Relief Society Lesson 47: “Praise to the Man”: Latter-day Prophets Bear Witness of the Prophet Joseph Smith
by Kelly Ann (Lesson from Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, (2007),541–57)
Start by reading the following passage from the life of Joseph Smith.
Following the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum, the members of the Quorum of the Twelve who had been on missionary journeys in the United States returned as quickly as possible to Nauvoo. The members of the Twelve called a meeting of the Saints for August 8, 1844, at which Brigham Young, the President of the Quorum of the Twelve, spoke. As he did so, an extraordinary event occurred that was witnessed by many Saints. President Young was miraculously made to appear and sound like Joseph Smith. “If Joseph had risen from the dead and again spoken in their hearing,” George Q. Cannon recalled, “the effect could not have been more startling than it was to many present at that meeting. It was the voice of Joseph himself; and not only was it the voice of Joseph which was heard; but it seemed in the eyes of the people as though it was the very person of Joseph which stood before them. A more wonderful and miraculous event than was wrought that day in the presence of that congregation we never heard of. The Lord gave His people a testimony that left no room for doubt as to who was the man He had chosen to lead them.”1 At the conclusion of this meeting, the Saints voted to have the Twelve preside over them. A little over three years later, in December 1847, the First Presidency was again organized, with Brigham Young sustained as the President of the Church.
How do you think the Saints felt at the passing of Joseph Smith? Why do you think it was important for them to receive a witness that Brigham Young was to lead the church? Many Saints reported the experience but do you think everyone really had the same powerful witness? They obviously sustained the quorum at the end of the meeting but why did it take three years to sustain Brigham Young as the Prophet if “there was no room for doubt”? How can we know that Joseph Smith was a Prophet, that the various Presidents of the Church have all been called of God, and that the current President is a living Prophet? Is it ok to question their mission and behavior? While some may doubt, do you think that all the Prophets receive strong witnesses of Joseph Smith’s mission in addition to their testimony of Christ?
Since the time of Brigham Young, each of the prophets who has presided over the Church has testified of the remarkable mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith was chosen in the Council in Heaven to be the great prophet and seer of the latter days. His mission was so important that it was foretold by ancient prophets, including the Old Testament prophet Joseph, who was sold into Egypt. Joseph of Egypt was himself a seer, and he prophesied at length about Joseph Smith:
“A seer shall the Lord my God raise up, who shall be a choice seer unto the fruit of my loins. … And his name shall be called after me; and it shall be after the name of his father. And he shall be like unto me; for the thing, which the Lord shall bring forth by his hand, by the power of the Lord shall bring my people unto salvation” (2 Nephi 3:6, 15; see also 2 Nephi 3:6–22).2
Joseph of Egypt and other ancient prophets prophesied of Joseph Smith and his mission.. As shown in this chapter, latter-day prophets have continued to emphasize the importance of Joseph Smith. Why do you think Joseph Smith has received such attention, both before his earthly ministry and after? Do you think we can over-emphasize Joseph Smith?
Through Joseph Smith, the choice seer of the latter days, the doctrines and saving ordinances of the gospel were revealed, and the true Church of Jesus Christ was once again established on the earth. The testimonies of ancient and modern prophets join together to proclaim that Joseph Smith was the instrument through whom God restored the fulness of the gospel for the blessing of “the whole human family, from eternity to eternity.”4
What can we learn from the testimonies of the Latter-day Prophets?
1) Joseph Smith was foreordained to his prophetic calling.
President Joseph Fielding Smith: “Joseph Smith was chosen to stand at the head of the work of the Lord in the last days, and his work was assigned to him through the fore-knowledge of our Eternal Father in the eternities before he was born. He came in the spirit of Elias to prepare the way for the coming of our Lord. No prophet since the days of Adam, save, of course, our Redeemer, has been given a greater mission.”6
How does our understanding of Joseph Smith’s earthly mission change when we “view it in the light of eternity”? How does recognizing God’s hand in his mission change our perception of his calling? Does it make us more willing to except his imperfections?
2) Joseph Smith’s First Vision is a fundamental part of our individual testimonies.
President David O. McKay: “The appearing of the Father and the Son to Joseph Smith is the foundation of this Church. Therein lies the secret of its strength and vitality. This is true, and I bear witness to it. That one revelation answers all the queries of science regarding God and His divine personality. Don’t you see what that means? What God is, is answered. His relation to His children is clear. His interest in humanity through authority delegated to man is apparent. The future of the work is assured. These and other glorious truths are clarified by that glorious First Vision.”11
President Ezra Taft Benson: “The First Vision of the Prophet Joseph Smith is bedrock theology to the Church. The adversary knows this and has attacked Joseph Smith’s credibility from the day he announced the visitation of the Father and the Son. … You should always bear testimony to the truth of the First Vision. Joseph Smith did see the Father and the Son. They conversed with him as he said they did. It is the most glorious event since the resurrection of our Lord. Any leader who, without reservation, cannot declare his testimony that God and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith can never be a true leader, a true shepherd. If we do not accept this truth, … if we have not received a witness about this great revelation, we cannot inspire faith in those whom we lead.”12
What makes the First Vision “the greatest event that has ever occurred in the world since the resurrection of the Son of God”? How is the First Vision “the foundation of this Church” and “the secret of its strength and vitality”? What has helped you gain a testimony of the First Vision? Do the exact details of the First Vision matter? Is it ok to doubt aspects of the churches history?What message is really the fundamental part of our testimonies?
3) The Prophet Joseph Smith was taught by God and angels.
President Harold B. Lee: “Joseph Smith, the young man not schooled in the theologies of the day, not schooled in the high schools of learning of his day, … [was] one who could be submissive to the teachings and whisperings of the Spirit. Joseph Smith could not have established this Church. He could not have brought forth the work of the Lord, the Book of Mormon. They may scoff at the Prophet Joseph Smith as a man. They may question how this Church began, but here the thing stands as a monument—the Book of Mormon itself. Joseph, the man, could not have done this, but Joseph, actuated by the power of Almighty God, could and did perform the miraculous service of bringing forth the kingdom out of obscurity in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.”17
President Howard W. Hunter: “We praise [Joseph Smith] for his capacity to commune not only with Jehovah but also with other personages of heaven. So many visited, gave keys, and tutored that ‘choice seer’ raised up in the latter days. … We praise Joseph Smith, too, for his diligence and capacity to translate and to receive hundreds of pages of revealed scripture. He was the revealing conduit. Through him, it has been estimated, more marvelous pages of scripture passed than through any other human in history.”19
President Joseph F. Smith declared, “God is responsible for the work accomplished by Joseph Smith—not Joseph Smith”). Why do you think this is an important point to make about Joseph Smith’s mission? How can we be taught by God and Angels? How can we be taught by the Spirit? How can we remember that it is God’s hand that directs all things?
Of Joseph Smith, President John Taylor said, “I have never met a man so intelligent as he was”. However, President Taylor and other Presidents of the Church have pointed out that Joseph Smith did not have many opportunities for schooling. Why was the Prophet Joseph able to grow so much in his intelligence? Does this mean that he was perfect or that he always did the will of God? As we seek spiritual knowledge, how can we follow Joseph Smith’s example?
4) The Prophet Joseph Smith was called of God to open the final dispensation and restore the fulness of the gospel.
President Joseph F. Smith: “Whatever else the Prophet Joseph Smith may have done or may have been, we must not forget the fact that he was the man out of the millions of human beings that inhabited this earth at the time—the only man, that was called of God, by the voice of God Himself, to open up the dispensation of the Gospel to the world for the last time; and this is the great thing to bear in mind, that he was called of God to introduce the Gospel to the world, to restore the holy priesthood to the children of men, to organize the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the world, and to restore all the ordinances of the Gospel, for the salvation not only of the living, but also of the dead, and he was called to this mission by God Himself. …
“… There have been other prophets, and great prophets, too, who have had angels minister to them, and others who have seen the finger of God, and who have been favored more or less; but where is the circumstance, and who is the man unto whom the Father and the Savior have appeared together in person, and declared themselves unto him? Where is that man? Nowhere that history records, except the Prophet Joseph Smith, and that while he was a youth. He was only a youth, comparatively in fact, when he was martyred, being only 38 years of age.
“… The Prophet Joseph Smith … communed with the Father and the Son and spoke with angels, and they visited him, and conferred blessings and gifts and keys of power upon him that were never before bestowed upon any human being other than the Son of God Himself. No man yet that ever lived upon the earth had all the keys of the Gospel and of the dispensations bestowed upon him as were bestowed upon the Prophet Joseph Smith in the temple at Kirtland when he was visited there by the Son of God, by Moses, and by Elias and Elijah, and when the heavens were opened unto him and he received the keys of power and authority by which he could lay the foundation of the work of God, broad and deep, to cover the earth with the knowledge of God, and with His power and glory.”22
6) The work of Joseph Smith blesses those who have lived on the earth, those who are now living, and those who will yet be born.
President Gordon B. Hinckley, speaking in Carthage, Illinois, on June 26, 1994, in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s martyrdom: “The glorious work, begun by him who was killed at Carthage, has grown in a miraculous and wonderful way. … This marvelous work, which has sprung from the prophetic calling of the boy of Palmyra, has ‘come forth out of the wilderness of darkness,’ and is shining ‘forth fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners,’ as the Prophet prayed it would (D&C 109:73). …
“We pause in reverence here this evening. We reflect on the miracle of the life begun in the green hills of Vermont and ended here in the jail of Carthage. That life was not long. But the fruits of that life have been something almost beyond comprehension.
“This great cause of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been more precious than life itself to thousands upon thousands who have died in its service. Witnesses have gone into the world by the hundreds of thousands to bear testimony of Joseph Smith’s calling as a Prophet of God. The holy priesthood restored through him has fallen as a mantle upon uncounted numbers of men of integrity and virtue who have been clothed with this divine power. The Book of Mormon is going across the earth as another testament of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“To quote a truism uttered long ago and in different circumstances, ‘the blood of the martyrs has become the seed of the Church.’ The testimonies which were sealed here in these very precincts, on this ground where we meet tonight, that hot and sultry day 150 years ago, now nurture the faith of people around the world.”25
Joseph Smith restored many truths and ordinances. How would our lifes be different if we hadn’t received them through the power of God? How can show our gratitude to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ for the truths that have been restored? How can we better appreciate Joseph Smith as a prophet as well as the other leaders of the church? Does recognizing their inspiration preclude us from recognizing their faults? How can we nurture our faith in them while at times doubting? How can we bear testimony of their mission? If we doubt or perhaps don’t believe or are troubled by things they do, how can we strengthen our testimonies of their mission?