In our Sunday School class this week the prophecy about a time coming when members of the Church would not be able to live on ‘borrowed light’. There was a discussion about who said this. In fact, the phrase has been used by a number of brethren including President Harold B Lee, President Gordon B Hinckley, President Spencer W Kimball, President Ezra Taft Benson, Elder Henry Taylor, Elder Charles Didier, Elder Douglas L Callister, and Elder Dallin H Oaks. However, the original quote seems to come from Elder Heber C Kimball in May 1868. As quoted by Vaughn J Featherstone in a BYU devotional in June 1983 the prophecy runs thus:
We think we are secure here in the chambers of the everlasting hills, where we can close those few doors of the canyons against mobs and persecutors, the wicked and the vile, who have always beset us with violence and robbery, but I want to say to you, my brethren, the time is coming when we will be mixed up in these now peaceful valleys to that extent that it will be difficult to tell the face of a Saint from the face of an enemy to the people of God. Then, brethren, look out for the great sieve, for there will be a great sifting time, and many will fall; for I say unto you there is a test, a test, a TEST coming, and who will be able to stand? . . .
. . . You imagine that you would have stood by him [Joseph Smith] when persecution raged and he was assailed by foes within and without. You would have defended him and been true to him in the midst of every trial. You think you would have been delighted to have shown your integrity in the days of mobs and traitors.
Let me say to you, that many of you will see the time when you will have all the trouble, trial and persecution that you can stand, and plenty of opportunities to show that you are true to God and his work. This Church has before it many close places through which it will have to pass before the work of God is crowned with victory. To meet the difficulties that are coming, it will be necessary for you to have a knowledge of the truth of this work for yourselves. The difficulties will be of such a character that the man or woman who does not possess this personal knowledge or witness will fall. If you have not got the testimony, live right and call upon the Lord and cease not till you obtain it. If you do not you will not stand.
Remember these sayings, for many of you will live to see them fulfilled. The time will come when no man nor woman will be able to endure on borrowed light. Each will have to be guided by the light within himself. [Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1967), pp. 446, 449, 450]
Elder Kimball made these remarks in 1868 and many of the people in his day will have lived to see them fulfilled, particularly in respect of the changing demographic of the Salt Lake Valley. However, the fact that modern prophets have chosen to repeat the warning indicates that it is applicable to us and that (if it has not already arrived!) the time will come when we will not be able to endure on borrowed light. I’d better get some oil in that lamp.