A child’s curiosity and natural desire to learn are like a tiny flame, easily extinguished unless it’s protected and given fuel. This book will help you as a parent both protect that flame of curiosity and supply it with the fuel necessary to make it burn bright throughout your child’s life. Let’s ignite our children’s natural love of learning!
March 29th, 2009
The Context Behind ‘The Test’
photo credit: Doug Lloyd
President Boyd K. Packer’s discourse during the last session of general conference seems, at first glance, to be a loosely-related collection of historical stories related to the patriotism of the early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Reading between the lines, however, I believe that there is a powerful message to be told regarding the political loyalty and sentiments of the Lord’s people in America.
Having this context and additional insight is crucial if one wishes to understand the implications of President Packer’s words. In three separate occasions in his remarks, he refers to the importance of understanding the purpose and meaning of the Saints’ patriotic celebration:
- "It may seem puzzling, incredible almost beyond belief, that for the theme of this first celebration they chose patriotism and loyalty to that same government which had rejected and failed to assist them. What could they have been thinking of? If you can understand why, you will understand the power of the teachings of Christ."
- "If you can understand a people so long-suffering, so tolerant, so forgiving, so Christian after what they had suffered, you will have unlocked the key to what a Latter-day Saint is."
- "If you can understand why they would celebrate as they did, you can understand why we have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, in the principles of the gospel."
Despite affirming on three separate instances the importance of understanding why the Saints were behaving in such a manner, President Packer offers no explanation save for a brief reference to their being anchored to revelation. That insight is left up to the inquisitive reader and researcher. I was fortunate enough to be pointed in the right direction by a friend, and I now share with you what I believe to be the context behind President Packer’s remarks, and the information necessary to understand why these suffering Saints were lavishing the fundamentals of American government with pomp and praise.
The context for this talk can be found in the footnotes, where in five instances President Packer sources a biography of Lorenzo Snow, written by his sister, Eliza. It is here that the patriotic celebration on the two year anniversary of their arrival in Deseret is recorded, documenting in detail the parade and ceremony President Packer mentioned in his talk. The speech given during this event was by one of the “twenty-four aged sires”, an Elder by the name of Phineas Richards. A couple lines of this address were cited in passing by President Packer, but after reading the entire address (one of the most stirring theopolitical discourses I’ve ever read) one can’t help see in Elder Richards’ words the answer and insight into what the Saints were feeling—the “understanding” President Packer thrice deemed necessary.
Elder Richards’ remarks, and what I believe to be the context behind President Packer’s recent discourse, are as follows (with my emphasis added):
To our honorable President and this respectable Audience:
Respected Fellow Citizens:—Permit us, the aged Fathers in Israel, to mingle our voices with yours on this interesting occasion—an occasion which is calculated to call into exercise the most acute feelings of the human heart.
The circumstance which we this day commemorate, will form a very important item in the history of succeeding ages. Two years ago this day, when President Brigham Young first entered this valley, he completed the most extraordinary expedition ever recorded in the annals of history.
There are sometimes small and seemingly trivial events in the life of man, with which every other period most naturally associates. There are circumstances in the history of nations, which seem as fulcrums, around which everything else revolves. But the period, the circumstance, the event which we now commemorate, is one with which is associated the interests of the world—the salvation of the whole human family.
What must be the feelings, this day, of President Young, the leader of that noble band of Pioneers, while he contemplates the results of the last two years? Realizing the responsibility of his position as the head of a numerous people, persecuted and driven from their cherished homes, where their first leader and Prophet had sealed his mission with his blood; we say, what must have been his feelings when, with a little band, with barely necessaries sufficient to sustain life for a few months, and leaving their families nearly destitute, on lands claimed by faithless savages, he started forth into the wilderness in search of a home for his people, like Abraham of old, "not knowing whither he went?" But he knew that God had called him—he trusted in the arm of Omnipotence, and by the unseen hand of the Almighty Jehovah, their feet were directed across a trackless desert to this place. And who, fellow citizens, with the recollections of the past and the anticipations of the future, would attempt to describe the feelings that on this occasion fill the breasts of your aged fathers?
Soon, like the Patriarchs of old, we expect to be gathered to our fathers. Our bosoms swell with gratitude to the Most High, that after years of tossing to and fro, our feet are once more established upon a land of peace; although exiled by the bloody hand of persecution from the much loved lands of our nativity—our once beautiful homes and quiet firesides, where we inherited the sweets of domestic life from those who fought the battles of the American Revolution, to establish the principles of equity, and a government of peace. From them, too, as a natural inheritance, have we imbibed, and with ardor cherished, the holy fire of patriotism; which, having been constitutionally implanted in our natures, can never become extinct. As easily might the earth be removed from its orbit—as well might yonder sun be made to emanate darkness instead of light, as the glorious principles of liberty be eradicated from our bosoms.
Little did our fathers think, while rehearing to their children the sufferings of the pilgrims who fled from the religious oppression of the Old World, and while recounting the scenes of hardship, privation and death, while passing through the struggle that “tried men’s souls,” to plant the tree of liberty, to establish freedom and equal rights, and to bequeath the laws of protection and republicanism to their posterity—we say, little did they think that we, their sons, would have to cower beneath the hand of oppression—be chased like the roe upon the mountains, and forced to flee before the reeking sword of an unhallowed mobocracy, and hunt a refuge, a hiding place, beyond the track of civilization! Little did they think that so soon the proud-crested Eagle would seek an asylum behind the western hills, and that the blood of the noblest martyrs that ever graced this lower world would remoisten the soil which had so lately been purchased by the blood of heroes!
But, brethren and friends, we who have lived to threescore years, have beheld the government of the United States in its glory, and know that the outrageous cruelties we have suffered proceeded from a corrupted and degenerate administration, while the pure principles of our boasted Constitution remain unchanged. President Joseph Smith experienced and well comprehended this corruption; and, inspired by the Spirit of the Almighty, foretold the sequel, and, with the pencil of heaven, portrayed the impending desolation and ruin; and, prompted by an unction from the upper world, essayed to put forth his hand to preserve the tottering fabric from destruction. "But they have done unto him as they listed"—they have driven the Saints from their midst—they have demolished the bulwarks of liberty and protection, and now the vengeance of insulted heaven awaits them!
In our humble opinion, having been taught by bitter experience, that under a defective administration of political government, religious toleration can exist only in name, it devolves upon us, as a people instructed by the revelations of God, with hearts glowing with love for our fallen country, to revive, support, and carry into effect the original, uncorrupted principles of the Revolution, and the constitutional government of our patriotic forefathers.
To you, President Young, as the successor of President Smith, do we now look, as to a second Washington, so far as political freedom is concerned, to replant the standard of American liberty, to unfurl the banner of protection, to re-establish equal rights, to nourish the broad-plumed eagle that has fled to the recesses of the mountains crowned with eternal snows, to unsheath the sword of justice, to do honor to the memories of the heroes of the Revolution, and to his memory whose blood now cries from the ground in behalf of a loyal, innocent, persecuted and exiled people.
From a long personal acquaintance, and a knowledge of the inflexible, godlike integrity which has characterized your adherence to, and your support of, our murdered Prophet; with the utmost confidence we pledge ourselves to uphold, and, as much as lies in our power, to assist you in resuscitating and re-establishing those glorious principles, while we live; and when we die, we bequeath this pledge as a sacred legacy to our children. As we have inherited the spirit of liberty and the fire of patriotism from our fathers, so let them descend unadulterated to our posterity.
Should not we, who have suffered atrocious cruelties, rise up and redeem our once sacred Constitution from the foul disgrace with which it has been stamped, and the eternal infamy to which it is destined, unless a spirit of philanthropy and independence shall somewhere be aroused for its rescue? Shall not we, fellow citizens, rise up in the spirit of freemen and do honor to the shades of the departed heroes of ’76? Let us show ourselves to be worthy sons of our noble, patriotic ancestors. Let us prove to the United States, that when they drove the Saints from them, they not only drove from their midst soldiers who were bravest in protecting their western frontier, but also the firmest supporters of American Independence. Let us be true to our trust. Profiting by scenes of suffering in the recent school of our experience, let us watch with jealous eye the first encroachment of civil power. Should the infernal monster despotism dare lift its hydra head upon this western Territory, Mr. President, although burdened by the weight of years, and worn down with hardship, privation and fatigue, we, the gray-headed, with you for our leader, are ready at any moment to step forth and unsheath the sword in defense of that which our fathers have taught us to hold dearer than life.
Yes, we are ready; and, as we follow you, we call upon these young men, our sons, to follow us; and sooner lay their lives upon the holy altar of liberty than submit to be crushed by the inquisitorial Juggernaut of oppression. Let the sacred motto "Liberty or Death" be inscribed on every scabbard, helmet, buckler and shield.
Yes, here, with this Territorial government, let a standard of liberty be erected that shall reach to heaven, and be a rallying point for all the nations of the earth. Here let the insigniaed banner begin to be unfurled that shall yet extend its benign protecting wand to every kingdom upon the face of the earth; that while revolution treads on the heel of revolution—while commotion, anarchy and devastation push forward the reckless besom of destruction, and with continuous sweep are annihilating the last hopes of comfort in human life; while in the prophetic language of Scripture, "all faces shall gather blackness," here let the ensign of peace, like a heavenly beacon, invite to a haven of rest, an oasis of civil, political and religious liberty.
From here let peans of theo-democracy or republicanism reverberate from valley to valley, from mountain to mountain, from Territory to Territory, from State to State, from nation to nation, from empire to empire, from continent to continent, till the thrilling echo shall be responded from Behring’s Straits and the straits of Magellan, from Great Britain and the states of Europe, from Africa, from Hindostan and even from China, the proud, self-styled “celestial empire” of the east.
At the conclusion of the address, the assembly arose and shouted three times, “Hosanna! hosanna! hosanna to God and the Lamb, for ever and ever, amen and amen!”
If you do not see the power, symbolism, and meaning of this talk, please read it again. This is, in my opinion, perhaps the most rousing, passionate affirmation of patriotism and liberty since Tom Paine’s Common Sense swept across the nation and enlivened men’s souls 73 years before.
Elder Richards’ remarks, if understood to be representative of the sentiment and political outlook of his fellow Latter-day Saints, signifies a moving and spirited rally around the standard of liberty. Note that several times in this speech, Richards makes reference to the need to restore and revive the Constitutional guarantee of liberty that had been lost—an “apostasy” from the pure principles of government.
Now, why did President Packer base his talk on this speech? Latter-day Saints do not read scripture and study history merely for curiosity. Rather, we have a pressing obligation to learn from the past and be guided in our future actions. President Packer’s choice of this historical event as the basis for his own remarks cannot be interpreted to be without modern implications and parallels. Indeed, his persistent mention of the need for us to understand their feelings in light of their persecutions must be taken as an indication that for those who have ears to hear (or, in my case, friends to email them!), a richer and deeper meaning and correlation exists.
Seemingly referencing Elder Richards’ encouragement that his fellow Saints be “true to [their] trust” as sons of liberty and supporters of the principles established in the Constitution, President Packer commented that “whatever tests lie ahead, and they will be many, we must remain faithful and true.” Such tests can come in a variety of forms, but they share a common goal. In all tests, we must prove faithful to the restored principles of the gospel and fight earnestly on the side of liberty in a war that has been waged since before this world was created.
The obligation of Latter-day Saints to study, understand, support, and defend the “pure principles of our boasted Constitution” has always been greater than that of others, since we know their source. The “glorious principles of liberty” must not “be eradicated from our bosoms,” as Elder Richards stated, for it is our responsibility to ensure their protection, propagation, and augmentation.
In light of recent events, one might argue that the need for those who have a “holy fire of patriotism… constitutionally implanted in [their] natures” has never been greater. One can only speculate with curiosity what the aged sires of 1849 would think of their posterity in 2009, when for many this holy fire has, through the generations, been smothered into dormant embers of apathy and indolence.
But as President Packer remarked, we must anchor ourselves as families and as a church to these principles. The sacrifice of our forefathers is cheapened when we esteem too lightly our inheritance and endowment and refuse to fuel the fire of true patriotism within us. Fortunately, the time is never too late for us to “do honor to the memories of the heroes of the Revolution” and unite our voices with those championing the cause of liberty and constitutional purity against “corrupted and degenerate administration[s]” of our own day.
20 Responses to “The Context Behind ‘The Test’”
March 30, 2009
[…] future. (It’s interesting to go back and read some of them and gain new insight into the topic.) Today Connor wrote about that same talk and I thought that considering the importance of the topic I should share what I had presented when […]
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Great post that answered a lot of questions I’ve had since that talk was given.
Connor, I think what you describe is essentially pure patriotism – a commitment to the ideas of good government. Those with a commitment to their understanding of the Constitution have a responsibility to cleave to standards of liberty and order, much like the way that a parent disappointed in their child must treat the child as if they are the person they would like them to be, without denying the error made. This attitude is patriotic without falling into the worst characteristics of generalized patriotism – jingoism and exceptionalism, “unity” only to your country as it is rather than as it should be – and avoids problems such as apathy and eventual detachment, the self-fulfilling prophecy that government or representatives cannot do anything beneficial or just.
Perhaps an exhaustive treatment of Packer’s point (the one to which you found such a complete commentary) would have covered similar ground, as well as the legitimate use of non-violent civil disobedience which the Saints demonstrated on a few occasions.
Thank you Connor! What a beautiful treatment of Pres. Packer’s address!
I must admit that I only accepted the original address on face value and took it as a chastening to remove any bitter feelings I had toward the country as a result of it’s apostasy from constitutional purity. I did not think to look any further.
You have both taken me to task for my indolence and graciously provided me with the means to further enlighten my understanding of this powerful message!
I have been struggling to know what being a patriot means for us now. What will it take to pull this nation back?
The only two possibilities I see are forcefully removing the current elected officials and replacement with good men, or a spiritual renewal of our nation with an explosion of church membership and general religious ferver that will reignite love of constitution naturally.
Are there any other possibilities? I absolutely need to hear them!
I have become increasingly frightened as the calls for violence have increased on the internet. These are truly perilous times!
Thanks again for your excellent post Connor!
Amen to your post, Connor.
Some of the prophets of the Old Testament spoke in verse, symbolisms, parables, etc. They did this for a specific reason – they could not speak in plain terms like Nephi of old did, because of the political ramifications. They spoke in ways that forced us to use the Spirit of Revelation to discern their true message.
President Benson used to speak like Nephi of old, but our General Authorities of 2009 cannot speak plainly anymore because of political ramifications. Thus we must use Elder Packer’s talk like we would Isaiah’s writings – we must use the Spirit to discern the true meaning of his talk.
Packer was actually telling those who would have spiritual ears that our present government was corrupt and we should embrace the principles of Constitutional government and NOT the principles of what is currently going on.
But alas, most LDS do not use their spiritual ears.
If Elder Packer would have spoken instead like Nephi or President Benson, our Church would perhaps suffer consequences at the hands of these currently corrupt government leaders. Instead, he chose to couch his words like Isaiah would have done.
Thanks Connor for being more plain.
Thank you, Connor. I feel the need to quote The Man of La Mancha. I’ve always loved that story.
Why do I quote him? It seems that I’ve been reading so much about what is bad lately, that I feel like Alonso Quijana. I feel like my brains are drying up. The only way to maintain my sanity is to go crazy and become Don Quixote.
The knight-errant in his quest to restore Constitutional Liberty to America. Such a grand task. You’d have to be crazy to undertake it.
This is absolutely untrue Connor. President Packer did not fail to offer an explanation; he did not rely on the inquisitive researcher to find the insight into what he was saying. I was invited to speak about that talk back in November and my first reactions was much like yours, but an actual review of the talk soon showed that he had clearly stated what “the key to what a Latter-day Saint is” was within his talk.
Thankfully your own propensity to find the truth led you to the same conclusion that President Packer pointed out, but he said it more succinctly in his talk.
Being anchored to revealed truth is the key and while we talk of revealed truth in the scriptures religiously, the truths of a government of liberty and personal responsibility are found in the Constitution and we can politically rely on those truths as surely as we can spiritually rely on the truths of revealed religion. (I don’t think it is any coincidence that the Nephite system of judges and higher judges organized by Mosiah was also based on liberty and personal responsibility.)
…an actual review of the talk soon showed that he had clearly stated what “the key to what a Latter-day Saint is” was within his talk.
The quote you cite, explaining that they were anchored to revelation, did not strike me as a full explanation of this understanding. I readily admit that it can be construed as such by some, but I think that the implied understanding is far deeper than a simple explanation of adherence to revelation.
Rather, I think that the line about their anchor to revelation was the tip of the iceberg, and not indicative of the understanding referenced. That’s why I think Elder Richards’ talk is so important, in that it adds the context and perspective necessary to really understand how and why the Saints could remain so patriotic and faithful amidst persecution by the people and their government.
So yeah, we’re essentially saying the same thing, only I’m arguing that President Packer didn’t weave the full understanding into his talk, though he did make a short reference to it.
Reading back over my sentence, though, I do say that he offered no explanation, which I agree is untrue. I have changed it to read:
That new wording is much more accurate. And I agree that a more complete explanation was forthcoming upon study of the topic. I was actually pleased to see how closely Elder Richard’s remarks and your conclusions matched what I said in my talk in November. Even now, four months later, it’s nice to have further perspectives agreeing with what I said because I was somewhat nervous that day (I was speaking in front of President Eyring at the time).
Thanks, Connor. I had “seen through a glass darkly” the concept that you are elaborating on here, but it’s much more clear now.
Doctrine and Covenants 101:77 teaches that the Constitution of the United States “should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh [not just Americans], according to just and holy principles”. Some Latter-day Saints think this allows the U.S. to build its empire through the ungodly destruction of far-away places like Iraq. It doesn’t. The Constitution only works–and can only be promulgated to other nations–in an environment of liberty (individual moral agency)–never by force.
Knowing that one day the Constitution would hang by a thread, Brigham Young knew that it was imperative that members of the Church stand up for the Constitution in all times and places, regardless of how far from the ideal the reality has strayed. It is entirely possible that, while celebrating that first Independence Day in the Salt Lake Valley, President Young had his eye on days just like today, where economic and military juggernauts are fast destroying the last vestiges of Constitutional government, and where adherence to Constitutional principles has never been more sorely needed.
Wow, thank you for posting Elder Richards’ talk! It does offer so much context and insight to what true patriotism should be (and what the Saints were going through and feeling).
I remember listening during conference to Elder Packer and thinking “he’s telling us to be patriotic to the principles of our constitution- THAT is where our loyalty should be, THAT is what we need to study and learn, rejoice in and defend. And as we do that, we need to try to be Christlike, humble, and patient in any current unjust circumstance.”
Wow, thanks for posting this Conner – great timing too as the next General Conference is right upon us. I do remember hearing President Packer’s talk and being struck by the magnificence of what he was saying. However, it wasn’t until I just read Elder Richard’s talk that I truly understood what he was saying. What a powerful message to all of us Latter-day Saints to stand firm the in cause of liberty and defend the principles upon which the Constiuttion was created.
I find little evidence in my life of the reality of coincidence. I believe the term should be expunged from our language. On the 29th. of March when you posted this most appropriate collection of historical commentary aided by your astute spiritual understanding, I quietly considered my 62nd. birthday. I could not have received a more welcome and eloquent assemblage of gifts from my Heavenly Father than the content you have offered here. Thank you for your continued support of and dedication to the grandest compilation of inspired truth heretofore given us by the Lord of this land, Jesus Christ. The Book of Mormon and the Constitution of the United States of America are, in my humblest of opinions, the epitome of true wealth. As I embark upon another year of challenge and hope, I am confident in the 20-something generation which has the strength of leaders such as yourself pressing ever forward toward the establishment of Zion.
Mike, you’re going to swell Connor’s head.
The dedicatory prayer of the Kirtland Temple reminds me of this. The saints had been persecuted immensely, and it was mentioned in the prayer, but the importance of the U.S. Constitution was also addressed later.
Further down in the prayer ….
Connor, this may very well be the most disturbing thing I have ever read on the Mormon blogosphere. I think that you are saying that Elder Packer is secretly calling on the Saints to prepare for war. Am I misreading you?
John, a war need not be physical to be real.
Elder Packer did not mention any specifics. He clearly stated there would be trials ahead. What those trials are would be left to either speculation or inspiration.
Given the nature of the speech, background, & context I am led to believe that it is not the run of the mill standard tests that we all face from day to day. Instead I believe it to be something with broad reaching ramifications that will effect many people all at once. Like, oh I don’t know, the economy going belly up.
This is only one issue. But sorrows come not singly, but in battalions.
I just came across this quote from Brigham Young which expresses a similar position:
This talk has more meaning, to me, today (2013) than it did even back in 2008. I believe we have a corrupt administration in the White House, as I write. This talk is such a great reminder of the founding principles of this great nation and how they are still true today. Despite the corruption, we must be law-abiding citizens and stand for true principles. This talk was so prophetic and preparatory for what was and is still to come. Great article.