Thank you for bringing your scriptures today. I am grateful that this learning experience we have together means enough to you that you not only come, but that you come prepared. Now, please open your scriptures to Doctrine and Covenants 135:3. We will read the first few lines of this verse together. As we read, I invite you to consider these questions: Do you believe what you are being told in this verse? If you do, can you defend it?
“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.”
Brothers and sisters, do not take what you read here for granted. Consider carefully what you are being told as it is likely one of the most bold statements of scripture that you will find. Ponder it. Teach yourself why it is so. For example, when you return to your homes after devotional today, take a moment and write down all of the evidences that you can think of that validate the truthfulness of this scriptural verse.
Perhaps you could phrase your comments this way: “Because of Joseph Smith, I have the blessing of…” or “Because of Joseph Smith, I can…”
Then you fill in the blanks with as many responses as you can think of. If you will do this, I promise you that you will deepen your love, your appreciation, and your personal witness of the Prophet Joseph Smith. As you create your evidences list, I offer the following. Consider what this man, who once describe himself as “obscure” and “of no consequence in the world” (JS 1:22-23), accomplished in the short span of his life.
At the age of 14, he received a visit from God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ (Spring 1820). At the age of 17, he received five visits from Moroni giving instructions and training (September 21-22, 1823). At the age of 21, he received the golden plates from the Angel Moroni at the Hill Cumorah (September 22, 1827). At the age of 23, he and Oliver Cowdery received the Aaronic Priesthood from John the Baptist; they then baptized each other (May 15, 1829).
Soon after, he and Oliver Cowdery received the Melchizedek Priesthood from Peter James and John (May or June of 1829). At the age of 24, he oversaw the printing of 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon at the Grandin Press (March 26, 1830). Also at the age of 24, he organized the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with six incorporators as required by law (April 6, 1830).
Between the ages of 25-29, he called Edward Partridge as the “bishop unto the Church” (February 4, 1831), he organized the First Presidency (March 18, 1833), the Quorum of the Twelve (February 14, 1835), and the First Quorum of the Seventy (February 28, 1835). At the age of 30, he dedicated the Kirtland Temple (March 17, 1836), and received all the priesthood keys for this dispensation (April 3, 1836).
At the age of 35, he founded the city of Nauvoo, Illinois (December 16, 1840). At the age of 36, he organized the Relief Society (March 17, 1842). And, at the age of 38, he and Hyrum were killed by a mob at Carthage Jail (June 27, 1844). Their deaths sealed the truthfulness of their witness to the world of the things they proclaimed and taught. As you continue to create your evidence list, I invite you to yet dig deeper into what this man did for us and for the world.
Consider what we know about the true nature of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. Consider what we know about our Heavenly Father’s plan for us and our relationship to Him, our Savior, and one another. Consider what we know about the exalting doctrines of the Savior’s gospel. Consider what we have been given in terms of ordinances, covenants, and priesthood authority that binds and blesses. Consider the many millions of souls beyond the veil who, by the actions of the Saints in this dispensation, now have access to those saving ordinances and covenants. Consider the modern day scripture that has been revealed and given to us: The Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. Consider all that has been revealed and all that we testify of as true. All of this precious knowledge, all of these sanctifying blessings are given us by our grand dispensation head, Joseph Smith.
Is it any wonder that of him, John Taylor, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote: “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).
I think not. And, I bear you my own personal witness that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God and that he indeed did do more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it.
Tomorrow, we will recognize the 168th anniversary of the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Today, I not only want to encourage our spiritual awareness and heartfelt thanks to God for what this man, Joseph Smith, has done for us and for the world. I want to inspire an understanding of the events leading to his martyrdom because in the act of voluntarily laying his life down for truth––which is exactly what he did––he gave the highest allegiance to truth, the most enduring witness of truth that a human can possibly give. He did it because he wants the world to know––he wants you and I to know––that what he was given and what he taught was absolute truth. He was bound by it and could not even think to renounce something that was so much a part of him. We owe it to him to understand these events and reverence the memory of his personal witness.
Our discussion begins near the end of his life. Joseph Smith lived with the constant harassment of those who were enemies of truth. Time and time again, his life was preserved––often miraculously––that he might continue his work of restoration. Toward the end, when mob activity became more bold and intense, and more importantly, as his work was completed, the Prophet approached his impending death with a stoic dignity. He never bemoaned a life of ill-treatment; and, as far as I can tell, he never let himself ask, “Does the Lord ask too much of me?” He never flinched from that which he knew was true. He never doubted––even when the whole world seemed against him––his experiences and his knowledge of truth.
These facts, brothers and sisters, are to me some of the most remarkable evidences of the truthfulness of his claim to be called of God as any I can imagine. I cannot conceive of one who could initiate, maintain, and defend a charade of falsity and face certain death because of it without flinching, without relinquishing in some form or degree. Joseph never flinched and never relinquished, because what Joseph taught was truth. Therefore, he stood boldly, even in the face of death, proclaiming––with the offering of his own life––the veracity of his claims.
The events that led up to his martyrdom, at least for our purposes today, began on the 10th of June, 1844, with an ordinance passed by the Nauvoo City Council to abate a newspaper press called the Nauvoo Expositor, a newspaper hostile to the Saints. Hence, it was defined, under the City’s Charter, as a “nuisance.” The declaration that this paper was a nuisance and the subsequent order to destroy it was done because of the libelous and slanderous character of the paper which had, as its avowed purpose, the destruction of Nauvoo and the driving of the Saints therefrom” (HC, vol. 6, 432).
Joseph Smith, mayor of Nauvoo, was given charge by the Council to abate the nuisance. He immediately “ordered the Marshal to destroy it without delay…” (HC, Vol. 6, 432). On Monday, June 17, 1844, Joseph Smith and others were arrested for the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor press. They appeared before a Justice Wells and “after a long and close examination” by him, were discharged (HC, Vol. 6, 487).
This did not satisfy the enemies of Joseph, and mob activity intensified. The day that Joseph and others were dismissed by Justice Wells, June 17, 1844), he received a report from Stephen Markham that a mob could be expected to make an immediate attack upon the citizens and city of Nauvoo. The mobs intent, he reported, was the extermination of the Latter-day Saints (HC, Vol. 6, 492).
In response, and again acting as mayor, Joseph called out the Nauvoo Legion, a military body, to “take such measures as shall be necessary to preserve the peace” of Nauvoo and its residents. The following day, June 18, 1844, and as deciphered from the local newspapers around them, Joseph declared:
“I have good reason to fear that a mob is organizing to come upon this city, and plunder and destroy said city, as well as murder the citizens; and by virtue of the authority vested in me as Mayor, and to preserve the city and the lives of the citizens, I do hereby declare the said city, within the limits of its incorporation, under martial law” (HC, Vol. 6, 497).
No one was to enter or leave the city without proper orders. These actions, while prudent given the circumstances, seemed to further incite the ire and unrest of the mob. On Thursday, June 20, 1844, Joseph, seeming to understand the dire circumstances that lie ahead, sent correspondence to the ten apostles who were absent on missions to come home immediately (HC, Vol. 6, 519). The other two apostles, John Taylor and Willard Richards, were already with Joseph.
On Saturday, June 22, 1844, Illinois Governor Thomas Ford, in letter demanded that Joseph and others come to Carthage to stand trial again for the Expositor affair. He threatened a calling out of the militia, comprised primarily of men anxious for the destruction of the Saints, if his demands were not met (HC, Vol. 6, 533-537).
Offering his defense, Joseph responded to the letter the day it was received (HC, Vol. 6, 538-541). His response was personally delivered to the governor by John Taylor. Brother Taylor was poorly received and treated by the governor and reported back to Joseph that the governor was surrounded by “some of the vilest and most unprincipled men in creation” (HC, Vol. 6, 542-545). In hearing of this report, Joseph counseled with his brother Hyrum and asked, “What shall we do?” (HC, Vol. 6, 545)
By and by the prophet made a decision to cross the Mississippi River with Hyrum and begin traveling west. Joseph told the people “there is no doubt they will come here (Nauvoo) and search for us. Let them search; they will not harm you in person or property, and not even a hair of your head” (HC, Vol. 6, 545-546). With that prophetic statement, Joseph and Hyrum said goodbye to their families and crossed the Mississippi by boat.
On Sunday, June 23, 1844, early in the morning, a posse, sent by the governor, arrived in Nauvoo to arrest Joseph and Hyrum. They did not find them. They leave the city with a man by the name of Yates left behind to keep watch. This Yates mentioned to one of the brethren that Governor Ford was intent on getting Joseph and Hyrum even if it meant guarding the city for three years (HC, Vol. 6, 548-549). This frightened the Saints.
Emma Smith sent a message to Joseph asking him to return. In addition, Reynolds Cahoon, Lorenzo D. Wasson, and Hiram Kimball accused Joseph of cowardice for wishing to leave the people. Said they, “Like the fable, when the wolves came the shepherd ran from the flock, and left the sheep to be devoured.” How hurtful this must have been for Joseph to hear. His response, “If my life is of no value to my friends, it is of none to myself” (HC, Vol. 6, 549).
Joseph again counseled with his brother Hyrum, “What shall we do?” Hyrum’s reply, “Let us go back and give ourselves up, and see the thing out.” Joseph pondered this and said, “If you go back I will go with you, but we shall be butchered” (HC, Vol. 6, 549-550). Joseph and Hyrum returned to Nauvoo and prepared for their journey to Carthage.
On Monday, June 24, 1844, Joseph and Hyrum, after taking care of matters of business and after preparing the people for their departure, traveled to Carthage, Illinois. En route, Joseph made his prophetic declaration:
“I am going like a lamb to the slaughter, but I am calm as a summer’s morning. I have a conscience void of offense toward God and toward all men. If they take my life I shall die an innocent man, and my blood shall cry from the ground for vengeance, and it shall be said of me ‘He was murdered in cold blood!’”(HC, Vol. 6, 555)
They arrived at the Hamilton House, a guesthouse and tavern in Carthage, just before midnight. On the morning of Tuesday, June 25, 1844, Joseph and Hyrum voluntarily surrendered themselves to the constable at Carthage. They were arrested for treason against the state of Illinois because they called out the Nauvoo Legion (HC, Vol. 6, 565). They were taken to the Carthage Jail. Every attempt was made to solicit help from those in authority to protect Joseph and Hyrum but to no avail.
On Thursday, June 27, 1844, those who were with Joseph and Hyrum are removed from the jail. Ultimately, only four men remain:
Joseph Smith, Age 38
First Elder, President, and Prophet of the Church
Hyrum Smith, Age 44
Second Elder, Associate President, and Patriarch to the Church
John Taylor, Age 35
Editor of two Nauvoo newspapers: the Times and Seasons and the Nauvoo Neighbor; Apostle and member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
Willard Richards, Age 40
Physician and Secretary to Joseph, Apostle and member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
It was hot and muggy on the afternoon of June 27, 1844. The men confined in the Carthage Jail had their coats off. John Taylor wrote of the scene in the jail cell: “All of us felt unusually…languid, with a remarkable depression of spirits. In consonance with those feelings I sang a song, that had lately been introduced into Nauvoo, entitled, ‘A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief.’ After a lapse of some time, Brother Hyrum requested me again to sing that song. I replied, ‘Brother Hyrum, I do not feel like singing,’ when he remarked, ‘Oh, never mind; commence singing, and you will get the spirit of it.’ At his request I did so” (HC, Vol. 7, 101-102).
Following the hymn, Joseph was conversing with the guard, Hyrum had just finished reading excerpts from Josephus’ “Antiquities of the Jews” and was visiting with Willard Richards when there was a rustling at the outer door of the jail, and a cry of “Surrender!” The discharge of firearms followed. Willard Richards glanced out the window and saw about a hundred armed men around the door. It is recorded that what I now describe to you occupied no more than two or three minutes’ time.
Some of the mob rushed up the stairs, past the guard, and began the work of death, while others fired through the open windows of the jail. Immediately, the men inside the jail sprang to the door in an attempt to brace themselves against it and block entry of the mob. Guns continued to be fired and one ball came through the door. Joseph, John Taylor, and Willard Richards sprang to the left of the door for safety, all the while trying to knock aside the guns as they were being inserted through thru the door.
In the same instance, Hyrum retreated back remaining in front of the door when a ball came through the door and struck him in the left side of his nose, and he fell on his back on the floor, crying, as he fell: “I am a dead man.” As he fell, another ball from the outside entered his left side, and passed through his body. Another ball from the door grazed his breast, and entered his head by the throat; subsequently, a fourth ball entered his left leg. He never moved afterwards.
Joseph fell to Hyrum. John Taylor records, “I shall never forget the deep feeling of sympathy and regard manifested in the countenance of Brother Joseph as he drew nigh to Hyrum, and, leaning over him, exclaimed, ‘Oh! My poor, dear brother Hyrum!’”
A shower of balls was pouring into the room. John Taylor did his best to parry the guns at the door until at length, he found the exercise futile and he attempted to jump out the window, where a ball fired from within struck him on his left thigh. He fell forward to the windowsill, when another ball fired from outside struck his watch and threw him back into the room. This watch recorded the time of the martyrdom: 5:16:26 p.m.
After John Taylor fell back into the room, he was hit by two more balls, one of them injuring his left wrist and the other entering at the side of the bone just below the left knee. He rolled for cover under the bed. While he lay there, he was fired upon several times from the stairway; one ball struck him on the left hip, which tore the flesh in a shocking manner.
Joseph, seeing that there was no safety in the room, and no doubt thinking that it would save the lives of his brethren in the room if he could get out, turned calmly from the door, and sprang into the window. He was now in full view of the mob firing at him from below. Instantly, two balls pierced him from the door, and one entered his right breast from without. He fell outward into the hands of his murderers, exclaiming, “O Lord, my God!”
Dr. Richards’ escape was miraculous; he being a very large man, and in the midst of a shower of balls, yet he stood unscathed, with the exception of a ball which grazed the tip end of the lower part of his left ear. His escape fulfilled literally a prophecy which Joseph made over a year previously, that the time would come when balls would fly around him like hail, and he should see his friends fall on the right and on the left, but that there should not be a hole in his garment
(HC, Vol. 6, 616-621; HC, Vol. 7, 102).
Brothers and sisters, following the martyrdom many hundreds mourned the loss of two great men. None more so than their mother, Lucy Smith. As she viewed her dead sons lying before her, she is given, and in turn offers to us, these words of comfort and hope:
“…As I looked upon their peaceful, smiling countenances, I seemed almost to hear them say; ‘Mother, weep not for us, we have overcome the world by love; we carried to them the Gospel, that their souls might be saved; they slew us for our testimony, and thus placed us beyond their power; their ascendency is for a moment, ours is an eternal triumph’” (History of Joseph Smith by his Mother, Lucy Smith, 325).
My invitation to each of us today is to never forget the events herein described. To always hold in sacred remembrance the lives of Joseph and Hyrum Smith and the work to which they gave their lives. My invitation is that we may do as Parley P. Pratt envisioned when he said, regarding the prophet Joseph Smith:
“He has organized the kingdom of God. We will extend its dominion.
“He has restored the fullness of the gospel. We will spread it abroad.
“He has laid the foundation of Nauvoo. We will build it up.
“He has laid the foundation of the temple. We will build up the top-stone with shouting.
“He had kindled a fire. We will fan the flame.
“He has kindled up the dawn of a day of glory. We will bring it to meridian splendor.
“He was a ‘little one’ and become a thousand. We are a small one, and will become a strong nation.
“In short, he quarried the stone from the mountain; we will cause it to become a great mountain and fill the whole earth” (Parley P. Pratt, Millennial Star 5:151-52).
May we go forward as charged is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.