“Chapter 21: Faithfully Enduring Trials and Opposition,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff (2011), 216–24
“Chapter 21,” Teachings: Wilford Woodruff, 216–24
“We are safe as long as we do our duty,” taught President Wilford Woodruff. “No matter what trials or tribulations we may be called to go through, the hand of God will be with us and sustain us.”1 In teaching this principle, President Woodruff spoke from experience. He endured religious and political persecution, mob violence, opposition to missionary work, illness, deaths of family members and friends, and the everyday trials of life. But he responded to such adversity with faith rather than despair, trusting the Lord’s promises and finding strength in his own testimony of the gospel.
In November 1835, when Wilford Woodruff was serving a mission in the southern part of the United States, he and his traveling companions received the Lord’s guidance in a time of trial. He wrote: “While travelling in the night, … a tremendous storm of wind and rain overtook us. We came to a creek which had swollen to such an extent by the rain, that we could not cross without swimming our horses. … We undertook to head the stream, to ford it; but in the attempt, in the midst of the darkness and the raging of the wind and rain, we were lost in the thick woods, amidst the rain, wind, creeks and fallen treetops. We crossed streams nearly twenty times. … But the Lord was merciful unto us in the midst of our troubles, for while we were groping in the dark, running the risk of killing both ourselves and [our] animals, by riding off precipitous bluffs, a bright light suddenly shone round about us, and revealed our perilous situation, as we were upon the edge of a deep gulf. The light continued with us until we found a house, and learned the right road.”2
Commenting on this experience, President Woodruff said, “We then went on our way rejoicing, though the darkness returned and the rain continued.”3 This statement exemplifies his approach to the difficulties of life. He always went on his way, rejoicing in the Lord’s blessings even when some trials persisted.
It has no doubt been a marvel many times, in the minds of men and women, why God ever placed men and women in such a world as this, why he causes his children to pass through sorrow and affliction here in the body. The Lord has revealed something to us concerning this matter, and we have learned enough about it to know that this thing is necessary.4
It appears plain that it is God’s purpose to suffer His Saints to be thoroughly tried and tested, so that they may prove their integrity and know the character of the foundation upon which they build.5
While we sometimes feel and have felt in days that are past and gone, to complain because we meet with oppression, persecution, and affliction, yet I wish to say to my brethren and sisters that these things are the heritage of the Saints of God. … I have never read of the people of God in any dispensation passing through life, as the sectarian world would say, on flowery beds of ease, without opposition of any kind. … We have been called to pass through trials many times, and I do not think we should complain, because if we had no trials we should hardly feel at home in the other world in the company of the Prophets and Apostles who were sawn asunder, crucified, etc., for the word of God and testimony of Jesus Christ.6
It is impossible … for the Saints of God to inherit a celestial kingdom without their being tried as to whether they will abide in the covenants of the Lord or not.7
Jesus … descended below all things that he might rise above all things and comprehend all things. No man descended lower than the Savior of the world. Born in a stable, cradled in a manger, he travelled from there to the cross through suffering mingled with blood to a throne of grace; and in all his life there was nothing of an earthly nature that seemed to be worth possessing. His whole life was passed in poverty, suffering, pain, affliction, labor, prayer, mourning and sorrow until he gave up the ghost on the cross. Still he was God’s firstborn son and the Redeemer of the world. The question might be asked why the Lord suffered his Son to come here and to live and die as he did. When we get into the spirit world, and the veil is withdrawn we shall then perhaps understand the whys and wherefores of all these things.
In the dispensations and providences of God to man it seems that we are born to suffer pain, affliction, sorrows and trials; this is what God has decreed that the human family shall pass through; and if we make a right use of this probation, the experience it brings will eventually prove a great blessing to us, and when we receive immortality and eternal life, exaltation, kingdoms, thrones, principalities and powers with all the blessings of the fulness of the gospel of Christ, we shall understand and comprehend why we were called to pass through a continual warfare during the few years we spent in the flesh.8
What is anything we can do or suffer, to be compared with the multiplicity of kingdoms, thrones, and principalities that God has revealed to us?9
Opposition to God and His Christ, opposition to light and truth has existed since the beginning to the present day. This is the warfare that commenced in heaven, that has existed through all time, and that will continue until the winding up scene, until He reigns whose right it is to reign, when He shall come in clouds of glory to reward every man according to the deeds done in the body.10
The spirit of warfare that is manifested in these days has existed in all ages when the priesthood was upon the earth. There was always a war between light and darkness, God and the devil, saint and sinner, correct principles and false doctrines. We ourselves have a warfare with the evil propensities of our nature.11
There are two powers on the earth and in the midst of the inhabitants of the earth—the power of God and the power of the devil. In our history we have had some very peculiar experiences. When God has had a people on the earth, it matters not in what age, Lucifer, the son of the morning, and the millions of fallen spirits that were cast out of heaven, have warred against God, against Christ, against the work of God, and against the people of God. And they are not backward in doing it in our day and generation. Whenever the Lord set His hand to perform any work, those powers labored to overthrow it.12
We have not only to fight the powers of darkness, the invisible forces that surround us, but we have to war with a great many outward circumstances and to contend with a great many difficulties that we must of necessity meet, and the more of this we have to meet the more we should be stimulated to action, and to labor with all our power before the Lord for the establishment of righteousness and truth and the building up of the work of God, and to see that his name is honored upon the earth.13
The devil knew when the angel delivered [the Book of Mormon] to Joseph Smith that it was the foundation of a system that would overthrow his kingdom. The drivings, etc., that this people have passed through [have] not been because they have been breakers of the law—because they have been more wicked than others, but because they were laying the foundation of the kingdom of God that would grow, and increase, … and prepare the way for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ who is king of kings and Lord of Lords, who will come and reign over the whole earth, and all other kingdoms, and presidents and governors, and their subjects will be obliged to acknowledge that Jesus is the Christ. The latter-day work which we represent will bind the power of the devil which has held sway among the children of men. … Then it is not strange that the devil should become mad, and stir up the wicked to make war against it. The Lord will inspire His servants and give them ability to maintain this kingdom upon the earth. He is at the helm. I would not give much for it if He was not the author of it—it could not stand without Him against the great power which is waged against it.14
It is for us to wake up to a sense of our duty, and call upon the Lord in humility, and live near to Him; and our eyes will be opened, as in the case of the young man, the servant of the ancient Prophet Elisha, and we will see that there are more for us than against us [see 2 Kings 6:8–17]; and that the element of opposition tends only to hasten the fulfillment of the purposes of God. Put your trust in God and rely on His promises, living up to the light and knowledge you possess; and all will be well with you whether living or dying.15
Certainly we have never passed through more than the Savior did, nor as much. But He through all His life remained true and faithful to His Father and to His calling as the Savior of the world. He prayed a great deal, and He mourned before the Lord over the sins of the world. To-day He is in our midst. He is our Advocate with the Father. [See D&C 29:5.] He is watching over us, and He will do all that He can for our salvation.16
We have been persecuted, we have been afflicted, and we have passed through serious trials in our day; but the Lord has carried us through all these things.17
Calamities and troubles are increasing in the earth, and there is a meaning to these things. Remember this, and reflect upon these matters. If you do your duty, and I do my duty, we’ll have protection, and shall pass through the afflictions in peace and in safety.18
It takes independence of mind, honesty of heart, faith in God and firmness of character to live the life of a Latter-day Saint, in the face of a frowning world, and in the midst of trials and troubles and persecution.19
Daniel was prepared to enter the den of lions; the three Hebrew children [Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego] were not afraid of the fate that awaited them; the Apostles were valiant for the truth and shrank not from death for its sake, and why could those men and others under similar circumstances stand by their convictions without flinching? Because, in the first place, they had the truth and they knew it for themselves; and in the second place, the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, sustained them as that power alone can in all the trying scenes through which the people of God are called to pass. And this is so to-day.20
I have often thought that I never saw this people more happy than in their seasons of greatest poverty, drivings and afflictions, for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. The Spirit of God has been with them, and in their humility and sufferings, the Holy Ghost, the Comforter has been their constant companion, and they have been filled with joy and consolation, and have rejoiced before the Lord for all these things. They would not have felt so if they had not been trying to keep the commandments of the Lord.21
There is need for us to repent and humble ourselves before the Lord our God, that we may have and enjoy more of the Holy Spirit to prepare us for that which lies before us.22
I want to bear my testimony to the Latter-day Saints. God is with this people. He is shaping our course, and will continue to do so if we will only hearken to His voice, and He will continue to give unto us sufficient grace to withstand the day of trial and trouble. The Lord has been merciful to His people in every age of the world; but as Christ suffered, as the Apostles suffered—some of them even unto death—for the testimony of Jesus, so have the Latter-day Saints suffered, and some of them have also sealed their testimony with their life’s blood. They have been called upon to pass through sore afflictions for the Gospel’s sake, but we have never been required to endure more than we were able to bear, and never shall so long as we follow the counsels of heaven.23
The hand of God is stretched out for the salvation of this people, and however dark the clouds may appear; however strong persecution, oppression and opposition may become to this work, the Lord has, from its commencement, until to-day watched over its interests, and has sustained and preserved it, and he will continue to do so until its consummation; until Zion arises and puts on her beautiful garments, and all the great events of the last days are accomplished.24
Consider these ideas as you study the chapter or as you prepare to teach. For additional help, see pages v–ix.
Read the story on pages 217–18. What do you learn from this story?
Many people wonder why God allows His children to “pass through sorrow and affliction” (page 218). How did President Woodruff answer this question? (See pages 218–19.)
President Woodruff taught that the war between light and darkness “has existed through all time” (page 219). How do you see this war continuing today? What can we do to defend ourselves and our families in this war? (See pages 220–22.)
In what ways have you been “stimulated to action” (page 220) as a result of trials?
Study 2 Kings 6:8–17. What impresses you about this story? What did President Woodruff teach when he referred to this account? (See page 221.)
In what ways does the Lord help us meet our trials? (See pages 222–23; see also Mosiah 24:13–16.) What must we do in order to receive the comfort and strength the Lord offers? How has the Lord helped you endure adversity?