For more than half a century, President Joseph F. Smith served as a special witness of the Savior as an Apostle, as a Counselor in the First Presidency, and as President of the Church. His testimony—proclaimed from pulpits at home and in foreign lands, in the councils of the Church, and in the circle of his own family—spoke of a heart and soul committed to Jesus Christ and His glorious gospel. His words were eloquent; his message was clear: “I want to say as a servant of God, independent of the testimonies of all men and of every book that has been written, that I have received the witness of the Spirit in my own heart, and I testify before God, angels and men, without fear of the consequences, that I know that my Redeemer lives, and I shall see him face to face, and stand with him in my resurrected body upon this earth, if I am faithful; for God has revealed this unto me. I have received the witness, and I bear my testimony, and my testimony is true.”1
At the close of his life, a special graveside funeral service was held in the Salt Lake City Cemetery, where members of the Tabernacle Choir sang in tribute one of his favorite hymns, “I Know That My Redeemer Lives.” This phrase was to him the essence of his faith and the focus of his prophetic message: “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.”2
The following testimony is taken from an address that President Smith gave to a conference of the Weber Stake on 18 October 1896.3
We are all familiar with the history of our Savior as it is recorded in the New Testament; how that He was born of a virgin; that He grew in the midst of his brethren to be a man, and what marvelous things He did even in His childhood by the power of His anointing and mission; how He taught the lawyers and the doctors in the synagogue and in the temple, and how He confounded those who sought to make Him an offender for a word. We are all familiar with the power which He displayed in healing the sick, in restoring sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, and in cleansing the leper, and making the lame to leap with joy.
We are familiar with the doctrines which he taught; and it has always seemed to me that there need be no further proof of the divinity of Jesus Christ than the doctrine which He taught that men should love those who despitefully used them and persecuted them, and that they should return good for evil. Up to His day the doctrine taught in the world was, “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” [Matthew 5:38.] This was the philosophy of the age. But Jesus taught directly the opposite of this. He enjoined upon His disciples that they should not return evil for evil, but that they should return good for evil. “Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” [Matthew 5:39.] This doctrine was new to the world. It is a doctrine not in accordance with the fallen nature of man. … Therefore, it is not of man. Men could not teach such a doctrine and carry it out in their lives without inspiration and power from on high.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.” [Matthew 5:3–6.]
Read the Sermon on the Mount [see Matthew 5–7], and then ask yourselves whether it is beyond and above everything ever taught by man. It confirms me in the belief that Jesus was not merely a man, but that He was God manifest in the flesh. It is the doctrine of eternal life, by which if a man shall live he shall never die; by which if he shall walk he shall walk in pleasant paths; and by which if he shall abide, he shall know the truth, and the truth will make him free.
Then we come to the day of His trial, when one whom He chose to be an Apostle and a witness of Him turned traitor and betrayed the Lord to His enemies. They came out with sword and with staves to capture the man of peace, the man who forbade violence, who had never lifted His voice nor His hand against the innocent and the good, nor indeed against any man, except only against their wicked practices and evil-doings—they came out to take Him prisoner and to pass Him through a mock trial, that they might find occasion to condemn Him to death.
On one occasion, when He had been teaching the people these righteous principles and testifying that He was the Son of God, they picked up stones to stone Him. Jesus replied, “Many good works have I showed you from my Father, for which of those works do ye stone me?” [John 10:32.] He had done no evil works among them; all that He had done was good; and yet they sought to kill Him. When Peter, incensed, drew his sword and smote off the ear of the servant of the high priest, Jesus rebuked him and said, “Put up thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” [Matthew 26:52.] In the midst of His trial, when mocked, when smitten, when crowned with thorns, and when reviled against, He reviled not again, but meekly submitted to His lot and suffered that which God permitted the wicked to inflict upon Him.
He was brought into circumstances where the doctrine He taught could be put to the test, and in all He proved the genuineness of His teaching. Even in the midst of His agony on the cross, He cried out, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” [Luke 23:34.] I ask, is this true? If it be true, then I say that no man could utter such words as these at such a time; it required the power and spirit, the love, mercy, charity and forgiveness of God himself. I bear my testimony to you that a being who could ask God to forgive men from whom He had received such unmerited cruelty is nothing less than God. If there was no other proof than this of the divine mission of Jesus Christ, this alone would convince me that Jesus was the Redeemer of the world. He taught and exemplified in His life the very principles that will redeem the world. …
Jesus … was crucified. His body was taken from the cross by His friends, washed and wrapped in clean linen, and laid away in a new sepulchre, where never the body of man laid. Previous to this, however, Jesus had taught His disciples that the Son of Man should be put to death. He said in plain words, “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it up again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” [John 10:17–18.] He came to fulfill the predictions of the prophets; that as in Adam all died, so in Christ should all be made alive [see 1 Corinthians 15:22]. … If sin had come into the world by the transgression of one man, and the consequences of this transgression had fallen upon all men without any act of theirs, is it not just, is it not consistent that mankind should be relieved from these consequences by the act of one man? This was the plan that was instituted in the beginning, and there is naught but righteousness in it. Jesus offered His life as a sacrifice to accomplish this. He was put to death by wicked men, who accused Him wrongfully, and who shut their eyes and closed their hearts against the true principles He taught.
After He had been buried, we read in the Scriptures that on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the sepulchre; but behold, the stone was rolled away and He was gone. She looked into the sepulchre and saw two angels in white, “the one at the head, and the other at the feet,” [John 20:12] and they said unto her:
“Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.
“And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.
“Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.
“Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.
“Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father, but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; to my God, and your God.” [John 20:13–17.]
Mary then went away and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and He also appeared unto them.
Now, let us think of this a moment. Here is a historical fact related that Mary went to the tomb, and saw two angels there, and afterwards saw the risen Redeemer Himself. She had the testimony of heavenly messengers, confirmed by the Son of God Himself, that the Redeemer had risen. Her words are handed down to us in testimony. Will you dispute them? Will you doubt her testimony? … Afterwards He overtook two disciples who were journeying to Emmaus, and went with them; but “their eyes were holden that they should not know Him.” [Luke 24:16.] Jesus asked them what made them so sad, and they replied: “Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days.” [Luke 24:18.] By and by their eyes were opened, and they knew Him.
After this He appeared unto His disciples. One of the disciples heard that Jesus was risen, but said he would not believe it except he saw Him and could thrust his hand into His side and his finger into the prints of the nails in His hands. How very much like mankind today was Thomas. He again appeared unto the disciples, and Thomas was with them.
“Then saith He to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing.
“And Thomas answered and said unto Him, My Lord and my God.
“Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” [John 20:27–29.]
Jesus administered unto His disciples after He was risen, and confirmed upon their understandings the fact that they were not deceived, but that He was truly the Son of God, now risen from the dead to immortality and eternal life. They saw not with the natural eye. We may see a great many things with our natural sight, but that may be deceived. We may hear with our ears, but they may be deceived. Our natural senses are susceptible to deception. … But let me tell you when the Almighty reveals Himself unto man, He does it by the power of the Holy Ghost, and not through the natural eye or the natural ear. He speaks to man as if He were speaking to him independent of his body; He speaks to the spirit. Therefore, if God Almighty speaks to you and bears record of His truth by the power of the Holy Ghost, … you will know as God knows. It will not be something that you believe only; something that has been communicated to you through your natural senses, in which you may be mistaken or deceived; but it will be that which God has spoken to the heart, to the living soul, to the eternal being of man, which, like God, is indestructible and eternal.
It was in this way that Jesus opened the spiritual eye and understanding of His disciples after His resurrection, so that they knew that He was both Lord and Christ. They knew that He was risen from the dead. They knew that He was the Son of the living God, because God had revealed it to them. Therefore, they could say as the poet has said,
“O, the sweet joy this sentence gives:
I know that my Redeemer lives.” [“I Know That My Redeemer Lives,” Hymns, no. 136.]
… Who can tell the joy and the satisfaction that comes to the soul of man who has received this witness from Almighty God? No man can utter it. I cannot tell it to you. There are no words of man that can speak it. It can only be felt. It can only be understood by the immortal part of man. Unspeakable is the joy that a man feels who has received this testimony from the Holy Ghost. …
The Holy Spirit of God has spoken to me—not through the ear, not through the eye, but to my spirit, to my living and eternal part,—and has revealed unto me that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. I testify to you that I know that my Redeemer lives. Furthermore, I know that I shall see Him on this earth, and that I shall see Him as He is. … For He is coming to visit the earth again; not as He came before, but in power and great glory, taking vengeance upon the wicked and the ungodly who will not hearken to the voice of the Spirit, but who harden their hearts against the truth and close their understanding against the testimonies of the servants of God. They will be judged; not by the hearing of the ear, or by the sight of the eye, but with righteousness shall they be judged, and they will be condemned because the light has come into the world and they love darkness rather than light. … The Lord has revealed this to me. He has filled my whole spirit with this testimony, until there is no room for doubt. …
We have the testimony of the disciples of Christ on the Asiatic continent and the testimony of the disciples of Jesus on this continent, bearing record to the same truths. Then we have the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, which contains the revelations and testimonies of God to his Servants and Saints in the day in which we live, the third testimony of these things. In addition to all this, … we have the testimony of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, which cannot be denied; for he that receiveth this testimony by inspiration of the Holy Ghost cannot be deceived. The Spirit of God does not bear record of that which is not true. Therefore, if you have received the witness of the Holy Spirit in your heart, you know that your Redeemer lives. …
… I bear you my testimony that the Redeemer lives. May this testimony find a place in your hearts. … If we will love each other and do good to each other, we will then carry out the precepts of the Gospel of the Son of God, the doctrine of Christ, which is calculated to redeem and exalt the world and bring back mankind into the presence of God, which may we all have the privilege of receiving and enjoying, is my prayer.
What incidents or teachings from the life of the Savior have helped you receive a testimony that He is the Son of God?
How did Jesus Christ return good for evil when He was persecuted? What blessings result from following His teachings to return good for evil? How can we more effectively follow this doctrine? (See also Matthew 5:38–47.)
How can we apply the counsel “to plant the word in your hearts, that ye may try the experiment of its goodness” (Alma 34:4) to the passages President Smith referred to from the Sermon on the Mount? (See Matthew 5:3–6.)
How can meekness be our strength? Why is meekness so difficult for many in the world to develop?
How did the Savior’s final words as He hung on the cross reflect “love, mercy, charity and forgiveness”? How can we follow His example during our own times of trial and testing?
How is your testimony strengthened by Mary Magdalene’s witness of the resurrected Redeemer? (See John 20:11–18.)
How was Thomas “very much like mankind today”? What blessings do we receive if we “have not seen, and yet have believed”? (John 20:29).
What have you learned from President Smith about bearing testimony of the Savior?
How does President Smith’s testimony of the Savior make you feel? How can his testimony help you strengthen your own witness of Jesus Christ, the Son of God?