When Elder Ezra Taft Benson served as a full-time missionary in England in the early 1920s, he and his companions experienced what he called “great opposition to the Church.” He later recounted:
“The newspapers, the magazines, even anti-Mormon moving pictures [movies] were all over Great Britain.” Because the opposition was so great, some forms of missionary work, such as holding street meetings and handing out pamphlets, were discontinued. “But up in northern England where we were laboring,” he said, “we had a group of people out at South Shields Branch who were very faithful and very devoted and very loyal, and they had invited my companion and me to come over and speak in their sacrament meeting. They said, ‘Many of our neighbors don’t believe the lies that are being printed. If you will come, we will fill the little chapel.’
“And so we accepted the invitation and we started preparing and I started studying about the apostasy. It was a subject I liked, and I thought they needed it; and I worked and I studied, and I thought I could talk fifteen minutes on the subject.
“We went over to the little chapel and it was filled. Everyone was happy. And after the opening exercises my companion spoke, then I spoke with a freedom I had never enjoyed in all my life. And when I sat down and looked at my watch, I had talked twenty-five minutes, and I hadn’t mentioned the apostasy, I hadn’t even thought of the apostasy. I had talked about Joseph Smith, and I had borne witness that he was a prophet of God and I knew it. I told about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon as a new witness for Christ, and I had borne testimony. When I realized what had happened, I couldn’t hold back the tears.
“At the end of the meeting, many of the Saints came forward and expressed their gratitude that something had been said about Joseph Smith. They said, ‘Several of our neighbors have said, “We can accept everything about the Church except Joseph Smith.”’ And then some of those same neighbors came up and said, ‘We are now ready. We are ready tonight. We have received the witness that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God.’”1
President Benson continued to find opportunities throughout his life to share his witness of Joseph Smith’s calling. For example, when he was serving as United States secretary of agriculture, a radio station invited him to choose a favorite scripture passage to be read over the air, and he chose a portion of Joseph Smith—History in the Pearl of Great Price.2
Above all, he regularly bore a firm and powerful testimony to his fellow Saints. “Joseph Smith was a prophet of the Living God,” he declared, “one of the greatest prophets that has ever lived upon the earth. He was the instrument in God’s hand in ushering in a great gospel dispensation, the greatest ever, and the last of all in preparation for the second coming of the Master.”3
As a young man, Joseph Smith was a seeker after truth. Confusion among existing churches led him to inquire of God which of them was true. In answer to that prayer, he asserted that a pillar of brilliant light appeared. These are his words:
“When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (JS—H 1:17.)
When God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ come to earth, as they did in 1820 when they appeared to the young boy prophet, Joseph Smith, it is not something that concerns only a handful of people. It is a message and a revelation intended for all of our Father’s children living upon the face of the earth. It was the greatest event that has ever happened in this world since the resurrection of the Master. Sometimes I think we are so close to it that we don’t fully appreciate its significance and importance and the magnitude of it.5
The first vision of the Prophet Joseph Smith is bedrock theology to the Church.6
The most evident truth that emerged from the Prophet’s experience in 1820 was the reality of God’s existence and the fact that Jesus Christ was indeed resurrected. He saw them as separate, distinct, glorified Personages who spoke to him as one man speaks to another.7
I am humbly grateful for the knowledge that I have that God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, as glorified beings have again come to this earth in our day, in this dispensation; that they did in very deed appear unto the boy prophet. … This was the most glorious manifestation of God the Father and the Son of which we have record.8
It is generally understood that the faith of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rests on the claim that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, and also that he declared the coming forth of the Book of Mormon was the result of angelic visitations to him between the years 1823 and 1827.
Upon learning of this claim, some people contend that it seems preposterous that angels would visit the earth in this modern era.
The Bible contains testimony that God directed the affairs of His church on earth for over four thousand years by revelation and, when necessary, by heavenly ministrations.
In describing conditions of the last days incident to the second coming of Jesus Christ, John prophesied in the New Testament that before the Savior’s return, the world would receive a warning that the hour of God’s judgment was near. That warning would come by an angel from heaven declaring an “everlasting gospel.” Hear his words:
“I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people,
“Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.” (Rev. 14:6–7.)
If one accepts the testimony of John the Revelator, new revelation and a visitation by a heavenly messenger to earth should be expected.
Our solemn testimony is that this angelic messenger appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith in the early nineteenth century. This announcement that an angel from God appeared to a prophet in our times is entirely consistent with the prophecies of the New Testament and should therefore command the interest of every earnest seeker after truth.9
On the evening of 21 September 1823, an angel appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith. The angel’s name was Moroni. He was the last of a long line of ancient prophets of two great civilizations who lived … on the American Continent centuries ago.10
The most singular evidence in support of Joseph Smith’s claim to being a spokesman for Almighty God was the publication of a scriptural record, the Book of Mormon.
The Book of Mormon is a record of the ancient inhabitants of the American continent and records the visit and ministry of Jesus Christ to the people on this continent following His ascension at Jerusalem. The major purpose of the record is to convince a later generation that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. The Book of Mormon, therefore, constitutes an additional witness, along with the Bible, to the divinity of Jesus Christ.
Joseph Smith obtained this ancient record from a heavenly messenger, just as John prophesied. This angel appeared to him and revealed the location of ancient records which were inscribed on metallic plates and buried in a stone vault. In due time, the young prophet was given the plates and the means by which they were translated. The book was then published to the world as canonized scripture.
Also, in harmony with the testimony of John, the book contains “the everlasting gospel.” It is now preached by our missionaries to the world.
We invite you to test the validity of our witness about the origin of the Book of Mormon. You can do this by reading it and asking our Heavenly Father if these things are true. I promise you, if you are sincere, you will receive a confirmation of the truthfulness by the Holy Ghost. Millions, with soberness and sincerity, testify they know it is from God.11
If the Book of Mormon is true, then Jesus is the Christ, Joseph Smith was His prophet, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true, and it is being led today by a prophet receiving revelation.12
The prayer of a boy fourteen years of age, in the Sacred Grove, opened a new gospel dispensation.14
God has again established his kingdom on the earth in fulfillment of prophecy. …
… Joseph Smith was called of God to reestablish that kingdom—The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I testify that he accomplished this work, that he laid the foundations and that he committed to the Church the keys and powers to continue the great Latter-day work, which he began under the direction of Almighty God.15
To Joseph Smith appeared other beings, including John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John, who ordained him with authority to act in the name of God (see JS—H 1:68–72; D&C 27:5–13). The church and kingdom of God was restored in these latter days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with all the gifts, rights, powers, doctrines, officers, and blessings of the former-day Church. (See D&C 65; 115:3–4.)16
The Prophet Joseph was commanded to go forth as an instrument in the hands of God and organize the Church, to publish to the world as an added testimony to the divinity of Jesus Christ, the Book of Mormon which was taken from the sacred records. …
This restoration of the gospel, the bringing back of light and truth, is intended for the benefit and blessing of all God’s children. And so, humbly and gratefully, our missionaries go out into the world to proclaim that there has been an apostasy from the truth, but that through the goodness of God the heavens have again been opened and the gospel revealed unto man through Joseph Smith, the Prophet.17
Simultaneous with the early development of the Church was a spirit of opposition and persecution. Wherever the tiny “mustard seed” was planted, attempts were made to frustrate its growth.18
The fourteen-year-old boy stood true against the world. God knew his son when he was chosen. He knew he would be loyal and true even to death.19
Some treated [Joseph Smith’s] testimony with great contempt and began to incite false stories and persecution against him. The young prophet, like the Apostle Paul of old, would not recant his testimony, but defended his claim in these words:
“I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation.” (JS—H 1:25.)20
Joseph Smith the Prophet went willingly to his death. He sealed his testimony with his life—his own blood. On that fateful day in Nauvoo, Illinois, as he looked back upon his city and people whom he loved, on his way to Carthage Jail and his martyrdom, he declared: “This is the loveliest place and the best people under the heavens; little do they know the trials that await them” [History of the Church, 6:554].
Later the Prophet said feelingly, but calmly and courageously, “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter, but I am as calm as a summer’s morning. I have a conscience void of offense toward God and toward all men. If they take my life I shall die an innocent man, and my blood shall cry from the ground for vengeance, and it shall be said of me, ‘He was murdered in cold blood’” [History of the Church, 6:555].21
Thus did the Prophet Joseph Smith climax his earth life and fulfill the mortal part of his divinely appointed mission. This mortal mission, he made clear, was not to end until fully completed. Like the mission of the Savior, “a lamb slain before the foundation of the world” [see Revelation 13:8], Joseph was truly foreordained to his great mission.22
I know that Joseph Smith, although slain as a martyr to the truth, still lives and that as head of this dispensation—the greatest of all gospel dispensations—he will continue so to stand throughout the eternities to come.23
The message of Joseph Smith—the message of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the message of Mormonism—is the most important message in this world. And Joseph Smith the Prophet, who lives today, continues to have an important part in its direction here on earth.24
To get a vision of the magnitude of the Prophet’s earthly mission we must view it in the light of eternity. He was among “the noble and great ones” whom Abraham described as follows:
“Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones;
“And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born.” (Abraham 3:22–23.)
So it was with Joseph Smith. He too was there. He too sat in council with the noble and great ones. Occupying a prominent place of honor and distinction, he unquestionably helped in the planning and execution of the great work of the Lord to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man,” the salvation of all our Father’s children [see Moses 1:39]. His mission had had, and was to have, impact on all who had come to earth, all who then dwelt on earth, and the millions yet unborn.
The Prophet Joseph Smith made this eternal fact clear in these words: “Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the grand council of heaven before this world was. I suppose that I was ordained to this very office in that grand council. It is the testimony that I want that I am God’s servant, and this people His people” [see History of the Church, 6:364]. …
The greatest activity in this world or in the world to come is directly related to the work and mission of Joseph Smith—man of destiny, prophet of God. That work is the salvation and eternal life of man. For that great purpose this earth was created, prophets of God are called, heavenly messengers are sent forth, and on sacred and important occasions even God, the Father of us all, condescends to come to earth and to introduce his beloved Son.
The Prophet Joseph Smith was not only “one of the noble and great ones,” but he gave and continues to give attention to important matters here on the earth even today from the realms above. For in the eyes of the Lord, the God of this world under the Father, it is all one great eternal program in which the Prophet Joseph plays an important role, all through the eternal priesthood and authority of God.25
I testify to you that Joseph Smith was and is a prophet of God, one of the truly great prophets of all time, a man of destiny, a man of character, a man of courage, a man of deep spirituality, a God-like prophet of the Lord, a truly noble and great one of all time.26
Yes, Joseph Smith, the latter-day Prophet, was an instrument in the hands of the Lord in opening a new gospel dispensation, the last and greatest of all gospel dispensations.27
Why do you think Joseph Smith’s First Vision was “the greatest event … since the resurrection of the Master”? (See section 1.) In what ways has this event influenced your life?
How does it help you to know that John the Revelator prophesied of Moroni’s visits to Joseph Smith? (See section 2.)
President Benson said that the Book of Mormon is “the most singular evidence” that Joseph Smith is a prophet (see section 3). How has your study of the Book of Mormon influenced your testimony of Joseph Smith’s mission?
Ponder President Benson’s words of testimony in section 4. What are some blessings that have come to you and your family because of the Restoration of the gospel?
What do you learn from section 5 about facing persecution? What can we learn from Joseph Smith’s example that will help us when people challenge our testimonies?
Referring to Joseph Smith’s foreordination, President Benson said, “His mission had had, and was to have, impact on all who had come to earth, all who then dwelt on earth, and the millions yet unborn” (section 6). How has the mission of Joseph Smith impacted all who have lived on the earth? How has it impacted you personally?
“Ask participants to share what they have learned from their personal study of the chapter. It may be helpful to contact a few participants during the week and ask them to come prepared to share what they have learned” (page vii in this book).