Lesson 13: John Taylor—Defender of the Faith

"Lesson 13: John Taylor—Defender of the Faith," The Presidents of the Church: Teacher’s Manual, (1996)


Each class member will develop a greater determination to defend and live by the standards of the restored gospel by studying the life of John Taylor.


  1. 1.

    Prepare to show the picture in the manual of a small pine tree surrounded by a forest.

  2. 2.

    See that each class member has a copy of the Doctrine and Covenants and the New Testament.

  3. 3.

    Prepare a copy of the poem “Good Timber” for each class member (see end of lesson).

Suggested Lesson Development


Picture and poem

Tell the class members that you are going to read a poem with an important message for them. Show the picture of the small pine tree surrounded by the forest. Challenge the class to listen carefully so they can discuss the message. (Read the poem “Good Timber” found at the end of this lesson and give each class member a copy.)


  • What is the message of the poem? (Lead a short discussion, allowing class members to respond with the message they received from the poem. Emphasize that strength comes from overcoming adversity.)

  • What does adversity mean? (It is a condition of suffering or a time of troubles in which we must struggle to succeed.)

  • What conditions mentioned in the poem made strong trees? (Having to struggle for sun, sky, air, and light; strong wind.)

Explain that today class members will see how adversity builds strength and character in men and women. They will study three examples from the life of John Taylor. He faced difficult situations that made others want to quit. Ask class members to listen for how he handled each situation. (Read each story or retell it in your own words.)

John Taylor Defends the Prophet Joseph Smith

Example and discussion

After joining the Church in 1836, John Taylor visited Kirtland, Ohio, in 1837. It was during this time that men who had once been strong supporters of the Church turned on the Prophet, ultimately forcing him to flee from Kirtland. The Prophet ordained John Taylor a high priest and put him in charge of the branches of the Church in Canada. Later, in a meeting in the Kirtland Temple, when the Prophet was not there, one of the apostates “made a violent attack upon the character of the Prophet. … Towards the close of the meeting, Elder Taylor asked [for] the privilege of speaking. It was granted him. He referred, in opening his remarks, to the ancient Israelites, and to their murmurings against God and Moses, and then asked:

“‘From whence do we get our intelligence, and knowledge of the laws, ordinances and doctrines of the kingdom of God? Who understood even the first principles of the doctrines of Christ? Who in the Christian world taught them? If we, with our learning and intelligence, could not find out the first principles, which was the case with myself and millions of others, how can we find out the mysteries of the kingdom? It was Joseph Smith, under the Almighty, who developed the first principles, and to him we must look for further instructions’” (B. H. Roberts, The Life of John Taylor [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1963], pp. 40–41).


  • What character traits did John Taylor demonstrate in this event in Church history? (List responses on the chalkboard. Answers will vary and may include such things as loyalty, courage, bravery, strength of testimony.)

After you have discussed the first story, read or retell the following example. Ask class members to notice, again, the courage of John Taylor in defending the faith.

John Taylor Stops a Tar-and-Feathering Threat

Example and discussion

Near Columbus, Ohio, a very large crowd of people had gathered to hear Elder John Taylor speak. Before the meeting began, Elder Taylor had been warned by Church members that some men had tar and feathers ready and had “boasted they would dress him [in the tar and feathers] if he undertook to preach” (Roberts, The Life of John Taylor, p. 53). Undaunted, Elder Taylor replied he had made up his mind to speak.

Elder Taylor began by reminding the crowd that he now stood “‘among men whose fathers fought for and obtained one of the greatest blessings ever conferred upon the human family—the right to think, to speak, to write … , and the right to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences—all sacred human rights … guaranteed by the American Constitution. …’ [Then Elder Taylor boldly proclaimed,] ‘I have been informed that you purpose to tar and feather me, for my religious opinions. Is this [what] you have inherited from your fathers? Is this the blessing they purchased with their dearest hearts’ blood—this your liberty? If so, you now have a victim.’ … Here he tore open his vest and said: ‘Gentlemen come on with your tar and feathers, your victim is ready. … Come on, gentlemen! Come on, I say, I am ready!’

“No one moved, no one spoke. [John Taylor] stood there drawn to his full height, calm but defiant—the master of the situation.

“After a pause of some moments he continued his remarks and preached with great boldness and power for some three hours. [After the meeting,] the brethren still insisted that … the intention of the crowd [had been to tar and feather him], but they had been awed into silence by the boldness of Elder Taylor” (Roberts, The Life of John Taylor, pp. 54–55).


  • Why do you feel the crowd did not harm John Taylor? (Answers may vary, but emphasize that John Taylor had the courage to stand up for what he knew was right. When the winds of persecution blew, he had roots deep enough [a testimony] to withstand them.)

John Taylor Strengthened Church Members during Times of Persecution

The following incident took place during some extremely critical years for the Latter-day Saints. In 1854 “a special call from President Young … directed [Elder Taylor] to go to New York City to organize and publish a newspaper whose purpose would be to present the doctrines and practices of the Church in such a way as to neutralize … anti-Mormon feeling that had been mounting for over a year. … Additional brethren [were] to organize and publish Latter-day Saint newspapers in other key cities— … Washington, D.C.; … St. Louis; … San Francisco” (Francis M. Gibbons, John Taylor: Mormon Philosopher, Prophet of God [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985], p. 138). Elder Taylor took up his residence in New York City and remained there until 1857.

This period climaxed when the United States government in Washington, D.C., sent an army to Utah. The army was to put down what was thought to be a rebellion. In New York, Elder Taylor defended the Mormon people against some governmental powers who were trying to destroy them. He challenged the enemies of the Church “‘to prove that “Mormonism” is less moral, scriptural, philosophical; or that there is less patriotism in Utah than in any other part of the United States. We call for proof; bring on your reasons, gentlemen, if you have any; we shrink not from the investigation, and dare you to the encounter’” (B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church, 4:63).

As a result of public sentiment and legislation against the Church and against plural marriage, many men in the Church were imprisoned. Many others went into hiding to prevent imprisonment. John Taylor was the senior Apostle following the death of Brigham Young in 1877 until he became President of the Church himself in 1880. He with his counselors, George Q. Cannon and Joseph F. Smith, went into hiding in 1885, placing their trust in the Lord.

Like John Taylor, We Should Be Champions of Righteousness

Because of John Taylor’s courageous life, his long defense of the principles of the gospel, “and his journalistic pursuits, he became known as ‘Defender of the Faith’ and also as the ‘Champion of Liberty’” (Emerson Roy West, Profiles of the Presidents, rev. ed. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1980], p. 90). In his courage and faithfulness we learn how to respond, how to be faithful, and we find how to become defenders of the faith and champions of righteousness ourselves.

Group activity and discussion

Ask the class members what they would do in the three following situations and have them suggest ways they can defend gospel principles. (You may use appropriate situations that are more applicable to your particular culture.)

Situation 1: A group of teenagers is gathered at a friend’s house to watch videos. All goes well until someone puts in an R-rated video that contains nudity, crude language, and extreme violence.

Situation 2: In a history class, the teacher makes some degrading comments about Mormons and plural marriage that you personally know are not true.

Situation 3: In a locker room, one of your friends, who is a member of the Church, tells an off-color, dirty story that is funny but also offensive and embarrassing.

After allowing time to discuss the above situations, read the following statement by Elder Wm. Grant Bangerter, former member of the First Quorum of the Seventy:

“Now let me make our position clear. Although we should treat others with kindness, tolerance, and respect, we must stand firmly for the things that have been revealed to us. We do not apologize that we do not have the same doctrines and principles that other churches have. We can talk about it in a warm and friendly way, but we do not apologize. We didn’t initiate this restoration. God did. If others do not appreciate the Church or its doctrines, we nevertheless know they are true” (Wm. Grant Bangerter, “It’s a Two-Way Street,” Ensign, July 1986, p. 71).

Testimony and scripture

Bear your testimony of the importance of standing up for the Church and its teachings and of the blessings that come if we do so by reading the following two scriptures: Romans 1:16 and Doctrine and Covenants 14:7.


  • What does the Lord promise us if we are not ashamed of the gospel of Christ? (Salvation and eternal life, which are the greatest of all the gifts of God.)

Testimony and Challenge

End the lesson with your personal testimony of the truth. Challenge each class member not to be afraid of adversity or direct challenges to the Church. Truth is always the final winner.