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“You Can’t Go to Heaven in Cologne Water”: A Missionary Talk by J. Golden Kimball

By: Ardis E. Parshall - March 02, 2009

If you’re going to be disappointed by a J. Golden talk that doesn’t fit the swearing-elder stereotype, stop reading now. This isn’t that kind of J. Golden story. It is a talk the future Seventy gave to a small South Carolina branch in 1891 during a period when local members – including a woman – had been whipped and shot at, their homes ransacked, and the missionaries ordered out of the county at gunpoint. It addresses the concerns of a beleaguered congregation who needed to understand why they and the elders were persecuted, and to know that God was in control even in such times of lawlessness.

The talk was recorded in note form by a missionary. I have followed his words in reconstructing the talk, but have polished the format considerably in order to make it more readable.

24 October 1891, Spartanburg, South Carolina

This is the day for our conference. The brethren were all here. President J. Golden Kimball delivered a powerful sermon, taking for a foundation of his remarks Isaiah 30:20-21:

And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity, and the water of affliction, yet shall not thy teachers be removed into a corner any more, but thine eyes shall see thy teachers: And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.

This has been fulfilled. We believe the teachers were removed into a corner – but the time would come when they would not be so any more.

The speaker wished to speak for a few moments on the Kingdom of God, and referred to John the Baptist as he came bounding out of the wilderness with a doctrine strange and new. John didn’t give it to them sugared over, either. The speaker referred to the costume of John, and also his food, showing plainly that he did not come in a way to please wicked people, nor teach a doctrine to tickle their ears. Rather, he commanded them to repent.

There were many wise and learned people in that day, and the marks of their knowledge are left as a witness unto us to this day. Yet the Savior, though of humble birth and when but a mere child, taught the Rabbis in the synagogues through divine inspiration. The Savior chose as his disciples the humble, poor fishermen of Galilee. Why didn’t he choose great men like James G. Blaine [former Representative and Senator, and current Secretary of State] or Grover Cleveland [once-and-future President]? That is what the natural man would ask and want to know. But the why is this: Because they would have turned the house unto themselves.

People think the Mormons are persecuted because they are wicked. Was that the reason the apostles were persecuted and killed? Was that why the saints either apostatized or were used in the same manner until the apostasy foretold in the scriptures was fulfilled? “Though he give you the bread of adversity, etc.” No, they (their teachers) were removed into a corner, and the people were then killed.

The Latter-day Saints are a peculiar people, and we say we have the gospel. We don’t tell you, “You can go to heaven in cologne water, or on the flowery beds of ease.” We come to you and tell you who we are, and we tell you that we know we will have to suffer adversity. But our prophets will not be removed any more into the corner!

He advised the people to “prove all things and hold fast to that which is good.” He himself had received good points from other denominations … but not about the gospel. He spoke concerning the restoration of the gospel, how the message was delivered to a boy, and not to a James A. Garfield or a Benjamin Harrison. God tutored Joseph as He had educated the Savior. Joseph, like the Savior, was given “the bread of affliction and the water of adversity.” And the people said that Jesus was a wine bibber and a glutton.

It is the heritage of the true saints of God to suffer persecution. You can never be a faithful Latter-day Saint unless you have the still, small voice with you, teaching you what to do. The people who despise the elders are the ones that are impious themselves. We are not here for our bread and butter – if we were, we would stop at home.

God can soften the heart of the people as he did in the days of Pharaoh. We are willing to give the people all they deserve, and more, too. But we want you to understand the gospel.

God bless you. Amen.



9 Comments »

  1. I’m pretty sure he was never an apostle.

    Comment by JM — March 2, 2009 @ 8:21 am

  2. Whoops, you are, of course, right. Seventy. I’ll correct that.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — March 2, 2009 @ 8:44 am

  3. J. Golden says that the Isaiah verse “has been fulfilled.” Wow. I always marvel at the ability of some to literally liken scriptural prophecies to themselves (something I am usually loathe to do). It’s wonderful when that likening really does seem apt, and without closing off its application to future generations.

    I was also inspired by this idea of the Saints in South Carolina wrestling with the meaning of persecution. In 1891, these Saints surely had the example of the western migrating pioneers, not to mention the hallmark persecution stories of Joseph Smith himself. Perhaps being removed somewhat from “Zion Central,” these South Carolinians had to develop their own ownership of this concept? Apparently it wasn’t something that came naturally, as per the reference to supposed wickedness being the cause.

    Fascinating. Thanks for this, Ardis.

    P.S. More cussing next time, though. [wink]

    Comment by Hunter — March 2, 2009 @ 9:32 am

  4. Yea, sounds like it was one hell of a talk. I am a bit surprised at the references to Grover Cleveland, James Garfield, and Benjamin Harrison. Perhaps people held those people in higher esteem than we tend to hold our recent presidents?

    Comment by Jacob J — March 2, 2009 @ 10:37 am

  5. That’s a lovely talk. Just the right length, too!

    I was just reading through the Latter Day Saints Southern Star (a publication of the Southern States Mission) and saw an 1899 conference address of his reproduced with the byline of Jonathan G. Kimball. Did he use both names?

    Comment by Researcher — March 2, 2009 @ 10:52 am

  6. Thanks for your comments.

    Hunter, I’m guessing that the reality of the persecution in 1891 South Carolina, as documented in the same missionary ledger where this talk was found (the same one, incidentally, recording the early church experiences of the Noblin family) was a lot more immediate and painful than contemplating the earlier Missouri or Nauvoo or Plains accounts, and that those Saints needed something to understand and give meaning to their troubles — another example of the “likening” you mention. And dangit, I’ll try to have JGK swear more next time.

    Jacob, either that … or it wasn’t really esteem. ;) JGK eclipsed all the greatness of those men by placing a Jewish carpenter and a New York farm boy ahead of those former presidents in his scale of what matters.

    Researcher, I see “Jonathan G.” (or plain J.G.) exclusively in JGK’s early life. I’m not sure when he became better known as “J. Golden” — I used “J. Golden” here because I wasn’t sure everyone would recognize him as “Jonathan G.”

    … and I’m with you about the length of the talk!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 2, 2009 @ 11:22 am

  7. Thanks, Ardis!

    Jacob (#4), he seemed to me to be holding those fellows up as notable or famous, though not necessarily worthy of emulation or praise. On the contrary, he seems to have hinted that such men, if given a message by God, would tend to use the opportunity to build themselves up.

    Comment by Ben Pratt — March 2, 2009 @ 11:29 am

  8. Sure, I do see that they are being held up as notable people “of the world,” but he did start with “Why didn’t he choose great men like…” when mentioning Grover Cleveland, so I was inferring that there was some level of esteem given to those men, even if his point was ultimately that God works through the humble men of the earth rather than the “wise, “learned,” or “great.” I can see it could be taken a different way though.

    I do love the line about cologne water you called out in the title.

    Comment by Jacob J — March 2, 2009 @ 1:02 pm

  9. Most of the documents I come across uses J. G. Kimball. But it is surprisingly common in missionary journals of the period in the south to use just the first initials, not just for themself, but also for everyone the missionary wrote about. Do you know if this was a Mormon thing, a southern thing, or if it was just common for the period?

    I’ve also noticed nearly all the people from the south prefered their middle name in daily familiar usage instead of their first name. Perhaps J. Golden Kimball brought this practice home with him from the south.

    Comment by BruceCrow — March 3, 2009 @ 9:19 am

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