The Divine Mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith
Kevin W. Pearson, "The Divine Mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith," Religious Educator 24, no. 2 (2023): 1–13.
Elder Kevin W. Pearson, a member of the First Quorum of Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, delivered this devotional address on March 22, 2023.
Elder Kevin W. Pearson. Courtesy of Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
Keywords: Joseph Smith, prophets, missionary work
My dear young brothers and sisters, Sister Pearson and I are so grateful that you would join us for this special devotional. Thank you for coming. We express our love for you and pray for the influence of the Holy Ghost as we discuss your preparation to serve the Lord as full-time missionaries.
Speaking to each one of you, President Russell M. Nelson has said, “You are among the best the Lord has ever sent to this world. You have the capacity to be smarter and wiser and have more impact on the world than any previous generation!”
Have you given serious thought to what that means for you? What is your capacity? President Nelson further added, “You were sent to earth at this precise time, the most crucial time in the history of the world, to help gather Israel. There is nothing happening on this earth right now that is more important than that. There is nothing of greater consequence. Absolutely nothing. This gathering should mean everything to you. This is the mission for which you were sent to earth.”
That is a very bold statement. I testify to you that it is true. I add my own testimony that serving a mission is one of the most important decisions you will ever make. It will be crucial to your ability to realize your potential and capacity to be smarter and wiser and to make a significant difference in your life. It takes faith to serve, but as you will discover, it takes even more faith to succeed. “Faith is a gift of God bestowed as a reward for personal righteousness. It is always given when righteousness is present, and the greater the measure of obedience to God’s laws the greater will be the endowment of faith.”
I hope you will choose to qualify for a great endowment of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. You have demonstrated your willingness to serve. Your success will be determined by your willingness to serve with all your heart, might, mind and strength. If you put limits on your willingness, it will limit your faith and spiritual power. Your willingness is crucial! What are you willing to do?
We have come to earth to reconfirm our determination to become lifelong disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, and to place him and our sacred covenants at the center of our lives. That is the single most important decision you will ever make in your life! The way you serve your mission will determine what you do for the rest of your life!
To fully prepare you to serve, each of you will be endowed in the temple and “armed with [spiritual] power” (see Doctrine and Covenants 109:22). You will be set apart by your stake president and given priesthood authority to preach the gospel by the power of the Holy Ghost. “The Book of Mormon, combined with the Spirit, [will be] your most powerful resource in conversion”—your own and those you will teach. The “central purpose of the Book of Mormon is to convince all people that Jesus is the Christ.” “If the Book of Mormon is true, then Jesus is the Christ, Joseph Smith was his prophet, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true, and it is being led today by a prophet receiving revelation.” Therefore, the single most important thing you can do to prepare to serve is to receive, by the power of the Holy Ghost, your own testimony that the Book of Mormon is true. I encourage you to read it every single day!
A Case for the Divine Calling of Joseph Smith
I would like to make a case for the divine calling of Joseph Smith. It has been said that “we love them the most who we know the best.” I suspect that each of you believes that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, and that through him the Father and the Son initiated the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. But tonight, I pray that the Holy Ghost will deepen your understanding of Joseph Smith and that you will come to know him and love him even more, so that you will have a greater desire and capacity to bear powerful spiritual witness of him. Speaking of Joseph Smith, the Lord declared, “This generation shall have my word through you” (Doctrine and Covenants 5:10).
President Russell M. Nelson once emphasized,
The 1838 account of the visitation of the Father and the Son is recorded in the Pearl of Great Price. It was approved by the Church as scripture. This means that it is the “will of the Lord, . . . the mind of the Lord, [and] . . . the word of the Lord” to the Saints (see D&C 68:4). No one can be a member of the Church in full faith who does not accept this testimony of Joseph Smith as a truth. . . . The reality of that appearance is just as central to our theology as our declaration and belief in the atonement and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie declared, “The great question which all men [and women] in our day must answer—and that at the peril of their own salvation—is: Was Joseph Smith called of God… Now, let there be no misunderstanding. We are witnesses of Christ. He is our Savior” and Redeemer, and there is no other name given under heaven whereby men and women may be saved. This is his Church. It bears his name. But, continuing, Elder McConkie stated, “We are also witnesses of Joseph Smith, by whom we know of Christ, and who is his legal administrator to whom power was given to bind on earth and seal in heaven, that all men [and women] from his day forward might be heirs of salvation. We link the names of Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith in our testimonies.”
Therefore, it is crucial that each of us has a personal testimony of the divine calling and miraculous work of the Prophet Joseph Smith. May I suggest several reasons why?
- Joseph was chosen and prepared before the foundation of the world to lead the last dispensation of time, to restore the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and to make the blessings of the new and everlasting covenant available to all on both sides of the veil.
- He is the supreme witness of God the Eternal Father and the Lord Jesus Christ in this dispensation. Both have appeared to and spoken with him.
- No human being in ancient or modern times has brought forward more scripture regarding the message and reality of Jesus Christ.
- A personal testimony helps inoculate us from the relentless and intensifying attacks on Joseph Smith and his character, and is crucial in helping us become lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ.
As an eighteen-year-old freshman attending the University of Utah, I believed that Joseph Smith was a prophet; however, I didn’t really know much about Joseph Smith. I had a very wise mother who invited me to attend an adult education class on ancient and modern prophets taught at our ward. My mother realized that in a short period of time I would likely be serving a mission and would be teaching about Joseph Smith, the First Vision, and the Book of Mormon. So she encouraged me to attend the class with her. Like many eighteen-year-olds, I resisted and suggested I was too busy attending my own classes. I will never forget my dear mother getting right in my face and asking, “Do you love me?” “Yes,” I responded, “you know that I love you.” “Then attend the class with me tonight,” she pressed. “The topic is ‘The Divine Role of the Prophet Joseph Smith.’”
Well, I couldn’t say no after that, so I went. We sat together on the back row by the exit door, so that I could leave if I became bored. I will never forget that evening. The instructor was well prepared and provided an interesting and engaging outline of Joseph’s life and family. I was learning things I had never heard before about his life and his mission. I found myself completely immersed in the discussion. When the instructor ended his discourse by reciting Joseph’s account of the First Vision, I experienced a powerful personal witness by the Holy Ghost that the Father and the Son did in fact appear to Joseph. I knew for myself in that very moment, in a powerful and undeniable way I had never before experienced. It was true and I knew it. And I realized, in that moment, that I had always known it was true.
That experience proved to be crucial in the early days of my mission in Helsinki, Finland. The Finnish language was extremely challenging for me to learn. For several weeks, the only contribution I could make to the lessons was reciting the memorized outline of Joseph’s First Vision and adding my personal testimony. Because my language was so limited, I am not sure anyone fully understood what I was trying to say, but every time I rehearsed that experience and bore a heartfelt testimony, the Holy Ghost reconfirmed to me in my heart that it was true. That witness saved me during those early days, and it has stayed with me all these years since.
Do you know for yourself that Joseph Smith was called of God? You are entitled to that witness, and I invite you tonight to let the Holy Ghost bear witness to you that Joseph Smith is a Prophet of God, divinely called and ordained to restore the fullness of the gospel in this, the last dispensation of times. Your personal testimony is crucial to your success as a missionary and to your ultimate destiny.
Dear brothers and sisters, we will be sending you to places you have never been before, to meet and to learn to love people you have never met before, and to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ as his personal representative, which you have never done before. We are asking more of you than you have ever been asked to give—to sacrifice and to work harder than you have ever done before. You are going to meet individuals who will challenge your message and seek to undermine your testimonies with attacks on the Savior and his restored gospel and on the Prophet Joseph Smith and his character. It has always been so, and it always will be. It is what the Savior himself and his early Apostles faced every day of their ministry and were ultimately killed for. It is what Joseph Smith faced almost every day of his life, and it is the reason why he and Hyrum were ultimately murdered.
That is why it is crucial that you have a personal witness of the Lord Jesus Christ and of the divine calling and miraculous work of the Prophet Joseph Smith. If you do not yet possess this witness, I invite you to pray with all the energy of heart until you receive it.
If you and I are going to represent and defend the Lord Jesus Christ and his restored gospel and the prophetic role of Joseph Smith, then we need to anticipate that we will also experience some opposition as missionaries and disciples of Jesus Christ. If we are going to place the Savior at the center of our lives and keep our sacred covenants, we need to expect some opposition. To remain faithful, we need to know the Lord Jesus Christ and we need to know the Prophet Joseph Smith. It is not enough to know about them, we need to know them. We love them the most who we know the best! We want you to personally know and love the Lord Jesus Christ, and to personally know and love his Prophet, Joseph Smith.
Brothers, in two years, you will have at least 700 hours of dedicated personal study time. Sisters, you will have 525 hours of dedicated personal study time. Do you think you could come to know the Savior and his life, mission, teachings, and Atonement in that time? Could you come to know Joseph Smith and his divine role in the Restoration in that time? You can if you commit yourself, use your time wisely, and learn how to learn by the power of the Holy Ghost. You will be set apart to have special access to the teaching, directing, comforting, and converting power of the Holy Ghost. Are you willing?
At the time of Moroni’s first visit, Joseph is seventeen years old, he has no formal education, and he lives in a small obscure town in upstate New York. But he learns that he will be known for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues (see Joseph Smith—History 1:33). Just think of that! His entire life he will face rejection, ridicule, and relentless attacks on his character that ultimately will result in his cold-blooded murder, along with that of his brother Hyrum, by a mob of angry men. This is no ordinary young man!
So Who Is Joseph Smith?
Let’s start by understanding who he isn’t. Joseph is not some random fourteen-year-old boy who just happens to be the first one to pray out loud about which church he should join. No. The story of Joseph Smith begins much, much earlier. Joseph was chosen long before he was born. In the premortal existence, before the very foundation of the world, Joseph distinguished himself as one of the most intelligent and trusted sons of God the Eternal Father. He grew in spiritual stature to a level few would equal. Among all the great and noble spirits, Joseph was chosen and ordained to be the prophet of the last and greatest dispensation of time (see Abraham 3:22–23). Joseph is and has always been extraordinary and almost without equal from before the very beginning of time. God chose him and prepared him from the beginning. He is not a random uneducated boy. He was born in 1805 in Sharon, Vermont, because that is precisely when and where God planned to initiate the Restoration of the fullness of times. God chose him from the very beginning. This was according to a divine plan, established by God himself and his beloved Son, Jesus Christ.
Notwithstanding Joseph’s glorious foreordination, he still needed much preparation and divine tutoring. Joseph was visited by Moroni twenty-plus times. He was visited by every ancient prophet from the Old Testament and the New Testament, and by every prophet in the Book of Mormon. He was visited by the Father and the Son on four other occasions, and by the Savior on another four occasions. He was tutored and ministered to repeatedly by over sixty recorded divine messengers who helped him to develop a level of spiritual and intellectual understanding and capacity beyond any previous prophet.
Joseph is also a very young man, but just think about what Heavenly Father and the Savior accomplished through him!
- At age fourteen the Father and the Son appear and speak to him.
- At age seventeen Moroni first visits and begins to tutor Joseph.
- At age twenty-one Joseph finally obtains the plates.
- At age twenty-three John the Baptist, Peter, James, and John restore the priesthood keys.
- At age twenty-three the Book of Mormon is translated, completed, and published.
- At age twenty-four the Church is organized, and Joseph Smith receives Doctrine and Covenants 20 on Church Government.
- At age twenty-five he has received over half of the sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, including the Doctrine and Covenants 84 revelation on the priesthood, and led the Saints to Kirtland, Ohio.
- At age twenty-six he organizes the First Presidency, dedicates the Kirtland Temple, and receives the Doctrine and Covenants 76 vision on degrees of glory.
- At age twenty-six he receives Doctrine and Covenants 88 and initiates the School of the Prophets.
- At age twenty-nine he receives the Doctrine and Covenants 107 revelation on the Priesthood.
- At age thirty-four he establishes the city of Nauvoo.
- At age thirty-eight he is the mayor of the second largest city in Illinois. He is the commander of a militia of twenty-five hundred men—that is one-third the size of the entire United States Army at the time.
- Also at age thirty-eight he is a candidate for the presidency of the United States, running on a platform to abolish slavery, annex Texas, California, and Oregon, create a national bank, and many other important issues, when he is assassinated in cold blood by an angry mob.
This is no common ordinary man!
Add to that, he is also the most prolific translator in history. The total pages translated by Joseph Smith constitute twice the volume of the entire New Testament—more than any prophet who has ever lived!
He translated the entire Book of Mormon from an unknown language into the English language “by the gift and power of God,” and as President Nelson said,
in approximately 60—six-zero—working days. This means that he translated at the astonishing rate of six to eight manuscript pages per day. He did this without the advantage of any modern technology, in a single draft, with remarkably few instances of strikeouts or edits! . . .
The Book of Mormon is tangible and irrefutable evidence of Joseph Smith’s foreordained designation as the prophet of this dispensation. It is another testament of Jesus Christ. It teaches more about the Savior and his infinite Atonement than any other book. It is the instrument that heaven has placed in our hands to help us in our privilege of participating in the promised gathering of Israel.
For nearly two hundred years, individuals have tried to refute and undermine the Book of Mormon—its origin, the existence of the plates, the role of Moroni, the role of Joseph Smith in the translation process, and the authenticity of the content, doctrine, and principles found in the book. But there is no other legitimate explanation for the Book of Mormon than the one given by the Prophet Joseph Smith and by the Lord himself, who declared, “And he has translated the book, even that part which I have commanded him, and as your Lord and your God liveth it is true” (Doctrine and Covenants 17:6). “The Book of Mormon is indeed ‘a miraculous miracle,’” as President Nelson has stated.
In addition, Joseph Smith received all but three of the 138 sections of the Doctrine and Covenants by revelation. The Doctrine and Covenants contains nearly eleven hundred statements about the future. The Doctrine and Covenants contains powerful doctrines, principles, inspired counsel and direction; establishes the administrative and governing structure of the Church; explains the keys, authority and power of the priesthood; and provides essential ordinances and covenants.
The Pearl of Great Price, including the books of Moses and Abraham, contain critical truths taught in no other place by two prophets from two other great dispensations.
Just think of what we know because of these inspired scriptures and the clarifications to the Bible given through the Prophet Joseph Smith. What would you not know and understand were it not for the prophetic role of Joseph Smith as a prophet, seer and revelator? Just think for a moment what the Lord did through Joseph Smith! It is truly a marvelous work and a wonder! Here is just a partial list of things we know because of Joseph:
- The true nature of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
- The relative functions of those three members of the Godhead and their relationship to mortal beings.
- Humankind’s eternal nature, the premortal existence, the purpose of mortality, the postmortal existence, and the eternal destiny of God’s children.
- The role of the Atonement of Jesus Christ in assuring immortality and the possibility of eternal life.
- The essential role of the priesthood, priesthood power, keys, and covenants and ordinances.
- The essential role of temples, eternal marriage, and proxy ordinances.
- The knowledge that all God’s children who have ever lived can attain the highest heaven hereafter.
- The relationship of the threefold sources of truth about men and the universe: science, scriptures, and continuing revelation.
- The correct structure and organization of the Lord’s restored Church.
- The role of agency, Adam’s fall and human suffering, the identity and work of Satan, and the doctrine of Christ.
The list could go on and on!
Joseph Smith as a Man
Joseph stated, “I never told you I was perfect—but there is no error in the revelations which I have taught.”
The story of Joseph’s life is the story of a miracle. He was born in poverty to loving and devoted parents. He was reared in adversity. He was a kind, loving, and devoted husband and father. He and Emma were driven from place to place. He was falsely accused and illegally imprisoned. They experienced great hardship and were asked to make extraordinary sacrifices.
He experienced severe opposition and persecution throughout his life—but he never wavered from his divine calling. “It seems as though the adversary was aware, at a very early period of my life, that I was destined to be a disturber and an annoyer of his kingdom; else why should the powers of darkness combine against me?” (Joseph Smith—History 1:20).
Nevertheless, Joseph had a ‘native cheery temperament” (Joseph Smith—History 1:28).
“He was a large man, strong and physically active. He delighted in competitive sports, including pulling sticks—a test of physical strength.”
“Joseph Smith did not shrink from physical confrontation, and he had the courage of a lion.”
“The love the saints had for him was inexpressible.”
He was “a man of the frontier—young, emotional, dynamic, and so loved and approachable by his people that they often called him ‘Brother Joseph.’”
“Men who knew Joseph best . . . loved and sustained him as a prophet.”
Joseph had very little formal education, but he was very intelligent. “I am learned and know more than the whole world, the Holy Ghost does any how, and I will associate myself with it.”
Joseph taught that men should seek learning “by study and also by faith” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118). He also taught that “the only way to obtain truth and wisdom, is not to ask it from books, but to go to God in prayer and obtain divine teaching.” He “could read a passage of scripture three times and one year after reading it he could quote it verbatim and open the book to the portion quoted”—he learned by repetition.
William Clayton said of Joseph, “The more I am with him, the more I love him; the more I know of him, and the more confidence I have in him.”
John Taylor added, “I testify before God, angels, and men, that he was a good, honorable, virtuous man, . . . that his private and public character was unimpeachable—and that he lived and died as a man of God.”
Brigham Young added, “I do not think that a man lives on the earth that knew [Joseph Smith] any better than I did; and I am bold to say that, Jesus Christ excepted, no better man ever lived or does live upon this earth.”
Now, that’s not the Joseph Smith you read about on the Internet. It is, however, the truth about him spoken by those who knew him best.
Knowing and Loving the Prophet Joseph Smith
What can we do to come to know and love the Prophet Joseph Smith? How can we become personal witnesses of his divine calling and mission?
Prayerfully read and study the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is powerful and tangible evidence of the divinity of Christ. It is also proof of the Restoration through the Prophet Joseph Smith. An essential part of conversion is receiving a witness from the Holy Ghost that the Book of Mormon is true. If the Book of Mormon can be discredited, then Joseph Smith goes with it. The one is a witness of the other. But if the Book of Mormon is true, then one must also accept the claims of the restoration and all that accompanies it. Including the prophetic role of Joseph Smith.
Prayerfully study and ponder the Joseph Smith—History found in the Pearl of Great Price. The more you know about Joseph, the more you will love and revere him.
Prayerfully study the Doctrine and Covenants. These are direct revelations to individuals and to the Church through Joseph. Revelations are answers to questions. As you read the answers, seek to understand what questions Joseph was asking and why.
Bear your testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his divine calling often, with power and conviction. As you do, the Holy Ghost will testify to and through you with power that it is true.
If you remember nothing else, I hope you will come to know and feel the truthfulness of the following statement found in the Doctrine and Covenants:
Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it. 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; gathered many thousands of 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! (Doctrine and Covenants 135:3)
Dear elders and sisters, to that I add my own personal witness, independent of any other person: I know by the power of the Holy Ghost that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God! Everything I have said about him this evening is true. One cannot criticize or attack Joseph without attacking God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, whose Prophet Joseph is, has been from the foundation of the world, and will always be forever and ever. I pray that you will come to know him and love him as I do, and that you will become a lifelong disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ and a witness and defender of the divine calling and role of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
God lives, Jesus is the Christ, and Joseph is their prophet. The Book of Mormon is true and it, along with the Doctrine and Covenants, contains the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are led by a living prophet, President Russell M. Nelson. If you hold fast to eternal truth and follow the living prophets, you will always be blessed. You have been called of God to assist in the greatest work and cause on earth. I pray that your mission will be as powerful and transformational in your life as my mission has been in my life. God bless you to be faithful and to find great joy and success in this extraordinary work.
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.
 Russell M. Nelson and Wendy W. Nelson, “Hope of Israel” (worldwide youth devotional, June 3, 2018), ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
 Nelson and Nelson, “Hope of Israel.”
 Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 264.
 Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service (2019), 109.
 Preach My Gospel, 111.
 Ezra Taft Benson, A Witness and a Warning: A Modern-day Prophet Testifies of the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1988), 5.
 Russell M. Nelson, “At the Heart of the Church,” in The Prophet and His Work: Essays from General Authorities on Joseph Smith and the Restoration (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1996), 53.
 Bruce R. McConkie, “Joseph Smith—The Mighty Prophet of the Restoration,” Ensign, May 1976, 97.
 McConkie, “Mighty Prophet,” 97.
 Russell M. Nelson, “The Divine Tutoring of the Prophet Joseph Smith” (address given at the seminar for new mission presidents, June 26, 2016), Provo, UT, https://
 Russell M. Nelson, “Divine Tutoring.”
 John A. Widtsoe, Joseph Smith: Seeker after Truth, Prophet of God (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1951), 277.
 Joseph Smith, “Discourse, 12 May 1844, as Reported by Thomas Bullock,” 2, The Joseph Smith Papers, https://
 Dallin H. Oaks, “Joseph, the Man and the Prophet,” Ensign, May 1996, 72; see also Joseph Smith History, March 13, 1843, volume D-1, 1497, The Joseph Smith Papers, https://
 Oaks, “Joseph, the Man,” 72.
 Mary Alice Cannon Lambert, “Joseph Smith, the Prophet,” Young Woman’s Journal, December 1905, 554.
 Oaks, “Joseph, the Man,” 71.
 Oaks, “Joseph, the Man,” 73.
 Joseph Smith, Discourse, April 7, 1844, as Reported by Wilford Woodruff, 136, The Joseph Smith Papers, https://
 Joseph Smith History, October 3, 1841, volume C-1, 1229, The Joseph Smith Papers, https://
 Elijah Knapp Fuller, according to a grandson, told to N. B. Lundwall, “Lundwall Microfilm Collection,” Reel 2-55.
 William Clayton, “Correspondence,” Millennial Star, August 1842, 76.
 John Taylor, “Joseph Smith the Prophet,” in The Gospel Kingdom: Selected from the Writings and Discourses of John Taylor, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1944), 355.
 Brigham Young, Deseret News, August 27, 1862, 65.
 See Benson, Witness and a Warning, 19.