They were troubled on every side, yet not distressed. They were perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.
Many members of the Church might think that these statements describe the Mormon pioneers, the first of whom entered the Valley of the Great Salt Lake on July 24, 1847.However, the statements above pertain to another body of saints – the early Christians. We might call them the original pioneers. The opening words of this column were recast from one of Paul's letters to early followers of Christ. (See 2 Cor. 4:8-10.)
It was their cause, the principles by which they lived and died, that the pioneers of the 19th century emulated. Of that cause, Paul wrote, " . . . we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." (2 Cor. 4:16-17.)
The early saints in Rome, Corinth, Ephesus and other locales of the New Testament world clung to their faith, attempting to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. This they did in peril of losing everything – even their lives – because they had a testimony that what Jesus taught was true. Wavering had no place among them. Certitude flew as their banner.
President Gordon B. Hinckley said: "Following the death of the Savior, would His apostles have carried on, teaching His doctrine, even giving their lives in the most painful of circumstances, if there were any uncertainty concerning Him whom they represented and whose doctrine they taught? There was no lack of certitude on the part of Paul after he had seen a light and heard a voice while en route to Damascus . . . . For more than three decades after that, he devoted his time, his strength, his life to the spreading of the gospel of the resurrected Lord. Without regard for personal comfort or safety, he traveled over the known world of his time, declaring that `neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
" `Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.' (Rom. 8:38-39.)
"Executed in Rome, Paul sealed with his death his final testimony of his conviction of the divine sonship of Jesus Christ.
"So it was with the early Christians, thousands upon thousands of them, who suffered imprisonment, torture, and death rather than recant their stated beliefs in the life and resurrection of the Son of God." (October 1981 Conference Report; Ensign, November 1981, p. 6.)
With the deaths of the apostles came the age of apostasy. Down through the centuries, those who sought and spoke for truth often suffered harsh punishment, even death. Paving the way for the Restoration, great Reformers made their stand and suffered consequences for their convictions. Those noble souls sought decrees of heaven rather than edicts of man.
Certainly, they qualify for the title "Pioneer." We have no doubt they were divinely inspired to raise questions and seek answers that would eventually make possible the climate and place for the Restoration of the fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
How easy it would have been for early Christians to deny their faith and save their mortal lives! How much more pleasant would life have been for the Reformers if they had remained silent! And how much more tranquil would have been Joseph Smith's life had he not told others that the Father and the Son had spoken to him in the grove!
But none kept silent. They could not, for they had the witness, the testimony, that moved them to open their mouths – no matter the consequences. The Prophet Joseph, perhaps, could have spoken for all other followers of Christ who have suffered because of their testimonies:
"I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true; and while they were persecuting me, reviling me, and speaking all manner of evil against me falsely for so saying, I was led to say in my heart: Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it." (Joseph Smith – History 1:25.)
Having accepted the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, thousands of Latter-day Saints became pioneers who sought a place to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences. They suffered untold privations for the same purposes that their predecessors, the early Christians, withstood their agonies: for their testimony of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, their Risen Lord and Savior, the Redeemer of all mankind, and the teachings of the fulness of His gospel.