On 15 February 1853, Wilford Woodruff preached one of the most interesting LDS talks that I have ever had the pleasure of reading. In it, among other things, he gives perhaps the most innovative argument for the importance of journal-keeping that has ever been given since the invention of writing. (I rather enjoyed it.) I edited the following from the raw text as recorded by Wilford Woodruff in his journal under that aforementioned date, as printed in Scott G. Kenney, ed., Wilford Woodruff's Journal, 1833-1898: Typescript, 9 vols. (Midvale, UT: Signature Books, 1983-1985), 4:199-201.
I am always interested in meeting with the Saints, especially with so many of the Seventies and Elders as are here today. There never was a school in any age of the world that presents as much of interest to the reflecting mind as the one presenting itself to us in this age - not only the affairs of the Church, but the history of the changes and revolutions of all nations on earth. The time has come when the earth is to be redeemed from the power and dominion of the devil, and the heavens, with all the prophets that have ever lived, are included in the great work. The Elders who are before me today have this great battle to fight and the victory to win. I never saw a time in any age of my life when I have had more desire to live than at the present time. I want to see the work progress, the kingdom rise, that it may become established in all the earth, and the effects that will follow.
Yes, the Elders should improve their time in treasuring up knowledge and counsel, for you will want it when you go to the nations of the earth. Don't spend your time in playing cards, dice, chess, or in any such foolish way, but improve the time to the best advantage and seek to conquer yourselves and preside over yourselves and bring all your passions in subjection to the law of Christ, as our president has taught us.
One item which I count of importance, I wish to speak of. I wish to exhort the Seventies and Elders to keep a journal and history of their lives for the record and history of this Church and Kingdom, which will be wanted in a future day. There has been no dispensation on earth, the proceedings of which will be more interesting than the one in which we live. Should we ever have the privilege, in our resurrected bodies, of visiting other planets and the inhabitants of the same, we should want to learn the history of that people. If they had kept no record of their lives and the dealings of God with them so that we could get their history, we should feel much disappointment. So would they, should they visit us.
It is true that Joseph Smith kept a history of his own life and those things in some measure connected with him. He is now dead, but his life and testimony is now being published to the world in separate pieces in our publications. Also, President Young has scribes who are recording his daily acts and life, which is right and good. But does that record the life, history, and dealings of God with the many thousands of the apostles and elders who are or will be in all the world among every nation under heaven? No, verily, no. Then, all ye Elders of Israel, write your history and the dealings of God with you in all the world, for your own benefit and that of your posterity, for the benefit of the House of Israel, for the benefit of Jew and Gentile, for the benefit of future generations, and, in fine, for the benefit of those celestial beings on other planets who may see fit to visit us either in time or eternity and wish to visit our libraries and peruse the history of the inhabitants of the earth, especially the Saints in the last dispensation and fulness of times. Then write, and do not neglect it.
Some questions for discussion:
- Why is it that Wilford Woodruff was so interested in the ecclesiastical "progress" that he saw before him, actually or potentially, in 1853?
- Wilford Woodruff urges that those holding the position of elder in the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints should set to work in "treasuring up knowledge and counsel", because when they "go to the nations of the earth" in missionary work, they will find that "knowledge and counsel" to be quite useful. What sorts of knowledge and counsel would be helpful in this? What does that imply about the role of the missionary's intellect in the process of missionary work? Does the modern-day Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints actively take measures to assist its members to acquire these sorts of "knowledge and counsel" before sending them out on missions to the "nations of the earth"?
- Among foolish diversions from this sort of learning, Wilford Woodruff mentions "dice, cards, [and] chess". What mentality does this show regarding the use of time? What other diversions are available today? What attitudes do Latter-day Saints, or should Latter-day Saints, hold in practice toward such diversions, both new and old?
- Wilford Woodruff employs several arguments for keeping a journal. One of these is the example set by both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. In modern Latter-day Saint life, what argumentative force should the practical examples of past and present church leaders have?
- Another of Wilford Woodruff's arguments is that the contents of the journal will be edifying and interesting to "future generations", to one's "posterity". In what way? Did any of your ancestors write journals that are still extant? If so, have you read them? Why or why not? If you have read them, in what ways did they edify or interest you?
- Another of Wilford Woodruff's arguments is based on the Golden Rule, the human drive of curiosity, and the existence of extraterrestrial life: If we visited other planets where the denizens kept journals, we would be pleased to read them, whereas if they could not point us to documents recording their history as a people, we would be disappointed to never know; and so, following the Golden Rule, we should keep journals so as not to disappoint future extraterrestrial visitors to our world. What sort of cosmology does Wilford Woodruff's argument presume, and what does it say about common then-current LDS assumptions about the nature of the universe? What thoughts did you have as you read and reflected on this argument?
- As for the contents of one's journal, Wilford Woodruff specifies one's "life, history, and dealings of God with [one]". If you keep a journal of any sort now, what sorts of things in your life would you include?