Lesson 32: Joseph Fielding Smith—Child of Promise, Student of the Scriptures

"Lesson 32: Joseph Fielding Smith—Child of Promise, Student of the Scriptures," The Presidents of the Church: Teacher’s Manual, (1996)


Class members will come to feel, through the example of Joseph Fielding Smith, that scripture and gospel study are important in their preparation for life.


  1. 1.

    Prepare to show the picture of Joseph Fielding Smith in the color section.

  2. 2.

    Obtain pencils and paper for each class member.

  3. 3.

    See that each class member has copies of the standard works.

Suggested Lesson Development



Read the following story about Joseph Fielding Smith, tenth President of the Church, as if you were President Smith.

Junie “‘was one of the most intelligent animals I ever saw. She seemed almost human in her ability. I couldn’t keep her locked in the barn because she would continually undo the strap on the door of her stall. I used to put the strap connected to the half-door of the stall over the top of the post, but she would simply lift it off with her nose and teeth. Then she would go out in the yard.

“‘There was a water tap in the yard used for filling the water trough for our animals. Junie would turn this on with her teeth and then leave the water running. My father would get after me because I couldn’t keep that horse in the barn. She never ran away; she just turned on the water and then walked around the yard or over the lawn or through the garden. In the middle of the night, I would hear the water running and then I would have to get up and shut it off and lock Junie up again.

“‘My father suggested that the horse seemed smarter than I was. One day he decided that he would lock her in so that she couldn’t get out. He took the strap that usually looped over the top of the post and buckled it around the post and under a crossbar, and then he said, “Young lady, let’s see you get out of there now!” My father and I left the barn and started back to the house; and before we reached it, Junie was at our side.’

“… With a great smile, I was then able to ask, ‘Father, now who’s smarter?’” (Joseph Fielding McConkie, True and Faithful [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1971], p. 19).

Picture and discussion

  • How many of you know who the story is about? Raise your hands. (As class members respond, display the picture of Joseph Fielding Smith and ask someone in the class to identify the picture. Mention that Joseph Fielding Smith was the tenth President of the Church.)

Chalkboard and discussion

Prepare a pedigree chart diagram on the chalkboard as shown. As the lines are being drawn, tell the class that you are going to trace Joseph Fielding Smith’s pedigree on his father’s side. Write Joseph Fielding Smith’s name as shown and ask the class members if they can fill in the blanks.

Joseph Fielding Smith’s Pedigree on His Father’s Side

Joseph Fielding Smith, Jr.

Joseph Fielding Smith, Sr.

Julina Lambson Smith

Hyrum Smith

Mary Fielding Smith

Joseph Smith, Sr.

Lucy Mack Smith

As the names are being written, tell the class that President Joseph Fielding Smith, Jr., was born 19 July 1876. Indicate that he was born with an outstanding heritage. Explain that Joseph was named after his father, although we usually call his father Joseph F. Smith, rather than Joseph Fielding Smith. Joseph F. Smith was the sixth President of the Church. Joseph Fielding Smith’s grandfather was Hyrum Smith, beloved brother of the Prophet Joseph Smith with whom he died as a martyr in the Carthage Jail. His great-grandfather was Joseph Smith, Sr. The Prophet Joseph Smith said of his father, Joseph Smith, Sr., “He was the first person who received my testimony after I had seen the angel” (History of the Church, 4:190). He was also the first Patriarch to the Church.

Joseph Fielding Smith Was an Obedient Child of Promise

Joseph Fielding Smith was a child of promise. His father had promised his mother, Julina Lambson, that her first son would be named Joseph Fielding, Jr. Elder Bruce R. McConkie, Joseph Fielding’s son-in-law, related the following family history concerning Joseph Fielding’s birth and the impressions of his mother. (Read it to the class.)

“Julina had three daughters but no sons, and so she went before the Lord and, like Hannah of old, ‘vowed a vow.’ Her promise: that if the Lord would give her a son, ‘she would do all in her power to help him be a credit to the Lord and to his father.’ The Lord … manifest to her, before the birth of the man child, that her son would be called to serve in the Council of the Twelve” (Bruce R. McConkie, “Joseph Fielding Smith: Apostle, Prophet, Father in Israel,” Ensign, Aug. 1972, p. 29).

Joseph Fielding Smith was quick to give credit for his early training to his parents and to the Lord. He was always grateful for the training he received from his father and at his mother’s knee. She told him pioneer stories and taught him to love the Prophet Joseph Smith, to pray, and to honor his priesthood duties. He said, “‘I learned at a very early day that God lives. He gave me a testimony when I was a child and I have tried to be obedient, always with some measure of success’” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Jr., and John J. Stewart, Life of Joseph Fielding Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1972], p. 57).


  • Why would a testimony early in life be helpful? Why would obedience be important to maintaining that testimony? (Allow varied responses.)

Example and discussion

As a young man growing up, Joseph Fielding worked hard and was willing to carry his share of the load. He shared in the chores around his home and at ten years of age he shared in his mother’s profession as a midwife. (Read or relate in your own words the following.)

“When … Joseph was ten years old, … it was at that tender age that he began assisting [his mother] in her professional duties as a licensed midwife or obstetrician. Joseph’s job was that of stable boy and buggy driver. At all hours of the day or night, when the call came for his mother’s services, Joseph was to hitch up the faithful mare ‘Old Meg’ to the buggy and drive his mother to the home of the confinement case. Here he might wait while she delivered the baby, or, if his mother thought the wait would be too long, she would send him home with instructions on when to return for her. …

“‘Sometimes I nearly froze to death. I marveled that so many babies were born in the middle of the night, especially on cold winter nights. I fervently wished that mothers might time things a little better’” (Smith and Stewart, Life of Joseph Fielding Smith, pp. 52–53).

Story and discussion

“Many of Joseph’s youthful hours were spent herding cows near the Jordan River and laboring with his brothers on the family farm in Taylorsville. On one occasion when he and his younger brother, George, were loading hay onto a wagon to take it from the field to the barn, Joseph had a close brush with death. They had stopped on a road by the canal to stack some bales and give the team a drink. Because they had a skittish horse, Joseph told George to stand by the head of the team and hold their bridles until he could climb up and take the reins. Instead, George went back and started up the binding rope. As he did so, the horses started with a sudden jerk and Joseph fell down between the horses on the doubletree.

“The thought, ‘Well, here’s my finish!’ flashed through his mind. But something turned the horses and they ran into the canal, while Joseph was thrown clear of their hoofs and the wheels of the wagon. When he got up, he gave George an honest appraisal of his feelings and then hurried home—shaken, but grateful to be in one piece. His father came out to meet him and wanted to know what difficulty he had encountered, having received a strong impression that his son was in some kind of danger” (Joseph F. McConkie, True and Faithful, p. 18).


  • Do you think Joseph Fielding was being watched over and protected at this time? (In all probability the class members will answer that the Lord was saving him for an important mission.)


Joseph Fielding Smith enjoyed and participated in many of the activities that young men enjoy. He liked sports, especially baseball, and he sometimes went fishing, but he did not enjoy hunting. (Tell or read the following.)

“Joseph occasionally went fishing, but cared not at all for hunting, perhaps because his father had persuaded him that it was morally wrong to kill for pleasure. One day, however, some of his brothers and friends coaxed him into going rabbit hunting. Reluctantly he shot a rabbit, heard it cry out like a baby, as wounded rabbits often will, was sick at heart, dropped his gun and has never used one since. Like his father, he taught that it is wrong to kill for pleasure” (Smith and Stewart, Life of Joseph Fielding Smith, p. 54).

Joseph Fielding Smith’s Love for and Study of the Scriptures

Perhaps the most important activity of Joseph’s young life, however, and one that would influence his life and mission, was his love of the gospel and his study of it. He was later to say:

“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” (Joseph Fielding Smith, in Conference Report, Apr. 1930, p. 91).


  • What activities give you more satisfaction than anything else and why? (Discuss their answers, asking what those activities might be preparing them for.)

When Joseph Fielding was eight years old and was baptized, his father gave him a copy of the Book of Mormon. Money was scarce and it was a defective copy purchased at a reduced rate. Nevertheless, Joseph Fielding remembered:

“‘When I was a small boy, too young to hold the Aaronic Priesthood, my father placed a copy of the Book of Mormon in my hands with the request that I read it. I received this Nephite Record with thanksgiving and applied myself to the task which had been assigned to me. There are certain passages that have been stamped upon my mind and I have never forgotten them’” (Smith and Stewart, Life of Joseph Fielding Smith, p. 57).

Two years later, “by the time he was ten years old he had read the Book of Mormon through not just once but twice” (Smith and Stewart, Life of Joseph Fielding Smith, p. 57).


  • Have we been requested by a prophet to read the Book of Mormon? Have you done it yet? (If not, challenge them to follow President Smith’s example and apply themselves to read it.)

As a young man Joseph Fielding enjoyed reading the scriptures so much that he would sometimes leave a ball game early or hurry to finish his chores in order to get back to his studies. He could often be found in his father’s study, the hayloft, the shade of a tree, or walking home from his clerking job at ZCMI department store reading and studying the scriptures. He later said:

“‘I remember that one thing I did from the time I learned to read and write was to study the gospel. I read and committed to memory the children’s catechism [a study book of gospel principles] and primary books on the gospel. Later I read the history of the Church as recorded in the Millennial Star. I also read the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, and the Doctrine and Covenants, and other literature which fell into my hands’” (McConkie, True and Faithful, p. 69).


  • How would a young man acting this way be thought of today? Would he be accepted? Would he be made fun of for being too studious or religious? (Allow varied responses.)

  • What might happen if someone in your group left a ball game or an activity early to study the scriptures? (Point out that we can expect great blessings when we accept one another and when we are willing to put the Lord first.)

  • How can we help one another follow Joseph Fielding Smith’s example of studying the scriptures? (Allow varied responses.)

Because of his preparation and diligence in scripture study, Joseph Fielding Smith became a great writer and scholar of the scriptures, blessing the lives of many members of the Church. At least twenty-five books and pamphlets of his writings and speeches have been published and enjoyed by millions of Church members. The words in his patriarchal blessing, “‘You will be gifted to interpret the scriptures above your associates,’” proved true (Smith and Stewart, Life of Joseph Fielding Smith, p. vi).

Studying the Scriptures Can Help Us and Be a Blessing in Our Lives


Pass out paper and pencils to each class member and see that each has a copy of the standard works.

In 1953, President Smith was asked to write a column in the Church magazine, the Improvement Era, in which he would use the scriptures to answer the questions of Church members. He continued this for almost fourteen years. The many questions and answers have been published in a five-volume set of books called Answers to Gospel Questions.

Today you will have an opportunity to do the same thing. Using your scriptures, the Topical Guide, and the Bible Dictionary, find and write a very brief answer to at least two gospel questions. You may choose your own questions. In writing your questions and answers you will begin to feel the strength and admire the ability of Joseph Fielding Smith.

(Ideally, you would have the class members choose their own gospel questions or questions they have heard from friends. Knowing the class, you may choose questions that seem relevant to them. The following are only suggestions: 1. The scriptures were written hundreds of years ago. Why are they so important today? 2. I have a nonmember friend that says God is a spirit. How do I answer him? 3. I was discussing the Second Coming of Christ with some friends and some of the signs that will take place first. Where can I find a list of some of these signs?)

After the class members have searched the scriptures, Topical Guide, and Bible Dictionary, if appropriate, ask several to share their answers and discuss them as a class.

For those who may not have LDS editions of the scriptures: The following scripture chains would help answer the suggested questions. (The “chains” should only be used in areas where the Topical Guide and Bible Dictionary are not available.)

The Scriptures Can Answer Our Questions

Scriptures can answer our questions and be a help in our lives. Stress again the importance that studying the scriptures played in the life of President Smith.

Listen to Joseph Fielding Smith’s counsel and be ready to identify several blessings that he mentions that come from searching the scriptures. (Read the following.)

“One of the responsibilities which the Lord has placed upon the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that they search the scriptures and lay up a store of knowledge, otherwise they cannot have the guidance of the Holy Ghost, notwithstanding they have been baptized and confirmed. Those who are ignorant of the gospel truths and unacquainted with the teachings that the Lord gave to the Fathers, cannot have the guidance of the Spirit of the Lord. Such people leave themselves open to temptation and deception by wicked, unscrupulous souls and are in grave danger of being led into folly and forbidden paths because they have no foundation in faith on which to build” (Improvement Era, Mar. 1964, p. 159).


  • What blessings have the prophets promised those who search the scriptures? (A storehouse of knowledge, protection and guidance from the Holy Ghost, a foundation of faith to build on.)

  • What danger do we run by not searching the scriptures? (Temptation, lack of the Spirit, deception, being led in forbidden paths.)

Testimony and Challenge

Bear your testimony of the importance of searching the scriptures and becoming a student of them as was President Smith. Bear your testimony that they contain the words of the Savior and tell of the blessing they have been in your life. Challenge the class members to search the scriptures regularly.