The LDS General Conference in October 1900 focused a lot on the law of tithing. The repetition on that topic was due to the feeling among Church leadership that the second coming of Christ was near and the Saints needed to be prepared. “We should see to it that nothing is left undone by us, no commandment unfulfilled, no counsel or instruction disregarded” taught President George Q. Cannon. He said,
“Many who are now within the sound of my voice have been promised that they shall live, if they have faith, to behold the second coming of the Lord. The Lord has also promised that certain events shall take place while men that are standing in the generation in which these promises were made will Yet [sic] be alive.” (Conference Report, 64)
President Lorenzo Snow taught something similar. He quoted Doctrine and Covenants 63:24-31, a passage about the Saints building Zion in Jackson County, Missouri. President Snow explained:
“Now the time is fast approaching when a large portion of the people that I am now addressing will go back to Jackson county. A great many people that are now dwelling in the State of Utah will have this privilege. Whether I, President Cannon, President Smith, or all the brethren of the Twelve will go back I know not. But a large portion of the Latter-day Saints that now dwell in these valleys will go back to Jackson county to build a holy city to the Lord, as was decreed by Jehovah and revealed through Joseph Smith.” (Conference Report, 61)
So, to emphasize the need to be prepared, about half of the speakers at the Conference talked to the congregation about tithing. The other half talked about the necessity of keeping other commandments. Heber J. Grant, referencing 1 Nephi 3:7, said in his talk,
“We have the commandments of the Lord before us in the written word, and from time to time we have our minds refreshed by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon those who are called upon to preach to us. There is therefore no excuse for the Latter-day Saint who does not keep the commandments of God. We cannot say that we do not knew what our duties are, because they are so often and so forcibly brought to our minds by those who speak to us… Each one should search his own heart to find out wherein he has failed, and then he should diligently seek unto our heavenly Father for the assistance of His Holy Spirit, that he may come back into the straight path. By the assistance of our Heavenly Father there is no obligation and no law in the Church that we cannot fulfill. The Lord will give us the strength and the ability to accomplish every duty and labor that rests upon us in an acceptable manner in His sight. The only question is, have we the disposition?” (Conference Report, 33)
President Cannon taught,
“The Lord has revealed unto us that which He wants us to do, and though we do not receive written revelations (the men who have held the keys have not always felt led to write revelations as the Prophet Joseph did), the servants of the Lord do receive revelations, and they are as binding upon the people as though they were printed and published throughout all the Stakes of Zion. The oracles of God are here, and He speaks through His servant whom He has chosen to hold the keys. He gives revelations to others also concerning many matters, but it is reserved for one man, and one man alone at a time, to give revelations to the Church. We have been blessed as a people with an abundance of revelation. Some have deceived themselves with the idea that because revelations have not been written and published, therefore there has been a lessening of power in the Church of Christ. This is a very great mistake, as we will find out sooner or later. This Church has been continually led by the spirit of revelation. The spirit of revelation has been here in our conference. The addresses that have been delivered have been made under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and they are the word of God unto this people, binding upon them, and they will be judged by these words that we have heard. If we do not listen to these instructions and counsels and abide by the word of God as it is given to us from time to time, we shall be held to a strict accountability.” (Conference Report, 64)
Several things stand out to me from this Conference. One is the surety among Mormon leaders that “many” alive in 1900 would still be alive at the second coming of Christ, and that “a large portion” of the people in the congregation would live to return to Jackson County, Missouri to build up the holy city of Zion. This was 108 years ago. There may be a few of those people still alive, but surely not “a large portion” remain.
Another interesting teaching from the Conference is that Latter-day Saints cannot offer excuses for failing to fulfill every obligation, law and duty in the LDS Church. People cannot alleviate the burden of keeping all the commandments by saying “nobody’s perfect.” First Nephi 3:7 means what it says; everyone is able to fulfill every commandment.
Finally, there’s the declaration that the General Conference teachings (and other unwritten revelations) “are the word of God unto this people, binding upon them, and they will be judged by these words…”. For those Mormons who claim that the teachings of LDS prophets, seers and revelators are not binding because they fall outside the Standard Works, or because they were not written down, or because they have not been canonized, President Cannon’s words must be disconcerting. Perhaps they need to rethink their position.