“Chapter 2: A Personal Witness of the Prophet Joseph Smith,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith (2011), 10–20
“Chapter 2,” Teachings: Joseph F. Smith, 10–20
Early in his life, Joseph F. Smith received a testimony that the Prophet Joseph Smith was chosen to restore the gospel of Jesus Christ in this last dispensation. Years later President Smith recalled: “As a child I knew the Prophet Joseph Smith. As a child I have listened to him preach the gospel that God had committed to his charge and care. As a child I was familiar in his home, in his household, as I was familiar under my own father’s roof. I have retained the witness of the Spirit that I was imbued with, as a child, and that I received from my sainted mother, the firm belief that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God; that he was inspired as no other man in his generation, or for centuries before, had been inspired; that he had been chosen of God to lay the foundations of God’s Kingdom.”1
While serving as President, Joseph F. Smith authorized the purchase of landmarks significant to the life of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the growth of the Church, including the Prophet’s birthplace in Sharon, Vermont; the jail in Carthage, Illinois; and the Joseph Smith Sr. farm in Manchester, New York.
President Joseph F. Smith said of the Prophet’s work: “I bear my testimony to you and to the world, that Joseph Smith was raised up by the power of God to lay the foundations of this great latter-day work, to reveal the fulness of the gospel to the world in this dispensation, to restore the Priesthood of God to the world, by which men may act in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and it will be accepted of God; it will be by his authority. I bear my testimony to it; I know that it is true.”2
Joseph Smith was the instrument chosen of God and endowed with his authority to restore the holy Priesthood, the power of God to bind on earth and in heaven,—the power of the Priesthood by which men may perform ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ for the salvation of mankind. Through Joseph Smith the gospel of repentance, baptism in water for the remission of sins, the baptism of the Holy Ghost and by fire have been restored, and the knowledge that Jesus is the Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, is made manifest through the spirit of truth. We are obligated to this humble servant that the Lord chose to lay the foundation of this work for the ordinances of the gospel of the Son of God, then and still unknown to the world, by which we may become united together as families, as kindreds, under the bonds of the new and everlasting covenant, for time and for all eternity.
We are obligated to the Prophet Joseph Smith, as an instrument in the hand of the Lord, for the knowledge that we possess of the work which is necessary to be done in the house of God, for the salvation of the living and the redemption of the dead, and for the eternal union of souls who are united in this life by the power of God, under the bond of the everlasting covenant. We are indebted, or obligated at least, to the Prophet Joseph Smith, as the instrument in the hands of God, for the knowledge we now possess that a man cannot be exalted into the presence of God and the full enjoyment of his glory, alone. It was not designed for the man to be alone, for the man is not without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.3
God lives, and Jesus is the Christ, the Savior of the world. Joseph Smith is a prophet of God—living, not dead; for his name will never perish. The angel that visited him and declared God’s message unto him, told him that his name should be held for good and for evil throughout the world [see Joseph Smith—History 1:33]. This prediction was made in the days of his youth, before the Church was organized, and before there was any prospect of that which has since been accomplished. The declaration was made, notwithstanding it then seemed an absolute impossibility; but from the day it was spoken until this moment, and from now on until the winding-up scene, the name of Joseph Smith, the prophet of the nineteenth century, has been, is being, and will be heralded abroad to the nations of the earth, and will be held in honor or contempt by the people of the world … ; for he did and is doing the work of the Master. He laid the foundations in this dispensation for the restoration of the principles that were taught by the Son of God, who for these principles lived, and taught, and died, and rose from the dead.4
Where [Joseph Smith’s name] is spoken of for good, it is by those who have had the privilege of hearing the gospel which has come to the earth through him, and who have been sufficiently honest and humble to receive the same. They speak of him with a knowledge which they have received by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, through obedience to the principles which he taught, as a prophet and as an inspired man. They speak to his praise, to his honor, and they hold his name in honorable remembrance. They revere him, and they love him, as they love no other man, because they know he was the chosen instrument in the hands of the Almighty in restoring the gospel of life and salvation unto them, of opening their understandings of the future, of lifting the veil of eternity, as it were, from before their eyes. Those who have received the principles which he promulgated know they pertain not only to their own salvation, happiness and peace, spiritual and temporal, but to the welfare, happiness, salvation and exaltation of their kindred who have died without a knowledge of the truth.
The work in which Joseph Smith was engaged was not confined to this life alone, but it pertains as well to the life to come, and to the life that has been. In other words, it relates to those who have lived upon the earth, to those who are living and to those who shall come after us. It is not something which relates to man only while he tabernacles in the flesh, but to the whole human family from eternity to eternity. … And this is not confined to a village, nor to a state, nor to a nation, but extends to every nation, kindred, tongue and people.5
To me it is very strange indeed that there should be so much extreme ill feeling manifested by the world against Joseph Smith. He wronged no man. I am a witness of that, for I know his life. I have seen him in the flesh, and I have read of his sayings. I have read the revelations that the Lord gave to him. I am familiar with his work, and I know that he never wronged a living soul. He did not injure his fellowmen, but he did much to exalt them. And yet, the strange part of it is that people who are absolutely ignorant of him should entertain the most bitter, vindictive and wicked feelings towards him that it is possible for men to feel. I ask myself, Why is this? Men do not feel that way, as a rule, towards impostors, or to the promoters of new, man-made religious organizations. But, strange to say, they nearly always become enraged when the name of the Prophet Joseph Smith is mentioned! While, however, this is strange from a natural standpoint, it is only in accordance with the promise given to him in the beginning by one of the heavenly messengers sent to instruct him. …
… The foundation of the work laid by the Prophet Joseph Smith was laid in eternal truth. It cannot be overthrown. It is like the house built on the rock. The storms may beat upon it, the rains may descend, the tempests may come, the hearts of men may be stirred up to anger and to persecution against it; but it is as firm as the everlasting hills, because it is built upon the truth [see Matthew 7:24–25]. Honesty, virtue, purity of life, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and in His resurrection, obedience to the commandments of God, are cardinal principles of our belief. We know that the doctrine is true.6
The greatest event that has ever occurred in the world, since the resurrection of the Son of God from the tomb and his ascension on high, was the coming of the Father and of the Son to that boy Joseph Smith, to prepare the way for the laying of the foundation of his kingdom—not the kingdom of man—never more to cease nor to be overturned. Having accepted this truth, I find it easy to accept of every other truth that he enunciated and declared. … He never taught a doctrine that was not true. He never practiced a doctrine that he was not commanded to practice. He never advocated error. He was not deceived. He saw; he heard; he did as he was commanded to do; and, therefore, God is responsible for the work accomplished by Joseph Smith—not Joseph Smith. The Lord is responsible for it, and not man.7
In the spring of 1820, [Joseph Smith] received the first supernatural or heavenly manifestation. He was then fourteen years of age. Ordinarily we do not expect a very great deal from a boy who is only fourteen years of age, and it is not likely that a boy of that tender age could have become very vicious or wicked, especially when he was born and reared on a farm, apart from the corrupting vices of great cities, and free from contact with the debasing influence of vile associations. It is not likely that he spent many idle moments during the working years of his life, up to fourteen years of age; for his father had to labor for his living and earn it from the soil by the labor of his hands, being a poor man with a large family to support.8
Concerning his spiritual manifestations, is it reasonable to suppose that there could have been premeditated deceit on the part of the boy, and such a boy, in his simple statement of what he saw and heard? No; neither could the answer which the heavenly messenger gave to him, have been composed in the child’s own mind. Joseph Smith’s testimony concerning his heavenly manifestation, in later life, was as simple, straight-forward, plain, and true, as it had been in childhood; the fidelity, courage, and love implanted in and characteristic of his life in boyhood neither faltered nor changed with maturity. His wisdom came in revelations of God to him.9
Our critics say it was an apparition that the Prophet Joseph saw, but he did not say so. He said the personages who appeared to him were real men. … To us has come the account of the birth, life and work of Christ, and there is nothing in the narrative to cause us to believe it more readily than that story of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Christ walked and talked and counseled with his friends when he came down from heaven over 1900 years ago. Is there any reason why he could not come again, why he should not visit this earth once more and talk with men today? If there is I should be glad to hear it. The thing I want to impress upon you is that God is real, a person of flesh and bones, the same as you are and I am. Christ is the same, but the Holy Ghost is a person of spirit.10
When [Joseph Smith] was between 17 and 18 years of age, he received another heavenly manifestation, and some great and glorious things were revealed to him, and for four years subsequently he received visits from a heavenly messenger. … This personage, he claimed, revealed to him the mind and will of the Lord, and showed him the character of the great work that he, in the hands of God was to be instrumental in establishing in the earth when the time should come. This was the labor that was performed by the angel Moroni, during the four years intervening between 1823 and 1827. In 1827 he received from the hands of the angel Moroni, the gold plates from which this book (Book of Mormon) was translated by him through the inspiration of the Almighty, and the gift and power of God unto him. …
Did Joseph Smith during the three years intervening between 1827 and 1830, while he was laboring with his hands for a scanty subsistence, dodging his enemies, and trying to evade the grasp of those who sought to destroy him and prevent the accomplishment of his mission, struggling all the while against untold obstacles and depressing embarrassments to complete the translation of this book, have much chance of becoming wicked or corrupt? I do not think he had. When he had finished translating the Book of Mormon he was still only a boy, yet in producing this book he developed historical facts, prophecies, revelations, predictions, testimonies and doctrines, precepts and principles that are beyond the power and wisdom of the learned world to duplicate or refute. Joseph Smith was an unlearned youth, so far as the learning of the world is concerned. He was taught by the angel Moroni. He received his education from above, from God Almighty, and not from man-made institutions; but to charge him with being ignorant would be both unjust and false; no man or combination of men possessed greater intelligence than he, nor could the combined wisdom and cunning of the age produce an equivalent for what he did. He was not ignorant, for he was taught by him from whom all intelligence flows. He possessed a knowledge of God and of his law, and of eternity.11
The Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, through the instrumentality of a young man; not by a learned man, a man of letters, but by an unlettered, unsophisticated, innocent boy! And that unlettered, unsophisticated, innocent boy was no other than Joseph Smith. He had not the wisdom, the intelligence nor the skill of himself to translate into the English language the inscriptions upon the plates that were hid away by the ancient inhabitants of this continent. He never claimed that he did translate those ancient characters by his own wisdom. On the contrary, he maintained that he did it by the gift and power of God unto him.12
[Joseph Smith] opened up communication with the heavens in his youth. He brought forth the Book of Mormon, which contains the fulness of the gospel; and the revelations contained in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants; restored the holy Priesthood unto man; established and organized the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an organization which has no parallel in all the world, and which all the cunning and wisdom of men for ages has failed to discover or produce and never could have done. He founded colonies in the states of New York, Ohio, Missouri and Illinois, and pointed the way for the gathering of the Saints into the Rocky Mountains; sent the gospel into Europe and to the islands of the sea; founded the town of Kirtland, Ohio, and there built a temple that cost scores of thousands of dollars; he founded the city of Nauvoo in the midst of persecution; gathered into Nauvoo and vicinity some 20,000 people, and commenced the building of the temple there, which when completed cost one million dollars; and in doing all this he had to contend against the prejudices of the age, against relentless persecution, mobocracy, and vile calumny and slander, that were heaped upon him from all quarters without stint or measure. In a word, he did more in from fourteen to twenty years for the salvation of man than any other man, save Jesus only, who ever lived [see D&C 135:3], and yet he was accused by his enemies of being an indolent and worthless man!
Where shall we go to find another man who has accomplished a one-thousandth part of the good that Joseph Smith accomplished? … No man in the nineteenth century, except Joseph Smith, has discovered to the world a ray of light upon the keys and power of the holy Priesthood, or the ordinances of the gospel, either for the living or the dead. Through Joseph Smith, God has revealed many things which were kept hidden from the foundation of the world in fulfilment of the prophets. … And this is strictly in keeping with the objects and character of this great latter-day work, destined to consummate the great purposes and designs of God concerning the dispensation of the fulness of times.13
Joseph the Prophet … became the means, in God’s providence, to restore the old truths of the everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ, the plan of salvation, which is older than the human race. It is true, also, that his teachings were new to the people of his day because they had apostatized from the truth—but the principles of the gospel are the oldest truths in existence. They were new to Joseph’s generation, as they are in part to ours, because men had gone astray, been cast adrift, shifted hither and thither by every new wind of doctrine which cunning men—so called progressives—had advanced. This made the Prophet Joseph a restorer, not a destroyer, of old truths. And this does not justify us in discarding the simple, fundamental principles of the gospel and running after modern doctrinal fads and notions.14
I declare unto you in all candor, and in all earnestness of soul, that I believe with all my heart in the divine mission of Joseph Smith, the Prophet, that I am convinced in every fiber of my being that God raised him up to restore to the earth the gospel of Christ, which is indeed the power of God unto salvation. I testify to you that Joseph Smith was instrumental in the hand of the Lord in restoring God’s truth to the world, and also the holy Priesthood, which is his authority delegated unto man. I know this is true, and I testify of it to you. To me it is all-in-all; it is my life, it is my light; it is my hope, and my joy; it gives me the only assurance that I have for exaltation, for my resurrection from death, with those whom I have loved and cherished in this life, and with whom my lot has been cast in this world—honorable men, pure, humble men, who were obedient unto God and his commands, who were not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, nor of their convictions or knowledge of the truth of the gospel; men who were made of the stuff of which martyrs are made, and who were willing at any moment to lay down their lives for Christ’s sake, and for the gospel, if need be, which they had received with the testimony of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. I want to be reunited with these men when I shall have finished my course here. When my mission is done here, I hope to go beyond into the spirit world where they dwell, and be reunited with them. It is this gospel of the Son of God that gives me the hope that I have of this consummation, and the realization of my desire in this direction. I have staked all on this gospel, and I have not done it in vain. I know in whom I trust. I know that my Redeemer lives, and that he shall stand upon the earth in the latter days.15
In what ways was the Prophet Joseph Smith “an instrument in the hand of the Lord”? In what ways have you been blessed by the things the Lord revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith?
Why is it important to have a testimony that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God in this dispensation?
What significant truths did Joseph Smith learn from the First Vision? What significant truths have you learned from the First Vision? How is a testimony of the First Vision a foundation for accepting other gospel truths?
Why is it important to know that the Book of Mormon “was translated by the gift and power of God”?
What are some of the ways in which the Prophet Joseph Smith did more “for the salvation of man than any other man, save Jesus only”?
Why is it important to know that the Prophet Joseph Smith was “a restorer, not a destroyer, of old truths”?
How have you been strengthened by association with men, women, or children who have strong testimonies and are “not ashamed of the gospel of Christ”? How can we strengthen others with our testimonies?
What most impresses you about President Joseph F. Smith’s testimonies of the Prophet? What is your own witness of the divine mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith?