When I was a child my father, Bruce R. McConkie, directed that our Sunday School and sacrament meeting talks center on the restoration of the gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith. I remember well how many times he recited to us the words: "Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it." (D&C 135:3.)
When we visited our mother's father, Joseph Fielding Smith, he would on occasion show us a gold pocket watch which had belonged to the Prophet and which had come to him by way of his father, Joseph F. Smith, who was the son of Hyrum. Grandfather had a beautiful chair that had belonged to Hyrum, the Prophet's older brother. The frame was exquisitely carved, and it was upholstered in a deep red velvet.The Prophet owned a companion chair which is now in the bedroom of the Mansion House in Nauvoo, Ill. We thought sitting in Hyrum's chair to be a great honor. These tangible things created a link for us with the reality of the Prophet's life.
Of greater impact than the artifacts, however, was the deep and abiding testimony that flowed from my father and my grandfather; my mother, Amelia Smith McConkie; and those who surrounded us in our youth. It was their testimony as it is now ours, that Joseph Smith was sent into the world to head the greatest of all gospel dispensations, a work which he began in his youth, and to which members of the Church are by covenant committed to uphold and sustain.
The Prophet Joseph was foreordained in premortal councils specifically to lay the foundations of the great latter-day work, to build temples, and to provide ordinances for the redemption of the dead. (D&C 138:53.) He was among the noble and great, chosen to be rulers in the Church of God. It was in premortal existence that he first received lessons concerning his work and was prepared to come forth and labor "for the salvation of the souls of men." (D&C 138: 53-56.) My father taught that Joseph was one of a select group who stood "in intelligence and power and might next to the Lord Jehovah."1
So vital was his mission that all prophets knew and testified of it. (Acts 3: 19-21.) With the exception of Christ and His atoning sacrifice, there is no subject receiving more prophetic attention than that of the restoration Joseph was to head. Isaiah's profuse utterances concerning this latter-day work have earned him a title as a prophet of the restoration. (See Isa. 11; 29; and 2 Ne. 27.) Moses was told that Joseph would be "like unto thee." (Moses 1:41.) Joseph in ancient Egypt declared that Joseph Smith should come through his loins, that "his name shall be called after me, and that it shall be after the name of his father. And he shall be like unto me." (2 Ne. 3: 15.)
This child of promise was born to humble circumstances on a farm belonging to his grandfather, Solomon Mack, in Sharon, Windsor County, Vt. His mother wrote of his birth, "We had a son, whom we called Joseph, after the name of his father; he was born December 23, 1805."2 Her simple words were the echo of prophecy and reveal the spiritual sensitivity of the Prophet's parents.
The Lord had, in fact, been watching over the Prophet's progenitors for many generations. Brigham Young taught, "The Lord had his eye upon him, and upon his father, and upon his fathers, and upon their progenitors . . . to Adam."3 When the Restoration occurred, the Prophet's family were generally ready to receive the gospel and support him in his call.
The Prophet's parents, Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith, were of Pilgrim-Puritan stock. Their ancestors were patriots to the bone, many having fought for American independence. The Prophet's grandfather, Asael Smith, supposed the newly framed Constitution of the United States to be "the stone cut out of the mountain without hands," and directed his children to hold it as a precious jewel.4
Though deeply religious, the Prophet's ancestors did not particularly conform to the conventional religious systems of New England. Many of the Prophet's ancestors believed there had been a universal apostasy which required a universal restoration. Grandfather Asael "had a habit of reading and writing about gospel themes - the Restoration in particular."5 He predicted "there would be a prophet raised up in his family" who would do a work that would "revolutionize the world." (History of Church, hereafter HC) 2:443; Journal of Discourses 5:102.)
The Prophet's father, Joseph Smith Sr., was tall and vigorous, cheerful by nature, and filled with integrity - an acknowledged Smith trait. The Prophet wrote that his father "stood six feet and two inches high, was very straight and remarkably well proportioned. His ordinary weight was about 200 pounds, and he was very strong and active. In his younger days he was famed as a wrestler, and, Jacob-like, he never wrestled with but one man whom he could not throw." (HC 4:191.) On another occasion the Prophet said his father possessed a holy and virtuous mind and that he "never did a mean act, that might be said to be ungenerous in his life."6
The Prophet's Mother, Lucy Mack, was small in stature, not five feet tall, judging by the clothing she wore. She was "possessed of a high sense of duty," a woman of action who "sometimes took weighty matters into her own hands and carried them through to successful completion."7 The Prophet declared his mother to be "filled with benevolence and philanthropy." (Teachings, p. 38.) Lucy had little of this world's substance, yet her home was open to all in need. A grandson noted "there never was a more earnest and social body than Mother Smith."8
As with his father, the Prophet's mother was fore-chosen by the Lord. During her Nauvoo years Lucy Mack Smith reported a vision in which she was told, "Thou art a mother in Israel. Thy spirit arose and said in eternity, that it would take a body to be a mother to
theT Prophet who should be raised up to save the last dispensation."9
Spiritual matters were of first concern to Joseph Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith. "I was born . . . of goodly parents," the Prophet wrote, "who spared no pains to instructing me in
theT Christian religion."10 The family met morning and evening for prayer, hymns, and scripture reading. At times Joseph Sr. taught his nine children "in his own home school and used the Bible as a text.11 My father's religious habits were strictly pious and moral," Joseph's younger brother, William, reported.12 His mother, he said, "made use of every means which her parental love could suggest, to get us engaged in seeking for our soul's salvation."13 "Father used to carry his spectacles in his vest pocket," William recalled, "and when us boys saw him feel for his specs we knew that was a signal to get ready for prayer."14
Neither Joseph Sr. nor Lucy believed in the religious sects of the day. Lucy wrote that her husband "contended for the ancient order as established by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and His Apostles."15 William noted that Father Smith had "faith in the universal restoration doctrine.16 Lucy's views paralleled her husband's, yet she wished to do what she could with what she had and what she knew. She desired baptism because the scriptures taught it. She urged Church attendance. Joseph Sr., skeptical of clergy and doctrine, remained aloof. A significant stress developed in the Smith household on the approach to conventional religion.
In 1811, the Prophet's father had the first of seven dreams apparently received by way of preparation for the restoration to come. In each, he seemed on the verge of salvation but it was just beyond his reach. Joseph Sr. shared these experiences with Lucy, and possibly others in the family were aware of these visions. All were aware of his feelings.
The early family training and the family dilemma left an indelible print. "There never was a family that were so obedient as mine," Lucy said.17 Young Joseph had learned the principle of prayer and believed implicitly in the word of God. His mother described Joseph as quiet and well disposed, given to meditation and study. He indicated that on occasion he took his books to study in the woods.19 Joseph also began to ponder the questions of salvation and authority.
Father and Mother Smith having provided the rudiments, the Lord now brought Joseph to Palmyra, the revivals, and the Sacred Grove. The Smith family came to Palmyra, Ontario County, N.Y., in the 10th year of Joseph's age. They arrived, Lucy said, "with a small portion of our affects, and barely two cents in cash."20
As the family prospered they moved to Manchester in the same county. Sometime during the second year in Manchester, the surrounding country erupted in religious excitement. Competing camp meetings "caused no small stir and division amongst the people." "Great multitudes," the Prophet later wrote, united with one sect or another. (JS-History 1:3-5.) Joseph attended these meetings and yearned "to feel and shout like the others but could feel nothing."21 The revivals provided only a war of words and a tumult of opinion which "exceedingly distressed" young Joseph's mind. He was uneasy, his feelings "deep and often poignant." (JS-History 1:8.) "I felt to mourn for my own sins," he wrote, "and for the sins of the world." His anxiety took him to the scriptures, "believing as I was taught, that they contained the word of God."22
Words from James struck Joseph with great force: "If any of you lack wisdom," Joseph read, "let him ask of God, which giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him." (James 1:5.) Joseph determined to do as James directed. On a spring morning in 1820, he chose a place in the woods where his father had a clearing and where he had left his ax in a stump when he had quit work.23 There he knelt and offered up the desires of his heart to God.
"Then followed the most glorious vision of which we have record in the entire history of God's dealings with men - the personal appearance of the Father and the Son, and the consequent ushering in of the greatest of all dispensations, the dispensation of the Fulness of Times. The long-awaited mission and ministry of that prophet who was to do more, `save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it' had commenced."
An obscure boy in his 15th year walked from the grove knowing more about God than any man living. Joseph's mind was "satisfied" with respect to religion; he was filled, he said, with a spirit of love and joy.26 He had seen and heard for himself. Joseph was told that the fulness of the gospel would be made known unto him and that "he would be an instrument in laying the foundation of the kingdom of God."26 He took the message the Lord had communicated to him home to his family, who believed all that he said.
What Joseph's spiritual thoughts and feelings were immediately following the First Vision we do not know. We do know that he continued to labor with his father and brothers to obtain a daily maintenance. We also know that he was very much a boy. We also know that on Sunday, Sept. 21, 1823, after much reflection he sought the Lord as to his "state and standing." (JS-History 1:29.)
At this point of readiness the Angel Moroni appeared to the young prophet and began a training that was intense and systematic. Moroni told Joseph the Lord had a work for him to do, and that his name would be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues. Joseph was given a scriptural overview of the work he was to perform. He was informed of a book written on gold plates
which contained "the fulness of the everlasting gospel." (JS-History 1:34.) Joseph was to receive and translate the plates.
The angel repeated this same message three times that night and again the following day. The vision was etched on his soul. Joseph called these visions "interviews," suggesting an exchange occurred ensuring that a 17-year-old boy understood what he was being taught. In the four years following, he reported to the Hill Cumorah, where Moroni instructed him in "what the Lord was going to do, and how and in what manner his kingdom was to be conducted in the last days." (JS History 1:54.)
Joseph wrote that he received many visits from the angels of God prior to receiving the plates. (HC 4: 537.) President John Taylor and Elder George Q. Cannon remarked that Nephi, Alma and other ancient prophets and "apostles that lived on this continent came to him."27 When Joseph reported his vision of Moroni to his family they felt it to be "something upon which we could stay our minds." In family gatherings Joseph described in detail ancient American inhabitants and their customs. During these meetings, Lucy said, "the sweetest union and happiness pervaded our h0ouse."28
In spite of these happy scenes, Joseph found himself in hand-to-hand combat with Satan almost from his infancy. The adversary had endeavored to destroy Joseph in the grove. A bitter persecution followed the First Vision. Moroni warned Joseph that as his work commenced men would seek to "destroy your reputation, and also will seek to take your life."29 Joseph's work was to take all the mental and physical power he possessed. He was to be tested and tried. Joseph, his mother wrote, must not only be willing, but able to do the work.30
The work which Joseph Smith began in his youth is even now proceeding to the ends of the earth, just as Moroni outlined on that early September night. Joseph's subsequent revelations built upon the first. The fulness promised in the First Vision included the building of temples and the performance of ordinances for the living and dead. The completion of Joseph's work required his life.
In the days of Joseph Smith many converts recognized him at first sight, perhaps because of premortal promises. Scripture tells us that Hyrum, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff and other spirits came to the earth with Joseph to assist him. (D&C 138: 53.)
As Church members we, by covenant, are also committed to sustain his work, to build on the foundation he laid. Were we not reserved for this work we would not be where we are at this time. As the Prophet's father approached the end of his life, he blessed his son with these words: "Thou hast been called, even in thy youth to the great work of the Lord; to do a work in this generation which no other man could do as thyself . . . . From thy childhood thou hast meditated much upon the great things of
God'sT law. Thou hast suffered much in thy youth . . . . Thou hast been an obedient son."31 How great was this son, how great his obedience, how great was his work.
1Bruce R. McConkie, "A Revealer of Christ," fireside address in the Marriott Center at Brigham Young University, Sept. 3, 1978.
2Preston Nibley, ed., The History of the Prophet Joseph Smith by His Mother Lucy Mack Smith, Bookcraft, Salt Lake City, 1958, p. 46.
3Ivan J. Barrett, Joseph Smith and the Restoration, Brigham University Press, 1982, pp. 21-22.
4Joseph Fielding Smith, The Life of Joseph F. Smith, Deseret News Press, 1938, p. 27.
5Mark L. McConkie, The Father of the Prophet, Bookcraft, Salt Lake City, 1993, p. 33.
6The Father of the Prophet, p.9.
7Journal of History, XII, p. 108; Mary Audentia Smith Anderson, Ancestry and Posterity of Joseph Smith and Emma Hale, p. 74.
8The Father of the Prophet, p. 64.
9The Father of the Prophet, p. 175 n 21.
10The Papers of Joseph Smith, Dean C. Jessee, ed., Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, 1989, Vol. 1, p. 3.
11The Father of the Prophet, p. I 1.
12The Father of the Prophet, p. 10.
13Richard Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism, The University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, 1988, p. 39.
14The Father of the Prophet, p. 10.
15The History of the Prophet Joseph Smith by His Mother Lucy Mack Smith, p. 46.
16The Father of the Prophet, p. 172 n 35.
17"Lucy Mack Smith," Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Ludlow, Daniel H., ed. McMillan Publishing Company, New York, 1992, Vol. 3, p. 1356.
18History of the Prophet, p. 67 and 82.
19Joseph Smith and the Restoration, p. 43.
20The History of the Prophet Joseph Smith by His Mother, Lucy Mack Smith, p. 63.
21Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Momonism, p. 6.
22The Papers of Joseph Smith, pp. 5-6; 125.
23See JS History 1: 11-15; Joseph Smith and The Beginnings of Mormonism, p.4.
24Bruce R McConkie. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, Bookcraft, Salt Lake City, 1973, Vol III, p. 246.
25JS-History 1: 26; and see The Papers of Joseph Smith, p. 7.
26HC 4:537 and see Larry C. Porter and Susan Easton Black, eds., The Prophet Joseph, Essays on the Life and Mission of Joseph Smith, Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, 1988, p. 3 1.
27Joseph Smith and the Restoration, p. 73 n.
28The History of Joseph Smith, p. 83.
29Joseph F. McConkie, Sustaining and Defending the Faith, Bookcraft, Salt Lake City, 1985, p. 3.
30History of the Prophet, p. 84.
31The Prophet Joseph, Essays on the Life and Mission of Joseph Smith, p. 138.