Chapter 19: The Man Joseph Smith

Chapter Nineteen: The Man Joseph Smith

            A summary in bullet points of Joseph Smith’s life is a highlight reel of contrasts—heights and depths few other mortals experienced. Joseph himself said, “No man knows my history. I cannot tell it: I shall never undertake it. I don’t blame any one for not believing my history. If I had not experienced what I have, I would not have believed it myself” (History of the Church, 6:317). No one, not even his closest family and friends, could imagine his burden of organizational leadership; the joy and responsibility of communing with Deity; the obligation of spiritual and in many cases economic leadership over many thousands; the divine direction to restore ancient scripture and doctrine; and in between, around, and through all of that, relentless and continuous persecution. Joseph used what may be described as a near drowning image to describe the persecution—“And as for the perils which I am called to pass through, they seem but a small thing to me, as the envy and wrath of man have been my common lot all the days of my life. . . . Deep water is what I am wont to swim in” (D&C 127:2). 
            From the time he was born—December 23, 1805, in Sharon, Windsor Country, Vermont—until age fourteen, no one cared about his history. He was just one of many children born to Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith. But a few words from the Bible and a beautiful, clear spring morning changed everything. From there, his story becomes singular.
  • At age fourteen he requested wisdom from God in a grove of trees not far distant from his Palmyra, New York, home. His desire was to know which church was right.
  • He received the glorious blessing of seeing God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. In      this vision, Joseph was privileged to hear our Father in Heaven call him by name and to converse with Jesus Christ face-to-face.  
  • “Professors of religion” persecuted him from the time he told the first minister about his vision. Of this situation his brother William said, “We never knew we were bad folks until Joseph told his vision. We were considered respectable till then, but at once people began to circulate falsehoods and stories in a wonderful way” (Deseret Evening News, 20 January 1894, 11; see also Church History in the Fulness of Times, 35).
  • On 21–22 September 1823, he met the ancient prophet and historian Moroni in a set of glorious visions. He received tutoring from Moroni throughout a four-year period, from 21 September 1823 to 22 September 1827.
  • Joseph married Emma Hale on 18 January 1827.
  • He received by revelation the Book of Mormon. After he and Oliver Cowdery completed the transcription of the Book of Mormon, Joseph secured copyright and arranged for printing and binding.
  • He and Oliver received the Aaronic Priesthood from John the Baptist on 15 May 1829. They received the Melchizedek Priesthood under the hands of Peter, James, and John a short time later. 
  • He organized The Church of Jesus Christ as directed by and under the authority of Jesus Christ on 6 April 1830.
  • By revelation, he emended the Bible that became the Joseph Smith Translation. 
  • He received revelations, many of which are in the Doctrine and Covenants.
  • He received additional information about Moses, Abraham, and the Second Coming. He wrote his own history and thirteen statements of our faith that have been compiled into the Pearl of Great Price.
  • He began the tradition of holding regular conferences of the Church.
  • He was forced to move often. He moved from Palmyra, New York, to Harmony, Pennsylvania, to Fayette, New York, back to Harmony, to Kirtland, Ohio, then to Hyrum, Ohio, to various places in Missouri, and finally to Nauvoo, Illinois.
  • He walked and traveled by horseback, stagecoach, or boat to missions on the frontier of the United States to preach to the Indians and visit the Saints. He led Zion’s Camp. He preached in various cities in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Canada.
  • He went to Washington, D.C., to meet with President Van Buren seeking remuneration for the losses in Missouri, stopping along the way to share the gospel.
  • He wrote or supervised the writing of Lectures on Faith.
  • He and Emma had eleven children, including two they adopted. Of the eleven, they buried five infants and one toddler—Alvin, Thaddeus, Louisa, Joseph Smith Murdock, Don Carlos, and a stillborn son. One son, David, was born after Joseph’s death. Son Frederick died at age twenty-five.
  • Joseph oversaw construction of the Kirtland Temple from cornerstone to dedication.
  • He received visions in which he saw Moses, Elias, Elijah, and others. 
  • Through continuous revelation, he step-by-step filled in the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, the Seventy, Patriarchs, bishops, priests, teachers, and deacons.
  • He restored the practice of patriarchal blessings.
  • He sent missionaries to England to begin taking the gospel to all the world.
  • He was harassed, tarred and feathered, and held in a number of jails, including Richmond, Liberty, and Carthage.
  • He laid cornerstones and began building the temple in Nauvoo.
  • He restored the doctrine of the temple and salvation for the dead with baptisms, endowments, and the sealing of families together for eternity.
  • He was a managing editor of a newspaper.
  • He organized the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, now the world’s largest women’s organization.
  • He was mayor of Nauvoo.
  • He became a candidate for president of the United States and prepared a platform in which he advocated
    1. A strong federal banking system, 
    2. A change to make prisons more like schools to raise the education level of prisoners,
    3. An improved system of navigation for the Mississippi River,
    4. Westward expansion to the Pacific Ocean,
    5. A plan to help return slaves to Africa.
  • Since he was campaigning for president when he was killed, some feel this was a political assassination.
  • Though he had only about a third-grade education, under the tutelage of the Spirit of God, he became an educated man. He studied Hebrew, Egyptian, German, and Greek. He organized and taught the School of the Prophets. 
  • In 1840, he petitioned the state of Illinois for permission to establish a university, In 1841 the University of the City of Nauvoo, or the University of Nauvoo, was created. 
  • He sent scouts to search for a permanent home for the Saints.
  • He bestowed the priesthood keys and authority on the Twelve. 

“The winter and spring of 1843–44 was a time of great tension in Nauvoo, as Joseph Smith’s enemies increased their efforts to destroy him and the Church. Knowing his mortal ministry would soon come to a close, the Prophet met frequently with members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to instruct them and to give them the priesthood keys necessary to govern the Church. These preparations culminated in a meeting with the Apostles and a few other close associates in March 1844. In this extraordinary council, the Prophet charged the Twelve to govern the Church after his death, explaining that he had conferred upon them all the ordinances, authority, and keys necessary to do so. ‘I roll the burden and responsibility of leading this church off from my shoulders on to yours,’ he declared. ‘Now, round up your shoulders and stand under it like men; for the Lord is going to let me rest awhile’” (Quoted in declaration of the Twelve Apostles (undated draft), reporting Mar. 1844 meeting; in Brigham Young, Office Files 1832–78, Church Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah).  

  • He was martyred at Carthage Jail, 1844.
            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. In the short space of twenty years, he has brought forth the Book of Mormon, which he translated by the gift and power of God, and has been the means of publishing it on two continents; has sent the fulness of the everlasting gospel, which it contained, to the four quarters of the earth; has brought forth the revelations and commandments which compose this book of Doctrine and Covenants, and many other wise documents and instructions for the benefit of the children of men; gathered many thousands of the Latter-day Saints, founded a great city, and left a fame and name that cannot be slain. 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)


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