In September 1823, a resurrected prophet with authority from God appeared in Palmyra, New York, to the then, seventeen-year-old Joseph Smith, called him by name, and said to him, “that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God… and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people.”
As Joseph embarked on this heaven-sent mission and engaged in the restoration of New Testament Christianity (including the divinely authorized Church of Jesus Christ) to the earth, persecution hit hard and fast, and was relentless. Many people speculated about him personally, several spread vicious rumors about his family, and others (both within and without the Church) questioned or doubted his claim to divine authority. Similar fault-finding goes on today. These types of criticisms have continued unabated from 1823 until now (one-hundred and ninety years later), and apparently, these denunciations—as prophesied—will continue to spread throughout all nations and eventually among all people.
It’s curious how, over these past two centuries, so much good could come from what Joseph Smith started, yet he personally remains such a lightening rod and the object of incessant ridicule and revilement. President Gordon B. Hinckley was amazed to meet an individual who openly admired Joseph Smith’s accomplishments, but who wasn’t willing to give the man credit: “An acquaintance said to me one day: ‘I admire your church very much. I think I could accept everything about it—except Joseph Smith.’ To which I responded: ‘That statement is a contradiction. If you accept the revelation, you must accept the revelator.’ It is a mystery to me how some people speak with admiration for the Church and its work, while at the same time disdaining him through whom, as a servant of the Lord, came the framework of all that the Church is, all that it teaches, and all that it stands for. They would pluck the fruit from the tree while cutting off the root from which it grows.”
It is important to note that the angel Moroni prophesied that Joseph’s name would be disparaged, but it is also extremely important to realize that his name would be equally celebrated “for good…among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, [and be] spoken of [for good] among all people.” And so it is. Millions across the earth in many nations bear witness of Joseph’s goodness, and of the great and marvelous work he initiated.
The story of Joseph’s life and accomplishments is truly a miracle. Something no single person could have ever caused to happen on their own, without the help of heaven. Even if he were unnaturally charismatic and a natural-born leader, how could he have accomplished all he did in fourteen very short and compressed years (from the time the Church was organized in 1830 until his death in 1844), without God’s guiding hand? Daniel H. Wells (a non-LDS Judge in Nauvoo, and later a Counselor in the First Presidency to Brigham Young) observed: “It seemed to me that he [Joseph Smith] advanced principles that neither he nor any other man could have obtained except from the source of all wisdom–the Lord himself....Where could he have gotten this knowledge and understanding, that so far surpassed all I had ever witnessed, unless it had come from Heaven?”
When questions arise and seeds of doubt are sown about Joseph, it’s good to remember God’s point of view about what the future holds. In April 1829, the Savior reassuringly counseled the Saints to “be diligent [and] stand by my servant Joseph, faithfully, in whatsoever difficult circumstances he may be for the word’s sake” (D&C 6:18). The Lord similarly commanded Joseph to stand by Him (the Savior) in the work He called Joseph to fulfill: “I, the Lord, am God, and have given these things unto you, my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and have commanded you that you should stand as a witness of these things” (D&C 5:2).
At an 1894 gathering of Saints who had personally known Joseph Smith during his lifetime, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, Joseph F. Smith, reminded the group of something very important to never forget about Joseph Smith:
“Now, some of us remember one thing, and some remember another thing, with relation to the Prophet [Joseph Smith]. I remember several instances, general incidents, myself, which might be considered inappropriate to mention here tonight. For it is sometimes the ludicrous things and drastic things which occur that impress themselves with greater vigor upon the mind; and we remember them more distinctly than we do other things of far greater importance and which are far more worthy to be recollected. No matter what we may recollect of the Prophet or what may be said to us here tonight with regard to our memory of him, the one thing that I wish to call your attention to first and foremost of all other things is this, that whatever else the Prophet Joseph Smith may have done or may have been, we must not forget the fact that he was the man out of the millions of human beings that inhabited this earth at the time—the only man, that was called of God, by the voice of God Himself, to open up the dispensation of the Gospel to the world for the last time; and this is the great thing to bear in mind, that he was called of God to introduce the Gospel to the world, to restore the holy priesthood to the children of men, to organize the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the world, and to restore all the ordinances of the Gospel, for the salvation not only of the living, but also of the dead, and he was called to this mission by God Himself. Now, if somebody tells us about Joseph being fond of wrestling, fond of running a foot race, fond of having a good scuffle with some lusty neighbor or friend; or if you hear somebody tell about the good, that is, the overflowing of the human nature that was in him, it need not detract one iota from the great and glorious principles which were revealed through him to the world.
The question is not whether Joseph was called of God. Neither he nor the Lord has left that up to us to determine. The question is, will we stand by Joseph “faithfully,” just as he stood as a “faithful witness” of the Restoration, even giving his life for the cause. For the next few weeks, this column will be devoted to exploring reasons why we can, in fact, stand by Joseph faithfully, without fear, doubt or shame. We’ll be discussing a wide variety of practical, logical, linguistic, historical, and scriptural, as well as spiritual evidences of the Restoration—evidences which all came from God through, not by or from, the Prophet Joseph Smith (see D&C 5:10).
Joseph Smith is a prophet’s prophet. All the prophets of this dispensation have referred to Joseph Smith as “The Prophet.