One of President M. Russell Ballard‘s most spiritual moments came as he spoke of two special ancestors.
It was 2012 and he was speaking at the Seminar for New Mission Presidents held at the Missionary Training Center in Provo. He titled his remarks, “Brothers Bound by Love and Faith.” On that occasion, he said he knew of “no greater missionary companionship that has served in this dispensation” than the Prophet Joseph Smith and his older brother Hyrum.
“Much can be learned by our missionaries in following the example of these Prophets. They were men of integrity, loyalty, courage, trust, faith and unwavering testimony,” he said on that occasion.
When he concluded, William W. Phelps’ tribute hymn, “Praise to the Man,” was softly played and the hearts of everyone in the congregation were touched.
“Of all the talks I have given at the MTC, and I have given a lot of them, this one was very special. The Spirit was overwhelming,” President Ballard said. “This story of the greatest missionary companionship in the world is something we ought to all remember.”
This experience was one of several memories and thoughts that came to mind as President Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, contemplated the 175th anniversary of the June 27 martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph and Hyrum Smith, his great-great-great-uncle and his great-great-grandfather.
“My feeling is we have to stand in awe, in reverence and deep appreciation for their courage, their spirituality, their integrity, and their love for the Lord Jesus Christ,” President Ballard said. “They were willing to give their lives, if required, to restore the gospel of Jesus Christ. So you are talking about two great men, perhaps as great of sons of God who have ever lived, with the exception of the Savior, of course, Who is the greatest of all. Every Church member should know and think about that.”
President Ballard’s testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon became unshaken when he served as a young missionary in England.
Over the years President Ballard has visited Carthage Jail at least 10 times. One special occasion was the 150th anniversary of the martyrdom in 1994, when then-Elder Ballard accompanied President Howard W. Hunter and President Gordon B. Hinckley and spoke at the Church history site.
“It was overwhelming to stand on that hallowed ground pondering that most significant day of June 27, 1844,” President Ballard said. “This visit stirred tender thoughts and feelings in me as we considered the traumatic events that took place there. On the day we were there, we felt a calm and peaceful assurance that they had completely fulfilled their great mission.”
During other visits to Carthage Jail, President Ballard vividly recalls climbing the stairs to the upper room where the mob attacked Joseph, Hyrum, John Taylor, and Willard Richards. With bullet holes in the jail walls still visible, they read the harrowing account, including Doctrine and Covenants section 135, John Taylor’s tribute to Joseph.
“You can’t go in there and read what actually happened without being touched because you are in the room where the brothers gave their lives,” President Ballard said.
When President Joseph F. Smith — the Church’s sixth president and President Ballard’s great-grandfather — visited Nauvoo in 1906, he pointed out the very spot in the road where his father, Hyrum Smith, rode up on a horse, bent over in the saddle and lifted him up for a good-bye kiss before riding off with Joseph and others to Carthage, President Ballard said.
On the same trip, while President Joseph F. Smith was in Carthage Jail for the first time, a guide pointed to a spot in the upper room’s floor and said, “that stain is the blood of Hyrum Smith.” President Smith sat on the bed and wept like a child.
“You get a little feeling for what it was like for the son of Hyrum to experience that,” President Ballard said. “As the great-great-grandson, I have the same feelings.”
One of President Ballard’s favorite books about the Prophet Joseph Smith was written by his mother, Lucy Mack Smith, “The History of Joseph Smith by His Mother.” In addition to her motherly insights, President Ballard also admires her courage in dealing with the loss of three sons. Samuel Smith, the younger son, fell ill and died on July 30, 1844, just over one month after the martyrdom.
President Ballard has often shared this tender experience from Mother Smith’s book:
“As she cried in agony, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken this family?’ Lucy Mack Smith reported hearing a voice reply, ‘I have taken them unto myself, that they might have rest.’ As she looked at their bodies, she said, ‘I seemed almost to hear them say, ‘Mother, weep not for us, we have overcome the world by love; we carried to them the gospel, that their souls might be saved; they slew us for our testimony, and thus placed us beyond their power; their ascendancy is for a moment, ours is an eternal triumph.'”
Although six years older, Hyrum Smith recognized Joseph’s sacred and holy calling and always faithfully supported his brother. President Ballard feels this special brotherly bond is captured in the “stunning and heroic” statue of the brothers that greets visitors at Carthage Jail.
The heroic-size sculpture depicts Joseph standing slightly ahead of Hyrum, with Hyrum’s hand on his younger brother’s arm.
“That’s pretty dramatic,” President Ballard said. “That statue says everything.”
There are three sculpted busts — of Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith and Joseph F. Smith — resting on a credenza in his office. Nearby is a small statue of Samuel Smith, the first missionary of the Church, with a copy of the Book of Mormon in one hand and a bag over his shoulder. President Ballard also has a brick fragment from the hearth of the Smith home in Vermont where Hyrum Smith was born. These items, he noted, keep him continually thinking about his noble family heritage.
“When I came to realize who they were and who I was, it was unbelievable. I am constantly aware that I have a duty just by virtue of the fact that I have a connection,” President Ballard said. “I hear them saying all the time, ‘Get with it, do something worthwhile. Get going, boy, don’t just sit there.’ They were doers. They had to be doers.”
In thinking about the martyrdom, President Ballard hopes Church members will learn about and appreciate the important work Joseph and Hyrum performed, along with their examples of love, dedication and sacrifice.
“Every Church member ought to think about what those two prophets were willing to do to restore the gospel and the Church of Jesus Christ,” President Ballard said.