“Joseph Smith, the Prophet,” Friend, Dec. 1984, 36
“Yea, Joseph truly said: Thus saith the Lord unto me: A choice seer will I raise up out of the fruit of thy loins; …
“And his name shall be called after me.” (2 Ne. 3:7, 15.)
This prophecy made through Joseph, the son of Jacob, was fulfilled on December 23, 1805, when Joseph Smith, Jr., was born to Joseph Smith, Sr., and Lucy Mack Smith in Sharon, Vermont. Joseph had many trials during his life, but he met them with courage, faith, and hard work. And when he died, he had accomplished those things that the Lord had required of him.
As he grew up, Joseph’s family moved often, and each time, Joseph worked hard, clearing land, cording wood, raising crops, and tapping maple trees.
When he was fourteen, Joseph’s family moved to Manchester, New York, where they were soon caught up in the religious excitement of the period. Some of them joined the Presbyterian church, but Joseph could not decide which church was true.
One day he read James 1:5: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him.” He decided to follow this advice.
It was a spring morning in 1820 when Joseph walked to a woods near his home to ask God which church was true. He later wrote about what happened, saying, “I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
“… 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 1:16–17.)
When Joseph asked which church he should join, Jesus answered that he should join none of them.
Joseph’s family believed him when he told them what he had seen and heard, but others in the community began to persecute him because he would not deny that he had seen a vision.
Three years later, on the evening of September 21, 1823, the Angel Moroni appeared beside Joseph’s bed while the young man was praying. Moroni told Joseph, among other things, about a record written upon gold plates and hidden in a hillside. He said that Joseph was to translate it. The angel appeared to Joseph three times that night, each time repeating the same message. The next day Joseph went to the place he had seen in the vision, and there he found a stone box containing the plates.
Joseph was not allowed to take the plates and translate them until four years later. When word got out that Joseph had some gold plates, the persecutions against him increased and many people attempted to steal the plates. But Joseph always managed to keep them safely hidden.
On May 15, 1829, a part of the plates Joseph was translating was about baptism for the remission of sins. Curious, he and his scribe, Oliver Cowdery, prayed about it. John the Baptist appeared to them and conferred the Aaronic Priesthood upon them and told them to baptize each other. Joseph baptized Oliver, and then Oliver baptized Joseph. They then ordained each other to the Aaronic Priesthood. Later they received the Melchizedek Priesthood from Peter, James, and John, the ancient apostles.
On April 6, 1830, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was formally organized. Its membership grew rapidly. In 1831, Joseph and his wife Emma moved to Kirtland, Ohio, where many of the new members were gathering. While there, Joseph prepared for publication the revelations he had received so far. This Book of Commandments was later expanded and published as the Doctrine and Covenants.
On March 27, 1836, Joseph dedicated the Kirtland Temple. Only two years later he and other faithful followers were forced to flee to Far West, Missouri, because of persecutions.
When the Saints first arrived at Far West, they were accepted by the local citizens. But as their numbers and political influence grew, mobs persecuted the Saints and burned some of their homes. Governor Boggs sent thousands of troops to Far West with instructions to kill all of the Saints if necessary to restore peace. The Saints were forced to give up their guns, and mobs entered Far West and ransacked their homes. The Saints were then told to leave the state before the next spring or be killed.
Meanwhile Joseph and several other Church leaders had been taken prisoner. After spending about six months in various jails without being legally charged with any offense, the guards allowed them to escape. They fled to Quincy, Illinois, where many of the Saints had gone after being driven out of Far West.
In May 1839 Joseph directed the purchase of a large piece of swampland in Commerce, Illinois, and a great many Saints began to move into the area. Commerce was later renamed Nauvoo.
Nauvoo grew. The swampland was drained and cleared, and buildings were completed. Among other things, Joseph oversaw the building of a new temple, edited a newspaper, ran a store, and served as mayor of the city and head of the Nauvoo militia.
Once again the neighboring communities came to resent the Saints because of their strength, prosperity, and political influence. The Nauvoo Expositor, a local newspaper, added to the Saints’ trouble by printing lies about the Church leaders.
On June 10, 1844, a group of men under orders from the city council destroyed the newspaper’s press. Joseph and some of the other brethren were charged with inciting a riot, but were later found not guilty.
Governor Ford wanted Joseph to be tried again at Carthage, Illinois, Joseph felt that if he went there, he would probably be killed, so on June 23, 1844, he rowed across the Mississippi River to avoid arrest. In a letter, Emma pleaded with him to return and surrender. Joseph also learned that some of the Saints were calling him a coward for leaving. “If my life is of no value to my friends,” he said, “it is of none to myself.” He returned to Nauvoo, and on Monday, June 24, he and the others charged in the case went to Carthage to surrender.
When they got to Carthage, they were released on bail until a circuit court judge could hear the case. Joseph and Hyrum went to talk to Governor Ford. While there, they were rearrested on charges of treason.
Joseph and Hyrum were again jailed; John Taylor and Willard Richards went with them.
On June 27, 1844, shortly after 5:00 P.M., a mob rushed up the jail stairs to the room where the prisoners were being held. The culprits tried to break through the door, but were unable to. Shooting through the door, they hit Hyrum, who fell, saying, “I am a dead man.”
Joseph went to the window where he was shot twice from inside the building and twice more from outside. He fell out of the window to the ground and died. John Taylor was shot four times and lay under a bed, severely wounded. Willard Richards was not injured during the shooting.
After the martyrdom, John Taylor wrote, “Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it. … He lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and like most of the Lord’s anointed in ancient times, has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood …” (D&C 135:3).