“Chapter 11: Follow the Living Prophet,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson (2014), 146–55
“Chapter 11,” Teachings: Ezra Taft Benson, 146–55
One night when Ezra Taft Benson was 15 years old, he sat at the supper table with the rest of his family and listened to his father read a letter from President Joseph F. Smith and his counselors in the First Presidency. In part, the letter said: “We advise and urge the inauguration of a ‘Home Evening’ throughout the Church, at which time fathers and mothers may gather their boys and girls about them in the home and teach them the word of the Lord. … If the Saints obey this counsel, we promise that great blessings will result. Love at home and obedience to parents will increase. Faith will be developed in the hearts of the youth of Israel, and they will gain power to combat the evil influences and temptations which beset them.”1
President Benson later recalled: “When [my father] concluded the letter, he said, ‘The Presidency has spoken, and this is the word of the Lord to us!’ From that time forward, we diligently held family home evenings in my boyhood home.”2
When President Benson had a family of his own, he and his wife carried on the tradition he had learned from his parents. He said, “I testify out of this experience [in my parents’ home] and the experience of family nights in my own home that great spiritual blessings can result.”3
In 1947 the First Presidency directed Church members to renew efforts to hold home evenings. President Benson, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, emphasized that subject in a general conference address. He testified of the family as “a divine institution,”4 and he reminded the Saints of the blessings that would come if they would follow the counsel of the prophet to strengthen their families and hold home evenings. He testified: “Our happiness here and hereafter is tied up with our successful discharge of this great responsibility. It merits, my brethren and sisters, our prayerful planning and attention, and I am confident in my own heart that great dividends will result, that great joy and satisfaction will come if we heed this as all other counsels given to us by the Presidency of the Church.”5
Having experienced blessings that result from heeding the counsel of the Lord’s chosen servants, Ezra Taft Benson frequently urged Latter-day Saints to keep their eyes on the living prophet. He boldly testified of the divine calling of each President of the Church with whom he served.6 When President Spencer W. Kimball, who had been ordained an Apostle on the same day as President Benson, delivered his first address as President of the Church to a group of Church leaders, President Benson “arose and with a voice filled with emotion, echoing the feeling of all present, said, in substance: ‘President Kimball, through all the years that these meetings have been held, we have never heard such an address as you have just given. Truly, there is a prophet in Israel.’”7 And when that divine calling came to President Benson after the death of President Kimball, he accepted it with humility and determination. He said: “My wife, Flora, and I have prayed continually that President Kimball’s days would be prolonged on this earth and another miracle performed on his behalf. Now that the Lord has spoken, we will do our best, under his guiding direction, to move the work forward in the earth.”8
Learn to keep your eye on the prophet. He is the Lord’s mouthpiece and the only man who can speak for the Lord today. Let his inspired counsel take precedence. Let his inspired words be a basis for evaluating the counsel of all lesser authorities. Then live close to the Spirit so you may know the truth of all things.9
The Lord’s mouthpiece and prophet on the face of the earth today received his authority through a line of prophets going back to Joseph Smith, who was ordained by Peter, James, and John, who were ordained by Christ, who was and is the head of the Church, the Creator of this earth, and the God before whom all men must stand accountable.10
This Church is not being directed by the wisdom of men. I know that. The power and influence of Almighty God are directing His Church.11
God knows all things, the end from the beginning, and no man becomes president of the church of Jesus Christ by accident, or remains there by chance, or is called home by happenstance.
The most important prophet, so far as we are concerned, is the one who is living in our day and age. This is the prophet who has today’s instructions from God to us. God’s revelation to Adam did not instruct Noah how to build the ark. Every generation has need of the ancient scripture, plus the current scripture from the living prophet. Therefore, the most crucial reading and pondering that you should do is of the latest inspired words from the Lord’s mouthpiece. That is why it is essential that you have access to and carefully read his words. …
Yes, we thank thee, O God, for a prophet to guide us in these latter days [see Hymns, no. 19].12
Beware of those who would set up the dead prophets against the living prophets, for the living prophets always take precedence.13
Each President has been uniquely selected for the time and situation which the world and Church needed. All were “men of the hour,” as we have witnessed in President Spencer W. Kimball. Contemplate the miracle of that foreordination and preparation! Though called and given keys many years prior to the time that the mantle fell upon him, the President was always the right man in the right place for the times. This miracle alone is one of the marks of the divinity of the Church.14
Let me ask, do we need a true prophet of the Lord on the earth today? Did the people in Noah’s day need a prophet to warn them spiritually and temporally? Had a man refused to follow Noah, would he have been saved from the flood? Yet the Bible tells us that in the last days in which we live, the wickedness of the people will become comparable to the wickedness of the people in Noah’s day when God cleansed the earth by flood [see Matthew 24:37–39]. Do you think we need a prophet today to warn us and prepare us for the cleansing that God promised will come, this time by fire?15
If we want to know how well we stand with the Lord then let us ask ourselves how well we stand with His mortal captain—how close do our lives harmonize with the Lord’s anointed—the living Prophet—President of the Church, and with the Quorum of the First Presidency.16
A revealing characteristic of a true prophet is that he declares a message from God. He makes no apology for the message, nor does he fear for any social repercussions which may lead to derision and persecution.17
Sometimes there are those who feel their earthly knowledge on a certain subject is superior to the heavenly knowledge which God gives to his prophet on the same subject. They feel the prophet must have the same earthly credentials or training which they have had before they will accept anything the prophet has to say that might contradict their earthly schooling. How much earthly schooling did Joseph Smith have? Yet he gave revelations on all kinds of subjects. … We encourage earthly knowledge in many areas, but remember if there is ever a conflict between earthly knowledge and the words of the prophet, you stand with the prophet and you’ll be blessed and time will show you have done the right thing.
… The prophet does not have to say “Thus saith the Lord” to give us scripture.
Sometimes there are those who argue about words. They might say the prophet gave us counsel but that we are not obliged to follow it unless he says it is a commandment. But the Lord says of the Prophet, “Thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you.” (D&C 21:4.)
… The prophet tells us what we need to know, not always what we want to know.
“Thou has declared unto us hard things, more than we are able to bear,” complained Nephi’s brethren. But Nephi answered by saying, “The guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center.” (1 Ne. 16:1–2.)
Said President Harold B. Lee:
“You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may conflict with your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life. … Your safety and ours depends upon whether or not we follow. … Let’s keep our eye on the President of the Church.” (Conference Report, October 1970, p. 152–153.)
But it is the living prophet who really upsets the world. “Even in the Church,” said President Kimball, “many are prone to garnish the sepulchres of yesterday’s prophets and mentally stone the living ones.” (Instructor, 95:257.)
Why? Because the living prophet gets at what we need to know now, and the world prefers that prophets either be dead or worry about their own affairs. …
How we respond to the words of a living prophet when he tells us what we need to know, but would rather not hear, is a test of our faithfulness. …
The learned may feel the prophet is only inspired when he agrees with them, otherwise the prophet is just giving his opinion—speaking as a man. The rich may feel they have no need to take counsel of a lowly prophet. …
… The prophet will not necessarily be popular with the world or the worldly.
As a prophet reveals the truth it divides the people. The honest in heart heed his words but the unrighteous either ignore the prophet or fight him. When the prophet points out the sins of the world, the worldly either want to close the mouth of the prophet, or else act as if the prophet didn’t exist, rather than repent of their sins. Popularity is never a test of truth. Many a prophet has been killed or cast out. As we come closer to the Lord’s second coming you can expect that as the people of the world become more wicked, the prophet will be less popular with them.18
To help you pass the crucial tests which lie ahead, I am going to give you … a grand key which, if you will honor, will crown you with God’s glory and bring you out victorious in spite of Satan’s fury.
… As a Church we sing the hymn, “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet” [Hymns, no. 19]. Here then is the grand key—Follow the prophet. …
… The prophet is the only man who speaks for the Lord in everything.
In section 132 verse 7 of the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord speaks of the prophet—the president—and says:
“There is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred.”
Then in section 21 verses 4–6, the Lord states:
“Wherefore, meaning the church, thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me;
“For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.
“For by doing these things the gates of hell shall not prevail against you.”19
The prophet will never lead the Church astray.
President Wilford Woodruff stated: “I say to Israel, The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as president of the Church to lead you astray. It is not in the program. It is not in the mind of God” [see Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff (2004), 199].
President Marion G. Romney tells of this incident which happened to him:
“I remember years ago when I was a bishop I had President Heber J. Grant talk to our ward. After the meeting I drove him home. … Standing by me, he put his arm over my shoulder and said: ‘My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.’ Then with a twinkle in his eye, he said, ‘But you don’t need to worry. The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray.’” (Conference Report, October 1960, p. 78.)20
The story is told how Brigham Young, driving through a community, saw a man building a house and simply told him to double the thickness of his walls. Accepting President Young as a prophet, the man changed his plans and doubled the walls. Shortly afterward a flood came through that town, resulting in much destruction, but this man’s walls stood. While putting the roof on his house, he was heard singing, “We thank thee, O God, for a prophet!”21
As members of the Church we have some close quarters to pass through if we are going to get home safely. We will be given a chance to choose between conflicting counsel given by some. That’s why we must learn—and the sooner we learn, the better—to keep our eye on the Prophet, the President of the Church.22
President Benson said, “Learn to keep your eye on the prophet” (section 1). What does this mean to you?
Why do you think the most important prophet for us is the current President of the Church? (See section 2.) What counsel have we recently received from the living prophet?
As you review section 3, reflect on a time when you have followed the prophet’s counsel even though you have not completely understood it. What can we learn from such experiences?
Consider the “grand key” that President Benson identifies in section 4. What are some blessings you have received when you have been true to this grand key?
“Do not be afraid of silence. People often need time to think about and reply to questions or to express what they are feeling. You might pause after you have asked a question, after a spiritual experience has been shared, or when a person is having difficulty expressing himself or herself” (Teaching, No Greater Call , 67).