First Presidency Message

Joseph Smith: Prophet to Our Generation

Ezra Taft Benson
From an address given by President Benson in general conference on 4 October 1981.

Joseph Smith:

The faith of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rests on the claim that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, and also that he declared the coming forth of the Book of Mormon was the result of angelic visitations to him between the years 1823 and 1827.

I wish to offer some evidences in support of Joseph Smith’s mission as a prophet to this generation.

The most singular evidence in support of Joseph Smith’s claim to being a spokesman for Almighty God was the publication of a scriptural record, the Book of Mormon.

The Book of Mormon is a record of the ancient inhabitants of the American continent and records the visit and ministry of Jesus Christ to the people on this continent following His ascension at Jerusalem. The major purpose of the record is to convince a later generation that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. The Book of Mormon, therefore, constitutes an additional witness, along with the Bible, to the divinity of Jesus Christ.

Joseph Smith obtained this ancient record from a heavenly messenger. This angel appeared to him and revealed the location of ancient records which were inscribed on metallic plates and buried in a stone vault. In due time, the young prophet was given the plates and the means by which they were translated. The book was then published to the world as canonized scripture.

This book contains “the everlasting gospel.” It is now preached by our missionaries to the world. Millions, with soberness and sincerity, testify they know it is from God.

A revealing characteristic of a true prophet is that he declares a message from God. He makes no apology for the message, nor does he fear for any social repercussions which may lead to derision and persecution.

As a young man, Joseph Smith was a seeker after truth. Confusion among existing churches led him to inquire of God which of them was true. In answer to that prayer, he asserted that a pillar of brilliant light appeared. These are his words:

“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 1:17.)

Joseph asked the second personage, who was Jesus Christ, which one of the Christian sects was correct. He was told that he must not join any of them, that none were correct.

Some treated his testimony with great contempt and began to incite false stories and persecution against him. The young prophet, like the Apostle Paul of old, would not recant his testimony, but defended his claim in these words:

“I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation” (JS—H 1:25).

The ultimate test of a true prophet is that when he speaks in the name of the Lord his words come to pass. That standard was explained by the Lord to Moses in these words:

“When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously” (Deut. 18:22).

Many prophecies of Joseph Smith are recorded to which this test might be applied. May I illustrate with two examples.

In 1832, he prophesied that the southern states and northern states of the United States of America would shortly be divided in civil war, that this war would be the beginning of world wars which would eventually involve all nations and result in the death and misery of many souls. Specifically, he said that the great Civil War would begin with a rebellion in South Carolina (See D&C 87). This prophecy was published to the world in 1851.

The Civil War began with the secession of South Carolina from the Union, and other states followed. When Lincoln sent provisions to the Union forces at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, the Confederate forces opened fire on the fort. Since that fateful day in 1861, the world has seen as a result of warfare the death and misery of many souls.

In another prophecy, one of the most remarkable pronounced on the head of one man, Joseph Smith said to a young judge named Stephen A. Douglas, in the presence of several others:

“Judge, you will aspire to the presidency of the United States; and if ever you turn your hand against me or the Latter-day Saints, you will feel the weight of the hand of Almighty upon you; and you will live to see and know that I have testified the truth to you; for the conversation of this day will stick to you through life” (History of the Church, 5:394).

Stephen A. Douglas did aspire to the presidency of the United States. He did have opportunity to defend the Church. But in a political speech in 1857, he viciously attacked the Church as “a loathsome, disgusting ulcer in the body politic” and recommended that Congress cut it out.

Some have asserted that no one had better prospects for the presidency than did Douglas, but when the results of the election were tallied, he received only twelve electoral votes. The election victory went to an obscure backwoodsman by the name of Abraham Lincoln.

Another test of a true prophet was established by the Savior Himself. True prophets should be distinguished from false prophets by the standard, “By their fruits ye shall know them” (Matt. 7:20). Consider some of the “fruits” of Joseph Smith’s teachings:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints takes care of its poor and needy by tithes and offerings from Church members. Latter-day Saints take seriously the Savior’s statement that “inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:40).

The Prophet Joseph Smith said the Church was not fully organized until the women had their own organization. So he organized, in 1842, the women’s Relief Society, which is today the largest women’s organization in the world.

This is a missionary church. Jesus said one of the signs of the times before His second coming was that the gospel of the kingdom would be preached to all the world as a witness unto all nations (Matt. 24:14).

Missionary service is expected from all young men and many married couples. Training begins in the home and is augmented by additional training in Church responsibilities. Priesthood training for young men commences at twelve and continues throughout life. Additionally, the Church sponsors missionary training centers, where missionaries receive instruction and training in preparation for the teaching of the gospel to nations in their own languages.

If any revelation given to Joseph Smith is susceptible to scientific investigation, it is the dietary health code known as the Word of Wisdom. In that revelation given in 1833, Church members were directed to abstain from coffee, tea, tobacco, and all alcoholic beverages.

Those who obey the commandment are promised “health in their navel and marrow to their bones” (D&C 89:18). Joseph Smith received the Word of Wisdom in 1833. Today medical science has validated the soundness of that revelation.

Yes, “by their fruits ye shall know them”! (Matt. 7:20.) The fruits of Joseph Smith’s teachings have withstood over 150 years of investigation, criticism, and persecution. The message, the Church, and the people stand as a vindication of the truth of his testimony and works.

Just as prophets of the past were without honor in their own countries and were persecuted and killed, Joseph Smith was maligned and martyred in his generation.

Was Joseph Smith sent from God? We answer an emphatic yes!

“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” (D&C 135:3).

I testify to you that God has again spoken from the heavens; that the visitation of God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ constitutes the greatest event in this world since the resurrection of Jesus Christ. God lives. Jesus is the Christ, the Redeemer of the world—not just a great moral teacher, as much of the Christian world is claiming, but the Savior of mankind, the very Son of God.

I bear testimony that Joseph Smith was a prophet of the living God, one of the greatest prophets that has ever lived on the earth. He was the instrument in God’s hand in ushering in the present gospel dispensation, the greatest of all, and the last of all in preparation for the second coming of the Master.

As God lives, I know these things are true and bear this witness to you.

Ideas for Home Teachers

Some Points of Emphasis

You may wish to make these points in your home teaching discussions. >The following are some evidences in support of Joseph Smith’s mission as a prophet to this generation:

  1. 1.

    The most singular evidence in support of Joseph Smith’s being a spokesman for God is the publication of the Book of Mormon.

  2. 2.

    The ultimate test of a true prophet is that when he speaks in the name of the Lord, his words come to pass.

  3. 3.

    True prophets are distinguished from false prophets by the standard, “By their fruits ye shall know them” (Matt. 7:20).

  4. 4.

    The visitation of God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ to Joseph Smith constitutes the greatest event in this world since the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Discussion Helps

  1. 1.

    Relate your feelings about the Prophet Joseph Smith. Ask those you visit to share their feelings.

  2. 2.

    Are there some scriptures or quotations in this article that the family might read aloud and discuss?

  3. 3.

    Would this discussion be better after a pre-visit chat with the head of the house? Is there a message from the bishop or quorum president?

[illustration] Engraving by H. B. Hall and Sons

[photo] Photo by John Luke

[photo] Photo by Phil Shurtleff

[photo] Photo by Jed Clark