I have mentally rehearsed the life of the Prophet Joseph Smith, trying to think of an incident that would even give a hint of cowardice. I know of none. On the other hand, incidents of courage are almost endless. Joseph Smith seriously accepted the responsibility of restoring the kingdom of God to the earth. It was a large task, but God was the author of it. Joseph was totally dedicated to the building of the kingdom and the achievement of its ultimate destiny of filling the entire earth.
He was completely involved in the progress of the Church. He was consumed by an idea. What others may have perceived as devastating, if not fatal, blows to the kingdom, Joseph Smith saw as temporary setbacks to a cause, which could not be stopped. Joseph Smith refused to be placed on the defensive, although the odds against success often seemed insurmountable. He retained the initiative.
Through his strong initiative to push the work forward, he suffered brutal treatment and heartbreaking defeats. However, amidst all this, his mind was ever active, planning a new phase of the development of the kingdom of God in the last days: a temple in Kirtland, Zion, Nauvoo the Beautiful, a gathering place in the west, a thousand years of peace.
Joseph understood in order for the growth of the Church to continue, it could go in only one direction—that was forward. At his death, he was still building Nauvoo into a major city of the West, devoting energy to a campaign for the presidency of the United States, and organizing explorers to seek out a location in the West where the Saints could move and become a mighty people.
Everything that Joseph went through and accomplished for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, revealed a supreme characteristic of the Prophet Joseph: courage, remarkable courage. As a visionary man, a creative and energetic man, an optimistic man, an enthusiastic man-how can you help but be impressed with someone who is irrepressible? With the call of being the prophet of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith took on a mantle of leadership that required courage. He asked his people to do nothing he would not do himself. The success of the Church depended upon the courage of Joseph Smith. Few have ever been faced with the fierce hate and determined opposition that Joseph faced. As great as his courage was, a courage that only a few have known, if it had been any less than it was, he would have failed.
Through his experiences, Joseph lived a life full of ups and downs. He experienced life. The good and the bad literally came tumbling upon him from all directions. He met life and its experiences head-on with uncommon courage and literally absorbed all of it. On occasions he was taken back, but only momentarily, and then he was again surging forward as though he were searching, hungering for additional experiences. He relished life as few men have. All of his senses—physical, mental and spiritual—were so attuned that little was missed.
Joseph Smith had developed the attributes to prepare him to experience life to the fullest. He had developed an amazing spiritual capacity, remarkable physical body, a keen mind, and a delightful sense of humor. He was completely unselfish and gave of himself spiritually, intellectually, physically, and emotionally. He was completely honest in all aspects of his personality. Joseph Smith honestly and openly expressed love. He honestly and openly expressed joy. He honestly and openly made public his weaknesses. He honestly and openly expressed his remorse.
Contrary to the will of the Lord, Joseph Smith allowed Martin Harris to take the first 116 pages of the Book of Mormon manuscript that had been translated. Martin lost them, and the Lord chastised Joseph severely. Joseph made no attempt to hide his error or the Lord’s rebuke. In fact, if one wants to read the account, it is in Sections three and ten of the Doctrine and Covenants—readily available for the entire world to read. This tells us something about Joseph. He did not try to hide his weaknesses. His reason for such honesty was that he desired to show his people how to live, how to love, how to feel, and how to react. He was more concerned with helping another by example than he was with improving his own image or building his own ego.
Deeply rooted in the life of the Prophet was his only concern about serving his Savior, Jesus Christ, just as Jesus was concerned only with serving his Father in Heaven. This attitude of Joseph’s taking his work seriously but himself lightly permitted him an attitude of freedom, a relaxed condition. He could be himself; sometimes carefree, sometimes intense, sometimes sad, sometimes lifted up in spiritual ecstasy. There were many dimensions to his personality—always sensitive, always concerned, always seeking to assist, in some way to bless another. Regarding the example of the Prophet Joseph, George A. Smith, his cousin, observed Joseph on the Zion’s Camp march and wrote:
The Prophet took a full share of the fatigues of the entire journey. In addition to the care of providing for the Camp and presiding over it, he walked most of the time and had a full proportion of blistered, bloody and sore feet, which was the natural result of walking from twenty-five to forty miles a day, in the hot season of the year.
But during the entire trip he never uttered a murmur; while most of the men in the Camp complained to him of sore toes, blistered feet, long drives, scanty provisions, poor quality of bread, bad corn dodger, frowzy butter, strong honey, maggoty bacon and cheese, etc. Even a dog could not bark at some men without their murmuring at Joseph. If they had to camp with bad water, it nearly caused a rebellion. Yet we were the Camp of Zion, and many of us were prayerless, thoughtless, careless, heedless, foolish, or devilish, and we did not know it. Joseph had to bear with us and tutor us like children. There were many, however, in the Camp who never murmured and who were always ready and willing to do as our leaders desired. 1
This is but one example of the leadership that Joseph Smith exemplified. Young though he was, he was like a father to Saints of all ages—a wise father, a loving father, filled with wisdom. The worthy model that he portrayed then and now draws upon his humility. He did not have time for petty thoughts. His mind was occupied with principles of salvation. The greatness of the thoughts crowded out self-pity, jealousy, meanness, and pride, Joseph Smith replaced any degrading thoughts with truth. He knew the truth and the truth made him free—free from fear, free from doubt, free from pessimism. The truth enabled him to live a life of courage and faith: “If I were sunk in the lowest pit of Nova Scotia, with the Rocky Mountains piled on me, I would hang on, exercise faith, and keep up good courage, and I would come out on top. 2” In a letter to John Smith the Prophet wrote:
“…I wrote these few lines to inform you that we feel determined in this place not to be dismayed if hell boils over all at once. We feel to hope for the best, and determined to prepare for the worst. 3”
Such quotations reveal the determination of Joseph Smith to serve God until the end. God endowed him with strength and courage. He could look any man in the eye. This gave him power. There was no pretense in Joseph Smith. He was what he was and grateful to the Lord for what God had brought him to be. The credit was to the Lord, and Joseph praised his name.
Article adapted by Leon Hartshorn, Unformatted Source info: JOSEPH SMITH: PROPHET OF THE RESTORATION, by Leon R. Hartshorn. Deseret Book 1970.
1. Quoted in Evans, John Henty, Joseph Smith, an American Prophet (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1966), pp. 117-18.
2. Quoted in Joseph Smith, an American Prophet, p. 9.
3. HC 6:485-86.
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