Joseph Smith, the Man and the Prophet
Why Talk About Joseph?
As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we love to talk of Christ, rejoice in Christ, preach of Christ, and prophesy of Christ (2 Nephi 25:26). This is how it should be. Remembering Him is the reason we have met today. Learning to follow Him is the reason we made covenants and received priesthood ordinances. Becoming more like Him is the object and design of our existence.
Besides the Savior himself, in my opinion, there is one person who has taught us how to become more like the Son of God than any other, both in the things he has said and in the way he lived his life. And that was Joseph Smith, Jr.
While we certainly don’t worship Joseph, we should certainly hold him in very high esteem. He wasn’t perfect — he admitted he made lots of mistakes. But because he consistently communicated with God, listened to His voice, and obeyed his word most of the time — and quickly repented when he didn’t — he was able to learn and grow and become an increasingly better man.
And God turned this young farm boy into the head of the dispensation of the fullness of times, perhaps the greatest dispensation of all dispensations. Joseph, acting with keys and authority given to him by Christ himself as well as the heads of all the previous dispensations, presides over the greatest work that has ever been attempted for the salvation of souls, both living and dead.
Joseph currently presides over the work of salvation in the spirit world. More people have and will be taught the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and have received and will receive saving ordinances during his leadership, than in all the previous dispensations combined.
Perhaps this is why Brigham Young once said in General Conference, “that no man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith.” (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 7, p.282-91)
Where would we be without his teachings, revelations, translations, interpretations, leadership, and character? It is hard to number all the truths that the Savior directed him to restore to our knowledge — there are thousands of them.
On New Year’s Day, President Nelson gave us this challenge. He asked us to “ponder important questions such as ‘How would my life be different if my knowledge gained from the Book of Mormon were suddenly taken away?’ or ‘How have the events that followed the First Vision made a difference for me and my loved ones?’”
As far as I’m concerned, my life would be completely different. It would take on an entirely different trajectory — one that would probably end in selfishness, solitude, and sorrow. Or maybe I’d be a reclusive monk or an argumentative rabbi.
Actually, I probably wouldn’t be here at all because without the teachings from the Prophet Joseph, my righteous parents wouldn’t have felt impressed to bring as many children into their family as they did, which for me, was vitally important since I was the eighth and last child.
Without the Prophet Joseph, dozens of my ancestors wouldn’t have journey by ship, by oxcart, by handcart, to settle in Utah and Arizona. There even wouldn’t have been a Bryce canyon without great-great grandpa Ebenezer joining the church in Scotland at age 17, being disowned by his father, and sailing to New Orleans. There wouldn’t have even been a King Follett sermon without my great-great grandpa King Follett.
I for one, will forever be grateful that the Lord called a latter-day prophet to restore his teachings and ordinances and covenants with us — something that wasn’t available to most of the world for most of the history of humanity.
Joseph Smith, The Man
Now my topic for today is “Joseph Smith, the Man and the Prophet.” So let me talk for a couple of minutes about Joseph Smith, the man, so we can all picture him in our mind’s eye.
About 30 years ago, I developed a tool to help people better understand each other. In my system, Joseph Smith had an “Orange” temperament. Which means he was instinctively adventurous, passionate, generous, charismatic, animated, competitive, persuasive, independent, confident, engaging, and action oriented. While you would always want to hang out with him, he would almost always wear you out because he was doing something.
He had his first vision at age 14. Any 14-year-olds here? He married Emma and received the Gold Plates at age 21. Any 21-year-olds? He published the Book of Mormon and organized the Church at age 24, where he was first sustained as the leader of the Church. Any 24-year-olds here? Anyone who is 38, can you stand? This was how old he was when he was killed. He was our leader for just a little over 14 years.
He was also arrested at least 42 times. Anyone break that record?
He was 6 foot 2, about 8 inches taller than most men of the era. Are there any men here who are 6 foot 2? If so, could you stand for comparison’s sake?
How about this one, he weighed around 212 pounds. Anyone around that amount? Actually, you better stay seated for that one.
He was handsome, with a well-built body and a broad, muscular chest. Not like me. He had a larger-than average nose that was long and straight. His eyes were deep-set and were either blue or hazel in color with long eyelashes. He had a fine, straight, light-brown hair, with just a touch of red. He never had a heavy beard and preferred to be clean-shaven. He had a frequent and agreeable smile — what we would call “a cheery disposition.”
He limped slightly because one leg was slightly shorter than the other — the result of his boyhood surgery.
His voice was low and soft. After being tarred and feathered and poisoned by a mob in Ohio, one of his front teeth was chipped, which made him whistle slightly at times when he spoke.
The reason he combed the hair on the side of his head forward was because his wife told him to (which is always good advice, by the way). You see, he had a bald patch there as well as scars on his face — the result of having the roots of his hair pulled out by the hot tar.
10 Characteristics of a Biblical Prophet
So that’s a brief sketch of Joseph Smith the Man, but now let’s talk about Joseph Smith the Prophet.
While I’m not an expert in church history, nor a professor, I am an avid reader. My goal this year is to spend at least 3 hours each day reading and researching good things. As I study works from credible authors and scholars from both inside and outside of the Church, the more I read about Joseph, the more I am convinced that he was a true prophet.
So what constitutes a “true” prophet? Well, a careful study of the Bible reveals that prophets must possess at least one of the following 10 characteristics:
- They need to be a foreteller — someone who tells us something about the future.
- They need to be a “forth-teller” which means that they speak forth or speak out in righteous judgment to the people of their own time; exhorting and encouraging them to be better.
- They need to have divine authority and speak with something more than human sanction.
- They either recover truths that have been lost or discover new truths.
- They advocate social righteousness, which means they don’t just encourage the Church to be righteous, but the entire society.
- They are charismatic, possessing personalities that attract others in a spiritual sense.
- They endure suffering with patience and grace.
- They are the embodiment of love.
- They are seers, which means they have the capacity to clearly understand and reveal truth.
- And, they may have been killed for their teachings, becoming martyrs to the faith.
Any one of those characteristics have been associated with those we call prophets. Again, you just need to have one of them to be called a prophet. Joseph possessed all of them!
True prophets also possess a variety of spiritual gifts. There are at least 27 of them outlined in scripture.
- The Gift of Charity
- The Gift of Compassion
- The Gift of Discernment
- The Gift of Dreams
- The Gift of Interpreting Dreams
- The Gift of Exceedingly Great Faith
- The Gift to Believe on The Words of Those Who Have Faith
- The Gift to Heal
- The Gift of Faith to Be Healed
- The Gift of Gratitude
- The Gift of Humility
- The Gift of Tongues
- The Gift of Interpreting Tongues
- The Gift of Knowing That Jesus Christ Is the Son of God
- The Gift of Physical Strength
- The Gift of Prophecy
- The Gift of Revelation through the Holy Ghost
- The Gift of Translation
- The Gift of Visions
- The Gift to Have Communion with the Heavens, to See Both Angels and Spirits
- The Gift to Have Knowledge
- The Gift to Have Wisdom
- The Gift to Know the Differences of Administration
- The Gift to Know the Diversities of Operations
- The Gift to Teach Knowledge
- The Gift to Teach Wisdom
- The Gift to Work Miracles
In 1987, Elder Marvin J. Ashton added the following, less-conspicuous gifts:
- The Gift of Asking
- The Gift of Listening
- The Gift of Hearing and Using a Still, Small Voice
- The Gift of Being Able to Weep
- The Gift of Avoiding Contention
- The Gift of Being Agreeable
- The Gift of Avoiding Vain Repetition
- The Gift of Seeking That Which Is Righteous
- The Gift of Not Passing Judgment
- The Gift of Looking to God for Guidance
- The Gift of Being a Disciple
- The Gift of Caring for Others
- The Gift of Being Able to Ponder
- The Gift of Offering Prayer
- The Gift of Bearing a Mighty Testimony
- The Gift of Receiving the Holy Ghost
That’s 43 gifts. But that’s not all. There’s even more that we can extrapolate from the scriptures and from modern prophets.
- The Gift of Comforting
- The Gift of Counseling
- The Gift of Diligence
- The Gift of Discerning of Gifts
- The Gift of Grace
- The Gift of Knowing the Mysteries of God
- The Gift of Obedience
- The Gift of Preaching
- The Gift of Remembrance
- The Gift of Reverence
- The Gift of Righteousness
- The Gift of Testimony
According to section 46 of the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 46:8–12), all of us are entitled to at least one spiritual gift. But only a handful of the descendants of Adam and Eve have possessed all of them. The Savior is certainly one of them. And so is the Prophet Joseph.
This past couple of weeks, I’ve spent lots of time — probably too much time — researching this topic and have found examples of all 55 of these gifts in the life of Joseph Smith. It was a joy to find them. I would happily give you detailed examples and references of how they were manifest, but that would deny you the same joy. I’d highly encourage a deep dive into his writings and the writings of those who knew him best, and I think you’ll find the same things that I’ve found.
Beware of Bad Sources
That takes me to a related issue. There are good, trusted sources of information about the Prophet Joseph Smith, and there are bad, untrustworthy sources of information.
Original sources from Joseph or his family or those who knew him best are great sources. Second-hand sources from credible, unbiased historians and scholars are good too. The writings of trusted individuals, like other prophets and apostles are also safe sources.
But when you get into the matter of personal opinion, or when you get into the blogs of people who seem to spew hate rather than love, and darkness rather than light, and confusion instead of clarity — then you might be on the wrong track.
Let me quote something from Joseph F. Smith, the Prophet’s nephew and sixth president of the Church. In the Journal of Discourses, Vol 24, pg. 9-10, he said:
That brings to mind this verse from the Pearl of Great Price:
So when evaluating sources of information about the Prophet Joseph, how do you what is a good source and what is a bad source? Well, the Holy Ghost will tell you if you let him. He will set off alarm bells whenever you come across fallacious or misleading material.
Of course, if you hit the snooze bar and ignore them, pretty soon you won’t be able to hear them at all. And then, well, you’re on your own. And in today’s “Fake News” internet, where anything goes, and anyone can say anything about anyone, you need to be very cautious, careful, and very sensitive to the Spirit.
In other words, before you go searching the Internet for information, say a prayer for guidance to help you sift the good from the bad. And always remember that good sources will always “taste good” and feed your soul, and bring feelings of contentment, peace, joy, and happiness — the fruit of the Spirit. If they don’t do that, they are bad sources.
Now let me conclude by sharing with you my testimony of the Prophet Joseph. I had just been baptized at the age of eight when my mother gave me a copy of a 1949 book by Deta Petersen Neeley called, “The Journey to the Promised Land.” It was the first of four books that told the story of the Book of Mormon to elementary-school aged children.
As I read that book and the rest of the series, the Holy Ghost bore witness to me over and over again that this was a true story. In fact, after reading the book each night, I would have sacred dreams — vivid and detailed dreams — that brought those Book of Mormon stories even more to life.
After those books, my mother than gave me another volume by Deta and her husband, Nathan Glen Neeley, called “A Child’s Story of the Prophet Joseph Smith”. In it, I read for the first time about the life of the first latter-day prophet. Again, I was filled with the Spirit of the Holy Ghost and a testimony that he was a prophet was planted deep in my soul. In my mind’s eye I could picture him, I could hear him, and came to love him.
It was then followed by another book “A Child’s Story of the Prophet Brigham Young,” then John Taylor, then Wilford Woodruff, and then Lorenzo Snow.
I then branched out into other books, more adult-level books, like the real Book of Mormon. I remember being filled with love, joy, peace, and inexpressible deep feelings as I read that sacred book for the first time. It was most certainly true. And to borrow a phrase from Joseph Smith, “I knew it, I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it.”
I then read the seven volume History of the Church, the Comprehensive History of the Church, works of other prophets, and then started to devour all sorts of church history and commentary.
By the time I was 14, I knew then, no more than I know 40 years later, that we belong to the fully-restored Church of Jesus Christ and that he is leading it through his prophets — men with shortcomings and imperfections, but nevertheless prophets. I believe each one of them have seen Jesus, have talked with him, and do exactly what he asks them to do — thus they are also his friends.
Now it is our responsibility to become like these prophets. With the Gift of the Holy Ghost we can know what they know, see what they see, and hear what they hear. That is our challenge — that is our destiny.
One day, a day that will likely come sooner than we want it to come, each of us will meet the Prophet Joseph, and once we are worthy, and once we are prepared, he will allow us to enter the Celestial City, where we will find our beloved Jesus and bow down and bathe his pierced feet with our tears. Then, he will lift us up, grab us by the hand, give us a loving embrace, then lead us into the presence of our exalted parents.
This is all true. I feel it in my heart and know it in my mind. But this will only happen — if, and only if, we want it to happen.
If you want it to happen to you, then all you need to do is be worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost and do what he asks you to do, which includes making and keeping covenants and receiving sacred ordinances. Because if you constantly feel the presence of this member of the Godhead, and always listen to his voice, you will be worthy of the association with the rest of the gods and goddesses, the prophets and prophetesses, the kings and queens, and the priests and priestesses who dwell in yonder heavens.