Christ-like Character Traits
The Prophet Joseph Smith was a great reconciler of discrepancies in passages of scripture which were or seemed to be in conflict with each other. Until I heard the great expounder of Bible doctrines explain the following passages I concluded there must be a wrong translation in one verse or the other. One verse read: “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear; he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.”—Matthew iii, 11.
Here we have baptism with water, baptism with the Holy Ghost, and baptism with fire, three in number. The question naturally arises, how can this passage be reconciled with the following: “There is one . . . Lord, one faith, one baptism.”—Ephesians iv., 4-6.
Joseph Smith reconciled these two scriptural passages. He said: “There is but one baptism; it takes the baptism of water, of the Holy Ghost, and of fire to constitute one full baptism.” 1
Knowledge of the Bible
One day in October, 1833, a wagon load of people stopped at the door of Freeman Nickerson’s home. They had with them two strange men—Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon. Although so remote from the States, rumors of a new prophet and a “golden bible” had reached Mount Pleasant, Brunt County, Ontario, Canada, and had been wondered over and commented upon.
Freeman had been told that his parents had joined the new church, and he was rather disgusted with the news. His father was indeed full of the gospel he had embraced, and was so anxious for the eternal welfare of his sons in Canada that he had hitched up his carriage, gone on a visit to Kirtland, Ohio, and prevailed upon the Prophet Joseph Smith and Elder Sidney Rigdon to accompany him on a visit to his sons, Moses and Freeman, in Mount Pleasant.
“Well, Father,” said Freeman, when told who the two strangers were, “I will welcome them for your sake. But I would just about as soon you had brought a nest of vipers and turned them loose upon us.”
Moses and Freeman were wealthy merchants and men of influence in Mount Pleasant. On the evening of the arrival, after the bustle of welcome and a warm supper were over, everyone was too tired to talk, so all retired to rest.
Next morning many were the curious glances that I cast at this strange man who dared to call himself a prophet. I saw a tall, well-built form, with the carriage of an Apollo; brown hair, handsome blue eyes, which seemed to dive down to the innermost thoughts with their sharp, penetrating gaze; a striking countenance, and with manners at once majestic yet gentle, dignified yet exceedingly pleasant.
Elder Rigdon was a middle-aged man of medium height, stout and quite good-looking, but without the noble grandeur that was so distinguishing a mark of the Prophet.
The Elders were very wise. They said nothing about their views or doctrines, but waited patiently until some one should express an interest.
As evening drew near, Mr. Nickerson became anxious to hear something of the newcomer’s faith.
“Oh,” said he to his wife, “just let him talk; I’ll silence him, if he undertakes to talk about the Bible. I guess I know as much about the scriptures as he does.”
As soon as supper was over, he invited his visitors and family to go upstairs to the parlor, where he said they would have some talk. “Now Mr. Smith,” he said, “I wish you and Mr. Rigdon to speak freely. Say what you wish and tell us what you believe. We will listen.”
Turning to his wife, he whispered, “Now you’ll see how I shall shut him up.”
The Prophet commenced by relating the scenes of his early life. He told how the angel visited him, of his finding the plates and the translation of them, and gave a short account of the matter contained in the Book of Mormon.
As the speaker continued his wonderful narrative, I was listening and watching him intently. I saw his face become white and a shining glow seemed to beam from every feature.
As his story progressed, he would often allude to passages of scripture. Then Mr. Nickerson would speak up and endeavor to confound him. But the attempt was soon acknowledged even by himself to be futile.
The Prophet bore a faithful testimony that the priesthood was again restored to the earth, and that God and His Son had conferred upon him the keys of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods. He stated that the last dispensation had come, and the words of Jesus were now in force: “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”
Elder Rigdon spoke after the Prophet ceased. He related some of his early experiences, and told those present that he had received a testimony for himself of the truth of what Joseph had said. “God,” said Elder Rigdon, “is no respecter of persons, but will give to all that ask of Him a knowledge of the things Joseph Smith has declared unto you, whether they are true or false, of God or of man.”
After both men were through speaking, many questions were asked by all present, for information. The listeners were honest-hearted people, and when truth is told to such they are constrained to accept and believe.
“And is this, then,” said Mr. Nickerson, “the curious religion the newspapers tell so much about? Why, if what you have said is not good sound sense, then I don’t know what sense is.”
A feeling of agreeable disappointment was felt by Mr. Nickerson and family, that these strange men were so different from the various representations of them. 2
Scripture Explained Plainly
During his short stay, he preached at my father’s residence. He read the third chapter of John and explained much of it, making it so plain that a child could not help understanding it, if he paid attention. I recollect distinctly the substance of his remarks on the third verse—”Except a man be born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
The birth here spoken of, the Prophet said, was not the gift of the Holy Ghost, which was promised after baptism, but was an illumination of the mind by the Spirit which attended the preaching of the gospel by the elders of the Church. The people wondered why they had not previously understood the plain declarations of scripture as explained by the Elders, as they had read them hundreds of times. When they afterward read the Bible, it was a new book to them. This was being born again to see the kingdom of God. They were not in it, but could see it from the outside, which they could not do until the Spirit of the Lord took the veil from before their eyes. It resulted in a change of heart, but not of state; they were converted, but were yet in their sins. For instance, although Cornelius had seen an holy angel, and on the preaching of Peter the Holy Ghost was poured out upon him and his household, they were only born again to see the kingdom of God. Had they not been baptized afterwards they would not have been saved. (See Acts, 10th chapter.)
Explaining the fifth verse, he said, “To be born of water and of the Spirit means to be immersed in water for the remission of sins and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost thereafter.”
The latter was given by the laying on of the hands of one having authority given him of God.
The joy that filled my juvenile soul no one can realize, except those who have had a foretaste of heavenly things. It seemed as though the gates of heaven were opened, and that a living stream flowed directly to the holy man of God. It also filled the house where we were sitting. 3
The Prophet gave rich instructions relative to preaching the gospel by the Spirit and power of the Holy Ghost. He also explained several passages of scripture. He taught that the Lord’s prayer should state, “Leave us not in temptation”—not, “Lead us not into temptation.” (Matthew 6:13.) John’s revelation on Patmos should read, “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord, … and they shall continue in their work”—not, “and their works do follow them.” (Revelation 14:13.) The epistle to the Hebrew saints should say, “Therefore not leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go unto perfection”—not, “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ.” He said that the plural term “baptisms” in this passage had reference to baptism for the living, baptism for the dead, and rebaptism. (Hebrews 6:1-2.)4
- Daniel Tyler, The Juvenile Instructor, XXVII (February 1, 1892), pp. 93-95; (February 15, 1892), pp. 127-128; (August 15, 1892), pp. 491-492; XXVIII (May 15, 1893), p. 332; Hyrum L. Andrus and Helen Mae Andrus, comps., They Knew the Prophet [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1974], 49.
- Lydia Bailey Knight, “Lydia Knight’s History,” pp. 14-23, in Journal History, October 19, 1833, Church Historian’s Library, Salt Lake City, Utah; Hyrum L. Andrus and Helen Mae Andrus, comps., They Knew the Prophet [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1974], 41.
- Daniel Tyler, The Juvenile Instructor, XXVII (February 1, 1892), pp. 93-95; (February 15, 1892), pp. 127-128; (August 15, 1892), pp. 491-492; XXVIII (May 15, 1893), p. 332; Hyrum L. Andrus and Helen Mae Andrus, comps., They Knew the Prophet [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1974], 48.
- They Knew the Prophet [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1974], 87 – 88