“Chapter 47: ‘Praise to the Man’: Latter-day Prophets Bear Witness of the Prophet Joseph Smith,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (2011), 541–57
“Chapter 47,” Teachings: Joseph Smith, 541–57
Following the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum, the members of the Quorum of the Twelve who had been on missionary journeys in the United States returned as quickly as possible to Nauvoo. The members of the Twelve called a meeting of the Saints for August 8, 1844, at which Brigham Young, the President of the Quorum of the Twelve, spoke. As he did so, an extraordinary event occurred that was witnessed by many Saints. President Young was miraculously made to appear and sound like Joseph Smith. “If Joseph had risen from the dead and again spoken in their hearing,” George Q. Cannon recalled, “the effect could not have been more startling than it was to many present at that meeting. It was the voice of Joseph himself; and not only was it the voice of Joseph which was heard; but it seemed in the eyes of the people as though it was the very person of Joseph which stood before them. A more wonderful and miraculous event than was wrought that day in the presence of that congregation we never heard of. The Lord gave His people a testimony that left no room for doubt as to who was the man He had chosen to lead them.”1
At the conclusion of this meeting, the Saints voted to have the Twelve preside over them. A little over three years later, in December 1847, the First Presidency was again organized, with Brigham Young sustained as the President of the Church.
Since the time of Brigham Young, each of the prophets who has presided over the Church has testified of the remarkable mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith was chosen in the Council in Heaven to be the great prophet and seer of the latter days. His mission was so important that it was foretold by ancient prophets, including the Old Testament prophet Joseph, who was sold into Egypt. Joseph of Egypt was himself a seer, and he prophesied at length about Joseph Smith:
“A seer shall the Lord my God raise up, who shall be a choice seer unto the fruit of my loins. … 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” (2 Nephi 3:6, 15; see also 2 Nephi 3:6–22).2
In December 1834, Joseph Smith Sr. gave the Prophet Joseph a blessing, confirming that he was the seer of whom Joseph of old had prophesied: “I bless thee with the blessings of thy fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and even the blessings of thy father Joseph, the son of Jacob. Behold, he looked after his posterity in the last days … ; he sought diligently to know from whence the son should come who should bring forth the word of the Lord, by which they might be enlightened and brought back to the true fold, and his eyes beheld thee, my son; his heart rejoiced and his soul was satisfied, and he said, … ‘From among my seed, scattered with the Gentiles, shall a choice seer arise … , whose heart shall meditate great wisdom, whose intelligence shall circumscribe and comprehend the deep things of God, and whose mouth shall utter the law of the just.’ … Thou shalt hold the keys of this ministry, even the presidency of this church, both in time and in eternity.”3
Through Joseph Smith, the choice seer of the latter days, the doctrines and saving ordinances of the gospel were revealed, and the true Church of Jesus Christ was once again established on the earth. The testimonies of ancient and modern prophets join together to proclaim that Joseph Smith was the instrument through whom God restored the fulness of the gospel for the blessing of “the whole human family, from eternity to eternity.”4
President Brigham Young: “It was decreed in the councils of eternity, long before the foundations of the earth were laid, that [Joseph Smith] should be the man, in the last dispensation of this world, to bring forth the word of God to the people and receive the fullness of the keys and power of the Priesthood of the Son of God. The Lord had his eye upon him, and upon his father, and upon his father’s father, and upon their progenitors clear back to Abraham, and from Abraham to the flood, from the flood to Enoch and from Enoch to Adam. He has watched that family and that blood as it has circulated from its fountain to the birth of that man. [Joseph Smith] was foreordained in eternity to preside over this last dispensation.”5
President Joseph Fielding Smith: “Joseph Smith was chosen to stand at the head of the work of the Lord in the last days, and his work was assigned to him through the fore-knowledge of our Eternal Father in the eternities before he was born. He came in the spirit of Elias to prepare the way for the coming of our Lord. No prophet since the days of Adam, save, of course, our Redeemer, has been given a greater mission.”6
President Ezra Taft Benson: “To get a vision of the magnitude of the Prophet’s earthly mission we must view it in the light of eternity. He was among ‘the noble and great ones’ whom Abraham described as follows:
“‘Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones; and God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born.’ (Abraham 3:22–23.)
“So it was with Joseph Smith. He too was there. He too sat in council with the noble and great ones. Occupying a prominent place of honor and distinction he unquestionably helped in the planning and execution of the great work of the Lord to ‘bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man,’ the salvation of all our Father’s children [Moses 1:39]. His mission had had, and was to have, impact on all who had come to earth; all who then dwelt on earth and the millions yet unborn. …
“The Prophet Joseph Smith was not only ‘one of the noble and great ones,’ but he gave and continues to give attention to important matters here on the earth even today from the realms above. For in the eyes of the Lord … it is all one great eternal program in which the Prophet Joseph plays an important role—all through the eternal priesthood and authority of God.”7
President Joseph F. Smith: “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 [God’s] 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 during his mission … in the world. 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.”8
President Heber J. Grant: “Either Joseph Smith did see God and did converse with Him, and God Himself did introduce Jesus Christ to the boy Joseph Smith, and Jesus Christ did tell Joseph Smith that he would be the instrument in the hands of God of establishing again upon the earth the true Gospel of Jesus Christ—or Mormonism, so-called, is a myth. And Mormonism is not a myth! It is the power of God unto salvation; it is the Church of Jesus Christ, established under His direction, and all the disbelief of the world cannot change the fundamental facts connected with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”9
President Howard W. Hunter: “I am grateful for my membership in the Church; and my testimony of its divinity hinges upon the simple story of the lad under the trees kneeling and receiving heavenly visitors—not one God, but two separate, individual personages, the Father and the Son, revealing again to the earth the personages of the Godhead. My faith and testimony hinge upon this simple story, for if it is not true, Mormonism falls. If it is true—and I bear witness that it is—it is one of the greatest single events in all history.”10
President David O. McKay: “The appearing of the Father and the Son to Joseph Smith is the foundation of this Church. Therein lies the secret of its strength and vitality. This is true, and I bear witness to it. That one revelation answers all the queries of science regarding God and His divine personality. Don’t you see what that means? What God is, is answered. His relation to His children is clear. His interest in humanity through authority delegated to man is apparent. The future of the work is assured. These and other glorious truths are clarified by that glorious First Vision.”11
President Ezra Taft Benson: “The First Vision of the Prophet Joseph Smith is bedrock theology to the Church. The adversary knows this and has attacked Joseph Smith’s credibility from the day he announced the visitation of the Father and the Son. … You should always bear testimony to the truth of the First Vision. Joseph Smith did see the Father and the Son. They conversed with him as he said they did. It is the most glorious event since the resurrection of our Lord. Any leader who, without reservation, cannot declare his testimony that God and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith can never be a true leader, a true shepherd. If we do not accept this truth, … if we have not received a witness about this great revelation, we cannot inspire faith in those whom we lead.”12
President George Albert Smith: “When the boy prophet, in the woods of Palmyra, saw the Father and the Son, and realized that they were indeed personages, that they could hear and reply to what he said, it began a new era in this world, and laid a foundation for the faith of the children of men. They could now pray to our Father in heaven and realize that he could hear and answer their prayers, that there was a connection between the heavens and the earth.”13
President John Taylor: “Who was Joseph Smith? The Book of Mormon tells us he was of the seed of Joseph that was sold into Egypt, and hence he was selected as Abraham was to fulfil a work upon the earth. God chose this young man. He was ignorant of letters as the world has it, but the most profoundly learned and intelligent man that I ever met in my life, and I have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles, been on different continents and mingled among all classes and creeds of people, yet I have never met a man so intelligent as he was. And where did he get his intelligence from? Not from books; not from the logic or science or philosophy of the day, but he obtained it through the revelations of God made known to him through the medium of the everlasting gospel.”14
President Wilford Woodruff: “I have never read anywhere, that I know of, of the same power manifested in any dispensation to the children of men, which was manifested to the Prophet of God in the organization of this Church, when the Father and the Son both appeared to the Prophet Joseph in answer to his prayer, and when the Father said, ‘This is My Beloved Son; behold Him; hear ye Him.’ This was an important revelation, which has never been manifested in the same manner in any dispensation of the world, that God has given concerning His work. So in its organization, the Prophet of God was administered to by the angels of heaven. They were his teachers, they were his instructors, and all that he did, and all that he performed from the commencement, from that day to the day of his martyrdom, was by the revelation of Jesus Christ.”15
President Lorenzo Snow: “Joseph Smith, whom God chose to establish this work, was poor and uneducated, and belonged to no popular denomination of Christians. He was a mere boy, honest, full of integrity. … Like Moses he felt incompetent and unqualified for the task, to stand forth as a religious reformer, in a position the most unpopular, to battle against opinions and creeds which had stood for ages, having had the sanction of men, the most profound in theological obedience; but God had called him to deliver the poor and honest-hearted of all nations from their spiritual and temporal thraldom [bondage]. And God promised him that whosoever should receive and obey his message, and whosoever would receive baptism for remission of sins, with honesty of purpose, should receive divine manifestations, should receive the Holy Ghost, should receive the same gospel and blessings as were promised and obtained through the gospel, as preached by the ancient apostles, and this message, this promise, was to be in force wherever and to whomsoever it should be carried by the Elders, God’s authorized messengers. So said Joseph Smith, the uneducated, the unsophisticated, the plain, simple, honest boy.”16
President Harold B. Lee: “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.”17
President David O. McKay: “It is of Joseph Smith, not only as a great man, but as an inspired servant of the Lord that I desire to speak on this occasion. Indeed, Joseph Smith’s greatness consists in divine inspiration. …
“‘How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?’ questioned the Jews as they marveled at the wisdom of Jesus [John 7:15]. So may we repeat the question regarding Joseph Smith, as we consider his outstanding accomplishments during the brief span of [fourteen] years between the organization of the Church and his martyrdom; as we contemplate the perfect harmony of the Restored Gospel with that of the primitive Church established by Jesus and his Apostles; as we note his penetrating insight into principles and doctrines; and as we see the incomparable plan and efficiency of the Church, established by the inspiration of the Christ whose name it bears. The answer to the question ‘Whence hath this man wisdom?’ is given in the stirring stanza:
“Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah!
Jesus anointed that Prophet and Seer.
Blessed to open the last dispensation,
Kings shall extol him, and nations revere.”18
President Howard W. Hunter: “We praise [Joseph Smith] for his capacity to commune not only with Jehovah but also with other personages of heaven. So many visited, gave keys, and tutored that ‘choice seer’ raised up in the latter days. … We praise Joseph Smith, too, for his diligence and capacity to translate and to receive hundreds of pages of revealed scripture. He was the revealing conduit. Through him, it has been estimated, more marvelous pages of scripture passed than through any other human in history.”19
President Spencer W. Kimball: “I bear witness to the world today that more than a century and a half ago the iron ceiling was shattered; the heavens were once again opened, and since that time revelations have been continuous.
“That new day dawned when [a] soul with passionate yearning prayed for divine guidance. A spot of hidden solitude was found, knees were bent, a heart was humbled, pleadings were voiced, and a light brighter than the noonday sun illuminated the world—the curtain never to be closed again.
“A young lad … , Joseph Smith, of incomparable faith, broke the spell, shattered the ‘heavens of iron’ and reestablished communication. Heaven kissed the earth, light dissipated the darkness, and God again spoke to man, revealing anew ‘his secret unto his servants the prophets.’ (Amos 3:7.) A new prophet was in the land and through him God set up his kingdom, never to be destroyed nor left to another people—a kingdom that will stand forever.
“The foreverness of this kingdom and the revelations which it brought into existence are absolute realities. Never again will the sun go down; never again will all men prove totally unworthy of communication with their Maker. Never again will God be hidden from his children on the earth. Revelation is here to remain.”20
President Gordon B. Hinckley: “The story of Joseph’s life is the story of a miracle. He was born in poverty. He was reared in adversity. He was driven from place to place, falsely accused, and illegally imprisoned. He was murdered at the age of 38. Yet in the brief space of 20 years preceding his death, he accomplished what none other has accomplished in an entire lifetime. He translated and published the Book of Mormon, a volume which has since been retranslated into scores of languages and which is accepted by millions across the earth as the word of God. The revelations he received and other writings he produced are likewise scripture to these millions. The total in book pages constitutes approximately twice the volume of the entire New Testament of the Bible, and it all came through one man in the space of a few years. In this same period he established an organization which … has withstood every adversity and challenge and is as effective today in governing a worldwide membership … as it was in governing a membership of 300 in 1830. There are those doubters who have strained to explain this remarkable organization as the product of the times in which he lived. That organization, I submit, was as peculiar, as unique, and as remarkable then as it is today. It was not the product of the times. It came as a revelation from God. …
“Within the space of that 20 years preceding his death, Joseph Smith set in motion a program for carrying the gospel to the nations of the earth. I marvel at the boldness with which he moved. Even in the infant days of the Church, in times of dark adversity, men were called to leave homes and families, to cross the sea, to proclaim the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Prophet’s mind, his vision encompassed the entire earth.
“For our general conference meetings twice each year, members gather in North, Central, and South America; in the British Isles and Africa; in the nations of Europe; in the islands and continents of the Pacific; and in the ancient lands of Asia. These are the flowering of the vision of Joseph Smith, the prophet of God. He was indeed a mighty seer who saw this day and greater days yet to come as the work of the Lord moves over the earth.”21
President Joseph F. Smith: “Whatever else the Prophet Joseph Smith may have done or may have been, we must not forget the fact that he was the man out of the millions of human beings that inhabited this earth at the time—the only man, that was called of God, by the voice of God Himself, to open up the dispensation of the Gospel to the world for the last time; and this is the great thing to bear in mind, that he was called of God to introduce the Gospel to the world, to restore the holy priesthood to the children of men, to organize the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the world, and to restore all the ordinances of the Gospel, for the salvation not only of the living, but also of the dead, and he was called to this mission by God Himself. …
“… There have been other prophets, and great prophets, too, who have had angels minister to them, and others who have seen the finger of God, and who have been favored more or less; but where is the circumstance, and who is the man unto whom the Father and the Savior have appeared together in person, and declared themselves unto him? Where is that man? Nowhere that history records, except the Prophet Joseph Smith, and that while he was a youth. He was only a youth, comparatively in fact, when he was martyred, being only 38 years of age.
“… The Prophet Joseph Smith … communed with the Father and the Son and spoke with angels, and they visited him, and conferred blessings and gifts and keys of power upon him that were never before bestowed upon any human being other than the Son of God Himself. No man yet that ever lived upon the earth had all the keys of the Gospel and of the dispensations bestowed upon him as were bestowed upon the Prophet Joseph Smith in the temple at Kirtland when he was visited there by the Son of God, by Moses, and by Elias and Elijah, and when the heavens were opened unto him and he received the keys of power and authority by which he could lay the foundation of the work of God, broad and deep, to cover the earth with the knowledge of God, and with His power and glory.”22
President Joseph F. Smith: “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 that have lived upon the earth, to those that are living and to those that 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. Consequently, as I have said, Joseph Smith is held in reverence, his name is honored; tens of thousands of people thank God in their heart and from the depths of their souls for the knowledge the Lord has restored to the earth through him, and therefore they speak well of him and bear testimony of his worth. And this is not confined to a village, nor to a State, nor to a nation, but this extends to every nation, kindred, tongue and people where the Gospel, up to the present time, has been preached.”23
President Joseph Fielding Smith: “In the same way that I know Jesus is the Christ–and that is by revelation from the Holy Spirit—I know that Joseph Smith is and was and everlastingly shall be a prophet of God.
“I revere and honor his holy name. With his brother, my grandfather, Patriarch Hyrum Smith, he sealed his testimony with his blood in Carthage Jail. And I, for one, want to be an instrument in the Lord’s hands of letting the ends of the earth know that salvation is again available because the Lord raised up a mighty seer in this day to reestablish his kingdom on earth.
“In a spirit of testimony and thanksgiving, I close with these inspired words from the Doctrine and Covenants: ‘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 in it.’ (D&C 135:3.)”24
President Gordon B. Hinckley, speaking in Carthage, Illinois, on June 26, 1994, in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s martyrdom: “The glorious work, begun by him who was killed at Carthage, has grown in a miraculous and wonderful way. … This marvelous work, which has sprung from the prophetic calling of the boy of Palmyra, has ‘come forth out of the wilderness of darkness,’ and is shining ‘forth fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners,’ as the Prophet prayed it would (D&C 109:73). …
“We pause in reverence here this evening. We reflect on the miracle of the life begun in the green hills of Vermont and ended here in the jail of Carthage. That life was not long. But the fruits of that life have been something almost beyond comprehension.
“This great cause of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been more precious than life itself to thousands upon thousands who have died in its service. Witnesses have gone into the world by the hundreds of thousands to bear testimony of Joseph Smith’s calling as a Prophet of God. The holy priesthood restored through him has fallen as a mantle upon uncounted numbers of men of integrity and virtue who have been clothed with this divine power. The Book of Mormon is going across the earth as another testament of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“To quote a truism uttered long ago and in different circumstances, ‘the blood of the martyrs has become the seed of the Church.’ The testimonies which were sealed here in these very precincts, on this ground where we meet tonight, that hot and sultry day 150 years ago, now nurture the faith of people around the world.”25
Consider these ideas as you study the chapter or as you prepare to teach. For additional help, see pages vii–xii.
Read the experience described on page 541. Think about how the people might have felt when they received the witness that Brigham Young was to succeed Joseph Smith as the leader of the Church. How can we receive a witness that the Lord has called the President of the Church today?
Joseph of Egypt and other ancient prophets prophesied of Joseph Smith and his mission (page 543). As shown in this chapter, latter-day prophets have continued to emphasize the importance of Joseph Smith. Why do you think Joseph Smith has received such attention, both before his earthly ministry and after?
Study the testimonies on pages 544–45 about the foreordination of Joseph Smith. How does our understanding of Joseph Smith’s earthly mission change when we “view it in the light of eternity”?
Read the testimonies on pages 545–47 about the First Vision. What makes this event “the greatest event that has ever occurred in the world since the resurrection of the Son of God”? How is the First Vision “the foundation of this Church” and “the secret of its strength and vitality”? What has helped you gain a testimony of the First Vision?
President Joseph F. Smith declared, “God is responsible for the work accomplished by Joseph Smith—not Joseph Smith” (page 545). Why do you think this is an important point to make about Joseph Smith’s mission?
Of Joseph Smith, President John Taylor said, “I have never met a man so intelligent as he was” (page 548). However, President Taylor and other Presidents of the Church have pointed out that Joseph Smith did not have many opportunities for schooling. Why was the Prophet Joseph able to grow so much in his intelligence? (For some examples, see pages 547–50.) As we seek spiritual knowledge, how can we follow Joseph Smith’s example?
Review pages 550–55, noting the truths and ordinances that the Lord restored through Joseph Smith. Think about how your life would be different if you did not know of the restored gospel. Why are you thankful for Joseph Smith and his mission?