I wanted to thunder, and roar out the gospel to the the Lord is doing in the latter days” (DNW, 24 Aug. 1854 1.)
He was known as the Lion of the Lord for this very specific reason. He knew no shame in his testimony of Jesus Christ and His gospel. He had no hesitation. He had no doubt. He shouted to the world of the divinity of Jesus Christ and the restoration of His gospel. He led His people across the plains and the Rocky Mountains to a safe haven on the western side of the Rockies. He was Brigham Young, prophet seer and revelator.
Born June 1, 1801, Brigham Young was the ninth of 11 children. By the time he was 16 years old he was an apprentice carpenter, joiner, painter and glazier.
He married Miriam Angeline Works when he was 23.
Two daughters were born to the young couple. Brigham supported his family by making and repairing chairs, tables, and cupboards and installing windows, doors, stairways, and fireplace mantels. On his father’s farm in Mendon, New York, he constructed a home and woodworking shop next to a small stream, using a waterwheel to power his mill machinery.
When Miriam contracted tuberculosis, Brigham assumed much of the burden of her work in addition to his own. As she became progressively more bedridden, he regularly prepared breakfast for the family, dressed his daughters, cleaned up the house, and “carried his wife to the rocking chair by the fireplace and left her there until he could return in the evening,” when he cooked supper, got his family into bed, and finished the household chores (LSBY, 5). His experiences in his youth and early marriage in caring for children and managing a home taught him much about family cooperation and housekeeping. Years later he counseled the Saints on these subjects and teasingly boasted that he could beat “most of the women in [the] community at housekeeping” (DNW, 12 Aug. 1857, 4). (Teachings of the Presidents: Brigham Young, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1997 2)
This spoke volumes about this man who would assume leadership of the Church when Joseph Smith was assassinated. The tenderness he showed his wife and children give us a true picture of this man maligned by so many.
Brigham and Miriam joined the Methodist Church but he still struggled with unanswered religious questions. The answers to those question came in the form of Samuel Smith, Joseph Smith, Jr.’s brother who delivered two copies of the Book of Mormon to Brigham Young’s family in 1830.
Some of Brigham’s brothers and sisters read it and declared its truth, but Brigham himself did not immediately accept it (see LL, 33). “ ‘Hold on,’ says I. … ‘Wait a little while; what is the doctrine of the book, and of the revelations the Lord has given? Let me apply my heart to them.’ … I examined the matter studiously, for two years, before I made up my mind to receive that book. I knew it was true, as well as I knew that I could see with my eyes, or feel by the touch of my fingers, or be sensible of the demonstration of any sense. Had not this been the case, I never would have embraced it to this day” (MSS, 15:45).
Brigham Young had to know for himself. He later taught the Saints that God did not intend them “to be led entirely by another person, suspending their own understanding, and pinning their faith upon another’s sleeve” (DNW, 24 Aug. 1854, 1). “It is my duty to know the mind of the Lord concerning myself,” he told them” (DNW, 22 Sept. 1875, 4). “It is your privilege and duty to live so that you know when the word of the Lord is spoken to you and when the mind of the Lord is revealed to you” (DNW, 22 Sept. 1875, 4). (Teachings of the Presidents: Brigham Young, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1997 2)
From this day forward, Brigham Young applied himself, heart and soul, to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In 1832, after returning from some missionary travels, Brigham Young nursed Miriam through the final weeks of her illness. She died in September of that same year. Heartbroken, Brigham sought solace in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Brigham Young turned his full attention and energy to the Church. Anxious to meet the Prophet Joseph Smith, he left immediately for Kirtland, Ohio, with his brother Joseph and close friend Heber C. Kimball. They found Joseph Smith chopping wood with his brothers. Brigham’s “joy was full at the privilege of shaking the hand of the Prophet of God” and receiving “the sure testimony, by the Spirit of prophecy, that he was all that any man could believe him to be, as a true Prophet” (MHBY-1, 4). This marked the beginning of one of Brigham Young’s most important relationships.(Teachings of the Presidents: Brigham Young, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1997 3)
Brigham Young stood by Joseph Smith, Jr. through the thick and thin of restoration and organization of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He never turned on the prophet. He never doubted the Lord. Ever faithful, he continued to preach the gospel to all who would listen.
On February 18, 1834, Brigham married Mary Ann Angell. His family continued to grow and his zealousness for the gospel of Jesus Christ never wained. Along with nine other men, on February 14, 1835, Brigham Young was ordained as one of the first Apostles to walk the earth since the last of the Savior’s Apostles had been killed. He was blessed,
“that he may go forth and gather the elect, preparatory to the great day of the coming of the Lord.” He and other members of the quorum, “called to preach the Gospel of the Son of God to the nations of the earth” (HC, 2:196), left in May 1835 for a four-month mission to the eastern states. He returned to the eastern states as a missionary during the summers of 1836 and 1837. (Teachings of the Presidents: Brigham Young, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1997 4)
Brigham continued to work with Joseph and the other leaders of the Church, through all persecution, trials and tragedies, to build up the kingdom of God on the earth. Organized as it had been in the days of Jesus Christ’s mortal ministry, the Church continued to grow.
Brigham Young was called to serve in England. Of this time he wrote,
As President Young prepared to leave Liverpool in April 1841, he reflected with gratitude on God’s “dealings with me and my brethren of the Twelve during the past year of my life. … It truly seemed a miracle to look upon the contrast between our landing and departing from Liverpool. We landed in the spring of 1840, as strangers in a strange land and penniless, but through the mercy of God we have gained many friends, established Churches in almost every noted town and city in the kingdom of Great Britain, baptized between seven and eight thousand, printed 5,000 Books of Mormon, 3,000 Hymn Books, 2,500 volumes of the Millennial Star, and 50,000 tracts, and emigrated to Zion 1,000 souls, … and have left sown in the hearts of many thousands the seeds of eternal truth, which will bring forth fruit to the honor and glory of God, and yet we have lacked nothing to eat, drink or wear: in all these things I acknowledge the hand of God” (MHBY-1, 96–97).
By wholeheartedly shouldering new responsibilities, President Young and his fellow Apostles had enlarged not only their personal capacities but the capacity of the quorum to work unitedly and effectively for the Church. Joseph Smith trusted their “united wisdom” and announced in Nauvoo in August 1841 “that the time had come when the Twelve should be called upon to stand in their place next to the First Presidency” (HC, 4:403). The Twelve were given greater responsibilities, including preaching the gospel, settling immigrants, purchasing land, and building the Nauvoo Temple.
On the day of Joseph and Hyrum’s assassinations, Brigham, along with the rest of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, were preaching the gospel to the world. Of this event, which settled the mantle of prophet upon Brigham Young’s shoulders, John Taylor wrote,
1 To seal the testimony of this book and the Book of Mormon, we announce the martyrdom of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and Hyrum Smith the Patriarch. They were shot in Carthage jail, on the 27th of June, 1844, about five o’clock p.m., by an armed mob—painted black—of from 150 to 200 persons. Hyrum was shot first and fell calmly, exclaiming: I am a dead man! Joseph leaped from the window, and was shot dead in the attempt, exclaiming: O Lord my God! They were both shot after they were dead, in a brutal manner, and both received four balls.
2 John Taylor and Willard Richards, two of the Twelve, were the only persons in the room at the time; the former was wounded in a savage manner with four balls, but has since recovered; the latter, through the providence of God, escaped, without even a hole in his robe.
3 Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it. In the short space of twenty years, he has brought forth the Book of Mormon, which he translated by the gift and power of God, and has been the means of publishing it on two continents; has sent the fulness of the everlasting gospel, which it contained, to the four quarters of the earth; has brought forth the revelations and commandments which compose this book of Doctrine and Covenants, and many other wise documents and instructions for the benefit of the children of men; gathered many thousands of the Latter-day Saints, founded a great city, and left a fame and name that cannot be slain. He lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and like most of the Lord’s anointed in ancient times, has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood; and so has his brother Hyrum. In life they were not divided, and in death they were not separated!
4 When Joseph went to Carthage to deliver himself up to the pretended requirements of the law, two or three days previous to his assassination, he said: “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter; but I am calm as a summer’s morning; I have a conscience void of offense towards God, and towards all men. I SHALL DIE INNOCENT, AND IT SHALL YET BE SAID OF ME—HE WAS MURDERED IN COLD BLOOD.”—The same morning, after Hyrum had made ready to go—shall it be said to the slaughter? yes, for so it was—he read the following paragraph, near the close of the twelfth chapter of Ether, in the Book of Mormon, and turned down the leaf upon it:
5 And it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord that he would give unto the Gentiles grace, that they might have charity. And it came to pass that the Lord said unto me: If they have not charity it mattereth not unto thee, thou hast been faithful; wherefore thy garments shall be made clean. And because thou hast seen thy weakness, thou shalt be made strong, even unto the sitting down in the place which I have prepared in the mansions of my Father. And now I . . . bid farewell unto the Gentiles; yea, and also unto my brethren whom I love, until we shall meet before the judgment-seat of Christ, where all men shall know that my garments are not spotted with your blood. The testators are now dead, and their testament is in force.
6 Hyrum Smith was forty-four years old in February, 1844, and Joseph Smith was thirty-eight in December, 1843; and henceforward their names will be classed among the martyrs of religion; and the reader in every nation will be reminded that the Book of Mormon, and this book of Doctrine and Covenants of the church, cost the best blood of the nineteenth century to bring them forth for the salvation of a ruined world; and that if the fire can scathe a green tree for the glory of God, how easy it will burn up the dry trees to purify the vineyard of corruption. They lived for glory; they died for glory; and glory is their eternal reward. From age to age shall their names go down to posterity as gems for the sanctified.
7 They were innocent of any crime, as they had often been proved before, and were only confined in jail by the conspiracy of traitors and wicked men; and their innocent blood on the floor of Carthage jail is a broad seal affixed to “Mormonism” that cannot be rejected by any court on earth, and their innocent blood on the escutcheon of the State of Illinois, with the broken faith of the State as pledged by the governor, is a witness to the truth of the everlasting gospel that all the world cannot impeach; and their innocent blood on the banner of liberty, and on the magna charta of the United States, is an ambassador for the religion of Jesus Christ, that will touch the hearts of honest men among all nations; and their innocent blood, with the innocent blood of all the martyrs under the altar that John saw, will cry unto the Lord of Hosts till he avenges that blood on the earth. Amen. (D&C 135)
Devastated by these events, as soon as word reached them, the Twelve raced home to find the saints in shock and mourning the loss of their beloved prophet and patriarch.
Brigham Young, as president of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, assumed leadership of the “Mormon” Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Along with the other Apostles, they hastened to move the Saints out of the United States of America, for their own safety. It took several years, but eventually Brigham Young and the saints settled in Utah, an American Territory. Through strict determination and guided by revelation, they carved cities out of the harsh and unforgiving terrain of the Rocky Mountains.
In the next post about Brigham Young, we’ll talk about his calling as prophet, seer and revelator and the remainder of his life.