One of the most influential figures in world history began his early life as an unassuming, unlearned farm boy from upper state New York. Born on December 23, 1805, Joseph Smith, Jr. was the fourth of eleven children born to Joseph and Lucy Mack Smith. America at the time was abuzz with religious revival. The Smith family was a mixture of Methodists and Presbyterians. They attended revival meetings and church services when they could, but their primary devotions were in their home as a family. This blend of influences filled the young Joseph with a desire to find the Lord’s one true Church – a quest that would lead him to transform the world.
As a fourteen year old boy, Joseph Smith found himself seeking advice from pastors, pondering the Gospel, and reading from the Holy Bible. He was particularly confused at the stark differences in doctrine held by all the various sects claiming to be Christian. He recalled the scenes of confusion which resulted from these irreconcilable differences:
“[A]scene of great confusion and bad feeling ensued—priest contending against priest, and convert against convert; so that all their good feelings one for another, if they ever had any, were entirely lost in a strife of words and a contest about opinions” (Joseph Smith History 1:6).
Joseph wondered how he could ever learn the truth by consulting the Bible since every religious group had a different interpretation of that holy book. He observed that “the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible” (Joseph Smith History 1:12).
It was during this time of confusion in 1820 that Joseph Smith came across a passage of scripture that left a profound impression on his mind and led him on a course that not only changed his life, but which continues to shape our world today. Joseph Smith was reading in the book of James when this passage lept off the page:
“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5).
The young Joseph recounted how deeply this inspired counsel affected him:
“Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know. . . .
“At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God. I at length came to the determination to “ask of God,” concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture.
“So, in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt” (Joseph Smith History 1:12-14).
Can you see the simple faith of a humble boy reflected in these words? Joseph was a sincere person. He merely wanted to know what God wished him to do. It was his faith that if he obeyed the words of scripture and prayed in sincerity of soul, God would lead him as the Apostle James had testified He would. Joseph was therefore determined to pray and then follow any answer received because he knew that God would not lie.
Perhaps the most extraordinary event of Joseph Smith’s life occurred when he “retired to the woods” to pray to his Maker. Joseph recounted his sacred experience thus:
“It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty. It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt, for midst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally.
“After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.
“But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
“It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Joseph Smith History 1:14-17)
What the young Joseph Smith experienced that spring day in a grove of trees is referred to as a theophany, or an appearance of God to man. The Bible records numerous theophanies, from Moses’ experiences seeing and speaking with Jehovah (Exodus 3:4-6; Exodus 19:19-20) to Abraham’s first vision of God (Genesis 18:1-3) to Jacob’s famous wrestle (Genesis 32:27-30) to Isaiah’s vision of the Lord on His throne (Isaiah 6:1) and so forth. At times, these sacred experiences were given to older men and at times they were granted to humble youths like Samuel (1 Samuel 3:4, 10, 21). The Lord even appeared to the wicked Saul who, because of this divine experience, converted to the truth and became one of the greatest Christian missionaries in history (Acts 9:3-7). Throughout time, theophanies routinely preceded and heralded the opening of a new prophetic era and the calling of an individual as a holy prophet of the Lord. And so it was in 1820 with the young Joseph Smith.
After God the Father addressed Joseph and announced His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, Joseph asked the question that had burdened his soul. He wrote:
“My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join.
“I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”
“He again forbade me to join with any of them; and many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time” (Joseph Smith History 1:18-20).
On another occasion, Joseph Smith recorded the instructions he had been given by the Lord in this way:
“I was enwrapped in a heavenly vision, and saw two glorious personages, who exactly resembled each other in features and likeness, surrounded with a brilliant light which eclipsed the sun at noon day. They told me that all religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines, and that none of them was acknowledged of God as His Church and kingdom: and was expressly commanded “to go not after them,” at the same time receiving a promise that the fullness of the Gospel should at some future time be made known unto me” (Documentary History of the Church, Vol. 4, 536, March 1, 1842).
After the glorious appearance of the Father and the Son, Joseph waited eagerly for the further light and knowledge he had been promised. He waited for three years. While engaged in prayer one night in 1823, he was finally granted additional light. Joseph wrote of this experience and of others that followed:
“On the evening on the 21st of September, A.D. 1823, while I was praying unto God, and endeavoring to exercise faith in the precious promises of Scripture, on a sudden a light like that of day, only of a far purer and more glorious appearance and brightness, burst into the room, indeed the first sight was as though the house was filled with consuming fire; the appearance produced a shock that affected the whole body; in a moment a personage stood before me surrounded with a glory yet greater than that with which I was already surrounded. This messenger proclaimed himself to be an angel of God, sent to bring the joyful tidings that the covenant which God made with ancient Israel was at hand to be fulfilled, that the preparatory work for the second coming of the Messiah was speedily to commence; that the time was at hand for the Gospel in all its fullness to be preached in power, unto all nations that a people might be prepared for the Millennial reign. I was informed that I was chosen to be an instrument in the hands of God to bring about some of His purposes in this glorious dispensation.
“I was also informed concerning the aboriginal inhabitants of this country and shown who they were, and from whence they came; a brief sketch of their origin, progress, civilization, laws, governments, of their righteousness and iniquity, and the blessings of God being finally withdrawn from them as a people, was made known unto me; I was also told where were deposited some plates on which were engraven an abridgment of the records of the ancient Prophets that had existed on this continent. The angel appeared to me three times the same night and unfolded the same things. After having received many visits from the angels of God unfolding the majesty and glory of the events that should transpire in the last days, on the morning of the 22nd of September, A.D. 1827, the angel of the Lord delivered the records into my hands. . . .
“In this important and interesting book the history of ancient America is unfolded, from its first settlement by a colony that came from the Tower of Babel, at the confusion of languages to the beginning of the fifth century of the Christian Era. We are informed by these records that America in ancient times has been inhabited by two distinct races of people. The first were called Jaredites, and came directly from the Tower of Babel. The second race came directly from the city of Jerusalem, about six hundred years before Christ. They were principally Israelites, of the descendants of Joseph. The Jaredites were destroyed about the time that the Israelites came from Jerusalem, who succeeded them in the inheritance of the country. The principal nation of the second race fell in battle towards the close of the fourth century. The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country. This book also tells us that our Savior made His appearance upon this continent after His resurrection; that He planted the Gospel here in all its fulness, and richness, and power, and blessing; that they had Apostles, Prophets, Pastors, Teachers, and Evangelists; the same order, the same priesthood, the same ordinances, gifts, powers, and blessings, as were enjoyed on the eastern continent, that the people were cut off in consequence of their transgressions, that the last of their prophets who existed among them was commanded to write an abridgment of their prophecies, history, &c, and to hide it up in the earth, and that it should come forth and be united with the Bible for the accomplishment of the purposes of God in the last days” (Documentary History of the Church, Vol. 4, 536-537, March 1, 1842).
The angel that appeared in 1823 was named Moroni and was the last prophet of the Nephites, the ancient American inhabitants described above. In approximately 420 A.D., Moroni buried a sacred record of God’s dealings with the Nephites and other ancient American peoples in a small hill in present day New York. Joseph Smith was entrusted with this record for the purpose of translating it into English so that its doctrines could be “united with the Bible for the accomplishment of the purposes of God in the last days.” The translated record came to be known as The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, named after the Nephite warrior-prophet Mormon who served as the chief compiler and editor of the ancient record.
The Book of Mormon is an authentic book of holy Christian scripture similar to the Bible. It is a second witness to the world that the Bible’s testimony of the divinity and mission of Jesus Christ is accurate and truthful. The Book of Mormon is the “stick of Joseph” that Ezekiel foresaw would be joined with the “stick of Judah” to form “one stick” in the hand of God (Ezekiel 37:15-19). It is the “book” seen by Isaiah that the learned cannot read, but which one “that is not learned” should read and cause to spring forth “a marvellous work and a wonder” (Isaiah 29:10-14). This divine record supports, and at times clarifies, Biblical doctrines regarding the House of Israel, the covenants of God, the ordinances of baptism and of receiving the Holy Spirit, prayer, and, of course, the all-important Atonement of the Savior. The Book of Mormon is, at its core, a beautiful and uncompromising witness of Jesus Christ.
In one place, the prophet Nephi bore fervent witness, almost six hundred years before His birth, of Jesus Christ. He witnessed:
“And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins. . . .
“And now behold, I say unto you that the right way is to believe in Christ, and deny him not; and Christ is the Holy One of Israel; wherefore ye must bow down before him, and worship him with all your might, mind, and strength, and your whole soul; and if ye do this ye shall in nowise be cast out” (2 Nephi 25:26, 29).
Jacob, Nephi’s brother and fellow servant of God, also witnessed of the Messiah and His Gospel:
“[B]ehold, the righteous, the saints of the Holy One of Israel, they who have believed in the Holy One of Israel, they who have endured the crosses of the world, and despised the shame of it, they shall inherit the kingdom of God. . . .
“O the greatness of the mercy of our God, the Holy One of Israel! For he delivereth his saints from that awful monster the devil, and death, and hell. . . .
“And he cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam.
“And he suffereth this that the resurrection might pass upon all men, that all might stand before him at the great and judgment day.
“And he commandeth all men that they must repent, and be baptized in his name, having perfect faith in the Holy One of Israel, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God” (2 Nephi 9:18-19, 21-23).
Another prophet named Alma also testified of the Son of God’s then forthcoming Atonement and the marvelous blessing it would be for mankind:
“[B]ehold, there is one thing which is of more importance than they all – for behold, the time is not far distant that the Redeemer liveth and cometh among his people. . . .
“And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
“And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.
“Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me” (Alma 7:7, 11-13).
The inspired Amaleki gave us these encouraging words:
“I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him, and continue in fasting and praying, and endure to the end; and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved” (Omni 1:26).
Finally, in the closing pages of the record, the prophet Moroni, the same who appeared to Joseph Smith, issued a challenge and a promise to anyone who would read the record:
“I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.
“And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye should ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
“And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:3-5).
“I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” – John 8:12
These are the sort of passionate testimonies, doctrines, and promises that fill The Book of Mormon record. On nearly ever page of this sacred text there are references to Jesus Christ. The ancient Nephite prophets pleaded with their people, and with those of us they knew would one day read their record, to have faith on the name of Jesus, rely on His redeeming power, and join themselves to His Church. We could know with certainty the identity of that Church if we would simply pray, as James also instructed, and as the young Joseph Smith did in 1820.
Dear reader, please understand that Joseph Smith did not invent or write this volume of scripture; he translated The Book of Mormon through the power of God for the sole purpose of building up the Lord’s Church in the last days and bringing people to Jesus Christ. Please also know that I have a burning testimony of the truthfulness of that holy book. It leads me to believe in Christ, to follow Him, and to do good. It gives me knowledge that is sweet to my soul and which enlightens my understanding of life. And, most importantly, I have tested Moroni’s challenge by reading, pondering, and sincerely praying about The Book of Mormon. In response to my prayers, the Holy Spirit has touched my heart and affirmed in an unmistakable manner the divinity of that book. I love The Book of Mormon!
I also love the man who was the instrument in the Lord’s hands in bringing The Book of Mormon to light, Joseph Smith. His story no doubt sounds extraordinary – perhaps unbelievable – to someone hearing it for the first time. Joseph Smith acknowledged this when he said:
“I don’t blame anyone for not believing my history. If I had not experienced what I have, I would not have believed it myself” (Documentary History of the Church, Vol. 6, 317, April 7, 1844).
Even though it is sounds unbelievable, it is true! And Joseph Smith suffered a life of defamation, brutalization, and persecution culminating in the murder of himself and his brother Hyrum because he stood firm in his testimony of what he had experienced and of what God had revealed to him. I have often pondered the mobbing and persecutions he and his family went through and have asked myself this question: “Would a man really suffer all of this for a lie?” The answer is a resounding “No!”Such a legacy of staunch belief in the face of bitter persecution is surely striking to even the most hardened skeptic.
One particular moment that touches my heart and demonstrates the greatness of Joseph Smith occurred when Joseph Smith and several of his fellow Latter-day Saints were betrayed by one of their own and illegally arrested by a militia and thrown into the ironically named Liberty Jail. For six months, they endured hunger and exposure and were subjected to ridicule while being denied due process under the law. Parley P. Pratt, one of those unjustly imprisoned alongside Joseph Smith, recorded that “in one of those tedious nights” in the jail, “we had listened for hours to the obscene jests, the horrid oaths, the dreadful blasphemies and filthy language of our guards . . . as they recounted to each other their deeds of rapine, murder, robbery, etc., which they had committed among the “Mormons” while at Far West and vicinity. They even boasted of defiling by force wives, daughters and virgins, and of shooting or dashing out the brains of men, women and children.” Pratt then described what happened next:
“I had listened till I became so disgusted, shocked, horrified, and so filled with the spirit of indignant justice that I could scarcely refrain from rising upon my feet and rebuking the guards; but had said nothing to Joseph, or any one else, although I lay next to him and knew he was awake. On a sudden he arose to his feet, and spoke in a voice of thunder, or as the roaring lion, uttering, as near as I can recollect, the following words:
“SILENCE, ye fiends of the infernal pit. In the name of Jesus Christ I rebuke you, and command you to be still; I will not live another minute and hear such language. Cease such talk, or you or I die THIS INSTANT!
“He ceased to speak. He stood erect in terrible majesty. Chained, and without a weapon; calm, unruffled and dignified as an angel, he looked upon the quailing guards, whose weapons were lowered or dropped to the ground; whose knees smote together, and who, shrinking into a corner, or crouching at his feet, begged his pardon, and remained quiet till a change of guards.
“I have seen the ministers of justice, clothed in magisterial robes, and criminals arraigned before them, while life was suspended on a breath, in the Courts of England; I have witnessed a Congress in solemn session to give laws to nations; I have tried to conceive of kings, of royal courts, of thrones and crowns; and of emperors assembled to decide the fate of kingdoms; but dignity and majesty have I seen but once, as it stood in chains, at midnight, in a dungeon in an obscure village of Missouri.”
What a powerful testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith! And lest skeptics think this is an isolated incident, it wasn’t. Frequently, assassins who came with the Devilish intent of murdering the Prophet were so captivated and swayed by his “unruffled” presence in the face of danger – his profound “dignity and majesty” – that they ended up having dinner with him instead. The descriptions of those who met with Joseph Smith, friend and foe alike, are quite remarkable and I recommend the reader search them out in books such as They Knew the Prophet: Personal Accounts From Over 100 People Who Knew Joseph Smith by Hyrum Andrus.
Joseph Smith’s character was such that he could not be swayed from his beliefs by unjust imprisonment, mobbing, or the assassin’s gun. He made this remark about those who persecuted him and tried to coerce him to deny what he had really seen, heard, and experienced:
“It seems as though the adversary was aware, at a very early period of my life, that I was destined to prove a disturber and an annoyer of his kingdom; else why should the powers of darkness combine against me? Why the opposition and persecution that arose against me, almost in my infancy? . . . .
Joseph Smith being tarred and feathered March 24, 1832
“I soon found . . . that my telling the story had excited a great deal of prejudice against me among professors of religion, and was the cause of great persecution, which continued to increase; and though I was an obscure boy, only between fourteen and fifteen years of age, and my circumstances in life such as to make a boy of no consequence in the world, yet men of high standing would take notice sufficient to excite the public mind against me, and create a bitter persecution; and this was common among all the sects—all united to persecute me. . . .
“I have thought since, that I felt much like Paul, when he made his defense before King Agrippa, and related the account of the vision he had when he saw a light, and heard a voice; but still there were but few who believed him; some said he was dishonest, others said he was mad; and he was ridiculed and reviled. But all this did not destroy the reality of his vision. He had seen a vision, he knew he had, and all the persecution under heaven could not make it otherwise; and though they should persecute him unto death, yet he knew, and would know to his latest breath, that he had both seen a light and heard a voice speaking unto him, and all the world could not make him think or believe otherwise.
“So it was with me. I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true; and while they were persecuting me, reviling me, and speaking all manner of evil against me falsely for so saying, I was led to say in my heart: Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation” (Joseph Smith History 1:20, 22, 24-25).
Again I ask: What would a man suffer for a lie? If Joseph Smith was lying about his experiences, as detractors then and now claim, would he have maintained his lie in the face of mobbing, being tarred and feathered, being beaten, being poisoned, being arrested and tried forty-eight times (and acquitted all forty-eight), being threatened with death, being kidnapped and unjustly imprisoned for six months in the ironically named Liberty Jail, being betrayed and hunted by former friends, watching his followers murdered and driven from state to state, and, finally, in the face of certain slaughter by a vicious mob alongside his beloved brother Hyrum? I submit that a liar, a self-aggrandizer, a fraud, a charlatan, and a false prophet would not suffer so excruciatingly for a lie. Rather, logic dictates that, as a minimum, Joseph Smith truly believed what he said; namely, that God had appeared to him and called him as a prophet to restore the Lord’s Church.
Millions of people from all across the globe have stepped forward to testify that they know, through the power of the Holy Ghost, that Joseph Smith was no liar. From Fiji to Brazil to Russia to Japan, millions have witnessed that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of Almighty God, that he in fact saw God and His Son, that They commanded him to restore the Savior’s Church in its fullness, that he was empowered to translate a sacred record of a Christian people living in ancient America, that the Lord’s Priesthood authority was given anew to him through heavenly messengers, and that from his day to the present there has been an unbroken line of prophets and apostles testifying to the world of Jesus Christ and His Gospel. I include myself among those who so testify of Joseph Smith and the Savior Jesus Christ whom he loved, served, and gave his life for.
Because of Joseph Smith’s testimony, thousands of people left their homes and homelands, forsook their belongings, and faced persecution to gather with the Saints of God. They contributed their meager earthly means to help build up The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When Joseph was murdered, his influence continued to rally the Saints who proceeded to march across the plains to an uninhabited land and build up a Christian society.
Joseph Smith’s life and prophetic witness have changed and directed my own life to an enormous degree. Without exaggeration, I am who I am because of Jesus and Joseph. Because Brother Joseph restored Christ’s Church, and because the Holy Spirit has confirmed to my soul the divinity of that Church, I went to Russia for two years, struggling to learn the language and enduring arrest by the FSB and hatred by the people, to preach “Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). Because Joseph Smith translated The Book of Mormon, and because I have zealously studied that book and taken its warnings to heart, I have chosen my career field and daily raise my voice against the forces of evil and conspiracy facing us. Because Joseph Smith received revelations relative to politics and government, I revere the U.S. Constitution as inspired and ran for Congress in 2014.
The revelations and teachings delivered by and through Joseph Smith have informed my principles in everything from voting and politics to health habits to my views on marriage and family to my entertainment habits and beyond. It is impossible for me to worship Jesus Christ without acknowledging Joseph Smith as His Prophet in these final days before His return in glory. My sentiments echo those of Elder Bruce R. McConkie, an apostle of the Savior, who explained:
“We bear testimony of Christ, and we do it with all the fervor and conviction and power of our whole soul, striving and laboring to do it by the power of the Holy Ghost; and as our voices echo and reecho the eternal verity that Christ is the Lord, we say also that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, a legal administrator who had power from God—keys and authority—so that he could bind on earth and have it sealed eternally in the heavens. Here, we say, is Joseph Smith, a revealer of the knowledge of Christ and of salvation for our day. We link the words together in one great testimony of eternal truth; and the reason we have power to bear witness of Christ, through whom salvation comes, is that Joseph Smith, the prophet and seer of the Lord for our day and in our day, has received eternal truth, has borne witness, has given revelation, has laid the foundation.
“Brigham Young once said, “I feel like shouting Hallelujah, all the time, when I think that I ever knew Joseph Smith” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 458); and that is as it ought to be, because salvation is in Christ and salvation is available because Joseph Smith revealed Christ to the world. The world either accepts that witness and believes in the Lord’s prophets or goes its way and at its peril loses the hope of eternal salvation. One must believe in Adam and Christ, if living in that day; or in Abraham and Christ, if living in that day; or in Moses and Christ if living then; or, in our day, in Joseph Smith and Jesus Christ, crying “Hosanna” and “Hallelujah” and “Praise the Lord” whenever their names are mentioned by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, “Joseph Smith: A Revealer of Christ,” BYU Devotional, September 3, 1978).
Another time, Elder McConkie gave additional reasons why Latter-day Saints feel to cry hallelujah every time we think of the Prophet Joseph Smith. In his powerful sermon “Joseph Smith – The Mighty Prophet of the Restoration,” Elder McConkie stated:
“His numerous revelations, given in the name of the Lord, set forth the wonders of eternity and the glories of the gospel as plainly and persuasively as do those of the apostles and prophets of old.
“Here is a man who has given to our present world more holy scripture than any single prophet who ever lived; indeed, he has preserved for us more of the mind and will and voice of the Lord than the total of the dozen most prolific prophetic penmen of the past. . . .
“Here is a man who, like the Master, whose servant he was, cast out devils and healed the sick. . . .
“Here is a man whose greatness lies in the fact that he was a witness of that same Lord for whom his fellow prophets in days long past had laid down their lives. . . .
“Here is a man who was a prophet in the full and complete and literal sense of the word, as all who hearken to the voice of the Spirit shall know. . . .
“Here are the words of Deity, spoken to Joseph Smith, by which all men can judge the state of their own spiritual development:
““The ends of the earth shall inquire after thy name, and fools shall have thee in derision, and hell shall rage against thee;
““While the pure in heart, and the wise, and the noble, and the virtuous, shall seek counsel, and authority, and blessings constantly from under thy hand.” (D&C 122:1–2.)
“All men may well ask themselves where they stand with reference to Joseph Smith and his divine mission. Do they inquire after his name and seek that salvation found only in the gospel of Christ as revealed to his latter-day prophet, or do they deride and despise the Lord’s living oracles and say that God no longer speaks to men in the way he did anciently? The great question which all men in our day must answer—and that at the peril of their own salvation—is: Was Joseph Smith called of God? . . . .
“We link the names of Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith in our testimonies. And we now testify, as God is our witness, that Joseph Smith is his prophet, and we do it in the blessed name of Him who is Lord of all and of whom we and all the prophets testify, who is Jesus Christ” (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, “Joseph Smith – The Mighty Prophet of the Restoration,” General Conference, April, 1976).
Joseph and Hyrum Smith’s martyrdom at Carthage Jail
Surely Joseph Smith was no common man and no common prophet. He was one of the greatest men to ever live and one the greatest prophets to ever wear the inspired mantle of “prophet, seer, and revelator.” His testimony, works, and life are of such magnitude and stature that they cannot be ignored or trivialized, but must be reckoned with and accounted for by all intelligent people. Ultimately, there are only two alternatives – either Satan inspired Joseph Smith or God called and empowered him. There is no middle ground. And I testify that our Lord and Savior chose Joseph Smith to push forward His eternal work in these last days and that it was Satan who inspired a fiendish mob to murder the Prophet in cold blood just as he inspired the mobs of the past to do to ancient prophets of Christ.
When the Prophet Joseph Smith was martyred moments after his brother Hyrum was gunned down in front of him, John Taylor, who was with Joseph at the time and was himself severely injured in the hail of bullets, wrote this stirring commemoration:
“Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it. In the short space of twenty years, he has brought forth the Book of Mormon, which he translated by the fit and power of God, and has been the means of publishing it on two continents; has sent the fulness of the everlasting gospel, which it contained, to the four quarters of the earth; has brought forth the revelations and commandments which compose this book of Doctrine and Covenants, and many other wise documents and instructions for the benefit of the children of men; gathered many thousands of the Latter-day Saints, founded a great city, and left a fame and a name that cannot be slain. He lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and like most of the Lord’s anointed in ancient times, has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood” (Doctrine and Covenants 135:3).
It is no small thing to claim a man stands next to the Savior only in greatness, yet John Taylor, a spiritual giant in his own right who was to later become the third prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, did just that. He bore his witness. And I confirm his witness with my own. Joseph Smith, the Prophet of God, is the restorer of the Savior’s Church, Priesthood, and laws – a Church, Priesthood, and laws that had been corrupted or lost in the Great Apostasy, or, rather, in the “falling away” prophesied by New Testament apostles and Old Testament prophets alike (2 Thessalonians 2:3; Galatians 1:6; 2 Timothy 2:18; 2 Timothy 3:2-5; 2 Peter 2:1; Isaiah 29:10, 13; Isaiah 60:2; Amos 8:11-12). Through repenting and entering into the ordinances officiated by the Priesthood, and living with faith in the Redeemer, we access the Atonement of Jesus Christ and are saved. The modern world, though most don’t realize it, owes much to Joseph Smith and his faithfulness in the face of adversity.
Joseph Smith’s death mask
In 1883, the distinguished statesman Josiah Quincy, who met the Prophet Joseph Smith forty-three days before his martyrdom, gave an intriguing memorial to this great man. He was not a follower of the Prophet and had nothing to gain from making this statement, yet he wrote:
“It is by no means improbable that some future text-book, for the use of generations yet unborn, will contain a questions something like this: What historical American of the nineteenth century has exerted the most powerful influence upon the destinies of his countrymen? And it is by no means impossible that the answer to that interrogatory may be thus written: Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet. And the reply, absurd as it doubtless seems to most men now living, may be an obvious commonplace to their descendants. History deals in surprises and paradoxes quite as startling as this. The man who established a religion in this age of free debate, who was and is today accepted by hundreds of thousands as a direct emissary from the Most High,—such a rare human being is not to be disposed of by pelting his memory with unsavory epithets . . . Fanatics and impostors are living and dying every day, and their memory is buried with them; but the wonderful influence which this founder of a religion exerted and still exerts throws him into relief before us, not as a rogue to be criminated, but as a phenomenon to be explained. The most vital questions Americans are asking each other to-day have to do with this man and what he has left us” (Josiah Quincy, Figures of the Past, 376-377).
In partial fulfillment of Mr. Quincy’s prediction, in 2015 the Smithsonian Magazine ranked Joseph Smith the #1 most influential American in its “Religious Figures” category and Brigham Young, Brother Smith’s immediate successor, was ranked #3. In addition, The Book of Mormon, perhaps the crowning work put forward by Joseph Smith who translated it with God’s power, was recently ranked through a Library of Congress poll as the fourth most influential piece of American literature. Whether people like it or not, Joseph Smith is one of the most influential figures in recent world history and is widely regarding as a pivotal figure. Indeed, few people in any age of history have accomplished what he did during his short thirty-eight years of life, nor have they exerted such a powerful influence over millions across the world nearly two centuries after their death as Joseph Smith does at present.
Though it is inexplicable to some, I can explain the “phenomenon” of Joseph Smith and the millions who follow him quite easily. Simply, his testimony is true! He was and is a real prophet of God. He really did see with his own eyes the Father and the Savior. They did in reality command him to restore the Lord’s Church with its Priesthood and saving ordinances. He really did translate an ancient record, delivered to him by an angel, that bears witness of Jesus Christ’s dealings with the inhabitants of ancient America. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is in actuality the Kingdom of God on the earth. And the Holy Spirit, the Testator of all truth, has borne witness to millions that these things are true. I know this is true and I would give my life before recanting.
Dear reader, after the story of the humble Man from Nazareth who walked on water, raised the dead, suffered and died for the sins of the world, and rose from the grave thus abolishing death and conquering the Devil, the story of Joseph Smith and the Restoration of the Lord’s Church is the greatest story in the world. And it is so very great because it is so very true!
Joseph’s story is the ultimate confirmation of Jesus’ story. Joseph is His prophet. Joseph’s testimony is the supreme reaffirmation of the ancient apostles’ testimonies of their Lord and should be welcomed and received by all who willingly take upon them the name of Christ. Jesus taught that to know God and His Son is eternal life (John 17:3), and Joseph taught the world the true nature of the Godhead and helped us truly know who They are and what They stand for. Joseph clarified the true points of the Redeemer’s doctrine, thus settling centuries of schismatic Bible-bashing with “thus saith the Lord” revelations that are sweet to the soul and enlightening to the mind.
I thank my Eternal Father for sending Joseph to testify of Jesus. I thank the Lord for not forsaking this generation, but for calling a prophet in our day to bear witness of His holy name. My soul is filled with gratitude to know that I live in a day when literal prophets walk the earth and in an age that has the witness of the Prophet Joseph Smith. I love to hear and sing the words of a powerful hymn extolling his name:
“Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah!
Jesus anointed that Prophet and Seer.
Blessed to open the last dispensation,
Kings shall extol him, and nations revere.
“Praise to his mem’ry, he died as a martyr;
Honored and blest be his ever great name!
Long shall his blood, which was shed by assassins,
Plead unto heav’n while the earth lauds his fame.
“Hail to the Prophet, ascended to heaven!
Traitors and tyrants now fight him in vain.
Mingling with Gods, he can plan for his brethren;
Death cannot conquer the hero again” (“Praise to the Man,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Hymn No. 27).
It is fitting that we end with a few words from the Prophet’s own mouth about our Savior, for he lived to bring people to Christ. I extract the quotes from the third chapter of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith. The Prophet testified:
“We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.”
“I believe in the Divinity of Jesus Christ, and that He died for the sins of all men, who in Adam had fallen.”
“Salvation could not come to the world without the mediation of Jesus Christ.”
“God . . . prepared a sacrifice in the gift of His own Son, who should be sent in due time to prepare a way, or open a door through which man might enter into the Lord’s presence, whence he had been cast out for disobedience. From time to time these glad tidings were sounded in the ears of men in different ages of the world down to the time of Messiah’s coming.”
“Who, among all the Saints in these last days, can consider himself as good as our Lord? Who is as perfect? Who is as pure? Who is as holy as He was? Are they to be found? He never transgressed or broke a commandment or law of heaven—no deceit was in His mouth, neither was guile found in His heart. . . . Where is one like Christ? He cannot be found on earth.”
“[T]hose who keep the sayings of Jesus and obey His teachings have not only a promise of a resurrection from the dead, but an assurance of being admitted into His glorious kingdom; for, He Himself says, ‘Where I am there also shall my servant be’ [John 12:26].”
“And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives! For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—that by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.”
It fills me with a uniquely peculiar sense of euphoria to read, speak, and think about the Prophet Joseph Smith. The Spirit testifies to me of his prophetic call as a servant of the Lord. I know he was a good man because his fruit is sweet to my soul and his teachings illuminate my mind. I know he stands as the preeminent prophet of our time because the Holy Ghost has so whispered to me. I know that when the Lord returns surrounded by His Saints, Joseph Smith, the American Prophet, the Prophet of the Restoration, will be on His right hand.
In sincerity I say that I can approach the “throne of grace” more boldly because I know the name Joseph Smith (Hebrews 4:15-16). I am a better man for having learned of the Prophet and his humble life and immense sacrifices. I wish all could likewise know the name Joseph Smith, read his story, imbibe his testimony, and join in the same great cause of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I testify of these things and invite all to “come and see” and learn the truth for themselves (John 1:39).
“When I am called by the trump of the archangel and weighed in the balance, you will all know me then” (Joseph Smith, King Follett Discourse, April 7, 1844).
December 23, 2019
I invite you to also watch the film Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration: