Teachings of Presidents
Chapter 8: Joseph Smith, Prophet of the Living God

“Chapter 8: Joseph Smith, Prophet of the Living God,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee (2011), 69–77

“Chapter 8,” Teachings: Harold B. Lee, 69–77

Chapter 8

Joseph Smith, Prophet of the Living God

Why is a testimony of the prophetic mission of Joseph Smith crucial to our testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ?


President Harold B. Lee had a strong testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith and often used the Prophet’s words as he taught gospel principles. He knew that a testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s mission is essential to a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He encountered many people who did not share this testimony of the Prophet. One was a friend who had read the Book of Mormon and spoken of his “reverence for its teachings.” President Lee asked him, “Why don’t you do something about it? … Why don’t you join the Church?” The man responded thoughtfully: “I suppose the whole reason is because Joseph Smith is too close to me. If he had lived two thousand years ago, I suppose I would believe. But because he is so close, I guess, is the reason I can’t accept.” Said President Lee of his friend’s response, “Here was a man saying, ‘I believe in the dead prophets that lived a thousand-plus years ago, but I have great difficulty believing in a living prophet.’”1

In another instance, a woman said, “You know, I could always accept everything in the Church except one thing. … I never could accept the fact that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God.” Observed President Lee, “How one could accept the Gospel without accepting him who was the instrument in its restoration, I will never know.”2

President Lee stated: “We must know for certainty in our hearts and minds that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior of the world. We must know that this is indeed the Church of Jesus Christ, the kingdom of God on earth in these last days; and finally we must have a testimony that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.”3

Teachings of Harold B. Lee

Why must we have a testimony of Joseph Smith as a prophet of God?

What is it that characterizes a true Prophet of God? First he is God’s mouthpiece of that day and to his group. Second, he restates the ancient truths and seeks to hold the people to unchanging laws of the gospel. Third, he receives additional revelations from the Lord to meet the problems of the progressive unfolding plan. Such new truths emanating from Deity come only through the Prophet of the day. Such a man was Joseph Smith, in every sense a Prophet of God. Yes, truly as [the] Prophet Amos has said, “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” [Amos 3:7.]4

From the depths of my soul, I … know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of the living God. I know that he lived and died to bring to this generation the means by which salvation could be gained. I know that he sits in a high place and holds the keys of this last dispensation. I know that for those who follow him and listen to his teachings and accept him as a true prophet of God and his revelations and teachings as the word of God, the gates of hell will not prevail against them. [See D&C 21:4–6.]5

We must accept the divine mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith as the instrumentality through which the restoration of the gospel and the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ was accomplished. Each member of the Church, to be prepared for the millennial reign, must receive a testimony, each for himself, of the divinity of the work established by Joseph Smith. It was this that was taught plainly by the Saints after the advent of the Savior upon the earth, and one of the leaders in our day has said it again, when he declared, I suppose with reference to the parable of the five foolish and five wise virgins in the Master’s parable [see Matthew 25:1–13], “The time will come when no man nor woman will be able to endure on borrowed light. Each will have to be guided by the light within himself.” [Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball (1945), 450.]6

You who have searched deeply into the scriptures, you who have sought to gain a testimony of the divine witness of the Spirit that every one of you has a right to receive by the witness of the Holy Ghost, there can be within you … one of the most thrilling of all the experiences that can ever come to you when you can say in your heart, “I know with all my soul now as I have never known to the extent that I know it now that Jesus is the Lord, the Savior of the world, and that Joseph Smith, the martyr, was the prophet whom the Lord used to bring His Church into existence in this day.”7

How was Joseph Smith prepared for his calling as the Prophet of the Restoration?

Joseph Smith was the one whom the Lord raised up from boyhood and endowed with divine authority and taught the things necessary for him to know and to obtain the priesthood and to lay the foundation for God’s kingdom in these latter days.8

Historically, prophet leaders were chosen from humble walks of life, not theologically trained in theological seminaries. Call the roll of many of the prophets. I took occasion to go back over history: Elisha was a prosperous farmer; Amos was a shepherd in Judea; the prophet Isaiah was a citizen in Jerusalem; Micah was a Judean villager; Jeremiah was a youth of an ancient priest family; Ezekiel was a priest in the temple; Peter, Andrew, James, and John were fishermen; Jesus and his father Joseph were carpenters. Probably this explains why the Lord chose [the Prophet Joseph Smith as] the prophet leader of this dispensation. … He chose one who could be made wise as to the things of God—things which in all likelihood would have been foolishness to those who had been schooled only in the things of the world.9

In the life of the boy prophet Joseph Smith, before he was given the outbursting of two of the greatest revelations that have ever been given to man, both of those revelations were preceded by a demonstration of the power of evil—in the Sacred Grove, and on the Hill Cumorah. It seemed to have been necessary that the Prophet was to understand the nature and power of that force in order that he could be prepared to contend successfully against it.10

A prophet does not become a spiritual leader by studying books about religion, nor does he become one by attending a theological seminary. … One becomes a prophet or a religious leader by actual spiritual contacts. The true spiritual expert thus gets his diploma directly from God.11

What great things has the Lord established through the Prophet Joseph Smith?

The mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith was known … at least 2,400 years before he was born. The prophecies … concerning Moses and Joseph were recorded on the brass plates and obtained from Laban by the sons of Lehi as you will remember. There was found this prophecy which could have made reference to no one other than the Prophet Joseph Smith:

“Yea, Joseph [undoubtedly referring to that Joseph who was sold into Egypt] truly said: Thus saith the Lord unto me: A choice seer will I raise up out of the fruit of thy loins; … and unto him will I give power to bring forth my word unto the seed of thy loins—and not to the bringing forth my word only, saith the Lord, but to the convincing them of my word, which shall have already gone forth among them. … Behold, that seer will the Lord bless; and they that seek to destroy him shall be confounded. … 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.” [See 2 Nephi 3:7, 11, 14–15.]12

In this dispensation, as has been the case in all previous dispensations of the gospel upon the earth, there was given through the modern prophet, Joseph Smith, the true knowledge of God and his Son, our Savior, when, as glorified personal beings who could talk with and be seen of men, they conversed with him, as though to demonstrate their tangible reality, as the dispensation of the fulness of times was ushered in, in preparation for the second coming of the Lord to reign as Lord of lords and King of kings at the commencement of the millennium.13

Whenever we have declined in faith and knowledge the Lord, in His mercy, has brought back the more complete knowledge of God and His Son, and whenever we have an outpouring of divine knowledge regarding the Father and the Son we say that we have had a new dispensation. So it was in the time of Adam; so it was in the time of Abraham; in the time of Moses; when He came to the Nephites; to the people of Enoch; and so it was that the Savior came among men to teach them the relationship of God and the Son of God. …

Significant, then, in order to commence the dispensation of the fulness of times, it was ushered in by what? A revelation of the personality of God the Father and the Son to the boy prophet Joseph Smith.14

“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” (D&C 135:3). Now, some may think that to be an exaggerated statement, but [it is not] when we think of what He gave to us through this marvelous young man who, in a short space of two years, brought forth the great volume of scripture which was a second witness to the mission of the Lord, the Book of Mormon. … This young man, without the gift of an educated man, but moved by the power of Almighty God, translated that record from an unknown language into the language we have it today, in the which was to be found the fulness of the everlasting gospel.15

Joseph Smith, the young man not schooled in the theologies of the day, not schooled in the high schools of learning of his day … [was] one who could be submissive to the teachings and whisperings of the Spirit. Joseph Smith could not have established this church. He could not have brought forth the work of the Lord, the Book of Mormon. They may scoff at the Prophet Joseph Smith as a man. They may question how this church began, but here the thing stands as a monument—the Book of Mormon itself. Joseph, the man, could not have done this, but Joseph, actuated by the power of Almighty God, could and did perform the miraculous service of bringing forth the kingdom out of obscurity in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.16

[Moroni] announced to the Prophet … that the time was at hand for the gospel in all its fulness to be preached in power unto all the nations. This was in fulfillment of that which had been promised to John when the angel would fly in the midst of heaven, “having the [fulness of the] everlasting gospel to preach to them that dwell on the earth” (Revelation 14:6). The restoration of that fulness of the gospel was accomplished when the Book of Mormon, which was declared to be a record in which the fulness of the gospel was contained, was restored to the world through the Prophet Joseph Smith.17

On the 21st of September 1823 [Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith and declared, in part,] “that the preparatory work for the second coming of the Messiah was speedily to commence; that the time was at hand for the Gospel in all its fullness to be preached in power, unto all nations … that a people might be prepared for the Millennial reign,” which means for the coming of the Lord (History of the Church, 4:537). In other words, the prime purpose for the restoration of the gospel is to prepare a people who will be ready to stand in the presence of the Lord when He comes; otherwise, … we could not endure His presence.18

Today the work of the kingdom of God in the earth is a monument to the name of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Millions have been caught up by the glory of his mission, as he has proclaimed it and directed it throughout the whole earth. We are the inheritors of that priceless pearl of great price, the gospel of Jesus Christ, which was restored through him as God’s instrument, to help us to live, and die if necessary, that we may in due season be prepared for that Millennial reign. This we should never forget. This is the time for us, while there is yet time, to be prepared to meet our God.19

Suggestions for Study and Discussion

  • How can we each strengthen our testimony of the mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith? What has strengthened your testimony of the Prophet?

  • How can we follow the example of the Prophet Joseph to increase our own wisdom and spirituality? What Christlike qualities are evident in the life of the Prophet Joseph Smith?

  • What are some of the essential truths of the gospel that were revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith?

  • What has Joseph Smith done for the salvation of all God’s children? In what ways is your life different because of the revelations received by the Prophet Joseph Smith?

  • How can you share your testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith with others?


  1. “The Place of the Living Prophet, Seer, and Revelator,” address to seminary and institute of religion faculty, Brigham Young University, 8 July 1964, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2–3.

  2. “He Lived Great, Died Great in Eyes of God and His People,” Church News, 10 Dec. 1955, 4.

  3. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed. Clyde J. Williams (1996), 371.

  4. “He Lived Great,” 13.

  5. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 371.

  6. In Conference Report, Oct. 1956, 62.

  7. “Two Great Commemorations,” Christmas message to Church Office Building employees, 14 Dec. 1972, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6.

  8. In Conference Report, Oct. 1972, 18; or Ensign, Jan. 1973, 23.

  9. “A Man among Men—A Man of Inspiration,” address given on the Fourth Annual David O. McKay Honor Day, 29 Sept. 1968, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 12.

  10. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 372.

  11. “He Lived Great,” 5.

  12. “He Lived Great,” 5.

  13. In Conference Report, Apr. 1969, 132–33; or Improvement Era, June 1969, 105.

  14. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 373–74.

  15. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 372.

  16. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 372.

  17. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 374.

  18. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 375.

  19. In Conference Report, Munich Germany Area Conference 1973, 7.

President Harold B. Lee testified: “I … know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of the living God. I know that he lived and died to bring to this generation the means by which salvation could be gained.”

With the First Vision, the dispensation of the fulness of times was ushered in by “a revelation of the personality of God the Father and the Son” to the Lord’s chosen prophet.