The Work of Joseph Smith

H. Curtis Wright, Things of Redeeming Worth: Scriptures Messages and World Judgments (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2002).

In a simple and profound essay, Curtis clarifies two aspects of Joseph’s mission and two essentials of our missions in life. This is not a formal attempt to analyze the Prophet’s divine commission and to evaluate the performance of his mission. It is the distillation of a letter Brother Wright wrote in 1981 to a son in the mission field in order to clarify the main responsibilities of members and missionaries to teach the gospel and to build up the Church. Curtis says concisely in conclusion that this “is what constitutes the work of Joseph Smith. Whatever else he did may have its own importance; but by far the most important thing about him is the fact that he was assigned this double mission . . . of restoring the eternal PRINCIPLES of the gospel, which are in the Book of Mormon, and the temporal PRACTICES of the Church, which are in the Doctrine and Covenants.”

Brother Wright shows from Church history and revelations to the Prophet about himself (humbly and frankly printed in the Doctrine and Covenants) that Joseph was commended by the Lord when he did his assigned work and called to repentance when he did otherwise.

The basic essence of Joseph’s twofold mission was thus to reveal anew the fulness of the gospel by translating and publishing the Book of Mormon, and to establish anew the true Church as the vehicle for applying and extending essential gospel principles and ordinances until “all who will hear may hear” and live accordingly (cf. D&C 1:11).

—Ellis T. Rasmussen Dean of Religious Instruction, 1976–81, Brigham Young University

The Lord requires neither science nor scholarship to do his work. The Book of Mormon could easily have been discovered by early “archaeologists” and publicized by 19th-century schoolmen. But this book, as Nephi knew anciently by the Spirit, was to “be hid from the eyes of the world” because of worldly “wickedness and abominations,” for the Lord himself would bring forth its words and establish them “in the mouth of as many witnesses as seemeth him good” (2 Ne. 27:8, 12, 14). Its prototext, says Nephi, will not be given to the world but “shall be delivered unto a man,” and “none other . . . shall view it, save it be a few according to the will of God” (2 Ne. 27:9,13). The man will then “deliver the words of the book . . . unto the learned,” who, “because of the glory of the world and to get gain . . . and not for the glory of God,” will want only the book itself and refuse to consider its words (2 Ne. 27:9–10,15–18). “Wherefore . . . the Lord God will deliver again the book and the words thereof to him that is not learned . . . [and] say unto him: The learned shall not read . . . [the words of the book], for they have rejected them . . . . [And] I will show unto the children of men that I am able to do mine own work. . . . I am a God of miracles; . . . I work not among the children of men save it be according to their faith. . . . Therefore, I w i l l . . . do a marvelous work among this people, . . . for the wisdom of their wise and learned shall perish” (2 Ne. 27:19–21, 23, 26; emphasis added).

Joseph Smith was called as a prophet because “God had a special work for him to do.” [1] Lehi quotes another Joseph, the son of Jacob, as saying: “Thus saith the Lord unto me: A choice seer will I raise up out of the fruit of thy loins.. .. [And] he shall do a work . . . of great worth unto them” (2 Ne. 3:7). The Lord also told Joseph, the son of Jacob, that “I will give unto him [Joseph Smith] a commandment that he shall do none other work, save the work which I shall command him . . . for he shall do my work” (2 Ne. 3:8). The Lord thus gave Joseph Smith a specific work to do, and commanded him to do that work and that work only. If Joseph did not always follow that commandment to the letter, it is doubtless because he was immensely curious about all aspects of the world he lived in. He therefore got out of the harness occasionally and worked on things that appealed to him rather than doing the specific work he had been commanded to do; and whenever that happened, the Lord had to jerk him back into the traces in orderto remind him of the true nature of his calling and to insist that, if he wanted to do the Lord’s work, he would have to forgo his lesser interests.

It is important to understand the work of Joseph Smith in terms of his prophetic functions. The work he did for the Lord is correlated with two things very intimately: the Book of Mormon, which he brought forth, translated, and published to all the world; and the Doctrine and Covenants, which also came forth through him. These two books are absolutely central to his mission. What, then, is the relationship between the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants? And how is each related to Joseph’s calling? They are, to be sure, different kinds of records. The Book of Mormon is essentially a theological document, a doctrinal account of the acceptance and rejection of the gospel by ancient Americans, whereas the Doctrine and Covenants is basically an ecclesiastical record, a document concerned mainly with the restored Church as the kingdom of God on earth. This distinction, though often overlooked, is fundamental, since the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants are both involved directly with the specific work Joseph Smith was called and commanded by the Lord to do.

The Doctrine and Covenants, as an essentially ecclesiastical document, is oriented more directly to the Church than to the gospel. This does not mean, of course, that there is no doctrine in the Doctrine and Covenants, which often discusses crucially important theological issues. But it does mean that the Doctrine and Covenants is more about the restored Church than about anything else: it treats explicit matters related to the organizational structure and temporal functions of the kingdom of God, along with its administrative protocols, policies, procedures, and practices, and the requirements of its citizens; and as such, it is primarily concerned with things like callings and ordinations, quorum activities, the performance of temple ordinances and other rituals, bishops’ storehouses, problems of dealing with the unfaithful (which are also discussed in the Book of Mormon), the keeping of historical and other records, and numerous specific items such as caring for the sick or the construction and purposes of the Nauvoo House. Because it is mainly concerned with these sorts of things, one of our best instruments for understanding the Doctrine and Covenants is Church history: if we are to grasp the message of the Doctrine and Covenants, if we are to understand it in any depth or sophistication at all, we must correlate its discussions of specific persons, places, and events with the temporal history of the restored Church. It is thus God’s concern for his kingdom on earth—for all of the temporal particulars discussed in or related to the Doctrine and Covenants—which creates a fundamental part of Joseph Smith’s office and calling as a prophet: it accounts for roughly half of the reason why he was called to be a prophet, and constitutes approximately half of the work he was called to do.

The Book of Mormon, on the other hand, consistently emphasizes the doctrinal subject matters of revealed theology. It is not a historical document per se: [2] it says repeatedly itself, for example, that what we would call the systematic histories of the Nephite and Jaredite peoples were compiled, not on the small plates of Nephi (where an account of revealed realities was kept by prophets), but on those “other plates,” the large plates of Nephi, where historical events were recorded by the secular authority of kings and judges (see 1 Ne. 9:2; 19:1–2,4; 2 Ne. 4:14; 5:29; and Jacob 1:3). It is this larger set of plates—the set God has not revealed to us—that we would have to search in order to discover the scientific, economic, political, social, intellectual, cultural, and artistic histories of the Nephite and Jaredite civilizations. [3] The Book of Mormon is therefore a special kind of record, for it was translated from prophetic documents by the revealed wisdom of God, not from historical documents by the humanly originated wisdom of secular scholarship. Its subject matter, accordingly, was selected and controlled by prophets, who labored under the direct supervision of the Lord himself, in order to show us the great importance of the ministry (see 1 Ne. 9:3–4; 19:3) to ancient Americans who accepted the gospel, and also to show us, by their withdrawal and apostasy from the gospel, what caused their decline and destruction. The Book of Mormon is thus oriented to the gospel almost exclusively. It is not a “churchy” document. It does not dwell on programs, nor is it preoccupied with things like organizational patterns or administrative procedures: you can’t tell from the Book of Mormon, to put it simply, what the Sunday School was like in Zarahemla. The Church, on the other hand, is ever present in the Book of Mormon, although it is virtually confined to the background: it is always off-stage, working diligently behind the scenes, in order to present the gospel to a troubled world. It is the gospel itself, meanwhile, that occupies center stage throughout the Book of Mormon, while the Church stands alert and attentive in the wings, where it plays a supportive role. The gospel, in other words, constitutes the paramount concern of the Book of Mormon, which always presents it as primary and basic, whereas the Church remains backstage, away from the spotlight, in a secondary and instrumental capacity. The Church plays an indispensable role all through the Book of Mormon; but it does not play the central role. Its only reason for being is to make the gospel clear, to present it properly, and to interpret it faithfully unto the children of men. The Book of Mormon therefore constitutes the other half of the office and calling of Joseph Smith. It is the most important part of the reason why he was called to be a prophet; for only if “the church is built upon my gospel,” saith the Lord, “will the Father show forth his own works in it” (3 Ne. 27:10)—which is to say that, if there were no gospel, there would be no Book of Mormon; and if there were no Book of Mormon, there would be no Doctrine and Covenants, for the Church would not exist. The prophetic mission of Joseph Smith is thus aligned with the Book of Mormon, which contains the eternal principles of the everlasting gospel, and with the Doctrine and Covenants, which describes the temporal practices of the Church and kingdom of God. The restoration of these two things constitutes the only work Joseph Smith was called by the Lord to do: he was to do only this work. [4]

The Lord clearly wants us to ponder the work of Joseph Smith in order to understand its prophetic nature and its redemptive functions and purposes. But we should focus on its central concerns, not on peripheral matters. It should neither disturb nor fascinate us too much, perhaps, to discover that Joseph Smith himself was curious about the peripheral as well as the central concerns of the kingdom, or even to learn that he postponed the Lord’s work occasionally and tried to do the work of the world. The Lord rebuked him several times, as a matter of fact, for this very thing. But the point is that we need not be unduly troubled, say, by problems arising from the speculations of BYU professors about heady matters on which LDS intellectuals may be divided or confused. [5] Many issues related to work other than the work Joseph Smith was called to do are not worth resolving: we should not worry too much about them, for they often serve only to distract us from the real issues of revealed religion. [6] We must not overlook, for example, the twenty-fourth section of the Doctrine and Covenants, where both elements of the prophets work are spelled out in the first sentence. “Thou wast called and chosen to write the Book of Mormon,” the Lord tells Joseph Smith, “and to my ministry” (D&C 24:1). The dual functions of the prophets mission are explicitly revealed in this brief statement. Joseph was called, first of all, “to write the Book of Mormon”—not to become its author, of course, but to retrieve its ancient prototext from metallic epigraphs buried in a sealed stone box, [7] and to translate that prototext by the gift and power of God in order to publish it as the doctrinal standard of the restoration. And secondly, the Lord tells Joseph, “thou wast called . . . to my ministry”—to the prophetic work of restoring the kingdom of God to this planet with all of its redemptive machinery intact. Thus, Joseph Smith was called to the ministry by the Lord himself; and his work as a minister was to rebuild the ancient community of Zion in the modern world—to establish the Church on the sure foundation of the gospel, to get it running again, and to ensure that it operated properly and as smoothly as possible.

Joseph Smith was fully supported in his calling by the powers of heaven. “I have lifted thee out of thine afflictions,” the Lord tells him, “and have counseled thee, that thou hast been delivered from all thine enemies, and . . . from the powers of Satan and from darkness” (D&C 24:1). But he was also rebuked for neglecting the work he was called to do. “Thou art not excusable in thy transgressions” (D&C 24:2), he is told, which means that he did transgress—and more than once, too. Still, as all sinners have their failings, we cannot throw stones at him for this. When Joseph does something wrong, on the other hand, it gets into the Doctrine and Covenants; and in this instance God is clearly displeased with him. “Nevertheless,” the Lord instructs him, “go thy way and sin no more. Magnify thine office; and . . . go speedily unto the church . . . and they shall support thee” (D&C 24:2–3). If Joseph Smith is to magnify his office, however, he must know what it is; and so must the people of the Church, if they are to support him in it. What, then, is his office? It is to minister unto the Church, and to bring forth the Book of Mormon—not only to publish it, but to bring its message of redemption to the Church and thence to all the world. Members of the Church, moreover, are specifically called upon to support their prophet in this. And if they do it, the Lord says, “I will bless them both spiritually and temporally; but if they receive thee not, I will send upon them a cursing instead of a blessing” (D&C 24:3–4). The Lord then gave explicit instructions to Joseph Smith, who was to forsake his secular interests and stick to his office and calling. “Thou shalt continue in calling upon God in my name, and writing the things which shall be given thee . . . and expounding all scriptures unto the church. And it shall be given thee . . . what thou shalt speak and write, and they shall hear it, or I will send unto them a cursing instead of a blessing” (D&C 24:5–6). All of these duties, whether incumbent on the prophet or upon the Church, are consistent with the dual nature of Joseph’s office and calling, which was to restore both the gospel and the Church. The Lord, who required a consuming, total commitment from Joseph Smith if he was to perform his labors properly, then gave him a specific commandment with a promise, saying: “Thou shalt devote all thy service in Zion; and in this thou shalt have strength” (D&C 24:7). That was indeed Joseph’s greatest strength: he was always most effective when laboring to establish Zion in the ways of the Lord—when loving Zion, working for Zion, weeping for Zion, and devoting his entire being and all of his energy to Zion; and the strength of the Lord always failed him when he left his labors in Zion and tried to do the world’s work. “Be patient in afflictions,” the Lord instructed him, “for thou shalt have many; but endure them, for . . . I am with thee” (D&C 24:8). His work was clearly to establish and confirm the Church in the gospel. But “in temporal labors thou shalt not have strength,” he was told rather bluntly, “for this is not thy calling” (D&C 24:9). Have we somehow overlooked the significance of that important statement? Joseph Smith was plainly called to labor for Zion, not to do the work of the world: he was, after all, a mediocre politician, an ineffective militarist, and a lousy banker; [8] and the cities he established have survived only as visitors’ centers and tourist traps, whereas the colonies founded by Brigham Young, who had a very different calling, are thriving communities today. The Lord therefore gave Joseph specific instructions, saying: “Attend to thy calling and thou shalt have wherewith to magnify thine office” (D&C 24:9). And once again we see the nature of his calling and his office: he was chosen to perform the theological function of revealing the Book of Mormon to a lost and fallen world as the doctrinal standard of the Restoration; he was called as a minister of the gospel to perform the ecclesiastical function of reconstituting Zion on earth; and his office was to restore the gospel to the world through the Church. Thus, he was promised everything necessary for magnifying his office if he would only attend to his calling; and both functions of his calling were emphasized, for he was explicitly instructed “to expound all scriptures,” which constitutes his doctrinal or theological function, and to “continue in laying on of the hands and confirming the churches” (D&C 24:9), which constitutes his ecclesiastical function. And finally, in a terse remark that should give pause to anyone who understands the Prophet’s calling, the Lord said to him: “Thou art called to prune my vineyard with a mighty pruning, yea, even for the last time” (D&C 24:19). Now that is an important statement. Joseph Smith was verily required to prune the Lord’s vineyard; and everyone he ordained, and all other stewards of the church, were to assist him in doing it. The Lord’s vineyard includes, to be sure, the strengths and weaknesses of the true church; but it subsumes much more than that, for it also includes the “Christian” churches, with all of their corruptions and problems, as well as the world at large. The importance of this pruning, moreover, is discussed throughout the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 39:13–17; 75:2; 88:70–75; and 95:4, for example). [9] “It is the eleventh hour, and the last time that I shall call laborers into my vineyard. And my vineyard has become corrupted every whit; and there is none which doeth good save it be a few; and they err in many instances because of priestcrafts, all having corrupt minds. And verily, verily, I say unto you, that this church have I established and called forth out of the wilderness. And even so will I gather mine elect from the four quarters of the earth, even as many as will believe in me, and hearken unto my voice” (D&C 33:3–6). That process has occurred in part, is still occurring, and will occur in the future. Since the Lord’s vineyard had been thoroughly corrupted, Joseph had to recultivate it with redemptive machinery, bring the Church “out of obscurity and out of darkness” (D&C 1:30) in order to do it, and call laborers to the pruning; and they have never left the vineyard, for the work begun by Joseph Smith continues to this day.

Two years earlier, after losing a lengthy manuscript from the “Book of Lehi” [10] by giving something less than complete devotion to the will of the Lord and loaning it to a “friend,” Joseph was confronted with harsh words from the heavens. Before reviewing this stinging reprimand, however, I invite you, dear reader, to assume the role of Joseph Smith by standing in his shoes, so to speak, as though you were the prophet and this were an actual revelation from the Lord, in person, to you. How would you feel if the Lord told you the following because you had bungled the work you were called to do?

The works, and the designs, and the purposes of God cannot be frustrated, neither can they come to naught.

For God doth not walk in crooked paths, neither doth he turn to the right hand nor to the left, neither doth he vary from that which he hath said; therefore, his paths are straight, and his course is one eternal round.

Remember, remember that it is not the work of God that is frustrated, but the work of men;

For although a man may have many revelations, and have power to do many mighty works, yet if he boasts in his own strength, and sets at naught the counsels of God, and follows after the dictates of his own will and carnal desires, he must fall and incur the vengeance of a just God upon him.

Behold, you have been entrusted with these things, but how strict were your commandments; and remember also the promises which were made to you, if you did not transgress them.

And behold, how oft you have transgressed the commandments and the laws of God, and have gone on in the persuasions of men. For behold, you should not have feared man more than God. Although men set at naught the counsels of God, and despise his words—

Yet you should have been faithful; and he would have extended his arm and supported you against all the fiery darts of the adversary; and he would have been with you in every time of trouble.

Behold, thou art Joseph, and thou wast chosen to do the work of the Lord; but because of transgression, if thou art not aware thou wilt fall.

But remember, God is merciful; therefore, repent of that which thou hast done which is contrary to the commandment which I gave you, and thou art still chosen, and art again called to the work;

Except thou do this, thou shalt be delivered up and become as other men, and have no more gift . . .

And this is the reason that thou hast lost thy privileges for a season—For thou hast suffered the counsel of thy director to be trampled upon from the beginning (D&C 3:1–11,14–15; section 10 should also be consulted in its entirety).

How would you like to be addressed that way by the Lord? He is saying to the Prophet in effect: “Now see here, Joseph—enough is enough! My work will go on, with you or without you! If you don’t repent of your sins this instant, so you can again be called to the work, others will take your place; but get this through your head, if you can: my work will go on!” The Lord then tells Joseph in great plainness that the gospel must go forth to all the world—not only to Jews and Gentiles but also to the descendants of Joseph, his namesake, who was sold into Egypt—and reminds him in forceful terms that the unnecessary loss of this important manuscript had interrupted the work of redemption. “Nevertheless, my work shall go forth, for inasmuch as the knowledge of a Savior has come unto the world, through the testimony of the Jews, even so shall the knowledge of a Savior come unto . . . the Nephites . . . through the testimony of their fathers—and this testimony shall come to the knowledge of the Lamanites . . . who dwindled in unbelief because of the iniquity of their fathers. . . . And for this very purpose are these plates preserved, which contain these records—that the promises of the Lord might be fulfilled, which he made to his people; . . . and that they might know the promises of the Lord, and . . . believe the gospel and rely upon the merits of Jesus Christ, and be glorified through faith in his name, and that through their repentance they might be saved” (D&C 3:16–20). [11]

The Prophet was thus rebuked from time to time for failing to take the Lord’s work of redemption more seriously than anything else. Joseph Smith, in a word, was a sinner, “for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23); [12] but he was not an unrepentant sinner: he was a self-conscious, confessing sinner who turned to the Lord in a spirit of profound contrition, brokenhearted for his sins, seeking the mercy and forgiveness of God, and repenting for all he was worth. And the Lord loved him and accepted his repentance and remitted his sins and called him back to the work from which he had departed. Joseph once told the Latter-day Saints: “Search your hearts, and see if you are like God. I have searched mine, and feel to repent of all my sins.” [13] And we should follow his counsel.

All of this is closely related to another problem. There is a basic difference between the gospel and the Church: they constitute separate entities that are intimately related, to be sure; but Joseph Smith was called to restore both of them, and they are never identified or confused with each other in the scriptures. Four years before obtaining the Book of Mormon, Joseph learned from Moroni that “the fulness of the everlasting gospel was contained in it;” [14] and the Doctrine and Covenants later confirmed repeatedly that the Book of Mormon indeed contains “the fulness of the gospel” (D&C 20:89; see also sections 27:5; 42:12; 135:3; cf. 3 Nephi 27:13–21). That always confuses those who equate the gospel with the Church; for if the Book of Mormon contains the fulness of the gospel, why doesn’t it discuss things like premortal life, the Word of Wisdom, salvation for the dead, eternal progression, the welfare plan, temple marriage, exaltation, or the three degrees of glory? Why are so many of these things not even mentioned in the Book of Mormon if it contains the fulness of the gospel? What is the fulness of the gospel, anyway? Well, the Book of Mormon does discuss the gospel, which is the main concern of the Church; but the fulness of the gospel is obviously not the fulness of truth. Our missionaries, who are called to bear witness of the gospel, testify that the Book of Mormon “contains the truth and the word of God,” [15] but no one can reasonably argue that the Book of Mormon contains all truth. The gospel, which is fully contained in the Book of Mormon, is a unique and special kind of truth: it is redemptive truth—the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about man’s redemption from his lost and fallen state. It therefore constitutes the most important truth there is; and it is exactly the kind of truth that the world has always rejected. But the gospel does not include all truth, and the puerile notion that it does, despite its popularity in the Church today, can be traced to platonists like Clement of Alexandria, whose guiding maxim was “All truth belongs to the Gospel.” [16] But scholars like Clement, both in and out of the Church, have always naturalized the supernatural gospel by reconstructing it along secular lines in order to accept it on their own terms; and they “will not admit that there can be more than one kind of inspiration”—namely, theirs. [17] As Hugh Nibley observes, however, “the Saints have always known better. . . . We cannot agree with the Talmudist who says that any opinion expressed by a clever scholar is to be received exactly as if it were the word of God to Moses on Sinai—they are not the same at all. . . . Nor can we agree with the popular academic platitude that since the gospel contains all truth, whatever is taught anywhere, provided only [that] it is true, is the gospel. . . . All knowledge does come, as Brigham Young assures us, by a kind of revelation, but the idea that all things are equally holy, provided only that they are true, is a cheap and easy fallacy that would be the ruin of any science or discipline. . . . The man who makes his own mental processes the equivalent of revelation[from heaven] is straining at a very little gnat, while he swallows a camel.” [18]

The Book of Mormon, accordingly, contains the fulness of the gospel; but it does not contain the fulness of truth. It cannot provide solutions for the myriad problems of all the secular disciplines, although it reveals the principles of righteousness that should obtain even there. It would be an atrocious text for teaching in most academic or professional fields, since it is not directly concerned with the kinds of temporal truth required for teaching secular subject matters: it would therefore be useless, or very nearly so, for teaching the speculative principles, theories, and critical uses of disciplines like journalism, geophysics, medicine, economics, botany, the fine and useful arts, microbiology, engineering, architecture, acoustics, or chemistry. But the fulness of the everlasting gospel—the whole drama of redemption—is presented in the Book of Mormon, which faithfully supplies the eternal truths of revealed religion that are systematically excluded from the natural “religion of culture” [19] in the West. That is essentially what the Lord told Oliver Cowdery, who “wrote” large portions of the Book of Mormon as Joseph’s scribe: [20] “Behold, I have manifested unto you, by my Spirit . . . that the things which you have written are true; wherefore you know that they are true. And if you know [by revelation] that they are t r u e , . . . I give unto you a commandment, that you rely upon the things which are written; for in them are all things written concerning the foundation of my church, my gospel, and my rock” (D&C 18:2–4; emphasis added).

It is not widely known that “the most enlightened Greeks and Romans were all initiates to the Mysteries” of revealed religion because “all of their writings that have reached us have been screened by rationalistic pagan and Christian schoolmen.” [21] The biblical writings all went through the selfsame desacralizing process with the help of Jewish scholarship, since the schools of antiquity, like their Darwinian reincarnations, went far beyond the reformations that preceded them and “took over aggressively and eagerly, completely supplanting their Mantic predecessors.” [22] This takeover is the direct result of metaphysical naturalism, the learned worldview of high antiquity that controlled the Greco-Roman cultures and still controls all forms of Western education.

We ourselves, whether we like it or not, are the heirs of the Greeks and Romans. . . . In a thousand different ways, they are permanently and indestructibly woven into the fabric of our own existences. This has been occasionally questioned . . . [by] increased knowledge of other ancient civilizations. . . . It is now clear how much more the Greeks themselves owed to near-eastern civilizations than we had thought. . . . But it is through the Greeks that these near-eastern elements have been filtered through to us, and . . . the Greco-Roman contribution to our own ways of living and thinking is not diminished by such knowledge. Without that massive contribution we should not be what we are [today]. Its influences crowd in upon us . . . at every level of consciousness The Greeks and Romans lived through . . . events and developments . . . which prefigured and prompted what has . . . happened, what is still happening, and what will happen in the future, to our own lives and . . . communities. [23]

A recent flap over the Dead Sea Scrolls, to cite a current example, has arisen because the actual documents buried at Qumran have been recovered without undergoing the extensive copying and recopying processes controlled by Western schoolmen. The scrolls are thus too “Christian” for Jewish scholars, too “Jewish” for Christian scholars (since they undermine the supposed “originality” of Christianity), and “too much” for pagan scholars. And since this secular editing process has removed the plain and precious truths of revealed religion from virtually all documents surviving from antiquity, any serious attempt to create an authentic Latter-day Saint education must acknowledge that formidable problem and incorporate into itself the restoration of these revealed truths through the work of Joseph Smith. “We must [therefore] be willing,” says President Kimball, “to break with the educational establishment [if necessary], not foolishly or cavalierly, but thoughtfully and for good reason,” in order to do things like this. [24]

Whereas secular religions of culture lack the gospel itself, accordingly, there is nothing essential to the gospel that is missing from the Book of Mormon: it is the most Christ-loving book in existence; and though it doesn’t cover everything, it does contain everything we need to know about the Fall of man, which describes the existential predicament of the human race, and the Atonement of Christ, which provides the only means of redeeming human beings from their lost and fallen predicament. That is the truth of the gospel, and the Book of Mormon contains it fully. The whole drama of redemption from death and sin, which presupposes the actual Fall of all mankind and the infinite Atonement of Jesus Christ, is presented in the Book of Mormon precisely because it contains the fulness of truth about the gospel—not about everything except the gospel. That explains why the Book of Mormon is the very best means available to the Church for converting people to the gospel. “Take away the Book of Mormon and the revelations,” says Joseph Smith, “and where is our religion? We have none.” [25] And why must that be so? It’s because the revealed witness of Jesus Christ, which the Holy Ghost confirms to anyone who has personal knowledge of the Book of Mormon and faith unto repentance, is the key to everything of worth in our religion. Without that witness, needless to say, the Book of Mormon is nothing but paper and ink: it’s only black marks on a white background unless the Spirit of the Lord brings it to life in the hearts and minds of its readers; and reading it is just like reading any other book unless the Holy Ghost informs the reading. The Book of Mormon is thus like everything else in the kingdom: the missionaries, the scriptures, the programs of the Church, anything said or done by any of its stewards (including the visits of home teachers, the labors of stake presidents and bishops, the speeches of the Brethren and their travels around the world, and even the Church itself)—these things count for little if anything unless they function as vehicles of revelation, since the kingdom itself and all of its resources serve only as the means of bringing people in our world into actual contact with the redeeming power of God’s world. Once contact is made, however, we must decide whether we accept it and want more contact because we like its influence, or reject it and want no further contact because we dislike its influence. If we like its influence, of course, we will renew its presence in our lives by seeking it through the scriptures and other resources of the Church; and we will labor willingly in the kingdom because its resources are essential for the redemption of Zion. But if we dislike its influence in our lives, if we turn away from it because it scares us to death, or if we want nothing further to do with it for any reason, then the Church, the Brethren, the missionaries, and the scriptures reduce to zero significance—they don’t mean a thing. [26] That, furthermore, is exactly as it should be, for these things are only redemptive instruments. The machinery of redemption was designed by God as his means of introducing people to the realities of a better world, and by doing that, to secure the redemption of anyone who wants to be redeemed. It cannot redeem anybody else. [27]

The twentieth section of the Doctrine and Covenants presents this same picture of the Book of Mormon. “After it was truly manifested unto [Joseph Smith] . . . that he had received a remission of his sins, he was entangled again in the vanities of the world; but after repenting, and humbling himself sincerely, through faith, God ministered unto him by an holy a n g e l . . . and gave him power from on high . . . to translate the Book of Mormon; which contains a record of a fallen people, and the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ” (D&C 20:5–6, 8–9).

Here again, the doctrines of the Fall and the Atonement characterize the message of the Book of Mormon, which verifies the biblical account of man’s fallen nature and the human need of redemption: it regards all mankind as lost and fallen; but it also shows that “the way is prepared from the fall of man” (2 Ne. 2:4) and bids us take it. The Nephites, Lamanites, and Jaredites, accordingly, were lost and fallen people, even as we are; and their scriptural record was designed to bring the fulness of the gospel into the otherwise hollow existence of human beings. “By these things we know that there is a God in heaven . . . [who] created man, male and female, after his own image and in his own likeness . . . and gave unto them commandments that they should love and serve him, the only living and true God, and that he should be the only being whom they should worship” (D&C 20:17–19). These three directives constitute everything required of Adam and Eve—to love God, to serve God, and to worship God alone; and they are essentially all that is required of us. But neither they nor we have been able to do that, for “by the transgression of these holy laws man became sensual and devilish, and became fallen man” (D&C 20:20); and once our first parents had fallen, they transmitted their fallen nature to their children and ultimately to us. If we kept all of God’s commandments, if we really did that, he would not need to provide an atonement for our sins because we would not be sinful. But God gives commandments and people break them; and thus our need of redemption is absolute: there is no salvation for anyone without a Redeemer who is fully capable of saving us from death and sin. “Wherefore, the Almighty God gave his Only Begotten Son, as it is written in those scriptures which have been given of him. He suffered temptations but gave no heed unto them. He was crucified, died, and rose again the third day; and ascended into heaven, to sit down on the right hand of the Father, to reign with almighty power according to the will of the Father; that as many as would believe and be baptized in his holy name, and endure in faith to the end, should be saved” (D&C 20:21–25).

This states the conditions of redemption for everybody. We know, therefore, “that all men must repent and believe on the name of Jesus Christ, and worship the Father in his name, and endure in faith on his name to the end, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God” (D&C 20:29). It is redemptive information of this kind, which covers every aspect of the gospel, that is contained in the Book of Mormon. That is the point made by the Doctrine and Covenants when it says repeatedly that the Book of Mormon contains the fulness of the gospel: it does not mean that the Book of Mormon contains all truth about everything—it means only that the Book of Mormon contains all truth about the gospel; and it does in fact do that.

The gospel is the foundation of revealed religion, and the Church is its superstructure. Since that relationship cannot be inverted without distorting the whole plan of redemption, those who exalt the Church above the gospel are simply wrong—they have built the basement on top of their house. “If it so be that the church is built upon my gospel,” said the Lord anciently, “then will the Father show forth his own works in it. But if it be not built upon my gospel,” men will “have joy in their works for a season, and by and by the end cometh, and they are hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence there is no return” (3 Ne. 27:10–11). It is only “if you shall build up my church, upon the foundation of my gospel and my rock,” as the Lord said before his modern Church was organized, that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against you” (D&C 18:5). If the Church is not based squarely upon the gospel, accordingly, it is not the Lord’s Church. Thus, it does not become the Latter-day Saints to give primary allegiance to the Church and only secondary allegiance to the gospel. It’s the other way around: we must be faithful above all else to the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; and there is something very wrong with our loyalty to the Church if it is not derived from that. “He that hath the bride,” remember, “is the bridegroom” (John 3:29); and if we are truly loyal to the Church, it is because we are faithful to Christ as the redeemer of his bride, and because our faith in the bridegroom creates in us a strong secondary loyalty to the Church as the bride of Christ.

We will never get our thinking straight about religion unless we actually hear and accept the gospel message of redemption as it is revealed to us by God. The Saints have therefore been warned to beware concerning themselves, and “to give diligent heed to the words of eternal life” (D&C 84:43). This warning is couched in three messages:

Message One—”The word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is . . . the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (D&C 84:45).

Message Two—”The Spirit [of Jesus Christ] giveth light to every man that cometh into the world; and the [same] Spirit [of Jesus Christ] enlighteneth every man . . . that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit” (D&C 84:46; emphasis added).

Message Three—”Every one that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit cometh unto God, even the Father. And the Father teacheth him of the covenant which he has renewed and confirmed upon you . . . for the sake of the whole world” (D&C 84:47–48).

The important distinction of D&C 84:46 is virtually never acknowledged by those who think these statements are about “the Light of Christ,” which they interpret as something in human nature that functions as an internal verifier of some sort or as the human conscience. But there is a tremendous difference between giving light to every man that cometh into the world,” and enlightening every man . . . that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit.” This difference, moreover, is crucial, since the Spirit of Christ “enlighteneth” only those that hearken to the Spirit which enlightens them, whereas the same Spirit of Christ “giveth light” unconditionally to every human being. The great importance of this difference is that only those who hearken to the voice of the Spirit come unto God the Father, and that the Father teaches only them about the New and Everlasting Covenant, which he has revealed anew by restoring the gospel and the Church to the world through Joseph Smith. This covenant, which is also known as the Covenant of the Priesthood, is the same fulness of the gospel that constitutes the subject matter of the Book of Mormon: it contains all of the agreements entered into and accepted by the Savior and his Father before the world was—agreements according to which the universe and man have been created and are being redeemed; [28] and it provides for man’s participation in the New and Everlasting Covenant through the Oath of the Priesthood (D&C 84:39–40). It can be disquieting, after reading that “the Spirit giveth light to every man that cometh into the world,” to learn that the whole world is lost in trespasses and sins. Why, if everyone is lighted by the Spirit of Christ, is everybody sinful? Well, “the Light of Christ” is a doctrine that is not easily understood unless the natural and redemptive functions of the same light are distinguished. [29] But if we make this distinction and reread D&C 84:46, the Spirit clearly “giveth light” to everybody but “enlighteneth” only those who hearken; and this means that the provision of natural light to everyone does not redeem anybody. It is the redemptive function of the Spirit of Christ that redeems us, not its natural function, which only establishes the possibility of redemption. Thus, “the whole world lieth in sin, and groaneth under darkness and under the bondage of sin. And by this you may know they are under the bondage of sin, because they come not unto me. For whoso cometh not unto me is under the bondage of sin. . . . And by this you may know the righteous from the wicked, and that the whole world groaneth under sin and darkness even now” (D&C 84:49–51, 53).

That condemns everybody, with only few exceptions, [30] for “light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). Good and evil people can thus be distinguished only by their relationship to the Lord: the good come to God through Christ, and the evil do not, “for every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest” (John 3:20–21). Acceptance or rejection of the light is one of the most important ways we can tell the righteous from the wicked (see D&C 93:31; l Jn. 1:57).

The Lord, who thus condemns the world for its sinfulness, also condemns the Church for its worldliness. Because “darkness covereth the earth, and gross darkness the minds of the people,” he told his apostles, “all flesh has become corrupt before my face” (D&C 112:23). The world, accordingly, must be cleansed; and the cleansing must commence with his church. “Behold, vengeance cometh speedily upon the inhabitants of the earth, a day of wrath, . . . of burning , . . . of desolation, of weeping, of mourning, and of lamentation; and as a whirlwind it shall come upon all the face of the earth . . . . And upon my house shall it begin, and from my house shall it go forth . . . ; first among those among you, saith the Lord, who have professed to know my name and have not known me, and have blasphemed against me in the midst of my house” (D&C 112:24–26).

This means, of course, that there were unrighteous stewards in the Church in the 1830s; and since they are always found in the Church, this early revelation continues to describe many of the Latter-day Saints who are called to stewardships in the Church by the hundreds of thousands along the Wasatch Front and elsewhere. Their zeal for God is often intense, but their ways are not always heavenly ways. This pinpoints a common failing among the “Saints,” who have had to learn the hard way that the power of God cannot be utilized for pursuing their own selfish ends because the secular knowledge that enables men to exercise power over this world does not govern the powers of heaven. “It is the nature and disposition of almost all men,” says Joseph Smith, that “as soon as they get a little authority . . . [they] immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion,” adding that the Latter-day Saints “have learned [this] by sad experience” (D&C 121:39); and he warns the Saints repeatedly about the evils of manipulative thinking, reminding them that if they are called without being chosen it is “because their hearts are set so much on the things of this world . . . that they do not learn this one lesson—that. .. the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness” (D&C 121:34–38). And the Lord himself, finally, puts his finger squarely on the worst sins of the Latter-day Saints. “Your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received—which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation. And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all” (D&C 84:54–56).

These are the major sins of the Latter-day Saints: we are guilty of unbelief because we do not have the faith we should have; and we are guilty of vanity because we take the wrong things seriously and treat the wrong things lightly. Thus, we worry constantly about our behavioral sins—and neglect the sins of vanity and unbelief that darken our minds and diminish the light of the gospel in our lives. We excel as doers, for we can out-Pharisee the Pharisees when it comes to doing this or that in the Church and feeling “good” about it. But the Lord does not accuse us of behavioral sins: it is the fundamental problem of unbelief, the bewildering lack of faith, that confounds the Latter-day Saints; and make no mistake about it: the sin of unbelief is more basic than the behavioral sins that flourish in its wake. And what about the sins of vanity and of treating lightly the things we have received? Vanitas, remember, means “emptiness,” the opposite of “fulness.” If we forsake the fulness of the gospel to seek the world’s vanities it can only be because we take the things of man too seriously and the things of God too lightly. The things we have received from God, moreover, not only include everything restored to us through Joseph Smith but refer explicitly to the Book of Mormon as the heart and soul of the Restoration. This means, among other things, that the Latter-day Saints have never taken the Book of Mormon seriously: we do not take it seriously even today, and herein lies the supreme expression of our vanity. I am reluctant to characterize the Latter-day Saints as vain or as disdaining the gifts of God; but our vanities are known to the Lord, and I cannot bring myself to contradict him on this or on any other point. There’s no use citing hundreds of instances that could be interpreted as symptoms of Latter-day Saint vanity, for we find the strongest evidence of sinfulness in our own souls; but this sin tops them all, for treating the Book of Mormon lightly, or worse still, making light of the Book of Mormon, has brought the whole Church under condemnation. “And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them . . . otherwise, there remaineth a scourge and judgment to be poured out upon the children of Zion” (D&C 84:57–58).

That condemnation is permanent, apparently, unless we “repent and remember the new covenant,” which is specifically identified with the doctrinal content of the Book of Mormon [31] and with the revelations of the Doctrine and Covenants. [32] The new covenant, of course, is the New and Everlasting Covenant of Redemption, the contractual agreements between the Savior and his Father which create the whole plan of salvation: [33] it is “new” only because it has been revealed anew, for it was established before the world was formed and is literally older than the hills; and its eternal significance constitutes the subject matter of the Book of Mormon, which is attested to the Church by the Doctrine and Covenants. Joseph Smith was to deliver that sacred subject matter “unto the children of men”; and “this unbelieving and stiff necked generation,” he was told explicitly, “shall have my word through you” (D&C 5:6, 8,10). The Lord has also told his Church that “the fulness of the gospel” is found “in the Bible and the Book of Mormon” (D&C 42:12), [34] that “there are none that doeth good except those who are ready to receive the fulness of my gospel,” and that “I have sent forth the fulness of my gospel by the hand of my servant Joseph” (D&C 35:12,17). Our choices are therefore clear: if we do not repent and remember the new covenant, or in other words, if we do not take the doctrines and practices of the King and of his Kingdom seriously, “there remaineth a scourge and judgment to be poured out upon the children of Zion” (D&C 84:58). I cannot make choices for other Latter-day Saints; but I believe in my own heart that we are inviting the wrath of God to fall upon us if we do not speedily repent of our vanity and unbelief and remember the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants.

The Nauvoo House, of all things, is involved in an interesting way with the vanity and unbelief of the Latter-day Saints. Elaborate directions for its construction were given by the Lord, who ordered it built for housing Joseph and his family and “for the boarding of strangers” (D&C 124:56). It was to be “a delightful habitation for man, and a resting-place for the weary traveler” (D&C 124:60). A quorum was organized to build it, and its members were instructed to provide financing by selling stock in amounts not less than $50 or more than $15,000 per stockholder. Then, after swimming through oceans of particulars about the Nauvoo House, [35] we come upon the following: “Let no man pay stock to the quorum of the Nauvoo House unless he shall be a believer in the Book of Mormon, and [in] the revelations I have given unto you. . . . For that which is more or less than this cometh of evil, and shall be attended with cursings and not blessings, saith the Lord” (D&C 124:119–20).

We are thus told suddenly, and point-blank, that the Lord did not want money from any of the Latter-day Saints under any circumstances for building the Nauvoo House unless they were believers in the Book of Mormon and in the Doctrine and Covenants. So, what goes on here? Selling stock was necessary, wasn’t it? Isn’t that the purpose for which the quorum of the Nauvoo House was organized? Why, then, should buying stock in the Nauvoo House involve anyone in evil and elicit curses from the Lord for doing it? Well, the Lord has charged his “Saints” with the sin of unbelief; but they have taken that charge lightly, and he is serious about it. We have talked ourselves into believing that we can do everything the Saints of God have always done without having the faith they have always had—that we can observe the practices of revealed religion, in other words, without accepting the principles of the gospel; and that is blatantly false. The situation regarding the Nauvoo House, furthermore, is fully generalizable, since faith in the King must always precede and generate good works in the kingdom. This principle, accordingly, functions as the criterion for evaluating the actions of any person who does anything at all in the Church. Can we be cursed, then, for going to the welfare farm? According to this we can. When the bishop calls us to do anything in the ward he is supposedly calling people who already have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and in the prophetic mission of Joseph Smith. If we do things like going to the welfare farm, therefore, or supporting missionaries in the field, it should be because we believe in the Savior and in his prophet; and if we do not believe in them, we are in the same boat with those who purchased stock in the Nauvoo House without believing in the Book of Mormon or the Doctrine and Covenants and got cursings instead of blessings for their folly. Now, that is a very scary thing! We are dead wrong if we think we can just do this or that in the Church because our quorum adviser or Relief Society president or bishop or somebody else asks us to do it, and that’s all there is to it—that we are not really required to believe in the divine life and mission of Jesus Christ, or the realities of life in this fallen world, or the restoration of the gospel and the kingdom of God through the Prophet Joseph Smith. If we do not believe in these things, then we can indeed be condemned for doing what we do in the Church. Is there any other way to read this? It is crucially important that we believe in these things and repent of our sins before the Lord. The sins of vanity and unbelief that plague the Latter-day Saints are deadly, for they feed the behavioral sins which thrive on them. We must never forget the tragic story of the Nauvoo House: the tragedy is not what became of it, but what the Saints became when they banked on it without believing in the things of God.

Virtually everything we have observed thus far is epitomized in three additional sections of the Doctrine and Covenants. Sections 1 and 20, first of all, provide the following pertinent overview: “I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments; and also gave commandments to others, that they should proclaim these things unto the world;. . . that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh—but that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world; that faith also might increase in the earth; that mine everlasting covenant might be established; [and] that the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world” (D&C 1:17–23).

It is important to note that Joseph was not alone in his labors, for working with him in the kingdom were others who received commandments from on high, spoke in the name of the Lord, delivered the message of the Restoration, heralded the New and Everlasting Covenant, proclaimed the fulness of the gospel, and nourished the seedlings of faith in the hearts of men. “Having received the record of the Nephites,” therefore, Joseph was able “to translate through the mercy . . . [and] power of God, the Book of Mormon”; and “those to whom these commandments were given” also received “power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness” (D&C 1:29–30). Joseph was thus assisted not only by scribes like Oliver Cowdery, but by others who solemnly attested the validity of his mission.

[The Book of Mormon] was given by inspiration, and is confirmed to others by the ministering of angels, and is declared unto the world by them—proving to the world that the holy scriptures are true, and that God does inspire men and call them to his holy work in this age. . . . Therefore, having so great witnesses [to the coming forth of the Book of Mormon], by them shall the world be judged, even as many as shall hereafter come to a knowledge of this work. And those who receive it in faith, and work righteousness, shall receive a crown of eternal life; but those who harden their hearts in unbelief, and reject it, it shall turn to their own condemnation—for the Lord God has spoken it; and we, the elders of the church, have heard and bear witness (D&C 20:10–11,13–16).

That is a marvelous summary of the Restoration, and D&C 135 contains another one. This section was written by Elder John Taylor after the prophet and his brother were murdered; and it, too, describes the work of Joseph Smith in terms of his theological and ecclesiastical functions, which are directly related to the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants.

To seal the testimony of this book [of Doctrine and Covenants] and the Book of Mormon, we announce the martyrdom of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and Hyrum Smith the Patriarch. They were shot in Carthage jail, on the 27th of June, 1844, . . . by an armed mob—painted black. . . .

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 the 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 fulness 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; . . . 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. . . .

The testators are now dead, and their testament is in force.. ..

And henceforward their names will be classed among the martyrs of religion; and the reader in every nation will be reminded that the Book of Mormon, and this book of Doctrine and Covenants of the church, cost the best blood of the nineteenth century to bring them forth for the salvation of a ruined world (D&C 135:1, 3, 5–6).

And there we have it: that is what constitutes the work of Joseph Smith. Whatever else he did may have its own importance; but by far the most important thing about him is the fact that he was assigned this double mission, the twin tasks of restoring the eternal principles of the gospel, which are in the Book of Mormon, and the temporal practices of the Church, which are in the Doctrine and Covenants.

This distinction between eternal principles and temporal practices is supremely important for anyone who essays to teach revealed religion by the Spirit of the Lord. It is crucial because “ the elders, priests and teachers of this church shall teach the principles of my gospel, which are in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, in the which is the fulness of the gospel. And they shall observe the covenants and church articles to do them, and these shall be their teachings as they shall be directed by the Spirit” (D&C 42:12–13; emphasis added; cf. D&C 33:14). [36]

Our teachers should be teaching the principles of the gospel, in other words, and observing the practices of the Church while they are doing it, for they, like “every person who belongeth to this church of Christ, shall observe to keep all the commandments and covenants of the church” (D&C 42:78); those who are taught should do likewise by learning the same principles and observing the same practices; and in this way, “he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together” (D&C 50:22; see D&C 50:13–24 for fuller information about both ends of this inspired teaching-learning process). We are not to teach the practices of the Church in isolation, mind you, while ignoring the principles of the gospel, although many teachers seem unable to teach in any other way. [37] Remember, saith the Lord to all who teach in his Church, that “the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach” (D&C 42:14), for revealed religion cannot be taught in any other way.

Thus, the Lord uses a theological account of the Nephite ministry, which he recorded and controlled through ancient prophets, to clarify and explain the fulness of the gospel by retrieving the Book of Mormon from the bowels of the earth as the doctrinal standard of the Restoration; and he also uses the Church as his best means of ensuring that the gospel is properly taught to the children of men. That is what Joseph Smith is all about: the thing about him that really matters is the dual nature of his prophetic mission; and everything else about him is subordinate to this. In the end, perhaps, he said it best himself. After waiting “in Kirtland to be endowed, . . . the elders would go forth, and each m u s t . . . go in all meekness, in sobriety, and preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified; [they are] not to contend with others on account of their faith, but [to] pursue a steady course. This I delivered by way of commandment; and all who observe it not, will pull down persecution upon their heads, while those who do [it], shall always be filled with the Holy Ghost; this I pronounced as a prophecy, and sealed with hosanna and amen.” [38]

The prophet also asked and answered a list of twenty questions, which he published in order to avoid “the trouble of repeating the same a thousand times over and over again.” The final and most basic question in the list was: “What are the fundamental principles of your religion?” And he gave the following important answer: “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.” [39]

We often seem to think that appendages to the gospel are the fundamental realities of our religion—as though by-products of the gospel were more important than the gospel itself! That, of course, is categorically false, for Christ is the vine, we are the branches, and apart from Him we can do nothing (see John 15:1–7); and nothing makes this plainer than the dual nature of the work Joseph Smith was called to do: the principles of the gospel are revealed in the Book of Mormon; and all of the redemptive machinery required for promulgating the gospel was restored when the prophet reestablished the kingdom of God on earth. We must never lose track of these two functions of Joseph’s mission: they are what he was for, since they constitute the basic elements of the work he was commanded by the Lord to do. And we should take advice from one of his most important sayings: “A fanciful and flowery and heated imagination beware of; because the things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity—thou must commune with God.” [40]

There is a sonnet, finally, that accurately summarizes the work of Joseph Smith. It was written by my oldest son, David, after he returned to BYU from his mission.

The Work of Joseph Smith

By David C. Wright

The fulness of the gospel was obscured,

And God remained in heaven, people said;

Till one day revelation was restored,

And then the morning broke, the shadows fled.

In answer to the youthful Joseph’s search

Divine commandments from Jehovah came,

To lay the sure foundation of his church,

The fulness of his gospel to proclaim.

For this the Book of Mormon was revealed.

Its message of redemption marks the birth

Of God’s concluding harvest in the field,

And pruning in the vineyards of the earth.

Thus, with the Father’s witness of his Son,

The final dispensation was begun. [41]


[1] From the last sentence in the fourth paragraph of the “Explanatory Introduction” to the Doctrine and Covenants, which has no pagination.

[2] The Book of Mormon attitude toward history is stated in 1 Nephi 6:1–6; 9:2–4; 19:1–6; 2 Nephi 4:14–15; 5:29–33; and Jacob 1:1–4. These statements are discussed by Boyd K. Packer in the Ensign, May 1986, 59–61.

[3] Cf. 2 Nephi 5:33: “If my people desire to know the more particular part of the history of my people they must search mine other plates.”

[4] Joseph’s alignment with the Book of Mormon, of course, involves “expounding all scriptures unto the church” (D&C 24:5; emphasis added), including his work with the Books of Abraham and Moses, his inspired revisions of Bible texts, and so forth.

[5] This sentence was originally intended to discourage my missionary son from discussing with other missionaries the theories of a BYU professor about eternal progression and the King Follett discourse. See below, note 41.

[6] I am myself an example of this folly. I have been an avid reader of the scriptures from my youth. I have studied them a lot—a real lot—in several languages; but for some reason, which can only be explained as a kind of blindness, I have lived too many of my days without understanding the dual nature of the prophet Joseph’s mission as it is explained in the Doctrine and Covenants. I have studied and taught the Book of Mormon at BYU more than I have taught the Doctrine and Covenants; and I acknowledge, too, that I have joshed with teachers of the Doctrine and Covenants over the years, telling them, for example, that I had the advantage over them because the Book of Mormon is discussed at length in the Doctrine and Covenants, whereas the Doctrine and Covenants is not even mentioned in the Book of Mormon—something I have since learned from President Benson is not quite true; see 2 Ne. 13:38–41 and 3 Ne. 27:25–26. I once got a laugh in a faculty meeting, believe it or not, by calling the Doctrine and Covenants “a marvelous soporific” and saying “you can read it when you have insomnia and it will put you to sleep!” That was lighthearted banter, of course, as I truly love the Doctrine and Covenants; and I am chagrined to realize that, for so many years, I failed completely to understand its solid alignment with the redemptive content of Joseph Smith’s prophetic mission.

[7] See my article, “Ancient Burials of Metal Documents in Stone Boxes—Their Implications for Library History,” Journal of Library History 16, no. 1 (winter 1981), 48–70. This article was reprinted in Donald G. Davis, ed., Libraries and Culture (“Proceedings of Library History Seminar VI,” 19–22 March 1980 [Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981]), 48–70, and has been reprinted a second time by the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, catalog no. WRI-81. An expanded version of the article has also appeared as a forty-two-page booklet entitled Ancient Burials of Metallic Foundation Documents in Stone Boxes (“Occasional Papers,” no. 157, December, 1982; Urbana- Champaign, 111.: University of Illinois, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, 1983), which has been republished under its original title in John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks, eds., By Study and also by Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1990), vol. 2, pp. 273–334.

[8] Cf. Edward Pessen, Jacksonian America; Society, Personality, and Politics (Rev. ed.; Urbana 111.: University of Illinois Press, 1985), 145–46, who notes that “bank failures were disturbingly common” in the Jacksonian era and describes “the difficulties presented by the circulation of a chaos of currencies, some of them backed by a prayer—as was literally a Mormon bank established in Ohio in 1837 with hardly any capital—and subject to drastic depreciation.”

[9] There are also numerous references (like D&C 21:9) to laboring and laborers in the Lord’s vineyard in the Doctrine and Covenants.

[10] See the heading to section 3 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

[11] The term “Nephites” here includes Jacobites, Josephites, and Zoramites, just as “Lamanites” includes Lemuelites and Ishmaelites. Genetic mixtures of all these Book of Mormon peoples occur among their survivors, who are known collectively as “Lamanites” today.

[12] “Of course, every human being [including Joseph Smith] is a sinner. No man or woman ever lived on this earth, excepting the Son of God, who was not a sinner. The Presidency of this Church, the Twelve Apostles and all the Prophets that ever lived upon this earth are and have been sinners. It is one of the consequences of the fall. We are [all] subject to sin and temptation,” George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truth: Discourses and Writings of George Q. Cannon, ed. Jerreld L. Newquist (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1987), 1:127.

[13] Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1938), 216.

[14] Joseph Smith—History 1:34. Joseph thus learned this important fact about the Book of Mormon on 21 September 1823, four years before the golden plates were given him on 22 September 1827, seven years before the church was organized, and twelve years before there was a Doctrine and Covenants. The Lord also reminded Joseph of this fact in August 1830, saying: “The hour cometh that I will drink of the fruit of the vine with you on the earth, and with Moroni, whom I have sent unto you to reveal the Book of Mormon, containing the fulness of my everlasting gospel” (D&C 27:5).

[15] As the Lord told Martin Harris in D&C 19:26.

[16] Hugh Nibley, The World and the Prophets (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1962), 67

[17] Ibid., 27–28.

[18] Ibid., 28.

[19] The sophic antigospel, which constitutes the secular traditions of western Europe and elsewhere, is called the “religion of culture” by Charles Norris Cochrane, Christianity and Classical Culture; a Study of Thought and Action from Augustus to Augustine (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 29.

[20] Oliver Cowdery may be compared to J. Reuben Clark Jr., who once quipped that he “wrote” the Articles of Faith because he did—as James E. Talmage’s secretary.

[21] Hugh Nibley, The Ancient State: The Rulers and the Ruled, ed. Donald W. Parry and Stephen D. Ricks, “The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley,” v. 10 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1991), 321, adding that “it is indeed remarkable that in all the [ancient] literature we fail to find any derogatory remark or witticism about the Mysteries”—especially since Aristophanes and other comic playwrights were always lampooning Greek “natural” religion from the Athenian stage.

[22] Ibid., 405.

[23] Michael Grant, The Founders of the Western World: A History of Greece and Rome (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1991), 1; emphasis added. “Greece and Rome are uniquely able to help us . . . since not only were they our spiritual ancestors but theirs are the only past civilizations spread out for our detailed inspection all the way from beginning to end—from the birth of the historical west in c. 1000 B.C. until its convulsion, fifteen hundred years later, which led directly into our own world. All of us who look at the Greeks and Romans w i l l . . . [discover] much about the conditions of our own times, and . . . about ourselves,” ibid., 2. This is the ubiquitous biased view of Greco- Roman naturalistic spirituality, which sees no value at all in revealed spirituality derived from the ancient Near East.

[24] Spencer W. Kimball, “Second Century Address,” BYU Studies, 16, no. 4 (summer 1976), 453.

[25] History of the Church, 2:52.

[26] I am indebted to Chauncey Riddle for meaningful discussions about the scriptures, and indeed about all resources of the Church, as the means of making contact with the other world, and for his remarkable insights into the important decisions that contact imposes upon us.

[27] According to Alma 11:40–41, Christ “shall come into the world to redeem his people . . . [and] shall take upon him the transgressions of those who believe on his name; . . . and salvation cometh to none else. Therefore the wicked remain as though there had been no redemption made, except it be the loosing of the bands of death”—which is accomplished solely by the Resurrection.

[28] See John Taylor, Mediation and Atonement (Salt Lake City: Stevens & Wallis, 1950), 96–97,106–7,166–67.

[29] The redemptive function of the Spirit of Christ is discussed in section 84 of the Doctrine and Covenants, whereas its natural function is discussed in section 88.

[30] The main ones being little children and those who die without law. Both of these special groups, however, are automatically redeemed (without preconditions of faith, repentance, or rebirth) through the Atonement of Christ, not through the absence of sin in human nature. Thus, an angel told King Benjamin, speaking of little children, that “as in Adam, or by nature, they fall, even so the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins” (Mosiah 3:16; emphasis added). Thus, little children, who fall “when they begin to grow up” as “sin conceiveth in their hearts,” according to Moses 6:55, are pure before God because of the Atonement, not because they are sinless, for the blood of Christ could not atone for their sins if they had no sins to atone for. The same is true of all who are redeemed without preconditions by the Atonement of Christ.

[31] This covenant is also identified with the Book of Mormon in D&C 39:11, 66:2, and 133:57.

[32] The “former commandments,” which I have interpreted as referring to the Doctrine and Covenants, could refer to the Bible (which was also given to the Saints by God), or possibly to both the Doctrine and Covenants and the Bible. The most likely reference, I think, is to the Doctrine and Covenants, although I am not sure of that and have no way of resolving this ambiguity with certainty.

[33] See note 28, above, and its accompanying text.

[34] Cf. the First Vision (1820), in which the prophet was told that the ancient church “had administered the fulness of the gospel,” which “was no longer on the earth, paragraph 4 of the “Explanatory Introduction” to the Doctrine and Covenants, which lacks pagination.

[35] In more than sixty verses of D&C 124:56–118, plus verses 121–22.

[36] It is fairly clear from these and related references in Church history that the covenants and articles of the Church are what we would call “practices” of the Church today.

[37] I was taught that way in my youth; and while I have not exactly rebelled against that kind of teaching, I do get tired of it, and it is a large part of the reason why, in teaching Book of Mormon at BYU for over three decades, I have emphasized redemptive principles while observing (and encouraging students to observe) the practices of the Church.

[38] Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 109.

[39] Ibid., 121; emphasis added.

[40] Ibid., 137; emphasis added.

[41] This paper has been edited from a cassette tape I recorded during the first week of February 1981 for David, who was then a missionary in Taiwan. Some of the elders were having heavy discussions about a paper on eternal progression and the King Follett discourse by a BYU professor, and David had written me for information on these subjects. I made the tape in order to discourage him from speculations of this kind, and to emphasize what I felt was essential for a missionary to know about Joseph Smith. David wrote this sonnet in a paper for a Book of Mormon class he took from me at BYU after returning from his mission. I had made an assignment from the tape I recorded for him which required students (1) to read everything the Doctrine and Covenants says about the Book of Mormon in sections 1:17–33; 18:15; 19:26–27; 20:5–36; 24:1–9,13–19; 27:5–14; 33:4–16; 42:11–17; 84:43–59; 124:56–122; and 135:1–7, (2) to “listen to a discussion of this material, entitled The Work of Joseph Smith, which I recorded for my missionary son in Taiwan some time ago,” and (3) to write a one-page paper on the subject: “Why, according to the Doctrine and Covenants, did the Lord reveal the Book of Mormon?” David, of course, had an advantage over other students in the class, since he knew far better than they what I hoped would come of this assignment. Nevertheless, in the unbiased, objective judgment of his doting father, he wrote me one of the finest papers I have ever received from a student in any Book of Mormon class. I was simply stunned, needless to say, by this sonnet, which accurately summarizes the basic elements in the picture of the Book of Mormon presented by the Doctrine and Covenants without succumbing to the tyranny of form.