Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Man Called Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith, Prophet of God
Photos From LDS Media Library
The name of Joseph Smith is known across the globe, far and wide.  Some connect this name with an inspirational prophet, and others with a wicked religious group.  And yet others have no opinion on the name, but have simply heard it.  Who is the man with the name known all around the world?

His fame started when he was still a teenager.  In his own words:  "It caused me serious reflection then, and often since, how very strange it was that an obscure boy, of a little over fourteen years of age ... should be thought a character of sufficient importance to attract the attention of the great ones of the most popular sects of the day" (Joseph Smith-History 1:23).  It began with  when he prayed to the Lord to know which church he was to join.  He was a God-fearing boy that wanted to do what was right in the sight of God, and the first step was to join the pure religion of Christ.  However, he didn't know which religion contained the pure gospel, and so he prayed to find an answer.  In response to this boy's honest and sincere prayer, a vision appeared in front of him - God, the Father of heaven and earth, alongside His Son, Jesus Christ - descended to teach Joseph Smith concerning the true doctrine of the Lord.

The Calling of a Prophet
The First Vision
In biblical times it was typical for God to appear to his next prophet, calling them to their work.  And, as odd as it sounds, it is not unheard of boys being called to be prophets for the Lord, to guide his people.  Samuel, one of the most recognized prophets in the days of the Israelites, was called when a young child.  When the Lord's people lacked a leader to speak the divine word, a new prophet was called to the work.  Going back to the last known time prophets were called - when the Lord Jesus Christ personally lived on the earth - the New Testament teaches us that after the death of Christ, the rest of those that followed his teachings were persecuted, and eventually put to death as well.  Other religions sprouted back up, restoring the parts of the gospel that they could based off of tradition and scripture, but the pure gospel as taught by Christ was no longer available.  This was foretold by Christ and his apostles.  Paul wrote to the Thessalonians that "that day [when Christ comes a second time] shall not come, except there come a falling away first" (2 Thes. 2:3).

As in ancient times, to restore the lost truths, God needed to call a prophet to bring them back to light.  This he did when he visited Joseph Smith in 1820.  In answer to the young Smith's question - no church at that time contained the full gospel, because it was lost with the death of the ancient apostles, and Joseph was to be the prophet that restored the lost truths again to the world.

Prophetic Scripture
With the restoration of these truths came new scripture:  The Book of Mormon.  This is in accordance to the Lord's divine pattern.  What is the Bible, if not a collection of continual scripture written by prophets as ages passed?  Moses wrote four books of the Old Testament, and brought the Mosaic law from Sinai, then new scripture to the people.  We could go through the Bible and see all the prophets that have brought forth new scripture during their calling to lead the people - Isaiah recorded the most notable Messianic prophecies of any prophet, Jeremiah was writing new revelation approximately 600 B.C., thousands of years after Moses' original records, and so on.

Scripture brought forth by the prophets were most often direction from the Lord to the people of that time period.  The Mosaic law was given by God to the Israelites, to be followed until the birth of the Savior, who would present a higher law.  Jeremiah, Isaiah, Daniel, and many others, received revelation from the Lord to the kings and rulers of their times, to guide the people through secular hardship.  When Joseph Smith restored the gospel in our time, the Lord had to reveal new direction specifically for our times.  Alongside the Book of Mormon - a spiritual guide for our lives - came the Doctrine and Covenants, which contains secular guidance.  Later came the Pearl of Great Price and other biblical writings, to further teach us spiritually.

Priesthood Authority
With the restoration of the gospel and God's word, must of necessity come the restoration of authority over spiritual matters - the Priesthood.  Since earliest days in the Old Testament we read of the priesthood.  The lesser, or Aaronic, priesthood was ordained upon Aaron the priest, and all his generations after him until the time of Christ.  This priesthood gave the priests authority to perform the outward ordinances of the church - baptism, sacrifices (later the Lord's supper taking place of sacrifices), among others.  The greater, or Melchizedek, priesthood was ordained upon the prophets, allowing them the authority from God to preside over spiritual matters - ordinations, blessings, healing, and other matters.

On May 15th of the year 1829, the man known as John the Baptist appeared in the presence of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, ordaining them to the Aaronic priesthood.  John was the last prophet of the Bible to fully exercise this authority, baptizing and preparing people for the coming of the Messiah, being the Elias who was prophesied to come at that time.  Therefore, it was through him that the priesthood was again ordained onto another prophet.  Sometime following the visit of John the Baptist came the visitation of Peter, James and John the Beloved - the three presiding apostles in the ancient church.  These three ordained Joseph and Oliver to the Melchizedek priesthood.  With these two priesthoods Joseph Smith had the authority to restore the gospel and organize the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I Believe...
Although I did not know the man called Joseph Smith, I have studied his words and deeds, and prayed concerning the Church he organized in 1830.  I believe with all my heart that this is the true church of God, containing the pure gospel of Jesus Christ, which, if we follow, we will return to live in the kingdom of heaven.

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