The Keys of the Kingdom
By President Wilford Woodruff
Published in Millennial Star, 2 Sept. 1889, 545–49;
fore the close of this conference there is a subject upon which I wish to bear my testimony. There were perhaps very few people here yesterday who are in this assembly to-day, when Brother Thatcher delivered a lecture upon the life of President Brigham Young. He referred to a saying of President Young which I, being a witness of, feel it a duty to allude to. I am the first person unto whom he made the remark, and the only one living in the flesh who was with him and Joseph Smith, the Prophet of God, when he gave to the Twelve Apostles their charge concerning the priesthood and the keys of the kingdom of God; and as I myself shall soon pass away like other men, I want to leave my testimony to these Latter-day Saint[s].
I was sitting with Brigham Young in the depot in the city of Boston at the time when the two prophets [Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum] were martyred. Of course we had no telegraphs and no fast reports as we have today to give communication over the land. During that period Brother Young was waiting there for a train of cars to go to Peterborough. Whilst sitting there we were overshadowed by a cloud of darkness and gloom as great as I ever witnessed in my life under almost any circumstances in which we were placed. Neither of us knew or understood the cause until after the report of the death of the prophets was manifested to us. Brother Brigham left; I remained in Boston, and the next day took passage for Fox Islands, a place I had visited some years before, and baptized numbers of people and organized branches upon both those islands. My father-in-law, Ezra Carter, carried me on a wagon from Scarborough to Portland. I there engaged passage on board of a steamer. I had put my trunk on board and was just bidding my father-in-law farewell, when a man came out from a shop—a shoemaker—holding a newspaper in his hand. He said, “Father Carter, Joseph and Hyrum Smith have been martyred—they have been murdered in Carthage Jail!”
As soon as I looked at the paper, the Spirit said to me that it was true. I had no time for consultation, the steamer’s bell was ringing, so I stepped on board and took my trunk back to land. As I drew it off, the plank was drawn in. I told Father Carter to drive me back to Scarborough. I there took the car for Boston, and arrived at that place on the Saturday night.
On my arrival there I received a letter which had been sent from Nauvoo, giving us an account of the killing of the prophets. I was the only man in Boston of the quorum of the Twelve.
I had very strange feelings, as, I have no doubt, all the Saints had. I attended a meeting on the following day in Boydston’s Hall, where a vast number of the inhabitants of Boston and some three hundred Latter0day Saints had assembled. Hundreds of men came to that meeting to see what the “Mormons” were going to do now that their prophets were dead. I felt braced up; every nerve, bone, and sinew within me seemed as though made of steel. I did not shed a tear. I went into that hall, though I knew not what I was going to say to that vast audience. I opened the Bible promiscuously and opened to the words of St. John where he saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and heard them cry, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” The Lord informed them that they must wait a little season, until their brethren were slain as they were. I spoke on those words.
Next day I met Brigham Young in the streets of Boston, he having just returned, opposite to Sister Voce’s house. We reached out our hands, but neither of us was able to speak a word. We walked into Sister Voce’s house. We each took a seat and [covered] our faces. We were overwhelmed with grief and our faces were soon bathed in a flood of tears. I felt then that I could talk, though I could not do so before–that is, to Brother Brigham. After we had done weeping we began to converse together concerning the death of the prophets. In the course of the conversation, he smote his hand upon his thigh and said, “Thank God, the keys of the kingdom are here.” Bro. Thatcher referred to this yesterday.
All that President Young or myself or any member of the Quorum need have done in the matter was to have referred to the last instructions at the last meeting we had with the Prophet Joseph before starting on our mission. I have alluded to that meeting many times in my life.
The Prophet Joseph, I am now satisfied, had a thorough presentiment that that was the last meeting we would hold together here in the flesh. We had had our endowments; we had had all the blessings sealed upon our heads that were ever given to the apostles or prophets on the face of the earth. On that occasion the Prophet Joseph rose up and said to us: “Brethren, I have desired to live to see this temple built. I shall never live to see it, but you will. I have sealed upon your heads all the keys of the kingdom of God. I have sealed upon you every key, power, principle that the God of heaven has revealed to me. Now, no matter where I may go or what I may do, the kingdom rests upon you.”
Now, don’t you wonder why we, as Apostles, could not have understood that the prophet of God was going to be taken away from us? But we did not understand it. The Apostles in the days of Jesus Christ could not understand what the Savior meant when He told them, “I am going away; if I do not go away the Comforter will not come!” [see John 16:7]. Neither did we understand what Joseph meant. “But,” he said, after having done this, “ye Apostles of the Lamb of God, my brethren, upon your shoulders this kingdom rests; now you have got to round up your shoulders and bear off the kingdom.” And he also made this very strange remark: “If you do not do it you will be damned.”
I am the last man living who heard that declaration. He told the truth, too; for would not any of the men who have held the keys of the kingdom of God or an apostleship in this Church have been under condemnation and would not the wrath of God have rested upon them if they had deserted these principles or denied and turned from them and undertaken to serve themselves instead of the work of the Lord which was committed to their hands?
When the Lord gave the keys of the kingdom of God, the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood, of the apostleship, and sealed them upon the head of Joseph Smith, He sealed them upon his head to stay here upon the earth until the coming of the Son of Man. Well might Brigham Young say, “The keys of the kingdom of God are here.” They were with him to the day of his death. They then rested upon the head of another man—President John Taylor. He held those keys to the hour of his death. They then fell by turn, or in the providence of God, upon Wilford Woodruff.
I say to the Latter-day Saints the keys of the kingdom of God are here, and they are going to stay here, too, until the coming of the Son of Man. Let all Israel understand that. They may not rest upon my head but a short time, but they will then rest on the head of another Apostle, and another after him, and so continue until the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in the clouds of heaven to “reward every man according to the deeds done in the body” [see History of the Church, 1:245].
I want to add another thing, because I feel it my duty to say it to the Latter-day Saints. There is a feeling–it was so in the days of Joseph Smith–that he was not the man to lead the Church. Even his bosom friends, men with whom he saw the angels of God, Oliver Cowdery and others, considered him a fallen prophet and though they ought to lead the Church. This history is before you and before the world. The same feeling was manifest in the days of Brigham Young when he was called to hold the keys of the Presidency of the Church. there were other men who though they should be appointed to that office. But the God of heaven manifested to you, and to me, and all men, who were in Nauvoo, upon whom the mantle had fallen. Brigham Young took his place, and led the Church and kingdom of God up to the day of his death.
There are men to-day, there will be men till the coming of the Son of Main, I expect, who feel as though they ought to lead the Church, as thought it is not going on right–that is, that, and the other is wrong. I say to all Israel at this day, I say to the whole world, that the God of Israel, who organized this Church and kingdom, never ordained any President or Presidency to lead it astray. Hear it, ye Israel, no man who has ever breathed the breath of life can hold these keys of the kingdom of God and lead the people astray.
We talk of revelation. There has been a feeling of wonder many times as to why Brigham Young did not have revelation, why John Taylor did not have revelation, why Wilford Woodruff does not have revelation, why any other apostle does not have revelation. I hold in my hand a book of revelations, enough to lead this Church into the celestial kingdom of God. Anybody who will obey that law will have all the revelation that he can fulfill on earth. We are not without revelation. The heavens are full of it, so is the holy Priesthood.
I know the destiny of this people; it is revealed by the God of Israel, and left on record. I know the destiny of this kingdom, and I want to say, let us try to unite together and fulfill the law of God. You need not trouble about the kingdom God has established. He will take care of it. The same God who has organized this Zion and gathered one hundred and fifty thousand people here from the nations of the earth, has his eye over you, He is watching over you, and He will take care of you when you do your duty. Zion is not going to be moved out of her place. The Lord will plead with her strong ones, and if she sins He will chastise her until she is purified before the Lord.
I do not pretend to tell how much sorrow you or I are going to meet with before the coming of the Son of Man. That will depend upon our conduct.
With regard to the keys of the kingdom of God, they were placed on the earth to remain, and they will remain until Jesus Christ comes in the clouds of heaven. But I and other men, the apostles, and all who are called to officiate in the name of the Lord need the faith and the prayers of the Latter-day Saints.
By way of closing I will say that Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, these Twelve Apostles around me, and every one of the Seventies, High Priests, High Councillors, Presidents o Stakes, the Melchisedec and the Aaronic Priesthood, and all the Latter-day Saints–all will get what they labor for. Whatsoever we sow, whether good of evil, of that we will reap the fruit.
But in the morning of the resurrection you will find Joseph Smith holding the keys of this kingdom and dispensation at the head of all Israel who belong to this dispensation; he will hold them to the endless ages of eternity, notwithstanding that we shall get our reward for what we do. The keys of the kingdom were given to Joseph Smith. They were placed on the heads of other men to make use of on earth for a short time; and when we get through we shall all have our reward.
Let us make up our minds to serve and honor God. Do not have any fears concerning the kingdom; the Lord will lead that aright; and if Brother Woodruff or any of the Presidency of this Church should take any course to lead you astray, the Lord will remove us out of the way. We are in the hands of the Lord, and those keys will be held and taken care of by the God of Israel until He comes whose right it is to reign.
God bless you all. Amen
[At the evening session President Woodruff made the following additional remarks]:
Before dismissing this assembly I feel it my duty to say a few words. I addressed the Saints a short time this afternoon upon a certain subject, and that was in bearing my testimony to the keys of the kingdom of God, which the Lord gave to Joseph Smith, and the retaining of those keys upon the earth through their bestowal upon the heads of the apostles. I did not pretend to dwell upon the organization of the Priesthood or of the Church in these remarks. My only object was so bear my testimony upon that subject. After the meeting I began to reflect, from remarks which I made that perhaps many of the people might get an entirely wrong idea of my views with regard to the kingdom of God. I referred to the Doctrine and Covenants–a code of revelations which the Lord gave to Joseph Smith. This book contains some of the most glorious revelation upon doctrine, upon principle, upon government, upon the kingdom of God and the different glories, and upon a great many things which reach into the eternal worlds. y leaving this subject there, perhaps, might lead my friends to suppose that I did not believe in any more revelation. This would be a great mistake. For if we had before us every revelation which God ever gave to man; if we had the Book of Enoch; if we had the untranslated plates before us in the English language; if we had the records of the Revelator St. John which are sealed up, and all other revelations, and they were piled up here a hundred feet high, the Church and kingdom of God could not grow, in this or any other age of the world, without the living oracles of God.
The Presidency of the Church is composed of three men–the President and his counselors; and not only does the President of the Church need revelation daily, in order to pass through the labor, the care and the business that rests upon him, but his Counselors need it. Every one of the Twelve Apostles need it in all their administrations throughout the world; and not only the Twelve Apostles, but the Seventies, the High Priests, the Bishops, the Elders, and all who belong to the Melchisedec or Aaronic Priesthood–all need it in their administrations in the world. No man can go forth and lift up his voice and declare the Gospel of Jesus Christ without revelation. He needs the Holy Priesthood with him every day of his life. I do not wish to be misunderstood in this matter. Every man or woman that has ever entered into the Church of God and been baptized for the remission of sins, has a right to revelation, a right to the Spirit of God, to assist them in their labors, in their administrations to their children, in counseling their children and those over whom they are called upon preside. The Holy Ghost is not restricted to men, nor to apostles or prophets; it belongs to every faithful man and woman, and to every child who is old enough to receive the Gospel of Christ.
I am very much opposed to false doctrine, either preaching it myself or having anybody else preach it. I, therefore, wish to make this correction if there is any need of it. God never had a Church or a people, in any age of the world, that were governed and controlled except by revelation. The living oracles of God were among them–those who held the keys of the kingdom, and they had to receive revelation to assist them in all their work. The Elders of Israel, when they go abroad to the nations of the earth, need the Spirit of God, to tell them to go here, or go there, that they may search out the honest in heart. Let us all understand this, so that we may not be divided in our views and sentiment.