Joseph Smith - Prophet or Pretender?
One of the biggest objections that people have with our claim that the true Church of Jesus Christ has been restored again on the earth is they have a problem with Joseph Smith and his claim of seeing God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. While no one can prove what we in the LDS Church call “The First Vision” because no one else was there to witness it, we can nonetheless look at other fruits of Joseph Smith. The Lord Jesus Christ said:
Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. (Matthew 7:16-20)
First let’s take a look at what Joseph said about that vision with God and Jesus Christ. At age fourteen, Joseph and his family attended many of the religious revival meetings that where being held at that time. Joseph indicated that the ministers of the different churches claimed that their church was the true church. This was confusing to the boy Joseph. He said:
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:
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; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.
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 at length came to the determination to “ask of God,” concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture. (Joseph Smith – History 1:11-13)
Joseph Smith did decide to ask God for help. He went into a grove of trees near his home and knelt down and offered up his prayer to God. While he was praying he said he saw a light over his head that descended gradually until it fell on him. He then said:
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—(Joseph Smith – History 1:17)
The personages that appeared to Joseph were God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. The first thing Joseph learned that day was that God and Jesus were two distinct individuals and not part of a trinity that the religions of his day taught and most still believe today. The purpose of Joseph’s prayer was to know what church he should join. When he asked God his question, Joseph said:
I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” (Joseph Smith – History 1:19)
What an amazing experience that must have been for a fourteen year old boy? Is it hard to believe that such an experience could really have happened? If it were not for the many scriptures in the Old and New Testaments that tell of experiences of other prophets, some old and some very young, that had similar experiences it would be hard to believe. The scriptures say that God is the same yesterday, today and forever. If God appeared to prophets anciently then he could and would do it today.
Now let’s look at a small sampling of the fruits of the Prophet Joseph Smith. In a April 2014 General Conference address Elder Lawrence Corbridge, of the Seventy, testified that we could know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God because of the many revelations that he received that challenged the teachings of today. He said:
“The revelations poured out upon Joseph Smith affirm that he was a prophet of God. Let’s just look at some of them—just look at some of the light and truth revealed through him that shines in stark contrast to the common beliefs of his day and ours:
God is a personal, exalted being, an Eternal Father. He is our Father.
You are more than human. You are a child of God the Eternal Father and may become like Him if you will have faith in His Son, repent, receive ordinances, receive the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end.
The Church of Jesus Christ today is fundamentally the same Church He organized during His mortal ministry, with prophets and apostles, Melchizedek and Levitical Priesthoods, elders, high priests, deacons, teachers, bishops, and the seventy, all as described in the Bible.
Priesthood authority was withheld from the earth following the deaths of the Savior and His Apostles and was restored again in our day.
Revelation has not ceased, and the heavens are not closed. God speaks to prophets today, and He will speak to you and me as well.
There is more after this life than only heaven and hell. There are degrees of glory, and it matters a great deal what we do in this life.
More than having a mere passive belief in Christ, we should “look unto [Him] in every thought,”“do all that [we do] in the name of the Son, and “always remember him and keep his commandments … that [we] may always have his Spirit to be with [us].”
The billions who live and die without the gospel and the ordinances necessary for salvation are not lost. “Through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel,” administered for both the living and the dead.
Everything did not begin at birth. You lived before in the presence of God as His son or daughter and prepared for this mortal life.
Marriage and family are not conventions of men until only death do us part. They are intended to be made eternal through covenants we make with God. The family is the pattern of heaven.”
“And this is only a part of the flood of revelation poured out upon Joseph Smith. Where did it all come from, these revelations which give light to darkness, clarity to doubt, and which have inspired, blessed, and improved millions of people? Which is more likely, that he dreamed it all up on his own or that he had the help of heaven? Do the scriptures he produced sound like the words of man or the words of God?” (“The Prophet Joseph Smith”, Elder Lawrence E. Corbridge, General Conference, April 2014)
There are only two possible answers to the question if Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God, one answer is yes and the other no. Either he was telling the truth about his first vision with God and Jesus Christ or he was not. There is no partial truth. As you examine the fruits of his teachings and revelations the answer is yes he was a true Prophet of God. The other important thing to consider is if he was a true prophet then all of his revelations and teachings are true whether we understand or believe them or not. If Joseph Smith was a true prophet, you cannot disregard some teaching or principle because you don’t like it or understand it.
The same is true about the prophet that is leading the church today. If Joseph Smith was a true prophet and he did restore the true Church of Jesus Christ on the earth again, then all of the prophets since are true prophets including the current Prophet, Thomas S. Monson. What he teaches today is God’s will no matter how much the world disagrees or others try to persuade us otherwise. There is no middle ground. Either the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true Gospel of Jesus Christ or it isn’t.
To the honest seeker of truth the promise is the same as it was for the young boy Joseph Smith, if you want to know the truth, ask God and he will give you the answer if you ask in sincere prayer. Not only does the promise in James 5:1 apply to use today, so also does the promise that the Prophet Moroni gave us:
I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truthof it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. (Moroni 10:4)
I have tested the promise and can tell you that I know that Joseph Smith did see God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, that he did receive the priesthood authority to restore the true Church of Jesus Christ again on the earth, that President Thomas S. Monson is God’s Prophet today, that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon by the power of God and it is another witness of Jesus Christ and that revelation continues from God to his prophets today.
Joseph Smith was not a pretender, what he said and did are true. He was and is the prophet of the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and that Gospel and priesthood authority is in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Your comments and questions are welcome.