When Joseph Smith was a young boy of 14 years, he felt a desire to join God's church, but was confused by the contention and strife that existed between various religious sects and their enthusiastic converts. "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...which is it, and how shall I know it? While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: 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. Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know...At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God."
"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!" Joseph inquired and was told to, "join none of [the Churches] for they were all wrong, "they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” Joseph Smith History v.5-20
Though he was very young, he suffered much persecution for telling of his experience. He said, "I have thought since, that I felt much like Paul, when he made his defense before King Agrippa... 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." v.24-25
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God...1John 4 :1-2 Some have dismissed Joseph's vision, claiming that it could not be from God because what Joseph was taught by Christ was contrary to some of the philosophies popular in the Christian churches of the day. Though Satan attempted to prevent what was about to happen, v.16,17 Joseph called upon God for deliverance and it was God himself who answered; and when God is present, the devil cannot be. When the vision commenced, before anything else was communicated, The Father testified of Jesus Christ with these glorious words of introduction, "This is My Beloved Son."v.17
Thus commenced the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ in it's fullness. It would be seven years until Joseph Smith was allowed to begin translation of the Book of Mormon, a scriptural record made by ancient American prophets, and three more until he was instructed to organize the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The restoration is marked by many wonderful events and was directed by heavenly messengers. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdry received the Aaronic priesthood (which includes the authority to baptize) from John the Baptist and were ordained by Peter, James, and John to the Melchizedek priesthood which they held. God continued to teach, counsel, correct, and inspire Joseph throughout his life. Thus, Joseph Smith, as did the prophets of old, had all the authority and divine direction necessary for him to direct the work of the Lord and to lead God's church.
Joseph Smith was not a perfect man, God accepts us all as we are and leads us to be better, even prophets. Joseph says of himself, "being of very tender years, and persecuted by those who ought to have been my friends and to have treated me kindly, and if they supposed me to be deluded to have endeavored in a proper and affectionate manner to have reclaimed me... I frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature; which, I am sorry to say, led me into divers temptations, offensive in the sight of God. In making this confession, no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins. A disposition to commit such was never in my nature. But I was guilty of levity, and sometimes associated with jovial company, etc., not consistent with that character which ought to be maintained by one who was called of God as I had been. But this will not seem very strange to any one who recollects my youth, and is acquainted with my native cheery temperament." v.28 Many times in his life he was admonished by the Lord for his errors, and when this correction came, Joseph never failed to humble himself and to strive to align his actions with the direction he received. Though he was not perfect, he devoted his life to the service of God and his fellow man. Anyone who has studied his life knows that Joseph Smith was a good, loving, honest, hard-working, and respectable man. "We see no need to protect him and his reputation from himself, even if that were possible." Ronald K. Esplin
From the time his vision was known, persecution was constant: he was often imprisoned for long periods on spurious charges (though never actually convicted of a crime), he was beaten, tarred and feathered, slandered, and finally murdered for his testimony of Jesus Christ and the work he was commissioned to do. One of my favorite stories occurs during one such imprisonment:
During one of the cold, tedious nights, the men lay on the floor until past midnight, unable to sleep because the guards were boasting of their recent attacks on the Saints, including acts of robbery, rape, and murder. Elder Parley P. Pratt recounted: “I had listened till I became so disgusted, shocked, horrified, and so filled with the spirit of indignant justice that I could scarcely refrain from rising upon my feet and rebuking the guards; but had said nothing to Joseph, or any one else, although I lay next to him and knew he was awake. On a sudden he arose to his feet, and spoke in a voice of thunder, or as the roaring lion, uttering, as near as I can recollect, the following words: “ ‘SILENCE. … In the name of Jesus Christ I rebuke you, and command you to be still; I will not live another minute and hear such language. Cease such talk, or you or I die THIS INSTANT!’ “He ceased to speak. He stood erect in terrible majesty. Chained, and without a weapon; calm, unruffled and dignified as an angel, he looked upon the quailing guards, whose weapons were lowered or dropped to the ground; whose knees smote together, and who, shrinking into a corner, or crouching at his feet, begged his pardon, and remained quiet till a change of guards. 1
Though Joseph was often miraculously delivered from his enemies, he knew when the work he had been called to do was complete. “When Joseph went to Carthage to deliver himself up to the pretended requirements of the law, two or three days previous to his assassination, he said: ‘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 yet be said of me—he was murdered in cold blood.’ D&C 135:6 Some of his friends came to join him in the jail and Elder Taylor sang the hymn, "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief." While imprisoned, they were attacked by a large mob. Joseph and his brother Hyrum were shot and killed. He spent his life doing the work that God gave him to do and he sealed his testimony of that work with his blood. He died a martyr for the cause of Christ. "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." D&C 135:3
In 1823, the young Joseph Smith was informed by the angel Moroni that "God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people." 2 It is a rather astounding prophesy considering that he was a poor, unlearned farm boy of only 17 years of age, but there is no question that this prophesy has been very literally fulfilled. If it is true that Joseph Smith was indeed called of God, then his message would be the most important one delivered since Christ taught the gospel and proclaimed victory over death and hell. I believe that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God. There are those who believe to the contrary. Many simply pass on the misleading information that they have been taught. Some seem driven by a desire to discredit him and the great work that he accomplished. I believe that this is too important a matter to trust to the opinion of any person or group. I would submit that it is only God in whom we can put all our trust. I absolutely believe that when we humbly and earnestly seek God's help, he will help us to recognize what is true. Our emotions may deceive us, our intellect can lead us astray, our friends may mislead us, but God never will. Amidst all the confusion, there is someone we can go to for a reliable answer. You must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right...D&C 9:8 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. James1:5