After Brother John moved to Kirtland, Joseph wrote a letter to his uncle Silas, which I think would be interesting to my readers, and shall therefore give it insertion in this place:
"Kirtland Mills, Ohio, September 26, 1833.
"RESPECTED UNCLE SILAS:—It is with feelings of deep interest for the welfare of mankind, which fill my mind on the reflection that all were formed by the hand of Him who will call the same to give an impartial account of all their works on that great day to which you and myself, in common with them, are bound, that I take up my pen and seat myself in an attitude to address a few, though imperfect, lines to you for your perusal.
"I have no doubt but that you will agree with me, that men will be held accountable for the things they have done, and not for the things they have not done. Or that all the light and intelligence communicated to them from their beneficent Creator, whether it is much or little, by the same they, in justice, will be judged. And that they are required to yield obedience, and improve upon that, and that only, which is given, for man is not to live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.
"Seeing that the Lord has never given the world to understand, by anything heretofore revealed, that he had ceased forever to speak to his creatures, when sought unto in a proper manner, why should it be thought a thing incredible that he should be pleased to speak again in these last days for their salvation? Perhaps you may be surprised at this assertion, that I should say for the salvation of his creatures in these last days, since we have already in our possession a vast volume of his word, which he has previously given. But you will admit that the word spoken to Noah was not sufficient for Abraham, or it was not required of Abraham to leave the land of his nativity, and seek an inheritance in a strange country upon the word spoken to Noah, but for himself he obtained promises at the hand of the Lord, and walked in that perfection, that he was called the friend of God. Isaac, the promised seed, was not required to rest his hope alone upon the promises made to his father Abraham, but was privileged with the assurance of his approbation, in the sight of Heaven, by the direct voice of the Lord to him. If one man can live upon the revelations given to another, might I not with propriety ask, why the necessity, then, of the Lord's speaking to Isaac as he did, as is recorded in the twenty-sixth chapter of Genesis? For the Lord there repeats, or rather, promises again to perform the oath which he had previously sworn to Abraham; and why this repetition to Isaac? Why was not the first promise as sure for Isaac as it was for Abraham? Was not Isaac Abraham's son? and could he not place implicit confidence in the veracity of his father as being a man of God? Perhaps you may say that he was a very peculiar man, and different from men in these last days, consequently, the Lord favored him with blessings, peculiar and different, as he was different from men of this age. I admit that he was a peculiar man, and not only peculiarly blessed, but greatly blessed. But all the peculiarity that I can discover in the man, or all the difference between him and men in this age, is, that he was more holy and more perfect before God, and came to him with a purer heart, and more faith than men in this day.
"The same might be said on the subject of Jacob's history. Why was it that the Lord spake to him concerning the same promise, after he had made it once to Abraham, and renewed it to Isaac? Why could not Jacob rest contented upon the word spoken to his fathers? When the time of the promise drew nigh for the deliverance of the children of Israel from the land of Egypt, why was it necessary that the Lord should begin to speak to them? The promise or word to Abraham, was, that his seed should serve in bondage, and be afflicted, four hundred years, and after that they should come out with great substance. Why did they not rely upon this promise, and when they had remained in Egypt, in bondage, four hundred years, come out, without waiting for further revelations, but act entirely upon the promise given to Abraham, that they should come out?
"Paul said to his Hebrew brethren, that God being more abundantly willing to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, he confirmed it by an oath. He also exhorts them, who, through faith and patience inherit the promises.
"Notwithstanding, we (said Paul) have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us, which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast and which entereth into that within the vail, yet he was careful to press upon them the necessity of continuing on until they, as well as those who then inherited the promises, might have the assurance of their salvation confirmed to them by an oath from the mouth of him who could not lie; for that seemed to be the example anciently, and Paul holds it out to his Hebrew brethren as an object attainable in his day. And why not? I admit that by reading the Scriptures of truth, the saints, in the days of Paul, could learn, beyond the power of contradiction, that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had the promise of eternal life confirmed to them by an oath of the Lord, but that promise or oath was no assurance to them of their salvation; but they could, by waling in the footsteps, continuing in the faith of their fathers, obtain, for themselves, an oath for confirmation that they were meet to be partakers of the inheritance with the saints in light.
"If the saints, in the days of the apostles, were privileged to take the saints for example, and lay hold of the same promises, and attain to the same exalted privileges of knowing that their names were written in the Lamb's Book of Life, and that they were sealed there as a perpetual memorial before the face of the Most High, will not the same faithfulness, the same purity of heart, and the faith, bring the same assurance of eternal life, and that in the same manner to the children of men now, in this age of the world? I have no doubt, but that the holy prophets, and apostles, and saints in ancient days were saved in the kingdom of God; neither do I doubt but that they held converse and communion with him while they were in the flesh, as Paul said to his Corinthian brethren, that the Lord Jesus showed himself to above five hundred saints at one time after his resurrection. Job said that he knew that his Redeemer lived, and that he should see him in the flesh in the latter days. I may believe that Enoch walked with God, and by faith was translated. I may believe that Noah was a perfect man in his generation, and also walked with God. I may believe that Abraham communed with God, and conversed with angels. I may believe that Isaac obtained a renewal of the covenant made to Abraham by the direct voice of the Lord. I may believe that Jacob conversed with holy angels, and heard the word of his Maker, that he wrestled with the angel until he prevailed, and obtained a blessing. I may believe that Elijah was taken to heaven in a chariot of fire with fiery horses. I may believe that the saints saw the Lord, and conversed with him face to face after his resurrection. I may believe that the Hebrew church came to Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels. I may believe that they looked into eternity, and saw the Judge of all, and Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant. But will all this purchase an assurance for me, and waft me to the regions of eternal day, with my garments spotless, pure and white? Or, must I not rather obtain for myself, by my own faith and diligence in keeping the commandments of the Lord, an assurance of salvation for myself? And have I not an equal privilege with the ancient saints? And will not the Lord hear my prayers, and listen to my cries as soon as he ever did theirs, if I come to him in the manner they did? Or, is he a respecter of persons?
"I must now close this subject for the want of time; and, I may say, with propriety, at the beginning. We would be pleased to see you in Kirtland; and more pleased to have you embrace the New Covenant.
"I remain, yours affectionately,
JOSEPH SMITH, JUN."
(Lucy Mack Smith,History of Joseph Smith by His Mother[Salt Lake City: Stevens & Wallis, Inc., 1945], 232.)
10. Lucy recorded in her Early Notebook that sometime in 1836 (after this letter from Joseph to Silas) "the Lord gave Hyrum Smith a revelation commanding him to visit his Uncle Silas, for he was ready to be baptized. . . . When he found him he said, 'Uncle Silas . . . the Lord has sent me to baptize you, for the Lord has seen the integrity of your heart but knows your fears with regard to your family, but you need not suffer any anxiety about them, for if you embrace the gospel it will be the means of saving them.' He answered that he had no doubt of the truth of the work and the only thing that hindered him from embracing it was that he was afraid that his family would be so much opposed to it that it would ruin his peace. However, upon receiving this message he was baptized, but through much tribulation, being much opposed by his neighbors as well as his own family." (Early Notebook, pp. 41-42.)
(Lucy Mack Smith,History of Joseph Smith, Revised and Enhanced,edited by Scot Facer Proctor and Maurine Jensen Proctor [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996], .)
Below is an article that I wrote for Meridian Magazine a few years ago:
“We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet”
Written by: Robert J. Norman
As a young missionary for the Church I came to love the message of Amos 3:7: “Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” It has always given me a since of comfort and confidence knowing that I belonged to the Lord’s restored Church lead by a living prophet. Having a living prophet being led by the Gift of the Holy Ghost creates a true and living Church (D&C 1:30).
DISPENSATIONS AND DISPENSATION HEADS
As latter day saints we know that the word of God is revealed in the context of gospel dispensations. The dispensation head receives the word of God for his dispensation. Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained the role dispensations and dispensation heads. He shows the role of apostles and prophets with the head of the dispensation within which they live:
Some background is essential to our understanding of what is involved. We all know that salvation is in Christ. He is the Firstborn of the Father. He was like unto God in the premortal life, and he became, under the Father, the Creator of all things. We look to him; our faith centers in him, and in the Father, through him.
Second to Christ stands that great spirit person Michael, who led the armies and hosts of heaven when there was war and rebellion in heaven, and who, being foreordained so to do, came here as the first man of all men and became the presiding high priest over the earth. The next person in this hierarchy is Gabriel, who came into this life as Noah. After that, we do not know the order of priority, except that singled out from among the hosts of heaven were certain who were foreordained to be the heads of dispensations.
Dispensations are those periods of time when the plan of salvation, the Word—the Eternal Word—is dispensed to men on earth. How many there have been we do not know. I suppose there have been ten; maybe there have been twenty; there could have been more. I am speaking now not of what sometimes are called dispensations in the sense that John the Baptist and Paul and some of the other prophets had special appointments. I am speaking of those great eras or periods, of those designated portions of the earth’s history,when the Lord, through one man, gives his word to the whole world and makes all the prophets, and all the seers, and all the administrators, and all the apostles of that period subject to, and exponents of, what came through that individual(emphasis added). What this means is that the head of a gospel dispensation stands as one of the ten or twenty greatest spirits who have so far been born on earth.[i]
PRIESTHOOD AND PROPHETS
All true prophets of Jesus Christ testify of him and his divinity. In order to represent him with authority they must hold the Lord’s priesthood. The Prophet Joseph Smith explained the role of priesthood in the Lord’s giving his revelations to the earth:
Although there are two Priesthoods, yet the Melchizedek Priesthood comprehends the Aaronic or Levitical Priesthood, and is the grand head, and holds the highest authority which pertains to the priesthood, and the keys of the Kingdom of God in all ages of the world to the latest posterity on the earth; and is the channel through which all knowledge, doctrine, the plan of salvation and every important matter is revealed from heaven.
Its institution was prior to "the foundation of this earth, or the morning stars sang together, or the Sons of God shouted for joy," and is the highest and holiest Priesthood, and is after the order of the Son of God, and all other Priesthoods are only parts, ramifications, powers and blessings belonging to the same, and are held, controlled, and directed by it. It is the channel through which the Almighty commenced revealing His glory at the beginning of the creation of this earth, and through which He has continued to reveal Himself to the children of men to the present time, and through which He will make known His purposes to the end of time.[ii]
THE MANTLE PASSES ON
President Nathan Eldon Tanner left on record for church members the process that takes place as one prophet passes on and is succeeded by another. This account is given after the death of President Harold B. Lee who was replaced by President Spencer W. Kimball:
When Wilford Woodruff was the president of the Church, he said that it was the will of the Lord that no amount of time be allowed to pass between the death of the president of the Church and the time that the First Presidency was reorganized. Therefore, on December 30, 1973, just four days after President Lee’s death, President Kimball, the president of the Twelve, called the members of the Twelve together in the upper room of the temple for the purpose of discussing the reorganization of the First Presidency and to take whatever action was decided upon. Those who had been counselors to the President—that is, President Romney and myself—took their respective places in the Quorum of the Twelve.
President Kimball, upon expressing his great sorrow at the passing of President Lee and his feeling of inadequacy, called upon the members of the Twelve in order of seniority to express themselves individually as to how they felt about reorganizing the presidency of the Church.
As each member of the Twelve spoke, he expressed himself as feeling that now was the time to reorganize the First Presidency and that President Spencer W. Kimball was the one whom the Lord wanted to preside at this time. The sweet Spirit of the Lord was present in rich abundance and there was complete unity and harmony in the minds and spoken words of the Brethren. The only purpose and desire was to do the will of the Lord, and there was no question in anyone’s mind but what the will of the Lord had been expressed.
Elder Ezra Taft Benson then made the formal motion that the First Presidency of the Church be reorganized and that Spencer W. Kimball be sustained, ordained, and set apart as the president, prophet, seer, revelator, and as trustee‑in‑trust of the Church. This motion was seconded and unanimously approved.
In all humility, President Kimball stepped forward and made his speech of acceptance, praying that the Spirit and blessings of the Lord would attend him that he might be made able to carry out the will of the Lord. He said he had always prayed for President Lee’s health and strength and vigor and for the blessings of the Lord to attend him as he carried on as the president of the Church. He emphasized the fact that he had prayed sincerely with his lovely wife, Camilla, that this position would never come to him and that he felt sure that President Lee would certainly outlive him.
On this occasion I thought of the Savior in the Garden of Gethsemane as he prayed: “¼O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matt. 26:39.) And he so accepted.
He then chose and nominated as his first counselor N. Eldon Tanner and as his second counselor Marion G. Romney, each of whom expressed himself in all humility and pledged himself to support and sustain President Kimball as the president of the Church and to fill his office to the best of his ability, and prayed for the blessings of the Lord to attend him.
Following this, President Benson was sustained as president of the Council of the Twelve. President Kimball then took his seat in the middle of the room, and as all those present placed their hands upon his head, we felt the Spirit of the Lord was truly with us, and this sweet Spirit filled our hearts. Then, with President Benson being mouth, in a beautiful prayer and blessing, Spencer Woolley Kimball was ordained and set apart as prophet, seer, and revelator and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‑day Saints.
It is my testimony to you and to the world that the plan and order of the Church has been followed, that the will of the Lord has been done, and that Spencer W. Kimball is his prophet and president of his church and kingdom here upon the earth. In the stake conferences since his appointment and in the solemn assembly today, the people have enthusiastically sustained him. It is the great privilege, honor, and responsibility of each and every one of us to accept and support President Kimball as a prophet of God and under his direction do all in our power to help build the kingdom, to further the cause of righteousness, and prepare the world for the second coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.[iii]
President Kimball gave this account at the passing of President David O. McKay:
It is Sunday morning, January 18, 1970. A great heart stops beating and an aged body relaxes and slumbers. Like an earthquake sends a tidal wave around the earth, communications now cover the earth and millions of serious-minded people in even faraway places stop to pay saddened tribute to a mighty man of God who has passed from mortality.
For days, long lines of loving followers inch their way along the street, even in the rain, to see once more the visage of their departed leader.
The Tabernacle is crowded with those who loved him, and sweet tributes are paid.
The earthly body of the prophet, David O. McKay, is laid to rest in dignified reverence.
In our feeling of emptiness, it hardly seems that we could go on without him; but as one star sinks behind the horizon, another rises in the sky, and death spawns life.
The work of the Lord is endless. Even when a powerful leader dies, not for a single instant is the Church without leadership, thanks to the kind Providence who gave his kingdom continuity and perpetuity. As it already had happened eight times before in this dispensation, a people reverently close a grave, dry their tears, and turn their faces to the future.
The moment life passes from a President of the Church, a body of men become the composite leader—these men already seasoned with experience and training. The appointments have long been made, the authority given, the keys delivered. For five days, the kingdom moves forward under this already authorized council. No "running" for position, no electioneering, no stump speeches. What a divine plan! How wise our Lord, to organize so perfectly beyond the weakness of frail, grasping humans!
Then dawns a notable day (January 23, 1970), and fourteen serious men walk reverently into the temple of God—this, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the governing body of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, several of whom have experienced this solemn change before.
When these fourteen men emerge from the holy edifice later in the morning, a transcendently vital event has occurred—a short interregnum ends, and the government of the kingdom shifts back again from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to a new prophet, an individual leader, the Lord's earthly representative, who has unostentatiously been moving toward this lofty calling for sixty years. The man is Joseph Fielding Smith.
Not because of his name, however, did he ascend to this high place, but because when he was a very young man he was called of the Lord, through the then-living prophet, to be an apostle—a member of the Quorum—and was given the precious, vital keys to hold in suspension pending a time when he might become the senior apostle and the President.
In that eventful temple meeting, when he has been "ordained and set apart" as the President of the Church by his brethren, the Twelve, he chooses his counselors—two mighty men of valor: Elder Harold B. Lee and Elder Nathan Eldon Tanner, with their rich background as teachers, businessmen, public officials, and especially Church leaders.
And a presidency of three and a newly constituted Council of Twelve walk humbly to their offices without fanfare or ostentation, and a new administration moves into a new period with promise of great development and unprecedented growth.[iv]
FOURTEEN FUNDAMENTALS IN FOLLOWING THE PROPHET
Elder Ezra Taft Benson when President of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles gave fourteen fundamentals for us to remember as we follow the prophet, “for our salvation depends on them”[v]:
1. The prophet is the only man who speaks for the Lord in everything.
2. The living prophet is more vital to us than the standard works.
3. The living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet.
4. The prophet will never lead the church astray.
5. The prophet is not required to have any particular earthly training or credentials to speak on any subject or act on any matter at any time.
6. The prophet does not have to [page 8] say “Thus Saith the Lord,” to give us scripture.
7. The prophet tells us what we need to know, not always what we want to know.
8. The prophet is not limited by men’s reasoning.
9. The prophet can receive revelation on any matter, temporal or spiritual.
10. The prophet may advise on civic matters.
11. The two groups who have the greatest difficulty in following the prophet are the proud who are learned and the proud who are rich.
12. The prophet will not necessarily be popular with the world or the worldly.
13. The prophet and his counselors make up the First Presidency—the highest quorum in the Church.
14. The prophet and the presidency—the living prophet and the First Presidency—follow them and be blessed—reject them and suffer.
I testify that these fourteen fundamentals in following the living prophet are true. If we want to know how well we stand with the Lord then let us ask ourselves how well we stand with His mortal captain—how close do our lives harmonize with the Lord’s anointed—the living Prophet—President of the Church, and with the Quorum of the First Presidency.[vi]
[i].Bruce R. McConkie, “This Generation Shall Have My Word through You,” Ensign, June 1980, 54–55
[ii]. (Joseph Smith,Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith,selected and arranged by Joseph Fielding Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976], 167.)
[iii].N. Eldon Tanner, “Chosen of the Lord,” Ensign, May 1974, 84-84
[iv].Spencer W. Kimball,Faith Precedes the Miracle[Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1972], 313.
[v].Ezra Taft Benson, “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet,” Liahona, June 1981, 1-8