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“As I Stand at the Edge of Eternity”: Joseph Fielding Smith’s Last Testimony

By: Ardis E. Parshall - May 02, 2013

Joseph Fielding Smith was invited to participate in an M-Man/Gleaner Conference in Denton, Texas, scheduled for July 14-16, 1972, by recording a personal message to be played during the gathering. He dictated the text for his message on Friday, June 30, with the intent to record it on Monday, July 3. Because he died on Sunday, July 2, the draft of his message became his final testimony.

My dear young friends:

I am very pleased and honored to greet all of you who are assembled at the South Central Area M-Man and Gleaner Conference in Denton, Texas. I give to each of you and your devoted leaders my love and support as you seek to draw close to our Heavenly Father and to learn of his ways. I wish it were possible for me to greet each and every one of you personally.

I know that each of you is a very special person. Our heavenly Father loves each of you more than you can possibly know. he has given to each one of you special gifts and talents and attributes, which have never been given to any other person who has ever been born, in exactly the same way. He has also given to each one of you a portion of his own divinity and one day you will have to account to Him as to how you have used that portion of Him which is within you.

I have been privileged to live a longtime upon the earth. When I was your age, we could not travel as far as many of you have to attend our meetings. We walked or rode a horse, or rode in a horse-drawn buggy. In my lifetime, I have seen many marvelous new things come into being for the blessing of mankind. All these years, I have also been observing the problems of mankind. There have always been great problems upon the earth.

As you know, my grandfather, Hyrum Smith, the brother of the Prophet, Joseph, was killed with the Prophet, Joseph, at Carthage, Illinois. My grandmother, Mary Fielding Smith, was not much older than many of you when her husband, Hyrum, was killed. As a young wife, in her great sorrow and despair, she could have felt that to take her young family West alone, was more than she should undertake. My father, President Joseph F. Smith, at the time, was much younger than most of you and he was the oldest of the family.

Before leaving Nauvoo, the brethren were concerned about having a widow and her small children cross the plains without there being a grown man to help protect the family along the way, but Mary Fielding Smith had such faith in God and in his protecting hand that she told the brethren that she and her family would go alone if she were not permitted to travel in the company. The brethren, seeing her great faith, allowed her to be part of the company. My father, though just a lad, was a great help to his widowed mother as they drove their oxen and few belongings across the endless plains in a covered wagon. They had many difficulties along the way. The oxen became sick and she feared that the oxen might die and that she would have to leave most of her belongings in the deserted plains and that she and her small children would have to walk most of the way to Salt Lake. The other wagons in the company were already overloaded. Members of her family also became sick along the way. However, by faith and persevering she overcame these difficulties. When the wagon train pulled down Emigration Canyon and into the valley of the Great Salt Lake, the wagon of widow Smith was one of the lead wagons.

I tell you of these great problems which my forebears had to face, only to remind you that everyone has to meet great problems in life.

I am grateful that my father and my grandfather and their families believed, as I do, that the gospel of Jesus Christ has the answer to all life’s problems. Surely your generation will face many problems which we are not aware of at this time, and it will be your challenge to apply the teachings of Christ to help you find the answers to those problems.

In a few short years, great responsibility will be placed upon you. My father, Joseph F. Smith, began his ministry at age 15 when he was called as a Missionary to the Sandwich islands, which are now known as the Hawaiian Islands. You must begin to prepare yourselves now to become noble fathers and mothers. The family is the most important unit of the Church and all other activities and functions of the Church, function to support and sustain the family and the home.

Many of you will become members of bishoprics, high councilmen, stake presidencies, Relief Society presidencies and teachers. Great as these are, there is no title or office greater than that of father and mother. When we pray, we address our Savior as “Father.”

Now, my young friends, as I stand at the edge of eternity, I want you to know that in my many years on the earth, I have found great joy and happiness. I have also known sorrow and loneliness in the loss of loved ones, but I know of the peace of which the Savior spoke as being “The peace that passeth all understanding.” I have tried all of my life to be a humble servant of the divine Master and keep His commandments. This has brought transcending happiness into my life. Like you, I have been asked to give my life for the Savior – not in death, like my grandfather, Hyrum Smith, but in life, by choosing every day to recommit myself to be a follower of Jesus. In losing my life in His name, I have found it. As His shepherd, I counsel you to be obedient. Keep the commandments. Avoid the very appearance of evil. Never forget who you are. Stay on the Lord’s side all of the time.

In conclusion, I want to give to you, my choice young friends, my blessing. I pray that you may have all the righteous desires of your hearts fulfilled. I promise you that if you are true and faithful you will receive every joy and blessing you stand in need of. The testimony which I leave with you, with all of the conviction of my soul is that Jesus lives and is the Savior of the world and that by following His teachings you will find a solution to all of your problems.

In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.



16 Comments »

  1. WOW-awesome!

    Comment by Cameron — May 2, 2013 @ 9:50 am

  2. When we pray, we address our Savior as “Father.”

    Comment by WVS — May 2, 2013 @ 10:33 am

  3. I wondered who would be the first to note that, WVS …

    Cameron, I had a WOW reaction, too — this is personal and poignant enough to modify my previous impression of Joseph Fielding Smith.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 2, 2013 @ 10:42 am

  4. haha! Elder Smith visited my fair Canadian city not once but twice and he can’t be all that bad to travel here by train no less! haha! I too was wondering about that Saviour part as father, maybe he got mixed up?

    Comment by Cameron — May 2, 2013 @ 10:58 am

  5. I noticed the Savior/Father thing too, and was reminded of the 1916 First Presidency message on The Father and The Son. Being that it was written by Joseph Fielding’s father, I suspect that is what he had in mind. It is actually a pretty good explanation, but still, we don’t normally think of it or say it in that way.

    Comment by kevinf — May 2, 2013 @ 11:28 am

  6. I appreciate the loving tone and encouraging spirit of these remarks. I’m familiar with JFS from his books where he comes across as a rather stern doctrinarian, so this post is a new insight.

    Comment by The Other Clark — May 2, 2013 @ 1:14 pm

  7. Also, the emphasis on the family, which I thought of as a rather new doctrine, is proven to have a fairly lengthy provenance.

    Comment by The Other Clark — May 2, 2013 @ 1:17 pm

  8. That’s one more prophet I now have a spiritual witness of. Thanks, Sister Parshall, for helping this brother strengthen our faith years after his death.

    Comment by Adam G. — May 2, 2013 @ 1:50 pm

  9. @The Other Clark. I think many in the church felt that same way in 1970 when Joseph Fielding Smith became the president of the church. I think that we viewed him as a stern, doctrinaire, rather dull scriptorian (I don’t remember listening to a single talk he gave before then from beginning to end–my mind just wandered off). There was some speculation (by the usual suspects who don’t have any inside information) when Pres. McKay died that Bro. Smith would be “skipped over” since he was already so old (93), and I remember someone–probably the writer of a letter to the Tribune–asking to have all his tithing returned when Bro. Smith was announced as the next president.

    But President Smith turned out to be warm and loving and forgiving and gentle and a lot of us were surprised.

    Comment by Mark B. — May 2, 2013 @ 2:32 pm

  10. Ardis, I want to hear your former impression of Joseph Fielding Smith. :)

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — May 2, 2013 @ 3:41 pm

  11. Same as others have mentioned: stern, authoritarian, not very warm or imaginative. On the internet he’s often mocked as “that guy who promoted the ‘neutral in the war in heaven’ doctrine,” or “that guy who said man would never get to the moon” — and even though I recognize that the atmosphere of the internet is seldom trustworthy where snark is concerned, it is still sometimes hard to avoid picking up the prevailing attitude.

    So it was a pleasure, and a moving experience, to read this message. The fact that he died so soon after dictating these words adds poignancy, sure, but there’s no denying the warmth of the man and the power of his expressed testimony.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 2, 2013 @ 3:55 pm

  12. My own experience with Joseph Fielding Smith is very similar to Mark’s. In addition to the “skip over” rumors, the other rumor that I heard was that Sacrament meetings would go from being an hour or so, to a full hour and a half. Of course, it didn’t happen, and he turned out to be much kinder and gentler in his administration than expected.

    Comment by kevinf — May 2, 2013 @ 3:57 pm

  13. I enjoyed reading this. Thank you.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — May 2, 2013 @ 6:14 pm

  14. Kevin, Sacrament meetings did become scheduled to last on hour and a half. I vividly remember it because I was the stake and ward music chairman at the time. Either the bishop or the stake president told me that I needed to have two musical numbers for every sacrament meeting to breakup the talks. One should be by the choir and one as a special number. I really had to hustle all around the stake to find special numbers for our ward, and our choir did sing in every meeting except fast meeting.

    Comment by Maurine — May 3, 2013 @ 1:34 am

  15. Wait — I’m confused by all this. I remember Sacrament Meeting as being an hour and a half always, until the block meeting schedule was inaugurated early in 1980, but I was a kid during JFS’s tenure so could easily misremember. Kevin and Maurine, you remember otherwise? (It’s 2 a.m. and I’m not wearing my lenses, or I’d do some research.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 3, 2013 @ 2:07 am

  16. I’m with Ardis. Sacrament meeting in the wards I attended was an hour and a half until the three hour block was introduced in 1980. I don’t remember the details about testimony meetings–whether they went the full 90 minutes or were shorter to fit their schedule with the other ward using the building.

    When my dad was young–in the 1930s–sacrament meetings were two hours long (from 2:00 to 4:00 every Sunday), but that had been shortened to 90 minutes sometime before the 1960s when I started paying attention to the clock and wondering whether we’d ever get home again.

    So, I’m as puzzled as Ardis.

    Comment by Mark B. — May 3, 2013 @ 7:32 am

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