This article is part of a series on Discovering the Word of Wisdom. To view all the articles in this series, see Featured Author Jane Birch.
Last time I concluded my discussion of the 1937 classic by Apostle John A. Widtsoe and his wife, Leah D. Widtsoe, The Word of Wisdom: A Modern Interpretation. The Widtsoes wrote many other articles and even books that feature the Word of Wisdom during their long lives. They are certainly among the great Word of Wisdom pioneers!
This week, I go even further back in time to one of the Word of Wisdom giants, Hyrum Smith.
“I, the Lord, Love Him”
I have always had a tender regard for Hyrum Smith, the elder brother of the Prophet Joseph Smith. His loyal faithfulness to the Lord and to his younger brother is moving to me. Part of the love I feel for Hyrum comes from my knowledge of how Joseph felt about his brother. Joseph wrote of Hyrum, “I love him with that love that is stronger than death” (History of the Church, 2:338). Our Savior shared this love for Hyrum and said of him:
Blessed is my servant Hyrum Smith; for I, the Lord, love him because of the integrity of his heart, and because he loveth that which is right before me. (D&C 124:15)
The Savior spoke these words in 1841 in the same revelation where He also appoints Hyrum to be an Apostle and Patriarch of His Church and declares:
From this time forth I appoint unto [Hyrum] that he may be a prophet, and a seer, and a revelator unto my church, as well as my servant Joseph. (D&C 124:94)
What many people do not know about Hyrum Smith was that he was also an early Word of Wisdom pioneer. To Hyrum goes the distinction of giving not only one of the earliest recorded discourses on the Word of Wisdom (in Nauvoo, June 1842), but also one of the most profound ever delivered.
Hyrum begins his sermon by warning the Latter-day Saints that they are disregarding many of God’s commands by following their old traditions. But “every word of God is of importance,” he declares, and truths like the Word of Wisdom are “pure principles of eternal truth which God had given by revelation for the salvation of the human family.”
Below I quote at length as Hyrum expounds on the pure principles of the Word of Wisdom. As you read Hyrum’s words, it may be helpful to think about any foods we typically eat that are not quite “wholesome” or that you suspect may not be wholly in keeping with the counsel in D&C 89. I daresay the wisdom Hyrum shares is as much needed in our day as it was in 1842.
Hyrum Smith on the Word of Wisdom*
“The God of the armies of Israel is a wise God, he comprehended the end from the beginning, and adapted his plans . . . to the peculiar wants, the local situation, the exigencies of mankind; and the present and future good of the human family; and every thing that he has deigned to notice by way of instruction to the children of men, is given by infinite wisdom . . . and if obeyed, when his designs shall be fully unraveled, it will be seen that there was wisdom in it beyond the comprehension of man in his present state.
“When God first made man upon the earth, he was a different being entirely to what he now is; his body was strong; athletic, robust, and healthy; his days were prolonged upon the earth; he lived nearly one thousand years, his mind was vigorous and active, and his intellectual faculties clear and comprehensive, but he has become degenerated; his life has dwindled to a span; disease preys upon his system; his body is enervated and feeble; and his mental and intellectual faculties are impaired, and weakened; and man is not now that dignified, noble, majestic, honorable, and mighty being that he was when he first proceeded from the hands of his maker.
“The Lord has in his wise designs revealed unto us his will; he has told us as he did his ancient prophets that the ‘earth shall be redeemed—that the curse shall be removed from it—that the wolf and the lamb shall lie down together—that the lion shall eat straw like the ox;—and that they shall not hurt nor destroy—that the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth, as the waters covers the sea’—that man’s days shall be as the ‘days of a tree,’ that he shall again live one thousand years on the earth—this is the ‘time of the restoration of all things,’ and this has got to be brought about by the wisdom and power of God, and the wisdom, obedience and faith of man combined.
“Every thing has become degenerated from what it was in its primitive state; ‘God made man pure, but he has found out many inventions:’ his vices have become innumerable, and his diseases multiplied; his taste had become vitiated, and his judgment impaired; he has fallen—fallen—fallen, from that dignified state that he once occupied on the earth; and it needs a restorative that man has not in his possession—wisdom which is beyond the reach of human intellect;—and power which human philosophy, talent and ingenuity cannot control.
“God only is acquainted with the fountain of action, and the main springs of human events; he knows where disease is seated, and what is the cause of it;—he is also acquainted with the spring of health; the balm of Gilead—of life; he knows what course to pursue to restore mankind to their pristine excellency and primitive vigor, and health; and he has appointed the Word of Wisdom as one of the engines to bring about this thing, to remove the beastly appetites, the murderous disposition and the vitiated taste of man; to restore his body to health, and vigor, promote peace between him and the brute creation…
“The Lord has told us what is good for us to eat, and to drink, and what is pernicious; but some of our wise philosophers, and some of our elders too, pay no regard to it; they think it too little, too foolish, for wise men to regard fools! where is their wisdom, philosophy and intelligence? from whence did they obtain their superior light? Their capacity, and their power of reasoning was given them by the great Jehovah: if they have any wisdom they obtained it from his: and have they grown so much wiser than God that they are going to instruct him in the path of duty, and to tell him what is wise, and what is foolish? They think it too small for him to condescend to tell men what will be nutritious or what will be unhealthy.
“Who made the corn, the wheat, the rye, and all the vegetable substances? and who was it that organized man, and constituted him as he is found? who made his stomach, and his digestive organs, and prepared proper nutriment for his system, that the juices of his body might be supplied; and his form be invigorated by that kind of food which the laws of nature, and the laws of God has said would be good for man? And has God made his food, and provided it for the use of man; and shall he be ashamed to speak of the work of his hands: has he become so fantastical, so foolish, so weak and effeminate, that it has become impolitic for him to tell what is the best distribution to make of the work of his hands?
“Oh shame! let it not be heard among the saints; let that man who inculcates such principles hide his face. We are told by some that circumstances alter the revelations of God—tell me what circumstances would alter the ten commandments? they were given by revelation—given as a law to the children of Israel;—who has a right to alter that law?
“Some think that they are too small for us to notice, they are not too small for God to notice, and have we got so high, so bloated out, that we cannot condescend to notice things that God has ordained for our benefit? or have we got so weak that we are not fit to be called saints? for the Word of Wisdom is adapted to the capacity of all that ‘are or can be called saints.’ Listen not to the teaching of any man, or any elder who says the Word of Wisdom is of no moment; for such a man will eventually be overthrown….
“The Lord has told us that ‘Strong drinks are not good,’ who is it that will say they are? when the Lord says they are not. That man who says ‘I can drink wine or strong drink, and it will not hurt me,’ is not wise. But some will say, ‘I know it did me good, for I was fatigued, and feeble, on a certain occasion, and it revived me, and I was invigorated thereby, and that is sufficient proof for me:’
“It may be for you, but it would not be for a wise man . . . you know that you are benefited, yes, so does the man who has mortgaged his property, know that he is relieved from his present embarrassments; but his temporary relief only binds the chords of bondage more severely around him. . . . Why is it that we are frequently so dull and languid? it is because we break the Word of Wisdom, disease preys upon our system, our understandings are darkened, and we do not comprehend the things of God; the devil takes advantage of us, and we fall into temptation. . . .
“’And again, verily I say unto you, all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature and use of man. Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof. All these to be used with prudence and thank giving. Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I the Lord hath ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving.
“Nevertheless, they are to be used sparingly; and it is pleasing unto me, that they should not be used only in times of winter or of cold, or famine. All grain is ordained for the use of man, and of beasts, to be the staff of life, not only for man, but for the beasts of the field, and the fowls of heaven, and all wild animals that run or creep on the earth; and these hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine, and excess of hunger.’
“Let men attend to these instructions, let them use the things ordained of God; let them be sparing of the life of animals; ‘it is pleasing saith the Lord that flesh be used only in times of winter, or of famine’—and why to be used in famine? because all domesticated animals would naturally die, and may as well be made use of by man, as not . . .
“Let these things be adhered to; let the saints be wise; let us lay aside our folly and abide by the commandments of God; so shall we be blessed of the great Jehovah in time and in eternity: we shall be healthy, strong and vigorous: we shall be enabled to resist disease; and wisdom will crown our councils, and our bodies will become strong and powerful, our progeny will become mighty, and will rise up and call us blessed.”
What impressed you about Hyrum’s sermon? What do you find particularly relevant for us in our day? Please share your thoughts in a comment below or contact me.
For more help on embracing a healthy Word of Wisdom diet, see: “Getting Started on a Whole Food, Plant-based Word of Wisdom Diet”
Next Time in “Discovering the Word of Wisdom”
Continuing my exploration of early Word of Wisdom pioneers, next time I’ll be sharing excerpts from more 19th century Latter-day Saints. What I find so remarkable about their insights into the Word of Wisdom is that they are so relevant to our situation today, even though the dietary changes needed in our day may be quite different.
Jane Birch is the author of Discovering the Word of Wisdom: Surprising Insights from a Whole Food, Plant-based Perspective (2013) and many articles on the Word of Wisdom. She can be contacted on her website, Discovering the Word of Wisdom.
*Reference: Hyrum Smith, “The Word of Wisdom,” Times and Seasons 3, no. 15 (June 1, 1842): 799–801.