July 21, 2008

Preaching Pitchforks From the Pulpit

Brigham Young
March 2, 1856

Brother Brigham wasn't averse to speaking his mind, and at times engaged in harsh hyperbole. His passions often showed through in his sermons- partly, perhaps- as a result of their being delivered off the cuff. Brigham's sermons were scattered and homely (hence, why he preferred to refer to them as "discourses" ). This is as many saints preferred; he is reported to have easily held an audience for several hours at a time; interweaving the most unlikely subjects-temporal and spiritual- into the same discourse.

Brigham began this particular discourse preaching that if the Saints could view things "as they really are" they would live their religion today:

I have many subjects that I would like to speak upon for the benefit of the Saints, and one thing in particular I would like to do for them, which I believe would be the greatest blessing that could be bestowed upon them, and that is to give you eyes with which to see things as they are.

If I had power to bestow that description of sight upon the Latter-day Saints, I do not believe that there is a man or woman but what would try to live their religion.
Brigham wanted them to see the world as he did, with an eternal perspective. Just as the Book of Mormon prophet, Jacob, Brigham taught the importance of seeing things "as they really are" (see Jacob 4:13).

If Saints could see ourselves as we really are in relation to God the Father, would they feel comfortable, or would they shrink from His presence (see Mosiah 2:38)? People disinterested in being with God won't be forced to live eternally with Him. The gospel helps develop people to be able to live with God; getting a free ride there would be terrible:

Some might suppose that it would be a great blessing to be taken and carried directly into heaven and there set down, but in reality that would be no blessing to such persons; they could not reap a full reward, could not enjoy the glory of the kingdom, and could not comprehend and abide the light thereof, but it would be to them a hell intolerable, and I suppose would consume them much quicker than would hell fire. It would be no blessing to you to be carried into the celestial kingdom, and obliged to stay therein, unless you were prepared to dwell there.
Having "eyes to see" would allow the people to live according to the best and proper priorities in this life, which Mormons believe is a probationary state to prepare to live with God (see Alma 12:24). Brigham told the Saints he couldn't give them new eyes, but Christ could. The gift has been prepared, the means are before all:

If people had eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand things as they are, it would prove a blessing to them, for they would then order their lives in a manner to secure the blessings which they anticipate. However, it is out of my power to thus bless this people, but the gift has been placed within the reach of every person by the purchase of the Son of God, and it is for them to obtain it, or to pass along without obtaining it, just as they may choose.
How could they tell if they were seeing through new eyes? It relates to hearts; people will feel them changing. Desires, outlook and attitudes will be enlightened; as King Benjamin's people expressed, they will not have a "disposition to do evil, but to do good continually" (see Mosiah 5:2):
If many of this congregation knew, if they had eyes to see, and ears to hear, they would often be ashamed of their conduct, when contrasted with all the light that has been manifested in the Gospel of salvation revealed to us.
New eyes let one know they can do better, and give a desire to do so, having faith that Christ has forgiven their sins and paid the penalty for them. Clearly, this process can be uncomfortable, then, and Saints are liable to slip off the path:
We have heard Joseph the Prophet preach, have seen his face, and have the revelations given through him, and the manifestations of the Holy Spirit; we have knowledge, we have the living oracles in our midst, and with all this let me say to the Latter-day Saints that they stand upon slippery places. They do not all fully know the paths they walk in, they do not all perfectly understand their own ways and doings, many do not altogether realize their own weaknesses, do not understand the power of the devil and how liable they are to be decoyed one hair's breadth, to begin with, from the line of truth. They are first drawn by a fine line, in a little time it becomes a cord, it soon increases to a strong rope, and from that to a cable; thus it grows from the size of a spider's web, in comparison.

Let a Saint diverge from the path of truth and rectitude, in the least, no matter in what, it may be in a deal with his neighbor, in lusting after that which is not in his possession, in neglecting his duty, in having an over-anxiety for something he should not be anxious about, in being a little distrustful with regard to the providences of God, in entertaining a misgiving in his heart and feeling with regard to the hand of the Lord towards him, and his mind will begin to be darkened...

If you become dark, do you not know that the enemy has still greater power to decoy you further from the path? Then how soon the people would go to destruction, how soon they would go to ruin!
Brigham genuinely cared for his people, and the last thing he wanted to see was people losing their faith in God. Consequently, he felt it necessary to call them to repentance; else through complacency they lose the influence of the Spirit and fall away. Perhaps foreshadowing the coming "Mormon Reformation,"[1] Brigham warned he would preach "pitchforks":
I will tell you what this people need, with regard to preaching; you need, figuratively, to have it rain pitchforks, tines downwards, from this pulpit, Sunday after Sunday. Instead of the smooth, beautiful, sweet, still, silk-velvet-lipped preaching, you should have sermons like peals of thunder, and perhaps we then can get the scales from our eyes. This style is necessary in order to save many of this people. Give them smooth preaching, and let them glide along in their own desires and wishes, and they will follow after the traditions of their forefathers and the inclinations of their own wicked hearts, and give way to temptation, little by little, until, by and bye, they are ripe for destruction…

I know the condition of this people, I know what induces them to do as they do, I know...the temptations and evils that are around them, and how liable they are to be drawn away. Consequently, I tell you brethren, that you need to have the thunders of the Almighty and the forked lightnings of truth sent upon you, to wake you up out of your lethargy.
He was just getting warmed up, it seems:
Some may say, "Brother Brigham always chastises us."

But what do I tell you? I say that if there are any Saints on earth they are here, if the kingdom of God is on the earth it is here, if Jesus is not known here, he is not known upon the earth, if his Father is not known here, He is not known upon the earth.

What of all this? If we have this knowledge greater is the shame, unless we live to it, and greater will be our condemnation. The people should be preached to, but they need something besides smooth teaching. Comparatively speaking, they should have their ears cuffed and be roughly handled, be kicked out doors, and then kicked in again. Most of the Elders who preach in this stand ought to be kicked out of it, and then kicked into it again, until they overhaul themselves and find out what is the matter with them.
In other words: where much is given, much is required (see D&C 82:3; Luke 12:48).

Brigham believed it folly to covet the things of the world or to view individual property as something of great import. Preoccupation with wealth can prevent seeing through new eyes. Soon, everything one contributes is seen incorrectly as a great sacrifice:
The mass of the people are all asleep together, craving after the world, running after wickedness, desiring this, that, and the other, which is not for their good.
You hear many talk about having made sacrifices; if I had that word in my vocabulary I would blot it out. I have never yet made what I call sacrifices; in my experience I know nothing about making them. We are here in this wicked world, a world shrouded in darkness, principally led, directed, governed, and controlled, from first to last, by the power of our common foe—him who was opposed to Jesus Christ and to his kingdom—the son of the morning—the devil.[2]
More steps would be taken in the future to prevent Mormons from being caught up in worldly luxury, speculating and class divisions.[3] From his sermons it seems Brigham might have felt somewhat constrained in what he could teach the saints, as evidenced by his next statements:
I cannot tell you the whole truth, for you are not in a condition to receive it; my voice is not powerful enough to pierce your hearts; I alone am not able to remove the scales from your eyes that you may see things as they are. I can talk to you here, and diffuse my spirit among you, so far as you will receive it.

If I have the Spirit of the Lord, and your hearts are soft, I can impart to you what the Lord has for you through me; that is all I can do.

I have to cling to my Father, to my God, and to my religion every day, yes, every moment of my life; have to plead with Him and center all my confidence, hopes, and faith in Him, and so should you.
Brigham had to cling close to God and expected the Saints to do the same. He greatly desired them to gain their own testimony, to receive their new eyes; only they could do it for themselves:
There is one thing I desire of this people more than everything else on this earth, more than gold, silver, houses, lands, and the riches of this world which are not to compare with it, and that is that this people would so live as to know the Father and the Son, to know the will of God concerning them, and to be filled with the Holy Ghost, and have the visions of eternity opened to them. Then my soul would be satisfied; that is all I could ask of them. I do not care whether we have half rations, or quarter rations, that is a matter I care but little about.[4]
From here it seems Brigham sent a few more pitchforks out in hyperbolic tones. He felt a great desire to protect the Saints by warning them to be righteous, and expressed his feelings in a parable:
Suppose one of my brethren had a large family connection, had many brothers and sisters near and dear to him...and that this blood connection, embracing all the friends he had upon earth, should, on a night so dark that they could not see one inch before their eyes, mount their horses, put spurs to them, and start at the top of their speed on a road that neither they nor their horses had ever traveled one inch upon.

Would he not cry at the top of his voice, "Where are you going?" Would he not say, "You are riding in the dark and on a road which you do not know?"

They might put spurs in their horses and reply, "We will perform the journey."

You are the individuals I am referring to. Let any one see people hastening to the brink of an awful precipice, hundreds of feet in depth, and before they are aware of it, about to leap into the abyss, what feelings would move the individual looking upon such a sight? Would he not wish to take them by the hair of their heads, if they would not stop, and save them if possible?
So I feel about you. I feel like taking men and women by the hair of their heads, figuratively speaking, and slinging them miles and miles, and like crying, stop, before you ruin yourselves!
Brigham knew grabbing people by the "hair of their heads" wouldn't do:

But I have not the power to do this. I can talk to you a little and can beseech you to stop your mad career, and can ask your Father in heaven to give you the light of His Spirit...
During the "Mormon Reformation," Brigham and other leaders preached fiery discourses with the intent of stirring the people up to repentance, sometimes verbally taking people by the hair of the head. Much of the materials used by critics of the LDS Church to malign Brigham Young have come from these sermons. The following statement is an example; take it for what it's worth. It seems some of the fiery rhetoric had adverse affects; some have surmised it led to some of the terrible decisions resulting in the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

I couple his remarks with his previous statements of this sermon that all he could really do was "talk a little" and "pray" for the saints, rather than carry out hyperbolic threats.
The time is coming when justice will be laid to the line and righteousness to the plummet; when we shall take the old broad sword and ask, “Are you for God?” and if you are not heartily on the Lord's side, you will be hewn down. I feel like reproving you; you are like a wild ass that rears and almost breaks his neck before he will be tamed. It is so with this people.
Have we not given you salt enough to season you? You have been sweetened with velvet lips, until you do not know salt from anything else. Will you hear now? If I have strength and continue to feel like it, I will come here and train you every Sabbath, and I wish my sermons to be like the raining of pitchforks point foremost, until you awake out of your sleep and find out whether you are Saints or not.
Pitchforks, indeed! He then expressed a theme to which he often referred; the great gospel net that gathers all kinds:
We have a great many gars, sharks, sheepheads, lamper-eels, and every other kind of fish that is to be found, in the pond; the Gospel net has gathered them up, and what may you expect from such a mess?

You may expect the best and worst of all God's creation mingled here together. The foolish will turn from correct principles, go over to the wicked, and cease to be righteous, so that they can go to hell with the fools. I wish to have every man who rises to speak from this stand, lay aside the smooth tongue and velvet lips and let his words be like melted lead, that they may sink into the hearts of the people.
Given his somewhat harsh remarks, Brigham closed by admonishing the Saints, telling them he had faith in them:

Now do not think that I have cast you off; you are my brethren, if I have any. If there are any Saints on the face of the earth they are here...

Learn to live your religion day by day, and do right all the time. Let us strive to get more light, more of the grace and power of God, that we may increase therein, which is my prayer continually. May God bless you: Amen (JD 3:221-227).


For more on the Mormon Reformation, see "Rebaptism and the Mormon Reformation."

Brigham here also expressed his views on Satan and his hosts:

Lucifer has almost the entire control over the whole earth, rules and governs the children of men and leads them on to destruction. He has millions and millions of agents; they are in every place, the air is full of them and the earth is full of them. You cannot go anywhere without finding some of them, unless it is among a few of the Saints who have faith to turn them out of their hearts and affections, out of their houses, and then out of their midst. There are a few such places on the earth, but they are very few, compared with all the world beside.
See Leonard Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom: Economic History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The winter of 1855-1856 was especially harsh and in addition to other circumstances, conditions in the Territory had become desperate. Food rations were introduced along with other measures to mitigate the near-famine. For more on these conditions see Arrington, pp.150-160.

Orig. posted 11/14/2007. Updated and expanded 7/21/2008


Justin said...

This sermon brings to mind an old Sunstone article by Ron Walker, "Raining Pitchforks: Brigham Young as Preacher."

LifeOnaPlate said...

Awesome, Justin; thanks much for the link.

Ardis Parshall said...

I don't often comment, but I almost always read. Brigham's voice is one of a kind, and those who limit themselves to the outrageous one-liners here and there are missing a real treat. Not only is he a greater thinker than he is often credited with being, but he also can turn a phrase as demonstrated repeatedly in the paragraphs you quote.

Can you even think of Brigham being squeezed into the parameters of television or radio broadcast?

LifeOnaPlate said...

The Brigham Hour.

Bryce Haymond said...

Thank you so much for your post. I needed to read that today.

LifeOnaPlate said...

Thank you kindly, Brother Haymond. I love your site.

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