“The Legacy of Hyrum,” Ensign, Sept. 1994, 55–58
The Legacy of Hyrum
My brothers and sisters and friends, on this beautiful summer day we stand on holy ground in a place where some of the greatest men and women of this dispensation persevered against horrific odds to build a house unto the Lord. Will you for a moment go back with me 150 years in time? Imagine how beautiful the Nauvoo Temple must have been to our people. Can you envision Joseph and Hyrum passing by this block on June 24 as they left for Carthage and hear Joseph’s words as he lamented, “This is the loveliest place and the best people under the heavens; little do they know the trials that await them.”1 And can you then imagine what the Saints must have felt like as they pressed on to complete this holy house, having lost their beloved Joseph and Hyrum, and knowing full well that they too must soon leave Nauvoo? What dedication and faith those days demanded of our people!
It was said that when seen from the opposite side of the river, the Nauvoo Temple presented one of the “most beautiful, chaste, and noble specimens of architecture to be found in the world.”2
But the architectural magnificence of the Nauvoo Temple is not the most important thing to remember this day. The significance of this temple rests in the impact it had in the lives of those Saints who lived and labored in Nauvoo to finish a temple unto the Lord that he had commanded them to build.
There is a special spirit here, as we walk on ground made holy by the sacrifice of faithful Saints and the blood of martyrs. There is a feeling of reverence and worship in this place where the endowment was first performed in this dispensation. Between 10 December 1845 and 7 February 1846, this sublime ordinance was performed for more than 5,600 Saints before they crossed the Mississippi to begin the westward trek. By the time Elders Orson Hyde and Wilford Woodruff came back to Nauvoo to perform the public dedication on 1 May 1846, the Saints had essentially abandoned the temple that overlooked the City Beautiful they had built. But not before many others had partaken of the power and peace found in a house of the Lord.
I marvel at the courage and commitment of these Saints who gave everything they had to establish the Church in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times. My thoughts today are drawn to the family of Joseph Smith, Sr., and Lucy Mack. I am amazed when I consider the overwhelming leadership responsibility the Lord placed upon this one family, for at one time, the Prophet, his father, and his brother, Hyrum, all served together in the First Presidency. And standing with these great men were women of equal stature and spiritual conviction. No women gave greater strength to the Church in the early days than did Lucy Mack, Emma Hale, Jerusha Barden, and Mary Fielding Smith.
In particular, my thoughts are with my great-great-grandfather, Hyrum Smith—a man the Lord said He loved “because of the integrity of his heart, and because he loveth that which is right before me” (D&C 124:15).
There is much in this noble man’s character that is worthy of emulation. I would like to be as loyal to my family and friends as Hyrum was to his younger brother Joseph. One historian noted that Hyrum “guarded his younger and more favored brother as tenderly as if the Prophet had been his son instead of his younger brother.”3 When the boy Joseph was stricken with a serious leg infection, it was his teenage brother Hyrum who tenderly applied pressure to the afflicted limb night and day for more than a week.
President Joseph Fielding Smith observed, “It seems almost, from the tender solicitude Hyrum displayed for Joseph that he felt in some way that there had been placed upon him a guardianship for his younger brother.”4 Such loyalty is rare. Remember how the elder sons of Jacob treated their younger brother, Joseph? They were so jealous of his favored position that they sold him into slavery and convinced their grief-stricken father that he had been killed by wild beasts. And consider the strained relationship between young Nephi and his elder brothers, Laman and Lemuel. Their envy was so bitter that it served as a foundation for centuries of heartache and civil war.
But you’ll find none of that in the recorded history of Hyrum’s relationship with Joseph. Rather, you’ll find a lifetime of loving devotion, service, kindness, and constancy. Rachel Ivins Grant, mother of President Heber J. Grant, once said that “of all the men she was acquainted with in her girlhood days in Nauvoo, she admired Hyrum Smith most for his absolute integrity and devotion to God, and his loyalty to the prophet of God.”5 It would please me more than I can say to have such things said of me by those who are in a position to evaluate my loyalty.
Another way in which I would like to follow the pattern established by Hyrum Smith is his visionary leadership. As chairman of the building committee for the Nauvoo Temple that once graced this site, he was able to generate support and assistance from throughout the Church. He seemed especially sensitive to the women of the Church and to the strength of leadership they could provide. Along with his wife, Mary Fielding, and her sister, Mercy Thompson, he formulated an approach for the women to purchase the nails and glass for the temple. Hyrum also envisioned that the less fortunate should have an opportunity to give. He told the Saints, “I want the poor … to have a chance. The widow’s two mites were more in the eyes of the Lord than the purse of the rich.” He further promised that “the poor women shall have a seat in the house of God.”6
I marvel at Hyrum’s dynamic leadership as he challenged the brethren at one conference to go with their teams to the stone quarry as soon as conference was over to haul the rock that was stacked there to the temple site.7 He was also charged with soliciting provisions for the workmen on the temple, as well as money and materials for the temple itself. It was no easy task. There was incredible effort required just to provide lumber and shingles, as he assigned brethren to work in the pineries of Wisconsin and ship hundreds of feet of lumber to Nauvoo via the Mississippi River. And I had to smile when I read of Hyrum’s frustration when some of the Saints were only willing to donate their junk and discards. On one occasion he said: “We don’t want any more old guns and watches.” He called for the Saints to donate “provisions, money, boards, planks, and anything that is good.”8
The people followed Hyrum and did as he asked because they recognized his integrity, sensitivity, and compassion toward all members of the Church. They trusted his promise to them that there would be a “great and mighty power grow out of” the temple, endowing them with “knowledge” and “great things.”9 And they believed him when he said that “much depends upon [this temple] for our endowments and sealing powers; and many blessings depend upon it.”10 I would like to be the kind of leader who could inspire people to such extraordinary spiritual growth and accomplishment. As a result of having been here today, I will try to walk more like Hyrum Smith in this way.
And finally, I would follow Hyrum’s powerful example in the way that his faith was reflected in his behavior. Hyrum was absolutely true to his convictions. One could clearly see that what he believed in was the way he chose to live his life. Soon after he was killed, the Times and Seasons, the official publication of the Church, offered this assessment of Hyrum Smith: “He lived so far beyond the ordinary walk of man, that even the tongue of the vilest slanderer could not touch his reputation. He lived godly, and he died godly.”11 At the dedication of the Hyrum Smith Monument in the Salt Lake City Cemetery on 27 June 1918, President Heber J. Grant gave this tribute to the martyred Patriarch: “I can conceive of no life in all the Church of Christ, in our day, that has been more nearly perfect than the life of Hyrum Smith.”12
When the Spirit spoke to Hyrum’s heart, his spiritual integrity demanded that he respond. He was among the first to be baptized in this gospel dispensation, and at the age of thirty, he was the oldest of the six men who were called upon to officially organize The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on 6 April 1830. He was among the first to receive the holy endowment in the house of the Lord erected here. In the magnificent 124th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, received in Nauvoo in January of 1841, the work of baptism for the dead was revealed. In obedience to this doctrine, Hyrum was immediately baptized as proxy for his deceased brother Alvin.
Hyrum lived as he believed, and he believed in a gospel of peace. Therefore, he was a peacemaker even though the violent winds of tribulation and persecution constantly raged around him. He was the first to extend a hand of friendship to a visitor, the first to attempt to moderate a dispute, the first to forgive an enemy. The Prophet Joseph was known to have said, “If Hyrum could not make peace between two who had fallen out, the angels themselves might not hope to accomplish the task.”13
What a marvelous heritage of faithfulness Hyrum Smith and the other great men and women of Nauvoo established for all of us! I am touched as I visit the cemeteries here and consider the stories of those who gave their lives to build this place and this temple. I am grateful for the opportunity to have participated nearly three years ago with other members of the Joseph Smith, Sr., and Lucy Mack Smith posterity in restoring the family cemetery. As brothers, sisters, and cousins who now find ourselves in both the LDS and the RLDS churches, we united our efforts to honor our ancestors as we beautified the Smith family cemetery near the homestead here in Nauvoo. Here we made a garden as the final resting place for Father and Mother Smith, Joseph, Emma, Hyrum, Samuel, Don Carlos, and many of their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
This is as it should be. This is as the Prophet would have it. While delivering a funeral sermon, he said this: “I will tell you what I want. If tomorrow I shall be called to lie in yonder tomb, in the morning of the resurrection let me strike hands with my father, and cry, ‘My father,’ and he will say, ‘My son, my son.’ … And when the voice calls for the dead to arise, suppose I am laid by the side of my father, what would be the first joy of my heart? To meet my father, my mother, my brother, my sister; and when they are by my side, I embrace them and they me.”14
It was this great sense of vision and desire to live eternally with beloved family members, this hope for the future and a glorious day of resurrection, that provided inspiration and motivation for Joseph, Hyrum and the others who gave their all in the midst of great affliction to build this temple. How grateful I am for their faithfulness and their example. By studying their lives and following the patterns of living they established, we will not only walk in the way they walked, but we will also walk in the way Jesus walked.
In a blessing received under the hands of his prophet-brother in 1833, Hyrum was promised that his posterity would “rise up and call him blessed.” As one who humbly acknowledges the blood of Hyrum Smith flowing in my veins, I raise my voice as one of his posterity and call him blessed and our Prophet Joseph Smith blessed.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.