Joseph Smith did more for the salvation of men in this world than anyone else who ever lived in it, with the sole exception of our Lord and Savior—our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, the divine Son of God.
Joseph was the instrument through whom the true Church and kingdom of God were again restored to earth. He brought forth the Book of Mormon, which he translated by the gift and power of God. He was the means of having it published in his own day on two continents. He sent the everlasting gospel, now restored, to the four quarters of the earth.
He received numerous revelations from the Lord, which have been published in the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and our Church history. He gathered thousands of Latter-day Saints from abroad to establish a great city at Nauvoo, Illinois, with shops and fertile farms, churches, schools, and a university. He projected the westward migration of the Latter-day Saints and the settlement of the Great Basin, a work carried out later by his legal successor, President Brigham Young.
He lived great, and he died great, a martyr to the cause of Christ; and, like most of the Lord’s anointed in ancient times, he sealed his mission and his testimony with his life’s blood. (See D&C 135:3.)
He left a name and a fame that will never die, and as the years roll on and the Church continues taking the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, his name will be magnified even further, honored and blessed by the millions of faithful who come to know how truly great his calling really was. He was foreordained in heaven to this mighty work in latter days. He fulfilled his mission with honor and inspiration, a beacon to all who follow him, giving glory always to God on high, for whom he labored.
But great as this mighty prophet was, he had but a humble beginning. He was raised as a farm boy, with little formal education. His home as a youth was in western New York, then on the frontier of the United States.
The family cleared trees in the forest to make their farm. They were a humble people. They knew poverty and hardship, but by diligent effort and the blessings of heaven they lived successful lives.
The work of Joseph Smith was foretold by the prophet Isaiah, who spoke of his humble beginning and his lack of early education. Isaiah actually called him an unlearned man. This is significant in regard to this prophecy, for it becomes an unerring mark of identification.
As he opens the subject in his twenty-ninth chapter, Isaiah describes a nation which would be destroyed suddenly, but which would speak in modern times, literally from the grave, by means of a book.
He gives timing to the event also, and says it would be before Palestine regains its fertility. Palestine is now the fruitful field he envisioned, and the book has been published.
The origin of this book was to be unusual for various reasons, but one was that it would involve both an unlearned man and a scholar. Joseph Smith was that unlearned man, at that time in his life. So remarkable would be the effect of the book’s publication that even the deaf would hear the words of the book, the blind would see, and the poor among men would rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.
We testify that Isaiah’s prophecy has been fulfilled and that the book is now available. It is the Book of Mormon.
How did it come about?
An ancient nation which lived in America actually was destroyed suddenly, just as Isaiah foretold. Its population numbered in the millions. These people once had been righteous and had prophets among them who kept a sacred history engraved on metal plates. Before their final destruction, one of their prophets buried that record in the ground in a stone container for safekeeping. Hence, when this book was found, translated, and published in modern times, that early nation literally spoke out of the ground just as Isaiah said it would.
How was this book brought forth?
On the 22nd day of September 1823, near Palmyra, New York, an angel of God revealed its resting place to an eighteen-year-old boy named Joseph Smith, at this time as yet an unlearned, uneducated farm laborer, but now called of God to be His modern prophet.
The book was of metal having the appearance of gold. It consisted of metallic pages as thin as common tin. Each page measured about seven by eight inches, and all were bound together at the back with metal rings which allowed the pages to be turned over easily. The book was about six inches thick. Each page was covered on both sides with ancient writing in small but beautifully engraved characters. The book lay in a stone box which had protected it from the elements for centuries.
I pause here to ask if at that time there was any known parallel to such a record which could be pointed to for corroboration. The answer is no. There was none. But what of today, now, in 1977? The answer is yes—a resounding yes.
For example, archaeologists have now found the engraved gold and silver records of King Sargon II of Assyria, dating to about 750 B.C., buried in the ground in a stone box. The same thing is true of the gold plates of King Darius, who put Daniel in the lions’ den. Both sets of ancient records have been translated and published.
Another similar set of metal plates, bound together like a book, has been found in Korea and may be seen in the museum at Seoul, and still another has been found in Italy. So, you see, it was not unusual that ancient records were preserved in this way.
Many stone boxes have been found, especially in Mexico and Central America: Some are small, beautifully engraved and contain jewelry; others are large enough for food storage. The use of stone boxes was common in ancient times.
But let us consider for a moment the actual translation of this record. Joseph Smith says he did it by the gift and power of God, through the use of the Urim and Thummim. As unlearned as he was at that time in his life, he could have done it in no other way.
Enemies arose. They sought to destroy not only the Prophet Joseph himself, but also his work. They endeavored at every point to discredit what he did, to vilify and tarnish his innocent name, and to downgrade his work. They would not admit he was a prophet. They did not believe in modern revelation. They would seek only to debase him and abuse and defame him.
So it was that they sought to take the divine stamp away from his translation of the Book of Mormon. They determined to “humanize” his work by saying that he himself had composed the volume, or that he stole it from Spaulding, or that Sidney Rigdon wrote it, although it was published well before Joseph ever heard of Sidney Rigdon.
In their effort to “humanize” his work of translation they grudgingly gave him credit for knowledge and skills which he did not have, saying that he plagiarized parts of the Bible and literally took whole chapters out of it to compose his Book of Mormon—all of which claims, of course, were untrue and ridiculous.
Joseph Smith declared that he wrote only under the gift and power of God. Oliver Cowdery, his scribe, said the same thing, adding, “I wrote with my own pen the entire Book of Mormon (save a few pages) as it fell from the lips of the Prophet [Joseph Smith] as he translated it by the gift and power of God.” (“Journal of Reuben Miller,” 21 Oct. 1848.)
Martin Harris, another assistant scribe, bore the same testimony. And Emma Smith, the beloved wife of the prophet, who literally lived in and with and through this translation period, and assisted at times as a scribe, bore this testimony:
“I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired. For when [I acted] as his scribe, [Joseph] would dictate to me hour after hour; and when returning after meals or after interruptions, he would at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him. … It would have been improbable that a learned man could do this, and for one so … unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible.” (Saints’ Herald, 1879, 26:290.)
Then how can critics truthfully say that Joseph Smith, in his youth, was so scholarly that he could or would deliberately take passages from the Bible and skillfully make it appear that they were part of the Book of Mormon manuscript?
His mother said that at that early point in his life he had not yet even read through the Bible. Then how could he select carefully chosen passages and work them into the Book of Mormon so appropriately and skillfully?
Not having read through the Bible in his early years, he had no adequate knowledge with which to do such an editing job even if he had been adept at writing or editing, neither of which skills he possessed that early in life.
The Book of Mormon is a literary and a religious masterpiece, and is far beyond even the fondest hopes or abilities of any farm boy. It is a modern revelation from end to end. It is God-given.
Read, for example, some of the Savior’s beautiful sermons in that book. Note that the Lord quotes Bible prophets. Are we to say that the unlearned Joseph Smith had the audacity or the skill to rewrite the Savior’s sermons and insert King James Version passages in them, thinking to improve on what Jesus said?
Are we to believe the specious arguments of those critics who say that Joseph supposed that he could do better than the prophet Mormon? Did he have either the knowledge or the discretion to determine that the King James translators were superior to the prophet Mormon in the preparation of scriptural texts? Where is their sense of reason?
Mormon was a mature and inspired prophet. Joseph was but an unlearned farm boy. Could Joseph improve on Mormon’s work?
This young man was faithful to his charge. He did not tamper with the work of Mormon, the sermons of Jesus, the marvelous defense of Abinadi, or the writings of Malachi or Isaiah. He was strictly a translator, not an editor or a composer; nor was he a thief plagiarizing someone else’s work.
The whole task of translation was a miracle. The book is “a marvellous work and a wonder,” as Isaiah said. (Isa. 29:14.)
But, the critics ask, how do we explain the similarity of certain passages in both the Book of Mormon and the Bible? It is very simple. When I lived in England a few years ago I went to the British Museum in London and studied the history of the King James Version of the Bible. I learned that its translators fasted and prayed for inspiration in their work. I am convinced that they received it.
The similarity in the two books is but a testimony to the accuracy of the King James Version. Both books were beneficiaries of the inspiration of God.
The Lord’s hand was in the Book of Mormon, fully and completely, but it was also in the King James Version of the Bible to a significant degree. The Book of Mormon confirms that. I am thankful that we accept the King James Version as the official Bible of this Church.
From cover to cover the Book of Mormon is a revelation, an inspired translation, the work of God and not of any man. From cover to cover it is true.
As Joseph Smith translated it, God spoke through him, and what was thus said Oliver Cowdery recorded; and he affirmed that it was all a miracle, done by the power of God, and he was an on-the-spot physical witness to it all.
So out of Joseph Smith’s humble beginning came this new volume of scripture, a new revelation from God, a second faithful witness to the divinity of the Savior of the world.
So let us remember, and let our critics remember, that it was Isaiah who said that Joseph Smith would bring forth that book as an unlearned man, and that it would be a miracle, “a marvellous work and a wonder.” And so it is.
To this I bear my humble but solemn testimony in the sacred name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.