Gordon B. Hinckley, “As One Who Loves the Prophet,” 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), 1–13.
President Gordon B. Hinckley was First Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah, when this was published.
I commend most warmly those who have prepared for this symposium. I commend those who have come with a desire to learn more concerning the Prophet Joseph Smith. I have looked over the program and note that by the time you finish this evening, you will have explored almost every facet of his life and works. If I have counted correctly, some 31 papers will be presented.
I am confident that for each of you it will be a wonderful experience. I regret that I cannot spend the day with you, but I have another appointment in Sand Diego for this afternoon and tomorrow, an appointment accepted long ago before I saw the interesting menu of this symposium.
I have chosen to speak this morning not as a scholar, but simply as one who loves this most uncommon man who was known by the common name of Joseph Smith.
May I tell you of some of the reasons for that love. I grew up in a home where there was love for the Prophet. That home included a substantial library. When we were ever so small our mother read to us from two books. They were titled, From Plough Boy to Prophet, and Mother Stores form the Book of Mormon. They were written by William A. Morton, who knew how to put words together so that children could understand and enjoy them. We also had and read from this small volume, published in 1900. It is titled, The Latter-day Prophet: History of Joseph Smith, written for young people by George Q. Cannon. It is, in fact, a synopsis of the Prophet’s monumental life. Our library also contained this little red-cover book, Joseph Smith’s Teachings, compiled and published by Edwin F. Parry in 1912. It likewise contained The History of the Prophet, written by his mother, Lucy Mack Smith. On two small tables stood two statues, each about 26 to 30 inches high. One was a miniature of the Joseph Smith statue by Mahonri Young which stands on Temple Square. The other was a statue of Abraham Lincoln. I grew up in an environment of appreciation for the Prophet.
When I was 12 years of age, I was ordained a deacon. That would have been in 1922. My father had served as a counselor in the stake presidency and was named stake president about that time. A stake priesthood meeting was held each month. It was held on a week night in the old 10th Ward building which still stands on the corner of 4th South and 8th East in Salt Lake City. Father said that since I now held the priesthood, I should attend stake priesthood meeting with him. It was with some reluctance that I put on my best clothes and walked with him to the 10th Ward. He sat on the stand and I sat on the back row. The hall was filled with men, with only a few boys. Quite a number of immigrants from Europe lived in the stake—men who had paid a heavy price for their membership in the Church and who carried in their hearts a strong conviction of its truth. The opening hymn was announced. All stood and sang:
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.
The chapel rang with the words of that great hymn. It was sung with conviction and intensity by men who carried in their hearts a powerful testimony of the prophetic calling of him of whom they sang.
I have never forgotten that moment in my life. I was an awkward, freckled-faced little boy in knee pants, more prone to laugh than to be serious. But on this occasion, I felt a great moving power. It was both emotional and spiritual. Ever since, that hymn has held a special place in my heart, and its testimony has become my own testimony.
Great is his glory and endless his priesthood.
Ever and ever the keys he will hold.
Faithful and true, he will enter his kingdom,
Crowned in the midst of the prophets of old.
(Praise to the Man,” Hymns #27)
When I was about 14 or 15, my brother and I would accompany our parents to the General Conference held in the Tabernacle. At that time there was room for everyone who wished to get in. Heber J. Grant was President of the Church. In imagination, I can still see and hear him. He stood tall. He did not read from a manuscript. He spoke from his heart. His voice rang out in moving words of testimony concerning Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.
From these and other experiences of my younger years, there came accretions of knowledge and faith concerning the Prophet Joseph. Was there ever doubt? Yes, admittedly at times, particularly in my university days. That was a time of general cynicism. It was the bottom of the Great Depression, a depression so deep and severe that the present recession, by comparison, seems to be a season of prosperity.
I read in those days, and have since read, much of the writing leveled against the Prophet by critics, not a few, who have worn out their lives trying, honestly or dishonestly, to find some flaw of character, some note of history to destroy the credibility of Joseph Smith. I am grateful to say that I have survived them all, and that the more I have read, the stronger has grown my faith in and my love for this most remarkable and wonderful man. His detractors, without exception, insofar as I know, have had their day in the sun, and then have faded into oblivion, while the name of Joseph Smith has been honored in ever-widening circles around the earth.
I thank him, I honor him, I love him for the faith, simple and trusting, that impelled him to go into the grove to ask of God, “nothing doubting.” From that experience came knowledge of Deity beyond any comprehended by the learned of the world through centuries of time. God, he learned, is indeed in form like a man. He hears. He speaks. He introduces His Beloved Son and directs Joseph to listen. The Son sepals, even the Resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, the firstborn of the Father, and the Savior and Redeemer of the world. He, too, is in form like a man. He counsels the boy before Them.
Those to whom he told this wondrous story ridiculed him. I thank him and love him for the courage to stand up to those who were much his senior and who mercilessly condemned him. “For I had seen a vision,” he said; “I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation” (JS-H 1:25). Because of his experience and his testimony, I know to whom I may go in prayer, petitioning the Father in the name of His Beloved Son.
I thank Joseph the Prophet and love him for the Book of Mormon, this added testament of Jesus Christ, a record that has come forth from the dust, to bring understanding and knowledge, strength and faith to all who will read it prayerfully, and into whose hearts will come confirmation of the living reality of the Son of God, the Savior and Redeemer of the world. This book and its translator were attacked even before it issued from the press, and it has been attacked ever since. Scores of explanations have been given for it in an effort to refute the Prophet’s story. But the test of its truth lies in its reading, and it is being read more widely than at any time in its history. Last year, more than three million copies were printed. What a contrast with that first edition of 5,000 copies, the printing of which was made possible by a generous farmer upon whom the Spirit of the Lord rested.
Last year it was rated the eighth most influential book in America. It was tied with number six and number seven. The Bible was number one, and I have not the slightest doubt that at some future time this companion scripture will become number two, second only to the Bible, and every individual who reads it will be the better for the effort, for, as Joseph said, “ . . .a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 194).
I thank him and love him for the holy priesthood restored upon his head by those who held it anciently. I thank him for the Aaronic Priesthood, which holds “the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins” (D&C 13). I thank him for the Melchizedek Priesthood with all of its powers, keys and authority.
It is the divine power of the Almighty conferred upon man to act in His name and in His stead. It is efficacious in life, and its authority reaches beyond the veil of death. It is the only power on the earth that may be exercised by man to seal and bind for eternity as well as for time. How remarkable and precious a boon it is.
I thank the Prophet Joseph and love him for the doctrine of salvation which was revealed through him. Through the grace of God all men will be privileged to rise from the dead, a gift freely given and made possible through the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. Beyond this, all who walk in obedience to the teachings and commandments of the gospel may go on, even to exaltation. There are various kingdoms and principalities in the life beyond, named and described in the incomparable divine revelations which came through him. I thank him and love him for all of this. I love him for the assurance, certain and unequivocal, of life after death in a realm of activity and growth, in contrast with a condition of static and unfruitful ecstasy as others have taught. How grateful I am for the grandeur of his vision of eternity. I thank him for the assurance that, “mingling with Gods, he can plan for his brethren.” (Hymns #27)
I thank him and love him for the sealing power of the holy priesthood that makes possible and certain the continuance of the family through eternity. I have said many times that if nothing else came out of all of the sorrow and travail and pain of the restoration than the sealing power of the holy priesthood to bind together families forever, it would have been worth all that it has cost.
I thank him and love him for the light and understanding he brought to the world concerning the purpose of life—that mortality is a step in an eternal journey, that we lived before we came here, that there was design in our coming, that we are sons and daughters of God our Eternal Father with a divine and wonderful birthright, that we are here to be tested and to grow, that, as someone has said, “Life is a mission and not a career,” that death is a step across the threshold into another realm as real and as purposeful as this. Infinite is our opportunity to grow toward Godhood under the plan of our Eternal Father and His Beloved Son.
I thank him and love him for temporal teachings and programs of infinite worth. I am thankful for what we call the Word of Wisdom. It is true that others of his time were interested in diet as it affects health. But none of whom I am aware brought forth as the revealed word of God a code of health for the blessing of all who would abide its precepts. I think of the billions of dollars that have been saved for better purposes by those who have refrained from the deleterious substances spoken of in this revelation. I think of the pain and the misery they have been spared. I think of the findings of modern science decrying the use of tobacco and alcohol, of caffeine and other substances. I think of the research which clearly indicates added average longevity for those who follow these teachings.
I think of the promise of great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures. That promise has been fulfilled in a knowledge of the eternal purposes of God revealed unto this people through the great Prophet of this dispensation.
I thank him and love him for the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is a marvel and a miracle under which millions hold office and responsibility in the Church and kingdom of God. It is a unique system of ecclesiastical government under which the authority to nominate rests with the presiding officers, but the right to serve is conditioned upon the approval of the membership. I thank him and the Lord from whom it came for this marvelous organization which is able to function in any land or society, where leadership comes out of the people, where, with few exceptions, the call to serve is but for a season, thereby ensuring a constant renewal of talent, outlook, energy, and spiritual strength.
I thank the Prophet and love him for the simplicity and effectiveness of the Church law of revenue which came to him through revelation. It is tax time for all of us in this nation. The people, and their professional accountants, wrestle with a complex tax code. Contrast this with the wisdom of the Almighty as revealed to His Prophet. The entire code for both obtaining and disbursing the means for the upkeep and program of the Church are found in two short verses: “Those who have . . .been tithed shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually; and this shall be a standing law unto them forever, for my hold priesthood, saith the Lord” (D&C 119:4). Such is the law of revenue. If an individual writes toe the First Presidency regarding the definition of tithing, as many do, asking about this detail or that, he or she will receive an answer simply referring to section 119 of the Doctrine and Covenants with the only interpretation being that the word “interest” should be interpreted as “income.”
As for disbursement of the funds so gathered, the direction is clear and simple and straightforward: “It shall be disposed of by a council, composed of the First Presidency of my Church, and of the bishop and his council, and by my high council; and by mine own voice unto them, said the Lord. Even so. Amen” (D&C 120). That is all there is to it. And the marvelous thing is that it works. We are carrying forward a vast and costly program that reaches into 135 nations and political entities. This university on whose campus we meet today is largely financed from the tithes of the people. To me, it is a constant miracle what is being done. I am in a position to see this miracle. In all of its ecclesiastical operations scattered across the world, the Church has no debt. I thank the Lord for the faith of the Latter-day Saints which makes all of this possible. I love and thank the Prophet Joseph Smith as an instrument through whom the Lord revealed this law, so simple and effective, in contrast with the complex methods of men.
I thank him and love him for the sacrifice which he made, giving his life for the cause he loved and sealing his testimony with his blood. When in June of 1844 he crossed the Mississippi to Montrose to escape his enemies, he told Stephen Markham that if he was taken again he would be “massacred.” He was young, then, only 38 and a few months. He was at the zenith of his ministry. Nauvoo was then a place of industry and growth. In only five years it had risen from the swamps to become perhaps the most impressive city in all of the state of Illinois. He was loved by his people and, in turn, he loved them. Their numbers were increasing as missionaries spread the word in the eastern states, Canada, and the British Isles. A magnificent temple was rising on the hill to the east up the slope from the river. This was the prime time of his life, but there were a few who spoke of cowardice in running away. When he heard this, he said, “If my life is of no value to my friends it is of none to myself” (History of the Church 6:549; hereafter HC).
He returned to Nauvoo. He was arrested under false charges. As he gazed upon the city while being escorted to Carthage, he said, “This is the loveliest place and the best people under the heavens.” While enroute to his rendezvous with death he said, “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter . . .and it shall be said of me, ‘He was murdered in cold blood!’” (HC 6:554, 555).
I love him for the brooding sorrow of those last hours in the old jail. John Taylor sang, “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief.” Then, at Joseph’s request, he sang it again. There was a certain simplicity and sadness in the music and something of comfort, reassurance, and meaning in the words. Then came the vile, cursing, ugly mob. Shots were fired and the Prophet fell from the window. It was the afternoon of 27 June 1844.
John Taylor, who had been wounded when they were killed, wrote the epitaph of Joseph and Hyrum, and stated,
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. In this short space of twenty years, he has brought forth the Book of Mormon, which he translated by the gift and power of God, and has been the means of publishing it on two continents; has sent the fullness of the everlasting gospel, which it contained, to the four quarters of the earth; has brought forth the revelations and commandments which compose this book of Doctrine and Covenants, and many other wise documents and instructions for the benefit of the children of men; gathered many thousands of the Latter-day Saints, founded a great city, and left a fame and name that cannot be slain. He lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and like most of the Lord’s anointed in ancient times, has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood; and so has his brother Hyrum. In life they were not divided, and in death they were not separated! . . .From age to age shall their names go down to posterity as gems for the sanctified. (D&C 135:3, 6)
Of the events of that tragic June 27th, Governor Thomas Ford of Illinois wrote,
This fell Joe Smith, the most successful imposter in modern times; a man who, though ignorant and coarse, had some great natural parts which fitted him for temporary success, but which were so obscured and counteracted by the inherent corruption and vices of his nature, that he never could succeed in establishing a system of policy which looked to permanent success in the future. (History of Illinois 354)
The many who write that appraisal died six years later, practically bankrupt, leaving five orphaned children to the mercy of others. Both he and his wife, who had died three months earlier, were buried at public expense. He is remembered for little more than his association with the death of the Prophet Joseph.
I like to compare his appraisal with the prophetic statement given by Moroni when he appeared to the boy Joseph the night of 21 September 1823. On that occasion the angel said, “that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people” (JS-H 1:33).
And further, I compare Governor Ford’s statement with these remarkable words of prophecy given in the cold and misery of Liberty Hail in March of 1839. On that occasion the Lord said to Joseph:
The ends of the earth shall inquire after thy name, and fools shall have thee in derision, and hell shall large against thee;
While the pure in heart, and the wise, and the noble, and the virtuous, shall seek counsel, and authority, and blessings constantly from under thy hand.
And thy people shall never be turned against thee by the testimony of traitors. (D&C 122:1–3)
Everyone in this hall today is aware of the spirit in which Tom Ford in 1854 wrote his appraisal of the Prophet. Everyone here today is aware of the ever-widening fulfillment of the words of Moroni spoken in 1823 and the words of the Lord revealed in 1839.
I have walked about the beautiful grounds in Sharon, Windsor County, Vermont, where Joseph was born 23 December 1805. I have looked at the memorial marble shaft 38 and ½ feet high, one foot for each year of his life. I have reflected, in that environment, upon what was started here when mortal life came to one who in the pre-existence was among the noble and great to come to earth and fulfill an appointed mission. Said Brigham Young:
It was decreed in the counsels of eternity, long before the foundations of the earth were laid, that he [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 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. (Journal of Discourses 7:289–90)
I have walked where he walked through the fields to the Sacred Grove. Some years ago in company with the Rochester stake president, the Cumorah mission president, and a Regional Representative, I went to the Sacred Grove early in the morning of a spring Sabbath day. IT had been raining in the night. Little drops of water glistened on the tiny new leaves. We prayed together in that quiet and hallowed place, and there came into my heart at that time a conviction that what the Prophet described actually happened in 1820 here amidst the trees.
I have climbed the slopes of the Hill Cumorah. I have walked the banks of the Susquehanna River. I have been to Kirtland, to Independence, Liberty, Far West, Adam-ondi-Ahman, Nauvoo, and Carthage. While I have never met Joseph Smith, I think I have come to know him, at least in some small measure.
I know that he was foreordained to a mighty work to serve as an instrument of the Almighty in bringing to pass a restoration of the work of God of all previous dispensations fo time. I have read the Book of Mormon, again and again. I know that he did not write it out of his own capacity. I know that he was a translator who by the gift and power of God brought forth this great testament of the New World. I know that it is true, that it is powerful, that it is a witness to the nations of the Divine Redeemer of mankind, the Living Son of the Living God.
I know that the priesthood is upon the earth. I have seen its power. I know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true. I have witnessed again and again the miracle that comes into the lives of men and women who accept it and become part of its inspired program.
I worship the God of heaven who is my Eternal Father. I worship the Lord Jesus Christ who is my Savior and my Redeemer. I do not worship the Prophet Joseph Smith, but I reverence and love this great seer through whom the miracle of this gospel has been restored. I am now growing old, and I know that in the natural course of events before many years, I will step across the threshold to stand before my Maker and my Lord and give an accounting of my life. And I hope that I shall have the opportunity of embracing the Prophet Joseph Smith and of thanking him and of speaking of my love for him.
Cannon, George Q. The Latter-day Prophet: History of Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1888; reprinted many times. The latest reprint by Deseret Book, 1986.
Ford, Thomas. A History of Illinois, from Its Commencement as a State in 1814 to 1847: Containing a Full Account of the Black Hawk War, the Rise, Progress, and Fall of Mormonism, the Alton & Lovejoy Riots, and Other Important and Interesting Events. New York: Ivison & Phinney, 1854.
History of the Church. 7 vols. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1980.
Hymns. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1985.
Joseph Smith’s Teachings. Ed. Edwin F. Parry. Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1912.
Journal of Discourses. 26 vols. 1854–86.
Morton, William A. From Plough Boy to Prophet. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1943.
Morton, William A. Mother Stories from the Book of Mormon. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1943.
Smith, Lucy Mack. History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, Lucy Mack Smith. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1979.
Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Comp. Joseph Fielding Smith. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976.