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Ancient Testaments: The 'lick skillet' Saints were quick to obey God

As the year 1833 began, the Saints were commanded by revelation: "Organize yourselves" and "prepare every needful thing."

Organize and prepare to do what? "Establish a house." The Lord described the special purposes of this house: prayer, fasting, faith, learning, glory and order. It was to be "a house of God" — a temple (Doctrine and Covenants 88:119).

But this new idea came when many were struggling to restart their lives in a raw, unimproved location.

Most of us aren't too great at acting on a new idea, especially when we are busy with other things. However, when the idea comes through his prophet, the Lord expects us to act anyway.

He gave them five months. By June of 1833, little had been done to start that temple. So the Lord spoke again. "Ye must need be chastened and stand rebuked." Rebuked for what? "A very grievous sin, … ye have not considered the great commandment … that I have given unto you concerning the building of mine house" (D&C 95:2-3).

His first appeal was a brief request. It had not registered with most of his people that this request was nothing short of a "great commandment." Who knows how much longer the postponement might have lasted if he had not presented his second appeal more firmly?

It doesn't always take five months to offend the heavens. Five days, or even five minutes, can sometimes be a disloyal inattention, a tragic apathy, a "grievous" neglect.

The divine pattern seems to be that his will is first made known mildly, as one might signal an urgent need to a trusted friend. He leaves it to our love and initiative to give first priority to his request. But after a time — whether five months, five days or five minutes — if we still haven't acted, he may repeat himself more sternly, as if he were speaking to a bored hireling rather than a loyal friend (See John 10:13; 15:15; D&C 93:45).

In the 1830s, those Saints who responded right away were sometimes referred to as "lick skillets."

An early American label, "lick skillet" was used in more than one way. First, after a great meal you might want to lick the pan. That made it a real compliment to be called a lick skillet. Second, if you were very poor, you might want that last morsel from sheer hunger.

Either way, the term fit many of the faithful, who had given up worldly goods to be true friends to the Lord and his prophet. Lick skillet poor, but lick skillet good.

George A. Smith later called this temple-building period "the time that tried men's souls." He said that "a man that would stand up in the streets and say he was Joseph's friend, could not get a greater compliment than being called a lick skillet. Joseph had few friends" (Journal of Discourses, 11:12).

It was a good thing to be a member of the church, but it was far greater to also be a true friend to God and his prophet.

Oliver B. Huntington said of those years in Kirtland, "We all became exceedingly happy even in the midst of our scarcities and deprivations. … None of us complained nor murmured against any of the authorities of the Church or against God. … As to the work of God, all was joy and content and satisfaction. When I say this I say and tell the unbent truth before God. … "

Then Oliver added, "The real Mormons were designated by the appellation of lick skillets" (Oliver B. Huntington autobiography, p. 30).

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.