During the 1970s, President Spencer W. Kimball traveled with other Church leaders all over the world to meet with members in area conferences. At one of these conferences, he expressed gratitude for the legacy of the Prophet Joseph Smith:
“Because a boy fourteen years old went out in the woods to pray in New York, all of these hundreds of thousands of people come to area conferences. Because the fourteen-year-old boy went out in the woods to pray, having read in the scriptures, ‘If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God’ (James 1:5), because he did live the revelations from on high, we have The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We have all of the blessings that can make us the happiest people in the whole world, because a boy of fourteen went out into the woods to pray. I am grateful that Joseph found his way into the woods, and I am grateful that he knew what he was doing and that he was serious-minded enough that he could take the word of the Lord as it came to him and enlarge upon it and build this kingdom.”1
On another occasion, President Kimball described feelings he had when viewing a portrait of the Prophet Joseph Smith found in a room of the Salt Lake Temple: “I look over on the front wall, and there is Joseph Smith, and I think what a great, great prophet Joseph Smith was. He was no common man. … I think of all of his persecutions and the suffering that he went through. I think of all the revelations that came from heaven to him which he gave to us. And then I gain new strength again.”2
Joseph Smith was prepared for centuries before he was born. He was even named Joseph before he was ever born [see 2 Nephi 3:14–15]. His mission was to come to the earth at the proper time in these last days to open the doors to the great world, to give the gospel to them, to give the priesthood to them, and to give hope to them as they look forward to eternal life.3
Joseph Smith, the prophet of the Lord, was set apart, called before he was born, called long ages ago, to come forth at this time and to … open the world to the preaching of the true and living gospel.
… Joseph Smith came into this world that was crying for help; for hundreds of years it had been helpless. … It had been hundreds and hundreds of years since there had been a prophet. … And so it was time.4
Surely God our Father and his Son Jesus Christ, who appeared to an Aaronic Priesthood-age youth, Joseph Smith, to give that lad instructions for all mankind, did not simply make a random appearance to a person on this planet. Rather, the Lord says that this appearance, which was precisely planned, occurred because “… I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments.” (D&C 1:17.)
God does nothing by chance, but always by design as a loving father.5
Under special need, at special times, under proper circumstances, God reveals himself to men who are prepared for such manifestations. And since God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, the heavens cannot be closed except as men lock them against themselves with disbelief.
In our own dispensation came [such a] grand experience. The need was imperative; an apostasy had covered the earth and gross darkness the people, and the minds of men were clouded and light had been obscured in darkness [see Isaiah 60:2]. The time had come. Religious liberty would protect the seed until it could germinate and grow. And the individual was prepared in the person of a youth, clean and open minded, who had such implicit faith in the response of God that the heavens could not remain as iron and the earth as brass as they had been for many centuries [see Leviticus 26:19].
This budding prophet had no preconceived false notions and beliefs. He was not steeped in the traditions and legends and superstitions and fables of the centuries. He had nothing to unlearn. He prayed for knowledge and direction. The powers of darkness preceded the light. When he knelt in solitude in the silent forest, his earnest prayer brought on a battle royal that threatened his destruction. For centuries, Lucifer with unlimited dominion had fettered men’s minds and could ill-afford to lose his satanic hold. This threatened his unlimited dominion. Let Joseph Smith tell his own story:
“… I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me … to bind my tongue. … Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.
“… at the very moment when I was ready to … abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world … I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun. …
“… I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. 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!” [Joseph Smith—History 1:15–17.]6
The heavens which had been closed in large measure for many centuries were now opened. The voices that had been still and subdued and unheard through many centuries now began to speak. The revelation that had been well-nigh obliterated and reasoned out of existence was again available. …
A new truth, a concept not understood by the myriads of people on the earth, burst forth, and in that moment there was only one man on the face of the whole earth who knew with absolute assurance that God was a personal being, that the Father and Son were separate individuals with [glorified] bodies of flesh and bones [and that he] had been created in their image. As the Son was in the image of his Father, the Father God was the same kind of image as the Son.7
Nothing short of this total vision to Joseph could have served the purpose to clear away the mists of the centuries. Merely an impression, a hidden voice, a dream could [not] have dispelled the old vagaries and misconceptions.8
This young boy was entrusted with the greatest block of knowledge known to men. Remember, that spring morning not one of all the people in the world had absolute knowledge of God. There were many good people, but they had all walked in spiritual darkness these many centuries. But here was a boy who knew. …
Joseph knew, as no other soul living, these absolutes:
He knew that God lives, that He is a [glorified] person with flesh and bones and personality, like us or we like Him, in His image.
He knew that the long-heralded trinity of three Gods in one was a myth, a deception. He knew that the Father and the Son were two distinct beings with form, voices, and … personalities.
He knew that the gospel was not on the earth, for by the Deities he had learned it, and the true Church was absent from the earth, for the God of heaven and earth had so informed him.9
That morning in the grove in New York when the Father and Son came to him was perhaps the greatest revelation ever given to the world.10
The young prophet was advised that he would be an instrument in the hands of the Lord in restoring the eternal gospel with all that was lost in early centuries. Then these visions and revelations continued on through years in which the voice of Jehovah was heard again and again, restoring to the earth through this young prophet the truths of the gospel, the priesthood of God, the apostleship, the authorities and powers, the organization of the Church, so that again the revelations and the everlasting truths are upon the earth and available to all men who will accept them.11
The prophet Moroni appeared unto Joseph and spent long hours explaining the peopling of the American continents by the Lehites and also the Book of Mormon, which would be unearthed and translated. … This record, the Book of Mormon, would help to establish the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ.12
Through the gift and power of God, [Joseph] translated that record, now known as the Book of Mormon.13
The gospel was revealed, line upon line and precept upon precept, and truths were restored, and power was given and authority was revealed, and gradually enough light and enough people were there for the organization of this kingdom of God which Daniel saw two and a half millennia ago [see Daniel 2:44–45].14
After long centuries of spiritual darkness, the light began to shine when revelation opened up this dispensation. The Prophet Joseph Smith received the revelations from the Lord bringing back to the earth that which was lost—the priesthood of God—the authority, the power, the right to administer ordinances, and the continuation of the revelations of the Lord to his people here on the earth.15
The power was given to Joseph Smith, whereby he could seal on earth and it would be sealed in heaven. Those keys have been handed down from president to president.16
The details of the life of Joseph Smith are familiar to us. He announced at once his glorious vision of the Father and the Son and was immediately oppressed and persecuted. Modern scribes and Pharisees have published libelous books and articles by the hundreds, imprisoned him … , tarred and feathered him, shot at him, and done everything in their power to destroy him. In spite of their every effort to take his life, he survived through more than a score of years of bitter and violent persecution to fill his mission until his hour should come.
Twenty-four years of hell he suffered, but also twenty-four years of ecstasy he enjoyed in converse with God and other immortals! His mission was accomplished—heaven and earth were linked again; the Church was organized; Brigham Young and other great leaders were trained to carry on; and he had conferred upon the heads of the Twelve every key and power belonging to the apostleship which he himself held, and he had said to them: “I have laid the foundations and you must build thereon, for upon your shoulders the kingdom rests.”
And his hour had come to seal with his blood his testimony, so often borne to multitudes of friends and foes. …
… Though he hoped and prayed that the cup could pass, he knew it was inevitable. He said: “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter.” [See D&C 135:4.] …
And a slaughter it was! The shots rang out! And freely flowed the blood of martyrs, for Hyrum, his older brother, had chosen to remain with him. This precious blood soaked into the earth, sealing an undying and unanswerable testimony which continued to ring in minds and hearts.17
Jesus sealed his testimony with his blood. Stephen did. Joseph Smith has now sealed his testimony with blood and died as a young man to say unto all the world that the plates from which the Book of Mormon came forth were found on a hill near Palmyra in the state of New York. And thus, through understanding of this book and the Holy Bible, the gospel of Jesus Christ, through administration of his angels, was again restored to the earth.18
Joseph was protected and his life saved in every instance of persecution until his work was finished and he had done his part in the restoration of the gospel and the priesthood and all other keys of the dispensation, and until the organization of the kingdom was effected. He could not be killed before that time, though all hell raged against him. He wanted to live. Life was sweet to him. It held promise of sweet associations with his family, his brethren, and the satisfaction of seeing the work blossom into a full-blown flower. But his work was done; other strong leaders could now carry on; he was needed in other fields. Only in his thirties, a very young man, he died, and commenced his work in other realms.19
“Mormonism will fail if we kill their prophet,” they said … as they murdered Joseph Smith in cold blood. Undoubtedly their fiendish grins of satisfaction at such a foul deed changed to perturbed grimaces when they came to realize that they had been but kicking against sharp points, injuring only themselves. Mormonism was not destroyed by the cruel martyrdom, but here was its vitality. The bullet-torn flesh fertilized the soil; the blood they shed moistened the seed; and the spirits they sent heavenward will testify against them throughout eternities. The cause persists and grows.20
[Joseph Smith’s] work was not lost. His testimony goes steadily forward, on to infinity.21
Today a great people hailed for their education, practicality, and virtue, stand to bear witness that the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, like that of the martyrs before him, is another of the infallible proofs of the divinity of the gospel of Jesus Christ, restored in its fulness through that humble prophet.22
Consider these ideas as you study the chapter or as you prepare to teach. For additional help, see pages v–ix.
What do you think are some of the greatest things the Lord revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith? (For some examples, see pages 228–32.) When someone who is not a member of the Church asks you about Joseph Smith, what do you say?
What was God’s role and what was Joseph Smith’s role in opening the heavens for the Restoration of the gospel? (See pages 227, 228–30.) In what ways was Joseph Smith prepared to receive revelation?
What did Joseph Smith know after the First Vision that he did not know before? (For some examples, see pages 229–30.) How do you think his feelings about God and himself changed? How have you been influenced by your testimony of the First Vision?
In what ways was Joseph Smith an instrument of the Lord in linking heaven and earth? (See pages 231–32.) What do you think it means to be an instrument in the hands of the Lord?
President Kimball said that the mob hoped to destroy Mormonism by killing Joseph Smith (page 234). What thoughts and feelings do you have as you consider what has happened in the Church since the death of Joseph Smith?