Mormonism’s Love-Hate Relationship with the Journal of Discourses

22 October

Journals1For the first eighteen years of life I embraced my Mormon religious conviction with unabated loyalty. Shelving questions about the faith, I held tightly to the ideology while parroting the all-too popular belief ‘I’ll find out when I get there’.

That was until.

After I left Mormonism, and began working with Ed Decker, I brought home an entire set of Journal of Discourses Ed had given to me. I started at the beginning with the first volume and began reading.

I can’t express in human words what that did to me. I rolled my eyes on a number of occasions while reading through speeches made by LDS prophets long ago, but it was a game changer when I came upon Journal of Discourses 1:51. It reads –

“When the Virgin Mary conceived the child Jesus, the Father had begotten him in his own likeness. He was not begotten by the Holy Ghost. And who is the Father? He is the first of the human family; and when he took a tabernacle, it was begotten by his Father in heaven…I could tell you much more about this; but were I to tell you the whole truth, blasphemy would be nothing to it…” – Brigham Young, Salt Lake City, April 9, 1852

Mr. Young’s sermon made me ill. Literally. It opened my eyes about Mormonism in ways I had never dreamt they’d be opened. I had already determined my heritage was way off, but this was the first time I realized just how demonic their doctrines really are. As it turned out, the Journal of Discourses is one of the places that holds the meat of Mormonism.

Historically speaking, Mormonism has been involved in a love-hate relationship with itself since its inception. Their rank and file attitude towards some of the doctrines presented by past leaders serves as the poster child for passive-aggressive behavior, and surprisingly, or maybe not, one of their databanks containing the majority of its doctrines, sits in the crosshairs. The Journal of Discourses is continually thrown under the bus, even while using its content to do so, and not by leaders alone, but members as well.

If you’ve ever used them in witnessing to a Mormon, you’ve probably encountered the response ‘that’s not official doctrine’, while they play the proverbial cat and mouse game. Don’t let that deter you!

The Journal was originally distributed as a sixteen page semimonthly subscription out of Liverpool, England from 1854-1886, and served as an information portal for those who had no access to the Deseret News based out of Salt Lake City. Their main purpose was to publish the sermons of Church leaders, as well as reporting news of the day affecting members.

At some point the Church seemed to do an about face in the way they handled the Journals and from there, comments that members shouldn’t be relying on them began to take shape. Ironically, even though they try to discredit the trustworthiness of them, LDS teaching manuals, sermons at conferences, and elsewhere, are littered with quotes, doctrinal issues, and core teachings found in them.

Complicating matters is the Church’s statement they issued on their website cautioning the Journals aren’t an official publication, stating many of the recorded sermons contain errors made by transcribers. We find this to be nothing but a ruse to scare people off. They have the same story for why they don’t fully trust the Bible.

The truth of the matter is that one of Brigham Young’s secretaries meticulously recorded every sermon, and served in that position for over 55 years! If he was such a careless transcriber, why didn’t they tell him to find a new vocation? SeeEncyclopedia of Mormonism for their entry on the history.

Furthermore, Brigham went so far as to proclaim “sermons approved by him were as good as scripture couched in the Bible” (Journal of Discourses 13:264), and knew right well what to say to the people to ‘bring them into the celestial kingdom’ (Journal of Discourses 13:95).

One has to wonder why the Church allows their publication, Essentials in Church History, to list the Journals as an official church publication?

It’s unclear what caused the Church to change their mind, but when they were making money off them, enough couldn’t be said about how awesome they were, and they went so far as to encourage members worldwide to purchase them. They were obviously the go-to resource for all things Mormon.

What is clear is an official statement from the Ensign in August 1978 giving members a list of priorities they should heed when it comes to placing value on church publications. Here in part is what they said –

“It seems to me that we should first become very familiar with the four books of Scripture accepted as standard works. The words of our current living prophet are also most valuable for us in our time. The official statements of the First Presidency are standards for doctrine and practice in the Church. We should be familiar with the manuals and courses of study provided for us in our day. For further inspiration and instruction by the General Authorities, we can study general conference addresses, beginning with the most current and moving back in time.

Even after digesting these materials, some persons may still have time and inclination to peruse the Journal of Discourses. We can be grateful that records of the early sermons were kept to help us understand the growth of the Church and the testimonies of our early leaders.”

The problem, as noted above, is that speeches given by GA’s, First Presidency statements, on down to their manuals, are loaded with references from 10,000+ speeches in the Journals because they’ve turned into the repository for core doctrinal teaching of the Church.

Bottom line: when a Mormon tells you the Journals aren’t trustworthy, you should ask why Mormon leaders today are using them. It should also make them think about the words of John Widstoe (Brigham Young’s transcriber and son-in-law) who commented –

John_A._Widtsoe“This book was made possible because Brigham Young secured stenographic reports of his addresses, As he traveled among the people, reporters accompanied him. All that he said was recorded. Practically all of these discourses (from December 16, 1851 to August 19, 1877) were published in the Journal of Discourses, which was widely distributed.” – Discourses of Brigham Young, preface page v

One journal after another gives glowing endorsements of how necessary it was for the Saints to have their own 26 volume set in their homes, indicating at one time they were a necessary item to rely on if you wanted to hear from God. We’ve listed a few of their comments below.

Our questions today are as follows:

If they were so poorly transcribed why did so many LDS leaders promote them, and why do Church authorities use them today?

Without a doubt, content from the Journals is true Mormonism.

There are several places you can access these online so we’ve listed a few below.

BYU Harold B. Lee Library – (Mormon Research Ministry, Bill McKeever)


Journal of Discourses, Letter from the First Presidency, Vol. 1

Brigham Young Heber Kimball Willard Richards“Dear Brethren—It is well known to many of you, that Elder George D. Watt, by our counsel, spent much time in the midst of poverty and hardships to acquire the art of reporting in Phonography [shorthand], which he has faithfully and fully accomplished; and he has been reporting the public Sermons, Discourses, Lectures delivered by the Presidency, the Twelve, and others in this city, for nearly two years, almost without fee or reward.

Elder Watt now proposes to publish a Journal of these reports, in England, for the benefit of the Saints at large, and to obtain means to enable him to sustain his highly useful position of Reporter. You will perceive at once that this will be a work of mutual benefit, and we cheerfully and warmly request your cooperation in the purchase and sale of the above named Journal, and wish all the profits arising therefrom to be under the control of Elder Watt. – Signed by Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and Willard Richards”


Journal of Discourses, Preface, Vol. 2

Franklin Dewey Richards“The Second Volume of the Journal of Discourses needs no recommendation to make it interesting to every Saint who loves to drink of the streams that flow from the fountain of Eternal Truth. It is made up of the choicest fruit that can be called from the tree of knowledge, suited to the tastes of all who can appreciate such delicious food.” – Franklin D. Richards


 Journal of Discourses, Preface, Volume 3

Orson Pratt“Each successive Volume of these Discourses is a rich mine of wealth, containing gems of great value, and the diligent seeker will find ample reward for his labor. After the fathers and mothers of this generation have made them the study of their lives their children’s children will find that they are still unexhausted, and rejoice that this Record has been handed down from their fathers to also aid them in following the way of life.
“No one can remain a Saint long, unless he progresses by seeking after the higher knowledge, spirit, and power of those who are set to lead him. A little observation and experience will also satisfy him that he can never fully understand their sayings until he has advanced as far as they have, and sees and comprehends as they do, hence he will ever find their instructions the great fountain from which he must draw the elements of his own progress.” – Orson Pratt


Journal of Discourses, Preface, Volume 8

Abraham Cannon“The Journal of Discourses deservedly ranks as one of the standard works of the Church, and every right-minded Saint will certainly welcome with joy every Number as it comes forth from the press as an additional reflector of “the light that shines from Zion’s hill.”” – George Q. Cannon


Journal of Discourses, Preface, Vol. 11

Brigham Young Jr“The Journal of Discourses is a vehicle for doctrine, counsel, and instruction to all people, but especially to the Saints. It follows, then, then, (sic) that each successive volume is more and more valuable as the Church increases in numbers and importance in the earth, and its doctrines become more abundantly developed and are brought into practical exercise by his peculiar people. No Saint can afford to do without these precious precepts until they are able to exemplify them in their daily lives and conversation.” – Apostle Brigham Young, Jr.


Journal of Discourses, Preface, Vol. 12

Albert_Carrington“Each discourse in this the XIIth volume of the ‘Journal’ commends itself to thoughtful perusal, being plain, practical, and of much worth to all who desire to keep pace with the progress of truth.

It behooves all to be acquainted with the teachings pertaining to her advancement and the perfecting of the Saints; and inasmuch as the Journal of Discourses affords such excellent facilities for an acquaintance with those teachings, it is both desire and expected that the lovers of truth and of their own best interests will at all times sustain its publication and profit by its perusal so far as may be in their power.” – Apostle Albert Carrington


Journal of Discourses, Preface, Volume 15

“We take great pleasure in presenting to the Saints and the world … the Journal of Discourses, which they will find contains rich treasures of information concerning the glorious principles of Eternal Life, as revealed through God’s anointed servants in these last days. All who read the discourses contained in this Volume are earnestly recommended to adapt them to their lives by practice, and we can confidently assure them that, in doing so, they are laying up a store of knowledge that will save and exalt them in the Celestial kingdom.” – Apostle Albert Carrington


 Journal of Discourses. Preface, Volume 17

“It is replete with good teachings and wise counsels, and it may be read with profit by all lovers of truth.” – Albert Carrington


Journal of Discourses, Preface, Volume 18

Joseph F. Smith“We feel confident that the important instructions on principle and doctrine therein contained, relative to the building of Temples, the salvation of the dead, the introduction of the Order of Enoch, and the general progress and development of the great Latter-day Work, will prove as interesting, gratifying and beneficial to the Saints and to posterity, as those that have been previously published through this medium.
We regret that the circulation of the Journal of Discourses is so limited. Its importance would warrant a thousand-fold greater extension of this work. We anticipate a time, not distant in the future, when a copy of the present volume will be more precious than gold. It is even now almost impossible to obtain a complete series. Copies should therefore be carefully preserved by all subscribers.” – Joseph F. Smith


Journal of Discourses, Preface, Volume 24

John_Henry_Smith“This, the Twenty-fourth Volume of the Journal of Discourses, like its predecessors, consists of sermons of Latter-day Saints, extemporaneously delivered and phonographically reported. That those who are privileged with its perusal may profit not only by the letter, but by the spirit also of the utterances herein recorded, is the earnest desire of the publisher.” – John Henry Smith

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