In researching and writing on the lives of our past latter-day apostles, there are a few things that have stood out to me. One is the development of the Church itself and how it is truly a living church (see D&C 1:30). Many of the policies and procedures that we take for granted today have evolved over the decades as issues and circumstances have dictated.
Another item is the nature of the apostles themselves. While these were great, spiritual men open to visions and revelations from God, they were also very human in disposition and attributes. These two major elements—the evolving of the Church, and the spiritual/human nature of the apostles—are portrayed in the following episodes.
At Winter Quarters in December of 1847, the Twelve met to reorganize the First Presidency. At this meeting, the voice of the Lord was heard declaring: “Let my servant Brigham Young step forth and receive the full power of the presiding Priesthood in my Church and Kingdom.” Neighbors, feeling the ground tremble and their homes shake, came running, thinking there had been an earthquake, wherein they were told by an apostle that the voice of God had reached the earth.
William E. McLellin was excommunicated in May of 1838, remaining antagonistic toward the Church for the remainder of his life. However, three years before his death, he wrote to T. J. Cobb: “I have set to my seal that the Book of Mormon is a true, divine record and it well require more evidence than I have ever seen to ever shake me relative to its purity. . . . Fight the wrongs of L.D.S.ism as much as you please, but let that unique, that inimitable book alone .”
Both Luke and Lyman Johnson were excommunicated from the Church April 13, 1838. While Lyman died outside the Church, his brother Luke returned to be part of the original Pioneer Company and settled in Tooele County where he served as bishop, probate judge and doctor.
In 1895, when statehood for Utah was apparent, Apostle Moses Thatcher and B. H. Roberts of the Seventy ran for the US Congress. Neither had counseled with the First Presidency before doing so. Consequently, President Woodruff issued the “Political Manifesto” which stated that when a General Authority seeks a position that will take him away from his Church duties, he must first get permission from the President.
Moses Thatcher would not sign the Political Manifesto (see no. 4), feeling, in part, that it infringed upon his political freedom. Consequently he was dropped from the Twelve, though he remained a faithful member of the Church throughout his life.
Following the death of Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow went before the Lord in prayer in the Salt Lake Temple. There, the Lord appeared to him personally and informed him that he must reorganize the First Presidency immediately and not wait as had been done upon the death of previous presidents. This has been the precedent ever since.
Upon the death of Lorenzo Snow, a discussion arose over seniority. Brigham Young Jr. was ordained an apostle (1864) two years before Joseph F. Smith (1866), but Joseph F. Smith was sustained in the Quorum of Twelve (1867) a year before Brigham Young Jr. (1868). It was determined that seniority was based upon sustaining to the Quorum of Twelve. Thus Joseph F. Smith was sustained as president of the Church, and Young as president of the Twelve.
Shortly after settling in the Salt Lake Valley, Albert Carrington was employed as a member of Captain Stansbury’s party of US Topographical Engineers in surveying the Great Salt Lake. Following the survey, he was entrusted to carry the records to Washington, D C., where he spent the winter of 1850-51 helping prepare the maps and records for publication. In honor of his work, one of the major islands in the Great Salt Lake bears his name—Carrington Island.
Moses Thatcher was baptized at the age of 14. At the age of 15 he was ordained an elder and called on a mission. Though having little education, he found that under the influence of the Spirit he could sometimes speak for an hour, quoting scriptures word for word, which he had never seen before, the words appearing before his spiritual eyes and he reading them as if from an open book.
John Henry Smith once asked Brigham Young who he should follow in case of Brigham’s death. He was told to follow the Twelve in order of ordination, baring Orson Hyde and Orson Pratt. It was John’s given understanding that no man who had faltered and then turned back, could lead the Church.
When only nine years of age and knowing nothing of the Mormon Church, young Marriner Merrill was shown his future life in an open vision. He saw the Church, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, the Saints migration west, the doctrine of plural marriage, the development of the Church and the persecutions he would have to go through. A voice told him that he should speak of the vision to no one.
Rudger Clawson was the first practicing polygamist to be convicted and sentenced after passage of the Edmunds Acts. Being the first, he received the harshest sentence, remaining imprisoned as other convicted polygamists came and went. He was eventually pardoned by Grover Cleveland after a little over three years. But he never murmured or complained.
J. Reuben Clark Jr. served as first counselor to Presidents Heber J. Grant and George Albert Smith. When David O. McKay became President, he called Clark as his Second Counselor. Such a demotion had never before occurred and left the Twelve stunned. But at General Conference, President Clark stated his now famous words, “In the service of the Lord, it is not where you serve but how. . . .” These words have since become the standard for Church members in the service of the Lord.
Just prior to his death, Elder Alonzo Hinckley was visited on three successive nights by his father who had been dead for over thirty years. His father told him that he needed him on the other side of the veil. Alonzo argued that he had work to do in this life, but by the third visit from his father, he was reconciled to his death.
While studying law, young Matthew Cowley worked as a special assistant to Senator (Apostle) Reed Smoot. His experiences in Washington, D. C. led him to record in his journal: “How bold men in politics are when their incumbency in office is about to terminate. It seems that it is then only that they will say what they really believe and not confine their remarks to the pleasure of their constituents. Love for public office tends to make cowards of men.”
Confined to his home due to illness, Elder Hugh B. Brown confided to his visiting nephew, President N. Elder Tanner, that the Savior had visited him in a very informal manner, the same as President Tanner was them sitting and talking with him. The Savior commented on Elder Brown having had a very difficult life, but told him that if he remained faithful, everything would be all right.
Howard W. Hunter was an accomplished musician. He has perfect pitch and learned to play several instruments: piano, violin, trumpet, saxophone, clarinet and drums. Graduating from high school, his band, the Croonaders, contracted to play on a cruise ship to the Orient.
As an infantryman in the battle of Okinawa, Neal Maxwell found his mortar squad under attack, one shell striking within five feet of his foxhole. Pleading with God for protection, he promised to dedicate his life to the Lord. The shelling suddenly stopped. Elder Maxwell kept of photograph of that “sacred spot” in his office as a continual reminder of his indebtedness to the Lord.
Want to learn more? Take a look at “Witnesses of Christ,” Brother Houck’s book that helps us all discover the men beneath the mantle. It features biographical portraits of all 82 modern-day Apostles. With little-known stories and all the facts, you can get to know these devoted men as you never have before. Perfect as a reference for seminary, Sunday School, family home evening, and personal scripture study, this book brings Church history to life.
Jerry Houck worked for 40 years with the CES, and helped write student manuals. He was the Chairman of the Church writing committee for Teaching of the Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay. He and his wife served as supervisors in the LDS Conference Center Hosting Services. Their tour guides passed portraits to all the deceased Apostles of this dispensation, yet they knew nothing about them, so Houck decided to research and write brief biographies of each of these brethren.