“Church History: A Source of Strength and Inspiration,” Ensign, July 2020
Elder Cook: Church history can be a significant source of faith, but for some people, it has been misunderstood or overlooked. Some people have even purposely misrepresented stories of the past to sow doubt.
In learning credible history of the Church, we will bind our hearts together with the Saints of yesterday and today. We will find examples of imperfect people like you and me who went forward with faith and allowed God to work through them to accomplish His work. I promise that studying the history of the Church can deepen your faith and desire to live the gospel more fully.
The story of the Restoration is a story of sacrifice, determination, and faith. We are all part of the Restoration and Church history. Each of us has a mission to accomplish in this life that will help the gospel to fill the earth. As we learn more about the Saints of the past, we will be strengthened in fulfilling our own mission as a daughter or a son of God.
In the over 24 years that I have served as a General Authority, the desire of the Brethren has been to be as transparent as possible, both in terms of Church history and in doctrine. We feel that the effort to put forth new resources—particularly The Joseph Smith Papers, the Gospel Topics Essays, Church History Topics, and now the multivolume Saints1—is a wonderful way of getting people to study things in context that are true and that will help them understand the gospel of Jesus Christ in a credible way.
One of my favorite accounts in Saints is the story of Addison Pratt going to the South Pacific. He had about 60 baptisms. My wife, Mary, and I had a chance to visit the Austral Islands, French Polynesia, where Addison Pratt taught.
One of the most remarkable experiences I’ve ever had was to hear a young woman there say, “I am a seventh-generation member of the Church.” Addison Pratt had baptized her distant ancestor before the Saints went to Utah.
Wherever you are in this world, whatever lineage you come from, you’re important, you’re part of Church history. We very much need you and want you. You will bless people’s lives.
When I was in my teenage years, we thought that my older brother wouldn’t get to serve a mission because the ward was allowed to send only one young man at a time on a mission. Everybody else had to be available for the military draft. But our bishop and stake president found out that they could send one more. So, they talked to my brother about it, and he came home and told my parents.
My father was a wonderful man, but he was not active in the Church. His response was negative—but for an unusual reason. He wasn’t critical of the Church or even of a mission, but my brother was preparing for medical school. My father said, “You’ve prepared yourself to go to medical school. You’ve taken the classes. You can do more good if you go to medical school than you can if you go on a mission.”
That evening, this faithful, wonderful brother of mine sat with me, and the two of us talked. We concluded that there were really three questions that would determine his response to our father. The first one was, “Was Jesus Christ the Savior of the world?” The second one was, “Is the Book of Mormon the word of God?” And the third one was, “Was Joseph Smith a prophet?” I realized that the answers to those three questions would affect almost every decision I would make for the rest of my life.
I had always loved the Savior and I had read the Book of Mormon, but realizing how significant those answers were, I prayed that night and received through the Holy Ghost a profound favorable answer to those questions. Jesus Christ is the Savior, the Book of Mormon is the word of God, and Joseph Smith was a prophet. I testify that these things are true.
I want to make three points about plural marriage. First, it’s clear that there was a lot of sacrifice in plural marriages. There was a lot of love and unity, but there was also sacrifice, and parents in those marriages taught their children to sacrifice. Many of the children of those plural marriages took the gospel of Jesus Christ across the world and blessed many lives.
Second, there were some, such as Vilate Kimball, who received their own personal revelation—before they even knew fully about what was coming—that this doctrine came from God.2
And third, in the senior councils of the Church, there’s a feeling that plural marriage, as it was practiced, served its purpose. We should honor those Saints, but that purpose has been accomplished.
Now, there are unanswered questions. But I want you to know that we have a loving Heavenly Father who has a perfect plan, that His plan is one of happiness, and that we have a Savior who did everything for us. We can trust in Them.
In Kirtland, Ohio, one of the incredible things that happened was the building and dedication of the Kirtland Temple. The dedicatory prayer, which Joseph received by revelation, appears in the 109th section of the Doctrine and Covenants. In that prayer he asked the Lord to accept the Saints’ workmanship and sacrifice in building the temple.
One week after the dedication of the temple, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery had another vision. This occurred on Easter, which was also Passover. The Lord came in vision and accepted the house. He told the Saints that they should rejoice for having, “with their might, built this house to my name” (Doctrine and Covenants 110:6). After that vision closed, three ancient prophets appeared: Moses, who restored the keys for the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth; Elias, who committed the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham; and Elijah, who restored the keys of the sealing power (see Doctrine and Covenants 110:11–16).
The restoration of those keys was absolutely essential to accomplishing the Lord’s purposes. We needed not only the Book of Mormon but also those keys and temple ordinances. Those keys have never been more important than they are now.
I have noticed that when one of the Twelve Apostles is called as the prophet, his heart turns toward the ordinances of the temple in a dramatic way. I was privileged to be at the dedication of the Nauvoo Illinois Temple with President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008). I remember how deeply touched he was to have this temple built and how important it was to him to bring temples to the Saints. President Thomas S. Monson (1927–2018) continued that effort and received the same inspiration from heaven that President Hinckley did. And we have seen that inspiration in a dramatic fashion with President Russell M. Nelson. The mantle of prophet has come upon him, and he has had an increased sense of the preciousness of temple ordinances.
One of his first messages as President of the Church was to encourage people to go to the temple, receive their ordinances, and stay on the covenant path. Right after that, he said that if for any reason you have fallen off the covenant path, get back on that path.3
Many of you have trials and tribulations. Some of that comes because there is agency. Some of that comes because there is an adversary. But you need to know that we have a loving Father in Heaven and that the Atonement of Jesus Christ can bless us in ways we perhaps don’t fully understand.
Some historians say that the number of Saints who escaped from Missouri to Nauvoo during the winter of 1838–39 was as high as 8,000. It was winter. Where was Joseph? He was in Liberty Jail, heartbroken over what the Saints were experiencing. He felt that he had been abandoned.
In that precarious circumstance, he received some of the most beautiful scripture—sections 121, 122, and 123 of the Doctrine and Covenants. They are significant. I hope you will read them. Saints has a short account of this event:
“Joseph cried out in behalf of the innocent saints. ‘Oh Lord,’ he pleaded, ‘how long shall they suffer these wrongs and unlawful oppressions, before thine heart shall be softened toward them?’
“‘My son, peace be unto thy soul,’ the Lord responded. ‘Thine adversity and thine affliction shall be but a small moment; and then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shall triumph over all thy foes.’
“The Lord assured Joseph that he was not forgotten. ‘If the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee,’ the Lord told Joseph, ‘know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience and shall be for thy good.’
“The Savior reminded Joseph that the Saints could not suffer more than He had. He loved them and could end their pain, but He chose instead to suffer affliction with them, carrying their grief and sorrow as part of His atoning sacrifice. Such suffering filled Him with mercy, giving Him power to succor and refine all who turned to Him in their trials. He urged Joseph to hold on and promised never to forsake Him.”
Elder Heber C. Kimball (1801–68) had thought that the justices of the Missouri Supreme Court were going to free Joseph, but they decided not to. Heber returned to Liberty Jail and, not allowed into the dungeon, called down to Joseph with the bad news.
Joseph was warm and friendly to him. “Be of good cheer,” he said. Then he instructed Heber to “get all the Saints away as fast as possible.”4
There’s a lesson for you in that: be of good cheer regardless of your challenges. If certain things tempt you, get away from them. Rely on the Holy Ghost. The example of Joseph in Liberty Jail and the Saints fleeing from Missouri to Nauvoo are wonderful examples of strength and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
As an Apostle, I bear witness of Jesus Christ. I am a sure witness of His divinity. I want you to know that He guides and directs the Church in a way that will bless all of us. I testify to you that He lives.
To watch the full devotional, go to devotionals.ChurchofJesusChrist.org.