October 22, 2008

He That Receiveth You Receiveth Me

Heber C. Kimball
August 13, 1853

A principle upon which Heber C. Kimball often discoursed was the importance of following the living prophet, who at that time was Brigham Young. The friendship between the Heber and Brigham was strong; it began back in 1832 when they were both baptized. They marched with Zion's Camp in 1835 and were ordained apostles the same year. Concerning these two friends, Joseph Smith said:

Of the [original] Twelve Apostles chosen in Kirtland,...there have been but two but what have lifted their heel against me—namely Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball (HC 5:412).
Many did "lift the heel," or turn against the prophet, which in my opinion, was one of Joseph's greatest sorrows. While prophesying of his impending martyrdom he lamented:
I might live, as Caesar might have lived, were it not for a right hand Brutus...1

Loyalty to the prophet was important to Heber, his sermons and writings consistently refer to the theme of following the prophet, and his loyalty to the office continued when Brigham Young replaced Joseph.

While Mormons believe God expects people to think for themselves, it is not a strictly individualistic approach. Counsel through a prophet is key to discipleship of Jesus Christ, providing valuable checks and balances to personal thoughts, as well as instruction directly from God people might not otherwise recognize. Some may believe following a prophet is foolish, or unnecessary today; that those who do are blind sheep. But Christ told his disciples in Jerusalem that people must accept His servants in order to accept Him:
He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me. He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward (Matt.10:40-41).

As evidenced in this sermon and many others, Heber sought a prophet's reward:
When brother Joseph Smith lived, he was our Prophet, our Seer, and Revelator; he was our dictator in the things of God, and it was for us to listen to him, and do just as he told us. Now that appears very absurd in the eyes of the world; but they all say, if they had lived in the days of Peter, Moses, or Jesus, they would not have done as the people in those days did to them; but at the same time they would take their lives if they could, and do just like them.

Loyalty to a prophet did appear absurd to many onlookers, as it still might today. The Lord said through Joseph Smith that commandments given "whether by [his] own voice or by the voice of [His] servants, it is the same" (D&C 1:38). Surely one claiming to be a "prophet" could take advantage of that.
Joseph Smith himself seemed to understand the suspicion people had for one who claimed authority from God. Josiah Quincy, future mayor of Boston, related the following incident after visiting Nauvoo and meeting the Prophet:
I should not say quite all that struck me about Smith if I did not mention that he seemed to have a keen sense of the humorous aspects of his position.

"It seems to me, General," I said, as he was driving us to the river, about sunset, "that you have too much power to be safely trusted to one man."

"In your hands or that of any other person," was the reply, "so much power would, no doubt, be dangerous. I am the only man in the world whom it would be safe to trust with it. Remember, I am a prophet!"

The last five words were spoken in a rich, comical aside, as if in hearty recognition of the ridiculous sound they might have in the ears of a Gentile.2

Joseph and Heber both knew following a prophet would appear foolish to some people; even people who believed in prophets of former days; Bible-believing people calling into question the belief that God speaks to prophets.

This attitude was no different in the days of Jesus, though. A man whom Jesus had healed on the Sabbath was interrogated by critics of Christ, expecting the man to help incriminate Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. After continuing to ask if Jesus had, in fact, healed him, the man replied:
I have told you already, and ye did not hear: wherefore would ye hear it again? will ye also be his disciples?

Then they reviled him, and said, 'Thou art his disciple; but we are Moses’ disciples. We know that God spake unto Moses: as for this fellow, we know not from whence he is,' (John 9:27-29).
Perhaps these Pharisees had forgotten that the ancient children of Israel exhibited similar feelings toward Moses:
And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness: And the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger (Exodus 16:2-3).

Disbelief or whining: par for the course for living prophets, it seems.

Later, in a stern denunciation of the Pharisees and Scribes, Christ pointed out and condemned the rejection of living prophets:
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchers of the righteous, And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.

Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?

Wherefore, behold, I send [not 'sent'] unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth..." (Matt. 23:29-35).

Richard Bushman summed up the issue of living prophets succinctly, arguing that Joseph Smith posed an interesting challenge to Bible-believing Christians of his (and our) time:
Joseph aimed a question at the heart of the culture: Did Christians truly believe in revelation? If believers in the Bible dismissed revelation in the present, could they defend revelation in the past? ...And if revelation in the present was so far out of the question that Joseph's claims could be discounted without serious consideration, why believe revelation in the past?3
Heber, an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, understood the principle of the prophetic calling4; that it did not require the prophet to be a perfect man, but nevertheless, Heber taught the necessity of following the counsel of the living prophet:
We are the servants of God; we have been called of God through the ministry of that holy Prophet Joseph Smith, who received his authority through the ministry of holy angels. Now he was just as true a Prophet as Moses was, or as any Prophet that has ever been upon the earth; and we are just as much the authorized servants of God, as the Apostles and disciples in the days of Jesus Christ were, and I know it. And I bear testimony of it to the United States, and to the nations of the world.

They say they do not believe it. What do I care whether they do or not? I know it, and God requires me to bear testimony of it, to be valiant in testimony to the truth of this work, and to preach the Gospel, and to lay before my brethren their duty (JD 2:105).5

Related by Joseph's cousin, George A. Smith on March 18, 1855. See Journal of Discourses 2:211.

Josiah Quincy, a traveling companion of John Adams' son Charles Francis Adams, recounted his experiences in Nauvoo in his book Figures of the Past From the Leaves of Old Journals, pages 376-400.

Richard L. Bushman, Believing History: Latter-day Saint Essays, 272-273.

When instructing Saints to prepare a food storage, Heber knew some would call his imperfections into question; he jested:
My feelings are, if God blesses and sustains me, to build a good storehouse for my grain this season; I am going to lay up everything I can raise. I say this for the benefit of brother Hunter, and all the Bishops in the House of Israel. Follow the example if you think it is a good one, and lay up stores of grain, against the time of need, for you will see the time when there will not be a kernel raised and when thousands and millions will come to this people for bread.

You cannot believe it, can you? You may say, "If one of the old Prophets could rise from the dead and declare it, we would then believe it, but, brother Heber, it is hard to believe it from you. You are very liable to take colds, if you were a servant of God you would not have any colds."

Upon the same principle I can say If you are the servants of God, why do you get hungry? I should not suppose that you would ever be hungry. I am a servant of God, and if you do not know it, I bear testimony of it, and I am a companion to Brigham Young, and will be for ever and ever (JD 3:253).
Christ to the ordained apostles:
And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city...He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me (Matthew 10:14-15, 40).
Christ to the apostles at the Last Supper:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me (John 13:20).
Christ to the Seventy:
He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me (Luke 10:16).
Paul teaches to obey leaders:
Remember your leaders, who spoke God's message to you; reflect on the outcome of their lives and imitate their faith. Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls and will give an account for their work. Let them do this with joy and not with complaints, for this would be no advantage for you (NET Hebrews 13:7, 17).
Orig. posted 9/24/07

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