Question: Were Brigham Young and subsequent apostles personal witnesses of Christ?

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Question: Were Brigham Young and subsequent apostles personal witnesses of Christ?

Elder Packer: “Do not mistake our reverent hesitation to speak glibly or too frequently of Him to mean that we do not know Him"

[1]

The first apostles were charged by Oliver Cowdery with the “necessaryity” duty of their being able to “bear testimony…that you have seen the face of God….Never cease striving until you have seen God face to face,” for “[y]our ordination is not full and complete till God has laid His hand upon you” (89).[2]

In Snuffer’s view, the apostles and their successors failed in this charge, which “was rarely realized, and that failing gave rise to feelings of inadequacy among Apostles who were never able to obtain such a blessing” (243). (Snuffer relies here upon D. Michael Quinn’s Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power for documentation, and his account suffers from some of the same flaws.[3]

As a result, claims Snuffer:

The first phase of Mormonism was dominated by visions, angels, and direct involvement by God. Those experiences are still celebrated and taught. However, they are only used as a legitimizing credential for a demystified church. The current phase of Mormonism is missing the direct appearance or involvement of God, angels, and visions. There is a disconnect between the miraculous events upon which Mormonism is based, and current church events (47).

All of this is part of Snuffer’s view that “Mormonism has become increasingly less mystic, less miraculous, and even less tolerant of ‘gifts’ of the Spirit. Although it retains an emphasis on personal revelation, there is no continuing expectation of new scripture, new commandments, or Divine visitation” (45). Snuffer ignores all the documents that prove otherwise, including Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s extensive discussion of apostolic witness, where he not only quotes Cowdery with approval, but indicates that both the present-day Twelve and all Church members have the same privilege and duty.[4]

Snuffer’s claims are simply false—and I do not mean false in the sense that I have a differing interpretation or reading of the history. They are false because there is evidence that directly contradicts them, which we will now examine.

Modern examples—New Scripture

Snuffer provides no evidence that new scripture is not anticipated—though he does reject the authority of the apostles and prophets who could provide such scripture. Elder Neal A. Maxwell told an assembled Book of Mormon symposium:

The day will come, brothers and sisters, when we will have other books of scripture which will emerge to accompany the Holy Bible and the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. Presently you and I carry our scriptures around in a “quad”; the day will come when you’ll need a little red wagon.[5]

Elsewhere, he promised that “Many more scriptural writings will yet come to us,” mentioning those of Enoch, John, the ten tribes, and the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon.[6] If new scripture is not anticipated, why would an apostle say this to a roomful of scripture scholars? Snuffer’s claim is false.

Modern examples—the Necessity and Reality of Ongoing Revelation

Revelation continues with us today. The promptings of the Spirit, the dreams, and the visions and the visitations, and the ministering of angels all are with us now. And the still, small voice of the Holy Ghost “is a lamp unto [our] feet, and a light unto [our] path.” (Ps. 119:105.) Of that I bear witness....
—Elder Boyd K. Packer[7]

Despite Snuffer’s claim (45, 47), the expectation and experience of angels is not lacking in the modern Church. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has spoken extensively about angels, quoting Moroni 7:35–37 on the persistence of angelic visions “as long as time shall last…or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved.”[8] In a 1982 BYU devotional address, he taught that “when we've tried, really tried, and waited for what seemed never to be ours, then ‘the angels came and ministered unto him.’ For that ministration in your life I pray in the name of Jesus Christ.” “Angels and ministers of grace to defend us?” he asked in 1993 general conference, “They are all about us, and their holy sovereign, the Father of us all, is divinely anxious to bless us this very moment.”[9] “Our defense,” he told a CES audience in 2000, “is in prayer and faith, in study and fasting, in the gifts of the Spirit, the ministration of angels, the power of the priesthood.”[10] In 1993, he taught

May I suggest to you that one of the things we need to teach our students, and one of the things which will become more important in their lives the longer they live, is the reality of angels, their work, and their ministry. Obviously I speak here not alone of the angel Moroni, but also of those more personal ministering angels who are with us and around us, empowered to help us, and who do exactly that….

I believe we need to speak of and believe in and bear testimony to the ministry of angels more than we sometimes do. They constitute one of God’s great methods of witnessing through the veil, and no document in all this world teaches that principle so clearly and so powerfully and so often as does the Book of Mormon.[11]

These are not the words of someone convinced angels are safely in the past, useful only for “legitimizing…a demystified church.” Snuffer is simply wrong.

“When we keep the covenants made,” by baptism and the sacrament, said Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “we are promised that we will always have His Spirit to be with us. The ministering of angels is one of the manifestations of that Spirit.”[12] “Visions do happen,” he said, “Voices are heard from beyond the veil. I know this.”[13] “I feel compelled, on this 150th anniversary of the Church, to certify to you that I know that the day of miracles has not ceased. I know that angels minister unto men,” said Boyd K. Packer.[14] Elsewhere, he said, “The Lord reveals His will through dreams and visions, visitations, through angels, through His own voice, and through the voice of His servants.”[15]

Snuffer declares that “unless there is a constant stream of revelation coming to the latter-day gentiles then they do not have the gift they claim” (342). This is certainly true. But, he then decides that this warning applies to the Church of Jesus Christ—and not to just some members of the Church, but to all those who are leaders as well. But, how does he know this?

He is not privy to the councils of Church leaders. And to maintain this stance he must dismiss repeated testimony that such revelation guides the Church. Examples abound—Brigham Young: “Now, be sure to get the spirit of revelation, so that you can tell when you hear the true Shepherd's voice, and know him from a false one; for if you are the elect, it would be a great pity to have you led astray to destruction”;[16] Joseph F. Smith: “Christ is the head of his Church and not man, and the connection can only be maintained upon the principle of direct and continuous revelation”;[17] Marion G. Romney: “the guidance of this Church comes, not alone from the written word, but also from continuous revelation, and the Lord gives that revelation to the Church through His chosen leaders and none else”;[18] Joseph Fielding Smith: “The remark is sometimes made by thoughtless and unobserving persons that the spirit of revelation is not guiding the Latter-day Saints now as in former times…. I say to you that there is revelation in the Church…. We have revelations that have been given, that have been written; some of them have been published; some of them have not”;[19] James E. Faust: “I can testify that the process of continuous revelation comes to the Church very frequently. It comes daily”;[20] and Gordon B. Hinckley:

there has been in the life of every [prophet and apostle I have known] an overpowering manifestation of the inspiration of God. Those who have been Presidents have been prophets in a very real way. I have intimately witnessed the spirit of revelation upon them….Each Thursday, when we are at home, the First Presidency and the Twelve meet in the temple, in those sacred hallowed precincts, and we pray together and discuss certain matters together, and the spirit of revelation comes upon those present. I know. I have seen it.[21]

On a fundamental level, Snuffer is engaged in a form of sign-seeking. He will not sustain the prophets—and induces others to disregard them—because they will not satisfy his demand for the sensational. As Elder Oaks cautioned, “it is usually inappropriate to recite miraculous circumstances to a general audience that includes people with very different levels of spiritual maturity. To a general audience, miracles will be faith-reinforcing for some but an inappropriate sign for others.”[22]

Snuffer also ignores the warning and witness given by President Kimball:

Expecting the spectacular, one may not be fully alerted to the constant flow of revealed communication. I say, in the deepest of humility, but also by the power and force of a burning testimony in my soul, that from the prophet of the Restoration to the prophet of our own year, the communication line is unbroken, the authority is continuous, and light, brilliant and penetrating, continues to shine. The sound of the voice of the Lord is a continuous melody and a thunderous appeal. For nearly a century and a half there has been no interruption…. Every faithful person may have the inspiration for his own limited kingdom. But the Lord definitely calls prophets today and reveals his secrets unto them as he did yesterday, he does today, and will do tomorrow: that is the way it is.[23]

Elder Packer’s observation should be taken to heart: “There has come, these last several years, a succession of announcements that show our day to be a day of intense revelation, equaled, perhaps, only in those days of beginning, 150 years ago. But then, as now, the world did not believe.”[24]

Modern examples—Theophany or Divine Visitation

I approach this section with some trepidation. Such matters are sacred, and Snuffer strikes me as far too glib in his criticism of leaders who do not measure up to his views about how apostles ought to undertake their witness. I have taken as my guide the statement of President Packer:

I made a rule for myself a number of years ago with reference to this subject [of keeping spiritual experiences sacred]. When someone relates a spiritual experience to me, personally or in a small, intimate group, I make it a rigid rule not to talk about it thereafter. I assume that it was told to me in a moment of trust and confidence, and therefore I never talk about it. If, however, on some future occasion I hear that individual talk about it in public in a large gathering, or where a number of people are present, then I know that it has been stated publicly and I can feel free under the right circumstances to relate it. But I know many, many sacred and important things that have been related to me by others that I will not discuss unless I am privileged to do so under the rule stated above. I know that others of the Brethren have the same feeling.[25]

I will, then, confine myself to published reports, though I am aware of other less-public accounts. A year after his call to the apostleship, Elder Packer said:

Occasionally during the past year I have been asked a question. Usually it comes as a curious, almost an idle, question about the qualifications to stand as a witness for Christ. The question they ask is, “Have you seen Him?”

That is a question that I have never asked of another. I have not asked that question of my brethren in the Quorum, thinking that it would be so sacred and so personal that one would have to have some special inspiration, indeed, some authorization, even to ask it.

There are some things just too sacred to discuss.[26]

Elder Packer later expanded on these ideas, writing:

Though I have not asked that question of others, I have heard them answer it—but not when they were asked. I have heard one of my Brethren declare, "I know, from experiences too sacred to relate, that Jesus is the Christ." I have heard another testify, "I know that God lives, I know that the Lord lives, and more than that, I know the Lord." I repeat: they have answered this question not when they were asked, but under the prompting of the Spirit, on sacred occasions, when "the Spirit beareth record." (D&C 1:39.)

There are some things just too sacred to discuss: not secret, but sacred; not to be discussed, but to be harbored and protected and regarded with the deepest of reverence.[27]

Elsewhere, Elder Packer warned, “Do not mistake our reverent hesitation to speak glibly or too frequently of Him to mean that we do not know Him. Our brethren of Judah knew Him in ancient times, our brethren of Ephraim also. He is no stranger to His Saints, to His prophets and Apostles now.”[28] And, he gave clear insight into the nature and burden of the modern apostleship:

We do not talk of those sacred interviews that qualify the servants of the Lord to bear a special witness of Him, for we have been commanded not to do so. But we are free, indeed, we are obliged, to bear that special witness… I am a witness to the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the Only Begotten of the Father; that He has a body of flesh and bone; that He knows those who are His servants here and that He is known of them. I know that He directs this Church now, as He established it then, through a prophet of God. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.[29]

Elder Packer referred again to such instructions: “I bear witness that the Lord lives, that Jesus is the Christ. This I know. I know that He lives. I know that He directs this Church. Sometimes I wish that there were the authorization to say more, say it plainer, but that is the way we say it—the same as a Primary child would say it, that He lives, that we know.”[30] Elder Oaks made similar observations:

Why don't our talks in general conference and local meetings say more about the miracles we have seen? Most of the miracles we experience are not to be shared. Consistent with the teachings of the scriptures, we hold them sacred and share them only when the Spirit prompts us to do so…In bearing testimonies and in our public addresses we rarely mention our most miraculous experiences, and we rarely rely on signs that the gospel is true. We usually just affirm our testimony of the truthfulness of the restored gospel and give few details on how we obtained it.[31]

Marion G. Romney likewise observed, “I don’t know just how to answer people when they ask the question, ‘Have you seen the Lord?’ I think that the witness that I have and the witness that each of us [apostles] has, and the details of how it came, are too sacred to tell. I have never told anybody some of the experiences I have had, not even my wife. I know that God lives. I not only know that he lives, but I know him.”[32]

For those with ears to hear, the message is clear. The apostles speak and testify as they do by divine instruction. Who is Snuffer to gainsay them? Would he have them disobey God to satisfy standards which he has imposed?

Despite the cautions and commandments referred to by Elders Oaks and Packer, sacred manifestations have been reported throughout the post-Joseph Smith period of the Church. I include a selection below.

Modern visitations of Deity: Wilford Woodruff

  • President W[ilford] Woodruff told some of the Saints that our Saviour had appeared unto him in the East Room in the Holy of Holies, & told him that He had accepted of the [Salt Lake] Temple & of the dedication services, & that the Lord forgave us His Saints who had assisted in any manner towards the erection and completion of the Temple—that our sins were forgiven us by the Lord Jesus Christ.… Pres[iden]t Woodruff said the House had been full of revelation, more so than he had ever witnessed at any dedication of the previous Temples and he had been present at all of them from Kirtland to this present one.[33]
  • I feel at liberty to reveal to this assembly this morning what has been revealed to me since we were here yesterday morning. If the veil could be taken from our eyes and we could see into the spirit world, we would see that Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and John Taylor had gathered together every spirit that ever dwelt in the flesh in this Church since its organization. We would also see the faithful apostles and elders of the Nephites who dwelt in the flesh in the days of Jesus Christ. In that assembly we would also see Isaiah and every prophet and apostle that ever prophesied of the great work of God. In the midst of these spirits we would see the Son of God, the Savior, who presides and guides and controls the preparing of the kingdom of God on the earth and in heaven.[34]

We note that President Woodruff emphasized that he “felt at liberty” to disclose some of what he had seen by divine manifestation. Were he not at a temple dedication, he might well have been more reticent. Snuffer, by contrast, claims that “it was as if the church labored under Divine disapproval. It was as if the Lord’s ire was on display [given] nature’s reaction to the Salt Lake Temple dedication” (206). Snuffer does not accept Woodruff’s witness of divine approval, so he seeks to appeal to the weather for insight into the divine mind.[35]

  • I know what the will of God is concerning this people, and if they will take the counsel we give them, all will be well with them…. Speaking of the administration of angels. I never asked the Lord in my life to send me an angel or to show me any miracle…. I have had the administration of angels in my day and time, though I never prayed for an angel. I have had, in several instances, the administration of holy messengers….The room was filled with light. A messenger came to me. We had a long conversation. He laid before me as if in a panorama, the signs of the last days, and told me what was coming to pass. I saw the sun turned to darkness, the moon to blood, the stars fall from heaven. I saw the resurrection day. I saw armies of men in the first resurrection, clothed with the robes of the Holy Priesthood. I saw the second resurrection. I saw a great many signs that were presented before me, by this personage; and among the rest, there were seven lions, as of burning brass, set in the heavens. He says, "That is one of the signs that will appear in the heavens before the coming of the Son of Man. It is a sign of the various dispensations."…. Now, I have had all these testimonies, and they are true. But with all these, I have never had any testimony since I have been in the flesh, that has been greater than the testimony of the Holy Ghost. That is the strongest testimony that can be given to me or to any man in the flesh. Now, every man has a right to that, and when he obtains it, it is a living witness to him.…I know what awaits this nation. I know what awaits the Latter-day Saints. Many things have been shown to me by vision and by revelation.[36]

Modern visitations of Deity: George Q. Cannon

  • “I know that Jesus lives; for I have seen Him.”[37]
  • “I would not dare to tell all that the Lord has shown unto me.”[38]
  • “I have been greatly favored of the Lord. My mind has been rapt in vision and have saw the beauties and Glory of God. I have saw and conversed with the Savior face to face. God will bestow this upon you.”[39]

Modern visitations of Deity: Lorenzo Snow

Lorenzo Snow’s grand-daughter related his witness:

  • "One evening while I was visiting grandpa Snow in his room in the Salt Lake Temple, I remained until the door keepers had gone and the night-watchmen had not yet come in, so grand-pa said he would take me to the main front entrance and let mc out that way. He got his bunch of keys from his dresser. After we left his room and while we were still in the large corridor leading into the celestial room, I was walking several steps ahead of grand-pa when he stopped me and said: 'Wait a moment, Allie, I want to tell you something. It was right here that the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to me at the time of the death of President Woodruff. He instructed me to go right ahead and reorganize the First Presidency of the Church at once and not wait as had been done after the death of the previous presidents, and that I was to succeed President Woodruff.'
  • "Then grand-pa came a step nearer and held out his left hand and said; 'He stood right here, about three feet above the floor. It looked as though He stood on a plate of solid gold.'
  • "Grand-pa told me what a glorious personage the Savior is and described His hands, feet, countenance and beautiful white robes, all of which were of such a glory of whiteness and brightness that he could hardly gaze upon Him.
  • "Then he came another step nearer and put his right hand on my head and said: 'Now, grand-daughter, I want you to remember that this is the testimony of your grand-father, that he told you with his own lips that he actually saw the Savior, here in the Temple, and talked with Him face to face.'"[40]

Modern visitations of Deity: Joseph F. Smith

  • His vision of Christ and the redemption of the dead (D&C 138:) is well-known to every member.
  • “There is no reason why we should not have the ministration of angels if we were worthy.”[41]

Modern visitations of Deity: George Albert Smith

Recalling a time of great sickness, President Smith said:

  • I became so weak as to be scarcely able to move. It was a slow and exhausting effort for me even to turn over in bed. One day, under these conditions, I lost consciousness of my surroundings and thought I had passed to the Other Side....I saw a man coming towards me. I became aware that he was a very large man, and I hurried my steps to reach him, because I recognized him as my grandfather.
When Grandfather came within a few feet of me, he stopped. His stopping was an invitation for me to stop. Then—and this I would like the boys and girls and young people never to forget—he looked at me very earnestly and said:
"I would like to know what you have done with my name."
Everything I had ever done passed before me as though it were a flying picture on a screen—everything I had done. Quickly this vivid retrospect came down to the very time I was standing there. My whole life had passed before me. I smiled and looked at my grandfather and said:
"I have never done anything with your name of which you need be ashamed."
He stepped forward and took me in his arms, and as he did so, I became conscious again of my earthly surroundings. My pillow was as wet as though water had been poured on it—wet with tears of gratitude that I could answer unashamed.[42]

Modern visitations of Deity: David O. McKay

  • "Brethren, I know as I know I am looking into your faces that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true and that he is my Savior, as real as he was when Thomas said, with bowed head, “My Lord my God!”"[43]

As David O. McKay approached Samoa in 1921, he reported:

  • I then fell asleep, and beheld in vision something infinitely sublime. In the distance I beheld a beautiful white city. Though far away, yet I seemed to realize that trees with luscious fruit, shrubbery with gorgeously-tinted leaves, and flowers in perfect bloom abounded everywhere. The clear sky above seemed to reflect these beautiful shades of color. I then saw a great concourse of people approaching the city. Each one wore a white flowing robe, and a white headdress. Instantly my attention seemed centered upon their Leader, and though I could see only the profile of his features and his body, I recognized him at once as my Savior! The tint and radiance of his countenance were glorious to behold! There was a peace about him which seemed sublime — it was divine!
The city, I understood, was his. It was the City Eternal; and the people following him were to abide there in peace and eternal happiness.
But who were they?
As if the Savior read my thoughts, he answered by pointing to a semicircle that then appeared above them, and on which were written in gold the words:
"These Are They Who Have Overcome The World — Who Have Truly Been Born Again!"
When I awoke, it was breaking day over Apia harbor.[44]

Modern visitations of Deity: Harold B. Lee

  • I know that this is the Lord's work. I know that Jesus Christ lives, and that he is closer to this Church and appears more often in holy places than any of us realize, excepting those to whom he makes personal appearance.[45]

Elsewhere he said:

  • I shall never forget my feelings of loneliness the Saturday night after I was told by the President of the Church that I was to be sustained the next day as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. That was a sleepless night….
And then one of the Brethren, who arranged for Sunday evening radio programs, said, "Now you know that after having been ordained, you are a special witness to the mission of the Lord Jesus Christ. We want you to give the Easter talk next Sunday night."
The assignment was to bear testimony of the mission of the Lord concerning His resurrection, His life, and His ministry, so I went to a room in the Church Office Building where I could be alone, and I read the Gospels, particularly those that had to do with the closing days and weeks and months of the life of Jesus. And as I read, I realized that I was having a new experience.
It wasn't any longer just a story; it seemed as though I was actually seeing the events about which I was reading, and when I gave my talk and closed with my testimony, I said, "I am now the least of all my brethren and want to witness to you that I know, as I have never known before this call came, that Jesus is the Savior of this world. He lives and He died for us." Why did I know? Because there had come a witness, that special kind of a witness, that may have been the more sure word of prophecy that one must have if he is to be a special witness. [46]

President Lee also addressed the very charge which Snuffer raises—that an apostle must be a personal witness of Christ’s resurrection:

  • May I bear my own testimony. Some years ago two missionaries came to me with what seemed to them to be a very difficult question. A young Methodist minister had laughed at them when they had said that apostles were necessary today in order for the true church to be upon the earth. They said that the minister said, "Do you realize that when the apostles met to choose one to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Judas, they said it had to be one who companied with them and had been a witness of all things pertaining to the mission and resurrection of the Lord? How can you say you have apostles, if that be the measure of an apostle?"
And so these young men said, "What shall we answer?"
I said to them, "Go back and ask your minister friend two questions. First, how did the Apostle Paul gain what was necessary to be called an apostle? He didn't know the Lord, had no personal acquaintance. He hadn't accompanied the apostles. He hadn't been a witness of the ministry nor of the resurrection of the Lord. How did he gain his testimony sufficient to be an apostle? And the second question you ask him is, How does he know that all who are today apostles have not likewise received that witness?"
I bear witness to you that those who hold the apostolic calling may, and do, know of the reality of the mission of the Lord. To know is to be born and quickened in the inner man.[47]

Modern visitations of Deity: Spencer W. Kimball

  • “I know that God lives. I know that Jesus Christ lives,” said…my predecessor, “for I have seen him.” I bear this testimony to you brethren in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.[48]
  • Brethren and Sisters, we come now to the close of this great conference. You have heard from most of the Brethren, as I have said and their testimonies have been inspiring. What they have told you is true. It has come from their hearts. They have this same testimony, and they know it is true. They are true servants sent to you from our Heavenly Father. I pray that you will be listening, that you will be remembering, that you will take these many truths with you to your homes and in your lives and to your families. Brethren and Sisters, I want to add to these testimonies of these prophets my testimony that I know that He lives. And I know that we may see him, and that we may be with him, and that we may enjoy his presence always if we will live the commandments of the Lord and do the things which we have been commanded by him to do and reminded by the Brethren to do.[49]

Modern visitations of Deity: Ezra Taft Benson

  • “As one of those called as special witnesses, I add my testimony to those of fellow Apostles: He lives! He lives with resurrected body. There is no truth or fact of which I am more assured, or know better by personal experience, than the truth of the literal resurrection of our Lord.”[50]

Modern visitations of Deity: Heber J. Grant

Snuffer simply does not fairly or accurately characterize the record on this point. He ignores explicit discussion and explanation of the issue, and remains silent about many exceptions to its claims. We will conclude by considering the case of Heber J. Grant, upon whom Snuffer expends considerable ink.

Snuffer treats President Grant as a prototype of the new type of Church leader (245–264). PTHG claims that “spiritual manifestations were effectively eliminated from the church president’s office in the third phase, as demonstrated by President Grant’s diary” (256)—as we will see (and as even readers of Snuffer’s book can see if they are alert) the diaries do nothing of the sort. The record shows that Grant did not have many of the types of experience which Snuffer has declared to be vital—but there are reasons for this observation that are unique to Grant, including a personal request he made to God. Despite PTHG’s claim, Grant was very clear that he believed in, sought, and received “spiritual manifestations.”[51]

A key bit of Snuffer’s evidence is Grant’s supposed admission that he did not know of anyone who had seen Christ since Joseph Smith. Snuffer bemoans the fate of members who learn this, only to “lose faith in the church” (65):

[Grant’s 1926 letter reads:] “I know of no instance where the Lord has appeared to an individual since His appearance to the Prophet Joseph Smith.” It is the gap between the misconception held by many Latter-day Saints of Christ’s regular appearances to church leaders, and the reality of His absence that creates distress (65).[52]

Since this reading matches Snuffer’s thesis, he apparently does not challenge it. But, just one page earlier, Snuffer has cited Heber J. Grant from fifteen years later:

I have never prayed to see the Savior, I know of men—Apostles—who have seen the Savior more than once. I have prayed to the Lord for the inspiration of his Spirit to guide me, and I have told him that I have seen so many men fall because of some great manifestation to them, they felt their importance, their greatness (64).[53]

President Grant’s 1926 letter says he knows of no one that has seen “the Lord”—and Snuffer reads this as a reference to Christ. Yet, this 1942 statement says that he has seen “so many men fall,” because of pride in spiritual manifestations, and he knows of apostles who have had a Christ theophany more than once. If we put aside the possibility of Grant lying in one or both instances, there remain two options—either he has suddenly learned of such events in the intervening years, or his letter in 1926 refers to something else.[54] I suspect that it refers to the Father, rather than to Christ as Snuffer mistakes it—Grant says he has prayed to “the Lord,” and it seems unlikely that he was praying to Jesus, since LDS practice has always been to pray to the Father.[55]

And, if apostles did not seek out and have such theophanies, why would Grant feel it necessary to explicitly pray to God and ask not to receive one, and also explain why he had done so? This evidence does not match PTHG’s picture of a leadership disinterested in heavenly gifts.

Grant described his sense of inadequacy on being called as an apostle:

There are two spirits striving with us always, one telling us to continue our labor for good, and one telling us that with the faults and failings of our nature we are unworthy. I can truthfully say that from October, 1882, until February, 1883, that spirit followed me day and night, telling me that I was unworthy to be an apostle of the Church, and that I ought to resign. When I would testify of my knowledge that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, the Redeemer of mankind, it seemed as though a voice would say to me: "You lie! You lie! You have never seen Him."[56]

It is troubling to see Snuffer adopt and repeat the evil spirit’s message. A year later, Grant described the same events:

I was a very unhappy man from October until February. For the next four months whenever I would bear my testimony of the divinity of the Savior, there seemed to be a voice that would say: "You lie, because you have never seen Him." One of the brethren had made the remark that unless a man had seen the Lamb of God--that was his expression--he was not fit to be an apostle. This feeling that I have mentioned would follow me. I would wake up in the night with the impression: "You do not know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, because you have never seen Him," and the same feeling would come to me when I would preach and bear testimony. It worried me from October until the following February.[57]

PTHG cites another entry in Grant’s diary from 1890 that touches the same themes:

Heber J. Grant. Stated that he had never had an inspired dreaming his life and that although he had always desired to see his father in dream or vision that he had never been allowed to enjoy this great privilege. He had at all times been afraid to ask for any great spiritual manifestation as he would then be under greater obligations and he had feared that he might become unfaithful as others had done who had been blessed with great manifestations….I have always felt that I am greatly deficient in spiritual gifts.[58]

However, less than a year later, Grant would, in a private meeting with his fellow apostles, describe how his mind was put at ease:

When I was called to the apostleship I felt so unworthy that I desired to decline the honor. Even after my ordination this feeling continued until about three months later while on a mission with Brigham Young Jr. in Arizona. I was one day riding alone and thinking of my unworthiness, when the Spirit impressed me just as though a voice had spoken, “You were not worthy but the Prophet Joseph to whom you will belong in the next world, and your father, have interceded for you that you might be called, and now it remains for you to prove yourself worthy.”[59]

It is perhaps significant that Grant’s call to the apostleship happened while he was young and, by his own report of what the Spirit told him, unready. His maturation and further preparation would happen during the apostleship, rather than prior to it.

Snuffer also tells of how Grant’s mother reported that some believed her son “full filled of with pride” and that he ought to be relieved of his apostleship (250). It is worth asking—as Snuffer does not—whether Grant’s protestations of inadequacy, his sense that he was weak in spiritual gifts compared to others, and his acute awareness of the dangers of pride were actually evidence of a deep humility. Snuffer notes that “[r]ecording criticism from his own mother proves that record is an authentic and candid source. He is not trying to hide himself in its pages,” (250) but misses the obvious corollary—if Grant is indeed authentic, candid, and not trying to hide himself, that too is excellent evidence of his deep humility. And so, his protestations of spiritual weakness and inadequacy must be read in that light. Many early members described revelations in which Grant’s role as an apostle was foretold,[60] but Grant tended to focus instead on his weakness and downplay the possibility of holding high office.[61] “I think I am safe in saying,” he wrote, “that about half of the Latter-day Saints if not two-thirds of them were simply dumbfounded when I was chosen to be a member of the Apostles.”[62] Soon after his call, he wrote another friend:

You know the true sentiments of my heart on this subject...I did not, nor do I now, feel that my knowledge, ability, or testimony are of such a character as to entitle me [168] to the position of an Apostle, The Lord knows what is for the best and I have always trusted in Him for aid and assistance in the past and shall continue to do so in the future....[63]

When reassured of his capacities by a friend, Grant responded with a long list of his inadequacies, concluding that only God could help him qualify.[64] As a young stake president, Grant was given a blessing by the patriarch who said “‘I saw something I dared not mention.’ President Grant said later it was made known to him at that moment he eventually would become the President of the Church. He never divulged this to anyone until it became a fact.”[65]

Snuffer grants to Joseph Smith the right to have an expanded and increased understanding of his First Vision experience: “Often, Prophets do not understand what God shows them the instant it is revealed. Sometimes unlocking the vision takes time and care, together with careful, solemn, ponderous thought, before they are understood” (15). This is true. Unfortunately, Snuffer denies Grant the same privilege, since he ignores or omits a reference to Grant’s later description of his revelatory experience regarding his suitability as an apostle. In Grant’s later account, his visionary experience included the Savior—but the manifestation simply does not take the precise form that Snuffer has decided it must:

  • I seemed to see, and I seemed to hear, what to me is one of the most real things in all my life. I seemed to hear the words that were spoken. I listened to the discussion with a great deal of interest…. In this council the Savior was present, my father was there, and the Prophet Joseph Smith was there…. No man could have been more unhappy than I was from October, 1882, until February, 1883, but from that day I have never been bothered, night or day, with the idea that I was not worthy to stand as an apostle….I have had joy in….proclaiming my absolute knowledge that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, the redeemer of the world….
I do not make this statement because of any desire to magnify myself….[66]

In his telling a year later, he reiterated:

  • I had this feeling that I ought not to testify any more about the Savior and that, really, I was not fit to be an apostle. It seemed overwhelming to me that I should be one. There was a spirit that said: "If you have not seen the Savior, why don't you resign your position?"
As I rode along alone, I seemed to see a council in heaven. The Savior was there; the Prophet Joseph was there; my father and others that I knew were there….
I can truthfully say that from February, 1883, until today I have never had any of that trouble, and I Can bear my testimony that I know that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior of the world and that Joseph Smith is a l prophet of the living God; and the evil one does not try to persuade me that I do not know what I am talking about. I have never had one slight impression to the contrary. I have just had real, genuine joy and satisfaction in proclaiming the gospel and bearing my testimony of the divinity of Jesus Christ, and the divine calling of Joseph Smith, the prophet.[67]

This experience was sufficient to silence Grant’s self-doubts and the evil voices who questioned his suitability for the apostleship: we see once again his acute awareness of the perils of pride, and an anxious concern that others not misunderstand his intent. He did not have a “personal,” (i.e., one on one) vision, but his experience sufficed. It is unfortunate that it does not satisfy Snuffer, who later tells us that Grant “would resist any effort to pursue a spiritual manifestation the remainder of his life” (247). This claim is plainly false, as the historical record shows—Snuffer is not giving us good history, and he is certainly not giving us unvarnished “truth.”

For example, Grant described how, in response to his prayer, “the voice of the Lord from heaven” reassured his young daughter that “In the death of your Mamma the will of the Lord shall be done.”[68] Grant also reported a visionary dream in which his deceased wife came to claim his son’s spirit during a mortal illness. This initially troubled him, but upon entering his son’s sickroom, he felt the presence of his late wife. His living wife was in the same room, and identified the deceased wife’s presence without Grant having said anything. Contrary to Snuffer’s distortion of the record, spiritual manifestations were sought by Grant, and were “a sweet, peaceful, and heavenly influence in my home, as great as I have ever experienced in my life.”[69]

PTHG says that by Grant’s day, “knowledge of Jesus Christ was not only unnecessary, it was viewed by the church president as both negative, and potentially something leading to pride and fall from grace” (64). This reading is absurd—Grant is instead worried about his own proclivity to pride, and asks God to spare him that risk, even if it requires that he not have a personal visitation as he knows many others have. He does not see such a witness as a negative, or a knowledge of Christ as unnecessary—that is pure editorializing by PTHG, and directly contradicts Grant’s own testimony. Grant does acknowledge the risk of pride—though given that Snuffer lays claim to such theophanies only to now attempt to marginalize and correct the apostles, pride is apparently not a merely theoretical concern. The members of the Church whose testimonies worry Snuffer need not be concerned regarding President Grant, save if they rely on Snuffer’s dubious interpretation, and ignore all the other evidence.

Notes

  1. Portions of this wiki response are based upon Gregory L. Smith, "Passing Up The Heavenly Gift Part 1 Part 2," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 7 (2103), 181–341. The text here may have been expanded, reworded, or corrected given the nature of a wiki project. References in brackets like this: (xx) refer to page numbers in Denver C. Snuffer, Jr., Passing the Heavenly Gift (Salt Lake City: Mill Creek Press, 2011).
  2. History of the Church 2:195–196. I have omitted PTHG’s boldface emphasis to the original.
  3. The misleading claims and citations in the opening pages of Quinn’s mammoth work are reviewed in Duane Boyce, "A Betrayal of Trust (Review of: The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power, by D. Michael Quinn)," FARMS Review of Books 9/2 (1997): 147–163. For another example of Quinn’s shoddy work and dishonest footnotes, see here.)
  4. Bruce R. McConkie, The Promised Messiah: The First Coming of Christ (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 1978), 592–595.
  5. Neal A. Maxwell, “The Children of Christ” in The Book of Mormon: Mosiah, Salvation Only Through Christ eds. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate, Jr. (Provo: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1991), 1.
  6. Neal A. Maxwell, Wonderful Flood of Light (Bookcraft, 1990), 15.
  7. Boyd K. Packer, "Revelation in a Changing World," Ensign (November 1989): 16.
  8. Jeffrey R. Holland, “For Times of Trouble,” Brigham Young University devotional (18 March 1980). See also Jeffrey R. Holland, "The Inconvenient Messiah," BYU devotional address (15 February 1982).
  9. Jeffrey R. Holland, “‘Look to God and Live’,” Ensign (November 1993): 13.
  10. Jeffrey R. Holland, "Therefore, What?" CES Conference on the New Testament, Brigham Young University (8 August 2000), 1–2.
  11. Jeffrey R. Holland, “‘A Standard Unto My People,’” CES Symposium on the Book of Mormon, Brigham Young University, 9 August 1994, 10–11.
  12. Dallin H. Oaks, “The Aaronic Priesthood and the Sacrament,” general conference, October 1998.
  13. Dallin H. Oaks, "Teaching and Learning by the Spirit," Ensign (March 1997), 14.
  14. Boyd K. Packer, "A Tribute to the Rank and File of the Church," Ensign (May 1980): 65. Snuffer also quotes Elder Packer’s talk “The Mantle is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect”, 5th annual CES Religious Educator’s Symposium, 22 August 1981 (reproduced in BYU Studies 21/3 (Summer 1981): 259–278) as evidence that Packer advocates the view that “Though He did not appear, speak or send angels, God was not absent” (256 n. 318). As demonstrated by this and citations that will follow below, Snuffer distorts Elder Packer’s views—Elder Packer refers in the August 1981 talk to those to whom “the hand of the Lord may not be visible.” He does not deny that God speaks, appears, or sends angels, and in fact urges those who write history to be those who “believe that the successors to the Prophet Joseph Smith were and are prophets, seers, and revelators; that revelation from heaven directs the decisions, policies, and pronouncements that come from the headquarters of the Church” (p. 13 in on-line reprint).
  15. Boyd K. Packer, “Personal Revelation: The Gift, the Test, and the Promise,” general conference, October 1994.
  16. Brigham Young, “Source of True Happiness—Prayer, Etc.,” Journal of Discourses 6:45 (15 November 1857).
  17. Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine: Selections from the Sermons and Writings of Joseph F. Smith, edited by John A. Widtsoe (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 1919), 104–105.
  18. Marion G. Romney, Conference Report (April 1942): 17–18.
  19. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 3 vols. (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1954–1956), 1:281–282.
  20. James E. Faust, "Come Out of the Darkness into the Light," CES Fireside for Young Adults (8 September 2002).
  21. Gordon B. Hinckley, Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1997), 71, 555.
  22. Dallin H. Oaks, "Miracles," CES Fireside in Calgary, Canada, 7 May 2000, 3, italics added. Reprinted in “Miracles,” Ensign (June 2001).
  23. Spencer W. Kimball, "Revelation: The Word of the Lord to His Prophets," general conference, April 1977.
  24. Packer, “A Tribute to the Rank and File of the Church,” italics added.
  25. Boyd K. Packer, Teach Ye Diligently (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1975), 326.
  26. Boyd K. Packer, “‘The Spirit Beareth Record’,” general conference, April 1971.
  27. Packer, Teach Ye Diligently, 86–87.
  28. Boyd K. Packer, “Scriptures,” general conference, October 1982; reproduced in Boyd K. Packer, Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1991), 11.
  29. Packer, “Tribute to the Rank and File,” 65, italics added.
  30. Boyd K. Packer, Address at Ricks College Faculty and Staff Dinner, 24 August 1988; cited in Boyd K. Packer, "I Have That Witness," in Mine Errand from the Lord, complied by Clyde J. Williams (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 2008), chapter 28.
  31. Oaks, "Miracles," 3.
  32. Marion G. Romney, cited in F. Burton Howard, Marion G. Romney: His Life and Faith (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1988), 222.
  33. Wilford Woodruff, in Collected Discourses Delivered by: President Wilford Woodruff, His Two Counselors, the Twelve Apostles, and Others, edited by Brian H. Stuy, 5 vol. (BHS Publishing, 1987–1992), 5:225.; citing John Lee Jones biography (no date) and Minutes of Salt Lake Temple dedication on 6–24 April 1893, 16th session, 13 April 1893.
  34. Woodruff in Stuy, Collected Discourses 3:274; citing third dedicatory session and Archibald Bennett, Saviors on Mount Zion, 142–143.
  35. Snuffer’s claim betrays that fact that he has not spent much time in a semi-arid community heavily dependent upon irrigation agriculture. For such people, a thunderstorm is almost always occasion for rejoicing, as it waters crops or fills reservoirs.
  36. Wilford Woodruff, “Administration of Angels,” (3 March 1889); in Stuy, Collected Discourses 1:216–218.
  37. George Q. Cannon, “Supporting Church Leaders,” (6 October 1896), reported in The Deseret Weekly 53 (31 October 1896): 610; reproduced in Stuy, Collected Discourses 5:225.
  38. Cannon, in Stuy, Collected Discourses, 3:277, citing twenty-first session of dedication, 15 April 1893.
  39. Cannon, in Stuy, Collected Discourses, 3:285, citing Francis Asbury Hammond, Journal, 20 April 1893.
  40. LeRoi C. Snow, “An Experience of My Father’s,” Improvement Era 33/11 (September 1933): 677.
  41. Joseph F. Smith in Stuy, Collected Discourses 3:380, citing fifteenth session of Salt Lake Temple dedication (12 April 1893).
  42. George Albert Smith and Preston Nibley, Sharing the Gospel with Others (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1948), 111–112; also available in Leon R. Hartshorn, Classic Stories from the Lives of Our Prophets (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 1971), 239.
  43. David O. McKay, Conference Report (April 1949): 182.
  44. David O. McKay world tour diary, 10 May 1921; cited in Clare Middlemiss and David O. McKay, Cherished Experiences from the Writings of President David O. McKay (Salt Lake City: Utah, Deseret Book Co., 1955), 102; also available in Hartshorn, 286–287.
  45. Harold B. Lee, “Everlasting Covenant,” MIA conference address, 29 June 1969, 9–10; cited in Living Prophets for a Living Church (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1973), 119; also in Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 11 and portion in Ye Are the Light of the World (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1974), 10.
  46. Harold B. Lee, Joint Nottingham and Leicester Conference Nottingham Stake, England, 2 September 1973; cited in “Speaking for Himself—President Lee’s Stories,” Ensign (February 1974): 18; also in Hartshorn, 337.
  47. Harold B. Lee, Stand Ye in Holy Places (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 1974), 64–65.
  48. Spencer W. Kimball, “Strengthening the Family—the Basic Unit of the Church,” general conference, April 1978. President Kimball attributed this quote to John Taylor. The actual quote is from George Q. Cannon (see here). See discussion in Dennis C. Davis, Letter to the editor, Sunstone 15:5/8 (November 1991).
  49. Spencer W. Kimball, “The Cause is Just and Worthy,” Ensign (May 1974): 119.
  50. Ezra Taft Benson, “Five Marks of the Divinity of Jesus Christ,” University of Utah fireside, 9 December 1979. Published in New Era 10 (December 1980): 48 and Ensign (December 2001).
  51. For example, Grant once prayed to be able to speak beyond his natural ability in order to help his brother develop a testimony of the Church. When Grant sat down, President George Q. Cannon was urged to conclude. He declined, but when pressed rose and said, “There are times when the Lord Almighty inspires some speaker by the revelations of His Spirit, and he is so abundantly blessed by the inspiration of the living God that it is a mistake for anybody else to speak following him, and one of those occasions has been today, and I desire that this meeting be dismissed without further remarks.” The subject of Grant’s address was “a testimony of my knowledge that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, and to the wonderful and marvelous labors of the Prophet Joseph Smith, bearing witness to the knowledge God had given me that Joseph was in very deed a prophet of the true and living God.” [Heber J. Grant, Conference Report (October 1922): 188–190.]
  52. The citation is from Heber J. Grant to Mrs. Claud Peery, 13 April 1926, in First Presidency letterbooks, Vol. 72; Snuffer cites it from Quinn, Extensions of Power, 4. A typescript copy is also reported in the Lester Bush papers, University of Utah archives.
  53. Snuffer cites from The Diaries of Heber J. Grant, 1880–1945, abridged (Salt Lake City, Utah: Privately Published, 2010), 468, entry for 4 October 1942. See also Snuffer, 256 for repeat citation.
  54. Grant also knew of Lorenzo Snow’s theophany; see Snow, “An Experience of My Father’s,” 677.
  55. John Taylor also showed some ambiguity in his use of the title “Lord”: “The Lord appeared unto Joseph Smith, both the Father and the Son” (Journal of Discourses 21:65). Joseph Fielding Smith wrote that "it is well for those who address the congregations of the people to use these holy names [of Deity] sparingly when other expressions will suffice. The term Lord whether applied to the Father or the Son is permissible” (Doctrines of Salvation 3:121).
  56. Heber J. Grant, “Opening Conference Message,” general conference address, 4 April 1941; reproduced in Improvement Era 44/5 (May 1941): 267 and Conference Report (April 1941): 4–5. Also in G. Homer Durham (editor), Gospel Standards: Selections from the Sermons and Writings of Heber J. Grant (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 1941), 194.
  57. Heber J. Grant, Conference Report (October 1842): 26.
  58. Diaries of Heber J. Grant, 1880–1945, 115; cited by PTHG, 246–247.
  59. Heber J. Grant, quoted in Abraham H. Cannon Journals, L. Tom Perry Special Collections Department, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, entry for 2 April 1891; reproduced in Dennis J. Horne (editor), The Journals of Abraham H. Cannon (Clearfield, Utah: Gnolaum Books, 2004), 179. In the same meeting, Grant also spoke of a spiritual manifestation concerning his deceased brother: “When my brother George accidentally shot and killed himself I felt very sad, because he was a most faithful Latter-day Saint. I brooded over his death until the Spirit impressed me that my father desired his services on the other side. I then felt easy.” Again, where is the Church leader disinterested in spiritual manifestations? Only in PTHG’s fanciful reconstruction.
  60. Many of those who knew him believed he was destined to the apostleship. These included: Edwin D. Woolley, Heber C. Kimball, Eliza R. Snow, Zina D. Young, his mother Rachel R. Grant, Charles Savage, Anthony W. Ivins, and Richard W. Young. See Ronald W. Walker, "Young Heber J. Grant's Years of Passage," Brigham Young University Studies 24/2 (Spring 1984): 131–132, 149 (reprinted in BYUS 43/1 (2004): 41–60) and "Young Heber J. Grant and His Call to the Apostleship," Brigham Young University Studies 43/1 (2004): 167 (reprint of BYU Studies 18/1 (1977): 121–126).
  61. “Heber often brushed these [claims about his future] off as being the illusory yearnings of a widow for her only son.” [Francis M. Gibbons, Dynamic Disciples, Prophets of God: Life Stories of the Presidents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 1996), 155.]
  62. Heber J. Grant to Willard Young, 1 February 1892, Grant Letterpress Copybook 12:240, LDS Church Archives; cited in Ronald W. Walker, “Young Heber J. Grant: Entrepreneur Extraordinary,” Brigham Young University Studies 43/1 (2004): 111 n. 41.
  63. Heber J. Grant to Anthony W. Ivins, 22 October 1882, Grant Letterpress Copybook 5:7–10, LDS Church Archives; cited in Walker, “Call to the Apostleship,” 168–169. Again, the disinterest or suspicion of spiritual manifestations is simply not in evidence.
  64. “With reference to my new calling and my abilities to magnify the same, I must say that I consider my position much in advance of my knowledge—I regret very much that I have not a better knowledge of grammar, as I murder the “Queens English” most fearfully—my orthography is perfectly Emense to say the least—I have not a good memory, or if I have it has been so badly neglected that I have not found it out that it is good, My information on subjects relating to the advancement of a community am[oun]ts to nothing, I know little or nothing of History—and were it not that I have from 15 to 25 yrs. in which to study to overtake such men as Lyman, Jos. F. Smith and others, and knowing that I have the right to call upon our Heavenly Father for assistance I assure you that I should feel almost like backing out—A knowledge, of grammer and orthography is necessary for a public speaker and one that has more or less writing to do,—I naturally dislike both of these studies and have not much faith in becoming proficient in either—Your inventory of my abilities is “way up.” I should like to have you get someone to accept of your ideas but think it would be a difficult task, I may have a little common sense—In fact I know that I have, I also know that my first ideas, impressions, or quickness to see a point which ever you see fit to call it, is not bad, but this really am[oun]ts to but very little when you are looking for a substantial leading man. Reasoning powers and depth of thought are the qualities that count—There is one thing that sustains me, however, & that is the fact that all powers, of mind or body, come from God and that He is perfectly able & willing to qualify me for His work provided I am faithful in doing my part—This I hope to be able to do faithfully....” – Heber J. Grant to Richard W Young, 16 November 1882, Grant Letterpress Copybook 5:62–63; cited in Walker, “Call to the Apostleship,” 172–173.
  65. Gibbons, 158.
  66. Grant, “Opening Conference Message,” 315; also in Gospel Standards, 195–196 and Conference Report (April 1941): 4–5.
  67. Grant, Conference Report (October 1942): 26.
  68. Heber J. Grant, “In the Hour of Parting,” Improvement Era 43/6 (June 1940): 363.
  69. Grant, “In the Hour of Parting,” 383.