Joseph Smith Jr. was the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is one of the most influential religious figures in the history of the United States, and also one of the most controversial. In his short life he was able to convert several thousand followers, and to found a church that lived on past his death adhering to the principles he taught. The teachings of Joseph Smith, and the “new” doctrines he introduced, were and are centered on the belief in Jesus Christ as Savior. However, most of the Christian community did not welcome his “radical” beliefs and doctrines, and considered his claim to be a prophet blasphemous. What Joseph did was to restore (through revelation) the original doctrines taught by Christ, which both Christian orthodoxy and Protestant beliefs had altered. Those he converted loved him and revered him as a prophet, just as those in the Old and New Testaments. He received revelation from God and led his people to establish a community to live and worship together, forwarding the concept of Zion.
Joseph Smith’s family were New England farmers who had arrived in America from England in the 1600s. Joseph was born in 1805 in Vermont. The Smiths were a God-fearing family who read the Bible and prayed often, although they did not affiliate with any one faith. The family moved often, but Joseph spent much of his later childhood near Palmyra, New York. Around 1820 there was a great religious fervor in the region, and the many different denominations worked hard to convert the people. Joseph Smith’s family was split among the different faiths, and Joseph, a boy of only fourteen, found himself confused but earnest to discover which church was right and which he should join. He recorded the experience which is now published as Joseph Smith-History. One evening he was reading the Bible, in the epistle of James, verse five, which counsels those lacking wisdom to ask of God. He decided to follow the counsel and inquire of the Lord concerning which church was correct.
In the spring of 1820 Joseph Smith found a secluded place in a grove of trees near his house in which he could offer a verbal prayer to God. He recorded the experience that followed in these words:
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 Smith-History 1:16-17)
In answer to his prayer, God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith. This is known as the First Vision. He inquired which church to join and was told to join none of them, but that he would be instrumental in reestablishing the Church of Jesus Christ upon the earth in the latter days. Joseph did not record everything he was told at this time, but through this experience he was called as a prophet of God and began preparations to do the work of the Lord.
A few years later, in 1823, Joseph Smith was again visited, this time by an angel. The angel announced himself as Moroni, and told Joseph of a record buried in a nearby hillside that told of God’s dealings with His people on the American continent. He was shown the spot by the angel Moroni and returned to it every year to receive instruction from the angel, until 1827, when the record, engraved upon golden plates, was entrusted to him for translation. He commenced the translation using seer stones called the Urim and Thummim which had been buried with the plates. What resulted was the Book of Mormon.
During the translation of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith had a question about a passage concerning baptism, for he had not been baptized. Joseph and his scribe, Oliver Cowdery, together prayed and received an angelic visitation from John the Baptist. He conferred upon them the priesthood of Aaron, which has the authority to preach the gospel of repentance and baptize. Joseph and Oliver then baptized each other, in turn. Later they received visitations from Peter, James, and John, the apostles of the Lord, who conferred the higher priesthood, called the Melchizedek Priesthood, which has the authority to organize and administer the Church of Jesus Christ, just as the Lord did during His ministry.
Shortly after the Book of Mormon was published in 1830, Joseph Smith organized The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Fayette, New York. Later in the year, the Mormon Church relocated to Kirtland, Ohio. The headquarters of the Church remained here for several years, and this was where the first Mormon temple was built. In it, Joseph Smith received many visions and revelations concerning the kingdom of God and the gathering of Israel. It was here that he first revealed the temple endowment to the Church.
Joseph Smith sought only to do good to his fellow man, and to build up the kingdom of God, but he was intensely persecuted from the day he claimed his first vision. When the Mormons relocated to Missouri, they were violently driven out to Illinois. It was here that Joseph Smith established the great city of Nauvoo. Joseph and his people prospered there as they never had before, but his enemies never left him alone. He was jailed and tried several times in his life on trumped-up charges. In 1844 he was jailed for the last time in Carthage.
On June 27, 1844, a mob stormed the Carthage Jail and shot Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum to death. Joseph died a martyr’s death. However, his legacy lives on. The Mormon Church relocated for the last time, to the Salt Lake Valley, and continues living the gospel of Jesus Christ with prophets guiding the Church. John Taylor, the third president of the Mormon Church, was with Joseph in the Carthage Jail. He later wrote,
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. In the short space of twenty years, he has brought forth the Book of Mormon, which he translated by the gift and power of God, and has been the means of publishing it on two continents; has sent the fulness of the everlasting gospel, which it contained, to the four quarters of the earth; has brought forth the revelations and commandments which compose this book of Doctrine and Covenants, and many other wise documents and instructions for the benefit of the children of men; gathered many thousands of the Latter-day Saints, founded a great city, and left a fame and name that cannot be slain. He lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and like most of the Lord’s anointed in ancient time, has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood (Doctrine and Covenants 135:3).
For more information visit the following sites:
Joseph Smith – Home
Joseph Smith, Jr. – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith
Joseph Smith – American Prophet
Joseph Smith Daguerreotype
Fulfilled Prophecies of Joseph Smith
Joseph Smith: Biography and Much More From Answers.com
Joseph Smith – Lightplanet