With ‘the Tongues of Seven Thunders’
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“With ‘the Tongues of Seven Thunders’” Ensign, Jan. 1998, 51

With “the Tongues of Seven Thunders”

Gospel doctrines taught so clearly by President Brigham Young point the way for every follower of Jesus Christ and will be the mainstay for this year’s new Melchizedek Priesthood—Relief Society curriculum.

On 1 January 1877, carried into the room in a chair because his legs were so weak, President Brigham Young addressed the congregation that had met to dedicate the lower story of the St. George Temple. This prophet, seer, and revelator declared to the Saints: “We enjoy privileges that are enjoyed by no one else on the face of the earth. … When I think upon this subject, I want the tongues of seven thunders to wake up the people” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young [1997], 299).

With “the tongues of seven thunders,” President Young often called the people to repentance. For good reason, he has been referred to as the “Lion of the Lord.” His teaching style was dramatic, direct, and powerful. He was a master of expression, but it was the clarity and strength of the principles he proclaimed that made his teaching so profound. For example: “There never was any person over-saved; all who have been saved, and that ever will be in the future, are only just saved, and then it is not without a struggle to overcome, that calls into exercise every energy of the soul” (Teachings, 294).

Many members are not familiar with President Young in the role of teacher and gospel scholar. They know him as the pioneer President who led members across the heartland of America, the tireless President who built the kingdom of God in the wilderness, the colonizer of hundreds of communities, the statesman. But it is President Young the teacher of the doctrines of the kingdom of God that we will learn from on the second and third Sundays of each month in 1998–99.

During his ministry, President Young taught members of the Church who were not so different from members today. The numbers have multiplied many, many times since his era. But he taught a Church of converts, many from foreign lands. He taught a burgeoning population hungry for the truth of God. He brought them aboard what he called “the good ship Zion” and he put them to work. “Will you spend your lives to obtain a seat in the kingdom [of] God, or will you lie down and sleep, and go down to hell?” (Teachings, 321), he asked them. His devotion was firm: “It is the Kingdom of God, or nothing; and we will maintain it, or die in trying” (Teachings, 327).

Summary of Curriculum Changes

The new Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society curriculum being introduced in 1998 was developed under the direction of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. It provides that on the first Sunday of each month Melchizedek Priesthood holders and Relief Society sisters will be instructed in their duties by their leaders. On the second and third Sundays they will study President Young’s teachings in a new manual, described later in this article. On the fourth Sunday they will study subjects designated by the First Presidency. On the fifth Sunday, they may study subjects chosen by local priesthood leaders or they may return to a lesson that was missed earlier because of general or stake conference. For a comprehensive overview of the new curriculum, see Don L. Searle, “Major Curriculum Changes in Priesthood and Relief Society,” Ensign, Dec. 1997, 6–12.

President Young’s Teachings

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young is the first in a series of manuals focusing on the words of past Presidents of the Church. In its 48 chapters, President Young discusses topics that are timely and timeless. Each chapter contains two sections: “Teachings of Brigham Young”—his words—and “Suggestions for Study”—questions designed to help in applying the teachings to our lives. The book is 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.

“How are teachers going to teach these lessons on the second and third Sundays?” some may ask. The manual is a fairly significant departure from previous lesson manuals, and members will be expected to participate in the classroom more than they may have been asked to in the past. The emphasis is on class discussion, not so much teacher presentations and lectures. How will class members be motivated to read the lessons in advance? How will members be motivated to bring a manual with them to church every week? How will teachers be encouraged to stay with President Young’s words and not compromise his message with outside sources? How will class members be moved to talk about the principles taught? How?

“Keep the Spirit of the Lord”

His teachings offer direction. “Were I to draw a distinction in all the duties that are required of the children of men, from first to last,” he said, “I would place first and foremost the duty of seeking unto the Lord our God until we open the path of communication from heaven to earth—from God to our own souls” (Teachings, 44).

How? “Seek unto the Lord for his Spirit, without any cessation in your efforts, until his Spirit dwells within you like eternal burnings. Let the candle of the Lord be lighted up within you, and all is right” (Teachings, 320).

“Eternal burnings,” “candle of the Lord,” “tongues of seven thunders”—his words convey immediacy, power, imagery. They illustrate gospel principles with examples. He counseled the Saints, for instance, to pray so the Spirit would be with them, even when they didn’t feel like praying. “Some of the brethren come to me and say, ‘Brother Brigham, is it my duty to pray when I have not one particle of the spirit of prayer in me?’ … My doctrine is, it is your duty to pray; and when the time for prayer comes … [k]nees get down I say; and down bend the knees” (Teachings, 45).

Undoubtedly he would tell us that we are not simply to sit in classes while teachers pour gospel doctrines into us until we are full of them; we are to actively gather in these eternal truths and pray for the Spirit to be with us.

President Young was profoundly motivated to recognize the voice of the Spirit. Shortly after the Prophet Joseph Smith’s death, he had a dream in which the Prophet visited and instructed him. “Joseph stepped toward us, and looking very earnestly, yet pleasantly, said: ‘Tell the people to be humble and faithful, and be sure to keep the spirit of the Lord and it will lead them right. Be careful and not turn away the small still voice; it will teach them what to do and where to go; it will yield the fruits of the Kingdom’” (Teachings, 41).

This instruction by the Spirit will happen in classrooms throughout the Church as Melchizedek Priesthood quorums and groups and Relief Societies study the doctrines of the gospel. It will happen in homes as husbands and wives share new insights from their class discussions and as they teach their families. It will happen in our personal lives, if we will but prayerfully read. “I’d like to promise every member of the Church,” Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has stated, “that if you will read these teachings you will be profoundly taught and exhilarated by the truth and beauty and value of the principles of the gospel taught by this great prophet. They are powerful!” (quoted in Ensign, Dec. 1997, 12).

We can come to love President Young’s teachings as we open our books and open our hearts this year. We can recognize that they are the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ, for “whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38). President Young can speak to us with the same force and inspiration as Isaiah, Peter, Jacob, and Joseph Smith.

We will be studying his words with teachers who have prepared “to impart one to another as the gospel requires” (D&C 88:123). We will have the opportunity to feast on the words—there is no better description—and find them delicious to souls hungry for truth and spiritual fulfillment.

President Young’s teachings are true. The Spirit of God is poised to touch and lead us through them. They will cultivate in us, if we permit, a desire to try harder; to study, ponder, and pray more diligently; to be worthy of President Young’s promise: “If you live every day of your lives according to the best light and understanding you possess, glorifying God, our Heavenly Father, just as far as your knowledge extends, I will promise you eternal life in the Kingdom of God” (Teachings, 358).

What Leaders Can Do

Melchizedek Priesthood quorum and group leaders and Relief Society presidencies have the responsibility to provide high-quality instruction to their members. Here are ideas to enhance instruction for the new curriculum for each Sunday of the month.

First Sunday

Study the suggestions in Melchizedek Priesthood Quorum Instructions (35553) and Relief Society Leader’s Instructions (35608).

Clearly teach members their duties of:

  • doing missionary work.

  • attending to their own and others’ temporal welfare.

  • perfecting the Saints spiritually.

  • performing work for the dead.

Use this time to counsel together, make plans and give reports, pray and sing together, read the scriptures, and follow the Brethren.

Second and Third Sundays

Focus on the principles and doctrines found in Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young (35554) and help members apply these in their lives.

Ensure the quality of instruction by:

  • making the class a time for discussion rather than lecture.

  • encouraging class members to share spiritual experiences that may appropriately be discussed with others.

  • encouraging members to come prepared by reading the lesson before class.

  • praying together for the guidance of the Holy Ghost.

Fourth Sunday

Oversee and help with study and discussion of the subjects and the material designated by the First Presidency in Teachings for Our Time 1998 (98011).

Encourage members to prayerfully study the subjects.

Fifth Sunday

Plan and direct instruction as determined by local priesthood leaders.

What Teachers Can Do

Here are some approaches for preparation and presentation for the new Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society curriculum that can invite the Holy Ghost into the classroom as you lead discussions and teach lessons.

  1. Fast and pray for guidance as you prepare to meet the needs of those you are to teach. Be ready to share your insights and feelings and to bear witness of the doctrines being discussed.

  2. Begin your preparation early. Pray for guidance. Read the resource materials and the suggestions for study. Identify helpful scriptures, questions, stories, and personal examples.

  3. Determine what the lesson or discussion is to accomplish. Plan to focus the discussion on ways class members can use the principles in their lives, marriages, and families. Make special assignments, as needed, to members to assist with the lesson.

  4. Challenge members to open their hearts to the Holy Ghost’s promptings by having them prayerfully study the material in advance and come to class prepared to share their insights and feelings.

  5. Introduce the discussion with a quotation from the material or an applicable object lesson, story, or picture.

  6. Discuss key principles from the material. Have class members read selected passages. Ask questions that will help members apply the teachings in their lives. Invite members to share insights, appropriate experiences, and testimonies.

  7. Testify of the truthfulness of the principles involved and their value in your life. Invite class members to do so.

For additional teaching ideas, review “Instructions to Teachers” in the introduction to Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young (35554) and Teaching—No Greater Call (33043) and the Church’s Teacher Development basic course. Special instructions for teachers are also found in Melchizedek Priesthood Quorum Instructions and Relief Society Leader’s Instructions.

Inset: Painting by John Willard Clawson

Photography by Steve Bunderson; posed by models