The Wondrous Restoration


Neal A. Maxwell
Adapted from an address given 22 June 1999 at a seminar for new mission presidents, Missionary Training Center, Provo, Utah.
Dazzling truths came through the Prophet Joseph Smith, including key truths lost for centuries.

All of us are messengers who carry the message of the Restoration. We are not only to experience personal conversion, but we are to have personal enthusiasm! We can then do our work so much better, and, on occasion, others will have an experience similar to that of Brigham Young when humble missionaries first testified to him. Brigham said, “Their testimony was like fire in my bones.” 1 On occasion you will teach people who will feel the Spirit “like fire in [their] bones.” I hope, therefore, to be able to add a few insights about the gospel and at least something to your enthusiasm as messengers of such a great message.

Reasons for the Restoration

The great message of the Restoration, which came through the Prophet Joseph Smith, was actually prophesied centuries in advance. The words used to characterize it are interesting: “restitution of all things” (Acts 3:21), meaning restoration of all things. The times of restitution would also be “times of refreshing” (Acts 3:19), and also, as the Doctrine and Covenants tells us, it was done “that faith also might increase in the earth” (D&C 1:21). These are underlying descriptions of and reasons for the great Restoration. Interestingly, centuries before Peter, Enoch was told that the Restoration would especially testify of Jesus and of the Resurrection (see Moses 7:62). These are the central things.

Therefore, we as Latter-day Saints cannot regard Jesus, as some do, as merely a “great moral teacher,” though He was the greatest, or even as a “minor prophet.” He is the Lord of the universe, as well as our Redeemer!

Even so, we must make no mistake about the cultural context into which you will deliver this great message. One eminent historian described today’s context when he said: “Among the advanced races, the decline and ultimately the collapse of the religious impulse would leave a huge vacuum. The history of modern times is in great part the history of how that vacuum had been filled. … In place of religious belief, there would be secular ideology.” 2

No wonder the “restitution” is to have constituted a time of “refreshing.” No wonder that increased faith in Jesus is so sorely needed!

A Refutation of Secular Society

Thus, the great Restoration is also a refutation of our increasingly doubting and secular society. Our society has its jaded cynicism, humdrum hedonism, and pleasure seeking, and it is swamped in situational ethics. No wonder some, unaware, fulfill Peter’s great prophecy by saying, in effect: “Where is the promise of [Christ’s] coming? … All things must continue as they are, and have continued as they are from the beginning of the creation” (Joseph Smith Translation, 2 Pet. 3:4).

People have lost much of the capacity to believe. No wonder today’s permissiveness and immorality resemble symptoms of an earlier time: “And thus [Korihor] did preach unto them, leading away the hearts of many, causing them to lift up their heads in their wickedness, yea, leading away many women, and also men, to commit whoredoms—telling them that when a man was dead, that was the end thereof” (Alma 30:18).

Without the acceptance of the Restoration, it will become increasingly as it was in ancient Israel when “every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 17:6; Judg. 21:25). Already in our time, as prophesied, “every man walketh in his own way, and after … the likeness of the world” (D&C 1:16).

Removing Stumbling Blocks

Such skeptical, secular people soon fall into the trap of “looking beyond the mark”—and the mark is Christ (see Jacob 4:14). No wonder, for instance, many fail to notice the sprouting leaves on the fig tree signaling that summer is nigh (see JS—M 1:38–39; D&C 45:37).

Very importantly, therefore, the great Restoration removes stumbling blocks which prevent our seeing “things as they really are, and … things as they really will be” (Jacob 4:13; see also 1 Ne. 14:1). When stumbling blocks are removed, we see the purposes of life clearly. We see ourselves differently, clearly, and correctly.

For instance, the words “plan of salvation” are not found in the precious Holy Bible, but the plan is noted over a dozen times in Restoration scriptures (see, for example, Alma 12:28–30). But without those important truths, life is like seeing only the middle act of a three-act play. We don’t see act one. We don’t know about act three. Here people struggle and strain to make sense out of act two. Only with a knowledge of the plan of salvation is that kind of dilemma resolved.

Joseph Smith, for instance, was told that “man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be” (D&C 93:29; see also Abr. 3:16–18). Brothers and sisters, you have been you for a long, long time!

We existed as individuals well before our mortal births. We are now and have been accountable for our choices!

Thus the doctrines of premortality and foreordination overturn incorrect traditions which hold that mortals were created “out of nothing” in an instant.

The Plurality of Worlds

In June 1830 the first chapter of Moses was revealed. Joseph Smith called the first chapter of Moses a “precious morsel.” 3 This precious morsel expanded upon the Bible’s meager but still helpful verses concerning the plurality of worlds (see Gen. 1:1; Heb. 1:2). Our planet, we know from the revelations, is but one among “worlds without number” (Moses 1:33), which “worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God” (D&C 76:24).

How many planets are there with people on them? We don’t know. There appear to be none in our own solar system, but we are not alone in the universe. We see the universe differently and correctly. God is not the God of only one planet! We see how the perspective we have is expanded dramatically by the revelations of the Restoration.

God’s Character and Capacity

Because of the Restoration, we see God’s character and capacity differently and correctly.

Joseph Smith taught that God sees the past, the present, and the future as if they were an “eternal now.” God foresaw human wickedness, and He has made “ample provision” for that wickedness so that He is still able to bring to pass His purposes. 4 There are a lot of people who believe in a kind of god, but they are not sure he has the character or capacity to do anything that matters. Because they lack an understanding of God’s character and purposes, their faith is weak.

Through the Restoration we learn the following:

  • Joseph Smith said, “If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves.” 5

  • God’s capacity is such that two times in two verses in the Book of Mormon, He reassures us in a very polite but pointed way, “I am able to do mine own work” (2 Ne. 27:20–21). Is He ever!

  • We are told in the book of Abraham about divine determination. “There is nothing that the Lord thy God shall take in his heart to do but what he will do it” (Abr. 3:17). In the times that lie ahead, this should be part of our faith in His capacity. It is part of our faith in His character. It is part of our understanding of His purposes.

  • God’s attributes include perfect goodness and perfect mercy. We can come to have a knowledge of His goodness and His mercy. This is why Nephi, in the very first verse of the Book of Mormon, speaks of how he had “a great knowledge of the goodness … of God” (1 Ne. 1:1). May I submit to you that people who don’t know that fact are terribly deprived doctrinally. They call into question the purposes and trials of life. When we know that God is perfect in His goodness, it will sustain us through the vicissitudes of life.

Without this vital knowledge about God’s character and purposes, skepticism swells! President George Q. Cannon (1827–1901) identified one root cause of today’s skepticism, saying, “There is in the plan of salvation, which God our heavenly Father has revealed, perfect love; mercy and justice, and every other attribute which pertains to the character of Deity are perfectly illustrated in the plan of salvation which he has revealed for man’s guidance.” 6

However, President Cannon lamented, “The difficulty to-day is, that the people do not believe that God is a being of this character.” 7 We are so blessed to know so much more about not only His purposes but His character.

The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon sits in the center of the Restoration as part of the great message of the Restoration.

Ponder this powerful yet frequently ignored quotation from the Prophet Joseph Smith concerning the title page of the Book of Mormon: “I wish to mention here that the title-page of the Book of Mormon is a literal translation, taken from the very last leaf, on the left hand side of the collection or book of plates, which contained the record which has been translated, … and that said title page is not … a modern composition, either of mine or of any other man who has lived or does live in this generation.” 8

A marvelous testimony! The Book of Mormon is beyond the capacity of Joseph Smith or any other individual to have written. Why? Because it was not only translated by “the gift and power of God”; it was written and transmitted by “the gift and power of God.” It is special in so many ways that we in the Church have yet to inventory and appreciate fully. One of the reasons for its superb quality is explained by King Benjamin in his great sermon: “And the things which I shall tell you are made known unto me by an angel from God” (Mosiah 3:2). Such speech writing!

The Book of Mormon is thus infused with angelic excellence. But it tells us something further. The Book of Mormon also says, “Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ” (2 Ne. 32:3). How powerfully important the gift of the Holy Ghost is if we would be tutored.

The process of translating the Book of Mormon was absolutely remarkable. Who was closest to the process besides Joseph? Oliver Cowdery. He was Joseph’s mortal helper. Though he left the Church for a while, he came back to the Church, seeking no status. He gave strong testimony of the Book of Mormon. In fact, Oliver’s final testimony, on his deathbed, spoke about the Book of Mormon. Of that experience, one of his family said: “Just before he breathed his last, [Oliver] asked to be raised up in bed so he could talk to the family and friends and he told them to live according to the teachings in the Book of Mormon, and they would meet him in Heaven. Then he said, ‘Lay me down and let me fall asleep in the arms of Jesus,’ and he fell asleep without a struggle.” 9

This last witness of Oliver Cowdery, who sat day by day having the Prophet dictate to him, was about the Book of Mormon.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has pointed out how Joseph Smith has brought forth more printed pages of scripture than did any other mortal. In fact, though untrained in theology, he accomplished something remarkable. Elder Holland has also observed that more pages came through Joseph Smith than from Moses, Paul, Luke, and Mormon combined!

“Plain and Precious” Truths Revealed

Not only is the Restoration’s quantity highly impressive; its quality is stunning! Dazzling truths came through the Prophet Joseph, including key truths lost for centuries during the prophesied doctrinal famine as to the word of the Lord (see Amos 8:11). Furthermore, this famine, along with false doctrines, has caused many to “stumble exceedingly,” just as the Book of Mormon prophesied (see 1 Ne. 13:34). By faulty transmission, many “plain and precious things” were “taken away” or “kept back” from reaching what later composed our precious Holy Bible (see 1 Ne. 13:34, 39–40). I testify to you, brothers and sisters, that these “plain and precious” doctrines were restored in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times, a time of refreshing.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is also in the unique position of knowing that there were different gospel dispensations. These dispensations began with Adam. One scripture says, “And thus the Gospel began to be preached, from the beginning, being declared by holy angels sent forth from the presence of God, and by his own voice, and by the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Moses 5:58).

Ponder this wonderful insight from President Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918), which underscores this uniqueness: “Undoubtedly the knowledge of this law and of other rites and ceremonies was carried by the posterity of Adam into all lands, and continued with them, more or less pure, to the flood, and through Noah, who was a ‘preacher of righteousness,’ to those who succeeded him, spreading out into all nations and countries, Adam and Noah being the first of their dispensations to receive them from God. What wonder, then, that we should find relics of Christianity, so to speak, among the heathens and nations who know not Christ, and whose histories date back beyond the days of Moses, and even beyond the flood, independent of and apart from the records of the Bible.” 10

This is why we sometimes find fragments of the whole truth in various cultures. The gospel was once a whole and precious totality, and then came the dispersion, diffusion, and distortion of these truths.

Thus the Restoration was part of God’s generous and “ample provision” for His children. God’s overarching purposes have been clearly revealed, including in that “precious morsel,” Moses 1, where we read, “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). You cannot find that kind of plain and precious verse in the wonderful book we know as the Holy Bible.

Not only has much more scripture come to us through the Restoration, but as we all know, “many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” will yet be revealed (see A of F 1:9). Among those things yet to be revealed one day will be the full book of Enoch. We have already, in the Restoration, received 18 times more than the meager data in the Bible concerning this great and prophetic figure of Enoch. Without the Restoration, we would not even know there was a city of Enoch!

Furthermore, one day the Bible and the Book of Mormon will be joined by the witnessing words of scripture from the lost tribes of Israel (see 2 Ne. 29:13). There will eventually be three witnesses, and we know this, again, from the revelations in the great Restoration.

The Prophet Joseph Smith

The Prophet Joseph Smith, of course, is the conduit for the things I have described. He, like another prophet, served “notwithstanding [his] weakness” (2 Ne. 33:11). In fact, “out of [Joseph’s] weakness he [was] made strong” (2 Ne. 3:13). The Prophet, in what must have been a wistful moment, said to the members of the Church in Nauvoo, “I never told you I was perfect; but there is no error in the revelations which I have taught.” 11

Ponder now these witnessing words of President Wilford Woodruff (1807–98) about the Seer Joseph Smith. These were given in March 1897, in the very sunset of President Woodruff’s ministry. He said with an aged but powerful voice: “I bear my testimony that in the early spring of 1844, in Nauvoo, the Prophet Joseph Smith called the Twelve Apostles together and he delivered unto them the ordinances of the Church and the kingdom of God; and all the keys and powers that God had bestowed upon him, he sealed upon our heads. … I am the only man now living in the flesh who heard that testimony from his mouth, and I know this was true by the power of God manifest to him.”

President Woodruff continues: “At that meeting, he stood on his feet for about three hours and taught us the things of the kingdom. His face was as clear as amber, and he was covered with a power that I have never seen in any man in the flesh before.” 12

Joseph Smith, as Elder B. H. Roberts wrote, lived “in crescendo!” 13 Indeed he did. Near the mortal end, looking back upon his stress-filled, task-filled years, the Prophet said: “I don’t blame any one for not believing my history. If I had not experienced what I have, I would not have believed it myself.” 14 In your testimonies of Joseph, therefore, make allowance for how much came through him, more at times than he could have immediately and fully comprehended. Make allowance for the fact that his enemies, even in today’s world, produce a constant pattern of accusation, but it is followed by eventual vindication regarding the work of the Prophet Joseph Smith. He began as “an obscure boy … of no consequence in the world … doomed to the necessity of obtaining a scanty maintenance by his daily labor” (JS—H 1:22–23). Now, however, just as prophesied, “the ends of the earth shall inquire after [his] name” (D&C 122:1).

Blessings of the Restoration

Sobered and humbled by the grandeur of the Restoration and all that it brings to us, there should be times when you and I leave tears on our pillows out of gratitude for what God has given us. We know about the three-act dimension of the plan of salvation—and more. We are blessed to bear testimony of the great Restoration and to bear testimony of the Book of Mormon and of the work of the Prophet Joseph Smith. And so it should not surprise us that the most faithful among us are, indeed, the quietly meek and submissive souls who meet the challenges of life buoyed up by the doctrines of the Restoration.

We are blessed to know things that simply transform the landscape of life. In the felicitous words of Jacob, this knowledge enables us to see “things as they really are” and “as they really will be” (Jacob 4:13). There must be not only the Spirit as we deliver the message of the Restoration but also the enthusiasm of our own testimonies. By that I do not mean emotional extravagance but rather the quiet enthusiasm in which people, as did Brigham Young, can feel your testimony like fire in their bones.

We must go forward in such a great cause, borne up by our own witnesses and with the enthusiasm which can prove to be contagious for this, the work of the great Restoration—a time of refreshing, a time of restitution, and a time of quiet faith. This is His work, of which I give apostolic witness.

[illustrations] Illustrations by Cary Henrie

Show References

    Notes

  1.   1.

    “Remarks,” Deseret News, 2 Oct. 1861, 177.

  2.   2.

    Paul Johnson, Modern Times (1983), 48.

  3.   3.

    History of the Church, 1:98.

  4.   4.

    See Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (1976), 220.

  5.   5.

    Teachings, 343.

  6.   6.

    “Discourse,” Deseret News, 31 Jan. 1872, 609.

  7.   7.

    “Discourse,” Deseret News, 2 Apr. 1873, 132.

  8.   8.

    History of the Church, 1:71.

  9.   9.

    Lucy Cowdery Young, letter, 7 Mar. 1887, Family and Church History Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

  10.   10.

    “Discourse,” Deseret News, 19 Feb. 1873, 36.

  11.   11.

    History of the Church, 6:366.

  12.   12.

    Typescript of statement on graphaphone, 19 Mar. 1897, Family and Church History Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

  13.   13.

    In Joseph Smith, Teachings, 356, footnote.

  14.   14.

    History of the Church, 6:317.