From the Life of Joseph F. Smith
To President Joseph F. Smith, his family was precious, indeed priceless. He spoke often and eloquently of the “divinely ordained home” and said that “the very foundation of the kingdom of God, of righteousness, of progress, of development” is established in the home.1
In 1915 President Smith and his Counselors introduced a weekly home evening program to the Church, urging parents to use the time to instruct their children in the word of God. Later, when describing the home evening program, President Smith called for families to “spend an hour or more together in a devotional way—in the singing of hymns, songs, prayer, reading of the Scriptures and other good books, instrumental music, family topics, and specific instructions on the principles of the Gospel and on the ethical problems of life, as well as the duties and obligations of children to parents, the home, the Church, society and the nation.”2
This home evening program represented President Smith’s fervent belief that a “great and important duty devolving upon this people is to teach their children, from their cradle until they become men and women, every principle of the gospel, and endeavor, as far as it lies in the power of the parents, to instil into their hearts a love for God, the truth, virtue, honesty, honor and integrity to everything that is good.”3
In 1917 President Smith reported to the Saints that home evenings were “being observed by many families, and very interesting and profitable evenings [were] being spent.”4 Today, the Church continues to emphasize many of the essential features of the original program instituted by President Smith.
Teachings of Joseph F. Smith
Teach your family to love God and the principles of the gospel.
The very foundation of the kingdom of God, of righteousness, of progress, of development, of eternal life and eternal increase in the kingdom of God, is laid in the divinely ordained home.5
The typical “Mormon” home is the temple of the family, in which the members of the household gather morning and evening, for prayer and praise to God, offered in the name of Jesus Christ. … Here are taught and gently enforced, the moral precepts and religious truths, which, taken together, make up that righteousness which exalteth a nation, and ward off that sin which is a reproach to any people.6
Teach your children the love of God. Teach them to love the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Teach them to love their fellowmen, and especially to love their fellow members in the Church, that they may be true to their fellowship with the people of God. Teach them to honor the priesthood, to honor the authority that God has bestowed upon His Church for the proper government of His Church. The house of God is a house of order, and not a house of confusion. … No house would be a house of order if it were not properly organized as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is organized.7
There is too little religious devotion, love and fear of God, in the home; too much worldliness, selfishness, indifference and lack of reverence in the family, or these never would exist so abundantly on the outside. Then, the home is what needs reforming. … Let love, and peace, and the Spirit of the Lord, kindness, charity, sacrifice for others, abound in your families. Banish harsh words, envyings, hatreds, evil speaking, obscene language and innuendo, blasphemy, and let the Spirit of God take possession of your hearts. Teach to your children these things, in spirit and power, sustained and strengthened by personal practice. Let them see that you are earnest, and practice what you preach. Do not let your children out to specialists in these things, but teach them by your own precept and example, by your own fireside. Be a specialist yourself in the truth. Let our meetings, schools and organizations, instead of being our only or leading teachers, be supplements to our teachings and training in the home.8
In home evenings, teach your family to walk uprightly before the Lord.
We counsel the Latter-day Saints to observe more closely the commandment of the Lord given in the 68th section of the Doctrine and Covenants (25–28):
“And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of Baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents;
“For this shall be a law unto the inhabitants of Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized;
“And their children shall be baptized for the remission of their sins when eight years old, and receive the laying on of the hands.
“And they shall also teach their children to pray and walk uprightly before the Lord.”
The children of Zion should also observe more fully the commandment of the Lord given to ancient Israel, and reiterated to the Latter-day Saints: “Honor thy father and mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” [Exodus 20:12.]
These revelations apply with great force to the Latter-day Saints, and it is required of fathers and mothers in this Church that these commandments shall be taught and applied in their homes.
To this end we advise and urge the inauguration of a “Home Evening” throughout the Church, at which time fathers and mothers may gather their boys and girls about them in the home and teach them the word of the Lord. They may thus learn more fully the needs and requirements of their families; at the same time familiarizing themselves and their children more thoroughly with the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This “Home Evening” should be devoted to prayer, singing hymns, songs, instrumental music, scripture-reading, family topics and specific instruction on the principles of the gospel, and on the ethical problems of life, as well as the duties and obligations of children to parents, the home, the Church, society and the nation. For the smaller children appropriate recitations, songs, stories and games may be introduced. Light refreshments of such a nature as may be largely prepared in the home might be served.
Formality and stiffness should be studiously avoided, and all the family participate in the exercises.
These gatherings will furnish opportunities for mutual confidence between parents and children, between brothers and sisters, as well as give opportunity for words of warning, counsel and advice by parents to their boys and girls. They will provide opportunity for the boys and girls to honor father and mother, and to show their appreciation of the blessings of home so that the promise of the Lord to them may be literally fulfilled and their lives be prolonged and made happy. …
We … request that all the officers of the auxiliary organizations throughout the Church support this movement and encourage the young people to remain at home that evening, and devote their energies to make it instructive, profitable and interesting.
If the Saints obey this counsel, we promise that great blessings will result. Love at home and obedience to parents will increase. Faith will be developed in the hearts of the youth of Israel, and they will gain power to combat the evil influence and temptations which beset them.9
Throughout the Church a spirit of unity, devotion, and faith prevails. … The introduction of the home-meeting movement has been an aid in this direction. One evening a week … for home family recreation, improvement and enjoyment, conducted in order and under a religious spirit, proves successful in the desired direction, and is to be heartily recommended everywhere.10
We should discharge our duties faithfully as parents in Zion.
We read in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants that it is required of parents to teach their children “to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands when eight years old.” “And they shall also teach their children to pray and to walk uprightly before the Lord.” And if the parents fail to do this, and the children go astray and turn from the truth, then the Lord has said that the sin shall be upon the heads of the parents [D&C 68:25, 28]. …
We should look well to our ways, and see to it that we discharge our duties faithfully as parents in Zion. The wives should be united with their husbands, and the husbands with their wives, in exerting their influence over their children in this direction. … My children must not and will not turn away with my consent. If they do turn away, it must be over my protest, and against my example. I will plead with my children; I will endeavor with all the power I possess to have them as true and faithful to this Gospel as it is possible for me to be; because without all of them in the kingdom of God I would feel that my household was not perfect. …
I would like my children, and all the children in Zion, to know that there is nothing in this world that is of so much value to them as the knowledge of the Gospel as it has been restored to the earth in these latter days through the Prophet Joseph Smith. There is nothing that can compensate for its loss. There is nothing on earth that can compare with the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Let, therefore, all the parents in Zion look after their children, and teach them the principles of the Gospel, and strive as far as possible to get them to do their duty—not mechanically, because they are urged to do it, but try to instill into the hearts of the children the spirit of truth and an abiding love for the Gospel, that they may not only do their duty because it is pleasing to their parents, but because it is pleasing also to themselves.11
My dear brothers and sisters, take care of your children; teach them in their childhood the principles of truth; teach them to live pure lives, to have faith in God, and to call upon the Lord in faith that they may obtain full fellowship with the Lord and become heirs of salvation in His kingdom.12
Suggestions for Study
In what ways is the “very foundation of the kingdom of God” established in the home? What important principles should be taught in the home that can serve to strengthen our society?
How can we teach our children to love God and to love other people? How can we teach them to honor the priesthood?
What counsel did President Smith give for increasing the religious devotion and decreasing the worldliness in our homes? How have you tried to make worldly considerations secondary in your home?
How can family home evenings help parents fulfill the commandments given by the Lord in Doctrine and Covenants 68:25–28? How can family home evenings help children fulfill the commandment given in Exodus 20:12?
What practices have helped you to hold more effective family home evenings? What guidelines did President Smith give for family home evenings?
What blessings come to those who hold family home evenings? What can be the consequences of not holding them?
Why should husbands and wives be “united … in exerting their influence over their children”? How can husbands and wives cultivate this unity?
“Editorial Thoughts,” Juvenile Instructor, Nov. 1916, 739.
In James R. Clark, comp, Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. (1965–75), 5:89.
Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. (1939), 292.
In Messages of the First Presidency, 5:89.
Gospel Doctrine, 304.
“An Address: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the World,” in Conference Report, Apr. 1907, 7.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1915, 5.
Gospel Doctrine, 301–2.
In Messages of the First Presidency, 4:337–39.
In Messages of the First Presidency, 4:347.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 28 June 1898, 1; paragraphing added.
“Discourse by President Joseph F. Smith,” Millennial Star, 30 Aug. 1906, 545–46.