What things have you found yourself doing, year after year, on your baptism day?
Brigham Young was baptized on April 14, 1832. On the same date, 15 years later, he began a journey to gather the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the West. This journey of 1847 was to impact hundreds of thousands of lives for generations to come — it was to change the face of the country and the face of the kingdom of God for all time.
Shortly after the official organization of the LDS Church in April 1830, the Prophet Joseph Smith’s brother, Samuel, visited the town of Mendon, N.Y., on his missionary journeys and left a copy of the Book of Mormon with Brigham Young’s preacher-brother, Phineas, who was impressed with what he saw and passed the book on to his father. John Young said it was “the greatest work and the clearest of error he had ever seen, the Bible not excepted." His daughter, Fanny, took hold of the book, then gave it to Brigham.
“Upon the first opportunity I read the Book of Mormon,” Brigham said, “and then sought to become acquainted with the people who professed to believe it.”
He thoroughly investigated the new doctrines presented, comparing them with the scriptures in the Bible as he had known and understood them. “I examined the matter studiously for two years before I made up my mind to receive that book. I knew it was true, as well as I knew that I could see with my eyes, or feel by the touch of my fingers. Had this not been the case, I never would have embraced it to this day; it would have all been without form and comeliness to me. I wished time sufficient to prove all things for myself.”
Brigham was baptized by Elder Eleazer Miller on April 14 in the waters of his own millpond. A week later he delivered his first sermon. “After I was baptized, I wanted to thunder and roar out the gospel to the nations. It burned my bones like pent-up fire, so I commenced to preach. Nothing would satisfy me but to cry abroad to the world, what the Lord was doing in the latter days.”
He first made certain his own immediate family received of the fullness. They were all baptized — and all remained faithful, contributing Mormons throughout the trials and challenges of their own lives. Miriam, forced to wait until the weather softened, was baptized three weeks after her husband. She lived only until Sept. 8 — but she lived and died as a Latter-day Saint, tenderly cared for by her husband until her last breath.
Of his own experience in the waters of baptism, Brigham wrote: “According to the words of the Savior, I felt a humble, child-like spirit, witnessing unto me that my sins were forgiven.”
Some of us were baptized as children. But I remember, even as an 8-year-old, feeling cleansed and changed — sensing the weight and desire of something sweet and momentous upon my mind and my heart.
Brigham Young went a step further. He had proven — he had recognized the “light, intelligence, power and truth” of the spirit of the gospel. Now he was ready to act upon what he had been given. “I commenced to contract my business operations and dealings, and laid away my ledger, and notebooks, saying, ‘I shall never want you anymore.’ ”
Worldly profit was never again paramount in Brigham’s mind. From this time on he belonged to the kingdom — and the labors of the kingdom became the labors of Brigham Young. "I opened my mouth," he said, "and the Lord filled it."
There are more than 800 of Brigham’s sermons on record and they were delivered without prepared notes or text. He taught by the Spirit, he lived by the Spirit, he learned by the Spirit.
Thus, when we find him 10 years later, we find him preparing the Saints temporally and spiritually, working day and night in the temple, “not taking more than four hours sleep per day, and going home but once a week,” that the people might go forth endowed.
Despite the requirements clearly stated, Brigham reveals that 800 men arrived late in May without a fortnight’s provisions. He, himself, had come with a year’s supply for his entire family but had “fed it out,” sustaining those who had been unprepared and unwise.
But Brigham had learned his lessons well, and he knew whose servant he was. As he recorded more than once, he tried to act the part of a father to all. When he left thousands of Saints firmly established in Winter Quarters and prepared to lead the first group of pioneers to the valley that the Prophet Joseph had seen in vision, he was most certainly aware of the significance of what was taking place, and perhaps remembered this anniversary of his baptism and thought upon it.
He was not allowed to be the first to enter the valley. He came sick and weak, raising himself with difficulty upon one elbow and gazing down. Then, as he recorded in his journal, “the spirit of light rested upon me and hovered over the valley,” in confirmation and benediction.
It is our part to remember to do as well as to believe. Let our paths be marked by good works as well as good intentions. What have I grown into since I became a member of the kingdom? It is a question worth keeping uppermost in our minds — along with Brigham Youngs’s words to the early Saints and to us:
“No man will gain influence in this Kingdom, save what he gains by the influence and power of the Holy One that has called him to truth, holiness, and virtue. That is all the influence I have, and I pray God that I may never have any different influence.”
We have been called with the same sacred calling. It is ours to labor and love so that truth, holiness and virtue mark our paths — and the day of our baptism is in every way a beginning.
Sources: "Brigham Young, an Inspiring Personal Biography," by Susan Evans McCloud, Covenant, 1996; "The Faithful Young Family: The Parents, Brothers and Sisters of Brigham," by Leonard J. Arrington and JoAnn Jolley, Ensign, Aug. 10, 1980; "Journal of Brigham: Brigham Young’s Own Story In His Own Words," compiled by Leland Nelson, Council Press, 1980; "Journal of Discourses," Volumes 3, 7, 8, 9; "The Life Story of Brigham Young," Susa Young Gates and Leah Eudora Dunford Widstoe, Macmillan Co., 1931.
Susan Evans McCloud is author of more than 40 books and has published screenplays, poetry and lyrics, including two songs in the LDS hymnbook. She has six children. She blogs at susanevansmccloud.blogspot.com.