Have you ever had an experience in which your life changed course, permanently and positively? In these pivotal moments when the threads of your life come together and strengthen you, when you are given power beyond your own to move forward, you can become more confident and trusting in your own faith. Reading Jennifer Mackley’s book Wilford Woodruff’s Witness: The Development of Temple Doctrine was one of these moments for me.
Timeless and Timely
While engulfed in the pages, I began to see our pioneer heritage unfold in my mind, bringing a feeling of closeness to those pioneer children, youth, women, and men. We too are a part of today’s village of Saints traveling through perilous times and over rocky ridges together. Together today and together across generations.
Jennifer has captured Wilford Woodruff in a way that only fifteen years of research can produce. Wilford Woodruff’s Witness provides depth to and insight about temple doctrine, the Saints’ journey, and hardship. It spans decades of great spiritual, political, and economic discovery and trial. It covers the beginning of this last dispensation when the leaders of our Church had to be indefatigable. And we have personal insight to all of these historically significant events because of Wilford Woodruff.
Cover of Enhanced Second Edition of Wilford Woodruff’s Witness: The Development of Temple Doctrine
Wilford began keeping personal journals in 1833—a practice that continued for over 60 years until his death in 1898. It wasn’t until 1974 that his journals were rediscovered in an old trunk by his great-granddaughter.1 These treasures are now available for the first time online; they have been digitized, transcribed, and contextualized, and they are searchable at www.wilfordwoodruffpapers.org thanks to the dedicated individuals working with the Wilford Woodruff Papers Project. These journals and his other records are a gift to the rising generation, available worldwide to everyone seeking answers and desiring to build their faith in Jesus Christ.
Faith and Imperfection
Wilford Woodruff’s Witness is a powerful complement to these journals and the other documents Wilford kept, giving insight into how his recordkeeping continues to bless us today. And, to me, it was more than just a book—it was an experience. At the time that I read it, some of the active spiritual threads in my life included finding my adoption records and discovering the identity of my birth mother. My wife and I were also praying sincerely to know the will of the Lord for us in a new life stage living 2,185 miles from our home of twenty-three years in California. We had been through some trying times, which reached a crescendo with the passing of four family members and two dear friends in just fourteen weeks. As I delved into the book, a personal message of authenticity and hope was conveyed to me: faith and imperfection, move forward in faith and accept your imperfections.
Working Together by Olinda H. Reynolds.
Wilford Woodruff’s Witness illustrates countless examples of our pioneer ancestors and leaders relentlessly moving forward with faith despite imperfection. En route to a funeral in Salt Lake City, my wife and I stopped at Winter Quarters, Nebraska, and had a powerful spiritual moment that changed the course of our lives and gave us strength. Standing in front of the “Tragedy of Winter Quarters” monument, we looked down and felt the words engraved in stone: “Gird up your loins; fresh courage take. Our God will never us forsake.”2 We both instantly knew the Lord was with us on our journey; we were in the right place at the right time.
Wilford also knew that the Lord was with him on his difficult journey. He described multiple life-threatening situations, summarizing, “I have been a marked victim as an attack for the power of the destroyer from my infancy up to the present day.” He continued, “I have faced accident, misfortune, and apparently death so many times . . . that there has seemed to be two powers constantly watching me and at work with me: one to kill and the other to save me.” This is the truth of our modern day as well, with its variety of “attractions” that threaten to limit or kill our spiritual growth and destroy our happiness.
Wilford concluded, “Thus far the power to save me and preserve my life has prevailed. How long I shall be blessed with this preserving power and care, time must determine.”3 It was easy for me to relate to Wilford. Haven’t we all been threatened, challenged, blessed, and preserved? Wilford used straightforward language to describe his experience, and his pioneer-style clarity is refreshing. Even more refreshing is his confidence in the power of God to preserve his life and give him strength—a power that we have access to in our challenges as well.
In Wilford Woodruff’s Witness, Jennifer opens a channel for us to receive personal insight. She explains: “I have chosen to emphasize the more personal side of Wilford’s historically significant life to convey the depth of his sacrifices for the things he believed, the importance he placed on the redemption of his extended family—both living and dead—and the impact this focus had on his daily pursuits.”4 It is this personal focus that I could relate to so much when experiencing the book.
After attending a funeral in Salt Lake City, my wife and I returned to the Winter Quarters Nebraska Temple; we had the sweet experience of performing the endowment work for my birth mother on a beautiful spring day just following Mother’s Day. Wilford Woodruff also had a sweet experience in Winter Quarters. He recorded, “This was an interesting day to the Camp of Israel. At an early hour the band of music entered my carriage and rode through the city of Winter Quarters playing so sweetly that it rent the air.”5 It is amazing to consider that Wilford Woodruff and I both have a piece of personal history in Winter Quarters.
Whenever I think of that place it comes to life with imagery and emotion. I can see the pioneers in their day, along with our recent temple experience, and sit for a few minutes with deep gratitude for their enduring faith and for the providence of our Savior. The book bridges generations and deepened my appreciation for temple doctrine.
Winter Quarters by C. C. A. Christensen
Temple doctrine and the work that ensued was one of Wilford’s highest priorities. On June 20, 1875, he recorded, “Glory Hallelujah for this day! For in spite of the Devil, through the blessing of God, I have had the privilege this day of going into the Endowment House and with my family have been baptized for 949 . . . of my dead relatives and friends.”6
Acts of Faith
Wilford, Brigham, and other leaders were bold practitioners of the faith as well. Jennifer writes, “During a Joint Session of both houses of the [Utah] Legislature . . . a motion was made for all members of the Legislature to repent of their sins and go to the Endowment House font and be baptized for the remission of their sins. The motion was carried unanimously and all fifty-five members of the Legislature met at the font that evening at 6:00 p.m.
In his journal Wilford stated the obvious: ‘This was a new feature in Legislation.’ He then explained, ‘We believed that if we could get the spirit of God we could do business faster and better than with the spirit of the Devil or the spirit of the world.’ ”7 It’s now 2022, and this statement has never been more relevant—I will cast my vote for all of us to repent and “get the spirit of God”!
Wilford Woodruff’s Witness highlights seemingly small acts of faith that prove yet again how “by small and simple things are great things brought to pass,”8 like journal keeping for example. As a journal keeper myself, I appreciate Wilford’s candid description of his experience. “I have been inspired and moved upon to keep a Journal and write the affairs of this Church as far as I can.”9 He continued, “You may say that this is a great deal of trouble. Very well it has been. It has occupied nearly every leisure moment of my time. But what of it? I have never spent any of my time more profitably for the benefit of mankind than in my journal writing.”10
Journal keeping and other seemingly small acts of faith can be time consuming and even “a great deal of trouble,” as Wilford noted, but they always enhance our life if we follow through. It is both motivating and reassuring to know the small and simple things we do in righteousness yield great rewards. The small and simple act of reading this book offered both strength and doctrinal insight. It also provided another timeless connection to our pioneer heritage.
Wilford Woodruff Papers Foundation Co-Founders: Jennifer Ann Mackley and Donald W. Parry
The Wilford Woodruff Papers Foundation
After publishing Wilford Woodruff’s Witness, Jennifer wanted the whole world to have access to all of Wilford Woodruff’s documents, so she and Donald W. Parry co-founded the Wilford Woodruff Papers Foundation. The Foundation’s mission statement to “digitally preserve and publish Wilford Woodruff’s eyewitness account of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ from 1833 to 1898” is impressive. However, I am most impressed by the Foundation’s purpose, which is “to inspire all people, especially the rising generation, to study and increase their faith in Jesus Christ, understand and honor sacred temple covenants, and thereby receive the blessings of exaltation with their families.”11 Today, the Foundation is living true to their focus on the rising generation with 70% of their staff being under the age of thirty!
Just as I am encouraged by the rising generation’s active role in this work, I am motivated by Wilford Woodruff’s tenacity and endurance, and by the spiritual power these attributes brought into his life. Balancing the load of daily living with the experience of our ancestors and their faith in Christ is a proven way to invoke the power of personal revelation along our own life’s trail. I feel grateful to have a deeper connection with our pioneer heritage and temple doctrine because of this book and because of Wilford Woodruff’s experience. We all need to experience for ourselves the history of past generations and the personal messages those generations will convey to us through the Spirit. Take a few days to enjoy this wonderful account of Wilford Woodruff’s amazing life.
To learn more about Wilford Woodruff’s Witness: The Development of Temple Doctrine, visit book.wilfordwoodruffpapers.org. Book sale proceeds benefit the Wilford Woodruff Papers Project.
Ed is a dynamic and innovative executive focused on strategic marketing techniques and cutting-edge technology. He has worked with large public companies, private ventures, and startup organizations. Ed started his career at Accenture and spent the next 25 years serving as President/COO/GM of companies such as Kronos and FIS – SunGard Data Systems. He currently serves as the President of the Wilford Woodruff Papers Foundation. Ed and his wife, Becky, are the parents of three children and currently live in Cincinnati, Ohio.
The Building Latter-Day Faith Conference, sponsored by the Wilford Woodruff Papers Foundation, will be held March 4, 2023 at BYU. Please join us to be inspired by art and presentations based on Wilford Woodruff’s account of the Restoration. Registration is open to all and scholarships to attend are available for students. More information can be found at 2023.wilfordwoodruffpapers.org.
Some original text has been edited for clarity and readability.
- Carolyn Woodruff Owen, Stephen Woodruff Owen, “Treasure Box,” interview by James Dalrymple, Wilford Woodruff Papers, February 28, 2021, wilfordwoodruffpapers.org/treasure-box.
- “Come, Come, Ye Saints,” Hymns, no. 30, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
- Jennifer Ann Mackley, Wilford Woodruff’s Witness: The Development of Temple Doctrine (Seattle: High Desert Publishing, 2021), p. 1.
- Mackley, Wilford Woodruff’s Witness, p. ix.
- Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, February 5, 1847, p. 18, Wilford Woodruff Papers, wilfordwoodruffpapers.org/journal/1847-02-05.
- Mackley, Wilford Woodruff’s Witness, pp. 152–153.
- Mackley, Wilford Woodruff’s Witness, p. 136.
- Alma 37:6.
- Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, March 17, 1857, p. 210, Wilford Woodruff Papers, wilfordwoodruffpapers.org/journal/1857-03-17.
- Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, March 17, 1857, p. 211, Wilford Woodruff Papers, wilfordwoodruffpapers.org/journal/1857-03-17.
- Mission, Wilford Woodruff Papers, wilfordwoodruffpapers.org/mission.