Lesson 15: Wilford Woodruff—Faithful and True

"Lesson 15: Wilford Woodruff—Faithful and True," The Presidents of the Church: Teacher’s Manual, (1996)


Class members will strive to follow the example of Wilford Woodruff, who served faithfully from the first moment he learned of the gospel.


  1. 1.

    Prepare to display the picture of Wilford Woodruff in the color section.

  2. 2.

    Prepare a small picture frame with the word ME written in the center.

  3. 3.

    Make two wordstrips:

    Wilford Woodruff—Faithful and True

    —Faithful and True

  4. 4.

    Bring to class a long piece of string or yarn that will stretch from out the window to out the door of the classroom.

  5. 5.

    If the videocassette Testimonies of the Presidents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (53242) is available, prepare to show the section “Wilford Woodruff.”

Suggested Lesson Development



Display the picture of Wilford Woodruff. Explain that he was the fourth President of the Church.

Demonstration and discussion

Wilford Woodruff could see what a small but important part of eternity this life is. Demonstrate this concept by laying a piece of string across the room—one end out the classroom door and the other out the window. If there is no window, stretch the string to the edge of the wall.

Pretend that the string represents eternity and that it extends forever on both ends. Imagine that this room is the time and space designated for this life. As far as time is considered, this little piece of life—mortality—represented by this room, isn’t very much. However, mortality determines where and how we will live all the rest of eternity, so it is a very important period of time.

Wilford Woodruff Served Faithfully All His Life

Because Wilford Woodruff saw the future so clearly, he knew that when he returned to his Father in Heaven he would have to account for his actions in mortality. He wanted more than anything to be able to give a good account.

With this understanding, consider the following ways he tried to qualify himself for that judgment:

First, he was a missionary. Although he preached the gospel all his life, he served fifteen years as an official missionary. He baptized hundreds of people. Think about the families of these people. That number could expand endlessly!

Heber J. Grant said of Wilford Woodruff, “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” (Gospel Standards, comp. G. Homer Durham [Salt Lake City: The Improvement Era, 1969], p. 20).

Some class members could be here because of President Woodruff’s missionary work. As missionaries, many of us may not be sent where thousands are seeking the truth as was the case with Wilford Woodruff. We can, however, be a powerful influence for good in the lives of hundreds of people throughout our lifetime.

Because of his great success, one might think that Wilford Woodruff’s missions were easy, but that would be far from the truth. He suffered severe hardships.


Relate the following example.

One day in southern Missouri, Wilford Woodruff and his companion walked all day without food. They came to a place where a minister refused to give them anything to eat or to let them spend the night. They had to walk another twelve miles farther down the river.

In his journal Wilford recorded the following: “‘The wicked [minister] who would not give us a piece of bread lied to us about the road, and sent us across the swamp, where we wallowed knee-deep in mud and water till ten o’clock at night, in trying to follow the crooked river. We then left the swamp and put out into the prairie, to lie in the grass for the night.

“‘When we got out of the swamp, we heard an Indian drumming on a tin pail and singing. It was very dark, but we traveled toward the noise, and when we drew near the Indian camp quite a number of large Indian dogs came out to meet us. They smelled us, but did not bark or bite. Soon we were surrounded by Osage Indians and were kindly received by Mr. Jereu and his wife who was an Indian. She gave us an excellent supper and a good bed, which we were thankful for after the fatigue of the day.

“‘As I laid my head upon my pillow, I felt to thank God from the bottom of my heart for the exchange from the barbarous treatment of a civilized … priest to the humane, kind, and generous treatment of the savage Osage Indians. May God reward them both according to their deserts!’” (Matthias F. Cowley, Wilford Woodruff: History of His Life and Labors [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1978], p. 48).

He was obedient and humble. The Prophet Joseph Smith called him “Wilford the Faithful” (Preston Nibley, The Presidents of the Church [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1974], p. 101).


Display the wordstrip “Wilford Woodruff—Faithful and True” under the picture of Wilford Woodruff.

President Woodruff had the great faith needed to heal and be healed. The following is from his journal:

One day Wilford Woodruff met a man and woman on the street, and the woman asked if he remembered them. He answered that he did not. Then she said, “You laid hands on this boy in Herefordshire [England] fifty years ago. He was dumb—never spoke a word til you laid hands upon him and blessed him: and he has spoken ever since” (Wilford Woodruff, sel. G. Homer Durham [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1946], p. 314).

President Woodruff Was a Man with Great Qualities

He was a man of faith and vision. His faith enabled him to see visions and receive important revelations to direct the Church and the lives of its members. He was visited by angels and the former prophets Joseph Smith and Brigham Young after they had died because there was a need in the Church. In a dream, Brigham Young handed Elder Woodruff “the keys of the [Salt Lake] Temple and was told by [Brigham] to go in and dedicate it to the Lord” (Cowley, Wilford Woodruff, p. 582). This was fulfilled when President Woodruff later actually dedicated that temple.

Wilford Woodruff also received visits from men who had framed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. He personally helped perform the vital saving ordinances for such men as Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. (See Cowley, p. 586.)

He was a man of compassion. As President of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Woodruff “met with his council, when it was voted to call twenty young Indians and educate them in the Brigham Young Academy at Provo, that they might be missionaries among their own people. His heart was in the Indian mission,—the great possibilities of that people were so clear to his mind” (Cowley, p. 540).

The President of the United States, Benjamin Harrison, asked President Woodruff and the Presidency of the Church to pray for him and for his wife, who was ill. When Benjamin Harrison’s wife died, President Woodruff sent “President Harrison the following telegram of sympathy: ‘… The death of your beloved companion came home to us individually as if it were our own personal loss. We sincerely and deeply sympathize with you, and appeal to the Supreme Being, who holds the destiny of us all in His hands, to bless, comfort, and sustain you in this your hour of great trial and sorrow’” (Cowley, p. 580).

He was a man of work. By reading his journal, one sees how much Wilford Woodruff loved to work with his hands. Once after hoeing corn with his grandson he wrote: “Well, this is the first time in my life that any of my children have beaten me hoeing corn or at any other manual labor” (Cowley, p. 564). At the time he was eighty-two years old.

He sacrificed for the Lord with humility. Physical and personal sacrifice were just part of his obedience to God: “He had no will of his own, but wanted to be in a position to do God’s will” (Cowley, p. 534).

At an age when many reduce their activity, President Woodruff visited the settlements and small communities in the mountains. He wrote that he lived eleven days “in the midst of driving snow, making my bed upon the ground in a shepherd’s tent. I ate my bread and meat twice a day with thanksgiving. I drank the cold snow water and indeed have had the best of health. … I also passed several days in the saddle, from eight to ten hours a day, when the cold north wind was blowing in my face. I shall soon be seventy-three years of age” (Cowley, p. 531).

At one time Bishop Edward Hunter, the Presiding Bishop, prophesied that Wilford Woodruff would become a President of the Church. President Woodruff “rebuked [him]. … He sought no honors for himself” (Cowley, pp. 560–61).

He was a great historian. In addition to his great missionary labors, the historical records he had kept were a major contribution to the Church. His journal consisted of more than seven thousand pages (see Cowley, p. 600).

You Can Be like Wilford Woodruff

Tell the class: You can be like Wilford Woodruff. You can help people. You can help change the lives of converts. You can keep excellent records. And you can be faithful men and women.


Display the picture frame with the word ME in it by the side of the Wilford Woodruff picture. Say:

This represents a picture of each of you. Because you are here on earth, and if you will live for it, you will have the privilege of being blessed, as was Wilford Woodruff. With your compassion and great faith and prayers, you can help to serve and bless others.


Put the wordstrip “—Faithful and True” under the picture frame.

Try to see yourself in the picture. (Speak their names: “Susan—Faithful and True, John—Faithful and True,” etc. Express your confidence in each one.)

Videocassette, or reading

If it is available, show part 1 of the videocassette (38 seconds), Wilford Woodruff’s testimony. If it is unavailable, read Wilford Woodruff’s testimony, which follows.

Wilford Woodruff’s Testimony

“I bear my testimony that the Prophet Joseph Smith said before a large assembly in Illinois that if he were the emperor of the world and had control over the whole human family, he would sustain every man, woman and child in the enjoyment of their religion. Those are my sentiments today.

“I bear my testimony that Joseph Smith was a true Prophet of God, ordained of God to lay the foundation of His Church and Kingdom in the last dispensation and fullness of times. I bear my testimony that in the early spring of 1844 in Nauvoo, the Prophet Joseph Smith called the Twelve Apostles together and he delivered unto them the ordinances of the Church and Kingdom of God; and all of the keys and powers that God had bestowed upon him he sealed upon our heads. He told us we must round up our shoulders and bear off this Kingdom or we would be damned. I am the only man now living in the flesh who heard that testimony from his mouth, and I know this is true by the power of God manifest to him.

“At the meeting he stood on his feet about three hours and taught us the things of the Kingdom. His face was as clear as amber, and he was covered with a power that I have never seen in any man in the flesh before.

“I bear testimony that Joseph Smith was the author of the endowments as received by the Latter-day Saints. I received my own endowments under his hands and direction, and I know they are true principles. I not only received my own endowments under his hands, but I bear my testimony that Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards, George A. Smith, John Taylor, and other brethren received their endowments under the hands and direction of the Prophet Joseph, and also my wife, Phoebe, Bathsheba Smith, Leonora Taylor, Mary Smith and others whose names I cannot recall now.

“The Prophet Joseph laid down his life for the word of God and testimony of Jesus Christ, and he will be crowned as a martyr in the presence of God and the Lamb. In all his testimonies to us, the power of God was visibly manifest in the Prophet Joseph.

“This is my testimony, spoken by myself into a talking machine on this the nineteenth day of March 1897, in the ninety-first year of my age. Wilford Woodruff.”

Testimony and Challenge

Bear your testimony and challenge class members to be missionaries all their life. Restate that they must “desire to serve,” have the “patience to prepare,” and be willing “to labor” (see lesson 14).