Prophets And Counsel
Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the House of Israel; therefore hear the words at my mouth, and give them warning from me.
When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.
Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou has delivered thy soul.
Bible, Ezekiel 3:17–19
Heed the Words of the Prophets(1) The Lord has always ministered to the people through his servants. To ancient Judah he said, Believe in the Lord your God, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper. (II Chronicles 20:20)
A definite responsibility is associated with rejecting Gods servants. In New Testament times he said to the ancient 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 Gomorrah in the Day of Judgment than for that city.
It is a serious thing to fight against the leaders of the Church.
In Luke he said, He that heareth you heareth me and he that despiseth you despiseth me and he that despiseth me de-spiseth him that send me. [p. 4]
Yet, at another time the Savior said, 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 prophets reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous mans reward.
There is only one attitude the Lord expects his people to take with regard to his servantsthat is to honor them as God honors them. (Mark E. Petersen, CN-4/23/50)
To me, the word comes from brother Brigham [President of the Church] as the word of the Lord; but how many there are who disregard it. He is the delegate that God has appointed to be Josephs [Joseph Smith] successor, and his word is the word of the Lord, whether it is written or not; whether it comes out as revelation or not, it is the word of God to those who believe and practise it; and when this is done the blessings of the Lord God will rest upon this people to that degree that you cannot conceive nor imagine. (Heber C. Kimball, 1854, JD-2:159)
The very moment that we set aside the living oracles we set aside the revelations of God. Why? Because the revelations of God command us plainly that we shall hearken to the living oracles. Hence, if we undertake to follow the written word, and at the same time do not give heed to the living oracles of God, the written word will condemn us; it shows that we do not follow it according to our profession . . . .
There is one thing I will assure you ofGod will never reveal anything to me, or to any other man, which will come in contact with the views and revelations which he gives to the man who holds the keys. We never need expect such a thing. (Orson Pratt, 1860, JD-7:373, 5)
President David O. McKay is a prophet of the Living God. If you are the type of person who would have believed that Moses was a prophet, had you lived in his day, you know that President McKay is a prophet. If you would have accepted Elijah or even the Son of Man, you will accept President David O. McKay as a prophet of the Living God . . . . The things the peoples of the world need today are ears to hear the living prophet, because we already have one. (Marion G. Romney, CR-4/55:31)
The authorities which the Lord has placed in his Church constitute for the people of the Church a harbor, a place of refuge, a hitching post, as it were. No one in this Church will ever go far astray who ties himself securely to the Church Authorities whom the Lord has placed in his Church. This [p. 5] Church will never go astray; the Quorum of the Twelve will never lead you into bypaths; it never has and never will.
There could be individuals who would falter; there will never be a majority of the Council of the Twelve on the wrong side at any time. The Lord has chosen them; he has given them specific responsibilities. And those people who stand close to them will be safe. And, conversely, whenever one begins to go his own way in opposition to authority, he is in grave danger. I would not say that those leaders whom the Lord chooses are necessarily the most brilliant, nor the most highly trained, but they are the chosen, and when chosen of the Lord they are his recognized authority, and the people who stay close to them have safety. (Spencer W. Kimball, CR-4/51:104)
When does a Prophet Speak as a Prophet? This is an old question. It was asked of the Prophet Joseph Smith and answered by him. He writes in his journal, This morning . . . I visited with a brother and sister from Michigan, who thought that a prophet is always a prophet; but I told them that a prophet is a prophet only when he was acting as such. (Joseph Smith, DHC-5:265)
That statement makes a clear distinction between official and unofficial actions and utterances of officers of the Church. In this recorded statement the Prophet Joseph Smith recognizes his special right and duty, as the President and Prophet of the Church, under the inspiration of the Lord, to speak authoritatively and officially for the enlightenment and guidance of the Church. But he claims also the right, as other men, to labor and rest, to work and play, to visit and discuss, to present his opinions and hear the opinions of others, to counsel and bless as a member of the Church.
Whenever moved upon by the Spirit of the Lord, the man called to the prophets office assumes the prophetic mantle and speaks as a mouthpiece of the Lord. He may then interpret the word of God, apply it to the conditions of the day, governmental, social, or economic, warn against impending evil, point out the better way, bring to light new truth, or bless the righteous in their endeavors. Such inspired deliverances are binding upon all who believe that the latter-day work came and is directed, by revelation. There is no appeal from them; no need for debate concerning their validity. They must either be accepted or be subjected to the dangers of private interpretation. This has been made plain in modern revelation: Wherefore, meaning the church, thou shalt give heed unto all his (Josephs) words [p. 6] and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me;
For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith (D. & C. 21:4, 5). In this commandment there is no limitation upon the prophet, as to subject, time, or place.
Such official prophetic utterances to the Church are usually made in the great general conferences of the Church, or in signed statements circulated among the people. The phrase Thus sayeth the Lord may at times be used; but is not necessary . . . . If a new doctrine or practice be involved in the revelation, it is presented to the people for acceptance, in recognition of the free agency of the Church itself, but once accepted, it is thereafter binding upon every member.
Though the prophet may step out of his official role in dealing with the daily affairs of life, he can never divest himself of the spirit and influence which belong to the sacred of fice which the Lord has placed upon him. The faith and readiness to do the work of the Lord, which fitted him for his high office, shape his life in harmony with the eternal principles and purposes of the gospel. Though often humble by the worlds measure, in gifts and ability, he lives under inspired guidance, which makes him great among men, and therefore, his unofficial expressions carry greater weight than the opinions of other men of equal or greater gifts and experience but without the power of the prophetic office. It would be wisdom on all occasions and with respect to all subjects in any field of human activity, to hearken to the prophets voice. There is safety and ultimate happiness in following the counsel that may be received from the prophet.
Men are called to the prophetic office because of their humility and their willingness to be in the hands of the Lord as clay in the hands of the potter. Yet a man called to the prophetic office is almost without exception of high native endowment, often with large experience in life, and possessed of wisdom and sound judgment. That is, the prophet, though but a man, is an able man, rising in ability above the multitude. An examination of sacred history from Adam to the present will show that able men, in the words of Jethro, men such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness (Exodus 18:21), has been called to the prophetic office. The unofficial views and expressions of such a man with respect to any vital subject, should command respectful attention. Wise men seek the counsel of those wiser or abler than themselves. [p. 7]
Every member of the Church, and all men for that matter, would do well to give heed, and indeed should do so, to any public utterance or to the unofficial counsel of the man who has been called to the office of prophet. One cannot limit him by saying that on some subjects pertaining to human welfare he may not speak. The spiritual and the temporal have ever been blended in the Church of Christ. Obedience to the counsels of the prophet brings individual and collective power and joy. Of all men, the prophet of the Lord should, at all times, have most influence with the Latter-day Saints. No other cause can be greater than that of the Church of Christ.
How may the rank and file of the Church recognize the prophetic voice, whether official or unofficial when it speaks? The answer is simple enough. A person who is in harmony in his life, in thought and practice, with the gospel and its requirements, who loves truth so well that he is willing to surrender to it, will recognize a message from the Lord. My sheep know my voice, said the Savior in the Meridian of Time. In this day, the Lord has given the key for our guidance.
Verily I say unto you, he that is ordained of me and sent forth to preach the word of truth by the Comforter, in the Spirit of truth, doth he preach it by the Spirit of truth or some other way?
And if it be by some other way it is not of God.
And again, he that receiveth the word of truth, doth he receive it by the Spirit of truth or some other way?
If it be some other way it is not of God.
Therefore, why is it that you cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth?
Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together. And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness. (D. & C. 50:17-23)
Thus, the burden of proof is upon the hearer, not alone upon the speaker. Whoever quibbles about the validity of a message of the prophet would do well to engage in a serious self-examination. Is the trouble with him? Perhaps he is not in tune with truth. Perhaps he does not live the law of the gospel in such manner as to respond to the message of truth . . . . . .
In the daily lives of Latter-day Saints it is best to listen carefully to the counsel of the prophet concerning any subject upon which he speaks, whether technically official or unofficial. Note the words of Brigham Young: [p. 8]
The Lord Almighty leads this Church, and He will not suffer you to be led astray if you are found doing your duty. You may go home and sleep as sweetly as a babe in its mothers arms, as to any danger of your leaders leading you astray, for if they should try to do so the Lord would quickly sweep them from the earth. Your leaders are trying to live their religion as far as they are capable of doing so. (JD-9:289)
That is as true today as in the days of President Young.
The history of the restored Church is evidence that counsel given by the Prophet and President of the Church has always been found to be for the best good of the people. They who follow their own inclinations in opposition to the light that comes from the head of the Lords Priesthood on earth are never gainers thereby. To argue whether this or that utterance is official and therefore should not be obeyed, is at best a futile exercise. (John A. Widtsoe, 1943, Evidences and Reconciliations, 1:182-7)
Their Inspired Words are Scripture. When one of the brethren stands before a congregation of the people today, and the inspiration of the Lord is upon him, he speaks that which the Lord would have him speak. It is just as much scripture as anything you will find written in any of these records, and yet we call these the standard works of the Church . . . .
There is only one man in the Church at a time who has the right to give revelation for the Church, and that is the President of the Church . . . .
The word of the Lord, as spoken by other servants at the general conference and stake conferences, or wherever they may be when they speak that which the Lord has put into their mouths, is just as much the word of the Lord as the writings and the words of other prophets in other dispensations. (Joseph Fielding Smith, 1941, Doctrines of Salvation, 1:186)
The Spirit Testifies Whether Leaders Inspired. I cannot be satisfied with myself, neither can I be satisfied with this people, unless they live in the enjoyment of the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, having the testimony of Jesus within them. When they live in that manner, they are prepared to judge of all matters that come before them; they are then capable of discerning between truth and error, light and darkness. They can then readily discover the things that are not of God, and distinguish them from those that are.
This is the only way for you to know that your leaders are leading you in the path that leads to heaven. Without taking [p. 9] this course, a people or nation is liable to be led astray by their leaders, and thereby be prepared to be destroyed; but when the people understand for themselveswhen they know and understand the things of God by the Spirit of revelation, they are not only satisfied but safe. (President Brigham Young, 1857, JD-5:2)
Living Oracles More Important than Written Word. I will refer to a certain meeting I attended in the town of Kirtland in my early days. At that meeting some remarks were made that have been made here today, with regard to the living oracles and with regard to the written word of God. The same principle was presented, although not as extensively as it has been here, when a leading man in the Church got up and talked upon the subject, and said: You have got the word of God before you here in the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants; you have the written word of God, and you who give revelations should give revelations according to those books, as what is written in those books is the word of God. We should confine ourselves to them.
When he concluded, Brother Joseph turned to Brother Brigham Young and said, Brother Brigham I want you to take the stand and tell us your views with regard to the living oracles and the written word of God. Brother Brigham took the stand, and he took the Bible, and laid it down; he took the Book of Mormon, and laid it down; and he took the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and laid it down before him, and he said: There is the written word of God to us, concerning the work of God from the beginning of the world, almost, to our day. And now, said he, when compared with the living oracles those books are nothing to me; those books do not convey the word of God direct to us now, as do the words of a Prophet or a man bearing the Holy Priesthood in our day and generation. I would rather have the living oracles than all the writing in the books. That was the course he pursued. When he was through, Brother Joseph said to the congregation: Brother Brigham has told you the word of the Lord, and he has told you the truth.
. . . The Bible is all right, the Book of Mormon is all right, the Doctrine and Covenants is all right, and they proclaim the work of God and the word of God in the earth in this day and generation until the coming of the Son of Man; but the Holy Priesthood is not confined particularly to those books, that is, it did not cease when those books were made. (President Wilford Woodruff, CR-10/97:18-9) [p. 10]
A Duty to Follow Counsel. When the counsel of God comes through his servants to us, we should bow to that no matter how much it may come in contact with our pre- conceived ideas; submit to it as though God spoke it, and feel such a reverence towards it as though we believed that the servant of God had the inspiration of the Almighty resting upon him . . . .
I know that if we follow implicitly the counsel of Gods servants when they are inspired to give counsel, even if they may not know everything about the matter, we will be blessed if we bow to it; God will overrule everything for good, and it will result as God wishes it. (George Q. Cannon, 1865, Gospel Truth, p. 350-1)
It is written, For the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. There is a just reason for this saying. But the Latter-day Saints who hearken to the words of the Lord, given to them touching their political, social, and financial concerns, I say, and say it boldly, that they will have wisdom which is altogether superior to the wisdom of the children of darkness, or the children of this world. I know this by the revelations of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by the results of my own actions. They who have hearkened to the counsels given to them in temporal matters, have invariably bettered their condition temporally and spiritually. (President Brigham Young, 1867, JD-12:118)
Example of Criticizing the Prophet. It is an easy thing to believe in the dead prophets, but it is a greater thing to believe in the living prophets. I will give you an illustration.
One day when President Grant was living, I sat in my office across the street following a general conference. A man came over to see me, an elderly man. He was very upset about what had been said in this conference by some of the Brethren, including myself. I could tell from his speech that he came from a foreign land. After I had quieted him enough so he would listen, I said, Why did you come to America? I am here because a prophet of God told me to come. Who was the prophet; I continued. Wilford Woodruff. Do you believe Wilford Woodruff was a prophet of God? Yes, said he. Do you believe that his successor, President Lorenzo Snow, was a prophet of God? Yes, I do. Do you believe that President Joseph F. Smith was a prophet of God? Yes, sir.
Then came the sixty-four dollar question. Do you believe that Heber J. Grant is a prophet of God? His answer, [p. 11] I think he ought to keep his mouth shut about old age assistance.(2)
Now I tell you that a man in his position is on the way to apostasy. He is forfeiting his chances for eternal life. So is everyone Who cannot follow the living Prophet of God. (Marion G. Romney, CR-4/53:125)
When to Stop Counseling the Prophet. The story is told in the early days of the Churchparticularly, I think, at Kirtlandwhere some of the leading brethren in the presiding councils of the Church met secretly and tried to scheme as to how they could get rid of the Prophet Josephs leadership. They made the mistake of inviting Brigham Young to one of these secret meetings. He rebuked them, after he had heard the purpose of their meeting. This is part of what he said: You cannot destroy the appointment of a prophet of God, but you can cut the thread that binds you to the prophet of God, and sink yourselves to hell.
In that same vein, I heard President Clark, shortly after he came into the First Presidency, make an interesting public statement. He said that when President Grant called him to be a Counselor in the First Presidency, he was worried. He had always thought of the President of the Church as the mouthpiece of the Lord, and he wondered how much counseling he ought to give the mouthpiece of the Lord. But he hadnt been long in the Presidency until he discovered his place.
President Grant would say to each of his Counselors, when they were discussing a serious matter, What do you think about it? and What do you think about it? And the Counselors would respond. Sometimes their opinions were in contradiction or in conflict with what the President had thought. There was then the business of resolving the different points of view, but there would always come a time after a sufficient [p. 12] discussion when the President would say: Now brethren, I feel that this is the thing we ought to do. Then President Clark remarked, When he said that, I quit counseling because, to me, that was the prophet of the Lord speaking, and I felt I should not try to dissuade him.
In the history of the Church there have been times or instances where Counselors in the First Presidency and others in high station have sought to overturn the decision or to persuade the President contrary to his inspired judgment, and always, if you will read carefully the history of the Church, such oppositions brought not only disastrous results to those who resisted the decision of the President, but almost always such temporary persuasions were called back for reconsideration, or a reversal of hasty action not in accordance with the feelings, the inspired feelings, of the President of the Church. And that, I submit, is one of the fundamental things that we must never lose sight of in the building of the kingdom of God. (Harold B. Lee, CR-4/63:81)
Criticizing Prophets Leads To Apostasy. A friend . . . wished to know whether we . . . considered an honest difference of opinion between a member of the Church and the Authorities of the Church was apostasy . . . . We replied that we had not stated that an honest difference of opinion between a member of the Church and the Authorities constituted apostasy, for we could conceive of a man honestly differing in opinion from the Authorities of the Church and yet not be an apostate; but we could not conceive of a man publishing those differences of opinion and seeking by arguments, sophistry and special pleading to enforce them upon the people to produce division and strife and to place the acts and counsels of the Authorities of the Church, if possible, in a wrong light and not be an apostate, for such conduct was apostasy as we understood the term.
We further said that while a man might honestly differ in opinion from the Authorities through a want of understanding, he had to be exceedingly careful how he acted in relation to such differences, or the adversary would take advantage of him, and he would soon become imbued with the spirit of apostasy and be found fighting against God and the authority which He had placed here to govern His Church. (George Q. Cannon, Des eret News Editorial, Nov. 3, 1869)
It is not for everyone to judge and condemn Gods servants. It is against such a feeling that the warning is given, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm. (I Chronicles 16:22) We have been taught from the beginning that one of the most dangerous symptoms of apostasy from the [p. 13] Church is speaking evil of the Lords servants; whenever a spirit of this kind takes possession of one who is called a Latter-day Saint, it is sure to grieve the Spirit of God; it invites darkness to enter the mind, and unless it is sincerely repented of, it causes apostasy to follow . . . .
Many think it is part of their privilege in the exercise of free speech to do this and that it is a sign of independence. But there is none of the true liberty of free speech in it; it becomes license and is offensive to the Lord. (George Q. Cannon, JI-29:668)
God has chosen His servants. He claims it as His prerogative to condemn them, if they need condemnation. He has not given it to us individually to censure and condemn them. No man, however strong he may be in the faith, however high in the Priesthood, can speak evil of the Lords anointed and find fault with Gods authority on the earth without incurring His displeasure. The Holy Spirit will withdraw itself from such a man, and he will go into darkness. This being the case, do you not see how important it is that we should be careful? However difficult it may be for us to understand the reason for any action of the authorities of the Church, we should not too hastily call their acts in question and pronounce them wrong. (George Q. Cannon, 1896, Gospel Truth 1:278)
Keep Eye On Captain. Therefore, in times of danger, whatever my own feelings may be and as those who are acquainted with me know, I have pronounced opinions generally upon every subject that is brought up, notwithstanding this characteristic, I look always, and always have looked, to the man whom God has placed to preside over His people. I watch his demeanor. I know that it is for him to give the signal. It is for him to direct the movement of the crew of the Ship Zion. It is for him to direct how she shall be steered, so far as human power is necessary for this purpose; and when there are no indications of fear on his part, when he feels serene and confident, I know that I can do so with the utmost safety and that this entire people can trust in that God who has placed a Prophet, a Seer, and a Revelator to preside over His people upon the earth. (George Q. Cannon 1883, Gospel Truth 1:270)
Watchmen Upon Towers. What are our obligations? Certainly we must warn. After all, we are the watchmen upon the towers. Some of our presiding officers are special watchmen upon the towers, but we are all supposed to be watchmen upon the towers to see the incursion of ills among us, and to warn against them, and teach against them, and to give concepts to our youth which are fundamentally sound and which conform [p. 14] to the righteousness which the Lord has given to us and prescribed for our living. (Stephen L Richards, CN-6/18/52)
The prophets have had vital messages for us in days that are gone, as they have in the critical days that are here. Had we understood and believed their words, many of our diffi culties might have been averted. They have given us counsel on every phase of our living. They have told us the things that would make for happiness and success, and they have pointed out the courses which lead to misery and failure. We should be deeply interested in their words now, as we are searching for causes and remedies, and when we are so urgently in need of formulas to unite and solidify our people and our efforts in the Herculean task before us. Painful as it may be, we must admit our mistakes before we can rectify them. (Stephen L Richards, CR-4/42:65)
Students, Study the Prophets. Now truth, if given as much time and emphasis as error, will invariably prove itself. And if our young students could have as much time studying the truth as they and some of their professors have had time studying error, then there would be no question of the outcome. The problem arises when under the pressure of a heavy course of study and the necessity of parroting back what certain professors have said, the student does not have the time or take the time to learn the truth. If he does not learn the truth, some day he will suffer the consequences. Many an honest student, after graduation has had to do some unlearning and then fresh learning of basic principles which never change, and which he should have been taught initially . . . .
While we cannot save all the flock from being deceived, we should, without compromising our doctrine, strive to save as many as we can. For as President Clark said, We are in the midst of the greatest exhibition of propaganda that the world has ever seen . . . .
Studentsstudy the writings of the prophets. Fortunately, the consistent position taken over the years by the prophets of the Church on vital issues facing this Nation have recently been compiled in an excellent book entitled, Prophets, Principles and National Survival. (By Jerreld Newquist) Students, pray for inspiration and knowledge. Counsel with your parents. Let Sunday be the day to fill up your spiritual batteries for the week by reading good Church books, particularly the Book of Mormon. Take time to meditate. Dont let the philosophies and falsehoods of men throw you. Hold on to the iron rod. Learn to sift. Learn to discern error through the promptings of the Spirit and your study of the truth. (Ezra Taft Benson, CR-10/64) [p. 15]