Lesson 16: Wilford Woodruff: Righteousness and the Protection of the Lord

"Lesson 16: Wilford Woodruff: Righteousness and the Protection of the Lord," The Presidents of the Church: Teacher’s Manual, (1996)


The class members will learn that Satan is real and that righteousness and courage are needed to face and defeat him.


  1. 1.

    Be sure that each class member has access to all the standard works.

  2. 2.

    Read all the scriptural accounts well before giving this lesson. Center the discussion upon the suggested scriptures.

Suggested Lesson Development


Read the following statement by Joseph Smith as recorded by Wilford Woodruff:

“‘Salvation is nothing more nor less than the triumph over all our enemies in this world and over all evil spirits in the world to come. In the case of Jesus Christ He was to reign until He had put all enemies under His feet. …

“‘There is a principle here that few men have thought of. No person can have this salvation except through a tabernacle [a body]. … This was the case with the devil when he fell. He was seeking things which were unlawful, he was, therefore, cast down and it is said that he carried away many with him. His punishment is great in that he is not permitted to have a tabernacle. Lucifer, planning to overthrow the decree of God, goeth up and down the earth seeking whom he may destroy’” (Matthias F. Cowley, Wilford Woodruff: History of His Life and Labors [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1964], pp. 174–75).


Discuss how Satan may use each of the following things to attack people today, especially youth: (You may add other things that seem more relevant to your particular class members.)

  1. 1.

    Drug abuse

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  4. 4.


  5. 5.

    Unsafe driving or “joyriding”

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  8. 8.

    Child abuse

  9. 9.


Stress that obedience to the gospel brings us the power to resist Satan.

Elder ElRay L. Christiansen, while an Assistant to the Twelve, reminded us that “in all his evil doings, the adversary can go no further than the transgressor permits him to go. … And when the Holy Ghost is really within us, Satan must remain without” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1974, p. 30; or Ensign, Nov. 1974, p. 24).

The Lord Protected Wilford Woodruff

When Wilford Woodruff was an Apostle, he was poisoned while skinning an animal that had been killed by poison. His system was almost overcome and it was feared he would die. President Brigham Young gave him the following blessing:

“‘Brother Woodruff, I say to you in the name of Jesus Christ, that you shall not die, but you shall live to finish your work which was appointed you to do upon the earth. The adversary has sought many times to destroy your life but the Lord has preserved you, and will preserve you until your work is done’” (Cowley, Wilford Woodruff, p. 368).

Recognizing that Wilford Woodruff was a particularly valuable servant in the cause of righteousness, Satan tried to cause him to be physically hurt. Through the protection of the Lord and his own righteousness, President Woodruff came away victorious.

Read the following:

“Wilford Woodruff learned to trust deeply in the power of the Lord early in life. According to his own record, he underwent many accidents and other hardships and was only spared because of the mercy of the Lord. He fell into a caldron [large boiler] of scalding water at the age of three; he slipped from a beam in his father’s barn, landing on his face on the bare floor; he broke both his arms by falls; he narrowly missed being gored by a bull; he broke his leg by a fall from a carriage; he was kicked in the stomach by an ox; he was buried beneath a load of hay when his wagon tipped over; he was in a wagon that overturned when a runaway horse bolted down a hill; he fell fifteen feet from a tree, landing flat on his back; he was saved from drowning in thirty feet of water; he narrowly escaped freezing to death when a passerby happened to see him crawl into the hollow of an apple tree; he split open the instep of his left foot while chopping wood; he was bitten by a dog in the last stages of rabies; he was thrown from a runaway horse and broke one of his legs in two places and dislocated both ankles. All of this happened before Wilford was twenty years old!

“Later he fell twice from the top of a mill wheel, narrowly escaping being crushed to death. On two other occasions he was dragged behind a runaway horse; a gun aimed directly at his chest snapped accidentally but fortunately misfired; a falling tree hit him in the chest, breaking his breastbone and three ribs and badly bruising his left thigh, hip, and arm” (“Wilford Woodruff: Man of Faith and Zeal,” New Era, Jan. 1972, pp. 30–31).


Ask the following discussion questions to help the class discover the dependence and gratitude that must have been built up in Wilford Woodruff’s mind and heart as the Lord helped him through these adversities. (No specific response is required; allow class members to express their feelings.)

  • Why do you feel all these narrow escapes from death taught Wilford Woodruff to draw closer to the Lord?

  • Have any of you or anyone in your family ever been saved from serious tragedy in a similar way?

  • What were your feelings as you realized you had had the Lord’s protection?

  • What personal attributes do you think were strengthened in Wilford Woodruff’s heart and mind as a result of his experiences?

  • Is Satan responsible for all evil and accidents? (Stress that there are genuine accidents and that our agency allows us all to make choices, some of which sometimes result in accidents or tragedy. All of us, however, can live as close to the Lord as possible, relying upon him in all things, as Wilford Woodruff did. In this way Satan’s effect is greatly minimized.)

The Righteous Have a Power Greater than Satan’s

Scripture discussion

Read and discuss each of the following scriptures:

Moses 4:1–3: Satan sought to take away the power and honor of God. He was cast out of heaven.

Moses 4:4–21: Satan sought to destroy Adam and Eve. He was cursed and made subject to the righteous.

Moses 1:12–22: Satan tried to deceive Moses; he was detected and cast out by the righteous authority of Moses. (Verses 13 and 14 are keys to understanding who Satan is; point them out specifically to the class. Moses saw Satan was without glory and Moses was able to look upon him without being transfigured.)

Matthew 4:1–11: Satan tried to destroy Jesus Christ; the Savior rebuked him. (Note that the Joseph Smith Translation of verse 1 says Jesus was “led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be with God.”)

Joseph Smith—History 1:15–16: Satan used his power to try to prevent Joseph Smith from receiving the truth from God, but he was cast out by the power of God because of the prayer and faith of Joseph Smith.

Though the above examples all deal with the lives of prophets, it is important to remember that Satan tempts everyone except little children. Also, through righteousness everyone can overcome Satan’s powers. Prophets are not the only ones who can be righteous.

Testimony and Challenge

Read Doctrine and Covenants 21:4–6.

Bear testimony that the Lord has promised us his protection. If we obey the prophet and the commandments, “walking in all holiness before [the Lord,] … the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before [us], and cause the heavens to shake for [our] good, and his name’s glory” (D&C 21:4, 6).

Satan will not stop trying to destroy the work of the Lord. He will try in any way possible to lead the Saints astray. But we must always remember that righteousness, prayer, and the priesthood will defeat Satan. The Lord’s plan will prevail.

Challenge class members to be righteous.