethren and sisters who do not so perfectly live that one particular law. This feeling hurts his fellow-servants and offends the Lord. “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”—(Prov. 16:18.)
There are some great truths in the plan of redemption that are fundamental. They cannot be ignored; none others can be placed before them. The fatherhood of God, the efficacy of the atonement of our Lord and Savior, the restoration of the gospel in these latter days, must be accepted with our whole hearts. We cannot compensate for a lack of faith in these essential doctrines by the most absolute abstinence from things unhealthful, by the rigid payment of tithing on our “anise and cummin” [see Matthew 23:23], or by the observance of any other outward ordinance. Baptism itself without faith in God avails nothing.8
The possession of truth frees us from sin and darkness.
That we may not be deceived, led into error, tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, the foolish vagaries or the cunning craftiness of men, or follow the false cry of, Lo, here is Christ, or there [see Matthew 24:23], God has instituted the true order of communication between himself and man, and has established it in his Church, and to this truth all mankind will do well to take heed, lest they be deceived. That which is in harmony with this is of God, that which is contrary to it is from beneath.9
The daily practice … of seeking divine mercy and forgiveness as we go along, gives us power to escape evils, that can be overcome only by a safe retreat from them.10
There is absolutely no possibility for a person who enjoys the Holy Spirit of God even to believe that [witchcraft and other such evil] influences can have any effect upon him. The enjoyment of the Holy Spirit is absolute proof against all influences of evil.11
I believe that most of the Latter-day Saints are increasing in their faith. I believe, too, that the most of the Latter-day Saints are wise enough, that they have sufficient intelligence and a sufficient portion of the Spirit of the living God in their hearts, to decide between truth and error, between right and wrong, and between light and darkness; and I will say I believe they have sense enough to abide by the simple, pure, truthful principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ, in preference to all the vagaries of philosophers, or of scientists, or of anybody else. There is no science, nor philosophy that can supersede God Almighty’s truth.
The Lord has said, “My word is truth” [see John 17:17], and indeed it is; and I believe that the Latter-day Saints know enough about the word of God to know it is His word when they see it and shun whatever is not; and that they will abide by the word of God, for it is truth. As the Savior said, “If ye will abide in my word, then are ye my disciples, indeed; ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” [see John 8:31–32].
I believe that the Latter-day Saints, and especially the leading men in Israel, have sufficient knowledge and understanding of the principles of the gospel that they know the truth, and they are made free by its possession—free from sin, free from error, free from darkness.12
Suggestions for Study
How can we avoid being “deceived by the voice of false shepherds” and recognize the voice of the True Shepherd? How will this help us “stand by the truth, no matter what may come”?
How can we personally take a stand against those influences in our community that are “arrayed … against the work of the Lord”?
In what ways do people today try to “limit the power of God to the power of men”?
How can pride lead us into error? How can laziness do the same thing? Why is it so important that we are not deceived by the “preaching of false doctrines” by “the lazy and the proud”?
What cautions has the Lord given concerning those who make “pretensions to prophetic powers”? (See also D&C 42:11.)
How can religious hobbies be dangerous to individuals and to the Church? Why is strict observance of any “outward ordinance” not adequate compensation for lack of faith in the “essential doctrines”?
How can we avoid being deceived and led “to and fro by every wind of doctrine”?
How does possessing the truth make us free? How can we use the gift of the Holy Ghost to help us discern good from evil and to resist all evil influences?
In James R. Clark, comp, Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. (1965–75), 4:20–21.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1909, 3–4; paragraphing added.
Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. (1939), 372.
Gospel Doctrine, 373.
Gospel Doctrine, 381.
In Messages of the First Presidency, 4:285.
Gospel Doctrine, 376–77.
Gospel Doctrine, 116–17.
Gospel Doctrine, 381.
Gospel Doctrine, 374.
Gospel Doctrine, 377–78.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1911, 7; paragraphing added.