Should we follow leaders blindly? What are the doctrines and principles that must be understood in following leadership?

Prophetic Statements

Joseph Smith

“Wednesday, February 8, 1843. — This morning, I read German, and visited with a brother and sister from Michigan, who thought that ‘a prophet is always a prophet;’ but I told them that a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such.” 1.

Brigham Young


I do hope and pray my brethren and sisters to pay attention, that the Spirit of the Lord may be in your hearts, that you may see and understand things as they are. I would say, still further, if there be error advanced here, do not receive it, pass it by, and live so that you will know truth from error, light from darkness, the things that are of God from those not of God; and if an error should drop from the lips of one of our Elders, do not receive, believe, or practice it. Truth is what we want, and we ought to live so that we can understand and know it for ourselves. This is our privilege and duty; and we request of the Latter-day Saints, and of all people, to live so that they may know and understand the things of God, and receive and embrace them in their faith, and practice them in their lives. 2


How do you know that your humble servant is really, honestly, guiding and counseling you aright, and directing the affairs of the kingdom aright? . . . How do you know but I am teaching false doctrine? How do you know that I am not counseling you wrong? How do you know but I will lead you to destruction? . . . Live so that you can discern between the truth and error, between light and darkness, between the things of God and those not of God, for by the revelations of the Lord, and these alone, can you and I understand the things of God . . . But to return to my question to the Saints, “How are you going to know about the will and commands of heaven?” By the Spirit of revelation; that is the only way you can know. How do I know but what I am doing wrong? How do I know but what we will take a course for our utter ruin?. . . But how do you know that I may not yet do wrong? 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 . . . It would not sit well on the mind . . . 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. 3


I told the people in Nauvoo . . . that if they were not Saints at that critical juncture, they ought to repent of their sins, and get the Holy Ghost, and not live another twenty-four hours without the Spirit of revelation within themselves, for who knows but what you are the elect; and you know that false prophets were to arise in the last days, and, if possible, deceive the very elect, and that many false shepherds would come and pretend to be the true shepherds. 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. 4


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. 5


I will say a few words in regard to your belief in being led, guided, and directed by one man . . . Thousands of times my soul has been lifted to God the Father . . . that we may be led by the man Jesus Christ, through Joseph Smith the Prophet. You may inquire how we are to know that we are so led. I refer you to the exhortation you have heard so frequently from me. Do not be deceived, any of you; if you are deceived, it is because you deceive yourselves. You may know whether you are led right or wrong, as well as you know the way home . . . 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 . . . Let all persons be fervent in prayer, until they know the things of God for themselves and become certain that they are walking in the path that leads to everlasting life. 6


What is the cry against us? “Brigham Young has too much influence! All the people hearken to Brigham Young! All these poor deluded Latter-day Saints take his counsel!” I wish it was so. If this were the fact you would see Zion prosper upon the hills and upon the plains, in the valleys and in the kanyons, and upon the mountains. 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. 7


I have said to the Latter-day Saints, many and many a time, and I say to them now, live your religion, that the Spirit of God may be within you like a well of water springing up to everlasting life. Suppose I were to give way to the spirit of the enemy and leave the spirit of the Gospel, then, if you were not prepared to judge between the voice of the Good Shepherd and the voice of the stranger, I could lead you to ruin. Be prepared that you may know the voice when it comes through the servants of God, then you can declare for yourselves. “This is the word of the Lord.” My caution and counsel to the Latter-day Saints, and to all the inhabitants of the earth is—”Live so that you will know truth from error.


I say to you . . . brethren and sisters, be faithful, live so that the Spirit of the Lord will abide within you, then you can judge for yourselves. I have often said to the Latter-day Saints—“Live so that you will know whether I teach you truth or not.” Suppose you are careless and unconcerned, and give way to the spirit of the world, and I am led, likewise, to preach the things of this world and to accept things that are not of God, how easy it would be for me to lead you astray! But I say to you, live so that you will know for yourselves whether I tell the truth or not. 8


It is your privilege and duty to live so that you know when the word of the Lord is spoken to you and when the mind of the Lord is revealed to you. I say it is your duty to live so as to know and understand all these things. Suppose I were to teach you a false doctrine, how are you to know it if you do not possess the Spirit of God? 9


In the days of Joseph, when the revelation came to him and Sidney Rigdon, while translating that portion of the New Testament contained in the 29th verse of the third chapter of John in reference to the different degrees of glory, I was not prepared to say that I believe it, and I had to wait. What did I do? I handed this over to the Lord in my feelings, and said I, “I will wait until the Spirit of God manifests to me, for or against.” I did not judge the matter, I did not argue against it, not in the least. I never argued the least against anything Joseph proposed, but if I could not see or understand it, I handed it over to the Lord. This is my counsel to you, my brethren and sisters. 10


I do not hesitate in saying that, if the people will concentrate their faith and works to accomplish the great object of their existence, their troubles, sorrows, anxieties, difficulties, contentions, animosities, and strife would be at end. This idea I wish to apply more particularly to those who are called to act in the capacity of Presidents, Bishops, Counsellors, High Counsellors, and to every man holding office in this Church; but I also wish it to apply to every member, both male and female. I will say to my brethren and sisters, Were your faith concentrated upon the proper object, your confidence unshaken, your lives pure and holy, every one fulfilling the duties of his or her calling according to the Priesthood and capacity bestowed upon you, you would be filled with the Holy Ghost, and it would be as impossible for any man to deceive and lead you to destruction as for a feather to remain unconsumed in the midst of intense heat . . . If wives have wicked and unfaithful husbands, if children have wicked and unfaithful parents, if Wards have unfaithful Bishops, and if there are Presidents who are not capable of magnifying their Priesthood and calling, let wives, children, and people seek unto the Lord to be filled with that power of the Holy Ghost that will remove those unfaithful persons to other quarters. Let them remove them by the power of faith in such a way as not in the least to infringe upon the rights of a single person, giving them no just ground for complaint. 11


For example, we will say, here is a man on the right or the left, who declares that he cannot perform this or that duty unless he receives a witness to himself, direct from the Lord, that He requires the duty at his hands. Upon what principle has he the right to question any requirement made by the constituted authority of God on the earth? Is he entitled to any such right? He is not. He is not entitled to the right of bringing up any argument in his own mind, as to the right or wrong of it, or to in any way remonstrate against any requirement the Lord has made of him through His servants. He is under obligation to obey, whether the Spirit of the Lord gives him a manifestation or not . . . Our beloved brother did not speak as he meant. He will be understood to mean simply this: If a requirement is made of this people, it is their privilege to have a testimony that it is of God. 12


I do not want men to come to me or my brethren for testimony as to the truth of this work; but let them take the Scriptures of divine truth, and there the path is pointed out to them as plainly as ever a guideboard indicted the right path to the weary traveler. There they are directed to go, not to any Apostle or Elder in Israel, but to the Father in the name of Jesus, and ask for the information they need. Can they who take this course in honesty and sincerity receive information? Will the Lord turn away from the honest heart seeking the truth? No, he will not; he will prove it to them, by the revelations of his Spirit, the facts in the case. And when the mind is open to the revelations of the Lord it comprehends them quicker and keener than anything that is seen by the natural eye. It is not what we see with our eyes-they may be deceived-but what is revealed by the Lord from heaven that is sure and steadfast, and abides forever.13

John Taylor


I believe it is good to investigate and prove all principles that come before me. Prove all things, hold fast that which is good, and reject that which is evil, no matter what guise it may come in. I think if we, as “Mormons,” hold principles that cannot be sustained by the Scriptures and by good sound reason and philosophy, the quicker we part with them the better, no matter who believes in them or who does not. In every principle presented to us, our first inquiry should be, “Is it true?” “Does it emanate from God?” If He is its Author it can be sustained just as much as any other truth in natural philosophy; if false it should be opposed and exposed just as much as any other error. Hence upon all such matters we wish to go back to first principles. 14


It requires the Presidency of the Church to seek after God in all of their administrations . . . Now we ought not to allow our feeling to have any place in these matters. No man has a right to use his priesthood to carry on his own peculiar ideas, or to set himself up as a standard, with the exception of the First Presidency, and they have no right to do it unless God be with them, and sustain them, and they are upheld by the people. 15

Joseph F. Smith

“Not a man in this Church, since the Prophet Joseph Smith down to the present day, has ever asked any man to do as he was told blindly. No Prophet of God, no Apostle, no President of a Stake, no Bishop, who has had the spirit of his office and calling resting upon him, has ever asked a soul to do anything that they might not know was right and the proper thing to do. We do not ask you to do anything that you may not know it is your duty to do, or that you may not know will be a blessing for you to do.” 16

Supporting Statements

George Q. Cannon


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 . . . every man and woman, boy and girl, ought to live so that they will have this testimony within them, that they may know concerning the doctrine and the counsel that is given; and when President Young speaks, we may know for ourselves whether it is from God or not, and when any other teacher among us speaks, we may know whether the doctrine he advances is from God or not; and so that, if necessary, we could go to the stake, and have no doubts on the subject. 17


I hope what I have said may be blessed to your profit. If I have said any unwise thing, forget it. If I have said any improper thing, I hope it will pass from your minds, and that which is good, cling to you. 18


It is the design of the Lord to develop within every man and woman the principle of knowledge, that all may know for themselves. He has poured out His holy spirit upon all of us, and not upon President Young nor upon bro. Joseph alone. The Lord designs that the principle of knowledge shall be developed in every heart, that all may stand before Him . . . 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. God intends to break down this order of things, and to develop in the bosom of every human being who will be obedient to the gospel and the principles of truth and righteousness, that knowledge which will enable them to perform understandingly all the labors and duties he requires of them . . . 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. 19

Charles Penrose

Our testimony does not depend upon Joseph Smith; it does not depend upon Brigham Young; it does not depend upon John Taylor, or upon the council of the Twelve Apostles, which is now the presiding quorum in the Church. I pin my faith to no man’s sleeve; I am a believer in the Scripture which says, “Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm.” 20

  1. Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 5:265
  2. Brigham Young, May 5, 1870. Journal of Discourses 13:345.
  3. Brigham Young, August 13, 1871. Journal of Discourses 14:204.
  4. Brigham Young, November 15, 1857. Journal of Discourses 6:45.
  5. Brigham Young, November 29, 1857. Journal of Discourses 6:100.
  6. Brigham Young, January 12, 1862. Journal of Discourses 9:150.
  7. Brigham Young, April 28th, 1872. Journal of Discourses 15:6.
  8. Brigham Young, June 23, 1874. Journal of Discourses 18:248.
  9. Brigham Young, August 31, 1875. Journal of Discourses 18:72.
  10. Brigham Young, June 23, 1874. Journal of Discourses 18:247.
  11. Brigham Young, October 7, 1859. Journal of Discourses 7:278, 281.
  12. Brigham Young, November 3, 1867. Journal of Discourses 12:106-107.
  13. Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, pg. 429-430; Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young (SLC: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1997, Melchizedek Pr’d book for 1998-1999), pg. 318.
  14. John Taylor, March 14, 1869. Journal of Discourses 13:15.
  15. John Taylor, July 18, 1880. Journal of Discourses 22:201-202, emphasis added
  16. Joseph F. Smith, Collected Discourses, ed. Brian H. Stuy, Vol. 3 (Burbank, B.H.S. Publishing 1987-1992
  17. George Q. Cannon, March 28, 1875. Journal of Discourses 17:342.
  18. George Q. Cannon, April 6, 1879. Journal of Discourses 20:205.
  19. George Q. Cannon, April 21, 1867. Journal of Discourses 12:46.
  20. Charles Penrose, August 17, 1879. Journal of Discourses 20:295.
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