In 1844 Josiah Quincy, the respected mayor of Boston, Massachusetts, traveled to Nauvoo, Illinois. He toured the city, visited with the Saints, and interviewed the Prophet Joseph Smith. Mr. Quincy later wrote a book titled Figures of the Past and included a chapter on the Prophet with this prediction: “It is by no means improbable that some future text-book for the use of generations yet unborn will contain a question something like this: ‘What historical American of the nineteenth century has exerted the most powerful influence upon the destinies of his countrymen?’ And it is by no means impossible that the answer to the interrogatory may be thus written: ‘Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet.’”1
If we were to travel to Sharon, Vermont, the birthplace of the Prophet, we would see a towering granite shaft piercing 38 1/2 feet into the sky, each foot representing a year in the Prophet’s mortal life. To even a casual observer, the Prophet Joseph Smith has left a staggering list of accomplishments for his relatively short lifetime. He was a candidate for the presidency of the United States, proposing a remarkable platform that offered solutions to “the slave problem,” championed the elimination of imprisonment for debt, made recommendations for a national bank, and suggested the annexation of Texas, Mexico, and Canada to the United States. He founded the city of Nauvoo, helping to author its charter and supervise its growth in the early 1840s into one of the largest cities in Illinois. He served as one of Nauvoo’s mayors, judges, and aldermen. He commanded its armed militia, the Nauvoo Legion, that at its peak was a force of about 3,000 men, and, in addition to all this, he oversaw the construction of two major temples.
But his most significant accomplishment was the establishment of the restored Church of Jesus Christ, a work he was foreordained to do in the Grand Council in Heaven before the world was (see D&C 127:2). Under this divine appointment he saw God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, in a grove of trees in New York, which vision signaled the glorious truth that God speaks to man today. While much of the Christian world believes revelation ended with the Bible, Joseph’s First Vision was living proof of the testimony of the prophet Amos: “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7).
The Prophet Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon (531 pages in the present English version) in about 85 days. In this book of scripture is found a host of new names, both people and places, interwoven into a complex historical narrative. But most important, this book contains new and clarifying religious doctrine. Its exposition of the Atonement is unsurpassed in beauty and clarity. This book manifests a spirit that captivates the heart of all those who are searching for the truth.
Some years ago, a friend made a presentation on the Book of Mormon in one of our family nights. He commenced by reading these lines from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:
There is no fear in him; let him not die;
For he will live, and laugh at this hereafter.
Peace! count the clock.
The clock has stricken three.2
At first, these lines seemed not only insignificant but irrelevant to anything in the Book of Mormon. Then my friend made his point—that Shakespeare, one of the keenest intellects the world has ever produced, made a mistake: there were no striking or ticking clocks at the time of Julius Caesar. Shakespeare had placed something out of date. Even this mastermind had momentarily stumbled.
For more than 170 years, critics of the Prophet have placed their scholarly “stethoscopes” firmly against the Book of Mormon, listening for “ticking clocks,” but their stethoscopes have been embarrassingly mute because this book is not the work of a man, but of God.
The Prophet Joseph taught the marvelous concept of a premortal existence—that we lived as thinking, acting, spirit children of God before we were born. He brought to light the truth taught centuries earlier to the prophet Jeremiah: “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jer. 1:5).
The Prophet was an instrument in God’s hands in restoring the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods to the earth. He then became God’s mouthpiece in explaining how each of these priesthoods functions.
The Prophet Joseph Smith introduced an understanding of temples that was unknown to his contemporaries. Many in Jerusalem today look forward to the rebuilding of a temple in that holy city, but the question lingers, What ordinances will they perform there? Will they only reinstate the sacrifices of Old Testament times, or will they do something more? Fortunately the Prophet revealed to us much more; he revealed the additional ordinances of our latter-day temples that open the doors to exaltation and godhood.
This same beloved Prophet taught that the gospel is preached in the spirit world to those who have died without an opportunity to hear it. Not only is this doctrine scripturally correct, but it appeals to every fair-minded individual. The Prophet simply restored the doctrine espoused years ago by the Apostle Peter: “For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit” (1 Pet. 4:6).
One verse in the New Testament stands out like a colossal monument. Most of the Christian world attempts to discreetly avoid it. It is found in 1 Corinthians 15:29: “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?” But the Prophet Joseph faced this scripture “square on.” He explained that baptism for the dead is a gospel ordinance that is absolutely essential for people who have lived on the earth but never received this sacred rite.
The Prophet revealed to us the true meaning of genealogy. It is not to prove we are better than someone else, as was the reasoning of the Pharisees, but to perform essential gospel ordinances for our ancestors, recognizing “that they without us should not be made perfect” (Heb. 11:40).
The gospel is somewhat like a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. When young Joseph came on the scene, perhaps 100 pieces were already in place. Then the Prophet exercised his divine mantle and put most of the other 900 pieces together. People could now say: “I understand where I came from, why I am here, and where I am going. I know what it means to be a child of God. I understand the depth of my divine potential.”
Certainly there have been many brilliant men and women since the meridian of time. Why were they not able to put this puzzle together? Because God had reserved this work for the Prophet Joseph Smith.
The Prophet once spoke of Christopher Columbus, who was the guest of honor at a banquet. A courtier who was jealous of his discoveries asked him if there were not other capable men in Spain who could have successfully completed his voyage. Columbus responded by holding up an egg and inviting those present to make the egg stand on its end. No one could do it. Finally, he struck one end of the egg upon the table and left it standing. The Prophet then made this point: Once Columbus had shown the way to the New World, nothing was easier than to follow.3 It was the Prophet Joseph Smith who led the way in restoring the Church of Jesus Christ to the earth with all its doctrines and ordinances. In hindsight, it all seems so logical and natural. The Prophet’s role in this divine endeavor was clearly defined by the Lord: “This generation shall have my word through you” (D&C 5:10). Joseph Smith was God’s chosen instrument. His contributions to the restoration of God’s kingdom are monumental.
Satan knew Joseph in the premortal existence. He knew Joseph was destined to be a disturber to his kingdom (see JS—H 1:20). Before the advent of something good and great, Satan always works to prevent it. It is his modus operandi. Such was the case at the birth of the Savior with the slaying of the innocents (see Matt. 2:16–18). It occurred again when the Savior commenced His mortal mission and was confronted by Satan and his three temptations (see Luke 4:1–13). The hours of His Atonement were no exception—there was the agony in the Garden, the betrayal, the denunciation, the mock trial, the scourging, and the crucifixion. At every critical juncture, Satan was lying in wait attempting to destroy the Savior and His work. And so it would be with the Prophet Joseph. Satan and his nefarious forces would be present in all their diabolical fury to prevent the Restoration from going forward. Observed the Prophet, “In relation to the kingdom of God, the devil always sets up his kingdom at the very same time in opposition to God.”4
Shortly before his First Vision, young Joseph was returning home and was about to cross the threshold of the door when a bullet flew past him. Quickly he jumped inside. The next morning the family discovered that the potential assassin had taken his shot while lying under a nearby wagon. Of this incident Joseph’s mother, Lucy, wrote: “We have not as yet discovered the man who made this attempt at murder, neither can we discover the cause thereof.”5 But with hindsight we can guess the cause. Satan knew that the time was near when his kingdom would be shaken to its roots.
Not long after, young Joseph was reading James 1:5 in the Holy Bible. One can almost envision Satan wringing his hands as he watched this boy read this verse again and again. Later Joseph wrote of the spiritual impact of this experience: “Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again” (JS—H 1:12). Satan knew the time for the showdown was near at hand. On a beautiful spring day Joseph went to a grove of trees near his home, but he was not alone. As he knelt in prayer, he heard a noise like someone walking behind him. His tongue thickened so he could not speak.6 An overpowering gloom of darkness overshadowed him. After he called upon God for help, a glorious light dispelled the cloud of darkness and he saw God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.
No sooner had the Prophet received the gold plates than attempts were made to wrest them from him. Numerous lawsuits were filed against him—part of the diabolical plan to divert and discourage him from consummating his divinely appointed work. He was falsely imprisoned, tarred and feathered and driven from his home. He endured widespread apostasy and betrayal by friends. And then, 38 1/2 years after his birth, he sealed his testimony with his blood. Satan’s blatant and perpetual assaults are a mighty witness that Joseph Smith was, indeed, a prophet of God, chosen to restore the Church of Christ to the earth.
Despite Satan’s unrelenting war against him, the Prophet had a spirit of optimism. Elder George A. Smith (1817–75) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles reported that once when he was discouraged, the Prophet Joseph Smith said, “I should never get discouraged, whatever difficulties should surround me, if I was sunk in the lowest pit of Nova Scotia and all the Rocky Mountains piled on top of me, I ought not to be discouraged but hang on, exercise faith and keep up good courage and I should come out on the top of the heap.”7 It was as if the Prophet wore a spiritual life preserver. He could be pushed beneath the water with all the force Satan could thrust upon him, but he would always rise to the surface. He had about him an uncanny spiritual buoyancy. No earthly means, no Satanic opposition could thwart the cause. The Prophet Joseph had a testimony of his own divine destiny: “I shall triumph over all my enemies, for the Lord God hath spoken it” (D&C 127:2).
In 1881 the father of President David O. McKay (1873–1970) was called on a mission to his native Scotland. Brother McKay noticed that the people shunned him when he taught the restored gospel. They were particularly bitter when he mentioned the name of Joseph Smith. Accordingly he resolved to teach the simple truths of the gospel without mentioning the Restoration. Within a short time he felt a terrible spirit of gloom. “Unless I can get this feeling removed,” he wrote, “I shall have to go home. I can’t continue having my work thus hampered.” Some time thereafter he retired to a secluded cave. He prayed, “Oh, Father, what can I do to have this feeling removed? I must have it lifted or I cannot continue in this work.” He said he then heard a distinct voice say: “Testify that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God.” In response, he cried in his heart, “Lord, it is enough.”8
We can testify without excuse, apology, or embarrassment that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, that he went into a grove of trees and saw God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, and that he was the chosen instrument in the Lord’s hands to restore His Church to the earth. It is no wonder the scriptures declare of him, “Joseph Smith, the Prophet … , has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it” (D&C 135:3).