In March 1837, John Taylor went to Kirtland, Ohio, and had the opportunity to meet the Prophet Joseph Smith for the first time and learn more about the principles of the newly restored gospel. At the time of John Taylor’s visit to Kirtland, many Church members had become critical of the Prophet Joseph. Even some members of the Quorum of the Twelve were caught up in this dissenting spirit, including Parley P. Pratt, who had initially taught John Taylor the gospel. When Elder Pratt approached him and shared some of his doubts about the Prophet, Brother Taylor replied:
“I am surprised to hear you speak so, Brother Parley. Before you left Canada you bore a strong testimony to Joseph Smith being a Prophet of God, and to the truth of the work he has inaugurated; and you said you knew these things by revelation, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. You gave to me a strict charge to the effect that though you or an angel from heaven was to declare anything else I was not to believe it. Now Brother Parley, it is not man that I am following, but the Lord. The principles you taught me led me to Him, and I now have the same testimony that you then rejoiced in. If the work was true six months ago, it is true today; if Joseph Smith was then a prophet, he is now a prophet.”2 To Elder Pratt’s credit, he soon repented of his feelings and continued to be a valiant servant of the Lord.
John Taylor remained loyal to the Prophet Joseph Smith from the day he met him, and they were together when the Prophet was martyred. In a discourse given almost 20 years after the Prophet Joseph’s death, Elder Taylor said, “If there is no other man under the heavens that knows that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God I do, and I bear testimony of it to God, angels and men.”3 Throughout Elder Taylor’s ministry, he delighted in teaching that “God restored his ancient Gospel to Joseph Smith, giving him revelation, opening the heavens to him, and making him acquainted with the plan of salvation and exaltation of the children of men.”4
There was nothing particular about [Joseph Smith], he was a man like the balance of us. But the Lord, for certain reasons of his own, I suppose, selected him to be his mouthpiece to the nations in this age of the world. Perhaps Joseph, as well as many others, was set apart to a certain office before the world was. Christ was the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world. Abraham was set apart to his office, and a great many others in the same way; and Joseph Smith came to do his work.5
We all look upon Joseph Smith as being a prophet of God. God called him to occupy the position that he did. How long ago? Thousands of years ago before this world was formed. The prophets prophesied about his coming, that a man should arise whose name should be Joseph, and that his father’s name should be Joseph, and also that he should be a descendant of that Joseph who was sold into Egypt. This prophecy you will find recorded in the Book of Mormon [see 2 Nephi 3:15]. He had very great and precious promises made to him by the Lord.6
What condition was the world in before the gospel we now preach was introduced? … Where could we find anything resembling that which was taught by Jesus? Nowhere on the face of the wide earth. Apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers etc., were nowhere to be found. Do I know this? I do know it, for I lived in the world at that time! I knew what was going on. I was mixed up with their teachers and was well acquainted with the different societies and organizations. Did they have the gospel as laid down in the scriptures? No.7
I did not know that it was necessary to be baptised for the remission of sins until the gospel taught it to me, yet I knew the Bible from A to Z. I could read a great many things in the prophecies, and make calculations about the millennium and the gathering of Israel, but did not know the first principle of the gospel of Christ; and there is not a man here that knew them. I have traveled extensively in the world and have never met with a priest, or scientific man that knew the first principles of the gospel of Christ in any country.
What could the Lord do with such a pack of ignorant fools as we were? There was one man that had a little good sense, and a spark of faith in the promises of God, and that was Joseph Smith—a backwoods man. He believed a certain portion of Scripture which said—“If any man lack wisdom let him ask of God who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not.” [See James 1:5.] He was fool enough in the eyes of the world, and wise enough in the eyes of God and angels, and all true intelligence, to go into a secret place to ask God for wisdom, believing that God would hear him. The Lord did hear him, and told him what to do.8
A message was announced to us by Joseph Smith the Prophet, as a revelation from God wherein he stated that holy angels had appeared to him and revealed the everlasting Gospel as it existed in former ages; and that God the Father and God the Son had also appeared to him: the Father pointing to the Son said, “This is my beloved Son, hear ye him.” [See Joseph Smith—History 1:17.] Moroni, a prophet that had lived on this continent, revealed unto him the plates containing the Book of Mormon, and by the gift and power of God Joseph was enabled to translate them into what is known as the Book of Mormon. …
… The Father having presented His Son to Joseph Smith, and commanded him to hear Him, Joseph was obedient to the heavenly call, and listened to the various communications made by men holding the Holy Priesthood in the various ages under the direction of the Only Begotten. He and Oliver Cowdery were commanded to baptize each other, which they did. John the Baptist came and conferred upon them the Aaronic Priesthood. Then Peter, James and John, upon whom was conferred in the Savior’s day, the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood came and conferred the Melchizedek Priesthood upon them. Then Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Elias and many of the leading characters mentioned in the Scriptures, who had operated in the various dispensations, came and conferred upon Joseph the various keys, powers, rights, privileges and immunities which they enjoyed in their times.
Again, Joseph was commanded to preach this Gospel and to bear this testimony to the world. He was taught the same principles that were taught to Adam, the same principles that were taught to Noah, to Enoch, to Abraham, to Moses, to the Prophets, and to Elijah: the same principles that were taught by Jesus Christ and the Apostles in former times … , accompanied with the same Priesthood and the same organization, only more fully, because the present dispensation is a combination of the various dispensations that have existed in the different ages of the world, and which is designated in the Scriptures as the dispensation of the fulness of times, in which God would gather together all things in one, whether they be things in heaven or things on earth. Therefore, whatever of knowledge, of intelligence, of Priesthood, of powers, of revelations were conferred upon those men in the different ages, were again restored to the earth by the ministration and through the medium of those who held the holy Priesthood of God in the different dispensations in which they lived.9
Who was Joseph Smith? An unlettered youth. Could he do anything to accomplish [the establishment of God’s kingdom]? Not unless God had revealed it to him. He asked wisdom of God and received it. Till that time he knew no more about these things than you or I. It was God and God alone that did these things. “He can take the weak things of this earth, the base things and the things that are not, to bring to naught the things that are, that no flesh may glory in his presence.” [See 1 Corinthians 1:28–29.] He took Joseph. Why? Because the time had come to begin a work, in which all the holy Priesthood of God that had lived in former ages were concerned. Joseph was the honored instrument chosen to take the initiative.10
Joseph Smith was quite an uneducated man. He was uneducated when he was a boy. He was brought up in the Green Mountains of Vermont, and he did not have any of the advantages of what we call an education. The Lord took him into His school, and He taught him things that I have seen puzzle many of the wisest scientists, profoundest thinkers, and the most learned men that I have met with in this world. Why? Because he was taught of God. What did those principles refer to? To the earth on which we live; to the elements of which it is composed; to the heavens above us; to the Gods that exist in the eternal worlds; to the principles by which the earth was organized, sustained, upheld and governed, and its relationship to other planets and systems; and speaking of governments, laws and principles, he possessed more intelligence than ninety-nine hundredths of the people of to-day. And he sought to teach others.11
I was acquainted with Joseph Smith for years. I have traveled with him; I have been with him in private and in public; I have associated with him in councils of all kinds; I have listened hundreds of times to his public teachings, and his advice to his friends and associates of a more private nature. I have been at his house and seen his deportment in his family. I have seen him arraigned before the tribunals of his country, and have seen him honorably acquitted, and delivered from the pernicious breath of slander, and the machinations and falsehoods of wicked and corrupt men. I was with him living, and with him when he died, when he was murdered in Carthage jail by a ruthless mob. …
I have seen him, then, under these various circumstances, and I testify before God, angels, and men, that he was a good, honorable, virtuous man—that his doctrines were good, scriptural, and wholesome—that his precepts were such as became a man of God—that his private and public character was unimpeachable—and that he lived and died as a man of God and a gentleman. This is my testimony. If it is disputed, bring me a person authorized to receive an affidavit, and I will make one to this effect. I therefore testify of things which I know and of things which I have seen.12
When I reflected that our noble chieftain, the Prophet of the living God, had fallen, and that I had seen his brother in the cold embrace of death, it seemed as though there was a void or vacuum in the great field of human existence to me, and a dark gloomy chasm in the kingdom, and that we were left alone. Oh, how lonely was that feeling! How cold, barren, and desolate! In the midst of difficulties he was always the first in motion; in critical positions his counsel was always sought. As our prophet he approached our God, and obtained for us his will; but now our prophet, our counselor, our general, our leader, was gone, and amid the fiery ordeal that we then had to pass through, we were left alone without his aid, and as our future guide for things spiritual or temporal, and for all things pertaining to this world, or the next, he had spoken for the last time on earth.
These reflections and a thousand others flashed upon my mind. I thought, why must God’s nobility, the salt of the earth, the most exalted of the human family, and the most perfect types of all excellence, fall victims to the cruel, fiendish hate of incarnate devils?13
Joseph Smith was a virtuous, high-minded, honorable man, a gentleman and a Christian. But he introduced principles which strike at the root of the corrupt systems of men. This necessarily comes in contact with their prepossessions, prejudices, and interests; and as they cannot overturn his principles, they attack his character. And that is one reason why we have so many books written against his character, without touching his principles, and also why we meet with so much opposition. But truth, eternal truth, is invulnerable. It cannot be destroyed, but like the throne of Jehovah, it will outride all the storms of men, and live for ever.14
I remember the time very well when Joseph Smith was taken from us. … But these things are matters, although of great importance to us, yet relatively they have not a very great deal to do with the building up of the Church and kingdom of God upon the earth, and with His work in which we are all engaged.
When the Lord revealed the everlasting Gospel to Joseph Smith, he unfolded unto him his purposes and designs in relation to the earth whereon we live, and gave unto him a knowledge of his law and the ordinances of the Gospel and the doctrine thereof. It was not for the object simply of elevating him as a man, but it was done for the interest of society, in the interest of the world, and in the interest of the living and the dead, according to the decrees and designs of Jehovah which he formed before the world rolled into existence, or the morning stars sang together for joy.
The Lord had his designs in relation to the earth and the inhabitants thereof, and in these last days he saw proper to reveal and restore, through his servant Joseph Smith, what we term the new and everlasting Gospel; new to the world at present, because of their traditions, their follies and weaknesses, and their creeds, opinions and notions, but everlasting because it existed with God, and because it existed with him before the world was, and will continue when change shall have succeeded change upon this earth, and when the earth shall have been redeemed and all things made new, and while life and thought and being last, and immortality endures.
Therefore, although the Gospel is new to the world, it is everlasting. And it was introduced, as I have stated, in the interests of humanity—our fathers, the ancient Prophets and Apostles, and men of God who have lived in the various ages of the world, who have administered in the holy Priesthood while they lived upon the earth, and who are now administering in the heavens, and who had a hand in the introduction of this work, together with God our heavenly Father, and Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant; and to-day they feel interested in the rolling forth of this work, and in the accomplishment of these purposes which God designed before the foundation of the world. And it is to God and his Son, and to these men, that we are indebted for the light and the intelligence that has been communicated to us, and to them we shall be indebted through all time for the same kind of knowledge and intelligence to sustain and direct us.15
The idea of the Church being disorganized and broken up because of the Prophet and the patriarch being slain is preposterous. This Church has the seeds of immortality in its midst. It is not of man, nor by man—it is the offspring of Deity. It is organized after the pattern of heavenly things, through the principles of revelation; by the opening of the heavens; by the ministering of angels, and the revelations of Jehovah. It is not affected by the death of one or two, or fifty individuals. It possesses a priesthood after the order of Melchizedek, having the power of an endless life, “without beginning of days or end of years.” [D&C 84:17.] It is organized for the purpose of saving this generation, and generations that are past. It exists in time and will exist in eternity. This church fail? No! Times and seasons may change, revolution may succeed revolution; thrones may be cast down; and empires be dissolved; earthquakes may rend the earth from center to circumference; the mountains may be hurled out of their places, and the mighty ocean be moved from its bed, but amidst the crash of worlds and the crack of matter, truth, eternal truth, must remain unchanged, and those principles which God has revealed to his saints be unscathed amidst the warring elements, and remain as firm as the throne of Jehovah.16
What impresses you about John Taylor’s feelings about the Prophet Joseph Smith? In what ways can we follow his example of defending the Prophet Joseph?
Why is it important to you to know that Joseph Smith was foreordained to serve as a prophet? (See also D&C 138:53–56.)
Why is it important to have a testimony that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God? How did you gain your testimony of this truth?
How can you help those who are struggling to gain or strengthen their testimony of the Prophet Joseph? What blessings have you experienced from bearing testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith?
Why is our time period described as the “dispensation of the fulness of times”?
How have you and your family been blessed by the truths and powers restored through Joseph Smith?
Why wasn’t it necessary for Joseph Smith to be formally educated? (See also D&C 1:24–28; 136:32–33.) What qualities did Joseph have that helped prepare him to fulfill his calling? How might his example help us fulfill our callings?
What does it mean to you to know that the Church has continued to grow despite the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith?