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Mormons consider Joseph Smith, Jr. (1805–1844), the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church), to be a true prophet. The Prophet Joseph, who was ultimately killed by his religious and political foes, is remembered as a martyr for the cause.
Joseph Smith, Jr. was born December 23, 1805 in Sharon, Vermont (what is today South Royalton) to Joseph and Lucy Mack Smith. Joseph was born into a farming family, whose ancestors were New England farmers as well, emigrants from England to Massachusetts in the 17th century.
Joseph was one of nine children, having five brothers and three sisters. Joseph didn't have much of a formal education. He was, however, instructed in reading, writing, and basic arithmetic. Most of his childhood was spent near Palmyra, New York, where he was surrounded by frequent and fervent religious excitement. The many differing views and outspoken preachers deeply perplexed Joseph Smith about which church was correct. The teenager Joseph wanted to join a church, but all he heard was differing opinions, each minister claiming their church was the correct one. Joseph wrote,
- In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together?
Of the religious contention, Joseph wrote,
- Indeed, the whole district of country seemed affected by it, and great multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties, which created no small stir and division amongst the people, some crying, “Lo, here!” and others, “Lo, there!” Some were contending for the Methodist faith, some for the Presbyterian, and some for the Baptist.
In 1838 Joseph wrote a brief history of his life. From this record, Mormonism draws much of its information about the first Prophet of the restored Church. The above quotation is part of this history, as well as the record Joseph kept of the first event that brought about the restoration of the Mormon Church. In 1820, fourteen-year-old Joseph Smith, Jr. read in the New Testament,
- If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
Thinking of his own plight with religion and desiring to know the will of God, Joseph decided to take the advice in this chapter. He went into the forest behind his home and knelt and sought the Father in earnest prayer. According to the record of Joseph Smith and Mormon belief, God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph, instructing him that none of the churches on earth was correct. This heavenly manifestation is what is known as The First Vision. From that point on, what is known today as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gradually came into existence. Joseph Smith received various other visits from heavenly messengers, instructing him on what he should do to bring about the restored, complete gospel of the Lord to the earth. When the time was right, the Prophet Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon by the power of God, and the official priesthood of the Lord was renewed to the earth; this authority allowed Joseph to organize the Church.
Joseph Smith's martyrdom
On June 25, 1844, Governor Thomas Ford of Illinois told the state militia that Joseph and his brother Hyrum were "dangerous men" and guilty of treason. The two brothers went to Carthage, Illinois, to deliver themselves up to the "pretended requirements of the law", according to the demands of the governor. Joseph Smith said of the event, "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 be said of me—He was murdered in cold blood".
After delivering themselves up, Joseph and Hyrum were confined in Carthage Jail. The men were accompanied by John Taylor and Willard Richards, members of the Church administrative body known as the Quorum of the Twelve. The four men remained in the jail for two days, during which time the jailers treated them well and friends visited them. On June 27, 1844 a mob, made up of members of the town militia who were in charge of protecting Joseph, overran the jail. The mob, later described by John Taylor as men who were "armed" and "painted black" (Doctrine and Covenants 135:1) entered the room in which the men were being held. The room was on the second floor of the jail, at the top of the stairs. The mob forced the door open and poked their gun barrels into the room. They began shooting, despite efforts by Willard Richards to deflect the gun barrels with his walking stick. Hyrum Smith was shot multiple times and died, falling to the floor. John Taylor was also shot in several places. He was not killed but sought refuge by rolling under the bed. Joseph Smith ran toward the window where he was shot in the back from inside the jail and shot in the chest from outside the jail. He either fell or leaped out of the window, landing on the ground outside the jail, where he was again shot by members of the mob. The Prophet Joseph Smith died at that time.
John Taylor and Willard Richards were both present at the martyrdom and survived. John Taylor, who later became the third President and Prophet of the Church, wrote: "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! They were both shot after they were dead, in a brutal manner "
To this day, Joseph Smith is remembered by Mormons as the first prophet of the Restoration, accomplishing tasks that established the Lord's true Church again to the earth. John Taylor makes this point clear, in his record:
- "Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it. In the short space of twenty years, he has brought forth the Book of Mormon, which he translated by the gift and power of God, and has been the means of publishing it on two continents; has sent the fullness of the everlasting gospel, which it contained, to the four quarters of the earth; has brought forth the revelations and commandments which compose this book of Doctrine and Covenants, and many other wise documents and instructions for the benefit of the children of men; gathered many thousands of the Latter-day Saints, founded a great city, and 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"
Mormons believe that Joseph Smith is a "testator," meaning he "provided to mankind a witness of God’s covenants." When Joseph Smith died, his death "place[d] a seal of truth on the testament"
Joseph Smith, Jr. gave his life to the cause of building what is known by some as the Mormon Church, Mormons believe Joseph Smith, through divine guidance and instruction, introduced the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ back to the earth. After having restored precious truths that had long been lost, through the power of the Lord, the Prophet Joseph sacrificed his life. Mormons today "look to the Prophet with reverence because of what he did for their understanding of Jesus Christ and His mission". In this way Mormons are ever grateful to Joseph Smith's righteousness and obedience to the divine mission he had in life.
- . Joseph Smith--History 1:10
- . Joseph Smith--History 1:5
- . James 1:5
- . History of the Church, 5:563
- . Doctrine and Covenants 135:1
- . Doctrine and Covenants 135:4
- . See History of the Church, 6:602-618, also Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, 348
- . Doctrine and Covenants 135:1
- . Doctrine and Covenants 135:3
- . Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, 350
- . Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, 349
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