Brigham Young – A Seeker Of Truth
HE SEARCHED for SPIRITUAL FULFILLMENT
Brigham once said: “Priests had urged me to pray before I was eight years old. On this subject I had but one prevailing feeling in my mind: Lord, preserve me until I am old enough to have sound judgment, and a discreet mind ripened upon a good solid foundation of common sense.”
He was moral, hardworking, and honest. He said that from his mother he learned to love and reverence the Bible: “Of my mother—she that bore me—I can say, no better woman ever lived in the world than she was. … My mother, while she lived, taught her children all the time to honor the name of the Father and Son, and to reverence the Holy Book. She said, ‘Read it, observe its precepts and apply them to your lives as far as you can. Do everything that is good; do nothing that is evil; and if you see any persons in distress, administer to their wants; never suffer anger to arise in your bosoms, for if you do, you may be overcome by evil’”
“Before I embraced the gospel, I understood pretty well what the different sects preached, but I was called an infidel because I could not embrace their dogmas. … There were some things they preached I could believe, and some I could not. … As far as their teachings were in accordance with the Bible, I could believe them, and no further”
Brigham Investigated the Claims of “Mormonism” with Caution.
While on a mission early in 1830, Samuel Smith sold a copy of the Book of Mormon to Phineas Young, Brigham Young’s brother. Phineas later gave it to their father and their sister Fanny. Eventually, Brigham was given the book. He reviewed it with some caution, which was his nature. An honest, practical man, Brigham would not be railroaded into anything. He studied the book for two years and then received it with all his heart. Brigham and his wife, Miriam, joined the Church. He wanted to learn more, so he sought to become as informed about the Saints and the Prophet Joseph Smith as soon as he could.
Brigham Young was an honest man seeking for truth. His criteria for judging the Church were straightforward and sound. He said, “I watched to see whether good common sense was manifest, and if they had that, I wanted them to present it in accordance with the Scriptures” (“Remarks,” Deseret News Weekly, May 16, 1860, 82). He said that when he received the Book of Mormon his feelings were:
“Wait a little while; what is the doctrine of the book, and of the revelations the Lord has given? Let me apply my heart to them, and after I had done this, I considered it to be my right to know for myself, as much as any man on earth.
“I examined the matter studiously for two years, before I made up my mind to receive that book. I knew it was true, as well as I knew that I could see with my eyes, or feel by the touch of my fingers, or be sensible of the demonstration of any sense. Had not this been the case, I never would have embraced it to this day; it would have all been without form or comeliness to me. I wished time sufficient to prove all things for myself.”
This was not procrastination, but the caution of a man who, after finding truth, would dedicate his life to it. He said, “I could not more honestly and earnestly have prepared myself to go into eternity, than I did to come into this church; and when I had ripened every thing in my mind I drank it in, and not till then.”
His Conversion Came by the Divine Witness of the Holy Ghost
In 1852, President Brigham Young shared the following about his conversion: “If all the talent, tact, wisdom, and refinement of the world had been combined in one individual, and that person had been sent to me with the Book of Mormon, and had declared in the most exalted of earthly eloquence, the truth of it, undertaking to prove it by his learning and worldly wisdom, it would have been to me like the smoke which arises only to vanish. But when I saw a man without eloquence, or talents for public speaking, who could only just say, ‘I know by the power of the Holy Ghost that the Book of Mormon is true, that Joseph Smith is a prophet of the Lord.’ The Holy Ghost proceeding from that individual illuminates my understanding, and light, glory, and immortality is before me; I am encircled by it, filled with it, and know for myself that the testimony of the man is true.”
He wrote that after his baptism “we returned home, about two miles, the weather being cold and snowy; and before my clothes were dry on my back [Brother Eleazer Miller] laid his hands on me and ordained me an Elder, at which I marvelled. According to the words of the Savior, I felt a humble, child-like spirit, witnessing unto me that my sins were forgiven.”
Brigham Young later said, “I feel like shouting Hallelujah, all the time, when I think that I ever knew Joseph Smith, the Prophet whom the Lord raised up and ordained, and to whom he gave keys and power to build up the Kingdom of God on earth and sustain it.”
Times and circumstances rarely thrust a man into the position that Brigham Young found himself after the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith on June 27, 1844, as the Lord revealed His will concerning the succession of leadership in the developing Church and moved the Saints westward.
The Spirit of the Lord Helped Him Preach and Teach
One of President Young’s greatest challenges was public speaking, but so powerful was the effect of the Spirit upon him that he could not be still. Brigham Young made the following statements about his feelings:
“When I began to speak in public I was about as destitute of language as a man could well be. … How I have had the headache, when I had ideas to lay before the people and not words to express them; but I was so gritty that I always tried my best.”
“When I first commenced preaching, I made up my mind to declare the things that I understood, fearless of friends and threats, and regardless of caresses. They were nothing to me, for if it was my duty to rise before a congregation of strangers and say that the Lord lives, that he has revealed himself in this our day, that he has given to us a prophet and brought forth the new and everlasting covenant for the restoration of Israel, and if that was all I could say, I must be just as satisfied as though I could get up and talk for hours. … Had it not been for this feeling, nothing could have induced me to have become a public speaker.”
“One week [after baptism] I had the pleasure of meeting with and preaching to a large congregation. I think there were present on that occasion four experienced elders, formerly of the Methodist and Baptist persuasions, who had received the gospel and had been numbered with us. I expected to hear them address the people on the principles that we had just received through the servants of the Lord. They said that the Spirit of the Lord was not upon them to speak to the people, yet they had been preachers for years. I was but a child, so far as public speaking and a knowledge of the world was concerned; but the spirit of the Lord was upon me, and I felt as though my bones would consume within me unless I spoke to the people and told them what I had seen, heard and learned—what I had experienced and rejoiced in; and the first discourse I ever delivered I occupied over an hour. I opened my mouth and the Lord filled it.”
Brigham Knew the Rigors of Life and Hard Work
Brigham Young knew work, hardship, and privation. He gave the following insights into his childhood:
“At an early age I labored with my father, assisting him to clear off new land and cultivate his farm, passing through many hardships and privations incident to settling a new country” (Manuscript History of Brigham Young, 1).
“Br. Heber and I never went to school until we got into ‘Mormonism;’ that was the first of our schooling. We never had the opportunity of letters in our youth, but we had the privilege of picking up brush, chopping down trees, rolling logs and working amongst the roots, and of getting our shins, feet and toes bruised. The uncle of br. Merrell who now sits in the congregation made me the first hat that my father ever bought for me, and I was then about eleven years of age. I did not go bare-headed previous to that time, neither did I call on my father to buy me a five dollar hat every few months, as some of my boys do. My sisters would make me what was called a Jo. Johnson cap for winter, and in summer I wore a straw hat which I frequently braided for myself. I learned to make bread, wash the dishes, milk the cows and make butter, and can make butter, and can beat the most of the women in this community at house-keeping. Those are about all the advantages I gained in my youth. I know how to economise, for my father had to do it”
“Instead of crying over our sufferings, as some seem inclined to do, I would rather tell a good story, and leave the crying to others. I do not know that I have ever suffered; I do not realize it. Have I not gone without eating and not half clad? Yes, but that was not suffering. I was used to that in my youth. I used to work in the woods logging and driving team, summer and winter, not half clad, and with insufficient food until my stomach would ache, so that I am used to all this, and have had no suffering. As I said to the brethren the other night, the only suffering I ever realized in this Church was to preserve my temper towards my enemies. But I have even got pretty much over this”
He Excelled as a Craftsman
At the age of 14, Brigham Young began work as an apprentice to a furniture maker and house painter. He excelled at the craft. During his apprenticeship, “he established himself as the skilled artisan who is famous in this city [Auburn, New York] for the beauty of his stairwell decorations, fanlight doorways, door frames, stair rails, louvered attic windows and, above all—fireplace mantels”
He Was a Devoted Husband and Father
“Brigham met eighteen-year-old Miriam Angeline Works, whose family lived near the pail factory [where Brigham worked] and were said to be friends of Charles Parks [Brigham’s employer]. The second child of Asa and Abigail Works, born at Aurelius on June 6 (or June 7), 1806, Miriam (sometimes referred to as Angeline) was ‘a beautiful blonde with blue eyes and wavy hair; gentle and lovable.’
Her father, like Brigham’s, was a Revolutionary War veteran. He had moved to western New York from Worcester, Massachusetts, not far from Hopkinton where John Young had lived. Brigham and Miriam became acquainted, he walked her home, they sang together and discussed life. At the age of twenty-three Brigham borrowed a horse and carriage from William Hayden’s father, rented a house up the road, and married Miriam.
Brigham Young was a devoted husband and father. In 1829 he moved his family to Mendon, New York, which was 15 miles from Joseph Smith’s home. There his second daughter was born and his wife contracted tuberculosis, which gradually weakened her. Loving, thoughtful, and tender—each day before work, Brigham saw to his wife’s comfort and his children’s care.
“Brigham Young once remarked that after marriage he worked for half a crown a day when he could not get more; got breakfast for his wife, himself, and the little girls, dressed the children, cleaned up the house, carried his wife to the rocking-chair by the fireplace and left her there until he could return in the evening. When he came home he cooked his own and the family’s supper, put his wife back to bed and finished up the day’s domestic labours.”
On September 8, 1832, his wife, Miriam, died. She was buried in Mendon.
He Was a Faithful Missionary
Brigham Young served 10 missions between the time of his conversion and the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith. In September 1839, Brigham Young, so sick he could not walk far without help, left his family to serve a two-year mission in England. While traveling on a steamboat on Lake Erie from Fairport, Ohio, to Buffalo, New York, a storm arose and hindered the progress of the ship. He recorded: “The wind rose about one o’clock in the morning. I went upon deck and felt impressed in spirit to pray to the Father, in the name of Jesus, for a forgiveness of my sins, and then I felt to command the winds to cease, and let us go safe on our journey. The winds abated, and I felt to give the glory and honor and praise to that God who rules all things.”
Always for him, his greatest joy was being at home with his family. In July 1841 he was reunited at last with his wife, Mary Ann, and children at Nauvoo after his long mission to England. On January 18, 1842, Brigham Young tenderly confided in his journal: “This evening I am with my wife alone by my fireside for the first time for years. We enjoy it and feel to praise the Lord.”
During the dark days of Kirtland, when apostasy ran rampant even among the Church leadership, it was Brigham Young’s unyielding firmness that became a strength to the loyal Saints. His powerful leadership led the Church during the Missouri persecutions while the Prophet Joseph and Hyrum Smith were languishing in the Liberty Jail. He led the Twelve Apostles about 200 miles into hostile Missouri so that they could leave for their mission to England from the place where the Lord’s servant said they should.
He Saw the Salt Lake Valley in a Vision
In 1869, President George A. Smith, who was a counselor to President Brigham Young, spoke of how the Saints came to settle in the Salt Lake Valley: “The question is frequently asked, ‘How did you ever find this place?’ I answer we were led to it by the inspiration of God. After the death of Joseph Smith, when it seemed as if every trouble and calamity had come upon the Saints, Brigham Young who was President of the Twelve, then the presiding Quorum of the Church, sought the Lord to know what they should do and where they should lead the people for safety, and while they were fasting and praying daily on this subject President Young had a vision of Joseph Smith, who shewed him the mountain that we now call Ensign Peak, immediately north of Salt Lake City, and there was an ensign fell upon that peak, and Joseph said ‘Build under the point where the colors fall and you will prosper and have peace.’ The Pioneers had no pilot or guide, none among them had ever been in the country or knew anything about it. However they traveled under the direction of President Young until they reached this valley.”
In January 1847, President Brigham Young had a dream in which he discussed with the Prophet Joseph Smith the best way to help the Saints cross the plains (see Bruce A. VanOrden, “Revelation Clarifies Role of Twelve,” Church News, Jan. 11, 1997, 7). Three days later he presented to the Church the “Word and Will of the Lord concerning the Camp of Israel in their journeyings to the West” (D&C 136:1). It was decided that a pioneer company consisting of 144 handpicked men would travel to the Great Salt Lake Basin. This group would include mechanics, teamsters, hunters, frontiersmen, carpenters, sailors, soldiers, accountants, bricklayers, blacksmiths, wagon makers, and so forth. The actual company consisted of 143 men, 3 women, and 2 children. This group was prepared to blaze a trail that the other Saints would follow to the West. Eight men of this company were Apostles and several had served in Zion’s Camp. Some of the company started from Winter Quarters on April 5, 1847, but a majority of the group started on April 16, 1847.
This pioneer company traversed 1,100 miles from Winter Quarters, near present day Omaha, Nebraska, to the Salt Lake Valley. Wherever possible, they followed existing roads and trails. Their route followed the broad and gentle Platte River Valley for 600 miles to Fort Laramie in Wyoming. From there they crossed to the south side of the Platte and followed the Oregon Trail for almost 400 miles to Fort Bridger; then they continued south on the Reid-Donner Trail into the Salt Lake Valley. During the final phase of the trek, which was the roughest section of the trip, President Young contracted mountain fever and the company split into three groups: the vanguard, the main company, and the rear guard, which included President Young.
“The advance company of pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley on July 22, 1847, and immediately set up a crude irrigation system to flood the land and prepare for planting. On July 24, Brigham Young and the rear company arrived at the mouth of Emigration Canyon. Wilford Woodruff drove President Young in his carriage. They looked to the future as they gazed over the valley. Wilford Woodruff wrote, ‘Thoughts of pleasing meditations ran in rapid succession through our minds while we contemplated that not many years the house of GOD would stand upon the top of the mountains while the valleys would be converted into orchard, vineyard, gardens and fields by the inhabitants of Zion and the standard be unfurled for the nations to gather there to.’ Brigham Young said he was satisfied with the appearance of the valley as a ‘resting place for the Saints and was amply repaid for his journey.’
“On a later occasion, Wilford Woodruff explained that when they came out of the canyon he turned the carriage so that President Young could see the whole valley. ‘While gazing upon the scene before us, he was enwrapped in vision for several minutes. He had seen the valley before in vision, and upon this occasion he saw the future glory of Zion and of Israel, as they would be, planted in the valleys of these mountains. When the vision had passed, he said, “It is enough. This is the right place. Drive on”’ [in “Pioneers’ Day.”
“By July 28, Brigham Young’s decision about the location of a city was firm. Between two forks of City Creek, he designated the lot where the temple would stand. The city would be laid out evenly and perfectly square from that point.”
President Brigham Young’s practicality is most often stressed, but that practicality was grounded firmly in the spiritual roots of the Restoration, of the kingdom of God, of Zion, and of celestial glory. He said of his younger days: “I wanted to thunder, and roar out the gospel to the nations. It burned in my bones like fire pent up. …
“… Nothing would satisfy me but to cry abroad in the world what the Lord is doing in the latter days.”
As the prophet, seer, and revelator, his desire continued to burn with perhaps even more intensity. He was determined to do everything possible to bring to fruition all that the Lord wanted done in the last days. He said:
“The Joseph Smith has laid the foundation of the kingdom of God in the last days; others will rear the superstructure. …
“… I know that he was called of God, and this I know by the revelations of Jesus Christ to me, and by the testimony of the Holy Ghost. Had I not so learned this truth, I should never have been what is called a ‘Mormon,’ neither should I have been here to-day.”
As a Colonizer, He Has No Peer in American History
“While the Mormon outposts were being established, numerous towns were springing up on favorable sites on the canyon streams adjacent to Salt Lake Valley. Gradually one valley after another received its portion of colonists, the growth being mainly southward during the first period, as the climate in that direction was thought to be more favorable for agriculture than that northward. … During the first ten years in the Basin, 100 towns were established. The settlements clustered mainly east and south of the Great Salt Lake, of the Jordan River, and of Utah Lake, with a line of communities running in a southwest direction from Juab County [in the middle west of the state] to the southwest corner of Utah. Besides these main groups of colonies, a number of Mormons were living in Sanpete County [in the middle of the state] and in [other] outposts. …
“Thus within ten years after the Saints had arrived in the Great West, they had opened colonization activities in a frontier country extending 1,000 miles from north to south and 800 miles from east to west. Brigham Young’s plan of preempting the West was being realized. …
“During the thirty years of his residence in the Basin, the Mormon leader, Brigham Young, successfully founded and witnessed the development of communities in almost every valley of the present state of Utah, as well as many in southern Idaho, Arizona, and Nevada. Most of the towns built by the Mormons were within a rectangular district 500 miles long by 400 miles wide, omitting the Arizona settlements. However, some were as distant as 1,000 miles east of Salt Lake City in Iowa and Nebraska; San Bernardino[, California,] was about 750 miles southwest of the parent colony, while Fort Lemhi was located in northern Idaho. The total Mormon population at the time of Brigham’s death (1877) was approximately 140,000.”
The quality for which the Latter-day Saints most honored and revered President Young was the love that showed in his concern for each one of them, even from the early days of his leadership. On the plains, at a stopping place named Hickory Grove, he was out in the rain all day arranging wagons, helping to pitch tents, chopping wood, and in every way seeing that all were comfortable. Later, in Utah, he insisted in meeting every wagon train or handcart company he could, and he would not leave until every soul had a place to stay and a job assignment by which he or she could be secure.
President Brigham Young led the Church for 33 years. He knew the divinity and destiny of the work. He brought the Church west and helped establish a base from which the kingdom of God might continue to go forth and fill the earth.
Excerpts taken from Presidents of the Church.
* I like this story about the Saint George, Utah temple: Originally it had a short, squatty, poorly proportioned spire that Brigham Young complained about. Because the temple was already completed he begrudgingly let the spire remain that way. Several months later Brigham Young died, then the tower was struck by lightning and burned to the base of the spire. The saints decided that Brigham Young had got his way in the end and rebuilt the spire much taller.