Most of you know I am a member of the church of Jesus Christ oay Saints. I know this is quite a long text, but I would like to share with you what I learned preparing for my talk today in Church. I truly believe all the the things below. It has been revealed to me by the same God that the scriptures talk.
Nephi wrote that he was "born of goodly parents". So was the Prophet Joseph Smith; he once declared, " Words and language are inadequate to express the gratitude that I owe to God for having given me so honorable a parentage."
The heavenly messenger Moroni admonished young Joseph to go to his father following a glorious night of sacred instruction. In Joseph's words, this messenger " commanded me to go to my father in the field, and rehearsed the whole matter to him. He replied to me that it was of God, and told me to go and do as commanded by the messenger."
Joseph Smith, Sr., was in tune with the Spirit of the Lord. He knew that his young son spoke the truth. He not only believed the boy's words but encouraged him in the work he had been called to do.
Not every father would've had the same faith in his 14 year old boy. But father Joseph had been prepared for this amazing event. Lucy Mac, his wife, writes about visions he'd had in the past about such an event happening, and the leader to be brought up would be a member of his family. In fact, in the year of 1819, just one year prior to the first vision, Joseph Smith Sr. had his seventh and last celestial vision. So, it's no surprise that when young Joseph came to him, he didn't even question the veracity of his words.
During the course of his life, father Joseph endured ridicule and persecution because of his prophet son's experiences and claims. Yet, he was unwavering in his loving support and defended his son. He saw and handled the plates of gold from which the Book of Mormon was translated and testified throughout his life to the truthfulness of that sacred book. On one occasion he was imprisoned and told he would be released if he would deny the Book of Mormon. Not only did he NOT deny it, but he converted two persons during his thirty day confinement.
Perhaps less visible than the Prophet's father, but equally important in shaping and influencing his life, was his mother, Lucy Mac smith. She gave birth to eleven children and endured faithfully as all but four preceded her in death.
Lucy prepared herself early in her marriage to raise a prophet. On one occasion she became seriously ill, and the doctors said she would die. Luce records that she made a solemn covenant that if He would let her live, she would endeavor to serve Him according to the best of her abilities. After a voice assured her that she would live, she told her mother, "The lord will let me live, if I am faithful to the promise which I made to Him, to be a comfort to my mother, my husband, and my children."
Her determination to testify to the restoration of the gospel may have led her to dictate her well known "History of Joseph Smith". This was a major undertaking in her day. The book's importance to the church today is immeasurable! It contains many details of the prophet Joseph's life that might never have been known otherwise. It stands as a monument to the devotion of Lucy Mac Smith to her family.
Like great parents of all ages, Lucy turned to prayer for divine help to sustain her family. During the march from Ohio to Missouri known as Zion’s Camp, Joseph and Hyrum were seriously ill with cholera, and their lives were almost taken. At one point, “Hyrum sprang to his feet and exclaimed, ‘Joseph, we shall return to our families. I have had an open vision, in which I saw mother kneeling under an apple tree; and she is even now asking God, in tears, to spare our lives. … The Spirit testifies, that her prayers … will be answered.
Joseph Smith beheld God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, in the spring of 1820. There has been no event more glorious, more controversial, nor more important in the story of Joseph Smith than this vision. It is possibly the most singular event to occur on the earth since the Resurrection. Those who do not believe it happened find it difficult to explain away. Too much has happened since its occurrence to summarily deny that it ever took place. Some years later, still suffering under the impact of that happening, Joseph said, “If I had not experienced what I have, I should not have known it myself.”
Of this experience, Joseph said: “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. … 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.”
President Joseph Fielding Smith said:
“I would like to call your attention to one little thing in the first vision of the Prophet Joseph Smith. It is very significant, and Joseph Smith did not know it. If he had been perpetrating a fraud, he would not have thought of it. You will recall in your reading that the Father and the Son appeared, and the Father introduced the Son and told the Prophet to hear the Son.
“Now suppose the Prophet had come back from the woods and had said the Father and the Son appeared to him, and the Father said, ‘Joseph, what do you want?’ and when he asked the question and told him what he wanted, the Father had answered him; then we would know that the story of the Prophet could not be true.
“All revelation comes through Jesus Christ; that is a fact.”
What of this man Joseph Smith who communed with deity? What was his reputation? What effect, if any, did the great vision near Palmyra seem to have upon him? As promised by the angel Moroni, both good and evil have been spoken of him since. The New York Sun in the late summer of 1843 said:
“That Joe Smith, the founder of the Mormons, is a man of great talent, a deep thinker, an eloquent speaker, an able writer, and a man of great mental power, no one can doubt who has watched his career. That his followers are deceived, we all believe …
“Few in this age have done such deeds, and performed such apparent miracles. It is no small thing, in the blaze of this nineteenth century, to give to men a new revelation, found a new religion, establish new forms of worship, to build a city, with new laws, institutions, and orders of architecture,—to establish ecclesiastic, civil and military jurisdiction, found colleges, send out missionaries, and make proselytes in two hemispheres: yet all this has been done by Joe Smith, and that against every sort of opposition, ridicule and persecution.”
Elder Oaks: During my college studies at BYU, I was introduced to the History of the Church, an edited compilation of the writings of Joseph Smith and others. After I graduated from law school, I carefully read all seven volumes. I also pursued personal research in original records in Illinois, where the prophet Joseph lived the last five years of his life.
The man I came to know in this way was not the man I had imagined. When I was a boy, growing up in the Church, I imagined the Prophet Joseph to be old and dignified and distant. But the Joseph Smith I met in my reading and personal research was a man of the frontier—young, emotional, dynamic, and so loved and approachable by his people that they often called him “Brother Joseph.” My studies strengthened my testimony of his prophetic calling. What a remarkable man!
Joseph Smith had more than his share of mortal afflictions. When he was about seven, he suffered an excruciatingly painful surgery. Pieces of bone in his leg were chipped away without anesthetic. He was on crutches most of the next three years. Because of the poverty of his family, he had little formal education and as a youth was compelled to work long hours to help put food on the family table. The first three children of Joseph and his beloved Emma died at birth. A later child also died at birth and another in early childhood. Only four of Joseph and Emma’s nine birth children survived childhood. They also adopted twins, and one of these died as an infant.
Joseph was attacked physically on many occasions. He was often hounded by false charges. He was almost continually on the edge of financial distress. In the midst of trying to fulfill the staggering responsibilities of his sacred calling, he had to labor as a farmer or merchant to provide a living for his family. He did this without the remarkable spiritual gifts that sustained him in his prophetic calling. The Lord had advised him that “in temporal labors thou shalt not have strength, for this is not thy calling."
The Prophet Joseph had no role models from whom he could learn how to be a prophet and leader of the Lord’s people. He learned from heavenly messengers and from the harvest of his unique spiritual gifts. He had to rely on associates who had no role models either. They struggled and learned together, and the Prophet’s growth was extremely rapid.
The event that focused anti-Mormon hostilities and led directly to the Martyrdom was the action of Mayor Joseph Smith and the city council in closing a newly established opposition newspaper in Nauvoo. Mormon historians—including Elder B. H. Roberts—had conceded that this action was illegal, but as a young law professor pursuing original research, I was pleased to find a legal basis for this action in the Illinois law of 1844. The amendment to the United States Constitution that extended the guarantee of freedom of the press to protect against the actions of city and state governments was not adopted until 1868, and it was not enforced as a matter of federal law until 1931. We should judge the actions of our predecessors on the basis of the laws and commandments and circumstances of their day, not ours.
As students at the University of Chicago, historian Marvin S. Hill and I were intrigued with the little-known fact that five men went to trial in Illinois for the murders of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. For over 10 years we scoured libraries and archives across the nation to find every scrap of information about this trial and those involved in it. We studied the actions and words of Illinois citizens who knew Joseph Smith personally, some who hated him and plotted to kill him, and others who loved him and risked their lives to witness the trial of his accused assassins. Nothing in our discoveries in the original court records or in the testimony at the lengthy trial disclosed anything that reflected dishonor on the men who were murdered.
The accessibility of Illinois court records led to another untouched area of research on Joseph Smith—his financial activities. Joseph I. Bentley, then a law student at Chicago, and I discovered numerous records showing the business activities of Joseph Smith. As we explained in our article, this was a period following a nationwide financial panic and depression. Economic conditions in frontier states like Illinois were ruinous. The biographers of an Illinois contemporary, Abraham Lincoln, have described his financial embarrassments during this decade, when business was precarious, many obligations were in default, and lawsuits were common. The enemies of Joseph charged him with fraud in various property conveyances, mostly in behalf of the Church. A succession of court proceedings that extended for nearly a decade examined these claims in meticulous detail. Finally, in 1852, long after the Saints’ exodus from Illinois (so there was no conceivable political or other cause for anyone to favor the Prophet), a federal judge concluded this litigation with a decree that found no fraud or other moral impropriety by the Prophet. Independent of that decree, as one who has examined the hundreds of pages of allegations and evidence in these proceedings, I testify to the Prophet’s innocence of the charges against him.
Pres. Hinckley:A few years ago, I received a letter written by an evangelist who with diatribe lashed out against the Prophet Joseph Smith, calling him a wicked imposter, a fraud, a fake, and a deceiver, and declaring that he was undertaking a campaign to spread his views. Whatever became of his work, I do not know. It will not have been significant. That kind of work may topple a few of the weak, but it only strengthens the strong. And long after that man and others of his kind have gone down to silence, the name of Joseph Smith will continue to ring with honor and love in the hearts of an ever-growing band of Latter-day Saints in an ever-increasing number of nations.
I think of the little boy, born in Sharon in December of 1805, given his father’s name. I reflect on that terrifying period of sickness when typhus fever struck the family, and osteomyelitis, with great pain and debilitating infection, settled in Joseph’s leg. That was while the family lived in Lebanon, New Hampshire; and how remarkable it was that only a few miles away, at the academy in Hanover, was Dr. Nathan Smith, who had developed a procedure by which that infected leg might be saved.
But the cure was not to be accomplished without terrible suffering. In fact, today it is difficult to conceive how the little boy stood it as his father held him in his arms and his mother walked and prayed among the trees of the farm to escape his screams while the surgeon made the long incision and with forceps broke off the portions of infected bone without benefit of anesthesia of any kind. Perhaps remembrance of that intense suffering helped prepare Joseph Smith for the later tarring and feathering at Kirtland, the foul jail at Liberty, and the shots of the mob at Carthage.
As I contemplate Joseph Smith’s life, I think of the forces that moved the Smith family from generations of life in New England to western New York, where they had to come if the foreordained purposes of God were to be accomplished. I thought of the loss of the family farm, of poor crops in that thin soil, of the great freeze of 1816 when a killing frost in July forced upon them the decision to look elsewhere; then of the move to Palmyra, of the purchase of a farm in Manchester, and of the revivalist preachers who stirred the people and so confused a boy that he determined to ask God for wisdom.
That was the real beginning of it all, that spring day in the year 1820.
I reflect on this amazing Joseph Smith. I cannot expect his detractors to know of his prophetic calling by the power of the Holy Ghost, but I can raise some questions for them to deal with before they can dismiss Joseph Smith. I raise only three of many that might be asked: First, what do you do with the Book of Mormon? Second, how do you explain his power to influence strong men to follow him, even unto death? And third, how do you rationalize the fulfillment of his prophecies?
If there were no other evidence for the divine mission of Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon would stand as an irrefutable witness of that fact. To think that anyone less than one inspired could bring forth a volume which should have so profound an effect for good upon so many others is to imagine that which simply cannot be. The evidence for the truth of the Book of Mormon is found in the lives of the millions, living and gone, who have read it, prayed about it, and received a witness of its truth.
My second question, how do you explain Joseph Smith’s power to influence strong men and women to follow him, even unto death, is similarly difficult to dismiss. take Willard Richards—an educated man who, when Joseph and Hyrum Smith surrendered themselves to the governor of Illinois and were placed in Carthage Jail, was among a handful of men who went with them. By the afternoon of 27 June 1844, most had been sent to take care of certain matters of business, leaving only John Taylor and Willard Richards with the Prophet and his brother Hyrum. That afternoon following dinner, the jailer, knowing of the mob outside, suggested that they would be safer in the cell of the jail. Turning to Willard Richards, Joseph asked, “If we go into the cell will you go with us?” To this Elder Richards responded:
“Brother Joseph, you did not ask me to cross the river with you … you did not ask me to come to Carthage … you did not ask me to come to jail with you—and do you think I would forsake you now? But I will tell you what I will do; if you are condemned to be hung for ‘treason,’ I will be hung in your stead, and you shall go free.”
Strong and intelligent men do not demonstrate that kind of love for a charlatan or a fraud. That kind of love comes of God
What of Joseph Smith’s prophecies? There were more than a few, and they were fulfilled. Among the most notable was the revelation on the Civil War. You are familiar with it; it was spoken on Christmas Day, 1832. There were many high-minded men and women who deplored the institution of slavery then common in the South, and there was much talk of abolition. But who but a prophet of God would have dared to say, thirty-nine years before it was to happen, that “war [would] be poured out upon all nations,” beginning “at the rebellion of South Carolina,” and that “the Southern States [would] be divided against the Northern States”? (D&C 87:1–3.) This remarkable prediction saw its fulfillment with the firing on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor in 1861. How could Joseph Smith have possibly foreseen with such accuracy the event that was to come thirty-nine years after he spoke of it? Only by the spirit of prophecy which was in him.
Or again, consider the equally remarkable prophecy concerning the movement of the Saints to these mountain valleys. The Saints were then living in Nauvoo and its sister community across the Mississippi and were enjoying a prosperity they had not previously known. They were building a temple and other substantial structures. Their new homes were of brick, constructed to endure. And yet one day in August of 1842, while visiting in Montrose, Joseph prophesied “that the Saints would continue to suffer much affliction and would be driven to the Rocky Mountains, many would apostatize, others would be put to death by our persecutors or lose their lives in consequence of exposure or disease, and [speaking to those who were present] some of you will live to go and assist in making settlements and build cities and see the Saints become a mighty people in the midst of the Rocky Mountains.” (History of the Church, 5:85.)
Viewed in the context of the time and circumstances, this statement is nothing less than remarkable. Only a man speaking with a knowledge beyond his own could have uttered words which would be so literally fulfilled.
And what of this prophecy, which so magnificently foresaw the joyous destiny of this church?
“Our missionaries are going forth to different nations … the Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the 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.”
Great was the Prophet Joseph Smith’s vision. It encompassed all the peoples of mankind, wherever they live, and all generations who have walked the earth and passed on. How can anyone, past or present, speak against him except out of ignorance? They have not tasted of his words, they have not pondered about him, nor prayed about him. As one who has done these things, I add my own words of testimony that he was and is a prophet of God, raised up as an instrument in the hands of the Almighty to usher in a new and final gospel dispensation. Of the Prophet Joseph Smith, we could say:
“When a man gives his life for the cause he has advocated, he meets the highest test of his honesty and sincerity that his own or any future generation can in fairness ask. When he dies for the testimony he has borne, all malicious tongues should ever after be silent, and all voices hushed in reverence before a sacrifice so complete.”