From the Life of Wilford Woodruff
“The only marvel I have had all my life,” said President Wilford Woodruff, “has been that the Lord ever chose me for anything, especially as an Apostle and as President. But that is His own business; it was not mine.”1
Although President Woodruff was surprised at his callings in the Church, he knew why the Lord had called him. He observed: “Why did the Lord choose such a weak man as Wilford Woodruff to preside over His Church? Why did He choose Joseph Smith—an illiterate boy, as he was called? Why has He chosen that class of men? Because He could handle them. He has chosen men that will acknowledge the hand of God.”2
President Woodruff always acknowledged the hand of God, both in personal successes and the advancement of the Church. In a discourse he delivered at the Salt Lake Tabernacle, he said: “I thank the Lord for my life. I thank Him for His blessings and mercies to me. I have reason to rejoice in this, and I am obliged to give God the glory for all I have ever received. If I have ever done any good; if I have been able to preach the Gospel and to pursue a course whereby I have edified my fellow man, at home or abroad, it has been by the power of God. … This power has been with us. That is why we are here today. That is why this Tabernacle stands here today, in fulfillment of the predictions of the prophets of God in ancient days. It is why the Zion of God is planted here in these valleys of the mountains. It has all been by the power of God, and not of man.”3
Teachings of Wilford Woodruff
We are dependent upon God for all spiritual and temporal blessings.
I am entirely dependent upon the Lord. I always have been during my life, and in my travels and pilgrimages, preaching the gospel of Christ to my fellow men.4
We should begin to understand that God’s ways are infinitely superior to our ways, and that His counsels, though they may seem to call for sacrifice, are always the best and the safest for us to adopt and carry out. Thousands among us can testify to the truth of this from individual experience. … We also should learn this great truth, that God will have all the glory and honor for the establishment of His Church and kingdom on the earth. Man cannot claim it in this or any other age of the world. Nothing but the power of God could have brought forth the fulness of the Gospel, organized the Church, gathered His people to Zion in fulfillment of revelation and performed the work which has been accomplished.5
We want to bear in mind that our strength, our hope and our power is in the hands of God, and not in men. The Lord Himself has stretched forth His hand to establish this Church, His kingdom, His work. … We have no power in ourselves. We never have had in the guidance and direction of this kingdom, only through the interposition of Almighty God.6
The very fact that we have a people, that we have a Zion, that we have a kingdom, that we have a church and a priesthood which is connected with the heavens, and which has power to move the heavens, and that we know that the heavens are communicating with us, directing the performance of this great latter-day work in which the Latter-day Saints are engaged, this very fact alone should fill our hearts with humility before the Lord our God, and it should continually remind us in our reflections and feelings of the responsibility we are under both to Him and to one another, and also of our dependence upon him for all the blessings we enjoy of a spiritual as well as a temporal nature.7
My feelings and views are that the Lord never did have a people from Father Adam to the present time that were called upon to build up His Kingdom and establish His Zion in the world, or to preach the gospel of repentance to the children of men, but what they were dependent entirely upon the God [of] heaven for their support.8
We know and understand very well that our destiny, our position, and our blessings are all in his hands.9
I say to all men—Jew and Gentile, great and small, rich and poor—that the Lord Almighty has power within himself, and is not dependent upon any man, to carry on his work; but when he does call men to do his work they have to trust in him.10
God chooses the humble to do His work.
The Lord has chosen the weak things of the world to do His work. But He is as able to teach me, or any of my brethren, as He ever has been in any age of the world. He has always selected the weak things. Take Moses in leading the children of Israel. Moses said he was slow of speech, and he thought that he could not do anything. But the Lord said he would raise up a spokesman for him. When the Lord wanted a king for Israel, he chose David, the son of Jesse, who was herding sheep. All the sons of Jesse, except David, were brought before the Prophet; but Samuel would not anoint [any] of them. He asked Jesse if he had any more sons. Jesse said, Yes; there is a little fellow down here taking care of the sheep. The Prophet wanted to see him. When he came, Samuel anointed him king of Israel. So in the days of the Apostles. Who were they? [Unlearned] fishermen. So it is today. Begin with Joseph Smith and take the whole of us. Who are we? We are poor, weak worms of the dust. But the Lord has chosen us because He thought He could do something with us. I hope He can.
I suppose I have held the Apostleship longer than any man that has been on the face of the earth in these last days. Should I boast over this or be proud and exalted because I have held the Priesthood so long? If I did, I should be a very foolish man. We are obliged to honor God; we are obliged to acknowledge the hand of God. The devil has sought to destroy me from the time I was born until the present day. But the Lord has always been on my right hand and saved me. There have been two powers at work—one to destroy me, the other to save me. And I am here today, a weak instrument in the hands of God. But, as God lives, if He will tell me what my duty is, I am going to do it!
… I pray God to give us wisdom, and to help us to be humble, faithful, meek and lowly of heart.11
How many times have I heard men say in my travels—Why did God choose Joseph Smith, why did he choose that boy to open up this dispensation and lay the foundation of this Church? why didn’t he choose some great man … ? I have had but one answer in my life to give to such a question, namely, that the Lord Almighty could not do anything with them, he could not humble them. They were not the class of men that were chosen for a work of this kind in any age of the world. The Lord Almighty chose the weak things of this world. He could handle them. He therefore chose Joseph Smith because he was weak, and he had sense enough to know it.12
When individuals become prideful, they fall.
You have never seen a day, you never will see a day, in time or in eternity, when you can get beyond the need of the protection and care of God. You need it all the way through your lives. When our young men, or our old men, or our maidens, feel that they have arrived at a point that they are independent of the Lord, they will find that they are greatly mistaken.13
If the President of the Church or either of his counselors or of the apostles or any other man feels in his heart that God cannot do without him, and that he is especially important in order to carry on the work of the Lord, he stands upon slippery ground. I heard Joseph Smith say that Oliver Cowdery, who was the second apostle in this Church, said to him, “If I leave this Church it will fall.”
Said Joseph, “Oliver, you try it.” Oliver tried it. He fell; but the kingdom of God did not. I have been acquainted with other apostles in my day and time who felt that the Lord could not do without them; but the Lord got along with his work without them.14
I have seen Oliver Cowdery when it seemed as though the earth trembled under his feet. I never heard a man bear a stronger testimony than he did when under the influence of the Spirit. But the moment he left the kingdom of God, that moment his power fell. … He was shorn of his strength, like Samson in the lap of Delilah. He lost the power and testimony which he had enjoyed, and he never recovered it again in its fulness while in the flesh, although he died [a member of] the Church.15
One-third of the hosts of heaven were cast out because of their rebellion. … They are in every city and hamlet wherein the inhabitants of the earth dwell, and especially where there are any Latter-day Saints. … Do you suppose these devils are around us without trying to do something? Are they asleep? Have they not a work to perform? I say to my brethren who bear the Priesthood, we have got a mighty warfare to wage with these spirits. We cannot escape it. What will they do to you? They will try to make us do anything and everything that is not right. These devils would be very glad to make me and my brethren think we are great men, smarter than any one else; to divide us one against the other, and to cause us to seek to confess our brother’s sins instead of our own. We should therefore watch ourselves well. I should do this; my Counselors and the Apostles should; we all should. … And if our eyes are open to comprehend the things of God, we can comprehend our responsibilities; we can comprehend the powers of the Holy Priesthood and the relationship which we sustain to God. We certainly should humble ourselves before the Lord.16
Be humble, be watchful, be prayerful. Beware of pride, lest you fall like others.17
When we humbly rely on the Lord, He protects and strengthens us.
Two great virtues … give a man power with the heavens—integrity and purity of character. Let a man possess these, let his heart be true and unflinching, let his life be pure, and, if we add to these humility, he is [protected] against a multitude of weaknesses and can resist a host of temptations. We all have our weaknesses; God has permitted them that we might be taught humility in ourselves and charity towards others.
We none of us are perfect whilst we dwell in the flesh; but the man who in humble reliance upon God never falters in the fight for the right, never wavers in his allegiance to the truth, and ever maintains inviolate his covenants, is one whom we can all pause to admire, and strive, by heaven’s help, to imitate.18
I wish to say to the Latter-day Saints, all that we have to do is to be faithful, to keep His commandments, to be humble, to seek Him in mighty prayer, and all will be well with us.19
God is with this people. But we are required to hearken to His voice, obey His commandments, and humble ourselves before Him. … There is a calmness prevailing among the Mormons—so called—that is a marvel and a wonder to the world. … The reason of our calmness is—God is our friend, our lawgiver, our deliverer. If the Lord cannot sustain His work, we certainly cannot. But He can. He has always done it, and will do it to the end. Therefore I say to the Saints, fear not. Trust in God. Let not your hearts be faint. Let your prayers ascend to the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth day and night. Ask what you want. When you do that, the Lord will answer your prayers, if you ask what is right. There is where our strength lies. It is in God.20
Suggestions for Study and Teaching
Consider these ideas as you study the chapter or as you prepare to teach. For additional help, see pages v–ix.
Why is it important to acknowledge our dependence on God? (See pages 102–3.) How does this acknowledgment influence our approach to life?
Whom did President Woodruff refer to as “weak things of the world”? (See pages 101, 103–4; see also 1 Corinthians 1:25–28.) Why does the Lord choose such people to accomplish His work? When have you seen the Lord work through “weak things of the world”?
Read the third full paragraph on page 104, and ponder or discuss what your life would be like without God’s protection and care. What does this teach you about pride? What are some of the results of pride?
What can we learn from the story about Oliver Cowdery on pages 104–5?
Read the second full paragraph on page 105. Why do Satan and his hosts want us to “think we are great [and] smarter than anyone else”? Why do they want us to “confess our brother’s sins instead of our own”? How can we withstand these temptations?
Review the final four paragraphs of the chapter, noting words and phrases that are meaningful to you (pages 105–6). What blessings do we receive when we rely on the Lord?
Millennial Star, November 21, 1895, 739.
Millennial Star, November 21, 1895, 739.
Deseret Semi-Weekly News, December 21, 1897, 1.
The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, sel. G. Homer Durham (1946), 275.
“An Epistle to the Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Millennial Star, November 14, 1887, 729.
Millennial Star, April 28, 1890, 258.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, May 14, 1878, 1.
Deseret Weekly, September 21, 1889, 393.
In Conference Report, April 1880, 10.
The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 123–24.
Deseret Weekly, March 23, 1889, 391.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, September 7, 1880, 1.
Deseret Weekly, July 20, 1889, 115.
The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 123.
Deseret Weekly, March 23, 1889, 391.
Deseret Weekly, April 20, 1889, 515.
In Elders’ Journal, July 1838, 36.
Millennial Star, July 9, 1888, 436.
“Priesthood, and the Right of Succession,” Millennial Star, August 22, 1892, 532.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, January 22, 1884, 1.