The New Mormon History
D. Michael Quinn, editor
Epilogue: “Justice Will Follow Truth”
B. H. Roberts
[p.303] Frankly, this History [A Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Century I] is pro-Church of the Latter-day Saints. Not, however, in the sense that the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius is pro-Christian. In that work the author deliberately announces his intention to ignore those things disadvantageous to the Christian cause, and dwell upon those only which glorify it. This results in special pleading, not history.
Nor is this History pro-Church of the Latter-day Saints in the sense that Joseph Milner’s History of the Church of Christ (4 Vols.) is pro-Christian; for he announces in his Introduction that as there have been persons from the time of our Savior whose disposition and lives have been formed by the rules of the New Testament, it is the lives of these men that he proposes to write as the history of the church; not their rites, ceremonies, or their religious controversies. “Nothing but what appears to me to belong to Christ’s kingdom,” he says, “shall be admitted: genuine piety is the only thing which I intend to celebrate.” Such writing, of course, however excellent it may be for some purposes, is not “church history,” but merely a history of piety within the church. Not in this sense, then, is this work pro-Church of the Latter-day Saints. The position is not assumed that the men of the New Dispensation—its prophets, apostles, presidencies, and other leaders—are without faults or infallible, rather they are treated as men of like passions with their fellow men. Bearing indeed a heavenly treasure, no less a thing than delegated authority from God to teach the gospel and administer its ordinances of salvation to the children of men; to gather modern Israel from among the nations of the earth, [p. 304] and establish Zion; to perfect the lives of those who receive the truth the church proclaims, and prepare the world for its coming Lord, the rightful King of all the earth, Jesus the resurrected and glorified Christ. But while the officers and members of the church possess this spiritual “treasure,” they carried it in earthen vessels; and that earthliness, with their human limitations, was plainly manifested on many occasions and in various ways, both in personal conduct and in collective deportment. But back of all that, and it should never be lost sight of, is the supreme fact—and it was a controlling element in all their proceedings—that they occupied such relations with God that they were, on occasion, moved upon to speak and act as God would speak and act. And when they spoke and acted as prompted by the inspiration of God, then what they said and what they did was the word and will of God, and the power of God unto salvation. This the writer has sought to bear in mind; as well as on the other hand to keep aware of the human limitations of these men in considering their work. No essential events in the history of the church in the New Dispensation of the gospel have been omitted because they might be considered detrimental to the reputation of either the leaders of the church or of its membership. Where conflicting evidence to a fact or state of facts was found to exist, and the evidence favorable to the church has been adopted in the text, the per contra evidence has been given either in modification of the text, or given in full in the footnotes; and where clearly reprehensible measures and policies have been adopted, these have been considered with the freedom that true historical writing must ever exercise.
It need not be said that this course has laid a heavy burden upon the writer of this History. It is always a difficult task to hold the sclaes of justice at even balance when weighing the deeds of men. It becomes doubly more so when dealing with men engaged in a movement that one believes had its origin with God, and that its leaders on occasion act under the inspiration of God. Under such conditions to so state events as to be historically exact, and yet, on the other hand, so treat the course of events as not to destroy faith in these men, nor in their work, becomes a task of supreme delicacy; and one that tries the soul and the skill of the historian. The only way such a task can be accomplished, in the judgment of the writer, is to frankly state events as they occurred, in full consideration of all related circumstances, allowing the line of condemnation or of [p. 305] justification to fall where it may; being confident that in the sum of things justice will follow truth; and God will be glorified in his work, no matter what may befall individuals, or groups of individuals. This the writer freely confesses has been the purpose of his work—not the vindication of men before the bar of history, but the justification of the ways of God to man; and to prove that God is true, though all men have to be condemned as weakling or even liars.
Let not this remark, however, be regarded as implying too great a censure upon the leading men of the New Dispensation. While many of them fell into grievous sins, and all of them at times plainly manifested errors of judgment and limitations of their conceptions of the greatness and grandeur of the work in which they were engaged, yet doubtless they were the best men to be had for the work, since they were chosen either directly of God, or else by a divinely appointed authority, and in either case called of God, and ordained to bring forth the work. And sure it is that good men and faithful have been found in sufficient number, and of such capacity, when helped of God, to proceed with the work of the Lord in the earth, and God has given it increase. . . .