Classic Truth: Safety With Knowledge, Capsized Without

“If a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come” (D&C 130:19).


The following incident occurred in the life of President Joseph F. Smith when he was a young elder revisiting the Sandwich Islands (modern Hawaii) and is worthy of consideration. Joseph F. had labored as a missionary on the islands from 1854 – 1857 (he was 15 years old when he first arrived), but, at the time of the incident here recounted, it was 10 years later in 1864 (Joseph F. being 25 years old), as he accompanied the then-apostle, Lorenzo Snow, on an administrative errand. It is here related by the person of President Heber J. Grant:

“Lorenzo Snow was drowned in the harbor of Honolulu, in the Hawaiian Islands, and it took some hours to bring him to life again. At that particular time the Lord revealed to him the fact that the young man Joseph F. Smith, who had refused to get off the vessel that had carried them from San Francisco to Honolulu, and get into a small boat, would some day be the Prophet of God. Answering Lorenzo Snow who was in charge of the company, [Joseph F. Smith] said:
“‘If you by the authority of the Priesthood of God, which you hold, tell me to get into that boat and attempt to land, I will do so, but unless you command me in the authority of the Priesthood, I will not do so, because it is not safe to attempt to land in a small boat while this typhoon is raging.’ They laughed at the young man Joseph F. Smith, but he said, ‘The boat will capsize.’
“The others got into the boat, and it did capsize; and but for the blessings of the Lord in resuscitating Lorenzo Snow he would not have lived, because he was drowned upon that occasion. It was revealed to him, then and there, that the boy, with the courage of his convictions, with the iron will to be laughed at and scorned as lacking courage to go in that boat, and who stayed on that vessel, would yet be the Prophet of God. Lorenzo Snow told me this upon more than one occasion, long years before Joseph F. Smith came to the presidency of the Church” (Heber J. Grant, “Inspiration and Integrity of the Prophets,” Improvement Era, volume 22, number 10, August 1919, pp. 847 – 848).

Gained knowledge or intelligence only comes as a gift from God, through the Holy Ghost, whatever the course undertaken to obtain it. Knowledge can be bestowed upon an individual after firsthand physical investigation through the senses, even by reading or hearing certain words; or knowledge can be obtained by inquiring of God directly. Of these methods one is superior to the other; as Joseph Smith said, “The best way to obtain truth and wisdom is not to ask it from books, but to go to God in prayer, and obtain divine teaching” (Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 191). This principle is as valid in the secular realm as it is in the spiritual or ecclesiastical.

It is not, however, a valid course to obtain knowledge or intelligence by reliance to the conclusions of other men. (Hence the waywardness of so much pretended knowledge in the modern sciences—be it priestcraft, lawyercraft, doctorcraft, or any manner of sciencecraft; obvious cases abound including the hypothesizing of the nature of the unobservable universe, the hypothesizing of gender fluidity in impressionable minds, or in fine any claim to knowledge that relies wholly upon the arm of flesh.) When we place our faith in the reasoning of others simply for the sake of trusting the offices they hold (secular or ecclesiastic) we supplant God, the only person to whom such implicit trust should be imparted:

“Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost” (2 Ne. 28:31).

In the above anecdote, Joseph F. had gained knowledge about the danger of the Hawaiian waters firsthand when he was a young missionary 7 years earlier. This knowledge, a gift from God, vouchsafed his life and gave him ‘so much the advantage’ in a later time, even when an apostle of the church proceeded otherwise. Wisely, Joseph F. did “not command him who is at [his] head” (D&C 28:6), but he sought to be directed by the knowledge God had given him directly (even when his seniors reproved him before disembarking, saying, “Young man, you would better obey counsel”). This is the type of character Moses desired of the Israelites when he lamented, “I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit upon them all!” (Num. 11:29 NLT). Or as Brigham Young lamented:

“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 scepters 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” (Brigham Young, “The Privileges and Blessings of the Gospel”, Journal of Discourses, Volume 1, February 1853, p. 312).

There is a choppy sea before us now, will we seek knowledge from God for ourselves to direct our paths? This is the oil that cannot be shared or purchased at this late hour (see Matt. 25:1 – 13).

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