Jesse Knight lived during the early days of the Church in Utah. During his early years he wasn’t as active in the Church as he should have been, but once he became active, he played a pivotal role in the finances of the Church. As a struggling farmer near Payson, Utah, he was one day watching his animals on a hill side when he heard a voice say, “the wealth of these mountains belongs to the Mormons.” He took up mining, hoping, as all miners do, to strike it rich. However, his attitude was a little different. He once told his son that the Lord would bless him with all the money he wanted as soon as the Lord knew he could handle it. That day did come.
Jesse Knight did find his wealth in the hills of central Utah. He built a town called Knightsville, the only mining town that didn’t have a saloon and the only mine that didn’t work Sundays. He treated his miners well and they in turn, worked hard for him. He became one of the wealthiest citizens during the roaring mining days of early Utah.
Perhaps the most unique thing about Jesse Knight is the way he used his money. During a period of high unemployment in the area, he kept a useless mine shaft in operation just so the miners could take home a paycheck.
A story told by President Heber J. Grant shows another side of Jesse Knight. Apparently a bank in Salt Lake City that several of the Brethren were directors of was about to fail. Fearing embarrassment for them and the Church, Elder Grant was asked to call upon two of Utah’s wealthy men—Reed Smoot and Jesse Knight. They both didn’t feel saving the embarrassment of a few men was worth contributing to. Reed Smoot was asked to donate $2,000 but only offered $1,000. Jesse Knight was asked to donate $5,000 and refused to donate anything. Elder Grant asked them to pray about it, and both agreed. Jesses was normally a “very generous contributor” but didn’t feel this was a worthy cause. “He said, ‘I’ll tell you what I will do. I will go home tonight, and pray to the Lord about that. And if I get the inspiration to give you that $5,000, I’ll do it.’ ‘Well,’ Brother Grant said, ‘I might as well have the check in my pocket now. I am sure if you pray about it, I’ll get it.’
“And so, two or three days later there came through the mail two checks—one from Jesse M. Knight for $10,000, and one from Brother Smoot for $2,000. “When Brother Grant saw Jesse a few days later, he said, ‘What happened? I didn’t ask you for $10,000. I only asked for $5,000.’ Brother Knight said, ‘I’ll tell you this, Brother Grant. When you come to me again with a mission from the President of the Church to raise funds, I’m going to pay without any question.’ He said, ‘You’re much more liberal than the Lord is. I went home as I promised to do, and I told the Lord that Heber was asking me for this contribution, and I wanted to know how he felt about it. I got down on my knees, and it just kept going through my mind like a tune: ‘Give Heber $10,000.’ And I got into bed and that tune kept going through my mind: ‘Give Heber $10,000. Give Heber $10,000.’ I got down on my knees again and said, ‘Lord, Heber didn’t ask me for $10,000. He only asked me for $5,000.’ The tune kept going through my mind . . . and so, in order to satisfy the situation and have peace of mind, I told the Lord, ‘Alright, I’ll give him $10,000’.” (BYU Speeches of the Year, July 29, 1969, pp. 6-7)
Jesse continued to give to the Church whenever asked by the Brethren to do so. One of his favorite beneficiaries was Brigham Young University. In essence, BYU would not exist today without Jesse Knights generous donations during the early the years of its existence.
Jacob warned his people about the pride that often accompanies wealth and riches. He pled with them to rid themselves of the pride that rationalized the way they treated people of less standing. Instead of viewing each other as children of Father in Heaven and equal in His sight, they positioned themselves in groups based on wealth and education. Instead of pride, Jacob asked his people to “think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you. But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God. And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted” (Jacob 2:17-19).
To obtain a hope in Christ, you must learn of him. You must learn who you and those around you really are. With the knowledge and understanding that we are all beggars before the God and Father of us all, we cannot look upon the needs of others and not feel a need to help where possible. The Church shares millions of dollars every year to help those in need.
President Hinckley recent spoke to the National Press Club and outlined some of the Church’s efforts to “clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry.” To liberate the captive, the Church is providing micro-lending to cottage industries to provide work and opportunity for those who obtain the loan. The Church is providing means for many to attend school and raise their level of education in order that they may better care for their families future. There are Bishop Storehouses and Deseret Industries that reach out to those in need of food and clothing. Truly the Church, and private organizations funded by members, are truly liberating many from financial bondage. And truly there is no greater relief to the soul of the “sick and the afflicted” than the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is no wonder then that the Church is quickly building temples for members around the world to teach and administer the blessings of eternity to all who are fallen, sick and afflicted. There is true peace to the soul in the temples of the Lord.
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May we “obtain a hope in Christ” and then move forward, as Jesse Knight, with a spirit of charity for all people. May we strive to “obtain riches . . . [only] for the intent to do good” (Jacob 2:19).