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God is the Gardener

By Hugh B. Brown



It is indeed a daring if not a reckless venture for an octogenarian to undertake to speak across a void of sixty years to a group of vibrant young students who are graduating. But knowing of your four years of training, especially in patience and endurance in your classes, I think that you will have some sympathy with me if I attempt to address you from the far side of the stream of life. Now I’d like to bring to your attention one of the oldest subjects known to man, timeless in interest, always up to date and imperative in its appeal, a subject on which the sages have spent much time, with which philosophers have wrestled, and on which scientists have made great opinions learned and thoughtful. Even with the beginning of time, right down to this space-electronic age, this has been a lively subject, imperative in its demands. It is vitally important to each and all of us, from the time we enter this world until we leave it, and then on throughout eternity. The subject I wish to discuss this evening briefly but reverently is God and man’s relationship to him.

In the tenth chapter of Luke, we read, thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy strength, with all thy soul, with all thy heart, and with all thy mind. Can a man love God with his mind? Or is the mind limited to those cold processes of reasoning only? You young men and women have already begun to study and to marvel at the wonders of your universe. Your maturing and enquiring minds have caused you to ask, “Who was in control when all this was set in motion?” I would rather you find a reverent and truthful answer to that question than to be able to read in Greek and Hebrew, or to read the planets, or nature’s story in stone and earth and plant. In other words, I would have you put first things first and begin your education at the center of your heart. As these convictions grow you will hunger and thirst after knowledge even as a plant thirsts for water.

You will come to realize that all the knowledge that is attainable at the best universities, without some underlying synthesis, some understandable meaning and purpose, without these it would be incomplete and wholly inadequate. I’m pleading for you to take note of the underlying truths having to do with our universe, with our lives, with our purpose in life, and then live as though we believe what we say when we say we believe in God. Jesus said that if you are to have life eternal, you must know God. As we progressively come to know him, we’ll be prompted to emulate him. That’s the thing I’d like to leave with this graduating class, to call the attention of all of us, that as we progressively come to know him, we will undeniably and constantly be reminded of the possibility of our emulating him and thereby becoming more like him.

I was in Colorado Springs recently, a guest of the commanding officer, a speaker to the cadets. And the commanding officer took us on a tour of the faculty there, of the campus. And we came to a wonderful monument, topped by a falcon with spreading wings. On the base of this monument I read these words: “Man’s flight through life is sustained by the power of his knowledge.” And I asked myself, “What knowledge? Which phase of knowledge, which branch of learning will most definitely and inspiringly take care of man’s flight through life?” I concluded that man’s life, and his flight through life, are sustained most by a knowledge of God and of man. I submit to you that faith in a personal God, one that can be referred to as “Father,” gives one a sense of dignity and holds before one an ideal toward which to strive. He is real, as you and I are real. And I want to impress that on the minds of you young students as you go out into the world: that you have someone greater than yourself dwelling with you and on whom you can call.

In the story of the Creation these words are read in Genesis, “So God created man in his own image. In the image of God created he him. Male and female created he them.” It was doubtless this thought of man in God’s image, in a Godlike status, that prompted the apostle John to say, Now are we the sons of God. And it doth not yet appear what we shall be, but this we know, that when he doth come we will see him and know him as he is for we shall be like him (1 John). 

Across the centuries, no experience has been more universal and helpful than the sense of someone caring for us, near enough to be called upon, responsive enough to understand. He is real, and he is personal, and should be idealized but also realized. We must not only possess the idea of God, but we should be possessed by it. Men do not believe in God because they have proved him, rather they try endlessly to prove him because they can’t help believing in him. He has established that in the hearts of his children.

You are now alumni of, not only a Church-related institution, but one which is Church owned and operated. Be grateful for that fact, young people. As you consider the history of education in America, you may be surprised by what religion has done for the great universities of our land and of the world. I am indebted to Reverend Earl L. Reilly of First Baptist Church in Salt Lake City for some statistical information which I would like to share with you. Heracles founded his civilization upon common culture and it failed. Caesar founded his civilization upon law and it failed. Alexander founded his civilization upon power and it also failed. Our forefathers knew that any other basis than religion and education, the two greatest forces in the world, would be inadequate as a basis upon which to build a civilization. And if it were built upon anything less than real religion and good education, we’d have only an artificial structure. Twenty-three of the first Twenty-four universities built in America were built by religious organizations. Out of 119 educational institutions east of the Mississippi, 103 of them were built by religious organizations. For the first 150 years of America, churches provided all the institutions of higher learning. From these halls came leaders of thought and champions of liberty who made our republic possible. Jefferson was an alumnus of William & Mary, James Madison of Princeton, Alexander Hamilton was an alumnus of what is now the Columbia University. It is interesting to note that all but eight of the fifty-five who signed the Declaration of Independence, and most of those who wrote the Constitution, breathed the atmosphere of church-supported institutions of learning. Thomas Jefferson declared the people cannot be ignorant and free. The founding of the University of Virginia was the crowning achievement of his life. Benjamin Franklin rejoiced that he was the founder of the University of Pennsylvania. George Washington left a $50,000 bequest to Washington and Lee Universities, the recipients of the legacy. Leaders of church and state are the products of schools begun by orthodox Christianity. Sixteen of the first eighteen presidents were college graduates, were graduates from church-related institutions of higher learning. Seven of the first chief justices of the supreme court were college graduates, graduated from church-related schools. That’s the end of the quotation.

Now you have been taught, young people, to believe that God and man belong to a society of eternal intelligences. The difference is, of course, indescribably great, but is one of degree rather than of kind. The idea of a supreme being is indelibly stamped on the inner consciousnesses of men. While man is, to some extent, master of his destiny, he is conscious of his relation, of the supreme source of his existence. Dr. James E. Talmage sums up the discussion of creation of the universe as follows: “What is man in this boundless setting of sublime splendor? I answer you, potentially now but actually to be, man is greater and grander, more precious in the arithmetic of God than all the planets and suns of space. For him they were created.” I’m reading this because I would like you to feel the dignity of man, and dignify it by your conduct as you go forward as responsible citizens of our country and representatives of this great university. In this world, man is given dominion over a few things. It is his privilege to achieve supremacy over many things. The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth his handiwork. Incomprehensibly grand are the physical creations of the earth and space. They have been the product, they have been brought into existence, as the means to an end. Necessary to the realization of the supreme purpose, which in the words of the Creator is thus declared, “Behold, this is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).

Some theologians tell us that God is incomprehensible. But he says that to know him is life eternal (John 17:3). The one takes hope out of life; the other is an eternal beacon.

Sometimes young people say we older ones are behind the times – and they’re probably right. They’re certainly right. But during the time that is behind me, and I bring this to you as a testimony, during the time that is behind me I have developed a faith in a personal and living God, which I consider to be the most priceless possession. It has been my glorious privilege, progressively, to know him. Such faith gives order, meaning, stimulus, and direction to life. We cannot know him by the intellect alone, nor with bodily senses alone, nor by only reading scripture, but by inspiration, the illumination of the soul. Such was the experience of Peter at the question of Christ, “Whom say ye that I am?” and he said, without hesitation, though it was a surprise to him what he said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God”. And Christ replied to him, “Flesh and blood did not reveal this unto thee, but my Father which is in Heaven” (Matt. 16:15-17).

If you will always keep in mind that you are actually the children of your Heavenly Father, that there is something of him in you, that you may aspire to become something like that from which you came and to cooperate with him in the unfinished work of the creation, you will remember that his plan for the salvation of his children had purpose behind it, a design to be carried out. If and as you keep these great truths in mind, you will be fortified and sustained, whatever life may hold for you. It is important not only that you keep growing, but that you be merciful, adaptive, and unafraid to venture. In other words, be up to date. Seek to retain a certain flexibility of mind, which will inspire you to listen, to learn, and to adapt as you move forward into a new and ever-expanding universe. “From the cowardice that shrinks from new truth,” someone has said, “from the laziness that is content with half-truth, from the arrogance that thinks it knows all the truth, oh God of truth deliver us.”

In the process of self-discovery, you will sometimes stand amazed at which you have progressively become aware of having to do with your potential range and your abilities. You will not then be discouraged by a failure or two along the way, as long as you are learning and growing. I leave with you my humble testimony with respect to these things. Now some of you, as you go forward, are going to meet with disappointment, perhaps many disappointments – some of them crucial. Sometimes you will wonder whether he has forgotten you. Sometimes you may even wonder if he lives and where he’s gone. But in these times when so many are saying, “God is dead,” when so many are denying his existence, I think I could not leave with you a better message than this: God is aware of you individually. He knows who you are and what you are. And furthermore, he knows what you are capable of becoming. Be not discouraged then, if you do not get all the things you want just when you want them. Have the courage to go on, and face your life, and if necessary reverse it to bring it into harmony with his law.

Could I tell you just a quick story out of my own experience in life? Sixty odd years ago I was on a farm in Canada. I had purchased this from another who had been somewhat careless in keeping it up. And I went out one morning and found a currant bush at least six feet high. I knew that it was going all to wood. There was no sign of blossom or fruit. I had had some experience in pruning trees before we left Salt Lake to go to Canada, as my father had a fruit farm. I got my pruning sheers and went to work on that currant bush. And I clipped it, and cut it, and cut it down, until there was nothing left but a little clump of stumps.

As I looked at them, I yielded to an impulse which I often have, to talk with inanimate things, and have them talk to me. It’s a ridiculous habit, but one I can’t overcome. As I looked at this little clump of stumps, there seemed to be a tear on each one. And I said, “What’s the matter, currant bush? What are you crying about?” And I thought I heard that currant bush speak. It seemed to say, “How could you do this to me? I was making such wonderful growth. I was almost as large as the fruit tree and the shade tree. And now you’ve cut me down. And all in the garden will look upon me with contempt and pity. How could you do it? I thought you were the gardener here?”

I thought I heard that from the currant bush. I thought it so much that I answered it. I said, “Look, little currant bush, I am the gardener here. And I know what I want you to be. If I let you go the way you want to go, you’ll never amount to anything. But someday, when you’re laden with fruit, you’re going to think back and say, ‘Thank you, Mr. Gardener, for cutting me down; for loving me enough to hurt me.’”

Ten years passed and I found myself in Europe. I had made some progress in the First World War in the Canadian Army, in fact I was a field officer. There was only one man between me and the rank of General, which I cherished in my heart for years. And then he became a casualty. And the day after I received a telegraph from London from General Turner in charge of all Canadian officers. He said, “Be in my office tomorrow morning at ten o’clock.” I puffed up. I called my special servant, they call them batmen over there. I said, “Polish my boots and my buttons. Make me look like a General, because I’m going up tomorrow to be appointed. He did the best he could with what he had to work on, and I went to London.

I walked into the office of the General, I saluted him smartly, and he replied to my salute as higher officers usually do to juniors, sort of a ‘get out of the way, worm.’ Then he said, “Sit down, Brown.” I was deflated. I sat down. And he said, “Brown, you’re entitled to this promotion, but I cannot make it. You have qualified, passed the regulations, you have had the experience. You’re entitled to it in every way but I can’t make this appointment.” Just then he went in to the other room to answer a phone call and I did what most every officer or man in the army would do under those circumstances: I looked over on his desk to see what my personal history sheet showed. And I saw on the bottom of that history sheet in large capital letters, “THIS MAN IS A MORMON.” Now at that time we were hated heartily in Britain. And I knew why he couldn’t make the appointment. Finally he came back and said, “That’s all, Brown.” I saluted him less heartily than before and went out.

On my way back to Shorncliff 120 miles away, I thought every turn of the wheel or crack across the rails was saying, “You’re a failure. You must go home and be called a coward by those who do not understand.” And bitterness rose in my heart until when I arrived finally in my tent, I threw rather vigorously my cap on the cot together with my Sam Brown belt. I clenched my fist and I shook it at heaven. And I said, “How could you do this to me, God? I have done everything that I knew how to do to hold the standards of the Church. I was making such wonderful growth, and now you’ve cut me down. How could you do it?”

Then I heard a voice. It sounded like my own voice. And the voice said, “I’m the Gardener here. I know what I want you to be. If I let you go the way you want to go you’ll never amount to anything. And someday, when you are ripened in life, you’re going to shout back across time and say, ‘Thank you, Mr. Gardener, for cutting me down; for loving me enough to hurt me.’”

With those words which I recognized now as my words to the currant bush, which had become God’s word to me, I fell to my knees and prayed for forgiveness for my arrogance and my ambition. As I was praying there, I heard some Mormon boys in an adjoining tent singing the closing number of an MIA session, which I usually attended with them. And I recognized these words which all of you have memorized:


It may not be at the mountain peeks

Or over the storming sea,

It may not be at the battle front

That my Lord will have need of me.

But trusting my all in thy tender care,

And knowing thou lovest me

I’ll do thy will with a heart sincere.

I’ll be what you want me to be.


            My young friends and brothers and sisters, will you remember that little experience which changed my whole life? Where the Gardner took control and did for me what was best for me. For if I had gone the way I wanted to go I would have returned to Canada as the senior commanding officer of western Canada. I would have raised my family in a barracks. My six daughters would have had little chance to marry in the Church. I myself would probably have gone down and down. I do not know what might have happened. But this I know, and this I say to you, and to him in your presence: looking back over sixty years, “Thank you, Mr. Gardener, for cutting me down.”

            Now I leave with you my testimony, and I received this testimony from the same source which Jesus said inspired Peter when he said, “Thou art the Christ” (Matt. 16:16). I pray that whatever undertakings may demand of you and your attention, I ask you young man, young woman, you could not make a better resolution today than this: I am going to keep close to the Lord. I am going to understand him better, and understanding him will understand myself. I will try to put my life into harmony with his. For I have come to know that every man, every woman, has potential Godhood dwelling in him, for God is, in reality, the Father of us all.

            I leave you my blessing. God bless these young people. They are looking forward hopefully and gleefully at the experiences of life. Oh Father, be with and sustain them. Uphold them. Deepen their testimonies. Keep them true to the faith, true to themselves. Father, bless them that they may live up to the best traditions of our country and be proud of the fact that they graduated from a Church owned and operated school where they were taught these precious truths concerning the purpose of their life and their relationship to Deity. I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.          




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