August 7, 2007

The 'Darkness' of the Gospel

Wilford Woodruff February 2, 1855 Wilford Woodruff, the avid and invaluable journal-keeper, was concerned with religion early in life and began looking for a church which matched the one he saw in the New Testament. While working at a mill he would often visit a nearby small tree-covered island in the middle of a stream where he would consider his position before God, as he wrote in his journal:

I spent many a midnight hour alone upon that island in prayer before the Lord ("Autobiography of Wilford Woodruff," Ms., p. 13).
As a result of this searching he soon found himself in Richland, Oswego County, New York, where he was baptized by Latter-day Saint missionaries on December 31, 1833. Four months later he was in Kirtland, Ohio, meeting the Prophet Joseph Smith for the first time. [1] Because his initial roots in religion dealt greatly with finding a Church which matched the one he read about in the New Testament, Woodruff was thrilled to know God was calling prophets again. In 1855 his discourse dealt with the differences he saw between the restored Church and others he had investigated:
The New Testament clearly shown that whenever God has had a people upon the earth-when He has had a Church and kingdom in the world, it has been organized with Prophets and Apostles, and has been endowed with revelations, with diverse kinds of gifts, with healing power, with miracles, with dreams, and I may say with every member that belongs to the body of Christ, necessary for the edifying of the body, for the work of the ministry or sanctifying of the people. We cannot find anywhere within the lids of the Bible, where the Lord ever had a people He acknowledged, except they were led by, immediate revelation. The Lord never had a people in any age of the world without Prophets to lead them, even to the present day; and this is the reason why this Church and kingdom is so diverse from the views, feelings, and traditions of the nations around us, and that has caused it to meet with great opposition, persecution, and opposing spirits from the commencement, and perhaps may continue to do so until the winding up scene.
Elder Woodruff next makes an interesting point, that the world will call light dark, and dark light, and from that view, he prefers the dark:

Before I ever heard of 'Mormonism,' when reading the Scriptures, I often wondered why it was that we had no Prophets, no Apostles, no gifts and graces, no healings by the power of God, no visions, no angels, no revelations, no voice of God.

I often wondered why these things were not continued among the children of men, why they were not enjoyed by the different churches and denominations of the day, and, in my conversation with theologians and divines, I often referred to these things, but they all told me that such supernatural manifestations were unnecessary in our day and age of the world, that such power was only necessary in a day of darkness, among an ignorant generation of people; they needed Prophets to lead them; but we who live in the blaze of Gospel light need no such thing; we need no revelation, only that which is in the Bible; we need no visitation of angels now, those things were given to establish the doctrine of Christ, and when it was once established they were no longer needed.

This logic always appeared strange to me. I said then, and I say now, may the Lord give me such periods of darkness as were enjoyed by the Apostles and Saints of old, in preference to the Gospel blaze of modern Christianity.

Nephi, quoting Isaiah, lamented the tendency of mankind to call good evil, and vice versa:
Wo unto them that call evil good, and good evil, that put darkness for light, and light for darkness, that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! (2 Nephi 15:20; cf. Isaiah 5).
As John said:
And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not (John 1:5).
One reason God sends prophets is to ensure our own darkness-- caused by error, ignorance, tradition, or anything else that would extinguish the Light of Christ and the Holy Ghost--does not prevent us from knowing truth. Prophets can shine a flashlight in the dark corners of our hearts, illuminating the path we are on. We need guidance from leaders, as inspired by the Holy Ghost, and the Holy Ghost will let us know when we are out of the path, that we may quickly return. Elder Woodruff, who became President of the Church years later, concluded his discourse thanking God for prophets; those who have stepped beyond the veil and those still with us, to guide us in these latter days:
…again say I am thankful that we have men to preside over us, who are determined to rebuke sin, wherever it shows itself, and God will sustain these men, and uphold them, whether we do or not. I do not care in what circumstances they may be placed, even if it be necessary for them to seal their testimony with their blood, as Joseph and Hyrum have done; it is all right, they only pass to the other side of the vail, where they can operate still better for the salvation of the people. We shall not be left without leaders that have the Spirit of God. This people will always have leaders that are just men, that are good men, and that delight to do the will of God, and would sacrifice life and all things for it if required (Journal of Discourses 2:191-202).
Footnotes: [1] Biographical information was found on in an essay by Dean C. Jessee. Wilford Woodruff was ordained an apostle at age 32. He served missions in the southern United States (1834-1836), eastern United States and to the Fox Islands (1837-1838), England (1839-1831), the eastern states (1843-1844), was Church Historian and presided over several Church areas and territorial boards. He became fourth President of the Church in 1889. In 1896 he signed a "political manifesto" that required all general Church officials, before they accepted any political position, to discuss the prospective appointment with presiding Church authorities. He died on September 2, 1898, at the age of ninety-one, in San Francisco, California, where he had occasionally gone to seek relief from the ailments of old age.

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