“Joseph Smith—My Prophet,” For the Strength of Youth, Jan. 2021, 8–11.
Something President Russell M. Nelson said in the April 2020 general conference struck a chord with me: “Regardless of where you live or what your circumstances are, the Lord Jesus Christ is your Savior, and God’s prophet, Joseph Smith, is your prophet” (“Hear Him” [Ensign or Liahona, May 2020, 88]).
Ever since I was young, that’s how I’ve felt—Joseph Smith is my prophet. More than anyone, this prophet of the Restoration has helped me come to know Jesus Christ and His gospel. I studied the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants. And when I was a teenager, my dad gave me a book of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s teachings, and I ate it up. Studying those teachings became a major building block of my testimony of the restored gospel.
I’ve thought since then: what was it about the teachings of Joseph Smith that made such an impression on me? What allowed the Spirit to witness so strongly to me of their truth? I’d say it was three things: (1) he knew what he knew, and he stated it boldly; (2) he had a way of clearly explaining truths he had learned through revelation; and (3) his character and personality always shone through.
Ever since the First Vision, Joseph Smith faced persecution for sharing what he learned through revelation. But he knew he couldn’t back down from it: “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” (Joseph Smith—History 1:25).
Though he knew that he would invite more persecution and hatred by doing so, Joseph Smith boldly declared the truths he learned from God for the rest of his life.
Though most people in the Christian world believed that man was created by God out of nothing, Joseph Smith confidently taught something different:
“Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:29).
“The soul—the mind of man—the immortal spirit. Where did it come from? All learned men and doctors of divinity say that God created it in the beginning; but it is not so: the very idea lessens man in my estimation. I do not believe the doctrine; I know better. Hear it, all ye ends of the world; for God has told me so; and if you don’t believe me, it will not make the truth without effect” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 209).
Joseph Smith sometimes hinted that he knew a great deal more of God’s mysteries than he could share with the world. But when he taught, he had a way of making the truths of God plain and simple.
From the First Vision onward, Joseph Smith learned many truths about the nature of God the Eternal Father. And in his teachings he explained the significance of these truths. For instance, he said:
“If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 40). That’s a pretty clear statement that gets at the heart of who God is, who we are, what our relationship to Him is, and what our potential is.
He followed that up with this statement: “God Himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 40). Even clearer.
And then he taught this: “God himself, finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 210). Joseph Smith expressed something here that’s fundamental to Heavenly Father’s plan: Heavenly Father wants us to become like Him.
The way Joseph Smith expressed himself gives us an idea of who he was and what he was like as a person as well as a prophet. This is important, because connecting with people somehow makes connecting with ideas easier. Joseph’s character shines through in his teachings.
Though Joseph Smith was generally cheerful by nature (see Joseph Smith—History 1:28), when it came to what the Lord commanded, he didn’t treat it lightly. He had learned by experience what the consequence of straying from such commandments might be (see, for instance, Doctrine and Covenants 3:4–9). I find this blend of a lighthearted nature and serious-minded discipleship intriguing—and personally, I can identify with it.
Now, as the prophet of the Restoration, Joseph Smith was commanded to teach God’s revealed truths, many of which were new to everyone. Joseph had to try to help people learn these new truths. But sometimes it was frustrating. He once said:
“There has been a great difficulty in getting anything into the heads of this generation. It has been like splitting hemlock knots with a corn-dodger [a piece of corn bread] for a wedge, and a pumpkin for a beetle [a wooden mallet]. Even the Saints are slow to understand” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 540).
This was a serious subject for Joseph Smith. There must have been so much that he wanted people to know and understand and embrace and live—and they just wouldn’t. But a little homespun analogy from the nineteenth-century U.S. frontier paints an amusing picture and gives us a small window into Joseph Smith’s personality.
There are many other aspects of Joseph Smith’s character that shine through in his teachings. For instance, his love of friends: “My heart shall love those, and my hands shall toil for those, who love and toil for me, and shall ever be found faithful to my friends” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 462).
Or his kindness and generosity: Once when men were saying how sorry they felt for a man whose house had burned down, Joseph immediately said, “I feel sorry for this brother to the amount of five dollars; how much do you all feel sorry?” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 460).
Then there’s his love of family, integrity, humility, confidence, justice and fairness, faith amid trials and suffering. It’s all there, expressed alongside eternal truths and principles to live by.
Joseph Smith still gets attacked and criticized today, of course. But like he said, “I never told you I was perfect; but there is no error in the revelations which I have taught” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 522). We can bear a bold witness of the fact that he was a prophet. I have found it easy to testify of Joseph Smith—not because there’s an easy answer all of the questions people might pose about him but because I have studied his revelations and prophetic teachings and felt the Holy Ghost testifying that they’re true. It’s like Joseph himself once said:
“I can taste the principles of eternal life, and so can you. They are given to me by the revelations of Jesus Christ; and I know that when I tell you these words of eternal life as they are given to me, you taste them, and I know that you believe them. You say honey is sweet, and so do I. I can also taste the spirit of eternal life. I know that it is good; and when I tell you of these things which were given me by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, you are bound to receive them as sweet, and rejoice more and more” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 525).
I’ve tasted that sweetness. It was shared with me by my prophet, Joseph Smith. And like President Nelson said, he’s your prophet too. You can make a serious of study his life and teachings this year with Come, Follow Me. Then you can bear witness of the sweet truths he has helped you taste.