December 23 marks the anniversary of the birth of Joseph Smith (1805-1844), the Prophet. He organized The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and became its first president. Several other churches consider him to be their founder, and his followers regard him to be a prophet of God.
Joseph was born December 23, 1805, in Sharon, Vermont, the fourth child born to his parents, Joseph and Lucy Mack Smith. The family eventually included six sons and three daughters. The Smiths moved from Vermont to Palmyra, New York, before Joseph was eleven. Four years later the family moved to nearby Manchester where they continued to farm.
When Joseph was fourteen, there was an unusual excitement about religion. Joseph and other members of the family listened to many sermons from several different preachers. Each preacher claimed to have the truth, but they were all teaching different doctrines. Joseph was caught up in the excitement and wanted to join one of the churches, but he was confused as to which church he should join. While studying the scriptures one day, he read, "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). Joseph was aware that if anyone needed wisdom, he did, and he decided that he would ask God.
On a beautiful, clear morning in the early spring in 1820, Joseph went to a nearby wooded area to offer his first vocal prayer. After some early difficulties, he called upon God for help. He saw a pillar of light, brighter than the sun, in the air above him. The light gradually descended until it fell upon Joseph.
"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 1:17).
When Joseph recovered from his shock, he remembered the reason he had gone to the grove to pray. He asked the Personages which of all the sects he should join. He was answered that he must not join any of them because all of them were teaching false doctrine.
Joseph shared his vision of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ with his family and other people. The members of his family believed him and accepted his report as the truth. When he told a preacher of his experience, the preacher ridiculed him, saying it was of the devil. Soon after his conversation with the preacher, Joseph became the object of great persecution. No amount of persecution or hatred could cause Joseph to disbelieve. "… 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 …. 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" (Joseph Smith - History 1:25).
Joseph prayed and received an answer from God. He did not join any of the churches and continued to be persecuted. On September 21, 1823, Joseph was again praying for direction when he received another vision. This time he was visited by an angel named Moroni. Moroni quoted scriptures and taught him many things before disappearing into heaven in a conduit of light. Moroni returned two additional times during the night and again the next morning. The reason for Moroni's visits was to instruct Joseph about a record written upon gold plates and recorded by the ancient inhabitants of the American continent. Moroni told Joseph that he would have to wait to receive the plates until the time was right. When it was the right time, Joseph would receive the plates for the purpose of translating the information written on them.
Many things happened in the next few years: Joseph's oldest brother, Alvin, died. Joseph married Emma Hale. Persecution continued as did the necessity for laboring to earn a living. During this same period of time, Moroni continued to instruct Joseph. At length the time to receive the plates arrived on September 22, 1827. Amidst increased persecution and several moves, Joseph translated the necessary information from the plates and returned the plates to Moroni.
"The ancient record thus brought forth from the earth as the voice of a people speaking from the dust, and translated into modern speech by the gift and power of God as attested by Divine affirmation, was first published to the world in the year 1830 as THE BOOK OF MORMON" (Final paragraph of "Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith" in the Book of Mormon).
Concerning this record, the Prophet Joseph Smith said, "I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book" ("Introduction" in Book of Mormon).
I have read the Book of Mormon many times myself. I have asked God to tell me if it is His word. I know the Book of Mormon to be true because the Holy Ghost has borne witness to me that it is true; therefore, I also know that Joseph Smith is a true prophet of God.
Joseph, his family, and his followers continued to be persecuted. Joseph with five associates organized The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Fayette, New York, on April 6, 1830. He continued to be an instrument in the hands of God. He lived as a prophet of God for all of his remaining days on earth. He died as a prophet, along with his brother Hyrum, on June 27, 1844, about 5:00 P.M., when an armed mob with blackened faces broke into the Carthage, Illinois, jail and killed them. Each man was shot four different times.
John Taylor, the third president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, wrote the following: "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…. He lived great and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and … has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood…." (Doctrine and Covenants 135:3).
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