The Prophet Joseph Smith
This is the Last Dispensation of Time before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The Prophet Joseph Smith was the first prophet of this dispensation and the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often called the Mormon Church). He was called by God to be a prophet and to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the whole world as restored through God and His angels to earth. He translated the Book of Mormon and recorded many revelations from God, which are now published in the Doctrine and Covenants. He died as a martyr for the Gospel of Jesus Christ while being held in Carthage Jail. He was a one of the great men in world history.
Joseph Smith was born on December 23, 1805, in Sharon, Vermont, to Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith. As a young boy, he contracted typhus and nearly died. The infection settled in his leg and required a painful operation. Joseph Smith limped for the rest of his life. Due to hardships in Vermont and New Hampshire, the Smith family moved to the vicinity of Palmyra, New York, in the mid 1810s. In 1816 and 1817, a great revival swept through the region. Joseph Smith was greatly impressed and troubled by this revival. His family was affected by the religious differences, and some joined the Presbyterian Church while some favored the Methodist Church.
Joseph Smith spent many months pondering these things and attending the meetings of the various churches. He prayed often and read from the Bible. In the spring of 1820, Joseph Smith, then fourteen, read a passage from the epistle of James:
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 (James 1:5).
This passage greatly impressed young Joseph Smith and, after much pondering, he determined to ask of God. One morning, he went into a grove of trees near his home and began to pray out loud to God. He wanted to know which church he should join and how he could find forgiveness for his sins. In answer to his prayer, Joseph Smith saw Jesus Christ and God the Father appear to him in a pillar of light. They spoke to him and told him that his sins were forgiven and that he was not to join any of the churches upon the earth at that time. Rather, he was to wait, for God had a great work for him to do.
For three more years, Joseph Smith continued his daily labors on his family’s farm. He endured much ridicule and harassment because of his claim to have had a vision. On September 21, 1823, Joseph Smith prayed to God to know what he should do and if he was still accepted by God. In answer to this prayer, an angel appeared to him in his bedroom. The angel’s name was Moroni. He had been sent by God to tell Joseph Smith that God had a work for him to do. The angel Moroni said that there was an ancient book written on gold plates buried in a nearby hill. Joseph Smith was to translate these plates. He would have to wait some time until he was sufficiently prepared. It would be four more years until Joseph Smith was ready. During that time, he moved often and hired himself out as a day-laborer. One job took him to Harmony, Pennsylvania, where he met and married Emma Hale in 1825.
In 1827, Joseph Smith was given the gold plates by the Angel Moroni. He translated from the plates through the power of God, sometimes using the Urim and Thummim. Various people served as scribes, including his wife Emma and neighbor, Martin Harris. Persecution forced him to move several times while translating the gold and brass plates. In early 1829, a young school teacher named Oliver Cowdery would help Joseph Smith finish translating the Book of Mormon. As they translated, they frequently prayed about what various things meant. On May 15, 1829, Joseph Smith and Oliver prayed about baptism. In answer to their prayer, John the Baptist appeared to them and restored the authority to baptize. This authority is called the priesthood (specifically, the Aaronic priesthood). Later Peter, James, and John appeared to them and restored the higher priesthood authority, the Melchizedek Priesthood.
In the summer of 1829, the translation of the Book of Mormon was finished. It would be published in Palmyra by E. B. Grandin in 1830. Shortly thereafter, the Church of Jesus Christ was formed and the first Mormon missionaries began preaching. The young church was opposed by many people, and the Mormons eventually moved to Ohio, where many revelations were received and the first Mormon temple was built. At this time, Joseph Smith also began his translations of the Bible and the Book of Abraham. Peace did not last long. During a nation-wide financial panic, the Church’s bank collapsed. Some Mormons apostatized and some even threatened to kill Joseph Smith. In 1837, he and his family fled to Missouri where some Mormons had begun settling in 1831.
The Mormons in Missouri had faced many hard years. The Mormons’ opposition to slavery, their communal lifestyle, and their different beliefs caused conflicts with their neighbors in Jackson County, Missouri. They had been expelled from the county in 1833 and, in 1836, they had begun settling their own county in northern Missouri. Shortly after Joseph Smith arrived, the troubles began again. Mobs raided the Mormon settlements and burned down homes. Women were raped and families were driven from their homes. Mormons who tried to vote were often attacked. The Mormons organized militias to defend themselves. Fearing an all out war, the State of Missouri sent troops to end the fighting. Rumors and lies spread through both groups. The governor, Lilburn Boggs, believing the rumors that the Mormons were launching a war, ordered that all Mormons be driven from the state or killed. This directive was called the Extermination Order. Joseph Smith and other leaders were arrested and imprisoned and the Mormons fled Missouri in the winter of 1838. Their ultimate destination would be Illinois.
Joseph Smith remained imprisoned until April of 1839, when he finally joined the Mormons in Illinois. The Mormons founded a new city, Nauvoo, located on the east bank of the Mississippi River, which would grow into one of the largest cities in Illinois. They built a beautiful temple and many homes. For a few years, there was peace. During the time the Mormons settled in Nauvoo, Joseph Smith received many important revelations about salvation, including the revelations about baptism for the dead, which permits a living person to be baptized on behalf of someone who has died. Joseph Smith also introduced eternal marriage and the Mormon temple ceremony. Missionary work in Europe yielded a great harvest of stalwart Latter-day Saints, who immigrated to the U.S. and gathered in great numbers with the Saints in Nauvoo.
In 1844, troubles began once again with the neighbors. The other residents of Hancock County did not like the Mormons, though an uneasy peace prevailed for a time. In May of 1844, Joseph Smith gave responsibility for leading the Mormon Church to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The next month, a group of apostate Mormons published a newspaper describing Joseph Smith as a vile person and public menace. It called for Joseph Smith to be killed. In response, the city council and Joseph Smith, as mayor, declared that the newspaper was dangerous, since it advocated violence. They seized the press. During the riot that followed, Joseph Smith declared martial law to restore the peace. Joseph Smith’s enemies used this as a pretext to arrest Joseph Smith on charges stemming from the destruction of the press. At first, Joseph Smith refused to go, believing that he could not get a fair trial. When the governor of the state promised to ensure a fair and safe trial, Joseph consented and surrendered himself for trial. The governor, however, did not keep his promise and left the local militia, instead of the state militia, in charge.
On June 27, the militia, which was supposed to protect Joseph Smith until his trial, instead turned on him. They stormed the jail and murdered Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum. The mobs thought that the Mormon Church would dwindle without Joseph Smith, but instead it continued to grow. Less than two years later, in February of 1846, the Mormons were expelled from Nauvoo and began their historic pioneer trek to Utah.