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Dr. D. Kelly Ogden is a Professor of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University.

Doctrine and Covenants 135:3 declares, in essence, that for our salvation Joseph Smith has done more than Adam, Enoch, Melchizedek, Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Nephi, Alma, Peter, John, Paul, or any other person except the Lord Jesus Christ.  This declaration suggests that we should be quick to observe the saving principles and ordinances revealed through Joseph Smith.

 In Doctrine and Covenants 1:17 the Creator and Savior of the world proclaims, “I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments.”  
 
The Lord knew in advance all the calamities that would come in these last days: not only earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, floods, fires, volcanic eruptions, and other natural and man-made catastrophes, but also desolating scourges and sicknesses such as sexually-transmitted diseases, pornography, and other addictions and social ills.

God knew these woes would come, so he called on his servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spoke to him from heaven, and gave him commandments—obeying which would protect us from the prophesied calamities.

 It is a foregone conclusion, then, that we must become acquainted with and believe and obey the Lord’s instructions through his great Prophet.

Testimonials of Joseph Smith

Elder Franklin D. Richards wrote in the Preface to the original (1851) edition of The Pearl of Great Price:

[We do not] conceive it possible for any unprejudiced person to arise from a careful perusal of this work, without being deeply impressed with a sense of the Divine calling, and holy ordination, of the man by whom these revelations, translations, and narrations have been communicated to us.  As impervious as the minds of men may be at present to these convictions, the day is not far distant when sinners, as well as Saints, will know that JOSEPH SMITH was one of the greatest men that ever lived upon the earth, and that under God he was the Prophet and founder of the dispensation of the fulness of times.

 Josiah Quincy, Jr., part of a long line of famous Josiah Quincys, one-time member of the Massachusetts State Legislature and mayor of Boston, visited Joseph Smith at the Mansion House in Nauvoo on May 15, 1844.  He later published a book entitled Figures of the Past (1883).  He devoted the last chapter, “Joseph Smith at Nauvoo,” to the Prophet.  He made some statements that were both complimentary and “prophetic”:

It is by no means improbable that some future text-book, for the use of generations yet unborn, will contain a question something like this:  What historical American of the nineteenth century has exerted the most powerful influence upon the destinies of his countrymen?  And it is by no means impossible that the answer to that interrogatory may be thus written:  Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet.  And the reply, absurd as it doubtless seems to most men now living, may be an obvious commonplace to their descendants.  History deals in surprises and paradoxes quite as startling as this.  

The man who established a religion in this age of free debate, who was and is to-day accepted by hundreds of thousands as a direct emissary from the Most High, —such a rare human being is not to be disposed of by pelting his memory with unsavory epithets.  Fanatic, impostor, charlatan, he may have been; but these hard names furnish no solution to the problem he presents to us.  Fanatics and impostors are living and dying every day, and their memory is buried with them; but the wonderful influence which this founder of a religion exerted and still exerts throws him into relief before us, not as a rogue to be criminated, but as a phenomenon to be explained.

A phenomenon indeed!  Having been immersed in the visions of eternity, Joseph Smith could actually exclaim, “I calculate to be one of the instruments of setting up the kingdom of Daniel by the word of the Lord, and I intend to lay a foundation that will revolutionize the whole world” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 366).

 President Wilford Woodruff said that the Prophet Joseph prophesied the following to a small group of priesthood holders in a small room in the small village of Kirtland, Ohio:

Brethren I have been very much edified and instructed in your testimonies here tonight, but I want to say to you before the Lord, that 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 of Priesthood you see here tonight, but this Church will fill North and South America—it will fill the world (Conference Report, Apr. 1898, 57).

To the Ends of the Earth

The phrase “the ends of the earth” appears fifty-nine times in scripture.  The Lord emphasizes that his words shall “hiss forth unto the ends of the earth” (2 Ne. 29:2).  The gospel shall “roll forth unto the ends of the earth” (D&C 65:2); “the revelations,” including “great and glorious tidings” are extended to the ends of the earth (D&C 72:21; 109:23).  “The voice of the Lord is unto the ends of the earth” (D&C 1:11; also 45:49); “this promise [the covenant] is unto all, even unto the ends of the earth” (Morm. 9:21).  “Salvation [is] unto the ends of the earth” (1 Ne. 21:6; also Acts 13:47); “all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of God” (3 Ne. 16:20; see also Isa. 52:10; Mosiah 15:31; 3 Ne. 20:35; D&C 133:3).  Describing the scope of the great latter-day gathering, D&C 58:45 says “they shall push the people together from the ends of the earth.”  And speaking to Joseph Smith, the Lord declared, “The ends of the earth shall inquire after thy name” (D&C 122:1).

To the ends of the earth also means to every “corner” of the earth.  Joseph Smith admonished, “Don’t let a single corner of the earth go without a mission” (History of the Church 5:368); and President David O. McKay prophesied that “the power and the inspiration of this great work will go to every corner of the earth” (Conference Report, Apr. 1961, 132).

Anyone who watches the hand of the Lord move throughout the earth will testify that his words, his glad tidings, the revelations of salvation, the new and everlasting covenant—meaning the fullness of the gospel (D&C 66:2)—are indeed penetrating to the farthest reaches of this planet.  In the Western Hemisphere, for example, the names of Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith are known and loved to the northernmost stake of the Church (Fairbanks, Alaska, with its northernmost branch in North Shore) and to the southernmost stake of the Church (Punta Arenas, Chile, with its southernmost branch in Puerto Williams).

How the Lord educated Joseph Smith

Let us make an outline, or a sketch, of how the God of heaven prepared a boy, and then a young man, to make dramatic contributions to the founding and flourishing of the kingdom of God so far and wide in the last days.


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We will structure our outline similar to the American model of academic progress through primary or elementary schools, secondary schools, then higher education involving bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees.

Primary Education
                        
First Vision     Through his first of many visions and visitations, Joseph Smith gained an amazing amount of knowledge about the nature of God and His work on earth with His children.  First, he learned that sincere meditation and pondering of scripture can bring revelation, and that prayers are answered.  He immediately learned that Satan is real and has great power, a power of darkness; young Joseph was overcome.  But he also learned that God the Father and His Son are beings of great glory and have power greater than Satan’s.  

More and more knowledge came: The Father and the Son are separate Beings.  The resurrection is real.  Jesus Christ had been killed and buried and was now alive again with his body.  God the Father declared that Jesus Christ was his Son.  Humans were made in the image of God.  The Father and Son knew Joseph Smith personally.  The Father has delegated the responsibility of this creation to his Son, and the Son answered Joseph’s prayer.  Jesus Christ is authorized to speak for the Father.  More revelation continued to be poured out:  All churches were wrong, their creeds abominable.  People professed to be of Christ but their hearts were far from him.  The Church of Jesus Christ was not then on the earth.  Religious leaders of the day were corrupt.  Churches taught beliefs and commandments of men, as if they were the doctrine of Christ.  Churches did not believe in continued revelation or visions.  A person does not have to be old and “experienced” to receive revelation from God; Joseph was only fourteen.  God can actually visit and speak to man face to face.  Mortals can endure the presence of God if they are changed and protected by the power of the Holy Ghost.  Revelation had not ceased and God still speaks to prophets.  Joseph Smith was called of God to perform the work of Restoration.

Visits from Moroni     The last prophet of the Book of Mormon record returned to earth to serve as the Prophet’s tutor (young Joseph didn’t have any Primary or Sunday School teachers to teach him the truth).  Moroni’s visits and interviews taught the newly-called Prophet an enormous amount.  Besides what is published in modern scripture, the Prophet noted that when Moroni first came he “quoted many other passages of scripture, and offered many explanations which cannot be mentioned here” (JS—H 1:41).  Through a four-year period Joseph said he received “instruction and intelligence from him [Moroni] at each of our interviews, respecting what the Lord was going to do, and how and in what manner his kingdom was to be conducted in the last days” (JS—H 1:54).

The Book of Mormon     It is estimated that Joseph Smith must have translated eight to ten pages of the ancient record per day (during 85 translating days); a professional translator indicates that one or two pages per day is commendable.  It is hard to calculate how much the Prophet must have learned by translating a book more than five hundred pages long that contains a historical and religious history of the peoples in ancient America.

Secondary Education

Priesthood   
   Through the visits of additional heavenly messengers Joseph Smith received God’s own power, the priesthood, and was thus enabled or empowered to organize once again on earth the Church of Jesus Christ and was authorized to begin the restoration of the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which contains all the ordinances, covenants, powers, and blessings necessary to bring about the immortality and eternal life of man.

Bachelor’s Degree

Bible Translation    From Joseph Smith we have more pages of translated and revealed scripture than from any other person in history.  The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price all came through Joseph Smith, which total in the English publications 883 pages of pure revelation.  

After publishing to the world the Book of Mormon, the Lord instructed the Prophet to commence a new translation, or inspired revision, of the Bible—to clarify, correct, expound, and expand the ancient text so all people could better understand that first testament of Jesus Christ.  During that work, especially between 1831and 1833, the Prophet received more and more revelations—many of them directly related to that inspired revision of the biblical text.  The additional revelations were collected and published as The Doctrine and Covenants and a later volume entitled The Pearl of Great Price, all of which provided widely expanding and continuous education to the Lord’s mouthpiece.  In the 1830s he gathered together the revelations and many other documents related to the rise of the Church and preserved them in a series of personal journals that eventually became the basis for a six-volume History of the Church.

Master’s Degree

April 3, 1836 appearances and bestowals     Doctrinal development continued with the coming to earth of additional messengers from the presence of God.  Moses, Elias, Elijah, and the Savior himself appeared one week after the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, on Sunday, April 3, 1836—one of the most eventful days in the history of the Church.
 
Moses committed keys for the gathering of Israel (“missionary work”); the immortal, resurrected prophet was formalizing work already in process.  

Elias committed the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham (the gospel of Jesus Christ lived by Abraham), which includes the great Abrahamic covenant (the covenant of Jesus Christ received and lived by Abraham), whereby the faithful receive promises of eternal increase, promises that through celestial marriage their eternal posterity shall be as numerous as the sands upon the seashore or as the stars in heaven for multitude.  Elias gave the promise—received of old by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—that in modern men and in their seed all generations shall be blessed.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is now offering the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to all who will receive them.

Elijah brought back keys that go far beyond genealogy and family history.  John the Baptist brought back power, authority, and keys, and Peter, James, and John brought back power, authority, and keys.  But Elijah brought back the power to seal on earth and in heaven everything done in the kingdom of God.  Since the return of Elijah, “the President of the Church holds and exercises the keys of sealing on earth.  When a man is ordained an apostle and set apart as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, sealing is one of the powers bestowed upon him.  Other general authorities of the Church, the presidencies of temples, and a limited number of officiators in each temple receive this sealing power during their tenure. . . . This is the specific authority to perform the temple sealing ordinances” (Ludlow, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 3:1288).


 

From 1836 on, the high and holy Temple ordinances, endowments, marriages, and sealings, were on the earth and available to all spiritual-minded children of God.

Doctorate

Martyrdom     In so brief a lifetime, Joseph Smith was amazingly prolific and productive in leading, organizing, and establishing the work of God.  The array of roles he served is most impressive: he became a great writer, leader, president, prophet, and revelator, and was, for a time, a city founder, mayor, colonizer, lieutenant general, candidate for the presidency of the United States of America, and more!

The Prophet Joseph Smith graduated with his highest educational degree, concluding his probation here on earth by sealing his writings, his testimony, and his life’s work with a martyr’s death.  As John Taylor wrote, “he lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people” (D&C 135:3).

Examples of scriptural understanding through Joseph Smith

The Holy Bible is our great connection with the rest of the Jewish and Christian world, and Joseph Smith considered it part of his mission to help us understand the Bible.  The Lord commissioned him “not to the bringing forth my word only [the Book of Mormon and other revelations], . . . but to the convincing them of my word, which shall have already gone forth among them [the Bible]” (2 Nephi 3:11).  Following are pivotal passages in the Bible that are fully understood only with the added light and knowledge that have come to us from the Lord Jesus Christ through the Prophet Joseph Smith.

Genesis 49:22, 26     The patriarchal blessing of Joseph, son of Jacob

Father Jacob gave his twelve sons patriarchal blessings, as recorded in Genesis 49.  Particularly outstanding blessings were given to Judah and to Joseph.  Judah was promised that through his lineage the Messiah would come, “and unto him shall the gathering of the people be” (Gen. 49:10).  Jacob then pronounced a prophetic metaphor to describe Joseph’s descendants:

“Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall” (Gen. 49:22).

 The parallel images are clear.  Joseph and his branches, or descendants, would be productive and expansive; they would extend “over the wall”—in this case, as it turned out, over a well or wall of water, the ocean.

Continuing his blessing to Joseph, Jacob promised: “The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors” (Gen. 49:26) – that is, Jacob says in essence, the ‘blessings that I’m pronouncing on you, Joseph, are even greater than the blessings of my fathers (Abraham and Isaac)’—“unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills.” And where are the “everlasting hills” to which the blessings of Joseph would extend?  Only in the western hemisphere, spanning the continents of the Americas, is there a continuous chain of mountains—from Alaska to the Patagonia—and to the “utmost bound” of these “everlasting hills” the descendants of Joseph would be spread over many centuries and into the latter days.  Indeed, today there are stakes of the Church in the northernmost reaches of the Americas to the southernmost reaches, and thousands of cities, towns, and villages in between.  Joseph’s descendants through his sons Manasseh (Lehi and his posterity) and Ephraim (Ishmael and his posterity) would be brought to these consecrated lands.

 The blessings pronounced by Jacob “shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren” (Gen. 49:26).  And how was Joseph separate from his brothers?  We all know the story of how the other sons of Jacob were annoyed with their younger brother and his dreams of dominion over the rest of the family, and of their hatred that was so intense that the brothers even entertained thoughts of killing him; and how, in the end, they arranged to have him sold into Egypt (recounted in Genesis 37).  Thus, at the tender age of seventeen Joseph was separated from his home and his brethren.  He actually spent the rest of his life living in Egypt, until he died at the age of 110 (Gen. 50:26).  As far as we know, Joseph’s sons Manasseh and Ephraim lived their whole lives, died, and were buried in Egypt, without ever becoming acquainted with their promised land.

Although Joseph and his immediate posterity were at first separated from the rest of the family of Jacob, the great patriarch’s reference to Joseph being “separate from his brethren” would have a much wider and grander fulfillment in Joseph’s descendants, through the families of Lehi and Ishmael inheriting lands that were much more separated from the rest of Israel than was the land of Egypt.

Thus we see, through all this scriptural history, that what we denominate “the Americas” are truly lands of Joseph, inhabited at least in part by descendants of him who ultimately received the blessings—the double inheritance—of the firstborn.  “Joseph obtained the birthright in Israel because he was worthy and because it was his natural right.  When Reuben, the actual firstborn, lost the privilege by transgression (1 Chr. 5:1-2), Joseph, as the firstborn son of Jacob’s second wife, was next in line for the blessing” (Bible Dictionary, 716-717).  Joseph received the greatest inheritance, including the greatest lands of inheritance, which were “choice above all other lands.”

Joseph’s descendants, along with other scattered remnants of his father Jacob and those adopted into the covenant people of Israel, are now experiencing tremendous spiritual growth and blessings in direct fulfillment of the patriarchal blessing of Jacob to his son Joseph.  Many of these spiritual blessings being poured out in the lands of Joseph are the result of the divinely-led work of another Joseph in the latter days—a direct descendant of the original Joseph, who prophesied and testified of the latter-day prophet with his same name.

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