“Cultivate the Earth and Cultivate your Minds”: Brigham Young, the Environment, and the Second Coming

By April 22, 2008

In honor of Earth Day, here is an excerpt from an 1860 sermon by Brigham Young. I’m intrigued by how his counsel to┬ácultivate the earth figures into his eschatology.

It is the privilege of the Saints to enjoy every good thing, for the earth and its fulness belong to the Lord, and he has promised all to his faithful Saints; but it must be enjoyed without the spirit of covetousness and selfishness-without the spirit of lust, and in the spirit of the Gospel: then the sun will shine sweetly upon us; each day will be filled with delight, and all things will be filled with beauty, giving joy, pleasure, and rest to the Saints. The vegetable kingdom is made for man, to gratify the taste and add health to the body and gratification to every sense. The gold and the silver will be given to the Saints, the riches of the world will be put in their possession, and they will be legal heirs. We are now passing through a day of trial, to determine whether we will prove worthy of all we may enjoy and possess, for it must be enjoyed and possessed without the spirit of covetousness. Without the pure Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, we cannot enjoy the good things of life. . . .

Brethren and sisters, I wish you to continue in your ways of welldoing; I desire that your minds may be opened more and more to see and understand things as they are. This earth, in its present condition and situation, is not a fit habitation for the sanctified; but it abides the law of its creation, has been baptized with water, will be baptized by fire and the Holy Ghost, and by-and-by will be prepared for the faithful to dwell upon.

Shall we not strive to prepare ourselves as much as possible for the coming of the Son of Man? The Savior will dictate his kingdom, through his Apostles and Prophets, until all the heathen nations are virtually redeemed by the ordinances that effect redemption, that they may inherit the kingdom that is prepared for them. This work must progress. This earth must become a paradise-must be purged of the sin that has been upon it for many generations, for all sin and iniquity must be swept from it, and a people be prepared for the coming of the Son of Man. He will prepare a people long before the earth is celestialized and prepared for the presence of God. The Saints will increase, the Spirit of wisdom and knowledge will increase, and every grace of the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ must increase upon the earth, until a people and place are so prepared that the Savior can come and finish the work given him to do, when he will present the kingdom to the Father.

There is a great work for the Saints to do. Progress, and improve upon, and make beautiful everything around you. Cultivate the earth and cultivate your minds. Build cities, adorn your habitations, make gardens, orchards, and vineyards, and render the earth so pleasant that when you look upon your labors you may do so with pleasure, and that angels may delight to come and visit your beautiful locations. In the meantime, continually seek to adorn your minds with all the graces of the Spirit of Christ. [1]


[1] Brigham Young, “Religion, Progress, and Privileges of the Saints, &c.,” Journal of Discourses 8:83.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. I’d heard a story whose veracity I kind of doubt. I wonder if any of you could confirm or disconfirm it. The story is that most of the mountains on the wasatch front (minus up the valleys) were treeless and that Brigham Young assigned people to heavily plant trees. Then early in the 20th century most of the trees were logged off.

    Sounds dubious to me but I’m curious if anyone knows anything about Brigham and tree planting.

    Comment by Clark — April 22, 2008 @ 1:48 pm

  2. Clark, I don’t know about the Wasatch Front, but in reading Card’s Utah diaries, trees in Cache Valley were limited to certain areas/canyons.

    Comment by J. Stapley — April 22, 2008 @ 2:14 pm

  3. Richard Jackson has some articles that may deal with this.

    Comment by Sterling — April 22, 2008 @ 2:27 pm

  4. Not true, Clark. The legislative grants to manage wood resources for the benefit of the people date to the early 1850s. You can find lots of early (1850s) newspaper references to building roads up to wood sources, and getting your wood in early this fall, and being hurt by accidents while coming down the canyons with loads of wood. The 1856 and 1857 Pioneer Day celebrations were held up in the canyons in large part because of the trees. I have early newspaper and mail references to forest fires on the mountains ringing the Salt Lake Valley. In other words, there is lots of evidence that there was a more-or-less adequate 19th century tree supply as long as it was prudently managed.

    And I’ve never seen a sermon calling for the planting of trees except fruit trees in city lots and shade trees along streets, or read any note in any Brigham Young letter to an absent leader mentioning the progress of any tree-planting scheme (except the shade trees).

    A huge number of trees *were* planted on Utah mountainsides in the early 20th century; maybe that’s the kernel of truth behind the story you heard? Overgrazing, chiefly by sheep, and eating of tree bark had destroyed a lot of underbrush and killed many trees, and the sharp hooves of sheep had cut into the stream banks so severely that flash flooding was a terrible hazard that had barely existed before. This was one of the chief motives behind the development of the national forest system. Tree planting in the early 20th century went to counteracting the flash floods.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — April 22, 2008 @ 3:56 pm

  5. Arrington’s Great Basin Kingdom briefly treats the concept of stewardship over natural resources, and in particular, BY appointing trees and other natural resources as community resources, to be managed for the benefit of all. The goal was to prevent someone from getting a monopoly on natural resources that ought to accrue a benefit to all the Saints.

    Comment by kevinf — April 22, 2008 @ 5:32 pm

  6. Ahhhh to have all the information in Ardis’s head implanted in my own . . . . ­čśë

    Comment by Randy B. — April 23, 2008 @ 10:09 am

  7. […] this a few months ago, and have been waiting until Earth Day to post it. Since last year’s Earth Day post at the JI looked at a quote from 19th century Mormonism on the environment, I thought it would be […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » “Rap about Wrapping”: Environmentalism in the New Era, 1991 — April 22, 2009 @ 10:57 am


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