Editor’s Note: Today is the 180th anniversary of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. To remember the day we republish this classic article.

Cover image via MyHeritage.

I have always been thrilled by the patriarchal blessing given to the Prophet Joseph by his own father, Joseph Smith, Sr. in December of 1834 in Kirtland, Ohio. That blessing has the signature of the ancients upon it, as if it were a transcript from the prophets of Old Testament times. As I recently studied that blessing, it opened my mind to a series of glorious thoughts about this great Prophet of the Restoration, the head of the dispensation of the fulness of times.

The Blessing

“I bless thee with the blessings of thy fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and even the blessings of thy father Joseph, the son of Jacob,” spoke the patriarch Joseph Smith Sr. on that cold day in Kirtland. “Behold, he [Joseph of Egypt] looked after his posterity in the last days, when they should be scattered and driven by the Gentiles, and wept before the Lord: he sought diligently to know from whence the son should come who should bring forth the word of the Lord, by which they might be enlightened, and brought back to the true fold, and his eyes beheld thee, my son: his heart rejoiced and his soul was satisfied…”[i]

What a scene from nearly 34 centuries before! And from the plates of brass (recorded in the Book of Mormon), we read a beautiful, clear prophecy from that same Joseph of Egypt perhaps close to the same time he had the vision of Joseph Smith:

11 But a seer will I raise up out of the fruit of thy loins; and unto him will I give power to bring forth my word unto the seed of thy loins—and not to the bringing forth my word only, saith the Lord, but to the convincing them of my word, which shall have already gone forth among them…

15 And his name shall be called after me; and it shall be after the name of his father. And he shall be like unto me; for the thing, which the Lord shall bring forth by his hand, by the power of the Lord shall bring my people unto salvation.[ii]

I can only speculate how wonderful the friendship must have been between these two Josephs in the pre-mortal world.

Sixteen Words from the First Vision

I am so deeply grateful for all that we do know about the First Vision from the four primary source accounts written by or dictated by the Prophet Joseph himself and from the five contemporary accounts written in his lifetime.[iii] We learn so much about this turning point in the history of the world, the most important event since the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Again, I glory in all that we do know about this theophany, but there are sixteen words in the 1838 account that have nearly driven me mad my whole life. This is the part that I have only been able to study because of the patterns of ancient prophets recorded throughout holy writ. Here are the sixteen words:

“…and many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time.”[iv]

In this we can surely assert from the patterns of Enoch, Moses, Mahonri Moriancumer, Nephi, John the Beloved and many other prophets, that the boy Prophet Joseph was shown worlds without number and the history of this earth from the beginning to the ending thereof. He was likely shown all the inhabitants of this earth who ever were or ever will be. He was surely shown every particle of this earth, only able to discern all this because of the quickening of the Spirit of God that was upon him.[v] We know that many angels attended to Joseph in this vision.[vi] We know that he was given to understand the fulness of the gospel from beginning to end and he could teach it. He also understood the priesthood in all its ramifications.[vii]

I think that perhaps the most important thing he was shown, and likely the most overwhelming, was who he, Joseph, was, viewing himself from the eternal perspective only Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ could give. That knowledge would likely generate the confidence to write these two statements:

“It seems as though the adversary was aware, at a very early period of my life, that I was destined to prove a disturber and an annoyer of his kingdom [I do love that statement and want to be likewise, a disturber and an annoyer of the adversary’s efforts!]; else why should the powers of darkness combine against me? Why the opposition and persecution that arose against me, almost in my infancy?”[viii]

And this powerful assertion to a world that would either honor him or hate him as Moroni had prophesied:[ix]

“I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true; and while they were persecuting me, reviling me, and speaking all manner of evil against me falsely for so saying, I was led to say in my heart: Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation.”[x]

There is some thought that WW Phelps had learned more about the First Vision from the Prophet personally, thus helping him to pen the words of a favorite hymn:

“Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah!

Jesus anointed that Prophet and Seer.”[xi]

Is it possible that this anointing took place during the First Vision? Many years of research have gone into figuring out the possible date of the First Vision which concludes the date to be Sunday, March 26, 1820.[xii] If that is the case, a number of sacred calendars came together that would also testify of this date.

“That evening began the day 10 Nisan on the Hebrew calendar, which is the day of Consecration [pointing to the anointing of Joseph on this day], the day for choosing a new lamb (Exodus 12:3). It was also 1 Wind on the Native American Sacred Round, the day of the Spirit (Wind). It was also the day 1 Prime on the Mercury Calendar, the holy day of being at the prime of life. And that evening most likely began the day 0 Spr on the Enoch calendar, the day of the Spring Equinox.”[xiii]

All of these things point to the Prophet Joseph’s pre-mortal appointment, foreordination, calling, consecration and mission.

Brigham Young’s Witness

“It was decreed in the counsels of eternity,” Brother Brigham stated, “long before the foundations of the earth were laid, that he, Joseph Smith, should be the man, in the last dispensation of this world, to bring forth the word of God to the people, and receive the fulness of the keys and power of the Priesthood of the Son of God. The Lord had his eyes upon him, and upon his father, and upon his father’s father, and upon their progenitors clear back to Abraham, and from Abraham to the flood, from the flood to Enoch, and from Enoch to Adam. He has watched that family and that blood as it has circulated from its fountain to the birth of that man. He was fore-ordained in eternity to preside over this last dispensation.”[xiv]

With that knowledge, gleefully and wholeheartedly, President Brigham Young testified: “I feel like shouting Hallelujah, all the time, when I think that I ever knew Joseph Smith, the Prophet whom the Lord raised up and ordained, and to whom he gave keys and power to build up the Kingdom of God on earth and sustain it.”[xv]

Brigham also taught: “Jesus had a work to do on the earth. He performed his mission, and then was slain for his testimony. So it has been with every man who has been foreordained to perform certain important missions. Joseph truly said, ‘No power can take away my life, until my work is done.’ All the powers of earth and hell could not take his life, until he had completed the work the Father gave him to do; until that was done, he had to live. When he died he had a mission in the spirit world, as much so as Jesus had.”[xvi]

“From the day that Joseph obtained the plates,” Brigham testified, “and previous to that time, the Lord dictated [to] him. He directed him day by day and hour by hour.[xvii] Joseph continued to receive revelation upon revelation, ordinance upon ordinance, truth upon truth, until he obtained all that was necessary for the salvation of the human family.”[xviii]

I think because of all that Joseph learned from the First Vision and from Moroni’s 22 known visits (there were likely more than this), Brigham could further testify: “The excellency of the glory of the character of Brother Joseph Smith was that he could reduce heavenly things to the understanding of the finite. When he preached to the people—revealed the things of God, the will of God, the plan of salvation, the purposes of Jehovah, the relation in which we stand to him and all the heavenly beings, he reduced his teachings to the capacity of every man, woman, and child, making them as plain as a well-defined pathway. This should have convinced every person that ever heard of him of his divine authority and power, for no other man was able to teach as he could, and no person can reveal the things of God, but by the revelations of Jesus Christ.”[xix]

I have always loved how much Brother Brigham loved Brother Joseph. They were great friends and Brigham took the 12 years of training he got from the Prophet Joseph and his continuing revelations from the Lord and would lead the Church for 33 years.


Witness of John Taylor about Joseph’s Foreordination

John Taylor was a member of the Twelve apostles and was severely injured in the Carthage Jail when Joseph and Hyrum were killed. Elder Taylor knew Joseph very well and had an ecclesiastical relationship with him as well as a professional relationship. Joseph appointed Elder Taylor to work on the Church’s periodical, The Times and Seasons. One of Maurine’s and my favorite quotes in this context (because of our publishing Meridian Magazine) is this:

“John Taylor, I believe you can do more good in the editorial department than preaching. You can write for thousands to read; while you can preach to but a few at a time. We have no one else we can trust the paper with, and hardly with you, for you suffer the paper to come out with so many mistakes.”[xx]

That rather funny statement certainly gives us hope as publishers of Meridian!

John Taylor taught: “There was nothing particular about [Joseph Smith], he was a man like the balance of us. But the Lord, for certain reasons of his own, I suppose, selected him to be his mouthpiece to the nations in this age of the world. Perhaps Joseph, as well as many others, was set apart to a certain office before the world was. Christ was the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world. Abraham was set apart to his office, and a great many others in the same way; and Joseph Smith came to do his work.”[xxi]

President Taylor also said, “We all look upon Joseph Smith as being a prophet of God. God called him to occupy the position that he did. How long ago? Thousands of years ago before this world was formed. The prophets prophesied about his coming, that a man should arise whose name should be Joseph, and that his father’s name should be Joseph, and also that he should be a descendant of that Joseph who was sold into Egypt. This prophecy you will find recorded in the Book of Mormon.[xxii] He had very great and precious promises made to him by the Lord. I have heard him say on certain occasions, ‘You do not know who I am.’ The world did not like him. The world did not like either the Savior or the prophets; they have never liked revealed truth; and it is as much as a bargain for the Saints even to bear the truth.”[xxiii] (The Gospel Kingdom, p. 121)

From Our Own Scriptural Canon

In the great vision of the redemption of the dead given to Joseph F. Smith, just 47 days before he passed away, where he was shown the spirit world and the pre-mortal world, he recorded the following about seeing the Prophet Joseph there:

53 The Prophet Joseph Smith, and my father, Hyrum Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and other choice spirits who were reserved to come forth in the fulness of times to take part in laying the foundations of the great latter-day work,

54 Including the building of the temples and the performance of ordinances therein for the redemption of the dead, were also in the spirit world.

55 I observed that they were also among the noble and great ones who were chosen in the beginning to be rulers in the Church of God.

56 Even before they were born, they, with many others, received their first lessons in the world of spirits and were prepared to come forth in the due time of the Lord to labor in his vineyard for the salvation of the souls of men.[xxiv]

And I love the confidence the Lord placed in the Prophet Joseph when He said:

17 Wherefore, 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.[xxv]

President Wilford Woodruff

Wilford Woodruff was part of the Zion’s Camp march and he recorded: “It was a great school for us to be led by a Prophet of God a thousand miles through cities, towns, villages, and through the wilderness.”[xxvi] That very personal time with Joseph then and the many years he would spend with him before his death gave Wilford deep insights into the Prophet’s personality and his divinely appointed mission. President Woodruff later said, “Joseph Smith was kept in the spirit world for thousands of years to be born in the flesh at the right time, and to be inspired of God, to be visited by Him, and to be qualified and prepared for the mission given into his hands.”[xxvii]

President Woodruff boldly testified: “I feel to bear my testimony to this work. It is the work of God. Joseph Smith was appointed by the Lord before he was born as much as Jeremiah was. The Lord told Jeremiah “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” … So I say with regard to Joseph Smith, he received his appointment from before the foundation of the world, and he came forth in the due time of the Lord to establish this work on the earth.”[xxviii]

Elder McConkie and Joseph F. Smith

“As to this man, Joseph Smith, let us say,” taught Elder Bruce R. McConkie, “Here is a man who was chosen before he was born, who was numbered with the noble and great in the councils of eternity before the foundations of this world were laid.

“Along with Adam and Enoch and Noah and Abraham, he sat in council with the Gods when the plans were made to create an earth whereon the hosts of our Father’s children might dwell.

“Under the direction of the Holy One and of Michael, who became the first man, he participated in the creative enterprises of the Father.

“In his premortal state he grew in light and knowledge and intelligence, attained a spiritual stature which few could equal, and was then foreordained to preside over the greatest of all gospel dispensations.

“Here is a man who was called of God as were the prophets of old.

“Born among mortals with the talents and spiritual capacity earned in preexistence, he was ready at the appointed time to perform the work to which he had been foreordained.”[xxix]

Elder McConkie also boldly declared: “When the Lord needed an Enoch to build Zion, a city of holiness, Enoch was there. When he needed a Moses to stand as the great lawgiver in Israel, Moses was there. When the time arrived for the promised Messiah to give his life a ransom for many, the Great Deliverer was there. And thanks be to God, when the hour arrived to usher in the dispensation of the fulness of times, there was Joseph Smith, the mighty prophet of latter-days.”[xxx]

“I declare unto you in all candor, and in all earnestness of soul,” President Joseph F. Smith spoke, “that I believe with all my heart in the divine mission of Joseph Smith, the Prophet, that I am convinced in every fiber of my being that God raised him up to restore to the earth the gospel of Christ, which is indeed the power of God unto salvation. I testify to you that Joseph Smith was instrumental in the hand of the Lord in restoring God’s truth to the world, and also the holy Priesthood, which is his authority delegated unto man. I know this is true, and I testify of it to you. To me it is all-in-all; it is my life, it is my light; it is my hope, and my joy; it gives me the only assurance that I have for exaltation, for my resurrection from death, with those whom I have loved and cherished in this life, and with whom my lot has been cast in this world…”[xxxi]

On this anniversary of Joseph’s birthday, may you be reminded of the many blessings that have come into your life because of him and may these clear witnesses of his foreordination and calling remind us of the coming forth of another even more important baby we celebrate at this time, the Messiah, the babe of Bethlehem, the Savior of the world.

Notes: 

[i] For further fascinating context, this part of the blessing continued: “and he said, As my blessings are to extend to the utmost bounds of the everlastings hills; as my father’s blessing prevailed above the blessings of his progen[i]tors, and as my branches are to run over the wall, and my seed are to inherit the choice land whereon the Zion of God shall stand in the last days, from among my seed, scattered with the Gentiles, shall a choice Seer arise whose bowels shall be as a fountain of truth, whose loins shall be girded with the girdle of righteousness, whose hands shall be lifted with acceptance before the God of Jacob to turn away his anger from his annointed, whose heart shall meditate great wisdom, whose intelligence shall circumscribe and < and > comprehend the deep things of God, and whose mouth shall utter the law of the just…” (Blessing from Joseph Smith Sr., 9 December 1834, p. 3, The Joseph Smith Papers, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/blessing-from-joseph-smith-sr-9-december-1834/1)

[ii] 2 Nephi 3:11, 15. See also JST Genesis 50:33.

[iii] The primary source accounts are from Joseph Smith’s History (journal), circa summer 1832; from his journal, November 1835; the 1838 history (now in the Pearl of Great Price) and the Wentworth Letter, 1 March 1842. The secondary accounts are from Orson Pratt (1840); Orson Hyde (1842); Levi Richards (11 June 1843); David Nye White (21 August 1843); and, Alexander Neibaur (24 May 1844). Hopefully more accounts will emerge from historical documents, letters, journals or diaries. This has always been my dearest wish.

[iv] Joseph Smith History 1:20.

[v] See, for example, Moses 1:27-29.

[vi] See the 1835 account. Journal, 9-11 November 1835

[vii] See the Levi Richards account. Levi Richards, Journal, 11 June 1843, extract, p. 16, The Joseph Smith Papers, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/levi-richards-journal-11-june-1843-extract/2

[viii] See Joseph Smith History 1:20.

[ix] See Joseph Smith History 1:33.

[x] Ibid, verse 25.

[xi] See Hymns, 1985 edition, Hymn no. 27.

[xii] See article on Meridian Magazine, “Oh, How Lovely Was the Morning: Sunday, 26 March 1820? By John C. Lefgren. https://latterdaysaintmag.com/oh-how-lovely-was-the-morning-sun-26-mar-1820-2/

[xiii] See Meridian Magazine, “Enoch Calendar: Another Witness of the Restoration, John P. Pratt. https://latterdaysaintmag.com/article-1-5442/

[xiv] See Brigham Young and John A. Widstoe, Discourses of Brigham Young, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, 1954, p. 108. See also Journal of Discourses 7:289.

[xv] Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 458. See also Journal of Discourses 3:51.

[xvi] Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 468. See also Journal of Discourses 4:285.

[xvii] Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 461. See also Journal of Discourses 8:66.

[xviii] Ibid. See also Journal of Discourses 16:42

[xix] Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 463. See also Journal of Discourses 8:206.

[xx] History of the Church 5:367.

[xxi] Deseret News—Semi-Weekly, 1 June 1875, 1.

[xxii] See 2 Nephi 3:15.

[xxiii] Taylor, John and Durham, G. Homer, Gospel Kingdom: Selections from the Writings and Discourses of John Taylor, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, 1943, p. 121.

[xxiv] See Doctrine and Covenants 138:53-56.

[xxv] See Doctrine and Covenants 1:17.

[xxvi] Cowley, Matthias F., Wilford Woodruff, His Life and Labors, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, 1909, p 40.

[xxvii] Revelation and Judgement, Deseret Weekly, August 25, 1894, p. 289.

[xxviii] See Journal of Discourses 22:334-335.

[xxix] McConkie, Bruce R., Joseph Smith—The Mighty Prophet of the Restoration, April 1976.

[xxx] McConkie, Bruce R., Once or Twice in a Thousand Years, October 1975.

[xxxi] Teachings of Presidents of the Church, Joseph F. Smith, A Personal Witness of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 19.