On 28 July 1847, four days after his arrival in that valley, Brigham Young stood upon the spot where now rises the magnificent Salt Lake Temple and exclaimed to his companions: "Here [we will build] the Temple of our God!" (James H. Anderson, "The Salt Lake Temple," Contributor [The Young Men's Mutual Improvement Associations of Zion], no. 6, April 1893, p. 243).
Its grounds would cover an eighth of a square mile, and it would be built to stand through eternity. Who cares about the money or stone or timber or glass or gold they don't have? So what that seeds are not even planted and the Saints are yet without homes? Why worry that crickets will soon be coming--and so will the United States Army?
They just marched forth and broke ground for the most massive, permanent, inspiring edifice they could conceive. And they would spend forty years of their lives trying to complete it.
The work seemed ill-fated from the start. The excavation for the basement required trenches twenty feet wide and sixteen feet deep, much of it through solid gravel. Just digging for the foundation alone required nine thousand man days of labor. Surely someone must have said, "A temple would be fine, but do we really need one this big?" But they kept on digging. Maybe they believed they were "laying the foundation of a great work." In any case they worked on, "not weary in well-doing."
And through it all Brigham Young had dreamed the dream and seen the vision. With the excavation complete and the cornerstone ceremony concluded, he said to the Saints assembled:
I do not like to prophesy much, . . . But I will venture to guess that this day, and the work we have performed on it, will long be remembered by this people, and be sounded as with a trumpet's voice throughout the world. . . . Five years ago last July I was here, and saw in the spirit the Temple. [I stood] not ten feet from where we have laid the chief corner stone. I have not inquired what kind of a temple we should build. Why? Because it was [fully] represented before me. [Anderson, Contributor, p. 25758]
But as Brigham Young also said, "We never began to build [any] temple without the bells of hell beginning to ring" (J.A. Widtsoe [ed.], Discourses of Brigham Young [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1973], p. 410). No sooner was the foundation work finished than Albert Sidney Johnston and his United States troops set out for the Salt Lake Valley intent on war with "the Mormons." In response President Young made elaborate plans to evacuate and, if necessary, destroy the entire city behind them. But what to do about the temple whose massive excavation was already completed and its 8' x 16' foundational walls firmly in place? They did the only thing they could do--they filled it all back in again. Every shovelful. All that soil and gravel that had been so painstakingly removed with those nine thousand man days of labor was filled back in. When they finished, those acres looked like nothing more interesting than a field that had been plowed up and left unplanted.
When the Utah War threat had been removed, the Saints returned to their homes and painfully worked again at uncovering the foundation and removing the material from the excavated basement structure.
But then the apparent masochism of all this seemed most evident when not adobes or sandstone but massive granite boulders were selected for the basic construction material. And they were twenty miles away in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Furthermore the precise design and dimensions of every one of the thousands of stones to be used in that massive structure had to be marked out individually in the architect's office and shaped accordingly. This was a suffocatingly slow process. Just to put one layer of the six hundred hand-sketched, individually squared, and precisely cut stones around the building took nearly three years. That progress was so slow that virtually no one walking by the temple block could ever see any progress at all.
And, of course, getting the stone from mountain to city center was a nightmare. A canal on which to convey the stone was begun and a great deal of labor and money expended on it, but it was finally aborted. Other means were tried, but oxen proved to be the only viable means of transportation. In the 1860s and '70s always four and often six oxen in a team could be seen almost any working day of the year, toiling and tugging and struggling to pull from the quarry one monstrous block of granite, or at most two of medium size.
During that time, as if the United States Army hadn't been enough, the Saints had plenty of other interruptions. The arrival of the railroad pulled almost all of the working force off the temple for nearly three years, and twice grasshopper invasions sent the workers into full-time summer combat with the pests. By mid-1871, fully two decades and untold misery after it had begun, the walls of the temple were barely visible above ground. Far more visible was the teamster's route from Cottonwood, strewn with the wreckage of wagons--and dreams--unable to bear the load placed on them. The journals and histories of these teamsters are filled with accounts of broken axles, mud-mired animals, shattered sprockets, and shattered hopes. I do not have any evidence that these men swore, but surely they might have been seen turning a rather steely eye toward heaven. But they believed and kept pulling. And through all of this President Young seemed in no hurry. "The Temple will be built as soon as we are prepared to use it," he said (Anderson, Contributor, p. 266). Indeed his vision was so lofty and his hope so broad that right in the middle of this staggering effort requiring virtually all that the Saints could seem to bear, he announced the construction of the St. George, Manti, and Logan Temples.
"Can you accomplish the work, you Latter-day Saints of these several counties?" he asked. And then in his own inimitable way he answered:
Yes; that is a question I can answer readily. You are perfectly able to do it. The question is, have you the necessary faith? Have you sufficient of the Spirit of God in your hearts to say, yes, by the help of God our Father we will erect these buildings to his name? . . . Go to now, with your might and with your means and finish this Temple. [Anderson, Contributor, p. 267]
So they squared their shoulders and stiffened their backs and went forward with their might. But when President Brigham Young died in 1877, the temple was still scarcely twenty feet above the ground. Ten years later, his successor, President John Taylor, and the temple's original architect, Truman O. Angell, were dead as well. The side walls were just up to the square. And now the infamous Edmunds-Tucker Act had already been passed by Congress disincorporating The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One of the effects of this law was to put the Church into receivership, whereby the U.S. marshall under a November court order seized this temple the Saints had now spent just under forty years of their lives dreaming of, working for, and praying fervently to enjoy. To all appearances, the still unfinished but increasingly magnificent structure was to be wrested at this last hour from its rightful owners and put into the hands of aliens and enemies, the very group who had often boasted that the Latter-day Saints would never be permitted to finish the building. It seemed those boasts were certain to be fulfilled. Schemes were immediately put forward to divert the intended use of the temple in ways that would desecrate its holy purpose and mock the staggering sacrifice of the Saints who had so faithfully tried to build it.
But God was with these modern children of Israel, as he always has been and always will be. They did all they could do and left the rest in his hands. And the Red Sea parted before them, and they walked through on firm, dry ground. On 6 April 1892, the Saints as a body were nearly delirious. Now, finally, here in their own valley with their own hands they had cut out of the mountains a granite monument that was to mark, after all they had gone through, the safety of the Saints and the permanence of Christ's true church on earth for this one last dispensation. The central symbol of all that was the completed House of their God. The streets were literally jammed with people. Forty thousand of them fought their way on to the temple grounds. Ten thousand more, unable to gain entrance, scrambled to the tops of nearby buildings in hopes that some glimpse of the activities might be had. Inside the Tabernacle President Wilford Woodruff, visibly moved by the significance of the moment, said:
If there is any scene on the face of this earth that will attract the attention of the God of heaven and the heavenly host, it is the one before us today--the assembling of this people, the shout of 'Hosanna!' the laying of the topstone of this Temple in honor to our God. [Anderson, Contributor, p. 270]
Then, moving outside, he laid the capstone in place exactly at high noon.
In the writing of one who was there, "The scene that followed is beyond the power of language to describe." Lorenzo Snow, beloved President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, came forward leading 40,000 Latter-day Saints in the Hosanna shout. Every hand held a handkerchief every eye was filled with tears. One said the very "ground seemed to tremble with the volume of the sound" which echoed off the tops of the mountains. "A grander or more imposing spectacle than this ceremony of laying the Temple capstone is not recorded in history" (Anderson, Contributor, p. 273). It was finally and forever finished.
Later that year the prestigious Scientific American (1892), referred to this majestic new edifice as a "monument to Mormon perseverance." And so it was. Blood, toil, tears, and sweat.
The best things are always worth finishing. "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God?" (1 Corinthians 3:16). Most assuredly you are. As long and laborious as the effort may seem, please keep shaping and setting the stones that will make your accomplishment "a grand and imposing spectacle." Take advantage of every opportunity to learn and grow. Dream dreams and see visions. Work toward their realization. Wait patiently when you have no other choice. Lean on your sword and rest a while, but get up and fight again. Perhaps you will not see the full meaning of your effort in your own lifetime. But your children will, or your children's children will, until finally you, with all of them, can give the Hosanna shout.
I testify that God loves each of us and that Jesus of Nazareth, his Only Begotten Son, came to "succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees" (D&C 81:5)--bringing a divine form of worker's compensation, if you will, to you who keep tugging those granite boulders so faithfully into place. I love you and believe in you. This morning I have wanted to encourage you. You are laying the foundation of a great work--your own inestimable future. "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God?" I pray that your life may be "a monument to Mormon perseverance" "however long and hard the road," in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, "However Long and Hard the Road" (BYU Devotional, January 18, 1983)