Friday, December 23, 2011
Been reading "Teachings of The Prophet Joseph Smith". Today is his birthday so I thought this post appropriate.
This man was a Prophet, he acts the part, it's not just what he says, it's what he does, the way he talks, and the bold courage he has in proclaiming things that bring upon him persecution. But interestingly he was a Prophet before holding the office of President of the Church. It seems the office itself did not confer the prophetic call upon him as we sometimes view things in our day. On page 278 He says: "This morning I visited with a brother and sister from Michigan, who thought that ‘a prophet is always a prophet'; but I told them that a prophet is a prophet only when he was acting as such". This too shows me he wasn't using his position for power, influence, or to gain recognition. You don't make such a comment if you are after power and worldly praise. You make the comment if you know your weaknesses and are on the Lord's errand as opposed to your own.
I'm excited to read how he would regularly expand on the meaning of the scriptures. His words cast new light on passages in the Bible and Book of Mormon, he would also add sound reasoning and depth. He is often quoted having read many many scriptures, using them to teach, and would speak freely of what was once though an obscure passage.
Whatever flaws Joseph may have had, appear human weaknesses. I'm aware of most of the ones people point out and use as evidence for why he is not credible, or why he is false or whatever. The things I read cast a much harsher judgement upon him than he was putting on others. That made me pause. He said he would throw a cloak of charity over others sins and weaknesses if they would do the same for him. But the critics don't seem to want to show Joseph, what Joseph was willing to show them. More evidence of his character. He never claimed to be without flaw, or mistake. He actually was always referring to himself as "your unworthy servant" when he would wrote to people. When I read those words I feel his sincerity. It's not lip service. It gives hope that God can work through a mortal because Joseph was human and He worked through Joseph. Prior to the 1950's anytime the words "The Prophet" we spoken, it was unquestioningly referring to Joseph. It's only in more modern days we have started applying the title to the current President of the Church.
In 1951 during the presidency of David O Mckay marked the first time the term "living prophet" was regularly applied to the current President of the Church in church publications. Prior to this, the title "The prophet" referred to Joseph, and the President of the Church was the President of the Church. Quite a change. Greater obedience to the current Church President was the general goal and outcome of that change in the 50's. If you combine institutional position, and "living prophet", in peoples minds you have combined powerful ingredients. Cultural views will change, and new definitions of words will result too. The scriptural fruits, definition, and well known signs of a Prophet Leader may even change to accommodate the new view. A discussion of the 1951 change, the motives and history are sometimes troubling, but needn't dampen our faith in the Lord, nor our hope, nor how we sustain our current leaders. If you feel so inclined you can read the historical data and more of the details here in "Passing the Heavenly Gift, Milcreek Press 2011 chapter 9."
Back to Joseph though, his Prophetic call is clear if I honestly and sincerely look at what he taught. Not only because the people sustained him in his office, but because his ministry has all the clear and identifiable characteristics of a man called to be a prophet of God. He entertained angels, prophesied, gave revelations, healed, and publicly would give details of his personal encounters with God. There was no vague indirect testimony that only suggested direct contact with God. He frankly and in simple English said that he saw Him. It was blunt and simple, to believer and non believer alike. He told the whole world about it without regard for the persecution it brought.
His ideas were original, and from God. He often spoke of direct visions, healings, direct revelation, dreams and his logic is not logic of someone on his own agenda with elementary school education. He was not just the president of an organization, he tried to only live according to revelations from God, not simply good teachings that would make him popular in the eyes of the world or make him famous for good morals. He was hated, persecuted, and constantly trying to teach people higher things. True signs of a true prophet.
Here are a few a few excerpts from the book that I found very interesting. p61 "We may conclude, that though there were different dispensations yet all things which God communicated to His people were calculated to draw their minds to the great object, and to teach them to rely upon God alone as the author of their salvation, as contained in His law."
And another quote revealing his character.
"In pitching my tent we found three massasugas or prairie rattlesnakes, which the brethren were about to kill, but I said, "Let them alone-don't hurt them! How will the serpent ever lose its venom, while the servants of God possess the same disposition, and continue to make war upon it? Men must become harmless before the brute creation, and when men lose their viscous disposition and cease to destroy the animal race, the lion and the lamb can dwell together, and the sucking child can play with the serpent in safety." The brethren took the serpents carefully on sticks and carried them across the creek, I exhorted the brethren not to kill a serpent, bird, or animal of any kind during our journey unless it became necessary in order to preserve ourselves from hunger."
Listen to his reasoning. He wasn't just an animal lover. His reasoning was way way way beyond that. He was looking forward to a millennial day when man would loose his evil disposition to destroy, and would instead looked forward to living in peace with the creation. It was man's "venomous" disposition that he was trying to point out, with the object of redemption so mankind could live in peace. Not because Zion has bigger guns than Zion's enemies, but because of their inner disposition being more like that of God. He was often speaking of repentance. Directly, and in a straightforward manner.
Today, as I think about the coming Christmas celebration, and the truth about the Gospel of Jesus Christ that has been restored. I plan to do more with what truth Joseph labored to restore. Truth that has, and always was supposed to point and lead to God. He is "The Prophet".