Thursday, April 4, 2019

President George Albert Smith on sustaining the Church president

President George Albert Smith (1870-1951) was the son of John Henry Smith (1848-1911) and grandson of George A. Smith (1817-1875), both of whom served as members of the Twelve. He was called as an apostle in 1903, and then served as the 8th president of the Church from 1945 until his death in 1951.
"When Moses led Israel from Egypt through the wilderness and into the promised land, Amalek attacked Israel at Rephidim. Moses directed Joshua to choose fighting men to protect Israel. Moses, Aaron, and Hur went to the top of a hill overlooking the battlefield. While Moses held the rod of God above his head, Israel prevailed, but when he let his hands down because of weakness, Amalek prevailed. A stone seat was provided and Aaron and Hur held up his hands in order that the blessings of God could flow to Israel that their warriors might prevail and the battle was won. (Ex. 17:8-13) The power of God was upon Moses and remained with him until he had finished his work. When he had the support of his people they too were blessed, and so it has been with every servant of the Lord who has presided over Israel.
"How grateful we must all be to see the President of the Church stand here this morning, in spite of physical infirmities and advancing years, and yet with that testimony burning in his heart that God gave to him when he was a youth. He has here testified to us of the power of God which has been made manifest unto him. President Grant has been an example of devotion and a tower of strength in this Church. He has been a friend-maker among the gentiles of the world because the Lord has made him so.
"We sit here this morning under the inspiration of his voice, and just as long as the Lord holds up his hands, just as long as he presides over this Church, it matters not how many years it will be, our Heavenly Father will give him strength, power, wisdom, judgment, and inspiration to talk to Israel as they need to be talked to. We, in following his leadership, must be like Aaron and Hur of ancient times; we must uphold his hands, that through him the Lord will let the blessings of heaven descend on us and this people."
- George Albert Smith, "Upholding the Hands of Our Leaders," Conference Report, Apr. 1942, 14
Click here to read the full talk

When President Smith shared these remarks, Heber J. Grant had been serving as President for over 23 years and was now rapidly aging at 85 years of age. President Smith was a relatively young 72; three years later, he would assume the presidency and would serve for 6 years until dying on his 81st birthday.

In a system where our leaders are often aging men, the need to sustain them physically becomes apparent. But the greater need is to sustain spiritually. The story of Moses and his companions at Rephidim is particularly insightful, as the physical sustaining of his raised arms resulted in divine blessings of assistance to the people. God's power would remain with Moses until his work was completed, but the actions of others in this case played a key role in demonstrating that power—"and so it has been with every servant of the Lord who has presided over Israel."

We would do well to ponder what it means for each of us to "uphold the hands" of God's chosen representative on earth. Perhaps it means, at a minimum, to:

  • carefully listen to his inspired counsel
  • be willing to accept and follow his challenges and directions
  • teach and encourage others appropriately to do likewise
  • defend him against criticism or false accusations and interpretations
Speaking 26 years before he became Church president, a much younger Elder George Albert Smith said:
"It must be a source of strength to the President of this Church to look into the faces of thousands of honest men and women and observe them raise their hand in covenant with our Father in heaven, and sustain him in the office to which he has been called as president of this great Church. The obligation that we make when we raise our hands under such circumstances, is a most sacred one. It does not mean that we will go quietly on our way and be willing that the prophet of the Lord shall direct this work, but it means,—if I understand the obligation I assumed when I raised my hand—that we will stand behind him; we will pray for him; we will defend his good name, and we will strive to carry out his instructions as the Lord shall direct him to offer them to us while he remains in that position." (CR June 1919, p. 40)

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2019)

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