04) CHARACTER: Was Joseph Smith weak in character while gifted in revelation? How did he “influence” people?

Prophetic Statements

Joseph Smith

Why is it this babbler gains so many followers and retains them? Because I possess the principle of love. All I can offer the world [is] a good heart and a good hand. Mormons can testify whether I am willing to lay down my life for a Mormon. If it has been demonstrated that I have been willing to die for a Mormon, I am bold to declare before heaven that I am just as ready to die for a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or any other denomination. It is a love of liberty which inspires my soul. Civil and religious liberty was diffused into my soul by my grandfathers while they dandled me on their knees. And shall I want friends? No.  1

Brigham Young

#1:

I honor and revere the name of Joseph Smith. I delight to hear it; I love it. I love his doctrine. I feel like shouting Hallelujah, all the time, when I think that I ever knew Joseph Smith, the Prophet whom the Lord raised up. I am bold to say that, Jesus Christ excepted, no better man ever lived or does live upon this earth. I am his witness.  2

#2:

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.

. . .

There was nothing of a temporal or spiritual nature suggested by Joseph Smith in his day, for the action of the Latter-day Saints that would not have been beneficial for them, if they had, with one heart and mind, performed all he desired them to do.

. . .

We can find no person who presents a better character to the world, when the facts are known, than Joseph Smith, Jr., the Prophet, and his brother, Hyrum Smith, who was murdered with him. 3

Lorenzo Snow

A word or two about Joseph Smith. Perhaps there are very few men now living who were so well acquainted with Joseph Smith the Prophet as I was. I was with him oftentimes. I visited him in his family, sat at his table, associated with him under various circumstances, and had private interviews with him for counsel. I know that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God; I know that he was an honorable man, a moral man, and that he had the respect of those who were acquainted with him. The Lord has shown me most clearly and completely that he was a Prophet of God, and that he held the Holy Priesthood and the authority to baptize people for the remission of their sins and to lay hands upon them for the reception of the Holy Ghost, that they might receive a knowledge themselves in relation to these things. 4

Joseph F. Smith

Those who are in ignorance in regard to the character, life and labors of Joseph Smith, who have never read his revelations or studied or investigated his claims to divine authority, and are ignorant of his mission, revile him, sneer at his name, and ridicule his claims to prophetic inspiration, and called him an impostor in his day, except for a few who hearkened to his instruction, and believed his testimony.  The great majority of mankind then living who knew of Christ, deemed him an impostor, and considered him worthy to be put to death; precisely the same feeling existed towards Joseph Smith.   5

The greatest event that has ever occurred in the world, since the resurrection of the Son of God from the tomb and his ascension on high, was the coming of the Father and of the Son to that boy Joseph Smith, to prepare the way for the laying of the foundation of his kingdom–not the kingdom of man–never more to cease nor to be overturned.  Having accepted this truth, I find it easy to accept of every other truth that he enunciated and declared during his mission of fourteen years in the world.  He never taught a doctrine that was not true.  He never practiced a doctrine that he was not commanded to practice.  He never advocated error.  He was not deceived.  he saw; he heard; he did as he was commanded to do; and therefore, God is responsible for the work accomplished by Joseph Smith–not Joseph Smith.  The Lord is responsible for it, and not man. 6

I love to contemplate the innocence and the artless simplicity of his boyhood.  It bears record that he was honest, that he was led by the Spirit of God to perform his wonderful mission.  How could a child at his age be impelled by other than honest motives in the accomplishment of his high and holy calling?   . . . his thoughts, like those of most children, were innocent and consequently he was incapable of the knavery and connivance that his enemies declared he practiced.  . . .  Joseph was a remarkably quiet and well-disposed child who gave his parents little or not trouble.  As early as the age of eight, he gave proof that besides being thoughtful, easily governed, and of sweet and loving disposition, he possessed the foundation principles of good character–filial affection, patience, endurance, courage.

Concerning his spiritual manifestations, is it reasonable to suppose that there could have been premeditated deceit on the part of the boy, and such a boy, in his simple statement of what he saw and heard?  No, neither could the answer which the heavenly messenger gave to him, have been composed in the child’s own mind.  Joseph Smith’s testimony concerning his heavenly manifestation, in later life, was as simple, straight-forward, plain and true as it had been in childhood; the fidelity, courage and love implanted in and characteristic of his life in boyhood never faltered nor changed with maturity.  His wisdom came in revelations of God to him.

One marked illustration of his character was his love for children.  He never saw a child but he desired to take it up and bless it and many he did so bless, taking them in his arms and upon his knee.  I have myself sat upon his knee.  He was so fond of children that he would go far out of his way to speak to a little one, which is to me a striking characteristic of true manhood.  He had a like true love for the human race.  I know, and I have known from my childhood, that he was a prophet of God.   7

David O. McKay

Some of Joseph Smith’s contemporaries sneered at him; others admired him; his followers revered him. . . . No one unbiased in his judgment can study the life of this religious leader without being impressed with the fact that he possessed in a rich degree the qualities of true greatness, the source of which is found in a desire to know God’s will, and in a determination, when it is found, to follow it. 8

Differing Claims

Richard Bushman

Question: A major tenet of the Church today is that the prophet will not lead the Church astray. Contrast that with John Corrill’s explanation of why he left the Church:

“When I retrace our track, and view the doings of the church for six years past, I can see nothing that convinces me that God has been our leader; calculation after calculation has failed, and plan after plan has been overthrown, and our prophet seemed not to know the event till too late. If he said go up and prosper, still we did not prosper; but have labored and toiled, and waded through trials, difficulties, and temptations, of various kinds, in hope of deliverance. But no deliverance came.”

You then write, “Everything Corrill said was true. The great work had met defeat after defeat.” How do you reconcile Joseph’s mistakes with the idea that the prophet will not lead the Church astray?

Answer (Bushman): There is a difference between leading the Church astray and keeping the Church out of trouble. The early Christian apostles could not end opposition to and persecution of the primitive Church. Sometimes doing the right thing leads to suffering and death.” 9

Supporting Statements

Emily D. Partridge Young

Joseph was a prophet of God, and a friend of man. His was a noble character. All who knew him can testify to that assertion. He was all that the word gentleman would imply—pure in heart, always striving for right, upholding innocence, and battling for the good of all. 10

Mary Alice Cannon Lambert

The love the saints had for him was inexpressible. They would willingly have laid down their lives for him. If he was to talk, every task would be laid aside that they might listen to his words. He was not an ordinary man. Saints and sinners alike felt and recognized a power and influence which he carried with him. It was impossible to meet him and not be impressed by the strength of his personality and influence. 11

Matthias F. Cowley

Joseph Smith was a man of unblemished character. His veracity was never impeached. His honor in religion, in morality and business transactions, attested by friend and foe, were unsullied to the end of his mortal career, when he sealed his testimony with his innocent blood. 12

Mrs. Palmer

#1:

My father loved young Joseph Smith and often hired him to work with his boys. I was about six years old when he first came to our home. I remember going into the field on an afternoon to play in the corn rows while my brothers worked. When evening came, I was too tired to walk home and cried because my brothers refused to carry me. Joseph lifted me to his shoulder, and with his arm thrown across my feet to steady me, and my arm about his neck, he carried me to our home. 13

#2:

I remember the excitement stirred up among some of the people over Joseph’s First Vision, and of hearing my father contend that it was only the sweet dream of a pure minded boy. One of our church leaders came to my father to remonstrate against his allowing such close friendship between his family and the “Smith Boy,” as he called him. My father defended his own position by saying that Joseph was the best help he had ever found. He told the churchman that he always fixed the time of hoeing his large field to that when he could secure the services of Joseph Smith, because of the influence that boy had over the wild boys of the neighborhood, and explained that when these boys, or young men, worked by themselves much time would be spent in arguing and quarreling, which often ended in a ring fight. But when Joseph Smith worked with them, the work went steadily forward, and he got the full worth of the wages he paid. I remember the churchman saying, in a very solemn and impressive tone, that the very influence the boy carried was the danger they feared for the coming generation, that not only the young men, but all who came in contact with him, would follow him, and he must be put down. 14

E. L. and William H. Kelley

I knew all of the Smith family well. They have all worked for me many a day. They were very good people. Young Joe (as we called him then) has worked for me, and he was a good worker. . . They were the best family in the neighborhood in case of sickness; one was at my house nearly all the time when my father died. I always thought them honest. They were owing me some money when they left here. One of them came back in about a year and paid me. . . [Joseph Smith] worked for me many a time, and been about my place a great deal. He was always a gentleman when about my place. 15

Joseph Knight, Jr.

[My father] hired Joseph Smith, Jr. Joseph and I worked and slept together. My father said that Joseph was the best hand he ever hired. We found him a boy of truth. He was about twenty-one years of age. 16

Newel Knight

. . . among the many he [Joseph Knight, Sr.] from time to time employed was a young man by the name of Joseph Smith, Jun., to whom I was particularly attached. His noble deportment, his faithfulness and his kind address could not fail to win the esteem of those who had the pleasure of his acquaintance. One thing I will mention, which seemed to be a peculiar characteristic with him in all his boyish sports and amusements: I never knew any one to gain advantage over him, and yet he was always kind and kept the good will of his playmates.

We were frequently visited by my young friend, Joseph Smith, who would entertain us with accounts of the wonderful things which had happened to him. It was evident to me that great things were about to be accomplished through him—that the Lord was about to use him as an instrument in His hands to bring to pass the great and mighty work of the last days. This chosen instrument told us of God’s manifestations to him, of the discovery and receiving of the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated, of his persecutions for the gospel’s sake, and of many other items of his eventful life.

So honest and plain were all his statements that there was no room for any misgivings with me on the subject. Besides, I found by reading and searching the Bible that there would be a great falling away from the gospel as preached and established by Jesus and His apostles, that in the last days God would set His hand again to restore that which was lost. 17


References:

  1. Joseph Smith, Jr. Journal kept by Willard Richards, July 9, 1843
  2. Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe [1954], 458-459
  3. Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, selected and arranged by John A. Widtsoe [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1954], 463-466
  4. Lorenzo Snow, Conference Report, Oct. 1900, p. 61
  5. Joseph F. Smith, Discourse delivered in Assembly Hall, Salt Lake City, October 29, 1882.  Journal of Discourses Vol. 24, 1884, pp. 8-16
  6. Joseph F. Smith, Sermon, Salt Lake Assembly Hall, July 8, 1917
  7. Joseph F. Smith, Improvement Era, Vol. 21, December 1917, p. 167
  8. David O. McKay, Pathways to Happiness, pp. 284-87
  9. Richard Bushman Responds: 12 Questions on Rough Stone Rolling (RSR),http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=2759#more-2759
  10. Emily D. Partridge Young, Early Member of the Church, Letter to Lulu Clawson Young, June 27, 1897, Church Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah; punctuation and capitalization modernized
  11. Mary Alice Cannon Lambert, Early Member of the Church, “Joseph Smith, the Prophet,” Young Woman’s Journal, Dec. 1905, 554
  12. Matthias F. Cowley, Cowley’s Talks on Doctrine [Chattanooga: Ben. E. Rich, 1902], 176
  13. Mrs. Palmer, “Stories from the Notebook of Martha Cox, Grandmother of Fern Cox Anderson,” Church Historian’s Library, Salt Lake City, Utah; Lee C. LaFayette, “Recollections of Joseph Smith,” Church Historian’s Library, Salt Lake City, Utah; also Hyrum L. Andrus and Helen Mae Andrus, comps., They Knew the Prophet [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1974], 1
  14. Mrs. Palmer, “Stories from the Notebook of Martha Cox, Grandmother of Fern Cox Anderson,” Church Historian’s Library, Salt Lake City, Utah; Lee C. LaFayette, “Recollections of Joseph Smith,” Church Historian’s Library, Salt Lake City, Utah; also Hyrum L. Andrus and Helen Mae Andrus, comps., They Knew the Prophet [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1974], 1
  15. Interview with E. L. and William H. Kelley, March 1881, published in The Saints’ Herald, Plano, Illinois, XXVIII (June 1, 1881), p. 165; Juvenile Instructor, XVII (October 1, 1882), pp. 301-302; quoted in Hyrum L. Andrus and Helen Mae Andrus, comps., They Knew the Prophet [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1974], 1
  16. Joseph Knight, Jr., Folder, Church Historian’s Library, Salt Lake City, Utah, as quoted Hyrum L. Andrus and Helen Mae Andrus, comps., They Knew the Prophet [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1974], 1
  17. “Newel Knight’s Journal,” in Scraps of Biography (Faith Promoting Series, Volume 10) (Salt Lake City, 1883), pp. 47-65; Hyrum L. Andrus and Helen Mae Andrus, comps., They Knew the Prophet [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1974], pp. 6-7

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