Joseph Smith - A True Prophet of God

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The lesson I prepared and taught in Relief Society today, April 12, 2015

When Elder Ezra Taft Benson served as a full-time missionary in England in the early 1920’s, he and his companions experienced what he called “great opposition to the Church”. He later recounted:

“The newspapers, the magazines, even anti-Mormon movies were all over Great Britain….But up in northern England where we were laboring,” he said, “we had a group of people out at South Shields Branch who were very faithful and very devoted and very loyal, and they had invited my companion and me to come over and speak in their sacrament meeting. They said, ‘Many of our neighbors don’t believe the lies that are being printed. If you will come, we will fill the little chapel.’

And so we accepted the invitation and we started preparing and I started studying about the apostasy. It was a subject I liked, and I thought they needed it; and I worked and I studied, and I thought I could talk fifteen minutes on the subject.

We went over to the little chapel and it was filled. Everyone was happy. And after the opening exercises my companion spoke, then I spoke with a freedom I had never enjoyed in all my life. And when I sat down and looked at my watch, I had talked twenty five minutes, and I hadn’t mentioned the apostasy, I hadn’t even thought of the apostasy. I had talked about Joseph Smith, and I had borne witness that he was a prophet of God and I knew it. I told about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon as a new witness for Christ, and I had borne testimony. When I realized what had happened, I couldn’t hold back the tears.

At the end of the meeting, many of the Saints came forward and expressed their gratitude that something had been said about Joseph Smith. They said, ‘Several of our neighbors have said, “We can accept everything about the Church except Joseph Smith.” And then some of those same neighbors came up and said, ‘ We are now ready. We are ready tonight. We have received the witness that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God.”

I want to discuss how we can know if a man is a true prophet of God and in what ways Joseph Smith displayed the attributes of a prophet of God.

1. A prophet will boldly claim that God has spoken to him.

Quote 1: “As a young man, Joseph Smith was a seeker after truth. Confusion among existing churches led him to inquire of God which of them was true. In answer to that prayer, he asserted that a pillar of brilliant light appeared. These are his words: “When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other - This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him! (JSH 1:17)

2. A prophet will declare his message(s) without concession to public opinion or fear of repercussion.

Quote 2: Joseph asked the second personage, who was Jesus Christ, which one of the Christian sects was correct. He was told that he must not join any of them, that none were correct. Some treated his testimony with great contempt and began to incite false stories and persecution against him. The young prophet, like that Apostle Paul of old, would not recant his testimony, but defended his claim in these words:

“I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation.” (JSH 1:25)

Countless times the prophet was threatened, beaten, tarred, feathered and never would he recant his declaration. The following are the words of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland from his talk Safety for the Soul, speaking of the Prophet Joseph and Joseph’s loyal brother Hyrum,

“I ask you: would these men blaspheme before God by continuing to fix their lives, their honor, and their own search for eternal salvation on a book (and by implication a church and a ministry) they had fictitiously created out of whole cloth? Never mind that their wives are about to be widows and their children fatherless. Never mind that their little band of followers will yet be “houseless, friendless and homeless” and that their children will leave footprints of blood across frozen rivers and an untamed prairie floor. Never mind that legions will die and other legions live declaring in the four quarters of this earth that they know the Book of Mormon and the Church which espouses it to be true. Disregard all of that, and tell me whether in this hour of death these two men would enter the presence of their Eternal Judge quoting from and finding solace in a book which, if not the very word of God, would brand them as imposters and charlatans until the end of time? They would not do that! They were willing to die rather than deny the divine origin and the eternal truthfulness of the Book of Mormon...In this I stand with my own great-grandfather, who said simply enough, “No wicked man could write such a book as this; and no good man would write it, unless it were true and he were commanded of God to do so.”

3. A prophet may predict future events in the name of the Lord and they come to pass.

Quote 3: President Benson taught, “The ultimate test of a true prophet is that when he speaks in the name of the Lord his words come to pass.”

“In 1832, [Joseph] prophesied that the southern states and northern states would shortly be divided in civil war, that this war would be the beginning of world wars which would eventually involve all nations and result in the death and misery of many souls. Specifically, he said that the great Civil War would begin with a rebellion in South Carolina. (See D&C 87). This prophecy was published to the world in 1851.

As every schoolboy knows, the Civil War began with the secession of South Carolina from the Union, and other states followed. When Lincoln sent provisions to the Union forces at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, the Confederate forces opened fire on the fort...nearly one-half million souls died in the civil war.”

Will every prophet God sends forth fortell future events? Not necessarily. But if they do, then their words will come to pass, unless of course the foretold event is conditional. i.e. Jonah prophesied that the people of Ninevah would be destroyed, IF they did not repent. They did repent so that prophecy was not fulfilled.

4. A prophet receives revelations and directions from the Lord for our benefit.

Quote 4: President Ezra Taft Benson said: “If we are living the gospel, we will feel in our hearts that the First Presidency of the Church not only have the right, but are also duty bound under heaven to give counsel on any subject which affects the temporal or spiritual welfare of the Latter-day Saints” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1950, p. 148).

Joseph Smith received the Word of Wisdom in 1833. Of all the treasures unveiled in the Word of Wisdom, perhaps the most precious gem is that “tobacco is not for the body, neither for the belly, and is not good for man.” This simple and profound truth was offered to the world more than a century ahead of the scientific literature that now supports it. Today medical science has validated the soundness of that revelation.

A 14-year selective study conducted by UCLA epidemiologist James E. Enstrom tracked the health of 10,000 moderately active LDS Church members in California and ended in 1987. Of these non-smoking, monogamous non-drinkers, Enstrom concluded from the study "that LDS Church members who follow religious mandates barring smoking and drinking have one of the lowest death rates from cancer and cardiovascular diseases—about half that of the general population. ... Moreover, the healthiest LDS Church members enjoy a life expectancy eight to eleven years longer than that of the general white population in the United States."

While we may sometimes be able to see the wisdom in a Prophet's council, such as with tobacco use, there are times where things he asks us to do may not make sense, but we should follow his council regardless.

5. A prophet testifies of Christ

Quote 5: “And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives! For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only begotten of the Father - that by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.” (See D&C 76:22-24)

We know that Joseph Smith stood as a witness for Christ, time and again throughout his brief life.
6. A prophet may be recognized by the fruit of his labors
Quote 6: “Another test of a true prophet was established by the Savior Himself. True prophets should be distinguished from false prophets by that standard, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” (Matt. 7:20)

Consider just some of the fruits of Joseph Smith’s teachings that Ezra Taft Benson mentions:

  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints takes care of its poor and needy by tithes and offerings from church members

  • The Prophet Joseph Smith said the Church was not fully organized until the women had their own organization. So he organized, in 1842, the women’s Relief Society, which is today the largest women’s organization in the world.

  • This is a missionary church...Jesus said one of the signs of the times before His second coming was that the gospel of the kingdom would be preached to all the world as a witness unto all nations. (Matt 24:14) We are seeing that fulfilled in our day!

  • The Book of Mormon, containing a fullness of Christ's gospel has been published in 82 different languages today and contains many truths that were lost during the period of apostasy.

In addition to those fruits, that President Benson mentioned I would like to mention another. It is no coincidence that the first genealogical society within the United States was established only a few years after Joseph Smith was visited by Elijah in the Kirtland temple. Today, the Family History Library has the largest genealogical collection in the world.

Are there other “fruits” you can think of that have come as a result of the Prophet Joseph Smith?

7. A Prophet may be recognized by personal revelation from the Holy Ghost

While the previous six guidelines for identifying a true prophet of God can be helpful, the only witness on which we can unequivocally rely, is that of personal revelation on the matter from the Holy Ghost.

Quote 7: "No claim is put forth by the prophets of God to suggest that they are infallible, that everything they say and do is what the Lord would say and do. Only when they act in harmony with the will of the Lord do they become the Lord’s mouthpiece… The Prophet Joseph Smith said, ‘A prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such.' "

Elder John A. Widtsoe commented on the Prophet Joseph’s words: “That statement makes a clear distinction between official and unofficial actions and utterances of officers of the Church. In this recorded statement the Prophet Joseph Smith recognizes his special right and duty, as the President and Prophet of the Church, under the inspiration of the Lord, to speak authoritatively and officially for the enlightenment and guidance of the Church. But he claims also the right, as other men, to labor and rest, to work and play, to visit and discuss, to present his opinions and hear the opinions of others, to counsel and bless as a member of the Church.” (Evidences and Reconciliations, 1:182.)

We also have a promise in the words of Wilford Woodruff that, “The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty."

Again this does not mean that the Prophet will be without error in personal opinion or action in all things, but a prophet of God will never lead us away from the doctrines and revelations necessary for our personal exaltation. We can pray to our Heavenly Father to witness to us the divine calling of our Prophets today and of Prophets of the past, like Joseph Smith.

Suggestions for additional study:

Joseph Smith - Prophet of the Restoration by Tad R. Callister

The Profile of a Prophet by Hugh B. Brown

Joseph Smith: Prophet to Our Generation - by Ezra Taft Benson

Revelations in Context: The Word of Wisdom

Gospel Principles Chapter 9: Prophets of God

As if from mine own mouth: The role of prophets in the Church