13) EVOLVING: Is LDS Church doctrine evolving, or was it revealed in purity to Joseph Smith? Could Joseph Smith teach us all that he knew, or was much of his knowledge withheld from the world because of the general lack of faith?
I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!
“My object in going to ainquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join.
“. . . He again forbade me to join with any of them; and many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time.” 1
It is my meditation all the day, and more than my meat and drink, to know how I shall make the Saints of God comprehend the visions that roll like an overflowing surge before my mind. Oh, how I would delight to bring before you things you never thought of! 2
[T]here has been a great difficulty in getting anything into the heads of this generation. It has been like splitting hemlock knots with a corn-dodger for a wedge, and a pumpkin for a beetle. Even the Saints are slow to understand. I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions; they cannot stand the fire at all. 3
I never saw any one, until I met Joseph Smith, who could tell me anything about the character, personality and dwelling-place of God, or anything satisfactory about angels, or the relationship of man to his Maker. Yet I was as diligent as any man need to be to try and find out these things.
What is the nature and beauty of Joseph’s mission? You know that I am one of his Apostles. When I first heard him preach, he brought heaven and earth together; and all the priests of the day could not tell me anything correct about heaven, hell, God, angels, or devils; they were as blind as Egyptian darkness. When I saw Joseph Smith, he took heaven, figuratively speaking, and brought it down to earth; and he took the earth, brought it up, and opened up, in plainness and simplicity, the things of God; and that is the beauty of his mission. I had a testimony, long before that, that he was a Prophet of the Lord, and that was consoling. Did not Joseph do the same to your understandings? Would he not take the Scriptures and make them so plain and simple that everybody could understand? Every person says, “Yes, it is admirable; it unites the heavens and the earth together,” and as for time, it is nothing, only to teach us how to live in eternity. 4
When you hear a man pour out eternal things, how well you feel, to what a nearness you seem to be brought with God. What a delight it was to hear Brother Joseph talk upon the great principles of eternity; he would bring them down to the capacity of a child, and he would unite heaven with earth, this is the beauty of our religion. 5
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. 6
The Lord had to give but little at a time as much could not be received, and it is our duty to use that little so as to profit by it and be prepared for more when God should be willing to impart it to us. 7
Joseph Smith in the first place was set apart by the Almighty according to the counsels of the gods in the eternal worlds, to introduce the principles of life among the people, of which the Gospel is the grand power and influence, and through which salvation can extend to all peoples, all nations, all kindreds, all tongues and all worlds. It is the principle that brings life and immortality to light, and places us in communication with God. God selected him for that purpose, and he fulfilled his mission and lived honorably and died honorably. I know of what I speak, for I was very well acquainted with him and was with him a great deal during his life, and was with him when he died. The principles which he had placed him in communication with the Lord, and not only with the Lord, but with the ancient apostles and prophets; such men, for instance, as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Noah, Adam, Seth, Enoch, and Jesus and the Father, and the apostles that lived on this continent as well as those who lived on the Asiatic continent. He seemed to be as familiar with these people as we are with one another. Why? Because he had to introduce a dispensation which was called the dispensation of the fulness of times, and it was known as such by the ancient servants of God. What is meant by the dispensation of the fulness of times? It is a dispensation in which all other dispensations are merged or concentrated. It embraces and embodies all the other dispensations that have existed upon the earth wherein God communicated himself to the human family. 8
Joseph F. Smith
Joseph Smith was an unlearned youth, so far as the learning of the world is concerned. He was taught by the angel Moroni. He received his education from above, from God Almighty, and not from man-made institutions; but to charge him with being ignorant would be both unjust and false; no man or combination of men possessed greater intelligence than he, nor could the combined wisdom and cunning of the age produce an equivalent for what he did. He was not ignorant, for he was taught by him from whom all intelligence flows. He possessed a knowledge of God and of his law, and of eternity, and mankind have been trying, with all their learning, wisdom and power–and not content with that, they have tried with the sword and cannon–to extirpate from the earth the superstructure which Joseph Smith, by the power of God, erected; but they have signally failed, and will yet be overwhelmed by their efforts to destroy it. 9
In the beginning of August, 1830, I, in company with my wife, went to make a visit to Brother Joseph Smith, Jun., who then resided at Harmony, Pennsylvania. We found him and his wife well, and in good spirits. We had a happy meeting. It truly gave me joy to again behold his face. As neither Emma, the wife of Joseph Smith, nor my wife had been confirmed, we concluded to attend to that holy ordinance at this time, and also to partake of the sacrament before we should leave for home. In order to prepare for this, Brother Joseph set out to procure some wine for the occasion. But he had gone only a short distance when he was met by a heavenly messenger who informed him that it did not matter what the Saints ate and drank when they partook of the sacrament, but that they should not purchase wine or strong drink from their enemies.
In obedience to this revelation, we prepared some wine of our own make and held our meeting, consisting of only five persons namely, Joseph Smith and wife, John Whitmer, and myself and wife. We partook of the sacrament, after which we confirmed the two sisters into the Church, and spent the evening in a glorious manner. The Spirit of the Lord was poured out upon us. We praised the God of Israel and rejoiced exceedingly. 10
Hugh W. Nibley
But, one may ask, why should Joseph Smith have waited so long to tell his story officially? From his own explanation it is apparent that he would not have told it publicly at all had he not been “induced” to do so by all the scandalous stories that were circulating. It was a rule among those possessing the gospel in ancient times that the greater teachings be not publicly divulged. . . . What the present state of the evidence most strongly suggests is that Joseph Smith did tell his story to some of his followers at an early date, that the story got abroad, as such things will, and in the process of being handed around inevitably became contaminated and corrupted beyond recognition, until at last Joseph Smith was obliged to issue a public statement. He did this reluctantly, confining his report to bare essentials. Throughout his life Joseph Smith was never eager to tell the story of his first vision. 11
- Joseph Smith—History 1:16–20 ↩
- Joseph Smith, History of the Church 5:362 ↩
- Joseph Smith, 1/20/1844, TPJS, 331 ↩
- Journal of Discourses 5:332 ↩
- Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, selected and arranged by John A. Widtsoe [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1954], 458 ↩
- Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, selected and arranged by John A. Widtsoe [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1954], 463-466 ↩
- Brigham Young, 3/25/1855, Journal of Samuel W. Richards 2:215 ↩
- John Taylor,Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith, compiled by Alma P. Burton [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1977], 20 – 21; and Journal of Discourses 21:94 ↩
- Joseph F. Smith, Discourse delivered in Assembly Hall, Salt Lake City, October 29, 1882. Journal of Discourses vol. 24, 1884, pp. 8-16 ↩
- “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. 13-14 ↩
- Censoring the Joseph Smith Story, Hugh W. Nibley, http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/transcripts/?id=52 ↩