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Gospel Doctrine Lesson 13: How We Taught This Topic in the Past

By: Ardis E. Parshall - March 22, 2009

Lesson 13: “This Generation Shall Have My Word through You”

Articles, talks, and lessons about the life and mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith have been consistently published throughout the 20th century and are easily located at, so only a small taste of past lessons are offered here. The one from 1910 is especially relevant to the 2009 lesson.

My ward’s schedule for the next quarter’s lessons has not yet been set, so I don’t know whether I’ll be teaching this lesson or not – I so hope it will be my turn that week. [It was!]

1890: Deseret Sunday School Union Leaflets

Lesson 50: The Ancestry and Birth of Joseph Smith

Time – December 23, 1805.
Place – Sharon, Windsor County, Vermont.
Text – II Nephi 3:14, 15.

And thus prophesied Joseph, saying: Behold that seer will the Lord bless; and they that seek to destroy him, shall be confounded; for this promise, which I have obtained of the Lord, of the fruit of my loins, shall be fulfilled. behold, I am sure of the fulfilling of this promise.

And his name shall be called after me; and it shall be after the name of his father. And he shall be like unto me; for the thing which the Lord shall bring forth by his hand, by the power of the Lord shall bring my people unto salvation.

Lesson Statement

For several generations, previous to the birth of the Prophet, his forefathers had been honest, industrious farmers in New England. The first of his ancestors to come to America, from England, was Robert Smith, who emigrated to this country about the middle of the seventeenth century. He settled in New England, and there his descendants lived for five generations. Joseph Smith, who was the fourth in descent from Robert, married Lucy Mack, January 24, 1796. Her ancestors had also been husbandmen, and therefore all of the sturdy qualities attaching to that class were inherited by the Prophet.

During the early part of their married life, Joseph and Lucy (who had settled in the town of Tunbridge, Vermont,) were prosperous in a worldly sense, but through the treachery of a friend they were deprived of all their property. Soon afterward they removed to Sharon, in the same State, where they lived under very unfavorable circumstances until after the birth of their son Joseph, which occurred at Sharon, Windsor County, Vermont, December 23, 1805.

The poverty, ill health and other chastenings of the parents of Joseph were effectual in teaching the family to be humble and dependent upon their Heavenly Father. Had it been otherwise – had Joseph and his parents been successful in obtaining wealth, the young man’s spirit might have been less perfectly moulded to suit the purposes of his Heavenly Father. Pride might have taken the place of humility, and self-conceit, of faith and trust.

It is a significant fact that Joseph’s grandfather, Asael Smith, possessed sufficient of the spirit of prophecy to declare that one of his descendants should exert a great influence on the religious belief of his associates. Said he, “It has been borne in upon my soul that one of my descendants will promulgate a work to revolutionize the world of religious faith.”

How literally has this been fulfilled! how completely is the faith established by our Heavenly Father through the Prophet Joseph revolutionizing the religious belief of this day!

And Asael Smith lived to witness the commencement of the fulfillment of his prediction, for a short time before his death he was permitted to behold a copy of the Book of Mormon; and as he was about to depart from this earth, he warned his descendants to take heed of this work and to accept the ministry of Joseph, for that which he was about to bring forth was of God.

The birth of Joseph Smith, marks an important era in the world’s history. Thousands can testify at the present time that he was one of the greatest prophets the world has ever known. To him were entrusted the keys of the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times. His work will yet be known and his praises sung in all nations under heaven. And yet the man destined to such high honor was born of humble parents, in poverty, in an obscure town among the backwoods of Vermont.

Truly the ways of God are past the comprehension of feeble, mortal man.


Robert Smith. – Date of birth not known. Emigrated from England to America about the middle of the seventeenth century.

Samuel Smith. – Son of Robert Smith and his wife Mary. born Jan. 26, 1666. married to Rebecca Curtis Jan. 25, 1707.

Samuel Smith, Jun. – Born Jan. 26, 1714. Married Priscilla Gould.

Asael Smith. – Son of Samuel Smith, Jr., and Priscilla Gould, and grandfather of the Prophet. Born March 1, 16744. Married Mary Duty.

Joseph Smith, Sen. – Son of Asael Smith and father of the Prophet. Born July 12, 1771. Married Jan. 24, 1796, to Lucy Mack, at Tunbridge, Vermont.

Lucy Mack. – Mother of the Prophet. Daughter of Solomon and Lydia Mack and granddaughter of Ebenezer Mack. Born July 8, 1776. The Prophet was the fourth child of Joseph and Lucy, and they had six children after him.

Vermont. – One of the New England States. Bounded on the east by New Hampshire, on the west by New York, on the north by Canada and on the south by Massachusetts. Sharon was situated in the eastern part of the state, and was a small farming settlement.

What We May Learn from This Lesson

1. Though one of the greatest of prophets, Joseph Smith was born in the most humble circumstances. 2. That his parents though poor, were upright and God-fearing people. 3. That one of Joseph’s ancestors predicted the Prophet’s mission. 4. That this prediction was literally fulfilled. 5. That through ill-health and poverty, Joseph and his parents were taught lessons of humility and faithfulness. 6. That Joseph Smith was one of the greatest prophets of any dispensation. 7. That he holds the keys of the dispensation of the Fullness of Times. 8. That we cannot judge the ways of God by man’s standard.

Questions on the Lesson

1. Who was the first of Joseph’s ancestors to come to America? 2. What was the date of his emigration? 3. In what part of the United States did he live? 4. What occupation did he and his descendants follow? 5. What was his son’s name? 6. When was he born? 7. When did he marry? 8. Who was his son? 9. what do you know of this son’s birth and marriage? 10. Who was his son? 11. What relation did Asael bear to the Prophet? 12. What did he way concerning one of his descendants? 13. How did he see the fulfillment of his prediction? 14. When was the father of the Prophet born? 15. Whom did he marry? 16. how many children were born to them before the birth of Joseph? 17. How many children had they in all? 18. When and where was their son Joseph born? 19. How had they previously lost their property? 20. What great lesson did their trials teach them? 21. Where was Sharon? 22. What do you know of Vermont? 23. What can you say of the importance of Joseph’s mission? 24. What honor will yet be done him?

1899: Deseret Sunday School Union Leaflets

Lesson 49: Why the Boy Joseph Was Chosen

Text. – James 2:5

Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?

Lesson Statement

In attempting to prove that Joseph Smith was not a true prophet, his enemies point to the fact that he was a young, ignorant boy at the time he claimed to have received his first vision. They ask how it is that God would choose an unlearned boy for His work, when there were so many thousands of men who had spent their entire time from early youth in teaching the people, who were well versed in the scriptures, having given up the best part of their lives to their study. “Would it not have been better,” say these persons, “for God to choose one already educated to the ministry, rather than one whom He would have to instruct in the principles of the gospel?

In answer to this question and these objections, we can say that God showed His infinite wisdom in making choice of so humble an instrument as Joseph Smith to perform the great labor of restoring the gospel. In the first place, it was necessary that a person should be chosen who had not been taught in the sectarian doctrines of the day, which God Himself has declared to be false. What advantage would it have been, to select a man who had been engaged all his life in teaching false doctrine, to introduce the true gospel? You can see at once that the idea is absurd.

Joseph had not been taught in the religious notions of his time. His mind was a blank, so far as doctrine was concerned, prepared to receive such impressions as God should see fit to make upon it. He was humble, and would willingly receive and treasure up God’s word to him. Besides all this he was comparatively innocent of the sins so prevalent in the world, and God delights in innocence and purity. What wonder is it, then, that He should have chosen the humble boy Joseph, for the great latter-day work? Again, prophets in ancient times have foretold the work which Joseph has performed, and the instrument chosen to carry it out. One of these was Joseph, who was sold into Egypt. Lehi tells us (II Nephi 3:14, 15) that Joseph, in speaking of the latter times, said, “Behold, that seer will the Lord bless; and they that seek to destroy him, shall be confounded * * * * * AND HIS NAME SHALL BE CALLED AFTER ME: AND IT SHALL BE AFTER THE NAME OF HIS FATHER. And he shall be like unto me; for the thing which the Lord shall bring forth by his hand, by the power of the Lord shall bring my people to salvation.

Here Joseph not only points out the fact that a prophet should be raised up, but he even declares that the name of that prophet should be the same as his, and that he should be named after his father. All these predictions were fulfilled in Joseph Smith, the prophet.

Nor is it a new thing for God to select a boy for an important labor. the boy David, the youngest son of Jesse, was chosen to be king of Israel. The boy Samuel was called to succeed Eli in his important position, and in his more advanced age, he became one of the greatest prophets Israel had ever known.

All evidences point to the fact that God showed His supreme wisdom in the selection of the boy Joseph to be His latter-day prophet.


The Gospel. – The Gospel is the revealed plan of salvation, given for men to follow, that they may obtain eternal life. It has been revealed to men in different periods of the world’s history, whenever God has had a dispensation upon the earth. It is everlasting and unchangeable. Whenever it has been entrusted to men, they have had power and authority to officiate in its ordinances, certain signs always following their administrations. Jesus speaks of these signs (Mark, 16:17, 18,) where He promises that many mighty works shall be performed by those who accept the gospel. The creeds taught in the various sectarian churches can not be properly called the gospel, for they are impure, being a mixture of Gospel truths with the false ideas of men. The divine plan of salvation has been revealed again to Joseph Smith in these days, and the Latter-day Saints can justly claim to possess the true gospel.

David. – The second king of the Israelites. He was the youngest son of Jesse, and was chosen while yet a boy to succeed Saul upon the throne, after that king had transgressed the law of God. David was a prophet, as well as a king and a warrior, and he did much to establish the power and glory of the Israelites in the land of Canaan. He reigned from 1055 to 1015 B.C. A full account of his life is given in the Book of Samuel.

Samuel. – A great prophet over Israel during the latter part of the reign of the judges, and the greater part of Saul’s reign. He was consecrated to the Lord by his mother, Hannah, when he was a little child, and was appointed to act in the duties of a deacon in the temple. When the family of Eli, the High Priest, fell into sin, Samuel, then a boy of about twelve years, was told of Eli’s impending fall. Samuel succeeded Eli as judge over Israel, and became the prophet to the Israelites. He proved himself faithful in all the positions he occupied, and died at the advanced age of 100 years.

What We May Learn from This Lesson

1. That God often chooses humble instruments to perform His work. 2. that He is pleased with the purity of His children. 3. That Joseph Smith’s mission was foretold by many ancient prophets. 4. That he was a prophet called of God. 5. That the gospel is the plan of salvation. 6. That it is believed in and observed by the Latter-day Saints.

Questions on the Lesson.

1.What great objection have Joseph Smith’s enemies raised to the divinity of his mission? 2. What kind of a person do they say could better have been chosen? 3. Why would such a choice as they suggest have been really unwise? 4. Why was it better to select an unlearned boy than a learned minister? 5. By whom was Joseph Smith’s work predicted? 6. What did Joseph of ancient times say about him? 7. Where do you find this passage? 8. Show evidence that this remark refers to Joseph Smith. 9. In what other cases have boys been chosen to perform God’s labor? 10. What do you know of David? 11. Of Samuel? 12. To what fact do all the above evidences point?

Illustrative Passages

Humble Instruments. – Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. – Matt. 18:4.

Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty; neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me. – Psalm 13:1.

1910: The Story of the Restoration (Young Ladies’ MIA Lessons)

Lesson 12: Sacred Writings of Old

The Inspired “Translation.”

In December, 1830, the Prophet Joseph Smith received a revelation in which was contained an important promise pertaining to the sacred records of the Church. The Church had been in existence little more than six months. During those months it had grown phenomenally in numbers. And during those months, too, many discussions had been inevitably provoked concerning the infallibility of the scriptures. The Prophet who lived and moved among them, the saints accepted as the living oracle of God. His word they never questioned; and when they thirsted for the Water of Life, he was abundantly able to give it them. But the sacred writings of the Jews – the Bible – had not the power so to satisfy them as had the quick word of the Prophet. The words of the ancients were not clear. it seemed that there were mistranslations, omissions, and even interpolations in the Holy Book. Moreover, some valuable scriptures seemed to have been lost. They appeared in the book in name only; they invaluable contents were unknown. In view of these conditions, it is not surprising that the young Church should desire to know how much of the Sacred word of god, as it had been preserved to them, might be accepted with authority. And what they longed to know was divinely given to them. In a revelation received by the young Prophet in December, 1830, the Lord god said to Sidney Rigdon.

A commandment I give unto thee, that thou shalt write for him (i.e., Joseph Smith); and the Scriptures shall be given, even as they are in mine own bosom, to the salvation of mine own elect. (Doc. and Cov. 35:20.)

This promise, with commandment, evidently signifies that the Lord purposes to make clear the dark sayings of Scripture, over which the infant Church was puzzling. In support of this fact may be cited another revelation, given only two months later, in which the Lord renews the promise:

Thou shalt ask, [he said to the Prophet Joseph,] and my scriptures shall be given as I have appointed, and they shall be preserved in safety. (Doc. and Cov. 42:56.)

already, however, six months or so before the promise was made in revelation, the Lord had prepared for its fulfillment. In June, 1830, only two months after the organization of the Church, the Prophet had received the revelation known as the “Words of Moses.” (Pearl of Great Price.) It is a kind of introduction to the book of Genesis; it tells how Moses came to know the story of the creation, and the relation of man to God. No finer introductory chapter to the book of beginnings could possibly be conceived. Again, in the same month in which the revelation with promise was given, the Lord revealed certain “doings” of olden times, from the prophecy of Enoch.” (Hist. of Church. Vol. I, p. 133.) “Much conjecture and conversation frequently occurred among the Saints,’ writes the Prophet, “concerning the books mentioned, and referred to, in various places in the Old and New Testaments, which were now nowhere to be found. the common remark was, ‘They are lost books;’ but it seems the Apostolic church had some of these writings, as Jude mentions or quotes the prophecy of Enoch, the seventh from Adam.” (Hist. of Church, vol. I, p. 132.) to the joy of the congregation, extracts from this prophecy of Enoch were revealed to the Prophet Joseph, and added to the growing treasure-house of scripture. Already, too, the Prophet had began to make a kind of marginal translation of the Bible. Before the close of the year 1830, this “translation” was well under way.

Before the close of the year, however, the Prophet was commanded to desist from further translating until he should go to Ohio. (Doc. and Cov. 37:1.) Again, in December, 1831, the Prophet and Sidney Rigdon were commanded to go upon a mission preaching the gospel. (Doc. and Cov. 71:1-11.) Of necessity, the work of “translation” must rest while the Seer and the scribe were about these other duties. Except for such interruptions as these, however, the “translation” of the bible made fair progress. And in addition to the textual “translation,” there were received by the Prophet other revelations bearing upon the Holy word. thus, in January, 1832, there was received an explanation of I Cor. 7;14. (Doc. and Cov. Sec. 74.) In February of the same year, there came to the translators, while they were engaged with the Gospel of St. John, a wonderful vision of the glories hereafter. (Doc. and Cov. Sec. 76.) the following March, the Prophet received explanation of the revelations of St. John. (Doc. and Cov. Sec. 77.) One year later, there came a revelation on the authenticity of the apocrypha. (Doc. and Cov. Sec. 91.) thus, by the spirit of inspiration and revelation, the sacred records of old were made plain. The mistakes of men were corrected; and important works that had been lost, were supplied. The “translations” of the New Testament was finished February 2, 1833, and that of the Old Testament, July 2 of the same year.

In a revelation given January 19, 1841, it appears that William Marks was appointed by the Lord to publish the New “translation.” (Doc. and Cov. 124:89.) For some reason, however, the inspired version of the bible was never published by the Church. it was not until after the martyrdom of the Prophet, and the institution many years later of the so-called Re-Organized Church, that a version of the Inspired Translation appeared, published by the “Reorganites.’ This version, however, has been altered in many places. It cannot be accepted as the authentic “translation” made by the Prophet Joseph. Meanwhile, the Authorized Version of King James, remains the standard Bible of the Church. The only other accepted publication of Biblical matter is the book of Moses as found in the Pearl of Great Price.

The Book of Abraham.

In July, 1835, there came into the hands of the Prophet, Joseph Smith, other invaluable records of the times of the patriarchs. It appears that in the year 1828, a French explorer named Antonio Sebolo, secured permission from Mehemet Ali, the viceroy of Egypt, to explore for antiquities. Three years later, in 1831, he entered some catacombs near the place where stood formerly the ancient city of Thebes. Eleven of the mummies, found in a perfect state of preservation, Sebolo carried away with him to Paris. On the way to the French capital, however, M. Sebolo put in at Trieste, where he died after an illness of several days. The mummies were then directed to a nephew named Chandler. Mr. chandler lived in Philadelphia, Pa., though it was supposed that his home was in Ireland. After a devious course, the mummies came finally to new York, addressed to Michael H. chandler. There the caskets were first opened, and the contents examined. “On opening the coffins,” the Prophet tells us, “he (Mr. chandler) discovered that in connection with two of the bodies, was something rolled up with the same kind of linen, saturated with the same bitumen, which when examined, proved to be two rolls of papyrus.” these rolls of papyrus were beautifully written “with black, and a small part red, ink or paint, in perfect preservation.” (Hist. of Church, vol. II, pp. 348-350.)

A stranger standing near at the time of the discovery recommended to Mr. Chandler that he seek out the Mormon Prophet, Joseph Smith, as probably the only man who could render a correct translation of the ancient manuscripts. Mr. Chandler, however, began to exhibit the mummies in the larger cities of the United States. they very soon became objects of peculiar interest. Mr. Chandler was assured by the learned men of the land that both mummies and papyrus were genuine. Indeed, from some he received certificates testifying to the genuineness of his display and to the characters of the papyrus. It was not until July 3, 1835, that Mr. Chandler reached kirtland with the Egyptian mummies. Immediately, it appears, he sought out the Prophet Joseph Smith. “There were four human figures,” the latter writes in his history, “together with some two or more rolls of papyrus covered with hieroglyphic figures and devices. As Mr. Chandler had been told I could translate them, he brought me some of the characters, and I gave him the interpretation, and like a gentleman, he gave me the following certificate:

Kirtland, July 6, 1835.

This is to make known to all who may be desirous, concerning the knowledge of Mr. Joseph Smith, Jun., in deciphering the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic characters in my possession, which I have, in many eminent cities, showed to the most learned; and, from the information that I could ever learn, or meet with, I find that of Mr. Joseph Smith, Jun., to correspond in the most minute matters.

Michael H. Chandler.

Traveling with, and proprietor of Egyptian mummies. (Hist. of Church, Vol. II. 235.)

Soon after receiving this certificate from Mr. Chandler some of the Saints in Kirtland purchased from him both mummies and papyrus. thereupon, the Prophet, with W.W. Phelps and Oliver Cowdery as scribes, began to translate the strange hieroglyphics. to their infinite joy, they found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham, whereas the other contained the writings of Joseph, who was sold into Egypt. the first of these the Prophet translated, at least in large part, if not in full. It recounts the trials of Abraham in the idolatrous home of his fathers, and his own miraculous deliverance. it tells also of the creation of the world, and of the spirits before, and reveals the system of astronomy understood by the ancient patriarch. The Book of Abraham, an invaluable and truly authentic record translated by divine inspiration, forms now an important part of the Pearl of Great Price.

It appears that the papyrus roll containing the writings of Joseph was never translated – nor can it be so now. the Saints retained possession of the mummies, an carried them along in their wanderings, until they became settled in their new home – Nauvoo, the Beautiful. there, the mummies were displayed in the nauvoo Mansion, built by the Prophet. After the death of the Prophet, however, the mummies and the papyrus rolls were sold. For some time they were exhibited by a syndicate in St. Louis. Thence, they were sold to a museum in Chicago. When the great fire swept Chicago in 1870, the museum was destroyed; and with it, presumably the historic mummies and the sacred records of old. all that we have preserved to us, then, of these interesting papyrus records is contained in the Book of Abraham.

Thus the knowledge of the Saints was extended, the hand-dealings of God with his ancient people were made known, and many sacred writings were added to the scripture already possessed by the Church. The King James version of the Bible was already accepted “as far as it was translated correctly.” The Book of Moses deals with the beginnings – with the fundamentals. It reveals how man came first to know of God, of His son, Jesus Christ, and of the divine plan of salvation. It supplies the living truth of man’s relationship to God, which the authorized Version – through the interference of the opinions of men – had lost. And it looks hopefully forward to the future, when the earth shall cease weeping, and the King of glory shall come in. without that portion of inspired scripture contained in the Book of Moses, we should lack much in our knowledge of the history of God and man.

In like manner, the Book of Abraham supplies a keenly felt want in the minds of religious men. Independent of the Book of Moses, it corroborates all that is taught there. And it goes further. From it we learn important truths concerning a pre-existent state; and from it we learn more fully, too, of the worlds, and the creation of worlds. The science of creation is perhaps nowhere else so fully explained as in the Book of Abraham. Without this strange record, too, we should lack much in our knowledge of the history of god and man.

Another act, then, in the great drama of the Restoration has been accomplished. to knowledge has been added knowledge. to the sacred record contained in the Bible was added that of the book of Mormon. and now, to both of these, are added two others, briefer than either of the first, but wanting nothing in significance to the people of God.


1. What was the nature of the promise received by Joseph Smith in December, 1830?
2. How long had the church then been organized? To what extent had it increased in numbers?
3. In your opinion, which is the more important, the living oracle of God, or the inspired written record? Why?
4. How had it become necessary to receive further revelation to make clear the ancient Scriptures?
5. Repeat the words of the two revelations giving promise that the Scriptures shall be preserved correctly among men.
6. What important words had the Lord already revealed before the promise was given?
7. What is the “words of Moses”?
8. What is the prophecy of Enoch?
9. What was the nature of the “translation” of the Scriptures made by Joseph Smith?
10. Name an discuss the four special explanations received by the Prophet while engaged in the work of translation.
11. When was the translation completed?
12. Why was it never printed?
13. Of what value is the version printed by the Reorganites?
14. What is, then, the place of the Authorized Version of the Bible in our Church?
15. Tell the story of Antonio Sebolo and the Egyptian mummies.
16. How did the mummies happen to come to America?
17. How was Mr. Chandler first informed of the divine gift possessed by the Prophet Joseph?
18. What opinion did the learned men of America express concerning the mummies and the papyrus rolls?
19. What was the nature of the certificate given by Mr. Chandler to the Prophet?
20. How did the mummies come into the possession of the Church?
21. What did the Prophet find the papyrus rolls to contain?
22. Outline the contents of the “Book of Abraham.”
23. What became of the mummies and the original manuscripts?
24. How can you use the fact that Joseph Smith presumed to make an inspired “translation” of the Scriptures, and to give to the world a record written by Abraham, the friend of god, as evidence that the great American Prophet was not an imposter, but a truly inspired Man of God?


A. Study “How We Got Our bible,” by J. Patterson Smyth (published by James Pott & Co.); justify our belief as expressed in the eighth article of faith.
B. Read “The Divine Authenticity of the Book of Abraham,” a pamphlet by President George Reynolds. Make oral, or written, reports on the objections to the book and the answers to those objections.

1936: Gospel Restoration Themes: A Handbook for Missionaries and Other Students of the Gospel

Lesson 25: “The Divine Mission of Joseph Smith” by John A. Widtsoe

The life and the results of the labors of Joseph Smith are convincing evidences of his divine mission. In this little pamphlet some of these evidences are assembled. The extracts from the pamphlet published in this lesson may lead to a more careful study of the interesting life of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

Baffles the Wise

The achievements of Joseph Smith are must greater than those of ordinary men; they appear to transcend usual human powers, and cannot be explained in terms of common experience. Many men, not members of the Church, have made that very statement. They have stood baffled before the power of Joseph Smith. We quote frequently the statements of Josiah Quincy, famous mayor of Boston, of an illustrious family of Massachusetts, who visited Joseph Smith, in 1844, soon after young Quincy had graduated from Harvard college. In his old age, this highly educated man, who had learned to know the world, the nature of greatness and the ways of mortality, told the story of his meeting with Joseph Smith. he closed his story with these words:

“I have endeavored to give the details of my visit tot he ‘Mormon’ Prophet with absolute accuracy. If the reader does not know just what to make of Joseph Smith I cannot help him out of the difficulty. I myself stand helpless before the puzzle.”

Joseph came, untaught by man, into a world which lay in darkness, and did work which cannot be understood or interpreted by common means. Such a man commands the attention of honest, truth-seeking men.

The High Order of His Life

It will help establish the testimony of the divine mission of this great man, to know that Joseph Smith, viewed at any point, from every angle, in any position, always measures up to the demands of truth, as revealed in human experience. For example, his personal life was that of a prophet. He lived as the prophets of old have lived, honestly and sincerely, but misunderstood, hounded, persecuted, and at last his life was taken. his life story reads as do those of the prophets in holy writ. His experience was that of every teacher who attempts to turn men and women from easy walks of near truth into the paths of full truth,. Physically, he was a magnificent man; in intellect, lofty and commanding; in spirit, in spite of persecution, disaster and poverty, kindly and gentlemanly. he was courageous, and dared to battle for the right. All who knew him have testified to the kindly strength, mingled with undaunted courage, that made him a great soul. The honor of his character was ever above reproach, even among those who opposed him. As son, husband, father, friend, and neighbor, even as foeman, he was beloved. he tells how he lived:

“Sectarian priests cry out concerning me and ask, ‘Why is it that this babbler gets so many followers and retains them?’ I answer: ‘It is because I possess the principle of love. All that I offer the world is a good heart and a good hand’.”

Truth, His Weapon and Reward

No personal reward such as men usually seek was promised b his work. The fact that he went through life gladly, meeting difficulties without hesitation, and asking for no personal consideration, is evidence of his sincerity and unselfish devotion to that which he held to be the eternal truth. his life’s labor was to learn the truth and to teach it. to possess truth and to have others possess it, became his reward.

A traveler who visited Nauvoo, about 1843, wrote a book about the Prophet in which he said:

“If anything can tend to encourage the supposition that Joseph Smith was a sincere enthusiast, and that he had strong and invincible faith in his own high pretensions and divine mission, it is the probability that unless supported by such feelings, he would have renounced the unprofitable and ungrateful task, and sought refuge from persecution and misery in private life and honorable industry. * * * It cannot be denied that he was one of the most extraordinary persons of his time * * * whose name, whatever he may have been whilst living, will take its place among the notabilities of the world.”

His life was significant to all who met hm, because he spoke with authority a one who knew truth. he declared, over and over again, that his weapon was truth: and in words of splendor he said:

“I combat the errors of ages; I meet the violence of mobs; I cope with illegal proceedings from excessive authority; I cut the Gordian knot of powers, and meet the problems of universities, with truth – diamond truth.”

That is the high ideal which in every human activity is moving our civilization onward.

A Material Builder

Joseph Smith was an outstanding material leader. A tremendous labor was accomplished by the Prophet in and about the city of Kirtland, Ohio. The temple there, still standing, is mute evidence of the powerful material as well as spiritual leadership of the ‘Mormon” prophet. He founded Nauvoo, the largest city of its time in Illinois, with schools and university and the other factors of civilization. He built temples and laid out cities; he planned for the temporal welfare of his people, through agriculture and industrial development. He looked into the future and saw, as no other man of his generation, the possibilities of the Great West, and the importance of the country west of the Missouri as a necessary part in the building of our Republic. He asked the government to give him one hundred thousand men for western conquest, so that the way might be opened for the settlement of the country beyond the rocky Mountains. he laid before the people of that day the picture of Western development, which actually has occurred.

The Church that he organized, compact and serviceable to all, the manner of its growth and development, the firmness with which the members cling to it, all in the face of opposition, often furious, come as evidences of the power and sound leadership of the Prophet. Today, men of thought give consideration to the fruits of the Church and admit that its structure is well nigh perfect. More and more the inherent ability of the Church to help and direct its members in all righteous endeavors is being recognized and valued. Joseph Smith was an incomparable leader of men and builder for human welfare.

The Spiritual Teacher

However, other men have been of pure character; other men have done great material deeds; other men have built institutions that have lasted throughout the years. Not by such tests alone is built a testimony of the divine mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith. They only confirm the larger truths. The Prophet’s greatness lies in his mission as a spiritual leader. Four events of huge spiritual meaning form the cornerstones of evidence of the divine inspiration of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

First: The initial vision, when Joseph was fourteen years old, in which God in person declared to him, “This is my beloved son, hear Him.” At that time in the history of the world God had become in the minds of the people an attenuated spirit, spread throughout the universe, nowhere present, everywhere present, nothing in particular and everything in general. In such a theological age the Prophet Joseph Smith declared that he had seen God, a person, who had spoken to him. He taught that men may communicate with God, and that god does speak to his children. it was like a shaft of light in the dark cloud of error. it was a message, whether acknowledged or not, which has shaken civilization and mankind since that day in 1820. His testimony is with us:

“It is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God, and to know that we can converse with him as one man converses with another.” “I know God. I have gazed upon the glory of God and the visions of eternity.” “The Glory of God is Intelligence.” Such knowledge was then the dire need of the world; and is the greatest need of the world today. The simple story of that vision which lies at the foundation of the restoration of the gospel in our day, is one of the most convincing records of all time.

Second: the translation of the Book of Mormon. This Book sets forth that the love of the Lord covers the whole Earth; that all men are his children; that he speaks in many ways and to divers people, according to his own mind and will, and that there are scriptures besides those which have been revealed in the Bible. The Book of Mormon came as a new revelation to the world, in full harmony with the revelation of God himself in the First Vision. In the book of Mormon is the pure gospel of the Son of God, freed from the errors of translation and corruption that have attended other such books. The integrity of the Book; its doctrines; its historical data – all form an evidence of its divine origin. The years have strengthened the claims for the Book of Mormon.

Third: The establishment of the Church. it is an organization resting on divine authority, endowed with Priesthood, which declares that a great purpose runs through human life; that the Lord directs the working out of that great purpose, and in so doing has ordained men with power and authority to carry out his purposes. Thus, the “Mormon” prophet set up a church with divine authority, under direct instruction from the Almighty. Uncertainty was removed; certainty was established; priesthood traceable to god was restored, and the Church established was god-made, not man-made. such a message was needed by a world with a diversity of churches, representing the personal opinions of the founders.

Fourth: The body of doctrine contained in the revelations given through the Prophet Joseph Smith. These revelations are full of wonderful truths. They are particularly marvelous because each one says or implies: “Thus saith the Lord.” They are not the words of Joseph Smith; they are not his opinions; they are not the doctrines he thought would be good; but they are the words of the Almighty. In them the Lord directs, through the Prophet Joseph, that this is to be done, or that this is the truth.

These four cornerstones if properly built upon will enable ever honest soul who prays, then studies and practices the truths they contain, to secure an abiding knowledge of the truth of the mission of Joseph Smith. Each one reveals a power beyond that of man.

Questions from the Mission Field. Can You Answer Them?

1. Does Indian tradition testify that Christ actually did appear in America?

2. How do we know that people anciently inhabited the American continent?

3. How do you explain the Book of Mormon passage stating that Christ is the Father and the Son?

4. Justify Nephi’s murder of Laban?

5. How do you know that the Nephites were of Ephraim?

6. What are the evidences of the truth of the Book of Mormon?

1950: Principles of the Gospel: Advanced Senior Department Course of Study

Lesson 10: Joseph Smith – An American Prophet

It is a well known saying that no prophet is accepted in his own country. To this axiom might be added “nor in his own time.” the term “prophet” has assumed a certain sense of antiquity and a claim to such a distinction for a contemporary carries its own negation. The past seems to have monopolized the prophets as its exclusive possession. thus when a volum entitled Joseph Smith – An American Prophet (Evans) is published, it challenges our loyalty to mental tradition. But why should prophets belong exclusively to the past? Why, if man ever spoke for God upon the earth, should he not do so now?

Excerpts from the volume named above follow as an introduction to further reading of the book.

“One of the early critics of the Mormon prophet coined the phrase ‘the Enigma of Palmyra’ as descriptive of Joseph Smith under the microscope of the biographer and historian. This phrase has been repeated scores of times by writers who have honestly and squarely faced the problem of this baffling personality.

“Josiah Quincy was similarly at sea. ‘If the reader does not know what to make of Joseph Smith,’ he says after setting down the results of his interview with the Prophet, ‘I cannot help him out of the difficulty. I myself stand helpless before the puzzle.’

“It is easy enough in the Prophet’s case, to put one’s finger on the source of bewilderment. But it is extremely difficult, as a matter of fact, to arrive at any satisfactory conclusion respecting his individuality.

“There is, first of all, the wide disparity between Joseph Smith’s boyhood in the backwoods of New York State, with its intellectual, its social, and, above all, its spiritual barrenness, and his last years in nauvoo, where he was at once the mayor of the biggest town in the state – a town of his own creation, – the commander of the largest rained military body in the country, outside of the army, and the active head of the most virile, dynamic church in America.

“There is the even wider discrepancy between the religious atmosphere in which Joseph Smith was brought up in Palmyra and that which he virtually created for himself and his people years later. More than one traveler has remarked upon the peculiar civilization that is to be found in Utah – a civilization which is the product of Mormonism, as Mormonism is the product of Joseph Smith. Some think this a drop, others a lift. But however that may be, it is different. And this difference, whatever its character, is due to the Mormon prophet’s ideas.

“Where did he get these ideas? From his early Palmyra environment? Or did he weave them from his own bowels, like a spider his web. Somehow the Prophet managed to make a mold for a new style of religious thinking, and therefore, brought into practice a new way of behavior in all those who accepted whole-heartedly the faith he taught them.

“Finally, there is the tremendous power of this man over others – even form the great distance in time and of space. Men and women did willingly, eagerly, whatever he wished them to do. Long-cherished traditions counted for nothing against his desire. At his behest his people – both sexes alike – adopted the practice of polygamy. they even wore an undergarment designed by him. From the rough plainsmen, Porter Rockwell and Lyman Wight, to the high-spirited John Taylor, the strong-willed Brigham Young, and the scholarly Orson Spencer and Orson Pratt – all of whom did their own thinking otherwise – hardly a Mormon, but would voluntarily have given his life to save the Prophet. As a matter of fact, thousands of them, both men and women, suffered more than death in Missouri, in Illinois, and afterwards on the Great Plains, rather than be false to him and to his teachings. Today, Joseph Smith’s utterances are still sacred to [about a million] intelligent people.

“Of course, there have been many attempts to explain the puzzling individuality of the Mormon leader.

“One of the explanations – the earliest, the harshest, the easiest to understand, and the most persistent – has its feet on moral grounds. it is, in a word, that Joseph Smith was a liar, a crook, and a religious fraud. According to this theory the Prophet had no visions; he did not even believe that he had visions; he fabricated all of his visions. A vagabond by nature, he looked about for a means of subsistence without having to work, and, at the same time, get a little notoriety. he found it in what afterwards came to be called Mormonism. and since there are men and women in every community who are more or less credulous, he had no difficulty in attracting followers, for he possessed natural shrewdness, not to say cunning, and certain winning ways – for all agree that he was good-natured.

“This theory, as will be noted, is not at all complimentary to Mormons in general, either during the Prophet’s lifetime or since.

“That this explanation of Joseph Smith’s personality and work has not proved altogether satisfactory is evident from the industrious search that has been going on meanwhile for one with more promise in it. Accordingly the latest explanation came with the advent of modern psychology, with its related branches in the prolific field of pathology. On this theory Joseph smith, like Paul, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, and Peter the Great, was an epileptic. he had fits, and in these seizures he saw visions.

“The idea was worked out with considerable ingenuity some thirty years ago by a graduate student in Yale University – I. Woodbridge Riley. it was published later in book form. One gathers from the prefatory introduction by Professor Ladd that the theory was too fine spun for him to accept it as satisfactory, in view of what came out of the Prophet’s ‘epilepsy’; for the most he can say for the treatise is to hope that the ‘value of the services rendered by the author’ would be properly appreciated. Very obviously Dr. Riley was embarrassed by a dearth of psychological data.

“The idea that Joseph Smith conspired with other men to deceive the world disregards the fact that the conspirators broke up, disregards the rather substantial character of the deceived, and disregards the element of time; the theory of self-hypnosis disregards what has come out of the illusion, and the fact that it is too technical for the untrained mind, requiring that most people shall take the acceptance of the explanations of Joseph Smith himself involves the acceptance of the miraculous element in modern life – a thing which is hard for the scientifically trained mind to do.

“So there we are. One falls back on the phrase, ‘the Enigma of Palmyra.” (John Henry Evans – Joseph Smith – An American Prophet, chapter 1, pp. 12-15.)

“There can be little doubt that the name of Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet, will go down in history, and that with the lapse of time his figure will bulk larger and larger against the religious background.

“Already the church he founded has entered upon its second century; its membership has grown steadily from six persons to upward of a million; and, as Mormonism expands, there will necessarily be an increasingly larger number of men and women who will look back upon the founder of their faith with deepening reverence. And, as time passes, the creative aspects of the Prophet’s mind will come more and more into the foreground of the picture. Three reasons lead to this conclusion:

“First, Joseph Smith was a man of ideas, and ideas have a way of persisting – if there is any vitality in them to begin with. The leader who has gone over the preceding pages already knows what these ideas are. they all center in man; they place an almost unprecedented estimate on the worth of the human personality; and they point the way to an unending progress in the next world, through obedience to spiritual law.

“Second, Joseph Smith was one of the great leaders of men. The manner in which he ‘governed’ so large and heterogeneous a body of people as had gathered in Nauvoo, frequently drew comment from visitors. his influence over disciples was exerted partly through a unique personality, partly through ideas, and partly through an impression in them that he was a prophet and seer. Few characters I history were so devotedly loved, and few possessed so great power to shape men’s lives.

“Third, Joseph Smith somehow had the ability to energize people, to imbue them with the thought of a great destiny for them, not only collectively, but individually as well. His dispensation of the divine will, he taught, was the last and greatest of all dispensations; and his work, and the work of his followers, was to prepare the world, through a widespread propagation of the True Faith, for the Second Coming of Christ and the thousand-year period of universal peace of which the scriptures speak.” (John Henry Evans, Joseph Smith – An American Prophet, chapter XIV, pp. 215-216.)



  1. I liked the 1899 and 1936 “evidences” approach. These evidences were impressive and spoke for themselves of Joseph’s calling as prophet.

    (By the way, where did the “Questions from the Mission Field” section come from? I couldn’t tell if it was part of the last lesson.)

    Comment by Hunter — March 22, 2009 @ 8:58 pm

  2. Hunter, the “home Sunday School” manuals for the mission fields in this period included a page with every lesson that the families were supposed to fill out and mail to Salt Lake, reporting their activity and asking any questions they had about the lesson or anything else — since these home Sunday Schools were usually the only Church organization in mission areas, most families didn’t have anybody to go to with their questions, so this “pen pal” system filled a real need.

    This 1936 lesson comes from a manual for a prospective missionary class, and apparently they incorporated real questions received from those home Sunday School families into the lesson — more realistic than questions made up by the General Board, I guess. Sometimes the questions seem to match the lesson they accompany, but sometimes they don’t, much. This time, they don’t, do they?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 22, 2009 @ 9:07 pm

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