Lorenzo Snow: exemplary Christian gentleman, a man of peace

As a young man, Lorenzo Snow's life ambition was to have a long, distinguished military career, and so he sought to better educate himself at Oberlin College, a two-day ride from his birthplace of Mantua, Ohio, where he was born April 3, 1814. But his dream of a military career changed forever when - en route to Oberlin College in September 1835 - he met Elder David W. Patten and discussed the restored gospel.

Young Lorenzo, however, did not immediately accept the gospel. He studied at Oberlin. Then later that same year, he received a letter from his sister Eliza, who had already been baptized, urging him to come to Kirtland, Ohio. Knowing that her brother wanted to learn Hebrew, she informed him that a school for that purpose would be started there. So Lorenzo traveled to Kirtland. He listened to Joseph Smith and accepted the message.1Two weeks after his baptism, he retired to a forest grove near Kirtland to gain confirmation of his action: "I had no sooner opened my lips in an effort to pray, than I heard a sound, just above my head, like the rustling of silken robes, and immediately the Spirit of God descended upon me, completely enveloping my whole person, filling me, from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet, and O, the joy and happiness I felt! . . . I then received a perfect knowledge that God lives, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and of the restoration of the holy Priesthood and the fullness of the Gospel."2

Knowing that he had made a correct decision, Lorenzo's earthly life was to be linked to the restored Church for the next 65 years. He would become, as Elder Francis M. Gibbons wrote: "a spiritual giant; for few men in this dispensation have been closer to the veil than Lorenzo Snow."

Shortly after moving to Missouri with the saints in the late 1830s, he had an experience that demonstrates the influence the Spirit began to have on him as he went forth to hunt - not out of necessity, but for sport. "While moving slowly forward in pursuit of something to kill, my mind was arrested with the reflection on the nature of my pursuit - that of amusing myself by giving pain and death to harmless, innocent creatures that perhaps had as much right to life and the enjoyment as myself. I realized that such indulgence was without any justifications, and feeling condemned, I laid my gun on my shoulder, and from that time to this have felt no inclination for that murderous amusement."3

Elder Lorenzo Snow, who served two missions in the midwest, was called in 1840 to labor in England. Before leaving for his mission, he heard a member teach about the laborers in the vineyard, and once more the Spirit moved upon him and he wrote his most remembered and oft quoted lines: "As man now is, God once was: as God now is, man may become." He confided this information only to Brigham Young and his sister Eliza until it was taught by the Prophet Joseph.4

The mid 1840s were years of turmoil and change for Lorenzo. In 1844, he lost his friends Joseph and Hyrum Smith to a mob at Carthage, Illinois. Traveling to the Great Salt Lake Valley with the saints, he was set apart as a member of the Council of the Twelve in 1849. That same year, he was called to open the Italian Mission.

In Italy, he saw fulfillment of the patriarchal blessing given by Joseph Smith Sr. when Lorenzo was 22. "Thou shalt become a mighty man. Thy faith shall increase and grow stronger until it becomes like Peter's - thou shalt restore the sick; the diseased shall send to thee their aprons and handkerchiefs and by thy touch their owners shall be made whole. The dead shall rise and come forth at thy bidding."5

Among the first examples of Lorenzo's blessings is the following: Laboring as a missionary in the valleys of the Piedmont in northern Italy, Elder Snow met a family whose three-year-old son was very ill and near death. Retiring to the nearby mountains, Elder Snow and his companion fasted and prayed that the boy might be healed and restored to health. The boy soon recovered and work of the mission moved forward. Elder Snow offered his gratitude to the Lord and made a covenant that no sacrifice would be too great. Having completed his three-year mission, he returned to the Salt Lake Valley - his homecoming bittersweet for his wife Charlotte had died while he was gone.6

Another experience Lorenzo had healing the sick was when he was called by Brigham Young to move the Snow family to Brigham City in northern Utah where he helped establish the Brigham City Mercantile and Manufacturing Association under the United Order.

Here, once more, his patriarchal blessing was fulfilled with the immediate recovery of a William Smith of Kaysville, Utah. It was winter, Brother Smith was very ill and 40 miles from Brigham City, yet the family wanted Elder Snow to come and give William a blessing. The apostle could not make the trip. Instead he sent a handkerchief, which he had blessed. When the handkerchief was laid on the face of the near-dead William, he quickly arose from the bed, much to the astonishment of all who were present.7

Lorenzo Snow's own life soon needed the prayers and blessings of others. Asked to go to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) in 1864 to check on the affairs of one Walter Murray Gibson, Elder Snow was attempting to reach the beach on Maui when the small boat in which he was riding overturned in the waves and he was swept under the boat. When found, his body was stiff and nearly lifeless. After being administered to, his body was laid over a barrel and someone was impressed to breathe into his lungs. Soon he recovered and joined the group in completing the assigned task.8

A few years later he was once more on the high seas as he traveled with President George A. Smith and others to rededicate the Holy Land, which Elder Orson Hyde had previously dedicated on October 24, 1841. On March 2, 1873, the group climbed to the summit of the Mount of Olives overlooking the old city of Jerusalem and pronounced a blessing on the land the Savior loved. Elder Snow wrote of this experience as one of the greatest moments of his life.9

Having witnessed the rededication of the Holy Land, he returned home to Brigham City, where he served simultaneously as an apostle and as stake president. Again his patriarchal promise was manifest among the saints at Brigham City. Called to the home of Jake Jensen, Elder Snow found Jake's daughter Ella had died. Asking Rudger Clawson to anoint Ella's head with concentrated oil, Elder Snow then pronounced a beautiful blessing: "Dear Ella, I command you in the name of the Lord, Jesus Christ, to come back and live, your mission is not ended. You shall yet live to perform a great mission." He then left the Jensen home. One hour later, Ella opened her eyes and asked: "Where is he? Where is he?" "Where is who?" she was asked. "Why President Snow," she replied. "He called me back."10

Lorenzo Snow had also been promised that his life would touch many. Among those to whom he would show his great love and concern were the Indian people. Traveling to Oregon and northern Idaho in 1885, he visited the Umatilla and Nez Perce Indian Reservations.11

Elder Snow moved to Salt Lake when Wilford Woodruff became President of the Church in 1889 and was called as President of the Quorum of the Twelve. The Salt Lake Temple was dedicated on April 6, 1893, and Elder Snow was set apart as the first temple president. He loved that assignment. It was in this building that he experienced his greatest joy and his most difficult appointment.

On Sept. 2, 1898, President Wilford Woodruff died and Elder Snow, as President of the Quorum of the Twelve, assumed additional responsibilities. Should there be apostolic leadership for a period of time as had happened under Brigham Young, John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff before the First Presidency was reorganized? Troubled by this question and others, President Snow sought the Lord's counsel in the temple. He later shared the experience with his granddaughter, Allie Young Pond. Standing in the temple corridor he pointed out a spot to her and said: " . . . It was right here that the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to me at the time of the death of President Woodruff. He instructed me to go right ahead and reorganize the First Presidency of the Church . . . and that I was to succeed President Woodruff."12

Becoming President of the Church was a heavy burden to him for he was 85 years old and in fair health. The Church was deep in debt financially, and politically there were other problems, most stemming from false accusations against the Church. Troubled by these problems, President Snow traveled to St. George, Utah, on May 8, 1899, where a drought had lasted for some time. While speaking in the tabernacle there, he received the revelation on the faithful payment of tithing. His son LeRoi told of the experience: "I was sitting at a table on the stand reporting the proceedings, when all at once Father paused in his discourse. Complete stillness filled the room. I shall never forget the thrill as long as I live. When he commenced to speak again his voice strengthened and the inspiration of God seemed to come over him, as well as over the entire assembly. His eyes seemed to brighten and his countenance to shine. He was filled with unusual power. Then he revealed to the Latter-day Saints the vision that was before him."13 It would become the revelation that he is most remembered for, as thousands of members over the years have watched the film, "Windows of Heaven," which depicts that event.

President Snow died Oct. 10, 1901, in the Beehive House in Salt Lake City. How is he to be remembered? Historian Orson F. Whitney wrote the following tribute: "President Snow's mentality was a rare and varied combination. He was a natural financier, and at the same time a spiritually minded man of literary tastes and poetic temperament. He was not sanctimonious; he could not be a fanatic or a bigot if he wished. He was too well-balanced for that - too broad-minded and charitable. He would never persecute a man for his opinions, nor interfere with his religious worship, however much he might disapprove of them. At the same time he was a pattern of piety, an exemplary Christian gentleman, zealous in and devoted to the cause that he deemed divine. . . . Bland and soft-spoken, as a rule, he could be stern, and was plain and straightforward in expression. . . . While spirited and independent, he was not combative in his disposition, but was essentially a man of peace, a humanitarian."14

1Thomas C. Romney, The Life of Lorenzo Snow, pp. 19-21, 26.

2Eliza R. Snow Smith, Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow, p. 8.

3Ibid, p. 28

4Gerald N. Lund, Ensign, February 1982, p. 39.

5Romney, The Life of Lorenzo Snow, p. 1.

6Snow, Biography, pp. 128-30.

7Ibid, pp. 263-65.

8LeRoi C. Snow, Improvement Era, October 1941, pp. 592-3.

9Correspondence of Palestine Tourists, p. 260.

10LeRoi C. Snow, Improvement Era, September 1929, pp. 885-86.

11Romney, The Life of Lorenzo Snow, pp. 358-61.

12LeRoi C. Snow, Improvement Era, September 1933, p. 677.

13LeRoi C. Snow, Improvement Era, July 1938, p. 400.

14Editor's Table, Improvement Era, November 1901, pp. 62-63.

(Additional information)

Milestones in life of Lorenzo Snow

April 3, 1814: Born in Mantua, Ohio.

June 23, 1836: Baptized into Church by John Boynton of the Council of the Twelve. Confirmed by Hyrum Smith.

School teacher at Lima, Ill. Led a company of 250 saints to Nauvoo.

1848: Arrived in Salt Lake City.

Feb. 12, 1849: Ordained an apostle by Heber C. Kimball at age 34. Helped organize Perpetual Emigrating Fund.

1850: Organized Church in Italy; sent elders to Malta, and to Bombay, India.

1852: Elected to territorial legislature, where he served for 30 years.

1853: Called to preside over colonization of Brigham City, Utah.

1856: Became president of Box Elder Stake.

1865: Organized Brigham City Cooperative Association.

1872-73: President of Utah Territorial Legislative Council. Toured Europe and Asia Minor and participated in rededication of Holy Land.

April 4, 1873: Sustained as counselor to President Brigham Young.

May 9, 1874: Sustained as assistant counselor.

1886-87: Served 11-month prison term on plural marriage charge.

1888: Dedicated Manti Temple.

1889: Became president of the Council of the Twelve at age 75.

1893: Became president of the Salt Lake Temple.

Sept. 13, 1898: Sustained as president of the Church.

1899: Church leaders pledge to observe law of tithing and teach the saints to do the same.

1899-1901: Encouraged members in foreign lands to build Zion in their own countries and not immigrate to Utah.

Oct. 10, 1901: Lorenzo Snow died in Salt Lake City at age 87.

(Information taken from Profiles of the Presidents, Emerson Roy West, pages 163-169.)

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