Joseph Smith As Viewed By Converts
Elder Gary J. Coleman
Brigham Young University–Idaho Devotional
September 13, 2005
I believe one of the most significant matters among all the considerations of the latter days is the role played by the prophet of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
One of my greatest blessings as a convert to the Church has been to receive by the power of the Holy Ghost the certain knowledge that Joseph Smith was indeed a prophet of God. Since my conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1962, there have been nearly eight million converts to the Church. I submit that they, along with me, have rejoiced in the new knowledge we have gained about our friend and hero who was raised up to teach all of us about the glory and power of the Great Plan of Salvation.
I testify to you that one of the reasons the restored gospel is so plain, so precious, so comforting is that the convert comes out of a basic environment of confusion and false teachings regarding the most fundamental doctrines within the churches and philosophies of men. Without the events God set in motion through Joseph Smith, there would be no true plan of God in operation on the earth and no way nor means under heaven for men to work out their salvation. The Atonement of Jesus Christ along with God’s gift of eternal life to mankind were stopped from reaching the very creatures intended to be affected without the conduit opened through the Prophet Joseph.
What God revealed from the heavens through the events of the Restoration is, in the words of President Gordon B. Hinckley this past April, “…[a] tremendous outpouring of knowledge and authority from God upon the head of His Prophet” (General Conference Report, April 2005). In raising up the Prophet Joseph Smith, God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son of God proved to the world that a universal apostasy had fallen upon the earth between the days of Jesus and Joseph and that the power of the Restoration was indeed of supreme importance in the history of the world.
What I would like to do this afternoon is draw upon the testimonies of five adult men who were converts. These men later became presidents of the Church or members of the First Presidency and were personally acquainted with the Prophet Joseph Smith. They were true to him and his mission from the onset of their conversion to the restored gospel. I will share with you the testimonies of Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow and Heber C. Kimball followed by my own testimony of this great prophet.
First the words and testimony of the prophet Brigham Young, born June 1801 and baptized April 14, 1832 at age 30 in Mendon, New York. He met Joseph in the fall of 1832, and said: “My joy was full at the privilege of shaking the hand of the prophet of God.” He stated later that he had: “The sure testimony, by the Spirit of Prophecy, that he was all that any man could believe him to be, a true prophet” (B.H. Roberts, Comprehensive History, Vol.1). And he stated:
I feel like shouting Hallelujah, all the time, when I think that I ever knew Joseph Smith, the Prophet whom the Lord raised up and ordained, and to whom he gave keys and power to build up the Kingdom of God on earth and sustain it. These keys are committed to this people, and we have power to continue the work that Joseph commenced, until everything is prepared for the coming of the Son of Man. This is the business of the Latter-day Saints (Brigham Young in Journal of Discourses, 3:51).
“Who can justly say aught against Joseph Smith?” President Brigham Young said.
I was as well acquainted with him, as any man. I do not believe that his father and mother knew him any better than I did. I do not think that a man lives on the earth that knew him any better than I did; and I am bold to say that, Jesus Christ excepted, no better man ever lived or does live upon this earth. I am his witness (Brigham Young in Journal of Discourses 9:332).
Now let’s look at the testimony of another convert, an adult man. John Taylor, born 1 November 1808, baptized 9 May 1836 at age 27 in Toronto, Canada. His statements about the Prophet are powerful. He knew him intimately. He was with him when he died. He said:
Joseph Smith’s mission was to restore this . . . gospel in its fulness. He brought back the same Gospel that Jesus taught, the same faith and repentance, the same baptism for the remission of sins, and the same laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, and the same Holy Ghost with all its powers and blessings. This is the doctrine and these [are] the principles we profess to believe in. The Gospel that we preach is the everlasting gospel; it reaches back into the eternities that are past; it exists in time and it stretches forward into the eternities to come, and everything connected with it is eternal (John Taylor in Journal of Discourses 13:17-19).
Quite a statement in testimony of what the Prophet has done.
Then President Taylor says this:
Who was Joseph Smith? The Book of Mormon tells us he was of the seed of Joseph that was sold into Egypt, and hence he was selected as Abraham was to fulfil a work upon the earth. God chose this young man. He was ignorant of letters as the world has it, but the most profoundly learned and intelligent man that I ever met in my life, and I have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles, been on different continents and mingled among all classes and creeds of people, yet I have never met a man so intelligent as he was. And where did he get his intelligence from? Not from books; not from the logic or science or philosophy of the day, but he obtained it through the revelation of God made known to him through the medium of the everlasting gospel . . . (John Taylor in Journal of Discourses 21:163).
Elder John Taylor of the Twelve was a companion to the Prophet when his life was taken. In Section 135, recounting the events of June 27, 1844 at the Carthage Jail in Illinois, Elder Taylor said this: “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” (Doctrine and Covenants 135:3). John Taylor was a convert. He knew Joseph. What does his statement mean? “He has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it.” I would like to amplify that subject from the view of the convert’s statements I will draw upon.
In the past 100 days I have fulfilled several reading and review assignments for the Priesthood, Curriculum, and Family and Church History Departments. I have read and reviewed nearly 2000 pages of material for future publications of Priesthood and Relief Society manuals and volume one of the Joseph Smith Papers Project along with several other books dedicated to the life and teachings of Joseph Smith. It is obvious to me that Joseph taught as he was taught from on high. As he received the doctrines of Christ through the Restoration of the eternal truths, he taught with clarity and power the true gospel of salvation and eternal life. I know that Joseph was tutored by the Master Teacher and the declaration by President John Taylor is indeed true.
Next, the testimony of another giant prophet of the Church, Wilford Woodruff, born March 1, 1807, and baptized December 31, 1833 at age 26 in Rustland, Oswego, New York. He saw Joseph Smith for the first time in Kirtland, Ohio in April of 1834, just four months after his baptism. From his discourses, President Woodruff gives this testimony of Joseph.
It has been my faith and belief from the time that I was made acquainted with the Gospel that no greater prophet than Joseph Smith ever lived on the face of the earth save Jesus Christ. He was raised up to stand at the head of this great dispensation – the greatest of all dispensations God has ever given to man. He remarked on several occasions when conversing with his brethren: ‘brethren, you do not know me, you do not know who I am’ (Wilford Woodruff in Journal of Discourses 21:317).
This is the key, the foundation stone of all revelation. Joseph Smith was full of revelation. He could translate anything given to him of God. He could receive revelation without the Urim and Thummim. Many of the principle revelations contained in the Doctrine and Covenants were received without the use of the Urim and Thummim. They were given to him by the inspiration of Almighty God (MS 53:642, 1891).
I look upon Joseph Smith as the greatest prophet that ever breathed the breath of life, excepting Jesus Christ. Father Adam, as I have said, stands at the head; but Joseph Smith was reserved to lay the foundation of this great kingdom and dispensation of salvation to the whole human family in these last days, to build up Zion, to establish God’s Kingdom, and to prepare it for the coming of the Son of Man. He held those keys. . . . (Discourses of Wilford Woodruff 38:389, March 3, 1889).
Now just one statement from the prophet, Lorenzo Snow. He was born on April 3, 1814, and was baptized on June 19, 1836 at age 22 in Kirtland, Ohio. He visited the Prophet and family, dined with them, held private interviews with him. “He was an honorable man, a moral man, and he had the respect of those who were acquainted with him. The Lord has shown me most clearly and completely that he was a Prophet of God. . . .” (“Church History in the Fulness of Times”, CES Religion 341-43 Manual, pg. 451). President Snow was another convert who came along in the era of Kirtland and the apostasy and the great difficulties of the Church but could not be swayed from his belief that the Lord had raised up the Prophet Joseph Smith.
And finally from among these witnesses, Heber C. Kimball, born on June 14, 1801, baptized on April 16, 1832, two years after the Church was organized,at age 30, again in Mendon, New York, similar to Brigham Young. From the life of Heber C. Kimball, we read the following account, which occurred on November 1, 1838 at Farr West, Missouri at the height of the Church period of apostasy in its darkest moments. Some of the leading brethren of the Church and families of these brethren had apostatized and were literally fighting against the Church and Joseph Smith.
President Kimball states:
William E. McLellin wanted to know where Heber C. Kimball was. Someone pointed me out to him as I was sitting on the ground. He came up to me and said: ‘Brother Heber, what do you think of the fallen prophet now? Has he not led you blindfolded long enough? Look and see yourself, poor, your family stripped and robbed, and your brethren in the same fix; are you satisfied with Joseph?’ I replied, ‘Yes, I am more satisfied with him a hundred-fold than ever I was before, for I see you in the very position that he foretold you would be in; a Judas to betray your brethren, if you did not forsake your adultery, fornication, lying and abominations. Where are you? What are you about? You, and Hinkle, and scores of others; have you not betrayed Joseph and his brethren into the hands of the mob, as Judas did Jesus? Yes, verily, you have; I tell you Mormonism is true, and Joseph is a true prophet of the living god; and you with all others that turn therefrom will be damned and go to hell, and Judas will rule over you (Life of Heber C. Kimball, p. 218).
Those five stalwart men were true to their faith, true to Christ and true to Joseph. Joseph became the seer through which we find God and Jesus and the Holy Ghost. Joseph brought us the works and words that enable us to see salvation. Jesus and Joseph, we can hardly talk of one without the other. If Jesus is the great prototype of salvation, then Joseph is the great prototype of revelation to men in the last days. Jesus tutored Joseph and Joseph taught of Jesus. This I know with a certainty born of faith and confirmed time and time again over my years as a convert to the Lord’s true Church.
Some of us came to the conversion process with custom designed doctrinal baggage and the necessity to shed blinders and halters and chains of darkness keeping us from the truth. Indeed, the truth shall make you free. It has made me free. It has allowed me to become, in the words of Jesus, “a true worshiper” because of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
I served mass in the Catholic Church virtually every Sunday, from the age of nine to the age of twenty-one. In this experience, my religious experience, I was taught that any prophet that comes forth in modern times would be a false prophet. When I talk about doctrinal baggage, that was a problem for me. From day one, Joseph Smith could not be a prophet for me because I had been taught prophets in the latter days would be false prophets. With that kind of beginning, and then to be introduced to Joseph, how does one break through that barrier of doctrinal baggage and other baggage – and come to the knowledge of the truth?
Part of my doctrinal baggage was a belief system that declared a God incomprehensible to understand by definition and by logic. I had to work through that with the help of the true doctrines of Christ revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith. I was introduced to the idea of a Restoration of the gospel through Latter-day Saint friends at Washington State University. My wife today and other young people were my first contacts with the teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
At the age of 21, a returned missionary seminary teacher invited me to attend the first early morning seminary class taught in the state of Washington. It was in Pullman, Washington where I was a senior at Washington State University and was taught by a young man named John Madsen. Brother Madsen was a fellow university student, yet he invited me to come to his class with the young high school students and learn about seminary. I thought that was a curious thing: seminary was where I would have gone to become a Catholic priest. What were these Mormon youth doing in seminary?
During the first few weeks into the course on Church History; who was the major character in Church History? You can’t go a day without learning about Joseph Smith. Some six weeks into the course, Brother Madsen played a tape that most of you have probably never heard. It was called “Profile of a Prophet” by Hugh B. Brown, a former member of the First Presidency of the Church. It was a Friday morning, and in that setting, I still remember the words “under girding and over arching” his testimony as they came into my soul about this prophet, Joseph Smith. I received a powerful witness that morning that Joseph Smith was indeed a prophet.
Joseph Smith was truly the latter-day prototype of “asking God.” When we ask the right questions, what can be the answers? I was yet to learn many glorious things. I had said thousands of prayers in my life, but I had not yet learned to pray.
I testify to you that many years ago after one year of investigation of this Church, none of my experiences of past years have been any more powerful, more revealing, more convincing than on a special Friday morning 42 years ago. After going back to my little apartment following the seminary class, having heard the words of President Brown concerning the “Profile of the Prophet”, after having been invited to read selected passages from the Book of Mormon; I was prepared to ask God in sincere prayer “if these things are not true”. As invited to do so by the prophet Moroni in Moroni 10:4-5, I asked with real intent, having faith in Christ that he would reveal it unto me by the power of the Holy Ghost. I desired to know the truth of all things. I asked the right questions, finally. Is Jesus the head of this Church? Is Joseph His prophet? Are there living prophets on the earth today and in this Church? Is this the true Church and should I join? Is the Book of Mormon indeed the word of God? What must I do?
As Moroni promised to the readers of the book, “by the power of the Holy Ghost, you may know the truth of all things.” In that moment of humble prayer, standing reverently and humbly in my little room in my apartment, from the top of my head to the soles of my feet there was burned out of my being every doubt, every concern, every worry, every question that I had about joining the Church. I was still a Catholic, I had never met a missionary, thus what does one do? I sought out those who taught that the Restoration of the gospel had occurred in these latter-days through the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Coming to know the Prophet Joseph Smith was the key to my conversion, along with reading the Book of Mormon, the keystone of our religion. I learned then, as I have continued to learn in these years as a convert, that Joseph Smith’s remarks about the Book of Mormon are true. “A man can get nearer to God by abiding by the precepts of this book than by any other book” (Book of Mormon, Introduction, paragraph 6). I know that to be true, and that is my personal experience. I have been able to shed the doctrinal baggage that I learned as a youth and I now have been able to understand what God has revealed from the heavens. Through His prophets, through His Christ, through His records, I know these things are true. As I have learned the doctrine of Christ in the plain and precious teachings of the Book of Mormon, I have drawn nearer to God and I know that He lives and He has helped me walk the paths of life.
I bear you my witness, Joseph Smith is the prophet of the Restoration. I understand better now than ever before the words of John Taylor when he spoke of Joseph “doing more for the salvation of men in this world, save Jesus only, than any other man who ever lived in it.” I know that this is true because the work of God for the living and the dead was restored. I understand more now about the power of the calling of Joseph Smith. I say again, Jesus tutored Joseph and Joseph taught of Jesus.
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