It tends to be controversial. So I'm going to try and do a balanced look at different things in it. Not everything, there's too much. Critics use the Journal of Discourses to prove Mormonism wrong. Certainly there are things that make us go "huh?" So the church's answer is that it's not scripture. I can accept that prophets are human and say stupid things. I can also believe that sometimes they say inspired things. It's our job to figure out what to accept and what to reject.
The first one was called "Salvation" and it was a sermon given by Brigham Young delivered in the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on January 16 1853.
To be honest, I'm not a fan of BY. And he was certainly a man of his time when he writes
"the fair-skinned Christian, and the dark-skinned savage". You would think that a prophet would know better, but he didn't. We have to remember when we see things like that, that this was the American way of thinking up until the last couple of decades. All In the Family, a show in the 70's was so popular because it showed the ridiculousness of this thinking that was so prevalent at the time.
But I didn't want to write about that. It's this gem that I wanted to comment on.
There is another thing, brethren, which I wish you to keep constantly before your minds, that is with regard to your travels in life. You have read, in the Scriptures, that the children of men will be judged according to their works, whether they be good or bad. If a man's days be filled up with good works, he will be rewarded accordingly. On the other hand, if his days be filled up with evil actions, he will receive according to those acts. This proves that we are in a state of exaltation, it proves that we can add to our knowledge, wisdom, and strength, and that we can add power to every attribute that God has given us. When will the people realize that this is the period of time in which they should commence to lay the foundation of their exaltation for time and eternity, that this is the time to conceive, and bring forth from the heart fruit to the honor and glory of God, as Jesus did—grow as he did from the child, become perfect, and be prepared to be raised to salvation? You will find that this probation is the place to increase upon every little we receive, for the Lord gives line upon line to the children of men. When He reveals the plan of salvation, then is the time to fill up our days with good works.
Let us fill up our days with usefulness, do good to each other, and cease from all evil. Let every evil person forsake his wickedness. If he be wicked in his words, or in his dealings, let him forsake those practices, and pursue a course of righteousness. Let every man and woman do this, and peace and joy will be the result.
There are those that believe that it isn't good works that gets us saved. And to some extent that is correct. It is Jesus who saves us. Without Him, no one would be.
However, there is no point in claiming to be a follower of Christ, and then not follow Christ. It is more than just saying "I believe." We can't do evil and claim that we follow righteousness. The free gift that He gave to all, was not salvation. It was eternal life. We all get to live forever whether we want to or not. Salvation on the other hand is offered but we need to accept it. And it's no good accepting it and then throwing it in a closet. It's like getting a guitar for Christmas and then never learning how to use it. You won't learn to play the guitar by merely having one.
BY's statement gives us tremendous power to accept Christ's offer and honor it.
It isn't important where we are on the path when Christ comes to get us. What is important is that we're on the right path, facing the right direction, and trying to get home.
To read the full sermon you can go here. Brigham Young: Salvation.