The world is split into lots of camps, and when it comes to the prophet Joseph Smith, you either believe him or you don’t.
You either believe he saw God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ during the First Vision, or you think he lied.
Either you believe he received ministering from angels such as Moroni, Peter, James, John, Elijah, Moses, or you think he made it up.
Joseph knew there would be those who accepted him and those who would think he was a lunatic, after all, Moroni warned him of such.
He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people. – Joseph Smith History 1:33
One of the truly sad, and at the same time ironic, things about the story of Joseph Smith is that he declared that he would have had a hard time believing the things he was telling people if he hadn’t experienced them himself.
I don’t blame anyone for not believing my history. If I had not experienced what I have, I would not have believed it myself.
It’s very interesting to dissect his account of the first angelic visitation he received from Moroni, as the language Joseph uses to describe the event paints the picture of how incredibly off-the-wall this experience was, even in his mind.
After recounting Moroni’s first visit in the upstairs room of the Smith home, Joseph states that he lay in bed “musing on the singularity of the scene, and marveling greatly at what had been told to me by this extraordinary messenger…”
If you look at the definitions of some of these words in Webster’s 1828 dictionary, you get a better feel for what Joseph was truly feeling.
Singularity: peculiarity, uncommon, different, oddity. In our language today Joseph might have even say that the angelic visitation was weird!
After Moroni’s first visit he says, “I lay overwhelmed in astonishment at what I had both seen and heard.” Again, Webster’s dictionary defines astonishment as amazement; confusion of mind from fear, surprise or admiration.
Joseph records in his history the following feelings that weighed on him heavily throughout his life – especially in regards to the persecution he suffered for simply sharing his heavenly visions with religious leaders he felt he could trust.
“I soon found, however, that my telling the story had excited a great deal of prejudice against me among professors of religion, and was the cause of great persecution, which continued to increase; and though I was an obscure boy, only between fourteen and fifteen years of age, and my circumstances in life such as to make a boy of no consequence in the world, yet men of high standing would take notice sufficient to excite the public mind against me, and create a bitter persecution; and this was common among all the sects—all united to persecute me.
It caused me serious reflection then, and often has since, how very strange it was that an obscure boy, of a little over fourteen years of age, and one, too, who was doomed to the necessity of obtaining a scanty maintenance by his daily labor, should be thought a character of sufficient importance to attract the attention of the great ones of the most popular sects of the day, and in a manner to create in them a spirit of the most bitter persecution and reviling. But strange or not, so it was, and it was often the cause of great sorrow to myself.
However, it was nevertheless a fact that I had beheld a vision. I have thought since, that I felt much like Paul, when he made his defense before King Agrippa, and related the account of the vision he had when he saw a light, and heard a voice; but still there were but few who believed him; some said he was dishonest, others said he was mad; and he was ridiculed and reviled. But all this did not destroy the reality of his vision. He had seen a vision, he knew he had, and all the persecution under heaven could not make it otherwise; and though they should persecute him unto death, yet he knew, and would know to his latest breath, that he had both seen a light and heard a voice speaking unto him, and all the world could not make him think or believe otherwise.
But strange or not, so it was, and it was often the cause of great sorrow to myself.
So it was with me. I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true; and while they were persecuting me, reviling me, and speaking all manner of evil against me falsely for so saying, I was led to say in my heart: Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For 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.”
If Joseph Smith were to encounter someone who still persecutes his name today, I feel like his message would be the same as he declared 200 years ago. “I don’t blame you for not believing my history. If I had not experienced what I have, I would not have believed it myself.”
He would then build an instant relationship with that individual, he or she would come to know his true character, and they would most likely become friends. That is just the man that Joseph Smith was.
I truly mourn as I hear people drag the name of Joseph Smith through the mud. Recently I was defending Joseph Smith on an Instagram post and someone commented saying that Joseph Smith was a “truly wicked man.”
I felt deeply sorry for Joseph Smith when I heard that comment, but more sorry for this individual who has truly missed the mark and been blinded by the mists of darkness to not see Joseph as John Taylor described him in Doctrine and Covenants 135:3.
“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.
In the short space of twenty years, he has brought forth the Book of Mormon, which he translated by the gift and power of God, and has been the means of publishing it on two continents; has sent the fulness of the everlasting gospel, which it contained, to the four quarters of the earth; has brought forth the revelations and commandments which compose this book of Doctrine and Covenants, and many other wise documents and instructions for the benefit of the children of men; gathered many thousands of the Latter-day Saints, founded a great city, and left a fame and name that cannot be slain. He lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and like most of the Lord’s anointed in ancient times, has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood…”
Just as God listened to Joseph’s prayer in 1820, He listens to you and yearns to speak with you through the Spirit. We invite you to be a major part of sharing the message of the ongoing restoration of the Savior’s gospel. pic.twitter.com/eMYQvnRNyj
— Russell M. Nelson (@NelsonRussellM) January 1, 2020
Let us as Latter-day Saints seek to learn more about the life of Brother Joseph. As we come to understand his life, the circumstances he lived in, the weight he carried, and the mantle he held, we will be in a much better position to boldly declare his role as prophet of the restoration.
May we be the ones who fulfill the other half of Moroni’s prophecy – that good be spoken of Joseph’s name throughout all nations – by revealing the true character and role of Joseph Smith with the world.