There’s nothing worse than reading a biography to know a person better and coming away disappointed. This happened when I read a biography about C.S. Lewis having already been blown away by the depth and clarity of his words. The biography followed the timeline of his life and left his heart out.
|Joseph Smith by D A Weggeland - used with permission|
This post is about Joseph Smith, an American prophet. There is much written about the timeline of his life. I won’t go into that. I want to share with you his heart. As a man “thinketh in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7) The ideas that came out of Joseph’s heart were beautiful. I love how his earnest, generous, loyal, and courageous character is revealed.
Joseph was both a prophet and a man. As a prophet, he spoke of heavenly visions and repeated verbatim the words God gave him. As a man, he was quick to tell people that he wasn’t perfect. “I never told you I was perfect; but there is no error in the revelations which I have taught.” (45:522)
Here is something he said about himself, “It is my meditation all the day, and more than my meat and drink, to know how I shall make the Saints of God comprehend the visions that roll like an overflowing surge before my mind. Oh! how I would delight to bring before you things which you never thought of!” (45:520) He was a serious student of the Bible. He also spent a lot of time as a student of the Holy Spirit learning directly from God.
As a prophet he said, “But neither teachers nor deacons have authority to baptize, administer the sacrament, or lay on hands; they are, however, to warn, expound, exhort, and teach, and invite all to come unto Christ.” (D&C 20:58-59) This passage in canonized scripture talks about the authority to act in God’s name. As a man, he explained it in his own words, “Whenever men can find out the will of God and find an administrator legally authorized from God, there is the kingdom of God; but where these are not, the kingdom of God is not. All the ordinances, systems, and administrations on the earth are of no use to the children of men, unless they are ordained and authorized of God; for nothing will save a man but a legal administrator; for none others will be acknowledged either by God or angels.” (6:84) Joseph received clear instructions on organizing a church with Christ at the head, a prophet as spokesman, and priesthood keys authorizing men to govern in specific assignments. Joseph also organized women and gave them specific assignments.*see footnote The way he explained it, “God will not acknowledge that which He has not called, ordained, and chosen.” (8:107)
Joseph was a true and honest man. He said in a council meeting held in 1836, “I will now covenant with you before God, that I will not listen to or credit any derogatory report against any of you, nor condemn you upon any testimony beneath the heavens, short of that testimony which is infallible, until I can see you face to face, and know of a surety; and I do place unremitted confidence in your word, for I believe you to be men of truth. And I ask the same of you, when I tell you anything, that you place equal confidence in my word, for I will not tell you I know anything that I do not know.”(34:394) Those words convey to me a sense of how honorable men don’t buy just any old gossip but they go to the source, preferably face to face interaction for the truth. Joseph was an honorable man.
|Joseph Smith - boyhood home - used with permission|
He said, “I believe in living a virtuous, upright and holy life before God and feel it my duty to persuade all men in my power to do the same, that they may cease to do evil and learn to do well, and break off their sins by righteousness.” (30:352) He had learned by interacting with God himself that virtue enables communication. “Virtue is one of the most prominent principles that enables us to have confidence in approaching our Father who is in heaven in order to ask wisdom at his hand.” (10:131) Despite his detractors, I am certain that Joseph was virtuous in all respects. He spoke of godly things in a way that was respectful and profound. “The things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity — thou must commune with God.” (22:267) His words reveal that he had pondered the things of God and received answers that clarified religious principles.
Joseph was not a man to be deterred. He took a stand on principles and allowed people to accept or reject without taking it personally. He said, “In relation to the power over the minds of mankind which I hold, I would say, it is in consequence of the power of truth in the doctrines which I have been an instrument in the hands of God of presenting to them, and not because of any compulsion on my part…I ask, Did I ever exercise any compulsion over any man? Did I not give him the liberty of disbelieving any doctrine I have preached, if he saw fit?” (24:284) There were always people who were unsure of the new ideas Joseph preached. He was always respectful of questions and concerns. He said, “If I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by force of reasoning, for the truth will cut its own way.” (29:345) I love how he let God’s truth split the hairs, for truly there are many shades of grey.
Joseph was tender with the poor and kind to the weak. He personally cared for a houseful of sick people (37:430), built a log cabin for a widow woman (37:429), and encouraged his followers to, “be careful of one another’s feelings, and walk in love, honoring one another more than themselves.” (29:344) With friend or foe, he was generous but firm. “I have the most liberal sentiments, and feelings of charity toward all sects, parties, and denominations…and despise no man for differing with me in matters of opinion.” (29:345) And occasionally he was emphatic. He said, “I have sometimes spoken too harshly from the impulse of the moment, and inasmuch as I have wounded your feelings, brethren, I ask your forgiveness, for I love you and will hold you up will all my heart in all righteousness before the Lord and before all men.” (34:394) More than once, he was asked for forgiveness and he always gave it no matter how grievous the insult.
|Joseph Smith - used with permission|
He had many beautiful things to say about the purpose of this life and the nature of life after death. With respect to the mind of man he said, “We consider that God has created man with a mind capable of instruction, a faculty which may be enlarged in proportion to the heed and diligence given to the light communicated from heaven to the intellect; and that the nearer man approaches perfection, the clearer are his views, and the greater his enjoyments, til he has overcome the evils of his life and lost every desire for sin; and like the ancients, arrives at that point of faith where he is wrapped in the power and glory of his Maker, and is caught up to dwell with Him. But we consider that this is a station to which no man ever arrived in a moment.” (17:211) And as to the purpose of this life he said, “The design of God before the foundation of the world was that we should take tabernacles [bodies], that through faithfulness we should overcome and thereby obtain a resurrection from the dead, in this wise obtaining glory, honor, power, and dominion.” (17:211) Joseph saw in vision the glory of those who had been resurrected and his vision was canonized in D&C 76. Of that vision he said, “Go and read the vision. There is clearly illustrated glory upon glory — one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and a glory of the starts; and as one star differeth from another star in glory, even so do they of the telestial world differ in glory, and every man who reigns in celestial glory is a God to his dominions.” (18:220)
I could go on and on showing you what he said and how poetic and profound it is. Instead, if you want to read more, the book where his words have been compiled by topic is available to read online. It is the source for all my quotes referenced by their (chapter :page number).
Here are the links for the book Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith
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