In his last teachings on earth, President David O. McKay declared: "Into the hands of every individual is given a marvelous power for good or for evil. It is simply the constant radiation of what a man really is. … Life is a state of radiation. … Man cannot escape for one moment the radiation of his character" (Conference Report, October 1969, 87).
That radiation doesn't just expose our character to discerning persons. It either lifts or injures the people around us.
God insists on doing his work through radiant, edifying people. They are in high demand, so he sometimes transfers them where they are needed most. So it was on Thursday, June 27, 1844. Joseph and Hyrum Smith ceased to radiate in this world.
As Wilford Woodruff explained it, Joseph "has … organized this dispensation on that side of the veil; he is gathering together the elders of Israel and the saints of God in the spirit world. … There they have all the spirits who have lived on the earth in seventeen centuries, … who lived and died here without having seen a prophet or apostle."
As the edifying of billions began in the spirit world, the Saints in this world felt a sudden vacuum. The spirit of the prophets seemed to have disappeared.
On that unhappy Thursday, Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff sat together in a railway station. "A heavy depression of spirit" suddenly filled both of them. They were baffled by the sense of loss until the somber news finally came from Nauvoo.
On July 18, members of the Twelve gathered in Boston. Wilford and Brigham met at a busy part of town, and without saying a word walked to their lodging, found their room and closed the door behind them. At last, alone with their brethren, the tears were no longer held back.
Brigham paced the floor all night. Not only was a prophet gone, but what about the spirit of the prophets, and what about the keys that unleash that spirit?
The next morning, leaning back on his chair, focusing his mind on this one, towering question, God's senior apostle on earth suddenly saw the wonderful truth. "Bringing my hand down on my knee, I said, 'The keys of the kingdom are right here with the Church.' "
And with a wisdom typical of Brigham Young, he turned to Wilford Woodruff and extended the call to be his historian, beginning immediately.
Meanwhile, in Nauvoo, the emptiness was profound beyond words. To the Saints, Joseph was the prophet. The spirit of Joseph and Hyrum did not seem replaceable.
Immediately on returning home, Wilford Woodruff detected "a deep gloom" over the city.
Even President Young's eldest son, a little boy named Brigham Jr., who was normally a "merry little chap, full of fun and pranks," was crestfallen. "The black gloom which fell over Nauvoo at the martyrdom filled his own soul with despair. The laugh was stilled upon his lips, and the merry jest was turned to weeping in the sympathetic young heart."
Here was an urgent need: the radiant, healing influence of another prophet!
And so, where "Brother Joseph" left off, "Brother Brigham" began. Said he, "The Saints looked as though they had lost a friend. … In this time of sorrow, I arose and spoke to the people. My heart was swollen with compassion towards them. And by the power of the Holy Ghost, even the spirit of the prophets, I was enabled to comfort the hearts of the saints."
Sources: Journal of Discourses 16:269; Black and Porter, Lion of the Lord 107; Allen and Leonard, Story of the Latter-day Saints 213-214; Improvement Era 1908-1; Journal of Discourses 26:359; Gates, Life Story of Brigham Young 268; Juvenile Instructor 35:257; Esplin, BYU Studies, Summer 1981, 244.
Wayne E. Brickey, who lives in Gallatin, Mo., is a retired Church Educational System teacher and curriculum writer, and has been a tour guide to Holy Land and Mormon history sites. His novel, "Before His Manger: The Long Wait for Christ's First Coming," is serialized in weekly segments Fridays on MormonTimes.com.