“Chapter 2: Joseph Smith: Prophet, Seer, and Revelator,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff (2011), 12–23
“Chapter 2,” Teachings: Wilford Woodruff, 12–23
From his early days as a new member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Wilford Woodruff had a testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith. He said: “I was fully satisfied that Joseph was a Prophet before I saw him. I had no prejudices on my mind against him.”1 In April 1834, about four months after he was baptized, Brother Woodruff traveled to Kirtland, Ohio, where he met the Prophet Joseph for the first time. He later recounted:
“My first introduction to him was rather singular. I saw him out in the field with his brother Hyrum; he had on a very old hat, and was engaged shooting at a mark [or target]. I was introduced to him and he invited me home with him.
“I accepted the invitation and I watched him pretty closely, to see what I could learn. He remarked, while passing to his house, that this was the first hour he had spent in recreation for a long time.
“Shortly after we arrived at his house he went into an adjoining room and brought out a wolf-skin, and said, ‘Brother Woodruff, I want you to help me to tan this,’ so I pulled off my coat, went to work and helped him, and felt honored in so doing. … He wanted this wolf’s skin to put upon his wagon seat. …
“This was my first introduction to the Prophet Joseph Smith, the great Seer of this last dispensation.”2
Recalling this experience, President Woodruff said that some people would have been offended to see a church leader participate in such activities. But his own observations of Joseph Smith, both in public and in private, only strengthened his testimony of the Prophet’s mission. From those early days in Kirtland until the Prophet’s martyrdom 10 years later, Wilford Woodruff served faithfully with Joseph Smith, even when friends and associates in the Church apostatized. He said, “With all the apostasies that we have had, and with all the difficulties and afflictions we have been called to pass through, … it was no temptation to me to doubt this work or to doubt that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.”3
On March 19, 1897, 90-year-old President Woodruff made an audio recording of his testimony. He was the first President of the Church to do so. In his short message he spent much of the time testifying of the Prophet Joseph’s mission, reflecting a lifelong dedication to his friend and leader:
“I bear my testimony that Joseph Smith was a true Prophet of God, ordained of God to lay the foundation of His Church and kingdom in the last dispensation and fulness of times. … The Prophet Joseph laid down his life for the word of God and testimony of Jesus Christ, and he will be crowned as a martyr in the presence of God and the Lamb. In all his testimonies to us, the power of God was visibly manifest in the Prophet Joseph.”4
I traveled thousands of miles with Joseph Smith. I knew his spirit.5
I have felt to rejoice exceedingly in what I saw of brother Joseph, for in his public and private career he carried with him the Spirit of the Almighty, and he manifested a greatness of soul which I had never seen in any other man.6
His soul swelled wide as eternity for the welfare of the human family.7
Brother Joseph would have embraced the whole circle of the human family in the principles of salvation if he had possessed the power.8
The dispensation he was called to usher in is the greatest ever given to man; and it required just such a man to stand at the head of it—a man who was true to God and his brethren; who was a seer and revelator, and whose faith in God was such that he never wavered or doubted, but persevered himself and encouraged others to move forward in the great work before them.9
Joseph Smith was kept in the spirit world for thousands of years to be born in the flesh at the right time, and to be inspired of God, to be visited by Him, and to be qualified and prepared for the mission given into his hands.10
Joseph Smith was appointed by the Lord before he was born as much as Jeremiah was. The Lord told Jeremiah—“Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” [Jeremiah 1:5.] He was commanded to warn the inhabitants of Jerusalem of their wickedness. He felt it a hard task, but ultimately he did as he was commanded. So I say with regard to Joseph Smith, he received his appointment from before the foundation of the world, and he came forth in the due time of the Lord to establish this work on the earth.11
Joseph Smith has often been termed an illiterate, unlearned man. He was a farmer’s son, and had very small chance of education. What primer had he to reveal the fullness of the gospel to the world? None at all, only as he was taught by the administration of angels from heaven, by the voice of God and by the inspiration and power of the Holy Ghost. The principles which have been revealed to the world through him are true as the throne of God. Their influence is already felt in the earth, and will continue to increase until the coming of the Son of Man.12
Joseph Smith was moved upon by the Holy Ghost, and he was administered unto, in answer to his prayers, by the Father and the Son; and the Father said to him, “This is my beloved Son, hear ye Him.” [See Joseph Smith—History 1:17.] He listened strictly to the words of Jesus Christ, and continued to do so until he, like the Savior, was put to death.13
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. … 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.14
I will say myself that I do not believe there ever was a man … that was more closely united and associated with God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, than the Prophet Joseph Smith. The power of revelation was with him from the day that he was called to receive the Priesthood up to the time when he was martyred. The power of inspiration was with him day by day. This is plainly manifest in the revelations contained in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants. Whenever the Lord felt disposed to reprove him, Joseph Smith, through his own mouth, had to reprove himself; and he did not hesitate to give the word of the Lord, though it was against himself. He was united with the Lord; he was united with the Holy Ghost; he was united with the angels in heaven.15
Prophecies, revelations, and decrees of the Almighty, as it were, surrounded that man, and he had to be taught, not by man nor by the will of man, but he required the angels of God to come forth and teach him; it required the revelations of God to teach him, and he was taught for years by visions and revelations, and by holy angels sent from God out of heaven to teach and instruct him and prepare him to lay the foundation of this church.
… Joseph himself could not comprehend, unless he was wrapped in the visions of eternity, the importance of the work the foundation of which he had laid. When his mind was opened he could understand, in many respects, the designs of God; and these revelations were around him and they guided his footsteps.16
When Joseph presented to the Christian world the principles that God had communicated to him, he at once aroused their prejudices; he had to struggle against traditions which they had inherited from their fathers who knew not God nor his ways, traditions which had come down to them through the ages, which were antagonistic to the saving truths of heaven.17
The whole world arose against him—priest and people. What was the matter? Simply that Joseph Smith was like other prophets and apostles. He brought forth a dispensation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which came in contact with the traditions of the people—traditions which have been handed down from generation to generation.18
His life was one continual struggle, meeting with opposition on every hand, especially from the priests of the day; but he lived through it and rejoiced greatly in his labors until he finished his testimony in the flesh, after laboring some fourteen years to that end. He had to wade through deep waters; but he never was discouraged or disheartened notwithstanding he had to contend against foes without and foes within. He never lost sight of the majesty of his calling, nor the divinity of this work; but spake and acted in the midst of the people under all circumstances the man that he was—the prophet of God, the seer and revelator of the last dispensation.19
Every feeling of his soul, every sentiment of his mind, and every act of his life, proved that he was determined to maintain the principle of truth, even to the sacrificing of his life.20
The Lord told Joseph that he would prove him, whether he would abide in his covenant or not, even unto death. He did prove him; and, although he had the whole world to contend against, and the treachery of false friends to withstand, although his whole life was a scene of trouble and anxiety and care, yet, in all his afflictions, his imprisonments, the mobbings and ill-treatment he passed through, he was ever true to his God, and true to his friends.21
The church was organized on the 6th of April, 1830, with six members, but Joseph had faith that the kingdom thus commenced, like a grain of mustard seed, would become a great church and kingdom upon the earth.22
Joseph Smith was what he professed to be, a prophet of God, a seer and revelator. He laid the foundation of this church and kingdom, and lived long enough to deliver the keys of the kingdom to the elders of Israel, unto the twelve apostles. He spent the last winter of his life, some three or four months, with the quorum of the twelve, teaching them. It was not merely a few hours ministering to them the ordinances of the gospel; but he spent day after day, week after week and month after month, teaching them and a few others the things of the kingdom of God.23
For some time before his death the Prophet Joseph was inspired of the Lord to anticipate his own departure from earthly scenes. This was shown in various ways; but especially in the great anxiety which he displayed to bestow upon the Twelve Apostles all the keys and authority of the Holy Priesthood which he had received. He declared in private and in public that they were equipped and fully qualified, and that he had rolled the kingdom of God on to the shoulders of the Twelve Apostles.
I, Wilford Woodruff, being the last man living in the flesh who was present upon that occasion, feel it a duty I owe to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to the House of Israel, and to the whole world, to bear this my last testimony to all nations, that in the winter of 1843–4, Joseph Smith, the Prophet of God, called the Twelve Apostles together in the City of Nauvoo, and spent many days with us in giving us our endowments, and teaching us those glorious principles which God had revealed to him. And upon one occasion he stood upon his feet in our midst for nearly three hours, declaring unto us the great and last dispensation which God had set His hand to perform upon the earth in these last days. The room was filled as if with consuming fire; the Prophet was clothed upon with much of the power of God, and his face shone and was transparently clear, and he closed that speech, never-to-be-forgotten in time or in eternity, with the following language:
“Brethren, I have had great sorrow of heart for fear that I might be taken from the earth with the keys of the kingdom of God upon me, without sealing them upon the heads of other men. God has sealed upon my head all the keys of the kingdom of God necessary for organizing and building up of the Church, Zion, and kingdom of God upon the earth, and to prepare the Saints for the coming of the Son of Man. Now, brethren, I thank God I have lived to see the day that I have been enabled to give you your endowments, and I have now sealed upon your heads all the powers of the Aaronic and Melchizedec priesthoods and apostleship, with all the keys and powers thereof, which God has sealed upon me; and I now roll off all the labor, burden and care of this Church and kingdom of God upon your shoulders, and I now command you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to round up your shoulders, and bear off this Church and kingdom of God before heaven and earth, and before God, angels and men; and if you don’t do it you will be damned.”
And the same Spirit that filled the room at that time burns in my bosom while I record this testimony.24
Joseph Smith lived until he gave his testament to the world, and when he had sealed all these keys, powers and blessings upon the head of Brigham Young and his brethren; when he had planted these keys on the earth so that they should be removed no more forever; when he had done this, and brought forth that record, that book of revelation, the proclamation of which involved the destiny of this whole generation—Jew, Gentile, Zion and Babylon, all the nations of the earth, he sealed that testimony with his blood in Carthage jail, where his life and that of his brother Hyrum were taken by the hands of wicked and ungodly men.25
I may say that it seemed strange to me at that time why the Prophet and his brother Hyrum were permitted to be taken out of our midst. But Joseph Smith, by commandment of God and by the power and revelations of heaven, was ordained and laid the foundation of this great dispensation and fulness of times. He was brought into the world and ordained to organize this Church of Christ for the last time upon this earth, to prepare it for the coming of the Son of Man. After his death, on reflection, I became convinced that he had been ordained to die—to shed his blood as a testimony to this dispensation.26
Joseph … was true, faithful and valiant in the testimony of Jesus to the day of his death.27
He bore his testimony, left it on record, and sealed it with his blood and laid down his life, and that testimony is in force to-day upon all the world, and will remain so unto the end of time.28
Consider these ideas as you study the chapter or as you prepare to teach. For additional help, see pages v–ix.
What was unusual about Wilford Woodruff’s introduction to Joseph Smith? (See pages 13–14.) What does this account teach about the Prophet Joseph Smith?
Turn to pages 14–15, and review the section about Joseph Smith’s character. Why is it helpful to know of Joseph Smith’s character in private as well as in public? How does our private behavior affect our ability to teach and lead?
What impresses you about the way Joseph Smith learned the fulness of the gospel? (See pages 15–17.)
How did the Prophet Joseph respond to adversity? (See page 18.) How might we benefit from his example?
Why did the Prophet Joseph Smith deliver the keys of the kingdom to the Twelve Apostles? (See pages 18–21.) Why is it important for us to know that this happened?
Review President Woodruff’s words about the death of Joseph Smith (page 21). What are your feelings as you think about the sacrifice Joseph and Hyrum Smith made?
What has impressed you as you have read President Woodruff’s words about the Prophet Joseph Smith?
Why is it important to receive a testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith? What can we do to strengthen our testimonies of the Prophet?