July 25, 2008

Spoiled Elders

Brigham Young
August 31, 1856

It had been several years since Brigham Young completed his last mission abroad; he returned from England in 1841, his travels ever after confined to the Great Basin. By 1856 Brigham felt the missionaries had many advantages over their predecessors. Missionaries would collect tithing and either send it on to Salt Lake or use it in their labors. Many missionaries, according to Brigham, were too spendy. Apparently some would "credit" the tithes to the church in behalf of the payer, but keep it to use for missionary work, etc.:

...Now we do a great deal for our missionaries, for they gather money on tithing, and ask me to credit such and such a man so much on tithing; this course tends to shut up every avenue for business here.

We do not receive cash on tithing from abroad, because our missionaries are so liberal, and feel so rich, that they gather every dollar that can be scraped up, and then come here and have it credited to such and such individuals on tithing, without handing over the money. This course hedges up the work at headquarters.
Did I have that privilege? No, never; and men should not have it now.
Most missionaries, Brigham felt, had it much easier. Perhaps they would become spoiled:
I do not wish to find fault with our missionaries, but many of them now live on cream and shortcake, butter, honey, light biscuit, and sweetmeats, while we had to take the buttermilk and potatoes. That kind of fare was good enough for us, but now it is shortcake and cream, light biscuit, with butter and honey, and sweetmeats of every kind, and even then some of them think that they are abused.

I see some here who did not have as good fare as buttermilk and potatoes [when they served]; I see some of the brethren who have been to Australia, the East Indies, etc. When I returned from England, I said it is the last time I will travel as I have done, unless the Lord specially requires me to do so;[1] for if we could ride even as comfortably as brother Woodruff once rode on one of the Mississippi steamboats we considered ourselves well off. All the bed he had was the chines of barrels, with his feet hanging on a brace, and he thought himself well off to get the privilege of riding in any shape, to escape constant walking. 
How do they go now? They take the first cabins, cars, and carriages. I wish to see them cross the Plains on foot, and then have wisdom enough to preach their way to the city of New York, and there, in the same manner, to get money enough to cross the ocean [much like Brigham had done (2)]. But no, they must start from here with a full purse, and take broadcloth from here, or money to buy it in the States, and hire first cabin passages in the best ocean steamers; and after all this many think it is hard times.
Brigham wanted the elders to experience similar hardships the earlier missionaries had encountered. He was also aware that the Church had established a little credit, and some missionaries could take loans out in its name. A good reputation in the east for Mormons?:
I want to see the Elders live on buttermilk and potatoes, and when they return be more faithful. But they go as missionaries of the kingdom of God, and when they have been gone a year or two, many of them come back merchants, and how they swell, “how popular ‘Mormonism’ is, we can get trusted in St. Louis for ten thousand dollars as well as not, and in New York brother Brigham's word is so good that we can get all the goods we want; ‘Mormonism’ is becoming quite popular.” Yes, and so are hell and the works of the devil.

When “Mormonism” finds favor with the wicked in this land, it will have gone into the shade; but until the power of the Priesthood is gone, “Mormonism” will never become popular with the wicked. “Mormonism” is not one farthing better than it was in the days of Joseph (JD 4:37-38).


Brigham traveled often throughout the Great Basin, but his last mission to the United States or abroad ended when he returned from England to Nauvoo on July 1, 1841aside from his political mission to spread word about Joseph Smith's presidential candidacy in 1844). Joseph Smith, apparently pleased with what Brigham had done, visited him and delivered a revelation:
Dear and well beloved Brother Brigham Young, verily thus saith the Lord unto you, my servant Brigham, it is no more required at your hands to leave your family as in times past, for your offering is acceptable to me; I have seen your labor and toil in journeyings for my name. I therefore command you to send my word abroad, and take special care of your family from this time, henceforth and forever. Amen. (Leonard Arrington, Brigham Young: American Moses, p. 96.)
As Arrington noted, the last entry in Brigham's journal for that period, January 18, 1842, was a "poignant understatement":
This evening I am with my love alone by my fireside for the first time for years. We injoi it and feele to prase the Lord." (ibid. 97).
For more on the hardships and accomplishments of Brigham during the British mission, see Arrington, Brigham Young: American Moses, pp. 79-96. On preaching without purse or scrip, see "Brigham's Bottomless Trunk" and "Without Purse or Pig."

July 23, 2008

The Development of the Word of Wisdom

George A. Smith
Brigham Young
Amasa Lyman

Photograph by Gisbert Bossard [1]

June 1, 1844 - Drank a glass of beer at Mooessers [2]
This entry was written in the personal journal of Joseph Smith eleven years after the Word of Wisdom was revealed to the Prophet. Instances like this may surprise some members of the LDS Church who, perhaps, remain unfamiliar with the "line upon line" process in which the Word of Wisdom developed over time. Other members, learning about the relaxed approach to the Word of Wisdom common during the early period of Church history feel history vindicates current disobedience to the Word of Wisdom, as well as other commandments as taught by the Church. Today the Word of Wisdom is taught as a commandment, and a requirement for entry to the temple, though this was not always the case.

Even at Carthage Jail the brethren, according to John Taylor, sent for some wine:

Sometime after dinner we sent for some wine. It has been reported by some that this was taken as a sacrament. It was no such thing; our spirits were generally dull and heavy, and it was sent for to revive us. I think it was Captain Jones who went after it, but they would not suffer him to return.

I believe we all drank of the wine, and gave some to one or two of the prison guards. We all of us felt unusually dull and languid, with a remarkable depression of spirits. In consonance with those feelings I sang a song, that had lately been introduced into Nauvoo, entitled, 'A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief', etc. (History of the Church, Vol. 7, p.101).
These incidental occurrences are slight in comparison to Joseph Sr.'s struggles with alcohol; an aspect of the prophet's father I was unfamiliar with until I read Richard Bushman's biography of Joseph Smith. Fortunately he seems to have eventually put this habit down.[3]

Outside influences (temperance movements the opinions of physicians etc.) likely helped the Word of Wisdom along. Today it may be claimed that the Word of Wisdom preceded medical knowledge regarding the substances mentioned therein. Some scholars have argued otherwise. For example, in the 1830s temperance societies flourished, including one near Kirtland, helping to shut down a distillery. In New York, a society spearheaded by Sylvester Graham of "graham cracker" fame, spoke out against tobacco, alcohol, tea, coffee and harmful substances. It is very likely Joseph would have been familiar with the movements. Other influences included common physician opinions on temperance in eating habits, etc.[4]

This brings us to 1833 when, in the School of the Prophets, Emma had complained about the smoke-filled room and was tired of cleaning up tobacco juice. She importuned Joseph, who importuned the Lord, and Section 89 was born. [5]

The Word of Wisdom was instituted as counsel and "breaking" (in our modern understanding of the Word of Wisdom) was not extremely uncommon. Still, members of the Church were often called before a High Council over various offenses, the Word of Wisdom among, but not the chief, reasons. One such example was David Whitmer, who was excommunicated based on 5 different charges, one of which was breaking of the Word of Wisdom.

The Journal of Discourses occasionally contains references to the Word of Wisdom. On March 18, 1855 George A. Smith related the story of a particular family who apostatized after seeing what they believed was inconsistency in the application of the Word of Wisdom:

I know persons who apostatized because they supposed they had reasons. For instance, a certain family, after having traveled a long journey, arrived in Kirtland, and the Prophet asked them to stop with him until they could find a place. Sister Emma, in the mean time, asked the old lady if she would have a cup of tea to refresh her after the fatigues of the journey, or a cup of coffee. This whole family apostatized because they were invited to take a cup of tea or coffee, after the Word of Wisdom was given (JD 2:211).
In 1842 a small controversy over part of the Word of Wisdom led to an editorial written at Nauvoo by Hyrum Smith delineating tea and coffee as the specific substances referred to as "hot drinks" (see Times & Seasons, 3:800) indicating that the revelation was still being understood differently by various members of the Church.

The revelation was still seen as 'non-binding' to the Church as the Saints prepared to migrate from Iowa to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847 the Word of Wisdom was still seen as non-binding; on the list of required items for the journey tea and coffee were present. Because of the poor harvest of 1849 in the Salt Lake valley, a regulation prohibiting the use of corn in making whiskey was passed, any corn intended for that use was to be "given to the poor." (Leonard J. Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-day Saints, 1830-1900, p. 59.) By 1850-51 overland travelers headed for the gold in California were stopping off in Utah, where the Saints accommodated them by establishing, or allowing for the establishment, of "a great many grog shops," selling locally brewed whiskey, a "valley tan" rum, green tea, and a "very light and wholesome beer." (ibid., 70).

At a conference of the Church September 9, 1851, John Smith, Patriarch to the Church and uncle of the Prophet, spoke on Word of Wisdom. Brigham Young stood during the address proposing that all Saints abstain fromall things mentioned in the Word of Wisdom.[6] With a "unanimous vote" the Word of Wisdom became binding on the Church. Still, even after that Pres. Young recommended tobacco be grown in the southern part of the territory to eliminate giving money to outsiders for the product, in addition to wine being manufactured in St. George (some for use in the sacrament) as late as 1861. The precise alcoholic content of wine prepared there is not known, as far as I have learned. In the 1860s especially, use of coffee, tea, tobacco, and alcohol were strongly discouraged. In several sermons by Brigham Young he tended to emphasize the economic aspect above the health aspect; using such products, which were usually imported, was wasteful and the money should be better used elsewhere.[7]

For years President Young and others struggled to adhere, and to get all Saints to adhere to the principle. Because the Word of Wisdom took time to implement fully, Brigham encouraged youth not to follow the bad example of those who broke the Word of Wisdom (additionally, he indirectly clarifies the commandment given through Moses, "Thou shalt honor thy father and mother, etc."):
"Why," say you, "I see the older brethren chew tobacco, why should I not do it likewise!"

Thus the boys have taken license from the pernicious habits of others, until they have formed an appetite, a false appetite; and they love a little liquor, and a little tobacco, and many other things that are injurious to their constitutions, and certainly hurtful to their moral character. Take a course that you can know more than your parents. We have had all the traditions of the age in which we were born to contend with; but these young men and women, or the greater part of them, have been born in the Church, and brought up Latter-day Saints, and have received the teachings that are necessary to advance them in the kingdom of God on earth.

If you are in any way suspicious that the acts of your parents are not right, if there is a conviction in your minds that they feed appetites that are injurious to them then it is for you to abstain from that which you see is not good in your parents (July 4, 1854, JD 2:16).
In April 1855 President Young discouraged mothers from using alcohol:
Some mothers, when bearing children, long for tea and coffee, or for brandy and other strong drinks, and if they give way to that influence the next time they will want more, and the next still more, and thus lay the foundation for drunkenness in their offspring. An appetite is engendered, bred, and born in the child, and it is a miracle if it does not grow up a confirmed drunkard (JD 2:266).
In December of the same year, apostle Amasa Lyman, in his typically blunt and animated prose, gave this secret to success regarding the promise in the Word of Wisdom that those who obey will walk and not be weary, run and not faint:

...if you want to run and not weary, walk and not faint, call upon me and I will tell you how-just stop before you get tired...
Elder Lyman said the Word of Wisdom ought to encompass the entire gospel, or that the gospel encompasses it:

The Word of Wisdom was given for a principle, with promise; as a rule of conduct, that should enable the people so to economize their time, and manage and control themselves, as not to eat and drink to excess, or use that which is hurtful to them; that they should be temperate in all things, in the exercise of labor, as well as in eating and drinking. Clothe yourselves properly if you can. Exercise properly if you can, and do right in everything...

Do not stay the work of improvement and reform to pay attention to small things that are beneath your notice, but let it extend through the entire circle of your being, let it reach every relationship in life, and every avocation and duty embraced within your existence…

The Word of Wisdom would itself save you, if you would only keep it, in the true sense and spirit of it, comprehending the purpose for which it was given (JD 3:176).
In 1867 Brigham Young discussed his personal difficulties with the Word of Wisdom::
It is our right and privilege to live so that we may attain to this [being of one heart and mind], so that we may sanctify our hearts before the Lord, and sanctify the Lord God in our hearts, but it is not my privilege to drink liquor, neither is it my privilege to eat tobacco.

Well, bro. Brigham, have you not done it?

Yes, for many years, but I ceased its habitual practice. I used it for toothache; now I am free from that pain, and my mouth is never stained with tobacco. It is not my privilege to drink liquor nor strong tea and coffee, although I am naturally a great lover of tea. Brethren and sisters, it is not our privilege to indulge in these things, but it is our right and privilege to set an example worthy of imitation (JD 12:27).
Indeed, Young returned to chewing after his toothaches came back, until eventually he had them all pulled and wore a set of false teeth for the rest of his life.

It wasn't until about 1921 that Heber J. Grant made observance of the Word of Wisdom a requirement to enter the Temple. Joseph Lynn Lyon surmised the prohibition movement, "spearheaded by the Protestant Evangelical churches in America, focused on alcohol consumption as a political rather than a moral issue," and brought the Word of Wisdom into Church limelight.[7]

Some people I've spoken with express concerns that the Word of Wisdom isn't applied equally in all areas; that more emphasis could be put in the aspects of eating right, exercising, etc. I believe these aspects should be attended to by each individual, but the minimum requirements in the Temple recommend interview stick to the "spirit of the law" as was lived in the early days of the Church. Some early Church leaders put more importance on the issue of eating properly than others. For example, John A. Widtsoe wrote an entire book, The Word of Wisdom: A Modern Interpretation, which contained extensive chapters on diet. What about caffeine? (See FAIR's "Ask the Apologist" selection by Suzanne Armitage regarding caffeine.) What about fad diets? I believe if one must listen to the Spirit, as well as pay attention to one's body, to find the proper balance.[8]

Finally, what's a post about the Word of Wisdom without a J. Golden Kimball anecdote?
Uncle Golden's struggles with the Word of Wisdom sometimes forced him into ironic circumstances. On one occasion, he was asked to go to Cache Valley where the stake president had decided to call all the Melchizedek priesthood holders together for the purpose of emphasizing the importance of the Word of Wisdom. Uncle Golden didn't realize this was going to be the theme until he got there. As a matter of fact, he didn't know what he was to speak about until the stake president announced it in introducing Uncle Golden: 'J. Golden Kimball will now speak to us on the subject of the Word of Wisdom.'

Uncle Golden didn't know what to say. He stood at the pulpit for a long time waiting for some inspiration; he didn't want to be a hypocrite and he knew he had problems with this principle. So finally he looked at the audience and said, 'I'd like to know how many of you brethren have never had a puff on a cigarette in all your life. Would you please stand?'

Well, Uncle Golden related later that much to his amazement most of the brethren in that audience stood. He looked at them for a long time and then said, 'Now, all of you that are standing, I want to know how many of you have never had a taste of whiskey in all your life. If you have, sit down.'

Again, to Uncle Golden's amazement, only a few of the brethren sat down. The rest of them stood there proudly looking at him and then there was a long silence. I guess Uncle Golden thought they looked a little too self-righteous, because his next comment was, 'Well, brethren, you don't know what the hell you've missed' (J. Golden Nuggets, More Words Of Wisdom By James N. Kimball, Sunstone 10:3/41 [Mar. 1985]).

As I discover more sermons regarding the Word of Wisdom I'll continue to add them to this post.


An excellent overview of criticism- as well as the development of- the Word of Wisdom was written by Michael Ash, and can be found on the FAIR website. My post is a very brief sketch of a complex issue.

This photograph was taken in 1911 by Prussian convert Gisbert Bossard, who after becoming disaffected from Church leaders, was convinced by a man named Max Florence to sneak inside the temple at night to take photographs. Bossard and Florence attempted to blackmail the Church, demanding the First Presidency pay them $100,000, or they'd publish the pictures. Joseph F. Smith responded, saying "I will make no bargain with thieves or traffickers in stolen goods. I prefer to let the law deal with them." Thus, James E. Talmage was commissioned to write The House of the Lord, which the Church promised would contain full color photographs, and more information about temple worship. This was calculated, it seems, to eliminate interest in the photographs elsewhere. It has been claimed the photo depicts white spittoons at the foot of several chairs. As today's post explains, compliance to the Word of Wisdom in order to enter the Temple was not required until 1921. For more on the photograph episode, see "Explaining the Temple to the World: James E. Talmage's Monumental Book, The House of the Lord," by David R. Seely. See also,  Kent Walgren,Inside the Salt Lake Temple: Gisbert Bossard’s 1911 Photographs,” Dialogue 29 (3) Fall 1996: 1-43.

Source: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, edited by Scott H. Faulring, Signature Books, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1989, pg. 486


Regarding the wine at Carthage Jail, Lester E. Bush, Jr. refers to a medical opinion of Joseph's day stating that a "moderate quantity of wine" could be helpful in warding off sickness and distress when one is under the "influence of anxious and depressing watchfulness." See Bush, "The Word of Wisdom in Early Nineteenth-Century Perspective," Dialogue 14 (Autumn 1981): 47-65; especially p. 51. Richard Bushman discusses Joseph Sr.'s intemperance:
"The vicissitudes of life seem to have weighed heavily on Joseph, Sr. In a patriarchal blessing given to Hyrum, Dec. 9, 1834, Joseph, Sr., commended Hyrum for the respect he paid his father despite difficulties: 'Though he has been out of the way through wine, thou hast never forsaken him nor laughed him to scorn.' (Hyrum Smith Papers, Church Archives.) Since there is no evidence of intemperance after the organization of the church, Joseph, Sr., likely referred to a time before 1826 when Hyrum married and left home" (Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism, p. 208)
See Lester E. Bush, Jr. "The Word of Wisdom in Early Nineteenth-Century Perspective," Dialogue 14 (Autumn 1981):47-65; Whitney R. Cross, The Burned-Over District, 235; Paul H. Peterson, "An Historical Analysis of the Word of Wisdom," M.A. Thesis, Brigham Young University, 1972, p. 13.

This story regarding the Word of Wisdom in the school of prophets was recounted by Brigham Young, though he was not in attendance at the time, (see JD 12:157-158).

David Whitmer told a slightly different account in a newspaper article 50 years after the meeting.
Quite a little party of the brethren and sisters being assembled in the Smith's house. Some of the men were excessive chewers of the filthy weed, and their disgusting slobbering and spitting caused Mrs. Smith...to make the ironical remark that 'It would be a good thing if a revelation could be had declaring the use of tobacco a sin, and commanding its suppression.' The matter was taken up and joked about, one of the brethren suggest that the revelation should also provide for a total abstinence form tea and coffee drinking, intending this as a counter dig at the sisters. Sure enough the subject was afterward taken up in dead earnest, and the 'Word of Wisdom' was the result (Des Moines Daily News (Des Moines, Iowa), October 16, 1886; as quoted by Peterson, "An Historical Analysis," 20-21, fully notated in 6 below).
It should be noted Whitmer had apostatized at the time of the articles publication, but the general feeling of his statements agree with Brigham Young's account that Emma had some influence in the reception of the revelation.

Zebedee Coltrin, who was present at the school when the revelation was presented, recounted his experience in 1883 when the School of the Prophets was revived by President John Taylor:

When the Word of Wisdom was first presented by the Prophet Joseph (as he came out of the translating room) and was read to the School, there were twenty out of the twenty-one who used tobacco and they all immediately threw their tobacco and pipes into the fire.
According to Coltrin, it took longer for the school to refrain from tea and coffee:

Those who gave up using tobacco eased off on licorice root, but there was not easing off on tea and coffee, these they had to give up straight off or their fellowship was jeopardized. [Coltrin]never saw the Prophet Joseph drink tea or coffee again until at Dixon about ten years after (Source: Minutes, Salt Lake City School of the Prophets, October 3, 1883).
It has been suggested that President Taylor revived the school, in part, to encourage the brethren to obey the Word of Wisdom.

“Minutes of the General Conference,” Millennial Star, 1 Feb. 1852, p. 35

Peterson, op. cit. p. 64. A brief online historical sketch of St. George also mentions the wine. See Utah's Dixie History, accessed Sept. 12, 2007. See also the online article by Joseph Lynn Lyon, "The Word of Wisdom," accessed on Jeff Lindsay's Light Planet, September 12, 2007. Leonard J. Arrington discusses the economic aspects in Great Basin Kingdom, p. 223, and in "An Economic Interpretation of the 'Word of Wisdom."' BYU Studies 1 (Winter 1959):37-49.

See "Healthy Outlook: Fad Diets and the Word of Wisdom," by Dr. Stan Gardner. Accessed on the Meridian Magazine site, Sept. 12, 2007.

General Bibliography: 

Leonard J. Arrington, "An Economic Interpretation of the 'Word of Wisdom," BYU Studies 1 (Winter 1959): 37-49.

Paul H. Peterson, "An Historical Analysis of the Word of Wisdom," M.A. Thesis, Brigham Young University, 1972.

Lester E. Bush, Jr. "The Word of Wisdom in Early Nineteenth-Century Perspective," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 14:3 (Autumn 1981):47-65;

Thomas G. Alexander, "The Word of Wisdom: From Principle to Requirement," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 14:3 (Autumn 1981) pp. 78–88.

Clyde Ford, “The Origin of the Word of Wisdom,” Journal of Mormon History 24:2 (Fall 1998), 129–54.

Paul H. Peterson and Ronald W. Walker “Brigham Young’s Word of Wisdom Legacy,” BYU Studies 42:3-4, 2003.

Orig. posted 9/12/2007. Updated and revised 7/2008.

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