“A Prophet for the Fulness of Times,” Ensign, Jan. 1997, 50
By any standard, Joseph Smith was a remarkable person! Most of the world’s political and spiritual leaders are men and women of mature years. Leaders who reach the heights of influence as early as their forties and fifties are gifted exceptions. Joseph Smith, however, was called to be a prophet while in his teens. He accomplished his work while in his twenties and thirties and fell to assassins at age 38.
Because it would require volumes to assess all the contributions of the Prophet Joseph, this article will focus on three areas: Joseph Smith as a conduit for scripture, as the latter-day pioneer of work for the dead, and as the founder of the Lord’s kingdom in preparation for the Second Coming. He was what no other prophet could have been—an Elias, or forerunner, opening the dispensation that culminates the history of the world prior to the Lord’s triumphal reign on earth.
The four standard works are actually a collection of hundreds of scriptural records and revelations written by dozens of inspired people. Some of these scriptural writers contributed book-length works, and some contributed only a page or two. One writer contributed just a single verse (see Omni 1:9).
Although it is not always clearly established who produced a given scriptural text, we can compare the total number of pages that are attributed to different scriptural producers. I use the term producers rather than authors deliberately, to more accurately describe the roles of those who have brought forth scripture. I refer not only to the writing of text but also to the overlapping efforts of translating, transcribing, and abridging it. Applying this definition and judging by page counts in the current Latter-day Saint edition of the scriptures, I’ve listed the most prolific scriptural producers besides Joseph Smith:
Unknown writer of Chronicles
Unknown writer of 1 and 2 Samuel7
Now consider Joseph Smith’s accomplishments in bringing forth scripture:
Book of Mormon
Doctrine and Covenants 1–134
Pearl of Great Price
Joseph Smith Translation9
These 10 most prolific scriptural producers authored a total of 1,480 pages. Joseph Smith alone was responsible for 900. His total pages equal nearly 61 percent of the total pages of the other top 10 producers, and he is responsible for nearly three times as many pages as either of the two next highest scriptural producers, Mormon and Moses. Before Joseph Smith, the world had only the 1,590 pages of the Bible; through this one man, the Lord increased our scriptural library by more than half.
Yet counting pages serves only to indicate how prodigious the Prophet Joseph Smith’s efforts were; what really matters is the content of the new scriptures that he gave to the world. Joseph Smith gave us new or expanded knowledge about a full spectrum of gospel topics:
The nature of the Godhead
The role and functions of the Holy Ghost
The nature of intelligences
The premortal existence
The Council in Heaven
Jesus Christ’s and Lucifer’s premortal roles
The Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement
Family and parental responsibilities
Priesthood keys, organization, and ordinances
The laws of consecration and stewardship
The temple endowment and temple sealings
Work for the dead
Spirit paradise and spirit prison
The Second Coming of Jesus Christ
The three degrees of glory and outer darkness
In addition to canonized scripture, Joseph Smith also gave us many journals, sermons, lectures, and histories that provide additional gospel teachings and knowledge of the Lord’s work in the latter days. As the Lord Jesus Christ said, “This generation shall have my word through you [the Prophet Joseph Smith]” (D&C 5:10).
In fact, it could be truly said that the depth and consistency of the gospel’s saving doctrines can be traced to the Prophet Joseph Smith’s accomplishment in bringing forth new scriptures. “I never told you I was perfect,” Joseph Smith said, “but there is no error in the revelations which I have taught” (History of the Church, 6:366).
Current membership in the Church numbers more than nine million people. If we could count every living member since Joseph Smith organized the Church, the total would probably be in the range of 20 or 25 million.
To fully appreciate the number of people who have received saving ordinances during Joseph Smith’s dispensation, however, we must consider those who have received ordinances vicariously through the great work for the dead. In 1840 the Lord began to unfold through Joseph Smith the doctrine of vicarious work for the dead, with living members performing ordinance work for those who had died without having had the chance to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ and accept its saving ordinances. The first latter-day baptisms for the dead were performed in the Mississippi River that year.
Since that time, many million temple ordinances have been performed in behalf of the dead. Judging by the magnitude of temple work in this dispensation, Joseph Smith has indeed been Heavenly Father’s greatest mortal instrument for restoring the means to save His children through Jesus Christ (see D&C 135:3).
Approximately 600 years before the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ and two and a half millennia before Joseph Smith, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had a dream that confounded his wise men. In the dream, the king saw a great personage with portions of his body made of various metals and materials. A stone cut without hands from a mountain rolled down and broke the image to pieces.
The prophet Daniel, who was then living at the king’s court, was able to explain the dream: “In the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever” (Dan. 2:44).
Joseph Smith was the instrument God used to launch the building of his kingdom in these latter days. The revelations given through the Prophet, along with the Church he was commanded to organize, are to warn the world and prepare a people for the coming of their Lord (see D&C 1:17–23).
In a revelation to the Prophet Joseph just 18 months after the organization of the Church, the Lord said, “The keys of the kingdom of God are committed unto man on the earth, and from thence shall the gospel roll forth unto the ends of the earth, as the stone which is cut out of the mountain without hands shall roll forth, until it has filled the whole earth” (D&C 65:2). President Ezra Taft Benson noted that “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is extending the heralded message of the restoration of the gospel to every nation which permits us entrance through its borders. This is a fulfillment of the vision and revelation received by Daniel, the prophet” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson , 168).
By establishing the Church, Joseph Smith laid the groundwork for the Savior’s return to earth. Restoring the truth of God, translating the Book of Mormon, receiving priesthood keys and ordinances, organizing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sending missionaries to proclaim the gospel worldwide, building temples and starting work for the dead, sealing his testimony with his blood—all these efforts were necessary to prepare Jesus Christ’s people for the state of affairs that will be ushered in at his coming.
President Joseph Fielding Smith explained that “the kingdom of God is the Church. After Christ comes, all the peoples of the earth will be subject to him, but there will be multitudes of people on the face of the earth who will not be members of the Church; yet all will have to be obedient to the laws of the kingdom of God, for it will have dominion upon the whole face of the earth. These people will be subject to the political government, even though they are not members of the ecclesiastical kingdom which is the Church” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., [1954–56], 1:229; emphasis in original).
The scriptures tell us specifically what we can hope for regarding the consummation of the latter-day work that the Lord began through Joseph Smith:
All wickedness will come to an end, and Babylon (meaning the world and its wickedness) will be thrown down. Satan will be bound for 1,000 years (see Isa. 63:1–6; Rev. 16–18; 1 Ne. 22:26; D&C 88:110; D&C 101:24).
All the forces of evil combined to fight the work the Lord started through Joseph Smith. Words such as persecution, apostasy, betrayal, treachery, expulsion, condemnation, opposition, extermination, and finally martyrdom fill our early histories. And yet the Prophet Joseph Smith’s vision never flagged; he knew the work was God’s work, and he knew that God would see it through. “The Standard of Truth has been erected,” he said; “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” (History of the Church, 4:540).
Speaking through Isaiah in a passage that was later quoted by the Savior to the Nephites, the Lord said, “Behold, I have created the smith that bloweth the coals in the fire, and that bringeth forth an instrument for his work” (Isa. 54:16; 3 Ne. 22:16). Joseph was surely the smith who forged the instrument by which the Lord’s people continue to prepare individually and collectively for the Savior’s return—and that instrument is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.