“Chapter 11: Finding Joy in Life,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: John Taylor (2011), 97–105
“Chapter 11,” Teachings: John Taylor, 97–105
In late June of 1847, a large group of Saints led by Elder John Taylor and Elder Parley P. Pratt left Winter Quarters to travel west. By September 1847 they had reached the east side of the Rocky Mountains, between 300 and 400 miles away from the Salt Lake Valley. During the first week of September, several inches of snow had fallen, and many of the Saints began to feel disheartened. At this same time, President Brigham Young and several members of the Twelve were returning from the Salt Lake Valley to Winter Quarters and met Elder Taylor’s group. Amid the snow and the growing concern of those who were traveling to the Salt Lake Valley, Elder Taylor encouraged everyone to be of good cheer and met in council with President Young, the accompanying members of the Twelve, and the other leading brethren in the group.
While the brethren were meeting, the clouds dispersed and the sun soon melted the snow. Without telling the rest of the group, several of the sisters went to a secluded grassy area fringed with bushes. There they began setting up makeshift tables decorated with white linen and fine tableware. A historical account records that “‘the fatted calf’ was killed; game and fish were prepared in abundance; fruits, jellies and relishes reserved for special occasions were brought out until truly it was a royal feast.”
When the council meeting had ended, the brethren who had been in the meeting and more than 100 other members of the group were led to the surprise gathering, where they enjoyed a fine meal. The account records the following: “Supper over and cleared away, preparations were made for dancing; and soon was added to the sweet confusion of laughter and cheerful conversation the merry strains of the violin. … Dancing was interspersed with songs and recitations. ‘We felt mutually edified and blessed,’ writes Elder Taylor, ‘we praised the Lord and blessed one another.’”2
Latter-day Saints have always believed in finding happiness in life, whether it be through enjoying the beauty and abundance of nature, gathering for wholesome social activities, or pondering the truths of the gospel. John Taylor taught, “It is ‘life and the pursuit of happiness’ that ought to occupy the attention of all intellectual beings.” While he believed that we can experience great joy in this life, he also taught that “the greatest happiness that we can attain to is in securing the approbation of our Heavenly Father, in fearing God, in being made acquainted with his laws—with the principles of eternal truth, and with those things that we consider will best promote not only our temporal, but our eternal happiness.”3
We like enjoyment here. That is right. God designs that we should enjoy ourselves. I do not believe in a religion that makes people gloomy, melancholy, miserable and ascetic. … I should not think there was anything great or good associated with that, while everything around, the trees, birds, flowers and green fields, were so pleasing, the insects and bees buzzing and fluttering, the lambs frolicking and playing. While everything else enjoyed life, why should not we? But we want to do it correctly and not pervert any of these principles that God has planted in the human family.4
Is there anything gloomy in the works that God has made? Turn where we will, we see harmony, loveliness, cheerfulness, and beauty.
The blessings of providence were made for man, and his enjoyment; he is placed as head of creation. For him the earth teems with the richest profusion; the golden grain, the luscious fruit, the choicest vines; for him, the herbs, and flowers bedeck the earth, shed their odoriferous perfumes, and display their gorgeous beauty; … For him, the shrub and vine bloom and blossom, and nature clothes herself in her richest attire; the rippling stream, the pure fountain, the crystal river flow for him, all nature spreads her richest charms, and invites him to partake of her joyousness, beauty, and innocence, and to worship her God.
Talk about melancholy in the fear of God, and in his service! It is the corruption of the world, that has made men unhappy; and the corruption of religion that has made it gloomy: these are the miseries entailed by men, not the blessings of God. Talk about gloom! Is there gloom in the warbling of the birds, in the prancing of the horse, in the playfulness of the lamb, or kid; in the beauty of flowers, in any of Nature’s gifts, or rich attire, or in God, that made them, or in his service?5
Why, there are some people who think that the fiddle, for instance, is an instrument of the devil and it is quite wrong to use it. I do not think so, I think it is a splendid thing to dance by. But some folks think that we should not dance. Yes, we should enjoy life in any way we can. Some people object to music. Why, music prevails in the heavens, and among the birds! God has filled them with it. There is nothing more pleasing and delightful than it is to go into the woods or among the bushes early in the morning and listen to the warbling and rich melody of the birds, and it is strictly in accordance with the sympathies of our nature.
We have no idea of the excellence of the music we shall have in heaven. It may be said of that, as one of the Apostles has said in relation to something else—“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive of those things which are prepared for those who love and fear God.” [See 1 Corinthians 2:9.] We have no idea of the excellency, beauty, harmony and symphony of the music in the heavens.
Our object is to get and cleave to everything that is good, and to reject everything that is bad. One reason why religious people in the world are opposed to music and theatres is because of the corruption that is mixed up with them. Wicked and corrupt men associate themselves with these things, and degrade them; but is this any reason that the Saints should not enjoy the gifts of God? Is that a correct principle? Certainly not. It is for them to grasp at everything that is good, and calculated to promote the happiness of the human family. …
In all our amusements we should see that things are conducted right, and we should never forget to act the part of ladies and gentlemen, and we should do away with frowardness [or disobedience] and impudence, and treat everybody with kindness, courtesy and respect.6
Social enjoyment and amusements are not incompatible with correct conduct and true religion. Instead of forbidding the theatre and placing it under ban, it has been the aim of the Latter-day Saints to control it and keep it free from impure influences, and to preserve it as a place where all could meet for the purpose of healthful enjoyment. Our leading men have, therefore, gone to these places with the view, by their presence, of restraining all practices and influences that would be injurious to the young and rising generation. Too great care cannot be exercised that liberty shall not degenerate into license, and not to convert that which should furnish enjoyment and simple pleasure into a means of producing unhealthful excitement or corrupting morals. … Committee-men and officers in charge should see that dances of every kind are conducted in a modest and becoming manner and that no behavior be permitted that would lead to evil or that would offend the most delicate susceptibilities.7
It is very pleasant for the Saints of God to reflect upon the principles of eternal truth, that have been developed unto them. If there is anything connected with happiness and humanity, if there is anything calculated to expand the views and feelings of the human family, to raise our hopes and aspirations, and to give peace, joy, and confidence, it is the thought that God has revealed unto us the precepts of eternal truth; that He has planted them within our bosoms and given unto us a certainty in regard to those things we profess to believe in, and assuredly do know.8
I cannot conceive of anything more beautiful and heavenly than a united brotherhood, organized after the pattern laid down in the Doctrine and Covenants; when all act for the benefit of all—when while we love God with all our hearts we love our neighbor as ourselves; where our time, our property, our talents, our mental and bodily powers are all exerted for the good of all; where no man grabs or takes advantage of another; where there is a common interest, a common purse, a common stock; where, as they did on this continent, it is said of them that “they all dealt justly to each other,” and all acted for the general weal, “when every man in every place could meet a brother and a friend,” when all the generous and benevolent influences and sympathies of our nature are carried out, and covetousness, arrogance, hatred, and pride, and every evil are subdued and brought into subjection to the will and Spirit of God. These principles are very beautiful and would be very happifying for a community, a territory, a state, nation, or the world.9
I have felt joyful in the Lord, and I bless the name of the God of Israel that I am associated with his church and kingdom on the earth. These feelings I wish at all times to cherish in my bosom and carry out in my life; and I believe there are hundreds, if not thousands, before me to-day, who have the same spirit and feeling, and the same desires. …
What makes us so buoyant and joyful on occasions like this? … It is because there is a union of good feelings, good desires and aspirations and one spirit inspires the whole, forming a phalanx [or organized body] of power, of faith, and of the Spirit of the Lord. A single taper [or candle] will give a light, and it is pleasant to look upon, but thousands of the same kind of light make a general illumination. With us, it is a time of union, of light, of life, of intelligence, of the Spirit of the living God; our feelings are one, our faith is one, and a great multitude possessing this oneness forms an array of power that no power on this side of earth or hell is able to cope with, or overcome.
We believe that we as a body of people, embracing all the various quorums of this church and kingdom are engaged in this one great work; and hence there is a feeling of faith, union, and intensity, or power, if you please, of the Spirit of the living God, that quickens and vivifies the mind, gives energy to the body, and joy to the bosom. In this we all feel to participate. The Lord is here by his Spirit and power, and our hearts are joyful.10
When we look at ourselves aright—when we understand the principles of truth aright—what is there we would not give for salvation? When the Spirit has beamed forth powerfully upon the hearts of the saints—when the light and intelligence of heaven has manifested itself—when the Lord has [shone] upon the souls of the saints when assembled together, what have they felt like? that they are the blessed of the Lord. How oft when they have met together on special occasions to receive certain blessings from the hands of God, has the spirit of revelation rested upon them, and the future been opened to their view in all its beauty, glory, richness, and excellency; and when their hearts have been warmed up by that spirit, how have they felt to rejoice! How have they looked upon the things of this world, and the prospect that awaited them! upon their privileges as saints of the Most High God; and upon the glory they will inherit if they are faithful to the end!
You may have experienced the feeling that such thoughts and prospects would naturally create in the human heart. Why is it we feel otherwise at any time? It is because we forget to pray and call upon God, and dedicate ourselves to him, or because we fall into transgression, commit iniquity, and lose the Spirit of God, and forget our calling’s glorious hope; but if we could all the time see and realize and understand our true position before God, our minds would be continually on the stretch after the things of God, and we should be seeking to know all the day long, what we could do to promote the happiness and salvation of the world, what we could do to honor our calling—to honor the priesthood of the Son of God, and what to do to honor our God, and to improve the remaining time we have upon the earth, and the energies of our bodies for the accomplishment of his purposes, and for the rolling forth of his kingdom—for the advancement of his designs, that when we stand before him, he may say to us, “well done thou good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of thy Lord; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things.” [See Matthew 25:21.]11
So far as I am personally concerned, I am here as a candidate for eternity, for heaven and for happiness. I want to secure by my acts a peace in another world that will impart that happiness and bliss for which I am seeking.12
President Taylor taught that God created the earth and its beauty for our enjoyment. What experiences have you had in which you found joy in the beauty of the earth and felt closer to the Lord?
How can wholesome music, poetry, drama, or other forms of entertainment bring us joy? What can we do to bring the power and joy of uplifting music into our lives and the lives of our family members? How can we support and promote wholesome entertainment?
Why do you think music is such an important part of our religious worship? How have the hymns of the Church comforted or strengthened you during times of trial?
How has your fellowship with other Saints brought you joy? What can you do to encourage greater unity among the members of your ward or branch?
What does it mean to you to feel “joyful in the Lord”? What are some doctrines of the gospel that bring you joy? As we seek joy in this life, why is it important to think also of eternity?
What are some events in your life that have brought you joy? What can we do to retain a spirit of joy in our lives in spite of our trials? What can we do to help our children find joy in their lives?