“Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit…”(Matthew 7:16-17)
These are the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, who as a people strive to be obedient to all of God’s commandments; hence they are a happy people and good citizens.
This past April 5 and 6, 2014, some fifteen million Latter Day Saints throughout the world tuned in to another General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. What the Church has become today had its beginning in answer to the fervent prayer of a fifteen year old boy named Joseph Smith, who wanted to know which of all the Churches upon the earth the Lord would have him attend. He had read in the first chapter of James that “if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God,..”) Of the resulting vision, Joseph testified, “I saw a pillar of light directly over my head…I saw two Personages… One of them pointed to the Other, saying ‘Joseph, this is my Beloved Son, hear Him!” (Joseph Smith History)
His testimony of the vision he never recanted, despite being haled before the courts on any pretext over 200 times during his short life of thirty eight years. He was never once convicted. He was persecuted and falsely imprisoned numerous times. His trials were numerous, but through them all he was the recipient of many remarkable spiritual experiences, befitting one being prepared for the divine calling of a prophet. He translated and published the Book of Mormon, which is the record of the ancient inhabitants of the Americas as written by their prophets, prior to, and following the birth of Christ. It was written by way of commandment, and by the spirit of prophesy and revelation.
Along with the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon is a second witness of Jesus Christ, recorded and hid up onto the Lord to be brought forth in the last days “to show unto the remnant of the House of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever. And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD…”
Joseph organized the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on April 6, 1830. In early days, the members of the Church were subject to intense persecution at the hands of mobs. The death of their Prophet came on 27 June 1844. He had been called upon by the Governor of the State of Illinois to go to Carthage. Safe passage was promised. Two or three days prior to the assassination, Joseph declared, “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter; but I am calm as a summer’s morning; I have a conscience void of offense towards God, and towards all men. I shall die innocent, and it shall yet be said of me—he was murdered in cold blood.” (Doctrine & Covenants 135:4)
Nonetheless, despite a premonition of death he could not dispel, Joseph traveled to Carthage, where he, along with his brother Hyrum, and John Taylor and Willard Richards, were cast into the Carthage Jail. At approximately 5:00 PM, June 27, 1844, the jail was stormed by an armed mob of between 150 and 200 persons.
“Hyrum was shot first and fell calmly, exclaiming: I am a dead man! Joseph leaped from the window, and was shot dead in the attempt, exclaiming: O Lord my God!”
Like Stephen of old, Joseph saw the Father and the Son. ” And (Stephen), being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. (Acts 7: 55-56) Like Stephen of old, and the prophets before him, Joseph sealed his testimony of his vision with his blood. “And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, recieve my spirit.” (Acts 7:59) Of those who murdered Joseph, the words of Stephen apply, “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers.” (Acts 7:51-52)
Joseph and Hyrum were innocent of any crime, for none had ever been proven against them. They were betrayed by the treacherous actions of a governor of a state, that they might be murdered in cold blood. John Taylor, who was wounded that same afternoon, in a savage manner with four musket balls, lived to write of Joseph: “He left a fame and name that cannot be slain. He lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and like most of the Lord’s anointed in ancient times, has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood; and so has his brother Hyrum. In life they were not divided, and in death they were not separated…henceforward their names will be classed among the martyrs of religion; and the reader in every nation will be reminded that the Book of Mormon, and this book of Doctrine and Covenants of the church, cost the best blood of the nineteenth century to bring them forth for the salvation of a ruined world; and that if the fire can scathe a green tree for the glory of God, how easy it will burn up the dry trees to purify the vineyard of corruption. They lived for glory; they died for glory; and glory is their eternal reward. From age to age shall their names go down to posterity as gems for the sanctified.” (Doctrine and Covenants 135:3, 6)
Joseph bore testimony of that which he was privileged to see. In one instance he was not alone, but in company with Sidney Rigdon, who prior to his conversion to the Church had been a Baptist minister, and who after Joseph’s death was excommunicated for apostasy. Nonetheless, although disaffected from the Church, and prompted by enemies of the Church to deny his earlier witness, to the end of his days he bore testimony of what he had seen, for he could not deny it. And despite his disaffection, to the end of his days he bore witness of the veracity of the Book of Mormon.
Of the vision the two saw, Joseph bore a powerful testimony: “And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives! For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:22-24)
I add my testimony to that of millions. Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. He was chosen by God to open this last dispensation in preparation for the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. With Joseph I bear my testimony of Jesus Christ. He lives! He is the Only Begotten Son of the Father. He is the Holy One of Israel, the Redeemer of mankind, on condition of repentance. I love Him with all the power of my being, and look to the day when I shall fall at His feet in gratitude, and yet it shall not be enough; from eternity to eternity…it shall not be enough! In His hallowed name, even Jesus Christ, amen.