President Joseph Fielding Smith: Gospel Theologian and Writer

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Student Study Guide, (2005), 202

President Joseph Fielding Smith “was ordained to the apostleship April 7, 1910, by his father, President Joseph F. Smith, then the sixth President of the Church. …“President Smith, a grandson of Hyrum Smith, … [was] the third person with the name Joseph Smith to be President of the Church. …“[He] made consistent contributions to the body of Church literature by his many writings on Church doctrine and Church history. “He [was] a much beloved leader who, through a lifetime of devotion to the principles of the gospel, has been described by members of the Council of the Twelve as truly a just and righteous man” (“President Joseph Fielding Smith Becomes Tenth President of the Church,”Improvement Era,Feb. 1970, 3). As you read about the life and teachings of President Smith, look for evidence from his early life that might help explain why and how he became the kind of man he was.

His Life (1876–1972)


Born on July 19 to Joseph F. and Julina Lambson Smith in Salt Lake City


Age 8, baptized by his father in Salt Lake City on his birthday


Age 16, attended the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple


Age 21, married Louie Emily Shurtliff


Age 22–24, served a mission in England


Age 24, began working in the Church Historian’s office


Age 32, married Ethel Reynolds, after death of his first wife


Age 33, ordained an Apostle by President Joseph F. Smith


Age 44–93, served as Church Historian


Age 61, married Jesse Evans, after death of his second wife


Age 68–72, President of the Salt Lake Temple


Age 74, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles


Age 93, sustained as President of the Church after the death of President David O. McKay


Age 94, his third wife died


Age 95, died July 2 in Salt Lake City

His Presidency (1970–72)



First stake in Asia organized (in Japan)


First stake in Africa organized (in South Africa)


First Church area conference held (in England)


Temples were dedicated in Ogden and Provo, Utah


Church membership was 3,218,908

The Life of President Joseph Fielding Smith

1. “When David O. McKay died, President Joseph Fielding Smith, then nearly 93 years of age, became President of the Church. He was the son of former Church President Joseph F. Smith.

2. “As a boy, Joseph Fielding Smith desired to learn the will of the Lord, which prompted him to read the Book of Mormon twice before he was ten years old and to carry the scriptures with him when he walked. When the ball team missed him, they usually found him in the hayloft reading the scriptures. He later said, ‘From my earliest recollection, from the time I first could read, I have received more pleasure and greater satisfaction out of the study of the scriptures, and reading of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and the work that has been accomplished for the salvation of men, than from anything else in all the world’ [in Conference Report, Apr. 1930, 91].

Books by Joseph Fielding Smith

3. “This early study laid the foundation for an extensive knowledge of the scriptures and Church history, which he drew upon in sermons and in the writing of almost two dozen books and scores of important articles on doctrinal subjects.

4. “During his administration, the first stakes were organized in Asia (Tokyo, Japan) and in Africa (Johannesburg, South Africa). With the growth in Church membership, President Smith and his Counselors began the practice of holding area conferences throughout the world to train local leaders and allow members to meet General Authorities. The first such conference was held in Manchester, England. In order to better serve people throughout the world, health care missionaries were called to teach basic health principles and sanitation. Soon more than 200 health missionaries were serving in many countries.

5. “Since 1912, the Church had sponsored seminary classes in buildings adjacent to high schools in the western United States. In the 1920s, institutes of religion were begun at colleges and universities attended by large numbers of Latter-day Saints. In the early 1950s, early morning seminary classes were started in the Los Angeles, California, area, and soon more than 1,800 students were attending. Nonmember observers were surprised that 15- to 18-year-old Latter-day Saint youth would arise at 5:30 A.M.five days a week to attend religious study classes. In the early 1970s, the home study seminary program was introduced so that Latter-day Saint students throughout the world could receive religious instruction. During President Smith’s administration, seminary and institute enrollment grew dramatically.

6. “In President Smith’s last public address, given at the April 1972 general conference, he said: ‘There is no cure for the ills of the world except the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our hope for peace, for temporal and spiritual prosperity, and for an eventual inheritance in the kingdom of God is found only in and through the restored gospel. There is no work that any of us can engage in that is as important as preaching the gospel and building up the Church and kingdom of God on earth’ [in Conference Report, Apr. 1972, 13; orEnsign,July 1972, 27].

7. “After serving as Church President for two and one-half years, Joseph Fielding Smith passed quietly away in the home of his daughter. He had reached the age of 95 and had served the Lord valiantly throughout his life” (Our Heritage,121–23).

Understanding the Reading

The Life of President Joseph Fielding Smith

Recollection(par. 2)Memory 
An extensive(par. 3)A wide-ranging, a broad 
Administration(par. 4)Presidency 
Sanitation(par. 4)Cleanliness 
Adjacent(par. 5)Next 
Inheritance(par. 6)Dwelling place, reward 
Engage in(par. 6)Be involved with 

The Teachings and Testimony of Joseph Fielding Smith

Joseph Fielding Smith

8. “Procrastination, as it may be applied to gospel principles, is the thief of eternal life, which is life in the presence of the Father and the Son. There are many among us, even members of the Church, who feel that there is no need for haste in the observance of gospel principles and the keeping of the commandments” (in Conference Report, April 1969, 121).

9. “If you want salvation in the fullest, that is exaltation in the kingdom of God, so that you may become his sons and his daughters, you have got to go into the temple of the Lord and receive these holy ordinances which belong to that house, which cannot be had elsewhere. No man shall receive the fulness of eternity, of exaltation, alone; no woman shall receive that blessing alone; but man and wife, when they receive the sealing power in the temple of the Lord, if they thereafter keep all the commandments, shall pass on to exaltation, and shall continue and become like the Lord. And that is the destiny of men; that is what the Lord desires for his children” (Doctrines of Salvation,2:44).

10. “It makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside. My words, and the teachings of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them. Let us have this matter clear. We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man’s doctrine” (Doctrines of Salvation,3:203).

11. “It ms to me that any member of this Church would never be satisfied until he or she had read the Book of Mormon time and time again, and thoroughly considered it so that he or she could bear witness that it is in very deed a record with the inspiration of the Almighty upon it, and that its history is true. …

12. “… No member of this Church can stand approved in the presence of God who has not seriously and carefully read the Book of Mormon” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1961, 18).

13. “I wish to bear testimony to the restoration of the gospel, to the mission of our Redeemer, to the call of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the establishment of this work in the dispensation in which we live, known as the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times. I know absolutely that Jesus Christ is the only Begotten Son of God, the Redeemer of the world, the Savior of men insofar as they will repent of their sins and accept the gospel. Through his death he redeemed all men and took upon him that sacrifice which would relieve us of our sins that we may not answer for them if we will accept him and be true and faithful to his teachings” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1956, 58).

Understanding the Reading

The Teachings and Testimony of Joseph Fielding Smith

Procrastination(par. 8)Intentionally waiting to do something that should be done 
Haste(par. 8)Hurry, urgency 
Exaltation(par. 9)Godhood 
Square(par. 10)Agree 

Paragraph 13—What Is the “Dispensation of the Fulness of Times”?

President Spencer W. Kimball taught: “During the span of ages there have been periods of time when the Lord has gathered his people together and established the gospel and certain of the ordinances of salvation among them. These we call gospel dispensations” (“The Things of Eternity—Stand We in Jeopardy?”Ensign,Jan. 1977, 3). We live in the “dispensation of the fulness of times” (Ephesians 1:10), or the last dispensation before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Studying the Reading

Do activity A and activity B or C as you study “President Joseph Fielding Smith.”

Activity A iconFind the Cure

  1. 1.

    If you were a doctor, what is a disease you think would be the most difficult to treat? Why?

  2. 2.

    Review paragraphs 2–3 and 5–6 and do the following:

    1. a.

      List some of the spiritual “diseases” of the world.

    2. b.

      What “prescriptions” did President Joseph Fielding Smith offer to help cure these ills?

    3. c.

      How did President Smith avoid spiritual ills when he was young?

    4. d.

      How has seminary provided opportunities to have this “cure” in your life?

Activity B iconStop the Thief

Have you ever had something valuable stolen? How did you feel about it?

  1. 1.

    Review paragraph 8 and answer the following questions:

    1. a.

      What valuable possession can be stolen from us?

    2. b.

      How is it stolen?

    3. c.

      Who is the thief?

  2. 2.

    Review paragraphs 11–12 and do the following:

    1. a.

      Find a scripture in the Book of Mormon that warns against procrastination and one that talks about eternal life.

    2. b.

      Write what you can do to “stand approved in the presence of God.”

Activity C iconWrite a Journal Entry

Review paragraph 9 and write a journal entry as if you were recently married in the temple. For your entry, think about and include answers to the following questions:

  1. 1.

    What temple would you like to be sealed in?

  2. 2.

    Based on President Smith’s teachings, why is being sealed in the temple important to you?

  3. 3.

    Who do you want to be there? Why?

  4. 4.

    How might consistently worshiping in the temple help you become more like the Lord?