From the Life of Wilford Woodruff
In the early days of the Church, prophets and apostles frequently exhorted the people to do their part in building up the kingdom of God. This effort required both spiritual and temporal labor. In addition to such pursuits as praying, studying the scriptures, and sharing the gospel, the Saints built homes and cities, established public schools, cultivated and irrigated the hard soil, and hauled granite from the mountains to build the Salt Lake Temple. In 1857, ten years after the Latter-day Saint pioneers first entered the Salt Lake Valley, Elder Wilford Woodruff said: “If we go to work and build up the kingdom of God instead of ourselves, it is no matter in what shape we do it, whether it is in building a canal, or in building a temple, preaching the gospel, cultivating the earth, or anything else. … We will find the Lord will help us and sustain us, and nerve us with his power, and will assist us in everything we have to do.”1
Those who were acquainted with President Woodruff knew that he did not merely talk about the value of hard work—he applied the principle in his life. In addition to magnifying his callings in the priesthood, he was diligent in temporal labors, even in his old age. Latter-day Saint historian Andrew Jenson recorded: “His industry was so conspicuous a part of his being that when, at the age of ninety years, one of his grandsons excelled him a very little in hoeing some vegetables in the garden, he said with apparent humiliation: ‘Well, it is the first time in my life that one of my children has ever outdone me in hoeing.’”2
A contemporary of President Woodruff observed: “He loved work, not alone for its own sake, but because it was associated with divine command. Nor was it to him merely a means of getting on in the world, of adding conveniences and comfort to his own life as well as to those dependent upon him; to him it was a blessing, a privilege, an opportunity which he always availed himself of whenever his calling would permit. … To sweat, was a divine command as much so as to pray; and in his life he exemplified in the highest degree that simple Christian life that makes for the physical, mental, and moral well-being of man. He believed sincerely in the moral supremacy of manual toil. He loved it and enjoyed it.”3
Teachings of Wilford Woodruff
As we build up the kingdom of God, we have temporal duties to perform.
Our President [Brigham Young] has frequently told us that we cannot separate the temporal from the spiritual, but they must go hand in hand together, and so it is and so must we act in reference to building up the church and kingdom of God.4
Some of the people have had the idea that the Presidency of this Church and the Twelve Apostles should have nothing to do with temporal matters. Well, we would be in a bad fix if we did not deal in temporal matters.5
We are building up the literal kingdom of God on the earth, and we have temporal duties to perform. We inhabit temporal bodies, we eat temporal food, we build temporal houses, we raise temporal cattle and temporal wheat; we contend with temporal weeds, and with temporal enemies in our soil, and these things naturally give rise to the necessity of attending to and performing many duties of a temporal and arduous nature, and they, of course, are embraced in our religion.6
We can’t build up Zion sitting on a hemlock slab singing ourselves away to everlasting bliss; we have to cultivate the earth, to take the rocks and elements out of the mountains and rear temples to the Most High God; and this temporal work is demanded at our hands by the God of heaven, as much as he required Christ to die to redeem the world, or as much as the Savior required Peter, James and John to go and preach the gospel to the nations of the earth. This is the great dispensation in which the Zion of God must be built up, and we as Latter-day Saints have it to build.7
In temporal matters, we should welcome the counsel of the Lord and His servants.
From the commencement of this work to the present day the labor has been harder with the servants of God to get the people prepared in their hearts to let the Lord govern and control them in their temporal labor and means than in regard to matters pertaining to their eternal salvation. …
There is something strange about this, but I think, probably, it is in consequence of the position that we occupy. There is a veil between man and eternal things; if that veil was taken away and we were able to see eternal things as they are before the Lord no man would be tried with regard to gold, silver or this world’s goods, and no man, on their account, would be unwilling to let the Lord control him. But here we have an agency, and we are in a probation, and there is a veil between us and eternal things, between us and our Heavenly Father and the spirit world; and this for a wise and proper purpose in the Lord our God, to prove whether the children of men will abide in his law or not in the situation in which they are placed here. Latter-day Saints, reflect upon these things. We have been willing, with every feeling of our hearts, that Joseph Smith, President Young and the leaders of the people should guide and direct us in regard to our eternal interests; and the blessings sealed upon us by their authority reach the other side of the veil and are in force after death, and they affect our destiny to the endless ages of eternity.
Men, in the days of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and of Jesus and the Apostles, had blessings sealed upon them, kingdoms, thrones, principalities and powers, with all the blessings of the New and Everlasting Covenant. The question may be asked, are these eternal blessings of interest to us? They are, or should be. Are these blessings worth our earthly wealth, whether we have little or much? Is salvation, is eternal life worth a yoke of cattle, a house, a hundred acres of land, or anything that we possess here in the flesh? If it is we certainly ought to be as ready to permit the Lord to govern and control us in all our temporal labors as we are in our spiritual labors.
Again, when a man dies he can not take his cattle, horses, houses or lands with him; he goes to the grave—the resting place of all flesh. No man escapes it, the law of death rests upon all. In Adam all die, while in Christ all are made alive [see 1 Corinthians 15:22]. We all understand that death has passed upon all men, but … none of us know when our turn will come, though we know it will not be a great while before we shall be called to follow the generations who have preceded us. When we reflect upon these things I think we all should be willing to let the Lord guide us in temporal matters.8
Gospel living includes spiritual and temporal education combined with honest labor.
There is a proverb or saying which I have heard a good many times in my life, and which I think bears a great deal of weight, and that is, “truth is mighty and will prevail.” I think this has been manifested in every capacity in which truth has been used whether applied temporally or spiritually; whether applied in the capacity of nations or families or individuals; whether applied to the world or to the Kingdom of God.9
The building up of the Zion of God in these latter days includes, I may say of a truth, every branch of business, both temporal and spiritual, in which we are engaged. We can not touch upon any subject which is lawful and legal in the sight of God and man that is not embraced in our religion. The gospel of Jesus Christ which we have embraced, and which we preach, includes all truth, and every lawful calling and occupation of man.10
Our children should not be neglected; they should receive a proper education in both spiritual and temporal things. That is the best legacy any parents can leave to their children.11
As the taste for what may be called book-learning increases, manual labor should not be neglected. The education of the mind and the education of the body should go hand in hand. A skillful brain should be joined with a skillful hand. Manual labor should be dignified among us and always be made honorable. The tendency, which is too common in these days, for young men to get a smattering of education and then think themselves unsuited for mechanical or other laborious pursuits is one that should not be allowed to grow among us. … Every one should make it a matter of pride to be a producer, and not a consumer alone. Our children should be taught to sustain themselves by their own industry and skill, and not only do this, but to help sustain others, and that to do this by honest toil is one of the most honorable means which God has furnished to His children here on the earth. The subject of the proper education of the youth of Zion is one of the greatest importance.12
In our financial endeavors, we should provide for our families, obey the law of tithing, be generous with our means, and avoid debt.
So far as our temporal matters are concerned, we have got to go to work and provide for ourselves.13
As for riches and wealth, I do not want them if they will damn me. I would like to have enough to clothe, shoe and feed my [family], and to make them comfortable, if I can get it honestly before the Lord; but I would rather myself and them all be in poverty than to have wealth and be destroyed. Riches are dangerous unless we can use them so as not to destroy us; if we cannot use them to the glory of God and for the building up of his kingdom, we are better without them.14
Some of the people have looked upon the law of tithing as a kind of tax and burthen laid upon them, but who is it for? Our tithing, our labor, and all that we do in the kingdom of God, who is it all for? … Our tithing, our labor, our works are not for the exaltation of the Almighty, but they are for us. … Let us understand this as it is and we shall do well. In paying our tithing, in obeying every law that is given to exalt us and to do us good, it is all for our individual benefit and the benefit of our children, and it is not of any particular benefit to the Lord, only as he is pleased in the faithfulness of his children and desires to see them walk in the path which leads to salvation and eternal life.15
We have only to look around us to satisfy ourselves … that those who are generous in contributing to God’s work are favored of the Lord. This was the experience of ancient Israel, and it is our experience. Yet in regard to voluntary donations there is too much carelessness, notwithstanding all the precious promises connected therewith. The Saints should be reminded of the obligation which rests upon them. Our children, also, should be taught this duty, that it may become a fixed habit with them to punctually attend to these matters. Those who have strictly observed these requirements can testify to the great pleasure and many rewards they have received from their observance.
This law of liberality appears to be one of the safeguards which the Lord has adopted to avert from this people the evil consequences which follow the possession of wealth. He has told us that the riches of the earth are His to give; but He has warned us to beware of pride, lest we become as the Nephites of old [see D&C 38:39]. We know the ruin it wrought for them, and we should spare no precaution to prevent wealth having a disastrous effect upon us. Many can endure poverty and be humble, and live near the Lord, [but] cannot bear riches. They become lifted up in pride and become covetous, and forget their God. Those, however, who remember constantly the teachings of the Lord concerning the earth and its inhabitants, and who contribute of the means which the Lord gives them to assist the poor and help carry forward the work of God, exercise a check upon themselves and give Satan less power to lead them astray.16
We feel led to caution the Latter-day Saints against forming the bad habit of incurring debt and taking upon themselves obligations which frequently burden them heavier than they can bear, and lead to the loss of their homes and other possessions. We know it is the fashion of the age to use credit to the utmost limit. … This is a great evil and one that we, as a people and as individuals, should carefully shun. Our business should be done, as much as possible, on the principle of paying for that which we purchase, and our needs should be brought within the limit of our resources. The disposition to speculate and to take chances upon ventures of one kind and another should be repressed. … Be content with moderate gains, and be not misled by illusory hopes of acquiring wealth. Remember the saying of the wise man: “But he that hasteth to get rich shall not be innocent.” [See Proverbs 28:20.] Let our children also be taught habits of economy, and not to indulge in tastes which they cannot gratify without running in debt.17
In all our pursuits, we must seek first the kingdom of God.
There is a very general desire manifested by this people to get rich, and to labor for self rather than for the kingdom of God. But what will it profit you or me to give up praying and to go to and get rich? What will it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Not much. What will a man give in exchange for his soul when he gets [to] the other side of the veil? [See Mark 8:36–37.]
I marvel very much at the little interest manifested by the inhabitants of the earth generally in their future state. There is not a person here today but what is going to live on the other side of the veil as long as his Creator—to the endless ages of eternity, and the eternal destiny of every individual depends upon the manner in which the few short years of the life in the flesh are spent. I ask in the name of the Lord, what is popularity to you or me? What is gold or silver, or this world’s goods to any of us, any further than to enable us to obtain what we need to eat, drink and wear, and to build up the kingdom of God. And for us to stop praying and to become crazy after the riches of the world is the very height of foolishness and folly.
To see the way that some people act, you might suppose that they are going to live here eternally, and that their eternal destiny depends upon the number of dollars they have. I sometimes ask the Latter-day Saints, how much we had when we came here? How much did we bring, and where did it come from? … I do not think that any of us were born on horseback or in a carriage, or that we brought railroad scrip and cattle and houses with us, but we were born naked as Job, and I think that we shall leave here as naked as he did [see Job 1:20–21]. Then with regard to this world’s goods what do they amount to with us, that they should induce us to lose salvation for them? I say rather than that let me be poor all the days of my life; if riches are going to damn me and take from me the glory I have in prospect through keeping the commandments of God, I pray God that I may never possess them.
God holds the riches of this world in his hands: the gold and silver, the cattle and the earth are his, and he gives to whom he will give. When Christ was upon the mount, Lucifer, the devil, showed him all the glory of the world and offered to give it to him if he would fall down and worship him [see Matthew 4:8–9]. But do you know that that poor devil did not own a single foot of land in the whole world, and that he had not even a body, or tabernacle? The earth is the footstool of the Lord, and if we ever have any of it for our own the Lord will give it to us; and we ought to be just as faithful to our religion if we had ten thousand million dollars as if we had not any at all. Eternal life is what we are or ought to be after, and that, whatever our circumstances and condition in life may be, should be our first object. …
… I have been talking about getting riches. I do not find fault with riches. The gold and silver are the Lord’s. We want houses [built] and we must cultivate the earth. This is all right. I do not find fault with a man getting rich. I find fault with our selling the kingdom of God, our birthright, selling the gospel and depriving ourselves of eternal life for the sake of gratifying the lusts of the flesh, the pride of life and the fashions of the world, and setting our hearts upon these things.18
I refer to the words of Jesus Christ which he spoke to his followers: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all other things shall be added unto you.” [See Matthew 6:33.] I will tell you, brethren and sisters, we may try it all the days of our lives, we may try every path and every principle in this world and we as Saints cannot prosper upon any other mode of proceeding than by first seeking the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness; when we do this there is no blessing, there is no good, no exaltation, gift, grace, desire, or anything that a good man can wish that is profitable, and good for time and for eternity, but will be given unto us.
A great many people have tried to seek for happiness independent of first seeking the kingdom of heaven, … but they have always found it an uphill business, and so shall we if we try it.19
Our aim is high. We are aiming for a place in the celestial kingdom of God, to obtain eternal life, the greatest of all the gifts of God to man. All the honor, glory and wealth of this world should sink into insignificance in our minds in comparison with an inheritance in the presence of God and the Lamb, with all the prophets, apostles and saints, including our father’s house. While one is fleeting and soon passeth away, the other endureth forever.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.
What did President Wilford Woodruff do to follow the principles presented in this chapter? (See pages 225, 227.)
Why is it that we “cannot separate the temporal from the spiritual”? (See pages 227–28; see also D&C 29:34–35.) How can we apply this truth in our daily lives? in our Church service?
President Woodruff observed that many people do not follow the Lord’s counsel in temporal matters. Why do you think this is so? (See pages 228–29.) What counsel has the current President of the Church given about temporal matters?
Review the second paragraph on page 230. What are some benefits of manual labor? What do you think it means to “be a producer, and not a consumer alone”?
What warnings did President Woodruff give about money? (See pages 231–35.) What counsel did he give about debt and credit? What can we do to maintain a proper perspective?
In what ways are tithes and offerings “for our individual benefit and the benefit of our children”? (See page 231.)
What does the Savior’s teaching in Matthew 6:33 mean to you? (See also pages 233–35.)
Scan the chapter, looking for principles that parents should teach their children. What are some specific things parents can do with their children to teach these principles? What experiences have you had in learning and teaching these principles?
Deseret News, March 4, 1857, 411.
Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia, 4 vols. (1901–36), 1:26.
J. M. Tanner, “Character Sketch,” in Matthias F. Cowley, Wilford Woodruff: History of His Life and Labors as Recorded in His Daily Journals (1964), 644–45.
Deseret News, July 30, 1862, 33.
Deseret Weekly, August 25, 1894, 289.
Deseret News, May 22, 1872, 216.
The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, sel. G. Homer Durham (1946), 164–65.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, June 23, 1874, 1.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, January 22, 1884, 1.
Deseret News, May 22, 1872, 216.
The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 267.
“An Epistle to the Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Millennial Star, November 14, 1887, 733.
Deseret Weekly, August 25, 1894, 290.
The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 173–74.
Deseret News, February 4, 1857, 379.
Millennial Star, November 14, 1887, 727.
Millennial Star, November 14, 1887, 728–29.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, February 29, 1876, 1.
Deseret News, March 4, 1857, 410.
“Epistle,” Contributor, April 1887, 237.