Brigham Young Speaks of Temple Work for the Dead

The St. George Utah Temple holds a special place in Church history because it was here on 11 January 1877 that the first endowments for the dead were performed. Prior to this time, endowments for the living had been performed in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City, but President Young had explained that work for the dead required a temple. Therefore, in his advanced age and failing health he was most anxious for the Saints to complete the St. George Utah Temple.

Brigham Young personally directed the work for his own kindred dead and the development of a “perfect form of the endowments,” which was taught to the temple workers. By the end of March 1877, 3,208 endowments for the dead had been given.

In a dramatic address given in the temple, President Young exclaimed, “What do you suppose the fathers would say if they could speak from the dead? Would they not say, ‘We have lain here thousands of years, here in this prison house, waiting for this dispensation to come? Here we are, bound and fettered, in the association of those who are filthy?’ What would they whisper in our ears? Why, if they had the power the very thunders of heaven would be in our ears.” 18 In Journal of Discourses, 18:304.

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Signers of the Declaration of Independence Appear to Wilford Woodruff

President Young called Wilford Woodruff of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to be the temple president in St. George and directed him to begin in earnest the ordinance work for the dead. It was in this temple that the first endowments for the dead were performed. Furthermore, that same year President Young dedicated sites for two more temples to be built in Utah—Logan and Manti.

Elder Woodruff went immediately to his task. “His whole soul was wrapped up in the temple work for both the living and the dead.” 19 He conducted several people through the ordinances for deceased persons, many of whom were his own relatives. In Salt Lake City, in September 1877, when he reported on his labors, Elder Woodruff said, “For the last eighteen hundred years, the people that have lived and passed away never heard the voice of an inspired man, never heard a Gospel sermon, until they entered the spirit-world. Somebody has got to redeem them, by performing such ordinances for them in the flesh as they cannot attend to themselves in the spirit.” He declared, “The Lord has stirred up our minds, and many things have been revealed to us concerning the dead. . . . The dead will be after you, they will seek after you as they have after us in St. George. They called upon us, knowing that we held the keys and power to redeem them.”

Wilford Woodruff then announced that the signers of the Declaration of Independence had appeared to him for two days and nights, inquiring why no ordinance work had been done for them, even though they had established the United States government and remained true to God. Elder Woodruff immediately was baptized by J. D. T. McAllister for these men and for fifty other prominent individuals, including John Wesley and Christopher Columbus. He then baptized Brother McAllister “for every President of the United States, except three [Martin Van Buren, James Buchanan, and Ulysses S. Grant]; and when their cause is just, somebody will do the work for them.” 20 Under the administration of President Heber J. Grant the work for these three men was finally done.

20. In Journal of Discourses, 19:228–29; see also Conference Report, Apr. 1898, pp. 89–90.

When I [Ezra Taft Benson]became President of the Twelve and Spencer W. Kimball became President of the Church, we met, just the two of us, every week after our Thursday meetings in the temple, just to be sure that things were properly coordinated between the Twelve and the First Presidency. After one of those first meetings, we talked about the many sacred documents in some of the older temples. St. George was mentioned in particular because St. George is our oldest temple in Utah. I had a stake conference down there about that time, and it was agreed that I would go into the archives — the walk-in vault — of that great temple and review the sacred documents that were there. We were planning for the remodeling and renovating of the St. George Temple and thought that the records might possibly be moved to Salt Lake for safekeeping. And there in the St. George Temple I saw what I had always hoped and prayed that someday I would see. Ever since I returned as a humble missionary and first learned that the Founding Fathers had appeared in that temple, I wanted to see the record. And I saw the record. They did appear to Wilford Woodruff twice and asked why the work hadn’t been done for them. They had founded this country and the Constitution of this land, and they had been true to those principles. Later the work was done for them.

In the archives of the temple, I saw in a book, in bold handwriting, the names of the Founding Fathers and others, including Columbus and other great Americans, for whom the work had been done in the house of the Lord. This is all one great program on both sides of the veil. We are fortunate to be engaged in it on this side of the veil. I think the Lord expects us to take an active part in preserving the Constitution and our freedom.

The Founding Fathers of this nation, those great men, appeared within those sacred walls of the St. George Temple and had their vicarious work done for them. President Wilford Woodruff spoke of it in these words: “Before I left St. George, the spirits of the dead gathered around me, wanting to know why we did not redeem them. Said they, `You have had the use of the Endowment House for a number of years, and yet nothing has ever been done for us. We laid the foundation of the government you now enjoy, and we never apostatized from it, but we remained true to it and were faithful to God.'”

After he became President of the Church, President Wilford Woodruff declared that “those men who laid the foundation of this American government were the best spirits the God of heaven could find on the face of the earth. They were choice spirits [and] were inspired of the Lord.”

The temple work for the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence and other Founding Fathers has been done. All these appeared to Wilford Woodruff when he was president of the St. George Temple. President George Washington was ordained a high priest at that time. You will also be interested to know that, according to Wilford Woodruff’s journal, John Wesley, Benjamin Franklin, and Christopher Columbus were also ordained high priests at that time. When one casts doubt about the character of these noble sons of God, I believe he or she will have to answer to the God of heaven for it. Yes, with Lincoln I say: “To add brightness to the sun or glory to the name of Washington is . . . impossible. Let none attempt it. In solemn awe pronounce the name and in its deathless splendor, leave it shining on.”

Source: Benson, Ezra Taft, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988. 602 – 604.

WILFORD WOODRUFF’S LABORS FOR THE DEAD IN THE ST. GEORGE TEMPLE

We have labored in the St. George Temple since January, and we have done all we could there; and the Lord has stirred up our minds, and many things have been revealed to us concerning the dead. President Young has said to us, and it is verily so, if the dead could they would speak in language loud as ten thousand thunders, calling upon the servants of God to rise up and build Temples, magnify their calling and redeem their dead. This doubtless sounds strange to those present who believe not the faith and doctrine of the Latter-day Saints; but when we get to the spirit-world we will find out that all that God has revealed is true. We will find, too, that everything there is reality, and that God has a body, parts and passions, and the erroneous idea that exist now with regard to him will have passed away. I feel to say little else to the Latter-day Saints wherever and whenever I have the opportunity of speaking to them, that to call upon them to build these Temples now under way, to hurry them up to completion. The dead will be after you, they will seek after you as they have after us in St. George. They called upon us, knowing that we held the keys and power to redeem them.

I will here say, before closing, that two weeks before I left St. George, the spirits of the dead gathered around me, wanting to know why we did not redeem them. Said they,

“You have had the use of the Endowment House for a number of years, and yet nothing has ever been done for us. We laid the foundation of the government you now enjoy, and we never apostatized from it, but we remained true to it and were faithful to God.”

These were the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and they waited on me for two days and two nights. I thought it very singular, that notwithstanding so much work had been done, and yet nothing had been done for them. The thought never entered my heart, from the fact, I suppose, that heretofore our minds were reaching after our more immediate friends and relatives. I straightway went into the baptismal font and called upon brother McCallister to baptize me for the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and fifty other eminent men, making one hundred in all, including John Wesley, Columbus, and others; I then baptized him for every President of the United States, except three; and when their cause is just, somebody will do the work for them.

(Journal of Discourses, Vol.19, pp. 229-31; September 16, 1877)

I am going to bear my testimony to this assembly, if I never do it again in my life, that those men who laid the foundation of this American government and signed the Declaration of Independence were the best spirits the God of Heaven could find on the face of the earth. They were choice spirits, not wicked men. General Washington and all the men that labored for the purpose were inspired of the Lord.

Another thing I am going to say here, because I have a right to say it. Every one of those men that signed the Declaration of Independence with General Washington, called upon me as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the Temple at St. George, two consecutive nights, and demanded at my hands that I should go forth and attend to the ordinances of the House of God for them. Men are here, I believe, that know of this, Brother J. D. T. McAllister, David H. Cannon and James S. Bleak. Brother McAllister baptized me for all those men, and then I told these brethren that it was their duty to go into the temple and labor until they had got endowments for all of them. They did it. Would those spirits have called upon me as an elder of Israel, to perform that work, if they had not been noble spirits before God? They would not. I bear this testimony because it is true. The Spirit of God bore record to myself and the brethren while we were laboring in that way.

Abraham Lincoln’s Plans for the Mormons

When Brigham Young sent Deseret News assistant editor T.B.H. Stenhouse to Washington, D.C., to ascertain Lincoln’s plans for the Mormons, the president told him, “Stenhouse, when I was a boy on the farm in Illinois there was a great deal of timber on the farms which we had to clear away. Occasionally we would come to a log which had fallen down. It was too hard to split, too wet to burn and too heavy to move, so we plowed around it. That’s what I intend to do with the Mormons. You go back and tell Brigham Young that if he will let me alone, I will let him alone.” 5 Throughout the remainder of the war, President Lincoln’s tolerant attitude won him the respect of the Saints.

5. In Preston Nibley, Brigham Young: The Man and His Work (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1936), p. 369.

Refuge in the Mountains from the Civil War

After war had raged for nearly a year, President Young acknowledged that the Saints were much better off in the West: “Had we not been persecuted, we would now be in the midst of the wars and bloodshed that are desolating the nation, instead of where we are, comfortable located in our peaceful dwellings in these silent, far off mountains and valleys. Instead of seeing my brethren comfortably seated around me to-day, many of them would be found in the front ranks on the battle field. I realize the blessings of God in our present safety. We are greatly blessed, greatly favored and greatly exalted, while our enemies, who sought to destroy us, are being humbled.” 3 In Journal of Discourses, 10:38–39

Brigham Young Sees a Vision of the Salt Lake Valley

The advance company of pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley on 22 July 1847 and immediately set up a crude irrigation system to flood the land and prepare for planting. On 24 July, Brigham Young and the rear company arrived at the mouth of Emigration Canyon. Wilford Woodruff drove President Young in his carriage. They looked to the future as they gazed over the valley. Wilford Woodruff wrote, “Thoughts of pleasing meditations ran in rapid succession through our minds while we contemplated that not many years that the House of GOD would stand upon the top of the mountains while the valleys would be converted into orchard, vineyard, gardens and fields by the inhabitants of Zion and the standard be unfurled for the nations to gather there to.” Brigham Young said he was satisfied with the appearance of the valley as a “resting place for the Saints and was amply repaid for his journey.” 21

On a later occasion, Wilford Woodruff explained that when they came out of the canyon he turned the carriage so that President Young could see the whole valley. “While gazing upon the scene before us, he was enwrapped in vision for several minutes. He had seen the valley before in vision, and upon this occasion he saw the future glory of Zion and of Israel, as they would be, planted in the valleys of these mountains. When the vision had passed, he said, ‘It is enough. This is the right place. Drive on.’” 22

22. In “Pioneers’ Day,” Deseret Evening News, 26 July 1880, p. 2.

Brigham Young Confirms His Vision upon Arrival in the Salt Lake Valley

The advance company of pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley on 22 July 1847 and immediately set up a crude irrigation system to flood the land and prepare for planting. On 24 July, Brigham Young and the rear company arrived at the mouth of Emigration Canyon. Wilford Woodruff drove President Young in his carriage. They looked to the future as they gazed over the valley. Wilford Woodruff wrote, “Thoughts of pleasing meditations ran in rapid succession through our minds while we contemplated that not many years that the House of GOD would stand upon the top of the mountains while the valleys would be converted into orchard, vineyard, gardens and fields by the inhabitants of Zion and the standard be unfurled for the nations to gather there to.” Brigham Young said he was satisfied with the appearance of the valley as a “resting place for the Saints and was amply repaid for his journey.” 21

On a later occasion, Wilford Woodruff explained that when they came out of the canyon he turned the carriage so that President Young could see the whole valley. “While gazing upon the scene before us, he was enwrapped in vision for several minutes. He had seen the valley before in vision, and upon this occasion he saw the future glory of Zion and of Israel, as they would be, planted in the valleys of these mountains. When the vision had passed, he said, ‘It is enough. This is the right place. Drive on.’” 22

22. In “Pioneers’ Day,” Deseret Evening News, 26 July 1880, p. 2.

The Mantle Falls on Brigham Young

The Mantle Falls on Brigham Young

Thursday, 8 August 1844, 22 stands as one of the most important days in the history of the Restoration. On that day a miracle occurred before the body of the Church—Brigham Young was transfigured before the people, and the succession crisis of the Church was resolved. A special meeting to choose a guardian was held that morning at ten o’clock in the grove, according to the arrangements of William Marks. Sidney Rigdon spoke for an hour and a half about his desires to be the guardian of the Church, but he awakened no emotion and said nothing that marked him as the true leader. Brigham Young told the audience that he would rather have spent a month mourning the dead Prophet than so quickly attend to the business of appointing a new shepherd. 23 While he was speaking, he was miraculously transfigured before the people.

People of all ages were present, and they later recorded their experiences. Benjamin F. Johnson, twenty-six at that time, remembered, “As soon as he [Brigham Young] spoke I jumped upon my feet, for in every possible degree it was Joseph’s voice, and his person, in look, attitude, dress and appearance was Joseph himself, personified; and I knew in a moment the spirit and mantle of Joseph was upon him.” 24 Zina Huntington, who was a young woman twenty-one years old at that time, said “President Young was speaking. It was the voice of Joseph Smith—not that of Brigham Young. His very person was changed. . . . I closed my eyes. I could have exclaimed, I know that is Joseph Smith’s voice! Yet I knew he had gone. But the same spirit was with the people.” 26

George Q. Cannon, then a boy of fifteen, declared that “it was the voice of Joseph himself; and not only was it the voice of Joseph which was heard; but it seemed in the eyes of the people as though it was the very person of Joseph which stood before them. . . . They both saw and heard with their natural eyes and ears, and then the words which were uttered came, accompanied by the convincing power of God, to their hearts, and they were filled with the Spirit and with great joy.” 27 Wilford Woodruff testified, “If I had not seen him with my own eyes, there is no one that could have convinced me that it was not Joseph Smith speaking.” 28

In view of these statements, Brigham Young’s own record of the events that day is especially meaningful: “My heart was swollen with compassion towards them and by the power of the Holy Ghost, even the spirit of the Prophets, I was enabled to comfort the hearts of the Saints.” 29 The meeting was then dismissed until 2 o’clock in the afternoon.

At 2 P.M. thousands of Saints gathered for what they knew would be a significant meeting. With the quorums of the priesthood seated in order, Brigham Young spoke frankly about the proposed guardianship of Sidney Rigdon and his alienation from Joseph Smith during the previous two years. He boldly prophesied, “All that want to draw away a party from the church after them, let them do it if they can, but they will not prosper.” 30

President Young continued, and then turning to his main point declared,

“If the people want President Rigdon to lead them they may have him; but I say unto you that the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have the keys of the kingdom of God in all the world.

“The Twelve are appointed by the finger of God. Here is Brigham, have his knees ever faltered? Have his lips ever quivered? Here is Heber and the rest of the Twelve, an independent body who have the keys of the priesthood—the keys of the kingdom of God to deliver to all the world: this is true, so help me God. They stand next to Joseph, and are as the First Presidency of the Church.” 31

He pointed out that Sidney could not be above the Twelve because they would have to ordain him to be President of the Church. Brigham urged everybody to see Brother Rigdon as a friend and stated that if he were to sit in cooperation and counsel with the Twelve, they would be able to act as one. Following President Young’s two-hour speech, talks were delivered by Amasa Lyman, William W. Phelps, and Parley P. Pratt; each eloquently contended for the authority of the Twelve.

Brigham Young then arose and asked the basic question: “Do you want Brother Rigdon to stand forward as your leader, your guide, your spokesman. President Rigdon wants me to bring up the other question first, and that is, Does the church want, and is it their only desire to sustain the Twelve as the First Presidency of this people?” The vote was then taken, and all hands went up. Brigham then asked, “If there are any of the contrary mind, every man and every woman who does not want the Twelve to preside, lift up your hands in like manner.” No hands went up. 32

32. In History of the Church, 7:240.

Joseph Smith prophesied that one day Brigham Young would preside over the Church. 11

11. See Brigham Young, “History of Brigham Young,” Millennial Star, 11 July 1863, p. 439.