“Joseph Fielding Smith: Apostle, Prophet, Father in Israel,” Ensign, Aug. 1972, 24
Joseph Fielding Smith—a son of God; an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ; a prophet of the Most High; and above all, a father in Israel!—has been called by the Lord whom he loved so much and served so well to other and greater labors in his eternal vineyard.
Would it be amiss to say we rejoice, if not at his passing as such, at least at the glorious probationary experiences which were climaxed by his return to that God who gave him breath?
Would it be amiss if we, with the angels, rejoice that this favored and choice son of a gracious Father has kept the faith, has filled the full measure of his creation, and has now entered into his eternal rest?
Joseph Fielding Smith—a son of God: one who was true and faithful in the realms of yesterday; one who kept his first estate and shouted for joy at the prospects of mortality; one who was numbered with the noble and great of eternity—left the Eternal Presence and was born of goodly parents here on July 19, 1876.
After nearly a century of life away from his heavenly home—after 96 years less 17 days of sojourning as a stranger and a pilgrim among mortal men—he has been called home to report on his stewardship and to receive further light and knowledge from that Lord whose voice he heard in this life and whose face he shall behold in his new abode.
Having taken upon himself the whole armor of God, having fought a good fight, having kept the faith and been true and faithful, he has now entered into the joy of that Lord whom he served so well.
His mortal probation ended at 9:25 P.M. on Sunday, July 2, 1972, and he is now in the midst of a joyous reunion with his family and friends in the paradise of God. In that spirit sphere he continues to labor as he did so long and valiantly during a faith-filled sojourn among mortal men.
While living and laboring among us, the tabernacle of his spirit had grown old; the vigor and strength of youth were no longer his; and the power to do all that he desired in the ministry of his Lord was lessened. The deepening shadows of old age had taken their toll, and so, as with all men, death came “to fulfil the merciful plan of the great Creator.” (2 Ne. 9:6.)
Now he is free. No longer shackled with the ills and afflictions of that tenement of clay which housed him so long and so well in this life, he is able to go about his Father’s business without restraint or limitation. He now lives in the full power and strength of eternal youth.
In his declining years here he rested secure in the love and companionship of his family and his beloved associates in the ministry, the General Authorities of the Church. No two men could have been more solicitous of his personal welfare, nor more desirous to reflect his views and be his voice, than those two pillars of spiritual strength and personal righteousness, Presidents Harold B. Lee and N. Eldon Tanner, for which course the Lord has and will bless them everlastingly.
But now President Smith rests secure in another holy and joyous circle of friends and family members. He is with his lovely Louie, who bore him two daughters—Josephine (Rheinhardt) and Julina (Hart)—before she found release from the burdens of mortality and a home among the sanctified saints in the world of spirits. He is again with Ethel, the faithful and gracious mother of nine of his children—Emily (Myers), Naomi (Brewster), Lois (Fife), Joseph Fielding, Jr., Amelia (McConkie), Lewis, Reynolds, Douglas, and Milton. And once more he has his beloved Jessie at his side, the wife who spent more years than any of the others with him here and who did so much to help and encourage him as he bowed ‘neath the burdens he bore.
Once again he is with his father (President Joseph F. Smith) and his mother (Julina Lambson Smith)—parents whom he obeyed, revered, and honored within the full meaning of the law given by Deity in the Ten Commandments. Again he is rejoicing in the love and association of his son Lewis, who gave his life in the defense of his country during World War II, and with President David O. McKay and great hosts of his fellow laborers, not the least of whom are the Prophet Joseph Smith, and his grandfather the Patriarch Hyrum Smith.
President Joseph Fielding Smith held the highest office in the Church and the kingdom of God on earth. From the 7th day of April in 1910, when he was ordained an apostle and set apart as a member of the Council of the Twelve by his father, to the hour of his passing he labored with unwearying diligence among the mighty and the meek as an especial witness of the Lord’s name. Perhaps no man in this dispensation has traveled more miles, attended more meetings, preached more sermons, performed more ordinances, or written more voluminously in proclaiming the truths of salvation than he has. For years to come his voice will speak from the dust as generations yet unborn learn the doctrines of the gospel from his writings.
And yet few men were less impressed than he with high office or special status or preferred position. In sermon after sermon his proclamation was that the choicest blessings and the crowning glory of the saints in the endless eternities ahead shall grow out of the way they live, the laws they keep, and the family ties they choose to make.
At the funeral of Sister David O. McKay, after reciting some of the great contributions made by her and President McKay, he said: “Great and important as was their service in the Church and in the world, their greatest blessings have and shall come out of the eternal family unit.”
At the funeral of Elder Richard L. Evans, he spoke again along this same line. After extolling the worldwide work and influence of Brother Evans, he said: “But as we now look back upon his life and ministry, the thing that impresses us more than any other is the fact that he chose to do those things which will assure him of eternal glory in our Father’s kingdom. He did those things which were necessary in the working out of his own salvation. He was baptized and received the gift of the Holy Ghost. He was married to his beloved Alice in the house of the Lord for time and for all eternity. He was obedient to the laws of the gospel, and he kept the faith.
“In the sight of the Lord, true greatness consists in keeping the commandments and in doing well those things which are the common lot of all the faithful saints. …
“I know of no greater hope, of no more glorious doctrine, of no more consoling knowledge than this: that the family unit continues forever among those who believe and obey the fullness of the Lord’s laws.”
As a man and as a prophet, President Smith will remain forever enshrined in the hearts of the saints. Much might be said of him and his ministry. Perhaps I might now quote the expressions made by me at his funeral services, which contain some new and otherwise unknown information.
President Lee, President Tanner, this great assemblage of family members of whom I am one, my brothers and sisters, and that great host of our Father’s other children, the noble and good everywhere:
I have been overshadowed by a great feeling of calmness and peace since the passing of President Joseph Fielding Smith—a calmness and peace that carries with it the absolute assurance that the will of the Lord has been done; that from his own standpoint and from that of the Church, President Smith, at the appointed and proper time, responded to the call to serve in other parts of the Lord’s vineyard; and that his name shall now be held in honorable remembrance by the pure in heart and by the wise and the noble and the virtuous forever.
I was with him during the final days and hours of his life here among us and was in fact holding his hand when his pulse stopped beating.
On Thursday, June 29, he gave the opening address at the seminar for mission presidents and their wives. Friday night he attended a banquet with about 270 others who work in the missionary cause.
On Sunday, July 2, he attended sacrament meeting in the Eighteenth Ward, his home ward. That afternoon he listened as my young daughter, Sara, and I read to each other and discussed chapters 5 through 12 of First Nephi in the Book of Mormon. He ate a light supper at about 7:30 P.M. He was as healthy and robust, as alert and active, as he has been at any time in recent years.
After supper he sat in his favorite chair in the front room and talked with my wife, Amelia. One of the last things he said to her was that he loved her and blessed her. At about 9:20 P.M. she went into another room to get an address for a letter she was writing.
In a couple of minutes she returned. During that interval the Lord as it were called: “Come up hither; your work among mortals on earth is finished, and I have other and greater things for you to do”—which brings to mind the words of Elder Ezra Taft Benson, spoken two days before at the mission presidents seminar: “The saving of the souls of men is the greatest work that is going on in the whole universe. It is going on both sides of the veil, and I sometimes think it doesn’t matter which side of the veil we are working on.”
When Amelia returned, she found her father in what seemed to be a state of shock. She called to me, and within moments, not more than a few seconds at most, we were giving him oxygen—to no avail. It was apparent his time had come and that the tenement of clay no longer housed the eternal spirit.
His passing was as sweet and as easy, as calm and as peaceful as though he had fallen asleep, which in fact he had; it was with him, as with one of old of whom Jesus said, “Lazarus sleepeth.” He passed away sitting in the same chair in which his beloved Jessie had sat almost eleven months to the day earlier when she answered a similar summons.
And so it is written: “Thou shalt live together in love, insomuch that thou shalt weep for the loss of them that die, and more especially for those that have not hope of a glorious resurrection.
“And it shall come to pass that those that die in me shall not taste of death, for it shall be sweet unto them;
“And they that die not in me, wo unto them, for their death is bitter.” (D&C 42:45–47.)
Paul said, “The sting of death is sin.” Truly when the Lord took his prophet, there was no sting. President Smith did not taste of death, but went to meet his earthly and his heavenly Father with a name and a character worthy of their approbation.
The life and labors of President Joseph Fielding Smith were characterized by three things:
1. His love of the Lord and the absolute, unswerving fidelity with which he sought to signify that love by keeping his commandments and doing ever those things which would please the Lord.
2. His loyalty to the Prophet Joseph Smith and the everlasting truths restored through him; to his grandfather, the Patriarch Hyrum Smith, whose blood still stains the floor of that jail where he met a martyr’s death; and to his father, President Joseph F. Smith, whose name is enshrined forever in the celestial city as one who endured valiantly in the cause of him whose blood was shed that we might live.
3. His own gospel scholarship and spiritual insight; his own unwearying diligence as a preacher of righteousness; and his own course of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the widow and the fatherless, and manifesting pure religion by precept as well as by example.
If I may now express myself by the power of the Holy Ghost, and if you may be enlightened by that same power, I shall try and give a true feeling relative to the tender, gracious, and gentle personality of President Smith—the feeling for him which is had by his family, his close friends, and the General Authorities.
He was not an austere man, as he was long ago described in a published article, but rather one of the most kind and considerate of our Father’s children. He had tender feelings and an instinctive sympathy and solicitude for the weak, the weary, and the wanting. In judgment he was temperate and reserved, and as President Spencer W. Kimball said at his passing, “Many times we have said that since the Twelve will be judges of Israel, any of us would be happy to fall into his hands, for his judgment would be kind, merciful, just, and holy.”
President Smith had the highest and most sharply defined sense of duty of any man I have ever known. He felt a compelling obligation to attend his meetings, to cover all the items on the agenda, and to do everything expected of him. I seldom left home for a conference or a meeting that he didn’t say, “Is this a conference I should go to?” Or, “Do I have any obligation to take part in this meeting?” He had a consuming desire to do everything he should and to do it well.
Obedience to the Lord’s law came easy to him, but he also made a conscious effort to keep the commandments. Scarcely a day passed in which he did not say, “I hope I have not done anything wrong today.”
By training and by instinct he applied gospel principles to his own life and counseled others to do likewise.
On Wednesday, June 28, a young convert asked him, “Shall I remain in salt Lake City or go east to study?” Using words that give a clear insight into his personality, President Smith replied, “It doesn’t make one bit of difference where you live as long as you keep the commandments of the Lord.”
About a week ago he heard two of his daughters discussing an unpleasant episode which had happened in the family. He said, “Oh, don’t let us have any unpleasantness. There’s too much trouble in the world, and there’s so much to be thankful for.”
President Smith was born as a child of promise. Asked recently in my presence how he got his name, he said, “I came by it honestly.” The fact is that his father, President Joseph F. Smith, had three of his five wives at the time, and had promised Julina Lambson that her first son would be named Joseph Fielding, Jr.
Julina had three daughters but no sons, and so she went before the Lord and, like Hannah of old, “vowed a vow.” Her promise: that if the Lord would give her a son, “she would do all in her power to help him be a credit to the Lord and to his father.” The Lord hearkened to her prayers, and she kept her promise to him; and he also manifest to her, before the birth of the man child, that her son would be called to serve in the Council of the Twelve.
This beginning, coupled with a long series of subsequent teachings, gave this new son, born in the lineage of the prophets, an almost reverential respect for the name of Joseph; and out of this grew his unwavering determination to bear that name in honor and keep it as free from stain as when it was used by Jacob’s son, by Mary’s husband, by the great prophet of the latter days, and by his own father.
When President Smith was 20 years of age, he received a patriarchal blessing from John Smith, the Patriarch to the Church. This inspired man told him, in the Lord’s name, that he would “live to a good old age” and become “a mighty man in Israel.”
“It shall be thy duty,” the inspired declaration announced, “to sit in counsel with thy brethren and to preside among the people. It shall be thy duty also to travel much, at home and abroad by land and water, laboring in the ministry; and I say unto thee: Hold up thy head; lift up thy voice without fear or favor as the Spirit of the Lord shall direct; and the blessing of the Lord shall rest upon thee. His Spirit shall direct thy mind and give thee word and sentiment that thou shalt confound the wisdom of the wicked and set at naught the councils of the unjust.”
If ever the promises of a patriarch found complete fulfillment, such was the case with these inspired utterances. And so, in preparation for the great work that lay ahead, the future apostle and prophet, with his brother Joseph Richards, went on a mission to England. On June 10, 1899, the two of them received their first letter from their father, a letter which breathes the spirit of faith and testimony and counsel out of which great lives are molded.
“I desire that you will be humble and prayerful,” President Joseph F. Smith wrote to them, “that you will covet the best society of faithful men and saints and devote yourselves with all earnestness to the work of the ministry. … May God bless you, my boys, and keep you safely from all harm; prosper you in your mission; make you instrumental in doing much good; seal indelibly upon your minds the testimony of His truth, and a knowledge of the divine mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith; and of the fidelity of his friend and associate Willard Richards, whose blood flows in your [Richards’] veins. Both your grandfathers, Hyrum and Willard, were true men, men of intelligence, wisdom and inspiration. And either of them thought their own lives worthless in comparison to the faithful performance of their duties and the importance of the restored gospel, for which they lived, labored and died. Be as true to those holy principles as your fathers have been and your reward will be sure and most glorious. With abiding love for you, my sons, I am, Your father, Joseph F. Smith.”
I have heard President Joseph Fielding Smith recite these words, in substance and in thought content, over and over again to the members of his family, seeking to instill into their hearts the desires and determinations that the same counsel had brought into his own soul.
On Tuesday, November 7, 1899, while still a young missionary in Great Britain, President Smith wrote in his journal: “I received a letter from my wife; also one from my father stating that my grandmother Lambson had departed this life on the morning of October 25, at 7:45. She is one of the pioneers of 1847, a good and true woman, true to the gospel and to her testimony of the divinity of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s mission. My father writes: ‘Grandmother was 74 years of age, a pioneer of 1847. She had no disease of any kind, not even a cold. Her vital machinery gave out and she fell asleep in peace.’” Then President Smith continues: “Her life has not been an easy one; she has had many things to contend with in her life; she has fought the good fight, has kept the faith. May I always be found as faithful and as true as she has been.”
In these words, once again, we see the measure of the man: a man whose whole heart—from infancy, to youth, to maturing years, to old age—has always been centered on those things of the greatest worth, those things which bring peace in this life and eternal life in the world to come.
How did President Smith attain the heights that were his? What made him what he was? What prepared this lad of humble beginnings for apostolic stature and prophetic presidency?
Clearly he was among the noble and great in preexistence and was foreordained there to minister among the children of men here. But also he was born in the household of faith, a natural heir to all of the blessings of the gospel—born in the household of faith where he was led in the way of truth and righteousness. And clearly, also, he chose to do those things by which the pleasing approbation of a gracious God is gained. How well and nobly he succeeded is now written in the Lamb’s book of life, never to be blotted out.
When President Smith was called to preside in Israel, I wrote these words, which were then published in one of the Church magazines:
“Our new president is a doctrinal teacher, a theologian, a scriptorian, a preacher of righteousness in the full and true sense of the word. For 60 years he has raised a warning voice in the stakes and missions, at home and abroad, before the saints and the world.
“Millions of words have come from his pen—explaining, expounding, exhorting, in the spirit and manner of the prophets of old. …
“To the faithful saints his voice has been one of glory and honor, of peace in this world and eternal life in the world to come.
“To the sorrowing and downcast it has been a voice of comfort and peace, a voice of hope, a call to remember the Lord, to rejoice in his redemption, and to look forward to a better world, a world without sin and sorrow.
“To the lost and straying sheep his call has been to return to the fold, to seek anew the protecting care of the Good Shepherd, to come back from the deserts of doubt and feed again in green pastures.
“To truth seekers among all sects, parties, and denominations his has been the plea to seek the Lord while he may be found, to come unto Christ, to accept the gospel and find joy and salvation with the Saints.
“And to the rebellious and ungodly his voice—like Nephi’s—has been: Repent and forsake your sins lest ye perish.
“In order to preach with power, to teach with wisdom, to write with inspiration, our new president has of necessity been a student of the standard works. Early and late he has pored over and pondered the words of the prophets and has sought the same Spirit which enabled them to write and speak the mind and will of the Lord.”
May I conclude with these words which he spoke from this pulpit last year as he closed the October general conference of the Church; and as I read them to you, may my voice be his voice as he, through me, bears testimony once again of the glorious truths he knew so well:
“I have sought all my days to keep the commandments and do those things which will please the Lord, and I desire to bear testimony of his goodness to me and to all his [saints].
“As I stand now, in … the twilight of life, with the realization that in a not-far-distant day I shall be called upon to give an account of my mortal stewardship, I bear testimony again of the truth and divinity of this great work.
“I know that God lives and that he sent his beloved Son into the world to atone for our sins.
“I know that the Father and the Son appeared to Joseph Smith to usher in this final gospel dispensation.
“I know that Joseph Smith is a prophet; moreover, that this is the Lord’s church, and that the gospel cause shall roll forward until the knowledge of the Lord covers the earth as the waters cover the sea.
“[I] love the Lord. I know that he lives, and I look forward to that day when I shall see his face, and I hope to hear his voice say unto me: ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’” (Ensign, December 1971, p. 136.)
President Smith has now gone to the paradise of God where he rests from all care and sorrow as he continues to labor in the eternal vineyard. In that world of peace and joy he will continue to progress and advance and perfect his soul.
And in a not far distant day, the trump of God shall sound and he with all the righteous dead shall rise incorruptible to stand before the pleasing bar of the great Jehovah. In that day the scripture shall be fulfilled which says: “… the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. …” (John 5:22–23.)
And then President Smith—a son of God, an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, a prophet of the Most High God, and above all, a father in Israel—having honored the Son in word and deed, shall hear his voice say unto him: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of thy Lord; sit down in my kingdom with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and all the holy prophets, to go no more out.”
In that day, as he desired and prayed, it shall be said unto him: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
“For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
“Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
“… Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25:34–36, 40.)
All these things I know, and of them I testify.
O God grant that we may walk as he walked; that we may keep our covenants (which was his constant prayer for himself and for all Israel); and that having been true and faithful we may rejoin him and enter with him into the joy of our Lord!
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.