During the year when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints celebrates the bicentennial commemoration of the onset of the Restoration, President Russell M. Nelson detailed how a 14-year-old boy was taught to be a prophet.
“Why have I chosen to speak with you at length about the divine tutoring of the Prophet Joseph Smith?” asked President Nelson in addressing new mission leaders on June 26.
“I have done so for two reasons: first, to reassure you and bear my personal witness that this work is truly divine. It is the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and Joseph Smith is His prophet of this last dispensation.
“Secondly, it is to declare that you, too, can and will be guided by heaven in your work as you seek direction, guidance and inspiration from on high.”
President Nelson offered his remarks during the 2020 Mission Leadership Seminar, held Friday and Saturday, June 26 and 27, via technology. New mission presidents and companions — 135 couples gathered in 17 countries — will serve in 79 nations.
This is an “unique and exciting” time when the gospel continues to roll forth despite the “whole earth [being] in commotion” (Doctrine and Covenants 45:26), he said. “I cannot stress enough the role of the Prophet Joseph Smith in the ushering in of this, ‘the dispensation of the fulness of times’ (Doctrine and Covenants 128:18).
“You and I truly marvel how Joseph was able to accomplish all that he did. It was only possible through the miraculous and matchless power of God, the Lord Jesus Christ and other heavenly beings.”
President Nelson said Joseph’s divine tutoring began in 1820 in answer to his questions about his standing before God and his confusion over which church to join.
“In response, Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ appeared in glory and magnificence to Joseph and told him to join none of the churches and ‘promised that the fulness of the gospel should at some future time be made known’ unto him.
On at least eight other occasions — in addition to the First Vision — Joseph saw the Father or the Son, said President Nelson, who was assisted by Brandon Metcalf of the Church History Department in gathering and confirming facts for the address. Four of these visions included both the Father and the Son, while the Savior appeared another four times by Himself.
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In addition to these remarkable experiences with the Father and the Son, Joseph’s tutoring also included many other heavenly beings, continued President Nelson. Between the First Vision in 1820 and the Prophet’s death in 1844, Joseph was visited by, or saw in vision, “dozens of ancient prophets, and angels.”
“These visitations provided him with a spiritual education unlike any other,” said President Nelson. “Joseph personally interacted with ‘divers angels’ from Adam ‘down to the present time, all declaring their dispensation, their rights, their keys, their honors, their majesty and glory, and the power of the priesthood’ (Doctrine and Covenants 128:21).”
Joseph came to understand that “worldly knowledge is severely limited when compared to heavenly knowledge,” he said, adding “whatever Joseph lacked in earthly educational opportunities was compensated for in remarkable ways through divine tutoring from on high.”
The Angel Moroni, said President Nelson, was a prominent part of Joseph’s early tutoring, making at least 20 visits to him in the 1820s. “Moroni’s careful tutelage instilled confidence and nurturing, while preparing Joseph for future communications with a host of heavenly beings.”
President Nelson said much of the Church’s precious body of scripture was revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith. “Through him we have received more pages of scripture than we have from any other prophet,” he noted.
He translated the entire Book of Mormon from an unknown language into the English language “in approximately 60 — six-zero — working days. This means that he translated at the astonishing rate of six to eight manuscript pages per day,” said President Nelson. “He did this without the advantage of any modern technology, in a single draft, with remarkably few instances of strikeouts or edits.”
President Nelson said he has examined surviving pages from the original manuscript, inscribed by the hand of Oliver Cowdery using the quill of a turkey feather.
“The Book of Mormon is tangible and irrefutable evidence of Joseph Smith’s foreordained designation as the prophet of this dispensation,” he said. “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.”
In addition, continued President Nelson, Joseph received all but three of the 138 sections of the Doctrine and Covenants by revelation, often in the face of extreme adversity and persecution. “This sacred compilation of revelations from the Lord proclaims the doctrine, establishes the administrative structure of the Church, explains the keys, authority and power of the priesthood in more detail than any other book of scripture. It gives needed counsel and correction and powerfully testifies of Jesus Christ.”
In addition, shortly after the Church was formally organized, Joseph was directed to begin working on the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. “He regarded this translation, or revelation, as part of his calling as prophet, seer and revelator. His charge was to restore the ‘many plain and precious things taken away from the [Bible]’ (1 Nephi 13:28). His efforts enriched, clarified, and expanded hundreds of biblical verses.”
The Pearl of Great Price includes the books of Moses and Abraham, said President Nelson. “They also came by revelation. Think of the sacred truths taught by these two prophets, who were also heads of dispensations, that are available to us only in these books of scripture.”
Through Joseph Smith, the Lord brought forth scriptures that “He knew were necessary for His disciples to understand,” said President Nelson. “They teach of God’s eternal plan of happiness and the covenant path to eternal glory.”
Other heavenly mentors
President John Taylor reported that Joseph “learned by communication from the heavens . . . of the great events that should transpire in the latter days” and “understood things that were past, and comprehended the various dispensations and the designs of those dispensations,” said President Nelson.
“President Taylor further taught that ‘[Joseph] was conversant with the parties who officiated as the leading men of those dispensations, and from a number of them he received authority and keys and priesthood and power for the carrying out of the great purposes of the Lord in the last days, who were sent and commissioned specially by the Almighty to confer upon [Joseph] those keys and this authority.’”
Joseph’s recurring interviews and visions included tutoring by a multitude of ancient prophets and apostles, he said.
“You, too, can and will be guided by heaven in your work as you seek direction, guidance and inspiration from on high.”
“Many of these experiences are not captured in the scriptures, but various accounts indicate that Joseph saw in vision or was visited by approximately 60 angels during his lifetime,” said President Nelson. “Each came as directed by the Lord for various purposes. John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John restored priesthood authority. Others such as Moses, Elias, and Elijah bestowed priesthood keys. Moroni delivered the golden plates for translation and imparted instruction and intelligence to Joseph.
“Although we know little about the details and purposes of many of the other angelic visits, their cumulative impact provided Joseph with an extraordinary perspective of past dispensations and the ability to restore and renew plain and precious things.”
President Nelson said that two years before his death, the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote that he had “received many visits from the angels of God unfolding the majesty and glory of the events that should transpire in the last days.”
Heaven’s help for mission leaders
President Nelson told the mission leaders that “angels will also surround, prompt, protect, and accompany you.”
Beyond the knowledge obtained over the course of his many heavenly visits, Joseph also “found strength in his intimate association with those beyond the veil,” he said. “When Joseph was repeatedly betrayed by close associates or falsely accused or unjustly imprisoned, he was never alone. He trusted in the Lord and relied on familiar ‘divers angels’ he had come to know over many years.”
In the same manner, “you will never be left alone,” said President Nelson to the leaders. “The Prophet Joseph’s experience can also be your experience, as you seek for — and prepare yourself — to receive heaven’s help. I promise you that this is true.
“I leave you with my witness of the divine calling of the Prophet Joseph Smith. He was foreordained and divinely tutored to inaugurate the Restoration. That Restoration continues to unfold in our day.”