A Believing People: Literature of the Latter-day Saints

Section Introduction: Sermons

Richard Cracroft and Neal Lambert, editors

Be willing to receive the truth, let it come from whom it may; no difference, not a particle. Just as soon receive the Gospel from Joseph Smith as from Peter, who lived in the days of Jesus. Receive it from one man as soon as another. If God has called an individual and sent him to preach the Gospel that is enough for me to know; it is no matter who it is, all I want is to know the truth. --Brigham Young

Committed to a purposeful cosmic vision, Mormons have continually seen themselves and their efforts as part of a divine scheme. But for Mormon leaders, understanding the details of that scheme and interpreting the significance of day-to-day events has required continued study, thought, and explication, all of which has evoked considerable expression in the spoken word. Thus this relatively small group of people have produced a remarkable number of sermons. From the pulpit. the explication and application of the gospel and its principles have come in a sustained quantity to almost every home in Mormondom. They may read very little fiction or history or other nonfiction. but modern-day members of the Church buy a great many books of sermons, making this genre the predominant form of literary expression in the Mormon Church. Indeed, collections of sermons, along with anthologies of topical snippets and compilations of testimonies, have long had a remarkable circulation among the Saints.

If the literary style of some of these efforts is not always distinguished, the ideas are nevertheless of great significance in the lives of the people. For Mormons the inspired word of Church leaders is no less scripture than are the published standard works of the Church, and the modern gospel messages of Church conferences are just as significant as the ancient messages of the Book of Mormon.

At their best. these sermons manifest a surprising freshness of expression and a startling insight into theology and the application of faith. Relying often on "the spirit of the occasion, the speakers show the usual disorders and digressions that mark the spontaneity of their remarks. but in the sermon itself we come to recognize a power that derives, not from any Donne-like sense of organization and balance. but from the vividness and enthusiasm of the occasion, from the spirit that is spontaneously informing the topical shifts, the pointed references, and the remarkable ideas.

In this section we present sermons by Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Mormonism's first and second presidents' Orson Pratt, mathematician, scientist, author, theologian, and apostle; J. Golden Kimball of the First Council of the Seventy, a roughhewn man whose pulpit swearing and earthy analogies were often sources of embarrassment to his colleagues among the General Authorities but whose straight-spoken, folksy ways and nonestablishment manner delighted the Saints and have earned him a solid place in Mormon folklore and myth; B. H. Roberts of the First Council of the Seventy, one of the Church's most brilliant and prolific historians and theologians; and, finally, Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, of the Council of the Twelve. who has a warmth and felicity in phrasing, a profundity of thought, and an excellence of delivery that make his sermons beloved among the Mormon people.

Whether these selections spring from the tradition of the logical sermon, in which the speaker develops the ideas on a framework of thesis and antithesis, or from the tradition of the analogical argument, in which the speaker relates anecdotes and draws truths from the anecdote, Mormon speakers all seek the inspiration of the Holy Ghost to present and elucidate the divine premises on which the Church stands. Remarkable in their scope, memorable by the power of their sincere and often colorful utterance, the sermons of the Latter-day Saints represent a persuasive voice in the literature of Mormondom.

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