Can the President of the Church lead us astray? It’s a question asked by many Latter-Day Saints. For many others, to even ask the questions suggests a spirit of faithlessness and even potential apostasy.
But what is the doctrine of prophets? Is the president of the church really able to lead a people wrong? Can they teach error? Is it possible for the leadership of the church to take the members down a path that does not increase in light? Or should we rest assured that being taught incorrect doctrine is an impossibility, or that the Lord will never allow the church to be led in paths not approved of the Lord?
I’ve thought long about this question, trying to reconcile the scriptures, statements from leaders, the doctrine, and inner conflict regarding this teaching. First, I’m not convinced it is scriptural. Yes, it is found in the preamble to Official Declaration 1 in the Doctrine and Covenants in a quote from a sermon by Wilford Woodruff. But this addition to the 1981 D&C was not presented to the church as scripture, nor does it seem to take the spirit or even form of scripture. The quote, as presented in the D&C, is actually truncated, omitting the words “I say to Israel”. Here is the quote in it’s entirety with the omitted portion italicized.
“I say to Israel, the Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty” (Sixty-first Semiannual General Conference of the Church, Monday, October 6, 1890, Salt Lake City, Utah. Reported in Deseret Evening News, October 11, 1890, p. 2).
To a people accustomed to receiving revelatory and prophetic guidance by the authoritative qualifier, “thus sayeth the Lord”, hearing the words “I say to Israel” would be clear to them that this statement is the opinion and view, perhaps even the hope, of the man uttering those words. They knew exactly what he was saying and exactly what he meant. It was a language they all shared and it was clear in context of his address: we are ceasing the practice of plural marriage so that our enemies do not destroy us.
This doctrinal sentiment has been occasionally expressed through out the latter years of the 19th century, but crescendos in the latter part of the 20th century and becomes the core doctrine of the restored gospel.
A Conditional Promise
I’d like to suggest a way that this blessing may be made available to the covenant body of the church. Since all blessings are premised upon keeping a law (D&C 130: 20-121), what is the law that must be kept in order to have the guarantee that church leadership will not lead you astray? Is it a guarantee by virtue of membership in the church? After collecting teachings of Latter-Day prophets on this question, it does not seem so.
What seems much more probable, and what should be emphasized to the church, is that the guarantee that the people will not be led astray seems conditional upon the obedience of both the people and the prophets themselves.
Let’s consider the following teachings form the prophets themselves. First, this from President Kimball. His warning is that both prophets and the people must be open to instruction and are both responsible for opening the heavens.
President Spencer W. Kimball
However, it is the sad truth that if prophets and people are unreachable, the Lord generally does nothing for them. Having given them free agency, their Heavenly Father calls, persuades, and directs aright his children, but waits for their upreaching hands, their solemn prayers, their sincere, dedicated approach to him. If they are heedless, they are left floundering in midnight’s darkness when they could have the noonday sun” (President Spencer W. Kimball, April 1977 General Conference).
Brigham Young points out that the LDS will not be led astray only if they are endowed with the power of the Holy Ghost. This is for the purpose of discernment. If a people are going to be promised they won’t be led astray, it is because they have the actual power to detect if they are being taught something in error. Brigham taught on many occasions the principle that the people were responsible for not being led astray – that it was not a guarantee by virtue of unquestioned obedience to church leaders.
The First Presidency have of right a great influence over this people; and if we should get out of the way and lead this people to destruction, what a pity it would be! How can you know whether we lead you correctly or not? Can you know by any other power than that of the Holy Ghost? I have uniformly exhorted the people to obtain this living witness each for themselves; then no man on earth can lead them astray. It is my calling and office to dictate in the affairs of the Church and kingdom of God on earth (JD 6:100).
He taught this also in another sermon:
What a pity it would be if we were led by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually. (JD 9:151)
Brigham Young asked the question:
“How do you know but I will bring in false doctrine and teach the people lies that they may be damned?” if I were to preach false doctrine here, it would not be an hour after the people got out, before it would begin to fly from one to another, and they would remark, ‘I do not quite like that! It does not look exactly right! What did Brother Brigham mean? That did not sound quite right, it was not exactly the thing!’ All these observations would be made by the people, yes, even by the sisters. It would not sit well on the stomach, that is, on the spiritual stomach, if you think you have one. It would not sit well on the mind, for you are seeking after the things of God; you have started out for life and salvation, and with all their ignorance, wickedness and failings, the majority of this people are doing just as well as they know how; and I will defy any man to preach false doctrine without being detected; and we need not go to the Elders of Israel, the children who have been born in these mountains possess enough of the Spirit to detect it. But be careful that you do not lose it! Live so that you will know the moment the Spirit of the Almighty is grieved within you” (JD 14:205-06).
As recorded in the Wilford Woodruff journal, Brigham Young taught this principle again so clearly.
Their is a doctrin taught from the stand & freequently taught in Public that we should follow Brother Joseph or Brother Brigham or any man who leads & do as they say & Obey them & that is all that is required. But this is a fals doctrin in one sense. For I will say that no man should trust to the testimony of another but he should go to God & get the testimony for himself. This evry man & woman should do. I might have heard Joseph Smith preache & testify of the truth of the Book of mormon & of this work untill he had been as old as Methuselah & in the end I should have snaped my fingers at him & said to him you are a foolish old man & turned upon my heels & walked off if I had not have had some other testimony besides his. But I went to the Lord & the Lord revealed to me that it was true & that it was his word & I received it upon that principle, & I have lived upon that principle from that day untill now & it is the right privilege & Duty of evry man & woman to get the revelation of Jesus Christ for themselves & evry person should get the spirit of God & live by it” (Wilford Woodruff Journal, 11 Jan. 1857; Scott G. Kenney, ed., Wilford Woodruff Journal (Signature Books 1983-1985), 5:6 (hereinafter “Wilford Woodruff Journal”), spelling in original (emphasis added).
President James E. Faust also taught this same principle that the membership of the church bears the responsibility of not being deceived.
As a means of coming to truth, people in the Church are encouraged by their
leaders to think and find out for themselves. They are encouraged to ponder, to search, to evaluate, and thereby to come to such knowledge of the truth as their own consciences, assisted by the Spirit of God, lead them to discover. Brigham Young said: “I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security. . . . Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe , 135). In this manner no one need be deceived.
Since each one of us has his free agency, the ultimate determination of what is
inspired of the Lord, what is right and wrong, true or false, can be made by each of us. President J. Reuben Clark Jr. (1871-1961) made this statement: “The Church will know by the testimony of the Holy Ghost in the body of the members [themselves], whether the brethren in voicing their views are ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost’; and in due time that knowledge will be made manifest” (“When Are Church Leaders’ Words Entitled to claim of Scripture?” Church News, 31 July 1954, 10). Each must bear the accountability of accepting or discarding the values of truth, which values if followed will produce his greatest happiness. (James Faust, First Presidency Message, “The Truth Shall Make You Free,” Ensign (Sept. 1998), 4-5)
President James E. Faust quotes J. Reuben Clark in a First Presidency Address:
“There have been rare occasions when even the President of the Church in his
preaching and teaching has not been “moved upon by the Holy Ghost.” You will recall the Prophet Joseph declared that a prophet is not always a prophet.
To this point runs a simple story my father told me as a boy, I do not know on
what authority, but it illustrates the point. His story was that during the excitement
incident to the coming of Johnson’s [sic] Army, Brother Brigham preached to the people in a morning meeting a sermon vibrant with defiance to the approaching army, and declaring an intention to oppose and drive them back. In the afternoon meeting he arose and said that Brigham Young had been talking in the morning, but the Lord was going to talk now. He then delivered an address, the tempo of which was the opposite from the morning talk. I do not know if this ever happened, but I say it illustrates a principle–that even the President of the Church, himself, may not always be “moved upon by the Holy Ghost,” when he addresses the people. This has happened about matters of doctrine (usually of a highly speculative character) where subsequent Presidents of the Church and the peoples themselves have felt that in declaring the doctrine, the announcer was not “moved upon by the Holy Ghost.”
How shall the Church know when these adventurous expeditions of the brethren into these highly speculative principles and doctrines meet the requirements of the statutes that the announcers thereof have been “moved upon by the Holy Ghost”? The Church will know by the testimony of the Holy Ghost in the body of the members, whether the brethren in voicing their views are “moved upon by the Holy Ghost”; and in due time that knowledge will be made manifest” (J. Reuben Clark, Jr., “When Are the Writings or Sermons of Church Leaders Entitled to the Claim of Scripture?” Church News, 31 July 1954, republished in Dialogue 12, no. 2 (Summer 1979), 73 (emphasis added). Elder D. Todd Christopherson quoted President Clark’s article in the April 2012 general conference. See D. Todd Christopherson, “The Doctrine of Christ,” Ensign (May 2012).
Some may say, “Brethren, you who lead the Church, we have all confidence in
you, we are not in the least afraid but what everything will go right under your
superintendence; all the business matters will be transacted right; and if brother Brigham is satisfied with it, I am.” I do not wish any Latter-day Saint in this world, nor in heaven, to be satisfied with anything I do, unless the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, the spirit of revelation, makes them satisfied. I wish them to know for themselves and understand for themselves, for this would strengthen the faith that is within them. Suppose that the people were heedless, that they manifested no concern with regard to the things of the kingdom of God, but threw the whole burden upon the leaders of the people, saying, “If the brethren who take charge of matters are satisfied, we are,” this is not pleasing in the sight of the Lord. Every man and woman in this kingdom ought to be satisfied what we do, but they never should be satisfied without asking the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, whether what we do is right. When you are inspired by the Holy Ghost you can understandingly say, that you are satisfied; and that is the only power that should cause you to exclaim that you are satisfied, for without that you do not know whether you should be satisfied or not. You may say that you are satisfied and believe that all is right, and your confidence may be almost unbounded in the authorities of the Church of Jesus Christ, but if you asked God, in the name of Jesus, and received knowledge for yourself, through the Holy Spirit, would it not strengthen your faith? It would” JD 3:45 (emphasis added).
Brigham Young counseled the Saints that it is possible that they could be led wrong.
“Do as you are counseled to do by the spirit of revelation from the Lord. . . . Go to with your might, seek unto the Lord your God until you have the revelations of the Lord Jesus Christ upon you, until your minds are open, and the visions of heaven are plain to you. Then follow the dictations of the spirit, and watch Brother Brigham, and see if he counsels you wrong” (Thomas Bullock minutes, 8 May 1854, Church Historical Department, quoted in D. Charles Pyle, “Questions to Ask Your Mormon Friend: Challenging the Claims of Latter-day Saints in a Constructive Manner,” FARMS Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, 8, no. 2 (1996), 238
Another warning from Brigham:
How many hundreds and hundreds of times have you been taught that if people neglect their prayers and other daily duties, that they quickly begin to love the world, become vain in their imaginations, and liable to go astray, loving all the day long to do those things that the Lord hates, and leaving undone those things that the Lord requires at their hands? When people neglect their private duties, should their leaders lead them astray, they will go blindfolded, will be subject to the devil, and be led captive at his will. How useless this would be! How unnatural, unreasonable, and unlike the Gospel and those who believe it! (JD 4:298 (emphasis added)
President Harold B. Lee also taught this principle. It is upon the heads of the church members to determine if they are being led astray or not.
President Harold B. Lee
It is not to be thought that every word spoken by the General Authorities is inspired, or that they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost in everything they write. I don’t care what his position is, if he writes something or speaks something that goes beyond anything that you can find in the standard church works, unless that one be the prophet, seer, and revelator—please note that one exception—you may immediately say, “Well, that is his own idea.” And if he says something that contradicts what is found in the standard church works, you may know by that same token that it is false, regardless of the position of the man who says it. We can know or have the assurance that they are speaking under inspiration if we so live that we can have a witness that what they are speaking is the word of the Lord. There is only one safety, and that is that we shall live to have the witness to know. President Brigham Young said something to the effect that “the greatest fear I have is that the people of this Church will accept what we say as the will of the Lord without first praying about it and getting the witness within their own hearts that what we say is the word of the Lord. (Harold B. Lee, Stand Ye In Holy Places (Deseret Book 1988), 162-63 (emphasis added)
President George Q. Cannon was a powerful teacher of this principle.
George Q. Cannon:
The Lord designs that the principle of knowledge shall be developed in every heart, that all may stand before Him in the dignity of their manhood, doing understandingly what He requires of them, not depending upon nor being blindly led by their priests or leaders, as is the universal custom, and one of the most fruitful sources of evil to the people on the face of the earth. . . . If we, in our experience, have not yet proved the truth of the words of the prophet – “Cursed is he that trusteth in man, or maketh flesh his arm” – probably we will do if we live long enough. There is a curse attending every man and woman who does this. . . . We must all learn to depend upon God and upon Him alone. Why, the very man upon whom we think we can rely with unbounded confidence, and trust with all we possess, may disappoint us sometimes, but trust in God and He never fails. We can go before Him at all times, and upon all occasions, and pour out our souls and desires before Him, and we feel that we lean upon a rock that will not fail, and upon a friend that will not desert us in the day of trial” (JD 12:45-46 (emphasis added).
George Q. Cannon:
Now if we were left without any testimony of our own, and had to receive the
ipse dixit of some man in authority, and to act blindly upon that, it would be very
different, it would require a much greater degree of faith than we have to exercise at the present time. But how was it in the days of Joseph? Was there a doctrine taught which was not accompanied by the testimony of the Spirit to the minds of the people? Certainly not. How has it been in the days of the Prophet Brigham? It has been the same. When the servants of God proclaimed that God had established his Church, that he had restored the everlasting Priesthood and its ordinances, they were told to go and ask God for themselves, and they had an opportunity of testing the truth of that which was taught unto them, and there was no chance for imposture. Many think that the people called Latter-day Saints are a deluded, ignorant set, led by cunning priestly leaders, who exercise power over them because of their shrewdness and ability, and that the people are a blind herd led at the will of these shrewd deceivers. We know that this is not the case. We know that the most frequent appeals that have been made to the Latter-day Saints have been to investigate for themselves and to know for themselves. When we started out from Illinois and traveled over these plains, were we following President Young because he said, “Come on?” Were we striking out blindly into the wilderness, hoping that he would find some place, and trusting to his sagacity and shrewdness? Certainly not, that was not the feeling; but every Latter-day Saint who crossed the Mississippi river, who was indeed a Latter-day Saint, had a testimony that he or she was going in a direction that God was leading, and when night came each was as confident that he was in the path that God required him to walk in as ever the children of Israel were when led out of Egypt. When I look back at those days, and consider the circumstances that surrounded the people, I wonder and am astonished at the faith, calmness and confidence they manifested” (JD 17:341-42).
President J. Reuben Clark also taught this principle:
“We can tell when the speakers are moved upon by the Holy Ghost only when we, ourselves, are moved upon by the Holy Ghost. In a way, this completely shifts the responsibility from them to us to determine when they so speak.” (President J. Rueben Clark, 1954 CN-7/31/54)
President Benson provides an insight as to why the Lord has allowed so many fallen men to become apostles. His observation, echoing President George Q. Cannon, is to teach the people to trust in Christ, and not in the flesh. It is interesting that he also emphatically connects trusting in the arm of flesh as trusting in church leadership.
President Ezra Taft Benson:
“Six of the original twelve apostles selected by Joseph Smith were excommunicated. The three witnesses to the Book of Mormon left the Church. Three of Joseph Smith’s counselors fell–one even helped plot the Prophet’s death. A natural question that might arise would be, if the Lord knew in advance that these men would fall, as he undoubtedly did, why did he have his prophet call them to such high office? The answer is, to fill the Lord’s purposes. For even the Master followed the will of the Father by selecting Judas. President George Q. Cannon suggested an explanation, too, when he stated, “Perhaps it is His own design that faults and weaknesses should appear in high places IN ORDER THAT HIS SAINTS MAY LEARN TO TRUST IN HIM and NOT in ANY man or men.” And this would parallel Lehi’s warning: ‘put not your trust in the arm of flesh’ (2 Nephi 4:35)… It is from WITHIN the church that the greatest hindrance comes. And so, it seems, it has been. Now the question arises, WILL WE STICK WITH THE KINGDOM AND CAN WE AVOID BEING DECEIVED?…Brigham Young said: The Adversary presents his principles and arguments in the most approved style, and in the most winning tone, attended with the most graceful attitudes; and he is very careful to ingratiate himself into the favour of the powerful and influential of mankind…Such characters put on the manners of an angel, appearing as nigh like angels of light as they possibly can,…The good which they do, they do it to bring to pass an evil purpose… Those of us who think ‘all is well in zion’ in spite of Book of Mormon warnings might ponder the words of Heber C. Kimball, who said:… “the time is coming when we will be mixed up in these now peaceful valleys to that extent that it will be difficult to tell the face of a Saint from the face of an enemy to the people of God. Then, brethren look out for the great sieve, for there will be a great sifting time, and many will fall; for I say unto you there is a test, a Test, a TEST coming.” (Ezra Taft Benson: God, Family, Country p. 335 – 337)
It is important to emphasize that the Lord gives the church revelation in D&C 107 of how to bring discipline to those in the highest offices of the church. If there was no chance that they would lead to error, why would such a revelatory provision be made? Once again, Brigham Young sheds insight into this possibility. Note the responsibility of the church to take action upon it.
“It is written in the book of Doctrine and Covenants, that the president can be tried before a bishop and twelve high priests, or the high council of the church. There are many present this morning who were present at the organization of that quorum in Kirtland. We have here before us this morning, the high council, and bishop Whitney at their head, and we will try Sidney Rigdon before this council and let them take an action on his case this morning; and then we will present it to the church, and let the church also take an action upon it” (Times and Seasons (15 Sept. 1844) 5:647))
B.H. Roberts also makes this case masterfully.
Again, while President Smith, as we believe, has received a divine appointment
to the station he holds, he is dependent for his continuance in that office, as he was
dependent for his elevation to it, upon the votes of the people. He is subject to the laws of the Church, as much so as you or I; and a special provision is made in the laws of God for a tribunal before which, for acts of irregularity and unrighteousness, he can be called to account, testimony taken against him, and if his offenses are of sufficiently serious a nature he may be dismissed from his high office, and excommunicated from the Church; and the revelation which provides these arrangements concerning him says that the decision of the court in question is the end of controversy in his case. I know that some men, in their over-zeal to exalt the office of President of the Church have advanced extravagant ideas upon the subject such as saying that no complaint must be made of those occupying that position; that the people must go on performing their daily duties without question, and then if the President should do wrong, God would look after him. Such teachings have now and then been heard; but I call your attention to the fact that the Church Of God is greater than any one man within that Church, however exalted his station may be; that the Lord has provided means by which the Church can correct every man within it, and can-dismiss the unworthy from power. That right is resident in the Church of Christ; and the Church don’t have to wait till God kills off unworthy servants before a wrong can be righted. The power exists within the Church to correct any evil, of whatever name or nature, that may arise within it, and that without disrupting the Church, or creating anarchy, but all things are to be done in order, and as God has appointed them. I could give you references to the D&C covering all these points, but it is a matter of such common knowledge among you that it is not necessary. Again, the decisions of the First Presidency of the Church are not final in relation to matters of administration and government in the Church, if such decisions are made in unrighteousness, but from such decisions of the First Presidency appeals lie to the general assembly of all the quorums of the Priesthood, which constitute the highest spiritual authority in the Church, that is, all the quorums of the Priesthood are greater than any one quorum, even though it should be the First Presidency. (Doc. and Cov. sec. 107). Neither “monarchy” nor “monarch” can exist where these principles are recognized, as they are recognized in the Church” (B. H. Roberts, Defense of the Faith and the Saints, 2 vols. (Deseret Book 1907), 1:222-23 (emphasis added)
Brigham Young here emphasizes the need to be able to answer for yourself spiritually. That it will not be in obedience to another that will guarantee a celestial inheritance.
There are those among this people who are influenced, controlled, and biased in
their thoughts, actions, and feelings by some other individual or family, on whom they place their dependence for spiritual and temporal instruction, and for salvation in the end. These persons do not depend upon themselves for salvation, but upon another of their poor, weak, fellow mortals. “I do not depend upon any inherent goodness of my own,” say they, “to introduce me into the kingdom of glory, but I depend upon you, brother Joseph, upon you, brother Brigham, upon you, brother Heber, or upon you, brother James; I believe your judgment is superior to mine, and consequently I let you judge for me; your spirit is better than mine, therefore you can do good for me; I will submit myself wholly to you, and place in you all my confidence for life and salvation; where you go I will go, and where you tarry there I will stay; expecting that you will introduce me through the gates into the heavenly Jerusalem.”
. . . . Now those men, or those women, who know no more about the power of
God, and the influences of the Holy Spirit, than to be led entirely by another person, suspending their own understanding, and pinning their faith upon another’s sleeve, will never be capable of entering into the, celestial glory, to be crowned as they anticipate; they will never be capable of becoming Gods. They cannot rule themselves, to say nothing of ruling others, but they must be dictated to in every trifle, like a child. They cannot control themselves in the least, but James, Peter, or somebody else must control them, They never can become Gods, nor be crowned as rulers with glory, immortality, and eternal lives. They never can hold sceptres of glory, majesty, and power in the celestial kingdom. Who will? Those who are valiant and inspired with the true independence of heaven, who will go forth boldly in the service of their God, leaving others to do as they please, determined to do right, though all mankind besides should take the opposite course. Will this apply to any of you? Your own hearts can answer.” (JD 1:312 (emphasis added)
Joseph Smith warned the Relief Society sisters that depending too much on a prophet would lead to a darkened mind. That it is a gospel principle to stand for yourself, and to not spiritually depend on another person.
“In a sermon to the Relief Society in May, 1842, Joseph Smith read the 14th chapter of Ezekiel and said that “the people should each one stand for himself, and depend on no man or men in that state of corruption of the Jewish church.” He applied the chapter to the “present state” of the church and stated that the people “were depending on the Prophet, hence were darkened in their minds” ( TPJS 237-38).
We also get this warning from the Joseph Smith Translation of Mark chapter 9.
“Therefore,” Jesus taught, “let every man stand or fall, by himself, and not for another; or not trusting another. . . . And if thine eye which seeth for thee, him that is appointed to watch over thee to show thee light, become a transgressor and offend thee, pluck him out” (JST Mark 9:44)
The following is a fascinating sermon from Orson Pratt which is important to note. It is in no way used to diminish or undermine the brethren that are called as apostles, but it should remind us that office alone does not bestow power and authority, nor should we assume that by virtue of holding an office someone fulfills the obligations of that office. It cannot be assumed. It must be discerned.
“This failure to realize all the blessings and powers of the Priesthood does not apply to the elders and lesser Priesthood only; but it applies to the higher quorums, and comes home to ourselves, who are Apostles of Jesus Christ. We are presented before the Church, and sustained as prophets, seers and revelators, and we have received oftentimes the gift of prophecy and revelation, and have received many great and glorious gifts. But have we received the fullness of the blessings to which we are entitled?No, we have not. Who, among the Apostles have become seers, and enjoy all the gifts and powers pertaining to that calling? Still it is our privilege to become prophets, seers and revelators, for these blessings were promised us through the Prophet Joseph, in the year 1836. Now I don’t think many of us have attained to these gifts, but it is not the fault of the Almighty, but the fault is in ourselves. And can they be realized by us? Certainly they can, if we are faithful in seeking for them.The Prophet Joseph would not have attained to these glorious gifts if he had not lived for them, and he would not have held out these inducements to us, unless they could have been obtained.These things were renewed at our last fall Conference, and they are brought home to us, and it is our privilege to live for them and enjoy them in their fullness, according to our faith.Brother Charles C. Rich has had visions from the Lord, and revelations through which he has been forewarned of dangers that threatened him; by which means his life has been preserved from time to time. And these are some of the gifts of God, and should be cultivated in our feelings and in our faith, for God is no respecter of persons, but is willing to give to all men liberally, and upbraid not. . . . And I have thought the reason why we have not enjoyed these gifts more fully is, because we have not sought for them as diligently as we ought.I speak for one, I have not sought as diligently as I might have done.More than forty years have passed away since these promises were made.I have been blessed with some revelations and prophecies, and with dreams of things that have come to pass; but as to seeing things as a seer, and beholding heavenly things in open vision, I have not attained to these things. And who is to blame for this? Not the Lord; not brother Joseph—they are not to blame.And so it is with the promises made to you in your confirmations and endowments, and by the patriarchs, in your patriarchal blessings; we do not live up to our privileges as saints of God and elders of Israel; for though we receive many blessings that are promised to us, we do not receive them in their fullness, because we do not seek for them as diligently and faithfully as we should” (JD 25:145-46 (emphasis added).
Can we lose the priesthood and its power on this earth? Yes, we can. We should not be aware of the principles that keep us in possession of the priesthood, and we should be discerning of our collective standing with the Lord. Once again, Brigham Young warns:
“When Mormonism finds favor with the wicked in this laid it will have gone into the shade; but until the power of the Priesthood is gone, Mormonism will never become popular with the wicked.” (Brigham Young, J.D. 4:38)
Finally, it is true that the members of the church can live so that they are not led astray, but they bear the burden of that promise. If we fail to keep the covenant and be consumed in the Holy Ghost, we are vulnerable to being taught incorrect teachings, and led contrary to the path the Lord would take us.