Robert L. Millet, “Joseph Smith Among the Prophets,” in Joseph Smith: The Prophet, The Man, ed. Susan Easton Black and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1993), 15–31.
Robert L. Millet was dean of Religious Education and associate professor of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University when this was published.
Joseph Smith the Mormon prophet was little understood by the people of the nineteenth century and may even be more of an enigma to those who live at the end of the twentieth century. Even the Saints of God, those who stand and bear witness of the Prophet’s divine prophetic calling—those who acknowledge that he was raised up and anointed of God—little understand what manner of man he was. “No man knows my history,” he said once. “I cannot tell it: I shall never undertake it. I don’t blame any one for not believing my history. If I had not experienced what I have, I could not have believed it myself” (History of the Church 6:317; hereafter HC).
Like his Master, Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith was called upon to endure a life of loneliness. It was a life characterized not only be persecution and suspicion, but also by an isolation known only to those who walk in the glorious light of noonday sun, who know with an absolute certainty, and yet must minister among others who seem content to walk and talk in the fading rays of dusk, those who struggle with faith, those who doubt, and even those who dare not believe. The farm boy who grew to become a prophet’s prophet could bear a personal witness of his divine Redeemer, for Joseph was also, to some degree at least, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, one who knew firsthand the costs of Christian discipleship. “God is my friend,” he wrote to his wife Emma at a difficult time. “In him I shall find comfort. I have given my life into his hands. I am prepared to go at his call. I desire to be with Christ. I count not my life dear to me, only to do his will” (Jessee 239; punctuation corrected). Such expressions enable us to discern the soul of Joseph Smith, to discover the underlying secret of his success, his humility: he knew, and he wanted all others to know, that he walked in the shadow of the Almighty. But he was the prophet of the Almighty; God knew it and he knew it.
The dispensation of the fullness of times was destined to bring to consummation the works, designs, and purposes of the Lord. Because this era would be a time when God would gather together all things in Christ, both in heaven and on earth (Eph 1:10), it was a day anticipated and longed for by the Former-day Saints. It was known and spoken of by them, as was the man who would lead the final dispensation. President Brigham Young thus observed concerning Joseph Smith:
It was decreed in the counsels of eternity, long before the foundations of the earth were laid, that he should be the man, in the last dispensation of this world, to bring forth the word of God to the people, and receive the fulness 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. He was fore-ordained in eternity to preside over this last dispensation, as much so as . . . Jesus to be the Saviour of the world. (Journal of Discourses 7:289–90; hereafter JD; emphasis added)
We would suppose that Adam and Enoch and Noah and Abraham knew of the coming of Joseph Smith in the last days and of the vital role he would play in the winding-up scenes. We do know that almost four millennia before Joseph Smith’s birth, Joseph of old, the great-grandson of Abraham, spoke rather specifically of him who would be his namesake. His prophecies than which “there are not many greater” (2 Nephi 4:2), spoke of the coming of a “choice seer” out of the fruit of his loins (2 Nephi 3:7). We also learn of these prophecies from the Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis 50, and we presume that Lehi, in speaking to his son Joseph of these things, drew upon the ancient prophetic words on the plates of brass that Jehovah had spoken through Joseph:
He shall be esteemed highly among the fruit of thy loins. And unto him will I give commandment that he shall do a work for the fruit of thy loins, his brethren which shall be of great worth unto them, even to the bringing of them to the knowledge of the covenants which I have made with thy fathers. (2 Nephi 3:7)
Unto him will I give power to bring forth my word [the Book of Mormon] 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 [the Bible]. . . . He shall be like unto me. (vv 11, 15)
Joseph continued; “for the thing which the Lord shall bring forth by his hand”—the Book of Mormon, and, by extension, the fulness of the everlasting gospel—”by the power of the Lord shall bring my people unto salvation” (2 Nephi 3:15) Joseph, again speaking for the Lord, said: “I will raise up [a man] unto the fruit of thy loins.” Could he here mean Mormon, the great prophet-editor? “And I will make for him a spokesman.” Could this not refer to Joseph Smith? “And I, behold, I will give unto him”—Mormon—”that he shall write the writing of the fruit of thy loins, unto the fruit of thy loins; and the spokesman of thy loins”—Joseph Smith—”shall declare it” (v 18; see also McConkie, A New Witness 426).
The resurrected Savior explained to the Nephites concerning the latter-day ensign:
In that day, for my sake shall the Father work a work, which shall be a great and a marvelous work among them; and there shall be among them those who will not believe it, although a man shall declare it unto them. But behold, the life of my servant shall be in my hand; therefore they shall not hurt him, although he shall be marred because of them. Yet I will heal him, for I will show unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil.
The Master then went on to declare that those who rejected the words of this servant—obviously Joseph Smith—would receive the same condemnation of those who rejected his word: “they shall be cut off from among my people who are of the covenant” (3 Nephi 21:9–11).
Moroni spoke of the surpassing worth of the Book of Mormon record and that “none can have power to bring it to light save it be given him of God.” He continued: “And blessed be he that shall bring this thing to light; for it shall be brought out of darkness unto light, according to the word of God; . . . and it shall be done by the power of God.” Moroni then added:
Those saints who have gone before me, who have possessed this land, shall cry, yea, even from the dust will they cry unto the Lord; and as the Lord liveth he will remember the covenant which he hath made with them. And he knoweth their prayers. . . . And he knoweth their faith. . . . And behold, their prayers were also in behalf of him that the Lord should suffer to bring these things forth. (Mormon 8:14–16, 23–25; emphasis added)
These oracles concerning the call and work of the choice seer seem to have been transmitted from generation to generation on both continents. By the meridian of time the Jews on the Eastern Hemisphere were still aware of the coming of a great prophet. John wrote: “And this is the record of John [the Baptist], when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem, to ask him; Who art thou? And he confessed, and denied not that he was Elias; but confessed, saying; I am not the Christ” (John 1:19–20). That is, he denied that he was the Messiah, the anointed prophet like unto Moses that was to be raised up among the children of Israel (Deut 18:15, 18–19). “And they asked him, saying; How then art thou Elias? And he said, I am not that Elias who was to restore all things. And they asked him, saying, Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No.” (JST John 1:20–22; emphasis added). From the journal of George Laub, under the date of 12 May 1844, we find the following report of a sermon by Joseph Smith:
Brother Joseph Smith was chosen for the last dispensation or seventh dispensation. [At] the time the grand council [sat] in heaven to organize this world, Joseph was chosen [as] the last and greatest prophet, to lay the foundation of God’s work of the seventh dispensation. Therefore the Jews asked John the Baptist if he was Elias, or Jesus, or that great prophet that was to come. (Ehat & Cook 370; emphasis added; spelling and punctuation corrected)
Joseph Smith was the final great Elias before the Messiah, and Elias of Restoration. As Jesus descended the Mount of Transfiguration with his apostles Peter, James, and John, he was asked:
Why then say the scribes that Elias [meaning, in this case, Elijah] must first come? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias [meaning, in this case, a forerunner] truly shall first come, and restore all things, as the prophets have written. And again I say unto you that Elias has come already, concerning whom it is written, Behold, I will send my messenger and he shall prepare the way before me; and they knew him not, and have done unto him, whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. But I say unto you, Who is Elias? Behold, this is Elias, whom I send to prepare the way before me. Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist, and also of another who should come and restore all things, as it is written by the prophets. (JST Matt 17:9–14; emphasis added)
As a part of his Olivet Discourse, Christ spoke of the latter days: “And again,” he said, “this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world, for a witness unto all nations, and then shall the end come, or the destruction of the wicked” (JS-M 1:31). In May of 1844, the Prophet and Seer rendered a literal translation of this passage from his German Bible:
And it will be preached, the Gospel of the kingdom, to a witness over all people; and then will the end come.
Offering a type of prophetic commentary, a commentary which seems to point up his own role in the latter dispensation, he then said:
The Savior said when these tribulations should take place, it [the gospel of the kingdom] should be committed to a man who should be a witness over the whole world: the keys of knowledge, power and revelations should be revealed to a witness who should hold the testimony to the world. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 364; hereafter TPJS; emphasis added)
The Lord and his chosen servants have, from the beginning, known and spoken of the great latter-day seer.
There is another sense in which Joseph Smith was known to the ancients: he was schooled and tutored by them during his own mortal ministry. Save Jesus Christ only, the world has never known a more competent scriptural authority than Joseph Smith. A library containing everything the world knows about the Bible, for example, would not rival his understanding. It is one thing to read a book of scripture and quite another to be personally instructed by its authors. Who among the world’s scholars or divines can boast of having stood face to face with Adam, Enoch, Noah, Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist, and Peter, James, and John? Who can speak with authority about life in ancient America because of lessons learned from Nephi, Alma, Mormon, Moroni, and no doubt other ancient American Hebrews? (see JD 13:47; 17:374; 21:161–64; 23:362). While religious leaders were claiming the heavens were sealed to them, Joseph Smith was being personally tutored by these ancient prophets. Many of them laid their hands on his head and conferred their priesthoods, keys, and authorities (D&C 128:20). In summarizing this point, let us turn to the words of President John Taylor, who spoke so eloquently and with such loyalty for his beloved prophet-leader:
Joseph Smith in the first place was set apart by the Almighty according to the councils of the Gods in the eternal worlds, to introduce the principles of life among the people, of which the gospel is the grand power and influence, and through which salvation can extend to all peoples, all nations, all kindreds, all tongues, and all worlds. It is the principle that brings life and immorality to light, and places us in communication with God. God selected him for that purpose, and he fulfilled his mission and lived honorably and died honorably. I know of what I speak, for I was very well acquainted with him and was with him a great deal during his life, and was with him when he died. The principles which he had placed him in communication with the Lord, and not only with the Lord, but with the ancient apostles and prophets; such men, for instance as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Noah, Adam, Seth, Enoch, and Jesus, and the Father, and the apostles that lived on this continent, as well as those who lived on the Asiatic continent. He seemed to be as familiar with these people as we are with one another. Why? Because he had to introduce a dispensation which was called the dispensation of the fulness of times, and it was known as such by the ancient servants of God. (JD 21:94; emphasis added)
Joseph Smith knew the scriptures, he knew their precepts, he knew their prophets, and he knew their central character—the Lord Jesus Christ.
When Aaron and Miriam allowed themselves to be embroiled in a critical spirit in regard to their brother Moses, Jehovah declared:
If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses? (Num 12:6–8)
We learn from this exchange an important principle: there are prophets and then there are prophets. The Apostle Paul explained that “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (1 Cor 14:32). There is an order, a hierarchy if you will, even among those called as chosen oracles and mouthpieces of the Almighty.
Jesus Christ is the presiding High Priest. The Prophet Joseph Smith explained that after Christ in the government of the Kingdom of God comes Adam and then Noah (TPJS 157). Elder Bruce R. McConkie observed,
You start out with the Lord Jesus and then you have Adam and Noah. Thereafter come the dispensation heads. Then you step down, appreciably, and come to prophets and apostles, to the elders of Israel, and to wise and good and sagacious men who have the spirit of light and understanding. (“This Generation” 4)
Joseph Smith, like Adam Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, stands as a dispensation head. The dispensation head becomes the means by which the knowledge and power of God are channeled to men and women on earth. They become the means by which the gospel of Jesus Christ—the plan of salvation and exaltation—are revealed anew, the means by which divine transforming powers, including saving covenants and ordinances, are extended to people during an age of time we call a dispensation. The dispensation head stands as the preeminent witness of Christ; he knows firsthand because of what he has seen and heard and felt and experienced. Because of his central place in the plan and because it is by means of the power of his testimony that men and women come to know the Lord and bask in the light of the Spirit, the calling and position of the dispensation head thus becomes something about which his followers feel to bear witness. Indeed, and appropriately so, men and women of a particular dispensation who stand to express the witness which burns in their bosoms, find themselves bearing testimony of Christ and of the dispensation head—the revealer of Christ—in almost the same breath. This is just as it should be. Elder McConkie thus pointed out:
Every prophet is a witness of Christ; every dispensation head is a revealer of Christ for his day; and every other prophet or apostle who comes is a reflection and an echo and an exponent of the dispensation head. All such come to echo to the world and to expound and unfold what God has revealed to the man who was appointed for that era to give his eternal word to the world. Such is the dispensation concept. (“This Generation” 4–5).
Thus to Joseph Smith, the Savior affirmed: “This generation shall have my word through you” (D&C 5:10). Thomas B. Marsh was instructed to “declare glad tidings of great joy unto this generation.” And what did that entail? “You shall declare the things which have been revealed to my servant, Joseph Smith, Jun.” (D&C 31:3–4). “If the knowledge and power of God are to be had in this final dispensation, they will be had through the work set in motion and the truths which flowed and the authorities which were transmitted by Joseph Smith, or they will be had not at all. To bear witness that Joseph Smith is a prophet is to testify that (1) he was a revealer of truth, divine truth; and (2) that he was a legal administrator, a conduit by which the keys of the kingdom of God have been conferred upon men after the long night of apostate darkness.
Occasionally we hear people complain that they hear too few testimonies of Christ and too many of Joseph Smith. To be sure, we worship the Father in the name of the Son; Christ our Lord is the way to the Father and his is the only name under heaven whereby man can be saved. And yet, we have seen that the dispensation head is the preeminent revealer of Christ. Thus to bear witness of Joseph Smith is to bear witness of Jesus Christ who sent him, in the same way that a testimony of Christ also implies clearly a testimony of the Eternal Father who sent Him. On the other hand, to deny Joseph Smith outright—to deny the spiritual impressions which attest to his prophetic assignment—is to deny the Lord who sent him. Jesus told his disciples that “he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me” (Luke 10:16; compare D&C 1:38; 84:36; 112:20). President Brigham Young thus testified that
whosoever confesseth that Joseph Smith was sent of God to reveal the holy Gospel to the children of men, and lay the foundation for gathering Israel, and building up the kingdom of God on the earth, that spirit is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that God has sent Joseph Smith, and revealed the everlasting Gospel to and through him, is of Antichrist, no matter whether it is found in a pulpit or on a throne. (JD 8:176).
I have observed that there is a power—a supernal power, an unusual spiritual endowment from that Lord we worship—associated with the bearing of a pure and fervent testimony of Joseph Smith and the Restoration. Such outpourings surely signify heaven’s approbation. President Joseph F. Smith, nephew of the Prophet, declared:
I believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ, because more than ever I have come nearer to the possession of the actual knowledge that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, through the testimony of Joseph Smith . . . that he saw Him, and that he heard Him, that he received instructions from Him, that he obeyed those instructions, and that he today stands before the world as the last great, actual, living, witness of the divinity of Christ’s mission and [Christ’s] power to redeem man. . . . Thank God for Joseph Smith. (Gospel Doctrine 495; emphasis added)
“ . . .Save Jesus Only”
It is not difficult to catch an occasional glimpse of the singular role of Joseph Smith as pertaining to this final age. In a spirit of tribute, a spirit of gratitude and praise, Elder John Taylor, a man not prone to hyperbole, wrote: “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 125:3). We ask: More than Enoch? More than Abraham? More than Jacob? More than Moses? What did Elder Taylor mean? We might consider the following possibilities:
1. Joseph Smith serves as the legal administrator associated with that period of time prophesied by Joel:
And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. (Joel 2:28–29)
When Moroni first appeared in September of 1823, he quoted these verses and said “that this was not yet fulfilled, but was soon to be” (JS-H 1:41). The Spirit of God would certainly prove to be the driving influence behind the dissemination of eternal truth and the spiritual transformation of those who submitted to the terms and conditions of the gospel of Jesus Christ. But what of others outside the faith? Would not this Spirit affect them? President Joseph Fielding Smith, after having quoted the prophecy of Joel, explained:
Now, my brethren and sisters, I am not going to confine this prophecy to the members of the Church. The Lord said he would pour out his Spirit upon all flesh. That does not mean that upon all flesh the Holy Ghost should be sent, and that they should be participants in the blessings which those are privileged to receive who have been baptized and endowed and become members of the Church; but the Lord would pour out his blessings and his Spirit upon all people and use them to accomplish his purposes. . . .
There has never been a step taken . . . , in discovery or invention, where the Spirit of the Lord (that is, the Spirit of which Joel spoke, the Light of Christ, not the Holy Ghost!) was not the prevailing force, resting upon the individual, which caused him to make the discovery or the invention. The world does not understand that, but it is perfectly clear to me; nor did the Lord always use those who have faith, nor does he always do so today. He uses such minds as are pliable and can be turned in certain directions to accomplish his work, whether they believe in him or not. (Smith 1:176–78; emphasis in the original)
President Smith then provided the following insight:
There have been a great many discoveries. In fact, since the establishment of the gospel, these discoveries and inventions have been increasing more rapidly and we have seen more, perhaps . . . than was seen during all the years from the days of the revival of learning and the Reformation down to the visitation of Moroni to the Prophet Joseph Smith. (179)
In short, the Spirit of God—meaning the Light of Christ—has been behind the rapid intellectual, scientific, and technological developments from the time of the Industrial Revolution to our own Information Age. The Modern Seer presides over this age of enlightenment and expansion.
2. Though we thrill in the knowledge that God continues to guide his church and kingdom, and continues to make known his mind and will to his chosen servants, yet we conclude that most of what we know today in the form of doctrine—thousands of pages of revelations and instructions and prophetic direction—has come to us through the instrumentality of Joseph Smith. His call initiated the “times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:21), a day of restoration that will continue throughout the Millennium. It is the final period in which the gospel will be delivered to earth, an era that will not end apostasy. It is called the dispensation of the fulness of times or the dispensation of the fulness of dispensations. Joseph Smith wrote the following inspired words from Liberty Jail:
God shall give unto you knowledge by his Holy Spirit, yea, but the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost, [knowledge] that has not been revealed since the world was until now; which our forefathers have awaited with anxious expectation to be revealed in the last times, which their minds were pointed to by the angels, as held in reserve for the fulness of their glory; a time to come in the which nothing shall be withheld. (D&C 121:26–28).
In a revelation received in January of 1841 dealing with the ordinances of the temple, the Lord stated: “I deign to reveal unto my church things which have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world, things that pertain to the dispensation of the fulness of times” (D&C 124:41).
Joseph Smith was raised up to make known “those things which never have been revealed from the foundation of the world, but have been kept hid from the wise and prudent, [things that] shall be revealed unto babes and sucklings in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times” (D&C 128:18).
3. With the visit of the disembodied Savior to the post-mortal spirit world, the work of the redemption of the dead began. We know from Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians that the early Christians had begun vicarious labors (1 Cor 15:29) and would assume that such work continued until the great apostasy was in full bloom and the priesthood was taken from the earth. That may have been no more than seventy or eighty years after the death of Christ. Thus persons who died without a knowledge of the gospel from the beginning of time will fall within the purview of the dispensation of the fulness of times. After the period of the great apostasy, who would have performed the appropriate saving ordinances for all mankind, ordinances not only for those after the meridian of time, but also for people from the earliest ages of the world? Other than the brief period wherein the first-century Christian Church made vicarious salvation available to some, it would appear that the responsibility for gospel ordinances for the residue of mankind rests with the final dispensation. Think on it! Joseph Smith and his successors are responsible for the teaching of the gospel in the world of spirits and the performance of saving ordinances for literally billions of our Father’s children. My colleague Larry E. Dahl has written:
Without diminishing in the least the importance of the work done by earlier prophets and others of the Lord’s servants, clearly in terms of the numbers of souls to whom the saving principles and ordinances of the gospel have been made available, a monumental work has been effected through the instrumentality of “Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord” (D&C 135:3). (321)
President Joseph F. Smith taught,
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. Consequently, . . . Joseph Smith is held in reverence. (481)
In that same spirit, President Brigham Young uttered what to some is a bold and certainly a provocative statement:
Joseph Smith holds the keys of this last dispensation, and is now engaged behind the vail in the great work of the last days. I can tell our beloved brother Christians who have slain the Prophets and butchered and otherwise caused the death of thousands of Latter-day Saints . . . something that no doubt will mortify them—something that, to say the least, is a matter of deep regret to them—namely, that no man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith. From the day that the Priesthood was taken from the earth to the winding-up scene of all things, every man and woman must have the certificate of Joseph Smith, junior, as a passport to their entrance unto the mansion where God and Christ are—I with you and you with me. I cannot go there without his consent. He holds the keys of that kingdom for the last dispensation—the keys to rule in the spirit world; and he rules there triumphantly, for he gained full power and a glorious victory over the power of Satan while he was yet in the flesh, and was a martyr to his religion and to the name of Christ, which gives him a most perfect victory in the spirit world.
. . . Should not this thought comfort all people? They will, by-and-by, be a thousand times more thankful for such a man as Joseph Smith, junior, than it is possible for them to be for any earthly good whatever. It is his mission to see that all the children of men in this last dispensation are saved, that can be, through the redemption. You will be thankful, every one of you, that Joseph Smith, junior, was ordained to this great calling before the worlds were. (JD 7:289; emphasis added)
We suggested earlier that the life of Joseph Smith was in some degree patterned after that of his Master, Jesus Christ. Extending that concept to its tragic conclusion, we note that Joseph Smith the testator also shed his blood in order that the final testament, the reestablishment of the new covenant, might be in full effect (see Heb 9:16). Just prior to his death, the Prophet Joseph remarked, according to Brother Zebedee Coltrin:
I am tired, I have been mobbed, I have suffered so much. Some of the brethren think they can carry this work out better than I can, far better. I have asked the Lord to take me out of this world. I have stood all I can. I have to seal my testimony to this generation with my blood. I have to do it, for this work will never progress until I am gone, for the testimony is of no force until the testator is dead. People little know who I am when they talk about me, and they never will know until they see me weighed in the balance in the kingdom of God. Then they will know who I am, see me as I am. I dare not tell them, and they do not know me. (Andrus and Andrus 26–27)
The cryptic comment about his identity is echoed in an account by Elder Heber C. Kimball. The Prophet is reported to have said: “Would to God, brethren, I could tell you who I am! Would to God I could tell you what I know! But you would call it blasphemy, and there are men upon this stand who would want to take my life” (Whitney 322). According to Joseph Lee Robinson’s account, the Prophet said: “If I should reveal the things that God has revealed to me, there are some on this stand that would cut my throat or take my heart’s blood” (Andrus and Andrus 164). One day we shall surely see who he was, who he is, and what manner of man has walked among the people of the last days.
President Brigham Young offered this testimonial:
Who can justly say aught against Joseph Smith? I was as well acquainted with him, as any man. I do not believe that his father and mother knew him any better than I did. I do not think that a man lives on the earth that knew him any better than I Did; and I am bold to say that, Jesus Christ excepted, no better man ever lived or does live upon this earth. (JD 9:332)
He also said, “I feel like shouting Hallelujah, all the time, when I think that I ever knew Joseph Smith, the Prophet” (JD 3:51). Elder Wilford Woodruff observed:
There is not so great a man as Joseph standing in this generation. The Gentiles look upon him and he is like a bed of gold concealed from human view. They know not his principles, his spirit, his wisdom, his virtues, his philanthropy, nor his calling. His mind, like Enoch’s expands as eternity, and only God can comprehend his soul. (Journal History, 9 Apr 1837)
One of the significant challenges we face as Latter-day Saints at the close of the twentieth century is to be true and faithful to the legacy of Joseph Smith. The Psalmist declared that in the last days the wicked would strike at the foundations of the faith of believers (see JST Ps 11:1–3), and would seek to undermine those fundamental verities which underlie our commitment to the Church and kingdom of God. This may come, for example, in attacks on the historicity or antiquity of the Book of Mormon or Book of Abraham. It may consist in efforts of some to sow doubt and discord in regard to this or that teaching or practice in our history. And, of course, it has entailed and will yet entail attempts—both vicious and subtle—to malign the name and labors of Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of this dispensation. In the words of Elder B.H. Roberts,
Joseph Smith . . . claimed for himself no special sanctity, no faultless life, no perfection of character, no inerrancy for every work spoken by him. And as he did not claim these things for himself, so can they not be claimed for him by others. . . . Yet to Joseph Smith was given access to the mind of Deity, through the revelations of God to him. (2:360–61)
In our day it is fashionable to stress the humanity and weaknesses of Joseph Smith and his successors, to cast aspersions on their motives or character; and to reveal historical details, the context and true meanings of which are lacking. Unfortunately, Joseph the Prophet cannot be with us now to answer all charges against him. But be it remembered that the God of heaven has called and approved Joseph Smith; those who attempt to mar the name and image of the Prophet of the Restoration will eventually answer to God himself for their actions. It was President George Albert Smith who observed: “‘Many have belittled Joseph Smith, but those who have will be forgotten in the remains of mother earth, and the odor of their infamy will ever be with them, but honor, majesty, and fidelity to God, exemplified by Joseph Smith and attached to his name, will never die’” (Lee 166).
I am bold to testify that Joseph Smith was and is a prophet of the living God. I know that the Lord appeared to him, called him, and empowered him to reveal the Gods of heaven and the doctrines of salvation to a world that had been wandering for centuries in darkness. I pray that the Lord will endow each of us with the commitment and spiritual strength to live as we believe, in order that we can evidence our appreciation for God our Father, for Jesus Christ his Son, and for their preeminent witness in these last days, Joseph Smith the Prophet.
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Jessee, Dean C., ed. and comp. Personal Writings of Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1984.
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Lee, Harold B. “President Harold B. Lee’s Closing Remarks.” Ensign (Jan 1974) 4:125–29; also in Conference Report (Oct 1973) 166–71.
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_______. “This Generation Shall Have My Word Through You.” Hearken O Ye People. Sandy, UT: Randall Book, 1984. 3–15.
Roberts, B.H. Comprehensive History of the Church. 6 vols. Provo, UT: Brigham Young Univ, 1965.
Smith, Joseph F. Gospel Doctrine. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1974.
Smith, Joseph Fielding. Doctrines of Salvation. 3 vols. Comp. Bruce R. McConkie. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56.
Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Comp. Joseph Fielding Smith. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976.
Whitney, Orson F. Life of Heber C. Kimball. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1973.