From the Life of Wilford Woodruff
Shortly after Wilford Woodruff was baptized and confirmed a member of the Church, he “had a great desire to preach the Gospel.” He recalled: “One Sunday evening I retired into the woods alone, and called upon the Lord in earnest prayer, to open my way to go and preach the Gospel to the inhabitants of the earth. The Spirit of the Lord bore witness that my prayer was heard, and should be answered. I arose from my knees happy, and walked some forty rods [about two hundred meters or two hundred twenty yards], and met Elias Higbee, a High Priest, with whom I had stayed a number of months. As I approached him, he said, ‘Brother Wilford, the Spirit of the Lord tells me that you should be ordained, and go on a mission.’ I replied, ‘I am ready.’”1
Under the direction of his bishop, Wilford Woodruff was ordained a priest on November 5, 1834, and called to serve a mission in the southern United States. He served with faith and diligence, beginning a lifetime of missionary service in which he would help thousands embrace the restored gospel. Of him, President Heber J. Grant said, “I believe that no other man who ever walked the face of the earth was a greater converter of souls to the gospel of Jesus Christ.”2
In January 1840, soon after being ordained an Apostle, Elder Wilford Woodruff arrived in England to serve as a missionary. He began his service in the county of Staffordshire, enjoying considerable success. “There were 40 added to the church by baptism,” he reported, “and many new doors opening; and in the midst of the prosperity of the work, as I arose to speak before a large congregation in Hanly, on the 1st day of March, the Lord manifested unto me that it would be the last time I should warn that people for many days, and as I arose and informed the people it would be the last time they would hear my voice for many days, they marveled, for they expected, as well as myself, when I entered the house, that I should spend months in their midst; but the ways and thoughts of God are not like our ways and thoughts in every respect.”
Elder Woodruff sought the Lord in prayer the next day, asking where he should go. He recounted: “Believing it to be my privilege and duty to know the will of the Lord upon the subject, therefore, I asked my Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus Christ to teach me his will in this thing, and as I asked, the Lord gave, and showed me that it was his will that I should go immediately to the south of England. I conversed with brother William Benbow upon this subject, who had lived in Herefordshire and had friends still residing there, and much wished me to visit that region of country, and [he] generously proffered to accompany me to his brother’s house and pay my fare, which I readily accepted.”3
On March 4, 1840, Elder Woodruff and William Benbow arrived at the home of William’s brother John. “In one hour after I arrived at his house,” recalled President Woodruff, “I learned why the Lord had sent me there. … I found a company of men and women, some six hundred, who had banded together under the name of United Brethren, and were laboring for the ancient order of things. They wanted the Gospel as taught by the prophets and apostles, as I did in my youth.”4
The Benbow family quickly accepted the message of the Restoration, and William returned to Staffordshire “after having the happy privilege of seeing his brother John Benbow, and all his household, … baptized into the new and everlasting covenant.”5 Elder Woodruff stayed in the area for about eight months. He later recalled: “The first thirty days after I arrived in Herefordshire I baptized forty-five preachers and several hundred members. … We brought in two thousand in about eight months’ labor.”6
Referring to this experience, President Woodruff wrote: “The whole history of this Herefordshire mission shows the importance of listening to the still small voice of God and the revelations of the Holy Ghost. The Lord had a people there prepared for the Gospel. They were praying for light and truth, and the Lord sent me to them.”7
About two years before Elder Woodruff served in England, the Spirit led him to preach the gospel to a smaller group of people—his own family. In his patriarchal blessing, given through Joseph Smith Sr., he had been promised that he would “bring [his] father’s household into the kingdom of God.”8 In 1838, while he was serving a mission in an area close to his hometown, he felt that the time had come for this prophecy to be fulfilled. He wrote:
“I spent … eighteen days in Farmington and Avon, visiting my father’s household, my uncles, aunts, cousins, neighbors and friends, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ unto them, and striving to bring them into the kingdom of God. … By the help of God, I preached the Gospel faithfully to my father’s household and to all that were with him, as well as to my other relatives.”
On July 1, 1838, Elder Woodruff baptized six people, including all those who lived in his father’s house, just as he had been promised in his patriarchal blessing. “It was truly a day of joy to my soul,” he said. “My father, step-mother and sister were among the number baptized. I afterwards added a number of relatives. I felt that this day’s work alone amply repaid me for all my labor in the ministry.
“Who can comprehend the joy, the glory, the happiness and consolation that an Elder of Israel feels in being an instrument in the hands of God of bringing his father, mother, sister, brother, or any of the posterity of Adam through the door that enters into life and salvation? No man can, unless he has experienced these things, and possesses the testimony of Jesus Christ and the inspiration of Almighty God.”9
Teachings of Wilford Woodruff
God holds us responsible for sharing the gospel with others.
Mankind in all ages search for happiness; they desire social and domestic peace; and when they think of the vast future, they desire to participate in the blessings that are spoken of as pertaining to that state of existence; but they know not how to obtain them, except a servant of God comes along and points out the way of life.10
We are the only people to whom this holy gospel, priesthood and covenants have been committed in our day, and we shall be held responsible for the use we make of it. Then we should be diligent and faithful in offering this great salvation unto the children of men, and in building up Zion and the kingdom of our God.11
However insignificant this people may be in the eyes of the world, the God of heaven holds us responsible for preaching this Gospel to every nation under heaven, and we have it to do or we will be damned. We cannot avoid this. Why? Because, as Paul says: “Woe is unto me, if I preach not the Gospel.” [1 Corinthians 9:16.] There is but one Gospel; never has been but one, and never will be; and Paul says: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other Gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” [Galatians 1:8.] That Gospel, ye Saints of the living God, … is in our hands, sent to us by the ministrations of Angels—the same Gospel that was taught from Adam to Christ, and from Christ down to our day and generation, when God has had a people on the earth.12
There never was a set of men since God made the world under a stronger responsibility to warn this generation, to lift up our voices long and loud, day and night as far as we have the opportunity and declare the words of God unto this generation. We are required to do this. This is our calling. It is our duty. It is our business.13
I have waded swamps and swum rivers, and have asked my bread from door to door; and have devoted nearly fifty years to this work. And why? Was there gold enough in California to have hired me to do it? No, verily; and what I have done and what my brethren have done, we have done because we were commanded of God. And this is the position we occupy today. We have preached and labored at home and abroad, and we intend to continue our labors, by the help of God, as long as we can have liberty to do it.14
I think, many times, that we, as elders of Israel and as Latter-day Saints, come far short of realizing our position before the Lord. The work required at our hands is great and mighty; it is the work of Almighty God. We are held responsible for presenting the gospel of Christ to all the nations of the earth. … We are held responsible for all this and for building temples to the Most High, wherein we can enter and attend to ordinances for the salvation of our dead.15
And then, we are surrounded at home with many to whom it is our duty to preach, for it is just as necessary to preach at home as abroad.16
We find great joy in helping others come unto Christ and progress toward exaltation.
You give unto any soul the principles of life and salvation and administer these ordinances to him, and you become an instrument in the hands of God in the salvation of that soul. There is nothing given to the children of men that is equal to it. …
… The Lord [said], “And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father.” [D&C 18:15.] … We have preached the Gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, as far as the Lord has opened doors for us and we have had the privilege of going. Still the world to-day is full of people who have not heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ; and while the Priesthood rests upon our shoulders we are still under obligation and are still held responsible for the salvation of the children of men, as far as we have the privilege of bestowing these gifts upon the sons and daughters of Adam. Only think that by embracing the Gospel of Christ we can become heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ, that we can have part in the first resurrection, and come forth out of our graves and be clothed with glory, immortality, and eternal lives, and pass into the presence of God and the Lamb and dwell with them eternally in the heavens! Who comprehends this? Do the inhabitants of the earth? They do not. … I realize myself that we are dependent upon the Lord in all things. The Lord is our preserver. He is the author of our salvation. Jesus Christ has laid down His life to redeem us by His blood, and through that we have these blessings bestowed upon us. …
… There is no calling a man can be called to any greater than to have this right and privilege to go forth and save the souls of men—save them by preaching the Gospel to them, by administering the ordinances of the house of God to them, that they may be prepared themselves to go into the kingdom of heaven and into a celestial glory. …
I think many times that we ourselves do not prize the blessings that we enjoy and that are within our reach. Our hearts should be set upon the building up of the kingdom of God, the Zion of God, and the work of God, while we are here and have power to perform these things. It is our duty as the Presidency and as Apostles, not only to labor ourselves, but to send forth the Elders of Israel to the nations of the earth to proclaim the Gospel. Doors are open to-day among many of the nations for the spread of the Gospel of Christ, and to bring the people unto Christ, that they may receive these blessings.17
My whole life almost has been spent in this Church; and from the time I came into the Church I went on missions and have never ceased altogether from that day to this. I have always rejoiced in this, and do to-day. When I die and lay down my body, I do not want anybody to rise up and say that I have neglected my duty in trying to give him salvation as far as I could. I have always rejoiced in preaching the Gospel; I have rejoiced in administering the ordinances of life and salvation at home and abroad, because I have known that this was the work of God, and I know it is to-day.18
Rather than criticize others’ religions, we should live in a way that shows the truth and goodness of our own.
When you go into a neighborhood to preach the Gospel, never attempt to tear down a man’s house, so to speak, before you build him a better one; never, in fact, attack any one’s religion, wherever you go. Be willing to let every man enjoy his own religion. It is his right to do that. If he does not accept your testimony with regard to the Gospel of Christ, that is his affair, and not yours. Do not spend your time in pulling down other sects and parties. We haven’t time to do that. It is never right to do that.19
Seek by faith, prayer and humility, to obtain wisdom, and the Spirit of God to dictate in all your labours. Wisdom is one of the greatest gifts of God, and the voice of wisdom will not tell us to spend our time in warring against the sects of the day, opposing the opinions of men, ridiculing the religions that surround us, thereby cutting off the ears of the hearer; barring the hearts of men against light and truth; the opinions and religions of other men are as dear unto them as ours are unto us. … Let Salvation be your text, in meekness and humility, with the power of eternal truth, wisdom, light and knowledge that are hid in the first principles of the gospel of the Son of God. You can be instrumental in saving the souls of men, and they will rejoice with yourselves that they have ever beheld the light thereof; we should never get above the gospel, or leave it to preach something that is foreign to our calling; or to make strife about words to no profit; every tree is known by its fruit; if we are faithful before the Lord, pursue a wise and prudent course, good fruit will be sure to follow our labours.20
It should be the aim of all the members of the Church to carry out practically in their lives the principles of the Gospel. In no way can we better convince the world of their truth than in showing in our acts and dealings with one another and with mankind the elevating effect they have upon us. We make high professions, and there should be such a high standard of purity of life among us as to correspond with these professions.21
The Holy Ghost provides guidance for those who share the gospel and for those who receive it.
The whole secret of our success as far as making converts is concerned is, that we preach the same gospel in all its simplicity and plainness that Jesus preached, and that the Holy Ghost rests upon those who receive it, filling their hearts with joy and gladness unspeakable, and making them as one; and they then know of the doctrine for themselves whether it be of God or man.22
How did these hundreds and thousands of Elders of Israel … have power to go abroad, … and preach the Gospel to the convincing of the sons and daughters of Adam? It has been done by the power of God. No Elder in this Church has had power to go forth and do the will of God [except] by the power of God. If we have any power, it is of God, and we should trust Him with regard to all things.23
When he who has the authority preaches the gospel, he promises, in the name of Jesus Christ, to all that believe and obey, that the Holy Ghost will be given them. By virtue of this promise, all such can know for themselves, whether it is of God, or whether it is of man. If an unauthorized man goes forth, pretending to proclaim this same gospel, and it matters not how able and talented he may be, his doctrine can be detected, because the promises which were to follow the believers in Christ are not realized, the Holy Ghost which imparts its gifts unto men [is] not received, and hence the fallacy of the doctrines of men is exposed, so that none need be deceived.24
Unless you have the Holy Ghost with you when you go out to preach the Gospel, you cannot do your duty; but when you have that you are safe, go where you will, and your words will have their effect in the hearts of the honest and meek of the earth.25
It does not make any difference what age a man is in preaching the gospel, whether he be twenty-five, ninety, or five hundred years of age, if he is only inspired by the Spirit and power of God.26
May the Lord go before us and prepare the way and give us access to the hearts of the people, that good may be done and the kingdom of God roll forth.27
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.
Review the account of Elder Wilford Woodruff going to the home of John Benbow (pages 89–91). In what ways was Elder Woodruff led to the Benbow farm? As you read this account, what do you learn from the example of William Benbow?
On pages 91–92, look for words or phrases that show how William Benbow and Wilford Woodruff felt when their family members embraced the gospel. How have you felt when loved ones have joined the Church or returned to activity in the Church?
Review President Woodruff’s words about our responsibility to share the gospel (pages 92–94). Specifically, what can we do to share the gospel with family members and friends? In what ways can we work with full-time missionaries in this effort?
In what ways can we fulfill our responsibility to teach the gospel “to all the nations of the earth”? (page 94).
Why do we sometimes hesitate to share the gospel? How can we overcome our fears?
Why is missionary work such a joyful experience? (See pages 94–95.) What experiences have you had in which you have felt the joy of sharing the gospel?
Why is it important to avoid criticizing others’ religions? (See page 96.) How can we testify of the truthfulness of the Church without criticizing other churches?
Review the final paragraph on page 96. In what ways do our actions influence people’s opinions about the Church?
As you read President Woodruff’s words about the Holy Ghost and missionary service, what do you learn? (See pages 97–98.) What must we do to qualify for the companionship of the Spirit?
“History of Wilford Woodruff (From His Own Pen),” Millennial Star, March 25, 1865, 183.
Gospel Standards, comp. G. Homer Durham (1941), 20.
“Elder Woodruff’s Letter,” Times and Seasons, March 1, 1841, 327.
Millennial Star, November 28, 1895, 754.
Times and Seasons, March 1, 1841, 328.
Millennial Star, November 28, 1895, 754.
“Leaves from My Journal,” Millennial Star, November 28, 1881, 767.
“Leaves from My Journal,” Millennial Star, September 19, 1881, 606.
Millennial Star, September 19, 1881, 606–7.
The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, sel. G. Homer Durham (1946), 259.
Deseret News, May 27, 1857, 91.
Millennial Star, November 28, 1895, 755.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, July 6, 1880, 1.
The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 133.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, February 29, 1876, 1.
Salt Lake Herald Church and Farm, June 15, 1895, 385.
Millennial Star, May 14, 1896, 307–9.
Millennial Star, May 14, 1896, 310.
Contributor, August 1895, 636–37.
“To the Officers and Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the British Islands,” Millennial Star, February 1845, 141–42.
“An Epistle to the Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Millennial Star, November 14, 1887, 729.
The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 136.
Deseret Weekly, March 2, 1889, 294.
The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 135–36.
In Conference Report, April 1898, 32.
The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 275.
“Correspondence,” Millennial Star, August 1840, 93.