In November 1834, Wilford Woodruff was ordained a priest in the Aaronic Priesthood and given his first assignment as a full-time missionary. He was then living in Clay County, Missouri, having stayed there after serving in Zion’s Camp. Before he began his mission, he spoke with his bishop, who had given him the assignment. He asked about the route he should take to his field of labor. He also asked if he and his companion were to travel without purse or scrip, as the Lord had commanded missionaries at the time (see D&C 24:18; 84:78, 86). To travel without purse or scrip means to go without money, relying on the goodness of Church members and others to provide food and shelter. President Woodruff later recalled his conversation with his bishop:
“It was then dangerous for any of our brethren to go through Jackson County [Missouri]. He wanted me to go to Arkansas, and the road led square through Jackson County. I asked him if we should go through there (I had a companion with me—an elder).
“Said he, ‘If you have got faith to do it, you may; I haven’t.’
“I thought that was a curious remark from a bishop.
“‘Well,’ said I, ‘the Lord says we must travel without purse or scrip; shall we do it?’
“Said he, ‘That is the law of God; if you have faith to do it, you can do it.’”1
Soon after that discussion, Wilford Woodruff and his companion set out on their mission, traveling through Jackson County without purse or scrip. President Woodruff later said: “We put some Books of Mormon and some clothing into our valises, strapped them on our backs, and started on foot. We crossed the ferry into Jackson County, and went through it. In some instances the Lord preserved us as by miracle, from the mob.”2
In addition to protecting the two missionaries from the Jackson County mob, the Lord protected them from other perils along the way. President Woodruff recounted one such experience. As he and his companion approached a grove of trees, a large black bear came out toward them. “We were not afraid of him,” he said, “for we were on the Lord’s business, and had not mocked God’s prophet as did the forty-two wicked children who said to Elisha ‘Go up thou bald head,’ for which they were torn by bears [see 2 Kings 2:23–24]. … When the bear got within eight rods of us [a distance of about 44 yards or 40 meters] he sat on his haunches and looked at us a moment, and then ran away; and we went on our way rejoicing.”3
President Woodruff often spoke of this first mission, remembering the blessings he received as he served the Lord with faith: “Never in my life, as an apostle, as a seventy, or as an elder, have I ever had more of the protection of the Lord than while holding the office [of] a priest. The Lord revealed to me by visions, by revelations, and by the Holy Spirit, many things that lay before me.”4
Faith is the first principle of the Gospel. What is faith? Paul, in writing to the Hebrews, undertakes to explain it. He says that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen;” and to prove this he goes on to tell what different men accomplished through faith [see Hebrews 11]. I look upon faith as one of the most important principles that God ever revealed to man.5
If we had correct understanding we should all see as the Lord does, and should understand how his purposes will be accomplished; but we are to walk by faith and not by sight.6
When we get to the other side of the veil, we shall know something. We now work by faith. We have the evidence of things not seen. The resurrection, the eternal judgment, the celestial kingdom, and the great blessings that God has given in the holy anointings and endowment in the temples, are all for the future, and they will be fulfilled, for they are eternal truths. We will never while in the flesh, with this veil over us, fully comprehend that which lies before us in the world to come. It will pay any man to serve God and to keep His commandments the few days he lives upon the earth.7
Brethren and sisters, you should live by faith, realizing every day that all power rests with God, and that it is through him that we are able to live in peace and enjoy plenty.8
The Gospel of Christ requires faith all the day long.9
It is truly good to … hear the word of the Lord, and it is truly a good thing to believe in it, but it is still better to practice it.10
The first principle of [the] Gospel is faith. Well, the people of the world may say, we all believe in Jesus Christ. Yes, but there is something to do besides believing in Christ. We must repent of our sins, be baptized for the remission of them, and receive the Holy Ghost. This is the doctrine taught by Christ and His Apostles.11
Faith is required on the part of the Saints to live their religion, do their duty, walk uprightly before the Lord and build up his Zion on the earth. Then it requires works to correspond with our faith. … It is our duty as a people to unite together and not to be slothful in welldoing.12
This gift and principle of faith is necessary for the Saints in every age of the world to enable them to build up the kingdom of God and perform the work required of them.13
Read the eleventh chapter of Hebrews and you will find that, beginning with the creation of the world, everything has been accomplished by faith. The whole of the work of all the ancient patriarchs and prophets was accomplished by the exercise of this principle; and it is just so in the last dispensation of the fulness of times.14
Even the labors of Jesus, from the manger to the cross, through His whole life of pain, sorrow, affliction, suffering, persecution and derision, were all by faith. It was by the power of the Father, whose work He had come to perform, that He was sustained. He fully believed that He would be able to accomplish all that He had been sent to perform. It was on this principle that He fulfilled every requirement and obeyed every law, even that of baptism. … The apostles, in their labors, had to work on the same principle that the Saints in both former and latter days have had to work upon,—namely the principle of faith.
Joseph Smith had to work by faith. It is true that he had a knowledge of a great many things, as the Saints in former days had, but in many things he had to exercise faith. He believed he was fulfilling the prophecies of the ancient prophets. He knew that God had called him, but in the establishment of His kingdom he had to work continually by faith. The church was organized on the 6th of April, 1830, with six members, but Joseph had faith that the kingdom thus commenced, like a grain of mustard seed, would become a great church and kingdom upon the earth; and from that day until the day on which he sealed his testimony with his blood, his whole life was as if wading through the deep waters of persecution and oppression, received from the hands of his fellowmen. He had all this to endure through faith, and he was true, faithful and valiant in the testimony of Jesus to the day of his death. …
… In our labors to build up the Church and Kingdom of God upon the earth, we have had to labor by faith. It is still requisite.15
Hundreds of people are laboring in [temples]. Who for? Both for the living and the dead. Why do they labor for the dead? Have they ever seen the resurrection of the dead? No, except by vision or revelation. But they have faith in it, and as an evidence of that faith they perform this work. They look forward to the resurrection and eternal judgment, to the celestial kingdom and the great blessings which God has revealed for the salvation and exaltation of the children of men. They do this by faith, and it is by this power that they have accomplished what they have. … By faith [the Salt Lake] tabernacle has been built, … temples have been reared, and … people have been gathered from the nations of the earth.
Thousands of Elders have been called, not from colleges, but from the various occupations of life, and sent forth into the world to preach the Gospel without money and without price. … Men have listened to them, and some spirit or power has convinced them that the testimony which these Elders have borne was true. … What has been the result of this? Thousands have believed that testimony and proved that it was true. These Elders labored by faith; they traveled by faith; they worked by faith. It was faith that sustained them all the way through. They traveled without purse and scrip, and through their faith the God of heaven fed and clothed them, and opened the way before them. … And many people believed the testimony of these simple men. They repented of their sins, were baptized for the remission of them, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; they received that Holy Ghost, and it bore testimony to them of the truths of the Gospel.16
In any and every age of the world when God has called or commanded a man or a people to perform a certain work, they through determination and perseverance, and faith in him, have been enabled to accomplish it.17
All the labors that we have performed … have been by faith, and we, as Latter-day Saints, should seek to cherish and grow in this principle.18
It is our duty to be continually increasing in faith, that we may be enabled to call upon the Lord with acceptance.19
I consider that the Lord requires this at the hand of every man and woman in Israel, every Latter-day Saint, that we first obtain the Holy Spirit [and] then bring forth the fruits of it unto salvation. Then you will see this people keep their covenants and obey the commandments of God; this is the duty of all of us, and we should live our religion and follow its dictates. When this is done you will see this people awake and bring forth works of righteousness, then they will have faith and they will have power, and rise up and the power and glory of God will be made manifest through such instruments as the Lord has chosen in this dispensation upon the earth, into whose hands he has committed the Holy Priesthood.20
I do feel that the Lord is gracious unto us, and that we should prize above all things upon the earth the words of eternal life that are given unto us. As long as we are governed by the Holy Spirit our minds are strengthened, and our faith is and will be increased. And we shall labor for the building up of the kingdom of God.21
Almighty Father, increase within us the powers of that faith delivered to and possessed by thy Saints. Strengthen us by the memories of the glorious deliverances of the past, by the remembrance of the sacred covenants that thou hast made with us, so that, when evil overshadows us, when trouble encompasses us, when we pass through the valley of humiliation, we may not falter, may not doubt, but in the strength of thy holy name may accomplish all thy righteous purposes with regard to us, fill the measure of our creation, and triumph gloriously, by thy grace, over every besetting sin, be redeemed from every evil, and be numbered in the kingdom of heaven amongst those who shall dwell in thy presence forever.22
Consider these ideas as you study the chapter or as you prepare to teach. For additional help, see pages v–ix.
How can faith in Jesus Christ influence our everyday life? How does faith in Jesus Christ influence our hope for eternal life? (See Moroni 7:41–42.)
As you study President Woodruff’s teachings in this chapter, what relationship do you see between our faith and our actions? (See also James 2:17–26.)
How did Wilford Woodruff show his faith when he was called to serve his first full-time mission? (See pages 151, 153.) What experiences have you had in which you have needed to exercise faith?
What can we learn about faith from the example of Jesus Christ? from the example of the Prophet Joseph Smith? from the examples of missionaries and new converts today? (See pages 155–56.)
In what ways has the Lord blessed you as you have exercised faith in Him?
Note the word gift in the first paragraph on page 155. Think about or discuss the importance of remembering that faith is a gift from God. What must we do to receive this gift? (See pages 157–58.)