Come Follow Me with Casey Paul Griffiths (Doctrine and Covenants 89-92, August 16-22) – powered by Happy Scribe
One of the most distinctive beliefs of Latter day Saints is the word of wisdom. A lot of times the first time your friend finds out that you’re a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints is when you have to turn down alcohol or tobacco or any of those substances that are forbidden in the word of wisdom. One time I was in Taiwan on a church history trip and I was traveling on this bus and the bus driver pulled over and got a bunch of metal nuts.
He started to pass them back and everybody started to put them in their mouth and suck on them. And I didn’t have any idea what they were. So I grabbed one and was about to put it in my mouth. But a little Japanese guy sitting next to me, this part spoke hardly any English, reached out and grabbed my hand and said, Mormon no eat. Well, it turns out that this little friend of mine had lived in Idaho for a year and he knew about the word of wisdom and he saved me from ingesting a possible narcotic substance.
Now, one of the distinctive beliefs of the church that people recognize all over the world actually came in this room. This is a little room about 11 feet by 14 feet in the Whitney store where the School of the Prophets was held in section eighty eight. The doctrine covenants, the school, the prophets, was designated as a sanctified and holy place. In fact, the savior called this space his house, the House of the Lord. He used a lot of the same titles we use for the temple.
Later on, when a person came here, they came in a special way. They made sure that they were dressed in clean clothes and that they cleanse themselves. And then they even said holy greeting as they entered into the school. The prophets now, surprisingly, the school, the prophets, when it first started out, wasn’t quite as clean as we imagined. A temple being Brigham Young, who was one of the attendees of the school, the prophets said the first thing they did after sitting down was to light a pipe and begin to talk about the great things of the kingdom and puff away.
Once the pipes were smoked out, they put a two and on one side and perhaps on both sides, and then it was all over the floor. And one source indicates that out of twenty four people attending the school, the prophets, about 19 of them were smoking a pipe. So you can imagine in a room that’s about this big that doesn’t have a lot of ventilation, that after nineteen out of twenty four of you started smoking your pipe, it’d be hard to see the teacher.
And even worse, if that many people were using chewing tobacco and spitting it on the floor. You don’t exactly want to be the person that has to come in and clean up the room after the school, the profits is done. In fact, Brigham Young indicated that one of the people that asked about tobacco and its usefulness was Emma Smith because she had to clean up the mess. So with these questions in mind about these substances that were being used in the School of the Prophets, according to one source, Joseph Smith went into the next room with two other brethren and received the revelation that we now know as the word of wisdom.
He came back in and shared it with the Brethren and immediately there was a change to those substances. Originally included alcohol, tobacco, hot drinks, which were defined shortly after as coffee and tea and any other substances, Lord forbid them. Now, there’s a couple of things about the word of wisdom. We need to discuss them. It is true if you look at Section eighty nine that the Lord originally told them that it was not given by commandment or by constraint, that it was a word of wisdom.
And the early saints follow the word of wisdom. For instance, Brigham Young said that many of the men in the school, the prophets, took their pipes and threw them into the fireplace. And we’ve actually found in the Kerlin asheri several pipe fragments among the ashes from the men. The must have done this. One of them even have the name Johnson stamped on the Pipestem probably belonged to Luca Limón Johnson, who are members of the School of the Prophets.
At the same time, throughout Joseph Smith’s life, there were times when Joseph Smith or other early members of the church would use alcohol or tobacco, not in any kind of egregious, addictive sort of way. But every now and then when they needed assistance. For instance, after Joseph Smith escaped from Liberty Jail, he noted that they came upon a farmer who offered them some wine, which they used to refresh themselves. Now, throughout Joseph Smith’s life, the word of wisdom was observed, but not as a commandment, as a word of wisdom.
It was in 1852 when Brigham Young decided that we had had enough time to bring our lives in the line of the word of wisdom that he made it a commandment. But Brigham Young, in making a commandment, also didn’t incur any penalties on anybody if they violated the word of wisdom. It was actually all the way in 1921 when he immigrant who was present in the church basically said, if you want to have a temple recommend, then you need to live the word of wisdom.
And why was it that we waited so long to make the word of wisdom, not just a word of wisdom, but a commandment and then a commandment that came with penalties? President Joseph Smith gave this insight. He said The reason undoubtedly why the word of wisdom was given as not by commandment or constraint was that at the time, at least, if it had had been given as a commandment, it would have brought every man addicted to the use of these noxious things.
Under condemnation, so the Lord was merciful and gave them a chance to overcome before he brought them under law, later it was announced from the stand by President Brigham Young with the word of wisdom was a revelation and a command to the Lord. And I desire to mention that fact because I do not want you to feel that we are under no restraint. We do not want to come under condemnation. The word of wisdom is a great example of a living commandment.
It’s a commandment that wasn’t just given in 1833, but that was given continually and is continually changed and updated based on the dangerous substances that surround us. In August of twenty nineteen, the first presidency issued an update to the word of wisdom where they clarified that vaping or e-cigarettes, green tea or coffee based products. We’re also against the word of wisdom. And it’s a good example for us to look to the leaders of the church in our time, just as Joseph Smith did in his time, to look to the Lord to find out what substances exist around us that could be dangerous or noxious or keep us from feeling the spirit when we lived the word of wisdom, we are able to have the spirit with us.
Even more importantly, we’re able to make covenants that allow us to have the spirit with us wherever we go. And as the men who attended the school, the prophets complied with these commandments and kept them to the best of their abilities, they were able to have even greater blessings. Now, another significant thing that happens here that’s discussed in Section 90 of the doctrine covenants is the calling of the presidency of the high priesthood, later to be known as the first presidency.
So in the same defined and hallowed room that wasn’t just cleaned spiritually, but because of section name was now clean physically. Joseph Smith first set apart Sidney Rigdon and Frederick T. Williams to act as his counselors in the first presidency. This is one of many steps on the road towards the church hierarchy that we’re familiar with. There were no apostles at this time, but for the first time there were three high priest presiding over the church and giving directions and guidance and receiving revelation to help us build temples and help us receive further guides.
You know what to do. And after they were ordained, there was a manifestation. Joseph Smith later on recorded. I laid my hands on brother Sidney and Frederick and ordained them to take part in me. And holding the keys of the last kingdom, I gave the Brethren a promise that the pure and heart should see heavenly vision. And after remaining a short time and secret prayer, the promise was verified. For many present have the eyes of their understanding opened by the spirit of God so as to behold many things.
Many of the brethren saw heavenly vision of the Savior and concourses of angels, and many other things of which each one has a record of what he saw. So in a tiny little room like this revelation came. People came prepared and ready to learn, and the savior gave them revelation about their physical lives, about the kind of substances that they should avoid, and also revelations and colleagues about their spiritual lives. For the first time, the keys to the kingdom were given to someone else, Sidney and Frederick, acting as Joseph Smith councilor’s.
Eventually, the Keys would also be passed on to a quorum of Twelve Apostles. And the familiar church leadership that we know and love today came into place. But it all started in a tiny 11 foot by 14 foot room in the upper floor of the New York Whitney store, where there were questions about being clean, questions about seeing the savior, and a strong desire to not just know the savior, but to see the savior and behold them for themselves.