President Joseph F. Smith: A Teacher of Gospel Doctrine

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Student Study Guide, (2005), 186

“President Joseph F. Smith served for 52 years as a General Authority of the Church—as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, as a Counselor to four Church Presidents, and for 17 years as the President of the Church. He taught the restored gospel of Jesus Christ with eloquence, tenderness, and conviction, calling for the people to ‘live in harmony with the designs of our Heavenly Father.’ His ministry was marked by his powerful witness of Jesus Christ: ‘I have received the witness of the Spirit in my own heart, and I testify before God, angels and men … that I know that my Redeemer lives’” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith[1998], v).

His Life (1838–1918)


Born on November 13 in Far West, Missouri, to Hyrum (the Prophet Joseph Smith’s brother) and Mary Fielding Smith


Age 5, his father was martyred at Carthage Jail, Carthage, Illinois


Age 9, drove ox-pulled wagon from Winter Quarters, Iowa, to the Salt Lake Valley (about 1,000 miles, or 1,600 kilometers)


Age 13, baptized on May 21 in City Creek, Salt Lake City; his mother died on 21 September


Age 15–19, served a mission to Hawaii


Age 21–24, served a mission to England


Age 27, married Julina Lambson on May 5. Ordained an Apostle and set apart as a counselor in the First Presidency on July 1 by President Brigham Young. Served as counselor to Presidents Brigham Young, John Taylor (1880), Wilford Woodruff (1889), and Lorenzo Snow (1898)


Age 35–36, served as president of the European Mission


Age 38, served again as president of the European Mission


Age 62, sustained as President of the Church


Age 80, died November 19 in Salt Lake City

His Presidency (1901–18)



Church published first Church magazine for children (The Children’s Friend)


Church became debt-free


Church began to use Boy Scouts of America as part of young men’s organization


Seminary began


First Church magazine for the women published


Family home evening began


Received the “Vision of the Redemption of the Dead” (D&C 138)

The Life of President Joseph F. Smith

1. “Joseph F. Smith was born in 1838 during the height of the Missouri persecutions in a small cabin near the temple site in Far West. At the time of Joseph’s birth, his father, Hyrum Smith, was imprisoned at Richmond, Missouri, and his mother, Mary Fielding Smith, was left alone to care for her children.

2. “Young Joseph moved with his family from Missouri to Nauvoo, Illinois, where an event occurred that he remembered for the rest of his life—the murder of his father and uncle at Carthage Jail. Joseph never forgot ing his father for the last time when, on the way to Carthage on horseback, he picked up his son, kissed him, and set him down. Nor could he forget the terror of hearing a neighbor rap on the window at night to tell his mother that Hyrum had been killed. The sight of his father and unclelying in their coffins in the Mansion House in Nauvoo never faded from his memory.

Pioneers on the trail

3. “The boy Joseph became a man almost overnight. When Mary Fielding Smith and her family joined the exodus from Nauvoo, 7-year-old Joseph was the teamster of one of her wagons. Joseph was 13 when his mother died, leaving him an orphan, and before he turned 16, he left on a mission to the Sandwich Islands (later called the Hawaiian Islands). Within three months after arriving in Honolulu, he spoke the native tongue fluently, a spiritual gift conferred upon him by Elders Parley P. Pratt and Orson Hyde of the Twelve, who set him apart. When he was 21, he left for another mission, this time for three years in the British Isles.

Joseph F. Smith as a young man

4. “Joseph was only 28 when President Brigham Young was impressed to ordain him an Apostle. In subsequent years he served as a Counselor to four Church Presidents. When Lorenzo Snow died in October 1901, Joseph F. Smith became the sixth President of the Church. He was well known for his ability to expound and defend gospel truths. His sermons and writings were compiled into a volume titledGospel Doctrine,which has become one of the important doctrinal texts of the Church.

5. “In the opening decades of the twentieth century, the Church moved forward in several important ways. With the continued emphasis on tithing and the Saints’ faithful response, the Church was able to pay off all its debts. A period of prosperity followed, enabling the Church to build temples, chapels, and visitors’ centers and to purchase Church historical sites. The Church also built the Administration Building in Salt Lake City that still serves as its headquarters.

6. “President Smith recognized the need for temples throughout the world. At a 1906 conference in Bern, Switzerland, he stretched out his hand and declared, ‘The time will come when this land will be dotted with temples, where you can go and redeem your dead’ [quoted in Serge F. Ballif, in Conference Report, Oct. 1920, 90]. The first latter-day temple in Europe, the Swiss Temple, was dedicated nearly half a century later in a suburb of the city where President Smith made his prophecy. President Smith dedicated land for a temple in Cardston, Alberta, Canada, in 1913 and for a temple in Hawaii in 1915.

7. “Beginning in the early 1900s, Church leaders encouraged Saints to remain in their own lands rather than gather to Utah. In 1911 Joseph F. Smith and his Counselors in the First Presidency issued this statement: ‘It is desirable that our people shall remain in their native lands and form congregations of a permanent character to aid in the work of proselyting’ [in Clark, comp.,Messages of the First Presidency,4:222].

8. “Six weeks before President Smith died, he received an important revelation about the redemption of the dead. He saw in vision the Savior’s ministry in the spirit world and learned that faithful Saints have the opportunity to continue teaching the gospel in the world of spirits. This revelation was added to the Pearl of Great Price in 1976 and in 1979 was transferred to the Doctrine and Covenants as section 138” (Our Heritage,105–7).

Understanding the Reading

The Life of President Joseph F. Smith

Rap(par. 2)Knock 
Exodus(par. 3)Mass departure 
Teamster(par. 3)Driver of horses or oxen 
Tongue(par. 3)Language 
Fluently(par. 3)Very well, easily 
Expound(par. 4)Teach 
Congregations of a permanent character(par. 7)Permanent branches and wards 
Redemption(par. 8)Salvation 

The Teachings and Testimony of Joseph F. Smith

Joseph F. Smith with long beard

9. “While [President Joseph F. Smith] was President of the Church, he sought to clarify the identity and roles of the Father and the Son, especially since some scripture passages designate Jesus Christ as Father. In an effort to help the Saints better understand certain scriptures concerning the Father and the Son, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve issued adoctrinal exposition on 30 June 1916 titled ‘The Father and the Son.’ This declaration affirmed the unity between God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, and clarified the distinct roles of each in the plan of salvation. It also explained the ways in which the termFatheris applied in the scriptures to both our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith,353). This doctrinal exposition explained three ways in which the termFatheris applied to Jesus Christ: He is the Father of heaven and earth, He is the Father of those who abide in His gospel, and He is the Father by divine investiture of authority.

10. “[One] scriptural meaning of ‘Father’ is that of Creator. …

11. “… Jesus Christ, whom we also know as Jehovah, was the executive of the Father, Elohim, in the work of creation. … Jesus Christ, being the Creator, is consistently called the Father of heaven and earth … ; and since His creations are of eternal quality He is very properly called the Eternal Father of heaven and earth. …

12. “[Another] sense in which Jesus Christ is regarded as the ‘Father’ has reference to the relationship between Him and those who accept His Gospel and thereby become heirs of eternal life. …

13. “… By obedience to the Gospel men may become sons of God, both as sons of Jesus Christ, and, through Him, as sons of His Father, is set forth in many revelations given in the current dispensation [D&C 11:28–30;34:1–3;35:1–2;39:1–4;45:7–8]. …

14. “By the new birth—that of water and the Spirit—mankind may become children of Jesus Christ. …

15. “[Another] reason for applying the title ‘Father’ to Jesus Christ is found in the fact that in all His dealings with the human family Jesus the Son has represented and yet represents Elohim His Father in power and authority. This is true of Christ in His preexistent, antemortal, or unembodied state, in the which He was known as Jehovah; also during His embodiment in the flesh; and during His labors as a disembodied spirit in the realm of the dead; and since that period in His resurrected state [John 5:43;10:25, 30;14:28;17:11, 22;3 Nephi 20:35;28:10;D&C 50:43]. Thus the Father placed His name upon the Son; and Jesus Christ spoke and ministered in and through the Father’s name; and so far as power, authority and Godship are concerned His words and acts were and are those of the Father” (“The Father and the Son: A Doctrinal Exposition by the First Presidency and the Twelve,”Improvement Era,Aug. 1916, 935–37, 939–40).

16. In 1909 President Joseph F. Smith and his counselors in the First Presidency issued a statement to answer inquiries “respecting the attitude of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints … in relation to the origin of man. …

17. “… Let us now inquire: What was the form of man, in the spirit and in the body, as originally created? In a general way the answer is given in the words chosen as the text of this treatise. ‘God created man in his own image.’ … If, therefore, we can ascertain the form of the ‘Father of spirits,’ ‘The God of the spirits of all flesh,’ we shall be able to discover the form of the original man.

18. “Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is ‘the express image’ of His Father’s person (Hebrews 1:3). He walked the earth as a human being, as a perfect man, and said, in answer to a question put to Him: ‘He that hath n me hath n the Father’ (John 14:9). This alone ought to solve the problem to the satisfaction of every thoughtful, reverent mind. The conclusion is irresistible, that if the Son of God be the express image (that is, likeness) of His Father’s person, then His Father is in the form of man; for that was the form of the Son of God, not only during His mortal life, but before His mortal birth, and after His resurrection. … Then if God made man—the first man—in His own image and likeness, He must have made him like unto Christ, and consequently like unto men of Christ’s time and of the present day. …

19. “Adam, our great progenitor, ‘the first man,’ was, like Christ, a pre-existent spirit, and like Christ he took upon him an appropriate body, the body of a man, and so became a ‘living soul.’ The doctrine of the pre-existence,—revealed so plainly, particularly in latter days, pours a wonderful flood of light upon the otherwise mysterious problem of man’s origin. It shows that man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents, and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father, prior to coming upon the earth in a temporal body to undergo an experience in mortality. It teaches that all men existed in the spirit before any man existed in the flesh, and that all who have inhabited the earth since Adam have taken bodies and become souls in like manner.

20. “It is held by some that Adam was not the first man upon this earth, and that the original human being was a development from lower orders of the animal creation. These, however, are the theories of men. The word of the Lord declares that Adam was ‘the first man of all men’ (Moses 1:34), and we are therefore in duty bound to regard him as the primal parent of our race. …

21. “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, basing its belief on divine revelation, ancient and modern, proclaims man to be the direct and lineal offspring of Deity. God Himself is an exalted man, perfected, enthroned, and supreme. … He made the tadpole and the ape, the lion and the elephant; but He did not make them in His own image, nor endow them with Godlike reason and intelligence” (“The Origin of Man,”Improvement Era,Nov. 1909, 75, 77–78, 80–81).

22. “[The Prophet] Joseph Smith taught the doctrine that the infant child that was laid away in death would come up in the resurrection as a child; and, pointing to the mother of a lifeless child, he said to her: ‘You will have the joy, the pleasure and satisfaction of nurturing this child, after its resurrection, until it reaches the full stature of its spirit.’ There is restitution, there is growth, there is development after the resurrection from death. I love this truth. It speaks volumes of happiness, of joy and gratitude to my soul. Thank the Lord he has revealed these principles to us” (“Status of Children in the Resurrection,”Improvement Era,May 1918, 571).

23. In 1915 President Joseph F. Smith and his counselors in the First Presidency issued a letter “to the Presidents of Stakes, Bishops and Parents in Zion.”

24. “We advise and urge the inauguration of a ‘Home Evening’ throughout the Church, at which time fathers and mothers may gather their boys and girls about them in the home and teach them the word of the Lord. …

25. “If the Saints obey this counsel, we promise that great blessings will result. Love at home and obedience to parents will increase. Faith will be developed in the hearts of the youth of Israel, and they will gain power to combat the evil influences and temptations which beset them” (“Home Evening,”Improvement Era,June 1915, 733–34).

26. “There is always something lacking in the man who spends his youth in wickedness and sin, and then turns to righteousness in later years. Of course, the Lord honors his repentance, and it is better far that a man should late turn from evil, than to continue in sin all his days, but the fact is clear that the best part of his life and strength are wasted, and there remains only poor broken service to offer the Lord. There are regrets and heartburnings in repenting late in life from the follies and sins of youth, but there is consolation and rich reward in serving the Lord in the vigorous days of early manhood” (“A Lesson for the Boys,”Improvement Era,Feb. 1906, 338).

27. President Joseph F. Smith recorded a dream he had as a young man on a mission:

28. “I dreamed that I was on a journey, and I was impressed that I ought to hurry. … Finally I came to a wonderful mansion. … As I passed towards it, as fast as I could, I saw a notice, ‘Bath.’ I turned aside quickly and went into the bath and washed myself clean. I opened up this little bundle that I had, and there was a pair of white, clean garments. … I put them on. Then I rushed to what appeared to be a great opening, or door. I knocked and the door opened, and the man who stood there was the Prophet Joseph Smith. He looked at me a little reprovingly, and the first words he said: ‘Joseph, you are late.’ Yet I took confidence and said:

29. “‘Yes, but I am clean—I am clean!’

30. “He clasped my hand and drew me in, then closed the great door” (Gospel Doctrine,542).

31. One day, when Joseph F. Smith was returning home from his first mission, “after the little company of wagons had traveled a short distance and made their camp, a company of drunken men rode into the camp on horseback, cursing and swearing and threatening to kill any ‘Mormons’ that came within their path. It was the lot of Joseph F. Smith to meet these marauders first. … Joseph F. was a little distance from the camp gathering wood for the fire when these men rode up. When he saw them, he said, his first thought was to do what the other brethren had done, and k shelter in the trees and in flight. Then the thought came to him, ‘Why should I run from these fellows?’ With that thought in mind he boldly marched up with his arms full of wood to the campfire. As he was about to deposit his wood, one of the ruffians, still with his pistols in his hands and pointing at the youthful Elder, and cursing as only a drunken rascal can, declaring that it was his duty to exterminate every ‘Mormon’ he should meet, demanded in a loud, angry voice, ‘Are you a “Mormon”?’

32. “Without a moment of hesitation and looking the ruffian in the eye, Joseph F. Smith boldly answered, ‘Yes, siree; dyed in the wool; true blue, through and through.’

33. “The answer was given boldly and without any sign of fear, which completely disarmed the belligerent man, and in his bewilderment, he grasped the missionary by the hand and said:

34. “‘Well, you are the … pleasantest man I ever met! Shake, young fellow, I am glad to a man that stands up for his convictions.’

35. “Joseph F. said in later years that he fully expected to receive the charge from this man’s pistols, but he could take no other course even though it med that his death was to be the result. This man, evidently the leader of the band, then rode off, the others following him, and the Mormon company was not molested further”(Joseph Fielding Smith, comp.,Life of Joseph F. Smith,2nd ed. [1969], 188–89.)

36. “We believe in righteousness. We believe in all truth, no matter to what subject it may refer. No sect or religious denomination in the world possesses a single principle of truth that we do not accept or that we will reject. We are willing to receive all truth, from whatever source it may come; for truth will stand, truth will endure. No man’s faith, no man’s religion, no religious organization in all the world can ever rise above the truth. The truth must be at the foundation of religion, or it is in vain and it will fail of its purpose. I say that the truth is at the foundation, at the bottom and top of—and it entirely permeates this great work of the Lord that was established through the instrumentality of Joseph Smith, the prophet. God is with it; it is His work, not that of man; and it will succeed no matter what the opposition may be” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1909, 7).

37. “I know that my Redeemer lives. I feel it in every fiber of my being. I am just as satisfied of it as I am of my own existence. I cannot feel more sure of my own being than I do that my Redeemer lives, and that my God lives, the Father of my Savior. I feel it in my soul; I am converted to it in my whole being” (Gospel Doctrine,69).

Understanding the Reading

The Teachings and Testimony of Joseph F. Smith

Designate(par. 9)Name 
Exposition(par. 9)Explanation 
Affirmed(par. 9)Taught clearly 
Antemortal(par. 15)Before earth life 
Ascertain(par. 17)Find out 
Progenitor(par. 19)Ancestor 
Reared to maturity(par. 19)Raised to adulthood 
Inhabited(par. 19)Lived on 
In like manner(par. 19)In the same way 
Primal(par. 20)First 
Lineal offspring of Deity(par. 21)Direct descendant of God 
Endow(par. 21)Bless, confer 
Nurturing(par. 22)Caring for and raising 
Stature(par. 22)Size 
Inauguration(par. 24)Beginning 
Beset(par. 25)Torment, plague 
Follies(par. 26)Mistakes, foolishness 
Consolation(par. 26)Comfort 
Garments(par. 28)Clothes 
Reprovingly(par. 28)In a way to gently correct 
Permeates(par. 36)Fills 
Instrumentality(par. 36)Efforts and work 
Fiber of my being(par. 37)Part of my soul 

Studying the Reading

Do two of the following activities (A–D) as you study “President Joseph F. Smith.”

Activity A iconReview President Smith’s Life

Study the life and presidency of Joseph F. Smith and list how old he was when the following events occurred:

  1. 1.

    His father, Hyrum Smith, was in Liberty Jail ( alsoD&C 121heading).

  2. 2.

    His father and his uncle, the Prophet Joseph Smith, were killed ( alsoD&C 135:1).

  3. 3.

    He drove a wagon to the Salt Lake Valley.

  4. 4.

    He was baptized by President Heber C. Kimball.

  5. 5.

    His mother died.

  6. 6.

    He went on his first mission.

  7. 7.

    He was ordained an Apostle.

  8. 8.

    He married his first wife.

  9. 9.

    Official Declaration 1was accepted by the Church.

  10. 10.

    He received the vision recorded inDoctrine and Covenants 138.

  11. 11.

    He died.

Activity B iconFind Examples

President Joseph F. Smith wrote: “To be a Latter-day Saint requires the sacrifice of worldly aims and pleasures; it requires fidelity, strength of character, love of truth, integrity to principle, and zealous desire to the triumphant, forward march of truth” (“Principle, Not Popularity,”Improvement Era,July 1906, 733). Give three examples from his life that show he was a true Latter-day Saint.

Activity C iconMake a List

From the chart on the life and presidency of President Joseph F. Smith (p. 186), list when the seminaries were first organized, when the Church adopted the Boy Scouts, and when family home evenings were inaugurated. Write how each of these can help families and individuals resist or avoid temptations in the world today.


Activity D iconPonder His Teachings

Review President Joseph F. Smith’s teachings in paragraphs 9–37, and answer the following questions:

  1. 1.

    Who was speaking to Emma Smith inDoctrine and Covenants 25:1—Heavenly Father or Jesus Christ?

  2. 2.

    What are some God-given differences between man and all other forms of animal life?

  3. 3.

    Will little children who die be resurrected as little children or as adults?

  4. 4.

    What are some promised blessings for holding family home evening?

  5. 5.

    Why are the years of youth an important part of life, and how might they be wasted?