Teachings of Presidents
Chapter 19: Following the Living Prophet

“Chapter 19: Following the Living Prophet,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff (2011), 195–204

“Chapter 19,” Teachings: Wilford Woodruff, 195–204

Chapter 19

Following the Living Prophet

As we obey the word of the Lord revealed to the living prophet, we will find safety and happiness in this world and exaltation in the world to come.

From the Life of Wilford Woodruff

Elder Wilford Woodruff was at home one afternoon when he received word that President Brigham Young wanted to see him at the Church Historian’s Office. Upon receiving this request from the President of the Church, Elder Woodruff “immediately went to the office,”1 where he was then serving as Assistant Church Historian. He later recorded in his journal:

“President Young said to me as I came in, ‘Have you a team [of horses]?’ I told him I had a pair of small ponies. He asked if I could spare them. I hesitated a moment and said, ‘Yes sir, I can do anything that is wanted.’ He then said, ‘I have a good pair of horses that I want to let you have, as you are laboring here.’ I was taken quite surprised. It came very unexpected to me. I accepted the horses and was thankful, though perhaps I did not say it at the time.”2

When Elder Woodruff agreed to give up his ponies, he simply chose to obey President Young’s instructions; he did not expect a reward for his deed. However, he knew of the blessings that come from following the living prophet. A few months earlier he had declared, “The Lord will open the mind of Brother Brigham and lead him into many principles that pertain to the salvation of this people, and we cannot close up our minds and say that we will go so far and no farther; this we cannot do without jeopardising our standing before God.”3

This declaration was consistent with his unswerving loyalty to the Presidents of the Church when he served as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. When he became the President of the Church himself, he testified of his divine calling and assured the Saints that they would always be led by a living prophet. He said:

“When the Lord gave the keys of the kingdom of God, the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood, of the apostleship, and sealed them upon the head of Joseph Smith, He sealed them upon his head to stay here upon the earth until the coming of the Son of Man. Well might Brigham Young say, ‘The keys of the kingdom of God are here.’ They were with him to the day of his death. They then rested upon the head of another man—President John Taylor. He held those keys to the hour of his death. They then fell by turn, or in the providence of God, upon Wilford Woodruff.

“I say to the Latter-day Saints the keys of the kingdom of God are here, and they are going to stay here, too, until the coming of the Son of Man. Let all Israel understand that. They may not rest upon my head but a short time, but they will then rest on the head of another apostle, and another after him, and so continue until the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in the clouds of heaven.”4

Teachings of Wilford Woodruff

From the days of Adam, the Lord has raised up prophets to govern His Church and warn the inhabitants of the earth.

God has led this Church from the beginning, by prophets and inspired men. He will lead this Church until the scene is wound up.5

God never had a church or a people, in any age of the world, that were governed and controlled except by revelation. The living oracles of God were among them—those who held the keys of the kingdom, and they had to receive revelation to assist them in all their work.6

The Lord has never sent judgments upon any generation which we have any knowledge of until he has raised up prophets and inspired men to warn the inhabitants of the earth. This is the course the Lord has dealt with all men from the days of Father Adam to the present time.7

Through living prophets, the Lord reveals His will for the Church and leads us on the path to eternal life.

The Lord has taught us … that it matters not whether he speaks from heaven by his own voice, or by the ministration of angels, or by the mouth of his servants when they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost, it is all the same the mind and will of God [see D&C 1:38].8

The law of God is in the mouths of those who are set to lead us.9

If we had before us every revelation which God ever gave to man; if we had the Book of Enoch; if we had the untranslated plates before us in the English language; if we had the records of the Revelator St. John which are sealed up, and all other revelations, and they were piled up here a hundred feet high, the church and kingdom of God could not grow, in this or any other age of the world, without the living oracles of God.10

We have revelation with us. True, the leaders of this Church since the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith have not [published] many revelations. Joseph Smith brought forth the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and it is a grand volume of revelation—one of the most glorious records ever given of God to man on the earth. But I want to say that Brother Brigham Young did not live without revelation. He always had revelation with him. He could not labor without it; he could not preach or do the will of God without it. Nor can any man that occupies that position. The Lord would permit no man to stand at the head of this Church unless he was governed and controlled by revelation. We are feeble instruments—weak worms of the dust; but God has chosen the weak things of the earth to confound the wise, and to build up His Zion, and He gives us revelation and makes known unto us His mind and will.11

It is different with us than with the world; we have a main channel through which to receive our light, knowledge and blessings. … You may take the smartest men that talent and learning ever made and put them in the church of God, and they never can get ahead of their leader. Their wisdom would be turned into folly. Why? Because they are not called to lead. If a man has never learned a letter of a book, if the Lord calls upon him to lead the church and kingdom of God, he will give him power to do it. We have had these lessons laid before us day after day, calling upon us to be united, and our hearts to become as the heart of one man, that our prayers and works may be centered to one point in carrying out the counsel of our head.

The Lord will lead [the President of the Church] where he wants him to go. We know God is with him, and has led him all the time. … It requires [the prophet] to tell us what is right and what is wrong in many things, because that is his place and calling. … A perfect channel exists between the Lord and him, through which he obtains wisdom, which is diffused through other channels to the people. That we know. We have got to learn to bring this knowledge into practice.12

The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place.13

I hope we may all pursue the course laid down for us by the servants of the Lord, for if we do this I know that we shall be safe in this world, and secure happiness and exaltation in the world to come. … If we are faithful they will lead us in the way of life, and in as much as we have faith to believe in their instructions, in the teachings of the Holy Spirit through them, we are always in the safe path, and shall be sure of our reward.14

We sustain the living prophet and other Church leaders by praying for them and following their counsel.

I and other men, the apostles, and all who are called to officiate in the name of the Lord need the faith and prayers of the Latter-day Saints.15

While I live I want to be true and faithful to my God and to the Saints. One of the greatest blessings of God to me has been the fact that myself and counselors live in the hearts of the Latter-day Saints, and I have felt to be humbled in the dust before the Lord for this. We know that you pray for us. We know that you have respect for us. And we live upon this principle. … The Lord has “chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; … and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are.” [See 1 Corinthians 1:27–28.] We feel our weaknesses. I wish myself that I were a better man than I am. Of course, I have endeavored to do about the best I could in my weak way. I still wish to do so. But I am dependent upon the Lord and upon the prayers of the Saints, the same as my brethren.16

I hope my brethren and sisters will feel in their hearts to sustain the Presidency of this Church by their faith, works, and prayers, and not suffer them to carry all the load, while we hide ourselves in the rear. If we should do this we are not worthy, we are not worthy of our position as Elders in Israel, and fathers and mothers in Israel. Let each one bear their share; and if we will correct our own follies, and set in order our own houses, and do that which is right, we shall then do some good, and help to lift the load that rests upon those that lead. … It is grievous to [the President of the Church] when he sees the people reckless in pursuing their own course leading them to destruction; when they are not willing to take his counsel and abide the doctrines he teaches; but when he sees the people willing to obey wholesome counsel, and endeavor to sanctify themselves before the Lord, he feels strengthened and sustained.17

Congregation sustaining general authority

When we raise our hands in a sustaining vote, we pledge to “sustain the Presidency of this Church by [our] faith, works, and prayers.”

We must not treat lightly the counsel from the President of the Church.

When the Lord inspires men and sends them to any generation, he holds that generation responsible for the manner in which they receive the testimony of his servants.18

It is necessary that all the members of the Church should exercise their powers of reason and reflection, and thoroughly understand why they take the course which God points out. Intelligent obedience on the part of His Saints is desired by our Father in Heaven. He has given us our agency to think and act for ourselves, on our own volition, to obtain a testimony for ourselves from Him concerning the truth of the principles which He teaches, and then be firm and unshaken in the performance of all which is necessary for salvation.19

It is our privilege so to live as to have the Spirit of God to bear record of the truth of any revelation that comes from God through the mouth of His prophet who leads His people, and it has ever been a key with me that when the prophet who leads presents a doctrine or principle or says “thus saith the Lord” I make it a point to receive it even if it comes in contact with my tradition or views, being well satisfied that the Lord would reveal the truth unto His prophet whom He has called to lead His Church before He would unto me. And the word of the Lord through the prophet is the end of the Law unto me.20

I want to say to my brethren and sisters that [the President of the Church] is our leader, he is our law-giver in the Church and Kingdom of God. He is called to this office; it is his prerogative to tell this people what to do, and it is our duty to obey the counsel that he has given to-day to the sisters and the brethren. We, as a people, should not treat lightly this counsel, for I will tell you in the name of the Lord, and I have watched it from the time I became a member of this Church, there is no man who undertakes to run counter to the counsel of the legally authorized leader of this people that ever prospers, and no such man ever will prosper.21

According to the ancient practice we learn that [shepherds] always went forward and prepared the way, so that there could be no danger in advance but what the shepherd would learn of in time to save the sheep. If [the sheep] are allowed to run by the shepherd, the wolves are apt to catch them and destroy them, and the very moment that men in this kingdom attempt to run ahead or cross the path of their leaders, no matter in what respect, the moment they do this they are in danger of being injured by the wolves.

This is a subject upon which I have thought a great deal, and I have gained a little useful knowledge during my experience by watching the conduct of men, and I have never in my life known it to fail, that when men went contrary to the counsel of their leaders, … they always became entangled and suffered a loss by so doing.

Now whatever I might have obtained in the shape of learning, by searching and study respecting the arts and sciences of men, whatever principles I may have imbibed during my scientific researches, yet if the prophet of God should tell me that a certain principle, or theory which I might have learned was not true, I do not care what my ideas might have been, I should consider it my duty, at the suggestion of my file leader to abandon that principle or theory. …

I have seen men in the days of Joseph bring up principles, and read and teach, and advocate theories when the prophet would say “it is not right to do so, they are not true.” Those men would still argue, maintain their position, and they would write in defence of their theories when the prophet condemned them, and they would say “we have no faith in your theory, nor in the system you present.”

The very moment a man does that he crosses the path of the servant of God who is set to lead the way to life and salvation. This is one thing that the Elders should carefully avoid. The fact is there are a great many things taught in the building up of this kingdom which seem strange to us, being contrary to our traditions, and are calculated to try men. Brother Joseph used a great many methods of testing the integrity of men, and he taught a great many things which in consequence of tradition required prayer, faith and a testimony from the Lord before they could be believed by many of the Saints. …

With regard to crossing the path of any man who may be appointed to lead us, I will say we never should do it, and I do not care what our feelings and views may be upon the subject as far as our traditions and education are concerned.

If God has anything to reveal, he will reveal it to that man who stands at the head. … There is no other plan, no other system by which to guide and govern men in this kingdom, only that which has been established by the revelations of God in the order of His church and kingdom, and that is for the head to lead, counsel and govern in all dispensations in which the will of God is revealed to man.22

Suggestions for Study and Teaching

Consider these ideas as you study the chapter or as you prepare to teach. For additional help, see pages v–ix.

  • What principles can we learn from the story on page 195?

  • What are the responsibilities of prophets? (See pages 197–99.) How does the current President of the Church fulfill these responsibilities?

  • Review the third full paragraph on page 198. Why is it more important to be led by a living prophet than to have the records of ancient prophets?

  • Review the second full paragraph on page 199. How does this assurance help you?

  • What can we do to sustain and support the President of the Church? (See pages 199–201.) Consider what you do personally to sustain the living prophet.

  • What counsel have we received from the current President of the Church? What have you done to follow that counsel? What blessings have you received as a result of your obedience?

  • What warnings did President Woodruff give to those who reject or ignore the words of the living prophet? (See pages 201–3.)

  • Read the second full paragraph on page 201. What do you learn from the phrase “intelligent obedience”?

  • How can we teach children to sustain the President of the Church?

Related Scriptures: Amos 3:7; Matthew 10:41; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; Mosiah 2:7–9; D&C 21:4–7; 28:6–7; 43:1–3; 107:22


  1. Journal of Wilford Woodruff, August 26, 1857, Archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

  2. Journal of Wilford Woodruff, August 26, 1857.

  3. Deseret News, May 27, 1857, 91; from a discourse given on April 9, 1857.

  4. Millennial Star, September 2, 1889, 547.

  5. Deseret Weekly, September 5, 1891, 324.

  6. The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, sel. G. Homer Durham (1946), 53–54.

  7. The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 223.

  8. Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, March 26, 1878, 1.

  9. The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 56.

  10. The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 53.

  11. Millennial Star, March 5, 1896, 148.

  12. Deseret News, December 16, 1857, 324–25.

  13. The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 212.

  14. Deseret News, May 27, 1857, 91.

  15. Millennial Star, September 2, 1889, 547–48.

  16. Deseret Weekly, September 5, 1891, 324.

  17. Deseret News, March 21, 1855, 11.

  18. Deseret News, July 1, 1863, 1.

  19. “An Epistle to the Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Millennial Star, November 14, 1887, 724.

  20. Journal of Wilford Woodruff, January 27, 1860.

  21. Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, September 20, 1870, 2.

  22. Deseret News, May 27, 1857, 91.