“Chapter 1: The Restoration of the Gospel,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff (2011), xxxviii–11
“Chapter 1,” Teachings: Wilford Woodruff, xxxviii–11
When Wilford Woodruff was a child, he and his family befriended Robert Mason, a man who was known for his distinctive religious beliefs. President Woodruff recalled:
“He believed that it was necessary to have prophets, apostles, dreams, visions and revelations in the church of Christ, the same as they had who lived in ancient days; and he believed the Lord would raise up a people and a church, in the last days, with prophets, apostles and all the gifts, powers, and blessings, which it ever contained in any age of the world. … He frequently came to my father’s house when I was a boy, and taught me and my brothers those principles; and I believed him.
“[He] prayed a great deal, and he had dreams and visions, and the Lord showed him many things, by visions, which were to come to pass in the last days.
“I will here relate one vision, which he related to me. The last time I ever saw him, he said: ‘I was laboring in my field at mid-day when I was enwrapped in a vision. I was placed in the midst of a vast forest of fruit trees: I was very hungry, and walked a long way through the orchard, searching for fruit to eat; but I could not find any in the whole orchard, and I wept because I could not find any fruit. While I stood gazing at the orchard, and wondering why there was no fruit, the trees began to fall to the ground upon every side of me, until there was not one tree standing in the whole orchard; and while I was marveling at the scene, I saw young sprouts start up from the roots of the trees which had fallen, and they opened into young thrifty trees before my eyes. They budded, blossomed, and bare fruit until the trees were loaded with the finest fruit I ever beheld, and I rejoiced to see so much fine fruit. I stepped up to a tree and picked my hands full of fruit, and marveled at its beauty, and as I was about to taste of it the vision closed, and I found myself in the field in the same place I was at the commencement of the vision.
“‘I then knelt upon the ground, and prayed unto the Lord, and asked him, in the name of Jesus Christ, to show me the meaning of the vision. The Lord said unto me: “This is the interpretation of the vision; the great trees of the forest represent the generation of men in which you live. There is no church of Christ, or kingdom of God upon the earth in your generation. There is no fruit of the Church of Christ upon the earth. There is no man ordained of God to administer in any of the ordinances of the gospel of salvation upon the earth in this day and generation. But, in the next generation, I the Lord will set up my kingdom and my Church upon the earth, and the fruits of the kingdom and church of Christ, such as have followed the prophets, apostles and saints in every dispensation, shall again be found in all their fulness upon the earth. You will live to see the day, and handle the fruit; but will never partake of it in the flesh.”’”
President Woodruff continued: “When [he] had finished relating the vision and interpretation, he said to me, … ‘I shall never partake of this fruit in the flesh; but you will, and you will become a conspicuous actor in that kingdom.’ He then turned and left me. These were the last words he ever spoke to me upon the earth. …
“He had this vision about the year 1800, and he related it to me in 1830—the same spring that this Church was organized.
“This vision, with his other teachings to me, made a great impression upon my mind, and I prayed a great deal to the Lord to lead me by his Spirit, and prepare me for his Church when it did come.”
When Wilford Woodruff joined the Church, he wrote a letter to his friend Robert Mason. “I … told him I had found the Church of Christ that he had told me about,” he later recalled. “I told him about its organization and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon; that the Church had prophets, apostles, and all the gifts and blessings in it, and that the true fruit of the kingdom and Church of Christ were manifest among the Saints as the Lord had shown him in his vision. He received my letter, and read it over many times, and handled it as he had handled the fruit in the vision; but he was very aged, and soon died. He did not live to see any Elder to administer the ordinances of the Gospel unto him.
“The first opportunity I had, after the doctrine of baptism for the dead was revealed, I went forth and was baptized for him.”1
The Lord has set His hand many times in different dispensations to establish His kingdom upon the earth; He has raised up men—noble spirits—who have come forth and tabernacled in the flesh at different periods and times. He has inspired those men; given them revelations; filled them with inspiration, with light, with truth, with the things of the kingdom of God.2
If you were to meet with father Adam, with Seth, Moses, Aaron, Christ, or the apostles, they would all teach the same principles that we have been taught; they would not vary one particle. This gospel is everlasting in its nature and unchangeable in its character.3
There never was but one gospel, and never will be but one delivered to the children of men, and that never changed and never will change in time or eternity. It is the same in every age of the world; its ordinances are the same. Believers in the gospel had faith in Jesus before he came in the flesh, and repentance of sin was preached before his day as well as since; they also practiced baptism for the remission of sins and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost; and they had the organization of the church with inspired men therein. … These things are necessary in every age of the world.4
Whenever the Lord has a Church upon the earth, and that Church receives the Gospel of Christ, and they enjoy the Holy Ghost, every gift and grace that ever did belong to the Church of God belongs to that Church.5
Jesus Christ … brought the Gospel to the Jews and established His kingdom among them, and it came with all its gifts, graces and powers: the sick were healed; devils were cast out; the gifts were manifested among them. But the Jews rejected Him, and they finally put Him to death. … He was not received; and then, according to command, this Gospel went to the Gentiles.6
When the kingdom was presented to the Gentiles, it was presented with apostles and prophets, with healing powers, with revelations direct from God, and with every gift and grace the Jews believed in, and enjoyed while they remained faithful: when it went to the Gentiles it was perfect in its organization, but in process of time they changed the ordinances of the kingdom of God, and fell through the same example of unbelief, and have remained for centuries without the true order of heaven among them. … In process of time the gifts, and graces, and powers of the kingdom of God were taken away, and the men who officiated in the ancient church of God were nearly all put to death; they were slain because they endeavored to maintain it in its purity, and tried with all their might to establish the principles that God had revealed.7
Long centuries passed away. Millions of human beings were born, dwelt on the earth, died, and went into the spirit world, and not one soul of them, so far as we have any knowledge, had power to go forth among mankind and administer in the ordinances of the Gospel of life and salvation. There were, doubtless, millions of good men, who acted up to the best light that they had … , who came forth in their day and preached the Gospel according to the light which they possessed. But they did not have the power to administer in one ordinance which had any force after death. They did not hold the holy Priesthood.8
The world was almost destitute of a knowledge of the truth, and of the Holy Ghost which is poured out to lead mankind in the way of truth. … The very fact that generation after generation have risen up and established systems and organizations, all professing to be according to the plan of salvation, and yet opposed one to another, until they have raised up scores of churches all differing on points of doctrine, proves that there has been something out of the way.9
The gospel has gone forth in our day in its true glory, power, order, and light, as it always did when God had a people among men that he acknowledged. That same organization and gospel that Christ died for, and the apostles spilled their blood to vindicate, is again established in this generation. How did it come? By the ministering of an holy angel from God, out of heaven, who [conversed] with man, and revealed unto him the darkness that enveloped the world, and unfolded unto him the gross darkness that surrounded the nations, those scenes that should take place in this generation, and would follow each other in quick succession even unto the coming of the Messiah [see Joseph Smith—History 1:30–49]. The angel taught Joseph Smith those principles which are necessary for the salvation of the world; and the Lord gave him commandments, and sealed upon him the priesthood, and gave him power to administer the ordinances of the house of the Lord. He told him the gospel was not among men, and that there was not a true organization of his kingdom in the world, that the people had turned away from his true order, changed the ordinances and broken the everlasting covenant, and inherited lies and things wherein there was no profit. He told him the time had come to lay the foundation for the establishment of the Kingdom of God among men for the last time preparatory to the winding up scene.10
What did Joseph Smith do after having received [the] priesthood and its ordinances? I will tell you what he did. He did that which seventeen centuries and fifty generations, that have passed and gone, of all the clergy and religions of Christendom, and the whole world combined were not able to do—he, although an [unlearned] youth, presented to the world the gospel of Jesus Christ in its fulness, plainness and simplicity, as taught by its Author and his apostles; he presented the church of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God perfect in their organization, as Paul represents them—with head and feet, arms and hands, every member of the body perfect before heaven and earth [see 1 Corinthians 12:12–28]. How could he, an [unlearned] boy, do that which the whole of the learning of the Christian world for seventeen centuries failed to do? Because he was moved upon by the power of God, he was instructed by those men who, when in the flesh, had preached the same gospel themselves, and in doing this he fulfilled that which Father Adam, Enoch, Moses, Elias, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Jesus and his apostles all prophesied about.
Well might Paul say—“I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation unto every one that believes.” [See Romans 1:16.] So may the Latter-day Saints say—“We are not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” I am not ashamed to say that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God; I am not ashamed to bear record that he was called of God, and laid the foundation of this church and kingdom on the earth, for this is true, and any man or woman who is inspired by the Holy Ghost can see and understand these things.
… He lived until he received every key, ordinance and law ever given to any man on the earth, from Father Adam down, touching this dispensation. He received powers and keys from under the hands of Moses for gathering the house of Israel in the last days; he received under the hands of [Elijah] the keys of sealing the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers; he received under the hands of Peter, James and John the apostleship, and everything belonging thereto; he received under the hands of Moroni all the keys and powers required of the stick of Joseph in the hands of Ephraim; he received under the hand of John the Baptist the Aaronic priesthood, with all its keys and powers; and every other key and power belonging to this dispensation, and I am not ashamed to say that he was a prophet of God.11
Joseph Smith, instead of living to be nearly a thousand years of age as Adam did, lived to be about thirty-eight years of age. He brought forth the record of the stick of Joseph in the hands of Ephraim—the history of the ancient inhabitants of this continent. By the power of God he translated that, and it has been published in many languages. Besides this, he organized the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints upon the foundation of apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus being the chief cornerstone [see Ephesians 2:20]. Men were ordained to the Priesthood and sent forth, from the various occupations of life, to carry this Gospel to the world. God informed Joseph Smith that he was called to prune the vineyard once more for the last time before the coming of the Son of Man [see D&C 24:19]. Since that, thousands of Elders of Israel have been sent into the world to preach the Gospel. … Let any man read the revelations in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, which were given through him during the little time he spent here in the flesh. It is one of the greatest records that any man ever gave to the human family. Not only this, but he organized the endowments and did a great deal of other work. Who could expect him, during the short time he lived in the flesh, to do more than he did? I received my endowments from under his hands. He brought forth all these ordinances that have been given unto the Latter-day Saints. In fact, it is a marvel and a wonder that he performed as much as he did.12
I consider any people blest of the Lord to whom he has revealed the gospel of Jesus Christ, to whom he has given the holy priesthood and authority to administer in the ordinances of his house. … I consider this to be our position to-day; we have the privilege of walking in the light, we have the privilege of comprehending and knowing the truth, of knowing the way to be saved and exalted in the presence of our Father and God. We are in a position to know his mind and will, through his servants the prophets. The Lord has given unto us teachers and inspired men, men who are inspired by the Spirit and power of God; clothed them with truth and endowed them with wisdom to teach us at all times the path we should walk in. This is a great blessing.13
As I reflect … upon the condition of the human family, and consider how differently we are situated from the masses of mankind, I do feel that we ought to be grateful to our great Benefactor. There are millions of the human family who assemble in various houses, in cathedrals, churches and chapels, for the purpose of worshipping God, but is there one of those numerous congregations who come together with an understanding of the truth, except there be some Latter-day Saint Elder who is called to preach to the inhabitants of the earth? Do they come together understanding the principles of the same gospel, the same plan of salvation, the gospel of Jesus Christ, in a way and manner to make them one?
Now, God could not make a people one with so many kinds of faith, and such a multiplicity of doctrines, diametrically opposed to each other, as exist in the world, but we are a blessed people; we have the principles of union and oneness with us, and by carrying them out they bind us together and make us one.
It is upon this principle that the Latter-day Saints are blest, and made free. We are delivered in a great measure from those troubles and perplexities, false doctrines, the darkness, the error and superstition by which our minds have been beclouded until the light was made manifest unto the children of men that they were in darkness, for this was the case with us all; until the light came we were grovelling in the dark, in a great measure. Though we might be honest, and we might be actuated by the best and holiest feelings, yet until the fullness of the gospel was revealed, the world were like the blind groping for the wall [see Isaiah 59:9–11]. We had no Apostles, no Prophets, we had no inspired men to rise up and tell us what to do to be saved, and we had to go through with all that trouble, misery and darkness to which the children of men are subject while living under false doctrines, false traditions, and false teachers. …
We are liberated from these things, the cloud of darkness is taken from us, and the light of eternal truth has begun to shine upon our minds. …
This I count one of the greatest blessings that God has given to the children of men, to have the plain truth pointed out to them. …
Where is the man or woman that comprehended anything about God or about eternity until Joseph Smith revealed the fullness of the gospel? I could read of those things in the Bible which we now believe in and receive, but I was surrounded by the traditions of the world and could not comprehend them.
We are now taught, from time to time, the plain principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the plan of salvation—the way to live in order to have the approbation of our Father in Heaven. Is not this a blessing above all blessings? If this people could comprehend their blessings they never need have an unhappy moment. If this people could comprehend the position they stand in and their true relationship to God they would feel perfectly satisfied, and they would realize that our heavenly Father is merciful unto us and that he has bestowed great and glorious blessings upon us.14
I thank God that I live in this day and age of the world, when my ears have heard the sound of the fulness of the gospel of Christ.15
Consider these ideas as you study the chapter or as you prepare to teach. For additional help, see pages v–ix.
Review the story on pages 1–3. What was missing from Robert Mason’s life? What does this account teach about the Great Apostasy and the Restoration of the gospel?
Study pages 3–5, looking for characteristics of the Lord’s true Church. Why is it important that the Church always be established according to the same pattern?
According to President Woodruff, what led to the Great Apostasy? What were some results of the Great Apostasy? (See pages 4–5.) How are these results evident today?
Review pages 5–8, looking for some of the accomplishments of the Prophet Joseph Smith in the Restoration of the gospel. How have his accomplishments influenced your life?
Read the statement that begins at the bottom of page 6. How can we show that we are not ashamed of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ?
Note the words darkness and light on pages 8–10. What do you learn from President Woodruff’s use of these words? What would be missing from your life if you had not embraced the restored gospel?