Seek the face of the Lord always, that in patience ye may possess your souls, and ye shall have eternal life.1
Persecution is never a pleasant experience. But the Lord has counseled us through His prophets about how the Saints should respond to this latter-day period of persecution. He has also told us why it will happen, and how it will bring about His purposes in preparing for His Return.
A Warning for the Saints
As John the Revelator was shown the period of persecution through which the Saints would pass in the last days, he left us an important warning. He said:
“If any man have an ear, let him hear. He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the Saints.”2
Those who patiently persevere through this persecution will be richly rewarded and blessed. During this time the Lord will watch over the Saints. He will bless them through their righteousness. He will comfort them through the calm voice of the Holy Spirit. At the end of their trials, the Saints will be rewarded with peace and joy, while their enemies fight among themselves and are eventually destroyed by the wrath of Almighty God.3
We Must Protect Our Souls In Patience
The Lord emphasized this point again in a revelation that was given shortly after the Saints were expelled from Jackson County, Missouri in 1833:
“Therefore, care not for the body, neither the life of the body; but care for the soul, and for the life of the soul. And seek the face of the Lord always, that in patience ye may possess your souls, and ye shall have eternal life.”4
As we patiently endeavor through our trials and afflictions, our faith will be strengthened. We will grow closer to God through the things that we experience on this mortal sphere, if we are meek and willing to accept from the Lord’s hand those things that will strengthen our souls. In the midst of our adversity, we will find peace through the calming voice of the Holy Spirit. If we happen to lose our lives, death is just the next step in our mortal progression. Any losses that we might suffer here in mortality will be repaid to us many times over in the resurrection, as promised by the Prophet Joseph:
“All your losses will be made up to you in the resurrection, provided you continue faithful. By the vision of the Almighty I have seen it.”5
Losing our lives is not the immortal danger we face; it is losing our souls that is the greatest loss we can experience. As King Benjamin warned at the conclusion of his profound address:
“If ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not.”6
Understanding the Root Cause of Persecution
As the righteous pass through these difficult times, they may wonder why this persecution is being mounted against them.
When the righteous shine forth to the world as a beacon of truth and light, the wicked instinctively react by persecuting the righteous because they naturally prefer darkness.7 In the depths of their souls the wicked know that they are guilty of evil deeds of which they need to repent. But because of pride, they refuse to repent, and instead they lash out against the righteous. Brigham Young explained it this way:
“Let a prophet arise upon the earth, and never reveal the evils of men, and do you suppose that the wicked would desire to kill him? No, for he would cease to be a prophet of the Lord, and they would invite him to their feasts, and hail him as a friend and brother. Why? Because it would be impossible for him to be anything but one of them.
“It is impossible for a prophet of Christ to live in an adulterous generation without speaking of the wickedness of the people, without revealing their faults and their failings, and there is nothing short of death that will stay him from it.”8
Wilford Woodruff reminded the Saints that the Savior had told His followers that they would be persecuted, and that this will earn them a victor’s crown in the celestial kingdom:
“Any man who undertakes to serve God has to round up his shoulders and meet it, and any man who will not trust in God and abide in His cause even unto death is not worthy of a place in the celestial kingdom. Said Jesus, ‘I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hate you; if you were of the world the world would love its own. They have hated me, they will hate you; and if they persecute me they will persecute you’ [see John 15:18-20]. This is the legacy which all Saints may depend upon receiving.”9
In addition to this, the adversary and his minions also know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the restored church of Jesus Christ, the only true and living church upon the face of the earth. Thus, Satan will continually agitate the wicked to fight and rail against the Church. As Wilford Woodruff explained:
“The devil knew when the angel delivered that record to Joseph Smith that it was the foundation of a system that would overthrow his kingdom. . . . The latter-day work which we represent will bind the power of the devil, which has held sway among the children of men for 180 generations. Then it is not strange that the devil should become mad and stir up the wicked to make war against it.”10
But no matter how hard the wicked rail against the Church, the Lord has told us that they will not succeed.11 He has promised the Saints that “the kingdom is yours, and the enemy shall not overcome.”12 The righteous will emerge victorious and filled with glory at the end of their trials, while Satan will be bound and the wicked will be destroyed.
During his lifetime, the Prophet Joseph Smith suffered through a tremendous amount of persecution that would have overwhelmed a lesser man. As he addressed the sisters of the Relief Society in Nauvoo, he reflected upon this, and told them:
“He that will war the true Christian warfare against the corruptions of these last days will have wicked men and angels of devils and all the infernal powers of darkness continually arrayed against him. . . . If a man stands and opposes the world of sin, he may expect to have all wicked and corrupt spirits arrayed against him.”13
Comprehending the Lord’s Purposes in Allowing the Persecution of the Saints
Even though persecution can be a very difficult trial to bear, it actually serves several useful and righteous purposes of the Lord.
The first useful purpose of persecution is th
at it purifies the Church by causing the wicked to leave it. We can find many examples of this throughout Church history.
In March 1836 the Kirtland Temple was dedicated and the Saints were blessed with a rich outpouring of the Spirit. Many of them saw open visions.14 In a witness to the fact that miracles do not truly convert a person, some of these same members began to turn against the Prophet Joseph a year later as apostasy began to spread throughout the Church. They tried to replace him as prophet and president of the Church, and some of them even attempted to murder him. The closing days of the Church in Kirtland were a sad epoch for the Prophet Joseph. George A. Smith, who was Joseph’s cousin, later reflected on these wayward individuals:
“A great many others were so darkened that they went astray in every direction. They boasted of the talent at their command, and what they would do. . . . Where are they today? Like a rope of sand that has vanished to the four winds of heaven. Many of them have already in dust and ashes lamented their fate, they have never been able to prosper in any business, or take a leading part in any capacity. This is the result of that apostasy.”15
As these deluded individuals began to show their true colors, they were excommunicated from the Church. Gone were the members who were disobedient, doubtful and contentious. The Church emerged much stronger after passing through this period of persecution.16
When the mobs of Missouri surrounded the Saints in Far West, Missouri in the winter of 1838-1839 and threatened them with extermination, those who were not truly converted soon left the Church.17 The Church was again strengthened as the weaker members began to leave. The members who remained true during these periods of persecution had been tested and fortified in the furnace of adversity, and they had proven to themselves and proven to God that they could be valiant to Him. They were stalwart pillars of strength who could move the kingdom of God forward in might and righteousness. These cycles of persecution, apostasy and cleansing have been repeated many times in Church history.
As Isaiah poetically said in describing the righteous: “For behold, I have refined thee, I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.”18 While passing through these periods of persecution in the latter days, the Church and its members will be refined, purified and prepared for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, so that the bride will be worthy of the Bridegroom.19
Persecution Will Lead to the Destruction of the Wicked
The second purpose of persecution is that it seals the fate of the wicked for their eventual destruction.20 Alma and Amulek experienced this firsthand in the wicked city of Ammonihah. After preaching to the people and converting many of them, Alma and Amulek were put in prison by the leaders of Ammonihah. These wicked men decided to slay the righteous converts and burn their sacred records, and Alma and Amulek were brought to the place of martyrdom to witness it.21 As their hearts sickened, Amulek asked Alma if they should use the priesthood to stop this atrocity, but Alma replied:
“The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto Himself, in glory; and He doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which He shall exercise upon them in His wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day.”22
It was less than a year later23 that the wicked people of Ammonihah were completely wiped off the surface of the earth by the hand of the Lord.24 Their destruction was so rapid that it happened in less than one day, even though they had boasted that their city was an impenetrable fortress of strength.25
As Brigham Young approached the end of his life, he spoke about both of these purposes of persecution. He had suffered through a great amount of persecution during his lifetime, and had seen its effects upon both the righteous and wicked. He said:
“But as to the persecution, it is nothing at all, neither one way nor another, only to purify the Saints and prepare the nations for the good or evil, for the Lord Almighty to send forth His judgments to cleanse the earth, to sanctify it, and to justify the righteous and condemn the guilty, and to prepare the way for the coming of the Son of Man.”26
Persecution Also Increases the Efforts and Diligence of the Faithful
A third positive result that can come from persecution is that it causes the members of the Church to be more faithful in their duties. President Young had noted that persecution had caused the elders of the Church to pursue their missionary efforts with more vigor, and he told the Saints:
“Let us alone, and we will send elders to the uttermost parts of the earth, and gather out Israel, wherever they are; and if you persecute us, we will do it the quicker, because we are naturally dull when let alone, and are disposed to take a little sleep, a little slumber, and a little rest. If you let us alone, we will do it a little more leisurely; but if you persecute us, we will sit up nights to preach the gospel.”27
What a marvelous response to the problem of persecution!
President Young also warned us that if we ever reach the point where the wicked are no longer persecuting us, we are in a dangerous situation:
“When the spirit of persecution, the spirit of hatred, or wrath, and malice ceases in the world against this people, it will be the time that this people have apostatized and joined hands with the wicked, and never until then; which I pray may never come.”28
He later said:
“Let this people be prospered and all persecutions cease, and then every description of characters would hasten to join this Church. The Lord so orders and overrules as to cop out [or exclude] a share of them, though He suffers some to enter the temporal fold.”29
The Faithful Will Be Blessed
The Saints who remain faithful during this period of persecution will be blessed. By relying upon the Savior, they will find strength to handle any adversity that they experience. In 1841 the Twelve Apostles in Nauvoo, under the leadership of Brigham Young, wrote a letter to the Saints throughout the world, in which they reminded them:
“Remember that those whom John saw on Mount Zion were such as had come up through great tribulation; and do not imagine that you can ever constitute a part of that number without sharing a part of their trials.”30
The persecution of the Church will be a difficult journey across a hot and fiery desert to prove the faithful, but on the other side of this valley of tribulation will be a beautiful oasis of peace and joy. The wicked may rage, but there is nothing that will stop the work of God. The persecutions of men are nothing compared to the power of God. The Lord’s powerful hand is watching over the Church and the Saints in the latter days, as the Prophet Joseph boldly proclaimed:
“No unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing. Persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny [or slander] may defame; but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.”31
Our time here in mortality is just a brief moment in eternity, and though our trials may seem to be difficult, we can draw comfort from the Lord’s promise to the Prophet Joseph that, like him, “thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.”32
As the persecution of the Church increases in the latter days, it will eventually result in the messengers of salvation being withdrawn from the nations. This significant event will have a number of surprising consequences, both for the Church and for the nations of the world.
1 . D&C 101:38.
2 . Revelation 13:7-10; emphasis added.
3 . Revelation 14:9-12.
4 . D&C 101:37-38; emphasis added.
5 . History of the Church 5:362.
6 . Mosiah 4:30.
7 . Mosiah 3:19.
8 . Brigham Young, October 6, 1855, Journal of Discourses 3:48; emphasis added.
9 . Wilford Woodruff, October 9, 1874, Journal of Discourses 17:245.
10 . Wilford Woodruff, January 22, 1865, Journal of Discourses 11:65.
11 . Daniel 2:44; D&C 13:1, 35:27, 65:2, 90:2, 112:30.
12 . D&C 38:9.
13 . History of the Church 5:141.
14 . Brother Joseph, pp. 569-587.
15 . George A. Smith, November 15, 1864, Journal of Discourses 11:11.
16 . Hyrum M. Smith and Janne M. Sjodahl, Doctrine and Covenants Commentary, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1954, 1978), p. 752.
17 . History of the Church 3:166-168 and note; Brigham Young, July 8, 1855, Journal of Discourses 2:316; Brigham Young, May 22, 1859, Journal of Discourses 7:143.
18 . 1 Nephi 20:10; Isaiah 48:10.
19 . D&C 109:73-74.
20 . D&C 88:82.
21 . Alma 14:8-14.
22 . Alma 14:11; emphasis added.
23 . Alma 14:23, 16:1.
24 . Alma 16:9-10.
25 . Alma 9:4, 16:9.
26 . Brigham Young, May 6, 1877, Journal of Discourses 18:359; emphasis added.
27 . Brigham Young, June 17, 1855, Journal of Discourses 2:320; emphasis added.
28 . Brigham Young, May 31, 1857, Journal of Discourses 4:327.
29 . Brigham Young, May 22, 1859, Journal of Discourses 7:145.
30 . History of the Church 4:451.
31 . History of the Church 4:540.
32 . D&C 121:7-8; emphasis added.