Monday, August 8, 2016

Responding to a Critic of Brigham Young being Joseph Smith's Proper Successor

On a Website calling into question the “prophethood” of Brigham Young and others the LDS Church view as Joseph Smith’s successors, we read the following:

Other Mormons admit they were without a prophet from June 1844 to December 1847, when Brigham Young was eventually elected as first president.  Consider the following quotes from Brigham Young, and decide whether you believe him.
1.     Journal of Discourses, 5:177
"I do not profess to be a Prophet. I never called myself so; but I actually believe I am, because people are all the time telling me that I am."
2.     Journal of Discourses, 6:320
"A person was mentioned to-day who did not believe that Brigham Young was a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator. I wish to ask every member of this whole community, 
if they ever heard him profess to be a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, as Joseph Smith was? . . . Who ordained me to be First President of this Church on earth? I answer, It is the choice of this people, and that is sufficient."
3.     Journal of Discourses, 13:166
"It has been remarked sometimes, by certain individuals, that President Young has said in public that he was not a prophet nor the son of a prophet."
4.     Times and Seasons, 5:618
"You are now without a prophet present with you in the flesh to guide you; but you are not without apostles . . ."

Let us examine these quotes in fuller detail.


The first quote actually comes from Heber C. Kimball in a sermon dated August 23, 1857 (and it is p. 176, not p. 177 [the full sermon can be found in 5:171-181]). That Heber viewed Brigham as having divine authority can be seen in this very sermon, such as:

No man can believe in "Mormonism," except he believes in the man that leads the Church of God--in the man that holds the keys of life and salvation pertaining to this people . . . So it is impossible that a man or a woman who disbelieves that brother Brigham is a Prophet--that holds God's representative and holds the keys of his kingdom pertaining to this people, can retain the Holy Ghost and partake of the life and sap of the true vine. Such persons have no faith of the genuine bearing kind, and consequently there are no works to correspond . . . How shall we manifest our faith by our works? I will speak of that a little further; and I cannot speak the truth as it is in Christ Jesus, without I censure many of you. I will ask those who have been here for four, seven, and eight years past, and from the day that we came into these valleys, if they have proved by their works their faith in the words of the Prophet Brigham? (5:172, 173)

Furthermore, with respect of Heber's own self-assessment, one should realise that he admitted to being inspired by God, so one should not absolutise the isolated passage the pro-Strangite Website cited:

I speak these things because they come to my mind. When I arise to speak, I have never a premeditated subject; I let God, by the Holy Ghost, dictate me and control me, just as a musician would his violin. It is the player on the instrument that plays the tune; the instrument does not dictate the player. So I should be in the hands of God, to be dictated by him; for we are told that the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, will teach us all things past, present, and to come. The Holy Ghost knows the minds of this people, and what is necessary to deal out to every man and every woman in due season—their portion. If I am not dictated by the Holy Ghost, I cannot communicate to you that which is necessary. (5:172)


Firstly, it should be noted that the citation is inaccurate; this quotation appears on pp. 319-20 of vol. 6 of the Journal of Discourses. The sermon this time is actually from Brigham Young (April 7, 1852).

Secondly, this is a classic example of “quote-mining.” Here is a fuller quotation from the sermon:

A person was mentioned to-day who did not believe that Brigham Young was a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator. I wish to ask every member of this whole community, if they ever heard him profess to be a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, as Joseph Smith was? He professed to be an Apostle of Jesus Christ, called and sent of God to save Israel. If you know what the calling of an Apostle is, and if there were ten thousand of them on the earth at the same time, you must know that the words of an Apostle who magnifies his calling are the words of the Almighty to the people all the time. He never need be called in question whether he revealed the mind of the Lord or not. Although brothers Willard Richards, Heber C. Kimball, and myself are out of the Quorum of the Twelve, our Apostleship has not been taken from us. Who ordained me to be First President of this Church on earth? I answer, It is the choice of this people, and that is sufficient. If the Lord designates a plan how his cause and kingdom can be best advanced, whose business is it, if it is the mind of the people to follow it? It is ours and the Lord's; but it is certainly not the business of those who are enemies to his cause. I preached considerably upon this point in Nauvoo, to give the people the understanding of the different callings of men. Joseph Smith was a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator before he had power to build up the kingdom of God, or take the first step towards it. When did he obtain that power? Not until the angel had ordained him to be an Apostle. Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer were the first Apostles of this dispensation, though in the early days of the Church David Whitmer lost his standing, and another took his place. I have taught the brethren this principle years ago. When a man is an Apostle, and stands at the head of the kingdom of God on the earth, and magnifies his calling, he has the keys of all the power that ever was bestowed upon mortal man for the building up of the kingdom of God on the earth. (6:319-20)

Such sentiment is paralleled in another sermon of Brigham Young dated July 26, 1857, where we read, in part (emphasis added):

I am not going to interpret dreams; for I don't profess to be such a Prophet as were Joseph Smith and Daniel; but I am a Yankee guesser; and I guess that James Buchanan has ordered this Expedition to appease the wrath of the angry hounds who are howling around him. He did not design to start men on the 15th of July to cross these Plains to this point on foot. Russell and Co. will probably make from eight to ten hundred thousand dollars by freighting the baggage of the Expedition. What would induce the Government to expend that amount of money for this Territory? (JOD 5:77-78)

In context, Brigham is not denying being a prophet, but stating he is not a prophet like Joseph Smith or Daniel. In the same sermon that we just quoted from, Brigham Young claimed divine inspiration (emphasis added):

Why I testify of these things is because they are revealed to me, and not to another for me. They were not revealed to Joseph Smith for me. He had the keys to get visions and revelations, dreams and manifestations, and the Holy Ghost for the people. Those keys were committed to him; and through that administration, blessed be the name of God, I have received the spirit of Christ Jesus which is the spirit of prophecy. Our testimony does not make this true and the testimony of our enemies that it is not the kingdom of God does not make that true or false. The fact stands upon its own basis, and will continue so to stand, without any of the efforts of the children of men. (JOD 5:75-76)

On Brigham Young's understanding of himself as a prophet and how he received revelation from the Lord, and how such compared with the Prophet Joseph Smith, the late Matthew Brown wrote the following:

First of all, the question will be posed: 'How did Brother Brigham compare himself, as a revelator, with his predecessor?' There are two quotations that are of interest here. The second President of the LDS Church said, "I wish to ask every member of this whole community if they ever heard [me] profess to be a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator as Joseph Smith was. [I] professed to be an apostle of Jesus Christ." In the second quote Brigham Young says that he "did not receive [revelations] through the Urim and Thummim as Joseph [Smith] did."[44] Hence, it can be ascertained that, at least in one sense, Brigham Young did not receive communications from heaven in the same direct manner that Joseph Smith did. And it is relevant to mention here that Brigham Young did, in fact, own a seer stone that was once utilized by Joseph Smith.

Next, there is this lengthy quote from President Young which is well worth considering in its entirety. He rhetorically asked himself:

"Well, Brother Brigham . . . have you had revelations?" Yes, I have them all the time. I live constantly by the principle of revelation . . . I have never received one particle of intelligence [except] by revelation, no matter whether [my] father or mother revealed it, or my sister, or [my] neighbor.

No person receives knowledge [except] upon the principle of revelation, that is, by having something revealed to them. "Do you [Brother Brigham] have the revelations of the Lord Jesus Christ" I will leave that for others to judge. If the Lord requires anything of this people, and speaks through me, I will tell them of it; but if He does not, still we all live by the principle of revelation.. Who reveals? Everybody around us; we learn [from] each other. I have something which you have not, and you have something which I have not. I reveal what I have to you, and you reveal what you have to me. I believe that we are revelators to each other.[45]

Notes for the Above:

44. Salt Lake School of the Prophets Minute Book, 9 June 1873, LDS Church Archives,
Salt Lake City, Utah.

45. JD, 3:209, President Brigham Young, 17 February 1856, discourse delivered in the Salt Lake City, Utah, Tabernacle.

Furthermore, it should be noted that Brigham, by emphasising his being an apostle, was claiming a greater authority than a prophet.

In the New Testament, we read the following:

And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. (1 Cor 12:28)

What distinguishes Joseph Smith and his successors is not the spirit of prophecy, or being a Prophet, but the apostleship. Wilford Woodruff explained that "anybody is a prophet who has a testimony of Jesus Christ, for that is the spirit of prophecy. The Elders of Israel are prophets. A prophet is not so great as an Apostle." (JOD 13:165).

Brigham Young explained the differences between the titles "prophet," "apostle," and "president." In a conference address delivered April 6, 1853, he said:

Perhaps it may make some of you stumble, were I to ask you a question. Does a man's being a Prophet in this Church prove that he shall be the President of it? I answer, No! A man may be a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, and it may have nothing to do with his being the President of the Church. Suffice to say, that Joseph was the President of the Church, as long as he lived; the people chose to have it so. He always filled that responsible station by the voice of the people. Can you find any revelation appointing the President of the Church? The keys of the Priesthood were committed to Joseph, to build up the Kingdom of God on the earth, and were not to be taken from him in time or in eternity, but when he was called to preside over the Church, it was by the voice of the people; though he held the keys of the Priesthood, independent of their voice. (JOD 1:133)

To Brigham Young, being a prophet was secondary to being an apostle and having keys from God. He explained the difference in these words:

Many persons think if they see a Prophet they see one possessing all the keys of the Kingdom of God on the earth. This is not so; many persons have prophesied without having any Priesthood on them at all . . . To be a prophet is simply to be a foreteller of future events; but an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ has the keys of the Holy Priesthood, and the power thereof is sealed upon his head, and by this he is authorized to proclaim the truth to the people, and if they receive it, well; if not, the sin be upon their own heads. (JOD 13:144).

Again, we see that the isolated quote from one of Brigham’s sermons that the critic picked does not support his thesis.


Again, this is not a quote from Brigham Young; instead, it comes from Wilford Woodruff in a sermon dated December 12, 1869 (JOD: 13:156-69). Furthermore, the quote appears on p. 165, not 166. Here is a fuller quote from the sermon (emphasis added):

As to President Young his labors have been with us. It has been remarked sometimes, by certain individuals, that President Young has said in public that he was not a prophet nor the son of a prophet. I have travelled with him since 1833 or the spring of 1834; I have travelled a good many thousand miles with him and have heard him preach a great many thousand sermons; but I have never heard him make that remark in my life. He is a prophet, I am a prophet, you are, and anybody is a prophet who has the testimony of Jesus Christ, for that is the spirit of prophecy. The Elders of Israel are prophets. A prophet is not so great as an Apostle. Christ has set, in his Church, first, Apostles; they hold the keys of the kingdom of God. Any man who has travelled with President Young knows he is a prophet of God. He has foretold a great many things that have come to pass. All the Saints who are well acquainted with him know that he is governed and controlled by the power of God and the revelations of Jesus Christ. His works are before the world; they are before the heavens; before the earth; before the wicked as well as the righteous; and it is the influence of President Young that the world is opposed to. This Priesthood, these keys of the kingdom of God that have been sealed upon him, the world is at war against; let them say what they may, these things are what they are at enmity with. Their present objection to the Latter-day Saints, they say, is plurality of wives. It is this principle they are trying to raise a persecution against now. But how was it in Missouri, Kirtland, Jackson county, Far West, Caldwell county, in all our drivings and afflictions, before this principle was revealed to the Church? Certainly it was not polygamy then. No, it was prophets, it was revelation, it was the organization of an institution founded by revelation from, God. They did not believe in that, and that was the objection in those days. If we were to do away with polygamy, it would only be one feather in the bird, one ordinance in the Church and kingdom. Do away with that, then we must do away with prophets and Apostles, with revelation and the gifts and graces of the Gospel, and finally give up our religion altogether and turn sectarians and do as the world does, then all would be right. We just can't do that, for God has commanded us to build up His kingdom and to bear our testimony to the nations of the earth, and we are going to do it, come life or come death. He has told us to do thus, and we shall obey Him in days to come as we have in days past. (JOD 13:165-66)

We see a number of important things in the above quote:

1.     Woodruff affirms that Brigham is both a prophet of God and that Brigham is cognisant of such.
2.     Woodruff affirms that an apostle is greater than a prophet and that Brigham is the apostle of the Church (see our discussion of this issue in the interaction with the previous quotation above).
3.     Woodruff affirms that Brigham has been the recipient of divine revelation on a number of occasions.

As for the quote that Brigham "was not a prophet nor the son of a prophet," one should compare such with Amos 7:14:

Then answered Amos, and said to Amaziah, I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet's son; but I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycomore fruit.

As discussed above, this fits the sense of modesty Brigham Young had when he compared himself to the prophet Joseph Smith, who he viewed as the prophet par excellence.

Critics who latch onto such a comment, ignoring the other body of evidence, will have to, if they are consistent (they never are, let’s face facts), throw out the book of Amos from their canon. Furthermore, what critics tend to ignore is that Brigham did receive revelations (discussed above), including one that is now part of the Doctrine and Covenants (section 136), showing he was the recipient of “special revelation.”


This is nothing short of quote-mining.

The text in question is an epistle from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles following the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum Smith before there was a resolution to the issue of the question of succession. Here is a fuller quotation from the paragraph the author cited:

You are now without a prophet present with you in the flesh to guide you; but you are not without apostles, who hold the keys of power to seal on earth that which shall be sealed in heaven, and to preside over all the affairs of the church in all the world; being still under the direction of the same God, and being dictated by the same spirit, having the same manifestations of the Holy Ghost to dictate all the affairs of the church in all the world, to build up the kingdom upon the foundation that the prophet Joseph has laid, who still holds the keys of this last dispensation, and will hold them to all eternity, as a king and priest unto the most high God, ministering in heaven, on earth, or among the spirits of the departed dead, as seemeth good to him who sent him.

This fits perfectly with what we have discussed about Brigham Young et al. holding the office of apostle.

It should be obvious that, the quote-mining notwithstanding, such quotations from early Latter-day Saints do not call into question Brigham Young being the true successor to Joseph Smith.

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