During the early years of the Church, the Prophet Joseph Smith was left at many times to ponder and work out numerous issues surrounding Church government, doctrine and temporal matters involving the saints.
Throughout his ministry, he learned to delegate many of his tasks to others, who then grew in the work. At the same time, he was training up a new generation of leadership so that the work might continue to go forward and the kingdom of God roll forth under the direction of the Savior.
The Prophet was instructed: "Let every man be diligent in all things. And the idler shall not have place in the church, except he repent and mend his ways" (Doctrine and Covenants 75:29).
President Brigham Young put it this way: "Until a selfish, individual interest is banished from our minds, and we become interested in the general welfare, we shall never be able to magnify our holy priesthood as we should" (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 133).
In an address in Parowan, Utah, on June 24, 1883, President John Taylor remarked, "No man has a right to plume himself upon any position he occupies in this Church, for he is simply a servant of God, and a servant of the people. . . . We are here as saviours of men, and not as tyrants and oppressors" (Journal of Discourses 24:268).
As the gospel was preached, and as many flocked to the Church of Jesus Christ, the Church and its members were met with persecution and turmoil. Despite this opposition, the Lord counseled: "If men will smite you, or your families, once and ye bear it patiently and revile not against them, neither seek revenge, ye shall be rewarded. But if ye bear it not patiently, it shall be accounted unto you as being meted out a just measure unto you" (Doctrine and Covenants 98:23).
The Prophet knew firsthand what he was speaking about. Many times he had to endure physical and mental punishment at the hands of his opponents. Ultimately, he was slain by evil men who assumed the Church would eventually collapse after his death. They did not see the larger picture. While early saints revered Joseph they also loved the Savior and worked to establish the kingdom of God, wherever they settled.
The Prophet Joseph's successor, Brigham Young, said, "Do I say, Love your enemies? Yes upon certain principles. But you are not required to love their wickedness; you are only required to love them so far as concerns a desire and effort to turn them from their evil ways, that they may be saved through obedience to the Gospel" (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 272).
That counsel from President Young to love the sinner but not the sin reflects instruction the Lord gave Joseph Smith: "Therefore, strengthen your brethren in all your conversation, in your prayers, in all your exhortations and in all your doings" (Doctrine and Covenants 108:7).
And earlier, the Lord instructed, ". . . . and if any man among you be strong in the Spirit, let him take with him that is weak, that he may be edified in all meekness, that he may become strong also" (Doctrine and Covenants 84:106).
We learn best observing others in a variety of situations. The peers of Joseph Smith watched him lead with dignity and grace, endure hardships and time and again rise to new challenges until his divine mission was completed.
Today, that heritage he established nearly 175 years ago still shines for all the world to see. The teachings he translated, his legacy of love for fellow man, his certainty in defense of liberty and the Savior's message of peace and good news continue in the millions of hearts touched by the message declared so many years ago.
As we move forward in a new millennium, we realize that what we have learned from the past, reinforced by scripture and the counsel of our modern-day leaders, leaves us with a legacy to cherish and duties to perform. May we build up the Prophet Joseph's vision for this work and strive to magnify his legacy through our works and testimonies to others, that they may know his legacy survives.