I am impressed by two remarkable prophecies about Joseph Smith. The first recorded what the angel Moroni said to him: "God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good or evil among all nations, kindreds and tongues." (Joseph Smith – History 1:33; italics added.)
The second prophecy contained the Lord's comforting words to the Prophet as he languished in Liberty Jail. "The ends of the earth shall inquire after thy name, and fools shall have thee in derision . . . while the pure in heart, and the wise, and the noble and the virtuous shall seek thy counsel, and authority and blessings. . . ." (D&C 122:1, 2; italics added.) This latter prediction was spoken at a time of great persecution against the Church when Joseph was still a little-known figure and the Church had yet to emerge out of obscurity.Today we live in a time of remarkable growth and progress by the Church. We look back and marvel at the fulfillment of prophecies that were given when there was no mass communication, when travel was difficult and prolonged, and when Joseph Smith's reputation was localized in upper New York state; Kirtland, Ohio; and parts of Missouri and Illinois. Today his name is testified of by almost 50,000 missionaries in 303 missions, and these numbers are growing rapidly. Millions today look to Joseph's words for counsel and authority. I, for one, want to be numbered forever among those who look to the Prophet Joseph Smith and his successors for counsel, authority, and blessings.
It may also be said that Joseph Smith's name is vilified by those who do not have a witness from the Holy Ghost of his prophetic calling, as evidenced by much anti-Mormon literature. Little do they recognize as they denigrate the name of Joseph Smith – a name to "be had for good and evil among all nations" – they are fulfilling prophecy.
Like others who first heard the name of Joseph Smith, I had to determine for myself the validity of his divine and prophetic calling. Was Joseph Smith a prophet sent from God?
I was reared in the Lutheran faith. My parents sent me to a Lutheran parochial school as a youth. They were quite naturally distressed when I commenced an investigation into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during my university years. Without the benefit of missionaries, and in the course of my investigation, there were many questions. The need for a modern-day prophet was apparent and the Book of Mormon was tangible evidence of his calling – but were Joseph Smith and this record sent from God?
During this time of personal perplexity, I was impressed by a thought that came as an inspiration. There is really only one issue as one investigates the restored gospel – that issue is Joseph Smith. It is akin to a surveyor who places the cross-hairs of his surveying instrument on one particular object. The focal point in my investigation was Joseph Smith. Once I reached that conclusion, my prayers became a fervent appeal to know with assurance that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. That confirmation subsequently came in a personal and distinct manner to the extent that it resolved all other questions and provided the determination to submit myself to baptism.
Over the years I have concluded that it does not matter whether one is born into the Church, or, like myself, is introduced to the message of the Restoration in other ways. One must receive a witness that Joseph Smith did, in fact, receive a visitation from God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ in the Sacred Grove and that through him, the Church of Jesus Christ was restored to the earth.
In former articles, we have considered the Prophet Joseph Smith's early life, his prophetic career, and his martyrdom. Consider now his calling as a prophet from a prophetic context.
Canonized in the revelations are these declarations: Joseph Smith was visited by the Father and the Son who appeared to him in 1829. (Joseph Smith History 1:17-19, 25.) The Lord spoke to him from heaven and gave him commandments. (D&C 1:17.) He was chosen to do the work of the Lord (D&C 3:9), and to "move the cause of Zion in mighty power for good." (D&C 21:7.) Joseph Smith was a direct descendant of the ancient prophet Joseph, son of Jacob, and was named after him and after the name of his own father. (See 2 Ne. 3:7-19; D&C 86:8-10.) He was ministered to by angels (D&C 13; 20:6; 128:21), and charged by the Lord to lay the foundation of Zion. (D&C 58:5-6.) He was given the keys to priesthood authority and to the "mysteries of godliness" (D&C 27:12, 13; 84:20; and 128:21), and received from on high visions and revelations (see D&C 76; 110; 137.) His calling and election was made sure. (See D&C 32:49.) He has done more for the salvation of man than any man other than Jesus Christ (D&C 135:3). He went to a martyr's death in fulfillment of a divine requirement that his testimony be sealed with his blood. (D&C 136:39.)
A year before the Church was restored, the Lord gave this commission to the Prophet: "this generation shall have my word through you." (D&C 5:10.)
Ponder that remarkable assignment for a prophet of this dispensation. An entire generation of people living during the time allotted for this dispensation shall receive the Lord's words through Joseph Smith! We have those words today contained in the Book of Mormon, the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, the Joseph Smith Translation, the instruction received in holy temples, and the Prophet's own teachings as recorded in the History of the Church. Truly the wise, noble, and virtuous have sought counsel and authority and blessing from the faithful ministry of this latter-day prophet in fulfillment of the Savior's promise. (D&C 122:2.)
As a result of the revelations received by the Prophet Joseph, the Church has a unique and distinctive message for this dispensation. Summarized briefly are some of these notable doctrines and contributions by the Prophet.
- A clear doctrine of the personality and nature of the Godhead. The First Vision account, as contained in the Pearl of Great Price, brought clarity to the ambiguous creedal statements of Christendom. "It is the first principle of the gospel," the Prophet said, "to know with certainty the character of God and to know that we may converse with Him as one man converses with another."1
- A more comprehensive understanding about the atonement by our Savior, Jesus Christ. Revelations to the Prophet in the Savior's own words expand our understanding that His most extensive suffering was in Gethsemane wherein He voluntarily took upon Himself our pains, infirmities and sins so that we would not have to suffer if we would repent and come to Him with broken hearts and contrite spirits. (See D&C 19:15-20; Alma 7:11-12; and 3 Ne. 9:19-20.) "All other things pertaining to our religion are only appendages to
- A clear definition of the nature and mission of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost is a male member of the Godhead.3 His function is to bear witness of the Savior's mission and to sanctify the souls of penitent individuals who have subscribed to the ordinances of the gospel.
- The restoration of the Book of Mormon. This ancient record is vital not only because it is a record of fallen civilizations on the American continents, but because it clearly explains the doctrine of Christ and how to repent and come to Him. It is "the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion."4
- A comprehensive understanding of the Plan of Redemption, or the Great Plan of Happiness, which consists of these distinctive truths: that all lived premortally as offspring of heavenly parentage; this earth was purposefully created for our benefit and testing; that Adam and Eve purposefully "fell" in order that "men might be"; that agency was given to each; that the mission and atonement of Jesus Christ was perfectly accomplished; that the gospel of Jesus Christ and its saving ordinances are available to all; and that there will be a universal resurrection, an equitable judgment for all, and a consignment to degrees of glory based on our response to the Savior's requirements for salvation and exaltation. The purpose of the plan is to bring us joy. "Happiness," said the Prophet, "is the object and design of our existence."5
- The unique doctrine of the Restoration. In fulfillment of the Old Testament prophet Daniel's prophecy, the Kingdom of God has been restored to earth. Priesthood authority, keys and ordinances have also been restored for the blessing of our Heavenly Father's children. The destiny of the Kingdom of God is to fill the entire earth. (See Dan. 2:44-45; see also D&C 65.)
- A distinctive doctrine of priesthood power, authority, and keys. In the restored Church there is broad distribution of authority and offices for worthy men in the Church. Moreover, revelation has provided a clear explanation of the duties and offices of the priesthood, and how it should be administered. (See D&C 20; 84; 107; 121.)
- Salvation extended to those who had no opportunity to hear the gospel while in mortality. One of the most expansive and glorious doctrines of the restored gospel is that living members of the Church may do proxy ordinances for their progenitors who did not have opportunity to hear the gospel. Such ordinances are only efficacious if the individual, by his or her own agency, accepts the truth and desires these ordinances.
- Continuous revelation. Living apostles and prophets are on this earth today as leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They have apostolic keys and authority to receive revelation and to regulate the Church. Moreover, Church members are entitled – yes, obligated – to receive confirmation of heavenly truths.
- The sealing of husband and wife; parents and posterity for eternity. When properly sealed in the House of the Lord, the love that a man and woman share may be extended beyond death into the eternities. Further, if faithful to their covenants, parents may have assurance that their family unit may endure forever.
Such are a few of the distinctive contributions of this latter-day prophet who once said, "I intend to lay a foundation that will revolutionize the whole world."6
President John Taylor wrote that Joseph Smith "left a name and fame which cannot be slain." (D&C 135:3.) President George Albert Smith prophesied, "There have been some who have belittled
Joseph SmithT, but I would like to say that those who have done so will be forgotten . . . while the glory and honor and majesty and courage and fidelity manifested by the Prophet Joseph Smith will attach to his name forever."7
In the final analysis – when this dispensation is completed – the salvation and happiness of men and women will be determined on how each of us has responded to the name and the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith – the instrument in the hands of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ in effecting the restoration of the gospel for the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times.
1Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 345.
2Teachings, p. 121.
3Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:38; Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses 5:179, James E. Talmage, Articles of Faith, p. 42. (1977 edition.)
4Teachings, p. 194.
5Teachings, p. 255.
6Teachings, p. 366.
7Conference Report, April 1946, pp. 181, 182.