Friday, February 7, 2014

Without Joseph Smith

This afternoon I was searching in my e-mail history for something else, and I stumbled over an e-mail I sent to a dear friend summarizing my appreciation for the Prophet Joseph Smith. It's worth sharing again:

Joseph Smith (1805 - 1844)
April 16, 2005

Tomorrow, I’m speaking in Francis 1st Ward.   The topic they assigned me was the Prophet Joseph Smith.   The bishop had heard me speak in the stake fireside in January to kick off the year of celebration [2005 was the 200th anniversary of Joseph's birth in 1805] and wanted me to reprise what I had done before.   While it's impossible to do that, because it all came by the Spirit while I was on my feet, my mind took me in this direction.

I thought about, “What would my life be like without Joseph Smith?”   It reduces to truth, defined by the Lord as "knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come."   (D&C 93:24)   It's the knowledge from God through Joseph that I can't live without.

Without Joseph, we would never understand the true nature of the Godhead.   The concept of God would be a nebulous spirit essence whose center is nowhere and whose circumference is everywhere.   Just read the Nicean Creed sometime for an example of what man, left to his own wisdom, comes up with when trying to describe God.   With Joseph, however, we have this simple declaration:   “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. . .”   (D&C 130:22).   Either Joseph saw them and spoke with them, or he didn’t.   Everything this Church teaches and represents stands on that simple declaration based upon an early Spring morning’s encounter with Diety in 1820.   I would never know, without Joseph, that my Father in Heaven once lived on an earth like I do, and that I may someday become just like him.   (See King Follett funeral address, TPJS, 342).   Read it again to remind yourself just how stunning his knowledge at the pinnacle of his life really was.

Without Joseph, we would never have received the true priesthood.   It came to him from those ancient prophet worthies who held the power and authority they held during their mortal lives, namely John the Baptist and Peter, James and John.   Authority came from heaven itself in the form of resurrected beings.   Recently, Pope John Paul II was laid to rest, they claim, only feet away from the “first Pope,” Peter the ancient Apostle.   Imagine this most recent Pope’s surprise upon entering the spirit world to be greeted by a resurrected Peter whose body long ago arose from the earthly tomb that held it bound.   I wonder how long it will take the last Pope to accept the fullness of the gospel from the "first Pope" upon hearing it for the first time.  Imagine the conversation when Peter explains his bones were never buried under St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, Rome.

Without Joseph, we would have no knowledge of the organization of the only true Church authorized by our Father in Heaven and named for his Son Jesus Christ.   Imagine an organization revealed from heaven to living prophets that is able to accommodate rapid growth and constant change without missing a beat.   It is a constant source of amazement to me that changes in leadership every week across the world happen seamlessly without conflict or rebellion.   Its ability to expand its leadership infinitely as needed is equally amazing.   Beginning in 1975, the 1st Quorum of the Seventy was established, followed soon thereafter by the 2nd Quorum.   Members of these two quorums were designated as full-time General Authorities.   In April 1997, there came part-time Area Authority Seventies comprising the 3rd, 4th and 5th Quorums of Seventy.   In July 2004, the 6th Quorum was established.   All this is in fulfillment of a stunning pronouncement by Joseph in 1835:   “If the first Seventy are all employed, and there is a call for more laborers, it will be the duty of the seven presidents of the first Seventy to call and ordain other Seventy and send them forth to labor in the vineyard, until, if needs be, they set apart seven times seventy, and even until there are one hundred and forty-four thousand thus set apart for the ministry.”   (TPJS, 75).   Read about the 144,000 high priests (all today’s Seventies are ordained high priests) in Revelation 6-7, and D&C 77:11, then ask yourself how Joseph knew so much about organizing a worldwide Church when all the ordained priesthood brethren in Kirtland could fit in a little room.   Reported by Wilford Woodruff who was there, Joseph said:   “You know no more concerning the destinies of this Church and kingdom than a babe upon its mother’s lap.   You don’t comprehend it. . . It is only a little handfull [sic] of Priesthood you see here tonight, but this Church will fill North and South America –  it will fill the world” (as quoted by Wilford Woodruff, in Conference Report, April 1898, 57).

Without Joseph, we would know nothing about the establishment of Zion, pointing to the day when the earthly priesthood would unite with the heavenly priesthood.   Joseph taught that those who make their calling and election sure have the privilege of communing with "an innumerable company of angels." (HC 1:283).   He observed that "Paul [the Apostle] speaks of the Church coming to an innumerable company of angels."   (HC 3:388; 4:51; Hebrews 12:23).   The Prophet also explained: The Kingdom of Heaven is like a grain of mustard seed.   The mustard seed is small, but brings forth a large tree, and the fowls lodge in the branches.   The fowls are the angels. . .   We may come to an innumerable company of angels, have communion with and receive instruction from them. . .   Paul had these things, and we may have the fowls of heaven lodge in the branches, etc.   (HC 3:389).   All that describes a condition of the heart, and is expanded in Joseph’s revelation and subsequent teachings about the church of the Firstborn (D&C 76:50-70).   But the thing that always amazes me is that the Lord revealed to Joseph that Independence, Missouri, was the geographical center of the United States in 1831, and the exact location of the New Jerusalem that would come down out of heaven to be joined to the earthly Zion.   He called it the “center place” and the “center stake of Zion.”   (D&C 57:1-5; 84:1-5; and this stunning promise in 101:16-18).   We know all of that because of Joseph.   I seem to use that word "stunning" a lot when I speak of Joseph.

Without Joseph, what hope do we have for salvation, meaning exaltation in the highest degree of celestial glory?   Through Joseph came the marvelous flood of light that shines brightly on the Father’s plan of happiness for his children.   We, who have suffered the loss of loved ones through death, have the hope of a glorious reunion with them.   We know we will be resurrected with them.   We know we may be exalted if we are faithful.   We know the sting of death is temporary, only swallowed up in the eternal life that awaits the sanctified.

Without Joseph, we would never know what we do about the atonement of Jesus Christ, and how to apply its purifying power to our lives.   Think what your life would be like to never have the knowledge that you could find peace in this life through the cleansing power of repentance.   Think what your life would be like without the knowledge that your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, if acted upon the way Joseph Smith outlines in the Restoration, could become the dominating force for good in your life.   Imagine not knowing that the old man of sin could be laid away in that watery grave of baptism, and rise renewed in the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost who will walk with us daily in our mortal journey.   Imagine not having the Articles of Faith to shed light on the atonement's power in our individual lives.   Said Joseph:   "The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things [I take that to mean "programs of the Church," sorry just couldn't resist] which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it."   (TPJS, 121).   Joseph said, commenting upon this statement, "I published the foregoing answers to save myself the trouble of repeating the same a thousand times over and over again."

Without Joseph, we have no modern scripture to be added to the canon of the Bible.   Without Joseph, there is no Book of Mormon, no Pearl of Great Price, no Doctrine and Covenants, no Lectures on Faith, no Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith.   Without Joseph we are left to interpret and debate the meanings of doctrine endlessly with our Christian neighbors.   We are shrouded without Joseph in the darkness of uncertainty and doubt about the meaning of our existence here in mortality.

Without Joseph, we have no knowledge about the role of prophets, ancient and modern.   Chosen by the God of heaven, they are appointed in a completely foreign way to the ways of men –  God chooses them, rather than a body of believers who elect them to lead.   I was interested recently to hear Susan Easton Black recount the history of how the Reorganized Church approached Joseph Smith III repeatedly and begged him to assume what they determined to be his rightful position in succession to his father.   After many attempts and many years later, he finally relented to their persistent pleas.   He was never sure that he was called of God thereafter, and made no such claim.   Contrast that with revelation from God to living prophets who exercise sacred priesthood keys.

Without Joseph, we know nothing of how to prepare ourselves spiritually for the Second Coming of Christ.   The Book of Mormon supplies us with a handbook, written through the spirit of prophecy by prophets who witnessed our day in vision.   It is remarkable that the bulk of its pages centers on conditions immediately preceding the Savior’s ministry among the Nephites and the aftermath of his ministry.   Said President Ezra Taft Benson: “The record of the Nephite history just prior to the Savior's visit reveals many parallels to our own day as we anticipate the Savior's second coming.   The Nephite civilization had reached great heights.   They were prosperous and industrious.   They had built many cities with great highways connecting them.   They engaged in shipping and trade.   They built temples and palaces.   But, as so often happens, the people rejected the Lord.   Pride became commonplace.   Dishonesty and immorality were widespread.   Secret combinations flourished because, as Helaman tells us, the Gadianton robbers ‘had seduced the more part of the righteous until they had come down to believe in their works and partake of their spoils.’   (Helaman 6:38).   ‘The people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning.’   (3 Nephi 6:12).   And ‘Satan had great power, unto the stirring up of the people to do all manner of iniquity, and to the puffing them up with pride, tempting them to seek for power, and authority, and riches, and the vain things of the world,’ even as today.”   (3 Nephi 6:15).   (See Ensign, May 1987, 4).

Without Joseph, we know nothing about the purpose of temples.   We would never know about sealing families together forever, nothing of the ritual cleansing ordinances that symbolize spiritual realities for the pure in heart.   We would never know how to link our ancestors and our posterity together in an unbroken chain forged back to Father Adam and Mother Eve.   We would never have the 119 sanctuaries we do dotting the globe today, where the faithful may go to find peace in a chaotic world and may commune directly with their Father in Heaven.   Those temples with the words "Holiness to the Lord" written upon them only symbolize our temples.   God will put his seal upon our temple someday if we are faithful to our temple covenants.   In the temple we learn of the path to celestial life, and we must choose here and now to get on that path:   Obedience, sacrifice, gospel, chastity and consecration.   Five laws, five covenants, five stepping stones to eternal life.   Without Joseph, how would we ever know?

With Joseph, we have it all.   How grateful I am to him for his generosity of spirit!

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