The Prophet Joseph Smith
It is a wonderful privilege for me to be with you today. You are a wonderful looking group, representing an important part of the future of the Church, of our families, and society in general.
You stand at the twilight of the most important time in history. You are on stage and you are the players of the crowning production prophesied by all the holy prophets since the beginning of time—indeed even before the foundation of the world. The importance of this hour is compounded by the fact you also stand at the twilight of your own defining of self. The Lord refers to this important hour as the fulness of time. It is also the fulness of life, opportunity, and joy. So, it is a great pleasure for me to share this hour with you at such an important time in history and the defining hour of your life.
The grandiose events impacting us today had its beginnings in the most humbling and unexpected circumstances. Our blessed state is borne out of sacrifice, persecution, and testimony—all foreordained before the foundation of the world.
Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines foreordination as "a previous ordination or appointment." In the book of Abraham the Lord explains the appointment of His son Jesus Christ before the "world began" (see Abr.3:22,24).
To the Prophet Jeremiah the Lord explained, "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, [and] I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations" (Jeremiah 1:5).
Lehi (picture), to his son Joseph, prophesied of another Joseph that would bring salvation to his people: "But a seer will I raise up out of the fruit of thy loins. And his name shall be called after me; and it shall be after the name of his father. And he shall be like unto me; for the thing, which the Lord shall bring forth by his hand, by the power of the Lord shall bring my people unto salvation" (2 Nephi 3:11,15).
And so it was, December 23, 1805, after 1,800 years of confusion, and spiritual darkness, Lehi's prophecy begins to unfold with the birth of Joseph Smith, the son of Joseph Smith, Sr. Like so many of the great ones appointed before the foundation of the world, Joseph Smith began the fulfillment of his divine appointment.
Wilford Woodruff testifies (picture):
"I believe that God Almighty reserved a certain class of men to carry on his work. They have been born into the world in this generation. I believe this was the case with Joseph Smith. I believe he was ordained to this work before he tabernacled in the flesh. He was a literal descendant of Joseph who was sold into Egypt, and the Lord called him and ordained him. He gave unto him the keys of the kingdom. He received the record of the stick of Joseph from the hands of Ephraim, to stand with the Bible, the stick of Judah" (JD 22:206, January 9, 1881, The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, ch.3, p.43-44).
Brigham Young stated (picture):
"It was decreed in the counsels of eternity, long before the foundations of the earth were laid, that he, Joseph Smith, should be the man, in the last dispensation of this world, to bring forth the word of God to the people, and receive the fulness of the keys and power of the Priesthood of the Son of God" (Discourses of Brigham Young, ch.9, p.108).
Brigham Young further confirmed Lehi's prophesy of Joseph's divine appointment flowing through the lineage of Lehi's son, Joseph:
"The Lord had his eyes upon him, and upon his father, and upon his father's father, and upon their progenitors clear back to Abraham, and from Abraham to the flood, from the flood to Enoch, and from Enoch to Adam. He has watched that family and that blood as it has circulated from its fountain to the birth of that man. He was foreordained in eternity to preside over this last dispensation" (Discourses of Brigham Young, ch.9, p.108).
Like the prophets of his own bloodline, Joseph's foreordination did not exclude suffering, persecution, or tribulation. For these were to become his constant companion, shadowing him throughout his remaining life (picture). Speaking to the prophet during his darkest moments, the Lord comforted him. "My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes" (D&C 121:7-8).
My presentation today will focus on the chosen, the foreordained prophet rising out of adversity and affliction, being taught from on high, enduring well, and triumphantly establishing the Lord's Church.
Preparation and training were on the early agenda. Life's trials were seen early in Joseph's boyhood years. Adversity was his schoolmaster and affliction was his curriculum. At the age of eight, Joseph, with all his brothers and sisters, suffered the terrible carnage of a typhoid epidemic that claimed the lives of many. He witnessed his oldest sister, Sophronia, pass through the shadows of death, be abandoned by the doctors as hopeless, but eventually be restored to full health through the pleadings to the Lord by his faithful parents. At age 18 he suffered the death of his brother Alvin. Later in his life he experienced the loss of six of his eleven children.
His own terrible sufferings with osteomyelitis in his leg at the early age of seven is a testimony of his character, maturity, and faith in God. It is hard to imagine any boy, or man for that matter, willing to face such excruciating suffering with the courage and dignity he displayed. Later in his life while Joseph and his companions were confined to jail in Richmond Missouri, Elder Parley P. Pratt made the familiar declaration: "Dignity and majesty have I seen but once, at it stood in chains, at midnight, in a dungeon, in an obscure village of Missouri" (Pratt, Parley P., Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, p.180). Perhaps the reason that Elder Pratt could only attest to such dignity and majesty once is because he was not present when a seven-year-old boy put his faith in God and his life in the strong but comforting arms of his father. These experiences undoubtedly strengthened him, tested him, and prepared him for what lay ahead--his greatest work and his greatest trials.
There were no religious scholars to teach Joseph the true doctrines and principles of the gospel. The most prestigious seminaries, the most renowned scholars had nothing to teach him. Thankfully, Joseph did not need to rely upon the learning and traditions of man.
We read in the Book of Mormon that–
° An Angel of the Lord stood before Laman and Lemuel, protecting Nephi from his attacking brothers.
° Nephi explained that "Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost, wherefore they speak the words of Christ" (2 Nephi 32:3).
° Jacob testifies to Sherem that he "Truly had seen angels they had ministered unto me" (Jacob 7:5).
° In addressing his people King Benjamin declares, "And the things which I shall tell you have been made known to me by an angel from God" (Mos. 3:2).
° Mormon explains in his final words to his son Moroni that angels have not ceased to minister unto the children of men.
The administration of angels was not a new privilege to those in the service of the Lord. And, like times of old, the heavens were opened to Joseph and angels descended. The veil was pierced, heaven and earth were brought together and angels ministered. Thus line upon line, precept upon precept, Joseph was taught.
(three pictures) Joseph's teaching from on high began in the secluded classroom of a grove of trees on that historical day in 1820 when the Father declared, "This is my beloved son, hear him" as Joseph subsequently testified, "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" (Joseph Smith History, 1:25). With this vision of the Father and the Son, Joseph already knew more about the personality and attributes of God than any man on earth. Joseph understood of the personal nature of the godhead, their separateness, and that he was literally created in their image and likeness. Joseph, at fourteen, was already a religious scholar, unmatched by any. And with that vision, the restoration was started and the persecutions began.
Three years subsequent to his first vision (picture) the Angel Moroni appeared to him four times in just twenty-four hours. In addition to the revealed knowledge Joseph had already obtained about the nature of the Godhead and his upcoming mission to restore the gospel, in these four visits alone the Angel taught him:
A book deposited in the hill called Cumorah was written upon gold plates and contained the fulness of the everlasting gospel.
Joseph would be the instrument in bringing forth this book for the salvation of mankind.
Two stones fastened to a breastplate constituted the Urim & Thummim which would be used for the translation of the plates.
The day would come that the earth would burn as an oven and the wicked would burn as stubble as contained in the book of Malichi.
The priesthood would be revealed by the hand of Elijah.
There would be a turning of the hearts of the children to the fathers and the fathers to the children.
Obedience and faithfulness was his course of study during the four years visiting the hillside, viewing the plates, and being further instructed by the Angel Moroni. Four more years of testing and proving. Indeed when Joseph received the plates on that memorable day of September 22, 1827, he had been taught, tried, and tested–more revelation, more heavenly messengers, and more persecution. He had proven to the Lord that he was the man.
The intensity and frequency of the persecution did not slow the work. The ministering of angels was proliferating, and the circle of participants was expanding. In summary, the Father and Son appeared to Joseph. The Angel Moroni appeared to Joseph in his bedroom in 1823. And then he appeared again, and then again. And then he appeared to him the next day at the stone fence in the orchard. The Angel Moroni appeared at the site of the plates on the Hill Cumorah. Then one year later he appeared again, and then again, and then again. John the Baptist confirmed the Aaronic Priesthood to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. Peter, James, and John appear to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, restoring the Melchizedek Priesthood. The Father and Son appear to Joseph Smith and Sydney Rigdon in the Kirtland Temple (see D&C 76:32). A heavenly messenger appeared to Joseph Smith to instruct him regarding the use of the bread and water for the sacrament (see D&C 27). Moses, Elijah, and Elias appeared to Joseph and Oliver Cowdery and committed the keys of "the gathering of Israel."
Moroni appeared to Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris testifying to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. The plates, as evidence of the administration of an angelic work were shown to eight additional witnesses–Christian Whitmer; Jacob Whitmer; Peter Whitmer, Jr.; John Whitmer; Hiram Page; Joseph Smith, Sr.; Hyrum Smith; Samuel H. Smith. In addition, David Whitmer's mother was privileged to see the plates and Emma had the opportunity to handle the plates on many occasions. The administration of angels were not isolated or infrequent events to a very narrow group of participants. Indeed, the floodgates of heaven were opened.
Among other things, the other heavenly messengers–
Revealed the true nature of God;
Revealed the apostate nature of the religions of the day;
Conferred the Aaronic Priesthood;
Conferred the Melchezidek Priesthood;
Committed the keys "of the gathering of Israel;"
Committed keys of the dispensation of the fulness of times;
Committed keys of turning hearts of fathers to children;
Revealed the fulness of the gospel through the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price;
Reestablished the building of temples with all the accompanying ordinances and covenants; and
Initiated the great missionary work, taking the gospel to "every continent," "every clime," "every country," and "every ear" (see History of the Church, Vol. 4, p.540).
But history would indicate the greater the manifestation from heaven, the more active and determined Satan would be. And thus, while angels were befriending the prophet, the flood gates of hell continued to widen and the devil's angels continued their attempts of destruction.
Although Joseph was the Lord's anointed, called from on high, he was human and he suffered as a human being. Joseph had feelings like we have feelings. He had emotions like we have emotions. He experienced pain like we experience pain. He experienced loneliness like we experience loneliness. And he experienced fear like we experience fear. His persecutions were unrelenting. They came from outside the Church, but perhaps the most troubling came from within–the betrayal of those he esteemed his friends, those he had loved as fellow participants of the restoration.
For instance, many of the early members could accept Joseph's mantel as the prophet until the mantel clashed with his humanity. They could accept his spiritual manifestations, but they could not tolerate his fallibility. They could receive his keys and gifts, but they could not envision their purpose beyond their own self interest. They could accept his teachings and revelations, but they could not accept error in his personal judgment. And, unfortunately for those of weak faith, he did commit error. In fact, he publicly acknowledged such with his personal reprimands by God that he published in the Doctrine and Covenants. It is recorded that God chastised Joseph, stating that he "feared man more than God" (see D&C 3:7). The Lord referred to his visit to Salem in 1836 in search of gold as "his follies."
Many saw the establishment, and the failure twenty-one days later, of the Kirtland Safety Society as evidence that Joseph was a fallen prophet. These events stirred the hearts of those who could not see beyond his mortal frailties to the called, foreordained servant of God.
In the summer of 1837 shortly after the bank's closure, members of the Quorum and other prominent priesthood leaders met in the upper room of the temple to discuss the future of the Prophet. The context of the meeting is captured in the following account.
"At this assembly some persons who had once been faithful supporters of the Prophet recommended that he be replaced as president of the Church by David Whitmer. Others vehemently opposed this motion, including Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and John Smith. Brigham Young, ‘in a plain and forcible manner,' said that he knew that Joseph was a spokesman for the Lord, and though others ‘might rail and slander him [the Prophet] as much as they pleased,' they ‘could not destroy' his appointment as a ‘Prophet of God.' Their apostate actions, he declared, would destroy their authority, cut the thread that bound them to the Prophet and to God, and lead them to destruction" (The Heavens Resound, ch.17, p.310).
And so it did, their authority was destroyed, the threads that bound them to the Prophet were cut, and the apostasy gained momentum, intensity, and viciousness. Rejected by some of his closest associates, the hurt and pain can only be known to our Father-in-Heaven.
Joseph was a father and a husband, and he loved his wife and children dearly. Emma was indeed his faithful companion in the restoration. She left her father and mother at their strong objections to marry Joseph and endure his suffering with him. She was unwavering in her devotion to the Prophet and her commitment to the work. She was there, assisting in the translation of the Book of Mormon. She was there as her beloved husband was torn from her and her family time and again. She was there to cleanse his wounds, remove the tar, and comfort his soul. And she was there to lay his body in a hidden, unmarked grave. I doubt that any companion could have played a more supportive role than the one called by the Lord as an "elect lady." And Joseph loved her like we love our wives; and he loved his children like we love our children. Perhaps no greater suffering took place than to be torn away time and again from his loving family to be falsely imprisoned.
Governor L. William Boggs issued his famous extermination order on October 27, 1838: "The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and be exterminated or driven from the State" (HC, Vol.3, ch.12). Three days later on October 31, Joseph, Hyrum, Amasa Lyman, Sidney Rigdon, Parley P. Pratt, Lyman Wight, and George W. Robinson found themselves chained together in an old log house in Richmond Missouri under heavy guard. The charges were treason, murder, arson, burglary, larceny and stealing. The human emotion emerging from these heart-wrenching separations from his family are perhaps best illustrated by his personal writings.
November 12 , 1838, he writes his beloved Emma:
"My Dear Emma,
"We are prisoners in chains, and under strong guards, for Christ sake and for no other cause . . . I received your letter which I read over and over again, it was a sweet morsel to me. Oh God grant that I may have the privilege of seeing once more my lovely family, in the enjoyment, of the sweets of liberty, and social life, to press them to my bosom and kiss their lovely cheeks would fill my heart with unspeakable gratitude . . ." (The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, p.367-369)
On December 1, approximately three weeks later, the prisoners were taken to the cold, hostile dungeon known as Liberty Jail to suffer a cold damp winter.
March 21, 1839
". . . my dear Emma I very well know your toils and sympathize with you. If God will spare my life once more to have the privilege of taking care of you, I will ease your care and endeavor to comfort your heart . . ." (The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, p.408-409)
Again on April 4, 1839:
"Thursday night I sat down just as the sun is going down, as we peek through the grates of this lonesome prison, to write to you, that I may make known to you my situation. It is, I believe, now about five months and six days since I have been under the grimace of a guard night and day, and within the walls, grates, and screeking iron doors of a lonesome, dark, dirty prison. With emotions known only to God, do I write this letter. The contemplations of the mind under these circumstances defies the pen, or tongue, or angels, to describe, or paint, to the human being, who never experienced what we experience . . .
"My dear Emma, I think of you and the children continually . . . And as to yourself, if you want to know how much I want to see you, examine your feelings . . . I would gladly walk from here to you barefoot, and bareheaded, and half naked, to see you and think it great pleasure, and never count it toil" (The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, p.425-427).
And Joseph's letter to God on March 20, 1839:
"O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?" (D&C 121:1).
And then God's answer, "My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes" (D&C 121:9).
It was approximately three years later with continued persecution that the Prophet declared in the famous Wentworth letter:
"No unhallowed hand can stop this work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the great Jehovah shall say the work is done" (HC, Vol.4, ch.31).
Then, approximately two years later on June 23, 1844, Joseph Smith turned himself in to the militia under the control and protection of Governor Ford. His statement to friends: "If my life is of no value to my friends it is of none to myself." As he rode out of Nauvoo, the Prophet added, "I go as a lamb to the slaughter" (D&C 135:4).
His last letter to Emma, one day before his martyrdom:
June 27, 1844
"I am very much resigned to my lot knowing I am justified and have done the best that could be done. Give my love to the children and all my friends, Mr. Brower, and all who inquire after me. And as for treason, I know that I have not committed any and they cannot prove one appearance of any thing of the kind. So you need not have any fears that any harm can happen to us on that score. May God bless you all, amen" (The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, p.603-604).
Joseph Smith lived the life of a prophet. He suffered the life of a prophet. He died the death of a prophet. Out of suffering, affliction, and innocent blood the stone carved out of a mountain without hands rolls forward. The words of John Taylor continue to ring with increasing power and clarity: "The Book of Mormon, and this book of Doctrine and Covenants of the church, cost the best blood of the nineteenth century to bring them forth for the salvation of a ruined world" (D&C 135:6).
"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" (D&C 135:3).
Through trial and suffering, Joseph brought together all the elements of the gospel, fitting together like a beautiful puzzle. The true nature of God has been restored. The priesthood is upon the earth. Baptisms can be performed with authority. Temple covenants bind families together forever. The Atonement and resurrection are meaningful events, affecting the lives of millions. And living prophets bring divine light to a troubled world. Absent the Prophet Joseph Smith, with all his trials, sufferings, and even death–
° The priesthood of God could not be found upon the earth. The only semblance left upon the earth would be an impotent imposter wrapped in robes and a white collar.
° Temple ordinances and covenants would not be found, hope being replaced with loneliness and despair.
° Ordinances of baptism, confirmation, endowment would have no efficacy.
° The concept of God would remain the great mystery of an impersonal force that cannot be explained or understood.
° The knowledge and understanding of the plan of salvation, atonement of Christ would be replaced with ignorance and superstition.
° The Prophets would indeed be dead and revelation would be a thing of the past.
Without the Prophet Joseph Smith, spiritual darkness would continue to reign and hope would continue to wane.
The Lord promised "If thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes" (D&C 121:8).
Enduring and triumphing–the key words describing the life of the Prophet. Enduring and triumphing--the key words of the restoration.
President Hinckley Video
"I was at the Prophet Joseph's birthplace not long ago. It was a beautiful autumn day, with the sunlight filtering through white clouds. The leaves had been touched by the frost, and while still holding to the trees they created a scene of matchless beauty. This is a wonderful place to see and be on a quiet autumn day, to sit and reflect on matters of the past. Here in these stark woods, on the wintry day of December 23, 1805, was born a child who eventually was to cast a long shadow across the world in witness and testimony of the Redeemer of mankind. His family left that part of New England and moved to western New York. Here again I recently stood in the grove made sacred by his incomparable vision of God the Eternal Father and the risen Lord Jesus Christ.
"No one has borne more certain knowledge of the Son of God, the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, than has this great prophet of this the Dispensation of the Fulness of times. Praise to his name. Honor to his memory. Reverence to him as an instrument in the hands of the Almighty in bringing to pass the restoration of His work in our time" (President Gordon B. Hinckley, First Presidency Christmas Devotional, 1998).
So what does all this mean to us? A scripture and a proclamation to the world. First, a prophecy given by Nephi concerning our time, given about 550 years before the coming of Christ. (Picture of Nephi) "At that day shall be rage in the hears of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good." Do we see it in the many ways Satan is attacking the family, morality, and thus the very plan of salvation? "Others he will pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion" (see 2 Nephi 28:20-28). And you know the rest of the scripture.
(First Presidency Proclamation) Second, a proclamation issued by the First Presidency to the world in 1845. "As this work progresses in its onward course, and becomes more and more an object of political and religious interest and excitement, no king, ruler, or subject, no community or individual, will stand neutral. All will at length be influenced by one spirit or the other; and will take sides either for or against the kingdom of God, and the fulfilment of the prophets.
"You cannot therefore stand as idle and disinterested spectators of the scenes and events which are calculated in their very nature to reduce all nations and creeds into one political and religious standard" (Messages of The First Presidency 1833-1964, James R. Clark, vol.1, p.257).
As you go out into this exciting world, each must decide where he stands. We must determine how we will act, how we will be known, and who we will become. There is no neutrality. We will probably not be asked to sacrifice as the Prophet Joseph Smith, but we will be asked to make daily decisions, large and seemingly insignificant decisions, that will move us from neutrality to stand as the side of that which is good, proper, uplifting, and redeeming. Faith in Jesus Christ, our sacred legacy, and gratitude for the willing sacrifice of the Prophet Joseph will provide vision and strength for the future. Testimony will be our driving force.
Joseph declared the Book of Mormon to be the keystone of our religion. Truly it has brought us the fullness of the everlasting gospel with clarity and meaning. I declare Joseph the Prophet, rising out of adversity and affliction, the keystone of my testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
Because of my testimony of Joseph Smith, I know that God and Christ are personal beings in whose imagine I am created;
Because of my testimony of Joseph Smith, I know that I am indeed a child of God with a spark of divinity that surpasses even my most lofty hopes and expectations;
Because of my testimony of Joseph Smith, I know that out of trials and tribulations can emerge a triumphant and victorious self;
Because of my testimony of Joseph Smith, I know that Jesus Christ through His atoning sacrifice makes it possible to rise above the bonds of mortality to everlasting, eternal glory.
Because of my testimony of Joseph Smith, I know that the divine authority of God reigns upon the earth.
Because of my testimony of Joseph Smith, I know that I am privileged to receive ordinances and covenants that if lived, will bring everlasting glory to me and my family with our Father in Heaven; and
Because of my testimony of Joseph Smith, I know who I am and what I can become.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
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