My father was a faithful member of the Church. He influenced for good many people who were not members of our Church. One of them was Frank J. Lucas. Mr. Lucas made the statement that “many doctrines of your Church I can accept, but not the story of the vision of Joseph Smith.”
I will always remember my father’s response: “Mr. Lucas, if you can’t accept Joseph Smith’s story of the Father and the Son’s appearance to him, you will never be able to accept the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.”
I have given much thought to this statement over the years. My father was right. Without believing Joseph Smith’s story of the Restoration, investigators will never join the true Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That the heavens opened, that Joseph Smith saw and talked with our Heavenly Father and His Be-loved Son, Jesus Christ, is central to our faith.
The Lord, in the preface to the Doctrine and Covenants, stated the reasons for the Restoration of the gospel in its fulness:
“Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments;
“And also gave commandments to others, that they should proclaim these things unto the world; and all this that it might be fulfilled, which was written by the prophets—
“The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh—
“But that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world;
“That faith also might increase in the earth;
“That mine everlasting covenant might be established;
“That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world, and before kings and rulers” (D&C 1:17–23).
Before we can understand the importance of the Restoration, however, we must have a knowledge and understanding of what happened to the primitive Church after the death of our Savior. Both sacred and secular writ attest to the fact that there was a dissolution of the church that Jesus Christ had established. We speak of the Apostasy not as an attack on any church. We have no interest in tearing down or belittling any religious organization, but we must recognize and acknowledge the Apostasy because it leads irrevocably to the necessity of that which followed—the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The early Apostles knew that the Church of Jesus Christ, established and conferred into their hands, would one day languish and disappear from the face of the earth. To the Thessalonians Paul wrote:
“Now we beseech you, brethren, …
“That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, … as that the day of Christ is at hand.
“Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition” (2 Thes. 2:1–3).
Paul also wrote to Timothy that “the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
“And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Tim. 4:3–4).
The great ecclesiastical historian Dr. J. L. von Mosheim, in his outlines of ecclesiastical history, wrote: “It will easily be imagined, that unity and peace could not reign long in the church, since it was composed of Jews and Gentiles, who regarded each other with the bitterest aversion. … Thus the seeds of discord and controversy were early sown, and could not fail to spring up soon into animosities and dissensions, which accordingly broke out, and divided the church.”1
In a surprisingly short time, the Church disassembled. Without Apostles, the Church lost its anchor and began to drift on every wind of doctrine. Spiritual gifts disappeared, revelations ceased, the keys to the priesthood were lost, ordinances changed. Ultimately, the purity of our Lord’s gospel began to meld with other doctrines, beliefs, and practices. Philosophies and political influences began to infiltrate and transform the Church.
During the centuries that followed, the light dimmed even further. President Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor in the First Presidency, explained: “The dark ages of history seemed never to end. Was there to be no termination to this blasphemous night? Had a loving Father forgotten mankind? Would he send forth no heavenly messengers as in former days?”2
The church that once had been persecuted for its beliefs now began to persecute others for theirs. At first a few great reformers began to speak out. When John Wycliffe completed the first English translation of the entire Bible, those in authority did all they could to destroy it. Many of Wycliffe’s followers were severely punished.
Jan Hus, another fearless reformer who spoke against corruption in the church, was chained by the neck to a stake and burned.
Thousands of others heroically searched for the truth and risked their all as they sought to worship God according to the dictates of their consciences.
President Monson said further of these great reformers, “Their contributions [were] many, their sacrifices great—but they did not restore the gospel of Jesus Christ.”3 In the final analysis it was simply beyond the power of man to restore heavenly authority to the earth. Without heavenly approbation, no amount of prayer, no amount of study, no amount of piety could compel it.
When the time came for the gospel to be restored, whom did the Lord choose as His instrument on earth? He chose Joseph Smith, a young boy, one of nine living children in a family that continually waged a struggle to make ends meet. Elder George A. Smith (1817–75) described his cousin Joseph as a plowboy, one who cultivated the earth and had scarcely education enough to read his Bible.
During the days of Joseph’s youth, the region around Palmyra became embroiled in religious fervor. Preachers and ministers of every sect fervently cried, “Lo, here!” and others, “Lo, there!” Some were contending for the Methodist faith, some for the Presbyterian, and some for the Baptist. “In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions,” Joseph Smith wrote: “I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?” (JS—H 1:10; see also JS—H 1:5).
This is a universal question that seekers of religious truth ask. This is the question investigators will ask of themselves and of our missionaries. In the heart of one who is sincerely seeking the truth, this question is the beginning of spiritual knowledge.
After Joseph offered a humble prayer for guidance in the woods near his home, he said: “I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
“… When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (JS—H 1:16–17).
From that day forward, Joseph Smith learned line upon line. He turned himself to diligent study of God’s word, but he did more than that; he sought knowledge and inspiration from God Himself. Joseph communed with angels. He spoke with the great and righteous personalities of ancient times. President John Taylor (1808–87) said that Joseph Smith seemed to be as familiar with these ancient prophets and patriarchs as we are with one another. Abraham, John, Adam, Peter—Joseph knew them as you know your good friends.4
Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon. Through him the Church of Jesus Christ once again was established on the earth. Keys of the priesthood were conferred upon his head. The ordinances of everlasting life and the mysteries of the kingdom of God were given to man.
The story of great trial and great triumph of the restored Church is simply a story of great faith. Faith brought about the Restoration, and the same faith sustains the Restoration in our day until the Lord comes again and proclaims the work is finished.
In December 2005 we celebrated the 200th anniversary of the Prophet’s birth. More than 12 million people are members of the Church he organized in 1830. More than 12 million people alive today have entered the waters of baptism and, through the authority of the priesthood that was conferred upon the head of Joseph Smith by heavenly messengers, received the gift of the Holy Ghost.
My dear brothers and sisters, in all of our efforts to proclaim the good news of the gospel, to bring souls unto Christ, and to testify of the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ, whose mission and atoning sacrifice is the sum and substance of our faith and the restored gospel, let us not forget and neglect the wonder and purposes of the Restoration. Let us not be ashamed of the divine mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Let us teach with great faith and power the reality of the Apostasy and of the need for the Restoration. Let us not shy away from teaching the simple truth of the reality of the First Vision and of all that the Lord did by and through the instrumentality of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
President Brigham Young (1801–77) declared: “It was decreed in the councils of eternity, long before the foundations of the earth were laid, that [Joseph Smith] should be the man, in the last dispensation of this world, to bring forth the word of God to the people and receive the fullness of the keys and power of the Priesthood of the Son of God. The Lord had his eye upon him, and upon his father, and upon his father’s father, and upon their progenitors clear back to Abraham, and from Abraham to the flood, from the flood to Enoch and from Enoch to Adam. He has watched that family and that blood as it has circulated from its fountain to the birth of that man. [Joseph Smith] was foreordained in eternity to preside over this last dispensation.”5
Joseph Smith was a man of great faith, even as a youth. Yet he was persecuted. “I soon found,” Joseph Smith related in his history, “… that my telling the story [of the First Vision] had excited a great deal of prejudice against me among professors of religion, and was the cause of great persecution, which continued to increase; and though I was an obscure boy, only between fourteen and fifteen years of age, and my circumstances in life such as to make a boy of no consequence in the world, yet men of high standing would take notice sufficient to excite the public mind against me, and create a bitter persecution; and this was common among all the sects—all united to persecute me” (JS—H 1:22).
He was shot at, beaten, tarred and feathered, threatened with death, ravaged by sickness, beset by legal entanglements, imprisoned and chained, forced to listen to the taunts of the most vile and evil of men, and yet he only spoke with greater conviction of the truth of what he had seen and heard. Toward the end of his life, the Prophet Joseph wrote: “Deep water is what I am wont to swim in. It all has become a second nature to me” (D&C 127:2).
Brothers and sisters, we must gain faith like that of the founders of this great work. This is the work of the Lord. He will strengthen and guide us. And with the Lord behind us, how can we fail?
Those who sincerely seek to know the truth of the Restoration, the truth of the Book of Mormon, and whether Joseph Smith was a prophet have many witnesses to rely on.
Oliver Cowdery began work as Joseph’s scribe on 7 April 1829. He was 22 years of age. The Prophet was about one year older. These young men were the age of many of our missionaries. They began the work of translation in earnest. Oliver later said: “These were days that were never to be forgotten. … Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated, with the Urim and Thummim, … the history, or record, called ‘The Book of Mormon.’”6
Oliver was with Joseph when John the Baptist appeared to restore the Aaronic Priesthood. He was with Joseph when the Lord Himself appeared in the Kirtland Temple. He was with Joseph when Peter, James, and John conferred upon them the Melchizedek Priesthood. He was with Joseph when Moses, Elijah, and Elias conferred upon them many of the keys of the Restoration.
Of the eleven men who were witnesses to the Book of Mormon, nine apostatized. None of them, however, ever denied their testimony that they had seen the plates. Since the days of Joseph and Hyrum, millions have raised their voices to the growing chorus proclaiming that the gospel has been restored to earth again.
Brothers and sisters, we must testify that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, lest we fail in our stewardships as heralds of the Restoration of the kingdom of God. We read in Doctrine and Covenants 135:3: “Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it. … He lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and like most of the Lord’s anointed in ancient times, has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood.”
Brigham Young said, “I feel like shouting Hallelujah, all the time, when I think that I ever knew Joseph Smith, the Prophet.”7
In 1844 Josiah Quincy Jr., son of the president of Harvard University and himself later the mayor of Boston, visited Nauvoo. Later he wrote a book entitled Figures of the Past. In it he commented about the Prophet. He said: “It is by no means improbable that some future textbook, 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 that interrogatory may be thus written: Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet. And the reply, absurd as it doubtless seems to most men now living, may be an obvious commonplace to their descendants. … The man who established a religion in this age of free debate, who was and is to-day accepted by hundreds of thousands as a direct emissary from the Most High,—such a rare human being is not to be disposed of by pelting his memory with unsavory epitaphs.”8
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Rom. 1:16). So too must we be bold in declaring that the God of heaven and earth once again speaks to man in our day. What more welcome message can we impart than that a loving Heavenly Father has revealed Himself to us in our day, that He has imparted words of counsel and encouragement to us, that He has restored the priesthood, that many of the precious mysteries of the kingdom of God have been unveiled? We bring to the world good news—a message of rejoicing, a message of hope.
I bear you my testimony and witness that indeed Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, that he is working mightily in heaven today to further the kingdom of God. He, along with Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Parley P. Pratt, Hyrum Smith, and hundreds of other great people and righteous souls, is counting on us to do this work and to emphasize the fact that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and restored the gospel. Zion will not arise simply because we wish it to. It will arise because we will it to—because we apply our minds, our muscle, and our hearts in bringing it to pass. The work of creation requires all the best within us, but what a great and noble goal to seek for Zion.
In an editorial for the Times and Seasons in May 1842, Joseph Smith said: “The building up of Zion is a cause that has interested the people of God in every age; it is a theme upon which prophets, priests and kings have dwelt with peculiar delight; they have looked forward with joyful anticipation to the day in which we live; and fired with heavenly and joyful anticipations they have sung and written and prophesied of this our day; … we are the favored people that God has made choice of to bring about the Latter-day glory; it is left for us to see, participate in and help to roll forward the Latter-day glory. … [This is] a work that God and angels have contemplated with delight for generations past; that fired the souls of the ancient patriarchs and prophets; a work that is destined to bring about the destruction of the powers of darkness, the renovation of the earth, the glory of God, and the salvation of the human family.”9
My brothers and sisters, the work that began with a humble plowboy in 1820 is not yet finished. This is our day, it is our time, it is our turn to put our shoulders to the grand wheel that was set in motion nearly 200 years ago. That you may go forth throughout the world and proclaim the testimony of Joseph Smith and the restored gospel is my humble prayer.