Some Thoughts on President Heber J. Grant
I have always loved President Grant.
When I was a teenager he was my favorite prophet to study, and perhaps he still is. A picture of him has hung over my bed since I was 17 years old, and kind of like President Hinckley turning to his portrait of Brigham Young for advice, I have often turned to my picture of President Grant and said in my mind, “Well Heber, what do you think I should do about this?” These rhetorical conversations have always been insightful to me, and I’ve always felt a great kinship with the man.
Heber J. Grant was a prophet on the turntables of history. His father, a counselor in the First Presidency to President Brigham Young, was a pioneer who had trekked across the Great Plains to the Salt Lake Valley. Overcome with pneumonia, Heber’s father died when he was just nine days old. Growing up with a widowed mother, Heber knew the edges of poverty, knew of hard work, and knew the importance of a good education. He is perhaps best remembered among the Saints of my generation for this quote:
That which we persist in doing becomes easier to do, not that the nature of the thing has changed, but our power to do so is increased.”
In his lifetime he saw the change from horse and buggy to jet airplane. He saw the invention of electricity, indoor plumbing, the car, the airplane, and even the radio. He was a pioneering prophet who brought the Church into the 20th Century in a roaring manner.
I love President Grant.
One of my favorite stories from his life comes from his daughter Frances, who learned greatly from his example. Said she,
“An incident occurred which made so profound an impression on me that I have remembered it all my life. I used some language father didn’t approve of, and he told me he would have to wash such words out of my mouth. He scrubbed out my mouth thoroughly with soap and said, ‘Now your mouth is clean. I don’t ever want you to make it dirty with such words again.’
“Several days later at the breakfast table, father was telling a story, and in quoting someone else he used a profane expression. I was quick to pick it up.
“ ‘Papa,’ I said, ‘you washed my mouth out for saying words like that.’
“ ‘So I did,’ he answered. ‘And I shouldn’t say them any more than you should. Would you like to wash out my mouth?’
“I certainly would.” I got the laundry soap and did a thorough job of it.
“My father could have hedged. He could have said he wasn’t really swearing, which, of course, was true; but that wasn’t his way. A little child couldn’t tell the difference between a quotation
and the real thing, and he realized it. From that moment I knew that my father would be absolutely fair in all his dealings with me, and I never found him otherwise. After that, I never heard him even quote profane things. He loved to tell a lively story and he would say, ‘John said, with emphasis, such and such,’ but he never said the words. He was a great believer in teaching by example and never asked us to do anything he wouldn’t do himself.”
What an example from a living prophet!
As President of the Church he helped implement the Church Welfare Program. He called the young Gordon B. Hinckley as the executive secretary to the Church’s new media department. He saw the Saints through the Great Depression, through Prohibition, and through the tenure of a United States President for whom he had little regard. He spoke plainly in General Conferences against the growing power of federal government and socialism. And he pleaded with the Saints to not overturn Prohibition, and, via The Church News, pleaded for them to not vote for that U.S. President. In both cases the Saints overwhelmingly ignored his counsel. Utah was the final state to vote which brought the repeal of Prohibition, and the Latter-day Saints rushed to the polls to vote for a man whom their prophet had guided them against.
Our loving Lord, knowing what a stiff-necked people we are, in His loving mercy stopped giving us more than we could handle. The “Thus Saith the Lord” to the general membership of the Church ended with President Grant. And even he said that the heavens were as brass to him.
Which is ironic, because perhaps the reason I loved President Grant the most when I was younger was because I always had a strong desire for more. Converting from Lutheranism to the Church, I was thrilled to have The Doctrine & Covenants. They were more of the Lord’s words. And not just more like in The Book of Mormon, but more words to prophets in our dispensation. I loved reading the revelations, and those sections of my first set of scriptures are maybe the most worn. But I wanted more. I wanted to understand the transition of prophetic mantles from prophet to prophet. I loved learning of the “booming voice” of the Lord calling Brigham Young while the Apostles were gathered in Elder Orson Hyde’s cabin in the rural wilderness of Iowa. I loved reading of Brigham Young’s visions. And I loved reading about President Taylor’s revelations in a “Thus Saith the Lord” manner, just like the Prophet Joseph Smith. And Heber J. Grant’s calling to the Holy Apostleship is the last one to come in a “Thus saith the Lord” manner that we have as the general membership of the Church.
Tonight as I stumbled upon The Deseret News clippings regarding Heber J. Grant’s death in 1945, I was reminded how blessed we are as a people, as the Lord’s covenant people, to have prophets in our midst. Do we heed their counsel? Do we sustain them with our actions and not just the uplifting of our arms? Do we love them and thank God for them and the Keys which they hold?
In speaking of such sacred things, I felt I would share the revelation in which President Grant was called to the Quorum of the Twelve. It was given to President John Taylor on 13 October 1882.
As an introduction I will share Wilford Woodruff’s own words from his journal:
“We met in council at President Taylor’s office. We heard the revelation read in which George Teasdale and Heber J. Grant were called to fill the vacancies in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and Seymour B. Young to fill the vacancy in the First Presidency of Seventies. October 14, 1882, we held a meeting with the Presidency, Twelve Apostles and the Presidents of Stakes. Remarks were made by President Taylor. Then the revelation was read. George Q. Cannon spoke to us and said, ‘How can we teach the people any law or principle that we do not keep ourselves?’ Joseph F. Smith spoke upon several subjects upon the Patriarchal Order of Marriage. President Taylor told what Joseph Smith said to him upon the subject, and said, ‘If we do not embrace that principle soon the keys will be turned against us, for if we do not keep the same law our Heavenly Father has we cannot go with Him. The word of the Lord to us was that if we did not obey that law we could not go where our Heavenly Father dwelt. A man obeying a lower law is not qualified to preside over those who keep a higher law.'”
1. Thus saith the Lord to the Twelve, and to the Priesthood and people of my Church.
2. Let my servants George Teasdale and Heber J. Grant be appointed to fill the vacancies in the Twelve, that you may be fully organized and prepared for the labors devolving upon you, for you have a great work to perform, and then proceed to fill up the presiding quorum of Seventies, and assist in organizing that body of my priesthood who are your co-laborers in the ministry.
3. You may appoint Seymour B. Young to fill up the vacancy in the presiding quorum of Seventies, if he will conform to my law; for it is not meet that men who will not abide my law shall preside over my priesthood;
4. And then proceed forthwith and call to your aid any assistance that you may require from among the Seventies to assist you in your labors in introducing and maintaining the gospel among the Lamanites throughout the land.
5. And then let High Priests be selected, under the direction of the First Presidency, to preside over the various organizations that shall exist among this people; that those who receive the Gospel may be taught in the doctrines of my church and in the ordinances and laws thereof, and also in the things pertaining to my Zion and my Kingdom, saith the Lord, that they may be one with you in my Church and my Kingdom.
6. Let the Presidency of my Church be one in all things; and let the Twelve also be one in all things; and let them all be one with me as I am one with the Father. And let the High Priests organize themselves, and purify themselves, and prepare themselves for this labor, and for all other labors that they may be called upon to fulfill.
7. And let the Presidents of the Stakes also purify themselves, and the priesthood and people of the Stakes over which they preside, and organize the priesthood in their various stakes according to my law, in all the various departments thereof, in the High Councils, in the Elders’ quorums, and in the Bishops and their councils, and in the quorums of Priests, Teachers, and Deacons, that every quorum may be fully organized according to the order of My Church; and, then let them inquire into the standing and fellowship of all that hold my Holy Priesthood in their several stakes; and if they find those that are unworthy let them remove them, except they repent;
8. For My Priesthood, whom I have called and whom I have sustained and honored, shall honor Me and obey My laws, and the laws of My Holy Priesthood, or they shall not be considered worthy to hold My Priesthood, saith the Lord.
9. And let My Priesthood humble themselves before me, and seek not their own will but my will; for if my priesthood, whom I have chosen and called, and endowed with the spirit and gifts of their several callings, and with the powers thereof, do not acknowledge me I will not acknowledge them, saith the Lord; for I will be honored and obeyed by my priesthood.
10. And, then, I call upon My Priesthood and upon all of my people, to repent of all their sins and shortcomings, of their covetousness and pride and self-will, and of all their iniquities wherein they sin against me; and to seek with all humility to fulfill my law, as my priesthood, my Saints and my people; and I call upon the heads of families to put their houses in order according to the Law of God, and attend to the various duties and responsibilities associated therewith, and to purify themselves before me, and to purge out iniquity from their households.
11. And I will bless and be with you, saith the Lord, and ye shall gather together in your holy places wherein ye assemble to call upon me, and ye shall ask for such things as are right, and I will hear your prayers and my spirit and power shall be with you and my blessings shall rest upon you, upon your families, your dwellings and your households, upon your flocks and herds and fields, your orchards and vineyards, and upon all that pertains to you; and you shall be my people and I will be your God; and your enemies shall not have dominion over you, for I will preserve you and confound them, saith the Lord, and they shall not have power nor dominion over you; for my words shall go forth, and my work shall be accomplished, and my Zion shall be established, and my rule and my power and my dominion shall prevail among my people, and all nations shall yet acknowledge Me. Even so, Amen.
I know that the Lord still speaks to His chosen servants though. Said Elder Christofferson in his amazing talk in General Conference just a month ago,
How does the Savior reveal His will and doctrine to prophets, seers, and revelators? He may act by messenger or in His own person. He may speak by His own voice or by the voice of the Holy Spirit—a communication of Spirit to spirit that may be expressed in words or in feelings that convey understanding beyond words (see 1 Nephi 17:45; D&C 9:8). He may direct Himself to His servants individually or acting in council (see 3 Nephi 27:1–8).
That such is true I know to be true by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are the Lord’s covenant people, and He has blessed us with watchmen on the tower to prepare us for His glorious coming. I want nothing more than to be able to find a young lady, get sealed in the temple, and raise a family in our Stake of Zion. I want to raise my children knowing the Brethren, paying heed to their counsel, and knowing of the Lord’s great love for us.
President Heber J. Grant hangs on my wall not just as a prophet, but as a dear friend and as an example.
I love Heber J. Grant.
I hope you can find some time to study his life and grow a great love for him too.
– The story about President Grant letting his daughter wash out his mouth with soap can be found in the book Glimpses of a Mormon Family, Pages 15–16. The text for the Revelation I shared can be found in the books Gospel Kingdom by John Taylor, Page 390., and also in Life of John Taylor by B.H. Roberts, Page 349. And if you would like to learn more about the written revelations which President John Taylor received you can do so by clicking here and enjoying the fine scholarship of Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and Christopher C. Jones.