The words of William W. Phelps’s great hymn always stir me: “Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah! Jesus anointed that Prophet and Seer. Blessed to open the last dispensation, kings shall extol him, and nations revere” (“Praise to the Man,” Hymns, number 27).
The life and ministry of the Prophet Joseph Smith are indeed the substance of great things and remarkable events. They have created a legacy that will continue to increase among mankind. He was the Lord’s latter-day servant who was chosen to bear witness anew of the resurrected Christ.
To a world plagued with doubt over the actuality of the 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 earth and gave his life for the sins of all mankind and who rose triumphant from the grave as “the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Cor. 15:20).
Thirdly, Joseph Smith bore witness of the living Lord through the church which carries the name of Jesus Christ. 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.
The Prophet Joseph Smith was a preeminent witness of the living Christ.
I have tried to picture in imagination that April 6 of 1830, the day the Church was organized. 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 the prophetic vision, had any idea of the greatness of the thing they were beginning. From a rural area in Fayette, New York, from the simple Whitmer log farmhouse, there was to grow by constant accretion an organization worldwide in its scope and numbering millions in its membership.
As we think of the growth of the Church since then, our minds are drawn to chapters in that epic and painful movement from the 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.
There the early members 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, 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 itself.
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.
Elder 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).
Now, 167 years 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 the members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are they who today hold all of the priesthood keys bestowed upon Joseph Smith, with the administration of those keys under the direction of Joseph’s legal successor, the President of the Church.
The church organized 167 years ago is described by the Lord as “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually” (D&C 1:30). 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.
May we live its teachings and work to fulfill the Lord’s purposes as we individually seek to model our lives after its true and living head, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Prophet Joseph Smith was the Lord’s latter-day servant who was chosen to bear witness anew of the resurrected Christ.
The testimony of this preeminent witness was spoken in many ways:
—He spoke of his incomparable vision of the Father and Son.
—He was the instrumentality through which came the Book of Mormon, a new witness of Christ.
—He bore witness of the living Lord by establishing the church that bears the name of Jesus Christ.
—He testified of the Lord in the many existing recorded revelations from the Lord.
—He sealed his mission with his life, dying a martyr for the truths he witnessed.
All of us who are part of this great latter-day church are a fulfillment of the prophecy to Joseph Smith that “the ends of the earth shall inquire after thy name” (D&C 122:1).