From the Life of Joseph F. Smith
President Joseph F. Smith beseeched Latter-day Saints to love their neighbors and to look upon one another’s needs—temporal and spiritual—with mercy and pure charity. “The moment that a Latter-day Saint learns his duty, he will learn that it is his business … to be filled with the spirit of kindness, love, charity, and forgiveness,” he taught.1
He was the recipient of great service himself, as evidenced when he visited Hawaii as President of the Church with Bishop Charles W. Nibley. Bishop Nibley later described the experience:
“As we landed at the wharf in Honolulu, the native Saints were out in great numbers with their wreaths of leis, beautiful flowers of every variety and hue. We were loaded with them, he, of course, more than anyone else. The noted Hawaiian band was there playing welcome. … It was a beautiful sight to see the deep-seated love, the even tearful affection, that these people had for him. In the midst of it all I noticed a poor, old, blind woman, tottering under the weight of about ninety years, being led in. She had a few choice bananas in her hand. It was her all—her offering. She was calling, ‘Iosepa, Iosepa.’ Instantly, when he saw her, he ran to her and clasped her in his arms, hugged her, and kissed her over and over again, patting her on the head saying, ‘Mama, Mama, my dear old Mama.’
“And with tears streaming down his cheeks he turned to me and said, ‘Charlie, she nursed me when I was a boy, sick and without anyone to care for me. She took me in and was a mother to me.’
“Oh, it was touching. … It was beautiful to see the great, noble soul in loving, tender remembrance of kindness extended to him, more than fifty years before; and the poor old soul who had brought her love offering—a few bananas—it was all she had—to put into the hand of her loved Iosepa!”2
Teachings of Joseph F. Smith
Be generous toward the poor and unfortunate.
The great commandment, as taught by our Lord and Master, is to love God with all our heart, with all our mind, and with all our strength; and the next is like unto it: love thy neighbor as thyself. “On these hang all the law and the prophets.” [See Matthew 22:37–40.] Therefore, let us exercise charity and forgiveness, love and mercy, one towards another; and go out of your way to help those that are in distress, so that the widow’s voice shall not ascend to God in complaint against the people for the lack of food, or raiment, or shelter. See to it that the orphan is not without a home in the midst of this people, nor without food or raiment, or chance to improve his mind. See to it that charity pervades all your actions and dwells in your hearts, inspiring you to look after the poor and afflicted, comforting those that are in prison, if they need comforting, and ministering unto those that are sick; for he that giveth a cup of cold water to a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.
They that do these things unto the poor in our midst, it will be said unto them some day: “I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink. I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me.” And we will not have to say, “Lord, when saw we thee an hungered,” for every one that has intelligence may know that if he ministers to the worthy poor, it will be accounted as having been done to Him who is the Father of their spirits. [See Matthew 25:31–45.]3
Our children should be taught to respect not only their fathers and their mothers, and their brothers and sisters, but they should be taught to respect all mankind, and especially should they be instructed and taught and brought up to honor the aged and the infirm, the unfortunate and the poor, the needy, and those who lack the sympathies of mankind.4
We have always managed to give something to the poor, and refuse no one who asks for food. I believe this is the general sentiment and character of the Latter-day Saints. I think all the Mormon people are kindly disposed, and are generous toward the poor and unfortunate, and that there is not a Latter-day Saint under the sound of my voice or anywhere that would not divide his portion with his fellow creature in case of need. …
I have seen men go away from my door with good bread and butter in their hands (good enough for any king to eat, for my folks make good bread and good butter, as good as I ever ate on earth) and when out of the gate they have thrown it into the street. It was not food they wanted. They wanted money. For what? That they might go to some gambling [hall] or to some drinking saloon. Of course they are responsible for that. We can only judge by appearances and by the promptings of the good spirit within us; and it is better to give to a dozen that are unworthy than to turn away empty one worthy person.5
Charity, or love, is the greatest principle in existence. If we can lend a helping hand to the oppressed, if we can aid those who are despondent and in sorrow, if we can uplift and ameliorate the condition of mankind, it is our mission to do it, it is an essential part of our religion to do it.6
Love your neighbor as yourself.
It is a comparatively easy thing for a man to say he believes in God and in the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, that he believes in repentance of sin, in baptism for the remission of sin, and in the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. It is apparently easy for a man to progress thus far. But when it comes to loving one’s neighbor as oneself, it is not so easy. Here we come to the difficult hill to climb, where we find all our powers taxed to the utmost to get to the top of it; and climbing as we may have been for many years of our lives, I will venture the assertion that we woke up this morning and found ourselves climbing still at the foot of the hill, we have not even approached the summit. For few men indeed, or women, even in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, can say truthfully, “I love my neighbor as I love myself.”
We do not as a rule love our neighbor as we love ourselves. [Someone] once said, “Of all my mother’s sons I love myself the best.” So it is with God’s children upon this earth. Though our Father has many of them, and we are all of one blood, and we are members perhaps of one community, of one faith believing in one God and in one Lord Jesus Christ, yet each of us loves himself or herself the best. This feeling crops out in our daily life, in our hourly association with each other. It too often crops out even between husband and wife; often between father and children, and it is very prevalent among children. Is this Christianity? Is this the doctrine of Jesus Christ? Not according to the way I read the books and understand the principles of life and salvation. The scriptures tell us that we should prefer one another in love; that we should yield our own comfort, our own convenience, our own desires, or own happiness to the desires, the comfort and happiness of our neighbors;—to say nothing of our kindred and loved ones.7
How are we to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. It is the simplest thing in the world; but too many people are selfish and narrow and not given to that breadth of feeling which reaches out and considers the benefit and welfare of their neighbors; and they narrow themselves down to their own peculiar and particular benefit and blessing and well being, and feel it to say: “O, let my neighbor take care of himself.” That is not the spirit that should characterize a Latter-day Saint.8
When we think we see failings, weaknesses or faults, whether they be real or imaginary, in our brethren and sisters, instead of blurting it abroad and pouring it into the ears of friends and neighbors, wherever we meet them, if we will use sufficient charity, and friendship, … we will go to our friends who suffer our displeasure, or our belief of their defects, and tell them how we feel and what we think, and do it in the spirit of helping them to overcome their weaknesses, and we will thus do ourselves, as well as them, much good. We will not go to them in the spirit of condemnation and complaint, and hurt their feelings and fill their hearts with enmity.9
I would advise that we learn to love each other, and then friendship will be true and sweet. It has been said by one, that “we may give without loving, but we cannot love without giving.” So we want to love one another, and as the Lord said to Peter, we should feed his sheep [see John 21:15–17], strengthen each other. We should uphold and sustain each other, not destroy, nor pull down, not dwell upon the weaknesses of our neighbors or our brethren, or upon the defects we see in mankind, but rather if we can see a virtue let us magnify it, and, if possible, fan it into a living flame that will give light and life, energy and encouragement to all those who see it, and particularly to those who are in error and darkness, that they may be brought to the light.10
My religion teaches me to love all men. However much I may despise their acts, or deplore their wickedness and their darkness of mind, yet they are made in the image and likeness of my Father and God—they are my brothers and sisters. It is required of me that I shall love my neighbor as myself. I may not have risen yet to that high standard of perfection; there may still be lingering in me that selfishness that would prefer myself above my neighbor; but I aim to do right to my fellowmen, because the Gospel requires it.11
God has taken the pains in this dispensation to reveal to us the fullness of the Gospel, which … teaches to men this principle of self-sacrifice for the good of others, and which teaches us that we are doing ourselves good when we are doing good to other men. … Too many in the world are so bound up in themselves and so illiberal in their souls that they are not even willing to struggle for any but themselves. … The duty of mankind, as I understand it, under the holy Gospel which we have received, is to protect the innocence, the virtue, the honor and the rights of all men and women as jealously as we would protect our own.12
God has made provision in His Church for the care of those in need.
God has made provision in His Church, in the complete organization of it, so that every faithful soul in it may be looked after and nurtured and cared for in the hour of need.13
God has commanded this people to remember the poor, and to give means for their support. … We do not believe in charity as a business; but rather we depend on mutual helpfulness. While the gospel message requires faith and repentance, it requires also that temporal necessities must be met. So the Lord has revealed plans for the temporal salvation of the people.
For the benefit of the poor we have the fast instituted, a leading object of which among other things is to provide the poor with food and other necessities until they may help themselves. For it is clear that plans which contemplate only relieving present distress are deficient. The Church has always sought to place its members in a way to help themselves, rather than adopting the method of so many charitable institutions of providing for only present needs. When the help is withdrawn or used up, more must be provided from the same source, thus making paupers of the poor and teaching them the incorrect principle of relying upon others’ help, instead of depending upon their own exertions. … Our idea of charity, therefore, is to relieve present wants and then to put the poor in a way to help themselves so that in turn they may help others. The funds are committed for distribution to wise men, generally to bishops of the Church, whose duty it is to look after the poor.
We submit the equitable fast-day plan of the Lord to the churches of the world as a wise and systematic way of providing for the poor. … It would be a simple matter for people to comply with this requirement to abstain from food and drink one day each month, and to dedicate what would be consumed during that day to the poor, and as much more as they pleased. The Lord has instituted this law; it is simple and perfect, based on reason and intelligence, and would not only prove a solution to the question of providing for the poor, but it would result in good to those who observe the law. It would … place the body in subjection to the spirit, and so promote communion with the Holy Ghost, and insure a spiritual strength and power which the people of the nation so greatly need. As fasting should always be accompanied by prayer, this law would bring the people nearer to God, and divert their minds once a month at least, from the mad rush of worldly affairs and cause them to be brought into immediate contact with practical, pure and undefiled religion—to visit the fatherless and the widow, and keep themselves unspotted from the sins of the world [see James 1:27].14
It is evident that the acceptable fast is that which carries with it the true spirit of love for God and man; and that the aim in fasting is to secure perfect purity of heart and simplicity of intention—a fasting unto God in the fullest and deepest sense—for such a fast would be a cure for every practical and intellectual error; vanity would disappear, love for our fellows would take its place, and we would gladly assist the poor and the needy.15
The gospel makes us unselfish and willing to sacrifice our own desires for the welfare of others.
We admonish, we beseech our brothers and sisters in the gospel of Jesus Christ, not only to honor themselves by a proper course of living, but also to honor and love and be charitable to your neighbors, every one of you.16
I think we ought to live our religion. We should keep the commandments of God. We should possess and enjoy the spirit of the gospel in our hearts and bear the fruits of the spirit in our lives; faith, hope and charity, love, humility and forgiveness in our souls one for another, and avoid, as far as possible, the spirit of accusation, of contention, that leads to strife, to confusion and division among men, and the spirit of hatred. Oh, banish hatred from you. Hatred harbored in our hearts, or envy or jealousy, will injure those who permit them to abide in their souls and rancor in their thoughts a thousand-fold more than it will injure others. So let us banish those things from our hearts, and from our thoughts. Let us live righteous lives, let the husband love his wife and be true and kind to her, and the wife be true and kind to her husband, and they be true and loving and solicitous for the welfare of their children; let them be united as a family unit in the Church and as that condition extends abroad to the borders of Zion, we will have the millennial reign among us, and there will be peace on earth and good will to men everywhere.17
The Gospel is calculated to remove from us everything that is not consistent with God and the plan of salvation which he has revealed to men. It is designed to qualify us to live so that we may enjoy a fulness of the light of truth, and understand the purposes of God, and be able to live so near to Him that we may be in harmony with His wishes constantly. The principles of the Gospel are calculated to make us unselfish, to broaden our minds, to give breadth to our desires for good, to remove hatred, animosity, envy and anger from our hearts, and make us peaceful, tractable, teachable, and willing to sacrifice our own desires, and perchance our own interests, for the welfare of our fellow-creatures, and for the advancement of the Kingdom of God. A man who cannot sacrifice his own wishes, who cannot say in his heart, “Father, Thy will be done, not mine,” is not a truly and thoroughly converted child of God; he is still, to some extent, in the grasp of error and in the shades of darkness that hover around the world, hiding God from the presence of mankind.18
Suggestions for Study
What are the two greatest commandments? (See also Matthew 22:37–40.) Why are these commandments so fundamental?
What is our responsibility toward those who are unfortunate or needy or “lack the sympathies of mankind”?
How can we increase our ability to truthfully say, “I love my neighbor as I love myself”? How should we deal with the failings we perceive in others? (See also Luke 6:41–42.) How can we magnify the virtues in others?
What blessings result from observing the monthly fast day and contributing fast offerings? Prayerfully consider how you might contribute to the Church’s care of the needy through such efforts as seeking out new or lonely members, volunteering in the community, increasing fast offerings, or participating in welfare and humanitarian aid projects.
What are the “fruits of the spirit in our lives”? (See also Galatians 5:22–23.) What blessings come to us and to others when we are willing to sacrifice our own desires for the good of others?
How does the gospel of Jesus Christ “remove hatred, animosity, envy and anger from our hearts” and help us be charitable toward others?
In Conference Report, Apr. 1915, 4.
Charles W. Nibley, “Reminiscences,” in Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. (1939), 519–20.
Deseret Weekly, 19 Aug. 1893, 284.
Gospel Doctrine, 282–83.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1898, 47–48; paragraphing added.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1917, 4.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 31 Mar. 1896, 1; paragraphing added.
Gospel Doctrine, 270.
In James R. Clark, comp, Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. (1965–75), 5:91.
In Messages of the First Presidency, 5:93.
“The Gospel in Precept and Example,” Millennial Star, 15 Mar. 1906, 162.
“Discourse by President Joseph F. Smith,” Millennial Star, 11 Nov. 1897, 706–7.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1915, 7.
Gospel Doctrine, 236–38; paragraphing altered.
“Editor’s Table,” Improvement Era, Dec. 1902, 147.
In Messages of the First Presidency, 5:53.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1916, 8.
“Blind Obedience and Tithing,” Millennial Star, 20 Jan. 1893, 79.