Tag Archives: John Taylor

Key Free Doctrinal Works: A Reading List from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism

I recently stumbled on the Encyclopedia of Mormonism’s list of books that “have made significant contributions to the understanding of doctrine.” It’s an interesting reading list–if you want a thorough grounding in Mormon doctrine through the ages, these are the books–and naturally it lines up well with what people have chosen to get up on Project Gutenberg.

Here’s the pre-1923 (i.e. out of copyright) portion of that list, with links to PG for the works we’ve completed:

Read these books!

New Release: “Items on the Priesthood” by John Taylor

This 1881 pamphlet by President John Taylor contains an early, authoritative doctrinal discussion of the role of bishops in the Church, which, in context, is more significant than it might appear at first blush.

As any careful reader of the Doctrine and Covenants will be aware, bishops with various duties were called early in Church history, but the office of bishop was not a Church standard for local lay ecclesiastical leaders. The history of the office is actually somewhat convoluted; in the early Utah period it seems there were simultaneously traveling bishops, a presiding bishop, and local bishops whose responsibilities overlapped with local presidents of the Melchizedek priesthood. Some confusion and conflict resulted, so towards the end of Brigham Young’s life he directed the institution of a more or less modern structure of wards and stakes, with recognizably modern bishoprics. This was announced in an Orson Pratt address in 1877. (I’m drawing most of this history from a fascinating Dialogue article and the Encyclopedia of Mormonism.)

Then, in 1881, John Taylor issued this pamphlet as a (perhaps the) definitive doctrinal explanation of the doctrine of the bishopric, with the following preface:

As there is more or less uncertainty existing in the minds of many of the Bishops and others in regard to the proper status and authority of the Bishopric and what is denominated the “Aaronic or Levitical” Priesthood, I thought it best to lay before the brethren a general statement of the subject, as contained in the Bible and Book of Doctrine and Covenants.

The following views have been submitted to the Council of the Twelve and have received their sanction; they were also laid before the Priesthood Meeting at the Semi-Annual Conference, held in the Assembly Hall, Salt Lake City, October 9th, A. D. 1880, and were unanimously accepted by the large body of Priesthood present on that occasion.

As you read the body of the pamphlet, it will seem familiar, but the key thing to realize is that this is one of the first detailed doctrinal statements on the bishopric that would seem so familiar to a modern reader. Furthermore, it was issued by the prophet and sustained in a general conference and by the Twelve, so it has checked off most of the key requirements for canonization. Given all this, it’s as close as we have (at least that I know of) to a scriptural explanation of exactly how all the pieces of the modern doctrine of the bishopric fit together. It sure seems like it should be better-known. Anyways, have a read.

Many thanks to Samuel Shreeve, our lone intern from Utah State University, for producing this e-book. It’s being released mid-week because, thanks to the wrap-up phase of the internship program, we already have another whole book to release this weekend and even more on the horizon. Keep an eye out for more releases.

Excerpt: John Taylor on socialism and French philosophy

The Icarians, a French socialist group, established a commune in Nauvoo after the departure of the saints. On his mission to France, John Taylor discussed the gospel with one of their leaders and took a rather dim view of both socialism and French philosophy in general. B. H. Roberts, in The Life of John Taylor (which we recently released on Project Gutenberg), writes the following:

Shortly after the discussion Elder Taylor left Boulogne for Paris, where he began studying the French language, and teaching the gospel. Among the interesting people whom he met there was M. Krolokoski, a disciple of M. Fourier, the distinguished French socialist. M. Krolokoski was a gentleman of some standing, being the editor of a paper published in Paris in support of Fourier’s views. Another thing which makes the visit of this gentleman to Elder Taylor interesting is the fact that it was the society to which he belonged that sent M. Cabet to Nauvoo with the French Icarians, to establish a community on Fourier’s principles. At his request Elder Taylor explained to him the leading principles of the gospel. At the conclusion of that explanation the following conversation occurred:

M. Krolokoski.—”Mr. Taylor, do you propose no other plan to ameliorate the condition of mankind than that of baptism for the remission of sins?”

Elder Taylor.—”This is all I propose about the matter.”

M. Krolokoski.—”Well, I wish you every success; but I am afraid you will not succeed.”

Elder Taylor.—”Monsieur Krolokoski, you sent Monsieur Cabet to Nauvoo, some time ago. He was considered your leader—the most talented man you had. He went to Nauvoo shortly after we had deserted it. Houses and lands could be obtained at a mere nominal sum. Rich farms were deserted, and thousands of us had left our houses and furniture in them, and almost everything calculated to promote the happiness of man was there. Never could a person go to a place under more happy circumstances. Besides all the advantages of having everything made ready to his hand, M. Cabet had a select company of colonists. He and his company went to Nauvoo—what is the result? I read in all your reports from there—published in your own paper here, in Paris, a continued cry for help. The cry is money, money! We want money to help us carry out our designs. While your colony in Nauvoo with all the advantages of our deserted fields and homes—that they had only to move into—have been dragging out a miserable existence, the Latter-day Saints, though stripped of their all and banished from civilized society into the valleys of the Rocky Mountains, to seek that protection among savages—among the peau rouges as you call our Indians—which Christian civilization denied us—there our people have built houses, enclosed lands, cultivated gardens, built school-houses, and have organized a government and are prospering in all the blessings of civilized life. Not only this, but they have sent thousands and thousands of dollars over to Europe to assist the suffering poor to go to America, where they might find an asylum.

“The society I represent, M. Krolokoski,” he continued, “comes with the fear of God—the worship of the Great Eloheim; we offer the simple plan ordained of God, viz: repentance, baptism for the remission of sins, and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. Our people have not been seeking the influence of the world, nor the power of government, but they have obtained both. Whilst you, with your philosophy, independent of God, have been seeking to build up a system of communism and a government which is, according to your own accounts, the way to introduce the Millennial reign. Now, which is the best, our religion, or your philosophy?”

M. Krolokoski.—”Well, Mr. Taylor, I can say nothing.”

“Philosophy” has always been a passion with the French; but Elder Taylor seems not to have had a very high regard for what he saw of it among them. He held it in the same esteem that Paul did the “science” of the Greeks—he considered it a misnomer—philosophy, falsely so called.

One day in walking through the splendid grounds of the Fardin des Plantes with a number of friends, one of the party purchased a curious kind of cake, so thin and light, that you could blow it away, and eat all day of it and still not be satisfied. Some one of the company asked Elder Taylor if he knew the name of it. “No,” he replied, “I don’t know the proper name; but in the absence of one, I can give it a name—I will call it French philosophy, or fried froth, which ever you like.”

B. H. Roberts reviews John Taylor’s “Mediation and Atonement”

B. H. Roberts’ The Life of John Taylor, which we just released, contains this discussion of Taylor’s An Examination Into and an Elucidation of the Great Principle of the Mediation and Atonement of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (available on PG). The rest of this post consists of an extract from Chapter 42 of the former:

In the main, it is a collection of scriptural passages bearing upon the subject, brought together from both ancient and modern revelations, and arranged in such manner as to develop the necessity, sufficiency, efficacy, glory, power and completeness of the atonement made by Messiah, for the sins of the world. It is not a work ambitious of displaying literary skill, or written with a view to meet the shallow and trifling objections urged against this great, central fact of the gospel by glib-tongued infidels and repeated without thought by their apish followers. It was the object of the author to bring together all the testimonies to be found in holy writ on this subject, as well in modern as in ancient scripture; and most admirably did he succeed, linking the testimonies together with such remarks as make their meanings and bearings clear, and increase the value of the original passages. The student of the great subject of the atonement, will find in President Taylor’s work a most valuable collection of material for his consideration.

In chapter XXIII he will also find a most valuable reference to the doctrine of evolution as believed in by the Darwinian school of philosophers–a school of philosophy which professes to trace living phenomena to their origin, and which, if it were true, would at once destroy the doctrine of the Atonement.

In the appendix to the work, also will be found some interesting information in relation to the ideas of a general atonement and redemption entertained by the ancient heathen nations, traces of which may still be found in the traditions of their descendants. From these facts some noted infidel writers have sought to make it appear that the Christian doctrine of the atonement was derived from the heathens; but President Taylor clearly proves that the heathens originally derived their knowledge of these things from the earlier servants of God, and have preserved those truths, though in a mutilated form, in their traditions. “Exhibiting,” as President Taylor writes, “that the atonement was a great plan of the Almighty for the salvation, redemption and exaltation of the human family; and that the pretenders in the various ages, had drawn whatever of truth they possessed, from the knowledge of those principles taught by the priesthood from the earliest periods of recorded time; instead of Christianity being indebted, as some late writers would allege, to the turbid system of heathen mythology, and to pagan ceremonies.”

New release: B. H. Roberts’ “The Life of John Taylor”

Get it here on Project Gutenberg,. Here’s a contemporary blurb from the back of the 1895 first edition of A New Witness for God, also by Roberts:


Third President of the Church of Jesus Christ, in the Dispensation of the Fullnes of Times, is a handsome volume of four hundred and sixty-eight pages, and containing ten illustrations finely executed, and the portrait of President John Taylor as the frontispiece. These are all well executed, and the steel engraving of the subject of the work is a striking and pleasing likeness.

Deseret News:–“The literary ability displayed in the book is to be highly commended. The volume is from the pen of Elder B. H. Roberts, and he has treated his theme in an able manner. The interest of the readers is maintained throughout. The life of President Taylor abounded with incidents of uncommon import. They are presented in forcible and pleasing style. The language is simple yet eloquent, and not overloaded with rhetoric.” Price, full cloth, $2.50; half leather, $3.00; full leather, $4.00; Morrocco, extra gilt, $5.00.

Sadly, no Morrocco extra gilt for you guys, but at least the price is right, and the book really is remarkable. John Taylor too often ends up known as “the one after Brigham Young,” but as Roberts says in his preface,

Justice to the character and labors of John Taylor demanded that his life be written. The annals of the Church could not be recorded without devoting large space to the part he took in her affairs; but no notice of his life and labors, however extended in a general history, could do justice to his great career: for of course there is much in that career peculiar to himself, and of a character, too, to make it worthy of a separate volume.

It really is a great book. I’ll be posting a some fun excerpts over the next few weeks, including stuff related to communism, Indian attacks, and the Relief Society.

B. H. Roberts reviews John Taylor’s “The Government of God”

B. H. Roberts’ The Life of John Taylor discusses Taylor’s “masterpiece” The Government of God (available on PG). The rest of this post consists of an extract from Chapter 26 of the former.

It was while he [Taylor] was on this French and German mission, too, that he wrote his admirable work “The Government of God,” a book of some two hundred pages. The author defines the kingdom of God to be the government of God, on the earth, or in the heavens; and then in his first two chapters proceeds to place the magnificence, harmony, beauty and strength of the government of God, as seen throughout the universe, in contrast with the meanness, confusion and weakness of the government of men.

It is a bold picture he draws in each case; one displaying the intelligence, the light, the glory, the beneficence and power of God; the other the ignorance, the folly, the littleness and imbecility of man. The great evils, both national and individual which He depicts with such vividness, the author maintains are beyond the power of human agency to correct. “They are diseases,” he remarks, “that have been generating for centuries; that have entered into the vitals of all institutions, religious and political, that have prostrated the powers and energies of all bodies politic, and left the world to groan under them, for they are evils that exist in church and state, at home and abroad; among Jew and Gentile, Christian, Pagan and Mahometan; king, prince, courtier and peasant; like the deadly simoon, they have paralyzed the energies, broken the spirits, damped the enterprise, corrupted the morals and crushed the hopes of the world. * * * No power on this side of heaven can correct this evil. It is a world that is degenerated, and it requires a God to put it right.”

The author then rather hurriedly reviews the incompetency of the means made use of by man to regenerate the world; showing that neither the Roman Catholic nor Greek churches, though having full sway in some countries, and backed by national and even international power, have been able to make happy, prosperous, unselfish and righteous those countries whose destinies they have directed; and being unable to accomplish these desirable objects in the nations where their power has been supreme, the author argues that they would be unsuccessful in regenerating the world should their dominion be universal.

Nor is our author more hopeful that the reformed churches, the Protestants, would be any more successful than the Greek and Roman churches have been. So far Protestantism has but increased division, and multiplied strife without changing materially the moral and spiritual condition of the world.

Turning from those who would regenerate the world through the medium of Christianity–a false, a corrupted Christianity, for such is the so-called Christian religion of the churches above mentioned–turning from these to those who would take their destiny into their own hands, and who, either denying the existence of God or ignoring His right to direct in the affairs of men, seek by their own wisdom to establish institutions for the amelioration of mankind, our author remarks:

“If skepticism is to be the basis of the happiness of man, we shall be in a poor situation to improve the world. It is practical infidelity that has placed the world in its present condition; how far the unblushing profession of it will lead to restoration and happiness, I must leave my readers to judge. It is our departure from God that has brought upon us all our misery. It is not a very reasonable way to alleviate it by confirming mankind is skepticism.”

Neither has man been able to devise any form of government that is a panacea for the numerous ills with which the world is cursed. Poverty, iniquity, crime, injustice, greed, pride, lust, oppression, exist in republics as well as in kingdoms or empires; in limited monarchies as well as in those that are absolute. Our author maintains that neither religion nor philosophy, the church nor the state, nor education nor all of these combined, as they exist among men, are sufficient to regenerate the world; “our past failures,” he writes, “make it evident that any future effort, with the same means, would be useless.”

The author then proceeds to discuss the questions–What is man? What his destiny and relationship to God? The object of his existence on the earth, his relationship thereto; and his accountability to God. To say that Elder Taylor treats these grave questions with marked ability is unnecessary.

He then deals with God’s course in the moral government of the world; and then of the question–“Whose right is it to govern the world?” He clearly proves that it is God’s right, basing that right on the fact that God created it–that it is His; and He, and they to whom He delegates His power are the only ones who have legitimate authority to govern it. But men have usurped authority; they have taken the management of affairs, so far as they have the power into their own hands; they have rejected God and his counsels; and, as a consequence, the evils and corruptions of which all nations and peoples are sick follow.

This leads him to the question: Will man always be permitted to usurp authority over his fellow-men, and over the works of God? He answers in the negative. It would be unreasonable, unjust, unscriptural–contrary to the promises of God–and would frustrate His designs in the creation of the world. No, the time must come when the moral world, like the physical universe, shall be under the direction of the Almighty, and God’s will be done on earth as it is done in heaven. The manner in which this is to be brought about, the peace, prosperity, happiness and general blessedness which are to follow the establishment of the government of God on earth, are the subjects of his concluding chapters.

Such, in brief, is an outline of this fine work–Elder Taylor’s masterpiece! A work which is sufficient at once to establish both his literary ability and his power as a moral philosopher. One can only regret that in the later years of his life he did not find time to enlarge it. The flight is splendid, but one wishes he had remained longer on the wing. He wrote this work, as he tells us in his foot-note on the first page, to believers in the Bible. I regret that he did not so add to it that its sublime truths would appeal with equal force to those who reject the Jewish Scriptures. No writer in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has yet, in any manner worth mentioning, undertaken to establish the divinity of the Jewish Scriptures, or made answer to the indictments brought against the Bible by infidels; but no one can read the “Government of God” without being convinced that its author was pre-eminently qualified for such an undertaking.

Project Gutenberg Release: George Q. Cannon’s “My First Mission”

George Q. Cannon’s My First Mission recounts his mission to Hawaii. Think “The Other SIde of Heaven” meets the 1850s, back when Hawaii was often known as the Sandwich Islands. It was intended to be a faith-promoting work targeted at future missionaries, and could be used for the same purpose today. It’s short (easily readable in a Sunday afternoon), the style is relatively light, and it’s quirky and fun. It was digitized by MTP a while back, and we recently (finally) got it posted on Project Gutenberg.

Cannon, born in 1827, was a nephew of John Taylor who lived with him as a teenager and helped publish the “Times and Seasons.” He left on his four-year Hawaiian mission in 1849, was involved in hundreds of baptisms, and translated the Book of Mormon in to Hawaiian. After returning home, he became an apostle at age 33 and eventually served in four First Presidencies. (Wikipedia has a good article on him here.)

The book talks about his whole mission experience, from food and culture to miracles to issues regarding Church and mission organization.  George Q.’s decision to learn the language and work among the Hawaiian natives rather than the less-receptive white population is a major theme. He was working in places where no missionary had previously gone and doing so all but independently , especially after his Mission President decided to leave for the South Pacific; seeing how he operated cut off from higher authority is rather interesting.

Possibly my personal favorite excerpt from the book illustrates Cannon’s general style of writing and its faith-promoting quirkiness: