A Foundation: Love of God and Fellow Man

by Rob Swanson

On October 6, 1887, Wilford Woodruff helped pen an epistle to the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association (YMMIA). Unable to attend the YMMIA’s conference, President Woodruff and fellow Apostles Joseph F. Smith and Moses Thatcher sent an epistle encouraging the young men of the Church and providing counsel and direction. They offered the young men this counsel for how to leave the conference:

On returning home from this conference, we trust that you will carry with you the Spirit thereof and renewed determination to labor diligently and earnestly for improvement in the interest of purity and holiness. Remembering always the reason for the hope within you, make the love of God and of your fellows the foundation of your work; and moving forward steadily and prayerfully and earnestly, you cannot fail in accomplishing that which brings peace, happiness and salvation.1

This week’s Come, Follow Me lesson focuses on the “love of God” and takes us through the writings of John the Beloved and Jude. John especially emphasized the importance of love as a component of faithful discipleship, tying together the love of fellow men and the love of God as inseparable. To love God we keep His commandments (1 John 5:2–4), which results in us loving our fellow man. Wilford, who had spent a lifetime in service to his fellow man, understood this concept and thus urged the young men to make the two great commandments the center of discipleship, which he knew would bring them the peace and happiness promised in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

My own life has been dramatically impacted by those who understand this concept, who have made the foundation of their lives the two great commandments. I could name many individuals, but I will highlight my grandfather, who throughout his mortal life showed what it meant to serve and love. Whether it was being at service projects, going on a mission and trying to learn a new language in the twilight years of his life, or being the ward clerk for what seemed to be the hundredth time, he showed that loving God and serving others was the way to peace and happiness. It’s a formula not only for temporal happiness, but for eternal happiness that stretches beyond this mortal sphere.

Hailing from Bonners Ferry, Idaho, Robert Swanson got his BA in History at Brigham Young University and his MA in History from Rutgers University–Camden, and he is currently a History PhD student at the University of Missouri focusing his work on abolitionism in the Early American Republic. He is married to his best friend, Bridget Garner Swanson, and they have two little girls who have made life even more of a fantastic adventure than they thought possible.

  1. Epistle to the YMMIA, October 6, 1887 p. 3, The Wilford Woodruff Papers, wilfordwoodruffpapers.org/letter/1887-10-06, emphasis added.