Teachings of the Presidents of the Church

During the year 1998, the Church changed the curriculum for the Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society meetings. The idea was to help members “not only to increase their knowledge but also to bring them greater growth in gospel study, spirituality, service, and leadership.” (http://www.lds.org/ensign/1997/12/major-curriculum-changes-in-priesthood-and-relief-society?lang=eng.) As a part of this initiative, the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church series was started. From the beginning, these books were “intended to be a personal resource as well as the second- and third-Sunday text for Relief Society and Melchizedek Priesthood meetings. Used in conjunction with the scriptures, this new volume serves as another building block in the doctrinal library of every Latter-day Saint home.” (http://www.lds.org/ensign/1998/01/with-the-tongues-of-seven-thunders?lang=eng.) One article on the subject noted that: “The teachings of Church Presidents have been included in this new curriculum at the direction of President Hinckley. ‘He himself is a great teacher and a master historian, one who loves the substance found in the teachings of earlier Presidents of the Church,’ Elder Holland says. President Hinckley often shares the words of the Presidents with members of the Twelve and other General Authorities and is eager to see their teachings shared with the general membership of the Church as well.” (http://www.lds.org/ensign/1997/12/major-curriculum-changes-in-priesthood-and-relief-society?lang=eng.) The Teachings of the Presidents of the Church is a great resource provided by the Church to learn about the prophets and their teachings, as well as to draw closer to the Lord.

These books have become an important part of my life. When I left on my mission, I felt the Joseph Smith was a prophet and that Gordon B. Hinckley was as well. I wasn’t as sure, however, on the ones in between. Logically, it would make sense, but I just wasn’t sure. As served my mission, I started to study the lives and teachings of these prophets and the more I came to know them, the more I came to appreciate them as prophets of God. A part of that study has been the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church books. I am now working on reading all of them, and find them to be very enjoyable—so much so, that I always eagerly look forward to finding out which is the next one to be released. Last October, I asked the elder’s quorum president in the branch I was in whether he knew who the 2012 President we would study would be. He did not, but commented that the Church usually let him know by then so they could order the manuals before the new year. So, I did a bit of research and finally found out that the new president of the Church book would be George Albert Smith. I knew only little about this prophet, but as I have studied this volume over the course of the year, I have come to appreciate his Christian example and the kindness inherent in his words. He has become one of my great role models. These manuals have had an influence on my life for the better.

With the elder quorum president’s comment in mind, I started poking around the Church’s websight to see if they had said anything about the manual for 2013. By process of elimination, I knew it had to be Lorenzo Snow, Joseph Fielding Smith, Ezra Taft Benson, Howard W. Hunter, or Gordon B. Hinckley. I was delighted to find the following: http://store.lds.org/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/Product3_715839595_10557_21127_-1__3074457345616903721. The course for study next year is to be Lorenzo Snow. Manuals are now available for purchase both online and in the distribution centre stores or for a free download as a PDF file. Currently, I am eagerly awaiting my hard copy’s arrival and reading the PDF.

The newest manual to be published by the Church

Why am I excited to study the life and teachings of Lorenzo Snow? He was the last prophet to know Joseph Smith as an adult. He assisted in running the Church during the exodus and settling of Utah Territory. He was an educated man and a poet, much as his sister Eliza R. Snow was. He was prophet at the turn of the century, and is one of the few prophets who have specifically mentioned having face-to-face conversation with Christ. Yet, for all the good he did and the things he taught, he is remembered primarily for two things. The first is the story of reemphasizing tithing in St. George to bring the Church out of debt. Second, he known as the author of the couplet:

“As man now is, God once was:

“As God now is, man may be.”

(see Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow [2012], 83.) In order to share my excitement, I will tell a few stories from President Snow’s life and quote a few statements related to each.

The Couplet

First is the story of how he wrote that couplet. In the mid 1830’s, Lorenzo moved to Kirtland, OH as a nonmember to study Hebrew (at Eliza Snow’s suggestion). While there he looked into the Church, and even attended a patriarchal blessing meeting. He was impressed at the blessings Joseph Smith, Sr. was giving and stayed to speak with him after the meeting. At some point during their conversation, Father Smith told him, “Well,… do not worry, but pray to the Lord and satisfy yourself; study the matter over, compare the Scriptures with what we are teaching; talk with the brethren that you are acquainted with, and after a time you will be convinced that ‘Mormonism’ is of God, and you will be baptized, and you will become as great as you will want to be—as great as God Himself, and you cannot wish to be greater.”

This statement went over his head at the time, but he was baptized in June 1836. About two and a half years later, while in Nauvoo, he was talking with an elder about a certain passage of scripture, “and while he was endeavoring to give an explanation the Spirit of God fell upon me to a marked extent, and the Lord revealed to me, just as plainly as the sun at noonday, this principle, which I put in a couplet…. That fulfilled Father Smith’s declaration. Nothing was ever revealed more distinctly to me.” (“The Grand Destiny of Man,” Millennial Star, 22 Aug. 1901, p. 547; see also “The Grand Destiny of Man,” 15 Aug. 1901, pp. 541–42; LeRoi C. Snow, “Devotion to a Divine Inspiration,” Improvement Era, June 1919, p. 656.)

“Feeling that he had received ‘a sacred communication’ that he should guard carefully, Lorenzo Snow did not teach the doctrine publicly until he knew that the Prophet Joseph Smith had taught it. Once he knew the doctrine was public knowledge, he testified of it frequently.

“In addition to making this truth a theme for many of his sermons, he adopted it as the theme for his life. His son LeRoi said, ‘This re­vealed truth impressed Lorenzo Snow more than perhaps all else; it sank so deeply into his soul that it became the inspiration of his life and gave him his broad vision of his own great future and the mighty mission and work of the Church.’ 3 It was his ‘constant light and guide’ and ‘a bright, illuminating star before him all the time—in his heart, in his soul, and all through him.’” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow, 83-84.)

In a brief glance online to find the copy of the source of the couplet, I came across several discussions by evangelical ministers in the Salt Lake area that discussed the implications of this quote and brought up the fact that some Mormons have even dismissed it as “having no functioning place in Modern-day Mormonism” or that it’s “a thing of the past.” One thing that stirred up conversation about it was the inclusion of the couplet in the George Albert Smith manual (p. 70-71). Yet, an inspection of the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church books finds the same doctrine taught in different words in both Brigham Young and Joseph Smith’s volumes, and in some form in the John Taylor edition and others. Whatever the case, the devotion of a whole chapter to the subject in the newest Teaching of the Presidents of the Church manual should help settle the question as to whether it is Church doctrine or not.

Church Callings

Lorenzo Snow in his fifties

Lorenzo Snow was a zealous member of the Church who believed in serving to the fullest ability. A survey of his “ resume”, as it were reveals how often and hard he served. After his conversion in mid-1836, he left on a mission in 1837, and served off-and on for eight years. He was so devoted to the work that he “he had determined that he would never get married, choosing instead to dedicate his life to preaching the gospel. His sister Eliza later ob­served, ‘To devote his time, his talents, his all to the ministry was his all-absorbing desire.’ He felt that family life would somehow ‘lessen his usefulness’ in the Lord’s work.” (TotPotC: 17) Yet, Joseph Smith taught him about marriage (and plural marriage), and he did marry.  Later on he would spend time in prison for practicing polygamy, but he stayed faithful to what he believed was a command from God.

Carrying on, he served as a leader of a hundred in a missionary company in 1848 (along with Zera Pulsipher and a few others) and was called as an apostle in 1849, opened Italy and Switzerland to the gospel, visited the Holy Land, led the founding of Brigham City (which he loved so much that he was buried there—one of only three presidents of the Church to be buried outside of Salt Lake City), and finally served as president of the Church. He truly believed his own saying that: “Knowing our religion to be true we ought to be the most devoted people on the face of the earth to the cause we have embraced” (ibid, 183) and that “It is the business of those who profess to be engaged in [God’s] work to move on, to go forward. . . . So long as there remains a step forward to be taken, that step should be taken.” (ibid, 237.)

Christ’s Visit

Lorenzo Snow had a personal visit with Christ in the Salt Lake Temple

One final vignette from the life of Lorenzo Snow is the story of a personal visit from Christ. “. . . [On 2 September 1898, after receiving word of the death of Wilford Woodruff, President Snow] [President Snow] went to his private room in the Salt Lake Temple.

“President Snow put on his holy temple robes, repaired again to the same sacred altar, offered up the signs of the Priesthood and poured out his heart to the Lord. He reminded the Lord how he plead for President Woodruff’s life to be spared, that President Woodruff’s days would be lengthened beyond his own; that he might never be called upon to bear the heavy burdens and responsibilities of the Church. ‘Nevertheless,’ he said, ‘Thy will be done. I have not sought this responsibility but if it be Thy will, I now present myself before Thee for Thy guidance and instruction. I ask that Thou show me what Thou wouldst have me do.’

“After finishing his prayer he expected a reply, some special manifestation from the Lord. So he waited,—and waited—and waited. There was no reply, no voice, no visitation, no manifestation. He left the altar and the room in great disappointment. Passing through the Celestial room and out into the large corridor a glorious manifestation was given President Snow which I relate in the words of his grand-daughter, Allie Young Pond. . . .

“‘One evening while I was visiting grandpa Snow in his room in the Salt Lake Temple, I remained until the door keepers had gone and the night-watchmen had not yet come in, so grand-pa said he would take me to the main front entrance and let me out that way. He got his bunch of keys from his dresser. After we left his room and while we were still in the large corridor leading into the celestial room, I was walking several steps ahead of grand-pa when he stopped me and said: “Wait a moment, Allie, I want to tell you something. It was right here that the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to me at the time of the death of President Woodruff. He instructed me to go right ahead and reorganize the First Presidency of the Church at once and not wait as had been done after the death of the previous presidents, and that I was to succeed President Woodruff.”

“‘Then grand-pa came a step nearer and held out his left hand and said: “He stood right here, about three feet above the floor. It looked as though He stood on a plate of solid gold.”

“‘Grand-pa told me what a glorious personage the Savior is and described His hands, feet, countenance and beautiful white robes, all of which were of such a glory of whiteness and brightness that he could hardly gaze upon Him.

“‘Then he came another step nearer and put his right hand on my head and said: “Now, grand-daughter, I want you to remember that this is the testimony of your grand-father, that he told you with his own lips that he actually saw the Savior, here in the Temple, and talked with Him face to face”’” (LeRoi C. Snow, “An Experience of My Father’s,” Improvement Era, Sept. 1933, 677).

That experience came later in his life, but he often testified of Christ, stating “That Being who dwelt in Heaven, who reigned there before the world was, who created the earth, and who, in the meridian of time, came down to perfect and save that which He had created, has appeared to men in this age.” (TotPotC: LS, 281.) “We are all dependent upon Jesus Christ, upon his coming into the world to open the way whereby we might secure peace, happi­ness and exaltation.” (ibid, 281.)

Conclusion

The First Presidency at the Turn of the Century

I hope that you will take the opportunity to study the teachings of Lorenzo Snow this next year—both on your own as well as in a priesthood quorum or Relief Society class. I know that there are a lot of amazing things to be found for those that do. I am excited to do so myself, and hope you will share my enthusiasm.

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