My beloved brethren and sisters, my heart is filled with gratitude for the opportunity to be here. This beautiful new Fayette chapel was made possible by the generosity of some of those present today. We thank you for your great kindness. I am particularly honored to be here with President Kimball on this historic occasion.
It is a pleasing coincidence that the birthday of the Church falls on Easter Sunday. Today the entire Christian world pauses to remember the most remarkable and significant event in history, the resurrection from the dead of the Son of God, the Savior of mankind.
To a world plagued with doubt over the actuality of that resurrection, Joseph Smith testified unequivocally of the risen, living Christ. That testimony was spoken in many ways and under many circumstances.
First, he spoke out of the experience of his incomparable vision of the Father and the Son, whom he both saw and heard. They were individual personages of form and substance, of body and voice. They spoke with him as one man speaketh with another (see Ex. 33:11).
Secondly, as the instrumentality through which came the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith has borne witness of the Savior to all who have read and will read that volume. Its constantly recurring message is a testimony of the promised Messiah who came to the earth and gave his life for the sins of all mankind, and who rose triumphant from the grave as “the first fruits of them that slept” (1 Cor. 15:20).
Thirdly, Joseph Smith bore witness of the living Lord through the Church organized here on these grounds. This church carries the name of Jesus Christ, and its members are expected by precept and example to bear witness of him in whose name they meet and serve.
Fourthly, Joseph Smith testified of the risen Lord, when by the power of his prophetic office he spoke these remarkable words:
“And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!
“For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—
“That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God” (D&C 76:22–24).
Finally, he sealed that testimony with his life’s blood, dying a martyr to the truths of which he had spoken concerning the Redeemer of the world, in whose name he had carried on his ministry.
And so, brothers and sisters, on this day of Easter, when we remember Him who overcame death, we speak with gratitude of the Prophet who was a preeminent witness of the living Christ.
As we are assembled at the place of the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ, I picture in imagination that April 6 of 1830. The few who believed in Joseph’s mission gathered on that day, which was designated by divine revelation as “being one thousand eight hundred and thirty years since the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh” (D&C 20:1).
One wonders whether any of that group, other than Joseph Smith who saw with prophetic vision, had any idea of the greatness of the thing they were beginning. From this rural area, from the simple log farmhouse on these grounds, there was to grow by constant accretion an organization worldwide in its scope and numbering millions in its membership.
Those of us who are here today, reliving the events of history, are filled with emotion as our words and faces are caught by the wondrous technique of television, flung to a satellite high in the heavens, then fed back to an earth station and placed on a screen before those in the great Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, all of this with only the lapse in time between you and us of less than three-quarters of a second. As we think of this miracle, our minds are drawn by contrast to chapters in that epic and painful movement of the Church from these farmlands of rural New York to the valley of the Great Salt Lake, and thence to the nations of the earth.
Following the organization of the Church, persecution soon raised its ugly head. A decision was made to move to Kirtland, Ohio.
Here they built their beautiful temple, and in its prayer of dedication the young prophet invoked the powers of heaven that the Church “may come forth out of the wilderness of darkness, and shine forth fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners” (D&C 109:73).
But the fulfillment of that prayer would not come quickly. The peace of Kirtland was shattered by insults, financial distress, the tarring and feathering of their leader.
In Missouri they built another center. This was to have been Zion. That dream was blasted with rifle fire, the burning of homes, the wolf cries of the night-riding mobs, the illegal expulsion order, followed by the painful march across the bottomlands of the Mississippi and the crossing of the river to a temporary asylum in Illinois.
Their prophet did not make that journey with the fleeing exiles. During the bitter winter of 1838–39 he was imprisoned in the cold, miserable basement cell of a Missouri jail, the victim of a false arrest.
Bereft, destitute, lonely, he cried out in those circumstances: “O God, where art thou?” (D&C 121:1).
In the revealed response to that prayer came these remarkable words of prophecy:
“The ends of the earth shall inquire after thy name, and fools shall have thee in derision, and hell shall rage against thee;
“While the pure in heart, and the wise, and the noble, and the virtuous, shall seek counsel, and authority, and blessings constantly from under thy hand” (D&C 122:1–2).
My brethren and sisters, we who are here today and you who are assembled in the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City—all of us who are a part of this great kingdom established among the nations of the earth are the fulfillment of that prophecy, as is the institution of the Church of which we are members.
Joseph Smith never saw the day of which we are a part, except through the vision of a seer. He died that sultry June 27, 1844, at Carthage, Illinois.
John Taylor, who was then with him, summed up his work in these words: “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” (D&C 135:3).
Standing at the crest of a century and a half since the organization of the Church, we are inclined to exclaim, “What hath God wrought through the instrumentality of his servant Joseph!”
I give you my testimony of him. He was the ordained servant of God, this Joseph raised up to become the mighty prophet of this dispensation—“a seer, a translator, a prophet, an apostle of Jesus Christ” (D&C 21:1). To that witness I add another word of testimony, that President Spencer W. Kimball, with us today, is Joseph Smith’s rightful successor, the prophet of our time, the President of the church which was organized here 150 years ago today. Its history has been heroic. It stands today a tower of strength, an anchor of certainty in an unsettled world. Its future is secure as the church and kingdom of God, of which I bear solemn witness in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.
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