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The Lord’s Hand


A little over three weeks ago, I spent six days in Israel walking where Jesus walked and standing very near to where He may have stood. Although I had been in Israel twice before, this last trip was very special for me.

I climbed Mount Arbel, which is in Galilee. On the east side of Mount Arbel is a plunging drop to the shore of the Sea of Galilee. On the west side is a very steep climb to the top of the mount. Slowly but surely, maybe miraculously, I was able to arrive at the top. From the top I saw Mount Hermon, the Golan Heights, the entire Sea of Galilee, and the surrounding valleys and hills. Richard Holzapfel and I looked at the areas where Jesus walked, taught His gospel, and performed many miracles.

While there, we reviewed several scriptures from the Lord’s ministry, teachings, and miracles. We read about the service He freely gave to the people. I was touched deeply as I reflected on the Savior’s love for all of Heavenly Father’s children. I was touched knowing I was near where He invited all to come unto Him, to learn of His gospel, and to be baptized in His sacred name.

We then traveled to 32 different sites where historians say Jesus once visited. I do not have adequate words to express to you all the blessings that are ours because we believe that Jesus Christ is the Savior and Redeemer of all mankind.

I testify to you today that I know that Jesus is the Only Begotten Son of God and is our Redeemer. Jesus Christ presides over His Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Now as you graduate and move to the next phase of your exciting lives, I pray you will never forget or become casual in your relationship with your Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son Jesus Christ. The life of Jesus Christ is one of miracle after miracle.

Five months ago, I walked in historic places in the United States and read about the hand of the Lord in the founding of this great nation. Many miracles here in America affect every one of us.

In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Nephi recorded a vision he had about the future of this country. The fulfillment of this vision is based on one miracle after another, and the vision contains counsel and instruction for our day.

Some 2,000 years ago, Nephi saw and documented the Great Apostasy from priesthood authority and gospel truth following the Savior’s death. He saw the Restoration of the fulness of the gospel in the latter days. In fact, these two major historical periods represent the “bookends” of Nephi’s recorded vision in chapter 13 of 1 Nephi. Other prophets had also seen both the Apostasy and Restoration, but the aspect unique to Nephi’s vision is what he saw in preparing the world for the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Indeed, his vision charts a historical narrative during some of the period between the Apostasy and the Restoration, showing how the Lord would build the bridge out of gospel darkness and into the light and truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The chain of historical events shown to Nephi begins with the European discovery of the western hemisphere and its eventual population by more of God’s chosen sons and daughters.[1] These chosen ones were the brave Pilgrims and many other immigrants who would later build a nation under godly principles of government, a nation that would one day enjoy the blessings of liberty sufficient to host the Restoration of the gospel.

“And it came to pass,” declared Nephi, “that I beheld the Spirit of God, that it wrought upon other Gentiles; and they went forth out of captivity, upon the many waters. . . . And they did prosper and obtain the land for their inheritance. . . . And I beheld a book, and it was carried forth among them. . . . [And] the book . . . is the record of the Jews, which contains the covenants of the Lord.”[2]

I had the opportunity this past summer to travel to Plymouth, Massachusetts, with my friend Tim Ballard to learn more about what he had learned regarding Nephi’s vision of these early Pilgrims and how their history corroborates Nephi’s vision. I walked over the sacred ground where the Pilgrims had walked to discover the seemingly small and simple miracles that God had worked through them in order to achieve great things. I found that certain events, which today are all but forgotten by the world, represent some remarkable miracles in the prelude to the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

For example, I learned about a young, single man on the Mayflower, an indentured servant, named John Howland. Though he was supposed to have remained safely below deck during a storm on that historic journey over the Atlantic, he instead wandered the decks, and subsequently paid a big price. He was knocked off the deck by a wave and went tumbling into the depths of the ocean. By all accounts, that should have been the end of young John Howland. A ship like the Mayflower did not have the capacity to turn around and save John’s life. That should have been the end of his mortal life.

But the Lord had other plans for this young Pilgrim and his posterity. For, as he plummeted several “fathoms under” the sea, he somehow felt in his hand a rope, dangling in the water. It was the ship’s topsail halyard, and it should not have been there. Yet there it was, precisely where young John needed it to be. He grasped onto the rope, and he was pulled back into the ship, and his life was saved.[3]

Now, the Pilgrims had been severely delayed in Europe and were further hampered by westerly gales and the then-unknown Gulf Stream.[4] So they didn’t arrive in New England until November 11, 1620. They had landed nearly 250 miles north of their intended location.[5] They attempted to sail south, but were prevented by the contrary winds and the dangerous shoals.[6] Thus, after spending a month exploring the coast trying to find a place suitable for settling, they settled at the Plymouth Plantation in what is modern-day the state of Massachusetts.

As we walked up and down the hills of Plymouth, we followed the Town Brook, which is fed by a natural spring that miraculously supplied clean drinking water to the Pilgrims. As I followed the shoreline, I learned what had happened there and I became overwhelmed with the miracle that the Lord had indeed led the Pilgrims to this very spot.

Again, I realized the truth of Nephi’s vision that by the hand of God these immigrants would prosper in the land. I wish there was sufficient time to mention all the miracles the Lord provided for the Pilgrims, such as land that was already prepared by others many years before for planting and farming; and Native American friends and teachers who showed them food stores, corn seed, farm implements, and taught them how to raise successful crops in this new world.[7] Any of these miracles of the Pilgrim story could easily be written off as a coincidence, and that is why they are often relegated to footnotes in our history books. But in truth, all of these represent miracles, and confirm what Nephi saw, that “by small means the Lord can bring about great things.”[8]

My dear young friends, I encourage you to remember the Lord’s hand in your lives. Many of you are about to make very important decisions: decisions about your future career, and, most importantly, who you will marry. Pray continually and watch for the Lord’s hand in your lives. Expect help from the Lord. Pray for it. And when it comes and appears to you to be small and simple means, do not disregard it. Do not dismiss it. Do not relegate these spiritual promptings to a footnote in your own personal history. See what the Lord is doing for you, thank Him in your prayers, and watch how line upon line, His tender mercies evolve into the greatest blessings in your lives and in the lives of those around you. The more you recognize God’s hand, the more you will feel His spirit and His love for you.

To help me make this point, I want to take you back to John Howland, that poor, indentured servant who fell off the Mayflower and miraculously survived. I suspect most of you had never heard of him. Perhaps it was not highlighted because it seemed too small an event in the vast volumes of miracles recorded in history. And yet, it turned out to be a very important miracle.

The Prophet Joseph Smith’s fourth great-grandfather was a man named John Howland Jr. His father was John Howland and his mother was Elizabeth Tilley.[9] Indeed, the Lord placed that halyard line into the hand of the drowning John Howland, for in him was the blood of some of the leaders of the Restoration of the gospel and the Church of Jesus Christ. On a personal note, the Prophet’s bother Hyrum Smith is my great-great-grandfather; this makes John Howland my ninth great-grandfather. It is estimated that John and Elizabeth’s posterity would number today over five million people, some of which rose to importance in every field of endeavor, including presidents of this United States of America and apostles and prophets in the Church.

And so, when I consider the Mayflower story, I can testify not only as a Church leader but also as a father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, that Nephi’s vision was correct when he declared that “by small means the Lord can bring about great things.”[10]

Fortunately, the Pilgrims did not forget that the Lord had, through small means, worked miracles for them, and they transferred their faith in miracles to the next generations. And it was a good thing they did, because the kingdom of God on earth could not be restored in this land until a divinely inspired Constitution would protect its existence. And that Constitution would only come, according to Doctrine and Covenants 101:80, when the Lord sent “wise men” whom He had “raised up” and had “redeemed the land by the shedding of blood.”

In chapter 13, Nephi also saw that generation of wise men, the patriots of the American Revolution. After describing what he saw of the Pilgrims and the early settlers in the land, he recorded:

And I beheld that their mother Gentiles were gathered together upon the waters, and upon the land also, to battle against them.

         And I beheld that the power of God was with them . . .

[And] the Gentiles that had gone out of captivity were delivered by the power of God.”[11]

This is a prophecy of the Revolutionary War. There is perhaps no better example of history corroborating scripture than this.

From Plymouth, I traveled north to Boston in order to understand some of the history of the Revolutionary War. Among many places there, we stood upon the high grounds just south of Boston called Dorchester Heights, where another miracle occurred in March of 1776. This is the story of Henry Knox, a highly unlikely supporter of General Washington.[12] Knox was a 250-pound, 25-year-old bookseller in Boston with little hands-on military experience.[13] But he loved the Lord and believed the cause of freedom was God’s will for America.[14]

After the British had taken over Boston to squash the American revolution, Knox convinced General Washington to let him take a 300-mile journey into New York to seize badly needed cannons. Desperate for any means to end the British occupation of America, Washington let him go. Knox succeeded in obtaining over 120,000 pounds of mortars and cannons. In order to get them back to General Washington, Knox built sleds, though there was no snow to make the transport possible. He built the sleds anyway, then prayed and waited. Knox was a praying man who read his Bible to his companions regularly.[15] And it all paid off. For on Christmas morning 1775, the snow came and came hard. At last, Knox had his 300 miles of blessed snow, not to mention a newly frozen-over Hudson River, to carry the cannons and guns back to General Washington.[16]

Once the delivery was made, Washington ordered his troops to take Knox’s cannons and guns to the top of Dorchester Heights, where the Americans could gain an advantage over the British troops hunkered down in Boston. Washington’s advisors told him the plan would likely be fatal to the Revolution, for the British were watching and would immediately attack if they saw the American troops mobilize toward the heights. But Washington moved anyway, and he was once again blessed. For during the night of March 4, 1776, as Knox’s cannon moved toward and up Dorchester Heights, an amazing miracle occurred: a layer of fog dropped down between the American and British troops.[17] As Reverend William Gordon observed, “A finer [night] for working could not have been taken out of the whole 365 [days]. It was hazy below [the Heights] so that our people could not be seen, though it was a bright moonlight night above on the hills.”[18]

By dawn the next morning, two strongholds had been built atop the Heights and were armed with at least twenty cannons and thousands of troops. When the British awoke and saw what had happened, they were astonished.[19] One British officer reported the shocking incident to London, declaring that it all had been done “with an expedition equal to that of the genie belonging to Aladdin’s wonderful lamp.”[20] It was enough to encourage the British to abandon New England altogether, which occurred a few days later.[21]

The pattern of miracles throughout the Revolution is apparent. In fact, these trends continued in varying degrees through most of the important battles during the length of the seven-year conflict until the British not only abandoned New England but eventually abandoned the entire American continent. At last, the land was free and the foundation for the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ was surer than ever.

When we read the letters and diaries of the Founding Fathers and Mothers, it is clear they believed they had a better chance at receiving their needed miracles if they had entered into a relationship with God, which required their national adherence to that God. Many of you would see that kind of relationship as a covenant relationship. And many of you understand that because you yourselves have, through the restored priesthood of God, made covenants and are living those covenants.

I invite you to think more upon these covenants you have made. Listen to the words spoken at the sacrament table during Sunday worship. Go often to the temple and listen to the blessings promised to you there. I encourage you to utilize these powerful covenants to seek those blessings and miracles you need. And again, I say to you: Expect those blessings. Recognize them—even and especially the small ones—when they come. And be grateful for them.

And finally, live as Washington taught his troops to live—with righteousness, humility, and gratitude to God.[22] While he did all that he could to prepare himself and his country to fight for righteousness, Washington also humbly recognized, as stated in his own words, that “Providence has heretofore saved us in a remarkable manner, and on this we must principally rely.”[23]

At a devotional in Boston, I was prompted to call the people of America to pray for our leaders and for our precious country. We all need to do this every day because this was the covenant formula that—as Nephi saw—brought us both the greatness of independence and eventually the glory of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In April next year, we will celebrate the 200th year since Joseph Smith entered the Sacred Grove and our Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to him to open this final dispensation preparing for the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Just think of that, you are recipients of this great time when the gospel is upon the earth and you are free to receive it and live it.

My dear graduates and students, in seven days we will celebrate Christmas. On behalf of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, I wish you a Merry Christmas. May our Heavenly Father bless each of you as we celebrate the miraculous birth and life of our Savior Jesus Christ—He who performed so many miracles, including the miracle of His infinite Atonement.

I leave you my witness, my testimony, that Jesus lives. We have here in Rexburg, Idaho, a graduating class ready to go out into a world. I pray Heavenly Father to bless you to not be casual, or not underestimate what it means to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and to realize, all the days of your life, the miracles God had to perform for us to have it. My testimony and witness is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true church, the Church of Jesus Christ. We are so blessed to have it in our lives. May we cherish it every day of our lives is my humble prayer and blessing, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

[1] 1 Nephi 13:12–20.

[2] 1 Nephi 13:13, 15, 20, 23.

[3] William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation: 1620–1947, ed. Samuel Eliot Morison (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002), 59; Nathaniel Philbrick, Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War (New York: Viking, 2006), 32–33.

[4] Their average sailing speed from England to North America was just two miles an hour (Philbrick, Mayflower, 33).

[5] Philbrick, Mayflower, 33, 36–37.

[6] Before landing at Cape Cod (where Plymouth Plantation was later built), they had attempted to sail southward to the Hudson River, but were impeded by a storm and dangerous shoals. Once in New England, “the most able men began exploring the area to find a suitable place to settle. After several weeks, the exploring party arrived at what appeared to be an abandoned Wampanoag community. The plentiful water supply, good harbor, cleared fields, and location on a hill made the area a favorable place for settlement. Mayflower arrived in Plymouth Harbor on December 16, 1620 and the colonists began building their town” (“Who Were the Pilgrims?” Plimoth Plantation, accessed Nov. 15, 2019,; see also Philbrick, Mayflower, 35–39; Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, ed. Morison, 59–72).

[7] See the following for an excellent history of the Pilgrims, their hardships, and the miracles that saved them: Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, ed. Morison, 59–85; see also Philbrick, Mayflower, 31–103.

[8] 1 Nephi 16:29.

[9] See Howland Family Chart,, available at Other important historical figures are also descendants of John Howland, including: Sir Winston Churchill and several United States presidents (Howland Family Chart).

[10] 1 Nephi 16:29.

[11] 1 Nephi 13:17–19.

[12] “The Dorchester Heights Memorial in Thomas Park overlooks all of Boston from what is now South Boston. . . . Etched in stone at the base of the final walkway to the top of the hill, the entrance to the National Park Service memorial is inscribed, ‘Under the leadership of General John Thomas, 3,000 soldiers fortified these heights in March 1776, forcing the evacuation of British troops from Boston.’ At another approach to the park is etched, ‘As the final act of an eleven month siege, the Continental Army occupied these Heights and forced the evacuation of British troops from Boston on March 17, 1776 – General George Washington’s first victory in the American Revolution.’ . . . [Another granite monument reads,] ‘At this place the cannons brought by General Henry Knox from Fort Ticonderoga to deliver to General George Washington in the winter of 1775–1776 were used to force the British Army to evacuate the city of Boston’” (“The Dorchester Heights Memorial, South Boston, and the Celebration of Evacuation Day,” Journal of the American Revolution, accessed Nov. 15, 2019, See also “George Washington’s First Victory,” George Washington Papers, accessed Nov. 15, 2019,

[13] Henry Knox had served for a short time in the artillery unit of the local militia and was trained by British soldiers. On his own, he studied military science, battlefield tactics, engineering, geometry, calculus, fortification design, how to transport cannon, and more. By the time he was 25, he had become “a skilled [military] engineer and military tactician” (Mark Puls, Henry Knox: Visionary General of the American Revolution [New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2008], 6–7, 27, Google Books, accessed Nov. 18, 2019,; see also David McCullough, 1776 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), 58–59.

[14] “Knox persistently urged that the cause was too dear to the God of Nations to be allowed to fall. . . . He confidently predicted the final victory of the arms of the nascent nation. . . . It was Knox’s cheery spirit and his calm belief in ultimate success that strengthened the faith of the Commander-in-chief” (Noah Brooks, Henry Knox: A Soldier of the Revolution [New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1900], 76–77, Google Books, accessed Nov. 19, 2019,

[15] In Frances Samuel Drake, Life and Correspondence of Henry Knox: Major-General in the American Revolutionary Army (Boston: Samuel G. Drake, 1873), 29, Google Books, accessed Nov. 14, 2019,,+Life+and+Correspondence+of+Henry+Knox,+Major-General+in+the+American+Revolutionary+Army&hl=en&newbks=1&newbks_redir=0&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjipeCNnerlAhXOuZ4KHaXgCDwQ6AEwAXoECAEQAw#v=onepage&q=Frances%20S.%20Drake%2C%20Life%20and%20Correspondence%20of%20Henry%20Knox%2C%20Major-General%20in%20the%20American%20Revolutionary%20Army&f=false .

[16] Henry Knox Diary, January 8, 1776, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Henry Knox Papers II, accessed Nov. 14, 2019,; David McCullough, 1776, 81–85.

[17] McCullough, 1776, 90–92.

[18] William Gordon, in David McCullough, 1776, 92. See also “Military Significance of the Heights,” The Urban Imagination, Harvard University, accessed Nov. 11, 2019,

[19] McCullough, 1776, 88–93.

[20] As quoted in McCullough, 1776, 93.

[21] McCullough, 1776, 94–99, 104–105.

[22] See, for instance, George Washington to Stephen Moylan and William Palfrey [George Washington’s Aids-De-Camp], General Orders, Mar. 6, 1776, Cambridge, MA, in The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745–1799, ed. John C. Fitzpatrick, vol. 4 (Washington, United States Government Printing Office, 1931), 369; also in “General Orders, 6 March 1776,” Founders Online, National Archives, accessed Nov. 19, 2019, [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 3, 1 January 1776?–?31 March 1776, ed. Philander D. Chase. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1988, pp. 413–414.]

[23] “From George Washington to John Parke Custis, 22 January 1777, Founders Online, National Archives, accessed Nov. 11, 2019,  [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 8, 6 January 1777?–?27 March 1777, ed. Frank E. Grizzard, Jr. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998, pp. 123–125.]