Discourses of Brigham Young

Nearly four hundred of Brigham Young’s sermons were recorded in the Journal of Discourses. In this 1925 volume, John A. Widtsoe selects excerpts from Young’s sermons and arranges them thematically. Some of Young’s most controversial teachings (polygamy, blood atonement, the curse of black skin) are mentioned in passing, but the famous quotes about punishing interracial marriage or adultery with death on the spot are left out. I don’t think the doctrine that Adam is God is included in this volume and Brigham Young’s belief that there is life on the sun is also left out of this collection. There are still a lot of interesting things left in, though.

He says a lot of things present-day Mormons still believe, as well as things that are no longer taught. Present-day Mormons fast on the first Sunday of the month, but apparently in Brigham Young’s day, it was the first Thursday of the month. Young says you don’t need to pay tithing unless you want to, which definitely isn’t taught in the Mormon church today. He tells Latter-day Saints not to call outsiders Gentiles (12:273), which present-day Mormons do.

He mentions knowing passwords, signs, and tokens to get past the doors into the celestial kingdom, which reminds me of the ancient Egyptian belief that you need to know the names of several gatekeepers to get into the afterlife.

There are millions of earths like ours. We will become Gods ourselves and create our own earths. All people will be saved except the sons of perdition (those who receive the Holy Ghost and then sin against it). He mentions fathers who were exalted millions of years before Adam’s time. God currently lives on another world and was once like us. There is no beginning or end. There have always been Gods and there will always be men passing through worlds. God and Jesus both have bodies, but the Holy Ghost doesn’t.

I noticed a few contradictions. He says God is in all things and there’s no such thing as a space where God is not (1:276) but elsewhere he says God isn’t everywhere (6:345). He says God doesn’t depend on us and would not lose a bit of glory if every one of us went to hell (13:315) but also says God only gains glory by means of his own progeny (11:262). Young also believes in original sin, which seems to contradict the second Article of Faith.

Revelation comes from God and is responsible for all inventions and any prediction of the future. Everything you learn from another person is a revelation. (3:209) The revelation God gives us isn’t perfect because we aren’t ready for it yet and He has to talk down to us. All angels are of one heart and one mind. Angels are invisible and are all around us. They used to be mortal like us.

You should always pray every morning. If you don’t have time, skip breakfast and pray instead. If a storm is coming and your hay will get wet, or if your cattle are eating the corn, it doesn’t matter. Always pray before all else. Both in private and in public. On your knees. Even when you don’t feel like it. 

We know we live forever because it’s impossible to imagine us dying. Matter is eternal, without beginning or end, and man is made of matter, so that makes us eternal. Apparently, gold and silver compose and decompose like hair or wheat, it just takes longer. (1:219).

The spirits that followed Satan want bodies and try to possess us like Legion or the seven that possessed Mary Magdalene. (3:369) This surprised me a bit since modern Mormons don’t generally believe in possession.

God creates, the Devil destroys. Spirit is of God while the body is subject to the power of the Devil. Evil tries to destroy peace, the good are peacemakers. False spirits send revelations to people. (This seems to contradict what was said elsewhere about revelation coming from God.) Evil spirits of the dead try to make us and our children sick. (6:73-74)

“What is called spirit-rapping, spirit-knocking, and so forth, is produced by the spirits that the Lord has suffered to communicate to people on earth, and make them believe in revelation.”
–Journal of Discourses Volume 7 page 239

Mesmerism and animal magnetism are true and of God, but can also be used for evil purposes by evil people. Even if mesmerism heals someone, that doesn’t mean it’s not of the Devil. How can you tell if a miracle such as a dancing vase or writing in a dead person’s handwriting is from God or Satan? You can only tell if you have the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Mormons are composed of both the best and worst people on earth. The worst people on earth are among the Mormons because the Devil wants a foothold in God’s kingdom. Anyone who wants a democratic vote for the presiding Priesthood is an apostate. (14:92)

What’s the purpose of life? Brigham Young gives several different answers. The purpose of this life is to learn. The purpose of life is to be tested. The purpose of life is to improve. The purpose of life is to build up the Kingdom of God and prepare the way of the Son of Man. The purpose of life is to spread knowledge to the people. The purpose of life is to propagate the species. The purpose of life is to overcome the powers of Satan. The purpose of life is to do good. The purpose of this life is to gather the House of Israel and bring in the fullness of the Gentiles, restore the earth, and make it as the Garden of Eden.

Brigham Young says he’s going to live until sin is driven from the earth, so that’s at least one prophecy that didn’t come true. He predicts that Christians will soon do away with the Bible (13:213) which I think we can also count as a miss. He also incorrectly predicts that the United States is fast going to destruction due to being drunk with party fanaticism and great destruction from natural disasters, famine, and war are coming soon, presumably within the lifetime of the people he’s addressing.

He advises people who think this is a miserable world, to go ahead and kill themselves. “There is plenty of arsenic, calomel, and other means” but “I would not give a cent for such persons” and he doesn’t believe the Lord cares for them either. (2:270-271) That’s pretty harsh. I would’ve thought the Lord cared for everybody.

We can be perfect in this life, although not as perfect as God and the angels. (What does the word “perfect” even mean then?) We will continue to learn new things for eternity. If we ever did get to a point when we knew everything, we’d start to forget things because there’s no such thing as stasis.

If you were taken directly to heaven without being prepared first, it would be worse than hell. (3:221)

The Bible says God created the earth in six days, but this doesn’t necessarily mean six literal days. A day could be a thousand years or another length of time. (18:231)

“This earth will become a celestial body – be like a sea of glass, or like a urim and thummim; and when you wish to know anything, you can look in this earth and see all the eternities of God. We shall make our home here, and go on our missions as we do now, but at greater than railroad speed.
–Journal of Discourses Volume 8 page 200

God made this earth for us. We should not go to the moon or any other planet in this solar system. (8:293) The earth was baptized with water and will be baptized by fire and the Holy Ghost. (8:83)

Father Adam helped organize the earth out of crude material. The Garden of Eden was located in the American continent. After the flood, the ark took people to another part of earth. We shouldn’t blame Adam and Eve for sinning because God designed them to sin. Sin is necessary. We can’t know good without knowing bad.

The Last Days

Everyone can worship their own religion as long as they bow down before Christ. (That doesn’t sound like you can worship your own religion to me.) Christ redeemed not just men, but also beasts, birds, fish, and the earth itself. (2:316-317).

All Mormons will return to Jackson County, Missouri and build a temple there (3:278, 6:269). Jesus is coming soon. He has been on earth more times than you know.

During the Millennium, we’ll be vegetarians and we should start being kind to animals now (1:203). Joseph Smith will be the first person resurrected during the Millennium. During the Millennium, we’ll resurrect our ancestors and do their temple work (15:138).

Many people think Enoch and his city were taken up to God, but this is a mistaken idea. Zion exists in the hearts of the Saints, but it’s also a physical place: North and South America. This is where Christ will come again. The tribe of Judah will gather in Jerusalem. Zion will eventually grow into the whole world. When New Jerusalem is built, the City of Enoch will be joined with it.

The Priesthood

What is the Priesthood? Again, we get multiple definitions. It’s God-like power (3:259). It’s a perfect system of government (13:242). It’s the law that brings worlds into existence (15:127). It’s the principle of salvation. The Priesthood is also the Spirit that is within us (3:192). All laws upon the earth were originally based on the Priesthood. Every despot on Earth got their power from the Priesthood (7:149).

A man may be Prophet, Seer, and Revelator without being President of the Church. Someone is given the keys to be The Prophet, but the President is chosen by the people. (1:133) Every man and woman may have the spirit of prophecy and know the mind of God (2:189).

If the leader of the church were perfect, he’d be taken directly to Paradise. Earthly leaders will always be imperfect (10:212). (This seems to contradict the saying that we can be perfect on earth.)

If Brigham or anyone else gives counsel “that meets with opposition, that intrudes upon the affections, meditations, and feelings of the people, and is harsh to their ears, bitter to their souls, it is either not the words of truth, or they have not the foundation of life within them.” (9:3-4) so not everything a prophet says is automatically true. In fact, he also says people shouldn’t blindly trust their leaders, but rather ask God if their leaders are right (9:150).

A Bishop is the highest officer in the Aaronic Priesthood. He can use the Urim and Thummim and has the administration of angels. (9:87)

The First Principles of the Gospel

Original sin was atoned for by the death of Christ, but the effects of original sin are still here in the form of disease and wickedness. (13.143)

There is no faith without works. (4:24)

If you sin, only confess to the person you wronged. There’s no need to confess to clergy. (8:362) (This contradicts the current Mormon practice of confessing sins to bishops.)

If you’ve never sinned, you still need to be baptized like Jesus was. (14:281) (So, I guess there are perfect people on earth after all?)

The Holy Ghost (which uses he/it pronouns) gives intelligence by angels, gives inspiration by the Holy Spirit (I’m not sure if the Holy Spirit is the same as the Holy Ghost or not), gives visions of eternity, and reveals things past, present, and future.

The Word of Wisdom

Excessive eating, drinking, or exercise all tend to the grave.
–Journal of Discourses Volume 11 page 329

Apparently, eating too much and drinking coffee or tea gives you a disease that cuts your life expectancy in half or two thirds! (12:37) In a nod to kosher laws, we should eat beef but not pork (12:192). Warm houses cause colds, so it’s better to live outdoors (4:91). Children shouldn’t eat meat (19:68). Current Mormons don’t avoid warm houses, pork, or feeding meat to their children, so I guess these teachings have been superseded or simply forgotten.

The Family

Sinners go to hell for a limited time until they’ve paid for their sin (11:268). Young would prefer his daughters to die virtuously rather than live polluted (2:322).

If every man 18 or older gets married and gets a job working with his hands, then his children will be physically and mentally superior (12:194-195). The reason for polygamy is to provide bodies for spirits (4:56). If Brigham Young were a woman and married an awful man, he wouldn’t complain about it. Women are required to obey their husbands in all things (7:280).

He advises against beating your children with a rod (9:196) or whipping them (6:332). Also, parents shouldn’t whip their children for reading novels (2:94). Children should be indulged within reason. It’s okay to let little girls have dolls, but don’t have a dressmaker dress the dolls. The girls should make the dresses themselves so they learn how to sew. Boys can have tools to make sleds and wagons (9:173).

Children should be able to dress in the dark, so if there’s a fire, they won’t have to run outside naked (9:172-3). Train your children to remain fair, not sunburned like the natives (12:201).

On Women

Young was obsessed with orderliness. He says you should be able to find all your tools in the dark. “Have a place for everything and everything in its place.” (14:89)

It is an old saying that a woman can throw out of the window with a spoon as fast as a man can throw into the door with a shovel.
–Journal of Discourses Volume 12 page 195

I’m not entirely sure what this quote means, but in context, he’s telling housewives not to be wasteful.

He advises women to make their own clothes rather than buying them in order to save money. He advises women to keep their faces clean. He doesn’t want women to wear tight clothes either (19:75).

It adds no beauty to a lady, in my opinion, to adorn her with fine feathers.
–Journal of Discourses Volume 18 page 74

Dresses shouldn’t be so long that they drag in the dust, but not so short that the tops of stockings are visible (12:299).

The purpose of the Female Relief Societies is to improve manners, dress, habits, and methods of living (19:68). Female Relief Societies should help relieve poor children or ladies in need when the Bishops aren’t able to (14:107).

Women aren’t just useful for sweeping, washing dishes, making beds, and raising babies, but they can also study law or medicine or become bookkeepers (13:61).


The only heaven for you is that which you make yourselves. My heaven is here (laying his hand upon his heart). I carry it with me.
–Journal of Discourses Volume 4 page 57

You never saw a true Saint in the world that had sorrow, neither can you find one.
–Journal of Discourses Volume 6 page 41

Saints are happy even when they’re in pain, in error, in poverty, or in prison (18:213). The Lord never revealed any doctrine that wasn’t calculated to “happify” humanity (8:128-9).

Dancing and theatre aren’t sinful, but try not to laugh out loud. Also, it’s best to avoid tragedy as it gives children nightmares.

There is no music in hell, for all good music belongs to heaven. Every sweet musical sound that can be made belongs to the Saints and is for the Saints.
–Journal of Discourses Volume 9 page 244

If you want to dance, run a foot race, pitch quoits, or play at ball, do it.
–Journal of Discourses Volume 6 page 149


All the arts and sciences in the world are from God, and are designed for the good of his people.
–Journal of Discourses Volume 13 page 147

We should learn everything we can, both good and evil. You don’t need to commit evil to learn about it (2:94). We will never cease to learn. Young advises Saints to study architecture, foreign languages and customs, medicine, law, history, astrology, theology, etc. Figure out ways of doing work more efficiently, so you don’t get worn out and need tea or coffee.

Other religions say the earth was created 6,000 years ago, but this contradicts geology which says the earth has been in existence for millions of years. Mormonism, according to Brigham Young, will never contradict the facts of science.

Our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular.
–Journal of Discourses Volume 14 page 115

Self Control

There is not a man who has a more indomitable and unyielding temper than myself. But there is not a man in the world who cannot overcome his passion, if he will struggle earnestly to do so.
–Journal of Discourses Volume 11 page 290

I will keep bad feelings under and actually smother them to death, then they are gone. But as sure as I let them out they will live and afflict me.
–Journal of Discourses Volume 3 page 195

If you gain the power to check your words, you’ll then be able to check your judgement, then you’ll be able to check your thoughts (6:98). Think twice before you speak, and three times before you act (1:92).

Our Fellow Man

Reason as to why it is that you can remember an injury better than kindness; why you can retain hatred longer than love. […] The whole world is contaminated with a spirit to remember evil and forget the good.
–Journal of Discourses Volume 3 page 356

Suppose that in this community there are ten beggars who beg from door to door for something to eat, and that nine of them are imposters who beg to escape work, […] and that only one of the ten who visit your door is worthy of your bounty; which is best, to give food to the ten, to make sure of helping the truly needy one, or to repulse the ten because you do not know which is the worthy one? You will all say, administer charitable gifts to the ten.
–Journal of Discourses Volume 8 page 12

Try persuasion before you try the rod.
–Journal of Discourses Volume 8 page 63


Brigham Young sounds like he’d be in favor of communism.

One man was not made to trample his fellowman under his feet, and enjoy all his heart desires, while the thousands suffer. […] How many laboring men are there in proportion to the inhabitants? About one to every five that are producers, and the supposition is that ten hours’ work by the one to three persons in the twenty-four hours will support the five. It is an unequal condition to mankind. We see servants that labor early and late, and that have not the opportunity of measuring their hours ten in twenty-four. They cannot go to school, nor hardly get clothing to go to meeting on the Sabbath. […] Who is she laboring for? For those who, many of them, are living in luxury. And, to serve the classes that are living on them, the poor, laboring men and women are toiling, working their lives out to earn that which will keep a little life within them. Is this equality? No. What is going to be done? The Latter-day Saints will never accomplish their mission until this inequality shall cease on the earth.
–Journal of Discourses Volume 19 page 46

Thrift and Industry

Everything takes labor. If we want streets paved with gold, we’ll have to mine the gold ourselves, just like the angels did to make their streets of gold (8:354-355)

The following quote reminded me somewhat of Carl Sagan’s famous pale blue dot speech:

If it [wealth] goes from my pocket it is still in the world, it still belongs to this little ball, this little speck in God’s creation, so small that from the sun I expect you would have to have a telescope that would magnify it many times to see it. […] And here people are contending, quarrelling, seeking how to get the advantage of each other, and how to get all the wealth there is in the world; wanting to rule nations, wanting to be president, king or ruler.
–Journal of Discourses Volume 15 page 19


Keep your dish right side up so that when the shower of porridge does come, you can catch your dish full.
–Journal of Discourses Volume 15 page 36

Your wealth doesn’t really belong to you, it belongs to the Lord. It must go where he commands. Don’t just save up your money, but put it to usury (1:252). Despite what Jesus said, the rich aren’t required to give everything to the poor (13:302).

I would as soon see a man worshipping a little god made of brass or of wood as to see him worship his property.
–Journal of Discourses Volume 6 page 196

Missionary Work

Young observes that mission efforts work better amongst the poor than the well off (12:256). Logic doesn’t convince people to change religions, only the Spirit does (8:53).

How do you know Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God? First obey the commandments of baptism and laying on of hands. Then see the sick healed. Then obey and the Spirit “will make you feel like little children, and cause you to delight in doing good.” You will no longer feel malice and wrath. “You will feel a glow, as of fire, burning within you; and if you open your mouths to talk you will declare ideas which you did not formerly think of.” The Scripture will make sense to you. You can sleep in peace and wake up feeling pleasant (3:211).

Let everyone speak what’s in his heart. If an Elder wants to give a lecture on science or farming or business or art, our religion embraces it (1:334).

Visions, Mysteries, and Miracles

When individuals are blessed with visions, revelations, and great manifestations, look out, then the Devil is nigh you, and you will be tempted in proportion to the visions, revelation, or manifestation you have received.
–Journal of Discourses Volume 3 page 206

Regular members of the church may receive revelations of the past or future or new doctrine of the Church, but “he must rarely divulge it to a second person on the face of the earth, until God reveals it through the proper source.” If someone says they know something the President of the Church does not, it’s from the Devil. If it’s really from God, God will tell you to keep it to yourself (3:318).

Everything’s a miracle until you understand it.

There are no miracles, only to those who are ignorant.
–Journal of Discourses Volume 14 page 79

No good, honest person will ever require a miracle (8:42). When a miracle is performed, such as healing the sick, it isn’t to convince the wicked, but rather, it’s for the benefit of those who already believe (3:211).


If “Mormonism” weren’t true, the Devil wouldn’t try to disturb it (7:160). The Latter-day Saints are only persecuted when they disobey (12:308). When the Saints were persecuted in the past, it was either because they deserved it or needed to learn an experience (14:97) Joseph Smith wouldn’t have been perfected if he hadn’t been persecuted (2:7)

Every time you kick “Mormonism” you kick it upstairs; you never kick it downstairs.
–Journal of Discourses Volume 7 page 145

A lie will creep through the keyhole and go a thousand miles while truth is getting out of doors.
–Journal of Discourses Volume 13 page 177


If a theocratic government were established, everyone would be free to practice their own religion however they want (6:343). The United States is the best government in the world (2:310). The Declaration of Independence and Constitution were inspired by God, but they aren’t perfect. It’s up to later generations to add to them (7:14). It doesn’t matter which political party someone is a member of, what matters is if they are just (10:193). Young is also in favor of giving women the vote (1:218).

War is not of God, but caused by wickedness (13:149). War deaths should be considered murder, although society doesn’t look at it that way (7:137). Brigham quotes a Dr. Young saying, “One murder makes a villain; millions make a hero” (7:137).

Death and Resurrection

There is life in all matter. It is in rock, the sand, the dust, in water, air, the gases.
–Journal of Discourses Volume 3 pages 276-7

Disease is caused by sin (14:230). Only the ignorant mourn the dead. The knowledgeable rejoice that they’re in a better place (4:131). When a faithful person dies, their spirit has the power to command evil spirits and they must obey (7:240-241).

Our blood will not be resurrected with our bodies, but will be replaced by another element (7:163). The earth itself will be resurrected as well as every living thing “that has abided by the law by which it was made” (9:140), so I guess not every dog goes to heaven, just the ones who abided by the doggie law.

Resurrected bodies will still eat and drink. (This makes me wonder if they’ll also go to the bathroom.) They can’t take part in temple ordinances, but they can instruct the living what to do (8:225)

The Spirit World

The spirit world is on earth (3:372). Both good and evil spirits go to the spirit world together (3:369). Spirits are among us, and if the Lord wills it, you could see them (3:368). Joseph is now preaching in the spirit prison to the millions who never heard the Gospel while alive (4:285). In the spirit world, you can instantly travel anywhere and anytime on earth (14:231).


Only the sons of perdition will go to hell. Others will be punished by God in prison until they’ve paid for their sins, then will be accepted into one of the innumerable kingdoms (8:154).

Those who pin their faith to another’s sleeve and allow themselves to be led by another person will never enter the celestial kingdom and never become Gods. They can’t rule others. They can’t even rule themselves. They must be controlled by others. Only those inspired by true independence enter the celestial kingdom (1:312).

God’s punishment is eternal, but that does not prove that a wicked person will remain eternally in a state of punishment (9:147). There will always be those worthy of hell, but no one remains there forever.

If you do evil ignorantly and in good faith, I promise you it shall result in good.
–Journal of Discourses Volume 7 page 139

The presence of the Father and Son would be hell to the wicked (8:153-4). The blood of Christ cannot atone for those who violate the covenants made with God. Their own blood must atone for it (3:247). We will judge ourselves, and our enemies, and also angels (5:258).


There are places on earth, high atop a mountain or in some cavern, where sinful man has never marked the soil with his polluted feet (10:252). There need to be thousands of temples to officiate for all the dead (3:372).

Not all ordinances can be performed in the flesh. The keys to resurrection are held by those who have received their bodies again. In the flesh, we can change elements, but we can’t organize native element. We can create temporal bodies, but not spirits. There is clear and pure matter between us and the stars that we can’t see, but there’s enough of it to create millions of earths (15:136).

This seems to be Young’s version of Pascal’s Wager: If it turns out there’s no life after death, doing ordinances for the dead doesn’t hurt. If there is life after death, not doing the ordinances is fighting against God. So we should just do it (13:330).

Good people who died without hearing about Mormonism have been waiting in spirit prison thousands of years, bound and fettered along with the wicked waiting for Mormons to do their ordinances for them (18:304).

Once the temples are built, strangers will appear and explain resurrection and ordinances for the dead. Many Elders will live in the temple full time and never leave. Strangers will share genealogy not on record so work for the dead can be accomplished (6:294-5). In the future, temples will have groves and fish ponds on top (1:132).


Brigham gives Mormons credit for discovering gold in California (2:29-33).

He believes that people are generally good. There were good people before Joseph Smith restored the gospel and there are good people in other religions.

To mind your own business incorporates the whole duty of man.
–Journal of Discourses Volume 10 page 295

When someone hears the truth for the first time, they feel as if they’d known it all along (19:42). The eye, ear, hand, and all senses can be deceived, but the Spirit of God cannot be deceived. What you see with your spiritual eye cannot be disproven (16:46).

The sons of Ephraim are wild, unruly, and ungovernable. They are the Anglo-Saxon race. They bear the spirit of rule and go forth conquering. Nothing will stop them from developing the treasures of the earth (10:188).

This society will increase in knowledge until we learn how to lengthen out our days and man’s longevity returns to what it was anciently (11:303).

When the Kingdom of God is established upon the earth, there will be as many sects as there are now. Not everyone will be LDS, but they’ll stop persecuting the LDS. There are many mansions in heaven for each class of man (11:275).

The spirit spreads through a telegraphic influence or force that is independent of wires.
–Journal of Discourses Volume 8 page 184

I do not hate any man on earth or in hell. The worst wish I have for the wicked is that they may be obliged to live according to good and wholesome laws.
–Journal of Discourses Volume 8 page 43

Brigham Young has a unique way of speaking. The word “Mormon” always appears in quote marks since Young preferred the term Latter-day Saint. He refers to Jesus as our Elder Brother, he uses the word tabernacle to refer to bodies, he refers to the dead as those who have fallen asleep, and he uses words like “happify”. He also used colorful turns of phrase such as, “You may, figuratively speaking, pound one Elder over the head with a club, and he does not know but what you have handed him a straw dipped in molasses to suck.” I’m not always completely sure what he’s saying (which is why I provided a lot of his quotes without comment). By leaving the most incendiary quotes out, Widtsoe definitely gives us a sanitized version of Brigham Young, but this book still provides much of interest.

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