Today, 167 years ago, Joseph Smith, Jr. was martyred in Carthage Jail in Carthage, Illinois, along with his brother Hyrum Smith. Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and the instrument through which He restored the gospel of Jesus Christ after a long period of apostasy. Today, I will share my thoughts and testimony about Joseph Smith, Jesus Christ and the Church that was organized in 1830 which continues to grow around the world.
Joseph Smith, to me, represents the basics of what the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about: a young boy who wanted to know God better went to him in prayer and received an answer. As a young man of 14, Joseph was confused by the many different religions that all professed to be the church of Christ, yet taught remarkably different doctrines. He wanted to know which church he should join, but did not know how to decide, until he read a verse in the Bible, in the Book of James.
While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible. (Joseph Smith—History 1:11-12)
And so, he determined to do as he had been instructed by James and ask of God. He went into the nearby woods to be alone, and knelt down and began to pray. And as he sincerely and honestly prayed to his Father in Heaven, he received a very real answer.
I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. 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! (Joseph Smith—History 1:16-17)
God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith and told him that none of the churches that existed at the time had a fullness of the gospel of Christ, but that through him things would be revealed to the world which would restore the Church of Christ that Christ himself had established during his mortal ministry. This was the First Vision and was just the beginning of the great and marvelous work that God proceeded to perform through Joseph Smith.
Through Joseph Smith, God restored the Priesthood by sending first John the Baptist, then later Peter, James, and John to ordain Joseph and his companion Oliver Cowdery to the order of Priesthood which ancient prophets held. Through Joseph Smith, the Lord revealed a new book of scripture, The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Christ, being a record of people who lived on the American continent who also had prophets and revelations, much like the Jews in ancient Israel. This book, next to the Bible, are both revered as Holy Scriptures by members of the Church that God founded through Joseph Smith — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
What I love most about Joseph Smith, and particularly the Joseph Smith story, is that it can be replicated by anyone. Anyone and everyone can do exactly what Joseph Smith did. Everyone who joins the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is expected to have done exactly what Joseph Smith did: Pray and ask of God. Moroni 10:4-5, the most quoted scripture from the Book of Mormon, and the scripture used by every missionary who teaches someone about the Book of Mormon, reads: And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things. (Moroni 10:4-5)
That promise, that challenge is open to all and is expected of members. There is an interview process that one undergoes before one is accepted for baptism to ensure that the baptismal candidate understands the commitment they are entering into and to determine the strength of their testimony. No one is forced into this, all are asked if they have prayed to know the truth. No one is forced or coerced into the Church, no one is forced or coerced into obeying Church leaders, all are asked to develop personal testimonies through prayer and through the Holy Ghost.
That is the beauty and the joy of Mormonism. Each of us had the opportunity to develop a personal relationship with our Father in Heaven. Each of us has the privilege of personal revelation direct from Diety, helping us in our daily lives. That is the legacy that we have from the Prophet Joseph Smith, and that is why I am thankful to God for raising up prophets in this day and age as well as restoring His Church through which Priesthood keys exist, allowing for the bestowal of gift of the Holy Ghost upon all worthy members.