In the midst of the aforementioned religious confusion, Joseph Smith Jr., a fourteen-year-old farm boy in upstate New York, was trying to figure out which church he should join. He visited many revivals and other religious meetings, but he hesitated to unite himself with any specific church because he was confused about contradictions in the doctrines they taught (Joseph Smith–History 1:5-10). He wanted to have assurance that the church he joined was approved of God. He was troubled in his heart over this issue. While reading the Bible one evening, Joseph was strongly impressed by the passage in James 1:5: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” Pondering in his heart the significance of this scripture, he wondered what it could mean to him. Joseph lacked knowledge and he knew it. As his faith in the Lord’s promise increased, he decided to do as James directed and go to God in prayer.
Near the Smith family home was a large and beautiful grove of mature trees. Joseph had been there many times and found it a place of peace and comfort. He decided that this was where he would go to pray for wisdom from God. In answer to his humble prayer, Joseph received a marvelous vision in which God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to him. He asked the Father and the Son which of the churches he should join. He learned that he should join none of them, for, in the words of the Savior, “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). Joseph was told that if he remained worthy, he would be instrumental in establishing the true church of Jesus Christ on the earth.
Little by little, as it was received through the spirit of prophecy and revelation, Joseph Smith did establish the divine organization of the church and the priesthood ordinances, and he restored the kingdom of God upon the earth in its fulness. He also brought forth the Book of Mormon as another testament of Jesus Christ and as authentication of his divine calling. This Book of Mormon, the record of God’s dealings with ancient peoples of the American continent, was translated from golden plates given to Joseph by an angel of God and is the book spoken of in Isaiah (see Isaiah 29:4, 11-14, 18).
The persecutions described by Joseph in the early days following his First Vision grew in number and intensity. He was beaten, tarred, feathered, and jailed. He was unjustly accused, tried, and condemned by false witnesses, and he was driven from place to place. Worse yet, he was forced to stand by and watch as the people who believed that the gospel of Jesus Christ had been restored through him were treated in like manner. Ultimately, while they were supposedly under the protection of the law at the city jail in Carthage, Illinois, Joseph and his beloved brother Hyrum were murdered by a mob of over one hundred rifle-bearing, blackened-faced men. Thus he sealed his testimony with his blood (see Doctrine and Covenants 136:39).
Among his suffering followers, news of the prophet’s death was received with disbelief and intense mourning. Among his enemies, Joseph’s murder was a signal that “Mormonism” had been defeated. One prominent East Coast newspaper reported an account of Joseph’s martyrdom and concluded the article with the statement “Thus ends Mormonism.”16 In fact, the power of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ was only beginning to emerge.
Following the death of Joseph Smith, the sacred authority to act as the authorized mouthpiece of God and chief administrator of the kingdom of God on the earth was transferred to Brigham Young, the senior apostle of the church. At Brigham’s death in 1877, the keys of authority were passed instantly to the next senior apostle, John Taylor, and they have continued to be passed in the same manner from one prophet to the next. Since the moment Joseph Smith was ordained a prophet of God and President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there has always been a prophet upon the earth to give divine guidance to the children of men.
And so the church continued to prosper and grow under divine leadership and direction. However, those who opposed the restored gospel on various grounds continued in their efforts to discredit the latter-day work. Groups have been organized whose specific purpose is to criticize the church, its leaders, and its doctrines through every medium. Many individual evangelical ministers have written anti-Mormon booklets and preached against Mormonism in their congregations. Interestingly, this pattern of opposition to God’s work has been active throughout recorded history as evidenced by such activity in both the Old and New Testaments. Truth will always have its opponents.
16 Dix W. Price, “I Met Joseph Smith,” in BYU Speeches of the Year (18 April 1962), 8.