The thing about Joseph Smith, Jr. that continually amazes me to this day, is a basic character trait that is invaluable and yet found in so few people. For two years of my life, six days a week, 12 to 15 hours a day I studied the life, times and teachings of the prophet, Joseph Smith. I studied his life, from birth to death. I studied the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormon Church. I studied the history of the day: political, historical, socio-economic, arts and literature, religious, social . . . all of it. I carefully plotted each event of the prophet’s life and looked at the history surrounding him and through this intensive study I came to understand more fully what drove him and why. And in the process of that extensive study, I also gained a strong and unassailable testimony of him as a prophet of God. He never gave up. He never stopped. He never retreated. He stood strong in his testimony of Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father and all that was revealed to him. No person, no matter how cruel or traitorous, was able to stay him from his course.
He was a prophet of God, so called by our Lord God Jesus Christ. On that spring morning, he entered a quiet grove and prayed with a pure and simple heart and from that day forward, no matter what was done to him: tarred and feathered, trumped up charges and court hearings, unlawful imprisonment, the persecution and outright lawlessness in the conduct toward the Saints and never, no matter what was done to him, would he deny, could he deny, what he’d seen and what calling had been extended to him by God.
One night, when his twin son and daughter were ill with the measles, he was up walking with his infant son trying to soothe him. The door burst open and vicious, heartless men tumbled inside, each trying to get to the prophet first. Wrenching the child from his arms, they threw the baby at Emma and dragged Joseph, fighting every inch of the way, from the house and out into a pasture. There they poured boiling hot tar over him, searing him straight through to the bone. Drunken and laughing, they then poured feathers over him. They tried to force poison down his throat, chipping a tooth in the process. Joseph was a big, strong, athletic man, but even he could not withstand a mob. Yet, they were not able to force the poison down his throat and this saved his life. They finally left him, nearly unconscious and writhing in agony, and stumbled to their homes and tucked themselves into bed, never stopping to consider the consequences of their actions, both mortal and eternal.
Hours later, searchers found Joseph and carried him home. Through the night they painstakingly peeled the tar from his body, taking layer upon painful layer of skin with every strip. By morning, having survived an excruciatingly painful and exhausting night, Joseph arose and went into town to preach. It was Sunday morning and he had a message to share. A message of repentance, strength, hope and eternal love. And preach he did, strengthened by the Lord that he might do so.
One might think, after a night such as this when he was tortured, his wife and children terrified beyond belief, that he would walk away and say, “Enough is enough.” But he did not. He continued to preach of Jesus Christ. He continued to preach of Heavenly Father. And in the congregation that day were some of the members of the mob whose hearts were softened, pierced with shame and sorrow. This man they had treated so viciously and inhumanely the night before, now stood in all humility, testifying of forgiveness and the healing power it holds.
One might think as he buried his infant son, dead because of the exposure to the chill midnight air in his weakened condition and the cruel actions of a merciless mob, that Joseph would walk away and say, “I cannot do this anymore.” He did not.
One might say, as he was hauled into court after court, suffering an extended unlawful imprisonment in the Richmond and Liberty Jails, he might do more than petition God, rather that he might say, “I will deny I saw and spoke to God.” He did not deny, he stayed the course.
The moment when he finally broke down and cried to God, was when the saints (Mormons) were being raped, murdered and driven from their homes and forced to cross the frozen Mississippi with scarcely more than the clothes on their backs. When cruel and careless men slaughtered the Mormons at Hauns Mill, even the children were murdered, saying coldly, “Nit make lice,” before firing the bullets in everyone around, young and old. When lawlessness ruled the land, mercy’s hand was stayed and justice stood mute . . . that is when Joseph finally cried to God.
O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?Through all of this and more, for the remainder of his life, Joseph would not deny the First Vision. He would not deny he was called by Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father to restore the gospel to the face of the earth. He would not walk away from his prophetic calling, no matter the cost.
How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants, and thine ear be penetrated with their cries?
Yea, O Lord, how long shall they suffer these wrongs and unlawful oppressions, before thine heart shall be softened toward them, and thy bowels be moved with compassion toward them?
O Lord God Almighty, maker of heaven, earth, and seas, and of all things that in them are, and who controllest and subjectest the devil, and the dark and benighted dominion of Sheol—stretch forth thy hand; let thine eye pierce; let thy pavilion be taken up; let thy hiding place no longer be covered; let thine ear be inclined; let thine heart be softened, and thy bowels moved with compassion toward us. (D&C 121:1-4)
And now, his name is bandied about, both for good and evil, in this day. And still, he would stand and shout to the world. Jesus Christ lives. Heavenly Father lives. They love us and Christ’s gospel, with all its promise, hope and reward is fully restored on the earth today. Come home . . . come be at peace . . . come and remember who you are.
I will close this post with the words of Joseph Smith, Jr. himself:
The Prophet’s journal for November 6, 1835, records:
“I was this morning introduced to a man from the east. After hearing my name, he remarked that I was nothing but a man, indicating by this expression, that he had supposed that a person to whom the Lord should see fit to reveal His will, must be something more than a man. He seemed to have forgotten the saying that fell from the lips of St. James, that [Elijah] was a man subject to like passions as we are, yet he had such power with God, that He, in answer to his prayers, shut the heavens that they gave no rain for the space of three years and six months; and again, in answer to his prayer, the heavens gave forth rain, and the earth gave forth fruit [see James 5:17–18]. Indeed, such is the darkness and ignorance of this generation, that they look upon it as incredible that a man should have any [dealings] with his Maker.” (History of the Church, 2:302; from a Joseph Smith journal entry, Nov. 6, 1835, Kirtland, Ohio.)
“When did I ever teach anything wrong from this stand? When was I ever confounded? I want to triumph in Israel before I depart hence and am no more seen. I never told you I was perfect; but there is no error in the revelations which I have taught. Must I, then, be thrown away as a thing of naught?” (History of the Church, 6:366; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on May 12, 1844, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Thomas Bullock.)
“Although I do wrong, I do not the wrongs that I am charged with doing: the wrong that I do is through the frailty of human nature, like other men. No man lives without fault. Do you think that even Jesus, if He were here, would be without fault in your eyes? His enemies said all manner of evil against Him—they all watched for iniquity in Him.”(History of the Church, 5:140; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on Aug. 31, 1842, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Eliza R. Snow.)
Joseph Smith’s journal for October 29, 1842, records: “I … went over to the store [in Nauvoo, Illinois], where a number of brethren and sisters were assembled, who had arrived this morning from the neighborhood of New York. … I told them I was but a man, and they must not expect me to be perfect; if they expected perfection from me, I should expect it from them; but if they would bear with my infirmities and the infirmities of the brethren, I would likewise bear with their infirmities.” (History of the Church, 5:181; paragraph divisions altered; from a Joseph Smith journal entry, Oct. 29, 1842, Nauvoo, Illinois.)
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